Sunday, January 25, 2015

Under the Rug: Fertility, Miscarriage and Parenting Worries.

When I was little, I did my fair share of playing with dolls. Like many people, I had preconceived ideas about family.  There's Barbie, Ken, the teenager Skipper and they had babies whenever my imagination decided it was an appropriate next step. It seemed like the natural order of things. To me, having a family was as simple as a series of decisions you make then viola! you get babies! That notion of family stuck with me into adulthood, and it has only been the last few years when the image I had of family building has become a fragmented mess.

Without going into detail, recent events have reminded me a lot about my miscarriage. I blogged about that experience and the emotions that went along with it. I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about what it means to be a woman today - in the workplace, at home, in the church, on a magazine - you name it, I've analyzed it. The overall conclusion I have come to is that it is a far cry from the Barbie world I created as a child. Some of those lessons have been good ones. For example, thank goodness everyone isn't white with blonde hair and blue eyes. Barbie might like Barbie. Ken might like Ken. These were lessons I was glad to learn. Other lessons were a bit harder. First, I learned that things may not work out with the first "Ken" you meet. I don't know about yours, but my Barbies never got divorced. They drove Corvettes, got married and lived in mansions that filled up with kids.

Kids. No one told me that the stars must align perfectly and then you hold your breath for 40 weeks. I think about the moment I found out I had Diabetes and the combination of anger and terror that I felt for a while. You have a series of loved ones and medical professionals assuring you that it's nothing you did. So, I devised some coping mechanisms around the idea that I just drew the short straw in the pancreatic aspects of life and manage the best I can. But there are still those moments when thoughts creep in that my body - try as I might to control it - is capable of a complete and utter rebellion that reroutes the journey on which I thought I was traveling.

Pregnancy is a bit like that, isn't it? No one really told you as a young girl or boy that it might be difficult. In fact, movies and shows reinforce the idea that it is something innate and beautiful for women. Though I don't disagree with the beauty, I struggle with the idea that pregnancy comes naturally. Nobody likes to talk about the struggles, but that doesn't mean that many couples aren't living those struggles. If you decide to dig and research, you start to wonder if the "high fertility, smooth pregnancy, calm delivery" story is really the norm. I know many women who struggle to get that positive pregnancy test. They chart. They take vitamins. They have sex like clockwork. Years pass, and nothing. Some of those have eventually had success stories. Others have not. These are women who, like me, probably spent their entire childhood thinking it would all be easy. Fertility treatment is a huge field, and thank goodness. If so many people didn't have trouble, there wouldn't be all these other options like IVF, surrogacy or adoption. I am so glad those avenues have been explored, but don't doubt for one second that a woman's journey to get there doesn't involve fear, hope and a flirtation with the idea that her body has failed her.

So maybe you jumped through the hurdle of fertility and you get positive pregnancy tests quicker than you can blink. That is a feat in and of itself. You think the hard part is over, right? I'll eat right. I'll rest. I'll take the prenatal vitamins, and I will watch my baby grow with every ultrasound...right? Not always. I don't know about you, but I had no idea miscarriages were common. When it happened to me I thought I was the butt of a cruel joke. Many people choose not to talk about it, and that is understandable. Could there be a more private and hurtful experience than infertility, miscarriage or the death of a child? Then I looked on message boards, talked to the doctor and learned that miscarriages occur with an incredible frequency - and many happen too early to be recognized. The single biggest help after my miscarriage was when folks who read my blog messaged me privately and said "I've been there. Just hang on." It's not a commonality I'd wish on anyone, but I could not have been more thankful for a sense of community. Some have one miscarriage. Others have multiple. Some trigger extensive (and expensive) testing to see if there is a reason. And others are told simply to be patient. Patience is often elusive when it comes to fertility and pregnancy loss. My mom didn't have to be patient. Doc, you didn't have to be patient. The teen moms on MTV did not have to be patient. DON'T TALK TO ME ABOUT PATIENCE. But they're right. What other option is there but to be patient and hopeful?

Babies are born every day, and even deliveries can be a crapshoot of bad luck. Maybe you hoped to breastfeed and cannot. Knowing what I know now, I count it miraculous and truly wonderful when everything goes Barbie-perfect. But the worries don't end there. I did my first tour of St. Jude last week, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that everyone has a different battle. It may just occur on different points of the timeline. Whether you worry that you won't conceive a baby, carry to term, or raise a child into old age, the common denominators are worry and hope for a good outcome.

Why did I write this? Well, I have fears. What has happened can recur. And when you really marinate on it, you want to shout from the rooftops that it's not a stinkin' fairytale for everyone. You can delve into dangerous territory if you start to compare yourself to the seemingly perfect Facebook families or your sister who never had an issue. It's not that I think more people should be open about it because that is a personal choice, but I do wish we paid more respect to the many journeys that are out there. I know there are couples out there who have battled, cried, screamed, prayed and spent thousands of dollars trying to have an experience they assumed would be as easy as a decision you make together. I know I did. Barbie and Ken were fun for a time. Facebook serves a great purpose. But each has done a large disservice on multiple fronts in setting an artificial measure of normalcy.

If someone invites you into their journey, it is because they want hope, support and encouragement. I am glad to talk if anyone wants/needs someone. That was hugely helpful for me.

I extend my personal invitation to all of you. When I try again, I know I will have doubts, fears and very cautious optimism. It was your encouragement that made the healing process possible.

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