Now that I’m trying not to choke on impatience as I wait for my next donor embryo profile (they say it can take one to three months; occasionally it takes longer; I don’t know if I can even hold out another week), and feeling fresh new surges of jealousy of every woman moving on with her life and seeing two healthy heartbeats or cuddling her kids while I remain marooned on Fertility-Challenged Island, it seems like a good time for that “let’s look on the bright side” post.
Believe me, I am not trying to suggest this stuff “isn’t so hard after all.” I’m neither stupid nor heartless. But this is the best I can make out of each Suck from the last post.
Every now and then, when I’m in the right mood, it actually helps me feel a little better. Your mileage may vary.
TEN: Disruption of Life
Yeah, hormones can have physical side effects, and getting up early and getting stuck with so many needles is no fun. But if that was all there was to it, I’d barely think twice.
NINE: Invasion of Privacy
It’s super annoying at first, but you get used to it. Sometimes it takes a village not just to raise a child, but to make one. I’m tired of it — tired of having strangers involved in our personal life — but again, if this was all there was to it, I could deal.
As mentioned above, I’m stuck in a “waiting” spot right now, and it’s hard not to let it make you ansty as hell. But it’s excellent practice for staying present. Easier said than done, and if you’re not careful, it can truly drive you mad. But it doesn’t need to. Usually life is pretty good, even if it’s not exactly what you thought you signed up for.
I’ve also been careful to have “insurance” plans in place, which means I’m always making plans I’m excited about that I might have to cancel if I got pregnant (or was in the middle of treatment). So if I didn’t get pregnant, at least I’d have that, and if I did get pregnant — great!
I’ve managed to visit six new countries and take a 6,000-mile road trip and write a novel and take ballet lessons and play sooooo much soccer while we’ve been trying to conceive. And my husband changed his career completely and found a terrific job in his new self-taught field (web design and development).
My current “insurance” plans include spring soccer league (ongoing), signing up for ballet again (10 more lessons for $100), and a Roger Waters concert on June 1 (our fourth wedding anniversary)
I am frustrated that I’ve put off serious career advancement for myself until “the kids are in school.” I could have gotten a whole new bachelor’s degree since we started trying. But that’s on me, I guess. (Good God, though, I never thought just having a kid would take 4+ years…) And I have been enjoying my “for now” work of writing and editing, and it’s also given me lots of time for my own writing. And it’s forced me into some serious personal growth.
Fear is rarely a useful emotion. Even when I had a loaded gun pointed at me for several seconds (Israeli soldier in Ramallah at night) in a situation where people are regularly killed with impunity, it turned out fear wasn’t useful. Fear could have made me panic, do something stupid. What I felt was a preternatural calm. I knew things could go one way or another, and the only thing on my mind was figuring out how I could best contribute to keeping the situation from going the way I didn’t want it to go. Fear would only have been a distraction.
It’s been harder to find that clarity on this “journey” because the fear is chronic, and setbacks cause it to flare. But, again, this is an excellent “class” for working on mastering fear. Which to me means seeing the fear for what it is: well-intentioned, but not actually helpful. And letting it make its noise if it must but not letting it dominate my landscape.
Losses are losses, whether you made yourself more or less miserable with worry leading up to them. And all things being equal, it’s generally better not to make yourself miserable. The outcome will almost certainly be the same either way.
SIX: Feeling like a Failure
Obviously we are not failures. We’re just having a hard time with one activity. Not everyone is effortlessly good at everything. I’m good at math. I’m apparently not so quick at conceiving and carrying a child. Or as a friend of mine put it, “Some of us just have to work for it.”
And those of us who do will never, ever, ever for a moment take for granted the intricate miracle of what this is. And those kids will never, ever, ever for a moment wonder whether they were deeply, dearly wanted.
And hell, if I’m jealous sometimes of people who conceive easily, I’m jealous. It just means I’m very clear on what I want.
FIVE: The Endless Unknown
It’s frustrating not knowing exactly what the problem is or how to fix it, and it sucks that I’ve spent so many hours and days and weeks of my life searching for that elusive answer, trying new supplements and interventions, never quite knowing if I’m wasting my time or if this next thing will be exactly what we need.
