Hello Strangers: I’m an Infertility Survivor and I’m Not Ashamed to Say It
Here is Part III of the ‘Bitter Infertiles’ conversation — on the anniversary of the day the podcast took place. This where we own up to our experiences as ‘Infertility Survivors.’ (In Part II of the ‘Bitter Infertiles’ podcast transcript (Part I here or listen to the podcast here), we talk infertility trauma, the assault to identity and misplaced mommy glorification…)
Mo: One of the things I want to ask you ladies … people always focus on the negative of, as Pamela said, it’s not really ‘child-free living’ it’s more choosing not to parent so …
Pamela: Let me clarify, I didn’t choose not to parent, I had to come to terms with the fact that parenting wasn’t part of my life.
Mo: OK, that’s fair. So … how do we say it? How would you define yourself and your role?
Pamela: I define myself as ‘Pamela.’ I don’t want to be categorized. I feel very strongly that there is a ‘new normal’ for all of us — not all of us fit in this very neat and tidy labeling and banding.
I think the best gift we can give to girls who, at some point, have to confront whether or not there’s fertility or infertility in their life is to understand that some choices are made for us. [Editor’s note: what I mean here is that some biological mysteries are outside of our control.]
Mo: Mm-hmm, and I think that’s good. And it’s actually getting to the point that I really want both of you to talk about, which is what are the benefits of having gone through this process and coming out of it? What are some of the benefits that you have discovered, that would not have been possible if you had continued to beat yourself up by staying on the fertility path?
Loribeth: Well, you do come out of this with a much better sense of yourself … of your limitations, of the things that you can do. I’ve done things through infertility treatment I never thought that I was going to do. And you certainly come out with a sense of your own strength.
Loribeth: Another thing is the friends that I’ve made along the way. I would have made different friends if I’d been a ‘mommy,’ but I have made some wonderful friends online, as in real life, who don’t have children — who have gone through this process.
Blogging was not around when I was going through treatment. I was fortunate to get on a message board, and I have stayed in touch with several of them over the years. Of course, now there’s Facebook so we stay in touch that way. And blogging where I happened to find Pamela. There’s getting to be more and more of us coming out of the woodwork, so that’s very, very encouraging.
Pamela: Yeah. I think my biggest sense of satisfaction is in helping to de-stigmatize the experience of infertility. I mean, how many people walk into a room and say, ‘Hello, strangers. Did you know that I dealt with infertility?’
Mo: I’m looking forward to that day. I really am, Pamela. (laughter)
Pamela: And I don’t say that with any amount of irony. I really truly feel like there was a period in my life where I used to whisper, because I couldn’t even acknowledge it to myself. And now I’m at a point where I use ‘Infertility Survivor’ as a subhead on my blog …
… Because I think the more that we talk about this, the easier it is for people to understand that these paths are out there, and that this is not a reflection of [personal] failure. [Though society often makes us feel that way.] This is not a question of not living up to someone else’s ideal; that we are our own people, that our relationships have a huge amount of dimension to them. And the more that we can accept that some of these things are going to really mess with our heads, mess with our bodies, but ultimately we come out stronger and much more capable of seeing the gradients in society … that there is this richness out there.
I use the mosaic as a metaphor. I felt like my life was heading down one very linear path, and suddenly everything was shattered, and the very act of pulling it all back together created this very interesting mosaic that I never would have expected, but has really enriched my life.
Mo: Hmm, yeah. I think that’s amazing, I really do. And I think it’s an important message for so many. Because it’s true. You grow as a human when you go through painful experiences. It’s a matter of how you choose to move forward following that trauma that really defines who you are… I think it’s a great lesson.
Cristy: I am willing to put money on the fact that most of the women who listen to us are thinking, ‘That’s never going to be me,’ … in a kind of stigmatized way. And I think if there’s any take away from this, first of all, there’s actually a sane choice … in a world of a lot of insane choices. Also, at the end of the day, we all have a lot to grieve.
Cristy: And what is amazing about you both is that you bring that grieving process … you have no choice but to bring that grieving process to the forefront…
Pamela: I would also add that there’s nothing more irritating to me — because I tend to be somebody who has strong opinions — than the idea that somebody pities me, or views me as a tragic figure.
Cristy: Oh, yes.
