When Infertility Survivors Forget What It’s Like

Infertility is a horrific experience to go through. I believe that everyone who goes through the experience, whether they need to take Clomid or go through multiple IVF attempts or adoption is a survivor. Some survivors become parents (through treatments, adoption) and go on that much-hallowed (by society) journey of parenting. Some become parents, and lose their much-loved children too early.

Mother’s Day is not the simple milestone that it used to be to me before I began trying to have children. I understand now that there are mothers who are not acknowledged. There are women who wanted to be mothers, or are mothers, but not to living children. I can’t speak for them, but I can try to stand beside them on Mother’s Day, because it is a difficult day for many. The outside world for the most part doesn’t get that.

Maybe some infertility survivors don’t consider themselves “survivors” or want to distance themselves from the land of IF. There is one blogger who has been put on my radar recently. I’ll let her speak for herself about her voyage to parenthood:

“It’s hard to believe that our blog has turned into an infertility story. We started it in March 2009 when we threw the birth control pills out the window and decided to start a family, thinking that it would be a fun way to chronicle our pregnancy and the adventures we would have raising babies together. Little did we know that we’d take an unexpected emotional detour before we got to that point.”

This blogger was made famous recently, because the video of her positive pregnancy test (which is very sweet) became a big deal in the media. What was not made a big deal? The positive pregnancy test was after her experience with infertility. I feel like a teachable moment about how hard infertility is to go through was lost, but I don’t blame the blogger for that. Her story was quite clear. The media did not mention it.

What is not cool to me is what the blogger recently wrote about Mother’s Day.

What was said:

She mentions she was pregnant last Mother’s Day: “But now that he’s out of that safe little bubble I can tell you: I may have been a mother then, but I didn’t really know what it meant to be a mother until now.”

First off, I think this language is hurtful. It seems to indicate that those who lose their children because they were born too early don’t know what it means to be a mother. When I read an essay like this, I know this is not true.

“I am a different person than I was before Owen was born. A better person. A more understanding and more thoughtful person. A simpler person who stops working so hard to check things off my to do list and instead stops to enjoy and savor every little teeny tiny moment with my ever-changing baby. A gentler person who can cuddle and rock and pat and hold long after my arms are tired or my legs want to collapse. A more patient person. A more present person, adept at focusing 100% on what I’m doing at a given moment, whether it’s work or playing or blogging or cooking, and not thinking about what I’m going to do next. A more organized person, though I didn’t think that was possible (oh she of the bulleted to do lists and pre-packed lunches), who can now organize an entire family without even thinking.”

This is the standard Hallmark script, which I feel demeans a lot of people. To become a “better person”, you must become a mother. To become a more patient, gentle person, you must become a mother.

“It feels like I have finally come into the person I always wanted to be. As Owen’s Mom, I am more me than I have ever been before.

Happy Mother’s Day… to me.”

I’m happy that her journey led her to a happy place. I’m also pretty sure that she didn’t mean to hurt people with this essay, but she did.

Do you think that those who have gone through infertility owe it to the community to be sensitive after they get through “the finish line”? Or is it their right to move on and embrace the standard story of motherhood? Can you do both? And I honestly want to know! What is your opinion?

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21 Comments

Filed under Infertility

21 responses to “When Infertility Survivors Forget What It’s Like

  1. First of all, I just want to thank you for writing this. I’ve been thinking so much this week about Mother’s Day and what it means to all the women I know who are still struggling in the trenches of IF. I so vividly remember the pain I felt on past Mothers Days when I was wishing I could be a mother and not knowing if it ever would be so. Those feelings will always be with me on that day. Always. No matter how many Mother’s Days I’m lucky enough to celebrate with living children of my own.

    When I read the post that you’re referring to I was incredibly conflicted. Actually, as I was reading it, I was upset. I felt that what she was saying was quite hurtful, not only to women who couldn’t conceive children or who had lost children, but also to mothers who’d ever felt anything but unadulterated bliss about motherhood. If a woman declares that motherhood, and only motherhood can make her better in all the myriad ways she mentioned, it seems as though she is also declaring that anyone who does not have the experience of motherhood cannot be better in those ways. And to declare that others might see it as difficult while she only views it as a privilege, seems to judge those who would ever dare to complain about it. Maybe that is not true. Maybe it’s just me and my own issues. Maybe it was just the way she said it that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was all of those things.

