Infertility

Infertility Never Goes Away

When I read infertility articles, I goggle a bit because these are current POVs & experiences whereas mine are both technically current (endo & congenital issues don’t disappear) and in the past because we know our issues and with an almost 10-year-old, we have made peace with our family.

But yeah. Infertility never goes away- at least to me.  This article came to my attention this week and while the particulars are different, everything else is sooooo familiar.

I’m 41- almost 42 – years old and I suspect I will always find articles like this to be familiar. It’s a sisterhood, a club, without formal admission requirements or meetings (or even desire to join). Just pain. It isn’t omnipresent like is was before D was born but it is still there, lingering. I almost wrote “hiding”, but that isn’t true. I don’t want to hide this pain. That does a disservice to the experience.

I have a child, yet I still hurt. I will always hurt even if it is compartmentalized.

Is there a flag for “Infertility is Forever!”? Ha.

So, i’m trying to publish this from my phone, so things aren’t working 100%. This is the article I referenced: Infertility article

To Mother

I’ve posted several times about motherhood and what it is like when you don’t have the typical physical experiences of becoming a mother. I read an article recently on trans parents and their experience of motherhood. Titled rather provocatively “Is Motherhood Gendered?”, it brings a new dimension to the ongoing question of what and who is a mother:

is motherhood something innate, as we are so often told – a chemical reaction of love and self-sacrifice tied to the ‘transformative’ process of pregnancy and childbirth? Or, is it something that can be learned? Ultimately, is trans motherhood about emphasising similarities or, perhaps, about learning to embrace differences?

It’s very often a heated, complex topic. Am I less of a woman because I did not physically grow, birth and feed my son? Is a trans woman less of a woman if she does not? I admit that reading that article and its terminology and scenarios had moments of confusion for me: a biological woman transitioning to a man who decided to have a child? Mind blown. I literally do not have a vocabulary for that, yet I hope that if we can figure out how to refer to those familial situations, we can figure out how to refer to other situations in which a mother is the mother but not the biological mother.

In regards to mothering, I like the direction that philosopher Sara Ruddick  is going:

Sara Ruddick promoted the use of the verb ‘mothering’ as gender-neutral; she proposed that rather than being a product of our sex and gender, ‘mothering’ is a practice. In the past, mothering has been associated solely with female work, representing the ‘female’ qualities of gentleness, softness, kindness. But in today’s world – where men can stay at home, women can go to work, and gender can be switched – ‘mothering’ must be expanded to include others too.

Sometimes I wonder if it seems silly that I am hung up on the physical aspects of motherhood when the point is that I was able to become a mother. A genetic mother. The point is that it can be hard to be a woman, a mother, with a less-than-traditional path in this society.  The definition of being a woman is still tied to motherhood, and when you differ from that, it is painful and difficult. Even now, 11 years after we started our TTC journey, I still feel “other.” And age has not helped because I feel like I am entering the span of life in which I am no longer considered to be a legitimate woman. Invisible. Yes, these are my own issues. Yes, many of them are likely silly. If I – a cisgender woman – feel like this, I can imagine how my trans sisters feel. My hope is that we can work together to create a new vocabulary that represents our experiences and realities and expands the definition of what it means to be a woman AND a mother.

Addendum

Thank you all for your comments on “Plans in Pencil.”  I’ve been thinking about what to do with those embryos a lot lately and along with it has come the return of the old anger and bitterness, some of which you can see in both the piece I wrote for Listen to Your Mother and the recent post on grief.

When I returned to work after the LTYM show,  I found a curious email in my work inbox. It was from a friend of someone who had attended the show, and she asked about adopting our embryos because they are undergoing infertility as well. I guess her friend had told her about my piece and my mention of our embryos, but it appeared the gist of the piece had not been conveyed.

The writer’s pain was obvious in her email. Part of me was floored that she had emailed me, a complete stranger, about our embryos and she had to search a bit to find my email.

Seeing this email two days after the show, I could not respond. I didn’t know how to respond. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally and I had no words other than, “no, you may not have them.”

