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Monday, January 22, 2007

Sliding on the Scale (Hyper-Fertility Mentioned)

I was reading a book about third-party reproduction at Starbucks (I know, you're thinking--that's hot. That's a girl who knows how to kick back and relax) when my cell phone rang. I answered it and heard my friend's voice wavering on the other end of the line. "I think I'm pregnant," she told me. "I took a pregnancy test and there's a faint line."

This was not, as you've probably guessed since her voice was wavering, a planned pregnancy. This was a by-fuck-I'm-on-the-pill pregnancy. This was an I-already-have-two-children-and-a-scorching-case-of-endometriosis pregnancy. This was an I-have-too-much-on-my-plate pregnancy. There are three people in the world who can tell me the details of their hyperfertility without receiving a sharp kick in the ovaries. She happens to be one of them. On my sliding scale, she rates an instant 10 even though she is not a stirrup queen. She is pretty much as far as you can get from stirrup queendom. There is an additional land out there--equally as fucked as the Land of If--that houses the women who have the pregnancies that we're not intended to happen.

There is a part of me that sees it as two ends of the same spectrum--the loss of control, the feelings of panic, the burden and weight. There are even stirrup queens who visited this land prior to marriage or at another point in their life. And the panic and guilt and frustration and regret and anger they feel over infertility feels similar yet different to the same panic, guilt, frustration, regret, and anger they felt when they were on this other land. Some of you will argue that she is in a marriage and she does not have a real problem in relation to women who cannot get pregnant. But I sat at a Starbucks with her today and I saw a different picture.

She drove over, stopping at a CVS along the way, bringing with her the two previous pregnancy tests. During the time from when we hung up until the time that she showed up at the Starbucks, I had a stream of irrational fantasies that all ended with her falling in a heap in my arms and saying, "I can't raise this child, Melissa. Please will you take this baby."

Instant motherhood.

On a side note before I continue the story, before she called, I was reading about Agnes Rossi's idea of feminisma--the female equivilient to machismo. And how we view ourselves as woman. Stacie and I have been having an interesting discussion about how breastfeeding gave her back that missing bit of feminisma and I didn't get to have that. I couldn't get pregnant without assistance, I couldn't stay pregnant without assistance, I couldn't carry to term (though fine, fine, fine, I delivered well), and then, to top it off, I didn't produce prolactin so I couldn't breastfeed. I am still trying to find my womanhood in all of this. You would think it would be simple. You would think that I would have felt like a woman having a child grow inside my body. But it didn't work that way. I didn't gather back my vision of myself as a woman from that. I'm still looking for it.

I can stretch it and say I have a "female" brain. I have "female" sensibilities. But when I look at all the parts that make me a woman--my breasts and my uterus, my ovaries and my cervix--I don't feel very feminine. That was where my mind was when I received the phone call. And this is not to make my friend feel like crap if she happens on this entry. Just to explain the strength of my coveting.

She placed her pee sticks on the table and I examined them. There were two lines. On each. Faint lines, but clearly two lines. She didn't know if she was really pregnant because with her two previous pregnancies, the second lines had been dark instantly. She took a third stick into the bathroom and peed on it. She brought it back out and I looked at my watch, noting the time. "If there isn't a line in 10 minutes, the other two tests are just showing evaporation lines," I told her.

I looked down at the new test.

It was already positive. Still faint, but instantly positive.

She started to cry. She wanted a third child, but not now. She has too much on her plate and she's trying to take care of herself. And she cannot throw a third child into the mix. We talked about this pregnancy, trying to troubleshoot the problems with this pregnancy, make it manageable. The entire time we were speaking, I was staring at the tests. I was coveting those positive tests. I was pretending on-and-off that they were mine. I wanted to slide them closer to my side of the table.

I think what I was coveting wasn't her pregnancy or this particular baby. What I was coveting in the moment was her fertility. Her ability to get pregnant while on birth control. A femininity so ferocious that it knocks synthetic hormones out of the way in order to utilize her ovaries and uterus. That is a fucking woman and watch her body roar. And after she gives birth, she will use her breasts to feed the baby. She will utilize every part that makes her a woman.

