Adrienne, otherwise known as Max's Mommy, has this wonderful post this week about doubt. She describes this feeling of second-guessing as "I'm in a space right now that is so incredibly uncomfortable and painful, but I can't find the door so I can leave. With my fingers I'm frantically searching for a handle, a doorknob, a crack, anything that feels like a way out, but all I find is smooth wall, from floor to ceiling, corner to corner. The space I'm in is doubt. I'm doubting my choices - those already made, those I'm planning to make - and wondering, worrying that they were/are all the wrong ones." Which is, of course, exactly how it feels.
I think fertility treatments (and all paths to parenthood) are fraught with minefields of doubt. When you first step onto the path, before you've made any major decisions or really gotten the ball rolling, you're filled with such hope. And I can say that even when I'm not feeling true Hope (that capital "H" hope; that I-am-so-on-the-right-path kind of hope; that you-could-even-tell-me-about-your-pregnancy-and-I'm-not-going-to-have-a-nervous-breakdown-because-I-believe-it-will-happen-for-me kind of hope) on CD1, I am at least feeling something more akin to hope than despair.
The reality is, if I didn't feel any hope, I would give up. I wouldn't spend the money or expend the energy or check my cervical mucous or give myself that injection if I knew without a doubt that it wouldn't work. Even when I say that I'm feeling hopeless, I know I'm not truly at the bottom because the day I hit the bottom will be the day that I turn my back on still building my family and say, "I give up."
Fertility treatments are more addictive than gambling.
Coming hand-in-hand with that hope is fear. And after the helium deflates out of the balloons of hope and fear, the emotion sputters into doubt. Because there are so many places for something to go wrong. We have a friend who had settled for transferring a certain amount of embryos. At the last moment, she asked if they could transfer one more. They did and she ended up with a singleton. Is the singleton the result of that final embryo or was he one of the embryos who was already designated for transfer? She'll never know, but those sorts of stories plant seeds of doubt. Did I transfer too many and will I end up with quadruplets? Did I not transfer enough and will I end up with none implanting? Did I choose the right RE? Should I have chosen adoption over another round of IVF?
I think more than anywhere else in life, we feel like any wrong turn equals an instantaneous loss of chance because this clock is ticking somewhere and while we have hope (as much as we refuse to call it hope), we also don't believe that we'll be one of the lucky ones and beat it before time runs out. Even if we are able to look at other points in our life when we thought things wouldn't work out, but they did (the marriage I thought would never come, the job I thought I would never get, the house I thought we'd never buy), we can't believe it. For whatever reason, though our rational mind understands that parallel, our heart can't compute the comfort or clarity.
It feels like you're waiting to be picked. And though there are things you can do to ensure that you won't be chosen (not having sex, let's say. Or not turning in your paperwork for an adoption or not showing up for the egg retrieval or not choosing a donor or surrogate), there seems to be little you can do to ensure that you will be chosen. Hence the doubt. Did you make the right decisions? Did you screw yourself in some way? Was there anything you could do to make yourself more pick-able. More choose-able.
When I'm in those moments of doubt, I completely understand Meredith Grey's impassioned plea to McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy when she told him, "Choose me. Love me." It's not just that she wants McDreamy; she also wants what having McDreamy means in the larger sense: that she has been chosen; that someone chooses her; that she now has a boyfriend and perhaps a future husband; a partner in life. She isn't alone. She specifically wants McDreamy to be the man who completes the picture and takes her away from being alone; but at the root--she simply wants to know when she will no longer be alone. Once we know our child exists, it is this specific child that we want to keep us from empty parenting (those parenthood impulses with no recipient). But moreover, we want to know when we're going to be parents--either for the first time or again. It is why those losses hurt so deeply--they were the specific love--and why we are able to continue on (albeit bruised and scarred) the path to parenthood after each heartbreaking, frustrating attempt. We are still searching for that completion.
In every other place in life, I've always been able to get myself out of a specific emotion. I may not be successful in removing it altogether, but I've given myself moments of reprise within my day. Except with doubt. And that's why Adrienne has it completely right--it's a room without a door. At least not one that can be opened by ourselves. Every time I have been let out of that room, it has been because someone else has opened the door and let me out with a new piece of information--something that brings back the hope (even if at the same time, it brings back the fear).
And while I know this is the case--at least for me--that doubt can be removed in a second with any positive twist in a maze of anxiety--it also unsettles me to have that so far outside my control. To know that doubt is a room without a door. And that I have to wait until someone or something opens it for me.
Or is this only me? Have you figured a Houdini-like way out of doubt? How do you reinflate those balloons of hope (and unfortunately, its evil twin, fear) when the helium tank is empty?