I still haven’t responded, and that’s cruel of me. I know how she feels. I know how desperate she must feel to email a stranger. I need to respond, but what do I say?  Is it possible to let her down gently? Maybe I am dreading her counter reply of asking me why I can’t donate my embryos to her if I’m not going to use them and accusing me of being selfish.  Are we being selfish by keeping them frozen and neither donating them to research nor placing them for adoption?

Many decisions are selfish, though. Our decision to use surrogacy to have a biological child is often deemed selfish (at least in the media and comment sections). Someone else’s decision to adopt could be selfish depending on motivations. A relative’s decision to have three children could be interpreted as selfish by someone concerned about the impact on the environment and overcrowding.

Sometimes in the realm of infertility, it seems you are always making someone unhappy.

Plans in Pencil

This was the post I read for the 2016 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham show last week.  Can’t believe the show is over already!

Last week on the way home from school, my son, my sweet 6-year-old, my baby told me he had a girlfriend.  This girlfriend is an older woman, having turned 8.

He broke this news to me by telling me that he and this girl, Rose, were going to get married (what????), they would work as a veterinarian (her) and a doctor (him), and that Rose was afraid of having babies cut out of her. He then asked me if he had been cut out of me.

Deep breaths.

I had no labor and delivery with him myself, vaginal or otherwise.  My son was the result of gestational surrogacy. I was able to sit back and observe calmly while our surrogate delivered him. If you believe that sentence, well, I have a few other things I can sell you.

It was time. It was time to have the talk with him about how he came to be.  We hadn’t intended on keeping it a secret – absolutely not at all – but sometimes there isn’t a simple opening or Hallmark card for this type of conversation.  We had blown it up in our minds to take on epic qualities; how would he react?

Later that evening, we brought up the topic again. I gently told him – trying to use simple language – that he had not been in my belly because it didn’t work and that another, wonderful woman had carried him for us. We waited for his reaction.

“Oh, OK, “ he replied. “Can I have ice cream now?”

I asked him how he felt about this information.  He placed his still baby-soft hand on my stomach. “Mommy, are you still broken?”

Broken.  Yes, I am still broken. My reproductive organs don’t work and never will. My son is our miracle child, made possible by the kindness of a stranger who carried him.

I never wanted only one child. I grew up as an only child. I didn’t have a miserable childhood, but I felt lonely, and I was envious of my friends with siblings. Maybe I would have been more socially competent with a sibling. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so alone in the world. Maybe I would be a different person. The possibilities of what might have been are endless.

While I have one child, I also have five frozen siblings for him. Siblings isn’t quite the correct word.  We have five frozen embryos, five bits of potential. In the infertility community, we call them frosties, or my personal favorite, “totsicles.” It is amazing to have any embryos to freeze, and I have five after a horrible IVF cycle in which it seemed I’d be fortunate to create any embryos. These are embryos created from barely 31-year-old me and gave us our son. Our only son.

I’m very close to 39 now.

We receive the bill for cryopreservation of our embryos annually. We don’t talk about it but pay it automatically every year. Our other options are to destroy them, to donate or adopt them out to other families or to allow them to be used for research. We can’t do any of that. Yet.

We always wanted more than one child, but circumstances made that difficult.  Having a second child would require a major financial outlay as well as significant changes in our lives. Are we too old for that? Are we too old for bottles and nightly feedings? For daycare costs? For potty training? For all the energy and money infancy and toddlerhood require?  And what about my career and increasing responsibility? What about the child we already have and his needs, his future?

I’d like to say we could swing it, but I FEEL tired. I AM tired. We are in a groove, and our sweet boy is more independent every day.

We know the answer, but we keep kicking the can further down the road.

When I let myself think about it, I get angry. I feel like I was robbed of choices when it came to family building and the choices we did have were difficult and came with heavy implications.  There is a part of me that still simmers with resentment and anger: WHY US? WHY did this have to be our reality?