    Of course I realize that the post was written on her own blog and she can obviously write whatever she wants there. But it’s also true that she is quite a popular blogger and I would venture to guess that a decent percentage of her followers are struggling with IF and/or loss, as her blog was originally about her own struggle with it. And I suppose I do believe that people who have suffered through IF or loss and know that their readers also suffer through it should be sensitive to those readers, especially when it comes to topics that revolve around motherhood. I don’t think IF bloggers should sensor what they say, but I guess I do believe they should be considerate in how they say it. If she had simply acknowledged that her words represented her own situation and in no way devalued the experiences of others, she could have said what she did without being so hurtful to women who struggle with Mother’s Day.

    I know many IF survivors greatly censor what they choose to say on their blogs. I was only going to mention Mother’s Day on my own to express my conflicting emotions about it. That is it. I would never dream of going into detail about what it all means to me. Am I claiming that I never say how much I love motherhood on my blog? Of course not. I do all the time, but I try to do so in a way that is respectful of the people who still are not mothers despite wanting it desperately. I’m sure sometimes I fail at this and I’m sorry. But I do believe that I confront these issues and make it clear that I struggle with it continually.

    Again, I know it’s her blog and she can say what she wants. But that also means that people can respond in the way that they want. And I’m glad you did so here, because I know I was hurt by the post and I’m sure others were as well. You can’t assume that posts are experienced in a vacuum and you need to be prepared for whatever responses they inspire.

    Thank you.

  2. I do think that we need to consider the feelings of others in the ALI community if we’re still tightly linked to them. Her feelings are her feelings, and completely valid, but I wonder if she had thought, “someone who lost a baby at 10 or 20 or 30 weeks might be reading this” she would have framed her thoughts more carefully.

    It’s a tough balance, because you want to reflect what you’re feeling right now as you write, but also be cognizant that not everyone is where you are – for example, all my whining about being past due is always tempered with the thought that there are women out there reading who are still struggling to get their BFP. Even with that thought in mind it’s hard to keep a whiny post from being a slap in the face to someone else. I think those type posts are easier to bear however when the writer makes some attempt to acknowledge her journey to get to where she is, or that others are still struggling with the very things she once did.

    Or maybe my mind is just a jumbled mess right now and none of what I wrote makes sense! But this topic is something I think about a lot when I blog, so thank you!

  3. I didn’t love her post either, but I also don’t think it was meant to represent anyone’s experience but her own. Could she have been more sensitive? Of course. Should she have been more sensitive? Probably. But it sounds like SHE, personally, didn’t really get what motherhood was about until her child was born. That’s her reality, but it doesn’t mean that’s everybody’s. (I agree that she could have made this more clear.) As long as a year of trying might have felt for her, it is kind of a blink of the eye relative to many people’s IF struggles. Lots of other people do get what motherhood is about before they have children. I did. It sounds like you do. But maybe she didn’t. That’s her reality. Honestly, it makes me feel just the tiniest bit sorry for her. She must have missed out on some of the joys of pregnancy if she didn’t really get it until her child was born. I know that when you get there, you’ll savor it like nobody’s business.

  4. Thank you for this post; I appreciate the perspective. As the blogger who wrote the post you are referring to, I’d like to offer another way to think about my Mother’s Day post:

    It is impossible to write EVERYTHING that I think about a given topic in one blog post. Heck, it’s impossible to write everything that I think about in a million blog posts. So each post is just a snippet of the thoughts in my brain and the things on my heart. What is not written on the page is NOT WRITTEN ON THE PAGE. And that means that it is impossible for you to know it. I don’t really think it’s fair to judge someone on what they did not say.

