Making infertility suck a little less during the holidays

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been getting these awful headaches that come and go as they please. When I mentioned it to Audrey, a regular guest I I see often at one of my part time jobs, the first thing she said?

“Do you like Christmas?”

And it was like a light bulb went off. I’ve always loved Christmas, ever since I was a little kid. And when I think about why I love the holidays and always have, it wasn’t because of a mountain of presents or anything like that, it was the whole picture and experience; getting an entire day with my mom and dad, sisters, grandparents and extended family on Christmas day, seeing my dad’s side of the family either just before or just after Christmas, and after Christmas, staying up way past my bedtime on New Years Eve, crammed into my grandparents’ bungalow, with all of my mom’s side of the family.

Noticing a theme? Everything I enjoy about the holidays, revolves around spending time with family. And I’m extremely lucky to have pretty awesome memories of Christmas, even after my parents got divorced, and acknowledge that for some, this time of the year is hard for a plethora of reasons. And I’ve come to realize one of the reasons can include if you’re battling infertility.

Infertility just sucks in general, but at the holidays, its overall suck factor increases tenfold. Particularly if it is one of the rare occasions where you are forced to spend time with family members who make you feel alienated, anxious, sad, or any other emotion you shouldn’t have to feel during the holidays. to make a choice between sitting the day out and missing seeing people you would really love to see, or spending time with family members who make you feel alienated, anxious, sad, or any other emotion you shouldn’t have to feel during the holidays so that you can see the people you are so looking forward to spending time with.

(Yep, that’s an edit. Because sometimes I’m wrong and I realize the things I type definitely don’t come across as I intended and I inadvertently hurt people. So if that was you, I’m really sorry.)

It dawned on me while talking to Audrey (who was also the one that told me “Never tolerate behaviour from family, that you wouldn’t from a neighbor” over here), that for the first time, Christmas wasn’t the busy, fun, happy, short-lived and well-rewarded stress it had been in years past; this year it was different. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, the reason I was getting headaches was the stress of trying to figure out just how the heck I was going to navigate the holiday season when two of my family members weren’t talking to me, another blatantly disliked me, and the tension was stressing almost everyone else out.

Now I’m pretty lucky. I’m “out” and freely talk about my and my husband’s journey to the point of maybe being a little too honest sometimes, but I know I have most of my family’s support. But some couples struggle in silence, sometimes for years, sometimes together, sometimes in isolation of each other, and for awhile, that was us.

Two Christmases ago, I remember my father-in-law innocently mentioning grand kids, to which my husband replied “we’re working on it!”. At the time, neither of us knew the extent that infertility would touch our lives, but there was this voice in my head, getting louder, more insistent as time went on, that something was wrong. The innocent exchange circled round and round in my head the rest of the night. At that point in time, I was convinced something was wrong with me because we’d already been trying for more than a year with no success.

Many of my fellow infertility warriors are bracing themselves for conversations just like these, for seeing pint-sized nieces, nephews and cousins, comparisons to other relatives who have already had kids, and for those dealing with secondary infertility, questions about when their child is going to get a sibling, maybe even snide remarks about being selfish for not wanting another child, or incapable of the chaos another would bring.

My days of gracefully skirting my own infertility and the fears around it were finished the day my brother and sister in law announced their pregnancy at a family dinner and I couldn’t keep my composure enough to stay at the table and hold back the tears, so I excused myself. And that action was like someone flicking over the first domino in a rally, each reaction afterwards causing another until we find ourselves here.

So this is the first holiday season my husband and I will face where everyone in our family knows about our struggle with infertility. It is also the first Christmas with a brand new baby in the family, the very first grandchild on my husband’s side- truthfully, a title we both thought our first baby would get. It’s not like being “first” was exceptionally important to me- my little sister had her two beautiful kiddos before I’d even got married- it’s that my sister and brother in law’s success in such a short time frame, compounds the battle my husband and I have been fighting against this awful beast.

I’ve talked about it before, but my brother and sister in law weren’t exactly graceful or compassionate when they found out my husband and I were struggling. Things got so bad that for the most part, we don’t speak to each other anymore. In fact, things are so tough that my own, “don’t rock the boat” husband proposed to his parents that this year, it would be best for everyone if we celebrated Christmas separately from J and A, save for the one extended family gathering where seeing each other is going to be unavoidable.

My brand new niece has now arrived and I just… don’t know how to feel about it. I know I should be excited and happy, like I was when my own sister gave birth to her son and later, a daughter. I remember being so excited to see their tiny faces for the first time at the hospital, marveling that my sister had grown those babies in her own body, and somehow gotten them out- and couldn’t keep the smile off her face. But this time that magic just isn’t there and I just feel kind of…indifferent. But that may change the moment I am sitting in the room with this brand new baby and I have no idea how I’m going to react.

What if I have the opportunity to hold her? Would I actually feel comfortable doing so? Will I get dagger eyes for holding her? What if they don’t let me hold her because they are angry at me? What if I don’t appear happy enough? What if I break down in tears because this is a gift I might never have?  What is going to be said and done next? How am I going to screw up now? What kind of emotional tailspin will this send me into?

I am lucky enough to have a lot of family members in my corner, who would understand just about any reaction I could possibly have. But I also know some members in the family will be watching my every move- even if they feign having no interest in it.

All of this leads to one thing: I am stressed out about one of my favorite times of the year, which sucks to say the least. If you’re in the same boat, you aren’t alone, so here’s what I’m doing to make the holidays suck less:

Focus on the positive

If you’ve always enjoyed the holidays, stay focused on the parts you enjoy. What gives you the warm fuzzies? Is it the cheesy Christmas sweaters? The great food? Watching friends and family open gifts you carefully chose for them? Looking around the room and seeing your favorite people in one place?

I’m choosing to focus on seeing some of the family I don’t get to spend enough time with, versus dwelling on the fact that members I’d rather not see will be there. It is definitely a battle of wills but I am consciously choosing happy.

