Like many other life traumas, infertility and loss bring together a diverse group of people. My early memories of this journey are filled with initial feelings and thoughts of being an outsider and alone, so finding those first blogs about infertility were not only a source of comfort, but also amazed me that such a diverse group of people were sharing similar thoughts and feelings on such a taboo topic. Over the years, I’ve witnessed friendships bloom while dealing with this life crisis, meeting men and women who would become as dear as family and learning from those around me how to find courage and strength in seemingly hopeless circumstances.
But what happens when members of these tight-knit groups find their road to resolution while others are still firmly rooted in the trenches? How do bonds formed fighting for a common goal survive when some are successful while others are still living with the pain?
There is no one answer to this issue, with each situation depending on the individuals involved as well as the circumstances surrounding this potential conflict. Yet the issue remains of whether relationships can survive. In some cases, they most certainly do. But too often, they don’t.
This issue has been on my mind more recently, growing as the Beats grow inside of me. I recognize that as this pregnancy progresses, so does the assumption that I no longer qualify as an infertile and that I may very well be a source of pain to those still in the trenches. Frankly, I’m at a loss for how best to bridge the divide for those dealing with infertility vs. those who have or are resolving. So instead, I’ll tell you all a story of a friendship that grew out of infertility, written from the perspective of two fellow IFers.
Back in 2010, while only 6 months in to the whole TTC experience, I joined a message board with a group of women you were trying for their first child. The whole point of this group was to take some of the crazy-obsessive tendencies out of trying to get pregnant (obsessing over charts, temp fluctuations, cervical mucus and even two-week wait symptoms) and instead focusing on a more calm/relaxed approach. It didn’t take long before the ~25 women on the TTC thread dropped down to only a handful as the others found themselves pregnant. And though it hurt to be left behind, the bond that formed between those that remained grew strong.
Of this remaining handful, one woman named Maggie led the charge with seeking out a specialist and starting treatments.
Cristy has already given the background on how we met and became IF battle buddies. She was such a source of strength for me as I ended my first full year of TTC and neared the scary visit with the RE. In her I had someone who truly understood just how gut wrenching the whole process could be.
Like others in the group, I cheered for her when she went through the dreaded infertility workup, prayed for those first few IUIs, grieved with her when she lost her first pregnancy early and celebrated like crazy when she finally became pregnant following an injectable +IUI cycle. As I was just beginning my own treatment, her news gave me hope.
Even after I got pregnant, she scolded me for feeling guilt about my success while leaving others behind in the trenches. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is a common theme for people who have success after IF. She wished me nothing but the best. Still, even with her blessing, it became harder and harder to participate in the TTC thread in our group.
As Maggie progressed in her pregnancy, I encountered failure after failure with fertility treatments. The way the message board was set up, updates on pregnancy progress were on a separate thread and generally there was very little cross-talk between those two or the parenting thread. As time went on, what should have been a trivial divide became a real one.
I felt like even though my intentions were coming from a good place when I had something to offer, I was somehow rubbing my success in their faces. I hated the thought that my friends would somehow misinterpret what I said and be hurt by it.
Then came my first loss. Following the D&C I felt so empty and alone. Maggie tried to reach out to me during that time, offering comfort and support. On my end, as much as I appreciated it, I was having a hard time reciprocating. While my world was filled with pain, all I could see was the joy in her’s. As much as I loved my friend, it was hard not to be jealous.
Following our first FET, Maggie and I had an instant reconnection with the news that the cycle had worked. I was over the moon and so happy to finally be joining my friend in experiencing pregnancy together.
When I got the news that Cristy was also pregnant, I demanded she get involved in the pregnancy thread of our group. I was thrilled that we were finally going to get to experience some of our pregnancies together, even though I was nearing the end of mine. I felt like since we had been through so much of our TTC journey together, the universe owed us some pregnancy time together as well.
And then came the second round of pain: the day I miscarried for the second time Maggie delivered her daughter.
I can still recall the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach on the morning after my daughter was born. I had just opened up my laptop and was riding high on the congratulatory messages that were coming from all over. I logged into our group to find a message from one of our friends, letting us know that Cristy had miscarried. I was devastated. I really can remember it so vividly. I looked at my daughter, sleeping in her hospital bassinet, and I lost it. How fucking unfair can this life be? Doesn’t my friend deserve to hold her baby in her arms just as much as I do?
Anyone who’s lived through infertility/loss could easily write a novel about how the pain and despair changes a person. What’s rarely talked about is how relationships change for those who have walked this path together only to have one resolve. RESOLVE has a good article about pregnancybetween infertile friends that explores this, but rarely do we actually hear members of this community talk about it. The truth is, each experience is different. Just as each individual. For some, this is a non-issue as the pregnant infertile knows exactly how to navigate this tumultuous waters to offer support to the infertile still in the trenches. But too often, this stuff leads to deep fissures in the friendship if not resulting in its death.
Following my second miscarriage and failed second FET, I shut down emotionally. As more pregnancy announcements came in, I found it near impossible to be around anyone who was celebrating expanding their family. So I made a decision of self-preservation and shut out those that I didn’t think could understand. I assumed that they were in their own happy world and I didn’t have the ability to join them when it felt like my journey had come to a bitter, abrupt end.
I confess that the following days/weeks/months were a blur. I know I reached out to Cristy to express my sorrow to her. I don’t think I heard back from her, which isn’t important. The last thing on someone’s mind at a time like that is responding to emails in a timely manner. I continued to read her blog, leaving comments now and then when I had something to offer.
