The other day I was at the library looking for some good reads and chanced across one of those “inspirational” books about infertility. As proof that infertility has finally scrambled my brain, I checked it out to read. This, for the record, was completely out of character. I’m one of those people who might be most kindly billed as a realist (as opposed to ‘pessimist’) and tend to roll my eyes at things that say “this will change your life!”.
It’s not that I’m immune to a great, hopeful story of someone overcoming adversity. It’s just that I like to get the whole story – including the parts that don’t fit nicely into the overarching narrative or expose the less-than-stellar qualities of the subject. What I hate is the traditional “inspirational story”.
We’ve all read them. It’s the thing where someone talks about how someone died, they were diagnosed with cancer, their spouse or they lost their job(s), and/or their marriage fell apart – usually several of the above at once, but the messiness of the situation is trotted out briefly and glossed over only to serve as a set-up for the incredible blessing, self-discovery, or other immensely positive outcome that finishes the story. Some of these even go so far as to talk about how “grateful” the person is for the obstacle(s) that led them to the eventual ending. The ending wraps up with no loose ends or residual effects. And there’s typically an exhortation to go out and apply this to your own life.
In any case, I cracked open the book when I got home and started reading. I quit about the time someone talked about how grateful she was at this “blessing” of infertility because of her now closer relationship to God and her husband and, most importantly, urged the readers to view infertility in the same way she did. I just couldn’t do it. Infertility is many things in my life, but it is not a blessing.
One part of me recognizes this as a coping mechanism. It’s easier to go through crappy stuff when you can ascribe some sort of cosmic meaning to it, fit it into the narrative of self-discovery or a closer relationship to other people or your Higher Power. There are also people who are amazingly, relentlessly, genuinely positive. I don’t fit into that category on the best day of my life, so I mostly just stand, admiring but slightly baffled when I run into those people. I’m not trying to knock either coping mechanisms or positivity – if this is how you deal with stuff, more power to you.
What does bother me is when people insist their insights and beliefs must apply to me. If other people find meaning in their own lives in a tough situation, who am I to question that? It’s when someone minimizes my difficulties that I get angry. I think most of us have heard it. That I should find and focus on the positives in my situation. Don’t complain. It could be worse. Or, worst of all, imply that not only should I accept this uncomplaining, I should actually be grateful for this opportunity to grow as a person. I have only one response to that.
I refuse to be grateful for my infertility.
I will acknowledge certain ‘silver linings’ to this crappy situation. I have no doubt that infertility has made me a more empathetic, compassionate person. There’s an emotional depth of understanding of how a diagnosis can split a person’s life into the before and after that I never could really claim before. I also know that I am much stronger than I thought, and I’ve gotten to experience kindness and compassion from people that have done much to restore my faith in humanity. I’ve met some awesome new people online and in real life. Yes, there’s been plenty of personal growth and introspection. I started writing again after not doing so for years. So no, it’s not all bad.
But at the same time, I refuse to bow to the prevailing wisdom in American culture that says anyone going through a tough situation should only focus on the positives and gloss over the negatives or pretend they’re ‘mere flesh wounds’ as Monty Python would say. They are NOT ‘mere flesh wounds’. They’re big, bleeding, angry gashes. Infertility f*cking sucks. What I’ve listed above are the silver linings, they are not reflective of the whole, which right now is an enormous black cloud to me.
I am not grateful for the immense loss of dignity and privacy this has entailed. I may joke occasionally about transvaginal ultrasounds, but the reality is, for me it’s embarrassing and sometimes uncomfortable. I am not grateful that I get to discuss the most intimate details of my private life (“how many times do you have intercourse per week?”) with medical strangers. I am not grateful that I have to get blood draws on a regular basis because I hate needles. I am not grateful that I get to put my feet in the stirrups and show my once-private areas to lots and lots of people.
I am not grateful that I have to pay a shitload of money for something most people get for free. I am not grateful for the fact that it’s becoming quite possible/probable the money we’d saved to buy a nice used car with no loan will go for a chance at a baby – not a sure thing, a chance. Same thing for the money we saved with the thought of using it for my master’s degree. I am not grateful for the chance to educate people that, yes, we have the money to raise a child, but we have to save up for treatments which demand more upfront cash than plenty of people who become pregnant have in all their bank accounts.
I am not grateful for the psychological implications society thrusts on me – that I’m incomplete without children, that somehow I’m not a ‘real’ woman – that make me feel awful and insecure. I’m not grateful for the anxieties and guilt that this diagnosis has stirred up that I now have to find a way to come to terms with. I am not grateful for the snide remarks about how I’m “getting old” or “too in love” with my career to have children. I am not grateful for the probable ending of a decades-long friendship because the individual just cannot grasp even an inkling of my situation and conversations end with me feeling insecure, in pain, and fuming.
I’m not grateful for the time I have to take off work. I’m not grateful for the worry that comes with trying to plan things around something as fickle as an irregular menstrual cycle. I’m not grateful for the crying jags that come on without warning that cause me to hide. I’m not grateful for gritting my teeth every time someone gushes about their pregnancy and the effect that’s had on my relationships with far too many people in my life.
It’s like I said before: I’m not trying to negate some of the positive things that have come out in the wash with this whole mess. But at the same time, I think it’s nothing short of cruel to tell people who are suffering that they should focus only on hope, should focus only on the positive, should focus only on all the silver linings to the point of actually denying the pain. I won’t do it. I will acknowledge the positive parts. But I refuse to pretend all the suffering and anger doesn’t exist too.