Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fertiles v. Infertiles

That's what if feels like sometimes, I admit: The fertiles against the infertiles, or, more likely the other way around. The fertiles are usually blissfully unaware that anyone in the universe might be having difficulty conceiving, therefore they are just as unaware that infertiles as a rule generally detest 1) pregnancy Facebook updates 2) smug pregnant women 3) baby showers 4) pity 5) themselves.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit since a friend innocently asked me recently how a person ought to respond when a woman tells them she is infertile or having trouble conceiving. Because I'd written here recently that some women at BlogHer had said to me: "I'm so sorry," when I told them I write for an infertility blog. This response completely rubbed me the wrong way, and when I thought about it later I realized their responses were not inappropriate; I'd simply developed a knee-jerk emotional reaction to pity, particularly pity from fertiles.

This realization led me to mull other classic infertility minefields -- the ones listed above -- and I've been breaking them down in my mind ever since.

Let's begin with Facebook. I follow hundreds of infertile women on Twitter, and in my assessment their number one gripe about fertiles is the Facebook updates. I understand, completely. There've been plenty of surprise updates from my "friends" on Facebook that read something like: "Sally and I are happy to announce that we're expecting a little bundle of joy in October!" Or simply an ultrasound photo. For someone who's been trying and failing to conceive for a while, these updates feel like a slap in the face. And so infertiles as a whole have come to resent them.

The deal with Facebook is that it's become a place where people overshare. You wouldn't normally tell some former coworkers and a douche you went to college with a million years ago all about your vacation to the Grand Tetons, but on Facebook it's become a no-holds-barred arena of this shit. Facebook has become, in short, extraordinarily annoying, and it's not because of the fertiles. My personal number one Facebook pet peeve is the way we all suddenly wish happy birthday to people we wouldn't normally wish happy birthday to. If it's your birthday? And I want to wish you a happy birthday? I will call or text you. Facebook is the last place I'm going to try to express anything meaningful to you. BUT THAT'S JUST ME. And that's not a completely rational thing to be irritated about. Just as it's not completely rational for infertiles to get upset about pregnancy updates. We need to accept that Facebook is a place of oversharing and then make a decision about what we're going to do about that. As I see it, here are the choices:

1) Delete Facebook. 

2) See the pregnancy update, then hide all future updates from that person.

3) See all updates, seethe, eat ice cream, and move on.

I'm going to skip over the smug pregnant women point because two women made a very catchy song about that and you can just watch it on youtube for all the information you'll ever need. And I'm going to go straight to BABY SHOWERS.

Now. Here is what I demand you do if you are infertile or struggling to conceive and the idea of attending a baby shower bothers you in the slightest: DO NOT GO TO THE BABY SHOWER. For God's sake, woman!! Unless the shower is for your sister or some other close relative or a very good friend, do not go. If you do go, ensure there will be alcohol there. If there's not going to be alcohol, BRING YOUR OWN. This is very important.

Because as many of us know, baby showers are already kind of freaky, right? They have always freaked me the hell out, even before I started trying to have a kid. And when you finally decide you want to have a kid? And then you figure out you're not as fertile as you thought you were? And you attend a baby shower? It's like someone is scraping your soul out with a dull spoon. You must smile and declare all things cute and play games and you will stare at a wall and wonder if you start banging your head violently against it if anyone will notice/care. They will notice. You mustn't attend baby showers. The end.

Now to pity. What is an appropriate reaction to infertility? I am sorry -- I don't know. My preferred reaction is a facial expression that reads: I am frustrated for you and I kind of feel sorry for you. If someone said: Dude, that blows, I probably wouldn't mind that. You're just kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't in this situation. UNLESS! Unless that person has suffered a miscarriage. In which case "I'm so sorry" is more than appropriate. That person deserves all the pity afforded to a mother who's lost a child.

Last but not least, infertile women have a tendency to hate themselves. I see it every day on Twitter -- women who hate their bodies because they just won't cooperate and do what every normal body is supposed to do. They ache for babies and their damned bodies have shut the figurative door on the prospect. I wish it weren't this way. I wish I had a way a person could be happy with themselves even in the midst of trials like these. But I don't. I've been there, every month for many months. It's become rote, the knowledge that it didn't work, again, that I will try again, but without any faith of anything taking hold.

