I just can’t.
(Necessary disclaimer: the below musings apply to me alone. These are my thoughts on my troubles conceiving and how I define [or have trouble defining] it. I’m somewhat nervous about posting this because I don’t want it to be read as condemnation of the word or couples who don’t blink at it; it’s more an exploration as to why I keep the word at arm’s length personally.)
By definition, I’ve been infertile for eight months given my age. Our RE diagnosed us with unexplained infertility. To my knowledge, I have never conceived.
Yet I absolutely resist applying the word to myself.
Part of it is because I think our troubles come down to age. Aging is a natural process in which functions shut down over time. My husband and I made a conscious decision to wait until we felt ready. We may be paying the price for waiting so long, but we don’t feel conflicted about that wait: we needed it if we were going to be good parents. We weren’t ready for a while and worked hard to get here. We take full responsibility for that choice. If we succeed in having kids, our children will be happier for it.
However, because no one can pinpoint anything “wrong” with us, and because it may come down to the march of time, I hesitate to say we’re infertile. After all, getting older isn’t wrong or a disease, is it? It just is. If my problem was identifiable and could be targeted, I think I might come to terms the diagnosis. But its natural loss is a grey area to me. I’m old. We waited. This is to be expected.
This is also partly why I’m reluctant to engage in truly aggressive therapies. I have an expectation of what my body should be able to do; since no one can tell me that there’s anything wrong except I’m past 35, I feel like we’d be throwing darts blindly at an unknown target. I’m fine with taking supplements that my doctor recommends, and I might be fine with taking some medications for a power up, but getting into the stirrups when there’s seemingly nothing to fix except my own birth date? Still not there yet.
The idea of not conceiving the good old-fashioned way makes me incredibly sad. But knowing we may not push to try more is also comforting. The idea of knowing our limits now, of having an end point, is reassuring. I’m not sure we’ll do anything for a baby and that gives me a sense of peace.
And I think that’s why I resist the idea of calling myself “infertile” the most. For better or for worse, I lack the will to take all steps that might result in a kid. In the hierarchy of relationships, being a parent ranks high, but I’ve always been one to resist that declaration, too. To me, all connections you make, whatever form they take, help define you. No single connection trumps all others. If time says we will be childfree, we have one another and the people we love around us.
The word “infertile,” beyond being a diagnosis, is a loaded identity with a frightening finality for me. As in, accept this word and you must do all that you can to reverse the reality. It can become a defining characteristic and it’s not one I’m willing to assume. If I won’t do all that I can, if I believe that other relationships will carry me through to brighter days, should I center on it and declare it a part of me?
I’m a woman who may not be able to conceive. But these are the words I use to define myself – wife, friend, daughter, sister, writer, runner, beer lover, book lover, non-native DCer, fundraiser, champion of all things pizza. I can’t add “infertile” to that list because it just doesn’t go.
I know this is a jumbled mess of thoughts. And please remember that I’ve always said that everyone’s struggle is different and how you build your family is entirely your business. There is no judgment here of those who have no problem with the word or go into treatment — in truth, I think you’re far braver than I am, far more open. In me, the idea of treatment, of calling myself infertile, of fighting tooth and nail to have a baby, dies. I’m missing an instinct, I think, a type of courage to face that road. While that reads negatively, it feels liberating to say.
So, while it’s true by medical definition, I can’t say I’m infertile.
It just doesn’t feel like a part of me.