Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Don't Ignore Infertility

One in eight couples face infertility.  It should be a common topic with tons of easily attainable resources but no one talks about it.  Some people believe infertility is ignored because the topic deals with sex.  In case that’s true I want to do it first and move on. 
Sex.   Screwing.  Doing the naughty.  Legs up in the air or from the rear.  Wet and dirty; just like on the Discovery Channel.  It’s about the birds and the bees and we’ve got hungry eyes. 

Now that we prudes are all awkwardly uncomfortable I can continue with the less comfortable topic of infertility. 
When I started this blog I felt keeping infertility to myself was driving me crazy.  I hoped I wasn’t alone.  When I thought about letting go and braving the world I hoped I would find friendship.  I wanted to help pioneer a community that I could understand.

I had this great idea of being a voice for change.  I imagined a world where people would come together to lift us up in support.  I want to see every market selling pink and blue ribbons. 
Every October it’s a reminder for me the potential we have to share our suffering in a positive way.  You can’t leave the house without seeing pink everywhere, being asked to participate in 5k runs or donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  To be fully supportive of women they need to add the color blue.  October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  Infertility and fertility need to be addressed.   My mission is to spread the message shamelessly.
To do that, I have to inform you that this is National Infertility Awareness Week.   To kick off the week I attended the Utah Infertility Awareness Seminar.  I learned so much and met some really wonderful people.  These are all people who want kids or wanted them.   They came together to share their frustrations, learn better ways to become parents but most of all to be in a room of infertiles that have hope.  They were there hoping for pregnancy, for surrogacy, for egg adoptions and fostering to adopt or dreaming a pregnant Mom would choose them.  When all else failed they were there hoping to find peace at the end of trying.   
These were women who have dreams of children stamped on their hearts and many have had to change that dream.  That is what one of the groups was all about.  Couples lined the rows to listen to Monica Ashton help them find peace and healing when you face the reality that your family will not be what you thought it would.   I sat there and listened to one woman discuss how she came to realize that a family of two is still a family.  So often we want to ask people when they are going to start a family but they do that when they get married.  They already are a family.

Even Isaiah had a laugh when Josh Redfern  got up and talked to us about infertility from a guys point of view.  Both of us sat there thinking, “That’s me he’s talking about.”  We hoped each other was really paying attention and it was because of what he said that we talked the whole way home, decided we weren’t done so we stopped to walk around the mall a few times until we had worked through so many things we felt we could never say because of that gender gap between us.  That is why I say I learned a lot.  He didn’t tell me he’d changed his mind but at least he understands why I act the way I do.    

We shouldn’t have needed to go to this big event to find a way to discuss how infertility affects us. Why is it so awkward to bring it up?  Why does he change the subject?  These were things I need to know.  Again, I shouldn’t have needed a seminar to learn answers.  I’m glad I went.  It was helpful but these are the things we could find easily if our culture was more open to sharing their infertility.  We so often carry the burden alone.  Would is surprise you to know that studies at places like Harvard have placed this stress on the same level as terminal illnesses like Cancer?  I’ve never been so upset or consumed with something in my life.

Those blue and pink ribbons are where we start the discussion.  We may not be able to say it out loud but we can pin this message to our shirts, our cars, our window decals, our web pages and our key chains.    Our friends who get it will know we stand for something.  That ribbon can lead to conversations that lead to change.  Your friends will be wearing those ribbons to honor you and in the years to come October will become the month of pink and blue.  People will know this is the week to recognize those who cope with infertility.

Making the decision to be open about my struggle is harder than I imagined but I have a ribbon I display everywhere I go.  My goal has become to be open enough to talk about my infertility in the same way as I talk about my marriage, or where I come from.  I don’t want to be ashamed of this integral part of who I am any more than I want to struggle with it.  That is why I have started the process of working with Resolve to open a support group in my area.  I'm still in training and we'll see where that goes in the weeks to come but it all starts this week.  This is the week I change my mindset from closed to open.  So hug your infertile friend, wear your ribbon and ask to start a discussion.  We can’t ignore infertility if we want to find the answers to end it.

