Decisions

I’ve meant to write a new post so many times over the past few weeks, but haven’t been able to figure out what to say. I feel like I should be writing an obligatory 2014 wrap-up post, but I don’t really know what that would look like for me. It’s been an incredibly hard year – one of my hardest – and I don’t want to focus too much on the details. In many ways, though, I’ve been feeling like I have a pretty significant crossroads in front of me, and I’m not sure where I want life to take me from here. I have plenty to say on that topic, so I guess this is my version of reflecting on where I’ve been and what might be in store for the next bit of my life.

Graduation is coming up in just a few short months, and it’s time to start planning for life after school. It’s time to decide what kinds of jobs I want to apply to and which places we might like to move to. As we’re closing one chapter of our lives and moving on to another, it’s also time to decide where we want to go on our infertility and family building journey.

We started trying for a baby a year before I entered my Master’s program. It’s hard to believe that I am now almost finished with that program and still don’t have a baby. If I had gotten pregnant quickly, as I thought I would, I probably would have postponed grad school for a year or two. Pregnancy and a baby was our first choice, but since that dream was not realized right away, we decided that we would both move forward with our career goals until our non-pregnant status quo changed.

I think back on all the conversations we have had about how we would work things out if we had a baby while going to school. Each month, we would think forward to where we would be in 9 months: what semester we would be in, where the breaks would fall. We stayed up late, wondering if it would be too difficult to balance studying, teaching, and being pregnant at the same time, but knowing that it would be worth it in any case. We discussed who would work what jobs and how much time we would take off and what kind of class load we each could handle, and we reminded ourselves that our student schedules afforded us a large degree of flexibility that would serve us well as new parents. As it turns out, none of that conjecturing was necessary.

28 cycles later, I’m tired of pretending that my sole focus is on my schooling and my work, when in reality this is only my plan b, the path I have followed because I didn’t know what else to do. Don’t get me wrong – I love what I am studying and am excited to be moving further along in my career. It seems so hollow, though, when I can’t have the one thing I want most.

At the same time, I’m tired of the unending ups and downs of infertility. I’m tired of constantly being aware of what cycle day I’m on and of keeping track of how often and when we’ve had sex. I’m tired of waking up early every single morning to stick a thermometer in my vagina. I’m tired of peeing on test after test and of subjecting myself to ultrasounds and blood draws with doctor after doctor, watching my bank account decline just to hear, time and again, that they can’t find anything wrong and that I should move on to treatments.

The thing is – I don’t know if I’m ready to jump into treatments. A couple of months ago, I thought I was ready for an IUI. We decided to wait until after the holidays, though, and now I’m not so sure. Part of the problem is that moving on to treatments seems so final. My doctor has told us that they would do three IUIs, then recommend that we move on to IVF. There is of course a possibility that all it would take is one IUI, but I think I’m scared that we would fail all of those treatments, and be left completely broken and hopeless. I would almost rather stay where I am, where I still have hope that it could happen naturally, especially since we are unexplained. We really don’t know if there is anything wrong, and it’s hard to pour so much money into fixing this when it is all so uncertain.

And that’s the other thing – money. As grad students, we don’t exactly have a luxurious income. It’s more than enough to meet our needs and it would easily cover the costs of a baby, but it’s not enough for all the costs of treatments, especially since we have no infertility insurance coverage and would be paying out of pocket. The costs of what we have done so far have already been quite overwhelming. We have a good chunk of money in savings, but I’m not sure that draining it at this time is the best way to go, and we’re not willing to go into debt for treatments at this point in our lives. Maybe it would be better to wait until we are more settled, with stable jobs and incomes, before moving forward.

I don’t know. On the one hand, perhaps I’m being naive, and we should try at least one IUI in the next few months. At this point, it’s pretty unlikely that we would conceive on our own, and postponing treatments just means that we’ll have to wait longer for our baby. On the other hand, I think it might be good for both of us to take a break from the whole baby-making business for a while. The sadness and emptiness wouldn’t go away, but perhaps some of the stress and anxiety would dissipate if we took a few steps back. I feel like we’ve been living under a fog for so long now, and I want to break free and enjoy our lives by diving into something else that can provide meaning and fulfillment.

We still can hope for a miracle, and maybe we’ll get lucky on our own. The way I see it right now, if we absolutely do need help to get pregnant, we might as well wait until we are at a better place in our lives before getting that help. We have age on our side, so there is no pressure from my biological clock for a few more years.

