One of the things that I may or may not have shared about myself is that I can be a bit of a stickler about details. I'm that annoying person that corrects her husband's grammar (hey! he's not a native English speaker, so he thinks of it as helpful, not annoying), edits everything compulsively, and notices, and occasionally comments on, word abuse when it occurs. One of my (many) linguistic pet peeves is the misuse of the word "unique." Webster's defines unique as "Radically distinctive and without equal", as in the only one in the universe quite like this. It does not mean unusual (well, once you get to Websters' fourth definition, it does, but it's hard to take the fourth definition seriously). Being one of a kind is a special thing, and it's a thing that does not involve degrees. One isn't "very unique." One simply is unique or isn't, and that's that.
I have been thinking a lot about uniqueness lately, for many reasons. Until fairly recently, I thought, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, that infertility had a basically similar footprint wherever it happened to fall. There seemed to be a fairly standard set of responses--a five stages of infertility grief that everybody dealing with infertility went through to some extent. Obviously the actual circumstances vary from case to case--infertility undoubtedly feels different at 22 than it does at 32 or 42, or when you're single vs. coupled, and different diagnoses can send your emotions in very different directions. Still, it seemed that there were a limited number of paths that infertile people chose, and that these corresponded to a fairly standard set of emotional responses. Obviously this isn't actually true, and I've actually blogged about this before. Still, I was really blown away by what I found when I took a few weeks to read my way through the almost 250 blog posts currently up on Mel's "Creme de la creme" of infertility blog posts for 2010. There were a huge number of posts that spoke to my heart, that I could totally relate to, that I got on an emotional level. These posts included both posts that described events that I have experienced, and also those that went to places that I have never been (and in many cases, that I hope to never go). That didn't really surprise me. I expect to relate to infertility blogs, and often do.
The thing that surprised me was the number of posts that I totally couldn't relate to at all. There were a huge number of different ways in which I couldn't relate to some of the posts, in fact. The one I want to focus on today, though, is posts that spoke of the authors' frustration and disappointment specifically about the fact that they might not have the option of conceiving naturally, even though their chances of conception may have been good, or the authors' determination to buck the odds and conceive naturally. There were enough posts on this theme that I really was forced to admit that this feeling is widespread, and to some extent, assumed to be present. I have touched on this idea before, but have never really fully grasped the extent to which conceiving the "old-fashioned way," without chemical or surgical help, is important to some people. And, conversely, the extent to which it is of little or no importance to me. For me, infertility was a problem not because it made "natural" conception impossible, but rather because the treatments that might enable me to overcome this problem were prohibitively expensive, uncomfortable, and came with no guarantee of success. From the moment that I first started to expect that something was wrong, I was terrified that I'd never have a child at all, not that I wouldn't conceive naturally. If in my 12th month of trying to conceive, someone had given me the option of trading in all hope of a natural conception for guaranteed success as many times as I wanted with free IVF cycles, I'm pretty sure I would have leaped at the chance. I am still digesting the fact that this doesn't seem to be true for everyone. It explains a lot, though.
Now I wonder if the fact that some (or is it most?) people place such a high value on "natural" conception is responsible for the amnesia that some infertile people seem to experience following successful treatments. Is it a way of distancing themselves from something that they feel embarrassed about or ashamed of? Is that why the comments after any newspaper or magazine article related to assisted conception are so hateful? Is that why some women dealing with male factor infertility take such care to point out that there is nothing wrong with them that necessitated fertility treatments? Is it why so many people drag their feet about seeking treatment or even diagnosis? Why some people give credit to the moonlight rather than the clomid when they do actually conceive?
If so, I don't get it. What is so special about the process of ejaculation in a vagina at exactly the right moment that somehow makes it intrinsically (as opposed to financially or logistically) more valuable than a little magic in an embryology lab? If conception is a miracle, how much more miraculous a conception that was richly desired and earned with great difficulty?
I'm interested in these questions in part because as I consider using donor eggs, I am trying to identify exactly what losses, if any, Mystery, I, and any child that might result, may feel as a result of our choices. I love it that I conceived Eggbert via IVF. I don't love it that I needed IVF, but I'm proud of the fact that I found a way to make it happen--to make Eggbert happen. It wasn't easy. It wasn't fun. But I did it, and I feel great about that. But if natural conception is widely considered to be better than assisted conception, then what does that mean for Eggbert's feelings, and for the feelings of any other child that may come along? And then when donor conception is added into the mix, what does that mean? Is there any chance that a donor-conceived child might feel an additional element of loss (beyond the loss of a genetic connection with me and the loss of a mother-child relationship with the donor) as a result of being conceived in a non-traditional way? Is there any chance that Eggbert might sad or embarrassed about the circumstances of her conception too? To be honest, these thoughts had never even occurred to me before reading those posts. But forewarned is forearmed. I think I'm going to start adding in the story of Eggbert's conception to her birth story (which I tell her every year on her birthday), so she knows how special the whole story is to me. I hope that some day, she will see it as a special thing too.
An afterthought: I just re-read an earlier post (linked above) that I wrote about processing infertility, and it seems that my feelings have really gone full circle in a way that I hadn't appreciated until I read both posts again. There was a time when I grieved the loss of natural conception, and then I stopped grieving it, and now I can barely even remember ever having felt that way. That must be progress.