Flipping the Narrative on Infertility
By Lauren Fen
There was a time when my gut reaction to a pregnancy announcement wasn’t to hurl myself into a sobbing heap on the floor. There was a time when every aspect of my life wasn’t scheduled around fertility treatments and cross referenced against my menstrual cycle. There was even a time when I didn’t know what ‘BFN’ stood for—imagine that!
It was a simpler time.
These days, in spite of all my efforts, infertility has crept into every pocket of my world. Work, relationships, money, health; you name it and infertility has affected it. I've actually developed an alarming talent for being able to turn something completely innocuous into a direct stab at my reproductive status. Let's take something as benign as a spoon for instance. My brain goes: spoon > egg and spoon race > eggs > sperm > pregnancy > you get the idea. Honestly, it's a wonder anyone still talks to me.
In my lower moments I've felt completely submerged in the depths of self-pity, I've had moments where envy has consumed me to near delirium and moments where I've felt wholly detached from my pre-infertility self. And it sucks. Infertility sucks. It's grueling and relentless and heartbreaking and just when you think it can't get any worse, it sometimes does.
For those of us dealing with infertility, we know these moments all too well. Sometimes we want to wallow in them for hours, days even; and sometimes we want to clamber out of them immediately and move on. Both are thoroughly acceptable responses. As is summoning your BFF for an emergency wine sesh which see-saws between bouts of hysterical crying and hysterical laughing before culminating in an undignified, tear-stained performance of Whitney Houston's 'Step By Step'.
Whatever you're doing to navigate infertility, however you're handling it - you're doing great. You're figuring out a really complicated and crappy set of circumstances and there's no right or wrong way to do that. Whatever you're feeling, it's valid and whatever measures you're taking to protect your heart, it's understandable.
Dealing with infertility takes some serious credentials. Unfortunately, in both the media and society, the infertility narrative, rather than being empowering and supportive, often has quite the opposite effect. We get labeled as broken and bitter and full of rage; we're made to feel ashamed and whiney and desperate; we're led to believe that infertility is a problem reserved for women; that we're too old, too fat, too skinny, too poor; we get described as greedy and selfish and we hear people who know nothing about infertility referring to treatment as some kind of self-indulgent quest for a so-called designer baby.
It's time to flip this narrative.
It's not indulgence, it's sacrifice.
If we're lucky, fertility treatment will be an option available to us, mostly at considerable expense and always without the guarantee of it taking us any closer to realizing our dream. It's not indulgent to seek treatment for a medical condition. It's not indulgent to want to create a human with the person you love. It's not indulgent to want to carry a child or pass on genetic traits or experience the miracle of childbirth. In fact, some would argue that for many of us, reproducing is intrinsically wired into our deepest and most innate desires.
Treatment for infertility, far from being indulging, involves making sacrifices every single day and for indefinite periods of time. It means huge lifestyle changes and difficult decisions; missing social events and foregoing vacations. It means spending your salary on medication and your holiday leave on appointments. It's cutting out alcohol and caffeine and hot baths and as many chemicals as you can. It's arguing with your partner about a pain you both share and it's letting go of a future vastly different from the one you both envisaged.
We're not indulging in fertility treatment, we're making great sacrifices to facilitate it.
It's not struggle, it's strength.
The word "struggle" gets thrown around all too often when it comes to talking about conception and it provokes unfortunate comparison between those who claim to have "struggled for 3 months before falling pregnant" and those who have been wading knee-deep through fertility bills for the last 10 years and still don't have a bump to show for it. It's a word associated with a forceful escape from restraint - which is perhaps quite on the money with regards to infertility - but one that also evokes this idea of trying.....and failing; and it's precisely this cycle that requires such strength.
It takes enormous strength of character to persevere on a journey as brutal and uncertain as this one. It takes strength to pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and try again, and maybe even more strength to decide not to. It takes strength to call out that person asking when you might "hurry up and get pregnant" and strength to walk into a baby shower swarming with new parents. It takes strength to commit to every appointment, every procedure, every hurdle, every injection, pill, poke, prod, twist and turn that this pursuit entails and strength to do it all with nothing but blind hope leading the way.
We're not struggling with infertility, we're battling it with strength.
It's not jealousy, it's longing.
It's looking at a mother rocking a crying baby in her arms, with puke down her sweater and bags under her eyes and wondering if you'll ever get the privilege of experiencing that level of love-induced exhaustion. It's staring at your reflection in the mirror and imagining what you'd look like with a perfect bump. It's avoiding eye contact with gurgling newborns and proud parents on the bus and looking the other way each time you pass a baby store. It's nodding along when someone jokingly offers to loan you their kids, and it's feeling your heart drop when a friend names their baby something you'd always ear-marked for your own. It's never wanting anyone else to ever feel the acute pain that you're experiencing and it's wanting everyone to know just how completely miraculous and unbelievable it is that any of us are even here.
We're not jealous of people with children, we're longing for our own.
It's not shame, it's pride;
It's not anger, it's passion;
It's not desperation, it's determination;
It's not rock-bottom, it's recovery.
And that ache in your chest, the one that's been there a while, that's love. That pain, those tears, that feeling of emptiness, that yearning for a second line, a heartbeat, a bump, a baby, all of that - it's love. And while your heart may feel battered and bruised right now, all patched up and beating a solemn tune, just know that it's bigger than it was before. It's grown for the children you prayed for, the children you lost, the children you long for and, one day, the children you'll have.
It's not heartache, it's love.
Lauren Fen writes about her experiences with infertility, including four medicated cycles and two rounds of IVF on her blog (thedinkyblog.com) and on Instagram (@laurenifen). Her aim is to uplift others in similar situations, educate those who are unaffected, and attempt to find humor during a really crappy journey. For Lauren and her husband, starting a family is not going to happen "the old fashioned way. “ It's going to be a long and bumpy ride, but they have every hope that they'll get there.