One year roller coaster

Since I missed my official “one year” anniversary by a few days, I can’t help but feel like mother’s day is a good occasion to mark one year of actually committing to this blog. Some of you might be surprised to know, I don’t dread mother’s day- don’t get me wrong, I have in the past- but not anymore.

So uh, one year. Wow. It truly is hard to believe that an entire year has passed since I actively started blogging, and ‘came out’ to my family friends about the deeply personal struggle that is infertility, and at the risk of sounding cliche, what a year it has been.

When I first hit publish on this post, I was tired, stressed, beaten down, broken-hearted and just… done. I’d reached a point where there was so much looming uncertainty in my life that I didn’t think I had anything to loose when I hit that blue “publish” button (and oh boy did that ever become a lesson). I didn’t know what my friends and family would have to say about me finally coming out to pretty much everyone I knew about an issue I struggled with on a daily basis. Truthfully, this blog had been in existence even before that- but mostly in the form of drafts, sitting in a folder on the internet, waiting until I was brave enough to hit that button.

What happened after definitely changed a lot for me; my relationships, my mindset, my health. And God, what a learning experience this past year has been.

I’ve learned I have the most incredible friends in the world.

Ever heard that idiom “Blood is thicker than water?” Well what you might not know is there is more to that idiom than meets the eye. The actual phrase is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” meaning our chosen bonds, can sometimes be as strong, or even stronger than our familial ones.

From people I met only throughout this past year, to co-workers (and now former co-workers) who have been some of my biggest cheerleaders, to my tried and true, forever and ever, see-you-in-the-nursing-home childhood friends, I’ve received incredible words and symbols of support. These people don’t owe me the love one expects from family, but have freely given it anyway and in droves, when I need it most.

I know without a doubt one day, these same incredible people will be the first to celebrate with me and my husband when we can finally welcome a little one into our life. But I also know if that doesn’t happen, these same people will be there to lend an ear or a shoulder, or even a hand to pull me up and say; “Okay, what’s next?”

I’ve learned that family relationships sometimes take more work than friendships

Our familial bonds don’t necessarily mean that family will always understand infertility itself, or the decision to talk about it any better than your chosen family will. Many will, but sometimes the people we count on the most, can also be the ones who surprise and hurt us by letting us down. Of course, often your family comes through for you in ways you had never imagined too, whether it’s phone calls and text conversations that last into wee hours of the night , sensitive pregnancy announcements, or taking a stand on my behalf against those who are being insensitive or cruel, a lot of my family has been amazing.

But I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t prepared to be looking at both sides of the proverbial coin. At times, I forgot that my family is human too, and just like a stranger or a friend, they were just as capable of not ‘getting it’ as anyone else. I held members of my family to a higher standard when maybe I shouldn’t have and I definitely made some mistakes along the way, just like the people who hurt me.

I’ve learned that infertility is deeply misunderstood.

And dare I say it, taboo- even though it shouldn’t be. Back in university, a friend of mine told me a bit about her struggle to have a baby. And it is only now, confronting my own struggle years later, that I truly have any perspective when it comes to how she must have been feeling. Until dealing with it myself, I never understood just how much something like this can weigh on a person, day in, day out for months, years at a time.

And maybe a little unfairly, I expected people to have compassion surrounding an issue that is seldom spoken about by couples. I expected people in my life to understand the difference in experiences between trying to have a baby for one year (and succeeding) isn’t the same as trying and waiting for years- or worse, trying and never succeeding. I expected them to know that healing from loss isn’t a universal experience for everyone. I thought I was expecting basic human compassion, but I learned that people have limits for how much they are capable of showing, due to their own life experiences.

I’ve learned that hanging on to hope can be the single hardest thing you’ve ever done.

But it can also be the most motivating, can push you into action you’d often rather not take. My husband and I have gone from being a couple so scared of this beast we could barely talk to each other about it, to a team, strong and resolute and unwilling to go down without a fight. Blood tests and sperm analysis’, drug therapies and ultrasounds, we’re going through it all together and we’re hoping to beat this beast together too.

I’ve gone from entirely blaming myself and my body, to supporting a partner who has at times felt the same about himself. I no longer look at the prospect of IVF as a scary, end of the line kind of deal. It’s a plan- a realistic one- to look forward to, if we don’t succeed some other way.

And when the day comes that I get my big fat positive (BFP), and even if I don’t, I know I can look back at this entire year with zero regret.

And finally….

I’ve learned to play the mental long-game

This one took me a while to get a handle on, and those who know me well, know how far I’ve come. And anyone on this journey with me knows that we all have good days and bad days. But I truly believe your mindset is one of your biggest offensive weapons; but it takes work to wield this one. You have to actively stay positive, focused and optimistic.

Last year the stress of infertility became almost too much to bear. I wasn’t sleeping, my blood pressure was steadily climbing, I felt like I was gaining weight, and I was letting other people and circumstances out of my control determine my well-being. And you can’t do that to yourself. There comes a point where you need to make a conscious decision to let all of that go. Send all that garbage out into the universe for someone else to find, because it doesn’t belong on your doorstep.

Instead I’ve chosen to focus on the path forward. I might not be able to have kids of my own. It’s something I’m still coming to terms with. But you know what? I absolutely love my husband, and if it’s just me and him for the rest of our lives, I’m okay with that. The longing to be a mom hasn’t gone away. Instead I’ve become more attune to the incredible mom’s in my life; watching and aspiring to be as amazing as so many of them are. I’ve learned more about love and parenting in this wait and in the end, I think it will make me a better mom. And that time will come.

