Guilt and regret often surround infertility.
I know I started listing all the bad decisions that I made when I discovered that I was not conceiving and might never.
I went all the way back to the fourth grade. I was not nice to a girl in my class. I was most definitely not nice. Actually, I was downright mean.
Was that why I was being punished? Was it for every bad decision that I made after that?
Every time I had an opportunity to be kind and I blew it?
Did I have things entirely too easy and it was my turn?
If I had been nicer to my mother when I was a teenager, kinder to my sister, friendlier to my neighbors?
Was it because of these things?
I wondered if there was just one thing that tilted the scales towards my being infertile.
Or if it was just simply a culmination of an early lifetime of making bad, insensitive, unkind choices.
It didn't help that my infertility was unexplained. That just caused me to look for answers that went past my uterus, fallopian tubes and eggs.
Maybe I just wasn't meant to have kids.
Only, who decided that?
I wondered what I had done so bad to have deserved infertility.
I knew there were worse things to have. Cancer, strokes, heart attacks.
It was hard to feel grateful.
Mainly, I just felt miserable, alone, guilty and ashamed.
And I was never quite sure how I got there.
Ladies Night In.
I always learn something.
Last night I heard several things, loud and clear.
One, infertility colors all aspects of our lives. Creeps into every secret and public place.
Two, sometimes it makes us feel worse to talk about it, even as it eventually heals us to talk about it.
Brave women there last night. We missed Carrie, the dynamic was definitely different without her irreverent, compassionate sense of humor. Yes, irreverent and compassionate in the same sentence.
Very often, infertility can create feelings of incompetence, inability and feelings of less than. Into all areas of our lives. We doubt ourselves when we cannot fulfill what we see as a fundamental ability of being a woman. We project ourselves out less firmly than we have in the past, we offer up less because we feel we have less to offer. We feel unsure and damaged and less than others. Less than we have been before.
Sometimes a kind partner, family member or friend will notice. Listen to them if they are brave enough to point it out.
Maybe we need to save all that courage and strength for treatment? Maybe we have to offer so much more in treatment than there is less for other things?
It is so hard to believe in the midst of treatment that we are whole and complete. We feel the opposite, damaged and less than. Talking about it as we did last night can sometimes make us feel temporarily worse. Talking and revealing brings what is hurting deep down to the surface. And that can make us feel these things more intensely. Those feelings of less than and damaged.
Yet, there is this other truth standing right next to damaged. And that is that we are whole and complete, just as we are in this moment, this breath.
That does not negate that there is growth, change and evolution possible.
But in this moment, this very one, we are whole and complete.
This blog is dedicated to the ladies who found the courage and honesty to ask the questions, offer opinions and share their most distressing feelings.
You are all beautiful. I know. I was there last night.
Perfect exactly as you are.
Both phrases that a beloved yoga teacher used in class last night.
How do those two things possibly exist in the same time, place and person?
If you are infertile, the last thing that you feel is perfect as you are. I felt damaged, broken, less than, unwhole, unwomanly.
Chances are, if you are reading this, you have felt a twinge or two of some of those things.
Perfect exactly as you are in this breath. Is that what it means?
Does it mean you were meant to be infertile and that's perfect exactly as you are?
Does it mean that you are divine, regardless of perfection in your reproductive organs?
Does that mean that you are only perfect if you can conceive "naturally"?
Does that mean you are imperfect if you experience other physical or mental problems?
This drives me crazy sometimes, wondering about it, teaching it.
You are perfect exactly as you are.
Except when you feel, when you absolutely know, that you are not.
Except that you are.
You can see how I can drive myself crazy about this.
I know in my heart, that we are all perfect as we are. I don't know how to make this sit with how damaged and broken we sometimes feel.
Usually, I reconcile it with the idea, that in this breath, this moment, we are perfect. And that doesn't mean that we don't want and welcome change, growth and something brand new.
Last night, Colette White, my beloved yoga teacher, introduced a new aspect.
We are perect as is.
Don't ask me how to explain this piece. It's not integrated yet.
Any ideas out there?
I’ll be on vacation for a little over a week. Seems like a long time right now, but I know that time will fly once I actually get to the beach.
Time switches things up that way, doesn’t it?
