Infertility’s a Beast, Part 1: An Introduction

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Here’s something I’ve never stated “publicly” on social media or elsewhere:

I am infertile.

There. I said it.

Four pregnancies, zero babies. Yes, multiple pregnancy losses (2 or more) is a form of infertility. Yes, I am aware that we are blessed to have even experienced the thrill of a positive home pregnancy test, which some people feel may disqualify us from the fellowship of those experiencing infertility, but I count myself among the ranks anyway. My husband and I were married in 2004. Our first pregnancy ended at 6 weeks in 2006. Second pregnancy ended at 9 weeks in 2008. Third pregnancy ended at 11 weeks in 2010. My fourth and final pregnancy ended at 13 weeks, also in 2010. See the pattern there? Every pregnancy lasted a couple weeks longer than the one before. Just long enough to spark hope, just long enough to inspire a “Maybe this time…” And just long enough to make the fall longer and harder than the one before– physically, emotionally, and spiritually. No one chooses miscarriage and having experienced multiple consecutive miscarriages doesn’t make me special at all, but I make no apologies for the very specific path it has set me on and for the notable growth that has resulted in my life because of it.

There are volumes –VOLUMES–that could be written regarding my personal story with miscarriage and everything that goes with it. You, Sister, who are on this same path know exactly what I am talking about. The stories that achingly bubble over in your soul, but are so often hushed by a society rapt with babies and birth and fertility. Not to mention the grief gatekeepers (“But it’s not like you ever held the baby…”) and countless other things that silence the mother with ever-empty arms. There is all of that, and more, but this post will be focused on just a snippet, one teeny-tiny tip on the massive ice burg that is the infertility aspect of miscarriage. Some of you reading this know that I hold a master’s degree in pastoral counseling, but I am not sharing any of this as a counselor or expert of any kind, but as a woman living with infertility who has experienced recurrent miscarriages. A woman who has gone to grief counseling, read the books, facilitated pregnancy loss support groups, nearly destroyed a marriage with my pain and denial and did the hard work to pick up the pieces again, laid face down on the floor to cry and plead for my baby’s life, given up hope at the beginning of a pregnancy only to let it rise and fall again a million times in a matter of weeks, doubled over in the agony of labor to deliver someone tiny, unformed, loved and precious, I’ve given God the cold shoulder, I’ve embraced God anew, I’ve witnessed beauty come from these ashes–unspeakable beauty, and so much more that is simply indescribable or too close to my heart to release to strangers’ eyes. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve been on this path for most of a decade, and have begun to wonder if I might have something to offer back to the infertility community, since they have given so much to me.

So in this post, I will introduce you to The Infertility Beast… though you may find that you’ve already met. The topic of infertility alone could also fill volumes, and it has. Search for infertility books on Amazon… thousands. So I honestly don’t know if I am offering anything new here, but it is what I have to offer. Also, I am a devoted Christian, so there will be overtly faith-based ideas presented below. If that isn’t your thing, please bear with me, you might still find something that you can relate to.

Here we go…

The Beast–we Sisters likely all have one. Mine has 5 heads. Sometimes 3 are active. Sometimes 1, sometimes none! The combination of active heads varies. Your Beast might have entirely different heads than mine, and more of them, or less. All the heads kind of interact and play off each other in different ways, thus the “5-headed beast” vs. 5 separate beasts. The Beast can be slumbering one second and pouncing on you the next. Eating out of your hand one second and chomping that same hand off in the next. You get the idea. The Beast is vicious and unpredictable, but it can be tamed. Below, I will introduce you to my Infertility Beast and save more explanation (including how I have learned to tame it) for later post.

Let’s talk Beast noggins (listed alphabetically).

Head 1: Betrayal

“Just give your womb to God and he will give you the desire of you heart.” -Advice given to me from a well-meaning evangelical mother of 7 in response to me sharing the news of a recent miscarriage with her when she inquired why my husband and I didn’t have any children.

