Resolved = Irrelevant?

I realized after I reread my post yesterday morning that there was another interesting topic tucked into the original situations that inspired the post. In both those situations (the Redbook debacle of yesteryear and the recent Bitter Infertiles “hate mail” discussion) another important issue, besides the Pain Olympics, was whether women who have resolved their infertility can, or should, continue speaking for the community in situations where the intention is to speak for the community, not just for the blogger herself. The questions seems to be, do your credentials expire when you (or others) consider your infertility journey resolved?

Obviously, every woman has the right to write about her infertility, just as each has the same right to avoid discussing it. The wonderful thing about the blogosphere is that there is always room for more: literally anybody can participate. It is really is an incredible thing that blog hosting is free and anyone can choose to share what they feel comfortable sharing. This inclusiveness is necessary because, as women who have been blogging resolve their infertility, there is always a new set of bloggers ready to move in and be there for each other as they all begin THEIR long, hard fights against infertility.

There have been lots of discussions in this community about whether women who are parenting after IF have a continued place in this community. It can definitely be hard for some women “in the trenches” to read about the successes of women who have crossed the divide. On the other hand, some women stuck in the darkness of IF look to those women as beacons of hope. Another great thing about this community is that each person can pick and choose who they want to read and follow.

But in situations where one or more people is speaking for the community–or representing the struggle of the community–to a broader audience (possibly outside the community) the question of who is best prepared to be a spokesperson can come under intense scrutiny. It is in these situations that people have stronger ideas about who best embodies the infertility experience and a lot of people seem to think that the ideal candidate is someone who hasn’t resolved but is still in the trenches.

This can be argued both ways. When two of the three current Bitter Infertiles hosts announced BFPs in quick succession (the other was already about half way through her pregnancy) I wondered if people were going to be upset, or just stop listening, now that everyone was pregnant. I knew the “triple pregnancy threat” (as I began to refer to it in my own head) didn’t bother me on my current journey but I could imagine it might have when I was just starting out. So when the email that launched the discussion was read on the podcast, I wasn’t at all surprised.

I also wasn’t surprised that the hosts’ feelings were hurt, that they were angry to hear that others’ might dismiss their very real and valid struggles and losses–the deep grief that they had felt, and continued to feel–just because they were now pregnant. In their minds they are absolutely still infertile and will continue to be even if/when they do welcome healthy babies into the world; their pregnancies don’t, and never will, erase their struggles. I see their point and believe that despite being pregnant, or even parenting healthy children, women are always infertile (as long as they identify with that label). Having a child does not erase the fact that one could not do so on their own time table or without assistance or without suffering losses. I would even venture to suggest that a woman who’s family is forever altered because of infertility, either because she wasn’t able to have the number of children she wanted, or lost a genetic connection with her child, is never really resolved.) But it seems clear that in the minds of many women still in the trenches, pregnant or parenting women are not infertile, or are not AS infertile as those still living the struggle day to day.

I will admit, that I do have empathy and understanding for the women who feel frustrated when all the prominent spokespeople for the cause have resolved their infertility or are pregnant (and I absolutely recognize that being pregnant is not the same as resolving; there are so many things that can go wrong). I remember, after my loss, looking for books about miscarriage and being incredibly annoyed that all of them were written from a place of resolution and that 99% of that resolution was in birth of a living child. Every memoir, short story and article I read was from the point of view of women who had suffered miscarriage(s) and later had living children. And while I knew they understood what I was going through, they were no longer in that place. Their story of pain and loss was over and they got their happy ending. And their writing reflected the peace of that resolution. I wanted the raw pain, the abject horror, the crippling uncertainty of someone who didn’t know how their story would turn out, and I only ever found that in one book.

I understand the phenomena. Most people don’t write about a struggle until they’ve overcome the challenge they face. People want to know the ending of the story and an unresolved infertility story lacks a conclusion. That uncertainty is what makes the experience so terrifying. I get why memoirs aren’t written by people who don’t know their own endings, most people wouldn’t want to read it. That is why the blogging community is so important, because the women who aren’t resolved can find solace following other women who are similarly struggling. I so wish I had known about infertility blogs in the months following my ectopic pregnancy; my healing would have been so aided by this community.

