Infertility Part 2: Acceptance
In Part I: Damaged Goods, I wrote about diagnosis and discovery. In Part II, I'm aiming toward acceptance of what I cannot change.
Most of us mean well. In the face of uncertainty, people want to offer solutions. This struggle is what it means to be human. There are sometimes no solutions.
Right now, the man is up north with our family, their grandfather, a beloved patriarch, taking his last breath, and I struggle for the right thing to say. Because to say the wrong thing might suggest I don't care enough. But truthfully, underneath that fear is the need to squirm away from my mortality, a dark knowledge that we're all only here a short time. We control nothing. This is what it means to be alive.
For the first couple years of doctor's appointments and conflicting diagnoses, I didn't tell anyone but my two best friends that I wanted children, and even them reluctantly. Partly, I still felt ambivalent about motherhood, our ability to parent, and the specific sacrifices motherhood might entail and for which I am ill equipped.
Partly because I did not like admitting I wanted something I could not have.
If my family had a credo, it was this: don't hope too high because nothing is worse than others seeing your disappointment.
At fourteen, I wrote terrible poetry about my alienation and cobbled together a zine on my mom's word processor, a kind of manual typewriter with a bubble-faced screen. Despite my very working-class roots, I declared one day I was going to be a writer. My mom, toddler brother on her hip with fist in his cherry mouth, puffed air in a way that told me I'd said something stupid. If I was going to college, and with my lack of discipline, that was a big if, I was picking something practical, something I could actually achieve. Be a teacher, my mom said, because she had witnessed enough women in our community go before and succeed.
Don't want what you might not be able to have. There's nothing worse than disappointment.
Bearing Witness to Loss and Pain
So, I couldn't admit for a long time I even wanted children because I didn't fully believe I could have them. In the silence of my secrecy, I scoured the internet for other women who didn't just sneeze and pop up pregnant. Women who couldn't let nature take its course.
What I found terrified me. The lonely wails of women who wanted openly and publicly with a desperation that made me feel ashamed. Their longing so naked, I couldn't bear witness for longer than a few moments at a time. I feared giving in fully and losing myself to this kind of grief.
Women, rather we mean to or not, are measured by their ability to adhere to our expectations. Of beauty, of behavior, of fertility. We assume a woman without children must suffer regret, a wound without salve to ever heal. You know the woman. Now in her late 50s, she cuddles her swaddled teacup poodle that she brings everywhere. You've heard the comments, too, about if that woman had had a baby when she was supposed to, none of that crazy would be shining all over her. Baby as the fixer. Babyless as the damaged.
Just as much as I feared motherhood, I feared being that damaged woman.
The Decision to Stop
Infertility is an interminably long waiting process from one cycle to another, sometimes with breaks in between because the hormones are exhausting and my body had had enough. In that limbo, I came across this NYTimes article about the unending sorrow and grief of infertile couples who finally give up. Their sadness rocked me. I couldn't imagine years of that emotional turmoil. Worse, the agony of hope month after month as you waited for the stick to form its lines. Nope, not pregnant, again.
On my 5th and final round of Clomid, we'd raised my prescription to the maximum dose. Doubled over in my office with a throbbing ovary, I finally had clarity: I was done. The more I said it, the more it felt true. I went to a party where a friend going through fertility treatments happened to be. When I told her I was done, we both stopped and looked at each other. "It's like it never occurred to me we could do that," she said.
For the women who want a baby with all their being, I empathize with their grief. For the women who spend years in the ups and down of fertility treatment cycles, I can't imagine their strength. But I also found that I felt a different way, one I didn't see as I browsed the internet for experiences like mine. Acceptance. Kids aren't in the cards for me, and that's okay.
Accepting what I cannot Change
Being childless doesn't doom me to some less fulfilling or authentic existence than mothers. It doesn't propel me toward some self-absorbed neuroses as I get older. It doesn't mean I will turn 50 and regret my decision every day of my life.
This whole experience has taught me to listen carefully when people are going through something difficult. Despite the urge to tell them, "Everything will be okay," I don't. Because it might not. People told me to relax, to adopt, to do anything but sit quietly with the truth of my reality, but sitting with it is what finally got me to accept it.