Abandon Expectations

One of the most stressful aspects for most infertile couples is the fear of the unknown; being unable to predict what their family might say or do, and being unable to predict their own emotions.

Right now, this is the hardest thing I’m struggling with. I have no idea how I’m going to respond to seeing a newborn baby, watching my brother and sister in law be parents, seeing my mother and father in law fawn over their grandchild. Maybe it will hurt a bit knowing that those days might never come for me. Or maybe it will inspire the sense of patience I’ve been embracing lately. I just don’t know.

I don’t know if I’m going to have to deal with some less than compassionate or friendly behaviour either, and I don’t know what I might say or do in response to it. I don’t know if I’m blowing everything out of proportion and my anxiety is just doing it’s spinning hamster wheel thing again. So I have to try my best not to worry about events that haven’t happened yet.

The only thing I can do, is the anxiety-sufferer’s only option- make a plan. So if you only read one part of this blog entry, make it this next part;

Have boundaries, and a plan

I’ve discovered that boundaries are key when it comes to talking about your infertility with friends and family, because so many people just don’t understand just how consuming it can be unless they’ve experienced it- and therefore, they don’t know where your boundary is. I try and temper any hurt feelings I get with understanding. Often when friends and relatives say or do things, their words and actions aren’t deliberately to hurt you. But setting boundaries- and letting people know when they’ve been crossed is imperative to your happiness, no matter what the context.

My husband knows that if someone crosses a line with me, he needs to be prepared to either leave, or stand by a wife who has become completely unafraid to say exactly what is on her mind.

So come up with a plan with your support. It might be to confront the issue head on yourself, it might be that your spouse deals with things while you take a minute alone, it might be that you directly let a person know you are leaving because of their actions, or it might be that you quietly slip out unnoticed.

So remember this…

Where ever you find yourself during the holidays, know that you aren’t alone. There are thousands of couples everywhere who are dealing with the same expectations, anxieties, and sometimes secrets when it comes to their infertility. Don’t let this ruin something you love. Instead, focus on your happiness, and do right by yourself. If that means missing a party, skip it- go have a date night with your partner. Or maybe it means going with the knowledge that you can just leave. Or maybe its taking some of the pressure off and organizing smaller gatherings with the family members you want to see, so you feel less pressure to convince everyone that this time of the year isn’t tough for you. Whatever you plan on doing, know you aren’t alone and you aren’t wrong as long as you’re doing the right thing for you.

 

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Adoption is not a consolation prize

A couple of nights ago, I was working my evening job at a baby retailer in customer service, and I got talking to a woman who had just returned one item, and came back to my desk to buy a handful of baby items; a sleep sack, a crib sheet, a onsie. ‘Gifts’ I thought, because I was so used to new parents returning baby shower duplicates, and buying mountains of new things for their new baby. But then this woman and I started chatting. And for whatever reason, this beautiful woman felt like she could trust me enough to share an important moment in her life:

The items she was buying were for her daughter, who she and her husband had just adopted.

After two and a half years waiting on an adoption list, and over nine years of trying infertility treatment after infertility treatment, she had walked out of a hospital two days before, holding her baby girl. She told me how she felt strange, out of place in her perfectly fitting jeans, next to the new moms in their maternity yoga pants, and how she was scared. Because for 21 torturous days, her baby would be with her and her husband on a trial basis. She hadn’t let anyone buy her anything. Hadn’t had a baby shower. Instead, she was allowing herself only the most minuscule of celebrations, buying three items for her little girl knowing that for the next 19 days, someone could take that joy and light away.

This woman, a stranger by all rights, shared something deeply personal with me, and I’ll never know why she opened up to me at that moment, but I am so thankful she did. It was like she knew exactly what I needed to hear, that sharing her triumph just this once, outside of her family, would be meaningful. At one point she exclaimed “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this” and I told her that she must have known that I was struggling along the same path she’d already been down.

I told her it took me more than a year to come out and tell my family how much I was struggling, let alone strangers, and one of those reasons, was fear. And it was in that moment that she really opened up with an emphatic “yes!” and we bonded over the fact that both of us had learned the hard way that people don’t always understand what you’re going through. And sometimes they try their very hardest. And sometimes, they don’t try at all. And it’s the fear of this misunderstanding that keeps so many couples feeling isolated and alone.

So why am I telling you this?

Because this journey is a battle until the end, no matter which path you choose. And right now, I don’t know where it will lead me, but one day I’ll find out.

But there is one thing everyone needs to stop doing. A phrase that needs to be struck from the vocabularies of everyone from loving friends and family who mean their best, to meddling strangers, to cynics who don’t care who they hurt with their comments. Ready for it?

“There is always adoption.”

Its said like adoption is this easily claimed consolation prize, the participation ribbon when you didn’t get to stand on the podium.

And I’m telling you now, that is NOT what adoption is.

Adoption is as real and potentially heartbreaking as any part of the infertility roller coaster. In fact I would argue that it is often the hardest road, because it is so often the final discovered path that a couple finds themselves wandering down. And they are already tired. They already have bumps and bruises from all of their stumbles thus far. And still they decide to chance one more hike in the hopes that, at the end, will finally, finally be the sweetest reward.

Adoption can break your heart in ways that infertility treatment can’t. You can literally hold a baby in your arms and fall in love, see and touch and kiss and love…and have all of that taken away. And I would imagine it is a pain as great as seeing stillness where there once was movement on an ultrasound, the deafening silence of the absence of a heartbeat, or the sight of blood when you haven’t seen it in months.

A family friend once confided in me the story of her own journey through infertility. She adopted her son- a beautiful miracle- and was blessed once again when she found out, completely by surprise, that she was pregnant. And someone was insensitive enough to ask her if she was going to “give the other little boy back” when she announced her pregnancy.

