Friday, September 28, 2007

It Takes a Village

First of all, I want to thank everyone who's left comments on my blog so far. I was amazed-- and touched-- to find so many supportive comments from other bloggers (and non-bloggers!) Now I see why so many people find blogging to be so therapeutic-- not only does it give someone the chance to get their thoughts out into words, but it gives us all the ability to connect with people all over the world who are in similar situations and who we wouldn't have a connection with otherwise, due to the simple fact that they just wouldn't meet face-to-face in real life. So I thank everyone who has visited and commented and hope to make it to all of your blogs to keep up with your lives and share our experiences.

I've been thinking a lot about community lately. Last night I had a monthly "Girls Night Out" with five other women in my neighborhood to whom I've grown close over the past year since we moved into our new neighborhood. Our neighborhood is somewhat of my "dream" neighborhood- a very close-knit, friendly community complete with an annual Halloween parade (which I volunteered to organize this year- before I found out I was pregnant and expecting the same c-section is now scheduled for the morning after Halloween), annual ice cream social, playgroup, book club, Bunco group, etc. A smaller group of us have our monthly Girls Night Out as well as a monthly family BBQ (hosted on a rotating basis) so that the guys (and kids) don't feel left out. While I always envisioned living in this type of community, I never could have foreseen how vitally important it would become in our lives. The support we have in our neighborhood- from a simple offer to lend a lawn mower when ours was broken to handing down baby clothes and toys, to offers to stay overnight in the hospital with me if my husband has to be with the kids and to watch our twins if I ever need a break- is a perfect illustration of the importance of community.

I have found the same sense of support in the infertility community- it's unbelievable what people will do for individuals they may have grown to "know" through a blog but never met in person. Or how close you can feel to someone who you finally do meet in person after getting to know them only through their blog or an Internet bulletin board. In fact, the sole reason we ended up getting a second opinion at the Top Clinic was a woman I met online. We had "known" each other for a year or so before our local clinic declared us "lost causes," and when she heard the news, she made me promise to consider getting a second opinion from her doctor at Top Clinic. I took her advice to heart, and because of that we now have our twins.

Along the same lines, I was pleasantly surprised at the community that developed once I started talking openly about our struggles. While we were going through treatments, we were very private and didn't tell many people outside of our immediate family. I think a lot of people going through infertility do this, for a number of reasons. One may be the desire to avoid the multitudes of questions and well-intentioned (but increasingly annoying) words of encouragement from friends and family. I remember one friend who told me every time she knew I was cycling that she was "sure" this would be "it" for us- she "just had a feeling." Needless to say, every time she was wrong- and eventually I stopped telling her about our cycles because I just didn't want to deal with the disappointment (hers, not mine) in the end.

However, another reason I think people (including myself) keep quiet about their struggles is embarrassment. Looking back, I wonder why exactly I felt embarrassed. If I had another illness or disability, I would likely be open about it in seeking support and understanding. However, there is something about infertility (I suppose the fact that it implicates a host of issues people usually keep discrete) that makes people ashamed. I wish people could accept infertility for what it is- a disability like any other. In legal parlance, a "disability" is defined as a condition that substantially limits the performance of a major life activity. Infertility is just that- it substantially limits the performance of bearing a child, which is certainly a major life activity. If you had any other disability, would you be ashamed to talk about it with other people?

After we had our twins, I started to become more open about our struggles. I was inspired in part by my involvement in RE.SOLVE as well as one particular friend of mine who is very open about their experience with IVF. Listening to her respond to questions from mutual friends in a very open and matter-of-fact way made me realize it was unnecessary to be so closed and private about what we went through. As I started opening up to friends (and even strangers), I found that I developed connections to many others experiencing infertility, and in several cases I ended up able to help someone else just starting their journey through fertility treatments.

Now when someone asks me if twins run in our family, I tell them that we conceived our twins through IVF. I say it as casually as I would say "I was born in Rhode Island" or "We met through mutual friends," as I am intent on communicating the message that how we conceived our children (while really none of their business, but they did hint at that through their question) is as natural and acceptable as any other aspect of our lives. I don't whisper it behind my hand, or say "I usually don't tell people this, but..." My frankness sometimes takes people off guard, but often it results in the other person feeling comfortable enough to ask me questions about fertility treatments, usually because they know someone going through treatment, or to confide that they themselves are going through (or heading towards) treatment.

