Infertility Survivorhood Meets Perimenopause
Sitting with my feet in the stirrups things were notably different from the year prior. My first visit to the gynecologist six months after we had lost our children, though preempted by good “I’m getting back to taking care of myself again” feelings, ended up being served with a big fat panic attack.
This year however I had come prepared. With Xanax and sexy clothes, to be precise. Yes, that’s right, I decided it would help to strut into a waiting room steeped in pregnant bellies wearing my very tight white pants, wedge heels and a sleeveless shirt. Super mature, I know.
I had shown up anticipating talking to my doctor about the intermittent, out of my norm and seemingly all of a sudden vaginal dryness and low libido I had begun to experience. And after inhabiting the
mouth of the wolf waiting room, the conversation with my doctor was easy like phonics. She listened and validated that it was what I thought it was – mid forties sometimes ok but mostly not good egg quality causing erratic hormone production. She clarified this is completely normal for my age and also informed me of symptoms to watch for that aren’t. And, she provided appropriate empathy for my “suffering”, something I was not used to getting from doctors that deal with my vagina.
“Well,” I said after thanking her, “If I survived infertility, I’m sure I can survive this.”
Her jaw dropped a bit, her face remained blank. My kind, intelligent and communicative doctor had nothing to say.
“I’ll be fine.” I stated with a confidence it seemed she wasn’t used to, perhaps a different attitude than what is normally displayed by my notably less weathered fertile counterparts.
Home I went, gliding through the door, and later that evening was drooling to my husband about how great it was to have a clear, supportive appointment that actually entailed something “normal.” When you’ve gone through multiple diagnosis and failed treatments while belonging to a gender for which pregnancy (a full term healthy one, that is) is all too often the ultimate exorbitantly coveted prize, the label of “normal” under any circumstance is sweet as can be.
Could only an involuntarily childless infertility survivor exhibit such glee over a doctor’s appointment discussing low libido and vaginal dryness? I often wonder. All I knew in that moment was that it sure felt nice to be back down on the level of life’s more miniscule problems once again.
In a world where the price tag of having the grand gift and privilege of a child to educate is openly and perpetually lamented but the $77,000 price tags of not getting pregnant have no room in conversation, in a land where empty nesters publicly mourn in droves but those grieving the loss of parenthood altogether are silenced, it’s no wonder someone like me feels a tad ADRIFT. As a traumatized griever with no pregnancy or parenthood experience to speak of, I sure could use some reliable, conventional means by which to connect with my gender. No can do, apparently. Turns out my perception of menopause is just yet another difference carved out by the experience of infertility. I have not been able to connect with people on this front either – neither with the angst people partake in nor with their sloppiness in inserting menopause and all that leads up to it into the category of life’s major problems. Sure, I don’t want something glossed over that shouldn’t be, and I don’t want something that should be talked about silenced. From where I sit though, I most often find myself feeling that if people had to go through infertility (or any other traumatic life altering trial well out of their control) they probably wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by this normal and predictable life change in the first place.
That’s not to say that it didn’t and won’t push me, however. Oh, I just recently had myself a day……
It actually seemed to start with passport photos I had taken, which looked way uglier, no, let’s face it, OLDER than I had expected. I freaked. I considered having them re-taken, pointed out to myself that would be pathetic, and made myself submit them as is (my specific words to myself I believe were – “you’re going to get over it AND you’re gonna like it!!”). This only seemed to fuel my internal adolescent rant, as my mind then turned to the sex my husband and I hadn’t had that morning and the miserable feeling cycle I had just ended. Although it was cycle day 2 and I should have been at least starting to feel better, my mood took a sudden and nutty hormonal downturn that afternoon. It then hit me that I feel horrible for at least 11 days out of my now somewhat typical 23 day cycles and that that, no matter how you slice it, is kind of a lot. During band rehearsal I noted the spin class, chiropractic adjustment, acupuncture treatment and yoga class I had taken in the days leading up to my period had zero effect on my mood and energy level. I felt so miserable and light-headed during band I even had myself convinced for a solid two minutes that I was in the middle of having a brain aneurism.
With the walls closing in, I made my way home sure of two things 1) that because I was perimenopausal and losing my “youth” I’d have to stop shopping at American Eagle Outfitters because their target market is ages 15 – 25 and 2) That, although it was my dream what a mere ten minutes ago, I now feared being followed around by a big fat throbbing penis for the rest of the my life that I would not be able to keep up with and/or a husband for whom not only could I not make a baby but had failed in the sex department too. It was, momentarily, quite a lot to bear.
Luckily, my husband and I found ourselves in conversation about it soon after I got home, and even more luckily he readily admitted his sex drive was less than it used to be. (When you’re in the midst of grieving and mourning the loss of your children, it’s only natural some of life’s other fun facts might allude a person). My chances of being pursued by a big fat throbbing penis for the rest of my life had just fallen by at least a ten – fold. And boy was I relieved.