I was noticing facebook postings last week and saw that several of my friends were struggling with the passage of time. Time was moving so slowly that they thought they would never get through to the other side.
Right underneath that, my close friend was posting about her vacation in Santa Fe, and how was it possible that it was already Wednesday? That when she would like to have time slow down, to savor the time away, the time off, it flew and swooped as swiftly as an eagle.
Same day, even same time zone and some were suffering through a day that felt never-ending and some were wishing time would relent and slow down.
The worst part of fertility treatment is often the dreaded two week wait. That's the time period between a transfer of embryos and the pregnancy test that tells you whether the IVF cycle has worked or it has not.
There's not as much to do then, except wait.
On a smaller scale though, even waiting for test results can make everything seem so much longer.
Then there's the opposite side of things, isn't there.
There's that sense of time that it's running out. That we're too old or our eggs are. That sense that if it doesn't work now, it won't ever work. That time is not our friend with each month that passes.
I just read a fabulous book that addresses this subject thoroughly and eloquently.
The title of the book says it all.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.
By Elisabeth Tova Bailey.
It's a true story, written by a woman who spends decades of her life, desperately ill. So ill, that her activity for an entire day is often turning from one side of her body to the other.
Time becomes a whole other creature for her. Literally and figuratively. She watches her friends come and visit who feel that time is slipping through their fingers and that they never have enough of it.
And she, has so much of this precious commodity and very little way of truly appreciating or indulging in it.
Until she meets her snail.
More to come.
Our bodies and hearts remember things that our brains don’t always. Our minds sometimes catch up, after a while.
I’ve had that experience every spring since my Grandmother died.
For some reason, I can never remember the date of her death, even though I am normally quite good at remembering dates.
I don’t know if it’s because of how painful that death was.
Or if it’s because of how painful and difficult that whole year was.
That was the year of bereavement in my family. In a space of nine months, each of the senior members in my family lost their long time partner. The entire generation; my grandfather, my mother, and my uncle all were in mourning.
It wasn't lost on me that it was a nine month time period. That seemed cruelly ironic. That instead of expecting and giving birth to the baby that I so desperately wanted, instead, all of the partners in the older generation were gone.
In that time period, I had two miscarriages.
One of the miscarriages was so early that it could have been considered a "chemical miscarriage". I found out I was pregnant one day, a Monday, and started bleeding by Thursday.
Somehow, that was supposed to have made it better, easier, less painful,or maybe just less real, that it was a chemical pregnancy.
It wasn't and it didn't.
The point to my rambling is this. Every spring I don't remember the date of my grandmother's death.
And without fail, for the last twenty plus years, I am reminded by a family member later in the day about the date.
Interestingly enough though? I still remember. I wake up in the morning with a feeling of being unsettled, sad without reason, foggy. The day continues that way, everything seeming not quite right, feeling not quite in the present.
Same thing happens about the miscarriages. Our bodies, hearts and minds do remember.
I know how old those babies would have been. I know what season their due dates are, even twenty years later.
And there is a lingering feeling of loss, even two decades later. A bittersweet layer that allows the sun to shine through but darkens the moment just a bit.
What would life have been like if those babies had survived? Who would they have been? What would I have been like?
Our hearts do remember.
Todays blog began as a response to a patient, student and friend. As my answer expanded, I decided to share it with everyone, thinking it might just appeal to someone else out there.
I know you don't want your sister to take it the wrong way, but you do want her to hear you!
I wrote this partly for you and your situation.
Sometimes it's impossible for people to understand the pain of infertility if they have not experienced it.
It's often much easier for them to understand the depth of their love and appreciation of their own children. It's a link to how you feel, for them to consider what their life would be without them.
I participated in several empty baby stroller rallys in Albany New York, many years ago. We were asking the politicians to think about what was important to them in their own lives. When we asked them to stand if their family and children were the most important piece of their life, there was no one left sitting.
Chances are your sister feels the same way. That her family is the most important thing in her life, something she would be completely unwilling to give up. (If she is a stay at home mom with young children, she may also have other, less comfortable feelings of her own, including not always enjoying or appreciating all the hard work it takes to watch and be with young children every day.)
Following that line of logic, if one can understand how important their own family is to them, why is it so difficult to understand how the lack of family is so devastating?
