Every day I wish I could be more articulate about infertility without sounding self-aggrandizing, self-pitying or self-righteous. I don’t think I can express what infertility is like without weaving lots and lots of words and metaphors and analogies, but the day to day reality of walking through infertility is different than that. While my faith makes it possible to look toward the future with assurance, on a daily basis, sometimes it doesn’t feel concrete enough to process or come to grips with what it feels like for me, for David, and for our loved ones. I’ve tried to sketch out a practical guide for anyone in this boat or for anyone who knows someone sitting in this boat, frantically trying to bail out the water filling it.
1. You Are Not Alone, Even When You Feel Like It
Thousands and thousands of women and family walk through infertility, but, really, it does not matter. Your journey is personal, specific, isolating, exclusive; it is damn lonely. There will be times that feeling alone is more comforting than feeling like just one in a whole sea of people with the same struggle. Sometimes it feels more empowering to imagine yourself battling this mountain by solo, brandishing your sword against the clouds of doubt and grief like a lone Thor. The community of others is so wonderful when you need it, but it’s also easy to allow that to minimize your experience.
Let yourself feel the immense weight of your struggle. At the same time, let yourself feel the power of the many, many, many who have been there, are there, will be there. Lonely… not alone. You are not alone.
2. There Is No Right Thing to Say, But There Are Many Wrong Things
Do not feel pressure to say the right thing in the face of infertility. There isn’t a right thing. Simply stating that you don’t know what to say is incredibly consoling. A range of replies from, “I am so sorry. I’m so sad and mad for you,” to “I don’t feel like any response is the right one,” to “pen!s,” have all arrived at just the right time from just the right people.
But goodness, there are so many wrong things to say. “Just keep trying!” “Never lose hope!” “God has big things!” or a slew of scriptures about waiting are among the most trite. Don’t say those. If you have not been through infertility, do not try to anecdotally relate by sharing about a friend who has. Refer to number 1. Feeling alone is real, but throwing out stories of friends of friends who have been through similar things – or a more severe battle with it – is damaging and feels like you’re minimizing your friend’s experience. Friends who are ready to build a network of women who have been through infertility will ask you when it’s time.
Sit with them in the pain. Don’t remind them that the best is coming. It may be years and many rounds of failure before the best comes.
3. Secondary Infertility is As Hard as the First Time
Before we had Nora Beth, I would immediately click out of blog posts about infertility if the writer had a child already. I was so bitter that they could possibly be feeling the pain of wanting more when I just wanted one. Again, referring to number 1, I felt like wanting the first was much, much harder than wanting a second or third. But now we’re here, wanting number 2, and the yearning and the pain is as sour as wanting Nora Beth. Maybe because I know the sweetness of having my precious girl, maybe because my family doesn’t feel complete yet, maybe because now not only do I want a child for us, I also desperately want a sibling for Nora Beth.
2 years ago, this is the point that this post would go south for me, and if that’s you, I understand, and it’s okay. When I was pregnant the first time, a well-meaning acquaintance told me, “And this is so great because even if you can’t ever have more, what you have is enough.” Yes, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift that is Nora Beth, and yes, she is enough, but the pain of wanting is legitimate.
4. The Two Week Wait Isn’t
The “two week wait” is not actually two weeks. It is three weeks of casual agony and one week of grueling torture. Infertility is tiring. It means counting each day, tracking everything, inspecting each wipe, questioning every single feeling in your body. Period or pregnancy? Nausea or food poisoning? Sore boobs or too heavy of weights yesterday? Cramps or implantation? No amount of Sudoku or celebrity gossip or terrible TV or baths or forum reading and Googling will make it faster or easier or take your mind off it. It is neverending. I’m really sorry about that.
A dear friend of mine who conceived her daughter through IVF and recently had an IVF miscarriage reminded me about the wait for the next step… Waiting to start your period so you can start birth control, wait till day 5, start Lupron injections, wait until day 11 start estrogen patches, wait for ultrasounds, blood work results, another ultrasound, wait for week 10 to be released to your OB… whatever the protocol or advanced reproductive therapy that’s prescribed there is so…much…waiting.
