PROLOGUE: If you didn’t get a chance to read last Thursday’s post you might want to now. If you don’t have much time (it’s long!) start about half way down, right above the indented dictionary definitions. It turns out that this post is kind of a sequel to that post.
A while ago I exchanged a few tweets with Keiko of Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed. I forget what inspired the conversation but I do remember asking her if she thought her diagnosis of POF, years before she intended to start trying for a family (instead of while she was in the throes of TTC), had significantly shaped her relationship with her infertility.
During our Twitter conversation Keiko and I talked about what it was like to know that you would suffer from infertility before you started to build your family. We both experienced this to some degree and responded very differently. Perhaps that is because of our diagnoses, perhaps because of who we are as people, perhaps because of our circumstances. Probably it was a mixture of all of those and more. There are all manner of reasons why her diagnosis and mine led us on different paths. Today I’m only going to talk about what my experience was like, since I sure as hell can’t do any justice to hers. If your curious what she has to say on the matter, you can check it out on her post today!
The truth is, I was never diagnosed with infertility before I started trying. What happened was, in my late teens I stopped menstruating. I’m not talking long cycles, I’m talking no cycles – years and years of not having my period. Sometimes the OB I was seeing would decide it needed to be “treated” (with three months of birth control pills), other times I was assured it wasn’t a big deal. I was told, however, that if I did want to get pregnant, I would need to see a doctor to begin menstruating again because as it stood, I would not be able to conceive on my own.
Now this is where last week’s post comes in. While I was never told I was infertile, I was told I couldn’t get pregnant without medical help, which is one part of the complicated definition of infertility. For this reason, among others, I assumed I’d struggle significantly to get pregnant and began to consider myself infertile.
The “among other” reason was my mother. My mom’s story, as I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, was a tragic one. She also experienced amenorrhea for most of her teens and twenties and, not surprisingly, struggled to get pregnant. She finally had me after two years of trying. Two years later she had my sister S, who died in the NICU after two months of fighting for her life. My mom and dad were in California looking for a house when it happened. My sister died and our mother was half a content away. And after that? She lost three sons, all still born at six months. My mom was getting her tubes tied, a desperate attempt to avoid more loss, when she found out she was pregnant with my other sister M. We are almost seven years apart.
This all happened first, watching my mother lose babies, me losing siblings. I already knew, before I ever had troubles myself, that pregnancy was wrought with loss and sadness, that it was a miracle but a fragile one. That there were no guarantees.
No guarantees. That was it really. There were never, ever any guarantees. No guarantees that I would ever get pregnant, that I would birth a live child, that a live child would continue living. Guarantees were for the land of the fertile. Guarantees were not for me.
And yet I was not infertile. I had never struggled to get pregnant because I wasn’t trying to get pregnant yet. Still my past and my present led me down a different path than my fellow not-infertiles journeyed. From my path I eyed pregnant women and complete families with suspicion and envy. I responded with understanding and empathy when I heard of a lost pregnancy. I worried every single day that I wouldn’t find someone in time to build my family. I assumed having children would be a long, arduous, harrowing journey and if I didn’t start soon enough, I might never get there.
When I finally met my first boyfriend I was 26 and already panicking that it was too late. Once we were formally “dating” I immediately started in on having kids. I could not dick around with this guy if he didn’t want a family! Turns out he hadn’t planned on having one. Cue the constant conversations, crises and fights. My infertility-assumption shaped our relationship in ways I probably don’t see, even to this day. We were in counseling about having kids after dating for less than three years. It was constantly a part of the conversation – a shadowed that darkened so much of our lives.
When we finally neared our TTC date I started acupuncture. I had read many “overcoming infertility” books and had decided that since Western treatments were reactive (and I wouldn’t be eligible for them at first anyway), I would pursue Eastern treatments in an attempt to be proactive.
Along with the acupuncture I took Chinese herbs and followed a strict traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) diet, excluding grains and limiting dairy. Meanwhile I abstained completely from alcohol. I did all this in hopes of staving off my impending amenorrhea and infertility.
Most women start trying to conceive with nervous excitement. They take their last BCP and wonder what will happen. They have sex, excited for the possible consequences they had once taken such great pains to avoid but now were ready to embrace. I never felt like that. I never had that naive, “this is going to happen” attitude. We never just had sex, hoping for the best. Instead I was temping and charting from my first CD1. We were scheduling baby making sex on a shared Google calendar from the get go. We never had those carefree months. We never had a “well maybe it will happen next time” BFN. Every month was excruciating. Every month BFN made clear what I already knew, that this just wasn’t going to happen for us.
After six months of trying we found out we were pregnant. Despite my mother’s story I was happy, blissfully so. I knew something bad could happen but I was just so relieved to see that second line. For two weeks, life was wonderful.
Then pain, bleeding, 12 hours in the ED, an MVA, an ectopic pregnancy, shots of methotrexate and a warning that I could still lose my tube or possibly die. Not only had I lost my pregnancy but I’d done so in a way I didn’t even realize was possible. My future as an infertile seemed to be the writing on the wall.
What followed was months of healing and waiting and wondering what would be next. When we started again I felt I had lost all hope. It had been so long since we had started trying. I felt despondent. I launched my blog. I joined this community. I immediately felt a sense of acceptance and purpose. I instantly felt like I belonged.
We got pregnant a couple months later. That time it stuck and nine months later we brought home a healthy baby. In the days after her birth I felt a weight lift. I felt I had escaped a horrible fate, a fate I had come to expect. I considered myself incredibly lucky and intensely grateful.
The weight didn’t dissipate completely though. My fears of recurring amenorrhea and pregnancy loss have come creeping back as we start thinking about having another baby. My past, my mother’s past, will haunt me with their awful possibility for as long as I hope to have children. In fact, it will always be a part of who I am, it will always color my gratitude for my family and my good fortune.
My assumption of infertility had other, unforeseen consequences. Now, having had a child, I’m left straddling two worlds. On the one hand I never took up residence in the world of the fertiles; I never lived their naive and innocent life in which people have babies whenever they want to. And yet, I was never diagnosed as infertile. When I physically couldn’t get pregnant I wasn’t trying to and when I wanted to get pregnant I took measures to increase my chances of that happening. I will never know if the TCM and acupuncture did the trick. Or if it was simply the years of BCP. Maybe my body just figured out how to menstruate. In the end though, I was able to conceive a child and I did birth a healthy baby.
So where do I belong? I’m not infertile, though we share similar experiences (spending many thousands of dollars on treatments, making continual sacrifices to have a child, feeling hopeless and alone) and I empathize with this community in the way I think other infertiles do. I’m not fertile because of my history, my struggle and my loss. It’s a strange place to be because I can’t claim membership in either community. I feel like an impostor in both places, but the place where I feel like I’m pretending is with the fertiles. Here, in the IF community, I feel that I belong. But I respect other women and their struggles too much to compare them with my own and so I tred lightly, I flash my loss card and I hope nobody will call me out.
I don’t call myself infertile even though in my heart, it’s a part of who I was, who I am and who I always will be.