Going Out In the World An Iffy Bet For Infertility Survivors

Long Island, New York. We’re in the living room of Sarah Chamberlin, child free not by choice survivor of infertility, as she ponders this upcoming Mother’s Day.

“The rampage of advertisements has already begun” Chamberlin calculates. “Then there will be the constant risk of mindlessly dispensed ‘Happy Mother’s Days’, because it’s not like 20% of the female population over age 45 doesn’t parent, humans go through a whole slew of reproductive trauma and plenty of people have lost their mothers and have shitty mothers or anything.

Chamberlin is also no stranger to the “but you have a mother” and “we’re ALL mothers” dismissals to her pain. “Oh yeah, I HAVE a mother…..well never mind the loss of my children then – it’s all better now!” she sputters as she then points out that being a mother with living children and being a mother with non living children just might be an important experiential difference to iterate.

A suggestion to Chamberlin that she “go out and do something for herself” on Mother’s Day was met with a full on eye roll and a facial expression containing the exasperation of someone with 6 kids under the age of 4.

“Been out in the world upon losing your children, parenthood and grandparenthood lately?” Chamberlin pointedly asks, noting that the reporting crew present must be endowed with easily conceived children to have offered such a clueless directive. This was confirmed by their subsequent blank stares. Their confusion in having to respond to someone with a reproductive experience not the same as theirs – also apparent.

“It is so not easy. Just take our trips to Long Island’s North Fork – trips that occur merely on regular days – for example.”

Six months after their final failed IVF, Sarah and her husband stumbled out to Long Island’s wine country in an attempt to “celebrate” their wedding anniversary.

“Appreciating the life you do have, as people love to pontificate, is so not a game of fucking Candy Land,” Chamberlin reports.

Upon entering one of their favorite wineries, they were greeted by the owner who was now sporting a bulging belly she had not been sporting five months prior.

As Chamberlin and her husband politely purchased their wine and headed for a large tree under which to drown their sorrows, they were also pelted by the owner with pregnant social expectations in the form of nervous pleasantries and quips about “the baby”.

Continuing their streak of letting the fertile world down, they bit on neither, leaving the expectant of attention mother in a state of bewilderment.

“It’s so nice to get away” Chamberlin dryly commented as the sounds of a toddler pinged from one of the farmhouses on the property.

She then took a moment to muse on a subject that provides her with what is no doubt a life long fascination – fertile world math. “Ok, so: one in four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, one in eight couples of child-bearing age will have trouble conceiving, suffering repeated failed fertility treatments is an official trauma and 20% of the female population over age 45 does not parent, that somehow = everyone must express awe and interest in my pregnancy. Hmm.”

Chamberlin estimated she needed at least another two glasses of wine before even being able to imagine such a level of delusion.

Upon making their dreaded exit, Chamberlin and her husband found the owner in the same state of confusion they had left her in.

Research found 73% of its pregnant subjects exhibited a limited ability to cope with not getting immediate attention and validation from strangers.

Research also found that 100% of its infertile participants exhibited a remarkably widened capacity in the arena of coping with non – attention from their fellow humans.

Hanging onto her facade of grace by a barely discernible thread, Sarah handed the owner five dollars, at it’s customary to tip in such situations.

“Oh great, I’ll use it to purchase diapers,” the owner chirped.

Experts confirm forcing your pregnancy on people who are not responding to it is not the wisest of bonding techniques.

Treading amid her boiling blood, Chamberlin admits to coming close to revoking her tip. “The words ‘well I just spent $77,000 on not getting pregnant so you know what, I’m going to take that back’ were totally on the tip of my tongue, no doubt” she shamelessly offers. “And really, if it only came down to diplomacy and harmony and other such related crap, I really wouldn’t have given a shit. That’s just the way I am. My words fly up and out before a shred of my soul can sing kumbaya. It’s just that this time there was oak barrel aged chardonnay involved.”

Chamberlin, miraculously, ended up biting her tongue, deciding that committing indefinitely to foregoing the winery’s voluptous oak barrel aged chardonnay on the account of uninformed and self-absorbed pronatalist social expectations was, in the long run, not worth it.

“Ooookay, thank you. Nice seeing you” Sarah and Julio kept their composure in response to the horrendous and unsolicited diaper comment as they fled the fertility drenched scene winery.

Another subsequent venture brought the couple to a new winery. “Let’s investigate” they decided as they pulled over on their bikes.