Asking a mother, who has struggled for so long a question like this, belittles the incredible heart, will, and love a mother has for her children, children that are absolutely hers regardless of whether she grew them in her own womb. We don’t ask someone who has just given birth if they are trading their older child in for a younger model and yet… so often, society callously treats adoption as the consolation prize of motherhood.

That isn’t what adoption is.

Adoption is a choice. It is a choice to take the fragile, just mended pieces of your broken heart and lay them into someone’s hands and just hope they don’t get ground to sand. It means walking the impossible tight rope of loving with your whole heart, but not getting your hopes up- and as infertile couples you’d think we’d have mastered that along the way, but we don’t. We don’t keep our distance or let go of hope. We jump in with both feet. We fall in love hard and fast and no amount of hurt will stop us from doing that again, and again.

Children who are adopted are miracles. For many couples both battling infertility and not, they bring sunlight to our darkest days. They are the little souls who took hands and held on as they steered their moms and dads out of the darkest of places and in to the light.

And if you think that is a consolation prize, you’ve never understood infertility or what motherhood and fatherhood truly is.

Adoption is not an end to a journey, it’s the beautiful beginning to many more.

Sometimes self-care, means letting go.

Sometimes, you just can’t save relationships.

This is just one of many lessons (along with lessons in patience, communication and humor) that infertility has taught me. And of these lessons, this one has been one of my hardest.

If you’ve read some of my previous blog entries, you’ll know that in talking about my infertility, I gained many amazing allies and friends on this journey, but I’ve also learned the hard way, that opening up about this struggle means that some relationships can’t stand that test.

It’s a tough, heartbreaking lesson to learn that a person (or people) that you thought cared about you, who you counted on for compassion and love, for whatever reason, do not care to understand the struggle you are facing, either because of events in their own lives, or for other reasons.

This is why right now, my sister-in-law, isn’t speaking to me. Well, not unless she has to.

When my sister-in-law J, and my brother in law, A, announced they were pregnant, they had no idea my husband and I had been struggling with infertility for quite some time. They certainly weren’t aiming to hurt us. But when they did find out they were struggling, we weren’t met with the same compassion that other family members and friends readily granted us. Instead, they resented the lack of enthusiasm my husband and I showed for their announcement and that resentment meant actions that ranged from insensitive comments to other family members about us and our situation, to purposefully cruel actions and passive aggressive remarks.

Eventually, I hit a breaking point. While my husband is the type to try and hope time will make things go away, and only confronts people about their actions if he has to, I am not the type to look at a wound, shrug my shoulders, and hope it doesn’t get infected. In other words, if you’ve made me angry, upset, or otherwise hurt me, you’ll know what you did, and you’ll know what actions I expect you to take to make things better. So when J and A hurt me, I made my feelings known, I wanted us to be able to work things out, but I wasn’t willing to be treated the way I was being treated.

The thing is, my sister in law in particular, just wasn’t willing, ready, or able to change. And I couldn’t understand how someone’s response to the assertion ‘you’ve hurt me, and I’d like you to stop’ wasn’t “I’m sorry” (or even “I’m sorry, but…”) and instead, was just a shrug of the shoulders and essentially a ‘Well, too bad for you’. So I kept trying different angles, trying to make her see how her behavior was affecting me, and all I ended up doing, was upping the ante when it came to how aggressive and miserable she became. Eventually it took an outside perspective to show me that no matter how hard I tried to make her see what I was going through, nobody can manufacture empathy in another person. It was time to let go- which was hard.

J and I had both married into the family, and there was a certain kinship in that; after all, we’d both chosen men from the same family to spend the rest of our lives with. But I’ll be the first to admit, we are very different people. And while those differences didn’t seem too apparent when things were well between us, they became entirely obvious during the times they weren’t.

I’ve learned, that just because you’re tied by blood, or marriage, or friendship, doesn’t mean you should tolerate poor behaviour. In fact, when talking to an acquaintance about the situation, she gave me one great piece of advice: “Never tolerate behaviour from family, that you wouldn’t from a neighbor.”

And I had to ask myself, “What am I fighting so hard for?” and “Why is this worth it?” and the truth was, it wasn’t because J and I were particularly close. It was because we were family, and all of my life, family has been a priority for me, and I’ve been taught by my own to value those relationships deeply and not let them go. But would I have accepted this behaviour from a neighbor, hell, even one of my friends? Absolutely not.

Whatever reasons my sister-in-law had for ending our relationship, like not wanting to tolerate behaviours she saw as jealousy, anger, or just falling short of the joy she thought she deserved. she ended her side of the relationship for her own well-being and nobody else’s. It was time I allow myself to be “selfish” in the same ways.

You see, I valued being able to go to a family gathering without tension for the rest of the family, so much, that I was allowing myself to be sick over this relationship. I let anxiety wreak havoc on my body, giving myself higher blood pressure, tension headaches, even throwing my own cycles off due to the stress I was under. I was hurting my own chances at health and happiness for a person that couldn’t have cared less about either.

The question became really simple:

“Do you want to bend over backwards to save face with a handful of people? Or do you want to do everything you can to be happy, healthy, and capable of bringing a child into this world?”

The answer was obvious.

Having to let go of maintaining a relationship with my sister-in-law has been a tough decision to come to terms with, and it wasn’t entirely my own. While I am willing to work on our relationship, the fact that she isn’t and has, at least for a time, given up, baffles and hurts me. Then again, for some perspective, the fact that I still want someone so toxic in my life- especially on this journey- baffles my husband. And yet to this day, if she (and other family members) reached out and said “I’m sorry for the things I said and did” I’d accept their apology- even if it took time to fully forgive them.

And there’s where the challenge lies; closing the door, but being ready for a knock that might never come.

Instead, I focus on the most important, constructive part of ending this relationship- being able to refocus on the other things that matter to me; my relationship with my husband, my career, my health, and doing everything I can to see us reach our goal of becoming parents. Because in the end, if I have the baby I have worked and prayed so hard for, I am just fine if that proverbial knock on my door never comes. You create your own happiness.

