Saturday, January 2, 2010

lessons learned

Tonight I can't sleep because I'm thinking about my latest learning experience.  I wasn't planning on sharing it, but then I got the idea that maybe it could be educational.   I'll get to that part later.  But first, the story:

Mid-December I received a call from the bishopric asking me to come in for a meeting.  I was super excited because I didn't have a calling yet and wanted one.  Spencer, of course, drove me to the church when he got home from work.  At the last minute, I said, "Eh, just come in with me.  I haven't seen you all day."  Boy was I glad.  I sat in the office and a member of my bishopric said to me, "Sister Johnston, we would like to extend to you the calling of nursery teacher."  All of the air went out of my lungs upon the word "nursery" so when I started crying, I made a super-weird noise.  As I sat there sobbing hysterically and trying to pull myself together and GET A GRIP, the member of the bishopric said, "Well, don't worry, there will be several others in there to help you.  Sister so and so is in there and so is Sister so and so..."

At that point, Spencer came to the rescue and said, "No...it's not that.  We can't have kids and she wants a baby more than anything in the world...So...being around a bunch of babies every week that she can't have...at least not legally (that didn't get any laughs, btw), might be really tough."

"Well, like I said, there will be others in there to help you and we did consider your health.  So, if you want to try it for a while and then we can readdress it, that is certainly an option."

"Okay..." I said, finally able to talk.  "I'm sorry...I just..like he said, I want a baby more than anything and...wow...I'm not sure I can do this."  Long pause.  "But if it's what Heavenly Father wants me to do, I will do it."  I'd never turned down a calling before.  I firmly believe that callings are from Heavenly Father and we are not just asked to serve our ward, but Him.  I have had many callings I didn't particularly like, but I always knew that I had been called from God.  I've also had several callings that I've loved, and I've known the same thing about those too.

Fast forward to Sunday.  As I'm being sustained, I get sick to my stomach and try not to faint.  Afterward, several people come up and congratulate me, but my mind was in a fog.  I saw my friend out in the hall and told her about my calling, there was some confusion because she thought I'd been called to another position and there was a little ward drama, but I won't get into it because it has nothing to do with the point of this story.  I met with the Bishop before he set me apart and asked him if he was sure that I'd been called to the right calling.  He assured me I was.  So, they set me apart and I went home determined to give it a shot and reevaluate if I needed to.

I called my cousin, April.  She is also infertile and happens to be the Primary president.  I asked her if she thought I could do it. She said she didn't know.  Sundays are hard for us childless people.  Like really, really, really hard.  Like so hard you might find one of us speeding out of the parking lot or hyperventilating in the bathroom.  You're surrounded by everything you desperately want but don't know if you will ever have.  April says to work in Primary is like being thrown into the eye of the storm.  I asked her if it sometimes helped to have certain children become attached to her, because sometimes, that helps me.  She said, "Yes, but it's so bittersweet.  Because at the end of the day, I am just "Sister Rudd."  I am not the one she calls "mom" and I am not the one taking them home.  I'm not taking anyone home. Sometimes it rips me apart inside."  We talked and she agreed with my decision to try it for three months then reconsider if needed.

In the days that followed I could think of nothing else.  Nothing.  I was constantly breaking down and crying and doubting that I could handle it, so I started to consider turning it down.  I prayed and prayed and prayed about it.  A few days later the primary president brought me the manual.  I didn't look at it until she left and when I did I burst into tears.  The title is "Behold your little Ones" and all I could think of was how I'd be beholding someone else's little ones.  I had to hide it out of view so the crying would stop.  I knelt down to pray and asked Heavenly Father if it was okay if I turned down the calling.  I felt immediate relief and calm come over me.  I didn't understand it.  I thought for sure that I would be disappointing Him by turning down the calling.  I did not want to disappoint Him and I told Him I would do it if it was His will, but if it was okay if I didn't, to let me know.  He did.

A few days later I met with my bishop and told him that I shouldn't have accepted the calling in the first place, but I just didn't want to disappoint my Father in Heaven.  I compared the heartache it would cause to a diabetic working in a chocolate factory and that I wasn't strong enough to do it.  He understood and reassured me that I had not disappointed my Heavenly Father.  He also said that there was a reason there was confusion with the calling and that maybe there were some lessons that did need to be learned, but not necessarily by me actually serving in the calling.

