Are you one-in-a-_________? Me too.

Being one brings pain. Being one-of-a brings power.

A few weeks ago I talked my man into taking a day trip up to LA to enter the Newsies lottery for day-of tickets at the Pantages. And by talked into I mean I said “hey you wanna do this?” and he said “yeah”. I know, I’m really very convincing.

We got in line right on time (rule-follower here), and they said they’d be lottery-ing (is that a word?) 26 tickets. Several of us started counting. There were about 26 of us in line. Boom.

But then all these other people started showing up. Not on time. I’m just sayin’. By the time they called tickets, there were a lot more than 26 entries. Sigh. Our chances were now about 1 in 5.

About halfway through the call-outs, I hear my name.

It was a good day to be one in five.

Here’s my cheesy smile to prove it.

 IMG_8167

And really, being one-in-a-___________ is awesome when you’re winning something.

But there are other days that one-in-a-_________ is a punch in the gut. I’m one in eight women experiencing infertility. One in about eighty experiencing infertility without any explanation.

As National Infertility Awareness week ends, I find it no small coincidence that this very morning I’ll be in a room filled with brave stories at the Choose Joy conference, sharing both smiles and tears. There’s something fiercely powerful about bringing a bunch of one-in-a’s into the same room together.

And the awareness doesn’t end with a week. Having my own one-of-a story has made me all the more aware of the many other one-of-a stories being lived out around me …

… like a nine-year-old cancer warrior with rare genetic disorder that makes him susceptible to recurring cancer – chances are one in about 1.4 million.

… like having an in-utero test to tell you whether your baby has Down’s syndrome because other factors make the chances about one in forty.

… like a cancer that’s so rare it doesn’t even have a name and is only fatal when combined with another rare condition, both of which your husband had – chances are one in a million. Squared.

The thing about being a one-of-a is that you feel so utterly alone when the diagnosis is handed down. And you are. I mean, no one else has ever been you, facing this specific circumstance at this time in history.

 IMG_1502

But I think we tend to focus on the “I’m one” and miss the “of-a” part. That’s the powerful part. That’s the part that tells you that you. are. not. alone. That’s the part can happen over a simple cup of coffee or over instagram or at a gathering or anywhere in between. Just last night, as a Choose Joy speaker shared her story of infertility, bringing us laughter as the ridiculousness of hormones and the pee sticks and the what-not is a shared experience in the room, a woman turned around to her husband and mouthed “see, I’m normal.

Isn’t that exactly what we need to hear when we find out we are one-in-a-________? See, I’m normal. I’m one-of-a-new-normal.

So sister, whether you’re one-in-a-handful or one-in-a-million, you. are. not. alone. Find your people. Find your “of-a”. They need you just as much as you need them.

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True Confessions: The childless-fist-bump

Fist Bump Image

True confessions time: we have a childless-fist-bump. Yep, it’s a thing in our house. It’s code for dodged-a-bullet-there moments. We can deliver it quite subtly. Sometimes. Other times we get caught. Just a month ago we got caught during Church, as our friend realized what we were doing and barely stifled a laugh.

It might sound odd that the girl who’s poured out her heart in longing for a baby also bumps knuckles to celebrate childless moments. And really, it took a lot of tears before I could make it to the cheers.

The fist-bump is about celebrating the as-things-are-right-now moments, without thinking about whether they’ll stay that way. For today, we’re childless. And while that has brought ache, there are also a lot of things about our lives that are way easier than all those poor suckers who ARE parents.

The first rule of the childless-fist-bump is that it’s never used in condemnation. Grace, grace. We are in humbled awe of people raising little people.

The second rule of the childless-fist-bump is to attempt subtlety whenever possible. No flaunting. This may or may not be more of a “guideline” as we age.

