“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 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.