For the past few years, our now-college-aged niece has been struggling with depression. Major depression. Which she has denied for a long time, but is finally realizing has swallowed her life, and she's trying to figure out how to deal with it.
Infertility and depression are not the same thing, by any means. But I've been thinking about some commonalities between the two, especially in terms of language.
I remember the day, in November 2006, that I had to use the word "infertile" about myself. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was getting ready for an evening worship service. I went to the bathroom about 5:00, and there it was - my period. Not just one more period, one more time - this was the 12th in a row with no pregnancy. All I could think of was a single sentence: "Infertility is defined as 12 months of trying without achieving pregnancy." I had read this in a book somewhere, or possibly online, and I had been trying to dodge it for weeks. "Surely this is not happening to me," I said to myself in the mornings. "I am not infertile."
And then, that night, I was. I am infertile. It was the first time I said that. I didn't entirely believe it, of course, but the definition had finally chased me down.
It's a strange way to refer to a medical disorder. At the time, I didn't know what was causing the problem. I was some 6 months away from the semen analysis which would tell us that my husband's swimmers were almost entirely the wrong shape. It would be another year after that before I discovered that I had stage IV endometriosis.
I didn't know what the problems were, but something was wrong. And yet, the only way to explain it was not to say that I had a problem (or that the problem had me) - the only way to refer to this problem was as if it were integral to my very identity. Nobody goes around saying, "I have infertility." You might say, "I have fertility problems," but if you want to use the big word, the I-word, you have to plant it firmly in your identity, right at the center of who you are. "I am infertile."
It's not linguistically normal to say, "I have depression," either, although I do hear people say that from time to time. You're more likely to think, "I am depressed." Nobody says, "I am cancer," or, "I am lupus," but here we are, the infertile and the depressed, stuck with language that does us no favors. Over time, you forget that you're simply stuck with a medical problem the way many people are. You forget this, and you become convinced that you're the problem. Consequently, you often think that you should be able to fix it, cure it, get past it, get over it. And other people may well support that theory: "just relax," "snap out of it," "get out of the house."
I wonder if this is why so many women who endure infertility feel that pregnancy does not fix the problem. "I am pregnant," does not cancel out, "I am infertile." Not immediately, anyway. At the moment, I find myself someplace in-between: I know, logically, that I am pregnant. But after four years of the refrain, "I am infertile," this leap is not easy to make.
On the other hand, I've always gotten really pissed off at women who get pregnant and insist on continuing to refer to themselves as infertile. I get it, the deep connection we make to that diagnosis, but I think it belittles those who are still in the struggle, to act as if you can be both things at the same time. This is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree.
I do think, though, that you can be in a weird space between the two. No longer one, and yet not quite realizing you are the other. So attached to the fear you know, that the newness before you is simply not real.
That's where I am at the moment. Someplace in-between.