Pamela: I want very much to be perceived as a woman who is very familiar with my own weaknesses, a woman who is unafraid of what life has in store for her, and knowing full well that there are always going to be setbacks.
“But it’s those setbacks that force us to reflect upon who we are, how we view the world, and how we influence other people.”
Mo: Can I just say … I have to say something … If I could give you a standing ovation, I would right now.
Cristy: I absolutely agree with you. So what you’re bringing up, Pamela, reminds me very much of an episode where we talked about infertility and divorce. Our guest for that episode was talking about the same things you’re talking about, that even though she’s gone through this traumatic situation she doesn’t want anybody to pity her, because yes, things were sad, but she’s choosing to move forward from it. She’s growing from it, and she’s actually in a better position now.
I agree with you. To look at somebody and say, ‘Oh, that seems so horrible. I can’t imagine what a sad life they lead.’ I mean you can’t ever say that.
Cristy: Sometimes confronting that fear is the most important thing. It allows us to grow.
Mo: Something that I have done … I actually shut down my old blog, and moved to a new space for fear of that exact thing; of being pitied, and being looked at as … as a freak show. I was becoming nothing but a crying uterus. That was basically it. I was a crying uterus. That was the entire sum of who I was.
Pamela: Mo … it takes a lot to recognize you are at a point where there’s a pivot taking place, and much like you, I had my Coming2Terms blog for almost 4 years. I decided when I was done with the emotional dance that had got me to a point — where I felt like I could stand up proudly and not feel any sense of shame or stigma associated with what I’d lived with — that it was time to start anew.
And, you know, we reach different chapters in our lives, and that’s not to say that one is better or worse than another. But you almost need those really important stakes in the ground to say, ‘This is going to be different.’
Cristy: Yeah, mm-hmm, yeah. So true.
Loribeth: And that’s the one thing that we have to create for ourselves as women without children. Because so many of the common stakes in the ground revolve around children’s birthdays, graduations, weddings and everything. Our markers are different. So we have to create our own as we go along.
Mo: You know what? And … this is the thing about it. Your markers, I feel, are far more indicative of … of power and … living your life to the fullest. And I’m sure that you’re … that there’s … there’s still part of your … I’m sorry, I’m being bluntly honest when interacting with you guys, because this is just who I am, but … I’m sure that there’s still a small part of you that has some sadness, that has some regret over what you lost.
But I think at the end of the day, what you show in terms of, both of you, the way you are so aware of who you are … so self-possessed, in a way I could only … I could only dream of being at this point, truly.
Pamela: Well, Mo, I … I would say, to use one of your film analogies, what I’ve often felt is that I am living an indie film experience.
Mo/Cristy/Loribeth: Mm-hmm. (laughter)
Pamela: I don’t want it to be predictable. I don’t want people to walk away saying, ‘All things were tidy at the very end of the film.’ I want to force people to think, because I think getting outside of those predictable patterns, is where we grow as humans.
Mo: Mm-hmm, I agree. So you don’t want people to be Disney, you want them to be Sundance.
Pamela: Yeah, YES!
Cristy: Well, I have to admit that I, on some level, really envy you guys. Because just the sheer, you know, fullness and self-awareness that both of you have is just astounding to me. I truly, truly envy that. And I really hope that I manage to find my way there. I only recently started looking. It’s not an easy journey …
Pamela: Well … Lori, if I make speak for you, I can say with certainty: My entire reason for getting online and blogging and talking about this is to be a big sister to women who are coming behind me and saying, ‘You know what? It’s going to suck. There are going to be days when you just question what’s going on in the universe.’
Pamela: ‘But the reality is, you are a strong person, and you will get through this.’
Cristy: Right. That is the benefit that we have today, compared to even … it sounds like even 10 years ago. It sounds like people were much more alone, especially with what society was pushing. So the fact that we are now finding people who are openly talking about their experiences; what they go through, their decisions to move forward. And I think what’s good is that people can see those stories, and be able to take them back and relate to their lives.
And there are going to be some parts that fit, and there are going to be other parts that don’t. But I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that the ideal American family, or Canadian family, or family in general, of having, you know, a husband and a wife and 2.5 kids, living in a house in the suburbs, and everybody is happy-go-lucky, just doesn’t exist.
Cristy: There’s always something that’s off about it. And the other thing that I’ve learned is that the people that try so hard to get there are usually the ones that are the most unhappy. So, really … you have to figure out what is best for you.
