The holidays are a tough time of year for Will and me. November is the anniversary month of two of our pregnancy losses - our first miscarriage and our sixth. It is a time of taking stock of the last year, and of time passing in general: of where we are versus where we wish we were, where we had hoped to be.
The holidays are a time when we are surrounded by family and friends, which is wonderful. We are lucky to have the friends we do and are grateful to have our families. But it is also true - and exquisitely painful at this point - that nearly all of our family and friends, literally almost all of them, have children or are expecting (even the infertile ones).
Two of my close friends are currently pregnant after struggling with infertility. One of them reached her due date yesterday. She and her husband underwent a solid year of IUIs before becoming pregnant. She lives out of town and has been very compassionate in her dealings with me. (For example, although we are close, she did not invite me to her baby shower. And I was grateful for this.) I spoke to her over the weekend and almost had the sense she would not have talked about her pregnancy at all if I hadn't asked. And when I did (of course I did!), she told me how she was feeling physically and how excited and scared she and her husband are. And then she went back to talking about her new hospital position and parents and sisters and her apartment. Throughout our conversation, this friend very kindly did not gush about her pregnancy. She did not tell me how everything up until this point in her life pales in comparison to preparing to welcome her firstborn, that having a baby infuses her whole life with meaning. Which I greatly appreciated, which I imagined was tough not to do, and which allowed me to gush for her and on her behalf.
My other dear friend is just at the beginning of her second trimester. She also underwent several IUIs and had two early pregnancy losses. And then she did a single IVF and got pregnant. And unlike us, she has stayed pregnant. She is just at the point of buying new clothes because her old ones don't fit. She is elated; she is still terrified after having had two losses; she is right where I would expect her to be. And this friend, God bless her, very much wants to convey to me how - although she's pregnant and seems to be staying pregnant prior to having a baby - she is Just Like Me.
Only problem is, every time she tries to join me, I feel ever more alone. I love this friend, but I want to tell her that she is not like me. She is on her way out the other side and will almost certainly have a baby, a baby who is her genetic child, a baby whom she will deliver with her own body. I want to tell her that 33 with no cancer history is not the same as 39 status post chemotherapy. I want to tell her that although she has deeply grieved her two pregnancy losses, she cannot imagine what it feels like to have had six losses. I want to gently say to her that her one experience of IVF doesn't feel anything like going through IVF seven times.
But this isn't quite right. It is actually not at all what I want to tell her. Because in truth it's not about how many losses she's had or how old she is or how many procedures she's undergone. It's something more ineffable.
It's the fact that she did one IVF and actually thought it would work - and it did. She has struggled and suffered and grieved but she has not had to so keenly feel the sharp pain of hope fading at each IVF failure, after each successive loss. But in spite of this, and for reasons that are unclear to me, she desperately needs to assure me that our experiences are the same.
What she doesn't - and cannot - know, thankfully, is the gut wrenching place of hopelessness, the place where the doctors at the best clinics look you in the eye and say they don't know how to advise you, that the prognosis is grim, despite looking so promising on paper. The feeling that there is no way out to the other side, no matter how much of your savings you use up or what clinic you go to or what diet or acupuncture regimen you try. That chromosomally normal embryos won't work, that even a perfect-seeming 23-year-old egg donor won't help, because there is always still something wrong, some amorphous and unnameable thing that will trip things up and make your dream of parenting unattainable.
This is the place where Will and I often live now. When we face it squarely, our pain is so intense as to be immobilizing, almost like staring into the sun. The feeling is blinding, and it doesn't help us navigate a way out of the situation we find ourselves in. We gaze straight into our deepest fears that maybe we will never be parents. Maybe there is no "out the other side," even though bearing children is my biggest hope and desire since I was a young girl. We have times of hope, of thinking we can still succeed somehow, and we are strong-willed enough to keep trying to move toward a solution (such as having my sister donate eggs) even if that solution seems improbable and filled with peril.
I want to make it clear that I wouldn't expect my friend - or most anyone, actually - to understand our situation fully. It is an incredible gift when someone "gets it," and many of you readers are among those whom we have felt truly understand (thank you, truly thank you, for that). It's this friend's continual attempt to empathize by comparing the two of us that is so painful.
It is an unfortunate truth that as Will and my infertility has gone on and on, we have become more withdrawn from others and felt more alone. It is increasingly difficult to go to the many child-focused activities we are invited to. And it is hard to be honest, even if others do want to know how we feel, because we know our sadness is tough for them to witness.
My sister is still waiting (seems like forever) for her period after going off of birth control pills. Will is looking at agency donors again as a back up (I just can't bring myself to). We've perused the CCRM database but have not found a good match for us there. We are still corresponding with a potential gestational carrier.
So things are nowhere near the end, but gosh it sometimes feels like it. It feels impossible to imagine coming successfully out the other side, impossible to imagine getting past this painful place in our lives.
They've barely begun, but already we are looking forward to the holidays being over. And we are wishing with everything we've got - even as we fail to be able to imagine it - that this time next year finds us in a much different place.
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