This is a tough one. It's one of the things that people on the infertility journey struggle with the most. They are times when others in your life, many times the people you love the most in this world are experiencing their happiest moments. They are times when relationships sometimes strain the most. And I want to talk about what it's really like.
We're going to talk....Baby Showers.
Depending on what side of the infertility fence you are sitting on when you read this, you may have a strong opinion here. I hope that you will hear me all the way through on this one. I only know this from one side of the fence - the side from which I have often had no words to describe the loss, the mourning, and the gut wrenching depression. Hopefully, if you are walking this path, you can find some new words to fill conversations about this with your friends or family. And if you are a friend or family member of someone on this path, I hope you can see their journey through a different lens. I hope you can see that depending on where your loved one is on their path, compassion, understanding and sometimes options, are needed.
Let me first say that I have never had to experience the heartbreak or devastation of a miscarriage in my life, as I have never been able to achieve pregnancy at all. But I know women who have experienced them. I have seen the faces and hearts of women who feel broken to their souls. I have seen women feeling like their body betrayed them, some feeling like they did something wrong, when neither might be true.
While miscarriage & inability to achieve pregnancy are different, the emotions and feelings experiences by women in both situations are universal: devastation, agony, heartbreak, frustration, guilt, and paralyzing pain. The devastation of miscarriage comes with the mourning of the previous life that was lost. The unimaginable pain of a death. Many woman, many couples have had to experience this more than once. I can't even begin to fathom that exact pain.
What I can fathom is the pain that comes with the absence of a child in your life. The pain that those goes with the reality you may never see a positive pregnancy test, may never experience the kicks of a baby in the womb, may never get to talk to and nurture a life inside of you, may never have to buy bottles, may never have to buy diapers, may never experience the fun with your partner of building a gift registry, may never experience your own baby shower, may never see first steps, hear first words, or spend a whole weekend remodeling a room to turn it into a nursery. You may never get to have a fight over reading instructions when assembling a crib, may never be able to smell the scent of baby powder or baby lotion in your home. You may never be able to rock your own precious bundle in a rocking chair, read them a story, kiss their scrapes, wash their hair with peanut butter after they smash in gum like gel or watch them sleep. You think about every life moment and how you are being robbed of the experience, the trust of raising a little life. You ponder the joys of the t-ball games, playing catch in the back yard, braiding of hair, the buying of dresses, graduations, wedding days. The list goes on. With every negative test, every treatment, every month, you feel your dream slipping away.
People assume because you don't have kids yet, that it will happen for you and tend to be pretty cheerful, aloof, and offer all kinds of advice to you about how to make it happen. It’s rare that people know you are struggling or that you may have experienced months and years of heartache that you just can't share with them. Even if they do, they may still brush it off: "Oh, you have plenty of time. Just relax. It'll happen."
The difference is that we would certainly understand if a woman who has experienced miscarriage just didn't have it in her to attend a baby shower after a devastating blow like that. To be surrounded by all of that, after a tragedy, we understand, would just be too much. But we don’t feel the same of women who relive their pain through the absence of pregnancy.
Well, you see, one of the biggest struggles with infertility that is not often realized, is that there are reminders of your battle every minute of EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Little bits that don't let you forget for more than minutes, that the family you long for so much is right now, out of your reach. So even if you want to take a break from thinking of it, there are reminders everywhere.
Every day can be an enormous struggle, navigating all the reminders that you aren't yet a mom. It's not (usually) anyone's fault that these reminders come up, but until you walk this path, you just don't even realize they are there - or the devastating effect it has on people. It's common to end the day mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from putting on a smile and holding back tears every time an invasive question gets asked or those reminders come up and you're in front of people. People who don't know your struggle. People you can't fall apart in front of: people who work for you, people you work for, co-workers, clients, people at church, people at your niece or nephews ball game...the list could go on. The holding back of tears and the plastering of a smile could happen 2, 3, 4 or literally 10 times in a day. And every day is on repeat. Ever seen the movie Groundhog Day - It's pretty much like that. And this can go on for YEARS. In my case, it's going on 9. Nine YEARS. If my calculator works correctly, that's about 3285 days. Now I know at minimum for me, reminders happen at least twice a day. That's 6,570 reminders, plastered smiles, times of holding back tears, floods of tears, moments of frustration, chisels at an already broken heart. And that's only two reminders a day. (And we haven't even talked about the days of the negative pregnancy tests). To say it's exhausting is the understatement of a lifetime. It's almost like every one of these moments is carried as a burden on your shoulders. And each one stacks on the one before, weighing you down. Each moment of sadness, isolation, disappointment and depression stacking on your shoulders to carry around, waiting for the next moment to pile on top. This is quite literally, debilitating.
You feel like you are somehow broken. Like this is your fault. Like you have failed your partner. Like you have failed yourself. Like you are incapable. Like you are unworthy. Like you are undeserving. Like you have done something wrong. None of this actually has to be true at all. But when you experience month after month of disappointment, it's what sets in. It's how you explain it to yourself. Because there has to be a reason... right?
So think for a few minutes about experiencing a baby shower as someone struggling with infertility. Showers are filled with chatting women asking bunches of invasive questions about marriages, when people are going to have babies, what so-and-so did when they delivered their baby, who else is pregnant, and on an on. Imagine for a moment, carrying the burden of reminders built up over months and years to a baby shower: pink or blue decorations, pink or blue gifts, pink or blue food, games about babies, discussions about babies, and inevitable questions about your own childbearing "plans" inflames every raw emotion. The emotions all come at once, unable to be stopped. At every turn, another reminder of your struggle, your pain, your disappointment and sadness.
When someone you love is experiencing infertility at the time of a baby shower, allow your compassion to take over. Let them know you want them to be there, if they want to...if they can. But if they can’t, understand it’s not about you or your impending bundle of joy. It’s about reliving pain again and paralyzing fear. It can’t be yet another day of plastering on a smile and faking happiness. If you wouldn’t ask someone who has experienced miscarriage or another loss to just suck it up and carry in their burdens, don’t ask someone with other forms of infertility to do it.
Uncomfortable answering questions about why your sister/best friend/cousin isn’t there? That discomfort is very temporary. Infertility is not.