7 Things Infertility Has Taught Me

This summer marks a milestone for my husband and me. We will be celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary. For those reading this, you may say “seven years is a milestone, since when?” I get that. But for some reason, in the back of head, I have marked 7 years of marriage with the 1950s Marilyn Monroe film “The Seven Year Itch.” I’m not completely sure why, but for me, approaching seven years of marriage is significant because of this film. As I reflect on this some more, especially as July 24th – our wedding anniversary – approaches, it dawned on me that most of year seven’s significance can be attributed to infertility.

A photo of the two of us on our wedding day back in 2010.

I know that itch. That itch to walk out. Give up. Say ‘”forget this”, maybe I could have a different life — a different family with a different partner. Luckily, that didn’t happen. But I remember vivid nights where Kevin and I sat in bed asking ourselves “where do we go from here?” That lurk of infertility has certainly forced us to define and, even, fight for our relationship to go forward. Seven years and still no kid. Seven years and still that lurking question – is this our family? Or should we keep fighting for a child of our own.

To be frank, we haven’t been able to honestly answer that question yet. More time, more soul searching is needed. Will we live childfree? Can we live childfree and be happy? Perhaps. But still the question – “what would it be like to be a parent with you?” – lurks in our marriage.

Despite the uncertainty, I have come to the realization that I have actually learned a lot. Here are seven things infertility has taught me:

#7 Patience. I grew up with a timeline and goals in mind. For example, right before I turned 13, my parents asked me if I wanted a bike for my birthday. My immediate answer, without hesitation, was: “No, save the money. I’ll be 16 in 3 years and I want a car.” As entitled as that now sounds, that was me. I knew what I wanted and when. So, when Kevin and I got married – we both knew that we wanted a family. But when we started having trouble conceiving, and eventually learned we were infertile, it was complete and utter shock to the system. I didn’t know how to process it. I didn’t know how life couldn’t work on my schedule. Patience, I eventually had to learn. To this day, I am still learning that skill. Seven years – I’ve learned that life simply cannot be planned. Better to embrace its craziness than try to control what can’t be controlled.

#6 Pain. I don’t show pain well or much. Growing up as the oldest of a large family, I always felt some unknown pressure to be strong, to be tough, to not show sadness or grief. But when my aunt suddenly died when I was 20, I began to realize the need to grieve. Kevin and I were together at this point. After the funeral and all of the ceremonies, I vividly remember breaking down in his arms. We were alone, and I was finally safe to grieve. During that moment, I learned how safe I felt to have a partner to confide in. I learned how relieved I could feel to just cry. This lesson has carried with me as I have had to confront infertility. The feeling of safety, of being able to be vulnerable with Kevin, would come into play again and again. Pain shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes it needs to be felt. With tears comes healing.

#5 Laughter. Despite all of the pain and sadness that comes with infertility, I have had to learn to not just laugh at some of the moments I encounter but also embrace laughter as a cheap form of therapy. There have been moments when I have shared in laughter with a support group friend’s experience at the fertility clinic. Laughing at moments only we – the IF community can understand. There have also been moments of laughter lately when I get my period. While in the past, I used to cry. I now have recently started laughing at the slightest appearance of blood. Of course, I think to myself, I’m not pregnant. My god- why would I be?! These moments of laughter aren’t well recognized by those who don’t experience the daily – yearly- grind of not being able to “just get knocked up” but finding friends who “get it” have become an invaluable part of this journey. Laughter has helped keep my sanity.

#4 Humility. While I live with infertility, I also study it. Infertility is not just my life, it is my job. Studying infertility rhetorically, reviewing the studies and articles that circulate in the academic and scholarly world, I’ve become appalled at how infertility as an experience is described as a “woman’s deep primal desire to get pregnant by any means” to fertility treatment and adoption practices described as “a lottery in which women will nearly cut each other’s throats just to become a mother”. These types of descriptions do not describe me nor the hundreds of other infertile women that I have met along my journey. This work, both as a profession and as a part of my life, has taught me that infertility is a real human experience. It is not well understood nor well represented. These past six years, getting my PhD on infertility rhetorics, has only reinforced the need to bring the humility back to infertility.