5 Do’s and Dont’s when Talking to Infertile Friends and Family Members

‘Delicate’ is usually one of the very last words I would typically use to describe myself. On a scale of Anna Steele from Fifty Shades of Grey and Bobby Singer from Supernatural, I definitely er closer to the “Boohoo, I’m sorry ‘yer feelings are hurt Princess” kind of girl. But my soft, squishy interior harbors a deep, for some, unexpected area of vulnerability:

I want to be a mom.

And I’ve always thought I would be. My plans surrounding kids were always pretty abstract, compared to friends that had meticulously planned timelines and had already chosen perfect names for their unborn sons or daughters. I always just thought, ‘hey, it would be nice to have a kid or two when I meet the right person and have this adulting thing reasonably under control’. The word ‘infertility’ never crossed my mind until one day, I was staring down this amorphous beast.

Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples trying to conceive (ttc) in Canada (1 in 8 world wide), and 1 in 4 will deal with a pregnancy loss at one point in their lives. So if it is so common, why do we barely talk about it? Fertility is a lonely, vulnerable place with many dark corners and I’ve definitely discovered a few of these corners in my own psyche. But I’ve learned one thing: if you’re sinking, reach out a hand, someone will grab onto you. Which is why I put myself out there.

Today this post is for friends and families of those with infertility. I almost titled this post “How Not to Be an Asshole” but thought that might come across a little heavy handed, even if it was appropriate in some instances. Because one thing I’ve realized is that friends and family can be both purposeful, and accidental assholes if they’ve never lived with infertility themselves. So I’ve broken down the types of people we’ve all encountered (or been) before, with love and rehabilitation in mind.

1) The Questioner

For the most part, this person doesn’t mean any harm. These are usually excited in-laws and family members who are always asking long time or recently married couples “So… when do I get a niece/nephew/grandchild etc.?” These questions are almost always asked innocently enough and out of excitement, but to a couple having difficulty conceiving, these questions add pressure to a situation already stressful enough.

What to say or do instead: If a couple has been together for awhile, whether they had previously mentioned wanting kids or not, DON’T badger them. I don’t care how curious you are, don’t ask when they are having kids. If you’re just dying to know, maybe ask the couple a more open-ended kind of question like; “So you’re married now, what’s your next big adventure?” or even “Do you guys eventually want kids, or do you have other plans?”. These questions will get you an answer, but not put as much pressure on the couple. But by far, the best thing you can do is wait for a couple to open up about their triumphs or their struggles.

2) The Unsolicited Advice Giver

These folks can be both good natured friends and family trying to help you out, or full well know that their advice isn’t welcome or needed. Anyone who has been through this fertility battle can tell you there are 1000 ways to skin a cat (as they awful expression goes) and we’ve probably heard and tried most of them for better or for worst. Some of the gems I’ve heard:

  1. Just stop stressing about it and it will happen. (Dude, I have spent a fortune on bath bombs, essential oils etc. in the past few years. I even meditate, and none of it has worked).
  2. Try standing on your head/holding your legs in the air/propping your hips up with a pillow/only letting him top.
  3. Stop drinking (this one is particularly valid for the gents)
  4. Go gluten free/dairy free/vegan/organic/paleo/keto
  5. Wear his underwear (uh… why?)
  6. Lose weight (which is awesome when you have a disease like PCOS that sees you gain weight faster than you can lose it like many women ttc do).
  7. Take prenatal vitamins
  8. Try vitex/maca root/b vitamins/ x supplement
  9. Have sex less to “save it up”
  10. Have sex more
  11. Don’t have a bath after sex
  12. Use an ovulation predictor kit
  13. Use [insert app here] to track your cycles
  14. Track your basal body temp
  15. Use [insert sexual position here]
  16. Squeeze his balls when he climaxes to “wring them all out”

And trust me when I say, I have tried many of these, including standing on my head, but definitely excluding using my husband’s testicles as stress balls. If you told me to fill a kiddie pool with man juice and bathe in it and could promise I would get pregnant, than I would sign up for the weirdest niche fetish film fantasy of weirdos everywhere.

My point is that whatever advice you give has probably already been tried and obviously has not worked, which sometimes leads to these oh, so emotionally sensitive remarks:

“Well maybe, it’s just not meant to be.”

That, along with:

“You just have to not think about it/stop stressing”

and

“It will happen when it happens”

create the holy trinity of remarks that make couples battling infertility want to punch you in the face for.

What to say instead: Try “If you ever need to talk about this, give me a call” or “I can only imagine how frustrated you must be, but one day, you are going to make an amazing parent.”

These comments let us know that, even if we fail, even if none of the weird little pieces of advice work, we have friends and family who have always believed in us and been there for us. I know I have a whole tribe or incredible friends, family and co-workers who have kept me going at some pretty dark times just by saying they’re there for me.

3) The Braggart

This one, is in my mind, is a person with either completely poor judgement, or just trying to be an asshole, because the minute you mention trying to get pregnant, they just have to tell you about how easy it was for them. While statements like “Lord, all I have to do is hang my pants next to my husband’s and I get pregnant” seem witty and funny, they aren’t, especially not to a couple who has been trying for years to start a family.

What to say instead: Nothing. Keep your effortless baby-making success to yourself. Share and joke about it with other friends, but not the one struggling with infertility. Or if you must say something, try something like, “Wow, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I never had a hard time conceiving and can’t imagine how much this struggle must affect you. Please let me know if you ever need to talk.”

4) The Insensitive Pregnant Person

Again, this is another case where someone may just be so tied up in their own happy experience that they don’t think about how you might be feeling, but they can also be deliberately hurtful.

