Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Skeletons in my Closet

Of all the story-lines on Sex and the City that received critical acclaim, I don't think the ones that addressed Charlotte's infertility were given enough credit. Of course my perspective has changed so much since I first watched those episodes. As I worked with women who were facing unplanned pregnancies, I could appreciate Miranda's annoyance with Charlotte's resentment. Now I can appreciate those clips through Charlotte's eyes. Your friend falls pregnant effortlessly while you learn your only option is with sophisticated scientific intervention. Putting on the brave face and smiling at a baby's first birthday party after your own pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. I had no idea that those would become my experiences.

As we prepared for the in-law invasion, Husband and I went through the house room by room to clean every corner and to purge anything procreation and infertility related. I packed the items into a box and stashed it under the sink in my bathroom, which I felt would be safe from my mother's curious eye. (Although, I did consider placing it in our safe...) It reminded me of the scene where Charlotte paints over the mural in the room intended to be a nursery. I felt that by hiding these items, I was denying an aspect of myself.

Fortunately, I've become proficient in playing the role of a woman who doesn't want children. During their stay, neither my mother, nor my mother-in-law approached the subject with me. My mother caught a glimpse of Co-worker's twins on my Facebook page and started fawning over them, which I thought might lead her to ask some questions, but perhaps I changed the subject in time. Prior to her arrival, I feared we might have a moment where it would feel right to confess our infertility struggles. That opportunity never presented, and thus my skeletons remained buried in my bathroom cabinet.

My friend H and I once discussed that the maximum duration to be a guest or to have house guests is four days, five tops. Sharing close quarters and surrendering your private space only leads to tension. Unfortunately, the trade off for living so far away from your family is that their visits are for extended lengths of time... and too often violates the four to five day rule. Such would be the case, as my mother and I broke into a fight only hours before her flight was scheduled to depart.

We reconciled before it was time to say goodbye, but I realised that we've been having the same argument for years.  She feels that she doesn't know what to say or how to talk to me, but she desperately wants to have a relationship with me. As I still value her approval, I'm sensitive to anything she says that resembles criticism, which often makes it hard to talk with her. I thought back to the night before the BFN from IUI#4 and how we imagined announcing the pregnancy to our parents in Hawaii.

Of all the potential joys that such a moment would have produced, perhaps the one I was most anticipating was opening up to my mother. I could finally reveal how hard it was to host Myrtle's shower and to hear everyone call her baby 'little Myrtlepants'. We could share a laugh over all the stupid things Myrtle has said to me. Now I wonder if that is just another fantasy. I'm banking on the fact that her elation would eclipse any hurt feelings that I didn't confide in her earlier. That she would understand that I needed to avoid any additional pressures and that it wasn't personal? What if we were informing her that our quest came up empty? Would my secrecy only serve to confound her disappointment?

As I pondered these issues even further, I have to ask myself if, like a dysfunctional couple, am I hoping that a baby can improve relations with my mother? That this is the final thing I need to do to secure her approval -grant her wish of being a grandmother. I've long accepted that we are trying to procreate for our own desires, not our parents, but we can't avoid considering how they will be affected. I can't deny how much this means to them. I like to think that if we have a baby, it will bring my mother and I closer together, but it can't fix the deficits in our relationship, and it will bring much more tension and arguments. Perhaps starting with disclosing our fertility struggles...


  1. I appreciate this reflection on how infertility affects not just our relationship with our partners, but also family and friends. I just rewatched the episode of SaTC when Miranda finds out she is pregnant. I felt just like you did. When I was younger and watched it for the first time, I related to Miranda and really didn't understand Charlotte's reaction. I have said to my husband on more than one occasion that I felt like we were letting our parents down. He thought that was crazy, but I truly felt that guilt and shame.

  2. I can relate to you so well in this post! My husband & I have been trying to conceive for 18 months- are just going to see an RE in a couple wks & have only done Clomid so far. My mom pressures & makes comments about us having a baby every single time we see her (and they only live 20 min away). We have never been that close beyond an artificial level & I have not found the courage to tell her about our infertility struggles. I can't decide if telling her will make things better or worse & I am so worried about disappointing her. Good luck to you in navigating these waters- let me know if you find a way to do it with grace & without anger (my biggest fear of how our convo would go).

  3. I have a similar story with my mother. We get on great, but she is (and has never been) able to give me the kind of emotional support I need. She knew about my miscarriage but never picked up the phone to see how I was doing. Not even after my D&C. Given that she lives 6,000 miles away on another continent, you'd think she go above and beyond a few one- to two-line emails...

    So, like you, when I saw her recently for a couple of weeks, I had vowed not to share anything of my recent infertility woes. I couldn't imagine a scenario where I told her about my upcoming IVF. And then I discovered I have a rare genetic disorder... Long story short, I sat her and my step-dad down and told them everything. I prefaced it by saying that I didn't need suggestions or advice, just love and support. To my surprise, they took it quite well. I think they were a bit hurt that I hadn't told them earlier, but it was eclipsed by the bigger picture: daughter needs IVF and might need donor eggs.

    Since absorbing the news, they have returned to their old habits -- sharing details of my most intimate part of my life with some of their friends (despite my telling them not to). They won't change -- so whether we choose the egg donation route or my eggs route, I won't exactly be filling them in on the details going forward.

    All this to say, I get it. In my own way, I get it. And perhaps if there is a part of you that would like to confide in your mum, or at least let her know what's going on, there might be a way for you to do so.

    And you're right -- house guests are like fish: they start to stink after a few days. :)

  4. Such a tough situation. I totally get wantin to keep it to yourselves. We shared with our families that we were seeking treatments, but we never shared WHEN. We kept the timing to ourselves because I didn't want any added pressure or questions. It also allowed us to share any positives or negatives on our own terms. Whether IVF proves successful for you or not, I do hope you are able to find a peace in your relationship with your mom. My hope is that it DOES come by means of a baby though :)

  5. It's interesting that you say that maybe your folks would take your keeping your IF from them as some sort of offense, rather than just being able to empathise with you. I don't know your folks and I know your relationship with your mom is different from mine, but I would really hope as your parents that they could just see that you need them and their support and it's not about their feelings. You never know, they might surprise you.

  6. I just caught one of the old Sex & The City episodes the other day where Charlotte found out their IVF didn't work. I don't even remember any of that back when I watched it in my 20's and knew nothing about IF.

    I think you make a good point that a baby won't necessarily make everything gravy with your mom, but I can definitely see how it complicates things when she really has no clue what you're going through. It's really hard for people to be there to support us if they don't have any clue what we need or how to help. I hope you two can become more open when the time is right for you and that it leads to a deeper and stronger relationship than you have ever had.

    1. I remember watching that episode when I was in my twenites, and thought is was another example of how TV gets it wrong -you don't wait for a doctor's call to find out if you're pregnant- Little did I know how accurate they were -someone on the writting staff must have known first hand.

  7. That sounds a little like my relationship with my mother. She did know about our treatments but I mostly told her because I knew if she found out after the fact she would be offended that I didn't confide in her. I didn't necessarily want to confide in her, just didn't want to deal with the fallout.
    You are so right about 4 or 5 days being the limit for house guests. I am currently 3 days into a 2 week visit from my mother in law and I am already going crazy. Then my mother will come for a week or 2 after she leaves. This has disaster written all over it. Lack of sleep, postpartum hormones and long term guests do not go well together.