I was released on Sunday.  There has been talk.  I don't like it.  But I've been considering a few things.  One, I know I made the right choice because I believe in personal revalation and I know my Heavenly Father spoke to me and told me it was okay and that he was not dissappointed in me.  I am certainly not advocating turning down callings.  Like I said before, I truly believe callings are from God, not man and that 99.9% of the time, you should accept and learn what you need to.  I might have learned something from serving in the nursery, but in the end, I know that I couldn't do it.  My situation is unique and I know Heavenly Father is mindful of that and is okay with me serving him elsewhere.

I've also been considering what my bishop said about lessons being learned. My sister-in-law and I were recently discussing my situation and also my mom's and how it made her feel guilty for not being infertile too, and that she was scared to get pregnant because she didn't know how to act.  Then she said, "Just tell me how to act."  It is never my intention to make her or anyone else feel guilty.  Infertility is such a sensitive issue and I realize it doesn't just affect me, but also my family and friends.  I know my friends and family love and support me, but they just don't know how to act sometimes.  They don't want to hurt me, overwhelm me, or upset me.  I can imagine how difficult that must be.  So, I thought I'd not tell you how to act, but give you a little insight to infertility.  Maybe that was the purpose of me not being strong enough to serve in the nursery and turning the calling down.  So, here it goes...

This is an excerpt from an infertile mother's letter to her baby:
Tonight I am wondering if we should tell our families about you. We have been waiting for you to come for over a year and a half now. We have done lots of tests and tried several procedures. The tests are becoming more invasive, the procedures more expensive. Sometimes I think it would be comforting to have someone to talk to. I have a firm testimony in the power of prayer, especially in the power of prayers united in purpose. I know that your sweet aunts, uncles, and grandparents would be willing to pray for you… and for us while we wait for you. 
     On the other hand, part of me wants to keep the pain to myself. This is such a personal part of our lives. If someone were to take our situation or emotional pain lightly, it would break my heart. What if they judge us? The unfortunate reality is, that infertility is sometimes not looked upon with much compassion. Some infertile couples are told things like, “It could be worse…” or “Just enjoy being childless; you can do all kinds of things that people with kids can’t, like sleep in late, travel…” If I were to hear such words from someone I love, I would be disappointed. I don’t know if my trust could take it. I have always struggled with openly sharing my deepest feelings with others. 
     I have also noticed that for women, in particular, who struggle with infertility, they are often defined by infertility. For example, if a woman who struggles with infertility is upset or depressed about something, no matter the issue, her feelings will often be attributed to her inability to have children. It seems infertile women are never allowed to simply have a bad day. I don’t want to be labeled in this way. 
     I have also seen such women be accused of being too sensitive. How terrible to hear such accusations when every minute of every day that poor woman is surrounded by others who live the lives she would love to lead, and have the children she would love to have. It is difficult to be surrounded by reminders of what you cannot have. Why do we expect those who struggle with infertility to be unaffected by the lives of those around them? 
     Trusting others with my heartache would certainly be an act of faith. Yet, I don’t believe that Heavenly Father wants us to go through life alone. We are all here together on earth to support one another! I would give anything to help someone in my situation. I pray daily for opportunities to bless the lives of those around me. Perhaps I should humble myself enough to let my family in. It is a hard thing to do, but for you, I think I can do it. I would do anything for you, sweetheart. I love you.
Love,
Mom

A lot of people probably think women struggling with infertility are just drama queens.  Always crying, always on the brink of a breakdown, always wanting special treatment and consideration...always, always, always.  While the latter might be true, infertility is by far one of the greatest pains a woman can ever face.  There are many tales of infertility in the scriptures.  It is a tragedy as old as time.  As women, we are genetically programmed and MADE to desire, conceive and bear children.  It is not only what our bodies are built for, including our emotional makeup, but what we have been training for our ENTIRE lives.  How old were you when you had your first baby doll?  You were likely a baby yourself.  This is not a bad thing.  The purpose of this life (not the only one, but a large one) is to multiply and replenish the earth.  But what if your body won't let you?  I have been lucky enough to know that my body won't let me without having to go through the horrific trials of failed pregnancies and miscarriages, the cost and physical and emotional pain of IVF, and the sudden knowledge that I cannot bear children.  My journey has been much more gradual and it still rips me apart sometimes.  We are not drama queens.  Women struggling with infertility are just that...struggling.  It. is. hard.  So, offer them a little slack when they break down, offer them a little special treatment and extra consideration.  How do you do that?  Follow these tips from Resolve.org:

