Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

When I first encountered virtual spaces for the infertile, I did so through a common point of entry, the internet message board. And on these forums I learned many things, including a ridiculous set of jargon (AF=Aunt Flo for menstruation, what is this, third grade?), the normal stages of an infertility workup, and that some people can't help turning everything into a contest.

On the mommy boards, it's "my nine-month-old child is walking, discussing philosopy, and training for the Olympics, while building a photography portfolio in her spare time", or "any parent that vaccinates/doesn't vaccinate is a child abuser" and on the infertility boards, discussions often degenerate into either "my infertility is worse than yours" or its equally unappealing cousin, "I'm not as bitter as you are." Both games are not just unpleasant, they can be actively damaging. I've seen infertile women trip over themselves to beat up another infertile for expressing a negative feeling, just to stay in with the fertile "cool kids", but on the other hand, women with children, even infertile women with children, are occasionally flayed for daring to claim that they have problems. It's a jungle out there.

Seeing all this really was an education to me about how little we actually know about how others perceive us. I will forever be grateful for some of the lessons that I've learned through the magic of anonymity--study after study has shown that people are much less likely to lash out at you when they can see your face, which means that the internet boards provide a rare forum in which to learn how people really feel about certain opinions (or innocent statements made using an unfortunate choice of words) once the kid gloves are off.

One of the claims that invariably gets a rise out of the primary infertiles is that secondary infertility is worse, because once you have a child, you know what you're missing. The first time I heard that one, I thought "wow, people really can rationalize anything," yet that idea is put forth so frequently, and with such obvious sincerity, and by such thoughtful and rational people, that it seems unreasonable to dismiss it out of hand. Clearly some people do have the experience of discovering how much they want children only after the birth of their first child. However, that was not my experience.

I have wanted to be a mommy for as long as I can remember. I vividly remember a day when, having recently learned where babies come from, I asked my mother how long I would have to wait before I could make my own baby. My mother, to her credit, did not have a heart attack or rush me to "Chastity Belts R US", but rather calmly explained that most girls start menstruating at between 12 and 14 years of age. I remember feeling utterly dejected, since that seemed a lifetime away. I also remember telling my college roommate (at the ripe old age of 18) that my ideal age for having my first child would be no later than 24. Well, my life didn't work that way, but it wasn't because my goals changed, it was because a happy marriage was part of the picture for me. I wanted a husband AND children. And I didn't find Mr. Mystery Right for the longest time. During the single years, I never really worried about finding Mystery. I knew that he was out there. And so he was. But I did worry about children.

Then Mystery came along, but the children didn't. And I worried. Oh how I worried. Being single was no problem for me, but being infertile felt like a disaster. I have never been able to imagine a life in which I felt good about not having children. At 34, and then 35, and then 36, and then 37, I had a lot of time to contemplate the picture of a childless life, and it always looked awful.

Now that Eggbert is here, I can finally say with conviction that for me, primary infertility was worse, infinitely worse, than secondary infertility (although I exclude infant loss from that statement--that's a whole different kettle of fish). While we were trying to conceive Eggbert, I was consistently miserable. Every time I tried to get a little bit happy about something, one of the million little emotional land minds associated with infertility would blow that joyful thought to smithereens. Now that Eggbert is here, I am happy. I still have problems sometimes, but as long as the Egg is safe, happy, and healthy in my arms, infertility no longer has the power to suck all of the joy out of me.

Having said that, I am beginning to get a glimmer of understanding of what other people say when they say that before you have a child you don't know what you are missing. I don't agree at all that it's better to be childless than to have to settle for a family size that isn't quite what you had in mind, but I do see now how having one child makes you lust for more. Before I started trying to conceive, I planned to have two children. Then I just hoped and prayed to have at least one. Now that I have Eggbert, I sometimes indulge in lengthy fantasies of having three, four, or even more. I can see how it happens that people who didn't plan to do so end up with really big families. Children are addictive.

On that topic, the update on my fertility is that there is no update. Eggbert is almost 10 months old and there are still no signs of my first post-partum period (or PPAF, as the cool kids say). So, while we have been "trying" all along, it hardly counts. I have been assuming that we'll need IVF again, but thought that we'd at least give it a couple of months of the old-fashioned way first, but either way, no period means no go. The obvious solution to this problem is to wean Eggbert, but that is easier said than done. Some kids don't seem to care one way or the other but Eggbert LOVES her some boobie. I have stopped pumping at work, and am just relying on my freezer stash to get me through the day, but she still nurses a lot at night and in the morning. When I get home from work, she throws herself at me and clings to my boob like a drowning man to a life raft. Her face lights up when the boob comes out, and she dives at it ecstatically. All of this does not give me the impression that what she really could use is a nice bottle of formula! I suppose I could just cut her off, and eventually I'll have to if I want to have even a chance of success in trying for #2, but she really doesn't seem to be ready for that yet. So here I am, with plenty of extra time to google things like "postpartum amenorrhea" and "natural conception after IVF". But as of now, I'm still googling with a smile on my face.


Marie-Baguette said...

I did not get my PPAFF either or whatever you call it until I was put on the pill to start at new cycle 13 months after the birth of Max. I envy you for still breastfeeding. I miss the closeness and the satisfaction of feeding the baby. Of course, I am glad to have my body and energy back, but sometimes I look at mums nursing in the park, and I get all nostalgic. I am lucky in a way because I know that I need to go through IVF to have a baby. But I find it such a drag on the second round. I know what to expect and it sucks. Also, my pregnancy was mostly unpleasant and it is not an experience I am looking to relive. And then I feel guilty for thinking this, because I would be very lucky to be pregnant again... Argggg

Lut C. said...

In my mind I understand that the desire for a second child can be as great as the desire for a first. I felt utterly miserable through primary infertility, much like you, and the burning desire for a second isn't there yet. I know we're going to try, but I can't imagine it making me so miserable again. If you ask me today, I think I could live with only having one.

Sarah said...

hmm, it did not even occur to me to try naturally before ivf. i guess for me trying naturally was the worst part of the whole experience just because of those horrible years of discovering the problem and figuring out what to do about it. i'm actually looking forward to the fact that we go straight to ivf without all that crap this time around. i hope you get lucky though!!

and just fyi my period came back last month now that we are down to just a short nursing at night and wake up. i'm glad i waited for that instead of stopping cold turkey to bring it on, as i was thinking i'd have to do to start ivf, because now i know i can continue our little evening bond, i guess until i'm shooting up the drugs. i know we're all different, but i hadn't realized it wasn't necessarily a trade-off.