So what is the final verdict? Can women with resolved infertility be spokespeople? (And when I say spokespeople, I mean those who are speaking from a forum with a title that makes “at least some implied claim to represent the infertile experience in general, rather than a particular individual’s experience of infertility for the cause” (as Sara so eloquently stated in her comment yesterday). Will they bring the same basic understanding of infertility to a discussion as women who have not yet resolved would bring? Like most things in life, the answer is complex and nuanced. It varies from person to person. I think that women with resolved infertility can, absolutely, speak for (or about) our community. If they still identify with their infertility, if it still defines (in some way) who they are, they are prepared to represent the community. But I also understand the desire of those in the trenches to have their own representation in the discussion. I get that they want to hear from someone who doesn’t just remember what it was like, but are still living it. There is something validating in hearing an echo of their own voice among the others.

Recently Keiko wrote about her fear that The Infertility Voice is becoming irrelevant as she approaches the resolution of her journey. I absolutely believe that Keiko’s voice will always be relevant, even if she goes on to have a whole litter of knishes. Keiko is a woman who cares about this community. She was advocating for us long before she could pursue treatments and I assume she’ll be advocating for us long after her family is complete. Mel is another leader of the community who is parenting after infertility. While I’m not sure where she considers herself on the path of resolution, I am positive that she will always be a community building force in this community (at least I can’t imagine a time when she will not be). Jjiraffe continues to speak for the community with her Faces of ALI series, telling our stories with power and grace. Pamela provides guidance for women who are grappling with the possibility of resolving their infertility without parenting children. Lori remains an important resource for women exploring or pursuing open adoption and is even publishing a book on the topic soon. I absolutely believe that each and every one of these women (and many, many more) remains not only a relevant member of this community, but an indispensable one. So I would have to say that yes, a resolved voice is, and always will be relevant, if it chooses to be so.

The reality is, the bloggers who are around long enough to become mainstays of the community are eventually going to resolve their infertility, be that by building a family through ART or adoption or by moving on to live without parenting. Maybe that is why the people who are still in the trenches feel such a desperate need for voices that echo their own, because so many of the “spokespeople” are resolved. It takes a long time to become a recognized name in this community and usually, at some point, those women end up having children.

Each woman’s journey through infertility is unique. We look for similar voices, voices we recognize, voices that validate our suffering. I remember how hard it was to feel like the only stories like mine were already finished; it almost made the uncertainty of my own story that much more difficult to bear. I have that feeling again now, as I tackle secondary infertility. Sometimes I just want to know the outcome be it “good” or “bad” so I can start moving on with my life.

I truly hope we can all remember that just because a woman has moved past her infertility, just because it doesn’t dictate every day of her life, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t remember. It doesn’t mean she can’t empathize or understand. It doesn’t mean she’s not infertile. It doesn’t even mean she is healed. And instead of disregarding women who have resolved we should look to them for wisdom and guidance, because chances are they’ve learned a few things on their journey. Things we’d be better off knowing.

13 responses

  1. Such great nuance to your last two posts. What they remind me is that growth comes slowly when we’re in pain. It’s only when we have room to breathe that we appreciate how much we have to learn from each other — that challenging each other, respectfully, rather than with sniping or indignation leads to more growth.

    Too often we’re so heads down blogging in our own micro communities that we lose sight of how we relate on the larger stage — where our paths overlap and our messages reinforce. Metaphors come to mind: a rich fabric that we’re weaving together; a chorus of voices harmonizing.

    Finally, it’s important for those newer or earlier in the process to remember that the senior members of this community bear scars (oh, do we bear scars). The only reason this vibrant, diverse community exists is that we healed and *made* it a priority to keep this safe destination online alive and well so that those coming behind us could find their way in the dark. Kindness serves us all well.

  2. This point is very interesting to me, because I can see it both ways. When we were struggling, I did read up on the Redbook situation and was appalled. But not that the women writing were “resolved,” but rather, what one of them, in particular, wrote about. I think women who are pregnant or parenting after IF can most definitely still represent the community, and represent it well. BUT, in the case of Redbook, one of the gals was asking readers for morning sickness advice. That was inappropriate. That should never have happened. Those heading up the Redbook Infertility Diaries should have guided the writers on what not to write about, and complaining about pregnancy symptoms should have been on that list. They could complain all they want, but not in that (Redbook’s) forumn. I truly believe that. Those types of conversations should have been had on their own blogs, not a blog endorsed by, and created for, the IF community.

    I think so many women still represent the community well after/through IF, and I think they’re extremely relevant. Your good friend comes to mind. I do not, however, appreciate certain bloggers thinking they “own” or “dictate” the ALI space, and that has been happening over the last year which makes me think that those people are not relevant any longer – not relevant to ME. Just my opinion.

    I did have concerns about the lineup on Bitter Infertiles and how that would affect others. I could care less that they’re all parenting or pregnant now through IF, but I can see how those still working so hard to get pregnant could be bothered by that.

