Tag Archives: Infertility

It Still Stings

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I’ve written about my own journey a few times in this space, but whenever it comes up in my offline life my emotional reaction to it always surprises me.

I’m always surprised by how deep-seated the pain of not being able to bear children is. It’s ironic since having biological children never seemed to be super high on my bucket list, but the process of learning that it wasn’t going to happen still stings to the point of tears.

I’m also surprised by how deeply personal it feels. Certainly, I write about a good chunk of my life here, and I share a lot in my work because I don’t mind and it makes me relatable which makes my job a lot easier. Yet, some of the people closest to me still don’t know about this loss or if they know about it; I’ve successfully downplayed it to the point where it is assumed to be a non-issue, something I problem-solved through adoption.

I love being a mom, and more specifically, I love being Hope’s mom.

But please be clear that Hope is not a replacement kid; she doesn’t fill the hole of grief that sits below my navel. My love of her and mothering her co-exists with that grief, just like her grief around the circumstances that necessitated adoption sits beside her love for me.

It all just sits together at a big lunch table, maybe at separate ends, but it is there, sharing space, it’s visible, and it’s real.

Recently I was talking to a close relation on my way to work. We got to talking about assistive reproduction and the choices people make. There are so many ways you can rule out so many risks in having a child these days, but somewhere in the gap science meets miracle, and sometimes miracles aren’t always pretty. My conversation partner played up how science has reduced so much of the mystery and that really there should be no surprises. Our conversation eventually led me to tell her my own story about not being able to have biological children.

Before I knew it, I was reaching for a tissue from my glovebox and my voice was hitching with emotion. The rush of sadness and feelings of being betrayed by my body were surprisingly close to the surface despite my routine efforts to just contain them on an emotional box in my emotional storage shed. No, there they were in all their glory practically sitting on the living room table on Front Street in my emotional house.

It is still tender. It still hurts. It will probably hurt in some way or another forever.

There is no shame in not being able to bear children. There isn’t. It doesn’t make me less of a woman or a failure, even if my mind and heart sometimes tell me that it does. There is no shame in grieving the ability to have children, and yet many of us feel shame or something close to it—guilt, fear of judgment, cloaking sadness, even wild-green jealousy—and all of those feelings keep us from talking about infertility.

I look forward to the day when I don’t drop tears when telling my story. I look forward to just being able to talk about it more freely—I mean, sure it doesn’t come up all the time “Hey Brad, could you tell me what aisle the cinnamon Frosted Flakes are on? BTW, I am infertile!”—but I long for a time when I’m not as silent on the issue. I think it will help me continue to move past that chapter. I look forward to being well past childbearing age (Damn you fly, 50 yo Janet Jackson), when the looking beyond fertility becomes moot.

Sigh.

I just want to look forward to a time when it just won’t sting so badly.

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Thoughts on Acceptance

Christmas was lovely.  Good times with family and friends. There was lots of eating, minimal exercise, movie watching, more eating, lots of laughs and lots of catching up and dishing about life.

There was also a decision to just consciously accept some stuff that my typical hot headed self wouldn’t bother to accept.

In life, there are countless things that we must reconcile between our greatest desires and our greatest disappointments.

It isn’t easy. Some times, even after years and lots of work, we find ourselves so easily triggered. The flood of disappointment and sadness come crushing back over us like a tsunami wave. Sometimes it feels like we have to start the grieving process all over again just because of one little innocuous sentence.

For me, I know that two big triggers in the last 4 years are folks with commentary on raising a child with a trauma background and having a baby.

It’s amazing how many people have so much to say about these topics. The former I know is really because the issues are largely masked for folks outside of my and Hope’s home. They don’t know what I know or see and experience what I do. They make assumptions about my parenting, and draw conclusions about me and Hope.

The latter is more complicated because most folks don’t know that my journey towards Hope came after a pretty traumatic life event that left me unable to bear children or that my chances of having a biological child were iffy even before the event.

In the early days of this journey, I never anticipated that folks would have so much to say.  Well, they do. And, well, that sucks because it hurts.

It hurts a lot sometimes.

I’ve read a lot about other people’s journeys through parenting trauma and infertility; my story and my sensitivity around these issues aren’t unique. In fact, daily folks are posting about conversations and announcements that pierce their hearts and reduce them to tears.

