I mentioned a blog post in a roundup a few weeks ago that Ellen from Miss E's Musings wrote about her friend whose sibling experienced a similar situation of secondary fertility. She wrote:
If infertility is a game, then these couples are doubly lucky -- they beat the odds, and then they won the next round without even having to play. I don't know how they honestly consider their good fortune, or whether it makes them think differently of the first round. They all appear to enjoy the second pregnancy a lot more, which makes a lot of sense. I would probably feel relieved. Maybe even a little triumphant.And it's interesting because until I spoke with my friend, my eyes had passed over that sentence about how they all appear to enjoy the second pregnancy a lot more. I had assumed that would be how I would feel if it happened to me. I would have a happy accident and would get to experience that other side of stress-free, private conception that fertile women experience from point one--sort of like getting a VBAC delivery after the c-section.
My infertility counselor always said, "Parenting resolves childlessness; it doesn't resolve infertility." I agree with this in theory, but it's awkward in application. The clinical definition of infertility is the failure to conceive or carry to term after 1 year of unprotected sex. But then what? Is there an expiration date on the label "infertile"? Do you get upgraded to "subfertile" when you have a child? And do you ever get upgraded to "fertile"?
Yet this really isn't the case at all after I spoke with my friend. The pregnancy brings with it a mix of feelings--from relief and joy to anxiety and frustration. Why did I have to go through all of that shit the first time? Am I still infertile? That's the community I know--am I about to be kicked out? Will I carry to term? Why aren't they giving me the same number of sonograms I got to have coming off a twin pregnancy after IVF? Don't they understand that I am more anxious and distrustful of my body than the average woman? And with these internal questions come the guilt--I just succeeded again when I have friends who are still trying for their first. I wasn't trying to have a child and now I have to scramble to figure out how we will incorporate this new person into our family and it makes me feel ungrateful.
The reality is that we all--at any given moment--have a near future that we envision for ourselves and are awfully attached to when push comes to shove. When you get engaged, you envision your future to include a wedding and a honeymoon. For some women, that future is ripped away unexpectedly either by the relationship ending or the fiance dying. And it's brutal to have a future that you carefully constructed in your mind snatched away. We have preconceived near future ideas concerning career, education, or home-buying. We predict how life will look a few months into the future. And when you start trying to conceive, the future is that you'll be pregnant soon and that future is shredded apart by infertility.
But in all of this also needs to be the understanding that when you are parenting, you also have a near future envisioned--one that might include trips or jobs or opportunities for your family--and that vision is ripped away by an unexpected pregnancy. Even if this pregnancy follows spontaneously on the heels of infertility. This may be difficult to read and you may be saying, "who cares--I have a problem because I am still in the throes of IVF. She doesn't have a problem. She is simply someone who hit the jackpot twice."
And is she lucky? Yes--I think my friend, even with all of this stress, would describe this as fortuitous. Perhaps ill-timed fortune, but fortune nonetheless. But even good luck brings its own struggles.
It was an interesting conversation--eye-opening to me--because so much of her identity is connected to infertility. Most of her friends have experienced infertility or are currently doing treatments. She volunteers with RESOLVE and participates in focus groups for infertility. And it's the only community she knows--the one that she has been drawing and providing support to and from for the past several years. Like many people, when she started to go through this crisis, she gravitated towards friends who were in similar situations. And soon, stirrup queens replaced the fertile myrtles. It isn't that she (or I, for that matter) doesn't have any fertile friends--she did keep friends from her past--but the majority of her current support system comes from the Land of If.
And while she knows where she stands insofar as infertility--she believes that she is still firmly an infertile woman regardless of this spontaneous single pregnancy--she doesn't know how others perceive her. If she will still be accepted.
And it's a shitty, strange feeling to wish that you had to struggle a bit so you can still sit at the same lunch table.
