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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Infertility at the Olympics: Cheering on Dara Torres

Cross-posted with BlogHer...

Dara Torres: 9 time medalist in swimming, 5-time Olympiad, 41-years-old (and the oldest female swimmer), incredible powerhouse. And stirrup queen to boot. With 7.4 million Americans diagnosed with infertility, it makes sense that a portion of Olympic athletes would need a little help in the non-equestrian stirrups. But certainly Dara Torres's openness in talking about IVF has made her a hero in the infertility blogosphere.

And her reason for speaking out is to remove the stigma of infertility. As she said back in 2004 when she was still doing treatments to conceive her daughter, "I only know of people who have spoken about their problems getting pregnant after they succeeded. That's great but I felt that people who are struggling with this need to hear from someone going through it just like they are."

Kicks ass in the swimming pool and kicks ass on dry land.

It's interesting how the Olympics--like all major events--become entwined through infertility depending on when you are cycling. I guarantee you that the women who are going through IVF this week or are paper pregnant through adoption will have emotional moments when the next summer Olympics rolls through four years from now. They will remember giving themselves an injection as a male gymnast tackles the parallel bars. They will remember how they were holding their cordless phone in one hand, willing their social worker to ring. And every time the Olympics rolls around, they will be brought back to this time period.

Miss E from Miss E's Musings has a post this week about how she felt watching the last Olympics vs. how she feels now, pregnant with twins after IVF. She writes, "During the last Olympics I was acutely aware that I had accomplished comparatively zilch in my life and yet was older than nearly all the athletes, so the games made for kind of sucky viewing. Thankfully I've gotten past that stage and now just lust after the young male athletes, especially the swimmers."

Meghan and Bill's Adoption Adventure
is literally coming to a milestone during the Olympics. They are in Moscow, bringing their son, Nick, into his new family. Reading her blog this week, I became as emotional as I was seeing Michael Phelps screaming for joy at the end of his relay. She writes of this moment:
Now I'm sitting here, watching the Olympics and contemplating how our lives are going to change in the span of less than 24 hours. I know some of you out there are probably thinking, how dramatic, its just a child, everyone does it. The thing is, after years of trying to start a family, unsuccessful fertility treatments, disappointment after disappointment, you start to think that maybe it isn't your destiny to have children, maybe you aren't meant to be a parent, you can be the fun aunt. But you press on, desperately trying to make something happen, in hopes that your dream of having a family will finally come true. I can hardly believe that our dream is finally going to become a reality. I'm quite overwhelmed and very excited (and a little scared)!
It is this strange thing to watch this pinnacle of bodily achievement when your own body is not cooperating on the baby-making front. Stacey's Thoughts on Infertility has a wistful post about living life as a SAHW when she always thought she'd be a SAHM. "It actually felt pretty great today because I got some house cleaning done to the tune of the Olympics on TV. It was pretty inspirational. I think I turned in at least a silver medal performance. But it doesn't feel great day in and day out." In the end, she admits, she doesn't feel like she has contributed to the world, and there is nothing like the Olympics to bring out that emotion.

It is hard to watch people achieve their dreams when you're not achieving your own. We're not seeing the people who didn't make it to the Olympics when we're watching the games--we're seeing the athletes who applied themselves and achieved their dreams. And there is a very bittersweet analogy for infertile people in the fertile world. No one sees the hard work or the sacrifices or the struggle when they see someone infertile. Our focus, as a nation, is with the woman who achieves. Who is carrying the baby or has the belly bump. Infertile women are like the athletes still stuck in Topeka, Kansas. The ones watching the games on television instead of executing their balance beam routine in Beijing. Wondering what went wrong, why they didn't make the team despite their hard work.

My own infertility tie to the Olympics came from the premature birth of the twins. We were supposed to be watching the opening ceremonies at home. Instead, we were across the street from the hospital, in a hotel while our twins were in the NICU. Nothing was how I imagined it would be. It is impossible not to get emotional when the Olympics rolls around again and I see all of our legs tangled around each other as we lie as a family in a hotel bed on vacation, explaining Chinese brush painting to our four-year-olds. I'm sure I will still feel this rush of emotion, this memory of infertility, four years and eight years and twelve years down the line as each Summer Olympics is televised.