Over the years, I learned to live with my deflector shields half way up. Having them all the way up creates too much of a barrier between me and the people I love. Besides, after a few years, my ability to react and respond has improved along with their level of sensitivity.

Well, I realized on this trip that my emotional shields were fully lowered, but it’s ok. It forced me to make a decision that I think will be healthier for me.

I mentioned that there is a new baby in the family. My sister gave birth to a baby boy recently. Our family is over the moon. He’s just perfect.

This triggered some comments about how folks thought me and my sisters would never have children or that it’s such a blessing that my parents are  finally now grandparents.

Oh, great, we’re two for two!

In the moment on Christmas day, I gave myself the gift of acceptance. I shared that gift and sprinkled it liberally all about.

The reality is these are people I love deeply. These are people who want the best for me. These are people who would never knowingly hurt me. These are people who may not always know what to say.

Some of these folks are a bit older and aren’t necessarily hip to all of the ways folks might be hurt or offended. Some of these folks have reached the age where even if they did, they don’t have to be uber-sensitive about much anymore because: old.

The long and short of it is, no one means to hurt me or stick their foot in their mouth, and even if they did, what does it cost me in that moment to just accept it and move on?

Oh it hurts. It does; there’s no denying that.

But accepting that there is no malice, that they may be caught up in the euphoria of having a much-desired baby around (which frankly I am as well), well, it doesn’t cost me much.

Sure, I could politely correct them. I could gently educate them. I could do all kinds of things. But frankly, that just exposes more of me and whatever emotions I’m wrestling with. It also makes me feel like I have to bring the dark cloud I keep on the shelf in my mind closet out and drag it with me everywhere I go.

I’m tired of living like that.

Just accepting folks and assuming and believing the best in them saves us both. In some of those moments, they are expressing their own joy about whatever. I don’t need to temper their joy just because they used poor phrasing or were insensitive or just didn’t remember my ouchy places.

So, I made a conscious decision to just accept the presence of commentary that occasionally dredges my wounds.

It’s life, man. It just life. I can’t have hazard cones all over the place all the time. It’s exhausting, and frankly, it’s exhausting being hurt and/or angry. It’s exhausting having the same conversations over and over. And frankly, it’s ridiculous for me to think that my life is so big that everyone should speak in whispered tones around me about babies and trauma related behaviors.

I’m a grown ass woman. This life has put me through harder paces than that.

I mean, I could write my own list of things not to say to an infertile woman or a parent raising a child with a trauma background, but guess what? It wouldn’t make that much of a difference because the folks who typically make those comments don’t run in the blogging circles I do—it’s not going to be read by them.

So, I’ve decided to practice some grace and accept these moments as they come. It’s ok.

I also know that Hope watches me, and while I teach her to advocate for herself, I want her to see when and how I choose to do it for myself. Not everything needs a response. Not everything needs a bark and a bite.

Acceptance is a good thing for me. It allows me to just put things in context. It allows me to focus on the good. It allows me to not ache. It doesn’t mean that things don’t hurt, but it makes it manageable.

I can’t change people. I only have the power to change my reaction to people.

In the end that is the power play.


Thoughts on Infertility

I wonder if I will ever stop mourning my fertility. I imagine that there will always be a tiny part of me that will be sad and wonder what if…

What if I had done something differently?

What if I had tried to have a child earlier in life?

What if I hadn’t been selfish in loving my single, child-free life for so long?

What if I could’ve done something to prevent the surgery that closed the door on my fertility?

What if I could’ve, would’ve, should’ve…

What if.

As if, it would’ve made any difference. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference. But the thing is, I will always wonder, and I will always have feelings about it.

Someone close to me recently announced her pregnancy. Gosh, I’m so excited for her. Thrilled. Over the moon. She wondered whether this day would ever come.

I’m so glad it did.

But the news of her pregnancy…oh dear. I hate admitting the jealousy I feel. I hate feeling like I both want to hear more and hear nothing about it. I hate feeling alone in not being able to emote anything but joy around the subject as though it is the only emotion I feel.

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Joy & Sadness     Giphy.com

I both delight and loathe the gushing in our circle about the pregnancy. I can’t help but compare it to the emotion exhibited when I announced my adoption of Hope. It’s not the same. I don’t have much to compare it to, so I don’t know if it’s supposed to be the same. I feel like it should be the same, and yet, it isn’t and that brings its own set of feelings.

