Category Archives: Identity

A strange week

I’m 15 weeks pregnant today and there is nothing new or different to report. Or in other words, I have no idea what’s going on but I hope everything is good! I wasn’t planning on writing, but I suddenly felt like it. When I decided to start this blog 6 month ago after living with infertility for years, I had no idea that it would lead me into discovering an amazing community of fellow bloggers on the same or similar journeys. It has shown me that I’m not alone; that there are people out there who understand my feelings and experiences with infertility and treatment in ways that nobody else can. I have the privilege of being able to read and follow the stories of others who go through this.

In the process, I have come to care about those of you whose’s blogs I follow in a way that I had never imagined. I have never meet any of you in so-called ‘real’ life, but as it turns out the virtual world is as real as any other space where the potential for connecting with others can be created. Maybe even more so in our particular case, because we share the most intimate thoughts, feelings and bodily experiences. It amazes me how powerful sharing of common experience is – maybe particularly the common experience of struggling to start a family.

This week I have realized the full extent of what that really means. I have cried tears of sorrow for Mo who lost her little boy at 22 weeks. And I have waited anxiously to hear news from Bachelor’s button who had her twins delivered by C-section at 28 weeks because her baby girl suffered from intrauterine growth restriction. Delivering now was the only chance of survival for her little girl, but would at the same time also put her little boy in danger. Now they are both fighting for their life in NICU. I’m sending all my hopes and prayers!

I can’t even begin to imagine what Mo and her husband are going through grieving the loss of their baby boy. Or what Bachelor’s button and her husband have been and are still going through. Or what Ozifrog, who is on bed-rest because of serious pregnancy complications, is going through. Or any of you who are or have been experiencing loss. I have been so fortunate not to experience loss or the imminent danger of it, but I nevertheless feel with you so much in your pain and worry.

When I was crying for Mo’s loss earlier this week, my husband asked me if it was making me worried about our baby – that something could also go wrong with my pregnancy. I thought about it for a bit, but realized that that was not it! I wasn’t feeling sad for what could potentially happen to me. I was feeling sad for Mo and her loss. I was feeling sad because life can sometimes be so cruel that it’s beyond belief. I was feeling sad because it is so horrible that one of us, who has struggled so much, has been robbed yet again of the dream of having a child and been put through another devastating loss.

I think all of us, who experience infertility, feel the collective pain of what we all go through. Whether it is loss and/or not being able to get pregnant in the first place. I just never realized it until I became part of this online community.

In stark contrast, this week also brought me an experience of not belonging and not being able to relate. Yesterday my husband and I went to one of those pregnancy & baby fairs that we had ended up with free tickets for when buying prenatal vitamins. We decided to go and have a look, since we have not looked at any baby-stuff yet. At all whatsoever.

I think I’m still processing the experience… It was so overwhelming. All we ended up buying was two bottles of sparkling alcohol-free wine. We did look at prams and strollers, but not in a very hands-on kind of way. I just couldn’t really relate to it all. I know I’m pregnant and I’m overjoyed and incredibly thankful, but it’s as if my mind has still not registered it. I can’t think like a pregnant woman. I can’t see myself with a pram or a stroller. I didn’t feel like one of them – the pregnant women. I felt like someone who shouldn’t be there. I couldn’t identify.

On top of that I was absolutely shocked at how commercialized pregnancy and babies are. It can’t imagine ever needing most of the things being sold for babies. But it seems like for a lot of women being pregnant means a whole new world of shopping opportunities. We even saw a couple walking around with a tiny little new born baby… amongst such crowds and frenzy that it was almost too much for me to bear. At 9pm! The baby looked so startled and confused, I still can’t forget it. Why take a new born to a shopping fair? And casually carry it around on your arm amongst crowds of people, noise and frenzy?

In all of it I kept thinking; this is not what it’s all about. It’s not about shopping baby stuff. Being pregnant and having a baby is about something so incredible and amazing that I can’t even express it or fully understand it. It’s about a love greater than any other. I know you don’t have to have experienced infertility to know and feel that. Far from it. But I do think that it makes it so painfully clear and intense in a way that cuts right to the bone. I can’t and I don’t want to think about shopping for stuff. I don’t need a fancy stroller. All the fuss and all the wrapping paper doesn’t interest me. I just want to meet and hold this special soul in my arms in August and experience him/her grow and live!

