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My best friend got divorced this past Monday and I was her witness. I spent the night at her house so that I could distract and support her and so that we could arrive at court together. Another friend of hers joined us on Sunday night – a woman from her neighborhood who was set to undergo a double mastectomy on Tues. We were a jolly bunch!

During the course of the night this friend expressed something interesting. She told us that when she was with other woman who were breast cancer survivors or with women in the process of treating breast cancer she felt dismissed – her cancer wasn’t “bad” enough, she hasn’t had chemo or radiation, she hasn’t had a recurrence. She spoke of feeling terribly alone in her process because people without cancer didn’t understand, but people with cancer – presumably the folks who would know what she was feeling and experiencing and help her along the way – were not very supportive.

I can’t speak to the experience of having breast cancer or being a cancer survivor, but the description resonated with me because of its similarity to the infertility “hierarchy of suffering”. Here is a breakdown of many of the possible iterations of fertility issues –

  • You had trouble getting pregnant but got pregnant eventually.
  • You had a child (or children) but then experienced secondary infertility.
  • You had trouble getting pregnant but got pregnant with limited medical intervention (IUI, Clomid, etc.).
  • You got pregnant using IVF and it worked the first time.
  • You got pregnant using IVF after 2-3 tries.
  • You got pregnant and lost the baby but got pregnant again and had a successful pregnancy.
  • You got pregnant using IVF but it required many rounds of treatment.
  • You experienced recurrent pregnancy loss followed by a successful pregnancy.
  • You got pregnant using donor eggs.
  • You have never successfully gotten or stayed pregnant.

If you’ve been around the infertility world for any length of time you could put these into an order, a hierarchy of suffering. And that order would be based on many things, including your own experience. I can shamefacedly admit that I’m guilty of being (inwardly) dismissive of some of these experiences, as if they have less importance or value than my personal experience. I think it’s natural to feel that people who have endured “less” than you can’t possibly understand the pain and anguish you’ve felt. How can a women who has never experienced the loss of pregnancy understand recurrent pregnancy loss? If IVF worked for you the first time how can you possibly understand what it’s like to endure round after round of unsuccessful treatment? While I think that these are natural reactions I also believe that we need to fight against this instinct. All of these scenarios are difficult. Women in all of these situations need and deserve our support. There should be no hierarchy to suffering – everyone has their own process, and everyone handles these challenges differently. My friend with DOR did 3 rounds of  IVF without a successful pregnancy and happily moved on to adoption without regret and without giving it another thought. I did 3 rounds of IVF with 1 loss, successfully got pregnant using donor eggs and I am still suffering from grief, loss and shame.

As someone who has run the gamut of infertility and had to resort to something outside of the common experience even in this community (donor eggs) I fall high on the “suffering scale”. I am guilty of feeling that people who have had early success can’t possibly understand my process. I want to change that. I don’t want anyone facing infertility (or pregnancy loss) to feel like they don’t have allies in the community or to feel like they’re outsiders simply because they haven’t suffered enough. That’s ridiculous. So please, if you’re feeling isolated, if you’re feeling alone, if you’re scared and uncertain – get in touch with me. Leave a comment. I will stand by you and hold your hand. We should all be in this together.

I’ve got your back.