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.