Long Read Alert — SORRY! (But be sure to respond to questions at the end if you want!)
There is no question infertility (IF) affects relationships. Most people dealing with IF want support but don’t know how to go about getting it. Let’s face it, most of our friends and family don’t have a clue how to offer support either. In fact, I’ve found most people to be the opposite of supportive when it comes down to it. It hurts when the people in your life don’t understand, or worse yet – try to offer advice and support about something they couldn’t possibly understand. It’s especially difficult when they don’t support your decision, as is my case with some family members. I have really been thinking a lot about this because I’ve realized it has affected almost every single one of my relationships. It bothers me.
I’ve suffered from IF for over a decade. I didn’t tell my family I suffered from IF for years because I didn’t want it to affect my relationships with them. It still managed to do so. It especially changed our relationships after I told them, and not really in a good way. I just can’t believe how judgmental people can be.
Infertility is generally accompanied by a lot of not-so-great feelings. I was afraid people would judge me, or worse – feel sorry for me. Worse yet, I feared they would give me unsolicited advice. I HATE when people think they know what’s best for me and try to push their advice on me, ESPECIALLY when I don’t feel they understand. It makes me incredibly angry! 😡 It’s rude and invasive.
T and I waited until we had already started stim meds for IVF before we decided to tell our family what we were up to. We had already been doing other forms of fertility treatments more than a year before we moved to IVF and no one knew. His family is more involved than mine, but he would rather keep to himself. They’re GREAT, honestly, but he gets irritated with me sometimes when I share things with them without discussing it with him first. He and I talked about it from the very beginning and decided no one in the families should be made aware of our IF until we were both ready. It was a mutual decision.
I didn’t want to tell my family for different reasons than why T didn’t want to tell his. I knew some of my family would judge us and make us feel crappy about our decisions. In fact, I am now four weeks pregnant and I am afraid to tell my parents, but it’s obvious I am dealing with something physically. It’ll be hard to hide at my nephew’s birthday party tonight.
When this all started I knew there were SOME family members who would be kind and supportive, and I knew they wouldn’t tell anyone else. We just figured it was “safer” to keep everyone in the dark. That way, no one gets offended when they discover one person in the family knew before anyone else, and I knew my mom would be upset if she was the last to know.
Aside from my family, I’ve noticed how much IF has affected our friendships. A few of our friends have careers and children and don’t have time to hang out anyway. The rest of our friends are still single or have partners but don’t want or never had kids. When you’re going through IVF it kind of consumes your entire world! You don’t talk about much else because it’s pretty much all you do. Not to mention you’re paying for IVF! You’re too broke to pay for dinners and activities with friends. I’m sure some friends feel abandoned or forgotten. Others might be jealous. Let’s face it, infertility is a taboo subject. You never know which of your friends might have skipped on having a family simply because they couldn’t. I have a few friends that I know would have loved to have kids and couldn’t for one reason or another. Many of them couldn’t afford IVF, or their lives didn’t allow them the freedom to pursue fertility treatments. I used to be angry at people who could have kids or afford fertility treatments when I couldn’t. I totally understand how uncomfortable, even painful, it can be to talk to another friend about fertility and/or having kids. I get it, but I definitely do NOT want anyone to feel that way because of me! I am SO thankful for a few of my friends who I know have suffered and still have the grace and love to ask me about what we are going through. I know firsthand how hard that must be for them and I love them even more for it. Anyway, we can’t control how people react but we wanted to approach telling people cautiously. So, we chose to wait.
Even strangers can sometimes seem kind of hateful toward us. I started this blog before we told anyone we knew about our journey. T is fine just not talking to others about it, but I needed an outlet and what better way than to write about it? I met other IF survivors in the blogosphere and was able to learn a lot from them. I even made some “friends” through blogging and it helped me so much to know I wasn’t alone. However, in sharing my journey online I opened myself up to criticism, and jealousy sometimes too. It’s kind of a vulnerable place to be. People feel free to say whatever they want. There’s little-to-no accountability for what you say online. I love WordPress, but it’s not Facebook. Posters are often identified by screen names. You can’t block certain people and content so easily, and everything you post is basically public. I WANTED (want) to interact with people, but I had to be prepared for what that could mean – including negative feedback.
