Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Impostor

I've been feeling kind of blue lately.  There's absolutely no reason for this, and in fact every reason not to feel down.  M and I have booked our vacation and are mere days away from a week in sunny Mexico (no, not the rapey part.  Jeez, you guys sound like my mom).  And yet, here I am, feeling grumpy and sad.  And kind of lazy about blogging.

But then today I read a great post on Amber's page called Other Peoples' Babies.  It's about how we as infertiles deal with being around other peoples' children, especially those of our friends and family.  It got me thinking about how much I love being around my niece, and how I strangely never really think about infertility when I'm spending time with her.  On the other hand, when I'm with some of our other friends with kids, infertility is all I can think about.  Which made me think of a story that I haven't told yet.

M has a couple of university friends I'll call Chad and Marie.  They had a baby shortly after M and I got married, and while we'd previously spent a fair bit of time together, things understandably changed after their son Emmett was born.  It became harder to find time to spend together, and when we did the conversation focused on little else besides the new addition to their family and their adjustment to becoming parents.  

In the meantime, we'd confided that we were trying for a baby ourselves and were having some trouble.  While Marie seemed understanding, Chad has a tendency to be a bit of a problem solver (read: know-it-all who is never wrong) and started offering helpful suggestions such as "Can't they test your eggs?"  Trying to explain the intricacies of fertility medicine didn't seem to help, so we eventually gave up and just let the conversation flow back to its other natural topic:  Emmett.  

As the depression caused by our infertility settled in, M and I began cocooning ourselves as a bit of a protective measure.  As a lot of you know, you just don't feel like going out much (especially with babies in tow) when you're sad all the time because you can't have any.  Unfortunately, Chad and Marie seemed to take this as a personal slight or as a sign that we didn't want to spend time with them.  They seemed unable to understand the toll that our infertility struggle was taking on us, and we got a fair bit of passive aggressive guilt about not seeing them.  We resolved to try to make a bit more of an effort.

One Sunday in late fall, we got a phone call from Chad and Marie asking us to join them and Emmett (now almost 18 months old) for lunch.  It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm fall day, so after lunch we bundled Emmett into the stroller and decided to go for a walk around the neighbourhood.  

We soon came upon a small park with a kids' play structure inside.  It was swarming with families, all out enjoying what was probably to be one of the last nice days before the real chill of early winter set in.  Chad enthusiastically swept Emmett out of the stroller and declared that we should all go play in the park.  Marie, perhaps sensing my apprehension, asked me if it would be OK and of course I said it would.  What was I supposed to say?  "No, because I'm infertile and I don't want you to have any fun with your child while I'm around"?  Into the park we went.

M and I hung back on the sidelines with the stroller as Emmett toddled around the play structure, Chad and Marie following close behind to keep an eye on him.  The park was a blaze of colour - the reds and oranges of the fall leaves mixed with the pinks, blues and greens of the childrens' coats.  Parents hovered protectively next to monkey bars and encouraged timid toddlers down slides.  The air was filled with the screams, shouts and laughter of kids at play.

Then Chad beckoned us to come and join them.  

M looked at me, and with concerned eyes asked me if I was OK.  I nodded grimly, pressed my lips together into a line and pushed the stroller forward to join Chad and Marie.

To this day I have no idea what they wanted or why they called us over, since in the few seconds it took to make our way across the grass Emmett had found something else to do and had toddled off again.  Chad and Marie followed.  M and I were left standing in the middle of the u-shaped play structure, surrounded by playing children and watching parents, holding an empty stroller.

In that moment I felt the full weight of our infertility pressing down on me, making it difficult to breathe or think.  The empty stroller was just too perfect a metaphor for my eternally empty womb.  My eyes started to burn with tears, and I wished desperately to be anywhere but where I was at that moment.  My imagination began to spin out of control.  It seemed like everyone was staring at us, wondering who we were and why we were standing there with an empty stroller.  I felt naked, as if every single person in that park knew that none of the children there belonged to us.  At any second I anticipated someone coming over to accuse us of being there to snatch a child, since we couldn't have one ourselves.  Any moment now, some little girl was going to stage-whisper to her mother, "Mommy, why is that lady crying?"  Her mother would reply that she didn't know, but would pull her daughter away anyway, eyeing the crazy lady with the empty stroller with contempt and suspicion.  It seemed like there was nowhere in the world where we could possibly belong less.  

