How old would your child be?
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.
Have you guys seen this?
It’s a post about infertility from the man’s perspective. I just cried my way through it. We spend so much time focusing on whats happening to us, the women. After all we’re usually the ones getting the shots, the blood draws, the dildocam – we’re the ones with our legs spread on the table so that a bunch of strangers can examine us and give us bad news. Sometimes our partners get left behind. And they are suffering too, just maybe more quietly or in different ways.
Anyway, this is worth a read.
I haven’t talked about my miscarriage. I don’t know what to say about it. I was relieved when I knew the pregnancy wasn’t ectopic, and then I just wanted it to end so we could move forward. Then I was afraid – I never really thought about miscarrying – you know, the actual process of it. Like that it can take days, or even weeks. That there is actually tissue that you expel. What would it be like? Would I be able to recognized the tissue as the baby even though I was so early? How long would it last – the cramping, the bleeding, the clotting…and whatever else happens. Would it hurt? And of course then there was the sadness and the overwhelming sense of guilt and failure. Modern technology had managed to painstakingly create a life, and my body had quickly managed to kill it.
As it turns out it was awful, but not as awful as I had feared. If you’re squeamish stop reading now. If you are like me and just want to know what to expect, this was my experience.
I started cramping 2 days after stopping the progesterone support. A few hours after the cramping started I started bleeding. A lot. Or a lot more than usual (which for me isn’t very much). It was darker then usual and not very continuous – I would bleed for an hour and then stop for an hour. Bad cramping. About 3 hours after I started bleeding I wiped and (sorry, TMI) found a long and thick (~1.25 inches long and .25 inches thick) liver colored “clot”. I had read blogs where people said that was what the fetal tissue looked like but it wasn’t clear what it was. But, I have not ever seen anything like it despite menstruating for 25 years, so in hindsight I assume that was most of the “products of conception”. After that it was just bleeding and stringy dark clots (not too big or think, similar to the ones I used to get the first day of my cycle). The cramps stopped on the 2-3 day and I continued to bleed for about a week. My period these days is only 2 to 2.5 days so this was a lot for me.
I don’t think I’ve fully processed it yet, and I’m certainly still grieving. I’ll cry in the grocery store for no reason. I’ve shut down Facebook because it’s too painful to see all of the beautiful ultrasounds of healthy babies when all I’ve ever seen are follicles and an empty uterus. I’m avoiding my mother and mother-in-law because of my irrational, overwhelming sense of failure and isolation. They don’t understand – all their babies were healthy. I can’t see them and listen to their well-meaning reassurances and look them in the eyes and know that I’m reason they won’t have grandchildren. I’m trying to forgive myself. To not be angry. I’m trying to be gentle with myself. After all, in one weeks time I miscarried and was told that was likely the only pregnancy I’d ever have. It was a rough week.
If you’ve had a miscarriage (early or late) or are waiting for one to start (or finish), my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry for your pain, and for your loss. There are not words to express the sense of loss, regardless of how long you were pregnant. Be brave, stay strong.