Ever Upward – Reigniting the Spark

I’ve had the honor and privilege of connecting with so many wonderful people in the infertility community.  One of those great people is Justine Froelker.   I connected with her a few months back through this blog.  Justine is an infertility survivor who also is a Therapist.  She has a unique perspective of someone who has been through the grind of infertility but also the insight of a professional therapist.  Her blog is a must follow for anyone going through infertility.  I can’t say enough good things about her work and how supportive a friend she has been.

I recently had the honor of reading a chapter from her upcoming book “Ever Upward” which is due to be published on October 1st.  She gave me the choice of selecting a chapter to read and review.  The one I choose is called “Reigniting the Spark”.  The chapter analyzed the impact infertility can have on a marriage and how couples need to find themselves again:

Our grief was no different. I think some of it is personality difference and some of it simply gender difference. I feel a lot, I talk a lot and I express A LOT. Chad does not. Whether or not it is because he is a man or because that’s just who he is doesn’t matter. However, I have also concluded that a big part of it is also the circumstances of our IVF journey, losing our babies and accepting our childfree life. I felt all of it, all of the time and always very openly. I think this open expression shut down Chad’s emotions at times, leaving him with the sense of needing to pull his shit together in order to remain strong for me and pick up my pieces.

 

This quote from the chapter explains the complexity of infertilities impact on marriages.  It is typical of couples facing infertility that although they are faced with the situation together their processing of the situation can vary.  That varying of emotions leads to conflict and in some cases can break a part a marriage or at the very least cause a couple to lose a sense of themselves.

What makes or breaks a couple going through infertility while it is thought of as becoming parents is not the case.  A baby or child may resolve the childlessness that infertility causes does not heal the personal or marital wounds left by infertility.  The reality is couples have to find themselves again if they are going to survive together as a couple.

The biggest piece about moving forward together was learning to redefine ourselves both as a non-father and non-mother but also as a couple and family.

In redefining their marriage Justine and her husband make a commitment to engage in a number of activities over the course of a year.  I thought they were all well thought out and as the case with the curveballs with infertility throws couples they had to adjust when they did certain activities.  All of the activities were really neat ideas that helped them remember why they fell in love with each other and made a lifelong commitment to one another.  Though my least favorite activity they did being a bitter Met fan who still has nightmares of Adam Wainwright striking out Carlos Beltran in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS (thought for sure that was the Mets year) was their “Cardinals Baseball Game” activity.  At the end of the year long set of activities they had rediscovered themselves and their family.  It’s a story book ending to what was a difficult journey.

Reading this chapter really hit home for me personally at this point in my infertility journey.  I am hoping to get to the point where K and I can redefine each other as a couple and a family.  Refining ourselves as a family is the hardest part for me.  I’ve had it stuck in my head for so long that a family is defined as a unit of adults and children.  Without those children I never defined adults with a marital or non marital bond as making up a family.  It’s something I need to let go of especially with it being very likely that K and I will never have the opportunity to become parents.

Whether you are someone who is just beginning your infertility journey or if you have resolved your infertility, I think this book is a must read.  Justine’s unique perspective bringing that personal touch with her professional touch delivers a powerful message to the reader.  I would like to thank Justine for giving me this opportunity to read just a small piece of her book that I am looking forward to purchasing on October 1st.

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Getting a piece of myself back………..that I thought was gone forever

Infertility has been known to change people’s lives forever, regardless of how each person/couple’s journey ends. I’m no different (as you can probably tell already). In a lot of ways, I’ve lost what I was and I’m not sure if I will ever get it all back. But in the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a part of myself back. I’ve gotten something back that I never thought was ever going to be physically possible………….my ability to run distance and races like I did when I was in high school.

Though I hated High School mainly from a social standpoint, the one thing I loved was running distance. I ran Cross Country during the Fall Season and Track (1,600-3,200) during the Spring Season. I wasn’t a great runner but I did pretty well and ran on what were the best Cross Country Team’s to run at my high school. From my Sophomore through Senior Years in High School we won three straight league, county group and state sectional group championships. My Senior Year we came within a few points of winning the overall county title.

