You light some romantic candles and sip wine for a few nights and lay down with the intent of creating a life with the one you love, you get pregnant within just a few months of making the decision to start a family, and nine months later a perfect pink or blue bundle smelling of baby powder springs forth from your loins. The heavens open, golden glittered sunlight streams down on your dewy face, and the angels sing beatitudes heralding your new motherhood. You have arrived. Amen.
Of course I knew that Bad Things sometimes happen and the idyllic scene painted above was either difficult or impossible to achieve, but before we started trying to conceive, I was one of them – one of the eternal fertile optimists who thought that pregnancy was a practically a guarantee and that Bad Things happened so rarely that they always happened to other people.
A miscarriage or perhaps even two was considered common enough that while upsetting, likely wouldn’t have immediately blurred my ridiculous idealistic hopes. I had always known of the three miscarriages my mother suffered before conceiving me and of the doctor who told her that with her imbalance of hormones, it was likely that she’d never have a child. I’d helped a close friend through a miscarriage in high school (!!!). So, I had the predisposition that a miscarriage would have been devastating, but that eventually things would work out. This was the only amount of wrongness that fit within my parameters of normal.
I don’t think I ever would have been the type to say anything exceptionally shitty like, “This is probably for the best, since the baby likely wasn’t normal, anyway,” but common asshole phrases like Keep trying; it will happen eventually and Maybe you’re trying too hard and Be patient; it’s just not your time yet likely would have been in my “words of comfort” repertoire. I know because once I realized I was anything but normal, these are some of the things I tried to tell myself.
By the time people began asking when we were going to have children, we had already been trying for more than a year and a half. My usual answer was, “We’re working on it,” given with a plastered semi-smile and an almost imperceptible tightening of the vocal cords. Those phrases I told myself started coming from others’ mouths, and I started to feel like I was surrounded by mindless assholes.
Are most of the fertile optimists around us who say these things really assholes? There are definitely some people who say terrible things that are true assholes through and through, but I think for the most part, people are genuinely trying to be supportive when they say all the wrong things. They just haven’t been tainted with the skewed perception infertility gives and don’t know any better. But as infertiles, our perceptions are our realities; no matter the intent, if someone says something that rubs us the wrong way it makes them an asshole. We have enough to deal with to have to worry about diplomacy and giving people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easier to divide people into two camps – the Assholes and Those Who Haven’t Said Anything of Asshole Proportions Yet, but Might at Any Moment. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a third and smaller group – People Who Get It, and these are usually your other infertile friends inside the computer and less often, people who are not infertile but who happen to know just what to say and when to say it.
I could have been an Asshole. I like who I am today, knowing that infertilitly has molded a more compassionate and empathetic person out of me. If given a choice ten years ago, would I have exchanged this person I have become for the divine conception and delivery? I don’t know. I think it’s a matter of weighing the gains against the losses. Having only lost my innocence, I know I have gained far more than I lost. Others have experienced loss in the truest sense, and had I suffered the loss of babies, then answering my own question would be much easier. We’d give anything to ensure the health and lives of our children, and this is why I find it impossible to answer that question. I worry about how much of this shit I passed on to my girls. If it meant that my daughters would dodge the infertile bullet, then remaining a blithe, clueless Asshole would have been a simple decision. But I wasn’t given a choice and I won’t know if my girls have inherited my off-kilter hormones and wonky ovaries for what is hopefully a long time from now. What I can do is raise them not to be assholes.
Fertile or infertile, we could all use less assholes in the world.
***This is not to say that I’m not an asshole about other things. I have more than my fair share of assholishness and I can own up to it. Frank could make a list for you.