I think each of us can share a story about a time we decided to open up about our infertility and found a kindred spirit experiencing similar issues. A few months ago, I was reminded once again that it is wise not to make any assumptions.
My mother is the oldest of three girls and my father is the much youngest of his siblings (there are nine years between him and his sister). So in addition to the isolation from being an only child, I'm six plus years younger than my paternal cousins, and 4 years old than the next grandchild on the maternal side. When we visited with my father's family, I was referred to as 'Baby Jane', while the youngest of my maternal cousins called me 'Aunt Jane' as I was taller than their mothers and other aunts.
When I was growing up, we probably only got together with my maternal cousins once or twice a year, and when we were younger my female cousin and I could easily play together. As we both grew older, we found that we had less in common. Oh, I'll just say it ... she was a band geek. We're talking Michelle from American Pie, "...this one time...at band camp..." although I don't want to think about what she may have been doing with her clarinet. She was a member of her high school's state championship winning marching band and played in her University's pep band for her undergraduate plus graduate years. If there is a hell, and I end up there ... playing in a marching band will be one of my punishments.
When my Dad and I were driving my car cross country in 2007, we stayed with my aunt and uncle (my cousin and her brother were in their mid-twenties and were still living at home) for a few days. During our last night, my cousin started to open up to me a little. She mentioned she had been on a few dates with some who was pretty interesting, but her biggest hang up about him was that he had the same name as her brother. Two years later she married him. Late in 2010, I received a text from her, "Hi. I know this is awkward since we don't really talk, but I don't know who else to contact." Her period was two weeks late and she had a very faint positive pregnancy test. Unfortunately, she had just started a new job and didn't have insurance benefits yet. As she works as an ER nurse, she was able to get some beta quants drawn, which revealed she had a chemical pregnancy. It meant a lot that she felt comfortable reaching out of me, and I stressed that my door would always be open.
A year later, when I removed my IUD and was getting ready to start the procreation process, I took note that I hadn't heard a pregnancy announcement from her. She contacted me in May of 2012, as they were vacationing in the Bay Area and wanted to try to get together. It was the first time we assembled on our own, apart from a family gathering with our mothers or grandparents. Oddly, her younger brother was accompanying her and her husband on their vacation, which made it hard to get her alone to talk privately. Shortly after that holiday, I noticed that my cousin and her brother each had the same picture of the siblings as their Facebook profiles. I though it was unusual, but as Husband and I are only children, it could have been something I just didn't understand.
Earlier this year, I happened to be in the city where my cousin lives and I called her up to see if she was available to get together for a drink. It was the first time the two of us ever convened on our own. I thought about addressing fertility issues by saying something like, "hey, are you two having any difficulty conceiving? Us too!" Yet, it never really felt right to introduce that topic, so I didn't broach it.
A few months ago, I received an email from my mother:
Rachel and Ross have separated, will be getting divorced.
Sent from my iPad
I wasn't completely surprised, I thought there was something telling within her Facebook profile. Yet, I must also admit that I didn't quite see it coming. Looking back at our last conversation, she didn't say anything that indicated she was having marital problems; but actually, I don't think she mentioned her husband much at all. My Dad later informed me that they went through couples counseling, but once they agreed to divorce, she felt as if a weight were lifted and she could breathe again. I'm glad I didn't bring up the topic of having children. One of the other reasons for non-procreation other than infertility and deciding to be child-free, is relationship troubles. A good reminder to respect privacy surrounding sensitive issues, even if you suspect you're in familiar territory .