Maggie continued to reach out to me, though. Through comments on my blog, she let me know she was thinking of me and grieving with me. Despite this, I was too hurt and angry. I just couldn’t reciprocate.
I thought about her a lot. That summer was a tough one for me. I had a baby who refused to sleep and a nasty case of post-partum depression brought on by extreme exhaustion. I cried. I felt guilty. I felt like a crappy mother because I cried and felt so much guilt. Lather, rinse, repeat. I should be walking on sunshine because I have a baby and others don’t. They would spit on me if they could see me now, thinking how much better they would be at this than I am.
One day I wrote out a long letter to Cristy. I can’t remember now what it said, but I know I never sent it. I thought it sounded fake and insincere. I hated it and I hated myself for not being able to express to her what I really wanted to say. So I did the cowardly thing and threw it away.
This could have been the end of the story. But something happened in late fall. The group I had joined was going through its own transitions, with new members who were struggling with infertility/loss and surviving failed cycles or going on to healthy pregnancies. The concern voiced was how disconnected the group had become, with many of the more senior members no longer commenting or communicating with anyone in the group. So it was proposed that a joint thread me formed to build community. I was all for this, to the point that I sent an email to all members who I had grown close to in an effort to rally support around this decision.
With that first email, a direct line of communication was opened between me and Maggie. She wrote me back a few days later, once again offering me support and understanding. And for some reason, I decided to take that email as a chance to voice my own anger and hurt over feeling abandoned. Imagine my surprise when she wrote me back and told me that she felt abandoned by me too.
When the email came from Cristy regarding the status of our group, I saw a chance to reopen the lines of communication. I asked her flat out if she felt like I had abandoned her and our friendship. I was honestly surprised when she said yes. In my mind, I had tried as hard as I could. Looking back, I should have tried harder. I should have sent the stupid card. Cristy told me she wished I had been braver, and she was right to say that.
I still remember the response from Maggie. The shock and anger in her words and the revelation that she was trying in spite of dealing with post-partum depression. For the first time in many, many months I was able to open my eyes and see that everything wasn’t sunshine and roses on her end. That she was struggling too. And despite this, she was wrapping me in love that I was thoroughly rejecting. It was then that I realized that I needed to stop being selfish and start being brave myself.
Since then, I have tried to be braver. I try to say what I’m feeling without fretting too much about how it will be interpreted. I learned that it’s better to say anything, even if it’s not perfect, and let a person know that you care than to say nothing and let them feel forgotten.
Over the next few weeks, Maggie and I began to patch things up. A lot of this required some hard emails that certainly left me in tears. Yet she was brave enough not only to be honest with me, but also to also not allow me to simply walk away from our friendship. As Grey and I prepared for our final round of IVF, she was one of many who bombarded me with emails of encouragement and hope, allowing me to voice all my fears and doubts while holding fast to hope in moments I didn’t have the strength to. The main difference was that she didn’t have to do this. It would have been simpler and easier to lead infertility behind and instead focus solely on her family; her little girl.
I’m so glad that we have rekindled our friendship. It’s harder these days to communicate every week through email, now that I have a toddler who is walking and into everything. But I know that Cristy understands, and she knows that I understand when she doesn’t respond right away. We support each other the best way we can, and I’m not afraid to say what I feel. Everyone needs that, whether you are still TTC or are trying to navigate parenting after infertility. I’m glad I have my friend back.
Today I find myself in a similar boat as Maggie. After years of failure, I am 7 months pregnant with my miracle twins. And each time the Beats move, reminding me of how much they are growing and how soon they will be here, I’m reminded of my friends who are still trying to find their path to resolution.
The truth is I’m currently lost with where I fit in this community. As Maggie stated so eloquently above, it’s not that I don’t remember or identify as being infertile. Infertility will forever be a part of my identity. What I fear, though, is that my reaching out and supporting those in the trenches in counter-intuitive.
If you ask the average ALIer on how best to bridge the gap between living with infertility and living with resolution, you’ll get multiple answers. For some, they refuse to apologize for their journey, instead choosing to write about the next chapters of their life after infertility/loss. Others are more conscious of their readers/those around them, attempting to empathize with those still in the trenches and continuing to offer support. Still more chose to put the entire experience behind them; kind of like a bad nightmare that they really want to forget. Others refuse to forget, instead activelyadvocating for those who are still living with this trauma and helping wherethey can.
The problem with each of these options is how to manage the decision with the relationships that have been formed. And this is where things tend to get ugly. I’ve seen examples of people who try their best to not hurt anyone around them, thus failing to embrace they life that’s growing inside them in the process. I’ve also seen those still fighting in the trenches being bullied into “being happy” because their friend (who is now pregnant/parenting) knows what it means to be infertile/loss a much wanted pregnancy and, hence, they need to get over themselves. And I’ve seen everything in between.
So how does one straddle worlds? Support those that they’ve grown to love while being true to themselves and their families? Is this too complex of a problem or can we help ease this transition?
Frankly, I don't know the answer
What I do know is that I’m grateful to still have Maggie in my life. To have her as a source of support and love. That I get to see her daughter grow and bloom. But also I hesitate to open this space to all that is happening with this pregnancy. It’s not that I’m not grateful for where I’m at (trust me, I really am) nor that I’m afraid of being true to myself or not embracing this transition. It’s more about the memory of the hurt and the pain I felt for so long; the happy-sad that at moments made me wonder if I was forever doomed to live in a pit of despair.
So, for now, I feel like I’m stuck between worlds, trying as best as I can to navigate this road to resolution. Trying to honor all that has happened while also preparing for what lies ahead.