GET A BIGGER BOX
Originally posted May 2013
One of the toughest things about dealing with infertility for me has been this: that the way I need to do things to navigate and survive my experience is entirely different from the way I used to do things in my pre-infertile life. I prioritize different things, make different decisions, and am forced to see every situation I’m in in a different way. This takes an unquantifiable amount of time and energy, and has in many ways turned me into a person I never even could have imagined being a few years ago. It has indeed been a process. In March of 2012, when this story picks up, I was still relatively new to this process. My husband and I had five failed IUI’s at the time, were coming up on 2 years of trying, and were still an “unexplained” case. I was up to my ears in holistic treatments, (which have ended up rendering nothing in terms of achieving a pregnancy), giving the natural thing every last shot before moving to IVF.
I was on a lunch break during my third yoga immersion, a five day 6 hours a day immersion in yoga asanas and philosophy that counts towards teacher training. Having had alienating baby/preggo experiences in past yoga situations, I felt comfortable with this one and was enjoying myself. My teacher’s extra efforts to make me comfortable had paid off I noticed as I was walking back from lunch one day feeling very strangely good. Good feelings had become unusual for me to the point that feeling one really caught my attention. Like a person who is fainting making every last effort to grasp at any consciousness they can, I struggled to name it. “Hmmm, that’s vaguely familiar, I think I used to feel that….it’s so….nice……but WHAT is it”? I mused as I made my way down Broadway on a tolerable and somewhat sunny March day. And then it hit me…..comfort. Contentment. Wow. And then it really hit me; I had literally forgotten what it felt like to be comfortable and to fit in somewhere.
But as the truth has it with infertility, challenges arriving from mundane everyday situations are always lurking. I was comfortable in Soho. Although there were a decent amount of babies and preggos waking the streets, the rest of the population was eclectic and seemed to be on the go doing a variety of things. A nice break from the burbs; babies did not seem to be the ultimate accolade and perceived achievement that they are on Long Island (with a Cadillac Escalade coming in a close second of course) but merely one of many things that people are or could be involved in. Which is consistent with how I’ve always looked at it anyway. I even told my husband at one point, “Hey we have a place to move if we end up not having children and do end up striking it rich! I can actually STAND it there!” After almost two years of infertility, the endlessness of it all had started to set in, along with the semi conscious fear ridden truth that the places and situations where you can feel like an actual human being are dwindling, almost by the day. I was really digging Soho, and enjoying my little glimmer of normalcy.
The next day, a classmate of mine was going to Whole Foods for lunch and not knowing where it was I decided to tag along with her, not thinking a thing of it. I normally click well and easily with my early/mid twenty somethings but this girl was extra cool. Great qualities that I had noticed and liked right away. Turned out Whole Foods was a bit off of the Broadway beaten path. The place was huge so once inside we went our separate ways to get our lunches. And then “it” happened. A gaggle of moms with strollers was commiserating by the soup. Probably about stretch marks and poopy diapers, things some women perceive to be huge problems in life. OK, no soup for me. I go to try and select a drink but I only see cold drinks (cold goes straight to the uterine channel and impedes fertility I remind myself) and more strollers come my way. I’m nearing the end of my luteal phase and am probably not pregnant again (how many cycles has it now been, twenty something, I’ve lost count…) but it’s too soon to confirm. So I’d like to stick to my fertility friendly diet while reminding myself that it has done crap for me for the past year and a half. Heading towards the salad bar (raw veggies are also cold but alkaline, which is better for fertility than acidic I reason) I’m confronted with a mom giggling and cooing at her baby. And what felt like the rest of the world joining in on the wonder of it all. Realizing that I can’t go anywhere or do anything and that my mind is starting to spin, I need to go to a not busy isle and regroup. Almost tripping over a few more strollers I manage to find a quiet isle that fertile land has yet failed to invade with non cold drinks that are grouped together as six packs. Being true to my Massachusetts roots and feeling like a modern day female Paul Revere (the fertiles are coming, the fertiles are coming!!) I try to decide on a drink and quickly before the isle I’m in becomes tainted. Is it rule breaking to remove a drink from it’s pack, especially if you’re dealing with infertility and need a room temp drink FOR CHRIST SAKE??? It’s time to start regulating my breathing so I take slow deep breaths and clutch my empty tray and bowl, the sum of my lunch accomplishments for the past 5 minutes (which have seemed like an eternity). I’m so on edge that even after 2 hours of yoga, a circumstance where I would normally be approaching famished, I have lost any clue as to what I’m hungry for. I launch into my old normal behavior, which was reasoning that there must be a way to curb my anxiety and misery, rise above and “take on” this situation. I’m going to do this damn it, because I, I Sarah Chamberlin, AM NOT going to be forced to leave a Whole Foods of all places, and I AM tough enough for God’s Sake and I have every right in the world to be here and this is just a friggen Whole Foods and all I’m trying to do is get lunch like a normal human being………All I’ve survived and conquered in life and THIS is what it comes to????
