Most pregnancy-after-infertility bloggers write about their personal experience. I saw this blog as something different, I wanted to offer more concrete information. However, I’ve been going through something recently that takes me back to my infertility days, which I thought I’d share with those of you who know.
I started blogging because I had a purpose. Then I discovered I like writing and started my other blog just for fun. Having one blog about pregnancy and one about roller derby, never in a million years did I think the twain would meet! But here we are, 9 years after my first IVF cycle, feeling the same hurt and disappointment.
As a brief recap, at 46 I joined a roller derby league. If you need to ponder or just laugh at my insanity, please take a minute. Welcome back. I’ve never been athletic. I work out because I have to. If I was thin, I’d probably never see the inside of a gym. I played some recreational sports as an adult as a social activity. However, if sitting on the field with a bunch of people then going out for drinks after was all that was left to the sport of softball, I’d be just as happy. I started roller derby on a complete whim, with the attitude that I’d just give it a try and not take it too seriously. By the time my first assessment came, to move from “fresh meat” to level I, I knew I was hooked. My dedication to derby surprised no one more than me. I started working out more, have been through physical therapy, and two cortisone shots in my hip! Just like trying to have a baby, I started derby too late in life for it to be easy!
We all take comfort in small favors. Mine is that I went through infertility before the rise of Facebook. For those of you more recent warriors, I don’t know how you cope with the rogue announcements, ultrasound photos, play by play of labor room progress, posts from “my zygote is 3 weeks” apps, etc. Last month I had another assessment to move from Level I to Level II. There were two of us assessing at this particular level. I was checking Facebook incessantly for the results of my assessment, which were (wait for it….) failure! My heart sank to a place immediately recognizable. The intellectual knowledge that I tried my best, it’s not a personal failure, I can try again, etc., was there. So was that feeling, deep in my gut, that no matter how hard I tried, my body failed me. Sound familiar? The icing on the cake was a post by my fellow assessee, proudly stating she made it. Sound familiar again? When I was infertile, I used to call them “slap in the face” moments. Most of them were pregnancy announcements, although one from a women in the infertility section of Borders whose cavalier remark, “I’m not infertile, I’m just reading about sex selection because I don’t want another girl” sent me straight for a cry fest with Ben and Jerry.
It’s interesting to think that 6 years after my final cycle, I can be taken back so quickly. Disarming to know that something you thought was gone can be resurrected so easily and without warning. If I hadn’t gone through infertility, would I still feel this much disappointment? Probably. Which made me realize, we often think that people who haven’t experienced infertility don’t know how we feel, but that’s not true. Everyone has been let down, felt grief, worked really hard for something only to have it taken away. I think infertility sets us apart because we went back to do it again and again for months or years. Most lives are dotted with a lost job there, perhaps a failed marriage a decade later. Most didn’t have a chunk of their adult lives occupied by repetitive cycles of trial and loss. Infertility gives us a familiarity with failure and grief. For example, everyone has had headaches. There are various classifications of headaches: tensions, hypoglycemic, sinus, etc. I’ve never had one, but I know people who suffer chronic and debilitating migraines. I imagine that most of us have had a severe headache periodically, but infrequently enough that we don’t know what kind we’re having, we just take a painkiller and move on. Migraine sufferers know in a minute how to define their pain. I guess that’s what infertility is like for us, a pain for which most people need to search deep in the hard drive of their brains to label, while ours is saved to desktop.
Last week I tried to assess to move up to Level II, again. And I failed, again. I’ve spent today, between the tears, wondering wether to give up. Wondering if it’s worth it to put so much effort into something I’ll probably never get good at. Wondering if I should focus on other goals in my life, like my family, career, writing. (Check the date of my last post if you think my new hobby hasn’t taken away from writing time.) Should I prioritize what’s important and focus on that one thing? My problem is, I don’t want to do just one thing with my life. And like infertility, my age puts a deadline on roller derby; it’s kind of a now or never thing.
While thinking about giving it up, I remember my miscarriages. Both were both declared very early. We got the first positive pregnancy test and were thrilled. Then the second hormone level didn’t rise. Neither did the third. Then the numbers started doubling. During the first miscarriage, I held out hope, which I guess in hindsight was denial. I found some article that said women who have PCOS may not have normal hcg rises in pregnancy, and hung on for dear life. As a midwife, I knew there was no way that the pregnancy could be viable, and yet I brought a video tape to my first ultrasound, hoping to get my first glimpse at a baby only to see an empty uterus. The waiting for a definitive answer was more painful than the slowest of bandaids coming off. The second miscarriage happened exactly the same way. Except the night I got the result of the first hcg that didn’t rise, I came home and had a glass of wine. I generally use food more than alcohol as a drug, but I just needed to have an definitive ending to that pregnancy, to not hold out a glimmer of hope. I don’t feel guilty about drinking the wine, per se. Luckily, I had genetic testing done on the remains after my D&E, so I know the embryo was non-viable, no matter what I did. But there was a feeling of regret in having given up so soon. Like I owed it to my potential baby to have faith. My next pregnancy started with low numbers, but started rising appropriately. Then at 5 weeks, I started bleeding. This normally wouldn’t have made me too worried, because I know lots of women have some bleeding in pregnancy. This wasn’t a little spotting; I stood up and there was a “splat” sound on the floor, so I was not optimistic. But I remembered how I felt about the last pregnancy and I was determined to have hope for the sake of having hope alone. I needed to feel like I didn’t give up, no matter what the outcome. And as I continue to think about my decision about derby, I realize I don’t need to really make one. I don’t need to choose to do derby for a year or 5 years, just the next practice. It may turn out that I just don’t have this in me, and I’ll never play an actual bout. But if that’s the outcome, the loss may be ameliorated by the fact that I knew I tried. As hard as going to the next practice and facing the humiliation of being the only Level I left, the thought of never going again is worse.
I realize how ridiculous it seems to be comparing a recreational sport with my miscarriages. I hope it doesn’t sound insensitive to those of you for whom the memories are even fresher. When I was going through infertility, if someone had told me they knew just how I felt because they didn’t pass their roller derby assessment, I’d have beat them about the face with their quad skates, then made a noose out of their fish-net stockings. What’s even worse is this isn’t nearly the worst thing that’s happened to me in recent months, which includes events like losing my job and taking my son for an MRI to rule out cerebral palsy (he doesn’t have it, thankfully!). Dr. Phil might say I’m taking all my stress and focusing it on something that doesn’t matter as much as a coping mechanism. I’m comparing my recent experience to infertility as a matter of like, not degree. All the other stuff I went through just happened, through no fault of my own. But roller derby, the cycle of hope and disappointment, of watching others achieve and feeling like it’s my turn, of feeling like a failure: it just feels too familiar.
When I started writing this morning, I thought the theme was that the scars of infertility never leave you. I never expected a moral to the story, but here it is: the pain of infertility stays with you but so does the wisdom and strength. Someday a challenge or loss will come into your life, major or minor. It will feel familiar and unfair, because you’ve already fought the good fight. But you will face it with grace and courage because you know the only way forward is forward. Through the hope of “one more cycle”, I brought two of the most amazing people in the world; this is just 8 wheels.
Originally published March, 2014
If you’d like to read more about my adventure, check out my other blog: http://bout-of-midlife.blogspot.com