Proudly (yes, proudly!) passing on our infertility experience
“This possibility was never mentioned” my husband would often mutter in the days and months after we lost our children. Shaking his head, he would go on to point out that the fact some of us do not get to have children is nowhere in our collective human conversation. Instead, both of our childhoods, despite their drastic differences nationally, socio economically, and educationally (He’s from El Salvador) were strewn with the same verbal presumptions: “one day when you have kids”, “you can show your kids some day” and “I wonder what your kids will be like” to name a few. Notably missing: a nod to the not as unlikely as you’d think possibility this having kids thing might not get to be.
Fast forward to modern-day, and, unlike many other social issues in the past few decades (see homosexuality and the transgender population for starters), acceptance of and enlightenment towards infertility seems to have budged little.
Not even one year ago I stood a few feet back from the pool’s edge at one of my nephew’s swim meets about six months after we lost our children. I was already completely free of doubt that I was present in a families with children minefield when one of the parent facilitators exuberantly called out “You’re gonna have a kid like THAT one day!” I think it was in reference to my nephew, who happens to be a strong swimmer, and I’m not sure who she said it to as I was already in the process of recoiling. (Luckily, I was in the presence of an empathetic sister-in-law who turned around and muttered “I’m sure THAT’S just what you wanted to hear”).
I wasn’t nuts about the idea that having a kid who wins is preferable to having one who doesn’t. Anyone who has tried and tried to have children but can’t knows this doesn’t matter one iota. Furthermore, I dare say we infertiles without children are particularly beholden to the important value of knowing how to handle not winning. But more than any of that what I clearly noted in her language was the blatant presumption that the act of having a child was anyone’s for the taking.
Needless to say I and millions of other men and women around the globe can assure you it isn’t.
It’s a strange presumption, and infertility an odd omission from human conversation. Especially when you consider the numbers. One in six people of child bearing age deal with infertility, one in eight seek medical treatment. Though clearer statistics need to be disclosed, I did run across one that claimed almost one third of ART patients do not come out of treatment with a biological child (if anyone has a reliable and current stat on this I’d love to hear it!). One in every four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, one in every 160 births is a still.
That some people have to try really hard to have children and that some don’t get to have them at all would be a necessary, and thoroughly HUMANE amendment to our conversations with young people. After all, infertility, miscarriages, and stillbirths are hardly new. They have existed forever, and exist in the animal kingdom too. I once asked my husband if all of the female cows on his childhood farm got pregnant. He reported no, and when I broke down the numbers the stat actually worked out to one in eight of their cows were infertile. Now how funny is that?? Nature is generous with its variations and flaws, and reproductive medicine will not be able to reconcile this for a long long time, if ever.
My trip to Maryland a few weeks ago ended up being via car due to the Amtrak crash the day before my departure. At one point, my nine year old nephew spotted the “infertile on board” sign on my back windshield and stood scrutinizing it for a moment. His parents have given him a general knowledge of our situation, so I wondered what he was thinking. “Why does it say that?” he asked.
“Well, I wanted to have a sign on my car that reflected my life situation. And the situation of people like me.” I explained. “Many people drive around with baby on board signs on the backs of their cars, and that’s ok, they have every right to do that. But I have the right to have a sign that fits my life on my car too, so, I got one made.”
“Oh, you had that special made? That’s cool!” he said, and scampered inside. A few days prior I had gone over to his house after Resolve’s Advocacy Day. “Were you in DC for yoga, or infertility?” his Mom asked casually, right in the presence of my nephew. “Infertility, I actually lobbied congress” I just as casually replied.
As I’m a mere one year and almost 4 months into grieving the loss of our children, I ponder back and forth on many infertility related issues. What are the issues the entire community has in common? In what ways must I stick with my child free not by choice tribe? In what ways is it productive to venture out? Will advocating for legislation only increase reproductive medicine’s business volume, or will it end up providing channels through which much needed over site and accountability can finally be created?
But the one thing I do not have to ponder is my participation in forging a change in our human conversation. That my nephew will have infertility and childlessness woven into his world view brings me a level of satisfaction I have not felt in a long time. He will not be held hostage to the unfounded and archaic stigma still connected to the word infertility. He will know that infertility and not getting to have children are things that, unfortunately, happen in life, and can happen to anyone. And he will likely be that much more empathetic to those in the IF community who cross his path, and even towards himself should it happen to him. I give his parents most of the credit for this, but I realize I play a role too.
I used to cringe on the rare occasion my nephew brought up our infertility. I was always afraid my pain, existing on levels that were too much for a young child, would burst forth in a way he would find scary. And I was so sad we were not succeeding in giving him cousins, as we were the only source that potentially could have done that. But I now look forward to him bringing it up. We may not have provided him with cousins, but perhaps, just perhaps, our experience will be able to deliver him something else valuable. Different, yes, but valuable just the same.