Why can’t infertile women just get over themselves?

The other night I was watching a movie with my roommates (whom I live with when not living with my husband in Mexico) and we were talking about Jennifer Garner, when my friend commented:

Oh, I just hated her character in Juno.  She was awful.

To which her husband promptly agreed.  And it took a minute to register, Oh that’s right, she was the mom in Juno. Well, the infertile*, OCD, anxious woman who eventually became a mom.

And that’s when it hit me, most infertile characters portrayed in movies and TV are not characters you sympathize with and are not portrayed in the best light. And I voiced this.  To which they disagreed.

There’s Charlotte, from Sex and the City.

To which I disagreed. I never liked Charlotte.

I understand this point is debatable, that Hollywood isn’t the greatest example of exactly what our culture values lie, and that I don’t really watch that much TV so I don’t have a large data set to pull from, but I remember watching a crime scene show years ago with a crazy infertile women who was holding her husband’s mistress hostage after she snapped when she thought he was cheating on her and other shows/movies where the wife who’s bent on trying to conceive “forces” her husband to have sex with her at timed intervals.

The idea of a crazy, infertile woman who can just never get over herself is a common theme that enough people recognize, otherwise she wouldn’t exist.  She makes you cringe, she makes you want to look away and she definitely does not make you sympathize with her.

Of course I’d love to plead No, she’s not crazy!  Just misunderstood! but even I doubt myself.  Why can’t infertile women just get over themselves? It’s worth asking.  There is something all consuming about infertility that just makes your better judgment fly out the window.  Your thoughts turn inward and your future seems bleak, in spite of everything else going on in your life.  And you’d suddenly trade it all if you could just have a baby.  At least, that’s what you say.

Sunshine wrote last week, asking the question, is the cross of infertility really harder than other crosses? One of the points on her list jumped out to me the most:

~It is a cross that takes one to the depths of what it means to be a CREATURE and not the CREATOR.

This is profound.  There’s an obvious link between control and happiness, so it should come as no surprise when once one realizes they aren’t the ones creating, or in control, sadness follows.  But what other crosses take us to the depths of understanding what it means to be a creature rather than a creator?

Sickness, disease, and untimely – or even anticipated – death. When all of these things happen, there is absolutely nothing you can do but accept what happens.  Infertility falls right in line with all of those.

Have you seen My Sister’s Keeper?  There’s a scene at the end where you all but realize she’s going to die.  She’s been struggling with cancer for so long and there’s no way she can survive the surgery necessary to save her, yet when all her extended family come in the room to visit one last time they just keep talking about how not to worry, if she can just hold on, just have more faith, just pray a little harder, that miracles do happen and that she’ll be cured.  The immediate family shares a knowing look because they know, they know that this is the end and they are finally at peace, although that didn’t come easy even for them.  Those other people just can’t accept not being in control.  They can’t imagine there not being something else you can do.

There are few crosses that can really reach us and teach us that at the deepest level, we are merely creatures.  Infertility is one.

It literally takes that family up until the moment they realize she’s going to die to have peace.  If it takes that long with death, which is so final, to accept, how can it possibly work any sooner with infertility?

Infertility is a disease that takes away your ability to conceive and bear children. But it rarely takes it away all at once (although it can).  It usually acts more stealthily, taking it away slowly, month after month.  As a result, its a continual mourning process of children that never were.  Children that no one will ever see or would ever even be expected to know about.

A mother whose child dies usually has a funeral, an expected time to mourn and even a lifetime acknowledgment that that child existed and was worth morning.  All children are.  The infertile has less than two weeks to get over the fact that there is no child before moving on to having hope for the next child, who may never come.  All with zero outside acknowledgment.  This is not to solicit pity, but to state facts. I seriously believe that this lack of proper time to grieve is what drives infertile women crazy. It is a death that is never recognized and never dealt with like what it is.  The death of children that never existed with a mix of your husband’s and your genes.  And how can you accept that death?  After all, this just might be the month!  It is just a continual process that has. no. end.  until time X has been reached.  Time X being dependent upon a couple’s emotional, mental, and financial reserves to take the waiting/treatment roller coaster.  [And honestly, I have doubts it ever ends.  I bet somewhere in the mind back there an sub-fertile always wonders if she’s pregnant, and every story I’ve ever heard that ends with a sub-fertile adopting and then getting pregnant, she always says Well, I was a day late and I should have gotten my period by then…so I took a pregnancy test.” Right.  A pregnancy test because you’re a day late?]