On the one hand, if a couple doesn’t know you’re struggling, the public announcements, gender reveals, weekly belly updates, constant complaints about pregnancy symptoms and discomforts is uncomfortable and a little upsetting, but if the pregnant woman in question does know- some of those things can be really insensitive.

I for one, love seeing my friend’s belly pictures and ultrasounds, their witty jokes about #pregnantladyproblems, and being invited to baby showers. It all makes me feel like I can celebrate right along with them.

But like many women dealing with infertility, I’ve found I have a hard time with surprise public announcements, and constant complaints about pregnancy symptoms and discomforts. And depending on my mood, sometimes find an excessive amount of baby related chatter and belly photos tough. On social media, I can just keep these things out of my newsfeed, but out in the real world, it can be hard.

What to say or do instead: If you’re pregnant and know someone struggling to get there, keep your complaints about clothes not fitting, hair falling out, zits and stretch marks appearing, nausea, constipation, lack of sleep, and emotional outbursts to yourself around your friends who are struggling- because they would gladly take ALL of those symptoms just to have a child. I know you’ve got to let it out, but try to do so in your infertile friend’s absence.

Similarly, if you have big news to share, like revealing you’re pregnant in the first place, or the gender, etc. do us fertility struggle couples a favor and reveal the big news in private, ahead of the big announcement so that we don’t feel blindsided. I know it takes away a bit of the “big announcement” feeling, but allowing us the option to process on our own, in our own time allows us to be excited for you when the big reveal to everyone else happens, and your incredible news can be met with the joy it deserves- by everyone.

5) The ‘The World is over populated anyway’ asshole

It’s hard to believe these folks exist and have the balls to say to someone who is trying to have a child “the world is over populated anyway, you’re adding to the problem”, but there are. These are usually the people who talk about the thousands of kids who are waiting to be adopted yet haven’t done that themselves, or have no idea what the adoption process is like, what hurdles a couple needs to leap over, and what distinct heartbreaks can happen during that process (like adoptions falling through).

What to say instead: If you’re tempted to make this comment, just don’t. Keep to yourself, take it to the grave with you. Because if you’re a friend, you’ll understand how comments like this help no-one. These comments aren’t going to magically make anyone change there mind on having a child of their own and run out to adopt, and they certainly aren’t going to stop the unplanned pregnancies that lead to children without parents.

So ttc couples, how have I done? Did I miss anyone in particular? General public? Have a horrifically offended you? Do you have anything you’ve said in the past that now you worry about? Let me know in the comments.

 

Fertility Clinic Diaries: The First Visit

Spending money on fertility treatments is like pre-paying Harvard Law School when your little mini-me is still eating glue whenever their kindergarten teacher turns their back. You’re taking one hell of a leap of faith that one day that mini-me is going to quit their glue eating ways and make you proud, instead of simply moving on to the new and exciting pass time of lodging Lego bricks in their nasal cavity.

I didn’t really know what I expected when I headed out for my first appointment at my fertility clinic. That morning I woke up, climbed into my battered little Hyundai Elantra (Squeely Dan) and got on the highway to drive 35 minutes north. Being the giant, uncloseted nerd that I am, I could practically see the text fade in at the bottom of life’s screen and hear the little Xbox *beep-boop*: “Activated Quest: Make a Baby” as I drove off.

When I pulled up to the clinic, I don’t know what I expected, probably a much more clinical looking medical building given it was right across the street from the hospital. Instead I pulled up to a sweet little brown brick century home, converted into office spaces and navigated my little beater box car into one of three patient parking spaces that sat where a backyard probably had, decades ago. And my stomach did a funny little flip flop. Getting out of the car meant once and for all acknowledging that I had a problem I couldn’t solve on my own. But it also meant a solution was just that much closer.

The clinic was upstairs, while a OBGYN’s office (one of the doctors in the Fertility Clinic’s practice) was located on the lower level. Instead of being met with a distinctly clinical looking space, full of other women on the same journey, I walked into a tiny upstairs space, just three rooms and a bathroom. I could hear the two nurses calling various patients to book ultrasounds and blood work and other procedures, so I made myself comfortable in the waiting room as the lone patient in the clinic. But I didn’t feel lonely- instead I felt cozy, like this was a good space. What helped was looking up and seeing a bulletin board on the wall not covered in “Did you get your flu shot?” and other medical pamphlets and questionnaires like I was used to seeing at doctor’s offices, but covered- every inch of it- in thank you and Christmas cards, beautiful babies smiling happily, or looking positively angelic in sleep, some on their own, other’s clutching a twin. Success stories. Dozens of them.

I realized, whatever I’d been expecting, it wasn’t this feeling of warmth and happiness and excitement. So I figured, of course I’d blog about it. So here it is:

What to Expect on your First Fertility Clinic Visit

1) Trust Begins Immediately

The nurse I met with had me at awe instantly. This woman was hella organized and type-A, but also intelligent, warm and compassionate. Exactly the kind of person you need when you’re struggling with infertility. Because you need someone who, within ten minutes of meeting with you, you won’t mind sharing the answers of some pretty intimate questions with. Questions like; how often you have sex, when you have sex, how much you believe your partner ejaculates (which had me contemplating what the ‘average’ amount of ejaculate was for way too long, and may have led to some late night google-fu when curiosity got the best of me), how long your periods are, if you experience any burning or bleeding after sex… you get the picture.

There was zero judgement on her behalf when I told her all about me and my husband’s habits; our sex life, how much we drink (not much), smoke (we don’t), what we smoke (okay, so maybe he smokes after all), how much we weigh (brick shithouses), and what our physical activity is like (needs improvement, but I’m working on it). None. At all. She just listened and offered information and insight as to how these pieces of the puzzle would fit our treatment plan.

2) Get ready for of whole lot of testing

When I walked out of my appointment my head was spinning, but I definitely thought two things: The first, I’m glad I like my nurse so much because she’s going to be the one stabbing me on a regular basis for the next (hopefully few and not several) months, and at least I’ll be able to forgive her and make conversation while she does it.

