Infertility Lessons

The day after I found out I had half a uterus, I went to the dentist.  A year prior, I had hopes of getting pregnant, a fact that was recorded in my patient file. My dental hygienist, a woman in her mid-30s, proceeded to ask me about said baby making. I had barely mentally processed my status as an infertile woman; the news still sitting in my stomach like a fresh knife wound. I was not ready to talk about it with anyone, let alone this woman I had never met.

I felt trapped in a strange dental interrogation room surrounded by sharp metal instruments, gums bleeding under bright lights and drool dripping down my chin. I tried to shut down the conversation with short, non-specific answers; but on she yammered, Have you tried this? And are you doing that? “Don’t give up,” she insisted, “it took me eight months to get pregnant with my first. She’s almost a year now. Boy, I just love her, a real miracle.” It took every ounce of my will power not to stab this woman with her tooth scraper.

I'm thrilled this woman was able to conceive a healthy, well-loved baby, but I did not want to hear all the details that went into that baby's conception! And sure, she meant well. At least that's what people tell me when I share this story. There was no way for her to have known that I had but 12 hours prior discovered my unique reproductive challenges.

Whatever the case, this woman was not my friend, my family, or even my gynecologist. This woman was tasked only with cleaning my teeth, not reassuring me that I, like her, would be happy and complete if I could just wait it out and have a little patience.  

In my experience, people just don’t know how to talk to an infertile woman. She wasn’t the first to offer half-baked advice or an overly cheery prognosis.

I need to air some things out.

This is my story.

These are the five things I’ve learned from my infertility diagnosis.

 1)   I am Not a category 

“Please give information on any serious illness, drug or alcohol abuse, disability, mental disorder, or hereditary condition, or history of infertility.”

Are you f**king kidding me? At least, that’s what I thought when I first saw this question. Because this is an actual question, on an actual adoptionquestionnaire. I mean, it makes sense that they'd want to know that information, but seriously? In your eight page long questionnaire, a questionnaire primarily filled out by people who have struggled to make their own babies, you couldn’t print a separate question about infertility?! 

The language of society is of boxes and check marks. Society will try to make sense of you by assigning you to your place. And if you're infertile, they'll try to put you in that "less than" category. Your uterus is inadequate. You are abnormal.  

NO! I AM NOT!

Fight against your label. 

Having half a uterus is like having brown hair, it just came with my package.  It doesn’t make me damaged goods. I will not sit quietly in your little box. 

2)   Being a woman is hard

Women don’t get paid the same amount as men, and that’s super messed up. But you want to know what’s more messed up? If you’re a woman, over the age of 28 (married or unmarried doesn’t matter) a few times a year a stranger, friend, co-worker, and/or family member will ask you one or an assortment of the following questons:

-Are you going to have kids?

-When are you going to have kids?

-How many kids do you want to have?

-Are you saving money to support your unborn children?

Hey Ladies, just in case you forget, the clock is ticking and people are keeping tabs. 

If you say no, I don't want to have kids, then you have to explain yourself. This is so confusing to everyone. Women have the womb, and the primary thing they should be doing with that womb is growing babies.

That’s what women are for. 

Sure, you can work, and do good and all that, but your primary social responsibility is to push a baby out of your vagina.

And to my beautiful mamas, the growers and creators of life. Well, it doesn't stop there. People still have so many opinions to share with you. You know, those statements in the form of a question. 

-What's your birth plan?

-Oh my god, you're huge! What are you eating?

-Have you heard about juicing to lose that baby weight?

-When are you having your next one?

-You're breastfeeding, right?

-Have you heard that gluten causes autism?

PEOPLE! Relax

 3)   It’s not your fault.

The first several months I tried to have a baby, I thought I was doing something wrong. When I told people I was trying, they’d give me all kinds of advice. You should really gain some weight. You should really lose some weight. You shouldn’t eat dairy. You should eat full fat dairy.

