Isolated and Lonely in the Land of Infertility
by Kalija J
Ya’ know, I always told people, I didn’t really want kids. Well, I didn’t. It seemed like something that didn’t really fit in with my perception of myself. I never saw myself as a parent. And the love of my life, my partner and spouse, didn’t seem to want children either. So, I didn’t worry about it. What did I worry about? Birth control. Birth control was a big deal, because NOT getting pregnant with a child that I was pretty sure I didn’t want was an all-consuming, expensive necessity. I remember screaming at my OB/GYN when I found out that Norplant had been taken off the market. My ability to stay safely unpregnant was suddenly gone. Most of my adult life, it took a lot of time, and money, and energy, to prevent pregnancy.
Which is sort of ironic, now.
Awhile ago, when I was in my late 30s, my husband and I sort of did a turn-around. We started talking about kids. We were both tentative at first. Kids were a lot of responsibility. You needed to be a grown-up, and you had to really stop being selfish and indulgent, when there was a tiny person that was utterly dependent on you. Okay, it looked sort of tough. But we talked about it. And suddenly, we were both smitten with the idea. So I stopped all birth control. After all, pregnancy was an easy thing to achieve, wasn’t it? Since we took such draconian measures to prevent pregnancy, getting pregnant seemed like the least of our issues.
In the intervening years, I have gotten pregnant. But they have not lasted long. I’ve sort of lost count of the miscarriages at this point. Yup. I got tired of telling the primary care physician and the OB/GYN about them. Yes, this is the same OB/GYN I screamed at about the birth control. He’s a good guy. He has utter faith in my ability to conceive. I got tired of saying, yes, it was a miscarriage, because my period was several weeks late, and suddenly there was the most intense pain, and I lost a lot of blood all at once, and then it was done in a couple hours. Miscarriage. Not a heavy period, you morons. Don’t patronize me! I was pregnant one day, and not pregnant the next. A couple of times, I wasn’t even sure I was pregnant until I had the miscarriage. So, I stopped reporting in. I pretended not to be present, when I was dealing with all that blood and the other unmentionable products of lost conception, and I shoved all my sorrow down deep, and tried not to be morose for too long.
In all this time, I have grown accustomed to some pretty stupid truths about infertility. The most horrifying underlying truth is that infertility is really expensive, and a lot of the time, it’s just money thrown away. It seems there’s this whole hush-hush underground economy that preys on the hopes and wishes of infertile parents. It’s a racket, I tell you. It’s an evil, evil scheme, promising you the joy of parenthood but mostly leaving you more horrifyingly broke and desperate and despondent. Even trying to join an infertility support group costs the big bucks; several hundred dollars a month. Just to be in a group of other equally sad and grasping people. You know, just for fun, I tried the other support groups offered by the local medical conglomerate. The cancer support groups were free, the diabetic support group was free, even the HIV+ support group was free. Why does infertility cost money? Don’t infertile people qualify as being worthy of a support group without cost, because they, too, are facing illness and uncertainty? Apparently not. Apparently, it’s the last taboo to be infertile, no one is sympathetic, and you are unworthy of consideration by the medical community, unless you have a nice, fat bank account. Then they’ll talk to you.
Oh, yes. Let’s talk about what fertility costs. In my area, which has a high cost of living, basic testing starts at about $1,200. And it’s NOT covered by most insurance plans. And if you start trying to charge it to the insurance plan, you’ll start getting letters from the insurance company about how you’re of an age where pregnancy will be high risk, and they just might yank your health insurance. Oh, yes, that’s clearly illegal, but you know what? The insurance companies are doing it anyway. It’s so sleazy.
So you get your testing done, under the table, so to speak. And all the procedures that combat infertility? Well, let’s see. The cost of an in vitro fertilization in my area, again not covered by insurance, but not like I can tell them anyway, is $17,000 to $22,000 per try. They don’t make any guarantees, mind you. If the first IVF fails to take, then they don’t keep trying until it works. You get one shot for your five-figure fee. Please pay on your way out. But by the time you’re ready for IVF, you’ve already spent thousands on anything else less invasive that the doctor wanted to try, as well as umpteen visits to specialists in herbs and acupuncture and whatever else someone told you about, because their friend got pregnant after using X treatment and it could work for you.
So the harsh cold reality of financial matters has settled in. Do not expect people to be helpful or understanding. People say some really heartless, insensitive, uninformed things about infertility. I get “Have you considered adoption?” all the time. Um, okay. Do you have any idea how difficult adoption can be? First of all, we’re back to the expense. It’s expensive. And adoption in the United States seems to be for those few people who have advanced degrees, spacious houses in ideal suburbs, and lead exemplary lives. If, like us, you’re an ordinary middle or working class person with limited finances, you won’t even get on most adoption agency’s radar. Most won’t even call you back. So you go the gray market route, which is actually the black market, only people don’t talk about it that way. You go to a foreign country, and find the right person (bribes) to take you to the right orphanage (more bribes) and convince an official (even more bribes) to let you take a little unwanted citizen of that country home to your country. I’ve heard the stories. Even if sometimes it seems sickening, I know it works. I know it works, because people are actually making wonderful families in this way. I applaud them. The fact that so many try and succeed is actually sort of heartening.
But that may be a last ditch effort for us. And I am not sure I am up to the arduous journey, because I cannot face much more disappointment. You see, I even tried to be a foster parent. We were turned down as unsuitable. I felt like a felon. I thought what you had to provide was a loving, safe environment for a kid in crisis. It turns out, again, they want a big fat bank account, and one parent type being home (we both work during the day) and something much larger than our one-bedroom apartment. Oh. I see. I understand. But I also thought they needed foster families. I guess they don’t need them as much as I thought.
So here I am. No one to talk to, no one to share the highs and lows, except my poor spouse, who doesn’t want to face the hopelessness of it all. I suggested he get fertility testing, and he froze up. Refuses. Doesn’t want it to be his fault, when it’s so clearly easier for him to process if it’s mine. I guess I can understand that. I don’t want it to be my fault, either. And I live in a world where people question me all the time: Are you pregnant yet? Still trying to have kids? and I mostly smile and change the subject. No sense in yelling at people who mean well, but can’t say anything right. Because they always have stories of miracle babies, as well as horror stories to share. And I don’t want to ask what’s really on my mind.
What do you do if you cannot conceive, and you have no other alternatives? How do you live your life after that? Do you exist in some sort of twilight zone between the happy families and the people who refuse to have children? How do you adjust your brain, your way of thinking, when it turns out you will never have a child? I don’t know. No one has an answer for me. I feel very lonely, like I’m the only one going through this. It’s so taboo, no one wants to talk about it. I feel like I would be better off with the HIV+ support group sometimes. At least I can go for free.