The 42 year old infertile version of “what I did on my summer vacation”
It all started with a bunch of misconceptions, which, like this post, actually stemmed from the fact that deep down I’m an optimistic person. Shhh, don’t tell, I’ve got it so well cloaked in bitter sarcastic cynicism which I immaturely and openly blame on the fact that I’m from Massachusetts and have a Capricorn rising sign. Way to own it, I know.
When I started to see that assisted reproductive technology was going to fail us, I speculated a lot of things. Not so smart in a way, since “post ART failing” life is scriptless, not openly acknowledged by society, a bastion of extreme emotions, and given that the journeys vary greatly from individual to individual in this phase. But it is human nature to speculate, and if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that I’m only human.
I knew I was going to need to grieve, but thought maybe I could do that in tandem with exploring adoption. I projected our family building picture becoming clearer, what with the “bio kid thing” out of the way and all. I envisioned adoption becoming a more palatable option, my concerns towards some of the less desirable aspects of it softening due to my intense drive to parent at all costs. Someone who treks for four years through one surgery and all the way through five failed IUI’s and five failed IVF’s while spending tens of thousands of dollars to have her husband’s children must have an unstoppable desire to parent, no?
The notion sometimes proposed by more philosophical folk that one must “seek transformation” evokes gut wrenching gales of laughter from me these days. The plight of being infertile is so innately delicate, complex, all-consuming and clobbering, that one has no choice but to constantly transform, or it’s likely they won’t survive. So no, seeking transformation need not be on my “to do” list. It smacks me in the face every day and sometimes spits on me too. For an infertile, breathing in and out for five minutes is enough to evoke transformation.
As my head started giving birth (so very sorry, I guess I will do it with whatever part of my body I can, damn it!!) to this post, I took a stroll down memory lane. Inconveniently so, as in spite of the fact that I was trying to fight off a cold while re-painting our bedroom as part of a much deserved post baby making makeover in time to go away for our wedding anniversary to come back just in time for the new bedroom furniture to be delivered, my freakin brain had to write for some reason. Yeah good timing. So amid boxes of stuff and small pieces of furniture that needed to be reorganized and moved back to their rightful places after waiting five long years to have our battered wood floors done, I traveled way way back in time, or so it felt like. Here’s the Cliff Note version.
The first few weeks after our last fertility treatment failed this past January I felt like I had been run over by a snow plow.
I raged at the very existence of the human race, from the blasé way my husband came home and talked about work to the audacity my mother or anyone had to talk about anything else but our children that would never be. Fuck life, and how dare it go on? Coming through this phase I was met with a recess of sorts. Now granted, it was an outside at fifteen below but at least you’re not in school kind of recess (they didn’t have any of this “stay inside when it’s too cold” mambie pambie shit back in my day), but a recess just the same as the benefits of not doing ART were hard to ignore. Driven to feed my depleted self, I returned to my areas of interest with some excitement and with a focus I could not have given them while on fertility drugs. “I know I need counseling, but I’m so enjoying not having appointments”, I almost gleefully said to my counselor during this phase in reference to my three-week intervals between sessions. Ahh, an infertile version of joy for sure. The capacity baby making holds to lower one’s quality of life standards is grossly underestimated. After over three years of them, the efficacy of a lack of appointments alone threatened to beat out the drugs and straight jacket I probably in actuality needed. Ptsd symptoms improved, as did my practically non-existent threshold for babies, pregos, and general fertile world scenarios.
Coming through this time, the collateral damage from four years of not successfully conceiving began to emerge.
My insides felt hollow as I ached with what felt like a total lack of purpose. As I fumbled through sincere attempts to sort out my life I realized that I both missed and grieved the four years of it I gave over to trying to conceive. I was stumbling to put one foot in front of the other, while the only reference behind me was an inapplicable one, that being time spent in a faded parallel universe where I had thought I was going to get to raise my husband’s and my children. Thinking that some control and direction was what I needed after all I had been through, I feverishly attempted to construct steps towards a new career (the past few years have also found me in a career change) and a possible adoption timeline. My first Mother’s Day knowing I would never conceive or bear or mother my husband’s and my children was brutal but I pulled through. And then another turn. Ptsd symptoms again reared their ugly heads as I found myself almost daily in a tornado of grief and physical exhaustion. I had a couple of days feeling I was really going to enjoy summer and then WHAM! It was as if all of a sudden I got on a whole other level that my children weren’t here and they weren’t coming either. Ever. Continuously confused at all of the luck and abundance in my life coupled with the vast devastation, it felt as if my home was filled with ghosts and that my life was playing out on the fresher more yippy skippy set of Leave it To Beaver (minus the children of course) but with a reminiscent of Carmen plot that was in actuality quite sinister. Not usually too perturbed by older kids, the mere word “graduation” make me shriek in pain. Conventional wisdom continued to be misguided, as I figured that if I survived mother’s day, how bad could father’s day be? As an infertile, the typical “reward” one gets for surviving something is usually another kick or punch, the proximity of father’s day to mother’s day being no acception. Father’s Day for me brings with it a sublime depression, the seeping nature of which is more deadly than hard hitting mother’s day, and I don’t know why. Though I will say that when something, such as mother’s day, openly foreshadows sheer brutality one is more likely to be prepared.
If the notion of layering “seeking transformation” onto this scenario didn’t seem obscene before, it sure should now. And all while the above was grinding itself out into what is my life, I had been waiting for “it”. For the end all be all desire to parent to take over. For the “importance” of having children to render adoption the “natural” next step. For some “excitement” over a new phase of family building. But, it didn’t come. The beginning of summer instead found me plowing through full-fledged grief. The act of repeatedly pulling my shoulder blades onto my back in yoga class made my chest cavity feel as though it would pop, and thus provoke a water fountain of tears at any moment. I was clearly sopping with something, in short, I missed my children dearly. I continued to be plagued with an eerie sense of children who were supposed to be in my house but weren’t. I would often sense them, only to turn my head and find no one there. Infected with the “next step” disease like most infertiles, I wrestled with the adoption question every day, along with the slight time urgency my age brings to the table.
