Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Story No One Wants to Hear

Every infertility story I read online, linked through Facebook or a news site, starts out with a blow by blow of the crushing tragedies and physical and emotional challenges of infertility. I relate, I cry, and I feel seen and heard.  Then, the story ends with a baby, after two or five or eight or fifteen years. A miracle baby, conceived naturally or with treatments.  And I think, well, I guess, even in the infertility world, I don't belong.

Because my story didn't end with a baby.

But the truth is, I do belong - but most people don't hear stories about infertility in the media where treatments aren't successful or "surprise" natural pregnancies didn't happen. Because how would you feel at the end of that story? What is there to cheer about? What a let down.

But that's my story.

I survived, and I'm heartbroken. And to be honest, for a long time, I was ambivalent about having children. But I had a feeling it would be hard for me to conceive.  So even before I was really "ready", and are you ever really ready, we started trying, because I was almost thirty, and I knew there would always be a reason not to start trying. My husband attributed my worry about not being able to have kids to my anxiety. Maybe that is true and it is just a coincidence that I can't have kids. But regardless, the (perhaps coincidental) prophecy was fulfilled.

When people have a baby after a long struggle with infertility, they can say, it was all worth it. The tears and the blood (literally), the isolation, the heartbreak, the money, the physical and emotional pain. Look at my beautiful baby - it was worth it.

So I wonder now, what is my "worth it?" I have three years of heartbreak, two miscarriages, three surgeries, countless lost time with friends and family, thousands of dollars in debt, years of chronic pain, missed trips and vacations and dinners and brunches, but nothing to show for it...except an empty womb.

Well, I don't even have a womb anymore.

And don't ask me - "Why don't you just adopt?"

That brings me to four rules if you know someone going through infertility (there are more, but these are my basics):

1. Don't say "just relax" or "get drunk and have sex, that's how I got pregnant". I found out I had a real medical issue preventing me from being able to get pregnant.  Relaxing doesn't cure diabetes, and it won't cure infertility either. Some people have unexplained infertility: "just relax" doesn't work for them either.  When people said it to me, it compounded an already common and painful belief during infertility - "It's my fault. I am doing something wrong.  If I was better, less or more this or that, I would be able to get pregnant. My body is broken. I am broken." It implies that if you can get pregnant easily, you are somehow doing things correctly, when in fact, it is LUCK OF THE DRAW. And the getting drunk thing: alcohol actually reduces your chances of getting pregnant.

2. Don't tell people to "just do IVF" or "just adopt".  Not only does this invalidate their right to want their own, natural pregnancy and their pain in not being able to achieve that, neither IVF nor adoption are easy or guaranteed solutions.  IVF fails more than it works, is incredibly expensive, and also is a very physically and emotionally demanding process.  Adoption is great - my dad, uncles, and cousin are all adopted. However, it is a also an incredibly invasive and expensive process, lengthy, and can be heartbreaking when it falls through. And it DOES NOT take away the pain of not being able to have your own child.

3. Don't tell someone about your cousin's boyfriend's ex's stepdaughter who had a successful pregnancy on her last IVF with her last embryo the doctor said wouldn't work. Miracle stories are great: but they are just that: miracle stories. It didn't change my situation, make me feel better, or give me hope. It made me feel like the person I was talking to was uncomfortable tolerating my pain and uncertainty, and discharging it in a way that invalidated my experience.

4. Don't complain about your pregnancy or baby around me. I don't want to hear about your morning sickness or weight gain, or the late nights or your water birth gone wrong. You need to vent, like anyone else. I get it. But I never had the privilege of getting past eight weeks in a pregnancy. I never got to gain weight, have morning sickness, give birth, or have late nights breastfeeding, and I never will. I can't bear you complaining to me about your blessings right now.

I know that life is just the luck of the draw - I have it better than some in certain areas, and others have it better than me in some areas. Overall, I am a very privileged person with access to resources the majority of the world does not. I am very, very lucky. And grateful. But it still hurts that my luck of the draw is never having the choice to have my own pregnancy, birth and child.


  1. Completely hear you, Katie. Glad to have your voice in the blogosphere. Will add you to my blog roll. Thanks, too, for the comment on my latest post. Each of our stories will go a long way to reshape what has been a lop-sided narrative...

  2. Followed you here from Pamela's blog and just wanted to say (a) I love your rules! & (b) welcome to the blogosphere!