Call it a notion or a feeling or a sixth sense, but, I knew. I prepared myself for the inevitability when I was around 12, by convincing myself that I didn't want children... no husband... no family... just me. And I made plans. And they were great plans. Especially for a budding teenager.
At 16, my doctor told me that I couldn't have children. That I wasn't having periods regularly because I didnt have enough eggs. (Wow... Even now I shake my head and want to know what medical school he went to.) I just nodded, accepting this as truth. I mean, I knew already.
Just shy of 2 years later, I met Peter and knew that I didnt want children... I wanted his children. I wanted to be his wife. I wanted us to have our family. I didnt care how those children came to be- biological, adopted, it was all the same to me- but I wanted to mother them and he to father them. I told him in advance what I knew and he didn't care. Biology was just a tiny factor... Love was the big one... He wasn't worried and neither was I. I remember him saying something along the lines of "At least we can practice a lot!" (He was 19 at the time... I'm sure practice versus TTC was much more fun!)
I was inching towards my 20th birthday when I got pregnant and miscarried. Although I wanted very much to get pregnant, it wasn't until then that I was bit by the pregnancy bug. In my heart, I still didnt care if we built our family via genetics or adoption, but I desperately wanted to be pregnant too... To feel that... To have that... It's hard to explain.
Our parents knew that we were trying, as did our close friends, but, for the most part, it was a silent enduring... People got pregnant, I smiled and congratulated them, bought gifts, attended showers, all the while, my heart cracking in the process. We were young and my doctors and GYNs all said the same thing: come back when you are 30... Then you will be infertile... But, in my early 20s, 30 seemed so far away... So very far.
My job put me in constant contact with children and babies. It was so difficult to watch teenagers doing what I couldnt do, time and time again. We tried adoption- and failed- twice. Heartache... Heartache... Heartache... And still, I couldnt bridge the distance between the guilt. I couldnt tell people that I was infertile. Would they pity me? Judge me? Could it be worse than having old women give me sex tips or tell me that I wasnt getting any younger or asking what we were waiting for or when we'd have a baby?
But there I was- someone with a mouth the size of Texas- shamed into silence. My body had betrayed me. There was, indeed, something I couldnt do. (My dad always has told me there isn't anything I cant do once I put my mind to it. He was always right. Imagine my surprise when he was wrong on that one!)
It wasnt until my mother-in-law was at a knitting circle and grandchildren came up that an answer was sent our way. Two of the women there had infertile daughters... They were both seeing the same RE... Peter's mom got her name and discretely gave it to me. No pressure, just hey, I thought you might find this interesting. So, embarrassed and ashamed, I called... And made an appointment...
My infertility finally had a diagnosis and, rather than treat me with disgust or make me feel more ashamed, Dr. Lee explained that I simply had an illness. There wasn't a cure, but she could try to help me within our framework of comfortability and belief. And she did.
And, although I've had more sadness and fear than I ever could have imagined, I've also had more joy that I ever thought possible.
As days turn to weeks and weeks into years, my mind constantly battles the shame of being infertile and the anger of feeling shamed by the lack of compassion our world has for infertiles. It's commonplace to tell people who cant reproduce to suck it up and move to other options; would we be so callous to those with other illnesses? Would we tell a child who was born with AIDS that they should just "suck up" the possibility of a long life and making love to the person they fall in love with? Would we tell a woman who has just had a double mastectomy to "suck it up" and get a padded bra? I didn't think so... But we find no harm in telling a woman who cannot ovulate to "just adopt" (which is a pet peeve of mine on an entirely different level) or telling a man who has no sperm that "maybe God doesnt want you to have children."
That, of course, is even if it gets talked about at all! The shame is debilitating and so many couples never share their heartbreak and struggle. People clam up when the talk drops below the belt or when people lament a lack of childbearing. We can talk about having cancer or heart disease or diabetes... But infertility? Heavens no! And if you put it on par with other diseases that impact OVER 6 MILLION PEOPLE, people roll their eyes... Infertility? A disease? Naahhh... Just a sad state of being.
We have to speak out. If we dont advocate for ourselves, then who will? Who will stand up and tell us that we have no need to be ashamed- that we are NOT the sum of our reproductive capabilities nor are we the measure of our illness.
So, today, in the middle of National Infertility Awareness Week, join me.
I'm Michele...and I'm infertile.