Thursday, January 22, 2009

if and when

"Do you have any children?"

I hate this question.

There are a myriad of potential answers, some more appropriate than others:
"Not yet."
"No, we haven't been able to."
"No, I have a rather severe case of endometriosis, for which I had a surgery in September, and my husband's sperm appear to be mostly the wrong shape."

I have never gone with the last option, though I have been tempted every once in awhile.

I know that every woman who struggles with infertility also struggles with how to answer that question.  Sometimes, I think of people I have known who did not have children, and I wonder what their stories are.  I think about my great uncle (a delightful man) and his wife (a, no kidding, seriously crazy woman) and although, in their case, I think it was probably best that they didn't have kids (see earlier comment about crazy woman), I still wonder what their story was.  There weren't many options in the 1940's and 50's, when they would have been trying.  I think about couples I know now, in a fairly cursory way, so that there's not quite the intimacy level required to ask about one's state of fertility.  I wonder how many brokenhearted almost-parents are out there, 'concealing great oceans of pain,' as one friend has written.  Maybe we ought to have a secret handshake.

It's hard enough to answer the "do you have kids," or "when will you have kids" questions from other people.  But right now, the hardest answer to give is to myself.  Do I think of it as, "when we have kids," or, "if we have kids"?  I want to choose "when."  "When" is the hopeful choice, the one which makes a huge and, might I add, expensive, assumption.  It's the future I want, no question.  It's not the future I am guaranteed.

"If" is such a tiny, frail word.  I've never liked it.  It's so...iffy.  It's a dreaming word: "if we get married," "if we move," "if we vote for Obama," "if we make the right choices" - it's a hopeful word too, but the hope is further away.  On your tiptoes, from 'if,' you can see the past, and you can see the future, but there's not quite enough room to stand for long, and you could fall off onto either side.

WHEN is a much broader word.  Twice as much room to stand.  You can stretch out and look calmly at the future from 'when.'  I like it better.

But it might not be as honest.  

I do say 'if' to myself every once in awhile.  More, lately.  It nearly steals the breath from me.  I can see the same struggle in others who know about our fertility struggles, who are giving me advice about future children.  I saw it in my friend's face the other day, my friend who had several years of fertility treatments and a post-IVF miscarriage at 13 weeks, who then adopted two darling boys.  She was trying to make an innocent joke about preschool.   Her lips started to say, "if you have kids..." but she quickly changed it.  "When you have kids," she said, and I knew what she had almost said, but neither one of us acknowledged it.

I wish people would stop asking if we are going to have kids.

On the other hand, the day they stop asking...

maybe I'll just live with the questions.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately people don't ask me that question any more. Married for 6 years (together for 11), big house, no kids...I think most can do the math. But, it is a VERY hard question to answer. One of the silver linings to infertility is that I'm a more sensitive person and I don't ask personal questions like that.

    I hope you can keep the positivity of "when" in your heart!