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