Maybe God is Trying to Tell Me Something

R and I have been wrestling with indecision over whether or not to continue updating this blog as our struggle grows more painful and lengthy. It’s difficult to remain your plucky correspondent these days, and we both tire of telling the story. But today I remembered that one of the reasons we started this blog is to help others have a better understanding of the unique challenges GLBT families face as they grow. We also wanted our friends and family to have a way to read about our choices and experiences when we don’t feel like delving into all the details. So in the spirit of our original intent, I’m writing to update you on the goings on of your favorite infertile Myrtles.

[Imagine witty commentary about Christmas vacation here]

In the middle of our annual pilgrimage home to the Midsouth, we made a 24 hour trip to Ohio to see a new fertility specialist, Dr. A. The long and short of this sudden move is that our adoption prospects seem dim, and we certainly cannot afford to undergo IVF here in the Pacific Northwest. We looked into treatment options in Canada, Israel, and…Ohio. Perhaps not surprisingly, the latter turned out to be the most sensible option. We have relatives we can stay with in Ohio, and Dr. A came highly recommended by a family friend who is currently prego thanks to his medical intervention. On a whim, I called Dr. A’s office to ask if they happened to have any appointments during the short window of time we were planning to be in the Midsouth. They did, and so in the midst of finishing up the maddening preparations for Handmade Christmas, Part Two, we scooped up all of R’s and the KD’s medical records from various and sundry clinics (four in all). Armed with a mountain of papers and a healthy dose of skepticism, we arrived at Dr. A’s office ready for a grueling four hour visit.

I wanted to leave as soon as we stepped through the door.  The other patients were reading Redbook and Ladies Home Journal. The penholders said something about miracles and God. I was petrified.

Well, either my fears were unfounded or the staff flagged our chart with a big fat LESBIAN sticker because every single person treated us like the couple we are, and I give them mad props for that. The only hiccup was when T, the financial coordinator, asked R and I to pose for our “mom and dad picture.” She quickly corrected herself and we all had a good laugh. After we had our picture made Dr. A came in to greet us, starting off the conversation by congratulating us on our newly won freedom to marry. This, from an avuncular Egyptian-American man casually sipping on a caffeine-free Diet Coke. Well, alrighty.

After a perfunctory review of the stack of records I brought, Dr. A put forth his hypothesis on why we haven’t conceived, and declared his optimism for our chances of success with IVF. We were led to the exam room, where R endured the usual poking and prodding while I made a half dozen phone calls to Dr. T’s office in the PNW. Four hours and a mountain of paperwork later, we were all set up to start the treatment protocol in about two weeks.

Then we came home. I looked at the prescriptions for eight drugs R will take over the course of three weeks. I contacted the pharmacy for price estimates. I calculated the nauseating cost of one fresh cycle of IVF. Even though Dr. A’s price tag is roughly half what it would be here in the PNW, I felt sick. And today my queasiness has turned to rage mixed with incredulity.

Pause and try to picture this. You want something very badly. You’ve practically tripped over yourself to make it happen, spending one year’s salary and at least 20% of your time on the effort. You haven’t succeeded, and whether you ever will is anyone’s guess. Over the course of two and half years you meet with multiple experts who try to help you solve the puzzle. You watch your spouse stab herself in the abdomen with hormone injections, drink wretched potions of Chinese herbs, cut out all manner of tasty food, limit her intake of alcohol, cut out caffeine, avoid vigorous exercise, and go to acupuncture on a weekly basis. When you are finally told that none of these measures is going to cut it, you look into other paths to your goal. They all appear blocked. You’re getting desperate, and all around you other people are easily (and cheaply!) succeeding at the very thing you want so much.

And then you meet someone who proposes to help you. He sits behind a desk and makes small talk with you. He is confident when you are not. He tells you exactly what you need to do to achieve your goal. It won’t be easy. It will involve many more injections and significant physical discomfort.  You are willing. More than willing. And then he asks you to give him $15,000, and promises in return, a 35% chance of taking home the thing you’re after. Do you say “Where do I sign?” or do you laugh maniacally?

On the bus (AKA Tax Payer Trolley) this evening I was chewing on this very scenario, and wondering what on earth possessed me to ask where to sign. I became enraged at the whole business of fertility. I can’t imagine another (realistic) scenario in which I’d be willing to part with tens of thousands of dollars for a 35% chance of getting something that other people get for free. I can hear my mentor clucking her teeth and saying, “If you’d go for that I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell ya.”

I don’t know what the “right” course of action is. I only know that I keep getting the sneaking suspicion that we are trying to force something that simply wasn’t meant to be. And I don’t even believe in “meant to be.”

Nor do I believe in special messages from God, and yet today I’m reminded of that scene in The Color Purple in which Shug hears the choir singing from her estranged father’s church. When she can no longer ignore it, she joins in the refrain

If you can’t sleep at night

And you wonder why

Maybe God is trying to tell you something

Cried all night long

Something’s gone wrong

Maybe God is trying to tell you something…

The tearful and hesitant reunification of Shug and her father gets me every time. And anytime I’m unsettled, her song reverberates in my mind. And now I’m left to wonder, is God indeed trying to tell me something?

Blessing for Waiting

My mom posted this poem on her blog, and I loved it so much I’m sharing it with you. Blessings to you, whatever you are waiting for.

Blessing for Waiting

Who wait
for the night
to end

bless them.

Who wait
for the night
to begin

bless them.

Who wait
in the hospital room
who wait
in the cell
who wait
in prayer

bless them.

Who wait
for news
who wait
for the phone call
who wait
for a word

who wait
for a job
a house
a child

bless them.

Who wait
for one who
will come home

who wait
for one who
will not come home

bless them.