But in the end you do your best, trust as much as you can, try what you can afford that looks promising, and try not to tear your hair out in the meantime. If I had this to do over again… Honestly I don’t know if I’d change anything. I did spend too much time researching, in the end, and sometimes going in circles. But I’m someone who needs to know what is known. Nothing makes me crazier than flying in the dark, feeling like I have no agency.
The fact that a lot of this remains unknown in general (it’s the Wild West of medicine right now)… That sucks. But at least I more or less know what the unknowns are. That helps my control freak personality relax just a little. And helped me come to this place where I’m comfortable just going with the statistics and finding a donor embryo clinic that has the best numbers around.
Other people might be better off just listening to their doctors.
Not gonna lie. I wish I was one of them.
FOUR: The Stigma
Maybe it’s just me, but this is bothering me less and less lately. It’s true, a lot of people have lame or ignorant or judgy ideas. That is really their problem. Meanwhile I am rocking along on an incredible quest doing the absolute best I can. And the more open I am about it, the more people learn learn about it and maybe think a bit differently about it in the future. It feels nice to be “trailblazing” in this way, even if it’s not a subject I would have chosen. It chose me. So it goes.
And even though some people are annoying, most people are very accepting and encouraging, and a shocking number say, “We’re going through it, too!” and seem very relieved someone else brought it up first. It’s much more common than people realize. There’s no one who doesn’t know someone going through it, whether they realize it or not.
Trying to act normal when you feel anything but can be very draining. But learning to actually feel OK even when life isn’t happening the way you planned is a wonderful skill to nurture. It’s some Jedi Ninja-level shit, but if you can pull it off — even begin to start pulling it off — it’s a gift that can serve you all through life.
THREE: Pain and Guilt
This is hard. There’s no sugarcoating it. As for the pain, you learn coping mechanisms. (I could write a whole other post on those. Probably should.)
As for the guilt, you try your best to remember that you took vows, and you took them very seriously, and you ought to give your husband the benefit of the doubt that he did, too. You’re in this together. It’s not what you would have chosen, but life doesn’t always give you strawberry popsicles. It’s just part of being an adult human. Plenty of couples have dealt with plenty worse. And we’re still solid, still have a sense of humor, and that says a lot about us, as individuals and as a couple. If we weren’t tested so much, we’d never have known what we were capable of.
TWO: The Soul-crushing Expense
Another one that’s tough to sugarcoat. But we chose this as something important enough to pursue even though it was difficult, and we had the resources to try IVF three times and now donor embryos up to six times. Not everyone has that choice. Yes, we’ve lost our nest egg and we have nothing and we may go into debt, but plenty of people are still in debt from college, or from credit cards, or from a nasty divorce, or from being underwater on their home.
At the end of the day, it’s just money. Money is a fiction, really. Numbers and pieces of paper that everyone agrees have value, even though they actually don’t. It can undoubtedly have real-world consequences, but for most of us who can even consider spending everything we have on starting a family, we’ll probably be fine. In ten years this will be a blip on the radar. We will have to give up some thing that we expected to get, but we will not go hungry. And the best things in life remain free.
And to be honest, I really enjoyed living in an apartment when I was a kid. The space meant little to me (I was small), and there were lots of kids around to play with and a terrific playground. (There’s one here, too, and a river.) And a new car or an old car — I mean, honestly, how much does this affect the quality of your day-to-day life?
We’ve already trimmed most of the fat we could, and it’s fine. We have no cable (who needs 55 channels of cooking shows?), the slowest possible internet (which is usually indistinguishable from the fastest), we rarely eat out (unless we find a two-for-one coupon for Schlotzsky’s). We both have Google Voice, which gives us free calls and texts from our computers, and we each have pay-as-you-go cell phones for emergencies that cost about $7 a month. We don’t drink foofy coffee drinks or carbonated beverages. We drink tea at 25 cents a bag, water, and diluted fruit juice. We’re not planning any vacations for the next, oh, decade or so, unless it’s to visit family or go camping.
In short, we’ll figure it out, and it will be far more than worth it. Otherwise we’d have made different choices. And we were damn lucky to have those choices available to us.
Comparing ourselves to others, or to what we “should” have, can be really hard. So maybe we shouldn’t do that. Maybe we should just enjoy the unique blessings of being who we are.