The third rule of the childless-fist-bump is to use it properly. As Auntie Boo and Uncle J, we have plenty of snot-faces to clean, boo-boos to kiss, and tantrums to survive. And we love all the littles in our life. Fiercely. It’s just that AT SOME POINT THEY GO HOME. Cue fist-bump.

 fist-bump-1

Other examples of proper childless-fist-bump moments include …

when a toddler is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store … or at Target … or in the parking lot … or at the movie theatre … or at the park … or at Disneyland … actually, especially at Disneyland.

… while in line for TSA at the airport. Yep, you frequent flyers know what I’m talking about.

when a long drippy piece of snot is snaking it’s way down a child’s face and into their mouth. GAH! I can hardly type it.

… when we get to go to sleep WHENEVER. WE. WANT. TO.

… when we get to stay in bed AS. LONG. AS. WE. WANT. TO.

when a scent drifts across the room. You know the one. Chasing your nostrils down like a toxin. Challenging you to keep a straight face and pretend you don’t smell it. (To be fair, our dog makes the same smell, sometimes worse, but at least there’s no diaper to change in her world – yet – oh Lord have mercy if I ever have to change my DOG’s diaper.)

when we have only two schedules to consult before booking a trip. No cross-referencing with school, soccer, dance, gymnastics or chess matches (hey, our kid could’ve been a chess genius, it’s possible).

when our house is QUIET. Which is almost always. Amen.

 when we hear about labor and delivery. Any of it. All of it.

Really, the childless-fist-bump started as a way to capture small victories, small moments to defeat the emptiness and replace it with reminders of the good. Is there any part of your life that needs a fist-bump right now?

When you’ve cried enough, it’s time to laugh. And while not intentionally directed at infertility, I don’t know if I’ve seen a funnier video than this.

And if we ever do have kids, I imagine the fist-bump will look more like this:

 Baby Fist Bump

This post is dedicated to “the other side” of infertility loss, as Resolve.org hosts National Infertility Awareness Week. For a more serious take, go here … or here … or here. And for medical facts on the disease, go here.

For some ideas on how I came to “the other side”, go here and here.

But did she get happy again?

She’s got angel’s hair. You know the kind. So blonde it’s almost white. With an angel’s face to match.

She’s four. And precocious. She already carries a fierce stubbornness that is going to make her a challenging teen but amazing woman. She’s in her question-asking stage – you know the one. Why this? How that? I know some of the answers, but not all.

As we sat together and watched Up, she narrated. He likes balloons, she’d say with a grin. Her giggle was infectious as the love story of Carl and Ellie unfolded.Up_ellie_and_carl

When they started painting the nursery, she turned to me with a conspiratorious smile and half-whispered she’s going to have a baby.

painting-the-nursery-mural-in-Up

I then saw her head go sideways when the next scene shows Ellie sobbing in the doctor’s office: why is shy crying?

 Ellie Crying Dr

Ah, this answer I know. She’s really sad because she isn’t going to have a baby like she thought, I answered. Why can’t she have a baby? Well, not everyone gets to. She let that answer sit – I could see that it was brand new information for her brain.

But did she get happy again?

Yes. Yes she did.

How? Well, she had a different adventure.

 adventure-book-movie

Contended, Charlie snuggled in, took a deep sigh, as if the breath she’d been holding had depended on how I answered that question.

The rest of the movie continued question-free. But as I snuggled my arms around this fierce-wee-angel-girl, I too took a deep sigh, knowing that in that moment I wasn’t only answering for Ellie, but for me.

It’s National Infertility Awareness week again. I’ve written a lot already about the grief of infertility, giving voice to some of the unique aspects of this type of loss, especially as your hopes, your faith, your marriage and your friendships are all affected when a pee stick becomes your companion.

This year I want to dedicate a few posts “from the other side”. Not the other side of infertility. That will always be a part of my story. Even if I get pregnant someday. And yes, also if I adopt someday.

I mean the other side of “trying”. The other side of the ugly tears. The other side of the doubt and crippling fear. Sometimes it’s tricky to share about grief and it’s honest depths because it’s easy to leave people feeling like you’re perpetually in that state. And it’s equally tricky to share about “the other side” because there are people that like to pretend that the ugly never happened. May we never be pretenders, my friends.