I know she may not feel this way from her perspective. She has endo and only one ovary. She has had numerous laps. She went on bedrest with both her previous pregnancies. She probably doesn't see herself through my eyes. But from my point-of-view, despite everything happening in her body, she is hyperfertile. And it's her fertility that makes her feminine. It makes her a woman. And it is what makes me feel like a third sex. Certainly not male, but not female either (and yes, I know I am mixing up biology and social constructs, but I can't untangle the two in a single blog entry).

On my wedding day, I felt like such a woman in that white gown. I felt so feminine and pretty. I loved watching my husband cry from the enormity and beauty of the choice when he saw me for the first time. On my wedding day, I thought I would be pregnant within the year. I walked through that day with so much confidence--with so much femininity--my womanhood on my sleeve. I want to get back to that day when I felt sexual and sensual--Frida Kahlo's Flower of Life.

I don't just want another child, I want to feel feminine. And I don't want someone else to make me feel feminine or tell me that I am feminine. I want to feel feminine. I want to feel like a woman. I want to feel so hardcore like a woman that I become religious about shaving my legs (and yes, I know that I am prescribing to a certain sliver of womanhood, but it's the sliver I grew up thinking I would become). I want to be self-assured in my womanhood. I want my floating-uterus-a-la-ancient-Greece to influence the way I think and the way I speak and who I am. I feel disconnected from my uterus.

And the strange thing is that all of my friends who have gone through fertility treatments or adopted--they each have found their womanhood again. Either they have something that works as it should or they've created a femininity for themselves. They appear to me wholly female. It's so stupid--and I can recognize my own stupidity. Maybe I'm holding myself to a standard that I hold no one else or maybe they've found a secret that I haven't found yet. But what can I do? It's how I feel when I consider my own feminisma.

She is going for her beta today. They are trying to wrap their minds around this child. They will make it work because they have to make it work. And I will keep checking off "female" on medical forms and surveys because I have to check off "female." But I'm not feeling it right now.
While I was rereading this entry, my friend called me with her beta results. The pregnancy is not viable. I feel like a complete asshole. My heart is breaking for her.


royalyne said...

While I can't bring myself to comment on this blog right now (I have endo, why do I have to be infertile if she can have 2 babies?), I do commend you on leaving the message up. It is a thought-evoking post, but I have a feeling that if I were in your situation I would have burned blogger to the ground to keep anybody from reading something that made me feel like such an ass in the end. I couldn't have put the importance of the message ahead of my own feelings of guilt/embarassment/crap. You are one hell of a strong woman for that alone!

Anonymous said...

Please don't feel like an asshole. You did not want this for her and your post was not REALLY about her - it was about you, and her situation was a catalyst for getting it out. And your post rings so true for me and likely for others.

5 years ago I remember telling my SIL on the birth of her first child how remarkable it is to be a woman. To grow a child, and to feed a child - it made me proud to be a woman. I didn't know that I would, one day find, myself to be a third sex too...

I'm very sorry for your friend. But please, leave the post up. It's very good.

Anonymous said...

What I was coveting in the moment was her fertility. Her ability to get pregnant while on birth control. A femininity so ferocious that it knocks synthetic hormones out of the way in order to utilize her ovaries and uterus....

How beautifully written...don't take it down. You aren't an asshole, you didn't wish her ill, you were honest about your jealousy. It's a beautifully written accurate portrayal of your emotions and those of many of us who wish we had that fertility...

Anonymous said...

Very beautifully written, Mel. I would like to argue with you about your definition of femininity though - I have to say that this is an example of looking at what you don't have and making it all about that. You have so many other things about you that make you a woman - and by "woman" I mean, very much not a man, very feminine, and not even close to be a 3rd sex. I do understand the tendency to make the missing pieces seem bigger than what comes easily, because I do that to myself, but try to recognize that's what's happening.

On a side note, I'm so sorry for what your friend went through. What an awful rollercoaster. For both of you.

pink said...

You have NO reason to feel bad. In envying her, you weren't wishing her ill.

