Part 1: What to expect when you’re not expecting

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We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
—Plato

I don’t want to be a person that writes about infertility any more than you want to be a person who reads about it. And yet, here we are.

After many years of waiting, I’ve decided to write down my experience. At first I thought I’d write a book. But then I decided that I wanted it to exist faster than that. And I don’t know exactly how much I’ll have to say. I’m guessing it will amount to about five essays.

Why am I doing this? Well, I’m doing it for me—because I want to remember what I’m learning, when in the future, things are hard again. And I’m doing it for you—whoever you might be—because I wish that earlier on in my waiting, I had had someone that could tell me what to expect when you’re not expecting.

First, I must tell you that I’m amazed that you would read this essay. Whether you or someone you love is going through infertility, it is brave to seek out help, understanding or comfort. It’s something I refused to do for very long time. In my pain, I didn’t want to hear other people’s stories of how things worked out in the end—or the stories of how they didn’t. I was afraid. To ignore infertility, put my head down, and survive it, felt like the best path forward. To lift my head and seek out others who had walked this road, would be to admit that I was on it.

And yet, here I am.

I want to promise you a few things right off the bat.

First and foremost, I don’t have any answers, remedies or silver linings that are going to ameliorate infertility. I have stories about tests that I’ve taken, cups I’ve peed into, vials of blood that have been taken out of my arm—but I am not a medical professional, and I am not so callous to assume that all of your pain would melt away if only you had heard of this one thing called an HSG⁠1. There is nothing worse than when you share with a friend that you’re going through infertility, and they begin the long deluge of questions that all start with the phrase, “Well, have you tried ____ fill in the blank?”  I am not that person. I don’t care what you’ve tried or what you’re considering trying. I just want to be here with you.

I also don’t have any friends. Okay, that’s not true, I have friends. But what I’m trying to say is that I’m not going to share stories about people I know who have “gotten beyond” infertility in one way or another. I’ve noticed that often when people want to offer comfort me, they will tell stories that start with “I have a friend that,” and end with, “got pregnant.” Those stories suck. They offer very little comfort because (1) I am not that person; (2) You can’t promise that I’ll ever get pregnant; and (3) what I’ve just done is bare my soul, and what you’ve just done is force me out of my heart and into the house down the street where everything worked out just fine.

I just want to be here with you.

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Likewise, I’m not writing my story because I’ve gotten “beyond” infertility myself. I am writing this from my couch, at 5 p.m. on a cold day in December. There are no children in my house. My husband, Patrick and I haven’t traveled to another country to adopt. The only thing we’ve done is almost lose each other in an attempt to expand our family by one. So, you can rest assured that I’m not writing from “the other side.” I’m on the same side as you. That may not give you any hope, but we’ll get to that later.

Famed researcher and storyteller Brené Brown has this awesome YouTube video about empathy that calls out people for trying to say ‘at least’ to people’s pain. It’s a cute little animated video with a fox and a deer and an bear. The fox falls into a hole, and while the empathetic bear crawls down into the darkness with the fox, the deer simply peeks his head in and goes, ‘ooh, yeah that’s bad. You want a sandwich?’

Here’s how the rest of the video goes:

“Rarely if ever does an empathic response begin with ‘at least.’ And we do it all the time: someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful, and we’re trying to put the silver lining around it. So, ‘I had a miscarriage.’ — ‘Well, at least you know you can get pregnant.’ ‘My marriage is falling apart.’ — ‘At least you have a marriage.’ One of the things we do sometimes in the face of difficult conversations, is we try to make things better. Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

I hope you will feel connected to me, not because I have wisdom to share or a silver lining to draw, but because I can empathize with where you are and the pain you are feeling. I don’t know your pain. I only know mine. But I have an inkling that they might share some things in common. I’ve walked roads that you might be on. I’m happy to call back what’s ahead.

Here’s what I’ve learned: There are as many versions of pain as there are snowflakes. Snowflakes can land on your eyelashes, make you want to put your hands up to the sky and twirl. Or, snowflakes can fall in force, freezing an entire community in stillness and cold—leaving grocery stores empty of the basic necessities like bread and milk. If you look at pain in the right light, it can be beautiful. It can also turn off all your power.

If at all possible, I’d like to be a person that twirls. I’d very much like to be the person that twirls. That rarely happens. More often, I’m the person that doesn’t get out of bed because it’s too cold out there and I don’t want to get wet… and this analogy is kind of going off the rails. But you know what I mean. Snow is pretty for a day. But three years? Four? Ten? Lord help me.

