It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), the one week of the year in which it is socially acceptable to allow the infertiles to have their say and to celebrate the infertile in your life although as was pointed out earlier in the week, for infertiles, every week is infertility awareness week.
This year’s theme is “Don’t Ignore Infertility,” and I have a few suggestions:
If you are infertile
- Don’t ignore your intuition. I suspected we were going to have difficulty after only a few months. If I hadn’t listened to my intuition, I would have wasted more money and more importantly, time. I pushed for Clomid after only 6 months of TTC. I made our first RE appointment before the prescribed 12 month guideline. If your RE tells you that “maybe pain is normal for you” when you tell him that you hurt so much that you are writhing in the fetal position, crying and fantasizing about ripping out your ovaries with your bare hands because hey, it couldn’t hurt much more, find a new doctor. Six months after starting with our first RE, we moved on to our second who diagnosed me within 5 minutes of our first meeting and told us our only options were IVF-related or adoption whereas the first RE would had had us pursue more useless (though we wouldn’t have known it) IUIs. I’m still a little bitter about that first RE; can you tell?
- Don’t ignore your feelings. There is a lot of pressure on us to be happy and think positively even when life sucks huge donkey balls. I call BS. First of all, philosophically, if you never allow yourself to experience darker, less positive thoughts and emotions, how will you be able to know and fully experience the highs? And guess what, infertility is mostly about the lows: the physical pain your diagnosis might cause you. The toll on your self-worth, your body and your relationships. The hit on your bank account or credit card because many infertiles don’t have insurance that covers treatment; treatment isn’t cheap. We didn’t, and we had to pay a lot. Wondering whether your infertility means that you have been deemed unworthy to procreate and that your DNA, the very essence of what you are, is not worth passing on. Having friends muse that maybe your infertility balances out all the “luck” you’ve had in other aspects of your life such as marriage, school and career. Dreading the infertility storyline in movies, tv shows and books because they always get it wrong and reinforce stereotypes. A lot of lows. So I’m giving you permission to revel in your grief and sorrow. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t acknowledge feelings, they fester. Revel in them. Roll around in them and wrap them around you like a blanket. Here’s the ugly truth: no one else is going to acknowledge your feelings, your reality. And once you’ve indulged yourself, it is a lot easier to deal with the feelings, put them back in their box and even experience some happiness.
- Don’t ignore all the family-building options out there. When we started TTC in 2005, I never in a million, trillion years thought that we would end up having our son through gestational surrogacy. Of course at that point, IVF seemed exotic. However, by 2007 we had a much clearer picture of our situation and we began thinking more about what we were trying to accomplish (having a family) vs how it happened. Let yourself explore adoption, surrogacy, donor egg/sperm/embryo, IVF. What made me willing to consider surrogacy was wanting to make sure we had pursued as many options as possible so that at the end of our lives, we never regretted not taking a certain path.
If you are friends or family with an infertile
- Don’t ignore them. I know it can be awkward figuring out how to handle the infertile. I know that talking with us can be a little like approaching a sleeping lion: you never know what innocent, well-meaning comment will set us off, hissing and snarling or sobbing uncontrollably. The problem is that sometimes, well-intentioned family and friends can decide not to talk about infertility with us and leave that conversational ball in our court. That’s nice but what it often turns into is no contact or little meaningful contact. Send us an email every once in a while. Invite us out. Ask how things are going. If you don’t understand something, ask. Pretend to be interested. Acknowledge our situation. Because while you think you are doing the right thing by letting us have space, it feels like we are ignored. Like we’ve become lepers. Even if you don’t know what to say, a heart-felt, “wow, your situation sucks and I’m really sorry” would go a long way to helping the infertile feel like part of the human race again. Because infertility does suck.
I hope these suggestions help. I’m infertile and always will be; this is the one week of the year I am allowed to be. Here are a few other, better perspectives on NIAW:
- Don’t Ignore: The Secret Life of the American Infertile
- What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting
- What If? (this is post in support of NIAW by a supporter. She gets it!)