Friday, August 7, 2009

feeling tense

Warning: English major nerd post ahead. (And disclaimer: this post is so, so NOT about anyone who comments regularly on this blog. At all.)

I’ve been thinking lately about the grammar of infertility. We all started, the Stirrup Queen Sisterhood, way back someplace where we realized that infertility might be in our future. We started saying things like, “I think I might be infertile.” “I think I might have a fertility problem.” “I’m worried that I might not be able to get pregnant.” “Might,” we said, carefully, or, “maybe,” as we worried about what lay ahead.

And then infertility became present tense. “I’m getting tested,” “I have endo,” “We have sperm problems,” “I’m starting Lupron,” “I’m waiting for my beta results.” I am infertile, we finally had to say. It’s a short sentence, but it took me nearly two years to say it out loud. Infertility moved out of the realm of possibility, out of the future tense, and it became the now. The present. A reality. A hard, painful reality.

And there we stay. For months, some of us for years. Sometimes we think we have put it in our past, and then it comes back again: a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy, a stillbirth, and we’re back to the painful present again.

Here’s my struggle: what happens when infertility becomes past-tense? Specifically, what happens when the past-tense and the present-tense collide? I’ve read a few comments on blogs lately wherein someone who has a child (past-tense infertility) says something like, “I completely understand” to a woman who is still present-tense infertility, and although I really hope you don’t hate me for saying this, I’m going to say it anyway:

comments like that really piss me off.

There’s a sisterhood among the tenses, of course. Those worried about future infertility can learn a lot from those who are enduring it now, and from those who have come through it. I know I did, when I was still a future-tense girl. And those in the present-tense can offer support to the future-ones, and can take great hope and gain great wisdom from the past-tensers.

But somehow, no matter how hard I try, I cannot erase the resentment I feel when someone with a child says they still consider themselves present-tense when it comes to infertility. I read this every once in awhile, and although it’s not my intent to offend anyone who feels that way, I do want to be honest about my perspective: that, no matter how hard we try, there is a gap between these tenses. And perhaps it is better to be honest about that than to try to pretend they don’t exist.

I, for example, don’t really understand what it’s like to be a parent. And although I remember the early days of struggling with infertility, the four years of that struggle have permanently altered the way I view those early days. I look back at myself, 6 months into the game, and I laugh gently at how I cried when my period came, all the money I spent on ovulation tests and pregnancy tests, how I stopped buying tampons at Cos.tco because certainly I would get pregnant this month, and then what would I do with the super-sized box of Ta.mpax?

I pity that future-tense girl, which means that I don’t really understand her anymore. I have forgotten her pain – or, perhaps the pain which came along the way has swallowed hers up, and I don’t see it accurately anymore. I think she was a fool, and she wasn’t – not really. She was hopeful. She was a bit in denial. And I can’t get back to her with all these years in the way.

I can’t get myself to the past-tense either. I’m stuck here in the present. And although I believe that surviving infertility does change you forever, does bond you with others who survived it too, there is still a gap between us. I know you thought you would never get there. I know you were me, once, perhaps not long ago. You endured the same treatments and tests and heartache and despondency. You cried the same tears and you felt the same despair and you resented the people on the other side, the parent side, who said that they “completely understood.”

If infertility has ever been a part of your life – past, present, or future – then we have more in common than that which separates us. But we are not the same. And, for myself, it’s better to acknowledge those separations than to ignore them. Because if infertility is in your past, then – like it or not – your claim to “completely understand” me falls pretty flat. It’s as if a bride, in her lovely white dress, says to her single bridesmaids right as she leaves for her honeymoon, “I’m still single! I’m still totally like you!” Which is much, much worse than the hideous dresses they agreed to wear for the day.

It’s just how I feel. You don’t have to feel the same. And if you’re on the other side, if infertility is in your past, then know this: I’m delighted for you, and any envy I feel is outweighed by gratitude that you still care, you still want to connect, and that you want to share your experiences with those of us in infertility-future-and-present. The gaps between us are real, and sometimes our words fall through them. But all we want – the thing we all want more than almost anything else – is for every single one of us to get to the other side. So forgive me if my words have fallen into the cracks and landed on a sore spot. It happens. I hope you can put it in your past.

I'm just feeling a little [present] tense today.


  1. Great post. I think the only thing worse than being told "I completely understand" is something I was told recently......and that would be, "I know you don't want to hear me say this BUT...I completely understand".

    Wow. You KNOW I don't want to hear it...but you said it anyway.


  2. Currently being in limbo between the past and present tenses, I can't speak for the view from the other side, but from where I stand right now, I have a hard time believing that I'll ever forget what it's like to live in the present tense. In 7 years of IF, I probably spent 1 year in the future tense and the other 6 in the present tense, and it's hard to wipe out all of those years.