The second: Holy shit I’m going to need to start a tally.

The amount of testing is staggering. Blood work, vaginal ultrasounds (yep, it’s exactly what you’re thinking- magic x-ray dildo for the win), tests to check if your fallopian tubes are open, and semen analysis. And some of these things are done multiple times a month, for months, all with the goal of finding out what’s hindering conception, and hopefully creating a work-around for it.

3) The Bill

I am lucky enough to live in Canada, where public health care covers a lot of various services- including fertility treatments (to a degree). I’m also from Ontario, where compared to other provinces, we have some of the best coverage. That being said, in typical government fashion, they make everything look shiny and bright and awesome, but when it comes to delivery you realize there is a lot of fine print.

Basically the government ONLY covers procedures. For example, they’ll cover your bloodwork, ultrasounds and the 10 minutes it takes to perform IUI, but won’t cover the sperm washing, fertility medications and administrative fees to go with it. Similarly for IVF, they cover just egg retrival and embryo transfer.

Which means you’re left paying the (substantial) amount not covered by public health care. And to make matters worse, most private insurance companies don’t cover fertility medications or administrative fees. So you’re stuck with a bill for all of it. No wonder all of my American counterparts cringe and lament about the cost of fertility treatments.

Which leads me to a very important (slightly off topic) PSA:

Trying to make a baby is f*cking expensive when you have infertility issues. Now before you get smart and retort with something witty (not really) and original (definitely not) like “Babies are expensive” or “If you can’t afford fertility treatments, what makes you think you can afford a baby?” consider the following:

1) Spending money on fertility treatments is like pre-paying Harvard Law School when your little mini-me is still eating glue whenever their kindergarten teacher turns their back. You’re taking one hell of a leap of faith that one day that mini-me is going to quit their glue eating ways and make you proud, instead of simply moving on to the new and exciting pass time of lodging Lego bricks in their nasal cavity.

2) How fast can you duck? Because if you say this to me or any other infertile woman, you will absolutely get punched in the face.

Signed,
Every Average Couple Struggling with Infertility

All of this is to say, you’re going to want to be open with your clinic about your goals and financial circumstances, because these will influence your course of treatment. Your healthcare team doesn’t want to see you drowning in debt just to have a baby, so knowing your financial circumstances will help them provide you with the best possible advice for your situation.

4) The Relief

There was something freeing about walking out of that clinic. Even if my head was spinning with a million thoughts about when I should start monitoring, what course of treatment I should follow, how I was going to afford it all- there was this sense of relief at knowing more than I ever did before, what I could expect. And more so, there was the relief in knowing that there is an entire team of people who want to see you succeed and are willing to do just about anything to see that happen.

So a year or so from now, I’m hoping that when another woman steps into that office, she looks up at the same bulletin board I did, and sees my thank you card among the rest, and feels the same amount of hope I did. Because it really is the best feeling in this world.

 

The Hardest Good-byes are the ones without Hellos

One year ago today, I was pregnant.

To those of you who have experienced miscarriage, you know where this post is going, and you have my full permission to skip it for your own well-being. If you’re sticking with me here, know that I am as there for you as you are about to be for me.

One year ago today, I woke up in the morning with an inkling that something was not right. Nothing was ‘wrong’ per say, but I felt different. In the back of my mind, I knew what was coming, but spent a few anxiety ridden hours just waiting in silence. My husband and I packed up our car to head home from visiting his parents. He didn’t know I was pregnant.

After two early miscarriages, I wanted to wait until I had a blood test in hand before I told him. I’d waited until more than two full weeks had passed since the day I was supposed to get my period before I even took a home pregnancy test because I didn’t want to jinx things. Instead of being happy to see two intersecting lines, I felt apprehension. I waited another several days for the bleeding to start like it always had in the past, and when it didn’t I dared to start to feel happy and excited. I booked a blood test for the Tuesday after my husband and I were coming home from visiting his parents for the long weekend. A blood test that would have taken place when I was approximately 11-12 weeks pregnant. Nearing the “safe” zone to start telling friends and family. And I hadn’t even told my husband.

Half an hour after my husband and I got on the road, I started cramping. I tried to ignore it, convince myself everything would be fine, that the cramps were normal for some women. When we stopped to get gas at a station a couple of hours later, I knew my baby was gone. In a bathroom stall at a tiny Shell station, I confirmed the loss of the baby I’d dared to think I’d be able to keep, and I cried alone in a tiny metal stall, staring at the chipped white paint of the door, hoping I was quiet enough that nobody could hear me.

When I came back out to the car, I couldn’t hide what I was feeling from my husband. After less than ten minutes, he asked me what was wrong. I told him I thought I was broken. But I didn’t tell him I’d been pregnant. I told him my period was late and I’d thought I’d been pregnant, and now it was here, and I couldn’t understand why we weren’t getting pregnant. We talked about getting fertility testing done for a few minutes, but I quickly moved on from the topic. I didn’t want to talk about trying to figure out what was wrong. Because clearly, it was something in me.

Today, I should be holding my baby. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that for as long as I live.

Losing a baby isn’t something that happens in a day. Nobody really tells you that your body still thinks a baby is in there for weeks, so all the signs and symptoms of pregnancy that you’d wondered were wishful thinking, are confirmed to be true, and they serve as haunting reminders of what you were to have. You still wake up nauseated, averse to certain foods, still feel tired, your breasts still ache, and you still feel achy or bloated and this drags on for a tortuously long time- along with all the discomfort of a bad period.

People say it’s easier to get pregnant after a miscarriage. But to get pregnant you have to have an idea of when you’re ovulating. For months, I bled between periods, and my period came whenever it wanted to: 26 days, 16 days, 42 days, 30 days, it was like my body just couldn’t figure out what to do because neither could my mind.

