Barren Doesn’t Mean Empty
Come on in. We’ve got room in front. Okay, everyone settled? Can you hear me in back? Good. Now, I’ve got a few confessions to make.
As those of you who have been with me from the beginning well know I started this blog feeling broken, empty, isolated — in a word: LOST. I’d been living with infertility for more than a decade and, at 43, found myself confronted with the unthinkable. Infertility treatment of all sorts had proven futile. Time was running out on a spontaneous, miraculous pregnancy and that stark realization flattened me. I was angry, bitter, despairing, prickly. I felt my body had betrayed me. I felt massively misunderstood and, not surprisingly, I didn’t like the world very much. A spin through my earliest posts reveal that I channeled my blackest ire at women who conceived easily.
But what caught me off guard completely in the emotional department were the days when I felt positively hateful toward once infertile women who succeeded where I had not. At times their comments felt beyond disingenuous. Their glowing posts about pregnancy after infertility were a stake in my fragile heart. “Look at me, I’m so very pregnant now! Here’s my belly (which you’ll never have….) to prove it!”
Yes, I confess that I never came right out and said it then, but those posts cut deeper in some ways than hearing about pregnancies from women who had never visited a reproductive endocrinologist. In my angry world, infertile women who posted baby pictures and raved about their newborns were the equivalent of women who unabashedly brought their children into fertility clinics. Have you no decency, no compassion? I screamed more than once at my computer screen.
What riled me up the worst? When women in treatment who did go on to conceive and deliver — between posting about the joys of motherhood and the cutest thing their child just did — breezily exclaimed that they could have happily built a live without children if the treatments hadn’t worked. “Oh, yes, I know I could have been happy. I would not have looked back …. now here’s Junior at 3 mos!”
It’s damned easy to be magnanimous, I grumbled, when you’ve gotten that which someone else can’t achieve. When you’re grieving the last thing you want to hear is the equivalent of, “Oh, it’s not that bad. I know I’d be fine in your shoes. Tra la.”
Just as I could never begin to pretend that I know what it’s truly like to feel a baby stir or kick in my womb, women who have never ACTUALLY felt the devastation of knowing that conception and pregnancy will never occur won’t ever truly know what it means to accept that the delivery room is permanently off limits. The finality is overwhelming. Some experiences you have to actually live to know.
Furthermore, there is no joy, no celebration in stopping fertility treatment (well, other than seeing your bank account stop hemorrhaging and your belly and thighs recover from the bruising). It’s not a choice in an empowering sense. When financial and emotional resources are rapidly depleting and you’re not getting any younger, you are faced with the unpleasant task of deciding when it’s time to throw in the towel and step away from the clinic. It is one in a series of difficult decisions that haunt you. That’s because stopping treatment doesn’t eradicate the tiny hope that nature might, just might, pull out a Hail Mary pass.
Until I formally hit menopause I expect to hear a small voice continue to wonder about whether a spontaneous pregnancy might possibly make the record books. And that rather torturous wondering in and of itself is something one has to come to terms with, each in our own way and in our own time. There is no neat formula. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.
It looks more like this image I created (see left). So, in sorting out all of the complicated emotions that accompanied the realization that life wasn’t going according to plan, I learned to appreciate that I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. The barrage of pregnancies in IF land and the unexpected behaviors I witnessed all around the infertility blogosphere provided a boot camp of sorts. The “days until delivery” widgets and discussions about what color to paint the nursery toughened me up along the way and prepared me to do battle with the real world.
In time, I stopped being angry and bitter in an unproductive sense. Rather than let those emotions control me, I got the upper hand. I mastered and channeled them into something productive — building a comfortable life as a family of two and treasuring my husband (whose canonization for sainthood is all but a sure thing). I also came to appreciate and accept that loss can be transformational if we allow it to be so. Like a metal that’s been forged in fire, I have been strengthened by what has been, at times, an unbearable heat.
I realize how far I’ve come when I see search terms like “barren and empty” point women to Coming2Terms.
I am living evidence for any visitor coming to this blog for the first time who does feel barren and empty today, that barren doesn’t mean empty forever. Like a desert that carries its own beauty and life within, there is a remarkable beauty and a peacefulness that reveals itself in time.
As I make clear in my book, Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found, love can be strengthened by loss. My story will continue to unfold. For those just undertaking the journey of coming to terms, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Feel free to comment here on this blog as many new readers arrive every day and the perspectives from other women who are coming to terms can be remarkably healing. Take it from me, I know.
p.s. Last confession: I haven’t been completely silent these past six weeks. Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter know I’ve been writing for other sites during my Coming2Terms sabbatical. That’s right. I’ve been testing the waters and getting comfortable writing for a wider audience. For instance:
- There’s my ongoing work to raise awareness about my book Silent Sorority (new reviews arriving regularly).
- There are my offbeat pieces like, “How Did I Get So Chesty,” which can be found on MORE magazine’s website.
- My commentary on living without children in an era of helicopter parents, “No Kids? Heap the Scorn, We’re Ready” lives on Open Salon.
- My column on Fertility Authority covers a range of topics like my review of the movie Up.