Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Support Groups

I am a support group whore. A junkie of groups both physical and electronic. I figure, if you're in this messy boat, you may as well get as much support as possible. I like support groups because you meet others who are in similar circumstances. You meet women who have different ways of coping, different suggestions, and can share those with you. It's great to be in a room (or online) with women who really and truly "get it." Who understand all your acronyms and crazy medical terms. Who laugh and cry and get angry with you, and on your behalf. It's powerful stuff.

The benefits are huge--you can make new friendships with women in the same crappy predicament. You have a safe place to rage about someone's insensitivity without fear of being thought of as crazy (most of the time). Everyone's experiences pooled together equates to a lot of medical knowledge, tips on giving yourself injections in the most painless way, alternative supplements or medications to ask your doctor about, recommendations for new things to try. I was introduced to Circle + Bloom meditations through a support group, and it has helped my cycles tremendously. Through joining a support group I learned the benefits of acupuncture, Maya massage, and yoga on my treatment as a whole. Support groups relieve stress. You can make crude jokes about the internal ultrasounds and laugh about the things that excite us now (who knew estrogen levels could be so enthralling? who knew getting your period at the right time could be cause for celebration, not just devastation?). It's a wonderful community to be a part of. And you can feel like you're helping others, if you happen to be able to offer advice or resources or things that you've learned through your (extensive) journey. It can be a real feel-good experience. And supposedly it ups your chances of getting pregnant, per some study I heard about but can't verify whatsoever.

But there is a flip side. What happens when you are still in the support group, and so many of the people you started with have moved on, either to other options or life as a pregnant person? What happens when you see whole groups of people cycle in and cycle out and you are left behind? I can tell you about that. It's hard. I haven't been going to the group at my clinic, in part because I took some time off going to that location, and in part because every time I go it's new people since my friend graduated with a twin pregnancy. At my yoga group, I am part of an ever-shrinking cohort of women that have been there since I started (or before). But week after week, sometimes I am the only person there from the first group that was there when I first started coming. And then the second group came through and many of them have gotten pregnant or moved on. And now there's a third group. I am starting to feel like a dinosaur. And worse than that--at both groups I feel like a horror story. Like my story to people new to infertility or new to the transition from IUI to IVF is a cautionary tale. In my head, if not in real life, eyes widen and hearts constrict when I tell my sad tale. I hear, "Oh my, you can be going at it for that long and have so many things go wrong and STILL not have a baby?" whispered inside heads when I talk. Mostly mine. But that's what it feels like--I don't feel uplifting. I feel like a depressing tale of terror. (That's another caveat of the support group--you hear everyone's awful experiences and learn new things to be terrified of.) And while I am happy, SO happy for all my friends who have moved on and gotten pregnant and left the group, I am getting to the point where I am insanely jealous. I want to be one of the lucky ones. I want to leave and wave to people when I come in for my prenatal massage. I don't want to be a Support Group Elder.

Last week I went to yoga, and the group was huge. HUGE. More new faces than familiar ones, it felt. I felt really out of place. After support we did a (very crowded) class, and during poses I closed my eyes and the weirdest thing happened. I could see the ladies that were part of the group when I first started coming, who came to yoga all the time. I could see the small group around me. And it made me feel happy that most of them have moved on and out because now they're mommies (or almost there, waiting patiently for the baby/babies to arrive). But it also made me feel sad. They were like friendly ghosts, shimmering shadows of Infertile Friends Past. And all I could think was, I want to be someone else's yoga ghost! I want to be a fond memory and a story to look to with hope, not with a cringe and sign of the cross to ward off my horrible baby luck. I want to leave everyone behind and be a benevolent presence from the other side, telling people that yes, yes, it's all so worth it, while bouncing my baby on my lap or beatifically rubbing my big, swollen belly.

I am so hoping that we are headed in that direction. I am ready, so ready to be done with this process, to move on to the pregnant stage of infertility (because once you're pregnant you can celebrate but be faced with all new fear and crazypants behavior because of everything it took to get there, so I've heard from The Other Side). I want to be an inspirational story, because I am a success story and not because of how I handle my failures. Which apparently is not very well lately, as I seem to be hitting my limit of what I can handle and stay sane and fully functioning. I think I'm doing pretty well for everything we've been through, but there are definitely huge cracks in my foundation at this point. Cracks that would be sealed up nicely, for the most part, if only I could cross over. But, for now, I will just try to concentrate on the good side of support groups, the positive side, and not worry about whether or not I should turn off the lights and hold a flashlight to my chin when talking about my journey. There's one bittersweet thing--because I am almost always at the yoga support group, I have become the person who adds new people to the email group list. This person has changed over time. I never, ever wanted to be this person. But now I am, for now at least. Why is this bittersweet? Because every person who has been the List Maintenance person has left because they got pregnant. So maybe this is something that I need to do in order to become a yoga ghost, a rite of passage. When I feel bitter about it, I try to remember that sweet little nugget. I will get pregnant and I will move on to the prenatal group...hopefully sanity intact.

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