“Hey Honey, look……it says here that getting your nails done is one way to ease the stress of infertility! That’s what the pamphlet from the fertility clinic says, so it MUST be TRUE!”
Years ago this notion held exciting prospects. Now an infertility survivor and IVF veteran, Sarah Chamberlin, resident of Long Island, NY, is well aware of all of the “expert” tips for surviving one of the greatest life crisis’ a person could be stuck with.
It is just days before their first Christmas grieving the loss of their children as Chamberlin slogs to the nail salon to get her nails done for her husband’s staff party. Now all the wiser from five IUI’s, one surgery, and five rounds of IVF, she claims to take a “more realistic view” of things. “Yeah, this’ll help, this’ll help like taking a nap helps one recover from a nuclear explosion.”
Analytical data in the form of a pie graph shows the vast majority of Chamberlin’s heart to be jaded.
Settling into the pedicure chair, Chamberlin contemplates her choices. Accidentally slipping into a world of essential oils and scrubs, she momentarily luxuriates in a false existence where this is all she has to worry about. The soothing hum of the foot whirlpool jets and the steady quiet of six women clients entrenched in their own beautifying proves deceptive, but not for long.
“Sometimes even I still forget. Forget that I’ll never be normal and that I don’t fit in,” Chamberlin reflects on her reality warp.
Snapping back to the truth of her life, her mind starts calculating in a modality she likes to refer to as “infertile math.” Anticipating her next move with the art of a shrewd gambler, Chamberlin assesses her odds.
Looking up she notes a mother and daughter just starting the manicure portion of their mother daughter mani/pedi directly in her line of vision. Observing a busy salon as well as the fact that the owner’s five year old son is also present, the weighing begins. Chamberlin speculates that #1 Essential oils are no match for the pain of having to watch a mother and daughter get their nails done together and #2 Faces head on the fact that the mere presence of the owner’s son equates to multiple emotional landmines for her, landmines that sadly cannot be scrubbed or buffed away.
“It heightens the potential for mom sharing and commentary, questions about my child status, and can call forth narrow-minded social expectations as to how I, as a woman, should respond to all of these things,” Chamberlin astutely informs us. “All of these tortures that lurk everywhere in daily life happen to render the calming effects of lavender oil rather moot.”
Chamberlin’s experience depicts what scientific research has proven and reproductive medicine has yet to admit: The only substance capable of quelling the pain of infertility is anesthesia. Which is also not covered by health insurance in the presence of an infertility diagnosis.
Deciding benefits from the additional pampering of the spa pedicures would be no competition for the hampering side effects of maternal visuals and the possible mom speak that might ensue, Chamberlin opts for the regular, and notably SHORTER pedicure.
Some call this paranoid, Chamberlin likes to think of it as intelligence. “There’s nothing like an INFERTILE’S intuition!” she quips in a right back atcha holier than thou dipthongy cadence that has up until how been pointlessly reserved for those who receive the highly impersonal privilege of conceiving and giving birth.
No sooner had she decided on the self-protective measure of a shorter pedicure when the anticipated maternal raucous broke out.
“Is that your son? He’s sooo cute.” “Mine is five too! He’s sure not as calm as yours.”
Chamberlin braces herself for an all too familiar reality, while part of her succumbs to negative voices in her head that tell her to “be open” and “be reasonable” in a desperate attempt to alter her line of thinking. “I really tried to tell myself that surely there were some women in there who weren’t mothers, and remind myself maybe even one of them was like me. Well. Those turned out to be my dumbest thoughts ever. As an infertile, I’m still waiting to have an experience where “thinking positive” doesn’t end up making me feel like a giant ass hole.”
Infertility is a disease that affects one in eight people, however, being the shunned minority in this families with kids centric world, its victims report often feeling as though they are one in a million.
The families with kids faction of society has failed to validate to these reports.
And indeed, Sarah’s efforts to be open tragically succeed only in producing a grenade of emotions that gets thrown in her face as she realizes every woman in the salon is a mother except for her.
