The Infertility Wars

We live in a competitive world.  We live in a world where comparisons are constantly being drawn.  We live in a world where people love to pretend otherwise, but often view things as right or wrong.  Shades of grey are generally ignored.  Judgments are made with little to no information.  Opinions are stated whether or not they are wanted.

I suppose it was simply a matter of time.

There is a new trend in the fight against infertility, and it is only making matters worse.

Women are at war with one another.  Women are comparing their journeys and attacking those who they deem to be “less infertile”.  Instead of joining hands and fighting infertility together, women are now fighting each other.

7.3 million Americans are currently waging war against infertility.  To bring it a little closer to home, if you and your partner are out to dinner with 7 other couples, one of those couples is currently experiencing infertility.  That’s a lot of couples.

Despite increasing numbers, infertility remains a taboo subject.  It can stop a conversation in a heartbeat and empty a room in record time.  It can end marriages, friendships, and family relationships.  It can cause some serious emotional damage.

The potential for emotional wreckage and lost relationships often causes couples to suffer in silence.

Infertility can cause anxiety and depression.  It can lead to significant social isolation.  I have experienced all of these along my journey, and then some.

Infertility is alienating.

Why women would choose to turn on each other is beyond comprehension.  Because when everybody fights, everybody loses.

It used to be that infertility message boards and blogs were a safe place to seek comfort.  It used to be that women could reach out to other women on a similar path while remaining anonymous.  It used to be that under the cover of screen names, we would offer words of support and possibly even resources.  It used to be that we were in this together.

But lately there’s been a shift.  Here and there, brave women are coming forward and sharing their journeys.  They are doing it to help others, to convey a message of hope, and to relieve the emotional burden that suffering in silence creates.  They are standing up, using their names, and telling it like it is.

And they are under attack.

What used to be a safe place suddenly feels a lot less safe.

Women who share stories of multiple miscarriages are hearing, “at least you CAN get pregnant” in response.  I assure you, fellow infertility soldiers, there is no comfort in conceiving a child only to have him silently slip away at 6, 8, 10, 12, or even 20 weeks.  I lost one at 9, two at 13, and one at 18 weeks.  I loved them all.  And despite my two incredible children, not a day goes by that I don’t think about that last one…a sweet little baby boy lost in June.  I should be nine months pregnant right now.  I should be decorating one more nursery.  I should be washing and folding tiny clothes.  Instead, I am trying to remain focused on what I have and move on from the longing that threatens to shatter my soul.

My journey has been long and emotionally exhausting.  Excruciating at times. For the first half I heard, “at least you can get pregnant” over and over again.  It felt like tiny daggers of shame were stabbing my soul each time I heard it.  Today I hear, “at least you have your two” or “at least they’re healthy”.  What can I say?  It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.  But it certainly doesn’t erase the loss(es).

Incidentally, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 11% of couples that have one child go on to experience secondary infertility.

Other women are competing over who has endured more rounds of IVF, who had the worst reactions to the hormones and medications, and who has been trying for the longest amount of time.  People, it seems, would rather be the worst-case scenario (and hopefully get the most social support) than join a growing number of Americans and fight the war together.

I can tell you with certainty that there is no trophy for being the worst case.  After losing my baby boy, and nearly losing my life in the process, I was later told that I was one of two cases like that in the 30 years that my doctor’s practice has been open.  Being a medical mystery doesn’t make me feel any better, and it certainly won’t bring my baby back.

But sharing my story and helping others does add a small ray of sunshine to an otherwise dreary journey.  Receiving email from people who feel just a little bit better knowing that I am here, and fighting both with them and on their behalf, gives me a reason to keep looking forward.

At least once a day I have to remind myself that my journey to conceive and carry to term is likely over, but my journey to help others along the way has only just begun.  Together we can get through this.  Together we can fight for more resources and better insurance coverage.  Together we can move forward.

But if we remain at war with one another, we will all suffer.  We will force couples to remain silent.  We will continue to lose friendships and end marriages.  We will spiral into episodes of anxiety and depression that will undoubtedly affect other areas of our lives.

Because when everybody fights, everybody loses.

Let’s make a pact to fight infertility instead of fighting each other.  Let’s make a pact to listen and empathize, even when it’s hard, and offer the support that we seek in return.  Let’s make a pact to fight this enormous war hand in hand until we get to the end.

How has infertility touched your life?

Note:  This post originally appeared on my other site, Practical Parenting, on September 26, 2011.