This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, and the theme for 2017 is Listen Up! If you want to find out more or get involved, check out the stories, social media images, and events on the website.
Last time I wrote something for National Infertility Awareness Week, it was 2014. I was six months pregnant, equal parts excited and freaked out, and I very much felt like our whole messy infertility journey was behind us.
Three years later, I have come to realise just how wrong I was to think it was all over and done with. Because in the last three years I’ve learned a thing or two, and one of the big things I’ve learned is that infertility doesn’t end just because you get pregnant. Infertility doesn’t end with a healthy baby. Infertility doesn’t end when you have a toddler. The effects of infertility may never end entirely.
And the thing is, I could have learned this earlier, if only I’d been willing to listen up.
I was in infertility groups with people parenting after infertility or suffering from secondary infertility. And despite everything they told me, despite me hearing their stories, despite seeing their sadness, my attitude was pretty much “Oh, piss off – I would give absolutely anything to be in your position. And you have the audacity to COMPLAIN about it?”
I understand why I couldn’t listen at that point. I was in the trenches, I was deeply sad, I was unable to see past my own grief.
But I was still wrong. These people were struggling, and they deserved to have a place and a voice in the infertility community. They did not deserve to have their stories and experiences dismissed and ignored because of my perceived position in the “Pain Olympics”. I can’t go back and change anything, but I can now add my voice to theirs (while also maintaining a whole lot of empathy for those who are unable to listen to me because of their own experiences).
So, if you’re in a place to listen to some stories and thoughts around parenting after infertility and secondary infertility, here goes. (If you’re not in that place, or you’re not comfortable reading or thinking about periods, this may be the time to bow out.)
In the early days of parenting, I had moved into a whole different trench. The endless slog of newborn life is hard. But the endless slog of newborn life while constantly thinking “this is everything I ever wanted, and everything we tried so long and hard for, I should be enjoying every moment” is even harder.
Once we were past the intense early days, I got more comfortable with not always feeling grateful. But then my hormones had a major change (or something), and every month for 8 months straight, I thought “either my period is coming back or I’m pregnant”. The answer was actually c) neither of the above, and going through that mindfuck month after month was the last thing I needed while also parenting a very active toddler.
Eventually my period did come back. And it even gave some indication of being somewhat regular. I thought that I was lucky enough to be one of the people with PCOS for whom a pregnancy “resets” some hormonal balance. I started tracking my cycles, and I was hopeful every month that I might be pregnant. But any semblance of regularity was short lived, and my lack of period was unfortunately not because of pregnancy.
Pregnancy announcements started to sting again. First pregnancy announcements didn’t bother me anymore, but with a friend group mostly comprised of people with at least one child, there was no shortage of second and subsequent pregnancy announcements.
And the questions stung too. “When are you going to get on with it and give her a sibling?” was just as hard to hear as “when are you planning to have kids?”, and a lot more people were willing to ask it.
The first time around, I could always distract from the pain with some “at leasts”. “At least I get to sleep in…” “At least I can still travel and hike and go out at night…” “At least I can enjoy some time to myself…” “At least I don’t have to clean up bodily fluids all day…” “At least when I tidy my house, it stays that way…” The second time around, there weren’t so many of those.
The first time around, I had time and energy for self-care. I could avoid kids entirely. I got enough sleep. The second time, not so much.
But at the same time, I had a distraction. A busy, cute, amazing distraction, who I am truly truly grateful for. I didn’t have so much time to wallow, especially when we decided to take on a huge move and a major lifestyle shift. I had a whole lot of practice in how to deal with hard stuff that I didn’t have at first.
And, probably most importantly, this time around I’m just more comfortable with leaving it unresolved. The difference between 0 kids and 1 kid is bigger than the difference between 1 and 2 (or more). Or it seems that way to me, at least. And that smaller difference means that I don’t feel so much like I need to KNOW RIGHT NOW what my life will be like. I can accept where we are a bit more without endlessly trying to change it.
Because that’s where it remains for us right now: unresolved. I don’t know if we’ll ever have another kid. I don’t know if there might be a time in the future that I’m willing to try treatment again. I don’t know if we might foster or adopt or get pregnant without treatment. I don’t know if we’ll take a year off and live in a van and be grateful to be a small family. I just don’t know what life will bring our way.
But I do know that as I try to make peace with the way things are (for now), I’m going to make the effort to speak out a little bit more. Because stories matter, and vulnerability is powerful. And as I speak out a little more, I’m going to listen up a lot more. Because ALL stories matter, and I don’t want to lose sight of that.