Everything I read about adoption confirms that infertility is a grieving process. Agencies are weary of accepting couples who are pursuing fertility treatments and many don’t allow it at all.  Adoption is never to replace your biological children.  This wouldn’t be fair to the adopted child to have to live in the shadow of another child.  Friends who have started or have gone through the adoption process have literally first had to mourn the biological children that never were.

We’re not crazy infertile women like you see in the movies.  I wish it was more apparent to people that its not that we’re not thankful, its not that we’re not appreciative of what we do have, its just that our dreams, our husband’s and our children, are dying. On a repeating loop.  Right in front of us.  We are mothers to invisible, never-living children, and we are mourning.  Death cannot be moved past until it is properly grieved.

I just wish it wasn’t so hard to face that fact ourselves.

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for your understanding.

*You may be aware of my preference for the term sub-fertility.  Since I’m refering to these characters on TV and in movies that don’t concieve and we don’t know their medical diagnosis, I’m just sticking with infertility for the whole of this article.

50 thoughts on “Why can’t infertile women just get over themselves?

  1. This is JUST AMAZING- thank you!

    You fed my prayer for WEEKS with this post.

    And I wish everyone in the world would read this post too. I think I may send it to my mom who just really can’t understand the pain, not really.

  2. Amazingly written. Thank you. I agree with Hebrews, everyone should read this, maybe they would be a little more understanding towards us IFers..

  3. Tremendously well written. Fantastic job. I don’t think I’ve ever read something that so captures the feelings of sub/infertility. I’m printing this out and putting it on my bulletin board. Thank you for writing this.

  4. I think you are right it’s the monthly up and down that makes a woman crazy. Remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results, and that is what people struggling with IF do on a monthly basis.

    I saw Juno in theaters. We weren’t trying at this point (I don’t think) so I was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss. But I didn’t think Jennifer Garner’s character was unlikeable. I thought her husband was a jerk.

    I do remember seeing UP while we ere in the midst of our issues and I thought it was the saddest movie I had ever seen. I cried so hard through the whole thing. There it was … the possibility I didn’t want to look at, right there on the big screen. A lifetime of “just us.” So many people loved that movie and I seriously, balled. I won’t watch it, even now. OH! I also saw “Away we Go” (with the guy from the office and that woman from SNL) and that was a dicey. The main character is pregnant but one of her good friends … they adopted children because of their IF but they still try … so sad. I cried there too. But I didn’t find them unsympathetic? All perspective I think. I think I’m more sensitive to it. If I didn’t have IF issues perhaps I would ahve found them all stupid and annoying too. I don’t know.

    The unfairness (when is life ever fair, I know) of infertility I still struggle with. And we’ve blessedly made it out the other side. Our best friends told us they were going to start trying in November. She told me last week she’s 9 weeks pregnant. One month. First time. Really? She was my confident on all of our issues. So now I feel she really just doesn’t understand at all. How can she? And I’m thrilled for her! I am! I don’t wish my situation on ANYONE. But that includes myself so I still struggle with jealousy, envy …

    Great post.

    • Ohh, I saw Up right as we started trying and bawled too. I think I saw it on a plane and about lost my breath.

      That couple in Away We Go is another good example, but I got the impression that people thought “Oh, you have other adopted children, why don’t you get over it already?” Like I said, I guess it depends on what we brought to the table and unfortunately people who don’t go through it usually don’t get it, although it means the world and that much more when they do.

