Does the Irony Ever End? No, I Didn’t Think So


geenaI’m planning a Thelma and Louise-like adventure with a friend of mine this weekend — complete with a convertible. She’s also childfree. Oh, how wonderful it is to have those in our lives who make us feel “normal” in an otherwise abnormal world.

This “Louise” friend of mine is an amazing woman. She’s traveled the world and been fearless in the face of new and sometimes dramatically challenging experiences. Among her favorite escapes was spending nearly a year with her equally amazing husband touring Africa in the most unglamorous but exhilarating way you could conjure up in your imagination. Their photos and journal entries sent back from Internet cafes around the continent still live on our hard drive. I’ve admired her optimism and keen sense of adventure since I met her more than a decade ago.

She’s seen a lot of happiness and a lot of sorrow in her travels. From her I’ve realized that my troubles are big to me, but that sorrow doesn’t discriminate. It comes in all shapes, sizes and packages.

But I digress. I was struck recently by how much her mother had influenced her life and her outlook. Her mother was a woman of steel with a heart of gold who passed away recently. At the memorial service my friend and her siblings paid heartfelt tributes to their mother, each in their own poignant way. Their tributes made us laugh and cry and appreciate how much their mother had shaped just who they had become.

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Later I told another friend (a fertile myrtle) just how beautiful the memorial service had been.  I told her that I had requested a copy of the remarks “Louise” had made. My fertile myrtle friend is one of the few who knew we sought outside help to make our family. She tried to understand the suffering and heartache I’ve had to face but never quite got there. How could she? The inexplicable ways that infertility has changed me and my relationship with the world around me is not something most people can wrap their head around. She asked to see a copy of the remarks.

I forwarded them along via email. Her response struck me given all that she knew of my situation and the fact that she knew “Louise” did not have children either.

She wrote back in email: “I can only hope my own children can find such dear words for me.”

Now, I’m willing to admit that I’m overly sensitive on this subject, but doesn’t her comment seem like an odd thing — an ironic thing — to say to a woman (and about a woman) who will never their own children, let alone children to pay tribute to them?

Wouldn’t “What a beautiful tribute” or “What a wonderful way Louise has with words” have been sufficient?

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I just shook it off as I do with so many ironic things said to me on a daily basis. I’ve already told “Louise” that when the time comes she better sharpen her pencil for me. Of course, I’ll do the same for her…

Update: Good comments. Yes, we’re all self-absorbed — quite a few of my posts take navel gazing to a whole new level. I’ve been also been guilty of saying things that I’d like to take back, but the reason this response gave me pause is that it was an email response and in email we have the luxury of thinking what we want to say before we hit the send button. Also, this emotionally-charged subject is not exactly new to her. I can only presume that after all these years she has managed to “get over” my infertility and moved on. That’s not quite so easy for those who still live with it every day…sigh.


14 Responses

  1. Geohde

    July 18, 2007 8:58 am

    You know, I can understand the tactless comments from people who don’t know I’m infertile. The ones that sting the most, however always come from those who DO know.

  2. Ann

    July 18, 2007 1:17 pm

    Mel at Stirrup Queens recently wrote about, ultimately, we’re all incredibly self-absorbed. We can relate to other people only insomuch as we can somehow involve ourselves. I think that when your friend read that letter, all she could think about was her own demise, and how that would occur. She was envious of the relationship Louise had with her mother, and threw out a wish that she would have such a letter written about her. She didn’t think about her audience (you) or her subject (Louise). It was about her. I’d like to say I never do the same thing, but I would imagine I have made similar comments to an unmarried friend about my husband, not thinking about how it might affect her. Same thing for anything in life in which one person has something that another person lacks.

    Regardless, I’m sorry that you have to deal with the constant sting of comments like that.

  3. Irish Girl

    July 18, 2007 1:43 pm

    Some folks have a hard time learning to be empathetic. Best thing to do is shake it off (yet again) and use your own empathy to understand that she certainly meant no harm. You’re right, it would have been nice to read “what a beautiful tribute” instead of what she wrote.

    I just want to say that I am so glad I found you here! Thank you for writing what you think and feel, which happens to be what I think and feel also, so much better than I have been able to write it!

    Have fun on your adventure!

  4. SaraS-P

    July 18, 2007 1:53 pm

    People just don’t think. If you pointed it out, she’s probably apologize profusely, but otherwise it never even occurs to the fertile Myrtles.

  5. Ellen K

    July 18, 2007 1:59 pm

    I can’t fault her for thinking that — but the fact that she said it, in such a context, shows just how knee-jerk a response it is to assume that children are a universal legacy — and the “greatest” legacy as well.

  6. Foreverhopeful

    July 18, 2007 5:06 pm

    SO sorry for the insensitive comment from your friend. I’ve always been able to let go of comments like that from people who don’t know but its hard for me to let go or forgive someone when they DO know your situation.

  7. Liana

    July 18, 2007 8:20 pm

    I don’t think that was a bad thing to say at all. She has kids and hopes that they would say something as nice about her. I don’t see the problem.