I understand your feelings about your female-ness. I felt the same way when I was told I was going to have to have a c/s and then when I couldn't breastfeed. It took me months to be able to say that I "gave birth" to my daughter, rather than saying I "had her" (in my warped mind, I felt that c/s wasn't giving birth). The reality is women all fall somewhere on the range of femalehood and fertility is just one part of it.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way. I want to feel like me again. Feminine and innocent. Strong and self-assured (in myself and my body). It doesn't matter that my husband is crazy about me. I need to feel it - for me.

liw said...

Mel - for once, I'm commenting on the blog in the comment section. This was beautifully written. Your ability to verbalize such complicated emotions never fails to amaze me. You shouldn't feel like an ass, your friend is lucky to have you, as is this entire community.

Anonymous said...

You are not an asshole. Let's get that out of the asshole would have freaked and yelled out loud at her. You were supportive and kind...I can barely do that!

As for this woman, sadly she is probably in my position. Women who get pregnant on the pill, quite often turn out to have POF. The estrogen/progesterone combo is just enough sometimes to get a POF woman pregnant, if the POF is at a really early stage. POF happens quite often to women with endo, like me. And the progesterone in the pill can suppress endo just enough sometimes, to make it work.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always mean you get good eggs. And non-viable pregnancies, that our grandmothers would have called a "missed period" are the result. We know what we know and we can't unring the bell, but shit I wish I could sometimes.
As for feeling unfeminine, move over hon, I dye my hair, I worship estrogen, I will do anything to avoid turning into that caricature from the menopause worshippers, "the wise crone."
My ovaries may have shrivelled up like raisins, but I refuse to acknowledge it. No way...

decemberbaby said...

What a beautifully written post. Yes, yes, and yes. (and no, you're not an asshole.)

I've just started to regain that feminine feeling... I can't quite dissect it yet, but remind me and I will. I'll blog about it someday soon.

furrow said...

I have a friend who got pregnant twice while on birth control. The third time around, while actually trying, it happened the first month. She was actually a bit sad that it didn't take longer, that she didn't get to experience the longing and the planning and the dreaming. Another friend (who got preg the first month) grieves the fact that she had to have a c-section, and that she will probably never get to have a vaginal birth.

Both feel that they have missed out on some quintessential female experience. We're all so dreadfully hard on ourselves.

Anonymous said...

You write so beautifully. And you are not an asshole for feeling jealous; you supported her, were a friend, were everything good. Having a less than zen-like feeling doesn't make you a jerk; acting like a jerk makes you a jerk.

And why can't I write like you? I teach writing (when I am working) for heaven's sake, and all I can do is read your prose and go, "Yes, what she said."

Tuesday Girl said...

That is a hard position to be in, and I think everyone would have had the same feelings as you did.

You are only human.

Anonymous said...

I logged on today specifically to find something about "dealing with being told when others are pregnant". I have been trying to conceive for a year and a half and needless to say - it has been a road. In the past two weeks, two people I work with have told me they are pregnant. Today, a third person delivered the news. I almost laughed at the comical nature of "how many more people are going to come into my classroom to tell me they are pregnant - I'll scream!!!". Anyway, I'm trying so hard to live in the positive and believe that my turn will come - but underneath, my heart breaks each time somebody delivers their amazing news. When I began this journey a year and a half ago (and I realize that might not seem long to some) I even imagined myself telling the people I work with - I thought it would be me. Now, I wonder, will it ever be me? That is the hardest thing to contemplate. Trying to live in the hope and in the now!

mandolyn said...

I followed that post, nodding all the way. Yeah, I thought, I feel kind of like that with all the people I know who are hyperfertile. My SIL who knows that she only needs to be off the pill for one cycle. The coworker who was actually trying not to get pregnant. All the people on babycenter (seriously, why do I go on there?) who start threads asking "how many of your babies are surprises?" and "how long did it take for you to conceive?" I'm not angry at them. I'm angry at their fertility. Or maybe my lack thereof. Either way. When I read the last bit, my heart broke as well. Damn it, no one should have to hear the words "not viable." Ever. I'm so incredibly sorry for her and her family.

