Infertility & Baby Showers: You Can't Just Suck It Up

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.

Posted on June 4, 2014 .

This Battle All Alone

It seems fitting to me to kick off this blog during Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day itself has nothing to do with what I am going to talk about, really, rather this weekend on the calendar is starting to stand out in my life, all in ways relating to my infertility journey.

This first post will be about a portion our story and how it lead to the creation of this support group. I want to share this first post in this way because I know many people have felt the way I did. I want you to know, you are not alone...And it does get better. Never perfect...but it does get better.

2009 In March of 2009, my husband and I moved back to Iowa and were still near the start of our journey and were actually pre-official diagnosis. We had been trying for a few years, but I worked a crazy schedule and my job was pretty stressful, so we weren't really worried. I had also spent around a decade on the birth control pill, so in the back of my mind, I figured that was getting in our way. When I finally told my great doctor, Sarah, she told me she thought I should go get checked out when we got back to Iowa, just to make sure everything was ok. We consciously put this off about 6 months because moving was very stressful, a new job was very stressful and I felt like if we were going to be delivered any bad news, I wasn't in the frame of mind for more stress.

Memorial Day weekend that year, my nephews came to spend a weekend of fun with us. They were one of the reasons I was excited about moving back. However, no matter how hard I tried to have fun, the entire weekend, I felt like I was walking through quicksand. I was tired, depressed, achy and felt like every ounce of energy had been sucked out of me. It took all I had to do anything other than lay down and sleep. It was the first time, I felt something might actually be wrong. I should have had some energy & the ability to have fun those days, but I remember it being a truckload of mental & physcial work to do so.

It turns out when I did go get that check up, my thyroid was horridly out of whack. They had been checking my thyroid for a few years and it was never abnormal so this was a surprise. I didn't get that check up until December, so I spent 6.5 months just miserable. During that year, music was a saving grace for me. Which leads me to this weekend in 2014.

2014 It is difficult for me to find words for what music means to me and how it has helped me through the most difficult times of my life. One of my favorite bands is Alice In Chains and one of their songs would be on the soundtrack of my infertility journey.

I have listened to the song Nutshell probably hundreds of times. On Friday night, my husband and I went to see the band live and were fortunate to be watching from the front row. I have been a fan for nearly 20 years and because of what their music means to me, I knew this would not be just another show; it was going to be emotional. Plus, two members of their band have died, both succumbing to the demons that haunted them. So I pretty much planned to be a hot mess during many parts of this show.

They are not a flashy band. They don't care if they are famous. They have always written music from their heart. Jerry Cantrell writes a lot of their music and I was filled with anticipation to watch him sing this song live. When I heard him start playing the song, I was overcome with emotion. It was hard to sing along with all of memories the heartache, loneliness, sadness, and despair coming back all at once.

    *We chase misprinted lies
    We face the path of time
    And yet I fight
    And yet I fight
    This battle all alone
    No one to cry to
    No place to call home*

These lyrics from the song I played over and over during that year I spent the most miserable, with my thyroid out of whack & learning my official "unexplained infertility" diagnosis. All of my friends were pregnant or getting pregnant and I knew of one other person (I thought) who used one round of drugs to get pregnant. I felt like everything everyone told me about having a family was a lie. I was chasing a lie. I seemed that maybe this wasn't meant to be for us and I had never, ever even considered this before. I felt like I was following the path of time, I was fighting to have a family, that I was doing this all "the way I supposed to" and yet here I was. I was fighting a battle I never, ever expected. My husband was my rock, but there was no way he could truly understand how I felt, what it felt like to feel broken or feel incapable. I was fighting this battle internally and felt so alone. I felt there was truly no one to cry to and even though I was back in my home state, surrounded by family and friends, I really had no place to feel like home. I felt like there was absolutely no one around me that knew how it felt to feel what I was going through. So I did what I have always done, I found music to help me process all the feelings I had. It's how I get through. It's how my soul functions, cleanses, renews, and restores.

Now on Friday night, during another Memorial Day weekend, here I was standing in front of three of the people who wrote this song. The 4th noticeably absent, having died in 2002 from an addiction that undoubtedly drove him to the feelings in these lyrics. I sang along and I cried. In addition to remembering all the feelings of all these years of struggle, my heart was grateful. It was grateful that this band wrote this song in their times of despair. Grateful that after all the years they took a break after their friend died, they began writing music and touring again, so that I could see them face to face and have this moment.

It was this music that helped me walk through my feelings, helped me reach out to my new doctor & ask if there was a support group. And when there wasn't, I found RESOLVE and knew I had to start a group. I knew I wanted to create a community where other people who felt my heartache & my despair could know they aren't alone. I wanted people to know that they had a place to turn, with hands willing to help hold their hand while they walk this painful journey.

Now, I promised you it gets better. In 2012 when my now adopted son came to live with us and I learned his birthdate, I got the chills. Two days after that painful Memorial Day in 2009 his birth mom delivered him into this world. It was during the same exact weekend, the start of the most painful chapter of my infertility journey, a piece of my future was born. And I wouldn't have a clue for three more years.

Posted on May 26, 2014 .