Entries from April 2009 ↓

an e-mail conversation with a friend (names have been removed to protect privacy)

A friend responded to one of my posts with this observation:

I have been struck by how private people are about infertility (in general, in society) and that it is an unrecognized grief and just sort of pondering that and wondering why that is. Is it because the act of conceiving is a sexual act and not something that is openly discussed? For example, my in-laws once told me about someone in their church – about how they had had a very difficult pregnancy, and at some point they learned the pregnancy was not viable. They carried the baby to full term, and then had a still birth. And, throughout this, they had shared about it in church, in a very public way, which seemed strange to my father-in-law. And I thought – why? If this were a baby that had been born, and had developed an illness and was dying, it wouldn’t be strange to share that grief. My aunt just lost a finger – and I’ve been getting 20 updates a day on how she is doing, what the status is, how she is feeling. Why are some grief’s OK to share, and others “should” be private? I don’t know that I quite understand it.

I wrote back to her with this reply:

Your insights and questions about privacy are a good reminder for me. Before we struggled through this ourselves, I often asked the same questions.  Once infertility started being my own story, I decided to keep our story private from the majority of the world for several reasons–some conscious and some not.  For instance:

1.  Every time I told someone our story it was painful to relive it. Granted, once I’d TOLD them, I could relax around that person more, knowing that they knew what was going on…. most of the time.  The only time I wished no one knew was when, say, someone announced that they were pregnant and suddenly, I’d feel the “are you okay?” thoughts from everyone who knew that this sort of announcement bothered me reaching out to comfort me (self-centered, I know.  More likely people were thinking congratulatory thoughts toward the happy couple.) but the idea of anyone pitying me always makes me cry with my own self-pity.

2.  The grief of infertility is a stark contrast to the rest of the world of baby talk (it’s sort of the anti-baby talk).  I was thinking about this the other day while biking past a hospital and thinking about all of the people who were inside.  Most of them were there as a result of trauma or illness.  There’s a lot of sad inside a hospital…. except in the maternity ward.  When you tell someone that you’re sad because you’ve lost a finger, they probably sort of unconsciously mentally calculate the amount of time that it will take for you to heal physically and mentally from your wound and they are sad right along with you.  But with infertility grief, no one knows how long that will last.  Plus, they want to “make it better” and solve your problem so they offer suggestions–“why not just adopt? then you’ll get pregnant!”  I”m guessing that not many people are suggesting that your aunt go out and get a prosthetic finger (who knows, maybe they are?) and assuming that that will replace the emotional pain of losing her finger in the first place.  Infertility is a grief that [sometimes] ends with happy and people would like to see you reach the happy because no one wants you to stay stuck in the sad.

3.  I think a lot of the social taboo is rooted in history. Miscarriage used to be so commonplace that baby showers BEFORE the baby was born were taboo–bad luck even–because what if you lost the baby?  I think a lot of the infertility taboos are because it’s related to bedroom talk.  I mean, you wouldn’t want to talk to your in-laws about how great (or awful) their son is in bed and talk about infertility gets awfully close to that discussion.

excerpts from another e-mail

…I find that the most helpful responses to me these days are those gentle reminders to either look at things from another perspective or reminders about the similarities between adoption and pregnancy or adoptees and non-adoptees.

…i think that the one big thing i will always regret missing out on is not knowing what it feels like to have someone kicking you from the inside. maybe that’s a weird thing to focus on, but in the same way that before i moved up north, no one could have explained to me what it feels like to have the inside of your nose freeze on really cold days, I feel like no matter how many times someone tells me in words what that sensation feels like, I’ll never really KNOW. (and not just the physical sensation, but also the wonder of there being a whole different person (alien!) growing inside of you).

…It’s funny how almost everyone’s first response when they hear that we’re considering adoption is to tell us about the one friend/family member that they know that has adopted / recently adopted, and offer to get us in contact with saidadoptive parents*. I DO enjoy talking to adoptive parents and hearing their stories, (it helps me to feel more normal) but at some point, we have to move ahead and start writing our own story. I want to know how ours turns out!

*it’s almost as regular as the “I’m pregnant!” “When are you due? / Are you having a boy or a girl? / Are you telling the name?” call and response litany.