Lord help us.

 

 

1 According to the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) is a radiology procedure that inserts radiographic contrast dye into the uterine cavity to determine if the fallopian tubes are open. In English, it is a test that determines whether or not your fallopian tubes are open and clear, so that an egg could theoretically move through them each month and into the uterus. Some doctors have seen that the HSG itself often leads to increased rates of fertility—possibly because it “flushes” out the tubes.

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Comments

  1. Claire,
    My name is Claire, also. I also have a blog about infertility, though my infertility possibly looks differently from yours. I lost three pregnancies last year. I found this space from She Reads Truth – I am doing their current study and clicked on your name from your bio at the bottom. I was intrigued by another person named Claire and captivated by your writing, so here I am. I clicked around on your site until I found this, and immediately felt a deeper connection because of our shared struggles. I just had an HSG, like you spoke of, and am about to write a post about things that are helpful and harmful to say to a woman struggling with miscarriages or infertility, and “at least” comments are at the top of my “please do not say” list. Thank you for choosing to be open and thank Jesus for bringing me here to your site today. Praying blessings over you and children in His timing and method. Off to read the other posts now!

  2. As an academic philosopher, a woman, and a Christian, I don’t often see myself in other people’s words. However, I’ve never read anything on infertility that has come as close to my own experience as what you share in these essays. Everyone’s experience of infertility partakes in something universal but is also shaped by who they are. It’s therefore always at once relatable and yet ineccessable. But each time someone puts that pain into words and offers it to the world, there is a chance that someone somewhere will find those words and feel deeply understood. You did that for me, and I’m very grateful. For what it’s worth, I’m right there with you too. Thirty years old, inexplicably childless for 2 and a half years (or 7 depending on how you count). By the way, keep becoming Person B. She’s someone I’d love to have as a friend.

  3. Beautifully written! While I can not empathise with you in that I am a single 27 for whom pregnancy is not currently a remote possibility I have watched many (most) of my friends get married and start to have kids. I have experienced much joy from the friends who involve me in their family life but still I often get that feeling of being left behind with no silver lining, assuming my current life stage is permanent (it may be). Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Hey Claire, I first read your feature in She Reads Truth and followed you because I felt a connection with you. I too have experienced infertility issues. God had a different plan to me.

    My husband and I adopted a beautiful boy 5 years ago, and I wouldn’t change anything if I could. I am so blessed. I couldn’t always see the blessings due to the emotional roller coaster involved with infertility and the adoption process. God has a special plan for you. ❤️

    • thank you so much for sharing here, Lane. I’m thankful to hear your story of adoption. 🙂 I hope to hear more of your story.

      • I think God knew that we would love any child, but we were given the opportunity to adopt a precious (and rambunctious) handful of joy. 😊 When I think of all the tiny details that came together to make our adoption journey possible, it makes my heart swell because I know it was God’s plan for us to be his forever parents. I couldn’t love him more if I had given birth to him, It’s not the blood in your veins that makes a child “your child,” but the love in your heart. ❤️ If I said it was all easy, I would be dishonest because it was not. There were many concerns, doubts, questions, fears, and heartaches along the way, but I thank God that we found the strength to endure the journey.

  5. Alyssa Gibson says:

    Thank you for taking this risk to share your story. I am deep in grief hoping, praying, wishing for a child…

  6. Thanks for sharing your perspective. From the male side of infertility, I know that I frequently experienced both the challenge and joy of perspective. You struck a chord with me with the perspective analogies. Amazing isn’t it how ALL perspectives are VALID. Also amazing to see how time & space don’t necessarily change the facts but can and does change the perspective. Also amazing is it that we can CHOOSE OUR PERSPECTIVE, even when the circumstances of life feel so overwhelming. The serenity prayer always challenges me to be open to accept that what I cannot change, and change the things can. Wisdom, and frankly, God’s love, helps me remember that I can always change my perspective. I can remember to unconditionally love the people I have in my life as much as I grieve, yearn & hurt for the ones that I don’t have in my life…yet:)
    Thanks again for sharing.

