Infertility is lonely and isolating. Not only is it something that most people in your social circle and support system have no experience with (or in many cases can even fathom that it exists), recently I’ve found that even when confronted with somebody I know who is going through the same things I am, I don’t really feel like sharing and comparing notes. So what should be a bonding moment is instead an exercise in further isolation.
Recently, my husband and I dropped in on some friends to see their new house. As they were giving us a tour, they described each room. Then we got to the bedrooms. One bedroom was their office, one was the master, and the third bedroom…. well there was a short pause and then “This bedroom doesn’t really have a purpose…”. Something in the way they said it, and the faraway look in their eyes clued me into the fact that this bedroom was supposed to be a nursery for a long overdue baby.
Sure enough when the boys went off to admire her husband’s latest man toys, my friend turned to me and said “I wanted to ask you something.” She shared that they had also been trying for a long time, and we commiserated about the many people we knew who were getting pregnant with barely any effort. But the thing is, most of the time we were talking, I really didn’t feel like discussing details of where we were at and I was just hoping we could talk about something else.
Lately, when the topic has come up with anybody, I’ve been very careful not to share how long we’ve been at this game, even if it’s someone who’s also shared that they are having/had problems. I’m not totally sure where this hesitation comes from, but part of it is that admitting that we’ve been at this for over 2.5 years just seems ridiculous for lack of a better word and even I have trouble believing sometimes that it’s been that long. Related to this, on some level I don’t want to bare my soul over our struggles to somebody who’s “only” been trying a few months.
Yes, infertility is a badge you have to earn, but I’m not being an infertility snob, really I’m not. I get where they are at – I’ve been there. When you’re first trying, every month brings with it so much hope, followed by so much disappointment that once again you’re not pregnant. And then slowly doubt starts creeping in that maybe there’s something wrong with you, and this isn’t going to be as easy as you’ve been led to believe. So from that perspective those first four or five months can feel like an eternity, and in many ways are tougher to deal with than four or five unsuccessful months when you’ve been trying longer and have lost your innocence about how these things work.
I want to help and be supportive, really I do. But then self preservation (with a touch of bitterness) kicks in. Because by sharing where I’m at, I will become the embodiment of their worst fears. And I don’t want to act as a reminder of what could be in their future. Not to mention that in many cases they are just one month away from getting that positive pregnancy test (without needing to resort to fertility drugs or treatments). After all, about 75% of couples conceive within 6 months, and 90% conceive within a year, so the odds are really on their side. And when that happens, there is nothing you can do to avoid the ensuing awkwardness.
Getting back to this particular friend and her situation, they actually had been trying about as long as we had, which relaxed me a bit and led me to share a bit more. But afterwards once I got home and thought about our conversation, there was so much more that I could have, and should have told her and yet I didn’t. I can’t totally explain why I reacted the way I did, but I do think it’s more evidence of the insidious effect that infertility can have on a person.