He then mentioned that he thought about sex much less than he used to, a transition of which he was clearly very calm and accepting of. I, on the other hand was not so relenting.
“It’s sad and depressing.” I stated.
“Why? It’s a normal change in life,” said the only apparently sane person in the room.
“But I LIKED having sex on the brain all of the time,” I groaned. “It WORKED for me. Now there’s a blank space where that’s supposed to be too.”
And on I went, moaning that the days of having sex like sixteen year olds were over and realizing that so likely was the endless energy we had in our thirties we put into home buying and renovating and opening restaurants. I feared our last painting all – nighter may very well be in our distant past. Heck, in that moment I was convinced we didn’t have a single goal left in us. Please keep in mind this was day seven of feeling horribly fatigued and half dead (both hormonally and grief provoked) and that day five of this dirge was the anniversary of the loss of our children. And also the day I got my period.
“I really thought I could pull off being a teenager until I was like 80,” I sobbed. “I mean, I really thought I could.”
For whatever reason, it all seemed to hit me at once. That my energy level, the way I experience sex and what I needed out of life were inevitably shifting due to age.
Though my amusing display was laden with drama reminiscent of my “it’s 1986 and I’ve run out of aqua net extra super hold” debacles, I could see why the realization that life and our purpose in it was changing, even MORE than I had initially thought, was temporarily a lot to take in.
“I’ve had to say goodbye to so much – our children, parenthood, grandparenthood, life and myself as I knew it. I thought we’d at least get to keep our sex thing. We lost our children, it’s only FAIR that we should be banging all of the time.” I spewed through choked tears. In this moment it was hitting me that, although we could not have children like fertile people, we were going to age just like them. That there would be no prize for our losses felt rather harsh.
It dawned on me that I identified with and perhaps even valued myself a bit too much through my sexuality, maybe even using it as a compensatory measure for babies that we could not make, and that was going to have to change. “That’s not who you are or what you’re worth, punkin pie,” I assured myself. “If anyone can shed that skin and come out of it redefined, it’s you. As a matter of fact, I’m quite curious as to what you’ll come up with. You’ve been able to understand that whether you make a baby or not has got NOTHING to do with what you are worth, you’ll be able to easily imbibe that knowledge in regards to your sexuality too.”
And there we have it. Perimenopause arriving in the middle of grieving the loss of one’s children? Not that great. As a matter of fact, I’d advise avoiding it if I thought we had much of any control in life over either. It really is quite an unfortunate collision. Going through it with the distraction and fruitful challenge of raising children would have been excessively preferable. But perimenopause is not something I’m going to go around habitually moaning about as though it’s the rudest assault I’ve ever been dealt. Relative to the loss of my children, I can assure you it isn’t. And, it seems I’ve acquired more than a few skill sets along the way that will allow me to handle it rather well. Grieving the loss of parenthood expands one’s capacity to endure, accept and redefine well beyond that of the average person.
And lo and behold, the next day, though we remained a bit somber in our processing, my husband and I were up and running. And seemingly much more reconciled in accepting the “fading of our youth”. It’s not that this phase of life won’t be hard and I won’t feel pushed by it at times. But I’ve dual majored in hard and being pushed. Seems I’ve racked up a bit of a resume, bitches. And so, I leave you with the following:
Top Ten Reasons Why This Infertility Survivor is Not Intimidated by Menopause
10) Did I hear you say “Emotional Roller Coaster”? Why I’ve got a PhD in that.
9) I’ve already felt like shit for the past six years of infertility and grief hey what’s another ten more?
8) Unlike involuntary childlessness, there’s actually a yoga class for that. (Not one that I could personally get through without dissolving in laughter, but yeah. You get the point).
7) Which is tougher? Think hard now……..
a) a natural hormonal imbalance
b) debilitating side effects from a cocktail of 13 fertility meds
Make your mark dark
6) What’s that? You’re grieving the loss of your fertility, you with the two healthy easily conceived children? I seem to have that box good and checked. I’ll go cue the fertile world violins on your behalf.
5) Perimenopause and menopause are within the normal spectrum of life. Grieving the loss of one’s children while the majority of one’s peers are bearing and raising theirs, however, is not.
4) Facing limits, having life as you knew it melt into complete and utter internal chaos, redefining oneself, wading into the unknown……well that successfully sums up MY normal…….
3) Ability to transform? Why I’ve got a PhD in that, too.
2) Unlike in the face of life’s harsher brutalities, the way I chose to perceive and deal with it might actually fucking matter.
1) Unlike infertility, you know it’s coming. Only those who have had to navigate without it know the true gift of forewarning.