    I totally hear what you’re saying about acknowledging mothers who may have lost children or mothers who have not yet had the opportunity to become mothers on Mother’s Day (and every day). I could not agree more! But the fact is, that’s not what that post was about. If I wrote a disclaimer before every post about what that post is NOT about, I would never get around to writing what it IS about. It is not at all that I have forgotten what it feels like to be struggling with IF. Nor am I distancing myself from that pain. Nor am I judging mothers who do not feel the same blissful way about motherhood that I do.

    Quite the contrary. Since I know and remember the struggle of waiting and wishing and hoping for a child, and being underrepresented on Mothers’ Day, this year I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to move past feeling sad and celebrate the joy that I have this year. I didn’t want to write a disclaimer or write about what some other people feel on this day — I wanted to write about me and what I was feeling. That’s what my blog is all about.

    I never, not once, said anything about anyone other than myself in that post. I’m not speaking for other mothers and I’m not speaking about other mothers. I’m speaking about ME. And this year, on this day, I’m celebrating that I am a mother. And that “Hallmark script” is really, truly how I feel. Do I realize that everyone doesn’t feel that way, for various reasons? Absolutely. But I would think anyone who is struggling with IF would realize what an amazing thing that is, and I would hope they could see it as a vision of hope for the future, if they are struggling to get pregnant. That someday they, too, could celebrate being a mother.

    So I respect this discussion and your perspective, but I think it may be helpful to realize that you can’t always judge someone on what they did not write, because you have no idea what else they might be thinking about.

    • Thank you so much for responding. It seems like you really do understand how hard Mother’s Day is for so many and are empathetic to those going through infertility. You also seem like a nice person.

      I think there is a larger question at work here that I don’t know the answer to: what happens to IF survivors when they cross the divide? Are they required to always be careful of the feelings of others going through infertility? Do they embrace the struggle and lobby politicians on behalf of Resolve? Do they move on and become mommy bloggers? I honestly don’t know. I think that Lut Cass is right and Mother’s Day is a day that can divide us. I’d like to apologize if my words were divisive. All infertility survivors are stronger together and you clearly are a figure of hope and positivity to many. We all may have different views about whether motherhood is easy or hard, or whether motherhood is the pinnacle of a woman’s experience but I think we can all agree that infertility sucks. And again I’m reminded by Mel, from Stirrup Queens, and Keiko (people much wiser than me) that the only way to really change things is by lobbying, and working with Resolve to really change policy. So that’s where my personal focus will remain.

      Thanks again for your response.

  5. I’ve never followed Kate’s blog and honestly only have limited understanding of her story and I’m basing some of my comment only on the snippets of of her post that you’ve highlighted in your post… So, it’s possible that everything I’m about to say is perhaps just crap based on minimal context.

    Having said that, as an IFer who is now parenting, I find myself struggling to compose posts that are both reflective of my true feelings AND tempered with a good dose of sensitivity for those who are still waiting, cycling, etc. I have another blog for my family in which I gratuitously post pictures of my son and ramble on about mundane parenting/baby things–but my IF is not public/family knowledge, and so posts there don’t contain any mention of my struggle to conceive and how this colors my parenting and my view on parenting. I feel disingenous in both spaces. In one space I refrain from talking about my baby too much (even though I, too, want to share how ridiculously overjoyed I am to be a mother and talk about the crazy amount of awe and wonder I have for everything little thing my baby does) and in the other I can’t share just WHY I feel so saturated in gratitude for this opportunity to be a parent. It sucks.

    Parenting “after” ALI does put you in a weird place sometimes, and I will openly own that I often feel like I can’t (shouldn’t?) talk about my many feelings about parenting out of fear that I might hurt someone else’s feelings.

    It’s interesting; I was just at Resolve’s Advocacy Day this week in DC, and everyone in one of my groups was either parenting or pregnant, and EVERYONE was afraid to acknowledge this. One participant asked me, “Where are you in your journey?” and I replied kind of quietly and with a sense of guilt, “Oh, I’m parenting. After IVF.” I was so afraid that this admittance would hurt her in some way. And she whispered back, “Me, too.” But it felt like we needed to hide this, simply because it indeed is a difficult balancing act to honor the love and joy you feel but also doing so in a way that is respectful for those continuing to struggle. (But the inversely cool part of that is that there were so many people there still fighting for IF in this way even though they were now parenting, which just goes to show (like most of already know) that infertility/loss still impacts you even when you’re parenting.

