“Maybe to be powerful is to be fragile.” - Ai Wei Wei
Infertility is isolation. You hesitate to talk to people about it because a) you don’t want to unload your shit on people, b) they likely won’t get it, c) you don’t want to upset or worry those who care about you, or d) you’re like me and you shut down and don’t want to talk to anyone about anything. What we didn’t expect, however, is that the isolation would creep into our relationship. Infertility wouldn’t leave us alone, but we were leaving each other alone.
I’d had two semen analyses and they persisted with the same issue: low morphology. That big fat “0” would not budge. I was suffering in silence and saying everything was fine. One night Melissa asked me to watch a pregnancy announcement video on Facebook. As we watched, I looked away from the video and saw the tears in her eyes, but instead of wanting to comfort her, I found myself frustrated, thinking, I’m not going there. There’s nothing to be upset about. We’re going through a process and it will work itself out, whatever happens. Being upset or emotional is just a waste of time.
I refused to acknowledge externally what was going on inside of me because it was too scary. There was an overwhelming fear that if we hit the end of this road, and we can’t have a kid, it’s all my fault. Based on everything her doctors have told her, Melissa is completely capable of having a child, but because of my problem, I’ve denied her a natural motherhood. Physically, she is not barren, but because of loving me, she is. And there is no way, for the rest of my life, that I don’t look at this beautiful, loving woman, with so much to give, this “human piece of sunlight” (to quote Philip Roth), who would make an incredible mother, and not feel the weight of her childlessness on me. Like everyone, I’ve had my share of envy, self loathing, difficulties, humiliations, and disappointments, but through all of the things that life, and especially adolescence, threw at me, I never wanted to not be me, or not be in my own skin. Suddenly I found myself feeling fundamentally flawed in a way I couldn’t comprehend. There was a piece of me that was wrong and I wanted to find and exorcise it from myself, but I knew that was impossible.
I felt the only way to deal with it was to keep trucking along, granite-faced. I found ways to pretend everything was okay. I would make jokes to Melissa about how I was “broken.” “Oh, you want to buy that thing? Don’t ask me, do what you want, I’m broken.” “You pick what movie to watch tonight, I’m broken.” “Oh, of course I spilled something, I’m broken.” It was an easy way to make my feelings a joke. See? It’s fine, I can laugh about it. But it was also pathetic. I got a laugh from Melissa the first time I did it, and that felt good, but then it started to bother her.
Melissa kept telling me we should talk about how I was feeling, that I should open up and say whatever crazy things were going on inside my head. I held back. I felt I couldn’t talk to her about it because I knew that everything she would say would be perfect, and that would be too much to bear. I didn’t want her to say anything to try to make me feel better. I felt undeserving of any comfort she could offer. So instead I grew short with her, angry, and at times, rage-filled, but nevertheless convinced that I was dealing with it.
One day I went crazy with research about infertility. I was reading about chemicals, endocrine disruptors, toxins, and suddenly I was convinced that I would not have a kid. Later that day I went on Facebook (big mistake) and I saw a picture of an old friend I hadn’t seen in nearly fifteen years. After high school he went one way and I went another. While he was busy living the single life, I met Melissa and settled down. But right there on Facebook is a picture of him in the hospital with his wife and their new baby, and I thought, that guy had a kid? Suddenly it was like the world was slipping away from me. It was like an anvil of frustration landing on my head.
The next morning I woke up still thinking about that guy. I was annoyed with myself. I don’t compare myself to other people. I should be happy for him. And now, on top of being annoyed about seeing that picture of him, I was angry at myself for being annoyed about it. I was pissed off and zoned out. So of course Melissa and I had what should have been a trivial disagreement, but instead I completely bugged out. We were running late, I was worried I would miss the train, and as she dropped me off at the station, I broke one of her cardinal rules. I flew out of the car - no goodbye, no kiss, and most importantly, no “I love you.”
That night, Melissa picked me up, but she made clear that we were not getting out of that car until we hashed everything out. She explained how much I had been isolating both of us, and how alone we both felt in the process. And I mentioned, again trying to be tongue-in-cheek and failing, that I felt broken and Melissa said, “Stop feeling bad for yourself.” And it was exactly what I needed to hear. I opened up and told her about the fear, the frustration, and the self loathing that I was feeling. What I feared most, that she would give me a pat “Don’t feel that way, you’re wonderful,” she didn’t do. Instead, Melissa told me that she knew the self hatred I had felt, that she had been there in other ways, at other times in her own life. She also told me that she knew from experience that the place I was going was a dark place and “there is nothing good in that place.” It was the simplest, most concrete advice she’d ever given me, and I heard her words, and I decided I needed to stay far away from that dark place. And suddenly, after telling her how sad I was, I wasn’t as sad.
The next day I interviewed someone for my documentary. I was at his house with his young son and his pregnant wife. My own interest in kids came up, and I was honest with them about what I was going through. And the wife said, “I had a bunch of friends who had a hard time, and I’ll tell you, they all have kids now.” I’m almost afraid to write those words. I know it means nothing to my situation, but it’s a reminder that all you can do is move forward.