Suffering as Identity and Status

I think its time to continue exploring the theme of identity and how it is influenced by infertility and fertility treatment. I’m new to the blog world and the world of ‘infertiles’ in this space. Although my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for over 5 years, I have never been part of or felt part of a community of infertiles. Up until the point when I started this blog 2 month ago I never read blogs about infertility or joined support groups or the like. Rather I tried to forget or repress the tag of infertility, as I have written about in a previous post (Tagged with Infertility). I stubbornly refused to take on that identity, to let it influence my life and who I am. But of course it still did and I am trying to come to terms with and deal with that. Not the least by writing about it here.

Now I’m reading and discovering this amazingly rich blog world full of other (mainly) women’s experiences with infertility and treatment, being written about in all kinds of different ways. Today I came across a debate on Jay’s blog (http://the2weekwait.blogspot.com) which truly stunned me. Jay is pregnant after going through IVF and still writing her blog, which logically enough is now centered on her experience of being pregnant. This however has resulted in her receiving hate mail and nasty comments which in no uncertain terms lets her know she should no longer be writing on a blog which is about infertility. In her latest post she calls on other infertiles to comment on one such comment. So far she has received 122 comments all of which express outrage at the nastiness of the comment she has received. And I can only agree.

However, what struck me in both the ‘hate’ comment and all the many comments in response to it, was how fundamentally the suffering of infertility and fertility treatment impacts the identity of us who go through it. The event we all long for and which is suppose to be a happy ending to our temporary liminal state of trying to become pregnant is not easy to handle for the rest of us still ‘stuck’ in our inbetween of trying, waiting and hoping. I know the feeling myself and it’s not surprising.

What is surprising is the extent to which women who have become pregnant after treatment still identify as infertile – namely as ‘pregnant infertiles’. I sense in many blogs I read that when the event of pregnancy does come along as a result of a long process of treatment, it  does not mark the end of suffering, but the beginning of a new phase of it characterized by anxiety over problems that might occur etc. Liminality has in a sense become permanent. It never goes away. As I also wrote in my previous post, infertility cannot be cured – only circumvented. And the reason for that might be the profound impact that the suffering of both infertility and fertility treatment has on our lives and identity.

Recently I read an article published in Qualitative Sociology Review (to read click here) about women’s infertility and identity. The research which the article is based on showed that infertile women are caught in the discrepancy between the potential identity of being a biological mother, that they wish for and sacrifice so much to achieve, and their actual identity of being infertile that they try to do away with. So much is invested in the potential identity, increasing the negative consequences of the actual identity which is one of suffering – similar to that of people suffering from chronic illness and disability. These negative consequences include physical and financial ones, but also isolation from people, ex. friends who have children, and letting go of other identities (career etc.) to become solely focused on the potential one of becoming a biological mother.

There is much in this article I do not agree with and I shall return to that in a later post. But what did give me food for thought was the conclusion that the more we invest, the more we sacrifice, the more invasive treatments we go through, the more we stop doing things we would normally have done etc. in our quest for biological motherhood, the more we risk taking on an identity from our suffering. Or rather an identity of suffering takes over. To varying degrees of course.

That the identity of being infertile has taken over and developed a (highly disfunctional) life of its own is clear in the ‘hate’ comment Jay shared with her fellow infertiles. It talks about belonging and non-belonging, it talks about degrees of suffering indicating differentiation in status amongst member of a community and it talks about an ‘us’ who want’s to exclude ‘them’ – the pregnant ones.

I do not want to go there, or anywhere near it, and I do not think that must of us struggling with infertility get to this point. But I do think that it’s crucially important to try to be aware of how powerful the impact of going through infertility and fertility treatment can be on our lives and whole beings. I want to believe though that I have some choice in the matter of how much I take on an identity from what I am going through. As with everything else I have gone through and will be going through in life. It should not define who I am or be a source of a sense of belonging.