I always come away from these conversations wondering why we don't all talk about infertility- and our experiences- as openly as we'd talk about where we were born, or how we met our spouse or what we do for a living. Everyone has their reasons for keeping quiet (or speaking up) but I personally encourage people to be open about their experiences-- hopefully, eventually infertility will be a widely-recognized, legitimate disability. At the very least, opening up can help form a community- and as with any difficult task (like raising children!), it takes a village.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"You're a Busy Lady"

I am often self-conscious when out and about with the twins and my ever-growing belly. Especially because our twins look like they could be nine months apart (our son is at least five pounds heavier than our daughter), I feel like people are looking at me and thinking, "there's a woman who needs to learn about birth control..." It doesn't help that I don't look my age (33)- I've been told I look closer to 23 and often get mistaken for my kids' nanny. I suppose I should look at that as a complement, but for some reason I get defensive when people mistake me for a much younger woman (girl).

I could care less about what most people think, but I do worry that the sight of me and my brood could cause fellow "infertiles" to feel pain, sadness, anger, resentment and a host of other not-so-nice feelings. I've been there, done that-- looked at women out with their children and envied what they had, feeling pity for myself. On one of the online infertility community bulletin boards I frequent, I often see posts "bashing" women perceived as "fertile"- the teenager with three kids, the friend who had an "accidental" or unplanned pregnancy, the co-worker who gets pregnant the first month she and her husband try. I worry one day I'm going to see a post complaining about "that 23-year old woman I saw at My Gym today with her 18-month old twins and third one on the way" on one of the infertility community bulletin boards. I want to wear a shirt that says "No, I'm not a 'fertile,' just lucky" or "It took us six rounds of IVF and over $50,000 to conceive our twins."

Most of the time, I'm left to wonder what people are thinking and hoping that no one is upset by the sight of our growing family. Sometimes, though, people come right out and tell me. Today at the mall, a woman passing by said (in a not-so-friendly tone), "You're a busy woman." I just smiled and nodded. Similar comments I hear frequently are "You certainly have your hands full," "You're working on quite the family there," or even "Better you than me!" When people make these remarks, I immediately get defensive and my response is usually something aimed at proving to them that only extraordinary people have the ability to handle three kids under two years old. I usually say, in an overly cheerful voice, "Yes! It's wonderful, isn't it?!" or "Yes! We are so lucky!" I would love to tell those people who say "Better you than me," "You betcha...I wouldn't want to see you try to deal with three kids!" but I never get up the nerve to do it. I have lots of snarky responses in my head but no chutzpa to use them.

The comments from strangers tend to get to me a lot less than those from friends. One of my closest friends (who also has twins our kids' age) told me that she'd "literally die" if she was in my position. Another friend's response to the announcement that we were expecting again was, "are you crazy?" (gee- thanks- most people say "congratulations.") How am I expected to respond to these questions? My mom always taught me to respond to negative people by "killing them with kindness." So the best I can do is come back with an overly bright-eyed, cheerful version of "we are so lucky!! We can't wait!!" At the very least, it throws people for a loop. And gives me more incentive to prove to everyone that I can be Supermom. No pressure, of course.

Interestingly enough, the most supportive friends I've had are those who have struggled with infertility themselves. Those are the friends who said "congratulations," and "you must feel so lucky." Those are the friends who "get it." I could never- and still cannot- relate to the parents who see their kids as burdens. My sister-in-law HAS to work full-time because she can't imagine spending all day (or I guess any part of the day) with her kids. My friend and neighbor said she has to work or she'd "kill" herself and/or her children if she didn't have time away from them, even though she barely makes enough money to pay for their daycare. I can't imagine ever feeling this way, even now with a third, easily conceived, child on the way. I often wonder if it was infertility that allowed me to avoid the feeling that our children are burdens. I'd have to imagine that there are certainly mothers out there who did not struggle with fertility and who appreciate their children as much as I do, but in my experience it's those mothers who went through infertility who see their kids as blessings, not as curses. If infertility gave me this appreciation of our kids, then I say "thank you, infertility."

Monday, September 24, 2007

What a Long, Strange Trip

I have been an avid infertility community blog reader for over a year now and finally decided it's time to get off the sidelines and participate. When I read other blogs, and leave comments (as I frequently do), I feel sort of like a "fraud"-- or a sense of imbalance-- since I get to look into other peoples' lives but provide others no opportunity to look into mine. Plus, I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head about infertility, parenting after infertility, parenting multiples and other topics that I figure a blog will be a good place to put those thoughts into words. Hopefully by doing so, I'll feel like I'm truly a part of the online community I've grown to appreciate over the past year.

