Passport Children

In April of 2008, I wrote this in a post titled "The Girl Who Knew Too Much:"

Sometimes, a lot of the time, actually, I feel stuck between two
worlds. I identify more closely with the infertility community, but I
have four beautiful children
. Four. The abundance and life
that are they is what it makes it possible for me to feel comfortable,
if not somewhat unbalanced, in the fertile Land of Good and Plenty. I
feel like they are my passport into that world. I am allowed to
be there, but I am not from there.
I can speak the language and know the culture, but it's not in my
blood. I sometimes feel like I am a traveler in a foreign land. At
child-focused venues such as birthday parties, playgrounds, and school
functions, I can't help but wonder how many of those children are also
passports, and if they are, I wonder if their parents feel as out of
place – as lonely – as I do.

In the eight years since I've become a parent, the presence of the aforementioned loneliness has waxed and waned depending on whether or not more pressing thoughts like trying to conceive and making it safely through pregnancy again (and again) took priority over mulling feelings of separation from the general mothering community. While working for and carrying the second and third pregnancies, my thoughts were so consumed with the babies within and the ones I already had to fret much about my interactions (or lack thereof) with other mothers. However, in the spaces between the delivery of one pregnancy and the attempts to achieve another, my thoughts again turned to separation I felt from the general population of mothers – the other 90% who luckily landed outside the spectrum labeled infertility. Now that we are completely finished with building our family, there is little reprieve from the question that begs to be answered: Why do I still feel like an outsider?

I've thought long and hard about this and the answer, while there are several splinter causes that lead to the effect of feeling out of place, it all boils down to one truth – being a mother after infertility splinters even as it fulfills.

Mother after Infertility – even the phrase itself is splintered, implying that I am not just a mother. I am a mother after a condition and not just a mother in the natural order of life. Fertile mothers, especially those without any losses, just are. 

Even as a mother, I'm still surprised by how often ease of conception comes up in conversational playground/birthday party/school function chit-chat among mothers.

Mother One: I have two, how many do you have?
Mother Two: We have three, and you?
Me:  I have four, plus my nephew. (but I'm infertile *thought but not said*)
Mother One: WOW! You must have your hands full!
Mother Two: Yeah, that's why I got 'em tied; if my husband and I kiss for too long I get pregnant.
Mother One: Baby Me here, except he got snipped. I had the babies, so he can get the sterility!
Me: wince at 'sterility' but rebound quickly with an insert of fake laughter
Mother One: What about YOU? You probably BOTH had to get snipped to keep number five from popping up!
Me: (DIDN'T YOU HEAR THAT I WAS INFERTILE, BITCH?) Uuh…we don't have to worry much about that.

Blatant boasts of fertility/blithe unawareness of infertility is actually easier for me to deal with, because then it's clear where the other stands. They're fertiles. Check. Got it. Be on the standby for potentially-stupid comments. 

When among mothers and there isn't any mention at all about the ease of achieving pregnancy (which at least in my experience seems to be a rarity), that is when I wonder if there is anyone else sitting there feeling like they are on foreign ground, readying themselves for the possibility of bombs that they must deflect away from their infertile hearts.

This splintering of being a Mother after Infertility is at the forefront of my mind even more so when I am in a situation of meeting new women when there are no children present. Children are like little status symbols. When children are present and I can connect them to their parents, my thoughts go something like this: 5 women present, and all have been referred to as "Mom" by one or more of the 9 children here. We all have the label of "mother" so we all speak the same language, even though some of us are natural-born citizens and others, like me, speak Mother as a Second Language. Try to relax and avoid speaking with an accent. When in Rome, and all that.

However, when there aren't telltale passports running around, my thoughts go something like this: 11 women present, err on the side of caution and assume that all are infertile or have dealt with infertility. Tread lightly, because the talk will invariably turn to children and babies and it's possible that someone here hasn't made it that far yet, and when someone asks and I have to answer, "Yes, I have four," someone else might be mentally yelling at me, "BITCH, DIDN'T YOU HEAR THAT I WAS INFERTILE!" I don't want to unwittingly have to force someone into playing the Wince and Rebound game. I understand. I remember all the times in the 2.5 years of trying that I had to hope that my plastic, fake smile would hold back tears and act as a protective shield against conversation about stretch marks and morning sickness. I remember what it was like to not have a passport, to have to hide the fact that I was an illegal alien.

So, when in the company of women whose mothering status is unknown, I have basic rules of etiquette which I follow with almost flowchart-like precision:

1. Don't mention children until it's mentioned to me. Answer quick and dirty — "I have four plus my nephew" — then move on as quickly as possible.

Which, let me stop right there, because the fact that I am raising the equivalent of a small African village makes me somewhat of a freak of nature in both camps. Moving on as quickly as possible is almost never possible. As much as I try to downplay it, others magnify it.

Woman A: I have three kids, and you?
Me: I have four, plus my nephew.
Me: Mmmhmm.
Woman A: Oh, my gawsh, girl, I don't know HOW you do it!
Me: We make it work.
Woman A: Well WOW, it must be CRAAAA-zzzy there!

No, Woman A didn't notice, and why would she when she seems to have no grounds for needing to know defensive moves like the Plastic Face and the Wince and Recover? And how could Woman B possibly know that I'm originally from the Land of IF and that I also speak her language of dpt's, dpo's, IUI, IVF, HCG, HSG, TESE, MFI and so on?

Now that I'm typing all of this out, I've had something of a revelation. Much of my social awkwardness stems from projected assumptions. With one foot still planted in infertile memories and the other planted in the present motherhood, I know how the Moxie of Ten Years Past viewed a woman who, like the Moxie of Today, has 4+1 children. The Moxie without Passports would have assumed that it was easy for the Moxie with Children to get those children. She would have probably been a little sadder on the day she met Moxie with Children, as those children would have magnified all the ways in which her body was failing her.