My only hope for those future games is that more Olympians--these pinnacles of health and bodily dominance--come forward like Dara Torres and use their moment in the spotlight to also show the fallibility of the body. And, as a result, ask all of us to tread carefully when huge emotions are at stake.


Heather J. said...

Yeah! Go Dara! Way to be up front about IF!


On the other hand, I do think she is the exception to the rule. I may be wrong here, but aren't MOST of the athletes quite young? I doubt that many of them have fertility issues anywhere on their radar screens. My impression of Olympians has always been that they give their entire young lives to their sport, and only after they retire do they consider starting a family.

Hopefully they will be outspoken later in life if they experience IF, but I don't think there are many (any?) who have even thought about it yet.

What do you all think? Am I on target or completely off base here?

Jen said...

Lovely post! Now I have another reason to cry when I watch the Olympics! :)

Tara said...

I applaud Dara for "coming out" while still in treatment.

I tried to do the same thing and it turned out to be very painful and very difficult for me. I was astounded a how ignorant and insensitive society really is about this subject. Even my best efforts to educate those around me seemed to be somewhat futile. I find that if it's not happenening to someone personally - they seem to be less interested in really learning about it and would rather just stick to what they "think" they already know - which, in today's world, is probably something tht they've deduced from that celebrity gossip television program or magazine.

Which is why is so good for someone such as Dara - who is still in treatment to come out about her IF. Especially since she is somewhat in the media's spotlight. It's good for people to learn about IF from on olympian instead of people like Brad and Angelena...

Shelli said...

Great post Mel.

I am on Day 12 of stimming for my current IVF cycle, and YES the thought did cross my mind that I will always remember these Olympics if not for the games, but sitting at the kitchen table doing injections while watching them on TV.

Any celeb coming "out of the closet" during treatment gets a gold medal from me. I hate that IF is eerily absent from the media, while well-known people are RANDOMLY popping out twins at a very high rate of speed. Surely not EVERYONE can possibly be having babies the old-fashioned way.

Jess said...

Yay! I hadn't heard of Dara, but I like her now!

Grad3 said...

So nice to see someone being up front about infertility struggles!!

Amanda said...

Excellent, excellent post. You know, I never considered the Olympics to be a time marker because I really don't watch them. But I do the same thing with plenty of other recurring events. Thanks for the reminder to look around to those who may be in the midst of a very painful situation.

Stacey said...

Thanks so much for the "shout out" today and thanks to those of you who linked over to my blog and left comments. It feels good to know that there's a community out here. I can't believe I'm just now finding that out!

Piccinigirl said...

as always a poingant post, one that makes my eyes tear and my heart jump. Yes, you're so right in so many ways.
I hope that every woman still trying to achieve that dream out there, knows that she's my hero, my dream team and that no matter where she finishes, she's always a "winner" to me.

loribeth said...

One more reason to admire Dara (& a much more meaningful one than those amazing abs, lol). "It is hard to watch people achieve their dreams when you're not achieving your own." So true. Thanks for this post, Mel.

Bea said...

Great post, Mel. Nicely tied together, and just gave me a whole new perspective on things.


Anonymous said...

Oh your words ring so true for me! We went to the 2002 Olympics and I was scared to book the tickets because I was thinking "but we'll be pg then"...I never thought that here it would be 6 years later and no kids to speak of! And that is what I think of when I watch the Olympics. Don't get me wrong, I love watching them. I love cheering on everyone from my sofa and going in 2002 was probably one of our best vacations, but it always brings that bittersweet memory.

I know a lot of the female athletes have mentioned that after the Olympics they are going to start their families and I hope none of them are plagued with IF. If they are though, I hope in 4 years they come back to win their gold medals and say "I am still a beautiful person, children or not."