Why this infertility survivor is NOT off to see the wizard…..
Round 1, Part 2
Never above giving it the old college try, against my better judgment I met my group for lunch the next day. We were instructed to do so and were told that this would be comforting in the face of the subject of trauma, which is intense and requires a lot of processing.
I sat down at the end of a table of twelve people or so. Minutes later a conversation on breast versus bottle feeding erupted.
If you’re familiar with infertility, you may have noticed a total lack of cohesion between the last two paragraphs. This is also where, I’m afraid, many fertile people go “What? What’s the issue? I don’t get it…..”
Let’s review what I said in the circle a slim sixteen hours prior, shall we? Please read silently while I read out loud……..
“My name is Sarah. What I do AND don’t want people to know is that I’m an infertility survivor. I’m here to learn more about my own trauma, which is especially important when you’ve suffered a trauma, like infertility, that society fails to recognize as such. Oh, and what I don’t want people to know is that being in groups of women gives me panic attacks.”
I think the conversation may have been started by a pediatrician on a more technical level, but in typical fertile world mold like fashion, it spread rampantly into “with my first I did such and such” and “with my second I did such and such.” (Can I just say, I hate it when parents refer to their kids as “my second” and “this pregnancy”? It makes their kids sound like freaking merchandise).
Even more hurtful than the fact the conversation started in the first place was the fact that no one in the center of it noticed and tried to switch gears. I can be an incredibly forgiving human being when people at least TRY. But, like most mom conversations, it kept going and going like the Energizer bunny from hell. Unabashedly, unapologetically, and indefinitely, even as I blatantly turned my head to the side, refusing to look at any of them. When it finally ended the next couple of station stops weren’t things I could connect with either due to infertility, and, coupled with my voluptuously blooming alienation, there wasn’t much hope left for bonding with my fellow mammal tribe. They launched into a conversation lauding the greatness of acupuncture (for me, 2.5 years of acupuncture for fertility 2 to 4 times a month and use of it with all five of my IVF cycles = NO PREGNANCY WHATSOEVER), and then went off on my favorite, abused children.
It’s not that I don’t have empathy for this. It’s that it makes me instantly think of the fertile world screw ups who get to have child after child even though they have no business doing so, all while here I sit with a stable home life and loving, empty arms, passing on adoption in part because while my husband and I grieve the loss of our children we know it would be unfair to bring a child into our home who is anything less than the center of our universe. It makes me sick, and this weekend was full of such triggers.
I know I breathed in more than a waft of therapist self – righteousness (it seemed to be a very therapist heavy crowd), sensing that many present would, while not having much for me, actually have empathy for these people who bring children into the world that they can’t properly rear. Which is fine, it’s just that at this time….I DON’T. My intuition (which is typically not too shabby) told me this crew would likely not be too open to my view of things. Aside from wanting to raise infertility awareness, infertility itself has deadened my drive to “make the world a better place,” to be honest. Being immersed in a group of people rife with the mission of making the world a better place (something I totally respect, by the way) shined yet another spotlight on my feeling different. I’m not about to go out of the way to harm the world either. But from where I sit, the probable truth of the matter is that for as long as people like my husband and me can’t have children, while abusive misfits can bang out baby after baby after baby, which is likely until forever, the world will continue to suck. And what we can’t control in this world is all the more reason to enjoy what you can in life when you can. I’m really kind of over the fixing of stuff.
Sitting at the table with my new friend Laura after everyone had cleared out, the first thing she exclaimed was “I couldn’t believe that breastfeeding conversation………did that bother you?”
I was still processing all there is to process in situations like that. I don’t hesitate to call an ace an ace and a spade a spade, but, I try to be fair and look at something from all angles first.
“Those things are very painful for me. They didn’t do anything illegal, but at the same time it’s quite a peculiar subject matter to choose when in the company of an infertility survivor.”
“They just went on and on like they didn’t even give it a second thought,” she observed.
“Welcome to my world” I informed her.
Peculiar indeed. As I had more time to process, I realized that although I didn’t remember everyone’s name, I had remembered almost everyone’s trauma and/or life challenge from the circle the night before. Even though I was having a panic attack at the time. So remembering that I’m an infertility survivor shouldn’t be hard; no one ever says it so it should stick with people based on its current uniqueness alone. In the end, what it boils down to is a blatant lack of consideration for someone who, through no fault of my own, is already in enough pain. It’s just that simple.
If someone in the group had shared they were recently widowed, I certainly would not have initiated a conversation about my amazing marriage with my wonderful non dead husband. If someone had just lost their home to bankruptcy, I wouldn’t have gushed for minutes on end about my stable one, or about purchasing a second residence. And if someone present had just lost a physical child, would it have been appropriate for the gaggle to launch a conversation about their living children of similar ages?
