Family update: Thank you for all your caring comments this week. My dad is recovered from his pneumonia scare and is out of the hospital back at the Alzheimer's care facility. My mother-in-law is also back home. Hospice has set her up in the main room downstairs and she is receiving nutrients and meds through a feeding tube. It's hard to say how long she has left. There's no predicting death, other than it will come sooner or later for all of us.
There have been many tears shed, and there are many more to come. But we, that is, my immediate family, are doing well. We feel lucky that we are physically close to our parents, and that my husband can take care of his mother (and father, who is completely overwhelmed by current events) without too much financial pressure. We feel lucky that I have a job that covers about 80% of our bills, and that we have been frugal enough in the past that we can afford to choose between family and work. We feel grateful that we are healthy, all three of us, and most especially our kid. In many ways my husband and I closer than we have every been, and it is strangely lovely to have someone with whom we can share our most traumatic life experiences. I think it's what we all hope for when we get married.
There has been so much going on and many transitions coming. And people have been so kind, offering to help in any way they can. There is so much sympathy to had, it one cares to reach out for it.
And I realize, not for the first time, that as hard as this is, what I went through with the miscarriages was worse. I felt more inconsolable sadness, more depression, more loneliness and more hopelessness. And here are the reasons why:
• Losing our parents is part of the "natural" order of life. Of course there is no such thing as a natural order, but us humans we like to comfort ourselves that such a thing exists. While it is sometimes hard to remember, we should all be so lucky as to bury our parents, rather than the other way around. And while taking care of them is often a burden, it is also a gift, both to our parents and to ourselves. And the vast majority of people will go through the experience of losing their parents, so it becomes a kind of collective human experience.
Alternately, not being able to the have a child, or children that we dreamed of and hoped for, is not "natural." Yes, infertility affects up to ten percent of couples, so technically, it's not uncommon. It is still not a common denominator. And in fact, a majority of that ten percent will eventually have children. That means that eighty to ninety percent of the population doesn't have a clue what you are going through, and in fact, has never even thought about it. And if they have thought about it, it's about "feeling sorry" for the random infertile couple that crosses their path. To most people, it's something that happens to other people, not to themselves. Of course there are lots of exceptions. Many people "get it" even though they have never experienced infertility themselves. But in my experience, it's definitely not the majority. So it gets lonely. Recurrent miscarriage is not a shared human experience.
• Miscarriage is something that happens when there is something "wrong" with you. Everyone wants to know why this is happening to you so they can look at their own lives and make sure it won't happen to them. There must be a hormone imbalance, or bad plumbing, or an age problem. I could see people feeling a little relieved when they found out that I have mild case of PCOS and was forty when I had my last miscarriage. There was something that put me in a different category than them.
People like to blame infertility on age, but here is something most people don't know: A hundred years ago (before birth control) the average age of a woman having her last child was 42. THE AVERAGE. Those women just started having kids at 23 and had 10 kids in between the first and the last (just maybe a bigger nightmare than infertility.) Yes, miscarriage happens more after the age thirty-six or thirty-seven, but every doctor I had believed that I could have a successful pregnancy if I could still get pregnant, because IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME!
•We are allowed to talk about our ailing parents, and about the sadness of Alzheimer's and dementia. And again, it is a shared experience, most people can chime in with a story about their parents or grandparents. But we are not allowed to talk about miscarriage. Many people don't want anyone to know that they have lost a pregnancy, because they are ashamed or do not want to be pitied. But are we ashamed when our parents die? Do people pity us? When I share that I have had recurrent miscarriages, some people look at me like I have just described my most recent bowel movement. I don't really care if I make people uncomfortable anymore. Usually my miscarriages come up when they are asking a question or making a comment that begs the answer, like telling me how spoiled only children are, or asking me why I didn't have more. I've never been offended by people asking me about why I only have one, so why should they be offended if I tell them the reason why? The bottom line is that it is not really acceptable as a topic of conversation; it makes people squirm. Which makes me feel sad and alienated. During my miscarriages, the losses dominated my thinking, yet there were very few venues in which I could talk about it.
• People think you're crazy. How can you grieve something the size of a peanut? I can't tell you how many times people have said to me "But your miscarriages were early, right?" Which could be translated as "Your miscarriages couldn't have meant much, since you were barely pregnant, and so why is it such a big deal?" So what is my problem? Why was I foolish enough to think that that little heartbeat was actually going to BE a child? That I was actually going to have BAYBEE? Silly me.
• I've heard before that miscarriages are the loss of a future. A future that we are just on the cusp of, and then that future gets snapped away. Psych. Usually miscarriers wil go on to have another child, but sometimes we do not. For me, I have this sense of being stuck on the edge. I know I can't move forward, but have a hard time turning all the back to where I was before. There is a sense of not finishing something that I started.
• Despite the fact that I think comparing pain is silly, in the end, I realize that having one fantastic child greatly eases my sadness. However, there is one thing about secondary infertility that sucks bigtime. If we are involved in our children's lives we are forced to be around other families constantly. We are forced to not only be around them but to talk to pregnant women about their second third and fourth children. Like everyone dealing with infertility, secondary infertiles have to watch as others easily attain their dreams of family. But in addition, while playing with our children at the park, or attending our kids soccer games, we are forced to listen dumbly to conversations about sibling rivalries and adjustments to the new baby. And we must look interested, or feel judged. By being a mother, other mothers include me, even though I do not relate to their situations. Secondary infertiles are subjected to women's angst ridden monologues about whether they should have "one more," while we are left wishing that it could be that easy. Some people feel that the fact that we have one child makes us open to their commentary about only children. We are also subject to their fertility suggestions - "have you tried one those thingamajigs for telling when you're ovulating?" I've always wanted to say, first of all, getting pregnant isn't my problem, dumbass, and second of all, they are called Ovulation Predictor Kits. Just in case you want to give any of your fantastic fertility advice to anyone else. But I could never say that because people would have thought that I had gone off my rocker. That I had just turned into an angry and bitter infertile pariah. And they might have been right.
It all boils down to loneliness. My miscarriages made me feel more different and detached from a "normal" life than ever before. Time heals wounds, it's true. Two steps forward, one step back. But this wound feels like a chronic condition. It crops up with periodic flair-ups that I just get better and better at managing.