      And your last paragraph, that jealousy sneaks in with me too. Somehow I can be fine with not wishing infertility on anyone – and praying for it as well – so then it should follow that I’d want them to get pregnant right away. Although it makes rational sense, I still struggle with it in practice :/

  5. I just saw Juno again the other night, and I have to disagree about Jennifer Garner’s character. She handles the digs from the super-fertile teenager very well – when she says she thinks pregnancy is beautiful, Juno responds with, “Yeah, well, just be glad it’s not you”. You can see the shimmer of tears and the pain in her eyes, yet she smiles and nods anyway.
    When she gets to feel the baby kick…I had tears in my eyes.
    When her husband leaves her right as they are finally becoming parents, when they’re dream is being realized…I was heartbroken for her.
    When she finally holds the baby and you can see the joy in her face and she feels almost like she is “playing” at being a mom, and Juno’s mom reassures her…
    And when they show her in her bed with the baby, bottles and baby paraphernalia on the side table by her bed…it’s beautiful.
    I thought she did a great job in that character, and she is the reason I love that movie. Not the snarky teenager or her clueless boyfriend, and not the cavalier attitute of the friend toward abortion. But the honest (I thought), painful reality of an infertile woman.
    I do agree though, that very rarely are infertile women shown with compassion or understanding. Hollywood loves people with kids (as long as they don’t have too many) and they love people who live kid-free by choice, but they have absolutely no patience for people who are struggling with infertility.
    I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to understand that disappointment, but when it comes to reproducing…you seldom will find a sympathetic ear, unless that person had direct experience with it themselves. Sad, but true.

    • I definitely agree that she did a good job AND that the character was true to life. I can remember being moved by that first scene you described vividly back when I had no clue as to my own future problems. I guess my point was that from my friends’ perspective, she was an excellent portrayal of an infertile women in her best moments, and they still didn’t like it. I realized how most of the general population just doesn’t get what an intense struggle it is and only sees the fact that she was emotional and anxious and EW, that made them uncomfortable.
      I just thought it was interesting insight coming from people who aren’t in that infertile world. Sometimes I get caught up thinking that everyone just understands how hard it is because this little blog world does. (Don’t worry…I’m always quickly brought back to reality!!) Most people look right past it all and only see you complain. “Why was she even tearing up?? Pregnancy is hard and awful. She always makes it about her.” Those awful comments on that Facebook infertility article that you shared were a perfect example of that.

  6. I agree with the previous poster ~ I thought Jennifer Gardner did a wonderful job with the role ~ that said this is an amazing piece, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful and poignant insight.

  7. I couldn’t have said it better myself “There are few crosses that can really reach us and teach us that at the deepest level, we are merely creatures. Infertility is one.”

    I think this is the best post I have EVER read on infertility. I have been dealing with infertility for 10years, have 1 living child, and have mourned many cycles and miscarriages… thank you for sharing your soul with us, I will be passing your blog along to other IF friends, and people who need to hear this message.

    Peace of Christ.

  8. Speechless! You have described exactly many of the feelings of living infertility. Grief is exactly in that way. An it hurts! A biological infertile woman seems to be the perfect drama role because is credible that she lives all this feelings together with no hope in horizon. How to go ahead?! Faith and purpose, even of what seems to be unhopeful and with no purpose. Thankyou for writing this. Congratulations for your well selected words!

  9. I just want to highlight what I think were the most brilliant parts of this post.

    “It is a death that is never recognized and never dealt with.”

    “Our dreams, our husband’s and our children, are dying. On a repeating loop.”

    Exactly. Well-said.

  10. I’ve read your post a few times now. Grieving is the perfect word for what we’re experiencing every cycle. I’ve known more suffering in the last 18 months of my life than I have ever before. Mourning that many children that could be. It definitely takes a toll.

  11. I had to come over and see what all the conversation was about. :)

    When we were amid the discernment of adoption, one of the things I wrote in my Journal was something along these lines: “I understand that adoption agencies don’t want you to look at the adopted child as a second-rate substitute for a bio child, but isn’t it just POSSIBLE that I could have biological children and a desire for bio children, and still have enough love to go around for an adopted child, too?” It really bugged me that you almost had to choose between them.

