There are a few different branches of our library system and I go to each one for a different reason. One has the best selection of cookbooks and new DVDs. Another is close in location. And my favourite contains the medical library which is where I get all of my light reading on PCOS or recurrent pregnancy loss. The medical library also happens to be situated in an orthodox Jewish neighbourhood, therefore many of the patrons are orthodox and enter the library with the obvious signs and symbols: long skirts, hats or wigs, tzitzit hanging out.
And this probably speaks more about my own insecurities, but when I see orthodox women walking through the library, I have an urge to tell them that I'm Jewish too. My method of choice is to position myself near them and then begin speaking loudly about the challah I have to complete at home or how I'm going to the kosher butcher after this stop at the library (saying these things to another person--not just shouting them out to the library in general. Er...). I feel this need to do this because my observance isn't outwardly obvious. Yet even though I'm wearing brown cords and a sweater and my hair isn't covered, I do many of the same Jewish traditions as these women. In function, our houses probably don't operate that differently. But in form, they differ greatly. But at the end of the day, function and action win out over form in my world--I have mezuzot on every door of the house, I keep Shabbat, I keep a kosher home.
Sounds pretty observant, right?
But sometimes when I'm having a low-self-esteem day and I'm standing next to the orthodox women, I don't feel Jewish enough. I know in my heart that I'm still Jewish even if I choose to wear pants. The fact that they choose not to wear pants doesn't make them more Jewish. Their overt signs of Judaism don't detract from my observance of Judaism. Right? Yet I still feel this need to let them know that I'm Jewish, perhaps because I am waiting to see if they accept me as Jewish.
And I'm not the only person who plays the am-I-Jewish-enough game. I was standing in the library Friday morning, speaking with a friend about how I had to get a move-on with making hamantaschen for Purim, a holiday coming up in another week or so. An older woman next to me leans into our conversation and says, "I used to make hamantaschen every year, but now I just buy them. Too much work."
She doesn't really give a crap about hamantaschen (at least, this is my assumption since how many of us actually give a crap about jam-filled cookies?), but what she wanted me to know from overhearing my conversation is that she's Jewish too. And on the sliding scale of observance, I'm looking more observant than she is in this moment. Because I'm speaking about the upcoming holiday whereas she's talking with her friends about the latest romance novel that she read. If this were the old version of the SATs and they still had analogies in the verbal section, I would be to this woman what the orthodox women are to me.
That's what humans do.
And we do it in infertility too. The driving force behind the pomegranate-coloured thread was to establish our commonality. We all go through our journey differently, but we all have this common thread of infertility or pregnancy loss. That's the other thing that humans do: we make connections, we let people know that we belong. But once you establish community, it feels like our inner insecurities automatically kick in and people begin wondering: "do I really belong?" as well as "do other people think I belong?"
Some of it comes from the same place as comparative Jewishness: while there are some general guidelines for establishing whether someone is Jewish, there are other factors that are more fluid. In Conservative Judaism, it's completely acceptable to wear pants. In Orthodox Judaism, not so much so. Therefore, someone Orthodox may look at me and say, "damn, she isn't that observant." Whereas someone in Conservative Judaism may look at me and say, "damn, the chickie makes her own challah every Friday? She's pretty observant."
You see what I mean?
I write this because this topic keeps coming round in many forms with the common refrain being, "I don't know if I belong." I've written about this before, but it really saddens me when I see people second-guessing. Infertility and loss is difficult enough without people wondering if it's appropriate to ask for emotional support.
Like Judaism, there is a definition for infertility. According to RESOLVE, "Infertility is a disease or condition of the reproductive system often diagnosed after a couple has had one year of unprotected, well-timed intercourse, or if the woman has suffered from multiple miscarriages." For women over 35, the accepted time frame is six months and "multiple" miscarriages generally refers to three, though there are doctors who begin testing after two (or even one depending on the circumstances).
Which would follow that if you have had a year of earnest bonking or home inseminations, you are infertile. It doesn't matter if you've decided to continue trying on your own or if you've decided to go to the RE: you are still infertile. And it doesn't matter if you've been told to go directly to IVF and do not pass go, or if you're first trying some lower impact solutions such as Clomid: you are still infertile. A person who has chosen a different route is not more infertile just as those women I see at the library are not more Jewish. In both cases, the two people belong to the same group and it's simply the chosen path and the fine details that differ.
Beyond that, I think that the emotions of infertility are broader than the medical diagnosis. Under the standard definition of infertility, a lesbian couple who is undergoing IVF in order to transfer the eggs of one woman into the womb of another may be going through the emotions of infertility after the first or second failed cycle even if they haven't been trying for over a year. Fertility treatments are a roller coaster and other factors come into play in that situation. Therefore, in my opinion, they belong. Secondary infertility where the woman conceived her first child on the first try, but has now been trying for over a year to have another? She belongs. A woman who has tried for four months and is currently stressing out because her friends all became pregnant on the first try? Not so much so. It's a flexible definition, but even flexible definitions break if you bend them too far.
I guess what I'm trying to say in apparently the longest way possible is that if one considers the emotional journey to be just as valid and important as the medical journey, many more people can fit comfortably into the world of infertility and draw necessary support. And subsequently, if there is a diagnosis written on a medical chart somewhere, you are infertile enough--even if you look at other infertile women walking around the lobby of the clinic and wonder if their journey is ten times more terrible than your own. Regardless of the decisions you make and the choices that are influenced by outside factors, you are infertile. Therefore, in my definition, you belong. And you can ask for emotional support. And you can receive it.
I am having a difficult time ending this post. I know this is my personal opinion and I can't speak for the entire community. But I'd like to believe that as a whole, we are empathetic and inclusive. Right?