After almost 7 years since my initial diagnosis I’ve thought back to times before infertility and how different my perspective was then compared to now. Back then I was innocent and ignorant. I thought that everyone who wanted to become a parent could. I thought that if we tried hard enough we could become parents. And most importantly I had a completely different view on those who never had kids than I do now.
Growing up I had a number of relatives who didn’t have kids. My mom has cousins that weren’t able to have kids. My Uncle (Mom’s Brother) and Aunt (Dad’s Sister) never wanted kids for different reasons. I was never that close with either though I learned recently my Aunt was always fond of my brother and I. She passed away last August after a battle with cancer.
In the weeks and months prior to her passing I did contact her. I thanked her last June when she sent me a birthday gift. But looking back I regret I didn’t reach out to her more than I did. Let me be clear my Aunt was a loud know it all who had a sense of entitlement that rubbed me the wrong way. But when my Great Grandmother had dementia and when my Grandfather needed someone to care for him she was always there to step up. I’m not sure if it was due to her caring nature or it fell on her because my Dad had kids and other responsibilities.
My Mother who though I love her and wouldn’t be where I am without (beyond giving birth to me) shaped and influenced my feelings on my Aunt. She would always say that my Aunt didn’t have the responsibilities my father did and that she should take care of my Grandfather. It was painted that my Aunt was a selfish person which she may well have been.
Because of that my feelings on those without children were selfish people and I viewed them as being not as important than those with children. I viewed that not having children was leading a life not as valuable as those who had children. I viewed it as strange not to have kids. It wasn’t until after I found out we would be unable to have kids and when our journey to parenthood ended that we became the people I harshly and unfairly judged growing up and even in early adulthood.
Based on all of this I’ve become a hypocrite and have projected a lot of my own criticisms of those without children on myself. It’s led to me resenting myself and a lot of the insecurities I have as a result of my own thoughts and prior feelings. It’s led to me taking so many things personal when it comes to parenthood and viewing my own life as less than.
The challenge moving forward is now that I recognize what’s behind these feelings is what do I do about it to break out of this way of thinking? How do I stop comparing my life and what value it has to others? I’ve always been stubborn and my toughest critic. I’m a creature of habit and getting into a new way of thinking has always been difficult. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder feeling I have something to prove.
Is what I have to prove that I was wrong and that our life without children can have value? But how do I know if and when I’m able to prove that? I know this is a lot of rambling and hope it makes sense.
This is going to be another one of those pieces where I hope it generates a productive conversation that leads to progress rather than take offense. It’s not that I care if I unintentionally upset people. I care more about being able to create positive change.
Each of our infertility stories is unique and different. No two infertility stories are exactly the same. With the reproduction of two or more people required to create a fetus leading up to 40+ weeks of gestation there are so many factors in each situation that could go wrong. Even when a diagnosis is the same for an infertile female in a couple you still have the male factor with many different possible reasons for lack of conception or potential for miscarriage. Also you have the being able to afford treatment factor. In taking a hard look at this, the options available for one couple might not be available for another couple when it comes to a couple either conceiving a child or third party reproduction. In some cases there are no options to become a parent through some type of scientific intervention.
When it comes to becoming a parent via non biological or other scientific ways the ability to do so can vary as well. Depending upon where a person lives, their financial status and other personal circumstances (health, marital status, etc.) the ability to to become a parent via adopting isn’t available for every couple or person. For instance depending upon where a person/couple lives and what the laws are for adopting they maybe disqualified from adopting. You could also be in a financial situation where you are unable to afford the costs to adopt and lack the ability to raise funds to adopt. Lastly you could be disqualified from adopting due to a health condition you have. In some cases a person/couple may not be able to adopt.
When you add in all of that the conclusion reached is that not everyone will be able to become a parent. I say this because personally I’ve been told by others that it’s my choice to be childless and there are options I’m choosing not to go through. They say this without knowing our full story. There are so many other factors in our story that I haven’t disclosed that are personal to us. I’ve also seen other people be told that if they want to become parents they shouldn’t give up in finding a way to become parents. That is completely unfair to assume unless you know the person/couple’s entire story.
People mean well when they ask those going through infertility if they’ve considered adoption or tried a certain treatment. If a person is curious about what the couple/person has tried instead they can ask what their options are. It’s a more broad question that gives the person going through infertility the ability to have control of the conversation. They may have options they are pursuing or may have exhausted all options. The only way to know is ask rather than go to one specific option that either worked for you or someone you know.
My point is infertility and our ability to become parents is extremely complicated. We should recognize that we all have circumstances that give each couple different options. In some cases a person/couple may choose to pass on their options but in other cases the circumstances may take away any option a person/couple has to become a parent. We can’t assume that a person/couple is choosing to be childless unless we know their whole story.
I say all of this not to be bitter for those who have been able to become parents after infertility. I am grateful that people have been able to become parents because it gives those going through infertility hope that they one day can become parents. It gives me hope that future generations don’t have to go through what so many of us have dealt with. I say this to help others better connect with those going through infertility and those who never become parents. Hopefully this piece can help us better communicate with one another.
