Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 2: Light Switch

“Why do you do it to yourself?”

“Haven’t you had enough yet?”

“Maybe it’s just not meant to be…maybe it’s time to let go…”

“If God wanted it to happen, He would have made it happen.”

“It’s hurting us to watch you suffer. Doesn’t that matter to you?”

“This is why you should wait before telling people…”

“Why can’t you just be grateful for what you have?”

This is just a short list. I’m sure that if I took the time to really think about it, I could come up with at least a dozen more of these ridiculous, hurtful phrases that have been casually tossed my way by my nearest and dearest friends and family members.

The intention is always genuine. The desire is never to wound. But, nonetheless, the words cut through you like a knife, and the underlying message is clear:

“We think it’s time for you to give up trying to have a baby.”

As those of you who know me are already aware, I suffer from a specific type of infertility medically referred to as Habitual Abortion and commonly known as Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL).  Defined as “the occurrence of three or more pregnancies that end in miscarriage of the fetus, usually before 20 weeks of gestation”, RPL affects approximately 1% of couples attempting to conceive. Many couples with RPL are able to conceive without issue. However, due a variety of factors, these couples have great difficulty carrying a baby to term.

In my case, RPL has accounted for 11 confirmed pregnancies with one birth to date: my son, Sammie’s.

And Jason and I are the lucky ones.

Not only do we have a beautiful baby boy to hold in our arms every night, but we also know what’s wrong with me.  The root of my ‘illness’ can be traced back over fifteen years, and while that’s a topic for another post, I’ve never had any questions as to ‘why’ I was infertile.  In fact, the real surprise was finding out that I could get pregnant to begin with (rather easily in fact), let alone carry a viable fetus (almost) to term.

While many couples with RPL can trace their issues back to homornal, chromosomal or physiological issues, it usually takes months (if not years) of (often painful) testing for them to get the answers that they so desperately need.  And, even after these countless invasive procedures, more than 50% of couples are unsuccessful in identifying the cause for their condition.  They are left with nothing but questions and pain, and no hope for answers and peace.

As an INTJ, I would lose my mind if I didn’t have answers, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in that position.  This would probably be my absolute worst nightmare.

But, despite being one of the ‘lucky ones’, I can tell you one thing: Infertility sucks.

A lot.

So much more than what I can adequately describe in a blog post.

So today, I’m going to stick to one topic. It might be the most important one. At least it is for me.

Today, we’re going to talk about light switches and how I don’t have one.

Whether they be connected to a low-energy, high efficiency super-bulb or the awful 80s style fluorescent ceiling lights, switches give you the power to turn your lights on or off. Some crazy ones, called dimmers, even have mechanisms to control the amount of light you get - but that’s more advanced than our purposes today.

Integral to helping you control the amount of light in your world, light switches are a grossly underestimated household necessity.

Sadly, humans don’t have them. Or at least I don’t. At all.

I just don’t have the ability to turn myself on or off at the drop of a hat. I’m the kind of person who takes a really long time to process things, and for whom emotions are often felt in overwhelming floods.  This is part of why I avoid them. I don’t do well with ‘feelings’, whether they be good or bad.

So when I’m faced with questions like the ones above, I often get so overwhelmed by anger, hurt, guilt and shame that I don’t have answers for them right away. I clam up, mumble something like “it’s hard to explain” and change the topic. Then I go home feeling ashamed and alone.

But…usually way too late at night…an inner dialogue plays itself out with all the things I wanted to say, but didn’t. And I kick myself every time for not having the presence of mind to answer in the moment.

So, for all those who have asked in the past and all those who will ask in the future, here are my answers…as succinctly as I can sum them up.

“Why do you do it to yourself?”

Honestly, sometimes I don’t know. But the desire to be a parent is something that is so deeply ingrained in my soul that I can’t imagine my life without it.  Sadly, my desire to have children isn’t directly linked to my RPL and the diagnosis didn’t make my desire disappear. Like I said, I don’t come with a light switch. It’s not something I can just “turn off” to make room for the next project. 

