Aug 12, 2012

what we (think) we are owed

A few weeks back, Y and I went to our first infertility support group meeting. I am not sure that it was super helpful to us because most of the couples were at a different stage of their infertility journey, but the facilitator was great. One comment she made in particular stuck with me.

She said that when we first set out trying to conceive, we think that we are going to get the gold -- the gold being everything we want and on the time scale we want it. And then maybe it turns out it is taking longer than we thought and we need a little pharmaceutical help -- we are now going for the silver. Maybe then it turns out our problems are in fact pretty big so after the silver doesn't pan out, we're going for IVF  -- now we're aiming for the bronze.

Maybe after that we are in a position where we are getting comfortable with the idea of donor egg or a gestational carrier or we are pursuing adoption, and so we give up a little more of the original dream. I don't think the point was that any of the outcomes that aren't the first one -- everything we want and on the time scale we want it -- is somehow ultimately less good, but more that in order to get it, we may be finding ourselves sacrificing more and more of our original vision and all the while time is passing.

The truth is, I don't remember the original context of her remark, but it crystalized for me something really important. When we found out we were expecting twins and then later on, when we found out we were expecting a boy and a girl, I felt like everything that had been taken away from me in this journey was suddenly and unexpectedly gifted back, just like that.

In other words, we were going to get the gold. It wasn't without lots of sweat, tears, perseverance, sacrifice, and hard work, but we would get our happy ending -- what we were owed. The world was suddenly a fair place again, just as I had always known it to be until infertility and loss entered our lives.

We would have the two children we would have had if we had control over our reproductive fate and in the same time frame! A son and a daughter! It seemed too good to be true, but we did work really hard to get there, so why not? Why couldn't we have it all, get the gold, after our shit luck until then? It happens to others in the infertility community all the time, really -- from zero to two -- just like that.

Everything that happened to us until then infertility-wise sucked but it was tolerable and livable. It was something I was willing to put up with and rationalize, if we could then just get our happy ending. For lack of a better term, it was all within the realm of normal infertility suckiness. Par for the course.

And while it might have seemed sudden and unexpected when it finally worked and we conceived two beautiful babies, I felt like we deserved it because we are fundamentally good people who had worked very hard to get there. (But the unanswerable question that many of us avoid altogether in the moments of dazed self-congratulations then becomes what about everyone else on a similar road who has not been granted the same good fortune?)

Owed, deserved -- what dangerous words and concepts these are. I think you can probably already see where I am going with this.

I wasn't naive about the risks of a twin pregnancy -- if I look back at my posts during that period of time I don't think I was every really happy-go-lucky or flippant about the pregnancy. But deep down, even when the pregnancy became complicated, I fundamentally believed we would get our take-home babies -- that this would be very hard and scary, sure, but that we would also all make it out of this alive.

Even if you are particularly anxious and fearful, I don't think you ever really believe that you will be the horror story. In fact, isn't imagining the worst over and over again supposed to be some sort of protection mechanism? I am pretty sure that I subconsciously thought so.

So, obviously, in the end, we did not get the gold -- we came really close but we didn't get gold. Or silver. Or bronze. Actually, we didn't even place, we just pretty much careened off the course entirely.

What I want to get back to is this idea of what we are owed and what we deserve. It is something I struggle with in the present constantly -- this notion that we do all of this stuff and go through all of these trials and therefore it has to lead somewhere. It all has to be for something -- to ultimately fulfill some purpose.

But sometimes it's not.

Many times I see that women who have achieved their happy ending attempt to rationalize what it took to get there and find some meaning in it. For many of us, the journey can never just be an endless trek of failure, pain, and suffering -- it has to mean something and it has to have all been for something. The alternative is just too depressing and soul-crushing. It is not too difficult to rationalize the journey if you do get the happy ending, as I would have if Aminadav and Naava had come home with us.

But what about when that doesn't happen?

I know now I will never get the gold. I missed it entirely. What I mean by that is even if I do eventually get my living child(ten) in one way or another, I have lost too much that is irreplaceable for it to ever 'make up' for what I have experienced and what I have lost -- there will forever be my son and daughter missing from our lives, and that is not something fixable.

Until I lost them, the loss and sacrifice that I had experienced along this road deeply affected me, but there was nothing I had given up or lost that was unredeemable or unforgivable with the good fortune of the twins. It's not that I would forget the journey, but I was willing to bargain this for that and this (6 IUIs, 4 IVF transfers, a miscarriage) certainly seemed 'worth it' for what I could get in return (a son and a daughter).

How do I shake this idea of being owed a living child for what I have endured? It is so naive -- and yet a testament to how good and straightforward my life was until infertility -- this belief everything I work hard at will be handed to me. Life doesn't really work like that, I know, but part of me can't shake the idea.

