A discussion over at a little pregnant made me think about something. Having a baby, unfortunately, is not a cure for infertility.
I think it’s a myth that parenthood resolves infertility. I’ve been hanging with formerly infertile people who are now parents for some time and I always ask them (as some of you know, because I’ve talked to you on the phone) whether or not having a child cures their infertility. It’s interesting because not everyone has the same answer. I’ve met women who went on to have unplanned pregnancies after conceiving via treatment and they say that they still feel infertile. I’ve met others who have never given birth and they say that they no longer feel infertile.
I think that for many of us, the drive to get a baby cancels out so much of our self-care. We get tunnel vision and baby achievement eats up every little bit of energy we have and then when the baby arrives, we’re depleted. We haven’t taken care of the emotional resolution of our infertility.
Infertile women are at greater risk of post-partum depression because of this. We know, of course, that having a baby doesn’t solve all of our problems but it can come as a surprise that having a baby doesn’t heal all of our wounds. In fact, parenthood illuminates fissures in the relationships we have with ourselves and others.
Those of us who went to great lengths to achieve parenthood are more apt to feel guilty if we’re not enamored with our babies or being mommies right away because how can we justify the time and expense if we’re not now perfectly happy? How do we dare tell people that sometimes we wonder if we should have had our babies when those babies took so much effort?
I met a woman the other day who has a daughter via adoption and a son via a surprise pregnancy. She said that mother’s day is still the worst day of the year for her. She hates mother’s day with a passion. It reminds her of her years and years of sorrow and anger and she can’t erase that — no matter how many messy little handprint paperweights and crayoned cards she receives. She is still bitter at baby showers, still has days where seeing pregnant women at the mall is too much. She told me that she realizes now that during treatment and then during the adoption process, she was so focused on achieving parenthood that she forgot to process what was happening to her. She feels (and please note that I’m not trying to put words in her mouth, those words were there already) that she didn’t take the opportunity to grow through her infertility and instead fought it as hard as she could.
When I interviewed women this past spring (thanks again to many of you who volunteered!), I realized that we don’t get a lot of support in working through infertility outside of the specific realm of treatment. We talk a lot about treatment options and we offer each other sympathy when that annoying neighbor gets knocked up again but it’s very hard to help each other be ok with our own unique form of resolution.
Part of this, I think, is that we are blinded by our own infertility stories. It’s difficult to understand women who make choices that would not be our choices. I think we all do a very good job of saying, “I support that decision” even when it’s a decision we don’t quite comprehend but it can be hard for us to help each other process.
Sooner or later for our own emotional health, we have to learn to accept our infertility. That doesn’t mean we stop struggling for parenthood (unless that’s the path that makes the most sense for us) but it does mean that we need to resolve our rage and grief. I know how difficult this is to do because it comes up in new ways in all sorts of unexpected situations. But if we don’t, then even when we have a baby in-arms, we will find ourselves still hurting and we don’t deserve to hurt for the rest of our lives.
Surrendering to infertility sounds so terrible — it sounds like giving in — but in surrendering, we accept ourselves.
Wonderful, beautiful Julie said something so profound to me during our interview. She said, “I think what we’re doing now is both a means and an end … it’s a stepping stone that we have to walk over to get to where we’re going.”
Her perspective is such a wise one. We don’t have to love the journey to love ourselves on the journey or to appreciate what we gain.
I think this perspective, too, helps us when we’re making treatment decisions. It’s easier to honor our limits when we remember that the means are just as important as the ends.