I felt like an impostor.  An impostor trying desperately to fit into a world where I simply wasn't meant to be.

I hurriedly collected myself and told M that I would be waiting on the other side of the park.  I pushed the empty stroller to a bench and sat with my face turned to the street as I waited for the tears to subside.  M sat next to me.  After a few moments, Marie noticed that we weren't there anymore.  In a moment of understanding, she gathered Chad and Emmett and suggested that it was time to resume our walk.  I felt horrible for ruining their afternoon at the park, and yet couldn't have been more grateful to leave it.  I pulled myself together for the rest of our time together, but dissolved into tears as soon as M and I got into the car later that afternoon.

We haven't spent much time with Chad, Marie and Emmett since that day.  But it has nothing to do with not wanting to be around Emmett.  That day in the park I learned a tough lesson, which is that no matter how good your friends are, some of them will just never understand.  Chad and Marie were amongst the few friends in whom we confided everything, and yet despite all our attempts to explain things, they (thankfully) haven't experienced infertility and will simply never get it.  It's totally typical that when we told them how depressed we had been after our first failed IVF, Chad's suggestion was to come and spend part of the Christmas holiday visiting with his sister, who was coming to town to introduce everyone to her newborn baby.  They just don't see how that could be hard.  And that's exactly why it is.

19 comments:

  1. This is a tough situation. As I wrote on Amber's blog, I am just totally impressed (and jealous) with the joy that she gets from other peoples children. I am just not there. Like you, I am a crier. As much as it may hurt to temporarily step back from a friendship, I think we all have to be protective of yourselves at this time and do what will make us happy (or less unhappy, in this case)

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story, which was so beautifully written. It's a fine line between fertile friends sharing their parenting experience and rubbing it in your face.
    I had an imposter moment. A few days after my miscarriage I went to my swim team holiday party and an 18 month old boy climbed into my lap. I wondered if like animals, a young child could sense my grief as no one at swimming knows of my infertility or miscarriage. He was a sweet blond haired child and a few people started commenting that he looked like he could be mine. I looked over at his mothers. One was also wearing a black dress and her hair is the same colour and lenght as mine. Poor little tot was confused. I kept him on my lap until her turned around and started to go for the boob. The imposter was revealed and I turned him over to his mothers, who explained that he was going through stranger anxiety and they were pleased to see how comfortable he was with me. I realised that I was comfortable hearing people say that he could be mine.

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  3. I've been a lurker on your blog for a while now and this post struck a chord with me. My husband and I recently failed 2 FET cycles with one resulting in an early miscarriage just this past December. On the eve of us embarking on our 2nd fresh IVF cycle, my best friend and his wife revealed that they are pregnant after trying for 8 months. We confided in them about our struggles since we were both struggling to conceive but they always made it clear they "wouldn't need IVF", effectively quarantining themselves from us apparent IVF lepers. Finally around Christmas, they admitted they were going to see an RE and perhaps start on clomid to help things along and while at breakfast with us last week, they beamed over how she got a positive HPT before she even had to do a diagnostic HSG or start any treatment. I'm glad the Universe decided to deliver a miracle to them and an effing miscarriage to me. Even better was that despite knowing I miscarried around the same time they found out they're pregnant, they kept encouraging us to go out with them to dinner that very night (when they were planning on revealing to another couple) and join them on a ski trip in March (for a much larger pregnancy reveal to friends because she'll be in the 2nd trimester) as if spending time with their newly pregnant selves will somehow make me sublimely happy. I politely refused while trying to hold back tears, because we were trying to save money to which she says "Oh you can just come up and keep me company at the cabin since I won't be skiing"--"Sure, I'd love to spend time basking in your warm pregnancy glow, I can feel the memory of my miscarriage fading already." Of course I'm happy that they didn't NEED to go the IVF route or suffer like us but being that it still took them a while to finally conceive, I was shocked at their lack of understanding and sensitivity towards us. It's maddening how as soon as they got pregnant, they forgot how it felt to struggle and how it may feel from our point of view. I'm still trying to cope with the news and for now, I had to distance myself from them. IVF is the single most isolating process I've ever been through/am going through and if it wasn't for blogs like yours and all the other amazing women who bravely pour their souls out, I'd never feel any validation about my own feelings. So I just wanted to thank you for making me feel a shade closer to "normal". Such a bittersweet epiphany that complete strangers who I've never met can provide me with more comfort and support with their typed words than my best friend of over a decade with his spoken ones.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and for commenting. I'm very glad you're here and that you're finding some way to deal with the isolation of IVF. It really can be a horribly lonely time. It's true what you say about feeling validation through reading blogs and finding others in the same boat. I also feel validation not just through reading but through being read by people who can sympathize with what I'm saying. It's a very symbiotic and mutual relationship with total strangers that I've come to value very much. I hope things work out for you.