For the record, I HATE that I thought, "Oh no, a faint line might not be so great..." when you mentioned that part. Infertility has corrupted a little part of my ability to be hopeful and optimistic. For most people, a faint line is a line. It's a BFP. It's a good thing. Damn IF perspective. That part made me feel like an ass.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say, but I feel like I have to say something. While reading your post, I felt that old, familiar punch of rage at my inability to conceive and carry a child. Then, I read the last note and felt horrible. It's such a reminder that everyone has things they go through. It's so easy for me to get so wrapped up in our struggles to have a family and to feel like what I'm going through is worse than what anyone else is going through. Not that it's a small thing at all to endure, but it's good to remember that other people are going through tough times, also.
I had to smile when I read the lines about wanting to slide the positive tests closer to you. Sometimes when I hold friends' babies, I like to try to imagine what it would feel like if it were mine. That sounds so lame when I say it out loud! :)

Ellen K. said...

I don't think you're an asshole. In no way did your mixed feelings cause this. I think you are a very good friend, to be able to recognize that what one person covets can be the same thing that another person regrets or even dreads. The one thing I have tried very, very hard not to lose during IF is sympathy for women who have unplanned pregnancies.

Anyway. About regaining femininity. Stopping TTC has been enormously helpful in that respect -- this is not what anyone wants to hear, I'm sure, but I have not felt this attractive or this happy with my body, right down to my slacker ovaries, since the first month we started TTC -- right before my obgyn told me that I would likely have trouble conceiving, right before all the fun went ahead and my body became an object of distrust and disdain.

Watson said...


This is (another) beautiful and heartfelt post. I'm sorry your friend got the news she did, any way you slice it that must be terribly hard.

I so related to the whole discussion about feeling feminine and like a WOMAN.

The entire time we've been TTC, I have been the sole breadwinner while my husband worked.

It totally messed with my mind.

Not only could I not get pregnant (the most 'womanly' of the male/female roles) but I was holding down the traditionally male role by providing for my family.

I thought (and still think/hope) that if I get pregnant, it will erase some of the feelings of inadequacy that I still have.

Thanks for such a great post!

Anonymous said...

Don't feel like an ass. I felt like you were very compassionate about it...and that you were able to be there for her as a friend, even if it might have hurt. That's beautiful, it really is.

When you were describing the faint positive and the other tests, I kept thinking how it might not be viable. How, oh no, faint when you're not expecting late and must therefore BE LATE is BAD, very bad.

I'm so sorry for your friend. You're so right...there's two ends of this spectrum, I never thought of it like that.

You know, I don't know if it's maybe because I'm young and maybe because I've never had a problem attracting more men than I want, but I've not felt a loss of femininity. Womanhood, dear, is in loving, in being compassionate, in being soft in heart and in body, and in taking care of others.

You're a woman, you prove that in the kind of friend you are.

Anonymous said...

I liked your post a lot but much came to mind. Not about your friend, and I feel for her, but about how you define yourself.
Only you can define yourself certainly, but perhaps it is in your definitions that the change needs to happen. What makes a woman, what makes one feel like a woman? Is it in the ability to procreate? Some of my strongest role models as women never could pro-create. Is it in our hormones? Some great women I have known were born men. Is it in our society, our peers who define us? I certainly hope not.
For me personally, what defines me being a woman is being strong. For me the ability to feel, to express, to nurture others, to support others, to have empathy, to not be afraid to express emotions. My ability to sob, soul-wrenching, gut-curdling wailing sobs of pain and then walk through that pain and not stuff it down and come out the other side. My ability to express my feelings and not be ashames of them. My ability to comfort others and recognize that others feel pain like me and have needs and hurts like me. My ability to care for others, even those I may not like, and want the best for people and this world on the whole. My spirituality and freeness with expressing it. All of these things define, for me, my woman-ness.
To me you show ALL of these trait, daily, on this blog.
To me you are one HELLUVA roaring feminine woman.
I wish you could borrow my glasses a moment and see yourself through my eyes.


Anonymous said...

I was - am - in 100% agreement throughout your ENTIRE post. I have missed my feminisma since the day they told me that I had a uterine abnormality. And I have not yet gotten it back.

I am sorry - so very sorry - that your friend's pregnancy is not viable. Hugs to her.

But you are NOT an asshole.

Cibele said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cibele said...