And suddenly out of nowhere another voice chimes in.
Higher Self: “You cannot be here right now and that’s all that matters and it’s ok. You simply need to leave, irregardless. This is just the way it is right now. It’s not your fault, there’s nothing you can do about it. No judgments No analysis. Just go.”
Ego: Friggen really? Seriously, if I can’t stay in a Whole Foods for 5 minutes than what else is going to disintegrate right before my very eyes? Driving? Showering? I’m a failure, a total failure!! This is the beginning of the end I just know it….
Higher Self: “Just deal with now. You are hurting now. Go try and find a better situation for yourself that you deserve.”
So, I take another deep breath and still not totally believing that I must exit Whole Foods, go to find my classmate. But deep down I know what I need to do. Being met with three MORE strollers at the head of the isle, which brought my grand total of stroller run ins to about 30 in 7 minutes because God is a jerk solidifies my decision. Still holding my empty tray and bowl, I find my class mate already in the check out, because people without fertility issues can get their lunch and pay for it in a normal time frame I reason.
“Aren’t you going to eat?” she asked surprisingly.
“I’m dealing with infertility, and there’s just too many babies and strollers here. I’ve gotta go.”
A couple people in line turn their heads my way and are no doubt looking at me as though I’ve just announced that I’m shitting my pants and am in search of a belated diaper. Come to think of it, I clearly would have had access to plenty of those, to bad that WASN’T the problem, actually. But concern over that is not a priority plus I’ll have plenty of time to lament over the total lack of privacy the issue of infertility affords later.
“Oh sure, sure, definitely go ahead. I’ll see you back at class.” she says.
I bolt out of Whole Foods and in spite of feeling like a loser and convinced that my life is going to hell in a hand basket, I also immediately feel more relaxed. It was the right and only decision, my body is telling me. My higher self winning, however, never seems to guarantee my ego making a quiet exit. Boy that shit is LOUD.
I head back in the direction of the studio and find a lunch place with a significantly reduced obviously fertile population. Even better, the eatery is in an old industrial building so I’m able to procure a private place to sit and eat, a sort of cubby hole in a narrow hallway. Since dealing with infertility, I feel much less safe in open public spaces. Corners, walls, and sitting facing away from everyone have practically become requirements. Most likely a symptom of going out into a world that constantly rejoices and celebrates the very thing I’m being denied. A world in which the most happy and joyful sight to everyone else is the most heartbreaking gut wrenching thing I have to look at. I take advantage of my cubby hole in the narrow hallway to try and regroup. Hopefully I’ll be calm enough to stand steadily by the time I have to go back to class. On two feet. One foot postures may have to wait for tomorrow and thank goodness I can stand on my head and balance on my arms in a friggen earthquake for some unknown reason. Since I’m in the middle of yet another totally unscripted infertility situation, I spend time trying to figure out how to present myself once I get back to class. I decide not to over explain but that it would be weird not to acknowledge it. Good luck finding THAT bloody edge….
Back at class I catch my classmate’s eye….is that a glimmer of………it looks like respect, and possibly a drop of admiration?? I determine the anxiety chemicals must have altered my brain, in fact, I’m quite certain I feel my left frontal lobe disintegrating right as we speak………
“Did you find a place to eat?” she asks, sweetly but matter of factly.
“Yes” I said emphatically. “Thanks for asking. I just had to get out of there…”
She cuts me off and says “Well I think it’s great.”
“HEH?” She may as well have bopped me over the head with a yoga bolster.
“Well, I mean, I’ve never dealt with what you’re dealing with, but I know the feeling of being some where that just doesn’t feel right. You were listening to yourself and acting on it, and I think that’s great.”
Well holy shit balls. I’m stopped in my tracks in every way, except to wonder if she’s clone-able.
Ultimately, my box of perception was too small for my life crisis, and my classmate gently facilitated a piece of the process by helping me begin to get a bigger one. I’ve since learned that in regards to infertility, everything is different. Behavior that appears “too emotional” could actually be a great and honest presence in the moment. Seemingly giving too much attention to a complication surrounding infertility could really be the result of one’s good instincts and ability to face the issue. Actions that look too anti social could be someone doing a fantastic job protecting themselves emotionally. And so forth and so on. The right and best things to do in my infertile situations have often been things that I would have looked upon negatively or just have never done at all in my old life. If I hadn’t been willing to listen, follow my instincts and step out of my small pre-infertile box to do things that I initially would have thought were stupid, weak, unnecessary, and just plain irrational, I would have grossly under served myself and I would be in far worse shape emotionally now.
