I would say this club was exclusive but with statistics saying that 1 in 6 couples are dealing with the pain of infertility I know this can’t be true. Why is it then that it feels exclusive? It feels like you are the only one dealing with this? That the universe has singled you out, maybe even punishing you for your past sins? It took me awhile to get it, but I finally realized that although this wasn’t an exclusive club it was definitely a secret one!
My dad had struggled with alcoholism, so I knew a thing or two about keeping secrets, telling lies to hide the pain, shame and anger of it all. Tuck it back, keep a stiff upper lip, don’t let anybody see that you are weak, you are flawed, you are broken. And there you are, somehow you’ve arrived, your own secret club: Infertility Anonymous.
I had never expected to find myself in this club. I had fallen in love with Mike in high school. He had already navigated the world of teen parenthood, and he was fully aware of the stigma that stained him. He was just a child himself when he was blessed with that bouncing baby boy. His relationship with the mother was a mess, however, and the break up even worse.
He was always in a tug of war with himself: fight for a relationship and potentially make things worse; or, let him go and accept whatever he was offered, hoping the lil’ guy wouldn’t hate him too much for it. For the most part Mike chose the latter, hoping that if he wasn’t intruding too much, Joe would be better off. It was less painful for him to view it as an adoption of sorts, but at the same time he knowingly accepted the title of deadbeat. Needless to say the thought of pregnancy and parenthood made me a little apprehensive and Mike utterly terrified. With my always irregular cycle, I know there were many times we both stared at a pregnancy test praying it was negative, never knowing that years later we’d be doing the same but trying to will it to be positive.
We were married just over three years (we were together for eight) when we started trying. I was only 23 and he was 25, so it still felt kind of rebellious. It was fun back then, we’d pull the goalie so to speak (that’s Canadian for having unprotected sex) and I assumed that in no time I’d be knocked up. How hard could it be? He’d done it before, and my family was like a baby factory so I figured we would have this baby making business in the bag.
Almost a year slides by and nothing. My always irregular periods are now nearly nonexistent, so I visit my GP. Blood tests and ultrasounds reveal nothing. It might be PCOS or endometriosis, but they aren’t sure. I read anything I can find on these topics and it appears to make sense: my weight gain seems out of control; my period is irregular; and my hormones are all over the place. I research every possibility and try to listen to what my doctor told me: “You are young, some of these things make it take longer, keep trying.” I am diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis and honestly I’m thrilled. I think, “that must be the problem.” Now I can fix it and all of my dreams and plans can start happening. We keep trying and I can’t help but buy things for our baby. We have discussions all the time about this hypothetical baby. What will the gender be? What should we name him/her? Will this angel have my eyes or Mike’s adorable dimples? I dare to think there is hope. Another year slides by and then another. I’ve seen several specialists, each one passing me along to another, and with each one, I’m put on waiting lists. Everything moves at a snails pace and I try to be patient, but it seems that no one can help me and my frustration grows. I get all kinds of instruments and doctors poking around in my downstairs. They still aren’t sure what the problem is, but we try clomid again, do more tests and talk about other methods to induce ovulation, injections and way more tests.
By this time it all feels very clinical, the passion, excitement and glowing prospect of pregnancy have long since faded.
But shortly after year five, finally a breakthrough: an MRI confirms that I have a brain tumour. I take it in stride as its benign and thankfully the treatment means I may get pregnant after all. Unfortunately, though, the medication makes me feel nauseous all the time and my mood swings border on dangerous. Again we find another year creeping by and still no baby. To make matters worse, everywhere I turn there are beautiful little babies being born. Each perfect chubby cherub I see rubs salt in my wounds.
My family and friends had been asking for some time if we plan on starting a family. One old fella at the restaurant I worked even goes as far as to say I should throw my wedding rings in the bush if I don’t wanna give my man a family. I try my best to keep my secret hidden, brush their questions and comments aside and stay where I feel safe: hidden within the walls of my secret club. Every now and then the cracks would show. I would tell someone my secret, and they would offer advice, all with good intentions of course, but nothing they say can help. It just makes me angry. They say “Maybe you should adopt” and I’d think sure, no biggie, just years of being under a microscope, years of waiting, a hefty price tag for foreign adoption or the potential of heartbreak if the “real mother” as I saw it at the time, changes her mind and takes the baby back. Or they’d casually tell me “just do IVF,” as if the physical and financial burdens that go along with it could possibly come close to a casual decision. But the most common nugget of advice was just to “RELAX” and honestly its not the worst advice, but it didn’t help in any way. I always found myself fantasizing about inflicting pain on the person who so graciously offered this bit of wisdom. It was far too painful to tell them we’d been researching adoption since about year three. I was too embarrassed to tell them how I’d been saving for years to “buy my baby” and that with each medical attempt and subsequent failure I would retreat even farther into my secret club. I built walls, I dug holes, I did whatever I could to keep people out, even my husband. This was my cross to bear. After all it was my fault, it was my body that wasn’t doing as it was intended. How could I tell anyone that deep down I feared I had somehow been marked by death? With my Dad and grandparents all gone, it was as if the grim reaper was on my heels, definitely to close to bring forth life.
