Hi, I’m Pamela, and I’m Infertile.
How’s that for an ice breaker? I haven’t tested it in its raw form, but I’m coming pretty close. It seems at times like I’m following my own 12-step recovery process. For me, infertility started as a shocking disease diagnosis that embarrassed and shamed me. It was easiest to cope with my good friend Denial. Then I decided to get even in a behind-the-scenes, all-out angry battle to get the upper hand biologically. More recently, I’ve haltingly accepted and started to publicly acknowledge that conception and pregnancy simply aren’t and never have been in the cards for me. Saying it makes it real.
That’s been hard enough, but I haven’t been doing it in isolation.
No, all around me people have been procreating like mad — conceiving, delivering and cuddling one, two, three kids. Meanwhile I’ve been the wallflower smiling painfully at a distance. Sometimes I felt like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, only the pained smile and nothing more. I was empty.
Those dark days and the tears that accompanied them are never far from the surface. I found that out during a recent lunch with a business acquaintance whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. It took that long to get together because she was one of the people who inadvertently wounded me in the wake of a failed IVF cycle. (I say inadvertently because she had no idea I was in IF treatment. She is a kind soul who’s had her own share of painful life experiences.)
Over salads we caught up. I tentatively told her about my writing projects and their subject matter. She nodded gently. I described how beneficial the writing process had been after our IVF cycles proved unsuccessful, how difficult it has been to acknowledge my infertility when her face suddenly went white. She asked when it was that I last underwent IVF. Suddenly I knew where the conversation was going.
I choked up a bit and told her the timing but nothing more. She did the math and immediately started apologizing. You see our last social get together started out as a relaxed dinner that went south. In the wake of my NEGATIVE, I actively sought out other couples without children. It’s what all infertiles do as a means of self defense. We were well into our appetizers when they joyfully informed us that they were expecting. It was all I could do then and there not to lose it.
I turned to stone. I congratulated them and promptly refilled my wine glass, but the evening proceeded with a completely different tone. I couldn’t wait for it to end.
Fast forward to lunch. My intent was never to bring up the dinner and its effects but she suddenly realized that her pregnancy news collided with my loss and that’s when the apologies came tumbling out. I mistakenly thought enough time had passed that I would able to keep my emotions in check, but with the force of the memory came the quiet, familiar tears. It was as though I was reliving the dinner that very moment, but this time my stoney exterior was gone.
My lunch mate told me she remembered a definite change in my demeanor that night, like a wall had dropped between us but she had no idea why. She’d often wondered, until now, why I had become so unavailable. I told her there was no reason to apologize. How could she be responsible for something she didn’t know she was doing? Therein lies the yawning gap between those who are quietly undergoing infertility treatments and those who simply don’t know.
And that’s why I’ve started to come out of the closet. I’m not leading with the infertility card, but if the opportunity arises, I’ll make the determination about whether to fill in the blanks. What’s happened as a result is interesting. I’ve now got two groups of acquaintances — those who know and those who don’t. Among those in the know, I’m more like my old self — pre-infertility diagnosis. I feel at ease and plunge comfortably into discussions about their children sometimes surprising them (and me) with my interest.
Among those who don’t know, I still feel like something of a caged lion. I avoid talk of children and stiff arm them. Weird, I know, but it’s almost as though I’m daring them to learn more. Once they’ve demonstrated empathy, and a capacity to care, I’ll let down my guard and allow them in. I’m now living in a parallel universe.