Very few of us realize the lives we hoped to have. Regardless of what our dreams were, reality slaps us in the face.  We are obligated nothing, and our notion of control is an illusion. I need to bottle my resentment and anger, my caustic bitterness, and put it away.  Yes, we were dealt a shitty hand reproductively, but what can you do? We did what we could. We rolled the dice and won once. Nothing guarantees we would win again.

I have one son, and he is wonderful. He is sweet, bright, energetic, and sentimental. He is exhausting, argumentative, and stubborn. He is everything I wished and hoped for and so much more.

Instead of lingering on what I can’t change, I need to focus on what I do have. My son tells me he and his future wife plan to name my future grandchild “Sprinkle”. I smile. It’s nice to have plans, but I have learned it is wise to plan in pencil.

NIAW: The Ebb and Flow of Grief

There has been a lot of discussion recently on social media about infertility and the resolution of grief. I’m not going to summarize the many opinions and points of view, but I did want to offer my own perspective. There is no right answer to the question of whether the grief and pain of infertility goes away. For some it does; for others it doesn’t. For others it is omnipresent. For others it is a tiny footnote in their history. There is NO right response.

This year’s theme of National Infertility Awareness Week was “Start Asking.” I don’t think post is going to be on topic per se, but I guess it is my contribution to the topic. I don’t think we talk a lot about how it feels years after “resolving” infertility.

I have a child. He is almost 7-years-old. He delights us, makes us laugh AND infuriates us (don’t ask me about the entire bottle of glue on the floor this morning). I suspect our experiences and feelings are similar to many parents with a similarly-aged child. The thing is, I am still infertile.

I still have stage 4 endometriosis and a congenital uterine anomaly. Having a child cured none of that. I am reminded of it when I can no longer take BCPs to control my endometriosis because after 20+ years, they started to cause major pain and I must switch to progesterone pills which have their own delightful side effects.

I am reminded of it as I age and start to enter the “preventative exam” stage of life. I have none of the benefits that pregnancy and breast feeding are supposed to provide. I have all of the fears about what consuming and injecting fertility drugs for years may result in. What is yet to come?

As the mother of a tiny human well into childhood as opposed to babyhood, I should be over all this infertility stuff, right?

I’m not.

When Daniel was a baby, probably until he was a toddler, life was blissful. I was blissful. I had my long-awaited child and was happy. So happy. I knew I was still infertile; I knew I would never forget my journey or scars, but I was happy. Fulfilled. Delighted. Tired. I felt normal. Like a typical parent. I could pass. Siblings and our vision of our family were still possibilities.

Then, as he reached age two and three, my parent friends starting having their second or third children. And the grief returned. Life happened and we didn’t return to treatment – too busy mourning unexpected deaths in the family, job upheavals and other life issues.

And now Daniel is almost 7, and I feel – we both feel – too old to tackle the journey to have another child or the energy to parent. Opportunity passed. And the old grief is back. And the old bitterness. Because even if we did decide to go for it, it’s not like it is simple or inexpensive for us.

So it is an interesting dichotomy of seeing my beautiful miracle child and loving him and thinking of all the possibilities we had dreamed of and mourning them.

And I’m almost 39 and when I look in the mirror and see an older woman with wrinkles, eye bags and rapidly-proliferating grey hair, a less desirable woman, I wonder how infertility contributed to my perception of myself. When I think about not feeling much like a legitimate woman, I wonder about how those years of infertility contributed to that.

Maybe this post reads like someone choking on bitterness and unable to savor her blessings. Maybe that is true. I’ve always been more on the “glass half empty” side of things. I think my point is that what I have discovered is that infertility remains. It is possible to be resolved and suffering, happy and sad at the same time.  You can look forward and back, mourn and enjoy. The real point of this is YMMV (your mileage may vary). Maybe you achieve your child and never look back. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you do and remember how hard it is. Maybe you have miracle children after the long fight for the first one. All of those scenarios and feelings are valid.

My experience, my feelings,  happen to be different.