Infertility Etiquette

Chances are, you know someone who is struggling with infertility. More than seven million people of childbearing age in the United States experience infertility. Yet, as a society, we are woefully uninformed about how to best provide emotional support for our loved ones during this painful time.
Infertility is, indeed, a very painful struggle. The pain is similar to the grief over losing a loved one, but it is unique because it is a recurring grief. When a loved one dies, he isn't coming back. There is no hope that he will come back from the dead. You must work through the stages of grief, accept that you will never see this person again, and move on with your life.

The grief of infertility is not so cut and dry. Infertile people grieve the loss of the baby that they may never know. They grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy's nose and daddy's eyes. But, each month, there is the hope that maybe that baby will be conceived after all. No matter how hard they try to prepare themselves for bad news, they still hope that this month will be different. Then, the bad news comes again, and the grief washes over the infertile couple anew. This process happens month after month, year after year. It is like having a deep cut that keeps getting opened right when it starts to heal.

As the couple moves into infertility treatments, the pain increases while the bank account depletes. The tests are invasive and embarrassing to both parties, and you feel like the doctor has taken over your bedroom. And for all of this discomfort, you pay a lot of money.
A couple will eventually resolve the infertility problem in one of three ways:
  • They will eventually conceive a baby.
  • They will stop the infertility treatments and choose to live without children.
  • They will find an alternative way to parent, such as by adopting a child or becoming a foster parent.
Reaching a resolution can take years, so your infertile loved ones need your emotional support during this journey. Most people don't know what to say, so they wind up saying the wrong thing, which only makes the journey so much harder for their loved ones. Knowing what not to say is half of the battle to providing support.

Don't Tell Them to Relax
Everyone knows someone who had trouble conceiving but then finally became pregnant once she "relaxed." Couples who are able to conceive after a few months of "relaxing" are not infertile. By definition, a couple is not diagnosed as "infertile" until they have tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant for a full year. In fact, most infertility specialists will not treat a couple for infertility until they have tried to become pregnant for a year. This year weeds out the people who aren't infertile but just need to "relax." Those that remain are truly infertile.

Comments such as "just relax" or "try going on a cruise" create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.
These comments can also reach the point of absurdity. As a couple, my husband and I underwent two surgeries, numerous inseminations, hormone treatments, and four years of poking and prodding by doctors. Yet, people still continued to say things like, "If you just relaxed on a cruise . . ." Infertility is a diagnosable medical problem that must be treated by a doctor, and even with treatment, many couples will NEVER successfully conceive a child. Relaxation itself does not cure medical infertility.

Don't Minimize the Problem
Failure to conceive a baby is a very painful journey. Infertile couples are surrounded by families with children. These couples watch their friends give birth to two or three children, and they watch those children grow while the couple goes home to the silence of an empty house. These couples see all of the joy that a child brings into someone's life, and they feel the emptiness of not being able to experience the same joy.

Comments like, "Just enjoy being able to sleep late . . . .travel . . etc.," do not offer comfort. Instead, these comments make infertile people feel like you are minimizing their pain. You wouldn't tell somebody whose parent just died to be thankful that he no longer has to buy Father's Day or Mother's Day cards. Losing that one obligation doesn't even begin to compensate for the incredible loss of losing a parent. In the same vein, being able to sleep late or travel does not provide comfort to somebody who desperately wants a child.

Don't Say There Are Worse Things That Could Happen
Along the same lines, don't tell your friend that there are worse things that she could be going through. Who is the final authority on what is the "worst" thing that could happen to someone? Is it going through a divorce? Watching a loved one die? Getting raped? Losing a job?

Different people react to different life experiences in different ways. To someone who has trained his whole life for the Olympics, the "worst" thing might be experiencing an injury the week before the event. To someone who has walked away from her career to become a stay-at-home wife for 40 years, watching her husband leave her for a younger woman might be the "worst" thing. And, to a woman whose sole goal in life has been to love and nurture a child, infertility may indeed be the "worst" thing that could happen.

