I remember the date like it was yesterday.
It was Nov. 1, 2010. My husband, Kevin, and I were celebrating our two-year anniversary, and I was hung over as hell.
I remember us going to dinner at a fondue restaurant and him giving me a diamond pendant necklace. We both were excited to finally say that we were ready to start our family.
So, when six months went by and we were not pregnant, I started to question and blame myself. I started to blame my unhealthy lifestyle. I was a closet smoker and a weekend and once- or twice-per-week drinker. I was living a fake life that created mounds of anxiety as I pursued a dream of teaching group fitness, only to leave class and totally undo all I had done.
I was in the ER on numerous occasions, thinking I was having a heart attack. It was panic attacks that were invading my life.
The blame I placed on myself was so thick, it was all that I could think about. The moment I would not think about it, someone always was there to remind me with the question, “So, when are ya’ll having kids?” I heard it almost daily, and it sent me into a depression that was so deep, I never thought I would come out.
I put on an amazing front. I faked it day in and day out as a motivator in the fitness room and a hairdresser in the salon. I could talk for days and listen to people for hours. But when the question was directed at me, it took everything not to cry right then and there. So, I learned to bury it, and it would come out at the absolute worse times.
I went into hiding. I isolated myself from people and situations I knew I would not be able to handle. I blamed myself endlessly and believed that if I just kept it a secret, I would not have to tell them it was my fault we were not conceiving.
But the truth is, infertility affects many women. Here is my advice:
1 Do not blame yourself. Even if there is something “wrong” with your reproductive system, you cannot live your life and go through this struggle while blaming yourself. It is not your fault. You might have a medical condition, or maybe you are not living the most healthy lifestyle. But to blame yourself is not going to help anything.
2 Try not to get overwhelmed. If you decide to take the next steps toward getting pregnant, whether that be intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. I remember when I got the paper work for the steps we needed to go through to even begin the process of in vitro. It was so much. I wanted to throw it away and say, “Forget it.” Take one step at a time, and check it off. You waited this long to get to this point, so don’t feel rushed. Just take your time, and go through it. And if you have a question, ask.
Money. IVF is pricey, and insurance usually does not cover it. What we had to do was prioritize. We needed to decide what stayed and what went. We sold our camper and our new truck. We cut back on vacations and going out to eat. You also could ask for help from family. I have heard opinions from people saying that if you cannot afford IVF, you should not have a child. I firmly disagree. You can find a way. There always is a way.
Don’t feel bad if you go into a bit of isolation. I did. I was not ready to talk about what we were going through, so I avoided gatherings. I even missed a dear friend’s wedding. That is how I dealt with it, and if you feel that way, too, just do what feels right. You don’t need to explain to anyone why you are doing what you are doing. You don’t need to go into detail why you missed something, or don’t want to do to something else. If they are your true friends or family, they will respect your privacy. We all deal with things differently. Some people hide out, and some people tell everyone. Whatever feels best for you and your partner is exactly what you should do, with no guilt.
If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel like shopping, shop. If you feel like eating a cheeseburger for breakfast with a side of cake, do it. You have plenty of time (the rest of your life) to be a responsible adult. But for now, just do what it takes to get you through.
On the flip side, totally isolating myself and my husband might not have been the best thing. I wish now that I would have at least had some sort of support system (besides the few necessary people we told) to help me cope, like a group of women going through something similar, other couples or even one person who went through it. I think that would have helped me not turn into such a hermit.
During the first round of IVF, I was in total hiding for months. It probably was not great mentally for me or my husband. But again, you do you.
For those on the supporting end, this advice is for you:
Don’t ever say, “Just relax and it will happen.” If they just got married, you can ask the fun question of having kids. But after someone has been married for even six months, I don’t think this question is appropriate.
I was asked this question many times, and with each time, it was a reminder that I couldn’t have children and would send me into tears after the person would leave.
If someone is acting cranky or irritable or doesn’t show up to events, don’t bug them endlessly about what the problem is, and don’t judge them for acting this way. There is a reason. It might not be fertility issues, but you never know. I missed several baby showers, and my family and friends I am sure thought I was just too busy. But I just could not take the pain of thinking, “That will never be me having a baby shower.”
When someone does finally decide to open up to you about their struggle and what they are going through, say something like, ”I am so sorry. I am here if you need anything.” And leave it at that. Don’t give advice. Don’t tell them your cousin’s brother’s wife’s sister went through it. Don’t tell them it will all work out, or that God has a plan. It doesn’t help. Just say, “I love you and I am here.”
My last bit of advice is this: I had someone say to me once that, “Life doesn’t really start until you have kids.” This person had no idea that we couldn’t have kids. They thought we were just living a life of no-kid luxury, vacationing, buying new things and having freedom. They thought we were selfish.
You know what? What is wrong with that? Why can’t you decide to not have kids? If that is your decision, never feel bad for that. This is your life. You do it how you want to do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that your life doesn’t have as much meaning without kids as theirs does with kids. It is just not true.
Happiness comes from so many places. Maybe for some, that comes from kids. But you also can find happiness in a long vacation, your work, or maybe a hike to the top of a mountain, skydiving, gardening and loving your partner.
Maybe your happiness comes from being alone with your pets, from making music, or baking.
Whatever it is, it is your happiness — no one else’s. So, if you are a person who decided to not have kids, well then, that is just awesome, too.
Addie Graffin is a freelance columnist and blogger based in Platteville, Wis. Read more at www.HealthyHairdresserAddie.com.