Because of Facebook, photos of the reunion activities were everywhere. Lots of smiling faces. Lots of fishing and lake swimming and large tables in the resort restaurant full of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and their children. It was kind of like being there in a weird way...in a "silent person in the corner observing everything but not partaking" kind of way. A creeper kind of way.
Here's the thing. Planning for this reunion event started sometime in the early spring. Thanks to infertility, I cannot plan ANYTHING in advance. At that point in the game, I had no idea whether I would have already done my transfer, would be in the middle of the DE IVF cycle, would be newly pregnant, would be newly facing hideous failure (check), or would have recently miscarried (I hope never to have that experience again). I try not to be a worst-case scenario person and fail miserably. Actually, I don't think I even try anymore because it kind of seems like "worst case scenario" has become just, "scenario." I simply cannot plan for anything that far in the future because, thanks to our ongoing "situation," I have no idea where we will be, what our financial situation will be, what our emotional or physical situation will be, etc. etc. etc. We tried to be spontaneous this year and booked our (used-to-be) annual trip to the Bar Harbor area, where Bryce's family friend has a camp. We were so proud of ourselves, throwing caution to the wind and booking something FUN in ADVANCE. Of course, we caveat-ed ourselves to death when booking, explaining we may need to cancel and hopefully we wouldn't inconvenience anyone by doing so. And sure enough, our retrieval/transfer timing was such that it fell EXACTLY IN THAT WEEK. Buh-bye, Maine vacation. As part of our plan for this monumental new pathway down Donor Egg Drive, we planned for a frozen cycle. We didn't want to have to drop more money right after the most expensive attempt we've had yet, but we were ready to do it. So somehow going away for a weekend was not something that we could also plan for.
I will be brutally honest, though. Logistics and financials are only a little part of it. Sure, I was hoping to be only a few weeks into a prized pregnancy and totally not willing to go to the middle of nowhere when that budding life inside me was so fresh and new and tenuous. That was my initial thought process. But when our failure became apparent weeks before the reunion weekend, I just could not bring myself to go for another reason.
I am the oldest of all my cousins (both sides). On my mom's side, of those who are married or committed and family-minded, I AM THE LAST TO HAVE A FAMILY (actually, ditto that on my dad's side, too). My sister is a wonderful stepmother to two boys. There are young children and babies and brewing babies. And I am a complete failure at this particular activity. It is incredibly hard for me to go to family events where everyone else is a parent. It highlights (to me) how apart Bryce and I are in that regard. I love my family and I am happy that there is an abundance of expansion and grandchildren and children and new nuclear families forming all over the place. I would love to spend time with my family. But right after failing another attempt, one that was supposed to be the answer to our woes and is pretty much the Final Frontier in our hopes for experiencing pregnancy and birth and genetic input of various kinds, that was just not the time to be around all this expansion.
Last year we had another reunion of sorts, for my grandmother's 94th birthday. It was late summer. My cousin's adorable little boys ran around and climbed rocks and played musical instruments and were a joy to be around. Another cousin and his wife announced their pregnancy. They were very, very newly pregnant and the excitement was palpable. There were many discussions around possible names and family legacies and who looks like who and how my other cousin's son had my grandfather's hairline...all pretty normal conversations for people in this stage of their lives. But it was completely and totally excruciating for me and for Bryce. Because I was the same number of weeks pregnant just weeks before, and instead of discussing my joy with everyone I was mourning the inexplicable and sudden loss of this pregnancy. I also got to tell my grandmother that I was pregnant, unfortunately because I began miscarrying while visiting her in her apartment and had no choice as I sobbed and ran out to try to catch a doctor at my clinic just a mile or so away. I was having a slightly different experience. I was also mourning the fact that we had just decided that yes, we would pursue donor eggs. So there would be no conversations in my future about whether or not my child had Popie's hairline or Grandma's eyes. I didn't know much about epigenetics then, but I was feeling like the chances of passing on these particular hereditary traits were pretty null and void. So, in the interest of not bringing everybody down, I didn't say anything. I excused myself from conversations when I could not keep the smile plastered on my face without looking psychotic, and we left earlier than anyone else so that I could cry my way home. But I managed to not outwardly be the sad sap that I most certainly was on the inside. I didn't want to take away from other people's joy or make people uncomfortable. I think maybe excruciating is too mild a term for my internal feelings in that situation.
