Please Hold For The Children

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Children — especially preparing for them during fertility treatments — play a central role in our lives. When children don’t arrive it can be devastating.

Can someone please turn off that annoying hold music? I’m sure some of you can hear it.

For those of you who can’t, you’ll have to imagine that irritating music that plays on the phone while you’re on an endless customer service phone call waiting to be helped. Only in this case, your wait time is indefinite. That’s the way it is with the hold music that surrounds Infertility.

The music began playing with the decision to start our family and against that soundtrack we did what most people do, we factored in the children:

•    Let’s buy this house! It’s expensive but it’s in a neighborhood with the best public schools.
•    Oh I can’t take that job – it’s not a parent-friendly environment.
•    We’d like to take that extended trip but we really should start a college fund – it’s only a matter of time before the babies arrive, and everyone tells us education is getting ridiculously expensive.
•    I’d really like to get that sporty two-seater but where will the car seats go?

For infertiles, it’s amazing how many aspects of our lives get shaped waiting for an outcome that may not actually happen. I adjusted my expectations bit by bit as we made more and more discoveries about our inability to conceive naturally but children remained a guiding force in planning our lives. Endless tests, prods or treatments later, there I was.

Little by Little my Life Became all About Battling Infertility … For the Children

•    I really don’t think we should remodel until we know how many bedrooms we’re going to need.
•    Now don’t forget you can’t be out of town on these dates. I’ll be ovulating.
•    The treatments are going to cost HOW MUCH? And it’s all out of pocket? Well, we can cut back on discretionary spending and tap into the college fund to pay the, gulp, tab.
•   I can’t quit and take that exciting startup job.  It will own me body and soul. We just can’t risk it.
•    Sorry, we’d like to join you on that adventure but we’re sort of tied up with, uh, some scheduling conflicts.
•    Honey, you know we can’t make any plans. We’re at the mercy of the clinic’s scheduling.
•    We have to cancel hosting the Thanksgiving dinner at our place. I’ll be in the post-embryo transfer waiting period. The doctors explicitly said I can’t push myself.
•    I’m kind of emotionally exhausted. I don’t want to think about what comes next.
•    Can’t we just “be” for a while? I don’t want to think about life without children.
•    Sigh. I get it. There won’t be any children.

In time the hold music becomes so familiar to infertiles that we stop hearing it altogether, and for me that’s been a dozen years! Infertility is so much like Waiting for Godot. There’s waiting, waiting, waiting. Who knew my 30s would become the lost decade? Knowing what I know now, I’d like to petition the universe to refund that time and money. I’d like to rewind so I can retroactively redirect my life without the children.

Part of coming to terms with Infertility, I’ve come to realize, is understanding just how pervasive it is in controlling not only your body but your life, your future, your plans.

Now about that hold button. It’s just so difficult to disconnect entirely. Preparing indefinitely for an outcome that Infertility hijacked has thrown me for a loop. I’m a little like a prisoner being released after a 12 year sentence. I hardly know how to act.

For now, while I empty my head of the thoughts and behaviors of someone planning for the children, I’ve left the receiver in the other room with the door shut. That way the hold music doesn’t seem so loud.

19 comments

  • MLO

    This is soooo true! It is exactly what I’m feeling right now and I am wondering about where I am going next – or what to do with my life.

    You do a wonderful job of summing up how it all feels.

    Pax,

    MLO

  • Juliet

    An interesting post.

    I’ve always said I’d feel better if I KNEW I couldn’t have children… I’d leave work and take that MA in creative writing (but why risk the maternity benefits until I know?); I’d work harder at coming to terms with adoption; I’d travel etc etc. Instead each of my months goes by measured in two week increments – and I’ve become aware of, and started to hate, the awful lost time.

    Yet, on closer reflection, you’re right, it IS hard to know how I would feel – if, like you – I had the answer and it was ‘never’. I love the analogy of a prisoner being let out after 12 years. I really see that the time it takes to try fertility solutions is a prison sentence – where we just keep wondering when we’re going to be released, and what the terms of that release will be. And you’re right – I don’t know how I will deal with that release if it is without a child.

    Thanks

    Juliet

  • Brilliant observation. I had never realized how much we plan our lives around a future that we start out taking for granted.

    And how insidious the background noise is.

  • This is so painfully true. You said it so well. I wonder if a fertile could “get it” from reading this post.

  • Great post — and so true. Strangely this “hold music” is one of the aspects of IF that seems most difficult for me to convey to my friends: why D. and I are so hesitant about changes, small and large. Everything has so much weight, from signing up for a class to buying new furniture to planning next year’s vacation. When you’re struggling to find balance, any change feels enormously risky.

  • loribeth

    Very, very true!! I am six years past my last treatment, & I am still finding it difficult to get past that “life on hold” mindset. The vacation to Disney World, the purchase of a video camera, redecorating the spare bedroom (which was to have been the nursery) — all things put on hold “until we have kids.” I realize now that we don’t need the excuse of having kids to do any of those things, and maybe some of them we really don’t want to do anyway, but it’s difficult to shift the thinking and planning and expectations of a lifetime. There are so many things that dh & I COULD do because we don’t have kids, but we sometimes seem seized by this peculiar form of inertia. I do sometimes feel like we are stuck in a rut, and infertility surely played a role in getting us there.