    All of our views are colored by the lenses we wear, so who I think is, or is not, relevant doesn’t really matter. Who you think is, or is not, relevant doesn’t really matter. It’s so personal. And there are so many RELEVANT representatives within this community, parenting or not, that if we don’t like one, we should just focus on another who we do like.

    Great post! VERY RELEVANT!

  3. Great post. I’ve resolved my infertility, and I didn’t start blogging till a number of years later. Because blogging wasn’t big when I was going through infertility and coping with the end of my fertility and any chance of a family. So it was only after several years that I felt I actually had anything coherent and considered to say. (That’s making a great leap assuming that anything I say is either coherent or considered). You make the very valid point that we learn a few things on the way. And often, it isn’t till we have time to breathe and reflect afterwards, that we realise that.

  4. One prevalent criticism of those who suffer(ed) from infertility – or at least a criticism I’ve seen in the mainstream media on the rare occasion that they post a realistic story – is that people who suffer from IF can’t wait to get the fuck outta dodge. Infertility will never get the support and resources it needs from a national scale because those who resolve their infertility through parenthood don’t stick around and continue to care after they reach their goal, blah blah blah. I think that’s not true in the blogging community but just to combat this perception to the rest of the world, I think it’s important for some spokespeople to be from “the other side.”

  5. Interesting points to chew on here… I appreciate what Courtney said about our views being colored by the lenses we wear. So true! As someone who had resolved my journey through secondary infertility and loss, I do believe that when I choose to share about my past experience or my current thoughts on infertility and loss that my perspective is not irrelevant. But then again, I am biased by my own point of view. I get that depending on where we are at in our lives we may or may not appreciate hearing from veterans or newcomers or those in between. I always hope that anyone who finds themselves in the ALI Community will learn, more than anything, the importance of being more sensitive in general to others, no matter what they may be dealing with in their lives. I know we have discussed this before on one more blog posts, as it is one of the big take-a-ways I have learned from my experience in the ALI Community. Bravo on these thought provoking posts.

  6. So many things — you’ve made me think. Here are some bullet points.

    * For me, it’s dangerous territory to speak for a community. I try to speak only for myself (most of the time, but I’m sure I slip up). Within being a voice in the community, I think a blogger can find research, enlighten, provoke discussion, and advocate for (as Keiko does so well).

    * The word “resolved” has nuances. I mean, my family-building has been resolved for awhile, but I will always consider myself infertile (though it’s not as big a part of my identity as it was when in the thick of it).

    * People keep wanting to get a handle on adoption. But it’s so amorphous, so complex, such a mosaic that any one person can see just a few thousand tiles of it from billions (at the most). I see infertility the same way. There are infinite experiences and no one person or group ever gets that handle. The best anyone can do is keep exploring the complexity across IF causes, treatments, outcomes, stages, paths, etc.

    * There is definite value in listening to those who have “resolved” in some way, for the perspective shifts as time passes. I recall how distorted my reality was during the IF years. This is the classic question of how will a culture value their elders? As throwaway irrelevant has-beens or as wise women who endured, survived, even thrived?

    * Thank you for mentioning me, and for putting me in such good company. Wow.

    Great series of posts, Esperanza. I left this one in my Reader until I could devote time to digest and respond.

  7. As Lori mentioned, and as I’ve read on Mel’s blog several times before, too, to me, there’s a huge difference between resolving childlessness and resolving infertility. Infertility is a medical condition which, with rare exception, isn’t ever really “resolved”. Childlessness is usually the major side effect of infertility, and so when one becomes a parent after infertility, whether through treatments or through adoption or surrogacy, the state of childlessness is what is really being resolved.

    And while it may seem like 6 of one, half-dozen of the other, to me, the distinction is a very important one to make. If we want the world at large to recognize what infertility is, to cut away those prejudices (the “just adopt”s that we hear, the “my sister’s husband’s cousin used robitussin”s, etc.), we have to get people to understand that infertility is a medical issue. Yes, it’s major symptom and cause for concern is the lack of ability to create or carry a child on our own, but infertility is not something that can truly be “resolved”. Symptoms can be managed, physical causes can sometimes be “fixed” (which would probably be the only circumstance where I’d say infertility might be able to be “resolved”), medical procedures can be used to go around those medical issues, but in a vast majority of those cases, the medical causes of infertility aren’t resolvable.