  12. Found this post almost 1.5 years after you wrote it and it brought me a lot of comfort. it can be so difficult to articulate these things. I know I don’t need to quote you back to you, but this was true it made me cry: “I wish it was more apparent to people that its not that we’re not thankful, its not that we’re not appreciative of what we do have, its just that our dreams, our husband’s and our children, are dying. On a repeating loop. Right in front of us. We are mothers to invisible, never-living children, and we are mourning. Death cannot be moved past until it is properly grieved.”

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  14. Somehow I ended up back here today, from your newest post – don’t ask me exactly how it happened, I don’t know. What I know is that when I look at the date you wrote it, we were 3 months into what has become a much longer journey than I ever expected.
    And that I think I needed to be here, to read these words again, today. I’ve been chastising myself for not “getting over myself” for thinking IF thoughts so much of the time, and for so much more. Thank-you for reminding me that this pain is real and the rollercoaster is real and that it is OK to feel overwhelmed by it at times.

  15. Thank you for this. I often begin feeling painfully alone while just trying to understand what I feel, as my feelings flow through the tides of hope, sadness, anger, frustration, peace, and back to hope again as often as I ovulate. It means so much to read all the words you shared, along with all the words written in the comments above my own, so that I can remind myself, that I am not alone…that there are other woman who understand….

  16. I am a mother and have a child on the way. As someone who has never had trouble getting pregnant i must say that while i cannot fully understand the pain of month after month of disappointment (or being diagnosed as infertile) i have to say that stories of infertility (Juno for example) still break my heart in a different way, i cant imagine if i never had my daughter. I actually really felt for Jennifer Garner’s character in Juno (i didnt find her awful at all) and cried in the scene where she held her baby for the first time. I have girlfriends who have dealt with infertility and gone through IVF and never thought they were ‘crazy’ if they were having a bad day and said something a bit bitter. I know if i were going through their struggles i would act in the same way. Just wanted to leave a comment from a different perspective. Thanks :)

  17. Yeah yeah yeah. Say what you want, but my infertile sister is crazy. Though admittedly, she was crazy before she started trying, too.
    The problem I have with crazy infertiles, is they seem to think their suffering excuses their misbehavior. That it’s fine to be so mean to fertiles. It’s not, and I know infertiles who behave in perfectly acceptable ways. If they can, so can you.

    (angry rant over)

    • Why are you even reading this if it doesn’t apply to you? Clearly YOU have issues more than your infertile sister if you sought this out.

    • I think part of my response to you would be that if you really thought she was “crazy” before, her issue may be more hormonal and therefore, medical, than you give credence to. I don’t wish to sugar coat it and just give infertiles a free pass to be mean to everyone, lash out, and not be responsible for their behavior, I just think that if more people recognized infertility as a grieving process, then maybe people would treat them with more respect and sensitivity than just expecting them to “get over it”.

  18. In my opinion infertile women are very annoying & rude. I became pregnant the second time I had sex, infertile women who are so worried about other people hurting their feelings were the most insensitive people they would say the rudest things & yes I know they have their own problems but that wasn’t my problem & I had enough worries without them trying to make me feel guilty that something they worked hard for so long & still couldn’t get came so easily to me with absolutely no effort it’s not my fault, I didn’t make them barren it’s just the card some people are dealt. So yes I think infertile women need to get over themselves & realize that everything happens for a reason some people just aren’t meant to be parents, is it fair? No. But as my kindergarten teacher use to say “life isn’t fair”

    • That was unnecessary and nasty. Some people are murdered. Does that mean that they just aren’t meant to be alive? People lose limbs. Not meant to walk. What about orphans? Are they not meant to be parented?

      Yes, you have your own problems and worries. We all do, but no one pins their infertility on you because you got knocked up your second go ’round, just like you don’t blame infertile women for your lack of ability to form a coherent sentence.