My running is what got me into my college, though a Division III school it was what put me over the top. While training in the summer of 1998 before my Freshman Year of College I developed lower back issues. An MRI revealed a bulging disc in my lower back. I tried to come back from it but was unable to do so. I missed the entire Cross Country season and never ran a race in College. There were times I tried to come back and run but beyond running 2-3 miles very slowly, I was never able to do what I did in High School which was go for a 5 mile run on an easy day. I had accepted the fact that I would never be able to run distance or run a race again.

One of the goals I had when I set out to lose weight at the beginning of this year was to see if I could lose enough weight where my back was no longer an issue to see if I could handle some light running. It was something I wanted to try to do. I never thought I would be able to but felt I’d give it a shot. My focus was to cut down on the snacking that I have trouble controlling at times as well as stick to exercising that didn’t put pressure on my back such as biking/spin class and the elliptical machine.

When the weather warmed up in late April I started running 2-3 miles once or twice a week. By that time I had already dropped 20 lbs and thought it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. I did struggle and was only able to run half way through it before walking a bit and then finish off running. Then in June when I really started to pick up the distance on my bike rides, I was then able to run the 3 miles without stopping. Though I started to experience tightness in my calves (which I was able to control with a compression sleeve). But I was able to do it and by mid June was starting to finish my runs strong starting to feel that last burst to the finish line I remember having.

In late June for whatever some unknown reason I receive an email about a race on the 4th of July that was 10 minutes from my house. They had a 1 mile fun run, a 5K and a 10K. The 5K I was confident I could probably do but wondered whether I could do a 10K. For a few days I thought about it and decided to do a test run to see if I could push up my mileage to do a 4.5 mile run the Sunday before the 4th of July. In the early part of that run I was struggling a bit but as I went along I got stronger. Four miles into that run I felt really good and decided to keep going to see if I could do the 6.2 miles that the 10K would be. I ended up doing 6.3 miles that run without stopping in about 54 minutes. It was the first time in almost 17 years (half my life) that I had done a run for that long without stopping. It felt great and I knew that I could do that 10K later that week. I signed up later that day.

Race day came and even though I knew I could finish I was still nervous. I paced around and had pre race anxiety (as I did as a kid). The gun went off at 8:30 without warning and I was off. It wasn’t the type of weather I like running in which is cooler weather not the humid muggy morning that it was. I paced myself and mentally was feeling good throughout the race. Though I did have an infertility triggering moment when some guy was beating me while pushing a double stroller. Still I didn’t let that keep me down. I got stronger as the race went along. The last mile I kicked it up a notch to finish strong as I had always done in High School. I ended up finishing with a time of 51:30 and there waiting for me at the finish line (even though I didn’t see her until after I was through the shoot) was K. This was the picture that she took of me at the finish line.

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I can’t begin to express how great I felt after that race. I had lost something due to my body not being able to physically perform. I never thought I would ever get it back. As an 18 year old my body wasn’t able to do something that my now 34 year old body was able to do. It is an amazing feeling that I don’t want to go away. Which is why I am now planning to run another 10K on Labor Day. I’m not stopping after that, I am going to see how far I can push this. Depending upon how I feel in the upcoming weeks and in running that 10K, I may try to train for a half marathon in November. It all seems crazy and like a dream. It seems like one of those dreams where you flash back to some part of your past that you thought was gone forever such as dreaming about a relative that passed.

This is no dream, I’ve got a piece of myself back that I never thought I’d ever get back. Just as I have done all my life prior to infertility when I focussed and worked hard I overcame adversity to succeed.  It’s helped me believe in myself again, something that infertility had taken away from me.  I’m not sure what this means for our infertility journey.  But I’m confident that I can challenge my body to do things that my heart thinks are possible.

