October 5, 2017
This is not a thank you to infertility, which as I’ve stated elsewhere, I will never thank for anything, nor am I comparing the 2016 election to the yearning for and/or losing a baby, because there simply is no comparison. Yet, I’ve noticed striking similarities between my emotions, and the differences in my reactions, during the past 10 months and the years my husband and I fought to build our family.
There is a certain kind of trauma when it all turns on a dime. Yes, there was the remote possibility of “something happening” (because I couldn’t bring myself to use the word “miscarriage”) during my first pregnancy, but that happened to other people, and I bought my little Florida baby a small stuffed alligator, dolphin, and manatee soon after the two pink lines. Then there was blood in my underwear, and my entire world shifted on its axis. I had no idea what hit me, or that it was just the beginning.
Sure Donald Trump got closer to the White House than anyone with more than three brain cells and a single moral fiber could fathom, but reason and decency would prevail, and we’d soon be celebrating the election of our first woman president. Then MSNBC was frantically reporting numbers all askew, and there again went the ground from underneath me. This time I recognized the blow and knew immediately things would never be the same.
It is disorienting to feel so alone when you know you can’t possibly be. 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility; 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Why did it feel like I was the only one carrying this pain? Where were all the support groups and pamphlets and 5K benefit runs? Why did I so often feel misunderstood and patronized by healthcare providers? Why did people keep telling me I had to stay positive, and that everything happens for a reason? It all became too much, and all I could do in my chronic grief was shut down; I hardly spoke to anyone other than my husband and my mom for years.
64 million people voted for Hillary Clinton, and more than that didn’t vote at all. Why was I the only one crying at my kids’ school the next morning? Why did people keep asking me what was wrong, and why I was taking it all so personally? Where was the marching in the streets and the collective, panicked cries that there’d been a terrible mistake we needed to fix? Why did people keep telling me to relax and move on, that there was nothing I could do about it anyway?
This time, I spoke out. I wrote a long piece describing my devastation and pledging my resistance to all the hateful, vile things Trump personifies, joined nearly every democratic group in my community, became a leader of IndivisibleMartin, began regularly confronting my despicable congressman, and told friends who taunted me with their support of Trump to go fuck themselves.
Hell hath no fury like the roller coaster of infertility. After my first miscarriage, violent jolts came fast and furious: abandonment by my midwife, another miscarriage, new doctors, a diagnosis, a plan, a new, more dire diagnosis, more doctors, IVF, more loss, and on and on. The seemingly endless swoons between raw hope, determination, and excitement, and the blackest grief, despair, and terror feel impossible to describe even now, years later. Every month felt like a year, every year like a decade. There were times I didn’t know how I’d survive, and I titled my memoir What Didn’t Kill Me.
The 2016 election rivals any ride at a Six Flags. The shocking plunge of the results. The rickety hope that the Electoral College would save us. The sickening feeling of free-fall when it failed. Tweet after unhinged tweet. An unwatchable inauguration. The Womens March. More delusional tweets. Bannon, Conway, Sessions. The entire, wealthiest-in-history cabinet. GOP plan to gut ethics committee. Protests prevent the gut. Russia. Flynn. Ludicrous tweets. Executive orders. Narcissistic tweets. The Muslim ban. The protest and overturn. Yates. ICE. Taxes. Emoluments. Denial tweets. Russia. Ivanka, Jared. Impeachment. Fake news. Lying tweets. Russia. Spicer. Syrian missiles. Chocolate cake. The mother of all bombs. Wiretaps. ACA repeal. ACA save. Gorsuch. Fox. Maddow, Colbert, Reich. Paris Climate Accord. G7. Humiliating tweets. Merkel. G20. Marcon. Pruitt. DeVos. NRA. Scalise. ACA repeal. ACA save. Media attacks. Priebus. Kelly. Russia. Hateful tweets. Russia. Comey. Putin. Mueller. Jr. Emails. Russia. Scaramucci. Huckabee-Sanders. Boy Scouts. Charlottesville. Phoenix rally. Arpaio. Manafort. Hurricanes. Harvey. Irma. Maria. Puerto Rico. North Korea. Dotard. Russia. ACA repeal. ACA save. NFL. Kaepernick. Russia, Russia, Russia. Every month feels like a year. Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet.