I worry, though, that we might have a problem that will get worse over time. What if we miss our opportunity by not being more proactive? I don’t know if I could forgive myself if we found out down the road that our issues could have been solved, but it was too late because we waited.

Also, does my reluctance to jump into treatments mean that I am not ready for a baby, or that I am not committed to becoming a parent? I don’t think it does, but I worry about that as well. I worry that those we have told about our situation might judge us for our decisions, assuming that we don’t really care if we’re not willing to do anything at all and make any sacrifices necessary to get pregnant as soon as possible. I have to remember though that people will judge no matter what we choose, and I know my heart. If I were to get pregnant naturally, I would be 100% ready and committed. I am ready for a baby, but I don’t feel ready for treatments, at least not right at this moment. I’m not sure I’ve let go of the old dream of how I thought it all would happen.

I know that most women who have gone down these paths no longer care how they get pregnant; they would give anything just to get a positive test, regardless of how it happened or how many doctors or procedures were involved. These women might be shaking their heads at me, and I hope I don’t make light of their situations by saying this, but I’m just not sure that I’m at that point yet.

I’m not sure I want to relinquish my fragile hope that we could still conceive on our own, and, somehow, in my mind, starting our first treatment cycle seems to signal giving up that hope. I desperately want a baby, but I also want to be sure that we’re doing in this in the best way, especially since we do (presumably) have time to spare. I want to be sure that we’re taking our mental health and our financial situation into consideration. If we have the possibility of making this whole process that much easier for ourselves by waiting for a while, shouldn’t we at least consider it?

These decisions of where we should go next have been hanging over me for the past couple months, and I really don’t know how I am going to resolve them. There are pros and cons each way, and I know that no one else can tell me what we should be doing (although I am sure everyone could offer an opinion). At least in this moment, my heart is telling me to take a break. Not a permanent one, but at least for a month or two, to gather myself back together. Maybe even for a year or longer, to allow us to get settled into the next new chapter of our lives, which will probably involve a move and new jobs, before returning to the world of doctors and needles and ultrasounds.

I’ve been reminding myself that my story is my own, and it’s okay if it ends up looking very different from that of those around me in real life or in the online infertility world. Sometimes it almost seems like there is a competition of who’s been at this the longest and who has endured the most treatments. Really, these comparisons don’t help. My story is my own, and I need to do what is best for me. I don’t know when this journey will end, or what that ending will look like, but I really do want to be sure that I am careful and intentional in each of these decisions that I am making.

Unexpected places

I’m doing something new this week and writing my first Microblog Mondays post. Head over to Stirrup Queens if you’d like to read more #MicroblogMonday posts. 

Microblog_Mondays

I’ve been taking a few steps back from the craziness of actively trying to conceive and infertility over the past couple of weeks, letting go just a bit so I can try to climb out of the misery that was taking over my every moment. I’ll dive back in in the future, after I’ve had a chance to regain some of my strength and confidence.

As I’ve been trying to enjoy all the wonderful parts of my life instead of always focusing on this one terribly difficult part, I’ve really been feeling much better most of the time.

But, every once in a while, in an unexpected place, something completely mundane comes up and threatens to knock down the fragile walls I’ve been constructing around my heart. This afternoon, for example, I was completing a health history form in preparation for tomorrow’s dentist appointment when I came across one innocent line of text, crowded in among dozens of other lines asking about illnesses, hospitalizations, medications, diets, etcetera, etcetera, and finally: “Are you pregnant?”

It has never hurt so much to place a checkmark in a plain little box next to a simple little word: “no.”

Words

People often say things that are unintentionally hurtful and insensitive. I know that they don’t mean to. They are simply going about their regular lives, trying to make conversation or chatting about their experiences. For me, though, as one who is struggling with something so intense and personal as infertility, these offhand remarks can often sting and leave me hurting long after the other person has likely forgotten the exchange. Seemingly simple words can have the power to stir up the overwhelming emotions that I work hard to hide each day.

To be clear, I understand that I can’t expect others to be constantly walking on eggshells or be afraid to speak to me about their personal lives in fear of upsetting me. And, of course, when most people I interact with don’t know that I have been struggling with infertility, they would have no way of even knowing that their comments might hurt. I recognize this, and I’m trying to be better at giving others the benefit of the doubt and assuming that they simply had no idea how their words could impact me. Even if they are unintentional, though, these words can still be hard to hear.