I’m a Fraud

When you think of people going through infertility you think of hormonal medications, IVF and other procedures to assist in conception of a child. Even for men who are infertile they go through medication treatments, have varicocele surgery or even a sperm extraction surgery. Then you have the aspect of pregnancy loss that comes with infertility between miscarriages and still births. Almost all couples experience at least one of the situations mentioned.

But for our situation when going through our Infertility Rap Sheet we had went through none of this. For me specially my rap sheet is me giving two sperm samples (or lack there of) and one blood draw. Though I am a big pussy when it comes to needles it really wasn’t at all that painful. We didn’t go through any treatments, didn’t experience any pregnancy losses or go through any cycles.

All of this has made me feel like a fraud in the infertility community. The fantasy loss is the only thing that I can identify with and even that doesn’t feel real at times. How can I possibly complain about what I am feeling when everyone else has dealt with much worse? Why has this completely changed my frame of mind and outlook on life when it really is nothing compared to others? Most people at least tried treatments or had a pregnancy, they didn’t give up as easily as we did. Others who have had success actually put work into overcoming infertility to have a child and in most cases it paid off. They deserve their success because they worked for it.

I understand that everyone’s journey is different and that you shouldn’t compare. But when your journey can’t identify any part of your experience with anyone in the infertility community makes you feel like you don’t belong. I feel like I don’t belong because I feel like we haven’t even tried. We had options and choose not to pursue them. Though the odds are that we would be in the exact same position, we would know that we didn’t fold our cards after the first hand was dealt to us.

As someone who has always worked hard, never given up easily or accepted what was dealt to him this has been the hardest thing to accept. I fear regret later in life that we didn’t even try to have children and that we didn’t want them as much as I thought. That has me feeling like a fraud that doesn’t belong among those who have actually fought battles and didn’t give up as easily as we did.

I’m the Insensitive Asshole

For those who have followed this blog know that something I have preached is people in the infertility community not forgetting where they came from. To many times I saw people who became pregnant or parents disappearing and/or saying insensitive things to people who had not yet resolved their infertility. It didn’t seem right to be that people who got their happy ending leaving those who had not yet resolved or would never resolve behind. It led to many intense debates and shaming of these people for in my mind not doing the right thing.

A few days ago on a social media forum, a comment was made by someone who had an insensitive remark thrown at them by someone who had resolved their infertility with a child. The usual empathy for the person was thrown their way saying how sorry they were that they had to deal with that and that there friend was wrong for leaving them in the dust.

But there was one person who made the remark that maybe that person wasn’t trying to be insensitive, maybe that person was trying to protect themselves from triggering feelings that stemmed from their battles with infertility. It was something that I had never thought of that made me wonder, “Am I the Insensitive Asshole?”. When I thought about it on the surface, I didn’t think I was. I mean the person with the kid had it good they resolved their infertility they have a family, what could they be sad or upset about? I’m the one who will never become a parent.  When I dug deeper and empathized with that situation (even though it’s something I’ll never experience), I realized that the person was right. Infertility scars a person for life and there are fears that are never resolved even by becoming a parent.  It fucks you up in all aspects of life.  It was then I realized that all along, I’ve been the Insensitive Asshole.

A person who has resolved their infertility with a pregnancy and/or child keeps their distance from those still working through things to avoid triggers. The same way a person still working through things avoids things that trigger themselves.  Or the same way anyone who has had a traumatic experience avoids things that trigger them. It isn’t selfish of either party to do so. If you aren’t in a position to help someone, you shouldn’t. Rather than say the thing you wouldn’t want to be told to you, it’s best to keep your distance. It makes complete sense to me.

It makes even more sense to me after reading this blog post written by the person who enlightened me:

The truth is that infertility is traumatic. No one likes to think about a traumatic experience, and most people try to move on from trauma, don’t they?