And how about the infertiles who suddenly -- miraculously! -- become pregnant? I admit I've lost interest in many of them. It's part jealousy, part sickness at reading about joy and pregnancy. Earlier today I read a post by a woman who tried for a long time to get pregnant and then, she did! It was unbelievable. All her readers were happy for her. And then she wrote a post about how sick she's felt, and how she's vomited in every public restroom on her way to work. And a reader responded:

"Boo hoo ... you pee and throw up. At least your pregnant you mindless twat. Some of us would kill to feel that way and your complaining. I guess you forgot what it's like, just like every other so called infertile who gets a BFP. Whatever." 

(By the way it killed me not to correct that commenter's spelling.) 

This is a standard reaction to an infertile complaining about pregnancy symptoms. Because GOD FORBID the woman not ENJOY every single fucking minute of morning sickness. The commenter says she would kill to feel that way. You wouldn't kill to feel that way, madam, you'd kill for the baby. If you suddenly got pregnant and were vomiting every day, no way would you smile as the bile shoots out of your mouth and you crouch pathetically on the bathroom floor. Give me a break.

Let's not villainize people who have "put in their time," as I'm fond of saying. People who have put in their time have tried a good long while to get pregnant; have had miscarriages; have gone through IVF; have cried over their inability to just get pregnant. Hating ourselves and each other, plus the fertiles is a recipe for disaster and an acidic uterus (I'm sure it's true!).

All these things will continue to bother me, I'm sure, but only as I consciously realize whether or not my reaction is rational or irrational. My preferred method of dealing with these things from here on out: Seethe, eat ice cream, and move on.


  1. I love your blog and couldn't agree more with this post! Probably because I fall in the infertile bucket. What I hate most is when people ask why we don't have kids. Why is it ok for people to even ask about your sex life? Esp. strangers...anyways, I digress. After I respond that it hasn't happened yet, suddenly they become experts and say "are you sure you are doing it right?" Seriously? Oh, so the penis is supposed to go in the vagina. Got it, thank you so much for your help!
    Btw.... I believe I have had close to 10 facebook pregnancy posts this week alone.

  2. You know, I've read this blog from the beginning. I follow along with your struggles and I sympathize. But I don't usually comment because I'm one of those infertiles who suddenly got pregnant. And I don't want to be smug.
    But I struggled for ten years to get pregnant. I had two miscarriages. And then finally it happened and they caught all the problems in time and now I'm a mom. But when you've lived that life for that long, it's hard to let it go.
    But I read along with you because I remember those days of waiting and counting and hating and crying. I remember all those baby showers I went to smiling with my face while throat punching everyone in my mind. And all the careless and callous comments from people. Ugh.
    So, I'm rooting for you.
    But I have to disagree with you on one point. I did love throwing up. Maybe not the taste, but the idea of it. Because it reassured me that I was still pregnant. And that's all I'll say about that.

  3. Infertility really forces us to suffer in silence. I recently got invited to a baby shower of a college friend. I ignored all the emails and fb event requests. And I do not feel the slightest bit of guilt. They have no idea what is going on in my life. If they want to know, they can ask. Sometimes we just have to do what is best for us. Baby showers are not best for me right now.

    Great post. Thanks!

  4. Amy - I could not agree more. I've always thought it was the height of rudeness when people grilled me about when I would have children. And for them to assume that we don't know what we're doing? My god, I could teach a course on this stuff by now.

    Elizabeth - You've never been smug and you're definitely one of those women who has put in her time. I completely understand your feelings about loving throwing up. It makes perfect sense. I just don't think we should chastise someone else who doesn't necessarily see it that way.

    Not Aphrodite - Girl. The last baby shower I went to DID NOT HAVE ALCOHOL. This is when I learned the alcohol lesson. And this is also when I made the decision not to attend any non-essential baby showers. It's just bad for the soul.

  5. I have a friend who is endlessly fertile. And every time she gets pregnant she says "I know, it's not fair." You know, just in case I forgot...

  6. I'm guilty of the FB thing, so I hope you blocked me. ;)

    Aside from that, people suck. They really do sometimes. They say inappropriate things, they ask questions that are none of their business.

    I'm the friend who asked the question about what is appropriate because I was hoping to avoid the foot-in-mouth disease when it comes to situations like this. (And hoping that I hadn't already done it.)

    I always try to put an "out" in any e-mails I send on this kind of topic: "Feel free to not respond or tell me to bugger off and MYOB" kind of thing.

    Because its true.

    If someone is butting in too much, if dealing with them and their crazy FB updates or just listening to them is painful or uncomfortable for you, do what is right FOR YOU. Don't sit there and grind your teeth, feeling like they're doing a tap dance on your heart with metal cleats.