#3 Appreciation. While my infertility journey has undoubtedly left me in a limbo-esque state, I have learned to appreciate the little things. I have learned to appreciate when a friend of mine tries to tell me that she is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. While it may not come across in the best or most appropriate manner, I appreciate the effort they went through in at least trying to be sensitive to my needs. I appreciate the texts I get from my sister on Mother’s Day. While she is not a mother, she tells me that she is thinking of me on this day and knows it is hard. I appreciate the endless wagging tails and licks that my dogs give me every time that I open my front door. “Mom is home,” those manners demonstrate. Most of all, I appreciate the childlike sense of imagination I get to embrace on a daily basis. More of that in #2…

#2 Imagination. Okay, let’s be real. When you are first diagnosed with infertility, you do not think “oh this is the perfect time to reimagine my life.” NO. Most of us are crying, sobbing with our partners, cursing out the world, wondering what the hell we did to deserve this. But then time comes. And with time, comes lessons and learning. And with me, a sense to embrace imagination. I admit, my case is not the most typical. When I diagnosed at 24, I wasn’t like “Oh, let’s beat this. Let’s do anything it takes to get pregnant.” I needed time. Time to process what infertility meant, what infertility meant to me, what infertility meant to my partner, what infertility meant to us as a couple. And so, we took time. And are still taking time. But with time, we have allowed ourselves to play and reimagine what we want from life. We have considered if we want to adopt, if we want to use a donor embryo, or if we want to be a couple that lives childfree. And while we are still in the process of imaging different versions of our life, I have learned to embrace imagination. It has allowed me to connect to a childlike state that I may not get to know with my own child, but am reminded that I can still be personally connected to.

#1 Love your partner. Finally, and perhaps above all else, infertility these past seven years has taught me how to love my partner. And I mean love. Infertility has required me to ask “Is this relationship all worth it?” infertility has asked me to question what I am worth fighting for. Infertility has asked me to learn patience – not just for my own needs but how to be patient with what my partner may need. Infertility has taught me how to rekindle a sex life that, let’s be frank, gets screwed over (no pun intended) after being diagnosed with IF. Infertility has taught me that despite it all – kids or no kids – we walk this path together, we find laughter where we can, we cry when we want to cry, we appreciate that we have each other, we recognize that we are sometimes just human – not perfect, we imagine what type of life we now want to have and most of all – we love each other through it all

A photo of ourselves from a 2016 we both participated in. Weddings always make us think back to how far we have come because infertility. How about yourself?

That’s what 7 years of IF have taught me, what are some things you have learned in your journey?

 

Music Heals: Finding Happiness When a Marriage Struggles to Conceive

In this post, Maria and her husband, Kevin, reflect on the role music has had in their relationship, particularly in regards to their infertility. Discussing their recent following of country rock star, Eric Church, the two reveal how listening and connecting to music has allowed them to find happiness in their marriage after infertility. While The ART of Infertility encourages creative making, this post reminds us that surrounding oneself around creative processes – like attending concerts – can also help us heal after coping with infertility.

This Memorial Day Kevin and I didn’t go to the local parade. We didn’t attend any barbecue parties at a friend’s home. We saw music. Live, southern rock-inspired, Nashville music. And it was epic.

Maria and Kevin take a selfie while in Nashville over Memorial Day.

To understand the impact of this experience, to understand how this relates to our infertility, to our marriage, I need to go back some years.

When my husband and I first met, we were in high school. We were young, really young — like 15 and in love. Too young for our relationship to be taken seriously by our parents and friends, we frequently sought to escape the world and the limits that our youth put on our relationship. Often we did so by jumping in Kevin’s old Volvo, turning on the radio or popping in a mixed CD and just driving. We drove all over, for hours. Sometimes we would stop at a state park or forest to hike. Sometimes we stopped for ice cream. Sometimes we would stop, just to stop, and talk about us — what we wanted and who we wanted to become together.

At Maria’s high school graduation, 18-years-old and in love – eager to go to college, get married and start a family.

Memorial Day weekend was often a weekend when we would hop in the car and drive away for an escape. To this day, we both recall Memorial Day of 2004. We were both 18 and had just finished our junior year of high school. That weekend, Kevin picked me up for another drive. With the Wisconsin weather finally in the 60s, we decided to stop at a Kettle Moraine State Park to hike a bit. On that hour drive, we can both recall listening to a local radio’s classic rock countdown. We remember driving rolling glacier carved roads listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Bob Seger and our personal favorite – Led Zeppelin.

