The infertile Catch-22

Apparently this is the day that I get caught up on life.  And I realize that I dropped the ball forever ago when I left that lovely post nice and wrapped up (ahem, hardly), riiiiight before I moved thousands of miles away.  So here are some other thoughts.  Though in the meantime these lovely ladies have followed up with some wonderful additions to the conversation!

A little more about if that bond is actually severed or not

Most (I won’t say all, because I have met people who deal with it differently, but I will include myself in this group because this is how i dealt with it) infertile women want to read and get support from other people currently dealing with it too. Its almost like a hunger, because that is literally the only thing that “makes it better”.  Knowing that there are other people out there and that you’re not isolated or abandoned. Because we women find strength in community, having this support of friends is literally the only thing that can make the burden feel lighter.

Other infertile/sub-fertile women.

Yes, I would flip and love it when a woman with children left a comment on my blog (which would happen regularly) or said something to me in person (would happen rarely) to acknowledge my struggle and how it must be difficult.  To acknowledge pain that you have no personal experience with really did wonders, so please, if this is you, please continue doing this.  And sure, maybe seeing people “leave the island” gives a glimmer of hope that its possible, but it doesn’t ease the burden.  Its a different thing.  A glimpse into a future that may be yours that may give one hope that it may not always be just like this.

So here’s where the horrible irony, the infertility “catch 22” comes in, at least how I saw it: literally by having this prayer answered in the way I prayed for, it has inherently removed me from being able to support others who are holding this cross.  From what I’ve thought about, in no other life circumstances is this true.  Young moms are always looking to older moms for ideas, advice that is gets easier/better.  My husband Mike made an analogy about people who go back to do prison ministry (that’s Mike for ya).  People in college look to advice for people who’ve graduated and gotten a job to help give them perspective that it does end and we should be prepared for the future. However, with infertility it seems to be different.

(Most) infertile women long for the support and company of other women IN the trenches, anyone else is just “someone with hindsight”   There is potentially room for exception for women who you’ve formed a friendship with that transcends infertility, but generally speaking this becomes most women who eventually have kids and/or adopt.  And this has been incredibly hard for me to accept personally and on a bigger level to answer the “how can we help infertiles?” question, since really, infertility had such a large impact on my life and all I want to do is remember, and educate and support, and it feels so hard now.

But I just came out of my room today* and realized the catch 22 of having and making infertile friends, its literally so simple, but I was finally able to put it into words instead of just cry when I think about it (which I tell you not to garner attention or pity  but to translate how deeply this affects me): To finally get what we want and ultimately are praying for will make it that much harder to support the same people who supported us most when we were suffering with that cross. And that is hard to accept.
Yes, we can pray for them and ask how they are doing and that means a lot. And it is probably the best I can do right now. But as the numbers decrease, as Rebecca points out, it is a bittersweet thing to see that there are so few bloggers/women dealing with infertility left.  Because it means that that path is that much more isolated, rare, and potentially marginalized against.  Practically, it means there will be that many fewer people at the picnic without kids to allow the conversation to not continually dwell on what cute things everyone’s kid is doing.  It means the reality of being different will be that much more difficult.

Yes, I think what Hebrews writes here is spot on:  Their pain is not about me.  Heck that is so true about so many things in life, this self-conscious, insecure girl should print that out and put it on a banner in my mirror! But I know infertility is still different in a sense, because we don’t earn our way out of it to graduate with honors and be able to give advice to those still “in class”. In fact, that’s the quickest way to NOT support those going through infertility.  We kind of get plucked out of oblivion into a different world, and it sort of feels random even.

For example, how hard is it for the burden of starting infertility support groups, talking about this in public, to purely fall on the people who are suffering the most from this cross? 

But then we who’ve crossed over try to help, it can be seen and written off as someone who doesn’t get it right now? Even my mom asked me if people hate it that I have a child at the infertility group.  Ugh.

Its difficult, not in a woe is me way, which I’m sure that is how this is coming across but more importantly in a how do we actually do good to help way.  It is no wonder people are paralyzed with fear to end up doing nothing at all. I got SO upset before when people would say “there’s nothing we can do, infertile women just want to be angry” (because I was a really angry infertile woman of course!) when really, the fact is that because only a minority of women have this cross, few people understand how deeply it affects your identity and faith,  and that is exacerbated by people not understanding and recognizing it as a continual grieving process.  I know, great thesis statement, huh? I understood that no one was going to “make it better”, no one can make it better.  Its a highly individual cross, no matter how much support we get from others. Maybe I knew that before, but I only know that now. In hindsight of course.  Everything is in hindsight once you have child.

I do believe that a little compassion could go a long way, that and, not to be undersold, prayer.  The way we help, our responsibilities perhaps, are different depending on how what stage we’re at.  I love that wording and expression again, in the previous posts I linked to at the top.  Its taken me quite a while to figure that out and to come to accept that this infertile Catch-22 may be the most frustrating thing once you’re on the “other side” but its helped me immensely since then.