So, this post is not written with the intent to offend others. I’m certainly not trying to put myself up on a pedestal or to cast blame; I’m sure that I have said many things in my time that have been hurtful to those around me who were silently struggling in one way or another.

Instead, this post was written with the intent of simply explaining how a few words, spoken by many different people over the years, have affected me. If we were all more aware of the impact that our words can have on others, perhaps we would be more compassionate and sensitive when we interact with those around us.

One final note – My responses to these comments are given in italics. (Not responses that I actually said, but just my thoughts about how each comment made me feel.) In sharing this, I’m not trying to justify my reactions, and I fully admit that they are not always fair. Rather, I’m simply attempting to illustrate how some of these comments, even when they are said with the best of intentions, can come across to those who are struggling.

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 I was holding a friend’s baby to help out while she was busy at a church activity. An acquaintance walked by and casually remarked, “Careful, that’s contagious!” [Oh, if only it were that easy.]

We were having dinner with two different couples, each of whom have two kids. We were playing with the kids, having a great time humoring their crazy antics, when one guy said, “Just wait until you have your own kids. Then you won’t like it so much.” The other couple laughed and one said “Yeah, we’ve been ready to post ours on eBay so many times.” [Want me to take them off your hands? I know parenting is hard, but I also know you don’t really mean that. We would give anything to have the challenges you deal with, and the rewards that come with them.] 

Two acquaintances at work were talking about Toy Story 3 and mentioned that it would be a great movie for us to watch with our child, asking “How old is your kid, again?” When reminded that we don’t have a kid, one of the ladies responded by saying that it would still be fun to watch on our own. After all, “you’re pretty much still a kid until you have a kid.” [Ouch. Just… ouch.]

After I was introduced to one woman, she asked if I had any kids. I said “no,” and she responded by laughing awkwardly and saying, “Not yet?! Well, you just wait…” [The first question is totally normal. It’s hard, but it’s part of small talk, part of getting to know someone. I get it. But the response? Lady, you have no idea how long we have been waiting.] 

After we explained what we were dealing with, one individual asked if we had thought about adoption yet, and then told us a story about a couple she knew who had had four children through IVF. [Adoption may be a wonderful way to become a parent, but it does not solve infertility. I’m glad that your friend was successful with IVF, but her story doesn’t have much anything to do with our situation. Both adoption and IVF are very expensive and difficult options that we may choose eventually, but not without significant consideration. Thanks for the advice, though?] 

While a guest in our home, one acquaintance made several comments about all the things we can or should be doing now to prepare to have kids as well as to enjoy this time together while we are still in the “new phases” of our marriage. [We have been married longer than this person. Why does the fact that he has two kids make him an experienced marriage “veteran,” while we are still in the “new phases?”]

After we opened up to one individual about our struggles, he helpfully said that he would never impose, but we could feel free to ask if we ever wanted to hear about what he and his wife had done to get pregnant (on their first try). [What? Uh… Don’t even know what to say to that one. Pretty sure I have lots more experience trying to conceive than you do, and I’ve read about (and probably tried) just about every trick in the book. Having successfully conceived does not make you a fertility expert.]

After a church meeting in which we sat next to a family with active little kids, the dad turned to us and said, with an exasperated sigh, “See what you have to look forward to?” [Yes, yes we do see. And it hurts to see, because we don’t know if we do actually have that to look forward to.] 

While I was out to dinner with some girlfriends, the conversation shifted to birth stories (a couple of the girls there were pregnant – per the usual, these days). As they all cheerfully shared their experiences, one looked at me and laughed, “And you’re over here thinking – hooray for birth control!” [This example’s not so condescending as the others, but still… really awkward, and probably not something you should say to someone if you don’t know their situation. How do I respond to that when I haven’t used birth control in three years and still don’t have a baby?]

After being told that we want kids, but it was taking longer than we had planned, a coworker helpfully suggested that if we just relax, it will happen. [Thanks so much for your advice! I can’t believe we didn’t realize that all we have to do is take a break and relax! Why didn’t my doctors tell me this before now? (Ok, I know this was probably awkward for her, and she didn’t know what to say. Fair enough. But still, that “advice” really doesn’t help; it just invalidates our struggles.)]

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I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I know these people are not trying to be hurtful or rude. They’re just being people, trying to make conversation the best they know how in the moment. When infertility is such a pervasive part of my every day, though, it is hard to not be affected by these types of comments. I’m trying to develop a thicker skin and am learning to navigate these moments more gracefully, but I don’t think words like these will ever be easy to hear.