Let's also be very clear about one thing here: I did not "do" infertility to myself. This was not a choice. It is a medical condition which I struggle with every day. Please stop blaming me for things that are beyond my control. 

“Haven’t you had enough yet?”

YES. I have had enough miscarriages.

My body, heart and soul had enough with the first pregnancy loss. It doesn’t get easier. I have grieved with every lost child, from those lost within the first few hours to the one I lost at 17 weeks.

I assure you that I have had enough grief and heartache to last me a lifetime.

The problem is that I don’t feel that I’ve had enough babies. Everything inside me tells me that I’m just not done yet. That there’s one more still to come. This is the same force that pushed me to keep trying for four years and eventually led to my son and to his namesake:

Trusting this inner voice that compelled me through the darkest of times led me to greatest miracle I have ever lived. Now, it calls me again and I have no choice but to trust it. I can’t explain it beyond that.

“Maybe it’s just not meant to be…maybe it’s time to let go…”

See above. 

Also, maybe it’s time for you to let go of the imaginary vote you feel you have over my uterus.

“If God wanted it, He would have made it happen.”

Also known as: “Maybe God doesn’t want you to have children…”

Seriously, if ever you’ve used this line, smack yourself upside the head. Hard. Now do it again for good measure.

With the sole exception of my very best friend who used it in the context of a deep philosophical discussion about fertility, the Bible and the role of barrenness in faith, there is never an appropriate time to pull the “God made you infertile” card.

Seriously, there are only two ways to go here. 

If the person is a non-believer, it will make you sound preachy, condescending and- quite frankly- cruel. It will also beget the inevitable discussion of why an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God would create pain and suffering, and unless you are a skilled Apologist and have studied this question, I wouldn’t go there.

As for the believers, let me ask you this: Do you really think the thought hasn’t crossed their mind?  Trust me, they’ve already struggled with this question more than you can possibly imagine.

Whether God is calling someone to parenthood is between that person and God. I’d strongly recommend staying out of it. God doesn’t need a mediator. 

“It’s hurting us to watch you suffer. Doesn’t that matter to you?” and “This is why you should wait before telling people…”

Alright, so I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve gotten this, or some version of it, and it is one of the hardest to hear.

I know that the natural immediate reaction is to say that the asker is an insufferably selfish ass that needs to shove their head into the nearest toilet.

Or at least that’s my first reaction.

But…then I remember this: Infertility affects more than just my husband and I.

The truth is that my family and friends have grieved every loss beside me. 

They have dreamt of babies in my arms, envisioned nurseries, and brainstormed names. 

They have held their breath while we waited for results and have held my head as we cried on their shoulders.

Some have even cleaned the blood off their floor and held my hand as I watched my child, and my dreams, disappear into a toilet bowl. 

It’s so easy to forget that I am not alone in this; that I am not the only one affected. Sometimes I even forget how much it affects my husband.

Yes- even though this sounds like the most douche-baggy thing to say in the world- the truth is that there is a lot more truth to it than what you hear at first. 

So my answer, after years of deliberation is this:

I know that it hurts you. I am so sorry for that. I truly am.  And if you would like me to protect you from this hurt as much as I can, I am prepared to do that. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by many supportive people who are able to help me carry this burden.  If it is too much for you, it is ok for you to step away.

But I need you to understand that trying to do this alone is impossible. I need to feel like I can share my joys and my pains, not only in infertility, but also in life. I need to feel like I am not ‘broken’ and that I don’t need to hide. I need to feel like there is no shame in my condition, and that I am still a woman.

When I hide my pregnancies, I put myself in a position where I have no one to turn to in my moments of grief. I also put myself in a position where no one understands why I am suddenly upset, removed or in need of some solitary time.  I become bombarded by questions that I am not ready to answer. I am forced into the position of only ever being able to say “I miscarried” and never “I’m pregnant.”

