The other day, I was flipping through a stack of magazines in a waiting room when I came across a Redbook from June that had this line on the cover, advertising an interview with Khloe Kardashian: “Our favorite Kardashian on how fertility struggles strengthened her marriage”. Normally, I’m curious and interested when I see infertility issues featured front and center in a fairly large women’s magazine. This time, I just threw it back on the pile without even being able to bring myself to open it. It felt like too much pressure, too exhausting to even contemplate.
I mean, isn’t it enough that I’m managing to figure out how to just make it through each day when it comes to infertility?
Nothing against Khloe here – if her marriage has gotten better as a silver lining to her fertility struggles, then I say more power to her. That’s fantastic. The Redbook cover hit me where I live, though. Even though I know that headlines and teasers exist to sell magazines, sometimes I get tired of the ever-optimistic, “but you’ve learned so much through this struggle!”, as though somehow infertility has made my life better. It’s tough love. Buck up. You’ll be such a better person on the other side, and bonus! your marriage will be even better for all this pain and sorrow.
Sometimes it feels as though with infertility – or really any major difficult life event – there are two default settings for how to respond. One, there’s competing for a gold medal in the Pain Olympics. Everything is constant drama, a race to the bottom. Or two: becoming a Zen goddess. Everything is a life lesson, a chance to be stronger, more awesome, and the messy parts are neatly braided into a seamless narrative towards an uplifting ending. I’ve seen both stories sold in magazines, books, articles, speeches, and plenty of other ways.
At this point, neither option one or two is particularly attractive to me personally. Despite assurances that all things happen for a reason, infertility has mostly convinced me that random crap happens, and that some days, all I can do is put one foot in front of the other. I don’t want to look for overarching meanings. I don’t want theological justifications. I don’t want to hear that my marriage is somehow going to be stronger or that I’m going to eventually derive some sort of higher meaning from all this.
But I don’t want to compete in the Pain Olympics, either. At this point, I know for a fact that I don’t have even close to the messiest infertility story. I don’t have the worst life story or the toughest decisions facing me. At the same time, I feel like I have quite enough to be going on, thank you very much. The absolute last thing I want is more drama, more emotion, and more pain. If someone wants the gold medal in the Pain Olympics, I am more than happy to give it to them.
For some time, especially after the initial diagnosis, I vacillated between options one and two. I wasn’t sure what else there was to choose from. Most of what winds up in magazines or reported in news stories consist of the lows and the highs. The stories talk about those either awesomely put together or such a mess that it’s hard not to tune in. This is not to say that people shouldn’t share genuine feelings. Some days are horrible disasters. Some days do have great ‘aha!’ moments to put out there. It’s just that I live in neither place most of the time.
So I’m exploring option three: a long nap and the realization that life it is what it is. Frankly, I’m exhausted. I refuse to compete for either goddess or martyr status. I want to see people acknowledge that sometimes, there is no happy face to put on a crap situation. It just sucks. That actually getting out of bed in the morning, even accompanied by grumbling, depression, or cynicism is sometimes a supreme act of hope. I also want to genuinely acknowledge that I have changed, sometimes in good ways, in response to infertility. That I have picked up some surprising moments of clarity and that people have given me the gifts of their stories, and I’ve been shown generosity and love by plenty of people both virtual and in real life which takes my breath away. Which is pretty amazing, really.
Somehow, I don’t think this third way is going to sell many magazines or articles or put me on the New York Times Bestseller list with the great new self-help book. It’s boring. It’s prosaic. That’s okay, though. I’m living life. I’m managing. Some days I’m up, other days I’ve slipped off the path and have to find a way back onto it. Some days I want to talk or think about infertility – a lot – but some days I just want to think about silly things like the fabulous sweater I had forgotten about and rediscovered when unpacking my fall clothes. It’s been discovering that it’s okay for me to have a full range of emotions from the very dark to the much lighter. That it’s fine to be exhausted, angry and acknowledge that there is no greater lesson here, just pain. That it’s fine to be excited or happy and share something I’ve learned. That it’s fine to be somewhere in between those options.
It’s actually a surprisingly decent place to exist for the time being, I’ve found.
Besides…I’m way overdue for that nap.