That image of myself is projected onto the face of every woman I meet. It's like a reflex – a muscle that I can't relax. I don't want to inadvertently hurt women who are still where I was ten years ago. So in social situations, it still feels awkward when discussing children and babies. Even here in my own space, the term "mommyblogging" makes my skin crawl, though essentially that is what I do when recounting the hilarity of life with el Cinco. Whenever I publish those posts, there is a part of me that can't help but feel like at least a few people who read them are hurting just a little bit deeper than they were before they read it. It may sound strange, but I always send a little mental apology out into the Universe when I click "publish" on el Cinco posts. What surprises me time and time again, is that those are the posts that tend to receive the most comments. I subconsciously exhale a sigh of relief and think, "Whew — no one screamed BUT DIDN'T YOU HEAR THAT I WAS INFERTILE, BITCH! at me."

The bottom line is that I probably over-think t
hings when go
ing into social situations with other women, and most of the awkwardness I feel is probably self-created rather than imposed upon me. However, if my awkwardness and reservation keeps someone else from having to revert into the Plastic Face, it's worth it.

Still, I can't help but wonder if there will ever come a time when I will be able to view my children as just children and not also as walking metaphors for my passports out of Hell. No…I don't think I want that, either. I think that keeping sight of the fact that my children are passports is what keeps me grounded and empathetic, and I know it is what drives me as a surrogate. I think what I really want is balance, some sort of reconciliation between between the two sides of me and how those joined sides interact with others.

And therein, I think, lies the answer to my original question, which isn't really an answer but is more a case of one question begetting another:

I still feel like an outsider because infertility hurts.

Why, after everything, does it still hurt so much?


I have much more to say about parenting after infertility, especially as it relates to the different ways in which infertility is resolved (including adoption and donor gametes). This post serves as a sort of springboard for further ruminations in the days to come. In the meantime, please comment, if you can:

*If you're a mother after infertility, do you find yourself still feeling awkward in social situations with other mothers? How do you handle it?

*If you're still in the process of trying, do you feel like you're
always walking around with a Plastic Face shield up, preemptively on
the defensive just in case conversation heads down THAT path (like I
once used to do)?

*If you're a mother but have not had to experience infertility or loss, do you feel socially-awkward when around other mothers? I ask this question because I have no basis for comparison. In my mind's eye, it has always seemed to me that mothers without difficulty (as opposed to mothers after infertility) must have it easy as I have it complicated. I realize that this is an assumption on my part and that there may be factors that I am unaware of that make it difficult for you to talk about your children and parenting as well.

56 thoughts on “Passport Children”

  1. I’ve been blessed with 2 children. Recently at an event some of the moms were talking about having more. I could see the plastic face of one of the moms. I know her story and why she was told she would never get pregnant (she did and has a beautiful little boy.) I could feel her pain or maybe it was my own refecting off of her back at me.

  2. I think this may be my favorite blog post in the whole of the IF blogosphere for the entire year, no joke. Adding adoption to that Motherhood after IF makes me even more cautious. I want to see if any of the other babies don’t look like their moms and say “LOOK! ME TOO!”. I really just want to have a community of all post-IF moms around all day.

  3. It’s not a big issue right now, in our case, because since the kids are obviously oddly spaced (“Are they…………….twins…………or….?”) I just pretty much always have the out in conversations where my children come up to say “Nope, they’re 6.5m apart. She was adopted, he’s IVF.” and then I can get along with everyone. It seems the fertiles just go on about it with a “Oh that’s cool, insertwhateverhere” and the infertiles and/or adopters say things that are real after that.
    It’s fortunate that had it not played out so obviously, I’m not shy….so I prob still would have told everyone and their brother about being infertile and adopting/IVF. Screw other people’s awkwardness, it only makes our family cool to have these stories, and if you don’t like to hear it, you shouldn’t be asking nosy questions to a stranger!
    Plus, it’s my opinion that one of the keys to fixing the way IF/adoption is ignored is to talk about it. So talk I do. πŸ™‚

  4. I’ve long felt that I don’t truly belong in either group — even before having my son. I got pregnant so easily that I didn’t have that level of commonality with the infertility community. My efforts to conceive and subsequent hpt didn’t hold the same meaning that they did for others. But I wasn’t truly fertile, either. I miscarried again and again (and again) — so I couldn’t be happily pregnant or assume that I would have a child no matter what hormones the tests picked up.
    The lowercase’ prematurity didn’t help matters. I had a child, yes, and that made me ill at ease — if I complained (and in the beginning there was much to bitch about!) I knew it was hurtful to those who hadn’t had success yet. But we didn’t have the typical infancy that other parents experienced.
    When we started going to gymboree classes, it was even more obvious. So many comments about how tiny he was for his age — I felt that not only did I not fit in based on my perceptions of their ease of attaining motherhood (which, like you noted, they mentioned readily and often!) but I also was something “other” due to the circumstances of my son’s birth.
    It got better for a short period — around the time he was 18 months to 2 years old. He had overcome so much, was doing what the other babies were and everything was fine. And then one by one, all the other mother’s got pregnant with their 2nd (or 3rd, or 5th…). Talk changed from “what is your baby doing now?” to “when are you having another one?” and “when are you due?”
    I am the lone mother of one, scarred and afraid. I have everything that I wanted when I was fighting through my first round of fertility battles, what so many want — and I feel ungrateful around those women for wanting more. But I’m still not at home in the world of the fertiles. And it shows. My plastic face became distorted in those wonderful 6 months when it wasn’t needed. I can’t hide it. I trip over my words when trying to deflect things.
    I’ve found the only place that I’m truly comfortable are around other mothers after infertility… and even more so when those same mothers have been NICU moms. At least then I’m not always looking for a verbal bomb to knock me to the ground.

  5. Honestly, I feel ill at ease in these discussions, in this world. I keep reading and (at least here, because you make me feel welcome despite it all Moxie) participating because I have learned so much. I think I am a much better friend, woman and mother-conversationalist for listening and reading descriptions of all the emotions of infertility and motherhood after infertility. I’m positive I still screw up. I’m sure I’ve hurt someone. I definitely haven’t gone into every conversation with a group of women conscious of the possible pain of others.
    I do think we all have our quiet pains. I’m not comparing them to infertility, but there are some parallels. People roll their eyes at me and ask if “I’m pregnant again yet.” Like it’s a dirty joke. I’ve lost two pregnancies. Yes, I conceived again easily, yes I know how healing that is.
    I think the truth is that it’s difficult to navigate this world without ever hurting anyone. Sometimes just your presence hurts someone. I love that you write about it without holding back so that I can understand.