Settling down at the bar inside the property’s barn an employee gave them the first time visitor low down. Somewhere amid “white flights are on the top, you have your reds on the bottom” Sarah and Julio were forced to meet everything they had lost the owner’s tween aged child. “So we’re a FAMILY winery” the employee informed them with a haughty air.

Studies in the areas of sociology and linguistics confirm some sort of a ’you MUST be good people then’ validation is required upon any public declaration of “familyhood.”

“All I could do was give her my look of death which is of course tinged with overtones of ‘please go tell someone who cares’. I mean, after one surgery, 4 years of trying to conceive and ten failed fertility treatments, what do people expect? I don’t HAVE anything else to give under the circumstances. And there are plenty more out there like me.”

Moments later, the owner came huffing and puffing into the bar area. “Okay, I have to go take Jimmy to soccer practice” she righteously declared, making sure all present were aware of her no doubt ingenious multi tasking.

“Gosh, I wonder what that makes the winery down the road, run by an innovative child free by choice couple, then? A NON – family winery?”  Chamberlin pondered as she noted the owner’s ability to breed did not seem to impact the quality of the wine any.

“Wow honey, I taste layers of currant and caramel, intertwined with notes of fucking and getting lucky, golly it makes ALL the difference.”

Upon being told in her young adulthood that incessant sarcasm is a sign of emotional immaturity, Chamberlin opted to use her motivation in areas other than trying to change.

At another winery in a tight little wine tasting shack, a couple joyously informed Sarah and Julio they were down from Westchester “getting away from the kids for a couple of days” harty har har upon which Chamberlin also promptly shot her look of death tinged with overtones of please go tell someone who cares. “At least the husband got it and changed the subject – he’s one of the good ones. But I mean really, who could say no to this face?”

 

In an attempt to mark their second wedding anniversary after the end of fertility treatments, Sarah and Julio found themselves again on the North Fork in the families with children riddled month of August.

They thought it a good idea to visit one winery that was open after hours.  “There’s a taco truck, and it’s when a lot of the industry people come out” the winery employee had informed them.

Being in the restaurant business themselves, they took “industry people” as implying a level something in the neighborhood of eclectic. Plus, tacos.

They arrived to find the grassy picnic area strewn with strollers, toddlers, pastel colored blankets, bright colored toys, pregnancies both visible and no doubt not, and all other items and life situations in existence representative of that which they had lost.

“Well fuck ME nine ways to Sunday” Chamberlin called out as they entered the cozy grounds overlooking serene rows of grape vines.

Grabbing a seat on the seemingly parent free deck, Sarah and Julio felt that familiar and all too short lived bodily swoosh of having dodged a bullet.

Chamberlin also noticed the deck contained one gay and one lesbian couple, their PDA’s much more restrained than those of their heterosexual counterparts. “So not fair” Chamberlin remarked, as someone who generally falls within the lines of believing people should be able to live out loud – especially in the face of that which they did not choose.

The stampede was initiated by a handsome looking man marching up the deck stairs with a bright blue booster seat. “Ooh, sexy”, Chamberlin observed as her husband caved in and laughed, having decided a lifetime of laughter was a better bet than a lifetime of squirming. Soon the deck too was crawling with that which they had lost.

“Where in the hell are we supposed to go, Mars? And what’s next, family friendly strip clubs? Or how bout a family friendly sex toy shop????”

Reproducing mid-thirty somethings grasping at perceived coolness coupled with grief stricken non reproducing early forty somethings not caring to grasp at anything has been proven to be a most unsavory combination.

“Things don’t go any better in combat” Chamberlin notes, siting actual verbal contact with the fertile world.

“I was once at a backyard gathering full of 60 and 70 somethings, who I happen to get on quite well with. I listened empathetically to one couple whose adult gay child was traveling with his partner in the middle east. In spite of the fact I had just given 4 years of my life and $77,000 of my dollars so that I could possibly have that experience, I acknowledged their worry as well as what an adventurous person their son must be, conversed with them non-judgementally about how they felt and openly cried a few tears myself at the thought. Oh but for the attention hoarding parent, not enough I tell you!”

Righteous in her presumption Chamberlin herself hadn’t been through anything worse, the woman pushed and pushed Chamberlin to acknowledge her motherness. On having her gay son traveling in the homophobic mid-east – “But….AS A Mother!!” she foraged.

