How Long Do I Have to Grin and Bear It?


tunelWe’ve given each other some hard lessons lately
But we ain’t learnin’

We’re the same sad story that’s a fact

One step up and two steps back

Those of you Bruce Springsteen fans will remember his haunting melody and lyrics.  That’s the song that started playing through my head during a random encounter Sunday. It was a beautiful, sunny autumn afternoon.  I was in my driveway engaged in a battle with a squirrel who had taken up residence in a majestically tall Monterey pine in our front yard. The squirrel was eating like a king two stories above me and tossing down what look like mini corn cobs and the messy remains of a meal …. former green unripened pine cones … and from the looks of the debris on my driveway this had been going on for a week or more. Suffice to say, some serious cleanup was in order.

With broom in hand, smelling the sweet air and feeling the sunshine on my face I was perfectly happy communing with nature until two and then three women I had not met before stationed themselves at the base of my driveway. I had made the mistake of smiling and saying something about the beautiful afternoon. Harmless enough but then it got complicated. The first two, a 70-something woman (a neighbor two doors down) and her late-40 something daughter stopped to make small talk about the neighborhood. They were reminiscing about what the street used to be like when the 40-something stopped in the middle of a monologue about what a great neighborhood it was for kids to ask if I had children. It was a pleasant afternoon and I hesitated about whether I should offer up more than the customary “no” with a something of a sad expression. (Declaring myself “unable” to have them or acknowledging that we tried unsuccessfully somehow seemed wrong in what I thought would be a brief encounter) so I went with delivering a simple “no,” along with my best melancholy look.  It was completely lost on her. (Note to self: work on improving the melancholy look…)

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I soon regretted not being more candid when the third woman, a 50-something type, joined us some 15 minutes later. She was familiar with the 70-something neighbor and stopped to inform us that she had just purchased a new home and would soon be moving away from the neighborhood. Not wanting to leave me out of the conversation (it was my driveway after all), she informed me that the new house’s primary appeal was that it would be absolutely perfect for entertaining her future grandchildren. Imaginary grandchildren I might add. I soon learned her 20-something daughter is nowhere close to being married or thinking that far ahead. It was important, nonetheless, to her that their new house have a yard big enough for her future grandchildren to be able to frolic in the grass and to have a reason to look forward to visiting their grandparents.

That’s when an endless riff began about the best way to entertain kids and grandkids. With a painted-on smile and a huge desire to get back to sweeping without this increasingly painful for me/joyful for them conversation I started wondering why I hadn’t been more upfront about my circumstances.

Furthermore why is it that I have to grin and bear these conversations time and time again?? Will it be like this forever into the future, I wondered, as I tried to block their happy chatter out? Apparently so. Sucking it up and tolerating baby-talk, kiddie talk, teenage talk, grandchildren talk — that’s my lot in life.  Seems I am not destined to ever catch a break in this vast arena of family-building, family legacy talk. Yes, I could have started sweeping dust and pine remains over their feet to signal my disinterest in the subject (time to move along ladies…) but my mother always taught me to be polite. That sort of behavior seemed wrong but …

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… Why is it not impolite to overlook the feelings of a childless woman? Why is it just peachy to go on at length about the best way to indulge children or grandchildren in my presence? I tried to formulate a late-clarifying-infertile-status response but at the same time it would have been considered the height of rudeness for me to weigh in by saying, “You know, it must be exciting to have those plans to consider. In fact it would be nice to imagine how it would feel to make plans for future grandchildren, but given our inability to carry our embryos beyond a few days, we won’t have any grandchildren to plan around…so we’re just going to spend any discretionary income on spoiling ourselves in our senior years. Hey, sorry to break up this little gathering but I’ve got some sweeping to get back to…and a nice bottle of Cabernet awaiting me while I make my dear husband a nice dinner. He’s only just awaking from a nap after returning from a week in Germany. Catch you later…oh, and good luck with your daughter’s fertility. There are no guarantees you know!”

So much for my peaceful, happy, infertile-free afternoon. Thanks, ladies, for interrupting it with the reminder of what’s missing in my life. I tuned them out as best I could until they finally moved on allowing the lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s song to fill my head instead, all with a painted on smile on my face.

