When I was 14, I wrote a short story in which a teenage boy witnessed his female friend slowly lose her personality, while her body became weaker, only to realize that her boyfriend was an alien who was slowly sucking out her soul. (Spoiler alert: She died in the end.) I'm not sure why my Grade 9 self was so morbid, but in retrospect, it seems my story from half a lifetime ago mirrored my life to come. Truly, sometimes it feels like I've lost my personality to infertility.
Not to romanticize my former life, which had its fair share of sad and frustrated moments, but I really was a vibrant, interesting person at one time. I mean, I got to brief generals and the chief of staff to a cabinet minister at my job. One year, I traveled to Hawaii AND South Africa. I learned languages, led youth groups, and had fun and crazy girls nights with friends that involved photo scavenger hunts and corn mazes. I think it's safe to say that I was fun once. Now it feels like my whole life is ultrasounds, blood tests, and waiting for ovulation. My mood is dictated by whatever hormones are being pumped into my body this week (either naturally or through supplements), and the simplest things like seeing a cute baby in a store can set me into a day-long slump. I cry at everything. I hate this person that I have become.
Probably the worst part of the emotional fall-out is that it is so hard to share joy with others. I want so badly to rejoice at pregnancy announcements and new babies, but it is hard. I have pulled so many brave faces that sometimes I am not sure what I actually look like any more. I know, logically, that it isn't like there are only so many babies to go around, but sometimes when I see another pregnancy announcement online, it is like a physical punch to the gut of “Once again, it's not me.” As a friend once said: “You are happy for them, but sad for you.” Sometimes, though, I am so sad for me that whatever happiness is underneath, it just can't get to the surface. As much as I know this is normal, and I have heard it from infertile women of all stripes, there is no way not to feel like the world's most selfish person.
On top of the inner guilt for not rejoicing with those who rejoice, you have the imposed guilt from everyone who tries to convince you to “buck up” and “be positive” and “stop saying those negative things about yourself”. So now you feel badly for being a downer, and for making everyone else sad. If infertility is one thing, it is a series of masks that you wear to pretend you aren't a mess just so you can get through that baby shower, that work day, or even just that trip to the store, without causing an incident.
In the worst moments of infertility, you feel yourself pull away. I go through days when the thought of visiting my friends back in Ottawa is unbearable, not because I don't like them, but because I know there will be subtle glances at my stomach and hints around when we will be trying. I contemplated going to the summer women's Bible study, but wondered if I could bear being around all those women, with all those potential questions. I don't call or email friends for weeks because I don't want to be a drag, and I have nothing happy to share. All I want to do is sit on my bed watching Harry Potter movies and pretend that magic is real, that one day someone will whisk me away to a special place where I will be so much more than what I am now.
On the other hand, infertility has stretched me as a person, and taught me a lot about myself. I feel like layers have been stripped off, the veneer of “successful” and “satisfied” that I felt was over my life, and I have been forced to look at what is underneath and analyze where I came from. In the first place, I've realized how much I have taken my health for granted. It's true that I've resented my body over the past year more than ever before, but I've also realized how lucky I am that this is the first time I've had to really engage with the medical system. I have never really been sick. Sure, I had pneumonia as a toddler (which was far more traumatic for my parents than for me), and mono as an adult, but aside from flus and for few minor and stupid accidents, I have only seen doctors for an annual check-up. For 32 years I took it as a given that my body would do what it was supposed to. This is a privilege that many people don't have.
In the broader scheme of things, I have come to realize how much of my life has been easy. I was born into privilege, maybe not into riches, but into a loving, middle class home where I had everything I needed and more. I might have been shy, but was also smart and articulate. I have always lived a life in which you work hard and reap the rewards. As a Christian, I do believe in my head that we cannot expect God to gives us only good and not hardship, or that I can have all my desires granted in a sinful world, but I am only just realizing that my theology and my life expectations don't match up. There have certainly been difficult times and soul searching in the past, particularly in times of family drama, but when I look back, I realize how much I have always naively believed that things will turn out in the end. Getting pregnant is the first thing that I have really “failed” at, and the first time that I have had to confront the idea that God can be good even if our longing for a baby is never granted. It is hard, but it is a lesson I will surely need to learn at some point.
I have learned again and again that I need to take care of myself. My default has always been to keep busy, so that when troubles come, I can put them aside until tomorrow. A dozen or so infertility-related breakdowns later, I am realizing that it's okay to pull back. It's okay to quit Mandarin classes for a while because medical appointments are taking over my schedule, and something's gotta give. It's okay to show up for an hour at that baby shower, and duck out early because you are hurting. I've also learned that while sometimes the resentment against my body is high, I still need to take care of my health, to exercise and rest, because it will ultimately make me feel better.
To some extent, going through infertility has shown me how much I dislike the veneer of pleasantness that we paint over ourselves in polite conversation and social media. I am still figuring out how to navigate honesty and privacy, but I hate knowing of the many Facebook pregnancy announcements I've seen, some of them must have been following difficulties like ours, but when they go out online, it makes it look like everything has always been rosy. I hate the idealized photos and snippets of family life that make everyone who is barely getting by feel like they are failing. I want to live a life – online and in person – that is more honest, where people can feel encouraged by my story instead of feeling like they have to aspire to a lifestyle that I don't even have. I want to be more real, and to find people with whom I can be real.
I'd like to be able to say that I learned how strong I really am.... but I'm not sure that's the case. I guess I have learned that whenever I think I can't make it any longer, as TobyMac says, I “get back up again.” I know that even though I loathe to think we will still be in this game a year from now, five years from now, after getting through the past thirteen months, I know that even if it takes that long, we will still keep getting up and finding joy where we can.