“People assume 100% that if you don’t have children it’s because you didn’t want them” Sarah informs us.

The notion that all people without children didn’t want them checks in at #4 in the census beauro’s top ten list of delusional notions held by human beings, followed only by Santa Claus, Unicorns and the insidious “everything happens for a reason” debacle.

Unrelenting as usual, Chamberlin asserted, “How about as a FELLOW HUMAN the fact concerns me?”

Dizzied by Sarah’s lack of participation in their assumed hierarchy, the couple retreated.

“Boy, that ‘all sentient beings’ approach sure is a real conversation killer” Chamberlin remarks.

Sometimes Sarah still finds herself expecting that she can freely include her authentic life in the human conversation.

“OOPS”, Chamberlin commented in response to this experience.

Such an experience occurred in a medical office where people were generally kind. “What had started as typical mindless female conception nosiness morphed into genuine empathy over my situation as I racked up failed treatment after failed treatment. So, I thought I was accepted there.”

Finding herself in a conversation with a staff member regarding the friendliness of the office, the staff member commented that people “even come in here and tell us all about their children.”

Polling shows that this in fact does not occur nowhere.

“AND about their children who don’t get to exist” Chamberlin amended, only to be met with an “OH, STOP!” from the staff member.

Jumping back up on her feet in record time following THAT punch to the gut, Sarah replied, “Well that’s my truth, so ’stopping’ is not an option.”

Infertility survivors report schooling their fellow humans with much needed doses of first grade level reality to be a full time job.

The car ride home entailed proclamations that Chamberlin is “so so sick of this stupid fucking shit” as well as a plan to turn the tables.

“How about we start telling the fertile world to stop? Timmy’s got a toothache? Oh, Stop! You’re worried about your child being bullied? Oh, Stop! Your kid is having a birthday? Oh, stop! Missy is in the hospital? Oh, stop! You’re tired? Oh, stop!”

So this is what occurs from Long Island’s north fork in the east to the middle of Long Island. Trying the west a couple of years later Sarah and Julio made their way into a wine tasting in Manhattan. Close to three years out of treatments, they had begun having moments, though fleeting, where they “forgot” about their infertility. And really, why would anyone need to hone in on the social gymnastics required to interact with the fertile world at a mid-week, mid-day wine tasting? Oh Virginia…….

Wandering through the rows of wine and spirits in a cavernous structure underneath the 59th street bridge, Sarah and Julio were fairly chilled out. Running into one of Julio’s friends and colleagues, Sarah found herself chit chatting (insert red flag and warning flares here).

Sarah asked the genuinely nice wine industry guy about his recent travels. They talked food and wine for a bit at which point she fatefully inquired “How is your wife?”

Wat wat wat waaaahhhh……

“He knows what we went through but yet in fractions of a second he was entrenched in a full throttle monologue about how every time his wife goes shopping ‘she ends up buying something for their daughter because it’s all about the kid, you know?’ I was just so tired all I could do was swirl the wine around in my glass and stare off into the distance. This shit is exhausting.”

Fortunately Chamberlin’s husband stepped in. A peace loving man of great calm and balance, the infertility child free not by choice experience has brought forth the tiger in Julio like nothing else ever, not even the subject of immigration reform.

“Well, we just spent all of our money on NOT getting a kid” Julio bluntly reminded him.

Unable to step into their world after having just spilled his all over them, the conversation dispersed as Chamberlin remarked how grateful she was to be around people AND two ginormous rooms full of booze. “Look on the bright side, honey. Usually we have to have these conversations while NOT surrounded by alcohol. Now let’s go find a nice grappa.”

Studies show that while alcohol does not make up in full for the absence of human empathy, acknowledgement and inclusion in the lives of infertility survivors, it has been proven to cushion the blow at a rate of approximately 30%.

On their way out of the tasting, Chamberlin found herself in another conversation, a habit from her old life she innately and tragically cannot seem to shake.

“I can’t help it, I really like hearing about experiences different from mine especially from people who are forthcoming and expressive.”

This time a vibrant young twenty something who had been raised in the USA but was of Turkish decent had her ear, sharing with her his experience of having a “double consciousness”. Loving it, and knowing young males to generally be an emotionally safe crew for a middle-aged infertility survivor, Chamberlin kept listening and asking questions. Having filed out of the building and making their way with the wine tasting crew to a bar up the street, the young man surprisingly asked Sarah and Julio if they had kids.