I can’t begin to express how awful I feel after months of ridiculing those who I felt were forgetting where they were coming from. I was so wrapped up in my own grief that I couldn’t empathize with the other end of things. It was wrong and selfish of me to say the things I’ve said to people that they didn’t deserve. Rather than be supportive and empathetic I was the insensitive asshole. To those of you who I have offended, upset, guilted or shamed, I apologize. I know an apology is only as good as the actions that follow but I hope to learn from this and interact with others better than I have. And to the woman whose enlightening has made me see the error of my ways, I can’t thank you enough. You are a wonderful person and will be an even better mom.

Accepting that I was never meant to be a Parent

The last six weeks have been rough. It first started with my birthday as a reminder that age 34 I am in the exact same situation living the exact same lifestyle as I was when I was 30 and will be when I turn 40. Then Father’s Day hit as another reminder of what isn’t and what will never be. You add in the other random triggers that have gotten me down that I’ve written about and the depression that defined my 2013 has returned. Though this depression is more a sad numbing than bitter anxiety.

This sad numbing is me coming to the hard realization that K and I will never become parents. The hope I’ve held onto is gone. I’ve been patient but I think that after 18 months of trying to figure out what our next step is it’s clear that there is no next step this is what it is and will always will be. If we were going to pursue adoption, we would have at least taken steps in that direction by now. We did talk about researching it together last summer but that never happened. One year later we are in the exact same position with no plans to pursue it at any point.

For all of the hard work we’ve put in it’s led us on a road to no where on making a decision as to what’s next. On my end I’ve make life changes that I thought would help me believe that I could live a childless life and be happy. I worked on coping skills last year during the 7 months of therapy. I’ve focused on weight loss, biking, running and volunteer work. Though they are enjoyable activities it still hasn’t changed anything in my everyday life. My lifestyle is the same routine day in a and day out.

The events of the last 18 months (or 3 years when we started to try to have a child) has made me believe that this is what my life was supposed to be. I was never supposed to be a parent with K. Maybe it’s because I wouldn’t have been a good parent and this is natures way of weeding out a weak link. Maybe it’s because it is my destiny to grow old miserable and isolated with no family. Maybe it’s because I am going to get sick and not live a long life (if that’s the case I wish it would happen sooner rather than later). Maybe it’s because it’s for the “greater good” that I don’t become a parent.

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I say “greater good” because recently I had a conversation with a group of people where varying opinions sparked a heated debate on a political issue. The argument that was made was that people should support things that are for the “greater good” not because they stand to benefit. The conversation stuck with me that maybe I’m not a parent for the “greater good” of society today and future generations.

Whatever the reason it’s pretty clear to me that this life is the life I was supposed to live. The life I would like to live would be possible if it was meant to be and if it was for the “greater good”. I just wasn’t meant to become a parent. The difficulty is accepting that and living out a life that was, is and always will be. A life that to me has no purpose or direction except what it’s been for however long it’s supposed to be.

Triggering Day Part II: “That’s not your daddy”

As I wrote about in my last entry, I had two triggers on my recent trip to Chicago with K.  The first trigger made me sad and a bit charged up.  The second trigger is the really difficult one something that has really made me think and question what’s next.  It’s one that made me wonder if there is such a thing as fate and what things that have happened in my life are trying to tell me.

While I was continuing to walk through the exhibit discussed in my last post and lagging behind K as usual in museums because it takes me longer to read and think about what I was reading, the triggered occurred.  I was reading a description of an exhibit when a little girl walked up to me from behind and said to me “Daddy can you hold my water bottle?”.  Almost immediately her mother grabbed her and said “That’s not your daddy”.  A few seconds later her mother brought her to her dad who like me was wearing a red polo and was close to my height (5’4”) which is unusually that there was another guy that was a father who was short like me wearing a similar shirt.  It was almost surreal.  While I had a good laugh on the outside with the couple about the mix up, on the inside I was torn a part.

It almost felt like a bad dream, except I was awake.  It felt exactly like what infertility has done to me.  It has held out this dream of being a dad and then there being someone telling me that it’s not my kid not my place in life to be a dad.  A week and a half later, I am still thinking about what this event means.  This wasn’t a dream that was trying to tell me something.  This was something in real life that almost seems like it was meant to be.  What are the odds that something like that could happen?  If I had not been lagging behind K, it wouldn’t have happened.  If I had been wearing a different shirt, it probably wouldn’t have happened.  But then again what are the odds that a man could be born with a Y Chromosome microdeletion of the AZFb and AZFc?