  6. What a great post. If you haven’t submitted a post to the Creme de la Creme, this one should be it.
    As a mom who experienced secondary infertility, it has made me more cautious about asking about families and family building. I could say more but I keep getting interrupted…dogs want out, dogs want in.

  7. Great post.
    I guess I’ll always be plastic face. I tip toe into conversations with other Moms, and constantly have myself on high-alert for a fellow infertile (although I’ve yet to find any IRL). At the same time, I also feel like a total stranger in the company of Moms. When that dreaded question comes… “Do you have any other children?” I usually provide a short answer and run for the hills. I suspect I will need to get used to feeling this way, and find a way to cope. But it’s stinking hard.

  8. I’m in limbo with you. Never really feeling like a true fit for either group.
    I would rather have conversations with other infertiles or mothers after infertility vs. mothers.

  9. For the three years we were trying to conceive and through all the tests and treatments and the miscarriage, I carried around pain and acute sensitivity just under the surface (and occasionally on the surface, but I did my best to hide on those occasions). I cried nearly every time I heard another not-me person was pregnant, I hated baby showers, being around kids always had a sad undertone, etc.
    Then after my guys’ were born, all those feelings were buried under layers of sleepless nights and dirty diapers and washing bottles and baby smiles and cuddles and cuteness, and there was nothing to pull those feelings out from under all the layers since I didn’t really get out much except with friends and family who knew us and knew our story and didn’t say stupid things.
    But since we moved and the guys got older, I got out into the world of strangers more, and I discovered that I still remembered the pain and the awkwardness, but it was kind of detached or distant or something. I mean, I remembered it in the way that you might remember the smell of apple pie — you might remember that it smelled warm and spicy and sweet, but you don’t really re-smell it. When someone said something insensitive, I hoped it didn’t hurt anyone else, but it didn’t hurt me. And I didn’t feel out of place with other mothers. I just felt like a regular ol’ mom.
    However, I’ve been off the pill for a few months now, and since that change, the hurt and sensitivity has started creeping back in. So I guess it only affects my feelings when it is an active issue. I’m not sure what that says about me — that I’m selfish? calloused? compartmentalized? — but that is my experience.

  10. I’m a mother after infertility (2.5 years) and loss (one) and am more bemused by all the effortless fertility around me. However, the more I talk to people (and I am really open about the infertility–I always mention it in the kinds of conversations you mention above) the more I see many other people have had those problems, and if not those, then others. And I don’t feel like I am less a member of the motherhood community. Honestly it makes me feel MORE like one–like for crying out loud I WORKED to be here, I deserve it. Now when I was going through infertility, I was totally miserable and uncomfortable with fertility, but now I’m like, eh. And I’ll be honest about something else: I am a little happy that I am not so fertile and don’t have two under two accidentally now or whatever. There are some benefits!

  11. seriously one of the best posts, my dear. big time.
    I wish I could have a calling card that I give to every new person I meet. It would have my name and important, life changing issues listed. Single motherhood after infertility has totally made me a specific person. It is really hard to “get” anyone that didn’t struggle with IF. So I end up being a crazy overshare person out in the world, If I am out with W and someone comments about him one of the first things I will respond back with is that it took me over 5 years to become a Mother. I know it might make some people look at me funny- but I literally crave the connection I might get from a fellow traveler in the Land of IF. I might be living with a different view from someone else- but unless you are also in this Land you won’t see where I am coming from.

  12. Awesome post! I sometimes feel like I should have a sign on my belly that says something like, “Hard earned, lots of injections and procedures, and the incredible love and generosity of another infertile mother.”
    I’m sure there will be more interesting moments to deal with once I have this child who won’t look like me. “Oh, does she get her red hair from her father?” “There is no dad. I’m a single mom by choice, and she gets her red hair from the egg donor my embryo donor used. Did you follow that?” OY! Complicated!

  13. I walked around with the plastic face for years. I know about that, probably too well. Now that I am pregnant, I feel like I just do not fit in with fertile mothers, either. There feels like there is something sort of off about my reactions.
    I see the greatest differences with my family and my in-laws. My family knows and understands what it took for me to get here. They celebrate the fact that this child is a work of ART! To my in-laws, who are rather fertile, this child is just another child. They do not understand how much it took for us to conceive. They do not seem to understand why our reactions are a little subdued. They would look right past my plastic face. Needless to say, it was a little frustrating.
    Great post!

  14. what a fantastic post! I echo the calls for the creme on this one.
    I definitely had the plastic face while trying & testing & especially during the iui. Now I am not sure- I have always loved to hear about children & babies & stories- but it was so bittersweet before. Having no contribution- living with the fear of not ever being able to pull up a chair at the mommy table. And feeling like an imposter even when I did hapen to find myself there. I am lucky in that most of my friends, family & even coworkers all know what we went through & we all can be open & honest & sensitive. So the awkward situations just aren’t there right now. Ask me again once I encounter the large groups of strangers, once we get to the ‘when are you having another?’ stage. I am sure that my comfort level will change again.
    I love the comments here about speaking up & talking about IF/adoption/loss making the uncomfortable situations & comments more comfortable- even if the effect is one that we can not see. The next person may not need the plastic face & the Wince & Rebound. And we can all sit around the virtual playground together!

  15. What a wonderful post Moxie. Gorgeous!
    I’ve definitely developed the plastic face. It does surprise me how quickly some people are able to lose that plastic face once they have resolved their infertility. Not surprised in a judging sort of way, but that I cannot fathom my life anymore without this part of me. I can’t even remember what it was to be without this.

  16. I’m socially awkward under the best of circumstances.
    It’s a little easier to talk to other moms, sort of, because we obviously have something in common. But I have about 3 strikes going against any possible real comfort level. First, multiple losses. Second, my age (I’m 40). Third, I have a 3 year old which generates the “when will you be providing a sibling?” question. Put those three things together, and oops…looks like we should be getting home for nap time! No time for further conversation!
    I don’t have a plastic face, because my journey was relatively short and I didn’t have to develop one. I do, however, wince and recover quite frequently.
    Great post! I also think that this should be in the creme … and the haiku.