When relaying the above incident at my next counseling session my infertility counselor responds, “Great decision making skills. Excellent instinct to protect yourself. Wonderful.” Still feeling awkward with these situations I say “Really?? But then why do I feel so stupid and so BAD?” Getting a bigger box is not easy. It can pay great dividends, and it can also be quite painful. Although I’m now more settled into my new self, saying goodbye to old behaviors at one point was just another painful loss brought on by infertility, another reminder that through no fault of my own my life is not normal. In spite of my humble clueless ego driven beginnings, I have chosen to have the courage to trek on with my life exactly as it is, as opposed to faking what I wish it would be and manufacturing something other people are comfortable with. I was hoping that my comfort in this yoga situation was a sign of good things to come. Little did I know that my grand Whole Foods exit was laying important groundwork for a tough year ahead.
Lyrics by Neil Peart
From the album “Moving Pictures” by Rush
Unstable condition, a symptom of life
In mental and environmental change
Atmospheric disturbance, the feverish flux
Of human interface and interchange
The impulse is pure
Sometimes our circuits get shorted
By external interference
Signals get crossed and the balance distorted
By internal incoherence
A tired mind become a shape shifter
Everybody need a mood lifter
Everybody need reverse polarity
Everybody got mixed feelings about the function and the form
Everybody got to deviate from the norm
A ounce of perception, a pound of obscure
Process information at half speed
Pause rewind replay, warm memory chip
Random sample, hold the one you need
Leave out the fiction, the fact is the friction
Will only be worn by persistence
Leave out conditions, courageous convictions
Will drag the dream into existence
A tired mind become a shape shifter
Everybody need a soft filter
Everybody need reverse polarity
Everybody got mixed feelings about the function and the form
Everybody got to elevate from the norm
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, COCKROACHES
originally posted June 2013
Mother’s Day is the most dreaded day of the year in the infertile community. Fearful anticipation swirls around the internet weeks in advance. People scheme on how they are going to survive the “holiday”, where they will go, what and whom they will avoid. I myself escaped my rabbit lair neighborhood, decided to try and have an attitude of gratitude, and drove to Massachusetts. If I’m being denied the opportunity to be one, at least I still have the privilege in middle age of getting to enjoy MY mother. My parents conveniently live on a dead end street with houses mostly filled with old people. Which is potentially not a bad set up for an infertile. My one request was that we not actually acknowledge it was Mother’s Day (or Fucking Mother’s Day, as I now call it) and simply enjoy some quality time together. My parents obliged so we did just that. It actually turned out to be quite a surprisingly neutral day.
However, as people entrenched in one kind of grief or another will often tell you, it’s the times you don’t anticipate and plan for that can hit you the hardest. Because not only is grief king when you are forced to experience it, it seemingly has no logic.
I hadn’t thought much of Father’s Day. I mean I knew it wouldn’t be GREAT, it would exactly mark the two year anniversary of our trying to conceive. And my husband deserves to be a father and would make a great one. So I knew the reminder that he also is being unfairly denied wasn’t going to be wonderful, but what could be worse than Mother’s Day? Or Christmas season with kids on Santa’s knee all over the place and constant religious references to “the child” “the child” and to a mother who didn’t even have to have sex to get her family? I’ve made it through those assaults somewhat unscathed so far, so why give Father’s Day even a second thought?
Spring and early summer is my favorite time of year. I live for it quite frankly, I always have. My best childhood memories are from this time of year. The first sighting of crocuses poking through the ground after a harsh Massachusetts winter gave me a high like no other. They still do. Then there were those first warm spring days where I could finally go zipping around on my bike with only a sweatshirt followed by early summer escapades in the woods behind my childhood home building bridges and climbing trees. I’m not sure if we were actually doing what we THOUGHT we were doing out there, but it was warm and nice out so who cared? These experiences embodied the feeling of true joy for me as a child. Sure, they shift as you get older. Jaunts in the woods were replaced with homework free hours of air conditioned flute practice. And that time of year eventually got marred with finals and a crappy summer job at McDonald’s for awhile. And work and paying bills and moving and surviving. But the sentiment remained and as I came into my own in adulthood there were some sweet replacements. Planting and growing things, a renewed enjoyment of flip flops and lighter clothes, late balmy nights eating and drinking outside with good company, raw oysters, soft shell crabs, better avocados, gin and tonic, and puffing on a cigar here and there.
