Grandchildren. What’s up with that? I just spent time with one of my closest friends and her children. And her grandchildren. How on earth did that happen? Five minutes ago, her children were 6, 10, and 12.
Now they’re adults and one of them has two children of her own. Lovely children. One of my best friends has grandchildren. I watch my friend with her grandchildren and know how lucky she is. She gets to play with them, care for them and about them and return them to their mother at the end of the day. They are her grandchildren, not her children.
I did not have a mother pining for grandchildren, thank goodness. Or if I did, I never knew it. If I’ve never thanked you Mom, about not pressuring me, thank you. There was enough pressure about having infertility problems without feeling more from my parents and the rest of my family. My thanks to my sisters as well about really, really wanting to be aunts but not pushing when my husband and I were struggling to conceive.
Families perpetuate themselves by having children. An obvious statement, really. Family traits and tendencies are continued, some intended and good and some not, by having children. When the children come into our lives biologically, you see your aunt’s nose, you hear your grandfather’s laugh, you see echoes of a mother’s tenderness, or a father’s blue eyes.
Having or not having grandchildren was not something that ever entered my consciousness when I was trying to conceive. They weren’t ever part of the reason that I was so distressed about not conceiving. I was unable to see that far when the much more immediate future seemed so unyielding.
A friend remind me that infertility was not a life or death problem as cancer or other diseases were, her statement created a shift in my outlook. I realized how literally she was seeing that phrase. In fact, infertility can very much be a death. A death to perpetuating a family, a death to the future generations. It was the first time I thought about grandchildren and not having them. I thought more mournfully of my mother, grandchildless.
Infertility is life and death. The inability to bring life to a child, creating a new family, a new generation is a death. Sounds grim. Feels grim too sometimes. The ability to bring a new family into being is bringing life. Less grim. Life and death.
My vision became grandchildren. Looking farther than just what I was immersed in helped me see the forest and not just the trees. Seeing farther opened the possibility of a child coming into my life in unexpected ways.
I was able to see the life in the life and death of infertility.
Today is my husband's 55th birthday. Which makes him older than my father was when he died. Astonishing to think about. I've been good. I haven't made him go for a stress test or see a cardiologist (he has no heart disease in his family, which is what my Dad died of). It's been a long enough time since my father died that I don't project it on my husband anymore. Or at least not too often.
It is interesting to see the connections the brain makes. What one thinks about as it moves in and out of the past, present and future. The grandchildren that my father didn't get to meet, that he didn't even know about. The grandfather that they didn't get to meet, but only hear about second and third hand.
What infertility takes away and the unexpected gifts that are also offered. The loss that we are sure we are going to continue to feel. That sense, that absolutely knowing sometimes, that this will never work. The dread of not making our parents into grandparents. The understanding that we ourselves will not be grandparents either. Our families, our genes will not be continuing on, nor our heritages or lineage.
Except when it works. I know you know that it will never work. You will never become pregnant. Except that so often, so incredibly frequently, we do become pregnant. Treatment works, cycles succeed, we do become pregnant. We do have babies. Our families do continue. Our parents become grandparents, we become parents, our sisters and brothers become aunts and uncles and often, we watch our children play with their cousins.
Why are we in treatment? Because it works. Very often. Very frequently. It works. And we become parents.
For no other reason than it's my husband's birthday and he is now older than my father was when he died and that it's the second to last day of 2010, I offer up a wish for all of us.
That this is the year we become parents.
Infertility effects everyone. Beyond you and your partner, there are a whole group of people who are hoping along with you for that child. If you think I'm exaggerating, ask a parent who is waiting to graduate to being a Grandparent. Or a Grandparent who thinks they might not ever hear that name, have the privilages of spoiling your offspring. While creating your family is eluding you, while infertility is preventing you from becoming a parent, infertility is also doing the same for your friends and family members.
Aunts and Uncles are waiting, cousins, Grandparents certainly, Godparents and more, they are also waiting. They are the invisible "victims" of infertility. And we all know there are more. There's your best friend who would love to be pregnant with you, raise children together, share babysitters. There's the group of your friends who have dinner on a regular basis who chat about their children or start bringing them or even just want to compare pregnancy notes.
It's you who is hit hardest with the pain of infertility, no question about it. You, your partner if you have one, bear the brunt of the pain of trying unsuccessfully to conceive. Of not knowing if you will ever be successful. Of not knowing how long it will take, how many IUI cycles, how many IVF cycles, how much infertility treatment will cost, whether donor egg is in your future, how far, how much more you will have to go and do to have your baby.
It could be comforting to know that there is an invisible, perhaps barely audible group of people waiting with you. Maybe you don't feel their presence at all, maybe you chose not to speak with them about what you are going through, maybe they have even made insensitive remarks that have made your situation more uncomfortable. Even if those things are true, they are still there. I remember while in treatment, I asked my sisters not to ask me about IVF cycle outcomes. Yet, I still knew they were there, waiting for the possibility of neices or nephews. Knowing that there was something at stake for them as well, my having or not having a child.
It could be comforting, it could feel like pressure. Again, either way, you are not alone in this. Speaking to other men and women who are in the throes of infertility, in a professionally led support group, is one place to feel that others understand. Support groups, as well as couple counseling provide wonderful opportunities for connection and empathy. If you have never tried one, I suggest that you allow yourself to be open to trying it.
In terms of feeling alone, a support group is only one of the places to feel understood or supported. For most of us, we don't have to look any farther than our families and friends, to find people that also feel strongly about our having children.
If you have chosen not to share your infertility experiences with those that love you, whether from fear that they won't understand or feeling that unless one has gone through infertility, they don't truly understand, I ask you to think about this. Empathy is "identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings and motives".
What it comes down to, in some senses, is this. Pain is pain. While another person will never understand your particular version of pain, or joy for that matter, we can all identify with what it feels to be in pain.
Those people who are standing and waiting with you, silent or not, invisible or not, care. At the very least, know that you are not alone. Just as you are waiting to become a parent, there are others waiting with you, to become a Grandparent, an Aunt, Uncle or cousin.
We are here as well, to listen, to hear, to help.