  17. I was hesitant to write in the comments, but I’m moved but all the openness. I have my own issues. I have 2 children, the first of whom I thought was going to die at the age of 2 because of a medical condition. In between my son’s diagnosis and the eventual birth of my daughter, I had a miscarriage. It amplified all the feelings I had when I thought I was going to lose my son.
    When I found babyloss blogs, I felt a connection with the people writing them, although from a different perspective, a different experience. And reading them has helped me work through some of my mixed up emotions and helped me become more aware of and sensitive to what others are going through.
    Before I was naive and said some stupid things. Now I am more careful.

  18. I am not 100% sure what things will be like once my little one has landed in the outside world. But one thing that makes things much easier for me is that many of my friends who have kids struggled with infertility themselves. Maybe it is partially because of my age group (the “getting to be too old, especially after 5 years of struggling with infertility” age group). But I also found that once I was pregnant, I would quickly move to the “after many years of trying” kinds of comments that don’t mean much to ‘regular’ fertile people but quickly make things clear to the infertile folks that this is not a run-of-the-mill unreflective pregnancy. I expect I will probably continue with those comments. I echo the comments of other posters that if you are open about it you will see there are a lot of fellow post-infertility parents out there in the world. But then, I can see that with 4+1 things could be a bit different.
    Having said that, what I still find quite difficult is figuring out how to interact with a couple I am friends with who started TTCing at the same time we did and are still childless. Back then we were part of a 4-couple group who all started working on the kid thing at the same time and who expected we would be raising our kids together. But every member of that group ended up struggling with infertility; my friends are the last ones who have not been successful. When I told them I was pregnant I also said “I don’t expect you to be excited” but in fact they were excited for me. I am not sure if they are still trying to TTC or if they have made peace with the situation. But I feel funny when they ask me how things are going and it is pretty kid-almost-here-centered these days…

  19. I’m half plastic… I think that cos I’ve been trying for so long (6 years) the initial hard plastic i used to have has melted a bit and now I can be a mushy half plastic when these convo’s take place. It’s not their fault and they *should* be able to talk freely about their fertile wombs etc.

  20. I definitely feel awkward with other mothers, for the reasons you outlines. I either do the plastic face, or just shut the fuck up. Occasionally I’ll come out as IF.
    Depends on the audience, my crank level, and how likely I am to cry at that particular moment.

  21. Seconding / thirding / seventhing the creme recommendations. Such a wonderful post. Thank you, Moxie.
    Where to start? I think what anymommy says is true, that, “it’s difficult to navigate this world without ever hurting anyone.” In the thick of ttc (unsuccessfully, to that point), we celebrated a wedding anniversary, and DH sent me, as he often does, flowers at work. Which, lovely, but my next-door-office-mate and good friend had just — just! — learned that her husband of more than 3 decades, the father of her children, wanted a divorce. Ugh. It was a reminder to me that we all struggle at different times and with different things.
    Even as a mom, now, I’ve done stupid foot in mouth things directly “on” infertility, like grumble once about how hard DS was to conceive; then another woman commented (about the trials of IVF), “At least it worked.” Yes. Yes, that’s exactly right. At least it did. At least I had access to it. What the hell was I thinking complaining about any of it? Because I am … I am! … so grateful.
    Um, mostly I try not to be that stupid, though. And I try to be very out about how DS was conceived, but OTOH I’m very secretive about trying for a second. So straddling fences, even there.
    Then, too, I sometimes feel odd about the “ins” of the infertility world. A professional I see semi-regularly (we could pretend she’s my hairdresser, though she’s not) has 2 kids conceived through IVF, knows of our son, and knows we’re trying again. She’s quite discrete about asking me about this (though she does), and I’ve been perfectly discrete about not noticing that her children must have been conceived using donor eggs, but — they must. As I’m at a point where I should be moving to that (if I’m committed to, or even just plain serious about, conceiving), it’s particularly odd to find myself there with her. She asks how things are going and I say, “Canceled, no response.” And then I stop, and we bemoan my status briefly, even as I could/should/shouldn’t (?) say, “I know I should (could?) just move to donor egg, but I can’t get my head around that.” And just to be clear, I’m not criticizing donor egg as a family-building mechanism, but I also don’t think I’m interested in using it and find it odd to be in an I-know-she-knows situation where we are somewhat open with each other, but not fully.
    Which leads sort of to my final thought, the grief I feel in watching another family member, who has ended up without children but wanted them, playing with — oh, how wonderfully she plays with — my son. And I know through the grapevine that she tried but didn’t achieve the family she wanted, but I’m not close enough to her to know whether she’s at peace with that or not. Her face doesn’t look plastic. And yet, how can that be? I hope and trust it can. But I know it isn’t, always, and I grieve for her.

  22. I love this post.
    Depending on the situation, I either act as if I am fertile and can relate to actually having sex with hubby to get pregnant… or just say something like “We need help to get pregnant” and play it from there. I have found people to generally be understanding and sensitive to the topic, although my heart still squeezes through the entire conversation.

    I LOVE this line.
    Trying again, after loss, I’ve found to be different from trying before. I started out all hopeful and positive, but I feel that plastic face developing again.
    Just this morning, I think, I noticed that I’m feeling broken again. And remembered, which I hadn’t for a while, that one of the few great pleasures of my pregnancy was feeling normal, like part of the club. In the babyloss community, we talk a lot about being part of one club and then another — one we don’t want to be a member of. I guess I had let go of that discourse for a while, but the fact that it’s come back is probably telling me something.
    Thank you for this post. I think you’ve hit on something exactly right. And, to be very honest, (and even though I’m so very sorry that it still hurts so much for you), there is something comforting in knowing that there is knowledge, sympathy… someone who hears what is not being said aloud.
    Your passports have allowed you to be part a world you might not otherwise have had access to; but they will always show where you have been.
    Thank you.

