Each week, as I search for a topic for this blog, I find myself reliving in my mind the various stages of my own long infertility career. That, plus the onset of the holiday season, has reminded me of my very first infertile Thanksgiving. A decade later, as I look back at that day, I now realize it was a microcosm of sorts for all of the issues that I would face in the coming years. And with the distance of time, I can now see facets of the situation that had until now gone unrecognized.
The day before we traveled home for that Thanksgiving, I had just learned that my first treatment cycle, a Clomid/IUI cycle, had failed. Like most newcomers into fertility treatment, I was convinced I just needed a "little help", and that this would do the trick. I was shocked and devastated to find out it didn't work. That, plus the sudden and unwelcome arrival of a few extra pounds, (thanks to Clomid and progesterone) left me feeling rather depressed. My husband was not in touch with his own feelings regarding our infertility diagnosis and the failed cycle and seemed surprised that I was so upset by it--so we were definitely not on the same wavelength.
My parents, with whom we were staying, were aware of our infertility problems, but as they had never experienced anything similar, they didn't yet really understand what we were going through (although now, with so many years of experience, they are experts!). I'm not sure what my brother or sister-in-law knew at the time--I know they were aware of the fact that we had been trying to have a baby for over a year, but I don't recall now whether or not they yet knew we were in treatment.
In any event, we were all gathered around the Thanksgiving table when my brother announced, "We're pregnant!" My father, ever the kidder, wanted to know how my brother, along with my sister-in-law, could possibly be pregnant. My mother seemed unusually reserved. My sister-in-law told her own mother that she could stop nagging her now about how she needed to start a family because she wasn't getting any younger (by the way, my sister-in-law and I were both the same age--30--at the time). A mild argument ensued between the two of them as to whether or not this sort of nagging was appropriate. My husband sat next to me in shocked silence.
As I realized the import of what my brother had said, I was flooded with emotion. I felt completely blindsided; I felt an uncomfortable level of envy; I felt like I wanted to cry; I felt like I wanted to scream. Instead, I tried to keep a smile on my face and offered my congratulations, asking about her due date, morning sickness, etc. And then I worked hard to keep from crying. Needless to say, it was a very long evening.
After we left my brother's house, the tears began to fall. My parents, particularly my mother, was extremely sympathetic to my feelings. In retrospect, I was lucky that I didn't have to hear that I should just be happy for my brother, which, in the midst of everything, I was.
Thanks to my brother's announcement, my husband was now starting to get in touch with his own feelings of anger, sadness, and loss about our situation. But because I was so overwhelmed with my own feelings, I don't think I was much help to him with them. That Thanksgiving, we returned home feeling dejected, discouraged, and left behind.
This story seems to have so many of the classic elements of the infertility experience, with its surprise pregnancy announcement, sibling rivalry issues, and implicit messages that it might be all my fault because I "waited too long". In addition, my husband and I also fell into the typical relational pattern of couples experiencing infertility--we were processing emotions with different, almost incompatible different coping strategies, and at completely different times. However, in reexamining the situation, I now can see other equally important elements that at the time I missed.
Infertility has a subtle ripple effect
Of course, when my brother made his pregnancy announcement, my focus was mainly on myself, although I did notice that my mother seemed very quiet. When I recently asked her about this, she told me that when my brother said he and his wife were going to have a baby, she felt terribly conflicted. On the one hand, she was happy for him, but she knew that this news would cause me a great deal of pain. She felt that she had to keep me as her main focus at that moment, because I was the one that was hurting. Now I realize that my infertility took something from my mother too--the freedom to experience and express her happiness about the arrival of her first grandchild.
That realization made me think about my brother and sister-in-law. I imagine they were very excited to make their announcement and probably expected more of an excited reaction from my parents. I'm sure they felt hurt and confused as to why we weren't all jumping up and down and popping open the champagne. So again, my infertility took something away from them too--their hope for an enthusiastic welcome for the newest member of the family.
Of course, it all turned out alright. I honestly can't imagine life without my nephew, who is a wonderful boy, and my family is even closer than it was a decade ago. But still, I now realize my medical problems had a farther-reaching effect than I originally noticed.
The pain (mostly) goes away
Another thing that strikes me as I review this situation is how much less it hurts me now. Although I am still in touch with the feelings of sadness, envy, and melancholy of a decade ago, they are much less intense now. This is something I think it is very important to keep in mind, and something I tell all my clients--over time, you can work through your painful feelings and they will become much less intense. Even if you are feeling pretty lousy now, you can be confident that as long as you are processing your emotions, you won't be feeling that way forever.
A bit of perspective...
As I gain a little bit of distance in time from my active infertility treatment, I realize now that although it was fairly awful, it is probably not going to be the worst thing that will ever happen to me. I say this knowing that in terms of the infertility world, my situation would be classified as a "worst case scenario". In fact, this is one of the things I am thankful for this year--that so far I have survived it and lived to tell the tale. As time passes, I have seen my friends and family face their own difficult struggles, and I know that although the content of my struggle may be different than others, the process of overcoming difficulties in our lives is the same for us all.
I hope that you will have a very happy Thanksgiving holiday no matter where you may be in your journey of infertility. I am also very thankful that you are reading my blog, and would love to hear your comments, questions, and thoughts!