Thursday, June 3, 2010

The time has come for my confession

What scares you the most? Being alone? Heights? Spiders? For me, all those things scare me. Turns out the one thing I am most afraid of is actually confessing a personal struggle. I like to fancy myself a strong, independent person who doesn't give a you-know-what about other's opinions and could care less about criticism. But, this seems to have a way of changing all of that. When things go wrong and life doesn't seem to be fair, it softens us in some weird way. It makes us take a step back and realize that ultimately, we do not have control over our lives. I'm scared of what this problem makes me--I'm scared of being broken, and weak.

My problem is devastating, life-changing and painful. It's one that I have hidden for some time. One that I pretended wasn't a big deal. It elicited shame, anguish and anger. You see, for most people these things just happen--no thought, no pain, no thinking, they just occur. When things that just "happen" for other people don't happen for us, it's devastating. It changes us, shapes us into someone else and makes us realize just how precious the gifts that seem to be simply handed to others are to all of us.

I have lamented, for what seems like forever, coming out with my admission. I have written and re-written this post so many times, attempting to make sure it was perfect. I don't know what I was waiting for in particular, but I now realize that I was waiting for my heart to be ready. I was waiting to understand that we are going to be OK and then--and only then--would I be ready to be OK publicly. Being open and honest is scary.

You see, we were recently told that we are unable to have children. Well, we are unable to have children without undergoing one very major (read: very expensive, very traumatic, very only 50% successful at best) medical intervention. There have been countless tests, doctor's visits, tears and anguish over the past year, to say the least. We have only a few options and some big decisions are yet to be made. But, we have time to decide which path to take.

I won't go into the details. I won't talk about who has what problem, but I will say that the odds of us naturally conceiving a child are basically nil.

Now, let's pause for a deep breath and take it in for a moment.

That's better.

This has not, by any stretch of the imagination, been an easy pill to swallow. It's more like swallowing a pill wrapped in barbed wire and coated with poison and scorpions. It's awful. It's horrible. It's painful. More than anything, though, it's just not FAIR. The idea of fairness has truly been the hardest of those pills to swallow. It's the one that makes us realize that this is what's happening to us and there is nothing we can do about it. We won't wake up tomorrow and realize this is a dream. It's reality. This is the hand we were dealt, for some reason, and we must continue to play the game.

To be very honest, I have spent a long time being very angry. Angry at God, angry at myself, angry at doctors--just really angry. I've asked "Why us?" more times than I care to admit. It was like a huge wave of bitterness had just swallowed my entire body, wrapping itself around me and pulling me deeper into the abyss. I didn't want to go, but I didn't have the strength to fight it either. I only stopped being angry when I realized and came to understand that I didn't have anyone to be angry at--not even God. It has been said that being angry and bitter is like swallowing poison and expecting someone else to die. It truly only makes YOU miserable.

More than anything, I felt ashamed. I didn't know what to say--how to say it--because I didn't have the words.

How do you bring up the fact that you can't have children at a social function?

How do you tell your co-workers, friends and family, who expect you to have children after nearly 3 years of marriage, that it will never happen and to just shut up about it already?

How do you talk about the fact that the only way you'll ever have a child is if you pay for one?

How do you come to terms with the idea that you may never know what your biological children look like?

Is it possible to live a full, complete life without a child?

What now? What are we supposed to do now?

It's awkward, it's shameful and most people don't know what to say to someone who is having trouble conceiving a child. So, they usually say something dumb. Or thoughtless. Or sorta well-meaning. So, we don't tell people about our "issue," or we make jokes or pretend like we'll just have children someday. We know that day will never come, but it's easier to turn the conversation another direction than it is to tell nosy Uncle Larry that we have been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child. Thanks for asking!

Infertility is defined as 12 months of "actively trying" without success. Statistics say infertility affects roughly 1 in 6 couples. It affects men just as often as it affects women. Of those approximately 7.3 million people, I wonder how many of them choose hide their devastating problem from the world. I wonder how many are too ashamed, too fragile and too damaged to talk about it so they spend their days pretending it doesn't bother them. Then, they spend their nights crying themselves to sleep and wondering why people won't stop asking them about having children.