During this year’s transition from spring into summer, things were not going so well however. In a way that the positive potency of life’s aforementioned pleasures would not even have a chance at helping. I was on the verge of 2 years of infertility, had 5 failed fertility treatments, had just turned 40, had utilized countless alternative therapies and worst of all still had absolutely no explanation as to why this was happening. My Dad had just had a significant heart attack which, although it turned out as well as it possibly could have, brought to the forefront the notion that he may not live to get to see his grandchildren. If he even ends up getting any more. One of my great friends who had been an important support through almost my first two years of infertility became pregnant in a short amount of time and with absolutely no extra effort. A few days before Father’s Day weekend we had a conversation where we amicably decided to put our friendship on hold for the sake of my emotional health, among other things. It went well but it was also just another huge loss. And then there were the sounds…….yes, spring and open windows brings the sounds of none other than children who are not mine. In my preinfertile life I hardly even noticed, or if I did I enjoyed the sounds of babies crying and children playing. This year they assumingly made their way into my yard and every room in my house providing an effect quite similar to acid on an open wound. It was not uncommon to find me saying “if I could just trade in those sounds so someone could throw sharp knives at me for an hour instead, it would feel much BETTER”. It was also not uncommon to find me, a spring and summer windows open air flowing kind of person, hurriedly shutting my windows just so I could relieve myself from fertile world sounds and breathe easily again.
The morning before Father’s Day I was lying in bed naked. My husband and I had just completed our “trying” for what I knew was most likely going to be our 27th failed cycle. I of course had no clue that in five days I would be diagnosed with advanced stage endometriosis, thus providing a possible explanation for my troubles. So I was lying in bed for the 20 minute sperm swimming wait and contemplating how much I was going to care for the two week wait that was about to follow. It’s a state of mind that’s hard to explain; I instinctively knew something was wrong that was preventing me from getting pregnant but no one had been able (or was overly willing for that matter) to find the problem. Knowing someone was missing something, I took it upon myself to try and find the answer. Having nothing to go on I questioned everything. This is a very normal and common thing for an infertile in the unexplained category to go through. Was it my diet? My shampoo? Deodorant? Too much exercise during my luteal phase? My intense personality? I felt pressure to time everything just so from acupuncture treatments to workouts because ANYTHING could be the thing that was in the way. To a bystander this looks neurotic and overzealous but to me then AND now it was the right way to handle very impossible and unfair circumstances. So I’m lying there, waiting for the sperm to swim up and once again do absolutely fucking nothing. Trying to figure out how much wine and coffee is appropriate for a two week wait which you can kind of sense is not going to produce a pregnancy. But I’m so sick of guessing, sick of having no routine and making quick decisions based on literally nothing. This is but one tiny example of the fact and total understatement that infertility is ENTIRELY unscripted. It seems people think there is always a plan with infertility, that your doctor knows why it is happening and what to do, that the next step is always clear. This could not be further from the truth and in fact my experience has been the complete opposite. In the middle of this I’m also simultaneously contemplating the emotional weight of our two year mark, and the fact that we still have no “why” for all of this. And truth be told I’m fine. All of the above I can handle, it has pretty much become a way of life for me at this point. It completely sucks but I’ve got it, I’m thinking it, feeling it, and doing the best I can but no more. So I’m fine, I’m handling, until….until I hear “it”.
“Bouncy bouncy bouncy booooo…..bouncy bouncy bouncy boo………” in that diphthongy sappy ass voice that is native to the fertile world. Someone is playing with our backyard neighbor’s what I guess to be one year old grandchild on a swing. Let’s just say that to be contemplating and feeling all of the above WHILE having to hear someone enjoy what I’m being denied (and who likely obtained it quite easily) was beyond unbearable. I start to spontaneously and uncontrollably convulse. Like a mouse who knows it’s cornered, its end is near, and there’s nothing else to do but wait. And then the sobbing starts. That sudden sobbing and moaning that comes from places we don’t know we even have. The pain is so bad I feel that our slightly open window must be closed now or I might die. But I can’t get up because it’s still sperm swimming time and then if I don’t get pregnant I’ll be forced to look back and wonder if it’s because I got up. So there I am a naked prisoner in my own bed when I start to call for my husband. Who I then realize is on the toilet. Bouncy bouncy bouncy boooo…….make it stop please make it stop honey you HAVE to come in here now….I CAN’T pull my husband off the toilet while taking a dump that’s just not right what has my life come to bouncy bouncy bouncy boooooooo maybe my not dying IS more important than his crap honey pleeeeeease hurry bouncy bouncy………………………….
He arrives to find his wife, who he left in a totally normal state mere minutes ago in a complete emotional melt down. He looks utterly horrified which I didn’t understand at the time. Now I realize that for the eleven years he has known me and for the 8 years we’ve lived together, he has never seen me in the kind of pain that inevitably comes with the predicaments of infertility. Not even close.
I’m saying “Close the window, just please close the window.” He looks confused, not able to figure out why an open window would have any connection with such an intense emotional state. “She’s….. playing….. with a…….. BABY!!” I gasp between my sobs. “And I’m stuck listening to it! I cannot hear that, I just can’t It’s NOT FAAAAAAIIR!!!!!”