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When I look at myself I don’t see
The (wo) man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track
I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back


25 Responses

  1. Beth

    November 19, 2007 2:38 pm

    I am so sorry you had to go through that. I think we’ve all been there, probably more than once. Yet somehow, it doesn’t make it any easier. {{{{{hugs}}}}}

  2. Ellen K

    November 19, 2007 2:54 pm

    Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems pathetic that this woman is so wrapped up in her role as mother/hopeful future grandmother that she is prematurely moving to a “grandmother” house. No doubt the other women thought this was a little ridiculous. I feel sorry for her daughter. My parents are excited at the prospect of grandchildren (and, in our case, doing everything in their power to help us), and certainly their wish figures into their “someday” real estate plans, but they have enough sense to wait and see how things turn out or where we end up.

    I wish I had been there to politely kick them out of your day and share that bottle of cab.

  3. Lori

    November 19, 2007 3:22 pm

    Geesh. And in your own driveway.

    I like the speech you gave in your head, especially the last line.

    I one time excused myself from a similar situation by saying, “This is a tough conversation for me to be part of. I hope you’ll excuse me.” And I walked away without further explanation.

    It felt empowering. Two steps up, if you will.

    I will now associate that song with you and this post.

  4. Farah

    November 19, 2007 3:26 pm

    I often wonder – why do people tend to think its tasteless for infertiles to discuss their lack of children but it is not tasteless for the opposite? Why are we feared into silence? and made feel inferior? I am sorry that you endured that event yesterday

  5. Chrissy

    November 19, 2007 4:46 pm

    Barring a tattoo on your forehead stating “infertile and kinda pissed about it” the only thing I ever found to say was sort of what you were thinking…I would often say, “I have trouble talking about babies because I can’t seem to get pregnant or stay pregnant” USUALLY this shut them up but of course that did open the can of worms that they feel is advice…same old crap of relax, “just” adopt..etc. If it got too painful I would tend to get a bit snarky and ask if they had knowledge of any new medical procedures that maybe our specialists weren’t aware of….typically that shut them up. If I offended them too bad, they were standing there offending me.(Of course all of this was done with my perfected fake smile).

  6. MotherOfNone

    November 19, 2007 5:08 pm

    PJ – thanks for this poignant post. I frequently wonder why we are living in a kid-oriented neighborhood with a playground brimming with children all day long a block away. Nary a dive bar, coffee shop, art museum, or hip restaurant anywhere near. Do we need to buy a condo downtown to get away from the relentless barrage of white picket fence-ville? Perhaps it is a state of mind more than a physical location. The truth is, even though I want children and have spent almost $20K trying to make it happen, I still bristle at being part of a child-centered world where people talk about buying the latest video games and getting into the best kindergarten. It bores me to tears, and probably still would if I had kids. And maybe that’s the point. Those conversations are BORING in addition to reminding us of what we don’t have.

    How about saying something like, “Well, I have nothing to contribute to this particular conversation, so I’m going to get back to what I was doing! G’day, ladies!”

  7. Yodasmistresss

    November 19, 2007 8:02 pm

    This weekend in a rousing debate at my inlaw’s house, my husband’s uncle began ranting on a racial issue. My SIL (who is a Counselor) commented that it is the responsibility of the majority to invite the minority in, not the other way around. Too bad that position isn’t advocated or observed for infertiles.

  8. dmarie

    November 19, 2007 8:23 pm

    Ughhh. I’m so sorry you had to stand there, be polite and endure. At first, I thought you were going to tell a story of squirrels pelting you from the trees with acorns as you tried to sweep…lol Given the choice, I’d rather have been pelted than have to stand there listening to them go on and on.

  9. meghan

    November 20, 2007 2:50 am

    Here’s the problem…we were all raised to be polite and be thoughtful of other’s feelings. Seems like those women never learned that lesson. Why couldn’t they have picked up on the fact that you weren’t a part of the conversation…that was going on in your front yard!

