This year's theme for National Infertility Awareness Week is Flip The Script. It's always left open to interpretation of course, but for me I really wanted to focus on how a couple's infertility affects those around them.
I sent a number of people in our personal circle a few questions (varied based on our relationship) and have been sharing quotes from their answers on Instagram. I felt, however, that the answers given from some of our parents needed to be shared more fully. It was a really interesting experience for me personally because these are questions we never really stop and ask. Perhaps in part we are afraid of the answers. Perhaps we simply don't want to relive the pain we experienced. Whatever the reason, I think in a big way we need to hear these words. The outside world too can benefit from understanding that infertility doesn't just affect a couple, but all those around them.
When we first told you about our infertility, what was your reaction?
Parent-A: Surprised that you had been diagnosed so soon into your efforts to conceive. Not really fully aware of the testing that you had gone through.
Parent-B: My first reaction was guilt, as if I was responsible or had something to do with it. I immediately thought back to when I was pregnant with you and thought of the stress I was under at the time and the lack of attention to my health and diet. I didn’t go to prenatal care, barely saw a doctor. Also I went through the ….did I feed you well enough as a child, why didn’t I know about all the allergies, what did I miss….bad mom. All the “I should have done this or that, and maybe if I had scenario”. Guilt Guilt Guilt.I immediately thought did these factors have something to do with it….Was it my fault somehow. Those were my first thoughts. Then I turned my focus to you and wondered what does this mean exactly? What if she can’t have a baby? What can I do to help? How can I help? I was overwhelmed at the immensity and sadness of it all….it was almost too much so I shut down.
Parent-C: I thought that with all the stresses in your life that infertility might be related and that although it was a hurdle, things would find a way to work out.
How did our ongoing openness about our struggles impact you or make you feel as time passed?
Parent-A: Your sharing of your process made me feel a new respect for you both , as until this time last year when we helped with your project I wasn't really aware of all you had gone through to conceive . The numbers on your body really brought it home to me.
Parent-B: Unfortunately, our geographic locations didn’t lend itself to all the daily interaction a parent and child might have had if I had lived closer. Had I lived in proximity the information flow would have naturally progressed in a more positive way. I felt It took you a long time with your inward pain to actually share with me and I didn’t want to ask because it was a sensitive topic. I didn’t feel you were really open with me. I actually felt shut out as if you were angry with me because somehow I didn’t understand or know what you were going through. Of course I didn’t because you can’t. If you’ve never gone through that experience yourself, you can never fully understand what it takes. You can never understand another’s struggle to the same extent that you experience it yourself. As a parent it tore me apart to see you in such emotional pain and so I was afraid to say anything for fear of evoking a negative reaction or lashing out from you. I believe it was eventually the ongoing routine of needles and the day to day struggle of IVF treatments that our ability to speak about it found it’s way into more information exchange, shared disappointments, let downs, ongoing wishes hopes and dreams. I believe when you started working inwardly is when it shifted. When you finally came to acceptance of all the possibilities that might exist…. the miracle baby might happen or not….that’s when it changed for how you shared with me.
Parent-C: As time passed and I became more aware of your physical issues, I was more concerned for your well being both physically and emotionally. I felt no pressure or need of my own for you to conceive and to have grandchildren, but as a loving parent I just wanted you to be happy and healthy. I had often seen friends and family in your position and in some cases there were positive surprises, so I thought somehow it could be possible.
What as a parent was your biggest struggle as we faced infertility?
Parent-A: Biggest struggle was not being able to solve the problem for you as all parents want to do for their children. I would have liked to wave a magic wand and make everything ok for you.
Parent-B: The inability to fix it…..and to watch the pain and continual unhappiness it caused you both……it tore me up inside.
Parent-C: My biggest struggle as time passed was to feel your ongoing sadness and frustration as any parent would feel when their child suffers. I knew it was your issue to deal with and all I could do was be supportive in any way I could, knowing that I couldn’t be there. Knowing the physical effort you both were subjecting yourselves to were only resulting in more and more disappointment, made me feel sad for you but also made me respect your commitment and tenacity and spurred me to cheer you on, even to form some kind of spiritual connection.
What do you think society would benefit from understanding about a parent of a child with infertility?
Parent-A: I don't suppose society is concerned with the parents of the couple struggling. I know that when I spoke of you and your struggles to friends they were sympathetic to you and felt for your hurt and disappointment . The concern was for you but not us.
Parent-B: It is not just the couple who is affected. The entire experience….the potential loss of a child, nephew, niece, grandchild…it affects the whole family circle. Everyone experiences the pain of struggle. What was hard for me personally… that even when that unbelievable phone call arrived with “ GREAT NEWS” I held my breath because as a parent you only know too well that there could be a million other things to go wrong. It was emotional work daily to carry a positive mental attitude and belief that the universe would provide a beautiful baby.
Parent-C: I’m not sure that society in general needs to be concerned about the parents as much as it needs to gain awareness from their experience in relation to understanding the intense desire, frustration, and sadness that the child is going through. Parents and friends can easily dismiss it as “that’s life, deal with it and move on”. That only adds to your feeling of isolation.
How did our sibling's pregnancy announcement make you feel, knowing our journey?
Parent-A: Of course we were delighted for them when they called with their news , however always and instantly were thoughts of you and how this news would make you feel. I hoped you would not be upset but of course I knew you would be - not jealous but just feeling your losses over the years all the more.
Parent-B: When they called I was beyond ecstatic. Having a grandchild was something I had dreamed about and as I was getting older it seemed the natural progression of life and so here it was…SURPRISE, THRILLED, ECSTATIC……then overwhelming sadness for you knowing how this information would rip through you. Deep deep sadness for you both…. and then to feel sadness for our entire family because somehow their happiness contributed to your sadness. I didn’t want to feel guilty for being thrilled but I did.
Parent-C: I was thrilled for them when I heard their news. Of course I had pangs of upset for you both, but that didn’t diminish the nice feeling of seeing their relationship and lives developing. Knowing how having you guys come into my life was so fulfilling (as you now know), it was thrilling to see it happen for them. I still somehow felt your time would come whether through science or adoption. Even if it didn’t happen for you, I felt your life was still full of richness.
Any other comments or reflections?
Parent-A: As you now know being a mother is so very special and I am delighted that you have the joy of Beau in your lives and ours. "Cousin" and Beau have brought such joy to us - watching them grow and learn - even from a distance. I can't go into stores without having sneaky peak at the kiddie clothes ! You are great parents and I love the videos and pictures on instagram .
Parent-B: I want you to know how very proud I am to be a parent of an IVF warrior. That through your strength of character, dedicated research, extreme physical and mental pain and exhaustive perseverance you succeeded in giving life. I am so very grateful you have a wonderful partner who stood strong beside you to made this journey possible.
Parent-C: I never felt the draw or importance to see you have children or to be a grandparent but was open to embrace the experience if it happened. My major priority was for you, your "sibling" and by extension step-siblings' well-being and happiness. I was way more worried about your health and emotions than I was about you not being able to conceive. Now that "cousin" and Beau are here, I just have 2 more to be concerned about and to enjoy the good bits.
I hope you heard something that resonated with you... that you could imagine hearing from your own parents. As unique as our experiences as infertility warriors are, so too are the experiences of the parents. They are all individuals who saw our journey from different view points. None better than the others, but different. Perhaps this can open some space in your own lives to have a discussion with your own family members about how your infertility is impacting them. While still in the struggle I know it was the last thing on my mind, but in hindsight may have been a source of great comfort. If you yourself are a parent of someone struggling with infertility, perhaps this can bring you comfort knowing that your thoughts, emotions and struggles are shared.