Every morning I wake to a reality I despise. Every morning I hope for when it’s different.
My days are a string of painful hope. I hope for spit-up on my shirt, poop in my hair, and sleepless nights tending to the screams from the nursery. I hope for the day my child shouts “I hate you!” and slams a door in my face. I know, that sounds straight-up crazy. I’m promise, it’s not (but then again, don’t have me tested!). It’s simply that I’m infertile. Waiting for motherhood is painful.
One in eight couples face the painfully hopeful reality of infertility. Infertility is complicated andconfusing. It’s more than an unfortunate circumstance or an ambiguous winding road though; it’s a disease. I love how clearly this infographic (scroll to bottom of the webpage) from Fertility Centers of Illinois shows some of the lesser known facts about infertility. All of us on this road constantly hope for that fat-cheeked squishy blob, spelled B-A-B-Y, to someday fill the space we already have for them in our hearts. That hope is knit so tightly through the pain that often it’s indistinguishable.
This week I set out to write an awe-inspiring post for the National Infertility Awareness Week Bloggers Unite Challenge. I hit a brick wall with that post. Most of it is now in the trash. I realized that it was better to write about a topic that resonates with my current phase of experience. This thing I need to say is not glamorous or remarkable in the way I hoped my post would be. But it’s honest.
There is another disease that often complicates the struggle of infertility. It’s called depression. The theme of the 2016 NIAW is #StartAsking. See that hand right there in the middle of that picture? It’s mine. I’m infertile. I’m depressed. I need to start asking for more support. I struggled with depression for many years before I was diagnosed with infertility issues. I will likely struggle with it long after I hold my sweet child on that someday I hope awaits us. For me, depression was pre-existing to infertility. But it can come on during, after, or without infertility as the complication it is in my case. Depression is a serious medical condition and it’s never alright to ignore the symptoms. Infertility is full of sadness and grief. This is normal to an extent and it’s important to know the difference and take action if you identify a concerning pattern of sadness that doesn’t go away. It’s always best to get evaluated if you feel you may have depression and to start asking for help from people you trust.
In my experience, the infertility struggle heightens depression symptoms, so I have to keep myself well aware of when the sadness lingers. This past winter was especially difficult for me and the fogginess has yet to lift. I’ve been bogged down for a long stretch now. I could easily blame the slow-going midwestern spring, and I’m sure that is a factor. It is far from the only thing I need to monitor and factor into my emotional locution. While I use medication to treat the depression and have been in talk-therapy since I was a teenager, the reality of infertility has added a new dimension to depression for me. I’m still training myself how to manage this added element. It as if there is a monster who hides in a dark closet waiting, with his giant straw, to slurp the joy from anything that might fill my cup.
I’d love for those of you who find your cup emptied by this same giant-straw-wielding monster (be it depression or infertility or the dreadful combination of the two) to comment and tell me you need support too. It will take a Brave Soul to speak up about this. But us Brave Souls have to stick together, don’t we?
There are two equally important sides to the equation of support. There is the place where you seek support and the place where you give it. The beautiful thing about the answer to this equation is you: your ability to be on both sides of the equation is limited only by your willingness to raise your hand. It’s not a simple equation to solve because support needs for each person’s unique situation tend to shift through the unpredictable waves in the sea of life. There are no equal signs or correct answers in the equation of support. Addressing the issue of developing and participating in healthy support systems that can adapt to the continually changing needs we have when we deal with both infertility and depression is so very vital. (Healthy support systems are necessary even if it is one or the other.) No matter which side of the equation you are on, I’ve learned there is always something you can to do to make someone’s next day with infertility a little brighter. It’s tempting to isolate and go inward when dealing with such heavy things. That temptation is as strong as it is dangerous. I’ve been reconciling with my own version of this temptation for the last few months. As I’ve opened up a new phase of my struggle with the Faith & Family Building series on the blog, I’ve found support I didn’t know was out there. So far, it’s been well worth the risk!
Waiting until your eyes adjust to the dark usually the only way you can manage to find the light switch. Infertility is full of emotions and questions. Whether you have just begun your journey or you are on your way to adjusting to the dark, there are many different stages of the struggle to flip the switch. We who so desperately need the light switched on are often overwhelmed by the big decisions, treatment plans, and financial considerations that come with infertility. Some of us go at it all “alone” too long. I know I have. I’ve kept a pretty tight upper lip and a brave face. Honestly though, because we’re constantly asking people to help us fund our dream, most days it feels like I do nothing but ask for support. I hold out my hat every day begging for a baby. This tattered hat has seen better days. I’m starting to learn that asking for more help is really the only way to keep going.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know someone who lives with or is affected by the painful hope infertility causes. Have you asked how you can support them? It’s not the easiest conversation to start. Supporting friends or family members dealing with infertility is daunting because there is still so much the average population doesn’t know/understand about infertility. Spend some time poking around at resolve.org. This organization has changed the conversation around infertility. The linked page is a good spot to find a little direction for your conversations with family & friends facing tough family building decisions. If you’re already comfortable enough on your own – then simply go and start asking how you can offer support. The answer will different for every couple; different paths to parenthood certainly have different support needs. I can assure you, is something you can offer to help that person you know feel less alone. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. Simply a “thinking of you” card timed during a cycle of IVF or a quick “hoping with you” text for a family waiting for their little one means more than you might ever imagine.