    As a person who didn’t get married until age 39, I was always sensitive about the myriad things people said about marriage, their spouses, etc. But was that reasonable? I’m not sure.

    I think we have to watch our tendency to be hypersensitive in areas that affect us. I don’t think that all our friends should have to put everything through an infertility filter when talking to us. That is hard to sustain.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      July 19, 2007 3:56 am

      Hey Liana,
      Her comment was not “bad” but ironic. It’s also interesting to me to see how readily other people in my sphere move beyond what I see as still raw wounds I incurred from infertility.  I continue to come to terms with infertility’s many life cycle implications — those that extend far beyond the baby state through death. There’s no way I can expect everyone I encounter to filter their comments, but I hold those closest to me to a higher standard. Isn’t that why they’re in our inner circle? To be the most understanding and supportive, and help shield us from any perceived slings and arrows? That’s what I try to do in return on those thorny subjects that might cause someone else twinges or stings…

      • Liana

        July 22, 2007 6:09 pm

        I do understand, believe me, but I see the difficulty in practice between me and my friend Lisa. She is my best friend but was unable to really say the right things about infertility since she was single and waiting to meet Mr. Right (at 45). Now me, OTOH, moved out of my disastrous dating every loser that moved phase when I got married at 39. So sometimes it is hard to remain sensitive to all the married person’s crap that comes out of my mouth when I speak to her. We both have different sensitivities.

        It’s been 4 years since I got married and Lisa is still single. We are at different places in our lives. We try to be sensitive (she’s never dealt with infertility as she has not wanted to have children without being married) but I have certainly dealt with being painfully single.

        Yet even our approaches to painful singledom were different. I did dating services, hired a relationship coach and essentially “shook the trees” until I met my husband. She on the other hand wants to “meet cute” like in a Hollywood movie and won’t DO anything to meet someone. So even though we share the same experience, are ways of dealing were very different.

        I say all this rambling to say that, yes, we hold our friends to a higher standard, but is that, in fact, fair to them? Our friends are just people afterall. I’m going to complain about my damn husband and receive an “At least you have one” from Lisa. She’s going to complain about being single, and I’m going to suggest things she can do about it, much to her annoyance. I don’t mean to go there, but I’m such a fixer that I almost automatically do.

        But the net of it is that we forgive each other our lapses and move on. That is what friends do.

        I hope this rambling made some sense. 🙂

  8. Kami

    July 18, 2007 8:30 pm

    Sorry you got such a response. I think people who haven’t gone through this – even sensitive friends – can’t fathom how easily the wounds of infertility are reopened.

  9. Bea

    July 19, 2007 9:14 am

    Good luck with your adventure – but don’t stick too close to the script! I don’t want to hear you’ve had to drive off any cliffs.

    As for the comment – just another instance in which people don’t realise how pervasive the pain of infertility is. Obviously, she didn’t even think it related to you at all.


  10. Juliet

    July 19, 2007 10:04 am

    Hello. Found your blog through Geohde, and have strong feelings on this issue. I’ve been ttc for over a year with one m/c. For much of that time I chose to ttc with a friend (who longed to be a dad) as I didn’t have a partner. I frequently got hurt by comments on IF blogs that talked about wonderful husbands/partners making all the struggle of IF worthwhile. Somehow the comments made my own struggles feel even more lonely. Then when I once commented on a blog how I felt, one of the other people commenting turned against me with the words ‘f*ck her’ and the view that most single people have only themselves to blame anyway. All of this is just to say – I learnt that even within the IF community people are insensitive, and it is simply the same outside the community. Also, before I realised I would struggle to conceive, I had a friend who was already struggling, and I cringe now to think of how insensitive I was to her. And the friendship has never recovered. I don’t want to lose any friendships because of my problems ttc, and would hate people to have to walk on eggshells around me. So I try and forget any hurtful comments – provided they’re unmeant.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      July 19, 2007 3:11 pm

      Your comment offers yet another example of the diversity of TTC experiences. We’re all different people who respond differently to what life throws at us. Some of us have thicker skins than others and some of us find ourselves surprised at how other people respond to our TTC failures and their implications. Me? I’ve made no secret about how debilitating infertility has been for me. I want those closest to me to make me feel better.

      Upon further reflection, I think if she had said it rather than wrote it I might not have even caught it. But in reading it, the words my own children seemed to leap off the page.  Leaving the very moving memorial I couldn’t help but wonder what my memorial service will be like without the potential to have my progeny on hand to remember me. Yes, yes, I know there’s more to life than children and children don’t always turn out the way you want and there are no guarantees they’ll be there in old age, but it was a difficult reminder I didn’t really want to hear again. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Juliet.

  11. karenO

    July 21, 2007 2:01 pm

    I read this post of yours right after you posted it earlier this week, but I’m glad I only had time to comment on it today. Reading the other comments meant as much as your post, and some of them struck home too!

    To add to what Bea’s said – avoid any and all cliffs please! Otherwise, I hope you enjoy your weekend very much 🙂

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