ONE: Time Passing
But believe me, I know how hard it can be not to live in counterfactuals. Something else “should have” happened. We “should have” been parents by now. This whole nightmare “should never have” happened.
When you live like that, you’re living in resistance. And that is painful, because it’s bullshit.
Simple facts: This is real. This is life. This is my path. I’m not on pause. I’m not in some alternate dimension. This is it. I’m right here, and I’m on a quest. An amazing one with unimaginable rewards.
Other people don’t need this quest. They just stumble onto the prize. Good for them. But can they ever truly appreciate it? Can the full fragile unlikely miracle of it ever fully enter their consciousness? I hope so. But their experience will be very different from ours.
Some people are born into wealth, others have to work for it from the ground up. Two very different paths. Who’s to say which is better?
I hear from so many people that after years and years of trying to have kids, they end up feeling like they are glad they spent all those years because they ended up with exactly the children they were meant to have. (In one touching story, a little girl said, “God just needed more time to make me,” or something like that. I can’t remember it exactly, but it was really cute.) This always makes me smile.
I’m not one of those “everything happens for a reason” people. I used to be, but tell that to the people in Syria. It’s honestly a cruel thing to say to people going through hard times. Sometimes shitty things just happen.
But we humans do have an incredible capacity for conjuring meaning out of thin air. For finding the meaning in shitty situations. For learning to be a better and more empathetic person after going through hardships.
And you truly never know what’s around the bend. I mean, if you want to live in counterfactuals, you can always go the other way. For example:
- If I’d had a kid when I wanted to, at age 34, maybe the kid would have died or had serious problems, or I’d have died in childbirth.
- Maybe the kid I have at 38 or 40 will save my life when I’m 50, otherwise I would have died at that young age. Hence, having a kid later in life will actually mean more time to spend with my kids.
- Maybe our kids will keep us young, and our friends with older kids will be super jealous of us.
- Maybe our kids will get knocked up really young so we’ll have plenty of time with our grandkids after all. (Ha.)
- Maybe in four years I’ll be looking back and thinking, “It all happened just as it was supposed to.”
In other words, it may be worse than I imagined (as it was during these past four years, though the past four years certainly weren’t all bad) or it may be a thousand times better.
Either way, what’s the point of being sour-pussed now?
So this is me, trying not to be sour-pussed, trying not to be spoiled and ungrateful for the many, many blessings in my life, trying not to spend all my time tapping my foot like an impatient cartoon waiting for the next step. Trying to be truly present, not living merely in phantoms like hopes, fears, anger and resistance.
Recognizing I’m human and trying not to give myself too hard a time when I inevitably stamp my foot and gnash my teeth. (Hey, it’ll give me that much more empathy for my toddler(s), right?)
Trying to breathe when all I want to do is fight against a reality I didn’t choose. (There are effective ways to struggle toward your goals, but for each there are a thousand ineffective ways.)
Using all the skills I’ve learned to get back to a good place each time I start sliding toward the bad place. (Writing is one thing that helps. Meditating, exercising, reading good books, and spending time in nature are other classics. And sometimes spending time with kids, even though it can be bittersweet.)
BONUS: Eating healthy, supplements, etc.
At first all this bullshit healthy eating made me feel like some kind of lame-ass nun doing penance for a sin I never committed.
But after being on a healthy diet for long enough, a lot of the old crappy “comfort” foods don’t even taste as good as they used to. A little wine now and then is nice, but it doesn’t feel as good as it used to. I can take it or leave it. Coffee and chocolate don’t taste as good as they used to, either. This may sound horrifying to some people, but for me it’s nice. A smoothie of frozen blackberries and mango chunks with almond milk and half a banana is more satisfying to me now than a bowl of ice cream. That can only be a good thing, right?
After all, most of the “comfort” food we’ve been conditioned to eat is scientifically designed to make our tastebuds moan in simulated pleasure while offering very little in the way of nutrition — and we see the results of that in our society. Getting into healthy habits in my thirties will hopefully carry forward for a lifetime and into my children’s lives as well.
Hell, these healthy habits alone may end up prolonging my life longer than the years we’ve spent trying to conceive! Which would make it REALLY stupid for me to be complaining now.
All that said… Please, please, please send us a good embryo profile soon. We’re burning daylight, people.