As a read your post I identified myself with your feelings. My SIL seems to be PG again with her # 3, 2 in less than 2 years while being on birth control pills. I cried one more time as her hyper fertility reminds of what kind of woman I am… a barren and bitter woman that cries over other people’s good news. I too remember those days where I wore my womanhood on my sleeves and now I see myself staring with envious eyes to a woman (SIL) that besides her super fertility, is not nothing like what kinda woman I want to be. I am sorry about your friend.
Please know that you are an admirable woman. I hope we can feel like our true selves soon!

Anonymous said...

You are not in any way an asshole, even if you may feel like one. I agree with Royalyne, you are a brave soul - to tell it like it is, even though it hurts and maybe makes you a little angry at yourself for thinking what you thought.

Your post, and ones like it, tell the real story of IF. From time to time we all question whether what we react wrongly - in what we think, say, and do.

We each handle this whole thing in a different way. I really don't see anything wrong with your reaction - of COURSE you are jealous, but you are also TOTALLY there for your friend when she needs you. It counts big in her book, I bet!

You know - she probably has a sliding scale of friendship - I'm possitive you get an automatic 10 on her scale. :)

Anonymous said...

Ah. Nothing makes you feel worse than envying someone except watching something horrible happen to them afterwards.

As for feminisma, I guess you do have to find that yourself. But I think there's something very womanly about standing up to all this ART shit, about making a home amongst the pieces of life's shrapnel.


Anonymous said...

First: You are not an asshole, you are a human being. I'm sure more than one of your readers has reacted with pained jealousy when confronted with a hyper-fertile's pregnancy, and when it failed, left them convinced they were an unfeeling jerk. It happened to me, I'm not proud to say (I was the unfeeling - and all-too-human - jerk).

Second: It's interesting how entwined your feeling of femininity is with the facts of biology. It made me stop short and ask myself what makes a person feminine. Is it biology alone? Is it what society defines it as? Is it both? Is it neither, being solely in the eye of the beheld? I vote for the last, and hope you recover your feminisma in a way that's meaningful to you.

Lastly: My heart goes out to your friend. If you can, please convey all of our heartfelt thoughts and good wishes to her and her family.

May said...

Oh, your poor friend.

And poor you. I empathise so much - the feeling of being disconnected from your uterus, the feeling not quite like a woman.

OK, I'm tearing up now. Must go find a tissue.

Gil said...

Mel, you said "I want to feel feminine. I want to feel like a woman." Like so many others have indicated in their comments, I am in the same boat. There are days that I feel like a fraud as a female; like I'm not really 'woman enough' to be able to do something that Mother Nature intended our bodies to do naturally. I haven't felt feminine in a very long time. And for five or six months, I haven't even felt HUMAN, let alone feminine! Now that hubby and I are taking a bit of a break, at least I feel human again, but where, oh where is the femininity? Can we create the illusion of it? I don't know.

I am so sorry for your friend. Her seemingly hyperfertility is accompanied by her own problems in that this pregnancy isn't viable. Regardless, you were there for your friend and supported her. And for that, and for your honesty in expressing the emotions that "unfeminine females" feel, you are to be commended. An asshole, you most definitely are not. *hugs*

Artblog said...

Well written Mel, must have been hard to write. We have all felt that way at one time or other.

It just goes to show that you never know, even with someone enviously fertile.

I understand the guilt though.

Anonymous said...

Please don't feel like an asshole. You couldn't have known.

This was a very emotional post for me. Aside from feeling your feelings about your friends pregnancy and then finding out that it wasn't viable I also felt so sad when I read about your feelings about your feminisma. It made me think of my husband and how hard I try to let him know that his infertility has nothing to do with his manhood. Your description of your feelings about how your body isn't working made my heart break for you and for him. Nothing I say will change how he feels about all of this and that is so hard for me. I never really thought about it from the woman's point of view, but you opened my eyes.

I hope you are feeling better about things today!

Anonymous said...

Your post is a beautiful explanation of your own feelings. It's not really about your friend at all. Thanks for putting a feeling that so many of us have experienced into words.

I also agree with you that an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy might feel as much like a crisis as infertility. Either way, your body has betrayed you in such a way as to completely derail your life plans.