“I told him no, that we had tried very hard but weren’t able to and that it has been and continues to be a very sad thing for us. He chose to continue the conversation with ‘well WHEN you do…..’ Seriously. What the fuck??”

“No, it didn’t happen and it’s not going to” Chamberlin attempted a redirect, wondering how many ways she could possibly come up with to relay the concept of OVER to a full grown adult.

“Nope, nope, this one’s on me. My bad” Sarah acknowledged to our camera crew. A momentary lapse of reason had allowed Chamberlin to once again consider her fellow humans conversable. “I own it. Back to reality!”

With being around other people having been rendered utterly useless, Sarah and Julio headed uptown to a tapas place, away from the crowd, fulfilling the basic universal human need of having the conversation acknowledge your reality too by moving away from their fellow humans.

And now, back in her living room, Chamberlin reflects positively on this upcoming Mother’s Day. “I’m really starting to accept this deluge of feces” she comments peacefully.

Sarah has possible plans to make Mother’s Day a day of honoring her grieving, mourning, healing and resurrection process through parenthood denied. “I deserve it, we all do” she remarks.

“I know I will hurt this year, but I also know I’ll be okay. Except for the fact I have a slow healing nervous system disorder and can’t really drink.

Hey, can someone raise a glass for me?”

RAISE YOUR GLASS/PINK//Right, right, turn off the lights/We gonna lose out minds tonight/What’s the dealio?/I love when it’s all too much/Five a.m. turn the radio up/where’s the rock and roll?/Party crasher, penny snatcher/Call me up if you a gansta/Don’t be fancy, just get dancy/Why so serious?//So raise your glass if you are wrong/In all the right ways/All my underdogs/We will never be never be anything but loud/and nitty gritty dirty little freaks/Won’t you come on and come on and raise your glass/Just come on and come on and raise your glass//Slam slam oh hot damn/What part of party don’t you understand/Wish you’d just freak out (freak out already)/Can’t stop comin in hot/I should be locked up right on the spot/It’s so on right now (so f-in on right now)//Party crasher, penny snatcher/Call me up if you a gansta/Don’t be fancy, just get dancy/Why so serious?//So raise your glass if you are wrong/In all the right ways/All my underdogs/We will never be never be anything but loud/and nitty gritty dirty little freaks/Won’t you come on and come on and raise your glass/Just come on and come on and raise your glass//So if you’re too school for cool/And you’re treated like a fool/You can choose to let it go/We can always we can always party on our own

21 thoughts on “Going Out In the World An Iffy Bet For Infertility Survivors

  1. We’ve just stopped talking to other people. It’s just easier. I’ll raise my first glass to you and my second to me and perhaps a 3rd just for the heck of it.

    • Yay, thanks! I’m honored. Hope your third glass was as sweet as your first. I keep intending to go the “stop talking to people” route, and then I keep screwing it up. Damn.

  2. Thank you ever so much for writing this blog. All I could muster this weekend was to stumble out to the bank, whereupon the teller (at the conclusion of my transaction) asked, “Do you have any kids?” “Ummm…no,” I replied. “Oh,” she said, “I was going to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, if you did.” I wanted to respond “========”…..well, you get the idea. Best wishes for all of us this weekend.

    • Kathy, you were brave to make it to the bank. Sounds like a most treacherous journey. I can definitely (and so not shockingly) fill in the blanks as far as your desired response to the bank teller:-)

  3. Brilliant piece. I especially liked the truisms interspersed thruout (“studies show…”)…fabulous! One thing that really struck me — do these parents who desperately want applause and adulation really love parenthood? Because it sure seems like they don’t love it, when they need constant attention and reassurance that they committed their lives to the best path. Why is it that fate or luck or chance entrusts kids to these pathetic souls when there are infertiles without a shred of ambivalence as to what they want out of life? Something is terribly wrong with this picture… many of the wrong people ended up with kids.

    • I totally hear you on the lens of injustice through which we are forced to look, Beth. It has been for me a standout as far as being so tough to grapple with.

      Regarding other people’s behavior, I can’t really judge where they are coming from. Some are probably actively attention seeking, others are merely expressing their normal without an awareness of alternative normals (which tends to exacerbate many of the inequities with which we deal). I do find a shred of comfort in the fact not all people who parent come from these standpoints.