Maybe our friends and family feel that because our children don't exist in the world yet, that we are less attached to them.
I think in some ways that we become more and more attached to them, the longer they take to get here. We imagine what gender they will be, whether they will have our spouse's eyes, our father's coloring.
With every cycle, especially IVF, where we know that there are embryos that have been created, we imagine our family. We see their hair color, the shape of their ears, the sound of their voices.
We know that there has been conception. That the egg and the sperm have met, that the cells are now dividing, and that, in the best possible circumstances, the embryo will go on to become a fetus and eventually a full term baby.
Every IVF cycle that produces embryos that don't result in a pregnancy with a baby at the end, is considered a "failed" cycle.
Every IVF cycle that fails is a loss.
Every time we get our period is a loss.
It's a loss of the baby that will complete our family, that will expand our universe, that will make us feel and be like our friends and families who don't quite get why we're so distraught about not having our families yet.
So, yes, send this to your sister, your mother, your best friend. Ask them to imagine their lives without their children.
Then see if it wouldn't be possible for them to just understand that that is what you are hoping and wanting to experience.
And yes, even the exhaustion, frustration, mundane details that come from parenting.
We want all of it.
M, I hope this helps, just the tiniest amount.
Lots of hugs,
Fertility can mean a lot of things.
Making things grow.
Creating something new.
Finding new paths.
Writing, painting, sculpting, learning, cooking, imagining, building, designing, engineering, healing, regenerating.
Conceiving a child.
Yes, that's the one we know best. The one we relate to best.
Fertility and conceiving a child.
That relationship, fertility and creating life, a new dynamic in our families, is most precious to us.
For those of you who are reading this who have not experienced infertility struggles, you may not fully understand just how devestating it is.
It can feel like everything else in your life is meaningless and unimportant.
It can also make you understand just what the important things in life are and help you let go of the more superficial pieces of our life that sometimes feel more important than they are.
The smaller things in life are just that, smaller and less important.
We get that creating our family, finding that ultimate fertility, is worth more than is easily understandable. That if you have had your children easily, you don't necessarily understand the exact quality or quantity of our pain.
Kiss your children good night. Wipe the hair off their foreheads. Sing them their songs. Settle down for a book with them.
Then think about what it would be like without them.
That's what those of us struggling with infertility feel.
Then add the anxiety of possibly never having them.
Now you have a tiny idea of what your friend, colleague or family member is feeling.
Compassion is most welcome.
If I had a child at 26, when I first started trying to conceive, things would have been different. Without infertility, what would have been?
I would be divorced. I am quite sure that my marriage, so young, would not have survived the stress of raising a child.
I would not be living in the gorgeous, green, vibrant, perfectly suited home that I am living in now. Not this one, anyway.
I would not know Julianne, Julie, Pam, my "close every restaurant, talk about everything under the sun" friends.
I would not be part of a food co op that has quietly been in existence for over 18 years, creating less waste in our environment.
I would not have the neighbor/friend/yogi from down the street, Lisa. The one you could call in the middle of the night and not think twice if it was an emergency.
There are other children in my life, that I would not know. Other dear friends, Kath, especially and all of the family I know through her, that would not have been experienced.
I would not be able to meditate in the morning, reveling in the birds calling and the outrageous green of the spring.
My second home, YogaSpace would not be such an integral part of who I am, nor the students who I have come to consider family.
I would not be working with RMACT, with people that I respect and like, doing work that I am proud of every day of my life.
I would not have had the experience of my sisters and Mother standing by me every step of the way, no matter what.
I know that my life would have been full in other ways.
But it would not have been this life.
Which I cherish and am so grateful for.
Would I have chosen infertility?
I understand that it has helped shape my character, my choices and my life.
For that, I am grateful.
I'm reading a book called "Here's the Bright Side- of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce and Other Bum Raps". This is most decidly not a best seller. It was written in 2007 by Betty Rollin, who is a writer and a TV journalist. The book was a give away by my library due to overcrowding and under interest in the book.
Sometimes one person's giveaway is another person's treasure.
I have found many treasures in this book. For the record, for the most part, I believe that in the midst of infertility and fertility treatment, you will not enjoy this book. I believe the bright side and silver lining, in the middle of treatment, is too challenging to find. But I think, maybe, you can hear bits and pieces here.