Like flaming cannon balls, bits of mom speak start flying back and forth across the salon, producing shrapnel that shreds Chamberlin’s insides. “What school does your son go to?” “I work in a school in your town but mine is in third grade in Levittown” “Yours is seven? Oh, mine’s seven too. When is his birthday?” “December 8th.” “Oooooohhhh, our sons are a day apart, that’s sooooo amaaaaaaaaaaazing!!!!”
The tendency of fertile people to needlessly over stretch their words while being unnecessarily exclamatory in their cooing warrants further study.
As is often the case, the one sided maternal hub bub works its way into a grotesquely offensive crescendo. It reaches its height when, unfortunately, Chamberlin has to bear the brunt of her worst trigger. Other than the slicing resonance of “oi remember when oi had moine” (that’s Long Islandese for “I remember when I had mine”), the following fertile world problem still has the capacity to split Chamberlin in two.
“Moine aw noine (mine are nine) and ten. So close tuhgethah (together)…..”, the poor poor fertile laments, as Chamberlin once again observes that what would be considered a blessing, or at least amazing fantastic good luck in her infertile community, is virtually considered a tragedy on ungratuitous planet fertile.
Drowning in the oohs and ahhs of undeserved maternal respect that reverberate throughout the salon while choking on the incoming tide of maternal empathy, it’s all Chamberlin can do to tread water in her feelings of helplessness and alienation. And not get submerged by the undertow of the fact that HER maternal trials and tribulations of trying to conceive only to not get to would likely evoke not even one tenth of the present empathy.
While generally void of compassion, statistics show that revelations of trying to conceive but not getting to DO result in multiple platitudes, such as “Why don’t you just adopt”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “You’ll realize you’re lucky you don’t have kids.”
“There’s not a chance in hell I could EVER relate to that as a problem,” Chamberlin declares with great incredulity. Relative to what I’ve been through, having kids close together is about as big of a deal as a four year old breaking their favorite crayon. Have some cookies and warm milk AND GET THE FUCK OVER IT! These people are supposed to be my peers. Instead, they feel like freakin Martians.”
Halfway through her pedicure, Chamberlin’s main goal becomes preventing people from speaking to her. Given her acerbic tendencies, you’d think this wouldn’t be hard. But, for reasons unknown Sarah is one of those people who others feel comfortable to come up to and just start talking – a highly inconvenient trait for an infertile to be in possession of. Though the isolation of infertility is intense, contact with one’s fellow humans, especially those of the parent variety, can be considerably more excruciating than the initial isolation. Running the risk of such comments as “Do you have kids?”, “Why don’t you have kids?” and “You must enjoy your free time”, Chamberlin makes every effort to appear unapproachable while contemplating her course of verbal annihilation for any potential offenders. Having assumed the posture displayed below, she still doesn’t feel completely safe.
“I’ve had parents interpret this expression as “she wants to be part of our conversation.” Seriously, some of them really ARE that dumb.”
Chamberlin relaxes slightly as the motherhood conversation finally ebbs and was notably not replaced by any other conversation topic.
Nail salon exit polls showed that the majority of clients were headed home to feed their families and curl up with their favorite “Now That I’m a Mom I Wish People Would Treat Me Like a Person” Huffington Post Parents article.
Chamberlin’s response to the poll results came in the form of an eye roll and a passive aggressive “Yeah. Hmmm……”
Sarah’s mani/pedi relaxation is all too short-lived as minutes later, a client waltzes in. “I left the baby at home,” she narcissistically announces to fucking no one in particular in an “I must project outward to the ENTIRE auditorium” type voice as she plunks herself in the pedicure chair next to Chamberlin.
“Since I don’t find myself walking into public places announcing the whereabouts of my loved ones (Hey no one at all, my husband is currently in Rockville Centre, or, you should care that my parents are in Maryland, nobody!), I really didn’t know what in the hell to do,” Chamberlin observes. “It was like she wanted an ovation, or a national holiday declared in her honor or something. I really hope she’s there next time, so that I can waltz in and announce to no one in particular that I blew my nose and took a dump before I left the house. Let’s see how fascinating she finds THAT.”