I can’t let my life be run by fear and I can’t let my condition define me. And for that reason, I can not and will not hide my infertility from the world. But I will try my best to protect you from it, if that is what you need from me.

“Why can’t you just be grateful for what you have?”

I am grateful.

I live a life that is full of love, laughter and joy. I have a husband that I have loved since the moment I met him and who is the sun around which my world turns. I have friends who accept me for who I am, for better and for worse, and who inspire me to be a better person.  I have a family that I deeply admire and that supports me unconditionally. I have a miracle son who is my daily reminder of the existence of God.

I have a beautiful life. The desire for another child doesn’t negate this gratitude and appreciation for the wonderful things that I already have.

We do not assume that perfectly healthy mothers who choose to have more than one child love their lives or their children any less for it. We don’t assume that they must be “unhappy” with what they have or “ungrateful” for their blessings.

I was “happy” when I met Jason.  But I became happier when we fell in love, and happier still when we were married.

I was “fulfilled” by our marriage, but the addition of Sammie into our family brought a fulfillment that neither of us could have anticipated.

I am “grateful” for my son and would never change or replace him. And if we are so fortunate as to add another child into our family, my gratitude will be deeper still for I will not only be grateful for my beautiful children, but also for the bond that they will get to share with each other as siblings.

When will you stop trying?

Amazingly, this is one that I’ve only gotten a few times. Ironically, it’s the least offensive to me because I think it’s a perfectly reasonable question and-although it doesn’t have a ‘reasonable’ answer- it does have the simplest one:

When the ‘light’ turns off.

At some point in their lives, most people with chronic infertility or RPL reach the conclusion that they’ve put in as much as they can and have to step away from their dreams of carrying a(nother) child. 

I’ve come very close to this decision before. I come close to this decision every day.

I know that- one day- the light will turn itself off, and I will reach peace.

I can’t tell you whether the light turns off because I am blessed enough to have a second child, or whether it turns off because my heart has reached the understanding that this particular dream is over. All I can tell you is that I know that, one day, this journey will end.

But, I am without a light switch. I don’t have the capacity to just “decide” when the desire will turn into peace and when I will be able to go. Life is a journey without a clear destination, and I have to keep traveling my path, curvy though it may be.

I can tell you that I feel that I am reaching the end, and am finding the strength inside me to relinquish control and to accept that my ‘fate’ and that of my child(ren) is out of my hands.

For now, all I know that I have two hearts beating inside me- mine and my baby’s- and I pray that this will turn into the second child of my dreams. All I can do is have faith and wait.

In the meanwhile, all I ask is this: Be patient with us. We’re going through a lot. We are eternally grateful for your support, friendship and understanding. But please remember that your words are heavy to us, and can feel like weapons if used poorly.  So please be gentle when you talk to us about it, and remember that it is a hard and often uncomfortable topic for us too.

Also, for those of you so inclined, please pray for this baby that we are carrying and hope with us that our journey is reaching its happy ending.

Baby Dulock #11: Due March 2013. Heartbeat identified on July 18th, beating at 128 Beats Per Minute.  

This blog is part of the 2012 Summer Blog Challenge (31 posts in 31 days).  To follow along with my fellow writers, visit their blogs: 
Meaghan at Magz D Life
Aramelle at One Wheeler's World


  1. This is such a powerful post. I had to step away several times to pull myself together and dry the tears so that I could read on. Our situations and circumstances are different, but that ache for a child is all too familiar.

    I often think of you and pray for the child that I know you already hold tightly in your heart. And I will continue to pray now that they child you're carrying will be smiling back at me via the magic of the internet next Spring.

  2. Congratulations!! ((((Huge gentle hugs))))) I am sending you all sorts of good vibes that this is the baby that you carry to term!

  3. Starting my morning with a good cry! Of HAPPY tears for that little heartbeat and for such a beautiful post. Well done my friend, well done (on both fronts!)