What the author has to say about "the prize" that goes way beyond learning to cope, is what I am savoring. Her discussion about the Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, who talks about the "psychological immune system that defends the mind against unhappiness." What a concept, that much like the body, the mind also has an immune system that kicks in when needed to protect itself.
She also talks about gratitude. Which of course makes me think of Kristin Magnacca, another of my favorite authors, who recommends a gratitude journal. I love it. When life feels both overwhelming and overbearing, I often will turn to the gratitude journal that I keep.
Betty Rollins talks about how we often feel grateful after a loss or crisis and not as often when life is going along pretty smoothly. That it's those heart wrenching situations that make us sit up and realize what we are made of.
Which brought me to thinking about a conversation that I had with Dr. Joshua Hurwitz the other day. When he announced that he regularly makes patients cry, as matter of fact as could be, I was flabbergasted. He is constantly getting accolades from our patients, as well as patient and peer awards for not only his medical expertise, but his gentle handling of the emotional end of things.
But I got what he meant, he tells patients lots of things that are upsetting, and even as well as he does it, we get upset. There were a few paragraphs in the book that spoke to this point eloquently.
Betty Rollins talks about her surgeon and how much she loves him. She writes about how she loves him, because in retrospect, she realizes that he lied to her. That he became her protector, realizing that she could not hear the truth in that minute. Knowing that she had to assimilate maybe before she could hear, "yes, cancer".
That made him the best doctor for her. Just as Dr. Hurwitz's unfailing gentleness makes it possible for his patients to cry when they need to. After all, what's the alternative? We all know the answer. We cry when we leave. We cry in the elevator, on the stairs, in the car, on the phone with our partner. Instead, Dr. Hurwitz makes it safe to have the human response of crying right then and there.
The bright side of infertility? Gratitude about infertility? Are either of those things possible to see without a positive pregnancy test or baby in arms?
There are many more bits in this book that make me grateful that I rescued it from a possibly early demise. And none of it keep me from understanding that seeing a bright side is not always possible nor does it make it anyone's fault or problem if they can't.
Just being able to put Dr. Hurwitz's comments into perspective made picking up the book worthwhile.
Just say no to baby showers!
That was the phrase of the day the other morning in the infertility peer support group. (Ladies Night In on Wednesday, March 30- Danbury office- 6:00, as well as every Saturday morning, in Norwalk from 9:30-10:00am!)
Yes, another baby shower. Yes, another friend/sister/cousin who needed us there, whose day would not be complete if we were missing.
We talked for a while about what we really add to a loving, joyous occasion if we are sitting there miserable. We talked also about our presence being missed, especially with a very close friend or family member but whether that would ruin their experience or just alter it.
I love the phrase.
Just say not to baby showers!
I know that there are lots of losses when it comes to infertility and fertility treatment. And we don’t want to add to that list unnecessarily. Staying away creates distance and causes resentments and misunderstandings. I get it.
We are trained to do the right thing. As women, that usually includes taking care of other people first and being thought of as selfish for considering ourselves at all. Our interests, desire, comfort often comes second, third or even lower on the list.
How about considering self preservation?
I did a radio show the other day with my best friend. Yes, I am too old to use that phrase, but none the less, I do. She talked about what the flight attendant says in the warning announcement.
You know. The one that talks about "in the possible event". The possible event being that the plane crashes or lands more suddenly than planned and the oxygen masks pop out. And Pamela reminded the interviewer and me that the instructions are to put the mask on yourself first. Uh huh. Not reach over and put it on your child/husband/elderly mother sitting next to you/best friend. Put the mask on your own face first.
That’s exactly right. If we are not taking care of ourselves, how can we possibly take care of someone else? Going to a baby shower and feeling miserable, distraught, resentful, is not taking care of ourselves. It is not placing the mask on our own faces first.
Not every baby shower is impossible to attend. There are moments that we all feel resilient enough to be able to sit through a shower and ooh and ah over gifts that we wish with all our heart we could have for our own babies. There are ways of going and staying for only a few minutes or having a friend with us, or having some lovely thing to do afterwards or some other coping mechanism that makes sense to us.
Still and all, I like the oxygen mask. Put it on yourself first. Just say no to baby showers.