It makes sense, though. It's just the way things work--the way people expect you to live your life. It's like some weird recipe for a coffee cake or something. You just need to add all the ingredients: handsome man, engagement ring, marriage certificate, mortgage, dog, happiness and a baby. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and TA DA! Perfect life, coming right up, hot out of the oven!

This is not how anyone--including us--thinks things will work. We never assume they won't work; we take for granted that for most of us, they just happen. For us, it's just not working. The reality, however, is that life is NOT perfect. It's messy and full of unexpected surprises, devastation and heartache. Life is not all awful, but it sure as hell isn't ALL great ALL the time either. For me, everything in my life is wonderful--perfect even--except for this one "thing" that isn't.

Realistically, I am still a work in progress; I will always be a work in progress. It still makes me cry--sob even--to think about how I felt "that day" when we were told that we couldn't have children. It's a feeling I will never, so long as I walk this Earth, forget. It's one I wouldn't wish upon anyone--and I mean anyone--because I wish I could save the rest of the world from knowing what it feels like to witness the death of a dream. That's what it is; a death. A death of everything you have ever wanted for yourself, something that you never thought could be taken away from you. That day, it was taken from us. It felt so sudden, so abrupt--it was taken from us before we had the chance to realize there was something to take. I still find myself desperately trying to catch my breath each time I realize that I may not know what my beautiful little blue-eyed, blond-haired children will look like.

I remember that feeling, that horrible, awful jab in my chest like someone had died that day. You know the feeling: The disbelief, the painful twist of the knife protruding from your heart, that you feel when you are told that someone you love is gone forever. You quietly wait for them to walk around the corner, to still be there, but know in your heart they aren't coming back. That wound is still as fresh today as it was just a few short months ago. I don't know if it will ever heal completely, but a paper-thin scab has begun to form.

I have come to realize that, for some reason, this was meant to be. God has a plan for us, for our little family that consists of just two people who deeply love each other, and this is all part of the plan. Once I opened my heart to that idea, my black-and-white world switched back to technicolor. It doesn't make sense, but this is happening for a reason. This much I know is true.

If I'm brutally honest, I will say that I still struggle with the idea of living the rest of my life with infertility. I struggle with the realization that I may never be pregnant. I grapple to come to terms with never being able to say, "Oh, he has his father's eyes and my nose." It's difficult to always be so "OK" and it's a choice I have to consciously make each and every day. I've made it part of my morning ritual: I wash my face, do my hair and makeup and tell myself that I'm fine. This is OK. It will all work out. What's meant to be will be. Some days, I believe myself. Other days, I pretend like I do. It's what I have to do in order to be happy.

I find my mind wandering, asking myself what's worse: never knowing what I missed or losing what I already knew. My child hasn't died, but the idea of my child has died. I don't know that the painful jab I feel each time I see a baby, a pregnant woman or hear a pregnancy announcement will ever subside. It's just the reality of the situation--those things will probably always sting a little. Those moments, those ugly feelings? They remind me that no matter how hard I try, how often I make the conscious choice to be at peace with this situation--I am still a human being with real, human feelings. That will never change. It's just part of accepting something awful.

It would have been so much easier to hide, simpler to not talk about it, but it always ends in making me feel worse. I have come to realize that revealing this to the world is the only way I will find balance, because carrying this "secret" is like ignoring a tumor. It festers and grows at an alarming pace, threatening to cut off my air supply with every passing moment. I just cannot ignore it.

I have to open my heart, I have to say it in order to be OK. It's scary, because I'm offering up my fragile heart to you on a platter. Opening your heart will always involve risk, because you're exposing a protected part of yourself to be trampled upon. But that's a risk I am willing to take. It's selfish, but I offer you my heart because it has grown tired of carrying this burden alone. It is weighed down, blackened even, with the strain of words unspoken.

More than anything, I just need to talk about it. I need to be open and come out, guns blazing, on a megaphone to announce this to the world. I need to let it go before I can let go. I'm still holding on, but barely. I'm just waiting for someone to give me permission to let go of this dream and face the reality that has become my life. It has been said that when we let go, we make room for something else, something that couldn't fit in before. My prayer each night is that my heart has enough room for what is yet to come--whatever that may be.

