I’m Not the Only One to Hide in the Ladies Room?

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I don’t eat nearly as much chocolate as I once did. Why? Blogging feedback. Yes. The comfort of chocolate pales in comparison to the soothing that comes from reader comments (and no calories!).  The latest round took me to something of a “comment high” (think runner’s high — though damn my asthma! — I have never managed to run long enough to get that desired effect).

For far too long I thought I was on the verge of losing my mind … that my response to the “fertile world” was an anomaly. Even now when I’m feeling surrounded — e.g. alone in a room full of happy, cheerful parents swapping stories — well, it’s just so reassuring to realize how not alone I am. Apparently running for cover — to hide the ladies room — amid kidpalooza talk is not an uncommon response among my people. We’ll have to work out a silent code so we can find each other. With all of us being so exceptional at the silence thing it shouldn’t be a problem.

Humor aside, your comments also make me think. They shed light on how heavy our hearts can be as a result of shattered hopes and dreams. A new reader comment and question from Jennifer K came to a previous post of mine — one that talks about how difficult it is to cope with infertility since we’re forced to relive the pain and loss associated with it every day. She writes:

I happened to come across [your] post today while looking for support to deal with my latest disappointment. I am 40, have been trying to conceive for 5 years, and have given up on treatment after 4 unsuccessful IVFs and not a single pregnancy – so you’d think I’d know better. But this month my period was one day late and last night I fell asleep thinking of due dates, and baby names and cute ways to tell my husband. I swear this morning’s reality check was devastating as my first failed IVF.

Jennifer: I just ache for you. I know exactly how this felt. How often I’ve been in your shoes or wanted to simply hide from the reality you describe…

I am not comfortable (for now) with the other options available to me, but today I feel like I’d do anything just so I don’t have to continue feeling this same pain over and over again.

I had the thought that perhaps women in my situation who eventually become mothers through adoption or donor eggs are able to heal from infertility at about 99%, while women who choose to be childfree, or have that status forced upon them by circumstance, can only ever hope for 80% recovery. What do you think?

I don’t want to still be feeling this pain when I’m eighty. (Funny I almost wrote when I’m a grandmother – see how hard this is!)

The recovery question is a tough one, Jennifer, (and I invite my readers to weigh in, too). Not long ago I wondered if there would ever be a day when the intensity and pain you describe would ever lessen. It engulfed me, and all but took over my life. While I’ve learned to smile again, the darker days haunt me still. They live in my memory just beneath the surface. When people describe the joy of feeling their baby kick for the first time or seeing and holding their babies just after birth, I’m catapulted back to the devastation of hearing that my fragile embryos didn’t succeed. It is near impossible to convey to those who easily built their families how badly I wanted to conceive with my husband — so badly that I was willing to risk my body and my financial security.

No Need to Hide

I can’t speak for the recovery of women who went on to adopt or succeed with donors eggs, but I can tell you that the recovery from what we’ve collectively experienced doesn’t happen over night. It takes time. It takes grieving. It takes support and compassion from caring and sensitive people to help us get back on our feet so that we have the fortitude to live in a world that doesn’t understand or give much (if any) thought to the pain we carry. I’ve channeled my emotions into writing. I know others who have found comfort devoting their talents and generous spirits to causes, people or initiatives that bring a different sort of satisfaction.

More than 10 years ago my husband and I agreed when we embarked on the last leg of infertility treatments that we didn’t want to have regrets when we were older. We wanted to know that we could look back and know we did our best. And we did. It wasn’t easy to arrive where we are today but we are fiercely devoted to each other and we know we are not alone in what we’ve lived through. Neither are you, dear Jennifer.

20 comments

  • The next time I’m in a crowded washroom, I’m going to be looking at the other women in a whole new light. ; )

    I’m thinking that (as you have written in the past, PJ) it was easier to “come to terms” with infertility 30 or 40 or 50 years ago, when we knew so much less & the options were so much more limited. You maybe tried DI or clomid, adopted, or remained childless & moved on with your life. In part, I think it’s the continual offering of new carrots — a new ART, a new drug protocol, a better clinic with higher success rates — that makes it so difficult to leave infertility behind us.