  24. Wowie zowie Moxie, what a great post.
    After 7 years of plastic face, I now have my passports. But, since their birth I haven’t really left the house/hospital except for medical appointments, so I haven’t had a chance to try out the passports yet in terms of conversations with women. I did find myself in those crowds when pregnant a few times, and I felt like such a poseur — but simultaneously I was so glad I didn’t have to wear the plastic face anymore. Plus, the twin thing sends a signal to those who are looking for signals.
    Yesterday I went to the OB (regular gyn/OB, not fertility specialists at all) for my postpartum checkup and brought the babies. There were pregnant women in the waiting room and non-pregnant women. I was sending mental telegraphs to the non-pregnant women who’d glance at us then look away:
    These are IF babies! Don’t worry, if you’re one of us, I’m one of you!

  25. I’ve been sitting on this one since you posted, without the proper time to digest it. I agree with everyone though — such a wonderful post. so glad you will submit it somewhere!
    I still have issues even after finally becoming a mother through adoption. every conversation about pregnancy or growing families, every person who assumes I will get pregnant now that we’ve “just adopted,” every conversation I couldn’t join in, every time I’ve wanted to talk about our lost son but could not, every time my infertility or loss is the big white elephant in the room, every time I feel inadequate as a mother — all of it. it doesn’t go away.
    while joy has returned to my heart, I think there will always be that unease among those who will just never get it.
    and even with el cinco, i know you do. thank you for your compassion and voice.

  26. Wonderful post. Mother after IF and I do have to say that I both feel a part of the general parenthood community and also feel somewhat separate. It’s the same way I feel navigating a predominantly Christian world. I know the language, I know a lot about Christianity so I can play the game, but I’m not Christian and this difference both is and isn’t apparent to the speaker. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think I’m used to having a foot in two worlds like that daily and coding in that sense, that coding between being IF (and assuming others are too) and being a parent sort of follows in the same vein.

  27. We have friends who struggled with infertility for over 10 years before the birth of their only (live) child. We saw how it tore them up. We wanted kids but luckily it wasn’t a burning drive or need because we didn’t want to have it gut us, too. It took us three years to conceive #1. Mid-pregnancy we had a big scare, something wrong with the baby’s brain; words like morbidity and mortality and congenital. We (eventually) foind out more about the condition and that it might be alright. Chance of delays. We relaxed some. Have a kid. Raise a kid. Get pregnant again when tot the first is 9 months old. Oops, didn’t see that coming.
    I was so scared from the moment I knew I was pregnant again. I don’t know if it was because we had been so scared and shaken with #1’s prenatal diagnosis. I felt a deep sense of doom. We barely told anyone; I told my husband that I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I couldn’t bear to share our supposedly happy news with the world. And then the shoe dropped. The baby came early; had she lived, her premature birth would have been the least of her issues. We were, as unfortunately some of you know, just gutted. I have never felt pain like that and would not wish it on my worst enemy.
    And then immediately in the aftermath, I find out once again, oops. Pregnant. We were still mourning a devastating loss while trying to welcome the news. I wanted all of my babies even though had the second survived, the third wouldn’t exist. Even though I was deep in mourning and not comfortable being pregnant again, I was at peace about the pregnancy. I didn’t feel that sense of doom. Unfortunately, we found out on baby #2’s due date that #1 had some developmental delays. Boom, gutted again.
    So while I’m not infertile, I can’t and won’t say that having three children in three years is easy or fun. It’s been brutal. Yet I hate to say anything to the women in my life who have had or might be struggling with infertility lest I sound like I’m bragging. I’m not. I have 2.5 children; I mourn my butterfly baby everyday. I don’t fit in with the effortlessly fertile, the mommies who can’t conceive of life with a child who isn’t normal or average, or the women who’ve never (thankfully) experienced pregnancy loss or the loss of a child.
    Everyone’s pain is different. I like to think that my experience has allowed me, if not insight into other people’s agonies, at least a little bit of empathy and understanding. Because I now know it’s all hard and it all hurts. There’s no comparing. It’s human nature to compare but you can’t, there isn’t any grief or pain scorecard. It all sucks. And sometimes we’re all so very alone even in the middle of a crowd.

  28. Gawd, this resonated SOOOOOO much with me that I’m going to do a post on what it triggered. While on my blog I’ve just jumped right to the pregnancy posts, I do so there because I feel it’s safe to – people coming to my blog know the situation. But in real life, I really don’t talk about my pregnancy much with women whose situations I don’t know, and if I do, I always mention we had a lot of trouble getting pregnant. I don’t bore people with the details but in real life, I am so afraid of upsetting someone, of having them go home to cry over the ignorance of my blessing. I even tell pregnant co-workers which infertiles to be careful around, cuz I soooo want to protect them from any hurt I can. Yet it’s weird to me that on my blog I can just throw it all out there. It’s strange that my infertility blog has become my safe place to be ignorant.
    Your post is brilliant. F*g brilliant. While I’m no longer held back by infertility the way I was, I dont’ know that I’ll ever look at this kid without thinking of him as my passport out of hell. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to hang with mommies and not get annoyed by their ignorance over how lucky they are.

  29. Wow—all I can say is wow. Just clicked over from Chicklet’s post and I feel like you stuck a little USB port into my brain and downloaded every encounter I’ve had at a park or baby-center event. (and then ran it through a translator to make it sound better). I am forever putting a disclaimer on all my conversations and interactions regarding Sweetness.

  30. Beautiful post. I came her from Chicklet’s post also. Althought I’m still in IF hell, I imagine if I ever get out of it I will feel the same as you. And since you asked, yes I walk around with my Plastic Face shield up every day. People are so stupid.

  31. What a GREAT post!
    Still trying here, and I feel like the plastic shield face is permanently stuck on my face. I recently went to dinner with a bunch of friend that I used to work with 13 years ago, aka before TTC, they all have children or are currently pregnant. I was literally sick to my stomach for days leading up to it because I knew I would have to put that face on and hopefully NOBODY would ask me. Surprisingly no one asked me, and I still wonder if it may be because my BFF was one of the girls there and maybe she warned some of them, also no one talked about children much.
    So unfortunately IF takes the joy out of a lot of things. I could not even truly be present with a bunch of girls that I once was really close with and had not talked to in 13 years because I was readying my shield in case I had to deflect and that just sucks!
    Definitely though, I do think IF does do one good thing for us. It makes us more kinder, gentler, and empathetic people.