Because the reality is this: “the other side” has parts that are stronger, parts that are still tender, and even parts that are actually, well, awesome.

If you’re grieving, be it through infertility or another sacred loss, you will have a different adventure than the one you’d hoped for. I don’t know what that is. And I DO know what it’s like to want to punch someone in the face when they use those words to “console” you. I also know that grief is a window, not a wall. That if Ellie hadn’t sat in her tears, hadn’t sat in her backyard to grieve the future she was losing, then her “adventure book” would have had an undertone of unresolved resentment and not even three hundred colorful balloons could have redeemed the movie. But she did sit through it.

Ellie Crying Backyard

So when her different-and-not-at-all-what-she-expected-adventure continued, she was ready for it. She found her happy ending by being honest in her sad beginning.

So this week, in honor of the “You are Not Alone” theme set out by Resolve.org, I want to share that not only are you not alone, but you are not doomed.

Did she get happy again? Yes, yes she did. She had a different adventure.

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P.S. Next week I’ll be releasing an E-Bible Study: Friday’s Rain: revealing what grief washes away. It’s a journey alongside four characters in Scripture, journeying through their grief. I know God has a lot to say to us about loss and grief, whichever “side” of it you’re on. Subscribe here to receive download link.

P.S.S. If you want to know more about the basics of infertility as a disease, click here. Or about NIAW, here.

400 and 26 [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau 

This past week’s series has been an invitation to look through the eyes of my infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). It seemed most fitting, then, to end this week by sharing a friend’s blog post that I’m told was inspired by this series. May I invite you to look through another set of beautiful eyes … 

Redwoods

Last week, I drove 400 miles to a Writer’s Conference in the Redwoods. Each mile would have been worth it for the sake of meeting just this one  new friend: Robynne Miller Feaveryear. Her heart is as big as her name, and our paths crossed before we knew it, as we have both experienced the sacredness of an empty womb amidst a full life.

We “met” through the exchange of manuscript samples – on the most holy of anniversaries. And upon meeting in real life, well, let’s just say there was a lot of laughter, a few tears, and I learned a lot about the prairie. Robynne is a Modern-Day Pioneer Mama who will teach you much more than just how to make your own laundry detergent, and still love ya even if you use Tide Pods like, ahem, someone.

So without further ado and in honor of the end of awareness week (but not of awareness), I introduce you to Robynne, mama to 31 littles, 26 of whom she never got to meet …

26.  Yes, that’s correct.  TwentySix

This huge, ridiculous, appalling number represents the babies I didn’t have.

Some people call them “miscarriages,” as if their precious little hearts never beat and their brains never sent miraculous waves of energy pulsing through their sweet, tiny bodies. But I can’t reduce them to “tissue” that was never meant to be.  They’re my children . . . even if I didn’t get the chance to raise them.

And I miss them all.  Deeply.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know the “why” behind such a large number of losses. I’m not sure I need to. 

Continue reading here …

Dancing in the Driveway [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested.

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Wedding Run

Ten years ago, I was in the middle of full-swing-wedding-planning. We were only engaged for three months (I know, I KNOW!), so it was go-time from the minute that ring was placed on my finger.

There were no doubts. None. I count myself lucky in that regard, because doubt sneaks up on just about every decision I’ve ever made in my life, but I was spared that in the spousal department. It was simply the easiest decision I’d ever made.

I penned this letter to my Jason last year on our ninth wedding anniversary. It was a particularly painful summer as we’d just finished our last unsuccessful fertility treatment, my husband had just lost his job, and we were in the middle of a major home remodel. So umm, I was a little to the left of crazy.

Still, I married a celebrator. A man who is so good – so good – at pulling me out of my own head and helping me celebrate what we have, and we especially love celebrating having each other. As year ten approaches and someone in this marriage is a little less, ahem, crazy, we’re going BIG. We’re celebrating year ten ala Europe, and you’d better believe I’ll be blogging about that goodness.

