Monday, July 17, 2006

On Infertility

I have to wonder lately if this truly is as unusual as I think it is, or if it's the gods testing me in some way. Another friend has come to me and told me that she appreciates the childfree filter I put on my LiveJournal (my primary journal) because she is infertile. She has been trying for several years to conceive and she and her husband are beginning to look into options like foster care because they have no money to adopt.

I had no idea.

This is just one more person I am close to who has dealt with fertility and childbearing issues. Two people in my husband's close family, an aunt of mine, and now not two, but three close friends of mine had/have devastating fertility problems. This seems like a lot of people to me; either that or infertility is more common than I'd initially thought. The only common thread among them is that I feel very uncomfortable around them.

When my friend told me this weekend, I was in shock. I suspected she and her husband might be trying to conceive, but some of the issues she brought up, I had never considered. She talked about people wo talk about "just adopting", and she explained how impossible it seems, and it's even been hard for them to commit to foster care because she was a foster kid and understands that the ultimate goal for foster kids is to get them back to their birth parents. It worked for her, and she went back with her mom eventually, so she has an especially deep understanding about this. But I know it's killing her that she can't have a baby of her own.

I started to feel self-conscious that I've been trivializing the desire to have children. It's so hard because it's something I have never felt, and while I know it's not as simple as, say, a fleeting desire for a pair of shoes, it's impossible for me to understand this burning need to have children, the heartbreak of not being able to have them, to feel like you're "settling" for adoption or foster care.

I feel like I need to clarify that when I say "if we decide later that we want kids, we'll adopt", I am saying this with an understanding of what it's about, at least in that I know it's not "easy". It's not cheap, it's not painless, and it's not an easy thing. I do know this, and the adoption thing is also not a decision that my husband and I have just up and "said". When we talk about him getting a vasectomy, this is a very real thing that we discuss, even though we're confident about our decision.

But still, when the talk of babies and children comes up, when it's friends talking about their kids or talking about my childfree life, I feel instantly uncomfortable for them, wondering if they're okay with this. I know it's different for everyone. I have one friend who exuses herself from the room and bursts into tears at any mention of children, especially the children of her friends, another who is okay with it but the tension in the room becomes palpable. This latest friend I haven't quite read, but she's notoriously hard to read about EVERYTHING, and I can't imagine her getting emotional about anything.

I don't know if this is the case, but I feel as if infertile women think I'm insulting them, that my decision makes a mockery of their situation, that I run around thinking "anyone" can have babies and it's no big deal. I'm not a big subscriber to the "no big deal" mindset, although I stand by and own my statements from my Biology 101 post. Of course it's not as simple as that, especially for women who can't conceive. It's so hard to clarify my thoughts on this, because while the friend who cries as the mere thought of baby shoes is in an already bad relationship that will suffer incurably if she gets pregnant, I actually wished on a shooting star the other night my latest infertile friend would be able to conceive.

When people suggest to me that I should just pretend we are infertile, I can't think of anything more insensitive. I can't possibly mock the pain these people in my life are going through, and I certainly don't want to end up in the position of talking about my "infertility". While I suspect that if I desired to get pregnant it would be very, very difficult because I don't get a regular period (only once every few months, even a year after getting off hormonal birth control), I can't pretend that's something I'm living with. It would be disrespectful to anyone who ever truly has gone through it.

The point I intended on making in this post was "just because we can have babies does not mean we must", but I wanted to take it a step further. I believe it is a tragedy when people who desperately want to be parents cannot realize that dream. But I also believe that I have to stop feeling guilty because I don't want children. It's my own fault that I do feel guilty,


Britgirl said...

Your last sentence says it all. I truly believe that no-one can make you feel guilty. Doesn't mean they won't try though.Some people seem to exist to try to make others feel guilty.Sometimes they succeed until. They used to with me until I finally understood that I can simply stop feeling guilty.That's all I had to do. Refuse to feel guilty. Took some practice, but it's so liberating that it's worth it.

ChrisR said...

This is a tough one. I never want to be pregnant, and I do a lot to avoid it. Then there are women who will send themselves mad, bankrupt and into divorce court just to give birth. I don't understand these people, fair enough, but I'm not antagonistic either.

What does get my back up is the infertile attacking the childfree - my not wanting children has absolutely nothing to do with your not having children. Thankfully these people are rare.

I found your comment interesting:
"... that I run around thinking "anyone" can have babies and it's no big deal"

I've come to the conclusion that it's actually the 'breeder' community who push the 'anyone can' idea. How many times have you heard a late 30s woman saying she still wants kids? Even though the biological odds at that age are less than tiny.

So I think you can stop beating yourself up on that one - they're getting that message from society, not from you.