I also wonder if I really, really did not give myself enough time to mourn. I moved to adoption phase only 6 months after my invasive surgery and only 3 months after my specialist told me that a pregnancy wasn’t in the cards for me. I often wonder if I had it to do again, would I take more time?

I don’t know.

I know that so much of adoption can be about timing, what if I missed Hope? Or Hope missed me or we missed each other?

Right now, with all that I’m enduring with Hope, this unanticipated mourning of my fertility feels like the thing that has drawn blood. It’s the event that has pushed me right over the edge of sadness. It’s the thing that took my damaged, cracked heart and crushed it.

And, really it has little to do with the pregnancy announcement, it has everything to do with the fact that I will never make one. My body won’t do one of the things that it’s supposed to be able to do.

And I can’t fix that either. It just is. And like much going on these days, it sucks.

Sadness.gif

giphy.com

It keeps raining here in the DC area. It’s doing nothing to improve my mood these days. The gloomy, overcast days…well, I can’t tell if they are reflecting me or if I’m reflecting them.

Sigh.

I’m headed for a change of scenery this weekend with work travel—cherry country. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to shake off some of these feelings while there. They are pretty heavy these days. Some work travel is probably just the thing I need to turn this frown upside down.

 


Thoughts on Normalizing Adoption Experiences

Hope didn’t arrive yesterday.  Instead Snowstorm “Janus” arrived and dumped about 5 inches of snow and brought a bunch of wind with sides of single digit temps and below zero windchills.  When did we start naming winter storms, anyway?

Bollocks.

It was frustrating on many levels, including the social worker who kept asking “Is it really all that bad out there?”  Lady, I’m not a meteorologist, but they’re saying its bad and flights are cancelled.  You are bringing me the most precious, important delivery I’ve ever received, so can you take a chill pill and roll with it.

I travel a lot.  Weather happens, and it messes plans up.  Yep it’s annoying as hell, but it’s beyond our control.  You take a deep breath; you rearrange plans and you post up somewhere with a beverage and get over the self-importance stance that the universe is somehow targeting you.   It’s so not about you.

I spent the day on the couch, doing some writing and answering emails while enjoying good glasses of red and some gourmet popcorn.  I even took a nap; I can’t tell you how rare that is.

So today we get to do a do over on the placement.

Responses to the delay did make me emotional in other ways though.  I’ve been kicking around writing about this emotional slice for some time, but it feels touchy and sometimes ouchy, like I’m b*tching about not getting support, but getting it and it not fitting right for my needs.  That’s true sometimes, but it doesn’t feel like a polite thing to say to people who care about me.  It’s a topic that in some ways feels isolating and hypocritical, and like I’m trying to make a comparative statement on my family drama.  That said, I imagine that a lot of other adoptive parents feel these emotions and fellow blogger, Mrs. Family of 5 posted a great blog yesterday, Things that Matter, that touches on some of the stuff I think about and feel these days.  I thought about writing a redux on my Ten Things post from months ago, but decided that this probably needed a different approach.   So here goes.

I find that non-adoptive folks are eager to normalize my experience of becoming a mom in ways that feel, well, weird and sometimes, oddly dismissive.  I’m grateful for the sentiments, but sometimes behind the mask of strength there are some real tears.

What do I mean by “normalize?”  Well, take for instance the snow delay…a wonderfully supportive friend said, “Well it’s like an extra-long labor in giving birth.”  (I feel like I should apologize for saying this was painful, but it was. Gosh I have guilt about being offended, sigh.).   I’ve never been in labor so maybe it is like that without the physical pain.  But why did the comment tickle my innards?

Well, even though I always wanted to adopt, always knew this was a part of my journey, I thought I would have biological kids, at least one.  As I was approaching 40, I looked back and saw a minefield of gyn issues that might make it challenging.  Then a surgery 18 months ago that was critical and urgently necessary was so invasive that it wasn’t until after the surgery that my primary care doc and a reproductive specialist said that having a biological child was now not an option for me.  I no longer had that option, and I hadn’t even seriously tried for so many reasons.  Now I couldn’t.  I felt and continue to feel robbed.  Being reminded that my “laboring” isn’t ever going to be physical because somehow my body failed me is piercing.  It hurts.  And it happens with a level of alarming frequency.