*I started these posts a few months ago, so it wasn’t actually today that I had these thoughts.  But I sure am glad I wrote them down when I did, or I surely would have never blogged again.

10 thoughts on “The infertile Catch-22

  1. First off tell your mom no, people didn’t hate that you had a child at the group at least no one conveyed that they did. Second, thank you for doing this follow up post! When I read your original one I kind of got a little worried but then I remembered we are friends IRL of which I am so grateful for. Third, I do think that all we can do is try to be there for one another our crosses are not the same because we are each unique and unrepeatable. Though our crosses are not the same we all have the same ultimate goal, heaven. It is not an easy goal but by helping one another along in our unique journeys we can get there! Sometimes it is hard to see the ultimate goal whether you are in the trenches of IF or battling sleepless nights but reading each other’s blogs and staying connected IRL it helps us to see the big picture. It helps me to see that the smaller goal of parenthood that I am striving for is not sunshine and roses all the time, it is a tough job that I need to continually prepare myself for. Anyway, I will stop there before I take over the comments ;)

  2. Alison, you’ve put into words what I haven’t been able to articulate! It has been such a hard transfer for me too. Rebecca and I had a great discussion a few weeks ago which has definitely encouraged me to keep blogging. Like Kat said, our goal is heaven. And we can still support one another with prayers. I still believe the most powerful prayers for those who are IF are from people who have lived with it as well, even if they have “crossed over.”

  3. I understand that someone might be “paralyzed with fear” and end up doing nothing. I think that might be my first reaction if I ever become a mom. I would be so afraid of saying something that might hurt a childless woman’s feelings or make her cross feel heavier that I might not say anything at all. You are right that an IF woman craves the support of those still in the trenches (well, at least I do), but really any support from anyone means so much to me, especially from a former IFer who could very easily choose to distance herself from the IF community because she is a mom but who instead chooses to remain and do what she can to be Simon to those who are struggling.

  4. Thank you for posting this. I will keep this in mind as we start SF group tomorrow.
    I was starting to question whether God really wants me to do this. Then at a church brunch yesterday, when the subject of infertility came up, one unmarried 40-something woman said something about how “They just need to not stress about it.” I tried to explain how infertility is not that simple or easy, but she stubbornly insisted it was. I decided to drop it before I lost my temper.
    I believe that was God’s way of confirming leading this group is the right move. Even though I’m no longer “in the trenches,” at least I know firsthand what trenches are really like.

    • For what it is worth, your need to point out that she was “one unmarried 40 something women” makes me….sad (for lack of a better word). As if how could SHE possibly understand a cross so heavy. I assure you she does and is certainly “in the trenches” (not remembering what they are like, but actually in them). Maybe her stubbornness and, it would seem, inability to let it “get it” and concede has been borne from years of people telling her the very same thing (just relax and he’ll come along…), and thereby also ignoring/minimizing her pain.

      To be clear, I’m not saying this women was right to say what she did, but just that there are other, sometimes just as heavy (and, in many ways, related) crosses to infertility. Crosses that have just as much grief, tears, and loneliness and that are just as isolating to the person carrying them.

    • Sorry. My comment reads “angry” and I honestly didn’t intend it to! I know that her being a single women in her 40’s was probably just a detail in the story. I guess as a single women (who, honestly, often feels over-looked) I am a bit sensitive to it..

      Though…I stick by what I said as far as her possible thought processes and heavy cross of her own.

  5. This is both incredibly clearly put and incredibly obvious. But – but – nobody seems to get it, no matter how obvious (so, of course, you get extra points for doing so). Post-IF mothers make life HARDER for childless IFers, in the exact opposite way that those still-childless women made life EASIER for the mothers before they were mothers, for two reasons: because the kids and the motherhood rub salt in the wound; and because their “crossing over” makes the childless even more marginalized and alone. Just as you said. And it’s absolutely logical that this should be so, and anyone who spent ten minutes thinking about it would figure it out without difficulty.

    Which is why I find it particularly galling when the post-IF mommies comment huffily on blog posts because they’re offended at being excluded or castigated as mommies (even, and especially, when the post had nothing to do with them personally). This is comparatively rare on my blog (I’m too aggressive for anyone to misunderstand whom I’m attacking most of the time), but I see it all the time on other blogs and I find it horrendous. EVERY ONE of the women who makes such complaints published at least one post in her pre-mommy days in which she complained about another woman JUST BECAUSE she was pregnant or had a child (and doubly so if she was clueless or self-important about said pregnancy or child), and she knew that her blogging audience would understand the grievance perfectly. For still-childless women to have to tiptoe around the feelings of mommies who don’t want to feel excluded or criticized AS mommies – well, it’s pretty rich.

    More constructively, perhaps – from my perspective, the number one thing anyone can do for childless women (or for ANYBODY) is to pray for peace and joy and holiness, and for them to live their lives consistent with God’s will. While fertility treatment seems invariably to cause idolization of/obsession with motherhood, babies, and pregnancy, the prize isn’t a baby, after all – the prize is heaven, and none of us has secured it yet!

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