Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Silent Struggle

My infertility has been kept a secret from all but my closest friends and family, this seems to be a common thread with most other infertiles.  Why do we keep it a secret?  I’m not even sure I can answer this for myself but I’ve been trying really hard lately.  I’ve realized that the reasons change with time but beneath the rest lays the heart of the problem: vulnerability.

Surrounding the root of the secrecy is a thick skin.  A gradually expanding defense you develop after months of failed baby making, a protection that eventually leads to isolation.  At first you tell a friend you’re trying as a fun shared secret, there’s a sly smile on your face.  After a few months you start to notice that person looking at you funny and you know they’re wondering where your baby bump is.  You start to worry about what you’ll tell them if they ask, dreading the inevitable day they finally do.  You don’t know what the problem is but can’t help but feel like a failure, and now this person knows that you failed…  It’s one thing to fall on your face but to do so in public is so much worse.  So then the secrecy begins.

As the secrecy creeps in the fear sinks roots and begins to grow.  Subconsciously you start forming thoughts that start with if we get pregnant, instead of when we get pregnant.  The fear and tears are bottled up, balancing on a narrow precipice just waiting for that gust of wind to tip them.  When the receptionist at the OB/GYN office asks the reason for your appointment, you break down, because speaking your fears aloud somehow makes them real.  Silence is the preferred option, the retreat into isolation begins.

You thank God daily for the internet; you spend hours researching crazy things like ideal basal body temperatures and how long a sperm can live.  You’ve memorized every early pregnancy sign and hold out secret hopes that the heart burn last night was caused by pregnancy hormones.  You search endlessly for a magic fertility pill/book/diet that will make all the hurt go away and give you a baby before anyone else notices that you failed.  You do all of this alone.

The people who do know start to offer suggestions, they mean well and you take it well.  At first, but at some point you stop smiling and nodding when you hear the same suggestions over and over.  You want to yell when they sweetly suggest it will happen in God’s time.  Does the God they know think the 16 year old on TV deserves a baby more than you do?  Does he think that the crack addict down the street would be a better mother?  You fluctuate between an angry cynical version of your former self and a hysterical weepy one.  But to the world you just look blank; you slip away slowly and silently and most never notice that you’re no longer the person they once knew.

Your marriage is at a critical fork in the road, either they’re the rock you completely rely on, or a crack forms in your foundation and grows with time.  Then you start in on the vitamins and fertility drugs, you feel like something between an 80 year old and a drug addict.  The hormones rage and then suddenly you’re not just depressed you, you’re demonic you!   Somehow the raging hormones are controlled by the secrecy too, you reserve all that crazy for the one that you’re either standing on or driving away.  At some point you reach a breaking point and hopefully someone is there to catch you. 

As you hide in your silence you start to notice that you’re not the only one out there, there is an internet full of other secret infertiles like you.  They have your story, they understand you, and suddenly you’re not so alone.  The community of infertiles helps become part of the rock you balance on and maybe even starts to repair some of that crack that has formed between you and your closest friends/family. 

I realized after writing this that I wrote it in a hypothetical tense and never used the words me or I.  So I guess hiding my vulnerability continues.  The thing that struck me the most in all of this was identifying how important the community of infertiles online has been to my sanity.  I wonder what the implications of our silence are in real life?   Are there lonely, depressed women out there who need to hear they’re not alone?  Could we make all the difference in someone’s life by just being open about what we’re going through?

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