This is MY journey. It’s going to be different from others’ journeys. I sometimes write “in the moment”. So, when I’m struggling it could come off as negative or whiny, and when I am celebrating it could seem like I am gloating and be painful for those hurting. It’s such an emotional subject! I try not to “assume” my experiences or advice will help anyone, but I do sincerely hope they do! If not, I hope everyone understands I mean no harm. But there is always potential that something I say will hurt someone somehow, particularly by reminding them of their own struggle. I’ve met some negativity and criticism from a few of my posts. Some posts I’ve taken down because they hurt someone. If that’s the case for any of you I sincerely apologize.
Infertility is hard all around – no matter where you’re at in the journey. It would be so much easier if everyone understood and was supportive but that’s not the way the world works. It’s on the shoulders of those of us dealing with it to educate those around us. It seems unfair that we should also have to carry that burden. There are just so many facets to fertility treatments that you can’t explain them all, and people don’t understand that it changes you! You have to change when and how you do almost everything. Your whole life is flipped upside down. t’s just SO MUCH. There are TONS of online resources our friends and family could research to learn more, but most of them won’t. They want YOU to explain it to them, when you’ve already explained it dozens of times. Maybe you don’t even know all the answers to their questions. They’ll ask about things you don’t want to talk about, too. How do you navigate THAT???
It’s not that they don’t care. In fact, they wouldn’t ask if they didn’t care, but part of me wants to say, “If you care so much, Google it for yourself.” I would never do that, but it just gets frustrating. I do occasionally share links on my social media. For example, this link to an article about how to talk to people battling infertility: http://www.resolve.org/national-infertility-awareness-week/25-things-to-say-and-not-to-say.html , or this one which explains the IVF process: http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/in-vitro-fertilization/details/what-you-can-expect/rec-20206943 . I don’t know if they read them or not. I’m guessing not.
The hardest part for me has been the affect this is having on my relationships with my immediate family. My mom refuses to even acknowledge what we are doing, much less to offer support. The last thing she said in reference to our IVF was, “You do realize a baby is a major life change.” My response, “No, Mom. I’ve been stabbing myself in the ass and stomach multiple times a day for weeks because I didn’t realize it was a major life change.” (I mean, seriously?) My sister hasn’t even said a single word to me about any of this. She does have two kids of her own. She’s a single mother and one of my nephews has been very ill, but she could at least acknowledge it! She has not said a single word, but she hasn’t hesitated to ask me to babysit. My dad, stepdad, and stepbrother haven’t asked at all either. In fact, the only person in my immediate family who has even bothered acknowledging what we are going through is my biological father – who speaks to me maybe once or twice every few years. (Yes. I have three dads. Be jealous.😉) How ironic that the one immediate family member who usually ignores me and alienates me is the ONLY one of them who even pretends to give a shit! I just don’t even know what to think that!
Luckily, I have a few aunts and a handful of cousins who are incredibly supportive, and T’s family has been so great. In fact, his mom checks in almost every day and I have two aunts who have done IVF before. I shouldn’t complain because we have a great support system in many of our friends/family. Actually, I don’t think I am complaining. I’m just kind of thinking out loud. A friend who has suffered SO MUCH and was dealing with her father’s funeral took the time to ask how I was feeling the day of our retrieval, but my own mother couldn’t be bothered to ask when or if I was having the surgery to begin with – despite the several attempts I made to discuss the process with her. The only thing SHE has offered us is negative criticism. I don’t understand why she’s being that way. She knows I’ve always wanted a baby, but she thinks I am too old. I’m sure Downs Syndrome is a concern for her due to my being over 35 (I am only 36), and two of my nephews are already struggling with disabilities. She’s probably concerned she will be stuck helping to care for yet another sick grandchild, but isn’t that kind of selfish? Shouldn’t she just root for us and support us? I don’t know. It just hurts.