    And that poor daughter…I hope she doesn’t have any fertility issues, since her mom already has the house ready for them.

  10. Bea

    November 20, 2007 3:44 am

    I think you have a right to not talk kids if it’s getting to you. People can do that sort of thing anywhere. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to politely but firmly change the subject onto something else.

    Apart from anything, I think it’s rude to exclude someone from the conversation by talking about a pet subject when one person can’t join in. My sister talked “shop” with a cousin for a whole evening at a family gathering once, as they were both in the same business, and my mother Had Words with her afterwards for being impolite to the rest of the family.

    It’s the same with the subject of children. Mr and I went to visit relatives for lunch on our most recent visit home (for IVF) and those relatives talked about small children for the entire time we were there. Three hours straight. That’s just rude – we were the guests who’d driven 1.5hrs to see them, they should have been trying to start a conversation of mutual interest – something everyone could join in with.


  11. Andie

    November 20, 2007 4:24 am

    Hi PJ, I have recently found your blog (in fact recently found the blogosphere). You are such an important voice, expressing the feelings of IF and the “other side” that the fertile world doesn’t seem to know. Thank you for the courage, thought, emotion and eloquence you publish here.

    I had a 3-year struggle w/ IF before medical science worked its wonders for us. Yet I find I still struggle w/ the “scars” of IF. I feel so guilty about that sometimes. After all my dream came true and yet many of my IF sisters have to find another way. I don’t recall what post it was that made me feel that I would still be welcome here despite being “on the other side” but I thank you.

    What a kick in the gut to have such a beautiful day take this kind of turn. I think people *should* be more aware of the possibility of IF and just *think* a bit. I am hypersensitive to it, of course.

    And sometimes it is hard to know the right thing to say, when you aren’t sure if a person is childfree as their first choice (CFBC), or if they have come to it through a painful journey of IF. I was thinking something like “that is a difficult and courageous decision in a society that glorifies parenthood so much.” Do you think that would recognize the struggle that IF’ers might have faced to get there? I know CFBC tend to get really offended if a person says “oh, I’m sorry” when they say they don’t have kids. I don’t know if that’s a great answer anyway, since it seems to have patronizing implications to me.

    Anyway it’s clear these women didn’t seem to have any empathy or tact. When unsure about why a person is child free, wouldn’t it be so much better to steer the conversation towards something everyone can discuss?


    • Pamela Jeanne

      November 20, 2007 5:18 am

      Thanks, Andie, for reading my posts and for offering your kind comment. It’s always reassuring to know that there are still sensitive souls who are on the lookout for their sisters … all sisters for that matter. We can all benefit and do good by being more in touch with those around us. You’re welcome here any time you’d like. And, yes, those IF scars take a long time to heal.

  12. loribeth

    November 20, 2007 1:16 pm

    I’m willing to bet that even if you made a brief comment about not being able to have children, they still would have kept yammering about theirs (perhaps with a brief awkward pause). As for taking a hint & realizing for themselves as to WHY you might not have children, I find that most people are totally clueless in this regard… after all, there’s all those fertility treatments these days to help you, so if you don’t have kids, you just must not want them, right??

    Dh’s cousin & his wife had been married about 10 years, no kids, doted on the other kids in the family. She would often not show up at family gatherings, & the other women would make these biting comments along the lines of “Well, I guess she doesn’t like us very much, she never comes.” It was SO CLEAR to me that they were probably trying (& failing) to have children, & being at family gatherings full of kids & kid-talk was probably just too painful for her to cope with (how well I know the feeling…!) — but the thought obviously never occurred to anyone else. (She eventually did get pregnant & had a baby girl this spring at age 43.)

    I also get shop talk at these family gatherings — many of dh’s cousins are teachers. So not only do I get to hear all about their own kids, I get to hear about everyone else’s kids too!! YAWN!!!

    P.S. Dh introduced me to Bruce before we even started dating. We are both big fans!

  13. ursi

    November 20, 2007 3:03 pm

    Sorry you had to put up with this. I’m always coming up with cutting things to say in situations like this, but in the event I often end up smiling politely while I wait for the conversation to be over.