The window got closed, and my husband tried to comfort me with that disturbed look on his face that knows better. That disturbed look I have at this point seen all too often that comes from knowing there is truly nothing he can do to help me feel better and that he is powerless to prevent something like this from happening again. It will happen, the pain will come, we are truly in it. Another infertile moment has passed that has shown itself to be a lopsided ratio. This time very short in duration, yet so deep and hard hitting in intensity. And it’s not just the moment but the realization it brings into focus. I realize that day the fertile world is like cockroaches. Cockroaches are not evil spirited and don’t intend any harm. But they are anywhere and everywhere that is damaging no matter what precautions one might take. You can exterminate three times in a month and do everything right, and the one that comes out will manage to do so right across the table of your best customer. Or your most difficult customer, giving the table who is trying to get something for free some legitimate ammunition. Although the cockroach is not doing this deliberately or to be aggressive, the damage is still done. They are still THERE, along with their innate oblivious knack for being present at the worst times. This is the fertile world in a nut shell. Oh after two years of infertility I’ve had my violating moments for sure. From pregnant women talking loudly outside of yoga class about where they are going to have their baby during meditation to lying on the acupuncture table full of needles that are supposedly treating me for infertility only to hear some douche bag outside telling the receptionist at the front desk “we’re so excited, next week we find out if it’s a boy or a girl!!!”, I had been given plenty of opportunity to understand that I’m no longer ever really “safe”. But it was this weekend I truly realized that while my crisis was enough heartache and work in and of itself, it could be exacerbated literally anytime and anywhere by the fertile world. Always there to bring into sharp focus the fact that no matter how hard you work to save money for IVF, gain weight, find the right doctor, and even if you ovulate every month, have a great antral count and respond well to fertility drugs, none of that matters one bit if you do not get a child. It was a real “Everything that I’m giving my life for that I thought was something is truly nothing and furthermore there is not a damn thing I can do about it” moment.
Back in early April, just days after my Dad’s heart attack my Mom and I were taking my Dad into the hospital to have heart surgery. My Mom and I had parked the car and, in meeting my Dad in the cramped hospital entryway of course had to practically trip over a woman bringing her brand new baby girl home. Complete with what I suppose is a “fertile wagon” of sorts, filled with tons of cards, balloons and flowers; the typical items with which the world acknowledges people who are lucky and who have done nothing better or more right than me. As if my Dad have a serious health event while moving towards two years of infertility faster than a speeding bullet was not enough. There’s something about babies, pregnant women, young children and the moments that surround them that rubs a heel in my face like nothing I’ve ever felt in my 40 years. Although usually not quite so bad as this one, moments that are just “so wrong” have become a part of my daily life. Apparently I had come to a place of acceptance of this. I later realized this due to my Mom’s indignant reaction. “I can’t BELIEVE that just happened!” she gasped. “Oh Sarah, I’m so sorry, I mean, what horrible timing.” We then went about the more urgent issue at hand, getting my Dad settled and into surgery. In the waiting room during the operation, my Mom strangely mentioned the incident again. I say strangely because her mention of it made me realize that I had forgotten it. Plus I rarely get to endure these assaults side by side with someone who knows what I’m going through, so it was interesting to get to witness someone ELSE’S reaction for a change. I hated to break the lady’s heart but I had to let her know then and there that this is what my new life is like. Having no control over when I have to be exposed to the very thing I’ve worked so hard for and am being denied, having to feel that miserable shitty feeling at the drop of a hat. Usually while having to watch everyone else’s joy over the very thing that is breaking my heart. What is a coincidence/oddity for her is routine for me, so I decide it’s time to let her know the “rules”. I had never verbalized them before and hadn’t realized they had somehow made their way into me to that place that is as natural as breath. I giggle as she launches into an insulting description of the fertile world balloons that adorned the new mom’s fuck and get lucky gift cart. Then I just start talking as if I’ve known this my whole life. “OK Mom, as an infertile walking around in a world that is primarily fertile, RULE #1 is don’t think that because it’s horrible it can’t happen. It can and it often does. I mean, it seems so cruel that an infertile taking her Dad in for a significant heart surgery should have to witness a fertile bringing home her baby girl for the first time, but there’s no law against it and nothing stopping it. RULE #2 Process things quickly and move on. The next hit is coming, it’s not a question of if, but when. I learned early on that if you linger on every baby and preggo sighting as if it’s the most cruel thing in the world and the last one you’ll ever face, the next one hurts all the more. And of course RULE #3 Don’t ever think it can’t get worse or that it’s over. It can always get worse, often does, and is never over. Ever. In other words, don’t think just because we saw a new baby going home today and it made us feel like shit that tomorrow we won’t see twins going home and feel even worse. How many times have I been in that “nothing could possibly be more unfair and nothing could POSSIBLY feel worse “ situation and then seconds later I have to see or hear something that does make things just that. The next day we are walking back into the hospital and she mentions the incident AGAIN (truth be told letting go is NOT her forte) and says “At least that happened yesterday so we know it’s over…..” “Mom, Mom, you’re forgetting Rule #3 I proclaim, just as we rush by an obviously pregnant nurse fondling the baby paraphernalia in the gift shop as if she’s doing herself.
