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.