Chamberlin was grateful this woman didn’t actually bring her baby. “Throughout the course of my surgery and our ten failed fertility treatments, as well as the process of grieving the loss of our children, I’ve had my share of pedicures next to women who are cuddling their children on their laps,” Chamberlin informs us.
Though it has yet to be scientifically proven, the field of psychology has affirmed the odds are good that having a pedicure next to someone cuddling a child likely does not ease the stress of infertility.
The field of psychology has also affirmed the odds are good that people with children won’t possibly be able to imagine why this would be so.
“This is torture!” Chamberlin lashes out and then immediately recoils in shame over deviating from her moderately liberal middle class roots as she finds herself embroiled in nail salon stress, something she considers to be an utterly unrespectable first world problem. Unable to reemerge from the torment after wrestling with herself, she caves. “I’m sorry, but this is hell! Pure unadulterated hell!!”
Things ease up towards the end of Sarah’s manicure as the salon empties out. Having avoided the owner’s totally cute son for the purpose of bypassing such comments such as “you’re great with kids, do you have any?” and the even more presumptuously ignorant “how old are yours?”, she is finally able to interact with him.
Studies show there is no correlation whatsoever between having kids and being good with them. Evidence for these studies was gathered by observing life for five seconds.
“What song are you singing? I don’t think I know it…”she invites as he bashfully pushes his video game console in her direction. His mom smiles jubilantly at Chamberlin, a gaze which Chamberlin purposefully avoids.
“I may not be down with mom speak, but I am so down for just about anything little boy,” Chamberlin surmises. “Roughhousing, Nerf gun analysis, all potty humor and goofiness, I require no warm up. People think if you don’t have kids it’s because you don’t like them. Yeah, like as if I went through one surgery and ten fertility treatments because I don’t like kids. That’s like saying someone went on a rocket ship because they must deplore outer space and have an aversion to landing on the moon.”
Unfortunately, omitting parents from the nail salon doesn’t guarantee an infertile a ticket to safety land. Chamberlin flashes back to the day she learned she would never truly be free.
A couple of months after her hysteroscopy laparoscopy surgery in 2012, Chamberlin made her way to get her nails done one laid back Saturday morning. Three failed natural cycles after her high hopes surgery resulted in burgeoning grief and PTSD, so it was much to her relief to find only one other customer and no kids in the nail salon. “Now, THIS really may be relaxing,” she hoped as she got comfy in the pedicure chair. Turning her eyes to the TV she started to vaguely follow the animal planet show as warm water embraced her feet.
“I mean, I really thought I was fine,” Chamberlin said, shaking her head as she relives her despair. “It was like, out of nowhere…..”
As if stiffened by a bolt of lightning, her body jolted up when the narrator announced:
“But this isn’t just any ordinary manatee. She’s special…..because……she’s expecting!!!!” As the narrator goes on to explain what a miracle this is as manatees typically have a hard time getting pregnant (Oh Really? Cry me a river), Chamberlin’s soul plummets into the depths of despair. To the din of nail tools clattering and the easeful flow of water gurgling into the foot tub, Chamberlin gives up on life as she is forced to bear witness to the story of the prego manatee’s one in a million pregnancy and manatee birth. Afraid that asking for a channel change might unleash in her a geyser of emotions, she sits helplessly as the cheery fall sun streams persistently through the windows.
Chamberlin admits what fertiles might say has got her permanently on edge. “I’m well aware there are there are those out there who would actually find this story cute. Uh, no. No, it’s not cute. Try SOUL DESTROYING. The infertile manatee gets a freakin baby manatee and I get nothing. Now does THAT seem like a truth that would make a person just want to leap out of bed in the morning???”
Back in her just as equally unforgiving but considerably more empowered present, this time in the chilly afternoon December darkness and finally alone in her car, Chamberlin breathes a heavy sigh of relief. Having had to immerse herself in
the fiery depths of hell a group of moms to get them done, she vows to enjoy her nails, complete with party fingers, as she is calling them, like nobody’s business.