  32. Also a visitor from Chicklet’s post. As with others, this post deeply resonated with me. While I am due today with my IVF/ICSI baby after 5 years of infertility, I am not yet a Mother, but have already come to encounter the completely clueless and loudly fertile during discussions of this pregnancy, all the while feeling just as you described it–having my feet in two separate worlds. I really could not describe it any better than you did!

  33. What a lovely post. Chicklet was right, it’s one of the best I’ve read in a good while. Thank you for sharing.
    I’m definitely forever holding the plastic face, especially given the fact that I work in the land of the fertile, at least Monday through Friday.
    I definitely AVOID awkward situations as much as possible. No going to baby showers or anything kid related. I wish I could explain that to my principal, I can’t come to school functions because I have to interact with parents, some of which I know are simply not good parents. No putting myself in harm’s way.
    I’ve learned and have finally almost accepted that fertiles are insensitive, due to ignorance. They don’t know any better. What has changed is the fact that I don’t have the strength or will to explain things to them, to educate them-like I did when I first started what has become a LONG journey. I keep thinking that maybe that will change once I’m good and pregnant, in the viable sense. I’ll get involved, I’ll become an advocate… maybe. Maybe not.

  34. Chicklet was right, this post is a MUST read.
    As a mom of one, struggling for #2 now for 4 years, I dread mommy encounters. I really dread the, “Oh, is she your only one?” questions.
    I know that I will never EVER ask someone I don’t know whether they are having more children. I know that I now look for signs to see if thier kids are passports.
    I wonder if I’ll ever feel comfortable.

  35. I’ve never commented here before, but I had to come out of the woodwork to respond to this post.
    I’m an only child. As long as I can remember, I’ve known I wanted to have kids. Yes, plural. πŸ™‚ But I’ve also always been afraid I wouldn’t be able to have any.
    My mom was very upfront with me about my origins. She rarely ovulated and she had a misshapen uterus. Her doctors told her in 1975 she would never have a child. Ten years of not preventing (but not really trying either, since she knew she couldn’t have kids) later, I was born. I’ve been scared of infertility since I was four years old. I knew the Plastic Face all too well, because I could see it on my mom whenever someone asked when I’d get a sibling. Whenever people seemed surprised that I was an only child, they got a lesson on infertility out of me.
    Somehow I got pregnant at 22, while on birth control pills. I thought I didn’t have to worry about infertility anymore. That I could sympathize with people experiencing it, because I knew how much pain it had caused my mom. But also that I was extremely fortunate that I had dodged a bullet of pain and suffering caused by infertility. (I guess thinking you’re fertile makes you an insensitive schmuck immediately!) Even when I lost that pregnancy, I was relieved. At least I conceived easily. The odds of repeat miscarriages are low.
    But then recently I got pregnant again. And lost the baby again. And my hopes are flagging. I can see myself starting to develop my own Plastic Face. The one that smiles just a little too big, that looks just a tad too wistfully at the school playground, that has a broken lip from biting it to avoid butting in to conversations about “how much parenthood or pregnancy really sucks–I don’t have my own life anymore, yadda yadda yadda” to say just how much I’d give to get my own little passports.
    Beautiful post, Moxie. And PS? Please do keep the el Cinco posts coming. I know it hurts to see assumed fertiles with children, but it really boosts my spirits to see your adorable subfertility success stories!

  36. I think in some way I will always the plastic face. Yes, I am a mom after infertility, but my daughter (our daughter) was conceived via a sperm donor: Once the “who does she look like?” questions start my plastic face comes out.
    I know I don’t fit in with the normal moms, but part of me feels that I don’t fit in with the IF moms either.
    Great post Moxie!

  37. As a (newly) single person, I haven’t gotten pulled into those conversations very much lately–though when I was “happily married” (ahem) it happened all the time. I know the plastic face well.
    I still yearn.

  38. Here from Bloorb’s blog.
    Thank you for posting this.
    I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ll feel like I ‘belong’ – at this point to the IF community OR the motherhood community. I feel very much out of place EVERYWHERE right now.
    But I can tell you that I am very much looking forward to putting our battles with IF behind me.
    Thank you for posting this. You’ve given me a lot to ponder.

  39. Mother after IF here. I feel SO awkward meeting other women. Everyone tells me how beautiful my daughter is, and my eyes well up with tears and I usually say, Yes, she’s my miracle IVF baby. I still am in awe that I even have her. I tried for 5 years, 2 IVF cycles, my ONLY embyro to make it to transfer…
    I have a hard time hearing about easy conceptions. I still put the plastic face on.

  40. I’ve never been sure which side of the ‘fence’ I’m on. Since I didn’t start TTC until I was 33 and I’m overweight to boot I just assumed I’d have all sorts of problems. Ha. No. Got pregnant almost immediately after going off the pill. However, having a 2nd child has been an issue. For several reasons. One, I would LOVE to have a 2nd child. The husband, not so much. So he doesn’t … help matters. Howevever, I’ve been off the pill now for 3 years and I’ve read NO ONE is that careful yet I’m not pregnant. However, I’m still overweight and I just turned 39 – both not working in my favor. I just don’t wish to go in and have someone tell me the truth in black and white.
    The rest of the world sure seems to think that my one son is not enough though. I get asked all the time when I’m having another one. Ah ha, hahahaha. I just mention that it isn’t in my hands and do not mention all the internal ‘warring’ going on in my brain.
    So I think regardless of where we stand in life there is someone judging us for what we either ‘have’ or ‘don’t have’. I typically answer questions about being a parent but don’t volunteer unless asked. Everyone has a different story. Thanks for sharing yours! πŸ™‚

  41. This is a beautiful post. I too am here from chicklet’s blog. You captured a lot of what I feel, as a mom of a seven-month old after infertility. I find myself torn a lot of the time. Usually, I try not to dwell on the infertility and just let it be. I have so much joy in my life now with my son, and I certainly have my hands full trying to keep up with him. I don’t have the time to dwell on it. But I still find that I am very sensitive to the frequent insensitivity of others. I have to remind myself all the time that people just don’t know. They lack awareness. They don’t mean to be hurtful. So I try to educate others by being upfront about our situation, keeping it short and sweet as I can. I willingly share details if people ask. But I fear that I do a really bad job as an IF ambassador. I tend to downplay it, because it’s too hard to expose all the pain you went through to others who may not really care. So I tend to act like it’s not really a big deal. But it is. IF sucks. It still sucks. Now that we’re thinking about #2, all the old feelings of failure and jealousy are resurfacing. I’m starting to feel really alienated from the other play group moms. Will it ever be easy?