Planned Parenthood and the Infertile

It’s late 2015 and Planned Parenthood is again under attack. The ostensible reason is because of doctored videos about selling fetal parts (they are donated but PP is allowed to recoup costs), but the real reason is because there is a group of people in this country, in 2015, who truly believe that reproductive freedom is a moral travesty.

I do not. I support Planned Parenthood and everything it does, even non-federally funded abortions. I am pro choice. I always have been and always will be.

As an infertile, this may seem odd. How can I support an organization that provides a (legal) service that seems to be at odds with what my husband and tried so long to achieve?

First of all, it’s not my business what someone legally (let’s not forget that key fact) chooses to do with her body. Secondly, it isn’t some moral equation: one less abortion means a baby for an infertile. It’s not like the lack of abortion would result in a glut of adoptable infants. That’s a repugnant thought actually, based on what we know and understand about the complexities of adoption- that the lack of reproductive freedom would somehow enable more couples to adopt. And it isn’t the 50s. Forcing women to have their babies would likely result in their parenting the child, perhaps in less than ideal situations. And darn, where is that social safety net again?

I also support Planned Parenthood because abortion and fertility treatments are facing similar attacks. The same people who want to de-fund Planned Parenthood because of abortion also have serious reservations about IVF and the embryos created. Clumps of cells in both cases. 

Consider this: my beloved, much-wanted child is the result of a transferred 8-cell embryo, the only success after 7 other embryos. It isn’t a stretch to me to see that if abortion is outlawed, IVF could be next, which is a bit ironic since it is a family-building tool. One could argue that in its own way, abortion is also a family-building tool.

The bottom line is that I support Planned Parenthood because no other group appears to care about women’s health. No other group provides necessary medical services, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with abortion. I’m also tired of legislators treating women badly and telling us what to do with our bodies, what they think is best for us. 

Stay out of my uterus. Stay out of my family-building decisions. Give me my reproductive freedom.

I stand with Planned Parenthood.

Wrestling with Control

Two very different pieces about having children made me catch my breath this week.

Mandy, my friend and 2014 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham cast member, had her first piece published in Mamalode this week and in it she muses movingly on the pros and cons of having a fourth child:

I want my two living children to have another sibling.

I want them to have the playmates I never had growing up. (I am one of four, but my siblings are from my mother’s first marriage and are much older than I.)

I want them to have a larger support system when they get older and have to deal with their aging parents.

And, more than anything, if through some terrible and cruel fate, we lose one of them, I don’t want the other to be left alone. Our daughter was only 17-months-old when she died—we have decades left during which something could happen to one of our two living children.

I want my two living children to have another sibling.

And concludes:

What I understand now is that I am not in control of very much at all that happens to my children, and in order to manage my fear, I must accept how little control I have.

And then there was this article making the case for having an only child by Wendy Thomas Russell.  One-and-done by choice, Thomas Russell aims for a bit of levity with a not-so-funny Top 10 list about why having one child is great, but she makes a similar point as Mandy did:

Listen, I’m not saying the only-child scenario is a perfect one. I’m the first to acknowledge that there are some disadvantages to capping our family tree so soon.

Once, at a hotel in San Diego, Maxine, then four, found a friend and began skipping along the concrete rim of a courtyard fountain. The rim was plenty wide and not much more than two feet off the ground, but my husband was hovering. Every 30 seconds or so, he reminded Maxine to “slow down” or “be careful.”

At one point, he turned to me. “I know I’m over-protective,” he said, “but I can’t help it. She’s our only one. We don’t have a backup.”

And it’s true: If we lose our daughter, we lose everything. It’s like we’ve put all our money into one stock without knowing whether it’s a high- or low-risk investment. Parents who have two or more children are diversified; the experts would surely agree that’s a smart way to live, right?

Smart, maybe. But it’s not foolproof.

There isn’t, and would never have been, a replacement for my Maxine. A second child could not lessen the grief of losing her. Perhaps the distraction of a second child would help me get up in the morning during those early months — but I don’t believe in bringing children into the world to act as a distraction in the case of some theoretical tragedy.