So what does this all mean?  Did it happen because fate is trying to tell me that I won’t or shouldn’t attempt to become a dad?  Is it trying to tell me that I should not ever give up?  Or is it a mere coincidence that this happened?  Whatever the reason, I wish it hadn’t happened because it is messing with my head.  As much as I am trying to avoid triggers and prepare myself for them, they still seem to come up when I least expect it and in unusual ways.

Triggering Day Part I: Becoming Extinct

Last week I was in Chicago on business and stayed an extra two days with K there. Overall it was a mixed week between work and the vacation. Both started well and finished on shakey ground. The vacation part is what I’ll share in this post and a part two to follow on another trigger.

Our last day in Chicago was spent mostly at the Field Museum. For those who are planning to visit Chicago, I highly recommend spending half a day there. There were many interesting exhibits to learn from though I’ll say the 1893 World’s Fair exhibit was disappointing. I expected more pieces on the technology at that World’s Fair. But that wasn’t where I was triggered.

The last exhibit we saw at the museum was on the Evolving Planet. By the name it’s easy to guess it was about evolution and the different stages our planet has gone through with life and climate change. Even though most of it I already knew from what they taught in school it was really cool to see….for the most part. In covering each of the stages our planet has gone through with life and climate the change to the next stage is marked by a mass extinction where the majority of life on earth became extinct.

While I was walking through this exhibit I started to think about my how me being born without the ability to produce sperm and thus unable to produce a child it has made me an “evolutionary reject”. The blood line that created me will stop at me. I will not be able to live onto future generations. When I die nothing from me will be passed down. It made me sad to think about it and how there is nothing I can do about it.

Those thoughts led me to think about something a woman by the name of Alana Newman talks about in her advocacy work for donor conceived children and against reproductive technologies. For those who don’t know Alana is a woman who was donor conceived. Her story is a very sad one but one that I think can be learned from rather than dismissed.

In a particular piece she wrote advocating against reproductive technologies being used by people she discusses the idea of people wanting children to achieve immortality. Taking it a step further she explains that there are two different types of immortality: genetic and memetic. Genetic Immortality is pretty self explanatory. Memetic Immortality has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with passing on social values or advancements onto future generations. She uses the examples of people like Leonardo Da Vinci as someone who didn’t have kids who had memetic immortality.

The piece almost seemed as if she was trying to convince infertiles and other people unable to have a genetic child that they didn’t need to have kids to become immortal. As if we all have the ability to become Leonardo Da Vinci…..LOL. But then when she finished off the piece with the line that

Immortality is not an entitlement.”

it really bothered me. This is coming from a woman who was easily able to have children. With the work she’s done for the donor conceived she already had memetic immortality. So if memetic immortality is so wonderful and a lock to living on after we die without having children, then why did Alana decide to have children? Maybe it’s because the the chances of achieving memetic immortality without having children is very rare.

Maybe Alana is right that immortality isn’t an entitlement but it’s something that drives us to have children including herself. And coming from someone who was able to have children easily, it’s insulting to someone like myself who isn’t able to. When you feel like an evolutionary reject who was too weak to pass on it future generations it drives you to pursue alternative ways to parenthood. It doesn’t make me or other infertiles bad people, it makes us human.

Feeling like an evolutionary reject is a natural reaction to infertility. It weakens your self esteem by convincing yourself that you aren’t a good enough person to live on. There is a reason you weren’t meant to live on. That is what got in my head during this trigger and it isn’t the first time I’ve had these thoughts. I know I’m not the only person who is infertile who has felt this way and it’s triggers when you least expect it that bring out these feelings.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only trigger I experienced during this trip to the Chicago Field Museum. I’ll discuss that in Part II……….