Over the past year…

I did my due diligence in getting myself and my partner checked out, and digging deeper into why we weren’t successfully conceiving and carrying a baby to term. We may not have always gotten the answers we wanted to hear, but having those answers, is certainly better than fumbling around in the dark.

I spoke up for myself and refused to be isolated, and I hope in doing so, I’ve encouraged other couples to start a dialogue about their journey too.

So whoever is reading this, whether your a friend or family member or complete stranger, know that I am so grateful for all of the love and encouragement you’ve offered me and my husband, and know that if you choose to share your story, you are entitled to love and respect, compassion and kindness- from yourself and others. It will be an amazing lesson you’ll definitely pass on to your child when he or she finally makes their grand arrival in your life.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Dear Mom-to-be

Let me start by saying, I tried to time this just right so that I wouldn’t make any friend feel like I was specifically targeting them and let me tell you, this has been sitting in my drafts for months because ya’ll just can’t stop getting pregnant. So I want you to know, if you happen to be one of my pregnant friends right now, there is a boatload of pregnant people in my life, and I’m not wanting to single anyone out. This post is out here forever and ever beyond or before your pregnancy, so please, don’t feel bad for a second for the joy in your life you have right now. So here it goes:

Dear mom to be (and dad too),

You might be a close friend or family member, or even a co-worker, or you might not even know me at all, but there’s something I want you to know:

I am actually happy for you.

Sometimes, I’m just phenomenally crappy at showing it. I know you notice. I know my enthusiasm sometimes comes across canned; either overly-enthusiastic, or underwhelming, whether it’s genuine, or one of those days that I’m even capable of mustering it. I know you are tempted to doubt me any time I say I am happy for you- and truthfully, I don’t really blame you for feeling that way.

I know you might not understand when I have to walk away from a social gathering, abruptly end a telephone call, or when I don’t respond to social media shares about your baby and pregnancy either at all, or with the reaction you hoped I’d have.

But please, always remember that, even though this emotion doesn’t always come first in the hierarchy of emotional reactions-  I am happy for you. I just feel a lot of things when you announce your pregnancy, talk excitedly about all the things you have planned for baby, complain about your pregnancy symptoms… heck sometimes, even just when I look at you. Things like hopelessness, and sadness and longing that all get very complicated when mixed up with my love for you.

The truth is, I’m hurting and that isn’t your fault- but it also isn’t entirely mine. As one half of the many couples struggling with infertility, I live with a constant ache that never really goes away that I don’t choose. It’s like having a chronic physical condition, the pain is always there to some degree but on some days, I feel it more than others.

I have spent years wondering what is wrong with me. I’ve looked at literally dozens of negative pregnancy tests, squinting at a plastic window looking for the faintest line. I’ve become so scared of these tests telling me what I don’t want to know, that when I think there is a glimmer of hope… I don’t run out to the drug store to buy another piece of plastic to pee on, to hang my hopes on. I just wait. 2 days late… or 12… or more. Even when I’m throwing up, and exhausted, and my boobs hurt, and I can smell things from a room away, and definitely do not want certain foods, or I just know, I always find myself waiting for the bleeding to start. And it always does. And this was all before I got into fertility treatment; and had to start thinking about ultrasounds and blood work and fertility drugs and treatment options that whirl through my head on loop- like that browser tab with annoying music that you can’t find and it just. won’t. stop.

All of this takes a huge emotional toll on a person, and like a glass filling up with water, I can only hold so much before it all spills out, making a mess of things. And I end up curled up in bed wondering why I’m continuing to torture myself by trying. Wondering how I can make this incomparable ache just go away…

And none of that is your fault.

On good days, I might think about my infertility less than 3 times. On really good days, I might not think of it at all. But as my husband and I search for answers more and more, I confess I haven’t had a really good day in months. On bad days, even looking at a social media picture of your growing bump, or at that cute little pregnancy announcement you made with different sized ketchup bottles, or a cute onsie, or adorable pun, can be enough to bring me to sudden, uncontrollable tears, make me feel on the edge of an emotional breakdown, because yet another person has the thing I deeply desire, and they likely never knew the struggle I have known. Luckily I haven’t had one of those days in nearly a year.

This isn’t a choice I make, to siphon away your joy or make you apprehensive about telling me your news. Making you feel anxious or miserable, isn’t going to make me feel better. I promise, I’m not trying to make this all about me. In fact, one of the reasons I sometimes detach, stop reacting on social media, avoid texts and calls, or don’t come to social gatherings, isn’t just because of my own hurt, it’s because I feel guilty that I can not be the kind of person you deserve right now, and I believe you should be surrounded by only the best kind of person, who reacts exactly as you’d hoped, at this time in your life.

If you’re reading this I want you to know, you shouldn’t feel guilty about posting that witty pregnancy announcement, or week-by-week bump pics, or even complaining about throwing up all the time, being tired, or not getting sleep. I am so happy you get those things, that you choose to document this time in your life as the precious gift it is.

But I also want you to know I would give just about anything just to be in your shoes, and I hope that when you post or talk about those things, you remember me once in awhile.

Signed,
Your Infertile Friend(s)

 

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.

 

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.