    As I’ve said before, I don’t like to feel that people are pitying me because I’m childless. Overall, I know I have a pretty good life. There is still a lot of joy in this world.

    But at the same time, infertility & loss have changed me forever & I think they will always be with me, lurking below the surface, as you said, perhaps flaring up every now & then. I don’t want pity, but I would like some recognition of & respect for what I’ve been through to reach this point in my life.

  • Heidi

    I’m 37 with 2 failed IVFs so I am dealing with the realization that it may not work. And, my husband is very anti-donor eggs and anti-adoption at this stage in the game. So it’s hard to say the least.

    The best way I know to cope is to think of grand ways to live my life without children, so that the prospect of being childless doesn’t darken my whole world. The world we live in presents many opportunities for a fulfilling life. For me, setting alternate goals, like getting another degree, or moving to a foreign country, or changing careers for the fun of it, makes me feel more secure about the future.

    Trust me, I’m not a pollyana, I know this is a bitch, I’m living it and I struggle with ways to cope. My alternate goals are not my first choice, which of course is to be a mama. I’m just trying to get on as best as I can.

  • MLO

    That was a powerful post. I know that I don’t understand our society’s insistence on “instant” healing without acknowledging that grief and healing are individual things that take different amounts of time for different people. Is it the television habit that has made people less able to comprehend that everything is not wrapped up neatly at the end of an episode?

    It bothers me that anyone feels pressure to come to terms with anything on someone else’s schedule. That is just not right.

    Today is the birthday of my Great Aunt – who is childless. She is also one of the best people I have ever known. Her compassion and love are so abundant that it is hard to imagine life without her. With the passing of my Great Uncle (her brother, also childless), it looms closer that she may not have many more birthdays with us.

    Yes, she came to terms with her situation. But, and this is the important part, I can tell that there are still hurts there. Covered, kept even from herself at times, but still there.

    It is not my place, nor anyone else’s place, to decide when someone “should” be healed.

  • I’m glad you wrote this post. I have also wondered what the healing is like for those of us who decided to use alternative means to have a child compared with living child free.

    In all honesty, PJ, your blog helped encourage me to keep trying to parent even without our mutually genetic baby. I thought that I could spare myself some years of heartache if I could have a child no matter the avenue. I no longer believe that is so cut and dry.

    While I do not regret my decision and hope that the genetic connection will matter less and less, the wounds of infertility did not just vanish because I seem to have a viable pregnancy. I am still grieving and recovering from 6 years of failed cycles and treatments.

    Jennifer has an interesting question that I don’t think can ever really be answered. It is such and individual choice and no one gets to have it both ways. I wish Jennifer peace no matter what she decides.

  • I had the thought that perhaps women in my situation who eventually become mothers through adoption or donor eggs are able to heal from infertility at about 99%, while women who choose to be childfree, or have that status forced upon them by circumstance, can only ever hope for 80% recovery. What do you think?

    This question is one I’d never thought of before, but it seems it would be a terrific thesis or dissertation.

    It’s difficult to assess because each of us gets only 1 path: parenthood through some means, or non parenthood. So by default, you’d be comparing apples to oranges.

  • wonderful post and response to jennifer. and I don’t know how I could even begin to face the future without knowing that others have blazed this path before me and somehow survived, even thrived, in spite of all the pain and lost hope.

    and if I didn’t say so before, I also retreat to the bathroom, especially if there’s no exit to fresh air nearby.

    thanks as always for sharing your experience and wisdom. ~luna

  • One episode of shattered hopes and dreams is bad enough, but the cycle repeats itself over and over with infertility. To continually pick yourself up and muscle on is exhausting emotionally, physically and financially. I don’t think anyone ever truly “heals” from this process, even if you go on to have children through whatever means are available. I’m about to have IVF with donor eggs, and it’s been an exquisitely painful road to come to terms with that decision (and some serious contemplation was done in lots of bathroom stalls! :). People are everywhere who don’t appreciate conceiving effortlessly, and have absolutely no idea how devastating infertility is, and just how many levels you can fall through before you get to the bottom. I know this experience will color my life forever – especially if the IVF is successful. I hope will never take anything for granted again.
    To Jennifer: be kind to yourself – you’ll find your way.
    To PJ – thank you for your blog. You speak for a lot of people…….

