Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm just going to say it...

I've always been considered a bit of an over sharer. I have no problem telling people how I feel, what I fear, what I'm anxious about. This is why I've always loved but found therapy to be somewhat unnecessary. I often wonder why I'm paying someone a hundred dollars an hour just so I can tell him what I already told my husband, mother, sister, best friend, and hygienist earlier that day. I never pretend to have it all figured out, especially when it comes to motherhood.

When I suffered from post-partum depression after the birth of my very unhappy baby three years ago, I didn't hide my anxiety or sadness. When strangers in the grocery store asked me if she was a good baby, I looked them in the eyes and said, "No." When people asked me how it was going, I would say, "I'm having a really hard time." People were a bit shocked by this. Some were even a bit put off, but mostly, people told me how "brave" I was for being so honest. This reaction puzzled me. There was no part of me that was trying to be brave. Bravery implies trying to overcome something fearful, but I wasn't afraid to share my feelings. It wasn't hard to cry in front of people and tell them I felt like I was losing it. Honestly, I couldn't have faked it if I'd wanted to, but, really, I didn't want to and couldn't understand why anyone would. Why would I try and tough this out on my own when there were so many people willing to help me if I just asked them to?

The most interesting revelation I had during those first six months of my daughter's life was how many other people had experienced similar feelings, and how many of them had kept it a secret. Both acquaintances and close friends would tell me, "Oh God! I felt the same way," "I was miserable,"  "I thought I'd made a huge mistake," "I was so depressed." It wasn't their reactions that shocked me but how for years these same women had pretended to be enraptured by motherly bliss, to have it all together, to be perfectly comfortable as mothers, to the point that they had me completely convinced. 

And as I spoke to them, I started to get angry. I started to realize that if I hadn't shared my feelings first, they never would have shared theirs, and I would have kept walking around thinking I was the only one who felt this way, that I was a terrible mother for being depressed, and that everyone else around me was perfectly happy. I started to realize that there were a lot of women suffering in silence and that, to some extent, society wanted to keep it that way.

I noticed this before my daughter was even born. As a chronic over sharer, I was not able to keep my pregnancy a secret during the requisite three month period. Many people were appalled that I was sharing the news so early, and several people cautioned me by saying, "Well, what if it doesn't work out?" I understood, of course, that Tweeting at the moment of conception wasn't a good idea, but these were friends of mine, people I saw regularly. My response was always, "Yes, if I have a miscarriage I'm going to be really upset. Am I supposed to hide that from you, too?" I realized that there were unique burdens that, for some reason, women were supposed to suffer behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, three years after the birth of my daughter, I'm learning this lesson all over again. I discovered recently that there is another word besides "depression" that women aren't supposed to speak of: "infertility." For exactly a year now, my husband and I have been trying to have another child. Recently, we underwent fertility testing and began a cycle of treatment. This has been an emotionally challenging year. Last summer, two of my girlfriends and I decided to get pregnant. They both did; I didn't. To spend the year watching their bellies grow bigger, and to watch the onslaught of Facebook and celebrity baby booms was difficult to say the least. Before we started trying, I had to wean myself off of the Zoloft I'd been on since my daughter's birth, so I was especially anxious and inching towards depressed throughout the year. I've had more ultrasounds and blood tests in the past six months than in the rest of my life combined, and the monthly roller coaster of hope and disappointment has distracted me from my work and my life. I'm telling you people right now that I'm having a really hard time, and just as with my post-partum depression, I refuse to pretend like everything is fine. 

So, when people ask me when we're going to have another baby, I tell them we've been trying for a year. And once again, every time I bring it up, I find out how many women have also dealt with infertility. I talk to women who tried for years to get pregnant but never said a word to their family members or closest friends. At night, when I indulge myself in the guilty pleasure of reading posts on infertility message boards, I listen to these women pouring their hearts out to strangers, discussing how long they've been TTC, and how many DPO they are, and that they just did the BD with their husbands. (That last one took me a minute- "baby dance" if you're still trying to figure it out). These women have no problem describing their cervical mucus to complete strangers, but keep telling their best friends and mothers that they aren't ready to start a family yet. And all I keep wondering is, why?

I know that I am being somewhat unfair to the women who choose to suffer in silence. Everyone who is dealing with something difficult deserves to do so as she sees fit. I don't expect most people to shout their private business from the rooftops as I am doing here, but to bear this burden alone when there are people in our lives who can ease our feelings of disappointment, pain, and fear just doesn't make sense to me. In my mind, keeping such a huge secret implies that one feels guilty, or embarrassed, or ashamed- three emotions no one who has dealt with infertility should ever feel.

That's why I choose to talk about it. When my two girlfriends got pregnant last summer, I felt incredible joy for them and incredible sadness for myself, and I told them that there were days when it was really hard to be around them. When a huge box of fertility medications, needles, and syringes arrived on my doorstep and I nearly had a panic attack wondering what I'd gotten myself into, I called my girlfriend who recently went through IVF, and she offered to come over and show me how to use everything. Every month when I found out I wasn't pregnant, I had at least five girlfriends I could text and get encouraging messages from. When I needed someone to watch my daughter while my husband and I did our first insemination, I had three people offer to help.

And last night, when I discovered that our first IUI procedure didn't work, I cried to my husband, texted one girlfriend who always knows the right thing to say, and made lunch plans with another friend who can always make me laugh no matter how terrible I feel.

I am so lucky to have such amazing women in my life who are happy to lift me up when I need a hand, and I think I owe it to them to be honest, to create connections of shared experience rather than barriers of secrets.

Recently, I got an email from a friend of a friend. This is a woman I know only casually, and she explained how she's been trying to get pregnant for a year and didn't know if she should try fertility treatments or just keep trying naturally. My girlfriend had given her my email address because she knew I'd be happy to talk to her friend. The woman wrote, "I totally understand if you don't want to talk about it." I sat at home reading this email, and I was so glad she'd decided to email me. I was so glad that it was me she had reached out to because I knew I was the right person for the job. I told her, "What do you want to know? You can ask me anything." I realized then that being honest about our difficult experiences not only helps us to feel less alone, but it shrinks the space between ourselves and others. So, to some extent, I feel not only a desire to speak up, but an obligation to.

You may think I'm completely out of line for insisting that you share your pain with others, and maybe I am, but I'm also so glad to be an over sharer because it means I don't ever have to suffer alone, and if it makes you uncomfortable, well, tough, because it makes me feel a whole lot better.

I'm off to share a big plate of sushi with a really great friend. I feel better already. 

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