  14. Sara

    November 20, 2007 5:56 pm

    Isn’t it nice when you are bombarded with that question that always seems to come, and why is that we have that dilemma of how to answer it…no I don’t have any children or should I be bluntly honest and make the asker of that question feel as crappy as I do? Being infertile sucks, and people who don’t have a clue don’t understand and don’t care what they say or how it affects us…they are oblivious to the melancholy looks, no matter how good you are at them…they continue to go on and on about their children or grandchildren anyway- and then have the audacity to wish the best of luck on having a family someday on the future, because, you know- ‘your still young, it can still happen, just be patient and keep trying’ whatever- I give up…the holidays are upon us and so are the oblivious elder relatives that will be asking the same hurtful questions that are asked every year- ‘so, when are you going to start having babies?’ Maybe, I should be blunt this year.

  15. Deathstar

    November 21, 2007 6:38 am

    Good grief, is there no end to endless prattle?! Well, no. Luckily, I don’t get in those situations very much, but when I do the sad face usually works. I know, you want to say something, but you also don’t want the door open to useless advice or that happened to so and so but she has a kid now. Tough call, but perhaps we both need to brush up on our excuse me, I gotta go now skills.

  16. chicklet

    November 21, 2007 4:11 pm

    I hate these experiences, particularly when they’re in MY zone (ie. my driveway). Gawd, you really really restrained well.

  17. mchope

    November 21, 2007 8:30 pm

    It’s pretty bad when they come onto your property and proceed to have a conversation like that. I routinely avoid potential situations where conversations can turn to babies/children/grandchildren (don’t we all!) but to have them infiltrate the sanctuary of your own yard…yikes! I think your late-clarifying-infertile-status response would have been perfect and perfectly appropriate. I also think that your soon-to-be-moving neighbor is assuming a lot when it comes to her daughter. However, it seems that just like cats landing on their feet, people that presumptuous usually end up getting what they want. I’m sorry you had to endure this scene on an otherwise beautiful day. I hope you enjoyed the Cabernet and the dinner. May the squirrel invade your neighbors’ yards next!

  18. deanna

    November 22, 2007 1:42 pm

    I think society-at-large considers infertile women THE ultimate buzzkill—always chipping in with their issues and making things awkward, forcing those in their company to give them that look that says, “Now, why did you have to bring THAT up?”

    I’m learning that the pain we feel is not socially acceptable. No one wants to think about our scenario, or think about it entering into their life someday. They want to imagine that childlessness is always a choice we’ve made, so they don’t consider it rude or inappropriate to babble on about the joys of children in our presence.

    I’m so very sorry that you were pinned into that conversation, by way of being a decent, polite woman. Honestly, I don’t know of any other way you could have (or should have?) behaved. Your strength of character is admirable.

  19. Rebecca

    November 23, 2007 12:40 am

    The carelessness of the average Fertile-Myrtle never ceases to amaze me. It drives me nuts when they just are not picking up on obvious non-verbal communication that screams how uncomfortable they are making us.

    A bit of an aside–I have been reading this blog since my first & only pregnancy/miscarriage (it has been 3 months now…) Me & DH have been on this Hellacious journey through IF for 2 1/2 years now. I cannot express how therapeutic your blog is to me. I find myself returning to it on my darkest days and it has helped bring me up for air. (I would start my own blog…but I struggle to find the energy). I just wanted to say thank you.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      November 23, 2007 9:23 pm

      Dear Rebecca,
      Thanks for your comment and for your support. I’m sorry for your loss and for your Hellacious journey. It makes me feel good to know that I’ve been able to help you even in a small way. Stay strong, my friend, we’re all in this together.

  20. kareno

    January 6, 2008 12:17 pm

    I read every single one of your posts the moment they are posted, since they land in my inbox. They stay in my mind longer than they are sometimes supposed to. Most of the time I have an immediate response ready, but the courage to come online and post most often disappears the moment I connect. Yours remain my favorite read – maybe because it was my first infertility blog on the road to discover this community. Thanks for your writing, for understanding what it feels like, and for going into my head and getting through to the chaos in there. 🙂

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