  • My guess is that those who choose other routes to motherhood do indeed heal more than those who live childfree. I think the grief for the loss of the biological connection, pregnancy, and opportunity to breastfeed are always there, especially when other parents talk about those things.

    Being single, I always feel like I’ve been denied membership to the “women’s club.” Married friends talk about their husbands and weddings or whatever I can’t join in with stories of my own. IF is similar for me, but it’s at a much deeper level. I’ve had serious relationships with men so I *know* what I’m missing and I realize there’s a chance I could find that again in the future. Never experiencing a pregnancy or motherhood leaves a hopelessness that makes you question the very meaning of your life.

  • I’ll keep you informed after we adopt, but as of today, I am still infertile, have a uterus full of fibroids not embryos, and aging rapidly (at least egg-wise). I still feel sadness, loss, changed in a way I don’t particularly welcome, and in a gold box high up on my bedroom shelf, still lies the little dream of the little girl that only lived in my mind. I expect that only present company will understand what I’m talking about, but I have other dreams now as I move forward, but I will never ever forget what I went through and I’ll never forget that little girl in the box.

  • chicklet

    You’re just so very kind in your words, and in the effort you put out for the rest of us when you’ve got your own struggles. I’m very very glad to have found you, or for you to have found me and then I followed you back, or however it worked… I’m just glad:-)

  • May

    I am still a bit of a novice at the ART thing – my husband and I sometimes discuss the Big Guns, IVF etc. – he isn’t nearly as keen as I am, but I deeply feel that I, too, do not want to get to my 40s or 50s and look back and think ‘but I didn’t try everything…’.

    I know people who mourned a little, but are now completely content with their enforced childlessness; I know people who have one or two children already and whose hearts are broken to shards by their inability to have a second, third,in one case even fourth. There is no rule or rhyme or reason to grief. What we have is neither here nor there when it comes to grieving what we have lost or have been denied.

    I’ve always found running to the bathroom counterproductive – in Britain it’s where women go TO talk about babies and husbands and what-have-you. I tend to ‘nip out for a coffee’ instead, and of course have to go to a different shop to everyone else in the office.

  • jenniferk

    Thank you Pamela Jeanne. I am so moved that you took the time to reach out to me and that some of your readers did the same (and what thoughtful and varied responses!).

    I think why this incident hit me so hard is that I had been doing pretty well for more than a year now. And while I expect to feel continued sadness and isolation, I thought I was beyond a full-out breakdown.

    You and Loribeth are right, healing from infertility today is more complicated than it used to be. Recently a doctor we went to while researching the donor option suggested another IVF with my own eggs using a different protocol and DHEA instead. It feels like a form of masochism for us to open, by even a crack, a door that we had, with great effort, decided to close. And this tiny crack may have made me more vulnerable to an emotional relapse. Also disatisfaction with my career has put a damper on imagining “grand ways to live my life without children”, a technique that I, like Heidi, normally find effective.

    Whatever combination of events provoked it, I love that some of you actually tried to answer my impossible question. (Is it crazy that I still want numbers? Maybe Mel at Stirrup Queens could do a poll: Your current situation and your percentage of recovery out of 100, based on general feelings of well-being and the frequency and duration of unexpected breakdowns).

    I know that no matter what I do I’ll never be entirely healed. I guess I’m just trying to figure out what level of grief I can bear.

    For now it just helps to know that in my pain, a few people out there understood and were thinking of me. Thank you.

  • Wise post and comments. All I know is that because of this online community, no matter what my future holds, I will be ok. Thank you to everyone for making me feel less alone in the virtual ladies room 🙂

  • I am turning 39 this month and have 5 years of TTC, 2 failed IUIs, and 2 failed IVFs under my belt. I am trying my 3rd IVF in June. And not a single pregnancy to show for any of it.

