Monday, December 12, 2011

Bridging the Divide Between Abundant Fertility and Possible Infertility

My family is fertile. Dang fertile.  Granted I have a huge extended family, so it's possible some of my aunts struggled, but it sure doesn't look that way.  My mother has 9 living siblings (two deceased), and the less religious of them have a couple of kids, while my very catholic aunt and uncle have 11 children.  Almost all of my married cousins have had children quickly and easily, and a few are up to four children. 

However, growing up I wanted to be a nun. Part of this was due to a childhood zest for holy things, and partly it was because I didn't want to have kids.  I loved families, and I loved big families, but all the moms I knew seemed completely down-trodden and exhausted, devoid of dreams and imagination.  Perhaps I misinterpreted the mothers in my life, but the idea that mothers ceased to exist as anything but caretakers rang true for me, and I did not want to be that.  I wanted to be awesome--like Olympic gymnast awesome. 

As I got older I realized that perhaps some moms were really doing what they liked and that it might be ok.  Plus boys were suddenly really cute.  In college, realizing I was probably called to marriage and not religious life, I accepted the fact that I would probably have to have kids, and probably a lot of them.  And the rest of the story you mostly know. I met and fell in love with A, and we had a baby long before we were ready.  I am now eight months pregnant with our second baby.  It has been hard, and strangely perfect. 

However, in the last few years I've realized that not everyone gets pregnant easily.  I know this sounds naive to all you ladies out there struggling with infertility, but I really thought that having a hard time getting pregnant was really really rare.  I knew it happened, but I didn't know anyone personally that it had happened to.  When I was beginning college I found out my step-mom and dad had been trying to have a baby for quite a while, so this was my first encounter.  However, they were not very open about it with me (I imagine it's not something a woman would want to discuss with her 19 year old step-daughter), and I assumed it was due to my step-mom's age (she was in her mid-thirties when they started trying). Another reason I had not encountered many with this issue is that at that age most of my friends were not married, and consequently not in the baby game. 

In the last two years I have come to know two women who have struggled with fertility.  First, when we moved into our house our neighbors had just adopted a little boy.  Their little boy was only two weeks older than L, and I quickly started hanging out with his mom, M.  She was very open about her six-year struggle to conceive before they successfully adopted.  I was amazed by her openness and about the ordeal, and I asked lots of questions since she seemed so open.  I was able to hear about her experience with endometriosis, struggling to conceive, learning to deal with pregnancy announcements,and finally adoption.  January and I had already been friends for quite a while, but she and her husband were still avoiding pregnancy.  She shared her experiences with NFP with me, and helped me find resources to use it post-partum.  It was quite a bonding experience for us discussing such intimate things in our lives.  She was overjoyed at the birth of our little daughter and was completely accepting of our unexpected pregnancy which was something that I really needed at that point.  We often shared our struggles and joys in using NFP, and discussed life in general.  She would often tell me of their discussions over when to try and have a child, and I would worry over getting pregnant again.  When she told me in the fall after L was born that she and her husband I decided to stop avoiding pregnancy and start trying to conceive, I was ecstatic.  I was convinced she would be pregnant within a few months and we could continue to bond over having children. 

As months went by and Jan shared her disappointment at the many negative pregnancy tests and unwelcome periods, we've had to navigate how to be good friends to each other while going through different phases in life.  We already worked on this while I had a baby and she did not, but it has taken on a new dimension now in her struggles to conceive. 

And now to the point of this post, and our efforts to bridge the divide between the super-fertile and the sub-fertile.  L is now almost two and we are having a second baby in a month, and Jan has been trying to conceive for over a year.  I've gotten a glimpse into the world of infertility, with all it's crazy tests, and extreme heartache.  It seems that in life there is often a divide between women with children, and women without, and it looks like dealing with infertility can make it even more pronounced.  It makes sense when you think about it. I'm sure it is often heart wrenching for a lady desperately wanting to have a child to hang out with a woman who has a child (or two), and conceives easily.  Plus since infertility is such a misunderstood issue, it's easy for us to say things that are quite hurtful to sufferers--from complaining about diapers to pregnancy pain, these complaints must sound petty to a woman who longs to change little diapers and experience all the ups and downs of pregnancy. 

Conversely those of us with normal fertility don't always know what to say to a lady suffering with IF. Particularly for a Catholic woman blessed with loads of fertility, we are usually wondering if we'll be caring for toddlers well into our forties (I know there's nothing wrong with this, but as I've shared before, I find the idea a bit overwhelming), and trying to manage the craziness of raising babies and maintaining sanity. 

So yes, all of this is against us being friends.  But we need each other.  One of our purposes in starting this blog together is to explore how women in different states in life can understand and support each other.  We are women trying to live out faith, and our vocations well.  And I hope as much as possible that we can be there for each other even across this divide.  I consider it often, both with my friendship with Jan, and considering most of our readers seem to be from the infertility camp. 

Here is what I've observed so far in relating to women with IF.  First off, I try to listen as much as possible. And ask questions which is pretty easy since I know so little about actively trying to conceive.  Listening and asking questions helps me to know what Jan is going through as much as possible.  And when she shares with me, and I know I just don't get it due to lack of experience I tell her that.  but at the same time, I have felt pain before, I have felt sad and rejected before, and although it's different than the particular IF cross I think that knowing how these feelings feel, gives me sympathy.  As nervous as I get sometimes about my overabundance of fertility, I know it is an easier thing to deal with than IF.  The pain is so intense in women who go through it.  It is a truly unique kind of cross, and I can only marvel at their faith and strength.  The desire to be a mother is so strong, and so admirable. 

Although I can't fully understand the cross of infertility, I want to be there for Jan and others as much as I possibly can.  I'm hoping that by staying involved in the trilas of each other's lives we can stay close and keep from being separated by the differences in our challenges in life.

To all you other ladies out there struggling with infertility, do you have any other suggestions of how to be a good friend to someone on the outside?



  1. Praying for them and letting them know they are not forgotten and that you care.

  2. November, I think you are doing such a great job at being a friend. Reading this post, I see how truly & deeply care for January - and in that way for others suffering as well. Asking January how treatments are going or if she needs to talk, but not probing too much, is so simple, but acknowledges a topic that she (and I) sometimes don't want to bring up. Sometimes I hate being a "downer", so I avoid the topic. I also second IMHPFP's suggestion of prayer.

  3. Novie, I've said this before, but I just have to post it here: You are the most amazing friend. You listen like no one else listens. I often feel like our friendship is a little one-sided, because I unload my thoughts about fertility on you often, while you have almost never complained to me about pregnancy, even before I suspected that something was wrong. Sometimes I do fear that as you welcome more children into the world, and I am left behind, that we'll grow apart. That would be only natural, as your family should come first. But always know that the support that you are giving me now is helping me through every day and I'll always be grateful for today. - Jan

  4. I would say to just be there for them. Don't forget and get so caught up in life with babies that you forget to stop and ask how things are going...and then really listen to what they have to say. I guess we just don't want to feel completely left behind. Oh yeah, and the prayers...those are just as important if not more important.

  5. Thanks for all the feedback!

    And Jan, I'll stick it out if you will despite our different lives!