Dealing with infertility is a process. How we feel during different stages of infertility varies. There are highs lows and overall our perspective changes. One misunderstanding that members of the infertility community have is that those who have gone onto become parents may feel they know what it’s like to be childless and infertile similar to those who are childless after infertility feel. While that may seem possible on the surface the reality is very different.
From my personal experience I will say that how I felt when I was first diagnosed with being infertile and when we exhausted all of our options are very different. When I was first diagnosed in 2013 I was in shock. I was down but with options still on the table I still believed we’d become parents some way. I felt that I just needed to be patient look into options and we would go down a path to parenthood. Sure I was mourning the loss of biological parenthood which was hard but I still had hope on the parenthood front.
Last year when our pursuit of parenthood ended (by circumstance not choice) I became depressed and it nearly destroyed my life. The hope I had was gone. I had to accept the fact that we would not be parents in any capacity for any child. There would be nothing for no one that we would leave behind in this world. It’s a helpless feeling that no hard work could ever change. It was very different than my feelings/experience was in 2013.
I’m saying this not to guilt those who become parents after infertility but to explain to them that their experience is different. I’m not saying this to show that being childless or my experience is more difficult but rather that it’s different. Neither experience is easy. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for those who go through RPL even if it ends in them becoming parents. Honestly I am not sure I could have handled that.
The best thing we can do is recognize that our experiences are our own. We can’t compare experiences and think we know what it’s like cause we can’t. But we can listen to each other and learn from each other. That’s the way we can narrow the divide amongst each other.
My intention for this post is to hope it helps the community as a whole to support each other and avoid unintentional hurt feelings. Recently I’ve noticed a few members of the community who recently became pregnant or who gave birth ignoring me not responding to me or interacting with me. Though we all start in the same place and some end in the same place how we get there is different and not everyone ends in the same place. Also there are times we’ll be in the same place and others we aren’t. You get the point, it’s complicated.
The hardest thing for us to navigate at times is when a member of the infertility community becomes pregnant or gives birth while others are either still TTC, taking a break, pursuing adopting, a parent via adoption or living childless/free. It’s awkward and no one knows exactly how to interact and support the other. For the expecting parent/parent they may want to protect themselves by avoiding the trauma of being in the trenches and fearing going back to that place. On the other side those in the trenches may avoid those who are expecting or are parents because it hurts them. None of us intend to hurt one another we just don’t know how to navigate this crap. It takes a village to get through it.
Below I’ve put together some tips/things a to keep in mind for expecting parents and parents on how to support and maintain relationships with those still in the trenches, taking a break, pursuing adopting, parent via adoption or living childless/free. Please don’t hesitate to provide your feedback no matter where you’re at. Dialogue is so important to achieve progress. Above all communicating and being honest with each other is the best we can do.
1) Please don’t tell us to give up or that miracles can happen. Nothing makes us feel worse when we are told to keep trying when we maybe at our wits end or feel like we may have stopped too soon. We already blame ourselves as it is and think we’re doing something wrong.
2) Your pregnancy/birth has nothing to do with our situation. What worked for you won’t work for everyone or even another person. Our bodies are all different and add in our partners or donors and it’s even more complex to achieve conception.
3) Don’t forget about us. We understand you may need to take a break and enjoy the next chapter of your lives and not live in the community all the time. We understand you have new responsibilities and your life has changed. But we are still here and value our friendship. We aren’t lepors either. Talking to us won’t bring bad luck upon you. When you forget about us it can feel like being left to go hang out with the cool kids.
4) We aren’t upset with you for getting pregnant or becoming a parent. Going back to #2 you getting pregnant or becoming a parent has nothing to do with our situation. It maybe a reminder of what we aren’t able to achieve but it’s not preventing us from achieving what you were able to. There isn’t a baby quota the infertility gods have where only so many babies are born and you having your baby prevents us from having one.
5) Be with us instead of trying to fix things for us. We know you mean well. We know you’re rooting for us. But we aren’t looking for you to tell us that it will all work out or that we’ll become parents. Unfortunately no one knows that. If you want to help and we’re hurting tell us you are there to listen.
6) Celebrate our non TTC accomplishments. If we have something great in our lives that’s non TTC related celebrate with us but realize it doesn’t fill the void.
7) We can talk about non TTC topics. We all have and had lives outside of having kids before all this. We may have even shared common interests. If you’re uncomfortable talking about babies or treatments go that route to stay in touch.
8) If we move on to adopting, donor conception or childless/free life respect our decision to move on. Please don’t judge us. Not all of our journeys are going to end the same way. Also, it’s not going to feel the same way it felt for you becoming a parent. There is a whole level of complexity added even if we become parents. Though there are some common themes of parenting. If we don’t there’s a child void in our life that will never be filled. Also don’t assume that a person can be happy without children if you have children. Yes, those without children can be happy but please don’t assume something you don’t have personal experience with. It’s like us assuming you are happy as a parent and never hurt.
9) We are happy for you and your family. Even if we mute you on Social Media, keep our distance or disappear for a bit it’s just us protecting ourselves. It’s not you or us just the situation.