As NIAW steers to an end, this letter is dedicated to beautiful relationships everywhere. I oh-so-hope that anyone experiencing unplanned unparenthood – or any sacred loss – can dig deep into the relationships they have and find much to celebrate even in the midst of crazy-town.

Dear J,

Nine years ago this morning I woke up as Mrs. Miller for the first time. 3,285 mornings later, waking up to you is still my very favorite part of the day.

There are so many things I didn’t know nine years ago. I didn’t know we would be cuddlers. I didn’t know I could love you more today than I did then.

I didn’t know how hard marriage could be. I didn’t know how bitter a look we could give one another. I didn’t know how we could bring healing to one another’s world.

I didn’t know that we’d dance so well – not the tango or salsa or real dancing – but the dances stolen in the driveway at midnight just because the moon is peaking through the mist.

I didn’t know anyone could know me better than I know myself. Like knowing what I wished I had ordered for breakfast as I look longingly at your plate, and you nudge a fork towards me. Or like that time you packed a book for me to read on vacation so that when I exclaimed, “Dang, I forgot to bring a book”, you were right there. Like knowing my favorite tea. Like the grin and grip of trusting my driving.

I didn’t know that we would explore the world. That my love for airports and cultural foods and all things related to a passport would be shared. That a spirit of adventure would root deeply in us both. That we would sell everything and then buy it back again. That the gleam in your eye – the one that comes on the verge of adventure – would be so alluring.

I also had no idea the storms we’d be asked to weather. The tears we would cry. The nights of deep and dark pain that would penetrate our souls. The losses we’d be asked to bear.

There’s something about those stormy days, though, that make it all the sweeter to hold your hand on the sunny ones like today. There’s something so much richer to clinging to one another when we’ve been through days where it’s all we had to cling to. There is a grace in knowing that this anchor holds. That our relationship isn’t determined by the number of sunny days versus dark days. That our love isn’t circumstantial. That loss, while real, doesn’t define us. That our friendship outweighs our fears.

I’ve been given a rich life with you, my love. I’m thankful every day, but particularly today, day number 3,286.

 

Oh the Questions I’ve Asked [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week) (link). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested.

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Clouds

I could dedicate a whole series JUST to the spiritual dynamic of infertility. I’ve asked more questions than I’ve had answers, though I’ve found answers to the most critical ones.

I’ve wrestled with this post because there is just no way – NO WAY – to capture the fullness or scope of this sacred conversation in one little post. The majesty and the mystery of sacred sadness fills many pages of Scripture. While my God’s character doesn’t need defending, I care very much about how He’s represented to a hurting world. I feel the weight of portraying just how good He truly is, while admitting just how many times I’ve questioned that in the midst of loss.

So I won’t try to accomplish in one wee post what acres of Scripture work to portray over generations of time. But for today, for one glimpse, I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in on one of the many conversations I’ve had with this good, mysterious God.

Dear God,

When I started this journey, questions flooded my mind. Why me? Why do you allow painful things for your children? Why are you withholding something good from me if you are my good Father?

I’m not sure those were wrong questions, but I am not sure they were entirely right, either. I think the real questions are simply this: who are You – really – and who am I – really?

I wonder if I’m any closer to knowing. Maybe in part.

Here’s what I know so far:

God, you are hard to understand. Intensely intimate and frighteningly distant. Jealous but kind. Firm but gentle. Generous yet controlled. Good but not safe. You give. And you take away. You are a mystery, yet worthy of trust.

I, too, am a deep mystery – even to myself. Hopeful yet despairing. Giving but oh-so-selfish. Jealous and bitter. Thankful and humbled. Trusting and yet suspicious.

I guess we make a fine pair. I know now a little bit of what Job felt when he realized He’d been searching for an answer for his pain and instead You responded with more questions. Not in a mean way but just, you know, reminding us both that we weren’t there when you laid the foundations of the earth and what not.