Ahh, RULE #3. I’ve observed it, learned it, completely comprehend it on an intellectual level. The thing with infertility though, is that there are many moments where it does not matter how smart, foresighted, or determined to take care of yourself you are. It’s often just not enough and there’s not a darned thing you can do about it. But it’s hard to overturn that “tomorrow’s going to be better” drive that exists even in bitter sarcastic people. In my experience, when dealing with infertility the “tomorrow could be better” drive needs to be answered with a “not necessarily dumb ass” Otherwise, you just set yourself up for more suffering. And let’s be honest, nobody likes to keep falling over and over again from so high up. Which, as you may have guessed, fast forwards us two and half months ahead back to good ole father’s day weekend. I had somehow managed to get moving after the painful meltdown resulting from the fertile world creeping into my bed after sex that Saturday. I don’t remember what I did, but I’m sure I was in one way or another in observance of RULE #2. Plus I had other things to process. I was glad the conversation with my good and now pregnant friend just a few days before had gone well, but I really NEEDED a friend like her right now. The conversation going so well just highlighted the loss, even though most likely temporary, of our friendship. I was having trouble with the fact that I needed to close up the back of the house on this beautiful June day, windows and blinds, to protect myself from the baby baby baby happy happy happy joy joy joy sights and sounds that would intermittently come from our neighbor’s back yard. And I had painting supplies to buy for a tomorrow, a trip I was of course trying to time for when I thought there would be the least amount of babies and preggos at Home Depot. Tomorrow was supposed to be a husband and wife paint the house day, but just like my private tough infertile moment in my own bed, I was starting to see this too was slipping out of my control.
I love my backyard. It was the first place my husband and I experienced our house, satisfying a neurotic bank siding painting closing requirement before we even had the keys. It felt good even then. I often to there to think, to watch the birds, and after yoga class to collect my experiences and revelations. I go there to look at my flowers, those already planted and those I want to plant in my mind’s eye. And I go there to feel both of my deceased grandmother’s presences through the kinds of things they used to plant. I feel and have always felt peace there. And as infertility set in, this sanctuary became more and more important. Sure it had its flaws. Too many overgrown trees, bushes and vines, but we had started to take care of those. And then there was the lack o’ fence dividing our backyard from our neighbor’s backyard with houses that are already quite close together. We had met our backyard neighbors a couple of times and they are very nice, unintrusive people. I had become determined to do something about the lack of fence about 11 months prior. We were a month out of our third failed fertility treatment and I was just starting to notice that things that were once joyful or even neutrally normal were slowly starting to bring me pain. I was still in my “we’ll just do another IUI, I know it’ll work” mode but part of me was realizing this infertility thing may not be the small shorter lived deal I had thought it was going to be. And one day I looked out my kitchen window and saw someone in my neighbor’s back yard (which is about 40 feet from my backyard) carrying around a baby (or a fuckinbaby, as I refer to them these days). It looked pretty brand new. I determined that one of my backyard neighbor’s adult children must have had one of their own. And right then I knew. “Honey, honey, do you know what I just saw That’s it, we’re getting a fence!” As a few more months crept by we saw very nice improvements taking place to our neighbor’s backyard and although they could have been made for any reason, I foresaw a spring and summer with a grandchild frolicking through the grass and everyone rejoicing in a circle of barfy fertile happiness around it, all of course viewable from most rooms in my house. My backyard would be like onstage seating. This was met with the usual protests and how do you knows from my husband, but I stood my ground on this one. “If we’re pregnant by next summer great, but if not, I’ll be DAMNED if I’m forced to witness from my own home people enjoying what my parents and I are being unjustly denied! It’s just not going to happen. We’re getting a fence. And if I have to take my clothes off to earn the money for it, then that is what I will do.” Treading water from our last 5 years of marriage which included opening four restaurants, buying and fixing a fixer upper house, and three surprise fertility treatments, we were quite lacking in cash. But the fence had to happen.
Truth be told a free and open home improvement day is one of my favorite things. You’d never know it from the way I fuss and grumble, but having a beautiful day to work on my house with my husband normally brings me a lot of joy. And relative to personal transformation being slow and challenging, paint is a cheap and easy transformation. In days and sometimes hours you can wipe away years of neglect and stupid colors that never should have been, just like they never even happened. “There’s not much a good can of paint can’t at least improve” I always like to say. And I was trying to enjoy this day in my beloved backyard. Our fence was going to be installed in a week and I was happily looking forward to it. I was seeing that we were about a week too late with it, but the fact we had had the wherewithal to choose it and order it on the heels of two years of unexplained infertility and five failed IUI’s was great in and of itself. But I knew it was only a matter of time before my sanctuary was subject to the sounds of baby. A new grandchild seemingly celebrating its first birthday on father’s day, nonetheless. Now what could be nicer? I tried to get started as early as I could on a Sunday. I knew my time was limited as we set up supplies and settled in. I stomached the occasional sounds from the kids in the neighborhood wafting through my yard as I found my rhythm. I remember kneeling in the warm grass, painting the foundation of our house because some dumb ass decades before had decided it needed to be painted a light blue mint green sort of color that has no business existing on earth. All the things no one managed to do to our house before we got it, yet someone found the time to unnecessarily paint concrete. I would go back and forth from feeling the loss of my friend (cutting deeper each time I thought about it) to contemplating how does a person become dumb enough to paint concrete that left unpainted blends in perfectly well with the rest of the house, to wondering how much more time I had until the baby noise and celebration behind me erupted.