And then a funny thing happened. Summer started to feel good.
Summer, my favorite devil-may-care time of year. Summer, as in I haven’t had a carefree one since 2008. 2009, fixer upper house purchase and move in with no money. 2010, started TTC and knew right away something was wrong, was getting (very bad) guidance from a midwife and was in the Dr’s office by September. 2011, recovering from spring failed IUI #3, did IUI #4 in August. 2012, Diagnosed with endometriosis & had surgery in July. 2013, IVF #3 failure in July, IVF #4 started end of August. This year I had written off the bit of “I’m looking forward to summer” static I had received as just one more wavelength whose transmission the grief of infertility would not allow. But I strangely enjoyed pulling apart my house to get our wood floors redone. It finally looked how I felt, empty, and that made sense somehow. I was pleasantly distracted by a week away visiting family. I returned enjoying the prospect of a house project like I hadn’t in years. As I directed myself towards resuming my activities something told me to hold up, though it’s not often I pull on my own reigns never mind successfully. I had been on the waiting list for a yoga teacher training that didn’t work out, all while realizing that was the last thing I needed to be doing right now.
Those of us with the “next step” disease all too often forget the most important step of all in healing is to be human again.
Although I had stopped trying to make a baby, I realized I had continued clinging to other things with the same desperation and hypervigilence that is necessary for the endurance of repeated failed fertility treatments. I was also approaching them with the same fervent urgency I gave to things in between fertility treatments, knowing I’d eventually have to stop, and possibly fearing would I ever get back on the horse again after treatment even though I never failed in this department. It was time to take a step back from my beliefs.
The more my husband and I looked into adoption, the more unreasonable the prospect continued to feel to us, so I decided to take the pressure off of us to decide. We’re not going to decide now, so what? We may never decide, or decide too late and miss the boat, but I can live with that. What I can’t live with is expending energy on that which is not immediately important. As I’ve told people since January, “HOW we are doing is infinitely more important than WHAT we will do. Time to live that, and forego living with the limbo that comes from trying to force something that can’t be forced. I’ve done my mature adult time in limbo with my big girl panties on, accepting that things are up in the air a lot in life. So yeah, that’s nice. I’m done. The office that we wanted to be our nursery is officially becoming an office. So what? We are going to buy whatever car we want to replace my husband’s 2003 Accord in a few months. If it turns out we need something larger or different because we end up adopting a few years down the road, we’ll figure it out, so what? I’m more passionate about creating a grand garden in the backyard where the pictures of my embryos lie beneath the ground and chatting with them while I do it than I am about pursuing other children, so what? So what if I’d rather spend money on a trip to The Big Easy next year than save it for a possible adoption?
Turns out a significant part of my “next step” is dealing with the fact that, after the loss of our biological children, all next steps, at least as far as we’re concerned, don’t seem viable. When you try to conceive naturally, you can turn to reproductive medicine if something doesn’t go right. And when your forty million IUI’s fail, hey no worries, there’s always IVF. And during IVF I somehow was under the illusion that there are feasible “next steps” should that fail. Enough already. “The problem is”, I said to my counselor one day as I attempted to blow through the baby making and family building smoke screen, “that all of the options we now have are, at least for us, not happening.” For a cornucopia of reasons. “The truth is my life will never be the same and nothing will ever ever replace what I’ve lost.” And I can’t un-think or un-feel this, so what?
So what if I forget about the flute for a while? So what if I don’t post much on my blog? So what if I don’t reach out and connect with the online infertile community as much as I’d like? The honest truth is most days I’m about all I can handle. So what if I stop doing yoga for a month or two? While the yoga world has given me massive amplitudes of riches, it is also a world that can be uncomfortable and at times off-putting for an infertile. A temporary step back could be a good thing. All will be there for me when I return. Flailing attempts to grab at ambiguous at best chances to create life no longer apply. I’m not going to actively pursue a career at the moment, so what? I don’t think the world will suffer much for me embarking on a new career at age 43 or 44 vs age 42, and I know I won’t either. Plus, I’d be crazy not to take advantage of this space my husband’s and my hard work, risks, and sacrifices have earned.
When I wrote this it hit me that, as of that very day, it had been exactly six months since we found out our last fertility treatment failed. All of the above metamorphosis had occurred throughout the course of the last six months. There are good reasons January of this year feels like 7 years ago for me. Seeking transformation? I need to seek transformation like Kim Zolciack needs to seek another pregnancy. Please. That’s a whole other blog post…….
For whatever reason my so what summer finally unveiled some joy in my home, more joy in my marriage, and a contentment that is attached to just being.
I always knew these things were there, chalk my often not being able to fully participate in them as yet another casualty of infertility. Like many phases of grief and recovery, “so what” wasn’t planned or forced, it just kind of happened. It’s not a phase that’s right for everybody, so if you read this and find yourself thinking so what, that’s ok. I was initially concerned at the outset of writing this piece that it would come off as alienatingly cheery but now I realize, no apparent risk there. It seems “less bitter” may be about as saccharine as I’ll ever get. I’m from Massachusetts and my rising sign is Capricorn, in case you weren’t paying attention. As the infertile train of transformation seems to be an extra-long runaway freight with no breaks, I’ll enjoy barreling through the town of “so what” while I can, knowing that I’ll inevitably be on to another (quite possibly less easy) town in no time, like it or not.