You don’t owe me answers – though I wouldn’t turn them down if you offered them. I kind of envision a long coffee date in heaven where You walk me through my story. But right here, right now, I don’t have answers to all my questions.

I have answers to the important ones, though, like what faith in You really requires, that You aren’t afraid of Friday or honest questions, that you allow pain, and yet are the God who brings life from death.

 

Welcoming Baby (when it’s not yours) [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested. 

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

IMG_4179

More than 200 babies have been born to our social circle since we first started trying. That means I’ve had, umm, a lot of practice in “the reaction” to pregnancy announcements, births, baby showers and first birthdays. I’ve cried, laughed, cursed, whimpered, scowled, celebrated, jumped, squealed and hid. Let me be clear: all the littles that fill our lives are SUCH a gift – it’s just that their arrival sometimes provides shock waves.

Truth told, it’s not always a friend’s first child that stops me in my tracks, but when they start popping out number two or even three, well, that’s a bit disorienting. It’s easy to feel like your feet are stuck in quick-sand while people are running laps around you.

But one of the sweetest announcements I ever received was from a friend who had also dealt with nearly a decade of infertility. A lot of people tell you “it will happen someday”, but in truth the odds are severely against that – chances of an infertile couple conceiving go DOWN each year, not up. With all the different emotions that can flood your mind when another pregnancy is announced, I think there’s also this heightened sense of awareness for the TTC (trying to conceive) community. Because you know what a miracle one little embryo is. Especially to someone who’s been told it would never happen.

This is a letter I penned years ago in celebration of one such miracle.

Dear Shan,

Ah my friend, today you have crossed into a new world.   Today, the day you gave birth to your beautiful baby boy, you are entering the-land-of-the-newborn. I hear it is a beautiful but sometimes terrifying place.

As you start this new journey, the first thing I want to say is “thank you”. Thank you for being my guide through the desert of infertility for so long. You spoke words to me that were exactly what I needed to hear. You knew when to stay silent. You let me rant, rave, cry, and nervously giggle when the emotions were all jumbled.

Thank you for sharing your heart so freely, because it helped me find my own. You gave me freedom and courage to be honest about this journey. I know you won’t ever forget your own nine-year journey through infertility, because it’s so much more than a physical journey, but not everyone is willing to share it, and you were. And that has meant the world to me.

And second, I want to say DRINK UP! You will always remember the desert, but you don’t live there anymore. So drink, drink, DRINK … drink in the smell of your baby. Drink in the magic of ten little perfect fingers and toes. Drink in the baby meows and coos and cuddles. Drink in the cutest chubbiest cheeks this side of the Mississippi. Okay, both sides of the Mississippi. Drink in the midnight feedings when it’s just you and him while the rest of the world sleeps. Drink in the attention and the oggling. Drink in the wonder that God opened your womb.

Don’t hold back. And don’t apologize. Not to me, not to anyone else still wandering their desert. Don’t hide your babe from us. Because we need to drink him in too … even if my story isn’t your story, I need to drink from the well of promise and hope that this baby boy represents. I need to hold him and cuddle him and laugh at all the adorb things that he inherited from you.

And I might need to cry. I might need to cry because I don’t get to keep him, because I don’t get to see my husband’s eyes in his. And because you are now entering a world that I might never relate to, never really understand. I will listen, and nod, and even chime in my overblown opinion from time to time, but probably won’t understand. Tell me about it anyways.

And I might need to brag, to celebrate that I don’t have to wake up every two hours. To sigh in relief because I’m not juggling life with a newborn. To go on and on about my trip to the Caribbean in this carefree childless life I lead.

Each moment – laughing, crying, bragging with you through this new chapter – is a tiny sip, a tiny dip into the well that reminds me that this sacred journey is not arbitrary and that for some, it’s not forever.

I LOVE YOU. So much. I’m SO excited for you and I’m already in love with his little face. So many new things lie ahead. So DRINK, savor, and celebrate my friend, for you are doubly blessed as God has trusted you with a desert and now, an overflowing oasis.