      The line I personally draw is that while the above behaviors and those I wrote about are considered socially acceptable, iterating and expressing reproductive trauma and loss is still not. This, coupled with a general lack of awareness of and consideration for the less fortunate reproductive realities out there, is not ok.

  4. Heartfelt thanks yet again! Please know what a huge difference and support your blog & sharings like this too make to us : ) I have been so supported by your writing, that I have started making posts on Instagram & am inspired to maybe start something public here, so infertility survivors can be seen & heard & validated & resourced…We ‘did’ Mothers’ Day here in Australia yesterday (2nd Sunday in May) …raised a few glasses to all of us, my lost children e.t.c., the anniversary of my dad’s death on Mothers’ Day last year, healing, survival, wisdom, humour, sarcasm which nails it & more…We had M.I.L. & S.I.L. for lunch & they managed to ignore our reality entirely again & even though they’ve seen my IG posts (which have not been heavy duty), they refused to acknowledge any of it…groundhog day…BUT many supportive responses on IG & also from other infert survivors with gratitude – I don’t want my loss to be in vein! xoxox

    • Awesome, Desiree! More hands on deck is such a hopeful thing. Keep me posted.

      So sorry your MIL and SIL were not participatory and responsive. I’ve found infertility survivorhood/child free by choiceness to be utterly revealing of other people’s shortcomings, and sometimes, incredible qualities. Sorry also to hear of the recent death of your father AND that it fell on Mother’s Day. Seriously?? I’m afraid I have no useful words.

      I ended up with a small cluster of people checking in on me yesterday and it really made a difference. Very glad you received some supportive responses too.

  5. “Studies show that while alcohol does not make up in full for the absence of human empathy, acknowledgment and inclusion in the lives of infertility survivors, it has been proven to cushion the blow at a rate of approximately 30%.” Cheers to that!

  6. My husband poor thing works in retail on the weekends and so had to deal with it all day long on Mother’s Day. As for me when I did finally venture out of the house on Sunday and over to the grocery store, I made sure to go to the one cashier who I know wouldn’t say stupid shit.

    • Someone I know in similar shoes ventured out and made sure to go to the young male cashiers, as they were the least likely to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. And I have to say, she returned home relatively unscathed.

      My husband has restaurants and is grateful he works in the kitchen, not the dining room.

  7. Love the approach of this post! This year was a tiny bit easier, only because I knew what to expect. The awareness though still isn’t where it needs to be. As I get stronger and more tolerant of being out in the world, I’m starting to gain confidence and give fewer shits about offending people or just being honest about our situation.

    • Hard earned skills and wisdom, no doubt!!

      This year was my 4th year after knowing we would never be parents, and so far it has gotten easier each year. And the changes from year to year have been obvious. That said, the impact “the day that shall not be named” has on me is still huge. Looks like we survived again.

  8. This sounds all too familiar. Like you, optimistically, I keep trying to hold conversations with people I’ve just met, and yet, almost inevitably, am reminded that I just shouldn’t. Ah, life in the infertile lane… when we try to change lanes to mix with the rest of the traffic, we are abruptly pushed back into our lane by an aggressive driver (aka the “as a mother” crew). It makes part of me wonder if maybe it’s not so bad in my lane, considering the idiotic comments we are so often met with when we leave it. Ugh!

    • Love the lane/driver metaphor! It feels like a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. Sometimes I wonder why I keep talking to people, but deep down I know for me that not speaking is slightly more damaging than speaking. If only we could view each others’ internal speech balloons – “Why am I doing this again? Because humans speak to one another, remember? I know, but this really sucks….”

  9. Great post. It’s crazy how clueless so many people are that a couple without kids might not have been able to have them. I have friends who know all about our infertility struggles yet still complain about their pregnancy and kids to me. Know your audience people. I’m sorry to hear that even going to a winery wasn’t safe! I laughed at your comment on what’s next, family friendly strip clubs! I was out with my husband and his work colleagues at a festival once. The evening was fun, good music, chatting, food. And then one of the girls decided it was the right time to announce her pregnancy so then the conversation ended up being dominated by all things pregnancy and kid related. Urgh.

    • Yes! One of my close friends is a widow and she uses the expression “wrong audience” all of the time. Complaining about pregnancy to us would be like if I complained to her about my husband’s long work hours.

      Oh, the conversation that followed the pregnancy announcement you describe must have been grueling. What to do?? One of the reasons those situations can sting so badly is that it hurts whatever you decide to do/not do.

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