So I stopped trying. I stopped tracking my basal body temperature, stopped using ovulation predictors, stopped any method of tracking my fertility. And when I think back on this now, I know it was because I couldn’t take the emotional toll of it all. After trying for more than two years to have a child, I’d reached my breaking point. I was defeated. I’d had enough of trying so hard.

It took the better part of a year to be ready to try again. To get back on this horse, as scary as the ride might be, and try one more time. Infertility is a battle of wills with yourself. The will not to hurt again, versus the will to hang on to hope. It’s a battle that every woman facing this struggle engages in every day.

As a society, we don’t talk enough about miscarriage nearly enough for something that, statistically speaking, happens to about one quarter of women at least once in their lives. Nobody should have to suffer in silence, hold the experience in only to be whispered about years later in shame- as if sharing it is a burden upon the listener.

Today I remember the baby I said goodbye to, without ever really getting to say hello to. And today I give you- the woman who hasn’t spoken about her own loss- permission to let yourself talk about it. To expect love, support, and empathy. And to dare to hope that one day, you get that beautiful hello you’ve been waiting for.

 

The Dark Side of Putting Yourself Out There

Eventually I couldn’t take tip-toeing around people pretending that I’d never said anything about my infertility, pretending their actions and words were not hurting me and I called out some of the behavior and that’s when people really started being honest.

It was the thing that scared me the most about starting this blog: having other people invalidate my emotions by being dismissive, discouraging or outright mean. It held me back from hitting that publish button on so many posts, made me delete countless others others and doubt my own struggles. Until one day I just did it. I posted the link of this blog to my personal Facebook page and “came out” to my family and friends about my battle with infertility.  Many people who were close to me already knew that I’d been battling this for some time, while some people wouldn’t have had a clue until that post.

Largely, I was met with an overwhelming, heart warming amount of support. People I didn’t know had struggled, or were struggling with infertility messaged me their stories and opened up to me about a very vulnerable part of themselves. Friends I already knew in the infertility community sent me messages of support, even thankfulness for stepping out of the shadows to share my struggles. And friends who had never experienced infertility, and didn’t even want to be parents themselves, offered their support. It felt amazing to know that my little blog made a difference to dozens of people I knew, let alone the great big world of strangers out there in internet land.

But it wasn’t all positive.

My “coming out” post made some serious waves, in some places I didn’t expect it to. For some context, I posted Acts of Bravery Aren’t Always Remarkable Feats, on the heels of my brother and sister in law’s pregnancy announcement. Their announcement had hit me hard emotionally (by no fault of their own) but also caused me to take a serious, honest look at my infertility journey, and the fact that if I wanted to be happy, I needed to face some of the scary realities I’d been afraid to confront. That’s the super abbreviated version of that post. I have to be honest, some things were already happening behind the scenes at the time I made my post. My reaction to my sister and brother in law’s pregnancy announcement had caused a rift between me and certain family members and all I was craving was some love and understanding.

I’d hoped that my post would offer some insight into how I was feeling because I was tired of hiding it in bathroom stalls, quiet corners and hovering at the edges of joyful occasions. I didn’t expect it to have the effect that it did. What hurt the most, was putting myself out there, and having a large portion of my family completely ignore it… or worse, instead of stopping to think their actions may have been hurting me, act in passive aggression just veiled enough that if I pointed it out to anyone, would have made me look crazy.

And I started to regret my decision, not because I felt guilty or wrong for posting about my experiences, but because I wasn’t sure I could take the criticism from family members. So one night, when talking to a friend, I floated the idea of taking my blog down. And her very first words when I finished talking were: “Don’t you dare.”

She called out the behaviours I’d recounted to her as gaslighting, a particularly nasty form of manipulation designed to make a person question their own sanity with the further purpose of using the subject’s newfound self doubt against them by making them appear mentally ill or incompetent to a broader audience. I thought that assessment was a little heavy-handed at the time, but was willing to hear her out.

Eventually I couldn’t take tip-toeing around the people pretending that I’d never said anything about my infertility, pretending their actions and words were not meant to be hurtful, and I confronted everyone on their behaviour, and that’s when people really started being honest about not only my blog post, but my reaction to my brother and sister’s pregnancy announcement.

I was told things like:

  • I should be happy for my brother and sister in law (I never once said I wasn’t, in fact I made sure I communicated on several occasions that I was)
  • That other people had suffered too (therefore implying that I should keep my battle with infertility and my miscarriages to myself, since other people who’d been through the same didn’t seem seem as affected by their own ordeals)
  • That the comments and passive aggressive posts made by other members of the family had “nothing to do” with me
  • That “family means support” (implying that I was somehow failing in that role and needed to succeed in order to receive any support myself)
  • That I had made my brother and sister-in-law feel “like shit” for being pregnant
  • That stress wasn’t good for the baby (and of course the implication that I was causing it)
  • To “focus on the right things” including my marriage and career versus my own desire to have a child.
    And finally: That my blog was made with the sole purpose of making my brother and sister in law feel bad about being pregnant.

I was also spoken to in a completely patronizing manner, as though I were a mentally unstable person and that the family could all help me “address [my] issues as a family in a loving environment”- this said out of the belief that I was angry at my brother and sister in law for being pregnant- versus simply being hurt at some of their insensitive actions. That was when I realized my friend’s perspective held an alarming ring of truth. And while I still don’t know if I would go as far as to call what some of my family members did “gaslighting”, I did realize something:

Some people will never understand how deeply infertility impacts your life.

I can keep talking, I can can be patient, I can get angry, but no matter what the delivery; sugar-coated, calm, honest, poignant, heated, or outright enraged, people have the capacity to understand, but the will to suppress that ability completely when it requires them to move past a knee jerk, emotional response, or forces them to shift their world view and grow without being quite ready for that growth.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have some compassion and understanding for your loved ones while they slowly embrace this shift in thinking (and seriously, try the calm, poignant and honest route first), but alongside your compassion, you also need conviction and strength to validate and prioritize your own emotional well-being too. And be ready to fight for it, whether it’s a little corner of the internet to yourself to share your struggles in, or more importantly, the ability to make choices in your own life to be happy.