10) We care for you and are here for you too. We recognize being pregnant or a parent isn’t easy especially if it comes after previous losses. We know you are grateful. We know you wouldn’t trade places with us. Heck we wouldn’t trade if roles were reversed. So don’t hesitate to reach out for support when you have morning sickness, a baby who won’t sleep or a spouse who isn’t supporting you. If we were in your shoes we’d feel the same way and need support.
I’m going to write this piece as politely as possible and my intention is to get everyone to think rather than offend people. This piece also is not directed at any one person as this is a societal norm.
Until infertility came along I never fully recognized the bias society has towards those with children. In the work place in families, in the media and everyday life people with children are given a break more so than those without children. If you have two employees one has kids who can’t stay late because of their kids softball/baseball game and the other doesn’t have kids but has a dinner date with their spouse it’s easy to know which one will have to stay late. Same goes for families with aging parents where the sibling without kids has to take on the responsibility of taking care of their parents rather than the sibling who has kids. The idea is the person with kids and their time and life is more valuable than those without children.
The situation when this is at its worst is when someone tragically dies young be it from cancer or some other awful tragedy. You’ll hear how a person died at the age of 34 and had two young kids and how awful it is. Yes, it is awful. Anyone whose life ends so young is an awful situation that is unfair. However, would it have been less awful if they didn’t have two kids? Would it have been less awful if it was just a spouse and other relatives that were grieving that person rather than adding on the kids? I know the intention isn’t to do this but basically our society is saying that those with children have more valuable lives than those without children. It tells me that my life is less valuable because I’m unable to have children.
Things like this can drive the so called “commodification” of children that opponents of third party reproduction and anti adoption groups talk about. Though none of them recognize or talk about the bias against those without children nor did any of them have to make the choice that those going through infertility have to. I’ve always taken them with a grain of salt and recognize their agendas that could care less about those going through infertility. But they do have a point in this regard, having children has become a status symbol in our society as the difference between the socially acceptable haves and have nots.
I don’t believe that all people with children are like this. I also don’t think they believe their life has more value than those without children. But I believe they have the power to think about the message they are sending to their kids and society that people without children are just as important as those with children. Next time someone tragically dies or faces some unfortunate circumstances I hope they recognize what’s happened to them regardless of whether they have kids.
I hope this doesn’t come across as a feel sorry for me post (though it probably will and I just need to suck it up).
The last two and a half years have been the most difficult of my life. Finding out I’m not capable of producing sperm and thus not being able to ever have children has changed my life. It’s changed my outlook on life from a perspective that hard work would eventually lead to things working out to one that now see’s no point in working hard. It’s changed relationships from being strong to never being the same. It has also led me to connect with many amazing people in a community I never knew existed.
The infertility community has been great to me. I’ve learned so much by reading stories and following journey’s of others that can inspire future people going through infertility that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some have had their journey’s result in pregnancies and births. Others have moved onto adopting. There are also those who are forgotten who have moved onto Childless/free lives. And there are those still in the trenches who are working towards moving forward in some way. There are too many individuals to list in this blog piece.
Recently I had a discussion with some of these great people. The discussion was around how just because one chapter in a person’s life is bad doesn’t mean the next one will be bad. The two other people in the discussion both recently became pregnant. For them though infertility was a bad chapter their next chapter has the potential to be something great (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it is for them). I don’t begrudge them for that in fact I’m extremely happy for them as it couldn’t have happened to two better people.
My input into the discussion was how my story was having multiple bad chapters and that I had no reason to believe a good chapter to my story would be coming anytime soon. This chapter has been worst case scenario across the board leading to a deep depression. The feedback I received was that Hero’s always have it the worst and that they are the strongest to overcome the challenges they face. Obviously the feedback was given with the best of intentions (and it was greatly appreciated) to encourage me to continue to fight and that things would get better even though life is not going to look the way I want it too.
But here’s the thing, I’m no hero I never was a hero nor do I have it in me to become one. I never wanted nor am I capable of a hero’s life. All I wanted was a simple life where I got married to someone that I would grow old with and I would raise kids with that person. There wouldn’t be anything more than that. I’m not capable of more than that. I’m just a regular guy who had to work hard just to get to that level playing field. My success story would have been that despite the odds against me I built a simple regular life together with someone special that included us raising kids together.
The infertility community is filled with success stories with and without children. My story is not a success story. My story didn’t result in me becoming a parent nor has it resulted in a fulfilling childless/free life. My story is not going to inspire anyone that they can get through infertility. I have failed at getting through infertility. It has defeated me.
I was reminded that my story isn’t a success recently when there was a Making Dads week held to recognize men going through infertility. Many men were included who went through infertility and are now dads. The men who spoke are able to offer hope to others something I can’t do. Things like this I’ll never be able to be included in the infertility community telling me I have no place here.
Recognition that I’m not a hero and that I don’t have a success story has told me that it’s time for me to step back in the community and consider walking away for good. My life is too much of a downer and I don’t want to bring others down who need to be lifted up. I’ll leave the lifting up to the real Hero’s who have survived infertility and had success stories. Plus I relate to very few people here as most have moved onto the next chapters in their lives. Unless things change in my life and some miracle happens to me that makes my story a success there’s no reason for me to be here.
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.