Sunday, July 21, 2013

Family Reunion Opt-Out

This weekend, my mom's side of the family had a mini-reunion. Not the giant-tent-in-a-park, 100 people and you can't remember who half of them are since they are 3rd cousins twice removed type thing, but "let's get together in the Adirondacks for a weekend and connect." We didn't go.

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 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,
                                  and say,
                                        "I know
                                          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.


  1. I think it is completely fine to opt out of events like this. I have done my fair share of this over the past couple of years, and especially after my third failed IVF. We recently said no to a weekend at the beach with friends and their 1 1/2 year old. I could just smell the disaster from here.

    I think it's wise and smart of you to know yourselves this well and not to make life any harder. Right now you have to do what feels right. There are plenty of family reunions in the future to attend. You should go happily or not at all. That's what I tell myself, and I am always glad when I can be brave enough to listen to what I really need. Good for you. This will not last forever.

    1. Thank you, lady! I always feel fine opting out of baby showers, first birthday parties, etc etc but this one had me a little conflicted. Oh, yeah, a whole weekend with a baby would be too much. Good choice on that one! I like, "You should go happily or not at all." Great advice. I am hopeful that this will not last forever, but sometimes it really, really feels that way. (I'm sure you can relate!!!) Having a plan for our next steps in my hands will help.

  2. This has been one of the most difficult territories for me to navigate, too, and I empathize with all of this so much! It sounds like you did precisely what you needed to do to protect your heart & mind & health. There is only so much we can take. It pains me that you've had to endure failure on the DE front and of course you are exasperated---the industry kind of puts DE out there as "at last, you will have a child," and we, tired and yearning, want to believe it is nearly failsafe.

    I once tried to explain to a friend that the most difficult thing about my situation is this isolation you write about. Everyone moving on in their lives, celebrating all of this natural human development, and I can't join in, I can't move on *with* them, though I yearn to with everything in me. The response from this pregnant friend was: "That sounds an awful lot like choice to me," and she said it was my "personal failing" that I was isolated. Needless to say, we are no longer friends. I sometimes wonder if our group of friends from SW school know about our falling out and so as to avoid awkwardness do not invite me to gatherings---totally an assumption, but I live in LI now and never hear about dinners, parties, etc., and I just wonder...

    Another thing I've been thinking about lately is how many times I have experienced isolation as a result of my short temper (caused by my stress level and infertility). I am dealing with this mammoth other thing no one knows about, I have to navigate it simultaneous to navigating the normal stresses of personal and work life, and I know that has had an overall effect on *all* of my relationships...I don't feel as close to family and friends in general and am working hard to repair all of that...

    It won't be a magic bullet when you become a mama, but when you do, you will be at that family gathering with a baby in your belly or your arms, and you will be able to join in that celebration of life, that fun and excitement. I wish you could enjoy reunions right now, but you are not super-human.

    One psychological study I read says that infertile couples suffer most from "self-imposed isolation" and that effective treatments will focus on helping couples reintegrate...I remember thinking when I read it: Are you kidding me? Because at the time I was about to have my fifth loss, and I was thinking: I have to protect myself right now, or I will die, maybe literally. I have to hunker down, lick my wounds, and heal. The article was saying: You heal best by being social with your peer group and facing parents & children. I was saying: That goes against every natural instinct I have and cannot be right.

    Of course, now, things are different. It has been a while since a devastation. Last weekend, DH and I were looking at printed out donor profiles at a brunch place, surrounded by playing, laughing, crying children, and instead of feeling weird and isolated and hurt, I was watching them, trying to get a sense of what it was going to be like to have one. There we were, childless and looking at profiles of fertile women, sandwiched between two fertile couples and their progeny, and I wasn't sad in the least. Crazy.

    It doesn't surprise me that a meme about cancer touches you so deeply. It is like surviving cancer, it really really is, even though people who've never gone through it would balk at such a statement. But studies show that we experience stress levels equivalent to those who have cancer or HIV. This is the most basic, primal urge in the animal kingdom, and we can't fulfill it.

    Much love to you.

    1. Wow, thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. That statement of your friend, "That sounds an awful lot like a choice to me" made my blood boil. Well, yeah, we can choose to make ourselves miserable all the time and expose ourselves to hurt that very few truly understand, or we can choose to exercise our right to self-care. I doubt that your pregnant "friend" would choose to join you in a pregnancy loss ceremony in the throes of her gestation, but you would probably totally understand that. And, it totally depends on where you are in the process. I agree with you--heading into a cycle I am far more able to handle these situations because I can see myself in the shoes of the people with the babies. But coming out of a failure or a loss makes it nearly impossible because I simply have a much harder time believing that this is ever going to happen. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for your stories! May this next go-round be the end of all this uncertainty and stagnancy at last. :)

  3. I totally understand why you didn't attend. I would have done the same thing. It's exponentially harder to be around family that is fertile than friends or strangers. It's your family cooing over either a bump or a child and you have to sit back just wishing that they would do that for you someday.

    For us basically only my parents and my sister knew that we were going through treatments so no one even realized the pain we were going through every month.

    I truly hope that next year you will be able to proudly show off either a bump or a kid at the next reunion.

    1. Thank you for understanding! That must have been rough in its own way, having people not knowing the pain you were going through. Nice in other ways, though. I hope next year is a different experience, too... that would be an incredibly refreshing change.