So, I really should be working on a post for National Infertility Awareness Week OR writing an update about Saga of the Septum that Wouldn’t Die OR at the very least, my tentative future plans for an FET. Instead, I am going to…well, I’m going to bitch. I try not to do that too much on this blog, because I think it’s important to stay positive and constructive. However, the feelings that have been getting me down this month are feelings I think a lot of women have. And, I think it is occasionally permissible – and maybe even constructive – to share the real, uncensored, and gritty side of infertility. So, here we go…
It’s my birthday this month. We celebrated with my friends last weekend. Let’s just say it didn’t go exactly how I had imagined it. Or, let’s be real: It didn’t go exactly how I HOPED. Because at this point, I just assume I am a magnet for freakishly untimely pregnancy-and-baby-related coincidences that send me into a panicky pit of despair.
Shall I illustrate?
(1) The weekend after my miscarriage: Alex and I walk into a local market and are greeted by an aggressively happy welcome of, “Hey there – We’re talking about babies!” And, indeed, the pregnant customer and her friends enthusiastically continued to do so, noting that they were so glad to be having their second or third kids, because they were getting so old. They were 28. Ouch.
(2) In the faculty room at school: The clinic calls to discuss the pathology report after my miscarriage. I’ve hardly hung up the phone when two coworkers walk in, talking about babies, and decide to bring me into the convo by joking, “Hey Jen, you look too relaxed. You need to have some kids! You have too much time on your hands. You need some kids to keep you busy.” They had no idea what was going on with me. But, still. Universe!! What’s up with that?
Anyway, back to The Birthday.
So, I think I doomed this birthday from the beginning. My very organized best friend texted me a few weeks ago to remind me to pick a date for my birthday. I picked a few dates and they chose one that worked well for them. And, here’s where I went wrong. Usually, our casual outings cater to our friends’ schedule. We drive to their place, meet up before bedtime, eat at child-friendly places, etc. Totally reasonable stuff…most of the time. When it came to my birthday, I should have set some boundaries. However, I didn’t want to impose, and they didn’t mention getting a sitter, so I started accommodating their schedules before they even asked me to. I immediately chose 5:00 to accommodate the babies’ bedtimes, and left it up to them to decide if they wanted to bring the kids or leave them with their parents. Of course, they brought the kids.
A little context: My birthday is a sensitive day for me. I think it is for a lot of women going through infertility. It marks another year of infertility and reminds you of how “old” you’re getting. Since we started trying to conceive in March 2014, my birthday is also our TTC anniversary (putting it that way sounds so festive, doesn’t it?). There’s also the fact that we miscarried a few months ago. So, while I still enjoy my birthday, it has acquired some emotional baggage recently.
The birthday was a small gathering – just two close friends, their husbands, and their daughters. Friend A’s daughter was born shortly after we started trying and will be two in April. Friend B’s daughter is 6 months old, born this past September. Dinner at the restaurant was good. A lot of talk about babies. With two babies at the table, what do you expect? It was cool, though.
Then, Friend A graciously invited us back to her house to hang out. Again, this is where I went wrong.
We arrived to find Friend A & Friend B in the playroom with their daughters. Usually, I love playtime with Friend A’s daughter, who we are very close to. But, this was different. As I was sitting there, watching my two friends hold their daughters in their laps, I started to think about how empty my own lap was. Seeing my two friends together, bonding over their babies, is apparently a major trigger for me. I felt like an outsider. And, I felt empty. Not only would my own baby be there if I wasn’t infertile, but I at least would have been in my third trimester if I hadn’t miscarried. All of this was running through my head. I felt jealous. I felt upset. And suddenly, I felt angry that my birthday celebration had turned into an hour of playtime. That’s not what an infertile lady wants to do on her 31st birthday.
I contemplated coming up with an excuse to leave, but ended up sticking around until my friend put her daughter to bed. Again, this is where I went wrong. Out of the blue, Friend A says, “Did you see on Facebook that so-and-so is pregnant with her second already? Can you believe it? That’s really soon.” (So-and-so is her college friend, who I’ve gotten to know through the years. We’re not close. I see her maybe once or twice a year at Friend A’s gatherings. However, this college friend also started TTC when I did – and announced her first pregnancy when my first cycle failed two years ago).
I did not react well. I just gaped at Friend A for a sec. I stood there, thinking “Did this just happen? I’m not even on Facebook right now, and I still get a play by play of pregnancy announcements on my birthday?” And then I kind of awkwardly said something about how I didn’t follow that college friend on Facebook anymore because this type of stuff tends to upset me. At that point, my friend changed the topic.
To be honest, I was angry for a sec I didn’t understand why my friend thought this would be a good topic of conversation. I know that she had no intention of upsetting me. She’s a really, really good friend. She is one of the only people we plan to keep “in the know” when we move into another FET. And she has that dubious honor for a reason. I’ve learned that often, when people don’t know what to say to you about a shitty situation, they don’t say anything at all. I’m guilty of it. But, Friend A always says something, even when she doesn’t know what to say. She never, ever turns away. She is the one person in my life who always asks, even though she knows she may be rewarded with a long-winded thesis on the intricacies of ovarian stimulation or an anal reminder that embryos are transferred, not implanted. This is just one of the reasons why she is my best friend.
After having some time to think about it, I realized a couple things.
(1) Let it Go. Even your biggest supporters are sometimes going to say or do things that upset you. It is inevitable and it is not their fault. Because there is no guidebook for infertility. If the people who love you and root for you every day occasionally commit infertility faux pas, then I think that’s just a testament to the fact that this shit is fucking complicated! Just trust that they are trying their best, but can’t understand all the nuances of our emotions because they haven’t experienced infertility firsthand. I mean, if I’m really honest with myself, the fact is that sometimes I don’t even understand what I’m feeling. Which brings me to my next point…
(2) Communicate. It is your responsibility to communicate your needs and expectations to your friends. They are not mind-readers. And, even if you think they should just “know better,” that isn’t a constructive attitude. A true friend wants to do the “right” thing by you. So, help them do that. I guarantee you that if a friend loves you, they will be happy that you shared the best ways for them to support you.
(3) Get in tune with yourself. This requires some deep thought. In order to communicate your needs and boundaries, you need to know what those are in the first place. So, make time to take stock of where you are at, emotionally. Be honest with yourself about what types of outings and conversations you can handle, and don’t beat yourself up if you decide you do need to skip out on a baby shower or kids party.
Looking back, here’s what I would have done differently. If I had honestly reflected on my feelings, I would have communicated that I needed some child-free time on my birthday and proposed having an adults only outing. If I had been flexible and we picked a date ahead of time, I’m pretty sure they would have been happy to ask their parents to babysit. But, I’ll never know, because I just didn’t ask.
Looking forward, I am going to communicate more clearly with my friends and family. It’s pretty inevitable that somebody in my close circle – (probably several somebodies) – is going to get pregnant in the next year or two. I’ve always assumed that those who know about my infertility would break the news privately (preferably email or phone), as is dictated by infertility etiquette. But, I realized, I should never assume. They’re not mind-readers. Instead, it’s my responsibility to facilitate a discussion about how I’d prefer to hear a pregnancy announcement. That will probably be a big weight off of their shoulders, too, because it takes the guesswork out of the equation.
I think that sums it up. Not too bitchy, was it?