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  4. This is a great post. I have had days/moments like that. Whether or not I am able to be around kids depends so much on my mood that day, the particular kid and who their parents are. I have definitely distanced myself from kids and holding babies in general, but there are some kids I don't have a problem being around. I find it harder to be around pregnant women, honestly. IF is just something you can't understand unless you have been there. That's why I am so happy to have found this blog community. It makes dealing with clueless friends a little easier.
    And I am super jealous of your mexico vacation. I hope it is fun and relaxing and just what you need to get out of your funk. Have a margarita for me!

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  5. This is such a well written post with a lot of emotion put into it. I'm glad I could inspire your post! Thanks for the shout out :) isn't being an Auntie the most amazing thing? Even though I'm pretty sure it doesn't compare to being a mommy, it's still pretty awesome. I'm glad you have a great relationship with your niece too.

    I'm sorry to hear about your friends and this experience you had at the park. There definitely are certain times that makes us the most vulnerable and feel our infertility the most.

    While I can generally be happy for my friends and family members when they get pregnant/have children, I do have to admit it usually takes me a day or two (sometimes longer) to get there. I shed a few tears and feel sorry for myself, then I work to get over it because its just not worth it to be miserable. Sometimes the misery still seeps in, but for the most part, I just try to be happy for my life.

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  6. this is so real! I will never understand why people dont get it. and honestly i think it is because they dont want. in my opinion only i make no time for people like that in my life. and in some ways i feel sorry for them. if their whole life is their kid they will soon find that they dont have much left even each other. we have friends that will never leave their baby. you go there they are literally drooling over him. yes i get it. but he is now almost 2 years old and i look at them they are both a mess. they are both extremely overweight and unmotivated to do anything but stare at their child. and they have no clue about what IF is like. they have made comments like " we would just do anything for a baby". really are you rich? no. and what do you think we are all doing? sitting on our asses. no we are doing everything. i finally gave the hint that i dont need the advice and to not worry we are literally spending our life and every bit of money we have to do this. take care of you. create boundaries when you need to. and i know you know this, but even with a child most people have so many issues that they are hiding. some of our friends have continued to have kids even though they cant afford. they cant meet their bills every month and live in fear. it is no way to live, this coming from someone who desperately wants a baby. i am thinking of you. please go and enjoy your vacay. you deserve some relaxation and peace.

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  7. Great post. It was very well written and heartfelt. While I've often said that I am not bothered by other people's pregnancies and babies, I've never experienced anything remotely similar to what you went through that day. I am so sorry that you had to experience that. As I read your story I could imagine myself in your shoes and I know I would have felt the same way as you. It is a lot easier to be happy for people who are sensitive and caring to my infertility as well. Just the other day we were in a restaurant and as the women were arriving they were bringing baby-related gifts. We got out of there before I would have to watch what I assumed to be a baby-shower. Thanks for sharing your story and I hope you enjoy Mexico