    Childlessness, though, IS resolvable through various avenues, medical or not. And sometimes, the state of infertility-induced childlessness is resolved when someone chooses to stop pursuing parenthood– so are they considered someone who can speak for the cause? I mean, they aren’t trying anymore, they aren’t parenting– yet, they are ones who I might consider the most “resolved” among us, having made the active decision to get off the train, so to speak.

    I don’t know. I read with interest the debates here and there, and truthfully, I wish more people would realize that becoming a parent can only fix the state of childlessness, not necessarily fix infertility. My husband will have shitty sperm until the day he dies. I will deal with PCOS until I hit menopause, and deal with the complications and statistical-loaded-guns of it for the rest of my life. I am infertile. I will never not be infertile. In spite of my additional insurance of the tubal ligation, I could still attempt to become a parent again, either through use of our remaining tot-sicles or through adoption, but even that would not suddenly make me less infertile. And that’s important to me, to have that fact remembered.

    • This is a really interesting and important point. I’ve never thought of infertility and childless-ness as being different things but it’s clear that they are. I mean, I’ve always considered infertility a medical condition (rather, I view the underlying medical causes of infertility as medical conditions, though I suppose infertility is, in itself, those medical causes added to the fact that they are causing the person suffering from them to be childless when they don’t want to be–would we consider someone with those same medical conditions (say diminished ovarian reserve or MFI) to be infertile if they didn’t want to have children? I don’t know.) And most of those medical conditions affect people in other ways (I will probably hit menopause when I’m 40 years old, which will require treatment on my part to ward off other health issues). I will always have those issues, even after I’ve resolved my inability to have a second child. I guess when I was writing this I was interchanging the two because I think of infertility as being the label when your medical condition (even if it’s unexplained) is keeping you from having the family you want and that once you’ve stopped trying to created the family you want, your infertility is resolved. But I see now that is not really the case.

      I also believe, thought I didn’t mention it much in that piece, that some people’s infertility is never really resolved, or maybe less resolved, than others’. If you do not get to build the family you wanted, your infertility will always be a part of your life because it will be evident in your family every day. If you don’t have children, or as many children as you wanted, or you lose some genetic connection to your children, your family will always look different than you had expected and in that way, I believe your infertility is not truly resolved. It’s not that I don’t believe that women who don’t have the family they had hoped for can’t appreciate the family they do have, but I think they are more continually reminded of how infertility affected their lives. They are generally the women that keep writing about infertility long after they have “officially resolved” their infertility (if that is even possible), while the women who eventually get the family they had hoped for are more likely to move on (I don’t have hard data on this, it’s just a phenomena I believe I have observed). I know I will probably never walk away from this blog if I don’t have a second child or we adopt, where as I might walk away if we ended up having another baby. Anyway, your words just got me thinking about that point as well. Thanks for the thought provoking comment!

      • That’s a really insightful point about not all infertility really being resolved. I fall into that category, but never really figured that out until now.

  8. One of the things that bugs me about “resolved” is that it has this sense of emotional peace to it that I don’t see in so many people who have lived through infertility. That’s why I’m looking for a different word for what happens when you switch from family building to family living after adoption/infertility/loss. It’s not like the light comes on and all that emotional stuff goes away (for most people, as I’ve seen anyway). Maybe you make peace with the journey and let it go, but the scars are still there. Clearly it’s common to feel like scars aren’t enough to make you relevant or able to speak about the infertility experience anymore, and I am glad that the ladies hosting Bitter Infertiles aren’t in a place to do just that.

    It makes me so sad that folks in the trenches are dug in so deep they can’t see the hard-earned wisdom of people who are now pregnant. I get that, when speaking for the community, talking exclusively about pregnancy isn’t cool… but that isn’t what has been going down in this case (as near as I can tell, I’m behind in my proper podcast listening). As a relative newcomer, I assume that the “experts” who’ve been involved in the community long enough to become expert enough to speak to/for a larger group of folks about the experience (and do a stellar job finding representatives from all the corners of the ALI journey as guests) will largely be folk now finished or nearly finished with treatments. In time, I hope that everyone gets to have a child if they decide they want one, and based on the probability that over time something will work, more time in the community means greater odds of parenting. I’m all right with that, but I got here with secondary infertility so I was inoculated against the pain of hearing about parenting. My perspective is therefore different, but hey. I’m here, and my perspective should count too, even if I am not “infertile enough” by some magical standard.

  9. Pingback: An apology « Stumbling Gracefully

  10. Thanks for the compliment. Great post, truly. I also learned a lot from the wonderful comments. I kept wanting to reply to each comment to compliment the writer, but then realized that that would be far too much from me, when all that I really have to say is that you are all very smart people.

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