When I had the very early miscarriage that resulted from the IVF cycle we did after losing the twins part of me was like "C'mon -- what did you expect, A? Of course it didn't work out. It never works out for you. Don't you get it by now?" but part of me was suspended in disbelief "How could it not work out -- after all of this don't you just deserve for things to work out?"

Part of me just can't shake the belief in the Very American Happy Ending. Hard work = a great reward. I try to shake it but there is a girl underneath who still believes in it. And yet it is ultimately so damaging to subscribe to that idea when life keeps throwing lemons at you -- if life hands us what we deserve, what does that say about Y and myself?

I still try to bargain all of the time. It is disastrous. I think to myself -- if we couldn't keep Aminadav and Naava, then the second best thing would be to have twins again. A second chance. We deserve to have twins. Twins are so special, I think.

But I know this is totally unrealistic, especially because we plan to only do SET in the future (as we did with our last IVF) since another twin pregnancy is too dangerous for us. Even if we did transfer more than one embryo, realistically our chances of both sticking around are quite low given our IVF track record.

I keep reminding myself that the goal is to have one healthy, living child who I can carry to term. Let's not get ahead of ourselves and get greedy, here, I tell myself. So I guess along side mourning the loss of my particular, beautiful twins,  I also mourn the loss of ever having twins again, which often felt like something special to make up for the lousy hand we had been dealt until then.

I have lost too much to ever think I can have it all again -- the gold has clearly evaded me -- but still there is that stupid quiet voice who says don't you deserve a happy ending? This can't all be for nothing, right? Aren't you owed a living child? Or two.

How about you? Do you struggle with this idea of being owed something or deserving it? Did you feel the gold or silver or even the bronze was taken from you only to unexpectedly get it all back (or not)? If you've had your happy ending, do you rationalize what it took to get there?

Aug 6, 2012

searching for a new lightness

I used to smile A LOT. I was always a very smiley person. I also used to be kind of famous for my laughter, which was totally contagious. I can sort of boast about these things because it is so removed from who I am now. My fourth grade teacher overhead me laughing in a restaurant from another table without seeing my face and she instantaneously knew it was me. I was 22 years old. I hadn't seen her in 12 years.

People from all corners of my life always used to comment on my smile and laugh. It was something that stuck with them. My physical chemistry lab instructor approached me one day in the middle of lab, three weeks into the semester, and quipped disappointedly "A., I hear you are so much FUN! You haven't said one fun thing yet!"

In my new life, I never say anything funny, either on purpose or unintentionally, and I don't smile or laugh very much, either. I think I am actually a total downer to be around. I have been thinking lately that I wouldn't want to spend too much time around me. Poor Y.

I have slowly, over a long period of time, turned more and more inward. Most people who have met me in the past few years would probably describe me as awkward, serious, introverted, and well, whiny.

Infertility and loss has made me more empathetic and given me depth and maturity, but those things are much harder to see and appreciate, at least on the surface. Infertility and loss has also made me less vital, less zany, quirky and fun -- a muted, subdued version of myself. And I think I might also be less good-natured and more inclined to hold a grudge, especially if you were a jerk to me when I lost the twins.

More and more turned inward. I think that really accurately describes it. Not self-involved in a narcissistic or conceited sense, but in a darker self-obsessed way. Self-obsessed with my misery, my bad fortune, my inability to understand or answer all of the whys of how this came to be our lot.

I realized recently that I have been complaining a lot about stupid things. Mostly things that are within my control. And I realized this all serves as a cover. I think I have a compulsion to complain because of what really bothers me and how freaking unfair it is, but because it is not socially acceptable to talk about my infertility or my dead babies, I just complain about completely stupid inane stuff instead:

Y hasn't yet taken me to a baseball game this summer, we will probably never go, pity me, etc. etc. Read: My babies died and I am still incredibly pissed and sad and confused about it pity me, etc. etc. It must be so annoying to listen to.

Self-pity. Well, there is not much more to say than that self-pity really blows. No one wants to be proficient in the art of self-pity, but thank goodness, those of us who have gotten really adept at it are usually too self-involved to notice, save for the brief glimpse of self-awareness.

I wonder if I actually talked about the heart of it and acknowledged it outside of this blog like it is a normal topic of conversation: That I have had a really shitty, disastrous go of it conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy. That I had babies but they died and I don't know why things happened the way they did, but that it is really unfair and sucky. That I wish and pray for a living child every day -- whether maybe some of the burden would be relieved and I could find some lightness again and stop acting like a crochety old hag who is so hard done by.

I wish I could act like someone I would actually like to spend time with, but I am not there yet and instead I am too involved in self-pity and self-loathing to have an open heart. How can I find the beauty and the fun in simple things and in my friends and family again? Can I reclaim my smile and my laugh, even if I never feel my old, unhinged lightness again? And can I learn to find a new kind of lightness among the heavy things?