Fast forward to this family get-together, where I have recently failed my celebrated DE IVF attempt. Even though I have very hopeful plans for the next go-round and changes to meds and surgical intervention and yada yada yada, I knew that it would be a complete disaster to go to this family event at this particular timing in our process. I am pretty much incapable of the plastered smile. I am by turns furious and angry (I'm so sorry, Bryce, because other than the cats you are the only animate object around to witness my fury and utter exasperation), teary and utterly devastated, hopeful nearly to the point of a manic state. This is all so fresh. I am not ok. In fact, I burst into tears yesterday because I was trolling Facebook and a person posted up a meme that took my breath away. It was supposed to be for those enduring cancer either themselves or supporting a family member with cancer. But I thought that it was particularly relevant and helpful for people enduring infertility or supporting a family member/friend with infertility, too. It said:
when I say "I'm okay,"
I want someone
to look me in the eyes,
hug me tight,
You are not"
I wish I knew who to credit that to. I could hug them for putting into words what I feel sometimes (many times). Is it sad? Yes. Does it make people uncomfortable? Yes. Do I want someone, sometimes, to just inherently "get it" without me making awkward and often unreasonably pissy explanations for myself? Yup. By writing this, I am getting all this off my chest. I am not making an apology for myself--I am not sorry that I chose to opt out of the family reunion event. I could not do it, for multiple reasons, all of which are valid. I have to take care of myself and nurture my relationship with my husband right now, because we are HURTING. We are tired of facing disappointment after disappointment, loss after loss, and always freaking having to find a silver lining. We are tired of smiling through our pain. We literally went to a restaurant recently and while waiting a family was there who were of the "Let 'em run wild and free" philosophy, and very young children were very noisily in our face and personal space. We actually asked to be seated away from this family, feeling very high-maintenance and fuddy-duddy about it, but with the vague explanation by Bryce that "My wife is having a very difficult time right now." I would have been fine with being more specific, but it worked. We are not child-haters. But, quite frankly, having the joyful noise of small children in our face while we were away for the day trying to have a GOOD experience the week of our negative test results would have been disastrous. I will cry in a public place. I will be unable to concentrate on dinnertime conversation. We are bitter and angry that that beautiful, messy, complicated life is not ours. We are jealous. And, in the freshness of this newest slash to our body of hope, the coping mechanisms just ain't what they used to be. So we hermitize. We avoid situations where we will smile through our tears. It's part of what we have to do to survive.
However, although I won't apologize for it, I do feel a level of guilt. Those hikes on Whiteface and dinners with fun people and jetski antics on Lake Champlain looked fabulous. Everyone is smiling and having a great time. I wish it was another time, and we were in a different place, because I would have loved to have been there, smiling in all the pictures with everybody else. It would (in theory) have been a great little escape, a mini-vacation. Except I know my mental state and my emotional needs, and we would not have had a good time, not really. We would have tried, but the specter of "will this ever be our life???" would have ruined it all. I would have held a small child as I did last summer and fight back tears of "am I ever going to hold a child of my own?" I would have seen all the grandchildren and felt the loss of not providing any myself. We would have listened to anecdotes about kids small and large and felt horribly, terribly left out. But, in the interest of not being a couple of downers, we would have tried so hard to not let on just how miserable we were on the inside. Which is so unfair to us. And, actually, I may have hit a point where I might have made bitter comments on the outside, which doesn't make for a good time, either. I can't "get over it." I can't "just have a good time and get away from it all." It's here. It's ingrained in me. I can't pretend to be infertile for the sake of a good time. Trust me, I've tried.
Maybe next year there will be another opportunity to join in the fun. Maybe I will have my carrier, my sling, my Hooter Hider, and we will join the club of parents, new and not-so-new. Maybe we will be able to have anecdotes of our own. Maybe we will be able to have a good time, inside and out, without feeling so horribly lonely and deficient and out of place in these extended family situations. I really, really, really hope so.