More than anything, I need to know that everything will be OK.

I will be OK.

We will be OK.

Life will be OK.

My goal isn't for you to pity me--that's the last thing I want. I don't want you to think I'm pathetic. I don't want you to feel guilty for having children. I don't want you to tell me that it will happen someday, because I know it won't. I can't live my life thinking I will get pregnant some miraculous day, because I will eternally be disappointed. I need to live my life believing it won't happen, but a miracle wouldn't be so bad either. That's the only way that I know how to protect my heart from being broken over and over again.

Maybe this is just our burden to carry. Maybe we'll have kids someday. Maybe some random day I'll know why this is happening. Perhaps I'll live the rest of my life continuing to ask why. The tricky part of all of this? I just don't know. I don't know why, I don't know how and I can't explain anything. No one can; not even the overpaid doctors we've been seeing for months on end. It's the unknown, the senselessness, that makes this a heavy load to bear. Regardless, I know that God has given us this burden because he knows we're strong enough to carry it. And I know that we're only strong enough because we can carry it together. It has made us--our marriage, our relationship--stronger than ever. It could have torn us apart just as easily, but it didn't. It made us realize that when things don't make sense and it feels like we're all alone, we still have each other. We will always have each other.
All I want is for you to know that this is just a part of who I am. It's not all that I am. It's not who I am. It doesn't define me. I have infertility, but infertility doesn't have me. This is what I'm going through. What we're going through. And I'm going to be OK.

So, what's next? I don't know. All I know is that wherever we go and whatever we do, we will be exactly where we're meant to be. And that's OK.

Someday I know
It'll all turn out
You'll make me work
So we can work
to work it out
And I promise you kid
I'll give so much more than I get


jensays said...

that's definitely a very hard thing to open up about, it's not something I have done on my own blog. But I did find an online community that's really helped me out. it's the TTC happy hour.

SueShine said...

I do understand a little of what you're going through. I have two children who are adopted. I, like you, didn't have the choice of having my "own" children. I labored under the sadness of being cheated out of seeing what my kids would look like, how they would be like me, my husband or their grampa. My children are now 20 and 22 and I will tell you, they are my own children. There is no doubt that God planned this life, there is no doubt this is what was supposed to happen. We stopped thinking about "what if?" some time ago. I have often looked at my kids and thought "oh my gosh they're just like me". My kids were 8 and 10 when I adopted them so they know the whole story and neither of them ever question, they know I am mom. It's so very hard to understand God's plan, but know he does have a plan and he will use everything for good. He has a plan for you too. You will be in my prayers.

Emily said...

Thanks, ladies. I appreciate the support!

Katy T. said...

I'm very proud of you. I know how much it took to write this, believe me! You know I've been going through this struggle for 6 years "officially," but unofficially for 15 years.... all the way back to graduating from high school. It's difficult, it sucks, some days are better than others, and many people will never understand the feelings you have. Shoot, MOST people can't even begin to understand. I want you to know that I'm here if you ever need to talk, vent, ask more questions, cry, be bitter, etc.... Unfortunately, I've had many years of experience, so I truly, completely, 100% understand your pain. Be mad, be angry, cry, what you feel is right! Remember, I'm here.

Sarah said...

I just found your blog through the BlogHer site and this post made me cry. I think it is the best post about infertility that I've ever read. Thank you so much for sharing.

Melanie said...

I just found you blog on an old following friday post, and the title "city girl can survive" made me a city girl far far from the city myself. I did not expect what I found. The posts I have read are heartfelt, beautiful, and inspiring.
I have 4 children with me and 3 in heaven. I feel sorry for myself (thought I rarely admit it) from time to time because it can take us 5 years to conceive and I seem to almost die every time I give birth.
Shame on me.
I snap out of it quickly when I realize how overwhelmingly blessed I am. But every once in a while a little bit of sadness seeps in with another negative test, another bad day at the doctor.
Thank you for your beautifully written perspective.
The children God chooses for you will be so loved, so blessed. I'm excited for you and the day that you finally meet them. May it come quickly.


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