Conflicting Emotions

Pregnancy announcements while you’re struggling with infertility tend to come with a lot of conflicting emotions. While you’re (usually) happy for the person making the announcement, it more often than not brings up a painful reminder that yet another person has achieved what seems to be the impossible for you.

I think I’m in a good place right now, since I’m doing the IVF, and therefore could be less than a month away from a positive pregnancy result of my own. It’s been six months (when I did my last IUI in December) since a potential pregnancy for me has felt this close. But despite my general positive outlook these days, a pregnancy announcement the other day still brought out some feelings that only someone familiar with the  infertility struggle could understand.

This was not the usual “oops I got pregnant” announcement, and therefore it did not elicit the normal set of conflicting emotions. This was a couple who had been trying about as long as we had, and who I wrote about in one of my first posts on this blog. When we last saw each other at the end of January, they were still on the waiting list for the fertility clinic, so I don’t know if they ended up doing fertility treatments, or lucked out with a miracle pregnancy. Regardless, this pregnancy was well earned, so when my husband casually mentioned in conversation the other day that they were pregnant, I said I was happy for them, and I am.

The thing is that I am also happy for myself. I’m happy that I stuck with my self preservation instinct and did not bond further over our infertility. I’m happy that despite pangs of guilt over the last few months I never got around to sending her the information on the fertility yoga class that I am taking (which would introduce additional opportunities for us to commiserate about our shared experience). And of course I’m happy that despite my lack of support on this front, they still managed to get pregnant.

It seems so petty that I can feel this way, especially when I really believe I may be on the threshold of a pregnancy of my own. But I know that if we had shared more about our struggles, this pregnancy announcement would be much more difficult to take as it would be yet another race that I had lost; one more person leaving me behind. While I’m not proud to say it, one thing I’ve learned over the last year is that when it comes to pregnancy related news and events, I have to support my emotional state first, before I can provide support for someone else. And sometimes these two things are mutually exclusive.

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Letting Go…In a Good Way

The phrase “letting go” is often used to describe the process of accepting the bad things that happen to us. The infertility journey is no different – from the time we first start trying to conceive, to accepting that timed intercourse is just not going to cut it for us, and eventually enduring the rollercoaster of infertility treatments, infertility provides successive opportunities for us to let go of our many hopes and dreams for starting a family – each one harder to accept than the last.

But letting go can also be a relief when it means letting go of anger or grief or other difficult emotions that we have been carrying with us for too long, and I was lucky to be reminded of  this last week.

As many infertiles can attest to, it can be difficult to see our friends, family members and coworkers achieve successful pregnancies while we are still stuck with the uncertainty of not knowing when or even if we will ever be so fortunate. I think that for the most part I’ve done pretty well with this, but at the same time I have not been immune to the feelings of jealousy and resentment that can come when others close to you get what you so desperately want.

For me, there is one friend in particular who I just couldn’t face while she was pregnant. I’ve written a bit about her here and here. To briefly summarize, I found out last year that she had a miscarriage a few months before we did and upon this realization we had a few moments of comparing notes and sharing the frustrations that come with trying to conceive. When she got pregnant shortly afterwards I felt betrayed. She had been trying for several months and was already feeling worn down by the process while I’d been trying for years with no luck.

It probably helps to clarify that while she is a good friend, it hasn’t always been an “easy” relationship due to a competitive undercurrent. She is incredibly competitive about everything, and I think the fact that we have a lot in common (we share the same profession, were running buddies due to our very similar pace, share a love of shoes, and were born a month apart) makes me a natural foil for her competitive nature.

When I first found out she was pregnant again, it stung but I assumed I would be okay with it. I was wrong. I saw her a few times during her pregnancy, and while all of our encounters were very positive (and I believe she was trying hard to be respectful of my feelings), in between seeing her, I stewed. I stewed when I saw her announce the pregnancy on facebook (I’d already known about it for some time); I stewed when she posted her nursery pictures; and I stewed when she gave birth to a healthy boy on my 35th birthday.

And then I felt bad because I hadn’t seen her since December and the ball was in my court to initiate something.

So when she sent out an invite to a drop-in barbecue/meet the baby event at her house this past week, I accepted right away. Five months had gone by since I’d last seen her, and it was time. As the barbecue approached, I had mixed feelings – on the one hand I was looking forward to seeing her and catching up, but on the other hand I wasn’t sure if I could handle seeing her with her baby while I was still not pregnant.

But by the time the day arrived, I’d gotten over my fears and was genuinely looking forward to the event. We showed up around dinner (strategic timing on my part to try to avoid as many people with kids as possible), and as soon as I walked into the living room and saw her holding her baby, I felt none of the resentment or bitterness that had been stewing over the previous months. All I felt was happiness – happiness for her and her son, and happiness to be seeing her again.

We spent quite a lot of time catching up, and made a lunch date for next week to catch up further. And when I saw her baby related post on facebook a few days later, it didn’t bother me at all. I had let go of the negative emotions that I’d been harbouring.

Come be miserable with me…

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.