*Raise your hand if you have ever gotten to have THAT awkward conversation with a total stranger.* Me, too.

To understate it, miscarriages can be rough–all the first trimester misery that abruptly ends death, followed by even more intense misery. The hormones, the bleeding, the doctor’s visits and blood draws, the the pain (emotional and physical). I don’t know about you, Sister, but none of my miscarriages felt like “a late period.” They were all much worse than that, even the earliest one. And when it happens over and over (and over and over) again, you kind of just look at your body in the mirror or, like me, wildly grab a handful of flesh from your mid-section and yell, “What the HECK, Body? Get it together!” But, sometimes, no amount of natural hormone balancing and eating the right things and exercising and praying and giving your womb to God is going to make an iota of difference. Your body just isn’t going to cooperate and, after doing all the right things for so long, you can’t help but feel betrayed by your own body.

When the Betrayal head strikes, it will keep you in that place of feeling betrayed, or bring it up if you have somehow managed not to think about it for awhile. It will introduce general distrust toward your body, it will keep you from liking your body and appreciating it, it will have you wishing you had another body. The Betrayal head will also lunge at you with other kinds of betrayal, sometimes it’s triggered by conversations like the one I quoted above… maybe you feel God let you down. Betrayed by a faith that promises the fulfillment of desires.

Head 2: Entitlement

The Entitlement head, perhaps the shrewdest of all the heads, had me in its jaws for a good while… After all, first comes love (Christian love, abstinent, and let’s call it courting), then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

Of course, the baby will come because we did everything “right” and now God is eager to bless our union with children. Right?

The Entitlement head won’t snap and snarl at you like Envy will (see below), though Entitlement and Envy do share other things in common. Oh no, Entitlement will nuzzle up to you and whisper all sorts of pleasing things about you in to your ear. All the reasons why you DESERVE a baby. And, especially now that you’ve endured the absolute hell of recurrent miscarriages, how you’ve EARNED that baby. It’ll affirm all the reasons why your miscarriages were so UNFAIR. When it is being particularly vicious, it may even tell you all the reasons why certain other people don’t deserve a baby as much as you do. And you find yourself drawn in by agreement, by the smack of authenticity to it all. Entitlement says all the right things and delicately scoops you into its jaws, practically cradling you there as it slowly, numbingly, devours your humility and your perspective.

Sisters, I am telling you right now, Entitlement cannot be tamed; it must be destroyed before it destroys you. Lop that sucker right off and do not look back. Ridding yourself of entitlement is possibly the most important step in taming The Beast. More on that in a future post…

Head 3: Envy

The pregnancy announcements, the baby shower invites, the dimpled cherub in the cart ahead of you in the check-out line… we’ve all been there. THAT feeling in the pit of your stomach, the tightness or tingling in the throat, the well-rehearsed, cheery-on-the-outside-but-weary-(or-devastated)-on-the-inside smile and “Congratulations!” The genuine interest paired with concurrent internal cringing when your girlfriends get talking about birth stories or baby spacing or complaints about pregnancy or newborn-induced lack of sleep or — probably the most cringe-inducing of all — gender selection methods. *Shudder* The Envy head strikes fast and often and is probably the most predictable of all the heads. Which is little consolation, really, because it still gets you every freaking time.

Head 4: Grief

Disclaimer: When I refer to “grief” in this section, I am not speaking of the “grieving process” or the healthy aspects of grief that are necessary and helpful–I am talking about The Beast, and grief is definitely one of the heads on my beast. Maybe there is a better name for it (feel free to make suggestions), but Grief is what works for now.

The head called Grief sometimes acts as a gatekeeper and it also acts in extremes… one moment smugly denying you “the right” to properly grieve your baby (or babies) lost to miscarriage, helping you stuff your feelings and “get over it,” the next moment unleashing a deluge of pain and sorrow and tears that threaten to overtake you. The Grief head will constantly compare your loss to the losses of others that seem so much more significant and grief-worthy. For example, anyone who has experienced the tragedy of burying a child who lived outside of the womb for any length of time. Grief will sometimes recruit the people in your life to do the dirty work of pointing this out to you as well… It will silence you, isolate you, create anxiety and doubt, and chip away at any sense of hope or dignity.