 

Bringing Sexy Back to Infertility [NIAW]

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

Resolve to know more. This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested.

Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once. 

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Keep Calm & Grab a Pee Stick

Infertility brings a lot of, shall we say, interferences. Things like thermometers and ovulation kits and charts can quickly take over your nightstand. Se-xy.

You might be dealing with the super-se-xy side of infertility if …

… you call out “hey Babe, can you grab me a pee stick?”

… a romantic whisper in your ear is “hey, did your temperature spike today?”

… you HAVE TO COME HOME RIGHT NOW. No, seriously. Like right now.

… balancing your chart and your checkbook take the same place on your things-I’m-not-excited-to-do-today-list.

In the midst of making trying to make a baby, sometimes you gotta fight for the sexy.

Today’s letter is in honor of all women everywhere who have turned to the help of thermometers, baby-making-charts, or a smiling pee stick to tell her if she’s ovulating.

Dear pee stick,

Yes you, the one with the smug smile. You’re such a punk. And I think you know it.

I just got you and your smug smile out of the box a few months ago. Because I don’t need you. Or so I want to believe. It’s no big deal having you around when you stare blankly. But on the day you smile, well, I kinda hate you on that day.

I want to throw my hands on my hips and tell you “you’re not the boss of me.” But then you smile patiently, and remind me that you are, actually. You call the shots here and tell me when it’s go-time.

By morning, you’re a science teacher, telling me something interesting about the chemicals in my body and that ovulation is nigh. By mid-afternoon you’re the obnoxious coach who won’t stop with the whistle – alright, already! By evening, you’re the wench in my bedroom.

The hardest part about having you in my life is that I know I will probably see your smug smile again next month, when we are trying. Again. I know this because 48 months of trying have taught me well. We will smile at each other, but only one of us will really mean it. 

So let me tell you something. I’m taking sexy back. I’ll patiently listen as you share your opinion. I’ll heed your advice. And I’ll happily give you credit if you ever earn it. The bathroom is yours, but the bedroom – that’s ours.

 

For more information on infertility, you may visit:

That Time I was Given a Label [NIAW]

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” –Henry David Thoreau

This is a week-long series to invite you to look through the eyes of infertility for a moment, as part of the NIAW (National Infertility Awareness Week). This is not a series about the medical condition of Infertility – you can find facts here if interested. Instead, this series is dedicated to the heart’s awakening to emptiness – and ultimately, to life. Even without an answer. Each day this week, I’ll be sharing a letter that I penned throughout this journey of infertility, as I tried to find words to describe the silent experience. Days filled with hope, cynicism, laughter, tears – and sometimes all at once.

One in eight couples are experiencing infertility right now – about 7.3 million. We are 1 in 8.

Image

“Oh, so you’re infertile.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa – let’s not go throwing labels around there, Doc.

The objection was clear in my head – the actual words that came out of my mouth were a bit more stutter-y … “I, uh, well, I don’t know, if, well, but, I … we’re just … under a lot of stress right now.”

“You’ve been having unprotected sex for a year and you’re not pregnant. So you’re infertile.”

And BAM, just like that I had a label.

The doctor wasn’t wrong, he was stating clinical fact – and it’s not that I need to be coddled – it’s just that, well, it wasn’t a label I was ready for. It took me another year to use the label for myself. Somehow, taking on that label felt like an admission. An acceptance. Of something I was all too unwilling to accept.

The thing about labels is we know that they can’t capture who we really are. We know that. But still we fight against them as if they will brand us permanently.

Am I infertile? No, I’m a woman who is experiencing infertility. But also yes, I am infertile. Will I be forever? I don’t know – that’s not part of the diagnosis. I just know I have been for seven years.

