Category Archives: navel gazing

With a Spoon

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.

Thunder Stealing

Ed. Note: Not since February? Really? Good grief. Unfortunately, our financial situation has slowed down our parental situation an awful lot. We’re stuck in a holding pattern and hating it, which makes what follows even more difficult. A side effect of this is that there’s not much to write about right now, so posts are kind of thin on the ground, as it were. Anyway…

Ed. Note 2: Fair warning: what follows is completely self-indulgent, intolerably whiny and will probably make you want to crawl through the series of tubes to my end so you can reach out through my monitor and smack me a good one for being such a self-indulgent, whiny bastard. But…well, it is a blog, after all, so that’s kind of par for the course, innit?

For our entire adult/partnered/married lives, I have been able to operate quite safely on at least one very basic assumption: that my brother and his wife would not be having kids. On this blog’s “About” page, I wrote, “I have one older brother, who does not have and will not have kids.” Everything I’d ever heard from both my brother and his wife led me to believe that this was true.

Strange how quickly such assumptions can be shattered.

They came to visit last week, and we went out camping for a night. As we sat around the campfire, drinking beer and talking about life, the universe and everything, the hour grew late and the subject turned to our fertility woes. I brought the subject up on purpose. My brother and his wife were among the very few when we were first telling family members and close friends what was going on to be simply, plainly and unambiguously supportive. Theirs were the first – and essentially only – contact we received from members of either of our families to just say, “This really sucks that you’re going through this, we’re looking forward to meeting our new niece or nephew whenever it happens, if there’s anything we can do to help you let us know.” So I brought the subject up on purpose, because I wanted to tell them how much their simple and heartfelt gesture had meant to both of us. And so I did.

And then my sister-in-law dropped the bombshell. They’d been talking about it a lot, wondering if they would regret never having kids, realizing that if they didn’t do it now they were going to lose their chance…and they’ve decided that they’re “pretty sure” they’re going to start trying to get pregnant sometime in the next year.

Internet, I’d really love to tell you that I took this news in stride. I’d really love to tell you that I told them how great I thought it was, that I said something to the effect of being certain that they would be great parents. Instead, I clammed up. I was shocked. Dumbfounded. Speechless. I really didn’t know what to say.

Eventually, I told my brother that, so far as we knew, our fertility issue was entirely on me, and I really had no idea as to the source of it, so if maybe it was some sort of genetic thing he should probably go get tested before they started trying, so they wouldn’t waste an unproductive and frustrating year of trying with no result like Ms. Swimmin and I did.

But I remained – and still remain – very conflicted. It makes me feel like a bad person. There’s a bit of me that is a truly awful person, indeed, that is completely selfish and petty and small. Because as much as I say I wouldn’t wish an inability to have children when they want to on anyone…well, there’s a little tiny bit of me – a bit that I hate, a bit that I wish I could make go away – that hopes that my brother does have the same issue I have.

I had hoped that typing it out and seeing it there in black-and-white on the screen would be cathartic, or would make me realize that I don’t really feel that way at all, but it is neither of those things. Instead it is just stark and honest and terrible and horrible and awful, but there it is.

I am a terrible person, because in some small wish-I-didn’t way, I am wishing this awful experience not just on someone else, but on two people I love and care about and want to be happy.

Make no mistake, I want them to be happy and there is another, much larger piece of me who hopes their efforts are easy and happy and successful and knows that they will be wonderful parents. But Mr. Petty Jerkbag Asshole No Swimmin’ is there in the back, being a petty jerkbag asshole and stewing and fuming over the whole situation.

I have, like a lot of people who get pregnant or who would like to be pregnant but aren’t, a recurring little daydream. It’s this little daydream about calling my parents and telling them that they have a grandchild. It’s a nice fantasy, a hopeful thought that I can play like a record for a guaranteed smile even when I’m feeling lowest.

And now in that recurring fantasy, instead of hearing delight and joy, I call them up say, ‘Hey, Mom, Dad, you’ve got a grandchild,” the response is, “Oh, another one? That’s nice. Hey, did you see the latest photos of little Thor that your brother posted on Facebook? He’s just so cute!”

This is all tied up, of course, with my own long-standing younger brother issues of feeling second-best, but even my brother will tell you that he’s observed that I am not entirely off-base in feeling this way.

It’s a terrible way to feel not least because it’s so inarguably selfish. In the end, having a kid or not can’t be about me and my parents and my brother. What my own journey to and through parenthood brings won’t really be affected much at all by what my brother does or does not do in a reproductive sense. It goes without saying that what is most important is my relationship with my wife and our relationship with the child we will have.

But that’s the other aspect of this that’s so hateful and awful: that I can’t not feel this way. I can know all of these things, I can intellectualize them and internalize them and feel them with almost all of my heart and soul. But I just can’t get rid of the inner 9-year-old who’s insanely jealous about all the cool stuff that Older Brother gets to do first and look, here’s just one more thing. It’s just a rotten way to feel not in spite of knowing how meaningless it really is, but because I know that and I still can’t just let it go.

