Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Behold the dragon

Dragons. Webster's dictionary defines them as "mythical animal usually represented as a monstrous winged and scaly serpent or saurian with a crested head and enormous claws." The Chinese view dragons as symbols of strength, power and good luck. Referring to someone as a "dragon" is the ultimate in compliments, indicating that this person is outstanding and excels. But Dragons are also viewed in a negative light. European cultures view dragons as villainous reptiles who reek havoc and destruction. To encounter a dragon is the ultimate test in strength and survival, as these creatures are also cunning. It is fitting that these creatures are seen as a symbol of change.

This past Friday, I met with Dee to begin a series of painful therapy sessions. I'll write more in the near future about what we've been doing and provide an update. Prior to the session, though, we talked more about adoption and I began hitting her with a number of naive questions regarding starting the process, finding agencies, etc. Smiling, she proceeded to hand me two books to provide some basic information. The first one is called "Adoption After Infertility," by Patricia Irwin Johnston. Though an older book, Dee thought it would be a good place to start.

Following my meltdown after the adoption information meeting on Saturday, I picked up the book and began to read. The first section called the "Challenge of Infertility" opened with the metaphor of the dragon. As I read, I found myself nodding along with many of the observations from the author. Starting with the idea that people who are quick to throw adoption out as a viable alternative are usually the same who would not even consider taking a similar route. The fact that most people view the road to parenthood as a pretty pleasant and defined path: have sex, get a positive pregnancy test and 9 months later you're congratulating one another on the ability to pass on your genes. That infertility is really an uncharted territory for most, an unspeakable fear that many would prefer to ignore.

What struck me most in the first chapter was the statement by the author that infertility is not simply one loss. It involves multiple losses: 
1) Loss of control over many aspects of life 
2) Loss of one's genetic continuity linking past and future
3) Loss of joint conception of a child with one's life partner
4) Loss of the physical sensation of pregnancy and birth
5) Loss of the emotional gratifications of pregnancy and birth
and finally
6) Loss of the opportunity to parent

Infertility robs us of all of this. With the help of modern medicine, those who undergo treatment have the opportunity to regain all of these. But what if treatment fails? What about those of us who come to the end of the road for this part of the journey, finding that our arms are still empty? Adoption is most certainly a road to recover the last opportunity, but it's far from an easy journey.

I've been struggling a lot with all these losses recently. Struggling with the fact that the future is still very unclear. This Mother's Day was particularly hard, as I spent it as a bereaved mother, painfully aware of what milestones I would be checking off for both of my pregnancies if they had stuck. So like any animal in pain, I've been lashing out. In my head, I reasoned that Grey would be better off without me, giving him the ability to find a life partner who could give him children and ultimately happiness. I was pushing him away. 

Something happened, though. Something that was completely unexpected. After a particularly painful lash, I picked up Ms. Johnston's book and read a story about a woman who survived infertility, who resolved through adoption. Yet despite her happiness, she spent years mourning her body, which had failed her. Like me, she felt guilty that her husband suck beside her, reasoning that she was holding him back from a more fulfilling life. One day, this woman attended a RESOLVE conference and hear a male therapist talk about how men grieve differently from women. Following the talk, she went home to talk to her husband, asking him to share his thoughts. The conversation startled her, leading to a message that could not have been more self esteem enhancing or important to their marriage. The husband told his wife how carefully he had thought through all those offers and threats of divorce from the years before and how frightening they had been for him. That what he wanted (telling her from the ten-thousandth time, but which she had failed to hear) was not fertility, but her. That the thought of losing his wife, their relationship, their life together was more terrifying than the thought of losing his ability to have biological children.

A moment later, Grey came and sat be me, repeating pretty much the same thing. For the first time, I actually heard what he was saying. And in my heart, I knew I felt the same. That if the chose was a life with Grey and infertility or a life without Grey and fertility, I would chose Grey. 

Mother's Day was spent in the mountains, reflecting on this conversation as well as what I had been reading. As Grey and I hiked into the wilderness, I thought about how the Chinese written expression of "crisis," which contains the characters of two different words: danger and opportunity. 
Image from http://www.chinese-symbols.com/
Infertility is most certainly a crisis, filled with the danger of loss on so many levels. But what I realized while passing the families with small children on the trail was that infertility is also an opportunity. Grey and I have developed communication skills for that enable us to move swiftly through dangerous situations. Time and again, I witness couples on the trail where those communication skill did not exist, leading to potentially dangerous situations. There are many other things that came to mind during the hike, hard-won gifts that we never would have discovered if not for this experience; gifts that we are still learning about. 

Tonight, I am preparing for our next confrontation with our dragons. The dragrons that are dangerous: those of fear, loss, grief and pain. But also the dragons of opportunity. From the time they were conceived, we've referred to our embryos as dragons, as they were meant to be our baby born during the Year of the Dragon. With only four (4) left, that wish may no longer be a reality, but they may instead be the key to the door leading to our children, children who we will be united in the future. A bittersweet thought, but one that I hold on tightly to. 