Some of my reasons to avoid the label “infertile” included:

  1. It would mean admitting I was truly actually trying. That’s a vulnerable thing. To declare to the world that you are trying at something that for many comes naturally – or even accidentally.   Not just casually you-know-whatever-if-it-happens-it-happens. If I’m the married girl who doesn’t happen to have kids yet but isn’t trying, I’m just a happy childless girl. But if I’m infertile, it tells the whole world that in my most intimate of relationships and desires, I am trying – and coming up empty.
  1. Labels suck. They just do. They can’t ever be fully true. And a lot of them are painful. Widow. Orphan. Cancer patient. Infertile. They describe something we’re experiencing, but not who we are. Somehow, though, the person often gets lost in the label. I was afraid of getting lost. No longer being me, but being the infertile girl. A stigma. Something to be pitied.
  1. Infertility is awkward. Let’s just admit it, it is. From the lame jokes about “are you sure you know how it works?” to the uncomfortable silence when a friend tries to find the words to tell you that SHE’s pregnant while you are not. It’s awkward. Procreating is one of the most natural human experiences and involves the most intimate of human interactions, so whether you like it or not, placing yourself out there as an “infertile couple” is going to be awkward, because your sex life just became open for discussion.

But perhaps most of all, hearing that label – pronounced so abruptly – left me feeling broken. I could no longer hide behind “we just didn’t get the timing right this month”, or “we just have to get through this stressful season” or “I ate the wrong foods this month” or the myriad of other excuses you come up with when answers aren’t making sense.

Now, six years after that fateful labeling-moment, there’s no doubt that the label fits. There are no medical explanations, but our bodies don’t make babies. After I learned to accept the label as a description of part of my life but not my whole life, using it became easier. But sometimes – somedays – there’s still that bruise from the initial label. It’s usually when something breaks. A couple weeks ago I set out to bake. I rarely bake. But I’d had a few days off in a row and I thought I’d celebrate with a morning baking project. I diced the mango and mixed the oats and started dreaming of the smells that would fill my home, the smile that would cross my husband’s face when he came home to his little Suzy-homemaker, not to mention the nom-nom factor I was expecting for my own tastebuds. Then I opened the oven. Which was still cold. Though I’d turned it on 20 minutes prior. Broken.

I know, I know – it’s just an oven. But it’s a broken oven. I want to label it “Broken” and call up the shipping company to haul the brand-new-oven-turned-piece-of-junk out of here. See, my tolerance for broken things changed when I realized that my uterus was one of them. It’s just an oven, but it’s a trigger, too. Reminding me that some things are just supposed to work – and they don’t.

This week’s letter is one I penned many moons ago as I discovered that we had a new label awaiting us: “Unexplained Infertility”, which affects about 10% of infertile couples. I know, I know, we’re in the top 10% of something – woot!

Dear Doctor,

I will do it. I will give you more blood. I am 100% powerless in this, so I will comply with your process – again. You’re not the first doctor I’ve talked to, you know. Probably won’t be the last.

You’re not the first to start the conversation with a sympathetic nod and insightful questions to “figure me out”. You probably won’t be the last to finish the conversation perplexed, since my reproductive system hasn’t offered a lot of clues.

So, here is my blood. Take it, analyze it. I’m pretty sure I know what you’ll find. I think you’ll tell me I’m fine, and healthy, and “would make such a damn good mother”, yet here I sit, with nothing but a skimpy gown between you and me, looking at a calendar and analyzing body fluids, informing you of all the intimacies of my healthy sex life, including date and time.

I remember when I used to be scared of what you would find, what the results would show – something terrible that had to be fixed. Or worse, couldn’t be fixed. I didn’t really think of this option: finding nothing wrong. Having no “answer”. Having nothing to fix.

I like you, doctor. I really do. I appreciate all your efforts and tests. I just need you to know, though, that at the end of the day, I think we are both playing here – playing house, playing doctor – you remember the games. Because if we’re not playing, then it’s real. And I hate remembering it’s real.

So, when you call or email me and tell me that all the results are normal, that I’m perfectly healthy and we just need to “give it time”, I will smile and nod, because you see, I’ve played this game before.

Post-script: Email from Doctor the following week read: “Your blood test looks good.” Called it.