The one relationship I know has definitely seen a positive effect from all of this is my relationship with T. This journey is so incredibly hard. It destroys some couples. We’ve really had to depend on each other and learn what we are capable of. I handle the appointments, the medication schedules, etc. He handles all the physical stuff. The emotional stuff we do together. He made sure to be home to help (& still helps) with every single injection. He hugs me when they hurt and I cry. He held my hand when I was writhing in pain after retrieval. He has endured many sleepless nights when I am hurting and can’t get comfortable. He sat next to me 10 days ago and watched our two little sweet peas on the ultrasound monitor as they were placed in my uterus – two tiny, glowing grains of rice. He runs to the store. He holds my hand, rubs my feet, cleans the litter box, and helps around the house. Yesterday he cleaned the bathroom! That’s amazing! I’ve ALWAYS been on bathroom duty. He even drives in the city for doctor visits. (He HATES driving in the city!) We take turns cooking and doing light housework. He does the laundry and I put it away. We are more of a team than we have ever been!
Everyone navigates the sexual side of this a little differently, and once we are out of the woods I am sure our situation will change. I just can’t really do much for him right now, and he is so patient and understanding. I am only 4 weeks pregnant by “normal” standards, but I am on light restriction, and my body hurts! My hormone levels have been VERY high. My abdominal muscles are already stretching. I’ve had insane heartburn (and subsequent nausea). My hips hurt. I’m bloated and extremely fatigued. I also strained an ovarian ligament after retrieval so that hurts a lot. We’ve had multiple losses and there’s no guarantee our sweet peas will stick. The first several weeks are a little worrisome so I am basically worthless in the bedroom. A lot of men would act out, try to get some sexual favors. (I read on a chat forum the other day a husband was forcing his wife to have anal sex because he insists on having sex every other day and she’s restricted from vaginal sex.😡 -BULLSHIT!) T doesn’t even ask for anything sexual, and he never complains. We are pretty open-minded sexually. He will never guilt trip me, and I refuse to feel guilty because we deliberately made this decision together and we will navigate the entire journey together – with respect and open communication.
We have maintained open communication through all of this and it has been amazing. We have our little squabbles but nothing worse than any other day. We’ve done our best to maintain some sense of normalcy, and we have refused to isolate, even though staying home and napping a lot sounds pretty good! We see our friends and family. We attend events, although we may leave early. We both work and go about our day to day, and we talk to each other. We are candid and open, and it has been our saving grace throughout a very difficult process. We grow stronger together every day. I’m loving it.
My sister planned her one-year-old son’s birthday party last minute so it’s tonight from 4-8 (on a Sunday night!). I don’t want my family to know I am pregnant yet. We aren’t out of the woods for several more weeks and MOST of my family doesn’t know how to keep their mouths shut. Aside from one aunt and a handful of cousins I don’t trust any of them to respect our privacy. My mom is the worst one. My entire hometown will know by next weekend and I just don’t want that, and neither does T. He’ll be furious! We don’t mind if our families know, but not the whole town!
I just don’t know how to deal with this birthday party. I can’t pick up my baby nephew. He’s over 20 pounds and I’m restricted. My whole body hurts because my muscles and ligaments are stretching. My butt hurts from the progesterone shots, and I have that strained ovarian ligament. I guess I could just use the ligament as the reason for my pain and restriction, and then use it as an excuse to leave early. I don’t know. I WANT to tell my mom because it would be great to have her support but I just know I will be hurt and disappointed. Sigh…
How has infertility impacted your relationships? How have you dealt with the changes in relationships? Do you have friends/family who are less than supportive? When did you decide to tell your family you were pregnant?