  1. Wow. Just wow. You are amazing. The degree to which you are opening your heart with love and light and opportunity is inspirational. You are so strong, so brave. Your ability to verbalize your journey is really something else. I hope to one day be half as forward looking and opportunistic as you.

    I love how you are able to look at your relationship and see the beauty in the challenges you've faced. IF is damaging, but also forces us to consider our relationships from a totally different perspective. We are together by choice, not circumstance. And you are right to see the beauty in this.

    Beautiful post.

  2. Wonderful post... so insightful and thought-inspiring :) There are so many losses on this road... so lovely to hear that you and Grey can communicate through it so beautifully... this is an amazing gift. You are an amazing woman... love to you always xoxo

  3. This is an absolutely beautiful post. I love the imagery of the dragons. May your next confrontation with them bring you only joy.

  4. I love your post so much. On days that I just feel sorry for myself and are down in the dumps, I love to ready your post. You are always filled with such emotion and conviction. Keep it up and I just know you are going to make it through this hurdle :)

  5. You are such an inspiration to me as you boldly explore what feels to me like the uncharted territory of adoption. Those six losses you mentioned resonated with me greatly but I'm hoping and praying like hell that one of your little dragons comes through for you in the end and you won't have to grieve them any longer.

  6. Understanding that infertility is akin to suffering through MULTIPLE losses is an important point that I think very few people outside this community understand. Once I finally acknowledged this, it had a profound effect on me.

    And you are right, dragons seem to appear in a lot of different places. Even on your feet :)

  7. This post brought tears to my eyes. There's so much truth and beauty in it. It really resonated with me because I came to the the realization over the past couple of days that, like you, I'd rather have my husband and infertility than fertility with anyone else. I feel as if I've been neglecting him and neglecting to see what HE is going through because I've been so obsessed with infertility. I made the decision to change that this morning, and your post reinforces that for me.

    I also want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the thoughtful, kind, empathetic comments you leave for me on my blog. You have a wonderful way with words and you seem to know exactly the right thing to say. I wish I had that same gift. There are many times when I don't comment because I don't really know what to say, but I hope you know that I hold you in my thoughts and in my heart as you travel on this journey.

  8. Wonderful post. I too would chose a life of infertility and my husband rather than one of fertility and him not being in it. I'm hopeful that this next transfer will work.

  9. This is an amazing post. I relate so much to it. Thank you for sharing these experiences with us.

  10. Wow. I got chills reading about Grey telling you that your life together is more important than fertility. Your are making me stop and think about similar convos I've had with my husband, and how I'm not really hearing him when he says that. Thank you for inspiring me to really believe his words.

  11. What a beautiful and thoughtful post Cristy. I absolutely love how you connected it all. The timing of the reading you did and the conversation with grey is perfect. I have expressed the same feelings to Mike about his needing to find a women who could give him children, how I was broken. Never once has he thought that idea through. He will stick by me no matter the outcome.
    I have such hope for your embies. I can't wait to meet them.

  12. I cried this morning reading this post. It really hit home for me, especially when you wrote about hearing what our partners are saying, and not projecting our fears onto them. It's not something I've been good at doing, and this isn't fair to me or BG.

    I also never thought about IF as multiple losses, but it is, and they're losses that occur again and again. It's a good reminder of how gentle we must be with ourselves and each other.

    Thank you for another thoughtful post.

  13. This is just beautiful. We choose our partners for a reason: we want to spend the rest of our lives with them. And the rest of our lives are long and include so much more than having children. Thinking of you and sending hugs as you face the next dragon.

  14. I love reading your posts. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself.

  15. This is so beautifully written. I've felt often that by my body failing, I have failed my husband. But he continues to echo exactly the thoughts that were in the book, and that Grey has said to you. I think that if there's one upside to this whole ride it's that it has strengthened my marriage beyond anything I could have imagined. it seems that it has done the same for you.
    Much love!

  16. Another beautiful post! I woke up this morning with a dream that DH left me. Even though he has reassured me over and over again that he would not leave me. I guess my subconscious is just not listening. I'm so happy that you've finally been able to trust and believe that Grey would do the same if the situation is reversed, that you would choose each other. Hoping the best for you, as always, and really believing that three times is the charm!

  17. With all of the different kinds of loss in IF, it's no wonder we(at least subconsciously) fear the loss of our most important allies... our partners. A good one will always make you feel the way that Grey made you feel after you had that talk. I have a good one too:) This was a great post. Thank you. I'm glad you are about to tackle the dragon in therapy. I am too!:)

  18. This post made me cry. So many parts hit me hard because I am feeling the same way about things right now. I actually broke down today and my Hubby showed me again how much I can't live without him. I am glad you are reading such a wonderful book.


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