Part 1: What to expect when you're not expecting
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. —Plato
I don’t want to be a person that writes about infertility any more than you want to be a person who reads about it. And yet, here we are.
After many years of waiting, I've decided to write down my experience. At first I thought I'd write a book. But then I decided that I wanted it to exist faster than that. And I don't know exactly how much I'll have to say. I'm guessing it will amount to about five essays.
Why am I doing this? Well, I'm doing it for me—because I want to remember what I'm learning, when in the future, things are hard again. And I'm doing it for you—whoever you might be—because I wish that earlier on in my waiting, I had had someone that could tell me what to expect when you're not expecting.
First, I must tell you that I’m amazed that you would read this essay. Whether you or someone you love is going through infertility, it is brave to seek out help, understanding or comfort. It’s something I refused to do for very long time. In my pain, I didn’t want to hear other people’s stories of how things worked out in the end—or the stories of how they didn’t. I was afraid. To ignore infertility, put my head down, and survive it, felt like the best path forward. To lift my head and seek out others who had walked this road, would be to admit that I was on it.
And yet, here I am.
I want to promise you a few things right off the bat.
First and foremost, I don’t have any answers, remedies or silver linings that are going to ameliorate infertility. I have stories about tests that I’ve taken, cups I’ve peed into, vials of blood that have been taken out of my arm—but I am not a medical professional, and I am not so callous to assume that all of your pain would melt away if only you had heard of this one thing called an HSG1. There is nothing worse than when you share with a friend that you’re going through infertility, and they begin the long deluge of questions that all start with the phrase, “Well, have you tried ____ fill in the blank?" I am not that person. I don’t care what you’ve tried or what you’re considering trying. I just want to be here with you.
I also don’t have any friends. Okay, that’s not true, I have friends. But what I’m trying to say is that I’m not going to share stories about people I know who have “gotten beyond” infertility in one way or another. I’ve noticed that often when people want to offer comfort me, they will tell stories that start with “I have a friend that,” and end with, “got pregnant.” Those stories suck. They offer very little comfort because (1) I am not that person; (2) You can’t promise that I’ll ever get pregnant; and (3) what I’ve just done is bare my soul, and what you’ve just done is force me out of my heart and into the house down the street where everything worked out just fine.
I just want to be here with you.
Likewise, I’m not writing my story because I’ve gotten "beyond" infertility myself. I am writing this from my couch, at 5 p.m. on a cold day in December. There are no children in my house. My husband, Patrick and I haven’t traveled to another country to adopt. The only thing we’ve done is almost lose each other in an attempt to expand our family by one. So, you can rest assured that I’m not writing from “the other side.” I’m on the same side as you. That may not give you any hope, but we’ll get to that later.
Famed researcher and storyteller Brené Brown has this awesome YouTube video about empathy that calls out people for trying to say ‘at least’ to people’s pain. It’s a cute little animated video with a fox and a deer and an bear. The fox falls into a hole, and while the empathetic bear crawls down into the darkness with the fox, the deer simply peeks his head in and goes, ‘ooh, yeah that’s bad. You want a sandwich?’
Here’s how the rest of the video goes:
“Rarely if ever does an empathic response begin with ‘at least.’ And we do it all the time: someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful, and we’re trying to put the silver lining around it. So, ‘I had a miscarriage.’ — ‘Well, at least you know you can get pregnant.’ ‘My marriage is falling apart.’ — ‘At least you have a marriage.’ One of the things we do sometimes in the face of difficult conversations, is we try to make things better. Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
I hope you will feel connected to me, not because I have wisdom to share or a silver lining to draw, but because I can empathize with where you are and the pain you are feeling. I don’t know your pain. I only know mine. But I have an inkling that they might share some things in common. I’ve walked roads that you might be on. I’m happy to call back what’s ahead.
Here’s what I’ve learned: There are as many versions of pain as there are snowflakes. Snowflakes can land on your eyelashes, make you want to put your hands up to the sky and twirl. Or, snowflakes can fall in force, freezing an entire community in stillness and cold—leaving grocery stores empty of the basic necessities like bread and milk. If you look at pain in the right light, it can be beautiful. It can also turn off all your power.
If at all possible, I’d like to be a person that twirls. I’d very much like to be the person that twirls. That rarely happens. More often, I’m the person that doesn’t get out of bed because it’s too cold out there and I don’t want to get wet… and this analogy is kind of going off the rails. But you know what I mean. Snow is pretty for a day. But three years? Four? Ten? Lord help me.
Lord help us.
1 According to the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) is a radiology procedure that inserts radiographic contrast dye into the uterine cavity to determine if the fallopian tubes are open. In English, it is a test that determines whether or not your fallopian tubes are open and clear, so that an egg could theoretically move through them each month and into the uterus. Some doctors have seen that the HSG itself often leads to increased rates of fertility—possibly because it “flushes” out the tubes.