Most people don’t have to think about infertility. They don’t have to pause for a single second to ponder that their reproductive choices are entirely in their own hands. They don’t have to think about these things and in turn don’t have to think about how incredibly fortunate they are to have that as a given. And because they’re so fortunate, they don’t have to waste a single nanosecond’s thought on the pain and heartbreak of infertility.
And so, when we, the infertile, wind up feeling insulted or hurt, it’s almost never because of deliberate insult. Often, it’s not even because of a comment directed at us. It’s just because we live in a world surrounded by the fortunate who operate on a lot of assumptions about their own fortune, the fortune of others, and what it means and feels like to be less fortunate.
Ms. Swimmin’s mother, preparing for the wedding of another daughter, makes those little “aren’t I cute and subtle?” insinuations to the bride and groom about how much she wants grandchildren as we sit right there next to her. It simply doesn’t occur to her how every little joke of that sort is like a dagger in our hearts.
Friends, making an effort to be sensitive, tell us they’re pregnant before announcing it to the world at large…and toss out a strange little attempt at a joke about what a horrendous burden it is to have a baby. They don’t mean to offend, they just want to throw a little humor in because that’s “them.”
My brother and his wife – who, yes, of course, clearly got pregnant on their first or second attempt, my feelings about which remain far too complicated and unsettled to go into much depth about here just yet – tell us that we shouldn’t be anxious about Christmas because they’re not going to be talking all baby, all the time. Brother concedes that, yes, “you’ll have to be around a pregnant lady for a few days and if that’s a problem for you, you shouldn’t come.” He is quaintly naive, I guess, about our mother’s grandchild mania, and somehow assumes that if they don’t bring it up at Christmas then she won’t, either.
And what can we do?
It’s a basic fact that we’ve learned over these last months that to be an infertile couple means to swallow an awful lot of pain, to stay quiet and plaster your best phony smile on your face when you’d rather be screaming and crying and smashing everything in sight. It means not talking to people about how you really feel because then you’re the asshole, you’re the turd in the punchbowl, you’re Captain Bringdown stomping on everyone else’s right and proper happiness.
The friends are insulted when we object to their thoughtless attempt at humor, because after all, they were trying to be nice. So who the hell are we to tell them they’ve hurt our feelings when they’re “doing their best?” Brother gets his nose out of joint, reminding us to be oh-so-careful to make sure we don’t hurt his wife’s feelings.
And we swallow it. We keep it all inside, because what else can we do? Our friends and our family deserve their happiness. I don’t begrudge it to them. But…if I slip up, if I have so much as a single moment of saying, “Hey, what about me? What about my wife? Don’t our feelings count, too?”…well, then I’m the one causing drama, and I’m the one RUINING CHRISTMAS FOR EVERYBODY and I’m the bad guy.
And so I take the pain, I take the unintended insults, I take the thoughtless things that everybody else in the whole goddamn world does that remind me a million times a day that for no good reason whatsoever I don’t get the one thing I want more than anything else in the world, and I swallow them.
I worry that swallowing so much can only lead to all of it coming back out eventually, in great gushing, belching torrents of tear-streaked sadness and rage, because nobody else in our lives has to think about it ever, and my wife and I have to think about it all the fucking time. And that’s probably so. But what else can I do? So I take that worry and I swallow it along with all the rest.
Because god fucking forbid that my pain and sorrow and anger, much less my clearly insane desire to have the people in my life give an instant’s actual, real, meaningful thought to all of those things rather than just paying them lip service and pretending that they deserve a fucking medal for “doing the best they can” impinge for even so much as a nanosecond on the warm, glowy happiness of anyone else.
And these are people I love. People I legitimately and honestly love, good people who I believe with every fiber of my being deserve their happiness. People who are and will be great parents, people who have made and will in the future make great, wonderful, amazing kids. But they don’t understand, and nothing I say, nothing I write, nothing I do will ever make them understand. They may have sympathy, after a fashion, but they’re never going to have empathy. They may understand that it hurts, but they’ll never understand how much it hurts. They see my shoes, but they do not walk in them.
So what else can I do? No matter how much it hurts, no matter how full I already am…I just keep swallowing.