I am part of the 10% of women that struggle with infertility. In just a few short weeks I will no longer be a part of this statistic. As a medical necessity, I will be having a hysterectomy, putting me in a whole different category. And it will have its own struggles that I will learn to live with.
Infertility is not rare or unheard of. The statistic is 10%. That’s 1 in 6.1 million women (Infertility, 2017). Yet the topic of infertility is rarely openly discussed.
But it needs to be. Women, men, families, mothers, fathers, couples-everyone needs to hear about it, talk about, and feel comfortable when it’s brought up. They need to know how to appropriately respond when someone confides in them that they are struggling with infertility. It’s hard enough to be left in the dark with this disease. Yet society forces us back into the emptiness every time we are questioned about our lack of offspring. It doesn’t matter what we say, because inevitably, one of the following ignorant responses will be thrown back at us:
The worst response I've ever received was, "Oh well. The world is over-populated, anyway."
There are several things wrong with this entire situation. I don’t care who you are in relation to the woman who has yet to have kids; unless you are the significant other, you have NO RIGHT to question why. My boyfriend and I have been together for thirteen years. I swear, as soon as two years into our relationship we started getting the “marriage and babies” questions. Our answer was always that it would happen when it happened. It became our plan in our later 20’s, but I can assure you there were more than a few times we had that “scare” during those stupid, careless ages.
Infertility is defined as not getting pregnant after having unprotected sex for a year (Infertility, 2017). Well, by the time it became a real concern, we were almost eight years into being defined as infertile. But there were so many setbacks in our lives, I was actually thankful and relieved we hadn’t gotten pregnant yet. My parents died when I was twenty-three. They died six months apart, and I was left to take care of their debt. To make matters worse, my boyfriend and I each lost our jobs during that time. I look back and thank God we weren’t dragging a child through the mess our lives were in those following years. When we started to get back on our feet, we slowly started preparing our future for what I had long been dreaming of. I remember those days of ignorant bliss, imagining what our kids would look like, and being surrounded by the chaos of family. I didn’t realize it at first, but losing my parents took that away. There was no showing up at their house at any time of day, having neighbors, friends, or relatives sitting at the kitchen table or eating in the backyard. My sense of family no longer existed. It made me want a family of my own more than ever. I wanted to fill that barren feeling, and nothing would complete it but kids, and the chaos, unpredictability, and love that came with all of that. My own version of what I lost when I lost my parents.
Society plays a significant role in the silence of infertility. Women in any length of a relationship, whether married or not, will be questioned by anyone and everyone about that status of her empty uterus. What these individuals don’t realize is that the woman they are questioning might be well into her fertility struggle. She might just be starting out. She may not even want kids, which brings on judgement that has no place. Society has too much say in such a sensitive, private, life changing event a couple can through.
And its impact on infertility is devastating on many levels.
When I turned twenty-eight I decided to talk to a doctor about my concerns. Things pretty much went downhill from there. After finding out how long we’d been casually attempting to get pregnant, my gynecologist told it to me straight: there are a few at home tests we can do, but when it comes to infertility, most health insurances will not pay to find out the underlying issue, nor will they pay for any treatment to help with getting pregnant. I was pretty stunned to hear all this at my very first visit, where I had visions of my doctor telling me I was overreacting, everything is fine, and I was too young to have these major concerns.
I was so wrong. My first at home test showed I wasn’t ovulating. The second one said I was. Not long after this, I thought I was sick with the flu. I couldn’t seem to shake it, and I let it go on for about three months before I accepted the fact something wasn’t right. Fast forward, and after two years of a medical mystery, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. This lifelong, genetic autoimmune disease with no cure was the answer to pretty much all my ailments-including the infertility, as well as the sudden horrendous periods I was having that forced me to take continuous birth control to stop my periods from happening. It was a double hit that took me down for years. Not only did I have this disease that caused infertility, but I needed to be on medication that destroyed any hope I had of getting pregnant.
My life was unrecognizable. It’s been four years, and the only reason life looks familiar these days is because I’ve had to build a new one, and I’m finally accepting it. I had to adjust accordingly, and up until I finally learned to do this, I was living in constant misery at all I had lost. Anyone who has heard my story has told me that I have every right to mourn the loss of my old life, as well as the loss of a future I was planning on. The stages of grief applied to everything I was going through, and I stubbornly refused to begin the process. I welcomed the anger and self-pity with open arms. I hated anyone and everyone that had babies or kids, or were pregnant. Every announcement on social media brought a surge of either anger or grief that actually scared me. The hate I had inside of me was terrifying. But nothing angered me more than when I saw posts of women complaining about their kids that had been conceived by accident or carelessness. How dare they? You knew the consequence of having sex, you were able to get pregnant, you have no right to complain. You brought this on yourself. This is the very same reason I can’t get on board with abortion. Unless it involves rape or health concerns, abortion should not be the answer to someone’s careless actions. There are so many affordable ways to prevent a pregnancy. But there are ZERO affordable ways to give the woman who actually wants and plans for a child that possibility.
The thoughts that plagued me brought out an ugly side of me. I did what I could to convince my boyfriend that we should break up. He had no intention of doing so, but the misery that took over my thoughts told me if we didn’t end things now, it would be ugly and more painful further down the road. We were still pretty young, there was plenty of time for him to change his mind about wanting a family.
We traveled a rough road, one that most couples will never have to do. There were times that I was sure my behavior and actions would be the final straw in our relationship. I don’t know if maybe life was granting me this one shining light among the shit I had been through, but somehow we have made it this far. I don’t know what life will continue to bring for us, or even what feelings are going to surface following my hysterectomy. My acceptance of knowing I will never have a child that is part me, and part the person I always imagined having a family with, is stronger than it was even a year ago. Still, I know there will be bad days for the rest of my life. I’ll see a family at the park. The baby aisle at the store. The worst feelings surface with my siblings and their kids. The hurt and jealousy that comes from seeing my nieces and nephews with their cousins from the other side of the family makes me hate myself. These are the moments where I feel left out, and far removed from my family. The bitterness towards others who don't deserve it is the easiest way to distance yourself from loved ones. I know I'm not the only woman who has had these selfish, unflattering feelings, but I'm ashamed every time it happens. I hate seeing a friend’s pregnancy announcement, or getting an invitation to a baby shower. I have been invited to several baby showers over the last few years, and I could not bring myself to go to any of them. Maybe one day I’ll be strong enough.
For now, I’m growing in my strength to adjust to a life that was taken from me.
“Infertility.” Women's Health, 12 June 2017, www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/infertility. Accessed 6 July 2017.