Trump is destroying everything in his path, and I sometimes wonder how much more our country can take, and if we will survive. Some won’t. This time I have my family, and know I will. The onslaught remains utterly overwhelming, yet with each nauseating plummet, I now remind myself there will be a new crest, and I use each plateau, however brief, to maximize forward momentum even while I remain vigilant for the next crash.
The co-existence of so many dissonant feelings baffled me during infertility. How was I supposed to reconcile the pain of losing one baby with the guilt of longing for a new one, the hope of every new chance with the protective self-talk tempering expectations, the reverence of my doctors with the fury toward the system they work in, the appreciation of the concern shown to me by others with the rage that they would never truly understand what it was like?
Now I understand I don’t have to—and often can’t—reconcile dissonant feelings at all; it is entirely possible, and largely inevitable, to feel them at the very same time. I hate the ACA while I celebrate the failure of its repeal (three times and counting). I know I’m making an incremental difference while largely banging my head against a wall writing letters to my newspaper. I attempt headway with my congressman knowing it’s futile, I feel both empowered and discouraged at protests.
Much of infertility comes down to coping and going. You figure out small comforts, things that get you through, one hour at a time, one day at a time, and you just keep going. These days, it’s called persisting, thanks to the fierce Elizabeth Warren. I am now a master of coping, and—bonus!—no longer have to forsake my greatest two mechanisms, running and beer, because I’m either pregnant or trying to be.
But you’re consumed, people told me while I fought to have my babies. It’s not good for you, it’s hurting your marriage, your family, your career, and all the stress is bad for fertility, bad for your babies. I heard it all, overtly and covertly, and felt guilty and crazy and inadequate and alone. Even when meant as praise, “You’re so strong,” it hurt; it’s not like I had a choice. Yes, I was consumed, but I had my babies, I did.
I hear the same things now as I resist. You’re always on the computer, you get so mad, you go to so many meetings, you do too much. It’s not good for you, it’s hurting your marriage, your family, your career, and all the cursing offends people. Overtly, covertly. Even when meant as praise, “I don’t know how you do it,” it rankles. I don’t feel like I have much of a choice on this one either. Yes, I am consumed, but fight for my babies’ world, I will. As others have done before me.
I still feel guilty, nearly every single minute of every single day. But I do not feel crazy; people who are okay with what’s going on are crazy. I do not feel inadequate; people who say, “Well, nothing’s going to change,” or, “There’s nothing I can do about it,” are inadequate. And by god, I am not alone; this time I have the most incredible, life-changing ReSister—and brother—hood, both online and in person that I’ve ever had, and that has made all the difference in the world.
For years, I didn’t comprehend why infertility felt so viscerally excruciating and complex, until I read a book by two psychologists describing how everyone has a reproductive story that is embedded in their very identity and world view, and how when that story goes awry it is a life crisis, a type of death of oneself.
I knew right away that the election devastated me so because it was a total affront to my entire world view and attack on every aspect of my identity, although it still took almost three weeks to be able to get it down on paper and make sense of it, and a few more to recognize it as my second full-blown life crisis.
But unlike infertility, the resistance has grown me, not reduced and warped me. Despite the trauma of the election, and the ensuing fall-out which has already changed me forever, I feel stronger, more confident, and more effective and fulfilled than I ever have. As draining as the resistance feels on a lot of days, it is energizing and heady on others. I am good at activism. I like it, as much as I hate what I’m resisting itself. I read. I write. I act. I love. And I fight. And I’ve realized it’s not only a reaction to the election, and it’s not because of infertility. It’s not a phase, it’s not a hobby, it’s not a personality trait, it’s not a strength or a weakness. It is simply who I AM.
Took me 48 years to figure it out, but it feels good to be me. Resistance is fertile.