Who wait with fear
who wait with joy
who wait with peace
who wait with rage

who wait for the end
who wait for the beginning
who wait alone
who wait together

bless them.

Who wait
without knowing
what they wait for
or why

bless them.

Who wait
when they
should not wait
who wait
when they should be
in motion
who wait
when they need
to rise
who wait
when they need
to set out

bless them.

Who wait
for the end
of waiting
who wait
for the fullness
of time
who wait
emptied and
open and
ready

who wait
for you

o bless.

-Jan Richardson

OPP (Other People’s Pregnancies)

Last night I spent an embarrassing amount of time reading through NY Times readers’ responses to another woman’s quandary. The woman wrote to the Motherlode blog to ask for readers’ advice on how to gently break the news of her pregnancy to her infertile friend. I was touched by her sensitivity and admire her kind spirit, especially as someone who has found myself having an unexpected and unpleasant reaction to OPP.

Some of the Motherlode readers were real ass hats about the way that they described the infertile friend. They assumed (based on the pregnant friend’s fear of telling her happy news) that the infertile friend is the antithesis of a friend–a childish, self-focused, emotionally stunted tantrum thrower–if she can’t be immediately thrilled for her pregnant friend. But the majority of readers were kind to the pregnant woman and her friend, helping illuminate the best way forward for both of them so that their friendship can (hopefully) continue to thrive. It was somehow cathartic for me to sift through the responses, and discover two gems. First, that other infertile women have experienced the same unsavory and embarrassing responses to OPP. Second, that many of those women are now parents by hook or by crook.

So, dear reader, in case you ever need to know how to sensitively announce your pregnancy to a close friend who is trying desperately to make one of her own, I have distilled the readers’ responses (excluding the ones from the ass hats) to a tidy list.

Don’t delay. Don’t wait until you are visibly pregnant and there’s a chance someone has already spilled the beans on Facebook. Your dear friend shouldn’t be the last to know. That will make her feel like you assumed she couldn’t handle your news.

Consider giving her privacy. Readers had pretty mixed reviews on this one, but I think most agreed that it might be best to write a very honest and loving email, or to call your friend on the phone. Some vehemently opposed this approach, advocating for an in person convo–but then your friend risks displaying an uncontrollable emotional response that she feels badly about later.

Do NOT, under ANY circumstances say you were not even trying to have a baby. This is pretty much the worst thing you can say to someone who is devoting considerable time, energy, and finances to conception.

Acknowledge that you anticipate the news may be hard for your friend to hear. This is NOT coddling (I’m talking to you, ass hats). It IS giving your friend the space to grieve without embarrassment or shame, if that is what she needs to do.

Let your friend take the lead. A lot of women suggested that you avoid talking obsessively about the pregnancy (your symptoms, the nursery, baby names) and wait for your friend to ask you for details. This seems like a reasonable approach to any subject and any friend.

Try to understand that your friend’s sadness does not mean she isn’t happy for you. In our culture (and in most others) we greet the news of a new human with joy and celebration. In most cases, your friend will join the party, but she may just need to grieve a little first. It’s not that she isn’t happy for you, it’s just that she’s unsure if she’ll ever experience the same joy, no matter how much she wants it or how hard she tries. This is the thing that some readers just could not grasp. I thought that this woman did a nice job of explaining:

Having been on the infertility side of this, I can say it isn’t jealousy that you feel. It’s in no way the same thing as getting jealous over a friend’s new job or nice clothes. “Appease her bitterness?” Wow. I’d frame it more like trying to be sensitive to someone in a difficult situation. I have a friend who’s a widow; I try not to complain about my husband around her or go on and on about comparatively small problems. I think that’s OK. It doesn’t mean I’m coddling her and that she should just deal.

What infertility feels like is that multiple times every day you are confronted with something very fundamental that you and most others want to do, to be, but that you cannot. You are stuck in repeated monthly cycles of hope and despair. You feel broken, defective…

I think it is nice that the pregnant woman wants to soften the blow for her friend. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re in her position. I think the best advice is to email the information so that she can hear the news and let it sink in without having to put on a reassuring display of happiness. She almost certainly WILL be happy; she just may need a moment to process the news and find the right words.

So, there you have it. The basic rules are be sensitive, try to understand your friend’s perspective, know that she will be happy for you in good time–just your average approach to friendship in general.

I have talked with other women who struggled to attend (or simply didn’t attend) their friends’ and relatives’ baby showers. So I was really touched to read this sweet post about two sisters, one expectant and one infertile:

I was the infertile person among my friends and my four sisters. It was awful to feel so jealous and sad. When my sister Michelle got pregnant, and my sister-in-law, and my other sister and I didn’t, it was just so, so difficult.

My sister did something very kind that really helped me. On the day of her baby shower, I was having a very hard time, but I told myself that it wasn’t right to make everything all about me. I retreated to the bathroom once or twice, but I played all the games–and won them–and bought a great gift.

At the end, my sister gave me a beautifully wrapped gift and card. In the card, she said, “Thank you so much for coming to my baby shower. I know this was a difficult day for you. This gift won’t make up for what you really want, but hopefully when you wear it, you will know how much you are loved and how much I appreciate you.”

Inside was a gorgeous, soft angora sweater in one of my favorite colors, fuchsia. And though it didn’t make up for what I wanted, a baby, it showed great compassion on her part because up until that point I’d felt like the most selfish, self-centered negative person.

So, back to your friend….It won’t be easy to tell her, but tell her–in person if possible. And tell her that you wish the same thing for her…and you understand that she may not be able to take full participation in everything, but you will continue to reach out. And be kind.

We should all be so good to one another.