    And in response to Kate’s comment…she’s exactly right–you don’t know what else she’s feeling or thinking, but by the exact token she can’t expect you to consider it if she doesn’t articulate it in some manner.

    • First of all, that rocks that you went to DC for Advocacy Day!

      Second, I totally what you mean about the “weirdness” of talking about parenting after IF. I don’t know why I don’t gravitate toward the shiny, happy mommy bloggers since I’ve had children. I just still relate more to the infertility bloggers, and parenting after infertility bloggers. Which means I keep talk of my kids to a minimum. And yes, it does feel a bit disingenuous at times. But my readers are like my family, and I prefer to try to spare them as much pain as possible. If that’s possible…

  6. Lut Cass

    Mother’s day is a difficult day for the ALI community as a community. It highlights the differences between the members.

    I think there is no such thing as a blog post that manages to hurt no one.
    Even not posting offends some, because that’s a sure sign you’ve moved on.
    So, it’s a no-win situation.

    I’m mighty uneasy writing about parenting on my blog, and feel much like Trinity. Untrue in both places, but it is for me the path of least resistance.

    I didn’t know what motherhood would be like before I made it there.
    Does that mean that no one knows what motherhood is like if they’re not parenting live children from day to day? That’s a bit of a leap from one statement to the other.
    Perhaps that’s my way of thinking, perhaps not. But if I don’t write about it in a post, you can’t really know.

    I’m not getting to a point here. I think I see both sides of the coin (but correct me if I’m wrong).

    I understand that you feel sensitive about mothers day, and about posts that celebrate motherhood after IF.
    Mother’s day still makes me shudder more than feel like celebrating.
    I’m sensitive to posts where survivors say they live and breathe gratitude – without the hint over there ever being the slightest frustration in parenting.

    • I love your responses – they are always so thoughtful. I never really understood before, but you are right: Mother’s Day IS a divisive holiday for all IF vets.

  7. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must b to go through infertility, to lose a child (or more), to have a terrible sick child, or to never be able to have children when you really wanted to.

    But I don’t see why those who have been lucky enough to have healthy children are not entitled to express their feelings about motherhood.

    I’m very sorry for those who have not had healthy children, I hear you say that you wish mothers of healthy children would be more sensitive to your feelings.

    But wouldn’t you be happier to celebrate the success of a healthy child (even if it’s not your own) rather than berate their mother for disregarding your feelings?

    I think sometimes we women can be very critical of eachother.

    Every journey of motherhood is different and no matter what your experience it is such a profound journey that it will surely change you in ways you may expect as well as ways you may not.

    We need to allow these different stories to be told and heard, and respect what each woman has experienced in her own right.

    Let’s embrace our womanhood rather than criticising eachother for what we may or may not have done. After all, we may be women but we’re only human!

  8. Jjriaffe–thank you so much for this post. It is such an important issue to bring up. I agree with Lut Cass that Mother’s Day is difficult for the entire ALI community–it is a difficult day. That is all there is to it.

    I also really appreciated Kate’s comment and explanation of where she is coming from. I think I can see her perspective. I can imagine wanting to move past the pain of my own journey and simply celebrate, someday when I do have a living child on Mother’s Day.

    Ruth, I would like to try to tackle you’re question: “Why can’t women who haven’t yet had a living child be happy for *any* healthy baby?” It is difficult for us, because every healthy baby is a reminder of what we don’t have. Before I started trying to have children, I celebrated mothers with no feeling of pinch in my heart, because I was certain I would be a mother myself someday, it would only be a matter of time. That did happen, I am a mother, but not in the way I thought I would be. I am a mother of three, tiny angels. I am a bereaved mother. Today, someone asked me if I had kids, and didn’t listen long enough to hear my full reply, which I mumbled a beat too late. As I said, “They’re all dead,” she said, “Well, happy Mother’s Day, anyway.” And that hurt. Because I want to honor myself as a mother tomorrow, but I don’t expect the day to be *happy* for me.