  42. If you’re a mother after infertility, do you find yourself still feeling awkward in social situations with other mothers? How do you handle it?
    I loved this post, and so glad it was Kirstied..
    I have often found myself in the situation you were talking about. The projections because of my experiences causing me to tread lightly on any topics with children. I am a Secondary Infertile–so I have the added guilt that at one point I WAS a fertile. And my children are far apart in age–which often illicits questions that tend to lead me to honestly bring up how #2 was conceived…
    I try to handle it by being open and honest about our IVF cycles and how proud I am that we were able to manufacture our daughter. And I try to listen to the other mothers–and hope that I can find the trace of someone struggling in their comments…

  43. Well, since you asked, I am a G3 P3 over here. Never had a miscarriage, longest I ever had to “try” was seven months (and the other two were actually “method failure” surprises). My best friend struggled with IF issues though, which started me reading infertility blogs, and since I was told at sixteen that I’d likely need ART due to endometriosis (which I did eventually need a hysterectomy and removal of one ovary for, but apparently it didn’t get in the way of conception in my case) I’ve always been a little more…aware I guess?…of my incredible good fortune in Things Reproductive. I’ve never offered to sell my children to a stranger in a checkout line when they’re being horrible, and I tend to answer the “you’ve got your HANDS FULL” comments with “it beats having them empty” instead of the eye-roll I’m tempted to respond with (especially since people tend to say things like that while standing back and watching me open a door with my asscheeks). I don’t say “accident,” I say “post-vasectomy bonus baby.” And I don’t volunteer any more than the minimum when children come up in unfamiliar company either. I also don’t EVER say “so when are you two going to have a BABY” or “just relax,” and if someone else says something like that I usually cringe and kind of scan faces to see if anyone looks like they want to crawl into a hole and die. And if I am talking to someone, either online or face-to-face, and know that they are struggling with IF or have in the past, HELL YES I feel self-conscious as someone who pretty obviously did not have IF issues (two of mine are fourteen months apart). I have always loved babies and spent enough years wondering if I’d be unable to have one, and enough time listening to my good friend cry, and have read enough IF blogs that I’m very aware that in any group of women there might be one who hears “three children” and the ages and has it hit her like a slap in the face. Maybe you could write a post about how someone who is in the throes of IF might prefer someone in my shoes to handle the subject of children in conversation? I do my best but am certainly open to feedback!

  44. I feel much the same, but for a slightly different reason. We had a child die last year. We get those hit ‘n’ run comments, we totally know the plastic face routine, and we do feel like outsiders now. Like you, I wish it didn’t hurt so much, but to lose that hurt would mean I would be taking it for granted, and I don’t want that either. I don’t want to hurt anyone else who might be grieving a loss. I am much more empathetic and careful about thin things I say, and the conversation topics in a group. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  45. I cried at this post and then read every comment and cried some more. It’s all so very, very true.
    As an adoptive mom, I do have my passport into mommyland, my beautiful baby boy, and most of the time I just enjoy finally being a mom after 3 years of trying. But I am, as someone else said, constantly scanning the room for others whose babies don’t look like them, trying to spot another adoptive mom. (I’m a Caucasian mom to a Filipino/African-American baby, so it’s pretty clear he’s adopted, though everyone says he looks exactly like my husband who is Asian & Middle Eastern, so maybe they think my genes just got trumped?) I wrote a post about how I wish I could put a sign on him when I have to take him to appointments at my fertility doc saying, “I’m not flaunting my fertility–he’s adopted! I’m no more fertile than any of you, and probably less so than some!”
    I still freeze when my mommy friends’ talk turns from babyrearing to their experiences with pregnancy and breastfeeding. I can’t participate there. My only pregnancy was brief and IVF induced. But because we are still trying, I don’t feel completely at home with other adoptive moms either, as the ones I’ve met thru our agency are all about having made peace with their infertility, and I’m just not there but don’t think that means I love our amazing son any less.
    The other day we were at an all-ages concert and I was thrilled to have our baby as a pass to a family event like that, but then I saw two little girls with their mom, different ages but exact lookalikes, and I felt crushed. Because as we continue to build our family through adoption and hopefully with bio kids as well, we will never have that matched set. And I would much rather have our darling boy than those girls but still, it just hit me as another loss. We’ll never be just like everyone else. But then, that’s not such a great goal anyway, right?
    Speaking of which, I also don’t fit in with friends my age who are still trying to find Mr. Right, while I, at 29, have been happily married 7 years and unsuccessfully TTC for 3. I haven’t felt young in a really long time–TTC has aged me so much.
    I also posted recently about how I’m having so much trouble being happy for my newly married, easily pregnant cousin, and how I fear I’ll never be able to be truly happy for those who get pregnant effortlessly. Through this IF journey, I’ve lost my innocence, and although many of my formerly infertile friends do seem to have lost their memories about the years of struggle once they were pregnant at last, I don’t think I ever will. I wish I could, but the pain is too deep, the things we’ve lost along the way too many.
    Anyway, thanks for this beautiful post, and yes, I am right there with you with my plastic face, my wince & recover, and my wide stride taking in the worlds of infertility, loss, childlessness, mommyhood, adoptive parenting, parenting after infertility, TTC. I do think (hope) that it’s all made me more sensitive to the plights of others, whatever they may be.