Maybe this is not true for everyone, but it is for me. Every time I share about this topic, I receive amazing messages from incredible people telling me about their experiences, their heartache, their failures. The first time I wrote about it, we had a successful IUI about 6 weeks later. I felt so guilty that we had been successful when people had just shared with me that they had been trying longer, had had worse losses. I felt like I wasn’t doing justice to those bound by infertility by getting that positive test after a single round of IUI.
When we weren’t getting pregnant, I felt guilty for every pregnancy announcement I saw that stung me. I felt guilty for not fully sharing in friends’ joy. I still feel guilty that I held myself at arm’s length from a dear friend’s first few months of new motherhood because I was hurting.
Last Friday I took a test. I felt confident and sure that this time we had done it… our third cycle after our miscarriage… on Friday, 9 days after ovulation, I took a test. After 2 minutes, I threw it away. A few minutes later, I looked at the test again, and there was a faint positive. Throughout the morning, the blue line got more and more marked, and we celebrated together this new baby who would be joining us in October. We had some hesitancy and wanted to confirm it, of course, but we were thrilled. David went out in the snow and ice to get me more tests. The second test I took was negative, but it wasn’t an early detection test, so I sent him back out to get a couple more brands. A total of five negative tests later and a started period, and we accepted the fact that the first positive was actually an evaporation line… not a true positive. I was and am crushed. And guilty. So guilty. I feel guilty that I risked David’s safety to get more and more tests, frantic to prove I was pregnant. I feel guilty about that wasted money. I felt foolish and guilty for every failed test. I feel like I catfished myself, and I feel guilty for grieving something that was never there.
Guilt isn’t an emotion from the Lord. It’s the enemy trying to shake my trust and my hope, but it’s real, and it assails this process.
6. There Isn’t Comfort In Miscarriage
When I was pregnant with Nora Beth I remember telling myself, and hearing from other people, that if I lost the pregnancy, at least it would give me hope that I could get pregnant.
Then I had a miscarriage.
The very last thing I have felt is comfort that we can pregnant. There is not an upside to a loss like that. Grieve it. Feel the loss. Again I say, grieve it (I am preaching to myself since I have not yet). Do not try to outrun the pain to prove to yourself that you’re through it. That’s an impossible race.
7. Your Husband Is Struggling Too
Your husband cannot and will not know what it feels like to you. He cannot relate to the loss you feel in your body each month. Regardless, he is hurting too. He hurts because he wants it, and he hurts because you are hurting, and he cannot fix it. Treat him gently. Don’t hurt him more by pushing him away or resenting what he can’t change. Your marriage is your greatest asset. You will process it individually, but protect the moments of unity you find.
I don’t want to end this on a schmaltzy “YES YOU CAN!” note, because that would undermine the message here. I do believe you are stronger than you know. I do believe there is goodness coming. I do believe it is worth every single, terrible, unfair ounce of fight. I believe that with all of my being. But I’m not going to preach that. Instead: HOPE. I realized that part of me lost hope around the time of the miscarriage. “Hope” was still a regular part of my rhetoric, but the active process of hoping had vanished from my emotions. I didn’t seem to have the emotional energy to summon it anymore. I had worn out my hope praying for a miracle with that pregnancy.
Recently I saw a definition of the word hope that cut the scar tissue away and made me re-examine it with fresh eyes. “To cherish a desire with anticipation.” I was certainly cherishing my desire, but I was cherishing it with fear, with possession, with a guarded heart, and with everything but anticipation, and the enemies living in the fabric of infertility were winning because of it.
Anticipating something that you aren’t sure will ever happen is vulnerable, and goodness, it is hard. But it is necessary in this trial. When you lose it, you lose yourself. Don’t do that. Please, please don’t do that.
“God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It’s a good thing when you’re young to sitck it out through hard times.” Lamentations 3:25-26, MSG