    An excellent post, about the original meaning of Mother’s Day, can be found here: http://pregnancylossribbons.blogspot.com/

    The last line, I think, is especially pertinent to your question: “I’ll celebrate with you if you will first mourn with me. It is the combination of the two that lends itself to the true meaning of Mothers Day!” No matter how happy I am that another woman’s child is healthy, I am still sad that my children are not here with me on earth. Honor my grief, and I will be happy to honor your joy.

  9. Pingback: Today « Stumbling Gracefully

  10. chhandita

    The blogger (Kate) managed to make me feel like such a bad momma..sigh…not much to add to the debate…All’s been said so wonderfully…I just sometimes wish I didnt feel guilty about finding motherhood so difficult…that’s food for a whole post I guess….

  11. This is a complicated question. I do think that we owe it to ourselves and to all women to remember what it’s like to dream about the children we don’t know if we’ll ever get to hold, and to know the grief of lost children. But I also think that it’s important to celebrate the life-changing role of motherhood. I’m changed again every day by being a parent … it’s not just a one-time deal. I *do* see myself differently because I have living children who teach me new things. My lost children have changed me, too … but not in the same ongoing way that I am challenged to become better than I am. Then again, we can be changed, if we allow ourselves to be, by so many people in our lives–and we owe it to ourselves to recognize that, too.

    The problem with this post, I think, is that she puts motherhood on a pedestal … mothers of living children aren’t more perfect or more sensitive or more *anything*. They do the best they can. Some of them do an amazing job. Some of them muddle through. We would do well to support each other, wherever we find ourselves on that continuum, whether we are mothers of living children or mothers of children who live only in our hearts.

  12. Wow, such an amazing post and so many great responses. I am not on the other side yet, but I am always curious to see what my perspective will be when I make it there. Will I view everything as I do now?

  13. geochick

    I feel like I have a duty to not let fellow infertile and adoptive mothers down. This includes being careful with my blog when we do get a baby. I’ve seen too many blogs go completely kid-centric with no more acknowledgement (or very little) to infertility and/or adoption. It’s just not the kind of blogger I want to be. As far as Mother’s Day goes, I’m totally over it. There won’t be any big deal or shouting from F-B even once I have a baby. I’ve been in the middle of too many Mother’s Day sucks rants over the past few years.

  14. “Each day in 2011 I am going to try to write about joy.”

    I think that’s all Kate was simply doing as well, when she wrote her Mother’s Day post.

  15. Oh Geez, I just realized that I came over here from bloglines and didn’t look carefully at whose blog I was reading. Sorry for the comment that didn’t make sense in light of your situation as a parent. I thought your post had been written by a different blogger still in the trenches. Doh! The general sentiment still stands, but sorry about the out-of-place details.

  16. Christine

    I think your post is valid… if you want ‘Infertility’ to define you. I can be a survivor without being a victim. Victims resent others’ happiness and success, while survivors revel in the joy of their own, and others’ successes… or enjoy others’ successes, even while still hoping for their own.

  17. Vanessa

    I’m sorry, but I think it is very unfair of you to criticise the blogger for being happy to be a mother, without referencing her struggle or that of others. I have struggled with IF, but I don’t wear it as a badge and I don’t think people have to tiptoe around me for it. She wrote that post about how she feels. Her joy is probably as great as it is because it wasn’t easy to conceive. But she doesn’t need to put disclaimers down. I really don’t see how her post was hurtful.
    She is entitled to say motherhood has made her a better person without what she stated being construed as implying that one cannot be a better person without being a mother. I would respectfully suggest that there is a leap of logic in that thinking.
    It makes me sad that we judge each other so harshly. Motherhood is different for every single person, and has no one ‘meaning’. That being said – and I will no doubt be flamed for this – but it strikes me as obvious that the longer one has been a mother, the more one understands about the multiple facets involved in the role. Being a mother to an unborn child is different from being a mother to a baby, a toddler, a teenager, seeing your child get married…. motherhood has phases and manifestations and different challenges along the way. No-one is suggesting that mothers of living children love them more, know the meaning of love for child more, but there is a difference and it needs to be acknowledged.
    Wishing you all luck on your journeys.

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