People told me when to have sex, how to have sex, exactly what angle to tilt my pelvis after sex. Don’t eat sugar. Don’t pee after sex. Make sure your husband wears boxers. This is crazy!

To the friends, neighbors, acquaintances, parents, dental hygenists of those who are infertile. You are not a doctor. Your advice is bananas!

Totally fine to recommend your favorite acupuncturist, a skilled physician, a holistic doctor. Give the infertile woman in your life resources; don’t invent solutions. Chocolate works too.

The constant chatter from others was really starting to make me feel crazy. To the point that when I discovered I only had half a uterus, I felt…validated. It wasn’t because I did too many drugs in college or was eating too much cheese. This was always going to be my story.

4)   Surrender is not the same as giving up.

You know how a long time ago people thought the Earth was flat? I often used to wonder what they must have felt when science proved the Earth was in fact a sphere. Now I sort of have an idea. Finding out I was infertile, that's what it was like for me. Turns out everything you'd learned about human anatomy, it doesn't apply to you. Expectations I didn't even realize I had about myself were upended by one phone call. I didn't know that having half a uterus was even a thing. 

I am infertile.

I am also just one voice in a crowd of millions of women, men, and couples navigating unique experiences with infertility. Pain, fear, grief, loss, denial, determination, apathy are all common emotions. Options you'd never imagined enter the scene; drugs, treatments, adoption. The emotions and experiences are so individual and there’s no right path for everyone. Each person out there deserves to follow her intuition and choose the right path for herself.

 My intuition spoke to me in the Testing and Imaging room at Kaiser. Sitting close to the desk in the waiting room, I could hear patients checking in and listing their conditions: Type 2 diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure to name a few. It occurred to me in that moment that I was the healthiest person in that waiting room. In fact, I might have been the healthiest person in that whole damn building. I am healthy. I am happy. I am whole. I am creating my own disorder.

My disorder wasn’t my infertility, it was my clinging. Clinging to the notion that the Earth was flat. And it was time to let it go. I needed to step into my new reality. It was in that moment that I decided to release the expectation that I am going to have a baby.

I want to have a baby. I would love to grow one even. If I got pregnant tomorrow, I would throw a party and cry and say it was a miracle. In the meantime, my infertility does not define me. In the emotional tumult of processing the news of my diagnosis, I realized I needed to come to terms with accepting myself, my feminity, my life with or without a baby. I want to have a baby, but I don't need to have a baby. 

5)   There’s No You in Uterus

A while back a friend told me I must be working with some good karma, and I completely agreed with her. This is pretty interesting given the fact that in about a 6 month time span my house burned down, and I found out I only have half a uterus.

I abide in faith.

My life has been a continuous stream of blessings. In all struggles and trails that life has so far thrown at me, I've been ok. In fact, I've been more than ok. I've managed to come out clean on the other side, showered by the wisdom only life experience can provide. 

Why would infertility prove any different?

I am not perfect. I am inconsiderate, impatient, judgmental, and routinely an asshole when hungry. Of course, I also get sad about my little uterus. I don’t feel undone or incomplete or inadequate. Just sad. I know that saddness is but one passing wave in an infinite sea.

I abide in faith.

It takes practice.

Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha (Yoga Sutra 1.2) Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Yoga practice allows me to dive in real deep, deep into the underbelly of my mind. It can be pretty dark in there filled with gloomy thoughts, swells of emotion and destructive patterns. But as I spend more time in the mind, I notice I am being misled. I begin to see the threads of thought, noticing how they form and so easily fluctuate. For just a moment, I am able still the mind. In that state, I sit in the center of myself. Here I am able to connect to unbreakable strength, infinite possibility, my bright spark.

I abide in faith. 

You are not your uterus. You are not even your body. You are freaking stardust, a child of God! You are the source of magic and infinite possibility. Please don’t limit yourself by deciding that you have to be one thing, that you are one thing, that only one outcome will make you happy. Life has so much more in store for you than that.