Fertile Privilege

Dear Fertile People of the World,

Summer is almost here; ’tis the season when I will be seeing family. I have a gut feeling that someone is going to say something stupid (probably on the Klingon side of the family – I tend to be less patient with them) and I’ll want to fly off the handle.

Fertile People of the World, you who take for granted your ability to have reliably have sex and get pregnant, it’s time to check your privilege.

You have no idea what it is like to be unable to procreate. You don’t know what it’s like to be isolated by sorrow, judgement, worry, and lack of common ground, all at the same time. But you can. One of the great tragedies of the infertile experience is how easy it would be for people to empathize if they just tried.

Yes, infertility has rocked my world. Yes, infertility is a crisis. Yes, my views on a lot of things are different because of the hand life has dealt me. Yes, I want children. Sometimes desperately. Yes, I worry. Yes, I agonize over the morality of decisions I never expected I would have to make. Yes, yes, yes.

Infertility is a valid life experience. The lessons I have learned may be different from what you have learned, but they still count.

Sometimes people don’t have babies. Sometimes really good people don’t have babies. It’s a tragedy.

So when I see you this summer, I don’t need you to point out the upside to having no children. Believe me, I see it. I don’t need you to highlight the moral gray areas of building a family in a non-traditional way. Believe me, I know them intimately. I don’t need you to vocalize my worst fears; there’s a reason I bury them. I don’t need you to probe me for guilt or fault or blame; we all have problems. I don’t need you to advise; I pay (a lot!) for a doctor to do that.

I do need you to include me. I need you to make room at the grown-ups’ table for someone who does not want to talk about birth stories, pregnancy cravings, or which baby-carrier is best. I need you to forfeit your right to know and pass judgement on how our family-building efforts are going. I need you to exude confidence in my ability to make good decisions. I need you to hold my hand and laugh about the silly things that happen when we are together. I need you to be more than your parental status. I need you to ask my advice and acknowledge my wisdom. I need you to respect my marriage; we’ve worked so hard on it.

I need you to acquiesce that you don’t fully understand what it is like to be in my shoes – even if you’ve waited months to get pregnant, even if you’ve been there. I need you to be indignant on my behalf while acknowledging the limitations of your understanding. I need you to consider who you would be if your family had never grown, if the babies who haunted your dreams never came.


Your Infertile Friend


My dad is dying.

Normally, that’s not something I would say to anybody at first acquaintance. It’s too personal, too painful, too soon.

Here, though, it somehow seems appropriate. It’s my therapy blog, my readers, my thoughts, and so I am free from any restraints imposed by normalcy.

It hurts to say it; that he is dying. It’s not only that I love him, and that I will be sad to see him go. It’s the way he is dying – slowly, a little piece of him crumbling away every moment of every day. It’s like the tide – at first, you’re not sure it’s really going out, and then you think that it will be a very long time before it does go out all the way (and you have plenty of time to enjoy the water), but far too soon you realize it is going. It’s going fast, and there is nothing you can do to keep the water from receding. The world is too big, too old, and you are small and young and frail.

Death is like that. Watching someone die of dementia is painful in ways I didn’t know I could ache. Tears don’t seem to help, and being with him is an especially exquisite form of torture.

I miss him. I hold his hand and talk to him, but it’s like a bad episode of Dr. Who, or some other hokey form of science fiction, where the robot is dying, and instead of just shutting off, it starts repeating all the things it used to say all the time.

“My life really started when I met your mom.”

“The hell, you roar!”

“Well, I was fishing with Dad, you see, and my job was to run the motor….”

I can hear Future Me whispering in my ear to enjoy this time; it’s a gift, before he really loses it, and is gone for good. I wish she would shut up. It does me no good to focus on how much worse it will get before he actually passes away.

The future may hold beautiful days with him yet, but I can’t bring myself to think of them. They hurt, too, because I know he won’t remember. Someday, he won’t even remember me. And what will I do then?

He got old too soon. He wasn’t supposed to go this way; I’m too young to say goodbye. I still need his wisdom and his love and his ever-enduring faith in me – always sure that I will do the right thing.

Play it again, God. Please, play it again.

Beautiful Strangers

Last week I rode the subway home as I normally do. I got off at the last stop on the line and inattentively worked my way toward the escalator. Waiting for the two messy rows of people to merge into one, an elderly woman stopped and let the family in front of me board. I, still dazed from the long ride home, waited for the elderly couple to move ahead in line, when I was jolted into awareness by her kind voice, saying, “Oh you go ahead, dear. We like to keep the family together.”

My head lurched, “Oh, no, we’re n…..” I was momentarily flabbergasted, and before I could finish correcting her, I blinked. She thought we were together.

That blink lasted somewhere between a millisecond and a thousand years, and in it I made an instantaneous calculation. While I wanted her to know that this family, a father with two children, was not mine, it didn’t really matter. The only thing that might have made any difference to her at all was knowing that she had been kind to a tired mother and her offspring.

As I was not a tired mother, the offer wasn’t really extended to me, but holding up traffic would get me nowhere. And so instead I smiled, quickly thanking her before taking my place in line. Carefully, I put a stair between myself and the little girl in front of me. I looked at the children and their dark, handsome father. The chatty little boy, maybe nine years old, was holding his dad’s hand (there was no mistaking that this attentive man was his father). Below them, the quiet girl shared their face, but instead had blonde hair, with light eyes looking up at me. My breath stopped in my chest as I realized how we had looked to the ordinary passerby. It had been an easy mistake, to assume we were together. It was uncanny.

We reached the top of the escalator, and I hurried past them, no longer concerned with letting the elderly woman feel as though she had done a good deed. No matter how it might have appeared, we were merely beautiful strangers; nothing less, and nothing more.

As I walked home in the snow, it continued to haunt me; in another reality, these beautiful children could have been mine. This darling little girl, her face now emblazoned across my memory, could have been my daughter; this precocious little boy, my son. He could have been my husband, and we could have been going home together.

But, alas, we were only strangers on a subway.