Having a child is a risk of the heart. Every day we parents get to experience the unrelenting joy of watching our children drink from the fountain of life while crossing our fingers that they don’t fall off the edge. We all do. Whether we have one child or five.

Both pieces were kicks in the gut. I’m thrilled and happy for Mandy but envious as hell. And it isn’t only she I envy; there have been many pregnancy announcements in the last year that have roused my green-eyed monster. Let me be clear: I can be envious AND happy for them at the same time. But I still feel the hot wash of shame in admitting I am envious. There seems no room for that emotion in polite society. And while it is inappropriate and inaccurate to say someone “deserves” good fortune (what is the criteria for that??), my shame at my envy is more acute with Mandy since she has had some truly horrific experiences. It feels churlish to feel envy even though my envy is more about me than it is about her.

Like the author of the second piece, I suppose we are technically “one-and-done” by choice as well. It doesn’t really feel like a choice though. Not when we consider our ages, our jobs, the huge cost just to try, and the fact we have a young child to whom we want to give a good life. And he will be 6 soon. At what point is there a diminishing return at having a sibling? Which leaves the other option as doing nothing, which is painful since we have 5 frozen embryos. Six-year-old frozen embryos.

I researched definitions of choice today because again, it doesn’t really feel like a choice. I discovered there is something called Hobson’s Choice, meaning that you really have only one option: accept it or don’t. That seems to be accurate – either we try for a sibling or don’t – but it doesn’t convey the weight and variables involved. Then I researched dilemma. Dilemma means two possibilities, neither of which is acceptable. That definition gets me closer to how I feel. It acknowledges the major hurdles we have to try for a second child as well as the cavernous hole I feel about not having a second.

Of course, this is an academic exercise. We try so hard to define different types of choices in order to make sense of our world, to reassure ourselves we have an iota of control. In fact, control is an illusion. We like to think we have broken the world to our will like a stubborn horse, but the joke is on us.

Both of the pieces I linked to are ultimately about control and our lack of it. What I am angry about is our inability to control our family building and what our family looks like. The fact that we had so little choice in how things turned out, so few options.

But that’s me. Us. Others may feel and find that lack of control and the illusion of choice in other areas, other pain points.

I cannot control much, but I can try to start making peace with that realization. Focusing on what we do have instead of what never will be.

That’s a choice within my power. In truth, it is freeing to know so much is beyond our control. That frees us from blame and fault. And guilt, that ever-present foe.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a life with a lot less self-blame and guilt.

Help for a Friend

Beautiful Janel and her fight against cancer

I have fair skin and after years of being made fun of for my complete lack of melanin in my legs and sad, painful attempts at a tan, I finally gave up and embraced my paleness. Yes, I joke that my untanned legs are similar to the color of plucked, dead chickens but honestly, I don’t care.  I’ve endured sunburn so bad that it gave me egg-sized blisters as a child and sent me to the doctor to have the blisters drained. I’ve attempted to tan with predictable results. I’ve endured self-inflicted pain from sunburns and the weird, cool, jelly feeling that rising blisters give. I’m done. Finally, I slather myself (and my family) with the highest sunscreen. I use umbrellas and hats. I love the sun but recognize it is my enemy as someone with pale skin.

My friend Janel would not fit the definition of a sun worshipper. She used sunscreen, never went to tanning beds. Yet she finds herself battling back from Stage 3b Melanoma for 3 years. Besides her remarkable generosity and concern for others, she is no different than any one of us.

I know Janel thanks (ha) to infertility and our geographical proximity. My first incarnation as a blogger was an infertility one after our FET had failed in 2007. I was bitter and angry. I didn’t know where we were going. I had been following IF (infertility) blogs for a while, and Janel’s resonated because of her story but also because she lived in the same state and about 2 hours away. I followed along with her story as they pursued cycle after cycle, the wonderful pregnancy with O-Man and the bed rest.  Her attitude was upbeat throughout, and she was admirable.  O-Man was born healthy (and is now an energetic kindergartener), and we finally had our chance to cycle for surrogacy.  When we felt comfortable after our several betas and ultrasounds, Janel sent a gift.  She arranged many NC IF meet-ups, and I treasure the pictures I have from these gatherings.  Janel is a connector. Janel is GOOD people.