Here’s the thing we need to remember: the grief of miscarriage and infertility is different. It really can’t be compared to other kinds of grief and loss. It isn’t more or less than other kinds of losses, it’s just… totally and completely different. Sister, I know YOU understand, but it still hurts when others don’t get that, doesn’t it?

When the Grief head is striking, it can also play with your mind. You may even start to question if you were ever really pregnant… especially those of us familiar with early losses and were never able to see or hear a heartbeat or any other “concrete” evidence of our babies’ existence. And yet, Grief will also wake you with a start in the middle of the night because you swear you hear a baby crying. It happens… Sister, you are not crazy. The Grief head just wants you to think you are.

Head 5: Immortality

During my first worldviews class in college, I remember reading Socrates’ philosophy of childbearing and immortality. He explained that, in childbearing, we are actually fulfilling a desire for immortality; having children is a way of ensuring a piece of ourselves lives on. It makes sense, albeit this may prove a somewhat self-centered and vain motivation to procreate. Think about it. Even the wide-eyed, naive, 18-year-old me, brand new to the adult world and also new to Socratic philosophy knew the whole notion felt… off, and kind of icky. I determined then that I would not worship the fertility gods at the altar of immortality, no matter how “natural” it may seem. So, having done my homework on this one years before I was introduced to The Beast, I thought I could outsmart that sneaky Immortality head and steer clear of it pretty easily. Yet, following the fourth miscarriage and our choice to 100% close the door on biological reproduction (a story for another time, perhaps), the Immortality head was the first to strike.

There you have it. An introduction to my story and an introduction to my 5-headed infertility beast. How many and what kind of heads does your own Beast have?

Image credit: http://uo.stratics.com/content/ml/creatures.shtml

Oregon Fail

This post about those born in the late 70s/early 80s recently made rounds on social media. It is a pleasant read and most of it was dead-on accurate for me… and apparently for many others, given how many times it showed up on my news feed.

But here’s the thing: I was born in the very early 80’s and I’ve never played Oregon Trail. Never. Not once. Totally could have since it was on all the school computers, pretty much all of my friends played it, and I have always loved learning and reading about pioneer life (fiction and non-fiction), BUT I never had an iota of desire to play the game.

So… there ya go.

Any other early-80s babies out there manage to dodge the collective Oregon Trail phase of our youth?

Diving In

When I was 15 years old, my family vacationed on a relative’s property in Connecticut. We stayed in an old barn that had been renovated to serve as a guest house. There was a pool on the property as well, complete with a diving board. I’ve never been afraid of heights; in fact, earlier that very summer, I had enthusiastically boarded the tallest roller coasters at Six Flags with friends and rappelled down the face of a huge cliff at summer camp, yet I could not will myself to step off of that diving board. It couldn’t have been more than 3 feet above the surface of the water, and yet… no go. This went on for days. My little brother, upon witnessing countless failed diving board attempts, mercifully sneaked up behind me and pushed me over the edge. A damning shriek, brief flailing and sputtering, and then… FREEDOM. After that, jumping off the diving board was no big deal.

So it is with blogging. I set up my first personal blogging site over 6 years ago, I wrote a few posts on personal stories and thoughts on current events and movies. Yes, there is even a post about Avatar. No, I won’t be publishing it. That is SO 2009.

Anyway –

The blog was set up, writing ensued and was edited and edited again, and yet… no go. I have theories about why I flaked out on publishing, but it boiled down to fear and needing to just GET OVER myself. So this is me, soaking in the courage of bloggers who have already taken the plunge, playing the role of my little brother and pushing this blog off the edge by finally hitting the “publish” button.

I’m diving in.