Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Land of the F*cked

A recent series of posts at Airing the Chapel stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Airing observed a pattern in the replies: fertile women who never question Catholic leaders versus infertile women who do. I'm not at all interested in rehashing any of the debates over on ATC's blog (though I would be happy to discuss Augustine anytime), but I was struck by this division. On infertility blogs, I'll often hear people described as fertile and infertile. For example, "My fertile best friend came over yesterday," or "There's another infertile who works with me who...."

Infertile women seem to live in a different reality from everyone else. Our bodies don't work the way they should. Sex does not lead to pregnancy. For some of us, the normal process of menstruation is excruciating. For others, our cycles are completely unpredictable; our bodies are beyond our control. (The other day, I walked past the condoms at CVS and marveled that there is all this stuff designed to prevent pregnancy. I can't imagine ever again being in a position where I would fear getting pregnant. I barely remember what that was like, to feel like sex was this awesome thing that could actually bring a new person into the world.) 

So I can see why some of us feel like humanity is divided into fertiles and infertiles. But upon reflection, I think there is a division, but it's not between fertiles and infertiles. There are the folks who marry the love of their lives in their 20s, avoid pregnancy when they need to, get pregnant when they want to, and have healthy children. They live, or seem to live, in a land of sunshine and rainbows.

And then there are the rest of us, the inhabitants of what Anne Lamott calls "the land of the fucked." Those of us who wander for years longing for romantic connection, wondering why there seems to be a partner for every other woman, but not for us. Those of us who are stricken with cancer. Those of us who find ourselves married to abusive, alcoholic partners and who must choose between our most sacred vows and our safety. Those of us who get married, get pregnant, and find ourselves parenting children with developmental disabilities, or far worse. And of course, those of us who planned to have children, only to find it's not as easy as we were always led to believe. 

We, the inhabitants of the land of the fucked, ask the hard questions. We live at the margins of normalcy, in the grey areas. We make tragic choices. We hunger for compassion, only to find that the sunshine and rainbows crowd recoils from us. 

We frighten them because we know the truth: the separation between the two lands is a mere line in the sand, not a fortified wall. Anyone at any time could end up in the land of the fucked. Healthy living, prayer, good choices: these things offer no protection. Rather than face this reality, it's much easier to turn away, to take turns as Job's comforters, or to offer empty advice, "Just relax and it will happen."

No, it won't. But it would be better for you, emissary from the Land of Sunshine and Rainbows, to believe that it will. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

It was always in the back of my mind

I have an aunt who was infertile. When my periods started, along with the severe pain, my mom told me that Aunty V had also suffered from terrible cramps her whole life. When she was in her 50s, they found stage IV endometriosis; she had a complete hysterectomy and a bowel resection. Whenever I was doubled over with pain from my period, my mom would reflect that Aunty V had suffered the same way. And so, at the tender age of 13, I began to worry that I too would be infertile.

When I was 24, I met the man I wanted to marry. Unfortunately, he didn't want to marry me. He didn't think "we" were ready, but I really thought that meant that he didn't think I was ready. When I finally left him, a week before my 27th birthday, I remember thinking "My time is running out. I might never be able to have a baby."

Growing up with the specter of infertility has proved surprisingly advantageous in coping with actual infertility. I saw how my aunt and uncle lived rich, full lives. They traveled the world; they did all kinds of charity work. Though my extended family is dispersed all over the world, they found time to visit all of the branches of the family at least once a year. Their home is filled with beautiful artwork that they wouldn't have been able to afford if they had children. My aunt and my mom are both amazing cooks, but for my mom, who had to put dinner on the table, cooking was drudgery. For my aunt, who always had the option of going out to eat if she wanted, cooking was a passion. I saw first hand that infertility is not a death sentence. Living child-free can open you to the world.

Like many immigrant parents, my parents always emphasized education. My dad's sister never went to college because my grandfather believed that educating girls was a waste of money. My dad saw how his sister had to marry someone with no interests or social skills, because it was her only way to survive economically. My dad didn't want that for his daughters. He always told us that if we had an education and a career, we wouldn't have to get married unless we wanted to. Even when I was a teenager, I added in my head, "And if I can't have children, I will always have my career."

I've been thinking about this recently because I've been realizing that in many religious sub-cultures, women are supposed to be mothers first and foremost--not only mothers, but mothers of six, eight, ten children. While motherhood can supposedly be understood spiritually, many girls in these communities grow up with dreams of having big families, staying at home to nurture and educate their children, and then enjoying their grandchildren in their later years. For many people, this works out just fine, but for others, including us infertiles, life doesn't go according to plan. With one in six couples struggling with infertility, we need to do a better job of preparing our girls for a Plan B (no, not that one).

Girls need education. They need to be able to envision larger horizons and more creative futures. They need to develop talents and capacities unrelated to motherhood. Most of all, girls need to hear that motherhood is only one of several wonderful possible ways to love and serve one another.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Treatment for Infertility: When are the costs too high?

Jen at This is More Personal recently stopped blogging for the best of reasons: in December, she and her husband adopted a baby girl.

Jen's struggles have helped me so much in my own journey. After one round of IVF, which resulted in a chemical pregnancy, and a few canceled cycles, Jen and her husband decided they couldn't take any more. Jen's experience put words to something I had been thinking for a while: IVF has emotional, financial and physical costs that are rarely, or perhaps never, acknowledged by the medical profession. Reading through Jen's narratives of her IVF journey made me clearly see that IVF would break me. The stress of spending $15K on a twenty percent chance of getting pregnant, the mood swings that come with high doses of hormones (for whatever reason, I'm extremely sensitive to all medications), the anxiety of being constantly poked and prodded.....I knew I could not do that. The emotional, financial and physical costs of IVF would be too high for me.

(This actually had very little to do with most religious arguments against IVF. I'm not convinced that the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage should never be separated. As for the destruction of precious embryos....what was my body was doing with my embryos every month for a solid year? I was unlikely to produce dozens of eggs, and a couple embryos would probably have been safer in the hands of a competent embryologist than in my inflamed womb.) 

So instead, I turned to alternative therapies. I had always had a healthy diet, but for a solid year, I eliminated alcohol, sugar, refined grains, fried foods, and caffeine. I ditched exercise that I loved, like swimming and intense yoga and instead stuck to the brutally boring Fertility Yoga. I took my temperatures every single morning, stressing out when I ovulated a few days early, because of course, women with DOR "always" ovulate early (except when we are completely asymptomatic). I meditated, I prayed. I structured my days around what supplements I needed to take and when. My entire life became about trying to get pregnant.

It didn't work. Eventually, I realized that these alternative therapies also have high costs. When you give up activities and things that used to give you pleasure in order to get pregnant, and you don't get pregnant, month after devastating month, you begin to lose your soul. Eventually, I realized that I could not continue to live that way; even if I did eventually get pregnant, didn't my child deserve better than the person I had become: jealous, bitter, joyless?

So, I've stopped. I need to update my supplements page, because beyond a few vitamins for basic health, I've stopped taking them. I still do Fertility Yoga, but I also swim and go to Ashtanga Yoga once a week (even in the luteal phase). I'm still staying away from fried foods, because they really do make me feel sick, but if I feel no immediate benefit to eliminating a certain food, I just go ahead and eat it (in moderation).

More joy in my life makes it easier to face infertility, and the fact that I might never get pregnant. Because really, nothing--not even motherhood is worth my soul.