That’s all I’ve got. Again, I was hoping that writing this would bring me around to a satisfying conclusion where I achieve some sort of perspective on the matter, or recognize a silver lining or SOMETHING. That’s how it’s supposed to work because it so often has. But it’s just not happening. I still feel angry and selfish and petty and small. That’s all I’ve got. Sorry.

Beyond Reason

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.

The Great Big But

First, a note: Thanks to everyone who has read and commented so far. It has been encouraging and energizing to get so much positive feedback right off the bat. In spite of this community being one that none of us really wants to be a part of, y’all are pretty fantastic, positive and supportive people. Thanks for reading!

Anyway…


It’s weird how things will just up and blindside you. Last night, I was watching TV and happened to see an ad for this new movie Life as We Know It.

First off, it looks like an awful movie. I’m not anti-chick-flick by any means – heck, I was watching Gossip Girl when I saw the ad, so I’d say my willing-and-able-to-enjoy-female-oriented-pop-culture creds are safe – but this just looks like a collection of horrible clichés and stereotypes and Idiot Plotting and, gee, I wonder if Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel* will hate each other at the end of the second act and then get together at the end of the third? Do you suppose perhaps they’ll be brought together by the important lesson that only having children can possibly validate you as a person?

* Interesting star pairing here. She doesn’t have enough vowels in her name and he’s got too many.

I mean, all you really need is a look at the movie’s poster to learn all you really need to know:

Men are dumb and slobs and kind of like big kids, yanno? Which one’s the baby and which one’s the grown-up, amirite? Oh, it’s funny because it’s true. Or something.

Also, Josh Duhamel’s tighty-whities and black high tops combo there is kind of disturbing.

But none of that is really the point.

A medical diagnosis of infertility has had a curious effect. During the last few months of the trying-without-succeeding year, I said on a couple of occasions, “I don’t think my life will be incomplete if we don’t have a child.” I said that with the luxury of being able to still think, “We’ve just had bad luck, and things will work out eventually.” It was a statement without any real weight behind it.

Now I’m forced to ponder the reality of that. What happens if the Magic Beans don’t work?** What if we decide that we just can’t afford IVF, or if Ms. Swimmin just can’t/won’t put her body through that stress? What if we go for IVF and it still doesn’t work? What if, what if, what if…?

** Yes, I’ve started taking Magic Beans, operating on the “Well, it can’t hurt anything” theory, those being the verbatim words of both the Reproductive Endocrinologist and the Urologist.

So I remind myself of all the things about a child-free existence that are good. We can travel. When the right opportunity to go to Egypt or Norway or Japan or anywhere else that sounds intriguing comes along, we can just up and go without thinking about school schedules or whether we can leave the kids with Grandma for a week or anything else like that. We can have a little more fun with our money – buy a new TV instead of making sure there’s enough for the kids to play soccer or go to camp or things like that. We can go to the movies or a concert or out to dinner at a restaurant that doesn’t purchase crayons by the gross or serve chicken nuggets without ever thinking about getting a babysitter or feeling the need to call home to check in (because the cats sure as hell aren’t going to answer the phone). We can, in short, live our lives knowing that our only responsibility is to ourselves.

And, in spite of the message of every movie or TV show about having kids ever to come out of Hollywood – a cultural monolith that is, collectively, deeply conservative and traditional and terrified of offending Middle America down to its very bones in spite of the bleating of right-wing blowhards – I truly believe that having and caring for children is not the only meaningful way to validate yourself as a person. People are perfectly capable of living rich, interesting, meaningful and completely fulfilling lives without children. And if that turns out to be the case in our lives, I’m sure we will do just that.

But…

Oh, there’s that great big but. There’s always a great big but.

But…I see this ad for this awful-looking movie, I see the moment when Josh Duhamel (clad, thankfully, in more than tighty-whities and black high-tops) accidentally gets the baby crying, and I can think only of one thing. I want that. Not the crying, necessarily, though obviously it’s kind of a package deal. But the idea that there’s this small person for whom the world is frightening, confusing and upsetting and that I, of all people in the world, might be the one person who makes things less frightening, happier, calmer…that’s an idea that pleases me immensely.

I want it in spite of the detriment to my own personal freedom.  I think that, at first, back at the very beginning, well before the pulling of the goalie, I wanted kids mostly because Ms. Swimmin wanted kids, and I didn’t not want kids. In the beginning, that was enough for me. Now, things have changed. I still want kids in part because she does – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think she’s going to be an absolutely fantastic mother. But beyond that, I want kids because I, myself, really and legitimately want them. I want them because I really do think I’d be a pretty good father. I may not succeed at any of the other things I do or want in life…but I really do believe I’d be a success at just that one thing.

And just how much I wanted this on a purely personal level, independent of Ms. Swimmin’s own wants, needs or desires, is something I had never really realized before. No matter what happens from here on out, I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to say honestly that I won’t feel like my life is incomplete without children. It was an astonishing revelation, equal parts incredibly exciting and terribly sad.

Hard to believe. All that from an ad for a bad-looking movie that aired during a trashy soap opera aimed at teenage girls. Life is full of these little surprises. That’s kinda what’s so great about it.