    I love what Heidi wrote about living life to the fullest. That is what I am determined to do. My husband is utterly and totally against donor eggs or adoption right now, so the reality of living child-free is really hitting home.

    I am constantly reminding myself how good I have it. I really, really do have a good life. But it is so hard not to yearn when I see a pregnant woman walk by, or a new mother with an infant in a stroller. And I still, every day, think WHY NOT ME??? Am I being punished?

    But lately I feel like I have turned a corner. I have moments, big moments, where I feel like — I WILL BE OKAY. And it seems like each day, these thoughts are more and more frequent. Sometimes I have a set-back but other times I make huge leaps forward. I am hoping that once I try my last two IVFs, if I don’t succeed, that I will feel peace. Because I will know that I did everything possible and made my best effort. That is all I can do. It really is not in my control. And I hate spending that much emotion or energy on something I have absolutely no control over. Easier said than done, I know. But something I am working on, day by day.

  • “Apparently running for cover to the ladies room amid kidpalooza talk is not an uncommon response among my people. We’ll have to work out a silent code so we can find each other. With all of us being so exceptional at the silence thing it shouldn’t be a problem.”

    Loved that PJ – definitely my only real smile the day I read it!

    I have to admit that I haven’t really been a “run to the ladies room” kind of gal.

    I have mastered the ability to absent myself completely from a conversation without actually leaving the room. I doubt that I actually disappear, but the effect is the same.

    Next time, maybe I will head to the ladies room to see if any of “my people” are in there. That might be more fun. I will look for you!!

  • gabrielle

    I can’t speak to how it might feel being successful using donor eggs, because we haven’t been that lucky. I can speak to trying with donor eggs. Twice now. And now moving on to more tests before we continue. I can tell you that failing using the supposedly much more successful techniques makes everything feel worse. I made the mistake of reading some recent CDC reports on fertility which document success rates for donor eggs – why was I not among that 60%? It honestly made me feel worse about myself than I have through this whole journey. For the first time, it felt like personal failure.

  • Geohde

    PJ,

    This is a really great post. I guess that all of us simply do the best we can within the limits of biology and finances- but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt if we’re not one of the ‘lucky ones’.

  • The pain of infertility, in my case, is present 24/7. I don’t want to be defined by it, but I just can’t shake it off like a nasty bug. I only fear what will happen in 10 or 20 years, if we don’t go through with DI or adoption…

  • Bea

    What poignant comments and posts.

    I read a study that compared the overall happiness of involuntarily childless women in their fifties to that of women with families. The study concluded they were equally happy. Obviously, this was only on average, and no doubt one or two without children were struggling especially hard. Perhaps one or two of the mother hens as well.

    Still, it comforted me during treatments to think that the pain would diminish that much, even if nothing worked. Like you, I was keen to have no regrets. But I always did wonder if there weren’t little moments of grief that always cropped up unexpectedly from time to time. With luck, I won’t have to find out. I only wish I could wave that wand of mine and take the pain away from everyone else.

    Bea

  • Sarah

    Hi. I’ve been reading you for awhile– found your site by accident but found the content of your writing very compelling– I think it’s very important, what you have to say.

    Obviously everyone is different. I know for me personally(I had 8 miscarriages, no live births) the moment I heard about my daughter in a faraway hospital with nowhere to go, the moment I heard she’d been waiting for months, it was like tons of concrete had been lifted from me— the weight, the grief– it was unbelievably freeing.( It had been happening in steps– first starting out on the adoption path cut a few chains, let in some light) And when I held her and rocked her for the first time, and knew that we had each needed each other out of difficult places, that we had become something beautiful out of two different losses, together– it is an utter cliche, so my sincerest apologies– but it felt like my soul was flying.

    A year and a half later it’s the same. I get so much richness out of parenting this small person. I appreciate her to a degree I wouldn’t have otherwise. My love for her is boundless.

    Sure, sometimes old grief is triggered– seeing an ultrasound sometimes does it, for ex– but it’s usually just a brief association to past trauma, and not about wanting/missing anything in the here and now. I never in a million years thought I would say this, but I wouldn’t change my path to becoming her mother for anything.