    You're going through something they can sympathize with on some level, but cannot fully understand. If you need some space, that's something a real friend should understand and respect.

    Sorry for being so long-winded. Hugs ladies -- you are stronger than you realize.

  7. Libby - that would make me really ragey.

    Michelle - I don't think anyone should refrain from posting that stuff to FB if they want to. They're thrilled about it, as they should be, and they want to share it with everyone. That is why god invented ice cream.

  8. And good chocolate. Lets not forget that.

  9. I always struggled about going to baby showers but I have no guilt now about not going :) Thanks for posting this. It is almost futile to gain complete sympathy from fertile friends (though some are more sympathetic than others but none would understand everything you had gone through).

  10. Julia - Thank you! And congratulations!

    FOTC - Exactly. No one who hasn't "been there" really completely gets it, nor can they be expected to.

  11. This post is totally so many ways. It speaks to both sides of the fence and how hard IF can be...

    Since I am a nerd...and have no filter...I regale peopel with WAY TOO much information the moment they ask us when we are having kids or the like...I usually get an "Ummmmmm. Wow. I had no idea." response :) This has even been done AT the baby shower. Thta is what you get for inviting the > a year infertile;)


  12. Good strategy!
    I am so incredibly happy that I live in a country that doesn't do baby showers. FB is bad enough.

  13. Yep! Everyone is pregnant and they all live in Facebook world. Nothing more true than what you just wrote. I had a lady at work who knew we were having trouble conceiving and when someone at work announced she was having a baby, this lady actually came over to me and said, "Gosh...this must really be hard for you." I was a bit ticked off at that. I said, "Actually, I am happy for so-and-so but thanks for your consideration. For some reason, that comment just rubbed me the wrong way. I can secretly hate every pregnancy announcement but don't you dare imply that I ACTUALLY feel bad for someone else's fortune. Even though I do. Please don't make that assumption. Is that weird????

  14. Love you so much I'm about to pledge allegiance to you.

  15. We've talked about the FB thing before and I'm pretty sure you know my stance on it. Yes, it's especially shitty when you can't have something that EVERYONE else seems to be getting (and raving about). But aside from the infertile thing, it's just fucking annoying to see the same old statuses all the time, no matter what the topic is (which obviously applies to the "baby" thing). -You're going to the gym again? Your boss did something incredibly annoying? NO-ONE-CARES-KNOCK-IT-OFF.

    Luckily, baby showers don't really bother me too much because 1) free food, and 2) free prizes. Also, I never get invited to any baby shower. Could it be because I spend the day hovered over the food table? The world will never know...

    I don't know if I necessarily agree or disagree with the "infertiles bcoming fertile" bit. Part of me thinks I would be proud of myself and happy that I was throwing up because it meant my body was doing what it's fucking supposed to do. But I think if I were following someone who miraculously got pregnant (like any of you three), I would be VERY excited. And probably start stalking you to see how everything is going.

    On a final note: I hate hearing about ANOTHER totally fertile person getting "accidentally" pregnant. That's probably my biggest pet peeve.

  16. I get where you're coming from and, while I have not had the extent of your experience, one miscarriage and the years-long worry that I would not be able to have a baby give me some perspective. I am therefore always mindful of these things and even on the hard days was endlessly grateful for my pregnancy and baby. And, I too resented women who complained about their pregnancy -- I thought they should be happy to be 38 weeks and uncomfortable. But, as much as it gives some people heartache to read news of babies on FB, or other comments, I feel like some of this sentiment goes a little beyond one's own feelings and begrudges someone else for being fortunate and happy, and while I understand the feeling, I cannot fault someone else for celebrating her own good fortune (as long is it is not done in a smug, ungrateful way).

  17. Wildology - People really don't know how to respond, do they? I can't blame them; I didn't know how to respond before I started dealing with this, either.

    mommyodyssey - A country without baby showers?? Let's all move there!

    Mary - I completely understand and I also admit it irks me that she said that to you even though I'm not sure why! Maybe it comes back to the pity thing. Being pitied blows.

    Christina - and I to you ...

    TILTE & KellyDove - I've been thinking about this and have come to realize there's something of a double standard amongst infertiles when it comes to how we want pregnant women to behave. On the one hand we don't want them to complain about their pregnancies. They should be ecstatic every moment. And on the other hand, we don't want them to announce their pregnancies via facebook or inundate us with pregnancy bull shit on facebook. Well, aren't they just being ecstatic they way we want them to be when they overshare on FB? It's all part of the many conflicting emotions one has as an IF.