    Right now, as I approach the past tense, I'm still partly in the present tense. Much of the anxiety I feel over this pregnancy has to do with the fact that in an instant it could all be taken away, and I'd be back in the present tense again.

    On a somewhat different but related note, personally, I've never felt like primary and secondary infertility are fully comparable. The gap between 0 and 1 is infinitely larger than the gap between 1 and 2 (or 2 and 3, etc.). Not that secondary isn't awful too, but definitely different, and people from either perspective probably can't fully understand the other (except for those with both primary and secondary).

  3. I completely understand. (sorry, I couldn't help it-just trying to inject a little humor)

    Seriously, this is a great post and I can see the tension between what divides us and what unites us. I feel like I've recently moved from future tense to present tense, but yet I still see a divide between people in my situation and people in yours. I'm not an English major and don't know my verb tenses all that well, but I think it is about the present perfect tense or something like that. I feel like it is happening now (present tense) but am still pretty hopeful that an endpoint in near, but for those who have been here longer, the present tense is more continuing.

  4. Very real and honest feelings to share. Thank you. I have to admit that I didn't know I would feel like this until I got my BFN. Even after the years of trying at home and the months of failure I had no idea. As I watched other women on the blogs and other infertility sites I follow get good news, I felt it. This nagging feeling.I felt this anger swell up inside as they sat there telling me that they just know it will happen for me and God will bless me when he is ready. If I ever make it to the other side I hope I remember this feeling and find a way to be supportive but not condescending.

  5. I love this post. I couldn't have said it better. DH and I just failed our first ivf. we got the news today. then someone in the lobby told me to just relax. i almost morphed into a puma.

    also, i linked your blog for a teeny award... ;)

  6. Well said. For me, it's not the "I understand"s or the "you can have one of mine"s or the stories about other friend's conception miracles. It's the "just relax"s. I friggin' HATE those. HATE them.

  7. Thanks for commenting on my post on this very subject and I 100% wholeheartedly agree with that you've said here.

    As much as we might not like to say it there IS a difference between the tenses and so thus the people.

    Really, very well said.


  8. Love this post. I'm a present-tenser (over 2 yrs and counting) who knows too many past-tensers, and I've left a few forums because of exactly the issues you raise here.

    Thanks for saying so well.

  9. Interesting. As a present-tenser I have to say no matter what, if I one day have a child I can hold, I will consider myself IF. I had to go through alternate routes and though I reached the destination I still have IF. Anytime I try to conceive again I'll be taking back roads once more, so the brand for me remains.

  10. I completely agree and feel what you are saying here. I have sisters who have dealt with IF, some that are still dealing with secondary IF, but they have at least one child and that makes the gap between us bigger than they understand. Yes, we can talk about the frustration of IF, and the way our sister's in law act like getting pregnant is just so easy and how much that angers us...but, they are in a different world than me. They have been pregnant, they have succeeded where I have not. And, although they may be able to understand how it feels, they aren't there anymore and therefore I cannot understand how they feel. I cannot participate in the conversations at baby showers about pregnancy, how hard it is to have a newborn, the changes that take place in your life....they can. Our worlds are different, and no matter how much those who have passed from IF to being mothers want to deny it, they don't understand because they have PASSED this stage. I am not very eloquent, but I just really felt like this post said so much that I have felt for so long. Thank you for putting it in a way that I could not.

  11. I love this post. (here from the creme)

    REALLY well said.

  12. Popping in from the crème de la crème list.

    You're right, we're not all the same. Our experiences are different. I feel less connected to those who are still in the early phases of IF, true enough.

    When I became PG, I found it normal that some of my circle left, because staying was too hard. Ditto when we crossed over to parenting.

    If I read you're post correctly, I should consider unsubscribing from all the blogs on my feed list that haven't crossed over yet. After all, I don't want to rub salt in the wounds with any comments intended to give support.
    At the very least, I shouldn't use the phrase "I completely understand". I think it's one I didn't use often before anyway.

    Food for thought.

  13. Interesting post (here from creme) because I was also just recently thinking that while it's nice we've all had something in common, I've found reading books or blogs from people who went through it but now have children to just be somewhat disappointing because you think 'oh they get it' but then 'well, they kinda don't anymore'.

    And I found myself feeling this way today when I went to Stirrup Queens' Show and Tell and some of the pictures were of people's babies. I'm happy for them but I don't really want to see that. I feel there should be some separation between the 'have and have not's' when it comes to this.

    AND totally slapped my knee at those early days of not wanting to buy the box of tampsons... just in case. Yeah, these days I buy the jumbo size to save $. Hugs.