So, who am I? Good question. I'm certainly a very different person than I was three years ago when my husband and I started going through fertility treatments. Diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea at age 29 after going off the P.ill and not getting a period for over a year, my case seemed "easy" to the doctors with whom we consulted. We were otherwise in great reproductive shape- we were young, had no family history of infertility and no other medical issues. I distinctly remember our RE telling us "as soon as we get you ovulating, you'll have no problem getting pregnant." Ha. Two IUIs and five rounds of IVF (two with PGD) later (all fresh, as we never had anything left over to freeze), all we had to show for it was a string of BFNs and a bank account that was getting lower and lower. That's when our local RE told us that getting pregnant with my eggs was going to be like "finding a needle in a haystack" and that we should just move on to donor eggs or adoption. Before we could accept that conclusion, we went to The Top Clinic (starts with a "C" and is in NYC) for a consultation with the doctor of one of my online buddies who urged me to consult with him (also her doctor) before we made any life-altering decisions. He concluded that the treatment we had at our local clinic wasn't the optimal protocol, and felt strongly that with a few minor tweaks there was no reason we couldn't have success. Overwhelmed with the logistics but convinced we'd always wonder "what if," we did a (what we claimed would be one last) "hail mary" cycle at The Top Clinic. Lo and behold, that cycle resulted in our boy/girl twins born in March 2006.

The experience of infertility changed me as a person. I had always been set on returning to work after having children, but as soon as I got pregnant I told my husband there was no way I could leave children we worked so hard to conceive. He was a trouper (I had always promised him HE could stay home with the kids and he was pretty psyched about that idea) and agreed it would be best for me to stay home. Now I can't imagine my life any other way- the thought of returning to work makes me tear up, and I know that as long as we can afford it financially, I will be home with our children and will only work around their school schedules. Our children mean the world to me-- I worry constantly about their well-being and think I am a much more patient and laid-back parent than I would have been had we not experienced infertility.

I am a much more skeptical person, sadly. I was always Ms. Sunshine before going through infertility- now I am less trusting (especially of doctors), more cautious and less naive. Infertility, in a way, came to define my life. I became very involved in RE.SOLVE, the national infertility association, participate in online infertility communities and read infertility-related blogs in my spare time. I was very closed about our experience while we were going through it, but now I am very open and tend to share the fact that we struggled with infertility freely. Most of my friends have experienced infertility because I tend to feel most comfortable with other mothers (or hopefully future mothers) who went through what we did.

And then something happened to shake this new found (and comfortable) identity: we conceived spontaneously when our twins were just 11 months old. We knew logically it could happen-- after giving birth to our twins (and when I stopped pumping for them), my period came back like clockwork for the first time in longer than I could remember. But when you put back so many embryos and end up with zilch most times, you just can't imagine how things could ever work out on their own. Apparently, somehow they did.

Instead of being elated and carefree about this pregnancy, I found myself with very mixed emotions. Sort of like a girl in junior high who is afraid the popular girls at her lunch table are going to shun her from the group because she talked to someone in the "unpopular" crowd. I felt guilty that this pregnancy had come so easily, and found myself justifying the pregnancy to everyone and anyone with a "but we had to go through six rounds of IVF for our twins!" I dreaded telling my friends who had struggled with-- or were still struggling with-- infertility. It just seemed unfair. Not to mention a kink in our plans...or my own plans- to run the Boston Marathon (four weeks after I found out I was pregnant- needless to say, I had to cancel the airline ticket and hotel reservations...), to compete in my first triathlon this August. Imagining going through the newborn stage (and a pregnancy!) again freaked me out, frankly. I had always said that I'd be happy to have a third if we could do it without medical intervention, but I meant several years down the road- not 19 months after our twins were born!

So we found ourselves going from no children (and the fear that we'd never have children) to the prospect of having three children under two years old. As grateful as I was, I can't deny that I was still stressed out. But over time, the shock and stress has passed and instead I'm feeling optimistic and, amazingly, strong. I feel a sense of pride (and maybe too much optimism?) knowing that I WILL be able to care for three young kids, and I'll do it with grace, energy and a smile on my face. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself. I'm going to be Supermom, and my family will be my source of pride and joy.

This blog is going to be my place to talk about whether I can really be the Supermom I imagine, the days that I feel like anything BUT Supermom, how infertility still plays a huge part in my identity, family life, playground politics and chatter and anything else that comes to mind. I hope I'll find a community of readers who will chime in to give me perspective, support, advice and inspiration.