      Congratulations on getting laid, Ali. Good for you.

  19. I’m a guy and I don’t know if it’s any easier. My wife and I have been trying for three years now. The doctors keep identifying problems with her and none with me but it doesn’t feel like it’s any less my problem. In my heart I know that the deciding factor for us getting married was having children. I feel like I’m being punished for making this selfish decision. Now, I feel like I’m being forced to chose between “love” and procreation. If I chose love I’m doomed to continuous emotional pain and a sense of failure. If I chose to leave her, I’m admitting to myself and the world my own evil, and of course I could once again find myself with another infertile woman.

    • Joe, your comment broke my heart, but I appreciate your honesty. The male perspective is hard to get on the internet so I really value it. The first and only time my husband has ever broken down in front of me crying was when we were ‘realizing’ our infertility and he told me, no SHOWED me how it was breaking his heart too. It was maybe the single closest moment of our marriage, clinging to each other with our raw hearts, but knowing we were together. I see the reason for getting married also to be inextricably tied to if you think someone would be a good parent to your kids too. My husband used to say that’s how he knew I was his wife, because he knew I would be a good mom. It was heartbreaking when I couldn’t give him children, even though it was our combined fertility that was lacking. Along that line, no person can give anyone a baby on their own, so its difficult to know with 100% certainty that its entirely your wife’s fault, don’t you think? I have prayed for you. I know this isn’t an easy path, watching this heartbreak and experiencing it yourself, but please know that God really will get you through this. Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. And what good is procreation without love?

  20. hopefully these invitro clinics has social workers or seriously talk to these poor women when their dreams are shattered when things do not work out. Hopefully these docs aren’t just in for the money.

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  22. Boring long winded article. Get over it guys – not everyone has to have children. It doesn’t make your life any less valuable. Absolutely pathetic levels of self pity and whining going on here. Just disgusting.

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  24. Pingback: Why infertile women can’t get over themselves….still. | Matching Moonheads

  25. Wow, the post is amazing and the comments are very revealing of some peoples’ view of infertile women/couples. I think that compassion is lacking in our world and I love that compassion means “to suffer with” because that’s what Christ does with us. I don’t think I am particularly rude or self centered for taking time to grieve the loss of our child through miscarriage and the loss of biological parenthood. In fact the grieving process has made me able to have compassion for those women who do have children and may be going through a tough time. Idk but I really like this post Alison! Thanks for linking it with your current one :)

  26. Great article about the suffering of infertile couples. As an infertile man, I totally agree with your description about the suffering of infertile couples. I just would like to add one observation: I think the big difference between “crazy” infertile couples portrayed by hollywood and those who are able to bear it with much more grace, like you and other couples we have had the privilege of getting to know, has to do with how the couple grieves and their faith life. There is such a thing as bad grieving (isolation, depression, despair, escapisms, excessive self-pity, etc), which I know you don’t deny. But I just want to say that this bad grieving relates to hollywood image. I think the hollywood image exists because hurting people can still hurt others because they have not dealt with their anger and grief appropriately. (Albeit, I also agree that this hollywood image is one-sided.) But if you are an infertile, like me, then what we need now more than ever is to learn and to reflect upon how to properly mourn and to allow God’s mercy and love into our being. We must become healed and then heal others. This is not an easy task for one who is so wounded and it takes a long time to heal. I am still very much on the way. Praying for all of those who struggle with this cross. You have my prayers everyday.

  27. I am 40. I have had nine (9) failed pregnancies. Seven miscarriages and two ectopic pregnancies resulting in loss of both fallopian tubes. I have tried 4 rounds of , Clomid/Ovidril, One failed IUI, One cancelled IVF halfway through due to poor response to medication, and as of five days ago, our second and last IVF cycle did not work. I don’t know what to do. That was our last shot. We knew that and agreed that going in. This has been my purpose, my goal, everything–what am I supposed to do now? How do you completely change the course of your life. I want to just be able to move on-why is it so hard? Why is it so sad?
    I haven’t talked to any of my friends in weeks-not in person, maybe an email here or there.
    I never cared about a career because I always just planned on being a mom first–now I need to figure that out. I’m sorry I’m so damn whiny! We don’t enjoy enjoy it, at least I don’t–but who does anyone even talk to? No one understands. I don’t want to be the sad, bitter annoying girl that can’t have a baby. I don’t want to be the broken girl.