  7. I’m glad you shared. Beautiful. Enlightening. Heartbreaking. Wise. Poignant. Brave. I could go on.

    • And, P.S.: Question. Question. It is good to question. And if the answer is that what you’ve believed in the past is something you no longer believe is real, it does not mean that there is not a divine mystery that pervades this universe. Been there. Done that. x

  8. Great metaphor from Brene Brown. I’m a little grossed out by the prayer comments to this post which are very, very similar to those who say “at least” and/or assume they have the answers because they went through something not at all the same. Infertility is some fucked up shit and no amount of prayer or vitamins or relaxing cures this. Anyone who is where we are knows that the only useful thing others can do is to hug you, love you, and be there.

    (We’ve lost all our close friends who didn’t apparently want to stick around during this battle, and learned our family is shit too, with my mother ignoring me during my miscarriage, refusing to even come over as I bled for 12 hours in monstrous pain, after DEIVF #4, and my sister in law who went through IVF never reach out to us once in 2 years of treatments)

    • oh i am so so thankful that you commented here. Infertility is definitely shitty. It’s the shittiest shit. It’s definitely hard sometimes to hear someone say they will pray for me. (1) I don’t know if they actually will. (2) I don’t know what it will actually do. All this infertility stuff has definitely made me question God a lot… and I’m hoping to write an essay about that soon.

      I’m so sorry that your friends and some of your family have let you down. It can feel like such a lonely road, and definitely we have felt let down too. I know that most people are TRYING to help. If there’s anything they say that hurts my feelings — it’s usually because they just don’t know better or that their effort is really aimed at making themselves feel better. Unfortunately, the most hurtful thing I’ve experienced is when people don’t say anything at all — or avoid me. I’m so sorry if you have felt this way. I also hate to hear of your miscarriage.

      My words are so empty — but I hope that you’ll come back and read more and tell me your thoughts. So much love to you.

  9. Patrice Gay says:

    I’m thinking you’re awesome Claire Gibson. You nailed the ‘Connection’ piece like I’ve never read. It’s true in so many different ways. I find myself retreating because I can’t stand platitudes. Thank you.

  10. This is eye-opening and very helpful as a friend who is trying to support someone as they go through infertility.

  11. Love you and your boldness and heart to love others

  12. I love you

  13. Laura Carlton says:

    “what makes something better is connection”..that’s the rub…we fail at connecting. As humans, we are wired to “connect”…to be connected. I came off the rails in my youth desperately trying to connect. Jobs wife couldn’t even connect…her advice? Curse God and die. His friends….after sitting with him for a week …. decided Job’s issues stemmed from his sin. And they told him so. It was just too awkward to sit with him in his pain. They wanted their old friend, Job…happy and successful….not this new person covered in sores, crying inconsolably…. ash covered and undone. In most cases, I’m not so different from Job’s friends. I hate that about myself. Oh Lord….teach me to connect like YOU would connect with a hurting person.

  14. Hi Claire. Somehow I found your blog while researching freelance writing and since then I’ve been occasionally reading your posts. Today’s post caught my attention because I’ve been struggling through infertility as well. And I have to comment since it’s such a difficult journey. In my experience, the hardest part is knowing how to express and or who to share pain with…even admitting it to myself is hard. There is a lot of types of pain in this world – the infertility type, in my opinion has been one of the sharpest. Thank for you for sharing such a personal topic and may you find outlets to allow for glimpses of beauty, even in the moments, days, and years of waiting.

    • Amelie — thank you so much for writing your comment. That’s a huge step and like you said… admitting it to ourselves is often part of the struggle. Love from afar, sister.

  15. Claire,
    For someone who is also going through infertility, I was touched by your essay. Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas, Katie

    • Hi, Katie. Thank you so much for saying so. It’s been hard for me to connect to other women who have written things, so I don’t take that lightly whatsoever.

  16. Oh, Claire! I’m sitting here with tears because of your clear, heartfelt words. I have to admit I googled you after reading your ‘The Annunication of Mary’ on She reads truth. The desire to know more about this interesting young author was so strong! Thank you for sharing your heart, I’m sure many young women will know you are sharing this journey with them. I just wanted you to know I am praying for you and your husband, Patrick. And, I take prayer very seriously 😇as a two time breast cancer survivor I can tell you prayer works!!! Bless you and yours this season of Christ! Affectionately, Susan

Trackbacks

  1. […] is Part Three in a series on infertility. Click here to read Part One. Click here to read Part […]

  2. […] This is Part Two in a series on infertility. Click here to read Part One. […]

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