It's a question that I've been entertaining because, obviously, a great deal of my own identity is tied up in infertility. I read infertility and I write infertility daily. But along the way of researching this book, I have realized that even though infertility is one of the shittier aspects of my life, it is also the life event that has shaped how I view the world or interact with people. I think I would be happiest in life if a clinic hired me to be their professional hand-holder. I could accompany people to blood draws and appointments and sit with them afterwards in a nearby Starbucks and commiserate. If there was a way for Josh to become a self-made millionaire, I would dedicate my life to being a comforter. I think I am happiest when I am interacting with another infertile person and either passing along information or bouncing their words back to them or simply listening and crying with them. I spend so much time writing my blog and reading yours because it makes me happy. And even when it is breaking my heart to read a story and it is not necessarily a "happy" moment, it is certainly the most comfortable moment. The one where I am wearing the correct skin.
I don't always feel comfortable. I don't connect with the other mothers on the playground. And I can be pretty quiet and shy when you throw me into a room with people I don't know. But when I'm with someone infertile, I simply connect from point one. And I can find the right words to say or the way to start and sustain a conversation.
And when she was speaking about her fears of losing that--of losing her community--it made me think about that fine line you walk when you are trying to have a child after primary infertility. How internally, you want so badly for it to be easy this time. But how externally, you feel that you need for it to be hard again in order to hold onto your support system. I think about this a lot because we are currently trying naturally and won't be returning to the clinic until some pieces fall into place financially. So there are still several cycles ahead of me where it could happen. And if it does, will I still be accepted in my own community? The one where I feel like I'm in the right skin?
I think we make a lot of assumptions as a community. When we're cycling, we think that we'll be so happy once we achieve pregnancy. But that isn't always the case. And I'm not talking about the anxiety that accompanies a pregnancy after infertility or loss. I'm talking about the dirty truth that stirrup queens feel queasy mentioning--that they sometimes wonder what they've gotten themselves into. They sometimes wonder why they aren't feeling more joy. Pregnancy after infertility requires a great deal of emotional support--just as much support as is needed during cycling.
And as a community, we have a tendency to desert people once they achieve pregnancy. It is the lucky blogger who finds that she has just as many readers while she is cycling than when she is pregnant. I think many bloggers believe that they have nothing to contribute to a conversation about clogged milk ducts while they're still cycling. And it's true--you may not have anything to say about clogged milk ducts. But that doesn't mean that you can't offer a sympathetic "I'm sorry; it sounds like it sucks." Or simply read without comment as a sign of silent support. What I am trying to say--and while I know that I've said this more than once on this blog, I think it bears repeating--that women pregnant after infertility need support and the only community they may know is this one. When we desert them, we take away one of their coping mechanisms after extending them that support during previous months. It's a hard thing to have happen to you.
Are pregnancy blogs difficult to read when you're still cycling? Fuck, yes. Maybe you can't continue as a daily reader but simply be there for the person during spaces in your own cycle where you can breathe.
I write this without a chance of being pregnant right now--I'm in the middle of my period. But it still is something that I've considered myself--the fine line costs of secondary fertility--that perhaps are outweighed tremendously by the gains--a baby conceived without the emotional, physical or financial costs of treatments--but still contain a certain sting. Maybe I write this post selfishly because I worry that it will happen to me. I didn't have a support system in place the first time I was trying and I really struggled emotionally. And now I have a support system in place and I worry about losing it when I know I still need it even if readers believe that I'm fine on my own or should move into the land of Momsville (it's one of those mainland towns where the mommy bloggers live). I know I will still belong here even when I am finished building my family.
And I hope you agree that I still understand the struggle even if I do stand with my feet in both worlds (I'm sort of assuming that if you don't think that I get it, you don't read my blog. Because that would be sort of strange. To keep reading if you thought that I had nothing to add). Because the emotions tied to infertility didn't go away for me after I held my children and I don't believe that they will go away for me even after my family is built. Perhaps that is more a fact of my own journey. Yet that is certainly how my friend is feeling in the moment as well even with her spontaneous pregnancy.
As I said, we are a community that tends to turn away from women once they achieve pregnancy--and it's something that pregnant women understand on some level because they have done it themselves to other infertile women who became pregnant before them. We are a community that feels that secondary infertility is not "as bad" because you already have a child--though the reality is that secondary infertility comes with its own set of problems, its own set of heartache, its own set of frustrations that are unique and unimaginable when you are going through primary infertility. It's not a large stretch for my friend--or myself--to worry about this.
I hope you would still have me as the barkeeper for the Virtual Lushary if I was ever lucky enough to have this happen to me.