Kevin and I could listen for hours to Led Zeppelin. Their music threaded us together. We both felt passionately connected to the melodies and to the lyrics. Zeppelin was not only a band that we enjoyed, it was a band that connected us on a deeper, intimate level.

As we got older and our relationship evolved, time and the pressures of college and “the real world” got to us. We started dabbling in other music. But every time that Zeppelin came on the radio, Kev and I were sure to turn it up. Singing along and reminiscing about the memories we had listening to them in high school. Even at our wedding, it was joked that Zeppelin’s heavy, metal-esque “Immigrant Song” should have been our wedding song. And, if we could have figured out a way to dance to that, it probably would have.

But it was not until early this year that Kevin and I began to realize how the music, once so integrate and vital to our relationship, had suddenly stopped. Listening to music. Going to live shows. Connecting to melodies and lyrics suddenly disappeared as we struggled to conceive. Our world, our relationship, went silent.

For about the first five years, when we were trying to grasp, cope and then figure out our infertility – neither Kevin nor myself can remember what (if anything) we listened to. During this time, our marriage also struggled. We didn’t know if we wanted to do fertility treatments. We didn’t know if we should start to adopt. We didn’t know – if we were happy – even if we should still stay together. Our world as a couple was dark and silent.

Despite these feelings and concerns about our happiness, we determined one late night in bed that we should stick it out. We determined that we still loved each other. That even without the prospective of having a kid, we could still be happy in our marriage. We could still find happiness – even if we couldn’t find it at this moment.

Life pressed on, and our relationship slowly began to get better with the understanding that we were both committed to figuring it out and making it work. We moved states, Kevin changed careers, I finally finished grad school and we started to feel happier again. Through all of these changes, we also found new music that resonated with us just like Zeppelin did back when we were teens.

Neither Kevin nor myself would classify ourselves as country song lovers. But one day as we were driving we heard a song by Eric Church on the radio. The two of us looked at each other and you could feel that same spark we had back when we were listening to “Going to California” by Zeppelin. It just hit us at our souls.

Last August, after listening to every song and learning nearly every lyric, we decided to finally see Eric perform in person. We flew out to Colorado and saw his now legendary performance at Red Rocks. Not having seen a concert together in nearly 10 years, Kev and I were admittedly a bit suspicious. We didn’t know if the $300 tickets we bought were really worth it nor the plane tickets and Airbnb rental. But when the sun went down over the rocks and the single spotlight hit Eric – a new musical melody fused Kevin and me together once more. We were hooked, like a drug.

At Red Rocks Amphitheater to see Eric Church perform, August 2016.

The morning after the concert, we looked at each other and talked about how the happiness we were feeling in our marriage. How we actually did this. How we went through hell and back – still with no kid – but had our marriage, had our vibe, had our connection once more. Suddenly, it hit us – music heals. It heals for those who write and compose lyrics and melodies. It also heals those who listen and who are engaged in the performance of its spectacle.

As we returned back to the Midwest that august, Kevin and I determined to make 2017 our year for music. We vowed that we wouldn’t worry or talk about the next steps with our IF. Instead, we would take steps to renew our marriage. So, in January of 2017 as Eric went on tour, we did our own mini tour. Seeing him perform in Green Bay, Portland, Milwaukee, and two Nashville encore sets.

Eric’s tour is now over. And, in many ways, so is the one Kevin and I have been on. Throughout his tour, which has broken attendance records and has allowed him to play 40+ songs at every venue, Eric has repeatedly made it clear that this tour is because of the fans. It is because of the fans that he is able to go on stage without an opening act and perform to sell out crowds for 4+ hours. Kevin and I want to make it clear though, that while Eric may be thankful to the fans that have given him this opportunity of a lifetime, Eric’s influence on his fans should not be forgotten.

A photo Maria took of Eric performing in Nashville at the closing of his tour.

With the tour now concluded, Kevin and I wanted to take a moment to thank thank him for reminding us of the importance of music in marriage, relationships and life. Music heals.