To help you understand infertility you can check out these links below:
http://www.resolve.org/infertility101  (Basic understanding of the disease of infertility.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Choosing to be Childfree After Infertility

Part Two: Reflections


                I was in the military the first time I contemplated having kids.  It was exciting but it wasn’t the right time.  I didn’t start trying to get pregnant until I was almost out of the military.  We spent about a year trying not including the months we stopped so I could deploy.    I was pregnant less than 90 days after my separation.  The plan was that I would stay at home until the baby would go to school because it would be cheaper than child care. 
                When my husband told me on April 3rd that he will never want to adopt or try to have kids in any way I was devastated.  He told me to stop hoping he would change his mind.  The physical, emotional and mental cost was too high after our other losses.  He told me he couldn’t meet the requirements above.  He can’t be charismatic or convince people to give him cash.  Neither of us is social.  He wants stability that raising kids can’t give him.

My reaction at first was shock.  I sat there staring at the wall.  I barely registered anything happening the next few days.  I haven’t wanted to eat, can’t sleep.  I keep crying.  It sucks.   Everything reminds me that I will never raise children.  I spent over $100 on used books to cope with infertility and being “Childless by Chance.”  I even spent $50 on Fannie May because I haven’t fully accepted that chocolates don’t make everything better. 
The worst thing is I wanted to talk but when the opportunity arose I was ashamed, upset and scared so I didn’t share with many people what I was experiencing.  I want to be seen as a strong capable person and this makes it hard to be that way.  It was days before I even spoke with my own Mother.    When you are in the middle of infertility it’s impossible to see any happy ending that doesn’t involve bringing a baby home.  I didn’t want pity but I needed support. 

In the last few days I’ve begun asking new questions.  Why did I ever want kids?   At the time I knew I was getting out of the military and that was scary.   I’d worked so hard to get where I was.  I didn’t want to start over but I knew I couldn’t last much longer on my current path.  I wanted to hide and being a stay-at-home Mom gave me enough reason not to face the world.  I didn’t want to try because I didn’t want to fail.  In not trying I have met even more failure than I ever would have imagined back then.  I found out that physically having kids is not easy.
Everyone knows its hard being a parent.  You can’t be a selfish person when it comes to your kids.  We have programs to help parents.  We even have the famous line from Hillary Clinton, “It takes a Village to Raise a Child.”  You can’t go outside without facing their reality.  I know and accept that I will never comprehend what it is like to raise a child.   There are a million blogs and forums for parents.  People often go out of their way to be considerate to the needs of parents.   We have whole days set aside to thank our parents.   

We have a kid-centric culture.  It’s normal to grow up, get married and have kids.  I realized that I wanted to be a part of something like that.  I want to go to church on Mother’s Day and stand up with all the other Mom’s but when I do I feel like a fraud because I’m not living that lifestyle.  They don’t ask for all the women who have kids, are trying to have kids or have lost pregnancies and young babies to stand up.  They ask for Mom’s and generally when you think of Mom it’s that person who raised you even if that person wasn’t technically your Mother.  I wanted to experience that positive reinforcement; to have some recognition for something I had worked so hard to accomplish.  I saw Motherhood as the most normal way to do that.  
I never wanted to lose my kids.  When I did I wanted to share them.  When I got mad it was never my fault.  I can see now I didn’t want someone to think I was less than them.  I don’t like believing I’m not good enough or capable enough.  I really don’t like failure.  I’ve spent years hating people who say the wrong thing because what they say is coming from a place of pity, assumptions they couldn’t know about or because they are repeating a platitude.  To pity me says that you think I haven’t got something vital.  I don’t want that.  I want recognition for accomplishments.  But to this day I’m still afraid to try.  The difference is that I do try.  Sometimes it feels like it’s never enough but I do it even though I fail over and over again.  Failure is a big part of who I am; a good part.

I wanted to be normal.  Everyone I knew that was normal had kids or was having kids.  I’ve never liked being odd.  I learned that doesn’t get you far because people notice.  You become an outsider.   At a certain age not having kids makes you unrelatable.    We all conform to the culture we are raised in.  You are supposed to want the white-picked fence in the suburbs with 2 ½ kids.  If you meet a new acquaintance the topic of kids is as bonding as talking about the weather.   It’s hard to connect with people who have nothing in common with you.
I was afraid of what would happen to me without kids.  I’m afraid I’ll be old and alone but that's no reason to have kids.  After pregnancy and infant loss people’s fears become magnified.  A common grief reaction for anyone is to become socially isolated.  I barely left the house.  I was so vulnerable to any comments made by anyone that I buried my loss with all but a few.  That is a tough habit to break.  If I don’t break it I really will end up old and alone so I have to work on it a bit at a time.  Like most people I want to be remembered.  You need to impact people’s lives to be remembered; you have to earn that not give birth to that right. 

