Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I am...

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.


  1. This is such an interesting, insightful post! My husband suffers from chonric, severe depression. When all is well with the meds, life is fairly "normal." But, it's scary how fast our life gets turned upside down when the meds go awry!

    Anyway, you make the pooint that people often say that "I am depressed" versus "I have depression." Honestly, I'd prefer to here people say "I have depression" more often so it starts to be seen as a disease just like diabetes, for example. I use that example, because I think there are many similarities.

    My thoughts on infertility aren't much different, actually. If we used the phrase "I have infertility" would people start to view it as the all encompassing issue that it is?

    But, you're right that as hard as it is to initially accept the phrase, we start to identify with the "I am infertile" phrase almost like a badge of honor. And, I think that's why women who do successfully get pregnant still use the phrase...we may have been able to conceive by whatever measures were necessary, but our path was not the same as the lucky ones that get pregnant at the drop of a hat. It does deserve distinction, in my opinion.

    Thanks for your insight! I truly enjoyed reading and thinking about this post!

  2. 'I am pregnant, does not cancel out, I am infertile'.... Wow. I can only imagine how true that is. I know it must seem awkward, but I'm so incredibly happy that you are in this place.

    GREAT post.

  3. I'm right there with you. Infertility is so deeply embedded in my self-perception that I just can not let it go. I have no real reason to believe that this pregnancy won't continue and be healthy, but I still worry about it every single day. And if it does go wrong? Or if I want a second child? I go straight back to the clinic, straight back to the meds, the stress, the IVF. So it seems natural to still feel infertile, despite the obvious contradiction. I think I'll be in that place in between for a while still.

  4. It's a very strange place to be, isn't it? I once felt the jealousy of infertility when I received an announcement to a friend's baby shower... the day before my own baby shower. Infertility just doesn't go away... it does become a part of you. I'm hoping someday I'll be able to put it behind me but I think it will be awhile.

  5. What an incredible post. I have had all of these feelings a million times during this pregnancy and I've never been able to find a way to put it into words. You did it perfectly. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I TOTALLY understand! When I was pregnant, I still felt like an infertile woman. I don't think the pain ever leaves, and therefore neither does the label. Good luck, hun!

  7. Interesting point! You've given me lots to think about (as usual)!

  8. Wonderful post. I love the insight you always bring. Still pumped for you guys!!!!

  9. Wow, very insightful post! I am definitely feeling the whole pregnancy does not cancel out infertility right now. I worry so much about what could go wrong & then all we've already gone through...and as you said the IF has become such a part of who we are it's difficult to let go of, I have very mixed feelings right now. Glad to hear I'm not the only one, thank you for this post!

  10. I fit into both categories - I was diagnosed with depression when I was 19. Even though it's been controlled with medication and self-awareness I still struggle with it from time to time. It is interesting, like you say, that the diagnosis of depression is such a huge self-identity thing. It is not something that you have, it is something that you are. But now, 8 years later, the labels don't fit anymore. On one hand it's a part of my past, not a part of my daily life, but on the other hand it's not something that I will ever NOT deal with, it will always be a part of me. It's just controlled, not active. I think that's how it's going to be with infertility too. I'll never not be infertile - I'll never have that choice to just get pregnant when I want to. Even when we are done having kids, when we have "moved on", I'll always carry this piece around with me. I think the language will change, later.

  11. This is a great post. I'm at about the same stage as you, I think - about 5 weeks pregnant after IVF. On Friday one of my friends announced her pregnancy via e-mail, and I burst into tears. It was the big ugly sobs, too, not just a few tears at the corners of my eyes. This came as a surprise to me - I had hoped my days of crying at pregnancy announcements were finally over.

  12. Hi! I just came across your blog today. I wanted to first congratulate you on your pregnancy! What a long journey you have been on. You will be in my prayers...take care.

  13. Just curious.. you mentioned that it annoys you when women who are pregnant refer to themselves as infertile... I had a baby 2 years ago and failed to get pregnant with frozen embryos... thus leaving me in a similar, though different predicament... Wanting a child but unable to do it without fertility treatments...
    I'm curious about your thoughts because I'm in an infertility support group (though I thought I'd NEVEr have to think of the "I" word again)to deal with this and hopefully support other women as well... Having a baby does not cure infertility... I'm somewhere inbetween... I understand the frustration with not having a child yet, I was there, but I think if someone was struggling with infertiltiy and explained why, I would welcome them and support them... its tough enough to be infertile, lets not turn on ourselves.