I'm sorry that your friend is going through this.

OHN said...

Roller coasters roll in both directions don't they!? What you had were honest feelings and it sounds like you were and are very supportive of this friend. That says ALOT about the person that you are.

Jodi said...

You shouldn't feel bad. That is how you feel based on what you have been through.

I think that is a beautiful, raw and honest post that I can completely connect with.

A week after I suffered thru my ectopic loss and loss of my tube, a much younger but good friend of mine, who lives out of state, contacted me and said she just had a healthy baby girl. No one knew she was pregnant except for her boyfriend. She had limited care and delivered a healthy baby, that she didn't know if she wanted to keep her. Her boyfriend undeniablely wanted to keep her.

It broke my heart. But that is life. Some women can get pregnant (even on birth control) and deliver babies like champs. Others, like us have a different path with many obstacles regarding infertility.
It hurts, but we are strong women and we will make it thru, somehow.

I am sorry your friend is going thru this too.

Anonymous said...

see? This is why I come back to your blog, every day. You keep it real. I've been where you were when you wrote this post - even at the end. You tell our story and I love you for it.

Anonymous said...

Please don't feel like that. I think that your feelings are valid. I too imagine that that BFP announcement is mine, or how will mine look? I have said from the beginning of my journey that my body looks like it should procreate, and yet it is the one thing it will NOT do. This does not mean that I don't imagine myself PG, that I don't believe somewhere deep inside of me that I am going to have a child , that I don't look at my PG friends with a mix of Hope and Hate somedays. I want it so badly, I want to feel like this body works and it can't.
I think your post was important for you to write and for me to read. I need to know that when I am feeling those things, I am not alone.

I am sorry about your friend's PG, I know her hurt is real too.

Dee said...

1. I'm so sorry for your friend. Peace to her and her family.

2. You are not an asshole.

3. God, this post hit me like a bat between the eyes. The hyper-fertile best friend who gets pregnant on bc. The instant I-know-I'm-crazed-for-feeling-this-way-but-I-can't-help-it punch in the gut of jealousy over her fertility. The absolute disconnect between me and my sense of femininity. The outward physical symptoms of PCOS and hypo- thyroidism, and the resulting IF have really done a number on my self-esteem. Intellectually, I know that being a woman is really so much more than the biological. It's about strength, and nurturing and compassion and many other qualities.
I wonder if applying those qualities in the day to day mothering of a child will help me see myself as the woman I want to be?

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful entry!
It's funny how we as women, define what it means to be female, by our breasts, hips, and our interal organs, for they are what physiologicaly makes us female. Yet when even one of these things is threatened,(by mastectomy, hysterectomy, or infertility), we feel less female, and sometimes less valued in our society.
I'm 25 years old and i'm questioning my fertility. I to have a best friend who got pregnant at a very young age and had an abortion, she then went on birthcontrol, and she got pregnant again durring our freshman year of college. I felt bad for her then, and i did what ever i couuld to support her in her decission to have her baby. I married, and was uncessful in ever achieving a pregnacy, thru faithful trying. When i discovered that my husband had an affair and the other girl had gotten pregnant, it was the worst blow to what i thought it was to be female. That was in 2003.
I have since then for the past 3 years been seeing someone so wonderful since my divorce, he and i want desperately to have a child, yet he is sterile. We had thought once about a year ago that i might have gotten pregnant thru a one-night stand while the BF and i were taking a break. I was teriffied i called the BF even though he knew it was not from his loins that this could have arisen, he stood by my side and was not angry. As it turned out i had a serious hormonal imbalance that was causing my periods to sease to flush out causing that ever so classic "morning sickness". I saw a GYN for it who gave me a diagnosis and also discovered that i have a hydrosalpinx on my R ovary. So for him and I the battle with infertility continues, and lastnight as we made love just for the sake of making love, he said i was the most beautiful womman he'd ever seen, dispite my body and it's refusal to do the most basic of female things, give birth.
We are all beautiful beings and female no matter what we think might be holding us back from fitting society's model of "femmine".
I wish both you and your friend the best.
-momma says i've got childbaring hips-