  46. Good post.
    I don’t have a passport (and never will 5 miscarriages and 10 years ttc have put paid to that) but no longer have the plastic face either.
    At the start and the middle of our ttc definitely,the plastic face was there but now? Nope.
    I let my real face show. It makes people uncomfortable, they don’t know how to react, they don’t know what to say but I don’t care anymore. I’ve spent 10 years bottling up my anger, bitterness and incredible pain at being an utter failure at the one thing I want to succeed most at and enough is enough, it’s time to let the real me shine through. If people don’t like it, they can walk away but it should never be acceptable for people to encourage others to hide their real true feelings away because it makes others feel uncomfortable.
    Infertility is real, it’s out there and it’s time it was talked about imo. Yes it’s painful but so is hiding it and pretending that everything is fine in my world when actually it is far from it.

  47. So true. Mothering after infertility is fraught not only with the potholes of ‘don’t you want more?’ but still – still! – feeling punched in the gut by pregnancy announcements. Oddly enough, sometimes it’s the announcements of secondary and tertiary children (or more) by other infertiles that hurts more.
    I don’t fit in well with the other mothers I know…

  48. “most of the awkwardness I feel is probably self-created rather than imposed upon me. However, if my awkwardness and reservation keeps someone else from having to revert into the Plastic Face, it’s worth it.” I love this part and the entire post, really. You talked about many things that are so relevant to those of us who have endured the hell of infertility. Being an adoptive mother is awesome. Now I see that I was meant to adopt. BUT I mourn the loss of pregnancy every freakin’ day. I still die a little each time I hear someone is pregnant. I will probably always have to give my congratulations with a sick stomach, knowing I will probably cry about it later. It sucks. Plain and simple.
    I too wonder why infertility still hurts so much. Maybe it is because I want more children. I know I will have more children. What I don’t know is how they will come to me.I can get pregnant naturally but it is not likely. And, I do not have money for ART. Surrogacy may be an option but I am not sure I want to put myself through the pain if that does not work. The questions, Why can’t I just have a baby? is there all the time and it stings like hell.

  49. I know I’m beyond tardy to the party…

    Thank you for this post. I had to trade in my plastic face for a newer model. My old one was getting to be a tad raggedy looking. It was a fake smile and a generic comment like, “Having babies isn’t up to us.” Now, I either walk away or place my attention on something else when I get those questions.

    We’ve been wanting a baby since our wedding day almost 5 years ago. I thought it would be easier to deal with those comments/questions now, but it isn’t. My favorite was when a lady asked me how I let my best friend beat me to a baby. I didn’t mention to her how my bestie’s baby was due 5 weeks before ours would have been had our IUI been successful. I told her we’d had some difficulty in having babies and her reply was how God knows best, yada yada yada. Now, hear me, I don’t yada yada yada God but how did we go from this being a competition between friends to something that God designed. Honey, you gotta pick one or the other!

    The most recent (and best!) thing that happened was when two directors from Lifeline Chaplaincy visited our church yesterday. They showed us this video, and I so badly wanted to stand up and applaud it when it was over. But alas, plastic face was on so I wouldn’t be a blubbering mess of a fool in the pew.

    Here it is. Finding Purpose: Quinton & Jennifer Locklin

    1. Your comments are never tardy, dmb. Thank you for talking about your experience here. The plastic face gets so hard to keep in place. It is a heavy weight to bear – more like an iron mask, really. I’ve heard all of those same comments that you have. I hated the “when God thinks it’s time” comments from people. It was almost as if they were saying that God didn’t think that I was ready for or deserving of a baby. Meanwhile, my 17-year old sister was pregnant. Nice, right? God thought that SHE was ready for a baby? I don’t think so. *sigh* Where God and faith fit in with infertility is a tough subject, and one that I haven’t figured out. I made my peace with God by chalking it up to being one of those things that we just (or I’m just) not meant to understand. It doesn’t stop me from being annoyed with Him about it sometimes, but it is what it is. *shrugs shoulders*

      I’ll look for the Finding Purpose video. It sounds like it was amazing.

      Hugs to you.

  50. Ok, so I realize the link I added to my post didn’t show up. You can look up Quinton & Jennifer’s video on that population video site πŸ™‚

    Reading over my comment, I’m not sure if I really answered the question so let me do that now.that I’ve gotten some sleep. I’ve discovered that my life pretty much operates in a cycle. I go from IF I even believe we’ll ever deliver healthy babies of our own to this ridiculous surge of excitement thinking about WHEN our babies come to us. Either way, I cry every single day. The smallest thing can cue the tightness in my chest and the torrential downpour of tears. I love (stated with sarcasm) how the cute little kids at church run up to my husband to play with him before we leave. There’s always someone who makes a comment about how he needs kids of his own and/or when am I going to give him some. That’s like equating this whole thing to me hiding some candy in my purse because I know he wants some but I just don’t wanna share.
    I feel alienated within the IF community because it seems the prevailing view now is that either you are going through treatments or you’re preparing to adopt, neither of which we’re doing right now. I actually don’t plan on getting any more medical intervention. I feel like that’s our choice as a couple but I don’t feel like I belong in the IF group in that respect. I was even told that if we “really” wanted a baby, we’d do anything. That hurt, especially coming from someone whose insurance covered the cost of their IVF cycle.

    1. WOW – dmb, I’m so sorry that that comment was stated to you. You have tapped into another trend that I see coming out of the woodwork in the midst of the fallout in the ALI community – what about the people who have made the decision to live childless (whether forever or for a “break” while they reassess what they want to do and when)? That is definitely a sub-set of the greater ALI community that is often overlooked. People usually break things down into the categories of pursing family-building or having already achieved parenthood. What about the group who chooses to stop treatment altogether?

      I don’t know if you’ve visited this blog yet, but Pamela Jeanne of Coming 2 Terms is an IF blogger who after years of treatment, went on to live childless. She wrote a book a few years ago and began a new blog “A Fresh Start,” but in light of the recent ALI events, she came back to Coming 2 Terms to host one of the “Healing Salon” posts. She discusses this very topic about the oft-overlooked group of IFers who’ve gone on to live childless feeling out-of-place in the ALI community:

      I think it’s an important conversation that needs to be had, because the underlying question is “how can EVERYONE in the ALI community find a place of acceptance and understanding within it?”

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