November 3, 2016

Infertility

Infertility

 

Dear Infertility:

You were particularly busy and cruel in some of my support groups this past month, even as we remembered and celebrated our babies gone too soon during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It hurt my heart and stirred up some shit in me, and there are a few things it’s about time I’ve said to you.

First of all, I hate your fucking name. I’ve always hated it, even when I refused to believe it applied to me. I could get pregnant. Easily, actually, so screw you, I thought. But then I miscarried, twice, and when I searched for help, I probably skipped a lot of resources because everything—difficulty conceiving, miscarriage, stillbirth—was lumped together under your offensive name, and I didn’t want to go there. No one wants to go there.

I mean, really, listen to it. Infertile: Unable to reproduce; barren; sterile. Fine terms for dirt, but applied to a person it is harsh, disparaging verbiage that cuts to the core. It’s one of your first little tricks, isn’t it. You try to weaken those of us who struggle to build a family, make us doubt ourselves, feel inadequate, hate our bodies, starting with your ugly name, even when it’s not technically accurate. You are a reproductive system disorder, and that’s all the name you should get.

By the time my husband and I got our medically accurate diagnosis (it’s always an “our” diagnosis, even though you usually try to pin it on one person—more divisive that way, right?), of a balanced chromosomal translocation and were thrust into IVF, the distinction between not being able to get pregnant and not being able to stay pregnant blurred. Whatever you called yourself, you came with chronic grief as we faced loss after loss after loss—our babies; our dreams for a happy pregnancy and peaceful homebirth; our dignity as I constantly spread my legs in stirrups and my husband came in a cup in a dingy closet littered with porn; any semblance of financial stability because you aren’t worthy of medical coverage; our ability to rejoice in our friends’ and family’s babies; our social life as we distanced ourselves from people who couldn’t understand what we were going through, and avoided situations we’d be around babies; ourselves, as you infiltrated everything, took over our lives, and colored our world in black pain and blood-red rage.

But we beat you, Infertility. We beat you in 2006, when we had our son, and we beat you in 2012, when we had our daughter. And that’s when I was supposed to thank you, right? For deigning to grant me two healthy, beautiful babies after all? For making me strong enough to persevere, for making me a much more aware, compassionate person? For making me appreciate my children all the more and be a better mother? You think I titled my reproductive memoir What Didn’t Kill Me to imply that you made me stronger?

Oh, hell no.

You didn’t make me anything good, Infertility. You made me depressed, anxious, enraged, and desperate. Anything good I am was already in me, and instead of allowing me to flourish and use that good in any number of constructive, meaningful ways—thriving in a helping career, being involved in my community, volunteering, being a good neighbor and thoughtful, generous friend—you redirected all of it to your selfish self and utterly sapped me. And now you want credit? Go fuck yourself.  

You stole from me, you whore. You stole three of my babies, you stole years of my life, you stole huge chunks of me that I have had to work my ass off to get back. And still, I will have to live with part of you forever, because you, Infertility, do not just go away when we get a baby. You make sure I am never without a steady hum of anxiety, waiting for the next shoe to drop, and that there are always painful reminders, like the smell of the bathroom at work where I hid and cried so many times, or baby shower invitations that still sting after all this time, or acquaintances gaily sticking fuzzy black and white ultrasound pictures in my face, when all I see is no heartbeat.

So I will live with you, yes, but I will never thank you for shit, and though it took me three and a half years after completing my family to feel ready, it is now part of my life’s work to keep beating you by helping others as they beat you too. When I finally came out of the closet last year, I quickly realized I had to succumb to using your wretched name, Infertility, simply for ease of communication within the group of people I wanted to reach, the “infertility community.”

And yet, this is when I knew I really had you beat, Ho, because this is when I found out just how not alone I actually was, despite what you’ve always tried to tell me. This is when I found a sisterhood that not only welcomed my story as a message of hope, but understood and championed me as much as I did them. Every day I am inspired anew by these strong, courageous, resilient women to keep fighting my fears, to be brave and keep talking. To keep healing. To keep beating you.

And before you go expecting thanks for at least that, forget it; I thank them, not you. “Them” has become “us,” all of us—infertile, miscarriage, pregnancy and baby loss, adoption, surrogacy, childfree, TTC, IUI, IVF, ART, all your fucking acronyms—in this together, and stronger than you.

Do I sound angry, Infertility? Yes, I’m angry, but don’t try to take that as a win either. Anger is often underrated, and mine is no longer a toxic rage that might handicap my usefulness against you. My anger is now a controlled burn, a powerfully motivating and energizing ember I’ve chosen to let breathe in order to fight you. 

Of course, you have much more to fear than me, Infertility. There’s RESOLVE, The National Infertility Association, working tirelessly to support us, to give us a voice, and ensure that we have access to family building options. There’s the work of doctors like Alice Domar, David Sable, and Alison Rodgers, to name just a few, and hundreds of Facebook groups and blogs, where we support, inform, and advocate for ourselves, each other, and our community.

But mostly, Infertility? Fear technology.

You think you’re so smart. You try to convince us you’re just working for natural selection, evolution of the species, or worse, God. We have to listen to that shit all the time: “If there was a problem, you’re better off this way,” “Everything happens for a reason,” “It’s not meant to be,” “It will happen when it’s meant to.”  Whatever. There are other ways. You don’t have to be so evil about it. We never even noticed losing a fucking tail.

Well, technology is outsmarting you, Infertility. It already has to a great extent. IVF, the brilliant, gold standard treatment it is, was just the beginning. Then there was PGD, and mapping the human genome. And now? We have biologist Kathy Niakan and the mind-blowing genome-editing technique, CRISPR-Cas9, which will yield crucial understanding of embryo development, improved IVF success rates, and development of new infertility treatments (before it, undoubtedly, goes on to revolutionize medicine in general).

The ironic part? IVF was developed as a tool to beat you, Infertility, and CRISPR-Cas9 uses donated IVF embryos. You damn fool, we’re already using you against you!

I am overflowing with determination and ways to help beat you, and sometimes it’s hard to remain patient with the process, especially when I know it’s too little, too late for my sisters who got hit so hard this month. But make no mistake, you work for me now, Bitch. And the best part is, I no longer work alone.

What all of this means, Infertility, is HOPE for us, and DOOM for you.

That will be all for now, Infertility, you are dismissed. Go slither back into your dank, lonely hole, where you belong.

Not yours at all,

Me

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LP