Mo: Well … that’s the whole point. I think the fact that you guys are unapologetic about your decision-making is part of what makes both of you ladies incredibly powerful role models to the rest of us and … and you know what? The fact that you’re so happy living in your own skin, that you want that, is not something to be taken lightly.
I really … I mean, I am just in awe of both of you. I’m sorry, I know I’m gushing today, but I really … I … Because I’m … I guess I’m so early on this whole, ‘I am more than the sum of my lady parts’ journey … because I’m early in on it, it just blows my mind to hear women with so much self-awareness, and they’re so comfortable in their own skin. I just think it’s amazing, truly. Sorry. I’m going to stop gushing.
Pamela: You are too kind, Mo. And I return to you and Cristy all of that love and admiration. Because the fact that you, in your situation, are willing to engage Lori and I in a discussion, says you are very strong, and willing to look into the darkness.
Because nobody wants to be us, when you start the fertility treatment process.
Mo: Hmm, it’s true. It is true. It’s sad.
Cristy: It’s sad … but I will counter and say that looking back, I wish I had done it sooner. Because reading your book, Pamela, reading Lori’s blog, reading the blogs that are out there, seeing the stories … I think in a lot of ways … so I just recently went through a final round of fertility treatments. And one of the things my husband commented on is he said, ‘This last cycle, compared to you in all the other cycles, is night and day.’
He said, ‘The desperation is gone. The ongoing fear that if you … if we don’t get exactly what we want, and it all fails, is gone. You are much more balanced.’
And … and because of that we were able to be much more of a team, and even though the process itself was still difficult, the pain and the anxiety that I was bringing to it made it less difficult.
So I really do encourage people, no matter where they’re at in their journey, to sit down and to really explore the options. Because sometimes the boogey man is bigger in our heads than it actually is.
And the thing that I’ve learned from you is how to take a step back and really say, ‘You know what? My marriage was here long before I wanted children, and it’s important to me. And I need to maintain the family I have now.’ It’s been a huge benefit. So …
Mo: Hear, hear.
Loribeth: Yeah, I think there’s something to be said for having a plan B in mind at the outset. You know, if this doesn’t work, then maybe we’ll do this. When the time comes, you will revisit it, and you say, “OK, maybe that’s not what I really want. Maybe this isn’t really realistic.” But at least if you started the process of thinking about it, you’ll know what some of your options are.
Mo: Well, I’m going to take that a step further. I think it’s beyond just having a plan B. I think it’s coming to terms with what you’re going through. I think it’s very easy to just coast; coast through treatments. I mean, obviously you’re going to have anxiety. You’re going to have feelings through it.
But it’s very easy, even knowing that you have a plan B and a plan C, it’s very easy to coast to those plans without really thinking them through … without really coming to terms with what you’ve gone through so far, without processing your experiences.
And I think that if our listeners take anything away from today, it’s to reflect and to process, and to really look at what you’re doing and … grieve what you’ve got to grieve, and take control, really.
Pamela: That’s a great closing statement, Mo. It really is. Accepting that things are not necessarily going to go the way you think, and even when you have a plan, and when you have prepared yourself, there will still be bumps along the way. And allowing yourself to feel the anxiety, to address and not deny what you’re feeling, just knowing that you will get through it, gets you further along the path.
Mo: Yeah, that’s so true. I agree. So, is there anything else we want to cover? Obviously, we’re going to put links up for the book and the blogs on our Website, so you can check out Lori and Pamela’s writing. I can tell you that having been avoiding them for so long, I’m going to stop doing that. I admit when I f@#$ up, and this is a f@#$ up on my end.
Pamela: No, no, no; I think you have to be ready. You have to be emotionally ready to take something in. I think the biggest regret that I have, is a lot of women who read “Silent Sorority” read it with an eye to not wanting to be the woman in crisis and in pain. Some describe aspects of what I write about as being a huge pity party. Well the reality was it was a pity party. I needed to really understand all elements to the darkness.
And it was only in accepting that I have flaws and shortcomings that I was able to figure out who I wanted to be coming out of this. It’s kind of unfortunate, but I think the reality is you have to really understand your own demons and limitations.
Mo: Mm-hmm. Agreed. So true. Well, thank you ladies, so much.
Cristy: It was really … It was really great, ladies. Thank you so much for coming on today.