Which brings me to now.

Sometimes, you’re going to have to stand your ground.

This weekend, I’m heading out to a family gathering where I’m going to see family members I’ve really been looking forward to seeing, but also the ones who have been saying and doing some pretty hurtful things. And I’m putting this out there in the hopes that I will practice what I preach and hold myself accountable to it.

We’re all human, and if you’re facing a similar situation after ‘coming out’ with your infertility struggle, here’s what I’ve learned so far about dealing with less than supportive friends or family members:

1) Love First

My brother and sister in law are delighted to be celebrating their first child. And they deserve to be. My first focus is that they deserve to be happy, and that little baby deserves nothing but joy and love. It is something I make myself circle back to when I find myself getting frustrated or angry. You can be upset with someone, be angry, disagree, but if you keep your love for them in mind at all times, you’re less likely to say or do something you’ll regret later. And whenever I am in a situation where I’m trying to express myself, I always try to start with stating how happy I am for them- and reiterate that point throughout the dialogue so that they always know I care for them.

2) Focus on Observable Behaviour

If you’re going to confront some of the hurt people have caused you, focus on observable behaviour. So, what does that mean? Well, instead of saying “God, why are you such an asshole?!” in frustration, hold back on that purely emotional response and use paired statements of “When you…” and “I feel…”. I know, I know, I sound like a therapist speaking in soft tones, sitting in her perfectly sophisticated greige office, peering at you over her Prada spectacles. Let me shatter that image right now by saying I’m lounging on my couch with my laptop, my cat, a wobbly pop and no pants telling you that this shit works.

These statements work because they let people know the impact of their own actions on another person and feel less like a personal attack. For example, I could say something like:

“When you didn’t respond to my blog post about infertility, I felt unsupported and lonely.”

Notice how I didn’t say “when you ignored my blog post”? That’s because ignoring wasn’t an observable behaviour in this instance. I can’t know I was ignored- maybe someone didn’t know what to say so they waited to show their support in person, maybe they were waiting on finding the right words, maybe they just didn’t see it. At any rate, the statement above allows the opportunity for the opposite party to reflect on their actions, whether intentional or unintentional, and acknowledge the impact of their behaviour, versus being immediately defensive at a statement that could be deemed an attack on their person.

3) Tell people what they need to start, stop and continue doing.

This one, I picked up from corporate training at a job in retail, but it is so incredibly valuable because it is such a good way to get what you want and need from people. The premise is simple. If someone else’s actions are hurting you and you want to mend your relationship, give them a direction to travel in that is forward moving and keeps your relationship in the positive as much as possible. For example, I might say:

“It would really help me if you would start giving me advanced notice about baby-related events so I can be emotionally ready to handle them at the time. It makes me feel happy that you include me in your excitement by inviting me to special events and sharing baby updates on social media and I hope you continue to. But I need you to stop dismissing my struggles with infertility simply because they appear to make you uncomfortable or angry.”

This points to a pattern of behaviour I’d like someone to follow for the betterment of our relationship, and because it doesn’t get too personal, invites them to ask for the same. And sure, the person may go on the defensive-  which is why you can step back to #2- use those paired statements. Ultimately the person you’re talking to can choose to take action or not, but setting the expectation gives your position clarity.

4) Mediate your response

Sometimes for all the love, patience, paired statements and action plans in the world, you just want to tell someone where to stick it- in as many spectacularly creative ways as possible. Sometimes you even fantasize about that moment. Sometimes you actually live it. But I think most people try really hard not to.

I’m one of those people known to have a long fuse and a big bang. Which is why I give myself the opportunity to stamp out any impending sparks at the end of that fuse whenever I can. This could mean physically removing myself from a situation, turning off the computer, or politely stating; “I’m sorry, I need to end this conversation for the time being before I say something I regret.” The point is sometimes you need the break, so don’t be afraid to ask for it, even forcibly take it if you need it. But remember- you need to respect when someone asks for the same.

5) Forgive

This one right here, is the most challenging piece of advice to follow of all. It takes a lot of energy to keep being angry. Carrying a burden like that around with you is like carrying around a heavy purse on a long day out. At first, you can’t let it go, you need it. But after awhile, it is just exhausting to carry around and you can’t wait to put it down so all the aches and pains the weight of it leaves behind, will go away. This is where as hard as it is, forgiveness matters. You don’t have to tell people you’ve forgiven them until they come to you for an apology, you just need to let go of the burden anger brings, and instead carry that readiness to forgive within you. And depending on the hurt, sometimes that can take some time to get to.

One of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve come across, was courtesy of a random tumblr post:

If someone says sorry, never say “that’s okay”. Saying “that’s okay” tells the person who hurt you that they have permission to do it again. However saying “I accept your apology” shows that they are forgiven, but not excused of the bad behaviour that hurt you in the first place and you expect them not to hurt you the same way ever again.

I love this because it rings so true for me, but it’s definitely also a challenge in terms of my own personal growth. I am not the most forgiving person and I know it. Lord knows I try but it takes work to let go of others’ transgressions and trust them again, at least enough to have a rational discussion. And I’m hoping if push comes to shove, I can take my own advice, at least far enough to get to the forgiveness phase- even if I’m not quite ready yet.

So there you have it: the dark side, worst case scenario of putting yourself out there.

And I daresay that even with some major misunderstandings and disappointments, I’m still happy with my choice to put all of my struggles and losses out there. We’ll see how I’m feeling after the weekend, if I manage to take my own advice in dealing with my own family’s issues. But in the mean time, if you have any last minute pointers I may have missed, or have your own less than ideal “coming out” story to share, feel free to leave it in the comments.