Sure, I probably have fed it with my paperwork pregnancy t-shirt (I’ll own that), but the back story of infertility for a lot of adoptive parents remains painful even after a child has come into your life.  You don’t forget it.   People don’t mean to be insensitive, but they just don’t know because you don’t go around blabbing all of your business all of the time.

But this isn’t just about infertility, the desire to normalize my new mom experience happens in many ways.  Hearing a snippet of my confabs with Hope often trigger things like, “Oh that’s normal; you don’t need therapy for that.”  “Oh, you’ll get used to that, that’s just what teens do.” “I’m not sure why that freaks you out, it sounds normal.” “You don’t need to make a big deal of any of that, you just need to love her through it.”

Sigh. I often just try to hide the grimace of pain and just put on my mask, nod and reply, “Yeah” and wait until I get off the phone or go home to have a controlled cry about it.  I don’t want to say anything in response for fear of pushing folks away and being more isolated than I already feel.

It’s rare that I am able to share the backstory that led the conversation because to do so reveals so much of Hope’s sad story that isn’t my business to tell.  The story is riddled with so much trauma and loss.  I’m not sure I could’ve survived Hope’s life up to this point.  I know that on the surface our interactions may seem normal, but sometimes they really are not normal at all:  The sadness in driving past a cemetery triggers loss memories that take days to deal with.  A flip through a photo album of happy Christmases is a reminder of the many schnitty holidays she’s endured.  A visit to the local shelter triggers a memory of a lost puppy in the middle of a really chaotic life that leads to hours of cry filled rages.  The anxiety words that seem so random in conversations that make outsiders look at me with confusion or exasperation because Hope seems rude and disruptive when she’s really anxious and perhaps scared and I’m not even sure why.  The endless negotiations that are necessary to try to avoid more loss and trauma for her.  The self-censoring that is necessary because your parents and friends get offended when you refer to your traumatized and sometimes verbally abusive kid whom you adore as “my little dragon” (not  in her presence) because she spits hot, blazing and, sometimes painful, fire.

These are just a few things I and others like me don’t or can’t share.  It’s not normal, but it’s our normal.  It’s not that we don’t want to be everyone else’s version of normal, but often we just aren’t, and getting to that kind of normal and “happy” is a way off dream for a lot of us.  And society just doesn’t do abnormal very well.  So even when there are efforts to be inclusive and to reach out, we withdraw.  The cost-benefit and risk assessments just don’t bear out enough positive data for us to step out into a space that is really going to see, appreciate and make room for our versions of normal.  There are just too many qualifiers necessary to make it work.

One of those qualifiers is that so many people like to think adoptive parents of older kids are in line for sainthood, and so we, somehow, must be able to handle the messiness with the grace of other would-be saintly people.  Not really.  Nah, we’re just regular Janes and Joes who wanted a kid and thought, “Hey an older kid!  I can do that.”  We are not saints and being saintly is just way too extra.

So we seek out others like us and relationships that give us that space to just be as abnormal as we can be.  We are grateful for those connections but it also means that we experience loss in withdrawing from meaningful relationships that we’ve loved for so long.  And we can’t talk about that loss either, it seems like whining because everything on the outside is supposed to look normal, remember?

Sure everyone has their ish that they deal with behind closed doors.  None of us is really normal.  But the quest to be and to make everyone around us assimilate to that faux standard is really hard.  And messy, really messy.

In my day job I am constantly beating the drum of diversity, the need to celebrate it, to embrace it and to respect it.  I realize that those lessons are valuable here as well.  We want to find our space in that place called “normal.”  We are families that can be a bit different.  We’re different, and we would love for that difference to be acknowledged and respected.   There will be shared experiences that transcend all this stuff I’ve babbled on about.  But there will be experiences that are really different as well; they may be behind the veil.  This is true for all of us, bio, adoptive and various forms of blended families too.  Let’s respect one another and in our quest to be supportive, let’s not always default to normalizing.

Besides, isn’t normal overrated anyway?

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.   And thanks Mrs. Family of 5 for unwittingly giving me the courage to finally write about this topic.  I thank you for your courage to write about grief and loss.

Back to waiting—Hope’s ETA is 9:30pm EST.  I will be there With. Bells. On!


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