Every time I thought of my friend I felt like a small piece of me was gone. I tried “reasoning” with myself, looking on the bright side which I hadn’t yet figured out was one of the most unproductive non self loving things an infertile can do to themselves. “At least I know we’ll be friends again one day”, I would try and comfort myself. “At least you know you were both able to handle a tough situation with respect and honesty. Most friendships wouldn’t be able to take that kind of thing.” And then it hits me, that’s just exactly it. It doesn’t matter that it couldn’t have gone better or what I said or didn’t say or that our future is not ruined because I STILL HURT LIKE HELL NOW. TODAY. And there’s nothing to do about it. Because that’s the thing with infertility, even when you win, you still loose. All of the time. Always loss, always loosing. No matter what you say or do or think or feel or how hard you work. No matter how great you are or anyone else is, the loss that comes along with infertility is inevitable, perpetual, and does not discriminate.
And of course I spent my usual time annoying my husband…..”So, how do you think it went down, them choosing the colors for this friggen house anyway? I just can’t even imagine someone sanely settling on these colors, can you?” My husband is not someone to worry about the past, and once he gets working is very much a do what needs to be done sort of person. I’m the same way, except I’m the irritable agitated version of that. My husband couldn’t care less why something got the way it was or how dumb it is, which just makes it that much more fun to harp on. “Like, can you see the pathetic moment? Hey Mary Lou, I’m going to throw some siding up on the front of the house, and I’ve got the perfect color….Caca brown!!!! And gee whiz, I think this nifty mint green light blue sort of color just sets off the caca brown excrement theme like a sunset on the water. I feel I’ve reached my true calling as a color pairer. Do you think that’s what happened honey? Honey? They probably thought they were really onto something but I bet this placed looked like shit even back in 1970. Stupid morons”.
Julio: Now lez be nice
Sarah: Me being nice will not change the fact that that their color choices sucked and that I am unnecessarily forced to paint concrete.
Julio: (scoldingly) Oh well we cannot change it now. Time to work.
Sarah: I am working, I’m just pointing out the truth WHILE I’m working. I can work and truth tell at the same time you know.
Julio: (with a sarcastic smirk) Hmmm.
Part of me savored every moment of child quiet that I got to paint on this beautiful June day because I knew I might not get the next one. And eventually it came…..the cookout set up, people filtering out into our neighbor’s backyard, and yes, eventually the baby. My head jerked up when I heard the first baby noises, and when they came the second time I knew that was it for me. A striking difference from the fence bickering a year ago, my husband and I were now on the same page with our infertility coping strategies.
Julio: Time to go in honey?
Sarah: Adios Amigo! I lay down my painting gear. We laugh, he HATES being called amigo.
Sarah: Sorry I can’t help you more.
So I go inside and do the closing up routine I had to do yesterday. This shit never stops. “Buttoning down the hatch” I call it, most likely botching the original expression, the origins of which I don’t know. For me it’s another way of saying “I’m forging the existence of my infertile world bubble.” Essentially, the less I see and hear, the less I hurt. And the less I hurt the longer and better I’ll survive this life crisis. And the more energy I’ll have to do the infertile things I need to do, like find a new doctor. Period. I close all back windows and sometimes the front ones too if the fertile world is frolicking out there as well. I close all blinds in the back of our house so I do not have to bear witness to a family celebrating a baby’s first birthday on father’s day. So that I do not have to see baby’s first birthday balloons that I want to shoot bob around innocently in the breeze. And mostly so I do not have to look at my husband while all that he deserves and is not getting after two years of hard work is being celebrated just feet from us. The alternative isn’t much better, however. I’m left inside my house on a beautiful June day kept from doing something I love to do with my husband. I wrestle with this truth, along with the lack of control infertility has brought to my time, activities, emotions, and life. This weekend the cockroaches have invaded my bed, my yard, my home improvement, my time with my husband, plus multiple rooms in my house. And let me clearly say that my backyard neighbors could not be nicer more polite people. They have done nothing wrong. They are courteous, even quiet in their celebrating. They could not be more tolerable if they tried. But that’s just it; when the presence of good innocent people causes such pain, where do I go from there? What in life ISN’T going to hurt? In such situations, there’s no defending myself, no calling out someone for their bad behavior. There is nothing to do at all but let my emotions wash over me. It is an overwhelming and powerless experience. I’ve done everything right and nothing wrong, but my life has been hijacked and it’s so miserable it borders on unbearable.