But when I think of adoption I want to be fair.  I don’t want to adopt just because I can’t have a kid naturally.  I don’t want them to be a replacement for my kids that died.   I want them to see me as their Mom and not just a caregiver.  If I say I would do anything just to have a kid am I really giving that child all the respect they deserve? 
It’s very hard for me to think about never trying.  This is a lost dream.  When my son was stillborn there was nothing else that was as important.  I waited years between each pregnancy to make sure I wasn’t trying to replace one child with another.   I wanted to know the feeling of breast-feeding and nurturing.  I wanted to scold and keep them safe.  I wanted the sleepless nights and midnight trips to clean up sick. 

I know what that connection to your child feels like.  As soon as my kids were born I knew that there was no bond stronger than that of a mother and child.  Yet,  I had to let go.  That feeling never went away.  But here I am letting go for good. 
The dream will end when I can see that not all happy endings result in kids.  The fairy tale is not always the best way to judge your own success.  Those who are different are the ones who make a difference.  I don't have to be a Mother to do that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Choosing to be Childfree After Infertility

Part One:  Questions

There are a lot of questions to ask yourself before starting on the path to fertility.    It takes a lot of sacrifice, pain and suffering.  You should be informed.  If you are able to effortlessly get pregnant you need to throw out old biased concepts and learn what your infertile friends go through to have kids.
 Are you willing to be charismatic no matter how powerful the grief?  Are you able to convince people to give you large sums of money?  If not, would you forgo college tuition to pay off your debt?   You will need these traits if you choose to adopt either kids or eggs after losing your kids.

Would you be willing to undergo dangerous medical procedures that can have disastrous side-effects, such as paralysis and Uterine Cancer?  How about letting a doctor inspect your naughty bits on a weekly basis?  Can you try again if you suffer multiple pregnancy or infant losses?    
Will you sacrifice any possibility of buying a new house or even updating the house you have?  Will you be comfortable in your home if you never have spending money for vacations or getaways?    If you do find you have money for vacations could you be flexible enough to plan every day around the moment you ovulate or around the moment the clinic can see you?   

Are you strong enough not to become an emotional eater or drinker when year after year you still have not met all the above requirements?    Better yet, can you handle the hurtful comments you will receive from others when you don’t meet those standards?
If you go the route of adoption could you accept it’s the most expensive option?  Could you handle having social workers inspect your home.  Are you comfortable sharing intimate details about yourself with strangers who will then decide if you are a capable parent?  Can you explain to a judge why you deserve to have kids?  Would you inflict mental and physical testing upon yourself to prove you are a fit parent? 

Will enough people in your community to give you letters of recommendation?  Can you wait two to ten years to wade through the mountain of paperwork?   Even if you adopt can you give back your child if the parent comes to legally remove them back to their care?  How can you comprehend that these same parents don’t have to undergo all the same processes you do because they are genetically linked to your child?   
On April 3rd I was honest with my husband about the struggles ahead.  The last thing I wanted was to make him believe we could hop to the corner market and bid on a baby.  I knew telling him the truth would cost me because I know his heart is not wrapped up in having offspring.  I still feel it’s worth it to at least try to adopt so I did tell him that.

My perspective is that if I haven’t tried everything then I’ve given up too early.  If I had it my way we would spend a fortune on trying.  We would already be so far in the hole that we would never contemplate retirement.   I would have plastered on a permanent smile, kissed all the right asses, gone to all the right events and followed all the right health and beauty tips to be as appealing as I can be.   I was even willing at one point to secretly try to get pregnant, knowing the odds were so stacked against me.
That is why I’m glad for my husband.  He’s strict and sees things differently.  Often I don’t think he fully comprehends my need to have children.  This is the driving force in my life.  Kids are all-consuming.  I can think of nothing higher on my list of priorities.  I would walk away from everything, even my life, to have a baby that I knew would grow up, be healthy, have a life of its own and maybe even give my husband grandkids one day. 

How do you go from that to having a tubal and questioning why it is you ever wanted children in the first place?