Where Making Plans and Infertility Intersect

“But how do you plan to do that,” my cousin interrupted, “I mean, aren’t you trying to start a family? That’s a lot to do all at once, and you need to plan for that.” 

I paused.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, or how that conversation went, even though I’ve gone over it a hundred times in my head. I just remember snippets of myself trying to explain the psychological phenomena of infertility, and how difficult it is to make any sort of plan at all, somehow without crying.

It didn’t really help much that my cousin is a grown man, single by choice, who didn’t have much of a reference point. But he is a sympathetic and intelligent person who asked the question because he really wanted to know, and was genuinely concerned that I hadn’t thought through things practically. I wish I had had a better explanation for him – I’m so accustomed to people not asking the “work-home balance” question, even though I certainly do grapple with it myself.

First, I gave some sort of explanation about my class schedule, and Worf’s flexible work schedule, and how we both felt comfortable finding a competent babysitter or a good daycare provider. We even had somebody in mind. 

He pushed me further, asking how long fertility treatments would take, and asking how plans would change when we had several children, before I stopped him and finally addressed his real question.

“I think, frankly, we will be lucky to have one.” I said flatly, wishing to be anywhere else. There was that feeling in the back of my throat, and my voice had taken on that tone it gets when I’m defensive and liable to cry. 

“What I’m saying is, it’s been four years. After four years, you stop making plans. You stop putting your life on hold for something that may never happen.” 

“Studies show that a infertility can be as traumatic as a cancer diagnosis. It has been traumatic for me. And I don’t plan for that anymore… If my professional plans get thrown off, we’ll be grateful and we’ll deal.”

He nodded, and his face took on a thoughtful countenance as he took it in; understanding better than he had before.

My cousin loves me, and he was trying to help me think things through – because it’s good to have a plan. Professionally, personally, in every way. But that’s half the trouble of being a potential parent; a baby can always come and upset everything, and you are always planning your life nine months* in advance. Maybe I am over-correcting in my choice to not plan for a baby. Maybe that makes me naive. But I do not have the luxury of making a plan. I’m somehow in a place where that no longer scares the shit out of me, but that doesn’t mean that I like it, or the way it makes me feel to talk about having-no-plan-at-all as a viable lifestyle option.

Planning for a professional future is difficult enough for women. This is where sexism really shines. But for infertile women, we forfeit the benefits of being childless because we cannot leverage an unspecified amount of time. 

So now I’m asking for advice. When you’re in this place, trying to build a career and a family at the same time, how do you do both? I’m unwilling to sacrifice my whole life and psyche to this whole TTC thing; I need my life, my contribution to the human experiment, to be bigger than that. And I’m not sure how to make that happen.

*unless you are adopting, then you’re just waiting with no real time limit to work with. Which sounds like complete hell, and you who have gone through that have nothing but respect here.

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7 thoughts on “Where Making Plans and Infertility Intersect

  1. I recently just stepped down from a management position in my work because I’m about to deliver. I took it less than two years ago when we were in the midst of fertility treatments-but I don’t regret it and no one has held it against me. I think you just do the best you can. Live your life the way it is now, without kids, and hope that they’re on their way soon. If you have to make changes to your professional life it will be for an amazing reason.

    I’m wishing you the best of luck. I know what it’s like to deal with insensitivity over infertility (I think we all do, because people are so clueless).

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  2. I asked this question to a friend who had children and was still teaching and her point was that you don’t. You can’t plan; you just nudge things around and keep living life. That things that look overwhelming from the distance actually turn out to be completely do-able in practice.

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  3. “Plan” and “choice” have become such complicated words for me: in relation to family building but also life in general. Most people can casually throw them around in conversation, but every time I talk about “plan” and “choice” the words feel weighed down with unanswered questions and the knowledge that far more is out of my control than in my control. I find myself just planning for work-life balance and sanity. I can only handle so much stress: if one area of life is providing a certain amount, I’m going to dial back in the other areas. Or I can lose my mind and health, but that’s not worth it if it can be avoided.

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  4. Being infertile is a big “what if”. I did it for 7 years, I should know. In life, there are no guarantees, you can plan for all sorts of things and there will always be challenges ahead you never saw coming.

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  5. I have been wondering the very same question. It has been weighing heavily on me as of late and I have had difficulty putting it fully into words. I will be interested in reading what others have to say, in addition to those whom have already commented. Thank you for your post.

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  6. I think planning not to plan can be a good plan!

    You could put your life on hold, or you could go for what you want in both areas of your life, and if you get them both, then it’s a great issue to have. And not, then it’s a good thing you didn’t put all your eggs in one basket. Because a lot of us have done that at some stage, and it hasn’t worked out for us. Careers change too. If you have an opportunity, then go for it! Grab it when you can.

    Bottom-line is to do what feels right for you, rather than based on other people’s opinions.

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  7. Argh, planning and infertility. It is a rough, rough balance. I feel like the deeper you get into infertility and an adjusted future reality than what you’d originally envisioned for yourself, the harder it is to keep planning. For us, at the beginning we planned excessively. And those plans were broken, every single time, because a baby never came. I did not make my career decisions based on infertility, because it became painfully clear that a baby could come and muddle up carefully laid plans, or a baby could never come and I’d be stuck in a holding pattern. So I worried at first about going on maternity leave when not yet tenured, and then took transfer after transfer until I landed the teaching job I have and love now. We are going through the adoption process now, and the “hurry up and wait” is a killer. But we have been paralyzed before with feeling we have to plan, and then can’t plan, and I think the balance for us is living for right now. There’s no guarantees of anything in the future. We could have our placement at the worst possible point in the school year, or something could happen with my husband’s job and our location has to change. It took a really long time to get to a place of “what’s going to happen is going to happen, so we’ll enjoy where we are now,” but even now we worry about vacation after we’re homestudy approved… do we do it anyway and take the risk that the call could come while we’re hours and hours away? It doesn’t really end.

    I wish you so much peace as you finagle how to have a life and adjust what you thought your future was going to look like while still living in the present and nurturing the parts of you that have nothing to do with babies or family.

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