Listen to this story
The Infertility Road Map
The world tells women to stay silent about fertility issues. Our silence serves no one.
As a young girl, you’re inundated with warnings about how easily you can become pregnant. Through high school and college, you’re faced with constant reminders: Be careful. Make good choices. One mistake can ruin your life. Don’t be silly, wrap that willy. You’ve memorized the ridiculous rhymes, heard all the horror stories and heeded all the advice. You grow up thinking that if a guy so much as looks at you the wrong way, then boom, you’re pregnant.
There are no cultural norms about navigating the emotional trenches of a silent war with your own body.
Virtually no one talks about life when you can’t get pregnant. I’m now at the age when friends are newly married and just starting to create their own families. Few people I know are willing to touch on the soul-crushing feeling of two no-babies-for-you-right-now diagnoses in the form of Hashimoto’s disease and a tumor chilling out on your pituitary gland.
There’s no road map for this. No cultural norms about navigating the emotional trenches of a silent war with your own body. No training for the countless hours spent on forums, mommy blogs, Facebook groups, and arcane paywalled research databases, searching for solace at 3 a.m.. No one shares how useless you feel as you cling to their success stories like life rafts.
With every pregnancy announcement, we witness an outpouring of love and support. It’s welcome. Expected. But that’s not the experience for people facing fertility issues. When getting pregnant doesn’t happen quickly and easily, you’re told to keep it mum because it makes other people uncomfortable. Even your best friends will struggle with words of encouragement. It’s hard for them to hear about the tests, the doctor appointments, the invasive ultrasounds, the needles, the proclamations of “Let’s try this new dosage!” every time hormones fall out of sync.
No one knows how to talk about the strain infertility puts on a still-new marriage. There are no words for the nights when it feels like you and your spouse are sleeping on different beds, in different time zones, entire continents apart. They don’t know how to respond to the uncomfortable what-ifs. They don’t understand the daunting impossibility of planning financially for IVF treatments or adoption — especially when you have student loans to worry about. They don’t know how to react to your halfway-joking suggestion to just stop trying altogether and buy a farm to raise dogs.
People are especially uncomfortable hearing about the miscarriages. The elation you felt when you saw those two pink lines after nearly two years of feeling broken. The weight of the expectations that lived in the millimeters between those lines after trying for so long: happiness, wholeness, dreams, real excitement. How hard you’ll try not to cry in front of the ultrasound technician and nurse practitioner when they say the fetal heartbeat has ceased, and how numb you’ll feel after the procedure to remove the shred of hope inside you. The month-long anxiety attack you’ll fall into when, two months later, your doctor calls to tell you it’s starting all over again.
You were never given an infertility road map. Your map, your story, is handwritten in pencil, smeared with eraser blurs at all the landmarks that have changed already.
Infertility is a bitch. Not the loud, in-your-face-at-every-given-moment type of bitch. She’s a silent bully. She picks the most inopportune moment to show up. She is the dreaded other woman in almost every relationship you’ll have, a wedge between you and your partner, your friends, your family. She’ll whisper poisonous thoughts in your ear, just loud enough for you to hear: “No one cares. They don’t want to hear it. People who can successfully carry children don’t want to know your wompy uterus won’t hold babies. Why are you such a downer? It seems like your husband got over it. Why can’t you?” She’s the bitch who makes you feel ashamed, who invalidates your feelings of loss and anger. She hides in the downcast glances of those closest to you. She tells you your story is insignificant.
You were never given an infertility road map. Your map, your story, is handwritten in pencil, smeared with eraser blurs at all the landmarks that have changed already. You alone create the topography of this experience. You shade the deep valleys of depression and uncertainty. You sketch the hills of guilt-laden moments of happiness that come in the weeks after your D&C. Those hills quickly turn into mountains of real joy that blossom in time spent with people you love. Your shaky hand draws the plateaus where you are somehow happy and sad at the same time, but at least you’re feeling something.
Your roads are not straight. They wind through your experiences. Their highways are dotted with orange barrels denoting a change in doctors or new possible treatments. The cross over a continually evolving geography.
Sometimes it feels like your roads will just end, that you will topple over a cartoonish cliff into a rocky ravine, but you choose to draw a bridge. You choose to stay the course. You choose to smile when you can, share when you feel safe, and cry when you must. You choose to break the silence that can make infertility and pregnancy loss so isolating, to add your story to those of so many women who’ve come before and will come after. You choose to say that your story, too, is significant.