It’s disconcerting to be verbally attacked online for the way I’m living my life.
It happened again last week. This time the particular individual was so intent on making sure I knew what she thought of me she left the same long-winded diatribe on three different sites where I’ve contributed articles or perspectives. She even invested the time to create new accounts on two different sites that required membership to comment simply to blast me. Twisted, no? (Be forewarned: she may show up in the comments here, in which case she’d be four for four—and bona fide obsessive.)
I’ve had nearly two years to grow accustomed to the mean-spirited judgments so I’m getting quite good at ignoring the nastiness, but I do marvel that people can be so intentionally malicious.
So what’s my crime? I’ve become a spokesperson of sorts for those on the fourth (and usually silent) path out of infertility: those who elect—after much heartbreak—to build a life that doesn’t involve direct parenting. It seems counter intuitive, I know, but it’s where I ended up after more than a decade of trying to conceive followed by more time trying to make sense of and grieve the losses associated with unsuccessful infertility treatment. For some of us there comes a time to accept that the life we once assumed would be ours wasn’t meant to be.
Infertility—and the way it tears away at normalcy, tests relationships and raises questions around identity—has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. So what are the three other paths out: successful treatment, donor gametes/surrogacy, or adoption.
Celebrations accompany the first three paths, but there is no joy embarking on the fourth path because it involves letting go of a once fragile dream. Furthermore, this path is not well marked; it’s non-linear and fraught with second-guessing.
In an era of scientific advancement it’s not easy to declare “enough is enough” on the treatment front. I had to give myself permission to stop amid pressure to succeed, and guilt when I didn’t. Infertility isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy—or my worst critic. Resolving infertility is complex—and it involves more than the couple directly affected. Along the way, I’ve observed successful and unsuccessful adoptions. I’ve also read accounts from those conceived using donor gametes—some of whom question their identity.
Life isn’t neat and tidy, but issues around infertility seem to bring out the worst in people.
My fellow infertility writer (and BlogHer editor), Melissa Ford, wrote about the unhelpful comments that accompanied my story when I first went public with it. Hard as it was to read the comments, it became clear that it wasn’t me, it was the path women like me are on that brought out the condemnations. Last fall, a fellow fourth-path follower was skewered when she provided a guest post to The New York Times MotherLode blog.
The questions posed to us, while deeply personal, are persistent and asked with impunity: Why did we give up? Why didn’t we pursue surrogacy? Adoption? Foster care?—And the conclusions damning: “You didn’t want it badly enough. You don’t truly care about children. You are selfish.” And those are some of the nicer things I’ve heard on the judgment continuum. Is it any wonder women in my shoes usually remain silent?
While I’m a kick-ass aunt to the children of family and friends, I’m not a mother, and apparently that will continue to offend the sensibilities of some. I refuse to allow bullies to get the last word so I’m going to continue to write about the fourth path until there’s a modicum of respect for it that’s missing today. I freely admit it’s not for everyone. Am I a masochist for trying to give voice to an experience that comes with copious amounts of bruising commentary? Perhaps. Why do I continue to write and speak out on this topic?
Simple. I’m trying to make the fourth path a little less bumpy for those coming after me. There’s great satisfaction in making someone feel less isolated, better understood. Reader mail like this makes the rantings of others seem even more puny by comparison:
“Your story is one I could have written myself, from the diagnosis(es), to the tortuous RE [reproductive endocrinology] hell and finally to the ever evolving path of us living child free. I, too, have worked through a lot of my anger and depression, however, my infertility and lack of children is never far from my mind. I am not officially “out of the closet” as an infertile, and there are still friends, family and places that I avoid, however your book, Silent Sorority, really has given me a new found strength in speaking out about my IF [infertility], and I just wanted to say thanks. It is nice to know that there are ‘more of us out there’, and that someone if finally giving us a voice.”
There are many of us but we have a hard time finding each other, which is why I’ve begun a new blog called A Fresh Start. It’s for women to find community, inspiration, and companionship as they make their way on the fourth path.