If someone came to me this afternoon and said, “You can pick one sentence that I have the power to guarantee that no one will ever speak or write to you again,” there’s one clear and obvious choice. I think you readers – most of whom are either in the same boat as me and Ms. Swimmin or at least part of the same flotilla – know exactly what it is.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
It is, apparently, one of the standard responses upon hearing of a couple’s infertility. “Everything happens for a reason.” This is often followed by something akin to, “Just wait, it will happen when you least expect it,” and/or, “it will happen when the time is right.”
To which I can only say: Bull. Shit.
I know people often just don’t know quite what to say when confronted with such news. And I know that they probably think they’re being comforting, or offering a pearl of wisdom that will help us through this time…but all I can say is, “Bullshit.”
Nothing happens for a reason. Things just happen. And it’s not going to make me feel better to imagine that there’s a reason behind whatever biological quirk has caused my sperm to be useless, sluggish, lazy little bastards. It’s not going to give me some sort of philosophical perspective on the matter to imagine a world in which there’s some sort of motive or intent behind all of the misery and unhappiness that the situation causes both me and Ms. Swimmin.
If this is happening for a reason, pray tell, O Wise One, what could that reason possibly be? I try my best to be a good person. So does my wife. We both really, really want to have this hypothetical child. When this child comes, I will do everything I can to be a good father. And yet, the world is depressingly full of scumbags who beat their wives and cheat on them, parents who physically, emotionally or sexually abuse their children, fathers who think nothing of raiding their daughters’ piggy banks to buy beer, mothers who don’t bat an eye while telling their sons, “You ruined my life, you’re stupid, I hate you,” and on and on and on. And for so many people like that, the babies just pop out easy as pie. So what, then, could the reason be to make it so goddamn hard for us?
There’s also Everything Happens for a Reason’s religious counterpart, “It’s all part of God’s plan,” about which the less said, the better. Thanks, I suppose, to the circles I generally run in, I haven’t yet heard that one from anyone. If I ever do, I don’t think I’ll be able to nod and smile politely. I think the, “No, fuck you and let me tell you something…” is going to arise with a fury and intensity beyond my control.
I don’t think people who don’t have to deal with it really understand that infertility isn’t a cold or the chicken pox. It’s not going to get better. I’m not going to become more fertile if I rest for a couple of weeks, get plenty of fluids and eat some chicken soup. So talking about how it’ll happen “when you lest expect it” or “when the time is right” isn’t helpful, or comforting, or even particularly intelligent. For so many people of the “my husband looks at me and Ooops! I’m pregnant again” persuasion, it’s a totally foreign concept.
And because they don’t understand infertility to begin with – and they don’t have to, lucky them – they don’t get that IVF or other medical intervention-type solutions aren’t simple and easy. It’s not like getting a flu shot or having your annual physical. It’s a long and difficult process with no guarantees anywhere along the way. It’s a Great Big “If” and can by no means be considered pregnancy “happening when the time is right.”
I know people want to offer sympathy, offer comfort, offer wisdom, offer advice. But telling me there’s a reason that I feel useless, that I feel like a failure – feelings that I know aren’t really true, but that I can’t seem to avoid having from time to time – just doesn’t help. In fact, it hurts.
We were discussing it with some friends the other day, and one of them really did have some wisdom to offer. It was wisdom that came, apparently from that old busybody Dear Abby, who I guess really did have good advice to offer every now and then. There is really nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know what to say.” It’s okay. It’s honest. It has the supreme advantage of not being an idiotic and meaningless platitude. If you don’t know what to say, say that.
Just don’t tell me that my wife and I can’t have the one thing we dearly and passionately want above any other right now…but it’s okay, because the universe has a reason for denying it to us.