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.