So it is devastating that she has been diagnosed with melanoma and suffering a terrible range of effects. She has had skin issues, liver issues, dental issues and now uterine issues. She’s had periods of “no evidence of disease”, followed by cancer reappearing in pockets of soft tissue around her body, requiring more surgery, more pain, more weight loss. Each day brings a new complication, a new worry. The fear is unending.

What I’m asking is this: we can’t take the cancer away. But we can help her family pay the bills that continue to mount as new cancers and new effects of chemotherapy make themselves known. We can relieve her heart and show her she IS LOVED as much as she is LOVE to others. We can set the debt account to zero so she and her family can begin the next fight to recover from these surgeries and strengthen her immune system to fight off cancer’s next punch.

And if your generosity exceeds her need, she’ll gladly give it away to another charity. After which she’ll spend the rest of her long and cancer-free life, continuing to be the friend and person she’s always been in the world by being kind, sharing light, and proving that love does indeed have the last word.

What we are asking for Wednesday is this: make a difference for her with your 5, 10, 15 contributions–remember on this day, no one can give more than $25. Share her story widely, with your friends, family, neighbors, at the bus stop, at the coffee shop, on the train and let everyone know that they can be a part of shining light and love into Janel’s fight.

Cancer sucks. Infertility sucks. Janel has had a rough several years but is full of grace.  Let’s help her. Here’s the link to the fundraising site. Again, no more than $25 required. Give what you can.

Donate here.

The Myth of the Biological Clock?

Last year an article came out supposedly debunking the idea that it is more difficult to conceive after 35.  Women around the world cheered, and jubilant articles were written, applauding how science could finally free women from the pressure to start their families before they were ready and the guilt they might feel if they didn’t. Let’s celebrate ladies: the notion that our bodies are too old to reproduce is just another way the patriarchy has been trying to keep us down and out of the workplace.

Now, the articles and critiques are reappearing upon the publication of Tanya Selvaratnam’s book The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock, which addresses the conflicting information women receive about the reality of their bodies and reproductive capabilities and the media focus on the many celebrities over 35 or even 40 having children seemingly effortlessly.  This morning I read an article in Salon by Mary Elizabeth Williams that criticized Selvaratnam for blaming feminism for never tackling the issue of fertility. My first issue with Williams’ piece was that I didn’t think her examples of previously-written articles did much to debunk Selvaratnam’s thesis. Secondly, this quote:

Can we stop setting up the straw man, as Selvaratnam does, that “Biology does not bend to feminist ideals”? Because I’ve got to tell you, I know a lot of people who’ve been to hell and back trying to become parents but I don’t know a single one who put off motherhood because she was a self-centered pawn of feminism.

Here’s the problem. I don’t think any of the journalists who write pieces like this have ever been to a fertility clinic. I have the dubious honor of having been to three different clinics on our 4-year journey to parenthood and I can assure you that at ages 28-31 (hardly a spring chicken), I was often one of the youngest patients in the waiting room. I joined fertility message boards and read blogs from other going through infertility and again, there is a decent number of women who were over 35 trying to conceive.

It’s kind of funny because when I was in the trenches and would read articles escoriating “those women” in fertility clinics for putting their jobs first and bringing their conception problems on themselves, I wanted to scream that not all women having trouble conceiving were older (age was one of the few things Jimmy and I had going for us). But that was the perception: trouble conceiving = advanced age = selfish bitch who put her career ahead of family.

So my question for Williams and others is just who are those women over 35 in fertility clinics? Why are they there? Was it because they just didn’t meet the right person until later in life? Maybe. But the bottom line is that for many women, they are in the clinic over age 35 because they put off having a baby for whatever reason. Maybe it was their career. Maybe it was because there were other issues. Maybe it was because they wanted to travel, see the world, whatever. It doesn’t really matter WHY; what matters is the fact that they delayed childbearing and then found themselves in a fertility clinic because they were having problems conceiving.