Depression washed over me. The pain of the infertility was like the grief of losing my father, maybe worse,because it seemed like no one would understand. It was like it didn’t matter to anyone. I was carrying all of this pain and they didn’t even notice. But how could they know, after all I always kept the doors to my secret club locked up tight.
I hate to compare infertility to death, it sounds so dramatic, but for me it was like that. I had dreamed of growing old with someone, having a bunch of babies and one day watching our grand babes play while we sat on our front porch. They were simple dreams, maybe even kinda cheesy, but they seemed to be dying and there was nothing I could do but work through the grief. Like one does with any kind of loss; I went through the shock and denial, moved onto anger, bargaining and depression and finally acceptance. And I know, this all sounds very heavy, but that was why I had my club. And although I felt safe when I would retreat there. It was a very lonely place to be. It took a long time, but eventually I accepted that my vision of “how things were supposed to go” had died. I slowly realized that by tearing down that old dream, I was able to open up, let a bit of sun shine in and start building some new dreams. I found friends I loved and trusted, I let some of my pain spill out and they listened. I finally opened up to one of my high school friends and found she was building her own secret club. I wondered how many of us are out there? Each situation is similar but just different enough to keep us feeling alone, secluded. I started talking and slowly my walls came down. I reached out to groups on the internet. Each story was bittersweet, filled with ups and downs. I began to view things in a new light. Each couple pushed past fear and loss and kept trying, despite enormous challenges. They weren’t broken or weak. They were strong, determined and resilient. If they were all of those things, then maybe I was too. I was still in a secret club as the internet offered anonymity, but I could speak and share my feelings without fear. We Infertile had our own code, a secret language I couldn’t seem to get the hang of…TTC 6.5yrs, 2 rounds s.o, iui’s, considering ivf. Every story was like a lifeline, a rope that helped me cling to hope. Maybe I would be somebody’s mama someday, even if it wasn’t the way I had envisioned. Each friend that let me cry on there shoulder or listened to an angry rant, was actually helping me climb out of the holes I had dug. I told my husband all of my deep dark secrets, the jealousy I harboured toward the people who had been bestowed this blessing, pregnant woman especially. I was even upset with him, he was a father and even if the situation hadn’t been ideal, he had a child and I had nothing. I revealed the anger I felt when someone dared to complain to me about their superb fertility, the pitfalls of parenting, their pregnancy, or, the circumstances of the birth. It was an envy I couldn’t escape. I’d give anything to have those things to complain about, to trade in my membership, switch from Infertility Anonymous over to the Mommy Martyrs Club. I worried that with those thoughts, he’d think I was a monster; but he didn’t. So I’d test him, say something ridiculous or crazy, we’d see a cute baby and I’d ask him “Do you want that one? I mean it comes with a stroller and everything.” It’s an awful joke I know, but oddly, even that level of crazy didn’t scare him off. I figured he must really love me, maybe I’m safe out here after all. We both have clouds that follow us and they roll in from time to time, and sometimes we get caught in the storm. Even though we couldn’t stop the rain from falling, we could hold each other till it went away. That’s what we did. As they say “without the rain, there would never be rainbows,” and for us this was true. Finally in August of 2012 after nearly seven years of waiting, we received our miracle, our baby. I had heard that a baby may be one of the most common place of miracles, but it was miracle just the same.
I suppose I’ll never know why we were chosen to be in this infertility club, but mine will no longer be anonymous. I hope that like me you find some comfort in finding out that you aren’t alone. I hope that you find people you trust to talk to and help you carry this burden. And most of all I pray that you all find a way to cling together, weathering the storm while you wait for your miracle. Keep your hope alive and focus on seeing that rainbow.