The Real Battle of Infertility (And How I'm Winning)
Hi, I'm Brooke. And I’m the infertile friend. It sounds strange saying that. I have 3 beautiful healthy kids. But they took a long time to get here. Of the 13 years I’ve been married, 6 of those years have been spent praying for a baby.
Those who struggle with infertility each have a unique story. For example, I’ve never experienced IVF. In fact, I’ve never been told something was wrong with my body, making it impossible for me to get pregnant. (Although that comes with its own frustrations.) There are definitely parts of infertility that I haven’t dealt with. And although you may say some have it easier and some have it harder, that doesn’t make your pain less real than mine, or my pain less real than my neighbor’s.
BUT--some of your pain...I have felt. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on tests and procedures. I’ve charted my cycles to the point I can almost tell you the exact hour I’m ovulating. I’ve watched as my friends and family members get pregnant, and I can’t. Baby showers and baby announcements in the mail felt like a personal insult. And I have asked that ever-damaging question “WHY is this happening to me?” So. Many. Times.
When you struggle with infertility, everyone has the answer. “Try this pill!” “Drink this water!” “Take this herb!” “Eat this/Don’t eat this!” And my personal favorite—“Just relax! Don’t think about it!” With that first baby I was convinced I would only get pregnant if I were in the desert during a full moon, drinking cactus juice and meditating to understand my chakra while acupuncture was performed on my abdomen.
But over the years I’ve learned some important things about being the infertile friend. I share these not to add to your list of “unsolicited advice”—heaven knows you don’t need that. Nor do I share these to make light of the heartache you carry. I share because having experienced it myself, AND having watched so many other go through the same thing, I've discovered the REAL battle of infertility.
The real battle isn't about children. It's about choices.
Infertility can destroy us in some pretty serious ways, but how we choose to react to the struggle can help us survive the storm. Let me explain.
1) Sharing is caring. I remember during my first infertility experience, I was a wreck of emotions. Anger and sadness, yes. Frustrated, impatient, confused, yes. But a big part of me felt ashamed. Having babies was something women did—our bodies were designed to do this. Clearly I must have done something wrong, eaten too many cinnamon rolls or something. So I was silent about our struggles for a long time. I remember the moment I decided embarrassment was no longer a feeling I wanted to have. I decided to share my story. I was shocked at the women coming out of the woodwork with similar situations. I made so many friends, had so many heartfelt chats, and cried with so many couples. It was HEALING. Granted, I’m not a private person. But even if you’re not ready to share it with the world, find someone you CAN share this with. The burden will seem lighter.
I choose to share.
2) Sad/Glad is a feeling. During my latest infertility run both of my sisters AND Whitney got pregnant. They are three of my very best friends so of course I was thrilled for all of them. But I also sobbed. And that’s OK, it’s going to hurt, but it’s also so good to be happy for others. I would hate for my situation to ruin someone else’s happiness. So I will have a good cry. But after that I will throw showers, and buy baby blankets, and sit out their labor with them. Because I am crazy glad for new babies, and I want to be a part of their happiness.
I choose to be sad/glad and not feel guilty about it.
3) I don’t have to be offended. I remember after 2 years of trying for my first I hit a bit of a breaking point. We had just met with an infertility specialist and had gone over the cost of IVF. I was so discouraged. We had already dropped a TON of money and had zero answers. For that week I didn’t want to try anymore. So I bought a new rug for my kitchen—a small one that cost me $15. A friend came over that night, saw the new rug and said, “Oh you have money for a new rug but not enough for IVF?” I didn’t know whether I should swear at her or start crying so I sat there with my mouth open, saying nothing. Add that experience to the many other comments that will sound familiar—“you need to pray harder," “you could always adopt," “maybe you and your husband need to make some changes in your marriage first," “should you be eating that?”…
Look, people say dumb things. Heaven knows I have said hundreds of dumb things. So I’ve learned to have compassion for them. Most of the time they don’t know what to say, so they blurt out whatever’s on the tip of their tongue. I’m sure they have moments in the middle of the night, waking up with pits in their stomach as they recall that comment. I’m sure that happens because I’ve had moments like that. Forgive them. They’re not always trying to hurt you.
I choose not to be offended.
4) I don’t have to be totally consumed by infertility, although the hardest part of that test is preventing it from doing that very thing. The advice I hated the most, “Just relax” has a sliver of truth. Not because it will get you a baby, but because it can prevent infertility from destroying you. I’ve seen it ruin women, marriages, testimonies, and faith. This is the real battle- holding tightly to those blessings while pushing through an infertile storm. Sharing our pain, embracing a wide spectrum of emotions, and not taking offense all take great strength and endurance, but we can be so much more when it ends. This challenge is not meant to destroy us-- we must fight against bitterness, anger, jealousy, and faithlessness. The fight to stay afloat is worth it.
I choose to fight.
Lastly, to those of you who love the infertile friend—don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. I for one, appreciate it. I’ll let you know if it’s too painful, but for the most part, it’s nice to know that you think about me, and care enough to remember my struggle. I appreciate you telling me about your pregnancy before you tell Instagram. Don’t worry if it makes me a little sad. Tears dry and underneath those tears I’m so happy for you.
Although I would certainly pass this trial up if given the chance, I'm grateful for the lessons I've learned. Infertility doesn’t define me, and it hasn't destroyed me.
Hi, I'm Brooke. And I'm the happy, strong, and victorious infertile friend.