Now it appears the tables have turned and women supposedly have more time to conceive and woe anyone who dares to question that “fact.” Because science.  This change is troubling because, well, SCIENCE.  The fact is that while humans have made incredible gains in longevity, basic biology hasn’t changed. Maybe in a few thousand or hundreds of thousands of years, our reproductive organs will catch up to the fact that we can live longer lives, but the reality is that fertility declines with age, especially for women. And if you do conceive, you have a higher chance of miscarriage or having a child with a disability. I’m not going to cite the facts; you can read many of them here. Yes, yes. I know. We all know women who have conceived on their first month trying at age 40 and gone on to have a healthy baby. And of course, celebrities and their apparently amazing fertility after 40. Those are the outliers. Those are the examples that tempt us to believe we have more time than we do.

Selvaratnam is correct in that frank discussions about fertility are a feminist issue. We cannot change biology and the basic fact that the human body is best suited to reproduce in its 20s when we are busy building careers. Yes, I know that SUCKS, but feminism cannot change that and needs to acknowledge that. You know what feminism could change? Policies that make it career vs family. Policies that make it easier to delay childbearing because it hurts your career and earning potential to have a child. We’ve read the articles that tell us women who have children are often mommy-tracked and lose earning potential. That’s what we need to change. That it’s not career OR family but career AND family. The ability to downshift for a few years when children are young. Affordable, quality daycare. Supportive workplaces and flexible schedules.

At the very least, feminism could lead discussions about basic fertility. Why aren’t we taught more about our bodies beyond ovaries, eggs, fertilization and menstruation in school? Every one should be required to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I was amazed by what I learned about what my body could do and tell me (mine wasn’t working so well at the time, so it was mostly theory but still) and shocked that at almost 30, I knew none of that information. Put off having children if you want, but at least make that decision knowing the facts about female biology.

But…wait! What about those treatments in the fertility clinic? They allow women to have babies. It’s cool. I can just saunter into a clinic and have IVF whenever. Maybe even get twins! Fertility treatments let us overcome age and are actually a source of empowerment! Oh dear. Bless your heart. Reproductive technology is awesome, and I salute science for helping me to overcome my fertility issues to have my son. But folks, it is not a panacea. Clomid != baby. IUI !=baby. IVF !=baby. What assisted reproduction does is give you a chance, increase your odds.  The stats surrounding success rates for these treatments are fairly dismal. You may have a 0% or 10% chance on your own; IVF may increase it to 30%.  Yes, those are improved odds but not necessarily ones I’d take to Vegas. If I saw we had a 30% chance of it raining, I’d assume that rain was unlikely.

Age rears its ugly head in fertility treatments too. Over a certain age, you may not produce many eggs and the ones you do may not fertilize or develop.  The doctor may tell you your best bet is to use the eggs from – wait for it – a donor who is 10-15 years younger than you are. The only reproductive organ age doesn’t impact as much or can be overcome more easily is the uterus, which is why you read about 60 year old women carrying their own grandchildren. Part of the problem is that beyond concluding that eggs are old and of diminished quality, doctors really don’t know much more about egg quality and why some IVFs work and some don’t. What they do know is that their success rates decrease dramatically for women using their own eggs over 35. Frankly, successful conception is a crap-shoot for everyone, regardless of age.