    • Heathernrudy7 I am so sorry for all you have been through. I struggled for many years as well, feeling broken and confused about my future as a mom. Is adoption a possibility for you? When we were finally done with all the testing and treatments, we grieved our “loss” of experiencing pregnancy and then started the process to adopt. My two adopted kids are now 10 and 8.

    • I am so sorry, Heather. It sounds like you have been through heartbreak after heartbreak. I’m still trying to figure out how to pull it all together when our dreams don’t look like we thought they would. I am praying specifically for you and your husband to find healing right now. Infertility causes a deep wound that is hard to recover from.

  28. I’m recently working on a short film to express the feeling of infertile. I’m a filmmaker, and I’m recently living with my cousin who is infertile and I’m not sure how I can express your feelings in my film. I would really appreciate your help, because I’ve never seen a movie that describes this situation in the right way.

  29. Thank you for this article. It is profoundly stated. After seven years of dealing with disease resulting in a radical hysterectomy and two failed adoption attempts (mother changed her mind; state decided we were too young to adopt a 12 year old child who we had known and worked with for four years who was a ward of the state and growing older and less likely to be adopted with each passing year) we decided that the time had come to turn our desire for children towards doing good with our lives and trying to be an example and a help to any person, child or adult, as a way of moving on and being constructive in the effort. We have had more happy days than sad, but the grief remains and like a rattle snake behind a rock jumps out at the most random moments for the most random reasons to strike and leave us reeling over the loss of “our children”. We have been married for 31 years, we thought it would get easier as we got older, only to find that the opposite is true. As nieces and nephews become parents and siblings become grandparents and great grandparents we find ourselves feeling like a rail car left on a forgotten track and the last train pulls further and further away. You have stated it well and best: “~It is a cross that takes one to the depths of what it means to be a CREATURE and not the CREATOR.” And if I might add to your statement it is a cross that can never be put down until one is laid to rest. So, we proceed with our lives and pray that we are the kind of people “our children” could be proud of.

  30. This is a wonderful article. It’s everything you want someone to know about what’s going on with you during this journey and it’s everything I wanted to say on my blog post about my journey but couldn’t find the words. Thank you.

  31. That was a beautiful post, thank you for sharing that. I actually somehow ended up here on a deep dive into the internet for NOT feeling sympathy for emotional struggles with infertility… I’d like to add I cannot have children myself, but I considered that to be a possibility from a very young age on (because my mother thought she couldn’t have kids at all, and then I just happened at 38 for no reason) and I’ve never had my mind set on HAVING to have biological kids to begin with. Would it have been nice… oh yes it would have. But it’s not going to happen and I’m actually okay with that. That’s not to say I have no urge to parent… which is why I foster… and that is more than enough of a blessing for me. And when I see other women absolutely driving themselves and everyone around them into the ground over infertility, it actually makes me angry. I know that’s not fair, because we’re all different. But honestly it just frustrates me so much because it felt like a tantrum to me… but after reading your post I understand that what it is, is in fact an unmourned, unprocessed death. I get it now. They lost an actual life, and nobody around them is addressing that for what it is, and the medical industry – instead of helping them heal – is offering them prolonged torture with risky and expensive IVF treatments. Which makes their trauma more intense, rather than helping them heal first. This makes so much sense… you actually made me click. Thank you for that. I wish everyone nothing but peace and love. And I know nobody wants to hear it, but I’m going to be an asshole and say it anyway… my foster daughter is my joy, my pride, my life. There is healing and love to be found out there.

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