My own inconsideration
Throughout our infertility journey, we encountered many people who didn’t take the subject seriously, or who just did not understand how two otherwise healthy individuals could not make a baby. A surprising number of people told me that Dave and I must not be having sex often enough to conceive. I was totally irritated by their rudeness and lack of understanding about the situation. My ob/gyn recommended we limit sex to every other night in order to give Dave’s sperm count time to rebuild. But this wasn’t about how often we were “trying.” Our reality was that Dave did not have enough sperm, in quantity or quality, to fertilize an egg.
Some people just did not understand the seriousness of our predicament. I have to admit that before my own experience with infertility, I was one of those well-meaning but inconsiderate friends. Before Dave’s friend, Suzie, became pregnant with the assistance of fertility treatments, and prior to our own complications, she had mentioned to us that she was thinking about having a child. Two or three years passed and she did not become pregnant. Because Suzie was a career woman, I assumed she had made a deliberate decision to delay or forego having a child. Being a career woman myself, I was very curious about why she had made such a decision. One day, not realizing that Suzie had been struggling with infertility, I asked her if she was still thinking about having a child. The minute she began to speak, I immediately regretted my naïve thoughtlessness. I was ashamed of myself for not being more aware and considerate of her personal affairs.
I don’t always learn from my mistakes. Some time after my encounter with Suzie, while Dave and I were still trying to conceive naturally, I had a conversation with another friend. I knew this particular friend had been struggling with infertility and had experienced unsuccessful fertility treatments. Dave and I wanted to invite her and her husband to dinner, but the conversation turned ugly. She was so devastated by her inability to become pregnant that she didn’t want to be around couples in the process of trying, or who were even thinking about having a child. I was upset that she was pushing me away when we had yet to become pregnant. She was angry with me because I couldn’t relate to her emotional state or understand her pain. She advised me to start the conception process sooner rather than later, because if we did end up having problems, the medical process would be time-consuming. I found myself a little put off by her insinuation that I, too, would experience infertility. I realize now she was just trying to be helpful by educating me about how long the process takes.
During our struggles, I tried my best to be supportive of other couples who were able to become pregnant, but it was difficult for me to be happy for them when I was so sad inside. I made a conscious effort to maintain quality interactions with my friends who had kids, or were pregnant or trying to conceive. But it’s not always easy to spend time with people who have what you want and what you cannot seem to get. I had to expend more energy maintaining these relationships than my friends did, because it was my issue, not theirs. They were willing to provide any support I needed — all I had to do was ask. Asking was not always easy, but it was often necessary for me to do so.
I had vowed not to push any of my friends away, no matter how devastated or upset I became about our infertility, and I was mostly successful. Unfortunately, I did push one of Dave’s friends out of our lives during this time. When Dave told me that Sam’s wife, Patty, was pregnant, I was devastated. It didn’t help to hear it had only taken them two tries to conceive. I cannot explain why I was so upset when this particular friend became pregnant. I just was. I didn’t think I deserved a child more than she did. I didn’t think I would be a better mom. But after hearing the news, I wanted nothing more to do with Patty and Sam.
Sam was Dave’s best friend and an integral part of Dave’s life. They talked on the phone regularly and would attend sporting events together. Occasionally they would invite us over for dinner, but we always said no. I told Dave he needed to spend time with Sam that did not involve me. After a while, I think Sam and Patty knew I was avoiding them, and eventually they quit asking us to do things with them as a couple. Instead, the guys would get together alone. Patty was polite enough to invite me to her baby shower, but I did not attend. I couldn’t be supportive and happy for her, and I truly did not want to ruin her special day. My attitude and behavior toward Patty and her husband were totally inappropriate.
About one year after our daughters were born, I wrote a letter to Patty apologizing for my behavior. In my letter I acknowledged that it was my fault that Dave and Sam’s relationship had been damaged. Sam informed Dave that when Patty received the letter, she was not sure how to respond. To this day, I have not received any response — and one is not really necessary. Even though they weren’t sure what to make of it, I felt better for telling Patty I was sorry. Also, Dave and Sam have been able to rebuild their friendship. We now make an effort to attend any events they invite us to. I’m more comfortable around them since I owned up to my mistakes, although I’m not sure I can say that comfort flows both ways.
I convinced Dave to withhold information about our infertility, our progress, and our eventual pregnancy from the people he cared about. I actually told him what he was and was not “allowed” to tell his sister and his friends. Looking back on it now, I am so ashamed of my actions. Dave never argued with my need to seek a counselor; likewise, he had every right to talk to anyone he needed to in order to help him through our stressful time.
My fertile friends couldn’t relate
One thought that kept running through my head was that I didn’t understand why we were not being given the opportunity to provide a good home for a child. My fertile friends couldn’t relate to my panic and fixation, no matter how hard they tried. I avoided conversations with certain friends just so I wouldn’t have to tell them about the most recent bad news or latest setback. Some days I could hold myself together, but other days I would sit and cry uncontrollably, usually alone.
One of my best friends, Kelly, was patient during many telephone conversations when I wallowed in self-pity. In one sentence I would tell her I deserved the pain I was feeling because I waited too long to have a child in order to further my career. In the next, I would be bawling about how badly I wanted to be a mom. As a good friend does, she simply listened to me without judgment.
I didn’t want anyone to tell me it was going to be okay, or to suggest that if I just relaxed, I would be able to become pregnant. I was tired of the stories about couples who had (or even had not) successfully conceived a child via fertility treatments and had later become pregnant naturally.
A few people I knew treated me differently because they knew we were experiencing infertility. An associate of mine told me about a mutual friend of ours who was pregnant and had specifically asked her not to tell me about the pregnancy. This news hurt my feelings. Instead of people wanting to share their good news with me, I had been blackballed. Although being happy for them was often difficult, it was still frustrating that people took it upon themselves to determine how I would react without allowing me the opportunity to prove them right or wrong. More times than not, I felt I was as supportive as any of their non-infertile friends might have been.
Sometimes when I told people about my infertility struggles, they would say something like, “But think about how much more you’ll appreciate your children once you do have them.” I resented their unintended implication that I would not have loved or appreciated my children had there been no complications. I wanted to ask them whether they appreciated their children as much as they implied I would appreciate mine.