Speaking of empowerment, there is little empowering about fertility treatments. I did 6 clomid cycles, one injectable IUI cycle, 2 fresh IVS, and 1 FET. I’ve also had a HSG, 2 laps, and a lot of pain. I have one child. I can think of little that is empowering about the following:

  • Feeling rage, hot flashes and irrational while taking Clomid.
  • Having a doctor tell you that maybe the excruciating pain you feel that makes you seriously contemplate a DIY oophorectomy is normal for you
  • Bleeding daily for months
  • Finally being in a position to afford children only to have to pay exorbitant sums to attempt to have a child (outcome not guaranteed)
  • Feeling depressed and unable to focus at work because you are focused on how you feel less of a woman; you are supposed to be able to do everything – why can’t you have a baby? And why isn’t your career enough for you?
  • Hating your body because it failed you so spectacularly (hardly body acceptance)
  • Accepting that your only path to a biological child is for another woman to carry your child (are you Mom Enough? Apparently not)
  • Looking like a heroin addict thanks to daily blood draws at the clinic
  • Two weeks of painful shots of progesterone-in-oil (PIO) in the butt
  • Becoming comfortable dropping trou and extremely familiar with the “dildo cam”
  • Lack of focus at work because you are in and out for doctor’s appointments and waiting on the daily call on your hormone levels; sobbing uncontrollably when the levels don’t cooperate
  • Having little control over your reproductive outcomes; that control resides in the RE, usually a man, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it does reinforce a power differential
  • Having your clinic break up with you because you are a hopeless case and they don’t want you to ruin their stats.

Those are just a few I can think of based on my own experiences. Others have more examples I’m sure.

The point of this post is not to blame or shame. Do what you want, wait as long as you want, but do so armed with information. Understand that every decision has consequences. Understand that it sucks for women because our biology pits us against other goals we have that don’t involve children.  And it isn’t talked about. Not as much as it should be.  Ann-Marie Slaughter alluded briefly to the fact that she waited until her mid-to-late 30s to have her children and did experience trouble conceiving, but that tidbit was lost in the brouhaha about how she dared to tell women they couldn’t have it all and that they needed to think carefully about their choices.

So maybe feminism didn’t lie overtly to you about putting off having babies, but at the very least, it was a lie of omission. We can do better than that for each other.

 

This is Your Brain on Meetings

Sartre said that Hell is other people. I’ve amended that statement to say that Hell is other people AND/OR meetings. That’s what I have decided and considering the number of meetings I’ve attended this week, I must be in hell. Which level of Dante’s hell do you think meetings would reside? Or do meetings comprise some sort of less tangible, existential hell?

The above musings are a nice way of saying that I have a fried brain from all the meetings I’ve attended this week. Plus, my mother and stepfather are arriving tomorrow for the day (and dinner at The Angus Barn!), so we are cleaning all the things, grumpily, because no one slept well last night. It’s a barrel of laughs here, folks. Really.

Since I have nothing original to contribute, I thought I’d share a few links I found interesting this week.

  • I’m an avid reader of Julie Shapiro’s blog Related Topics in which she tackles family law issues, many of which are pertinent for anyone undergoing ART or adopting.  I don’t always agree with her and her commenters can be…interesting…but she is always thought-provoking. Anyway, she has been tackling the idea of social infertility through a series of posts, and the most recent one is particularly worth reading.
  • Several of us had a series of Twitter conversations about parenting and the wounds of infertility after we read a specific post in which some of the comments were less than kind about those parenting.  Arch Mama did an amazing job of expressing her feelings and what I am sure are the feelings of many others on this topic. I wanted to write a supplemental post on the topic but couldn’t, so I leave you with Arch Mama’s words which address the issue far better than I could.
  • This post We Need to Change How We Talk About Rape blew my mind. It’s long and the all-caps format is difficult, but it is so worth the time investment. It truly changed how I perceived rape culture as well as some attitudes I held about personal accountability. I admit that some of my previously-held opinions were wrong. Please, please read.
  • Lastly, I (and many others) had 2 great bloggy & twitter friends feel they had to quit social media this week, and it makes me sad. These are wonderful people who need support, and I hate that they felt – for a variety of reasons – that these spaces weren’t going to be able to meet their needs.  For the haters who say that connections made over social media aren’t genuine, I beg to differ. I miss these ladies terribly, and I worry about them. Yes, there are other ways to get in touch with them, but it’s like voices have dropped out of the conversation.

That’s all I’ve got. How was your week? What’s on your mind?