    As a childless person, I find I resent being at work while others go off on their year-long (in Canada) parental leaves — particularly since it is funded out of employment insurance, which all of us have to pay into. While I know it’s not a “vacation,” parenting angst aside, it is at least a change of pace & time spent away from the office. While for me, I sometimes feel like my work life is now on hold… until I can retire! I wish that money could be used to fund a sabbatical. Lord knows the rules are so restrictive that I would probably never be able to collect it if I were ever actually to become unemployed.

  • Deathstar

    Well said. People often wonder we don’t own our home yet. At one point, we were looking at homes (near a school and day care) wondering whether we should get a 2 or 3 bedroom. If we got pregnant, then definitely we’d go for the 3 bedroom. If not, then the 2 bedroom. After all the IVF/acupuncture/Chinese medicine/naturopathic supplements, we didn’t have any money left over for a new home. Now we need about $30K – $40K to adoption. Can’t afford to waste any more time or my age will disqualify me for the type of adoption I want.

    I can’t plan any major course of action because I have no idea when anything is going to happen. I’ve made so many expectations and assumptions in the past that didn’t come true. And I’m still waiting.

  • And the goal is….to hang up the phone?

    This post makes clear what so many people have trouble understanding.

  • Bea

    Absolutely. I think we’ve been lucky in a lot of ways. With infertility coverage, government-subsidised university degrees, etc etc etc I come from a country where you can afford to hedge your bets a little. It’s good to jump in and buy that house, take that job, do that degree. It helps a lot.

    Bea

  • This is so, so true for me right now. I want to take a break, but I also want to change jobs. Right now, where I’m at, I have an ungodly amount of saved PTO that would be maternity leave, and all my injectibles are covered. There’s no way I’d get that where I want to go. Plus, I don’t know that I’d have the flexibility to make it to all the appointments I’d have to go to. And who wants to get pregnant right after starting a new job, anyway? So I’m caught on hold, where I should have already been pregnant and given birth. Who, me, bitter?

  • *nods*

    It is true that we have in the past, and continue to make decisions based on the assumption that we will be having children… just not sure when. So in making even the smallest of decisions, we take into account our ART schedule, whether or not I might be pregnant, whether or not we will have started adoption proceedings, etc.

    And the musak plays on…

  • I was going to say “I can only imagine..” but I don’t think I can. You have described the state of not-being so well that it pulls at my heart. I think you must be doing such a service to verbalize what so many are feeling. Well done my friend. (I like the lavender)

  • Wow. You know, I didn’t even really realize that I was doing this, but I am. I constantly have the “what ifs” playing in the background. What if I am pregnant when we have plans to go to New York over the holidays – should we cancel? What if I get pregnant next year, I surely should save my sick time now. We are actually in the middle of a remodel (adding a bedroom) for the baby…the baby that may or may not ever enter our lives. Even the two week wait makes me pause before eating sushi or drinking wine…

    I agree with one of the other comments: I wish someone could just look me in the eye and tell me if it was going to happen or not. It would make things so much easier.

  • MotherofNone

    I may or may not ever be fortunate enough to have my own biological child but I got off the IF roller coaster about 2 years ago. What exactly does this mean? I 1) stopped living by the treatment calendar; 2) stopped making ANY decisions with reference to children except to the extent of making time for doctor visits, etc.; and 3) (most importantly) MADE myself start dreaming about a kick-a** life without kids – what it would look like, and how I could attain it. That may seem selfish, but only you and other infertiles will appreciate how important it is. Going back to school is a great idea. It is like starting out in life all over again, with no expectation about taking a break to have kids. Let’s start a club: infertiles going back to school (I am applying for Fall 08).

  • “Who knew my 30s would become the lost decade?”

    This line in particular really got me in the gut. Such a beautifully-written post.

    I think what I hate most about actively pursing IF treatment is how hard it makes it to enjoy and appreciate the present — to really love the Now. I mean really, it’s all we have, yet I am constantly living “ahead” to the next week in my day-planner. Counting down to holidays in 28-day cycles. Wishing I could just hibernate until I can wake up hugely and securely pregnant.

    I worry that years from now I will be so sad looking back at this time. Knowing how much I had to be grateful for, but wasn’t even seeing because I felt so anxiously incomplete/not sure how to live day to day unless my I knew I’d be a mom eventually or not.

  • This is so true. I’ve always known I wanted children. We go to school and get a great job and work hard so we can save money and provide for our family. We fall in love and get married so we can have a family. Everything in my life has been based on when I have children one day. We get a nice home so we can fill the home with children. I’ve built my whole life on having a child…so when I can’t start the family I planned for, everything in my life feels like a complete fraud and waste. I’ve based everything in my life on building this life I thought I would have. Infertility isn’t just about the pain and disappointment..and about our bodies failing us.. its so much more. I’ve tried so hard to enjoy my life now and do the things I want so I don’t regret this time in my life when I’m waiting. Its the unknown that is the hardest. If I just knew when and how I will have kids.. than I could just let it go and enjoy the moment. Sometimes I can’t help but feel like I’ve been wasting years and years of my life on pursuing something that I don’t know if I will ever have.

  • Ashley

    I just found your blog and I’m loving this. I have no problem conceiving, but I’ve had 3 miscarriages in 9 months (no children). this post struck a nerve as it’s EXACTLY where I am. Thank you for validating my feelings.

    • Ashley: Sorry for your losses. What a tough road you’ve been on. Glad to hear I was able to help, if only in a small way, to make you feel less alone. Welcome your thoughts any time…