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  8. You put this feeling that many of us experience into words so well. I had never thought of it that way, but moments like that are definitely like an imposter. I've had a fair share myself. Most recently, I was on a girls weekend with 6 other women, 5 of which have muliple children each. We ran into someone we hadn't seen in years and he asked, "So how many kids do you all have now?" and they started going around the room proclaiming three or two...they passed right over me (for good reason). I ran from the room with tears stinging my eyes and felt like I couldn't breathe. I knew they meant no harm, and I can't expect them to not talk about their own families, but no one really understood what it felt like to be in that room at that time. It was a slap in the face of what I didn't have. I was being an imposter. I was trying so hard to fit in with these ladies, and yet continued to be reminded of my shortcomings.

    Thanks for sharing your stories. And have a great vacation!

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  9. Powerful and relateable. Thank you.

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  10. Wow, what an upsetting image -- standing there with an empty stroller, surrounded by other people's children. UGH. That's the absolute worst... and kind of hard to imagine why your friends wouldn't be able to see how this wasn't a great idea. It's such a knee-jerk reaction to say, "Oh, you're infertile, why don't we surround you with babies because that's what you're in need of?", whereas with just the SLIGHTEST bit of true empathy, one might be able to see why this is the opposite of what's needed. Hopefully you're going to an adults-only resort in Mexico! :) And good luck getting out of Pearson... my hubby is trying to fly to Tel Aviv in five hours; eek!

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    1. Luckily we're not leaving for a few days. Time for them to dig out the planes and us to dig out our car! I have to say there's no better timing for a huge snowstorm than three days before you leave for a beach. Hope your hubby's trip isn't held up too much!

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  11. Ouch. It hu

    rt just reading your story. I'm sorry your friends weren't more sensitive. I'm sometimes shocked that people respond the way they do... but then, on my more generous days, I remember being 25 and talking to someone about her failed infertility treatments, and asking if she and her husband had considered adoption. Of course, I was never like Chad in your story. But I didn't have some automatic comprehension of the situation. Mostly I just hoped it would never happen to me. (Ha. Good laugh, universe. Now can we please move on?)

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    1. I had a similar situation a few years ago when I blithely asked an older male colleague if he and his wife had kids. He responded with a somber, "No, that was something that didn't work out for us." I awkwardly changed the subject and only now can begin to comprehend how hurtful my offhand question must have been and how hard it was for him to answer. I sometimes wonder if my infertility isn't somehow karmically related to this incident.

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    2. Lately I've been beating myself up remembering talking to my sister-in-law, who at the time had been suffering recurrent miscarriages and had never carried to term. At the same time, another friend who had the same problem had just adopted a beautiful baby and was so happy, so I mentioned that friend to my sister-in-law. I realize now as an IF that was completely the wrong response, and I feel horrible about it. Like you're saying idioticinfertility, it makes me realize that I, too, was once one of those people who just didn't get it. IF is one of those things you *think* you understand until you actually experience it.

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  12. We have some friends who got pregnant with a whoopsie baby. We love spending time with them but one day their little girl wanted my hubby to read her a book. She picked out some daddy book and my heart broke watching him read it to her. Even if people get it there are always unpredictable tough moments. It's so much easier to live a family member (niece or nephew) than a friebd's baby. I think we all have moments like these.

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  13. I'm sorry your friends aren't more understanding. The image of the two of you standing there with the empty stroller brought tears to my eyes. I work with young kids and feel like an imposter all the time telling moms and dads what to do with their own children. Then I get the inevitable "Do you have kids?" question and have to fess up that, no, I do not. It's hard to be confronted with that on a regular basis.

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  14. I realize that this post is old, but I'm just now making my way through your excellent blog. My pseudo-friend Mya, actually said to me, "When I have my baby, you can come over & play with him & it will make you feel better." I said, "How will that make me feel better?" And she replied, "Oh you know...you get to play with the baby and give it back, & so that will make you feel better." LOL! What fertile smugness!! I told her that it will probably make HER feel better, but it won't do anything for me. She was an arrogant witch before she even got pregnant, so I'm not surprised that she became even more so afterwards.

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I'm needy and your comments validate me. Help a sister out!