When you’re dealing with infertility you’re told to “try and enjoy the life you have” as if this not being able to have a child thing remains conveniently separate from the other meaningful aspects of your life. I sometimes dream of returning the dismissive “But you already HAVE a great life” responses I’ve gotten back to their rightful owners in the midst of THEIR life crisis one day. Because the truth is, infertility is now the dominant part of the life I have. If it’s not obvious from my writing, I love my husband and my house. Both were long awaited and hard earned, and not a day goes by that I don’t think and feel how lucky I am to have them. They may make infertility less worse, but they do not make it better. And when the ramifications of infertility intrude on them it makes my experience more painful in a way. This weekend could not have made it clearer, infertility effects and compromises everything, even the good things. So yes, this IS the life I have. A life with a great marriage and solid little house with a lot of potential where my time and space is ruled by painful emotions. Emotions I’ve been told by my infertility counselor are 100% normal but yet make my life abnormal. A life where I need to be ready to protect myself every time I walk out of my house and apparently sometimes when I’m in it too. A life where simple everyday exchanges and social situations can leave me in a tornado of grief that no one understands. In contrast to the pukishly chipper fertile world view of things, few people realize that when you’re denied the privilege, trying to start a family is essentially an ongoing grieving process. If you don’t deal with the grief on a regular basis, it piles up. At my next counseling session my counselor applauds my decision to go into the house when I knew I had had enough. She has assured me many times that infertiles who don’t listen to themselves and then take appropriate action to protect themselves come into counseling in very very tough shape. So if I’m doing the best thing for myself, then why does it feel so BAD? I muse.
It would take Time for me to answer this question for myself, aside from the obvious answer that living with infertility totally sucks. Grieving takes Time. It also takes Time to understand that what you really need emotionally doesn’t always feel good or easy. Time to realize that the window closings, exiting of painful situations, and respect for my own emotions are not failures or the result of character flaws. They are acts of self love and honor and being true to myself I can be proud of. Time for a naturally defiant person to adapt to the lack of freedom and control infertility brings, Time to figure out how to work the edges of my new and dramatic limitations to my advantage, and plenty of Time to keep learning how not to resist what is. In the meanTime, however, my husband and I gratefully catch a quiet meal and glass of wine outside after fertile world has retreated for the day. At least fertile world isn’t nocturnal like us, now that would really suck. We muse at how we made it through another one, and my husband points out that tomorrow is another day. “Wonderful, can’t wait”, I reply with a sarcastic eye roll. Turns out weekdays, at least before school is out, is a much less emotionally bombarding time to be outside. So in the meanTime, in spite of my exhaustion, (grief is also very physically draining) over all of the above which pervades every level of my being, we did manage to finish painting the house. Just in Time to hit Doctor’s appointments we made to figure out with whom we’d be doing IVF. We barely had Time to relish our little infertile painting victory because the first doctor we saw diagnosed me with stage 3 endometriosis and told me I’d need surgery to have a chance of getting pregnant at all. I’m 40 and don’t have much Time.
It hit me this weekend that this issue will be with me anywhere and everywhere until one day it isn’t. And I don’t get to know how much Time until it ends. This is my life and it’s now Time to either sink or truly accept it so that I can swim. Or at least tread water. As I write this we’re just a few weeks into fall. Truth be told I have never in my life been so happy to see a summer go. Windows are closed and kids are back in school so my nervous system is getting a much needed and deserved rest. Patio furniture is in, air conditioners are covered, the yard is in full fall mode. The more physical signs of summer and the quicker they can be removed, the better. I did some of the best work of my life this summer, but as we all know that often takes place on the most miserable of days and in the toughest of Times.
Lyrics by Neil Peart and Pye Dubois
From the album Hold Your Fire by Rush
Tough times demand tough talk
Demand tough hearts demand tough songs
We can rise and fall like empires
Flow in and out like the tide
Be vain and smart, humble and dumb
We can hit and miss like pride
Just like pride
We can circle around like hurricanes
Dance and dream like lovers
Attack the day like birds of prey
Or scavengers under cover
Look in to the eye of the storm
Look out for the force without form
Look around at the sight and sound
Look in look out look around
We can move with savage grace
To the rhythms of the night
Cool and remote like dancing girls
In the heat of the beat of the lights
We can wear the rose of romance
An air of joie de vivre
Too tender hearts upon our sleeves
Or skin as think as thieves
Thick as thieves
Look in, look the storm in the eye
Look out, feel the sea and the sky
Look around at the sight and sound
Look in, look out, look around
Demand tough hearts
Demand tough talk