Infertility is a — well, I was going to say a not-nice word. That’s because infertility is a not-nice thing. And I wonder if it’s something that most people don’t even consider.
What Is Infertility?
According to medicinenet.com, infertility is defined as “Diminished or absent ability to conceive and bear offspring. A couple is considered to be experiencing infertility if conception has not occurred after 12 months of sexual activity without the use of contraception.”
Secondary Infertility is defined by resolve.org this way: “the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children.”
Speaking as one who has never been able to conceive a child, I object to both definitions. The first could include those who have conceived and delivered children previously. The second, well, what I wouldn’t have given through the years to be able to claim secondary infertility. Am I speaking just for myself, or for others like me, when I say: “If you’ve given birth, you are not infertile”?
Causes of Infertility
There are many reasons a woman cannot conceive a child. The lists for female infertility might include ovulation disorders, uterine or cervical abnormalities, fallopian tube damage or blockage, endometriosis, and many more. Health.HowStuffworks.com lists fallopian tube damage or blockage as the most common cause of infertility. Stanford.edu says this: “Ovulatory disorders are one of the most common reasons why women are unable to conceive, and account for 30% of women’s infertility. Fortunately, approximately 70% of these cases can be successfully treated by the use of drugs . . . “
Unfortunately, many couples have unexplained infertility. That’s my diagnosis. That means the medical community has no idea why I’ve never conceived. I’m fully functional, as is my husband. I won’t attempt to speak for others who have different diagnoses, but for me, I think knowing the medical “why” might have helped. At least I could have had something specific to be angry at other than God. I have never smoked. I have never had alcohol beyond an occasional glass of wine. I have never slept around. I have never had an abortion. I am married. I am employed. I am of age. I am not a criminal. It would seem I am a perfect candidate for God to send a child to. And so begins the continual asking: “Why?”
There’s no explanation. There’s nothing for me to come to terms with. I have adopted five wonderful children, and hopefully I will one day have a houseful of grandchildren at holidays. But nothing replaces the desire to see the stick turn pink. Or to feel life inside one’s womb. Or to experience childbirth.
There was a period of time when five women in my church were expecting babies. Two were teenagers. Two were older women with 5 or 6 children already and lamenting that they were starting over again. Only one woman was initially happy. And there I sat, wondering why God thought teenagers would make better mothers than me. I was angry at the women who already had a quiverful and were getting another one that they didn’t really want, at least at the beginning. I was jealous of the woman who was happy. So where does the invisibility come in? There I sat while procreation occurred all around me. My problem is literally just as invisible as my pain.
I recently had a Facebook conversation with a friend about infertility. A meme was going around asking people to not post “I’m Pregnant” jokes on April Fool’s Day, out of sensitivity and respect for those who could not have babies. I spoke out for the first time ever. I explained that something as silly as an April Fool’s joke was not nearly as hard as watching the “My baby is the size of poppy seed” posts, or the endless pregnancy photos. And then there are the invitations to the showers with links to where Mom is registered. How often I have imagined going through a baby store and choosing items for my baby.
Maybe the hardest part is listening to women in the final days of their pregnancy complaining and whining because they are so miserable, and uncomfortable, and just want to get it over with. I don’t mean to minimalize their discomfort, but I would have traded places with any of them in a heartbeat! And then we see the new baby. I was lucky. I got to raise 2 infants, one from 2 days old and one from 6 weeks old. But still, I wonder what it is like to give birth.
The Hardest Part
I’m changing my mind about what the hardest part is. The hardest part is the continual clash of emotions. My joy for another clashes with feeling sorry for myself. My sympathy for a pregnant woman’s discomfort clashes with my anger that she is complaining about it. My happiness at others’ poppy seed posts clashes with my frustration that I’ll never truly understand those posts. My knowledge that God considers motherhood a noble birthright clashes with my faith that God knows what is best for me.
I recently had a hysterectomy. I traded in 30 years of monthly disappointment for no hope. I think I preferred all of the disappointment.