“Well, it IS quite a filter.” My sister in law astutely observed this one day in a conversation where I was debating whether or not I should be so forthcoming about infertility in large groups. If you’re lucky though, filters sometimes reveal precious sparkling gems that otherwise might be veiled by ordinary muck. Such as the two women who sat on either side of me during the breast feeding barrage. They both have children as far as I know, but seemed to stay out of the conversation. One of them I suspect noticed my discomfort and made an effort to engage me in other conversation not involving mom crap. A most graceful and appreciated gesture, I have to say. Truly lovely. And then there’s Laura. The evening before she gave me a glowing introduction to the group, after only hearing me speak a few times. Rolling with the fact I needed distance from the group, she sought me out to let me know what time to meet for lunch, at which time she told me “I believe that you have been traumatized. I just want to let you know I see you and I believe you.” Acknowledgement fucking rocks. Especially when you receive such precious little in relation to what you’ve suffered. I quickly came to the conclusion that Laura might be the coolest person ever, or at least one of the most generous. But there were still some boundaries to be set as she thoughtfully made observations about my situation, which is fine and normal, and I had a very hard time taking her in while simultaneously shielding myself amid all of the other present fertile world bombardments.
After lunch during the afternoon workshop, he touched on how people who are traumatized abuse alcohol. The text I sent to my husband during the break read “Today is not as bad as last night. But still definitely Franciscan chardonnay worthy. Please bring a bottle home for tomorrow.” I have no need to lie, I often affix a nervy, oaky, buttery California chardonnay with strong vanilla notes as the light at the end of my all too frequent undesirable tunnels.
Following the afternoon workshop, I went back to my room and cried for hours. I cried because this is so hard. Because I am so tired. Because for my situation, this is just too many people to handle. I cried because even meeting and being embraced by a great person still requires work. I cried from exhaustion over the alienation of not being around anyone who “gets it”. I sobbed over the knowledge that I’ll never breast feed and over what that feeling feels like. And I cried just as much over the assault of being reminded of that by a group of women who didn’t care. So much for the “comfort” of reconnecting with my fellow mammals.
I didn’t end up being sorry that I attended, although I still feel it was considerably tougher than it needed to be. I learned much about the anatomy and function of the brain, especially on the subject of what likely happens during panic attacks. I now have an elementary sense of why it becomes so hard to speak, think, and why talking kindly to myself doesn’t help. I figured out why I write so much. It’s the only truly trigger free container I’ve got – a quiet house, a keyboard, and my self is the only space I have to process my experiences free from the possibility of alienation and re-traumatization.
But there was also a lot presented that didn’t click with the IF experience. It seemed most of the traumas referenced were over, things that happened in the past. As I’m still grieving the loss of our children in a world that normally doesn’t recognize our loss, I’d venture to say my trauma (already 4.5 years long) is far from over. And it got me wondering about the relationship between grief and trauma, as I had assumed all trauma entails grief of some sort. However grief wasn’t covered in this workshop. But I suspect in each infertile the fragile tendrils of both grief and trauma are drawn around each other, creating a grip that is both unique and codependent.
Most of all, I left this weekend more affirmed in what I had already known; that infertility is a very different trauma and needs to be addressed as such by people who are specifically trained and highly knowledgeable of its wrath. I suspect there are darned good reasons everyone who has gone through infertility says there is nothing like it, and that no matter what other trials and tribulations they have been met with in life, even early childhood traumas, most say infertility is by far the toughest thing they have ever experienced.
I don’t disagree that we humans are tribal in nature. But some of us through no fault of our own are not able to do what the mainstream tribe does, and furthermore there are those of us whose losses the mainstream tribe fails to acknowledge. Therefore the mainstream tribe renders itself incapable in providing comfort, warmth, and a sense of belonging. For those of us in these shoes, the procurement of one’s tribe demands a refined and painstaking cultivation of human beings. For us, slapping ourselves together with any ole hairy ass shaking group of mammals just isn’t going to cut it. And for us infertiles, there is no expert, no figure head, no beacon of intellect who can tell us how to do this. We have no choice but to follow the yellow brick road that is on the inside of us.
Someday I may come upon a sense of neutrality surrounding moms and motherhood, or not. Neither is better. But for now, the most mundane and easy cause for celebration and connection amongst humans, the birth and raising of children, is for me something I will never ever get to do and is the major source of loss and pain in my life. The truth is that where the majority of humans rejoice and find normalcy, I grieve.
I also think some humans are just more tribal than others. I’ve always enjoyed socializing but am, on another level, an introverted loner. I adore solitude and am very content being alone. I’ve never really felt completely connected and in sync with any particular group of people, and I don’t see any of this as a bad thing. It allows me to float from group to group and function amid different kinds of people, absorbing flavors, thoughts and feelings from varying angles of life. In response to a yoga workshop I once took where the leader also beat the “human beings are tribal” theme to death, I remember saying, “That may be. But I have to say, if someone offered me a lighthouse, I sure as heck wouldn’t turn it down.”
AM I WRONG/Nico and Vinz//Am I wrong/For thinking out the box from where I stay?/Am I wrong/For saying that I chose another way?/I ain’t trying to do what everybody else doin’/Just cuz everybody doin’ what they all do/If one thing I know/I’ll fall but I’ll grow/I’m walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home//So am I wrong/For thinking we could be something for real?/Now am I wrong/For trying to reach the things that I can’t see?/But that’s just how I feel/That’s just how I feel/That’s just how I feel/Trying to reach the things that I can’t see//Am I tripping/For having a vision?/My prediction/I’ma be on top of the world/Walk your walk and don’t look back/Always do what you decide/Don’t let them control your life, that’s just how I feel/Fight for yours and don’t let go/Don’t let them compare you, no/Don’t worry, you’re not alone, that’s just how we feel//If you tell me I’m wrong/I don’t wanna be right/If you tell me I’m wrong/I don’t wanna be right