Embracing the liminal space

In my previous post (Tagged with Infertility), I wrote about the feeling of being stuck or trapped in-between the ‘normal’ stages of life. In the last couple of days I have been reflecting some more on the nature of this liminal space or in other words; being in limbo. It’s painful, yes, but what I didn’t realize at first is that it’s also something else. It’s a transformational space – a process of becoming. In fact, there is no pause button in life. Only, I do not know where the becoming is going so to speak.

But I know that the liminal phase will end at some point, one way or another. Either I will become a mother and enter that life stage with the identity and role of parenthood. Or alternatively I will not become pregnant and we will eventually have to stop trying and learn to accept, and live with, childlessness. This experience is changing me forever either way and I realize that I have to embrace that.

Inwardly I’m being transformed. I don’t know exactly how and what it will mean for the next life stage and what that stage will even look like. But I do not want to be a mere passenger or passive observer of this process of becoming. Liminality is a space characterised by uncertainty, ambiguity, disorientation and isolation – as described by the famous Anthropologist Victor Turner. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent which is painful, but it also entails possibilities for new perspectives to emerge. A time to reflect and grow.

Tagged with Infertility

Just as this post carries the infertility tag, so have we, my husband and I, become tagged with infertility. It has become part of who we are; both as individuals and as a couple. The tag indicates that we have some kind of problem (or problems) which has the consequence that we are childless after trying to conceive for many years. In our case the nature of the problem is unknown. Our infertility is thus not (at least to our knowledge) a medical condition or an illness, but a state. Something we are, not something we have. The reproductive interventions we have tried (IUI), and are about to embark on (IVF), does not treat or cure our infertility nor does it solve our unknown problem(s). Fertility ‘treatment’ is rather an attempt at bypassing our infertility and thus hopefully helping us have a baby.

This experience of being infertile has slowly but surely become part of our identity. Acknowledging that fact is difficult and painful, as I was reminded after starting this blog on Saturday. I have only cried a few times throughout the last 5,5 year years of trying for a baby, but yesterday I cried. Really cried. The blog somehow made the reality of the tag more immediate, more concrete, more real. I just wanted to delete it! And forget that I ever even considered writing a blog reflecting on my experience of infertility and fertility treatment. I wanted to scream – ‘this is not me, this is not who I am’.

But it is! That is the reality. At different stages over the last 5,5 years, we have either focused on trying to conceive naturally, been in fertility treatment or tried to escape it all and focus on other things instead. The experience of being infertile however is always with us regardless of the different strategies we have employed to deal with it. And maybe it always will be. Even if/when we do have a child some day. My blog is still here because I have to accept the tag of infertility and try to get to grips with what it means for our life.

One of the aspects that comes to mind is an experience of loss of control combined with the feeling of being betrayed by our own bodies. Our bodies are in a sense denying us the possibility of choice and control. Something so central to most people’s identities in contemporary Western society, including myself and my husband. Not even an explanation are we granted, nor knowledge of problems to which their are solutions. Something which might have had the potential to restore some sense of control. Instead we live in a state of indeterminacy and unpredictability. Unable to affect our own destinies. Or so it feels, because not even advanced reproductive technologies has so far been able to provide any sense of control.

Another aspect of what it means to be infertile is the feeling of being trapped in a liminal life stage ‘betwixt and between’ the normal and recognised life stages. We belong neither with, for instance, the 30-somethings who are mostly single and still partying, nor with those who have children and have become families. We are in a very concrete sense prevented from moving along the culturally and socially excepted life-path. We have been prevented (so far) from becoming parents and becoming a family. An event which marks important changes in social roles, identity and relationships with others. We are getting older every day like everyone else, but we cannot move along in life and in time accordingly. You might say it is like living ‘on pause’ in a state of social non-belonging. Thus being infertile is a kind of non-identity as opposed to the identity of being a parent. A sense of not being a ‘real woman’ or a ‘real man’. And it carries with it a fundamental sense of social exclusion and maybe even a specific kind of meaninglessness. ‘Who’ and ‘what’ are we to become if not parents?