NIAW, National Infertility Awareness Week, is a time to shine a light on the women and men who are struggling in their family building journey. Most sit in silence, feeling alone, and sharing their story brings shame and embarrassment. Since we experienced difficulties conceiving, I’ve felt compelled to live my life like every week is NIAW. I want to reduce the stigma and talk about what we’re facing, empower others to do the same. Most of all I want people to listen. They hear what I say, but their response and reaction tell me they weren’t listening. I open my heart and life to people and in turn I feel judged. I feel like I must validate and explain my choices because they don’t agree or just don’t want to understand. I’m done, I’m not listening to them, I’m listening to me.
It’s been 5 years. It’s been 2 surgeries, 3 transfers, 5 embryos, and more doctor appointments and medication than we can count. It’s tiring, sad, and oh-so frustrating. Our life has revolved around tests and shots, and calendars and planning, and questions without answers. I thought when we finally had a reason for why we couldn’t have a baby the old-fashioned way, that it was the end of searching for a solution, all signs pointed to IVF. Tubes removed, problem solved, let’s make a baby. We all know how times 1, 2, and 3 turn out; and then we’re asking why again. I’m listening. Give me the answer. Tell me what I can do, what I did, why and how. I want to know what the answer is. I feel trapped in a vortex of treatments. Another retrieval. Another transfer. Another cycle. Another month. I feel numb and broken. I’m going through the motions, and spinning around and around. Our doctor and nurses are encouraging, but we’re still no closer than we were at the beginning. I wait, we wait, hoping someone is listening to our pleas for the life and result we’ve been working for. We’ve continued to fail, building a trophy case in our minds, and continuing to look at the empty space. With numbers and research, and statistics and probability, there’s no way to say with certainty that this will or will not work. I’m not listening to them anymore; I’m listening to me.
When battling infertility and the treatments that go with it, you experience every emotion possible. And not only because of the hormones, but because of how much of yourself you’re giving. TV, social media, friends and strangers – everyone has an opinion or advice or story of their own. They all trigger emotion and most of the time, doubt. I don’t know what to think or what to feel. I’ve recently confided my fear of failure to some of those close to me. If we don’t have a child, what does that look like? Is that something I can live with? Could I be happy? I read a research paper on people who don’t have children. Both the “child-less” and the “child-free” depending on choice, circumstance, or how they perceive it. Most men make less money over their lifetime, they chalk that up to not being pressured to provide more and spending time doing work or activities that are more rewarding. Those men and women interviewed did not regret their decision when asked in later years, 70’s and after retirement. Many had mild concerns of who may take care of them when they are unable to do so, but that didn’t seem like a reason to or not to have children anyway. What I found most interesting is that when asked, people thought women who did not have children were not as kind as women who were mothers, they were selfish, emotionally unstable, and maladjusted. Socially women and men are less accepted if they do not have children and are often excluded, they tend to spend time with “like” people. Unfortunately, we have already experienced most of these things even while in the process of trying to have children, so none is too shocking, but upsetting that it extends beyond what and who I know. People pass some pretty harsh judgement and say some very inconsiderate things when they’re ignorant of the situation and decision. I’m not going to listen to them, I’m listening to me.
We had our calendar marked for a tentative retrieval date, medications delivered, baseline ultrasound done, ready to go through the final cycle in our IVF warranty program. Today would have been the day for surgery. I might already know how many eggs we yielded this round. I might be resting at home, feeling full and swollen. I might be hopeful and nervous for the magic number of embryos growing over the next few days. I might be planning the next two weeks so I don’t have to dread the wait and inevitable doubt and mind-wandering. I might be disappointed and blaming myself for whatever outcome lies ahead. I’m not doing any of those things. Instead we opted out of our fertility treatment plan. I listened to everything around me, telling me to listen to myself.
This was easily the most difficult decision we’ve ever made. I felt like a failure and a quitter, I felt like I was letting everyone down. I didn’t know at what point we say enough is enough. What feels worse – the forever feeling of disappointment or accepting that it might not ever happen and move on? It’s easy to dive right into another chapter of family building, but that’s not what we’ll do. We don’t know what the future will hold for us in terms of babies and children, I don’t know if I’ll ever know if we made the right decision. We’re just not ready to define our lives either way, it’s just time that we start living one. I want to listen to my husband, how he’s feeling and what will make him happiest. I want to listen to my sister, how we can be more involved in our niece’s upbringing. I want to listen to my community, what can I do to support others. I want to listen to my friends and family, what kind of love they need from me. I need to listen to myself, be fulfilled as me because my worth is not determined by having children. Now is the time to listen up because not everyone’s journey and purpose are the same.