People wouldn't dream of telling someone whose parent just died, "It could be worse: both of your parents could be dead." Such a comment would be considered cruel rather than comforting. In the same vein, don't tell your friend that she could be going through worse things than infertility.

Don't Say They Aren't Meant to Be Parents
One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, "Maybe God doesn't intend for you to be a mother." How incredibly insensitive to imply that I would be such a bad mother that God felt the need to divinely sterilize me. If God were in the business of divinely sterilizing women, don't you think he would prevent the pregnancies that end in abortions? Or wouldn't he sterilize the women who wind up neglecting and abusing their children? Even if you aren't religious, the "maybe it's not meant to be" comments are not comforting. Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature.

Don't Ask Why They Aren't Trying IVF
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a method in which the woman harvests multiple eggs, which are then combined with the man's sperm in a petri dish. This is the method that can produce multiple births. People frequently ask, "Why don't you just try IVF?" in the same casual tone they would use to ask, "Why don't you try shopping at another store?"

Don't Be Crude
It is appalling that I even have to include this paragraph, but some of you need to hear this-Don't make crude jokes about your friend's vulnerable position. Crude comments like "I'll donate the sperm" or "Make sure the doctor uses your sperm for the insemination" are not funny, and they only irritate your friends.

Don't Complain About Your Pregnancy
This message is for pregnant women-Just being around you is painful for your infertile friends. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what your infertile friend cannot have. Unless an infertile women plans to spend her life in a cave, she has to find a way to interact with pregnant women. However, there are things you can do as her friend to make it easier.

The number one rule is DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR PREGNANCY. I understand from my friends that, when you are pregnant, your hormones are going crazy and you experience a lot of discomfort, such as queasiness, stretch marks, and fatigue. You have every right to vent about the discomforts to any one else in your life, but don't put your infertile friend in the position of comforting you.  This includes Facebook.  This. includes. Facebook.

Your infertile friend would give anything to experience the discomforts you are enduring because those discomforts come from a baby growing inside of you. When I heard a pregnant woman complain about morning sickness, I would think, "I'd gladly throw up for nine straight months if it meant I could have a baby." When a pregnant woman would complain about her weight gain, I would think, "I would cut off my arm if I could be in your shoes."

I managed to go to baby showers and hospitals to welcome my friends' new babies, but it was hard. Without exception, it was hard. Stay sensitive to your infertile friend's emotions, and give her the leeway that she needs to be happy for you while she cries for herself. If she can't bring herself to hold your new baby, give her time. She isn't rejecting you or your new baby; she is just trying to work her way through her pain to show sincere joy for you. The fact that she is willing to endure such pain in order to celebrate your new baby with you speaks volumes about how much your friendship means to her.

Don't Treat Them Like They Are Ignorant
For some reason, some people seem to think that infertility causes a person to become unrealistic about the responsibilities of parenthood. I don't follow the logic, but several people told me that I wouldn't ache for a baby so much if I appreciated how much responsibility was involved in parenting.

Let's face it-no one can fully appreciate the responsibilities involved in parenting until they are, themselves, parents. That is true whether you successfully conceived after one month or after 10 years. The length of time you spend waiting for that baby does not factor in to your appreciation of responsibility. If anything, people who have been trying to become pregnant longer have had more time to think about those responsibilities. They have also probably been around lots of babies as their friends started their families.

Perhaps part of what fuels this perception is that infertile couples have a longer time to "dream" about what being a parent will be like. Like every other couple, we have our fantasies-my child will sleep through the night, would never have a tantrum in public, and will always eat his vegetables. Let us have our fantasies. Those fantasies are some of the few parent-to-be perks that we have-let us have them. You can give us your knowing looks when we discover the truth later.

Don't Gossip About Your Friend's Condition
Infertility treatments are very private and embarrassing, which is why many couples choose to undergo these treatments in secret. Men especially are very sensitive to letting people know about infertility testing, such as sperm counts. Gossiping about infertility is not usually done in a malicious manner. The gossipers are usually well-meaning people who are only trying to find out more about infertility so they can help their loved ones.

Regardless of why you are sharing this information with someone else, it hurts and embarrasses your friend to find out that Madge the bank teller knows what your husband's sperm count is and when your next period is expected. Infertility is something that should be kept as private as your friend wants to keep it. Respect your friend's privacy, and don't share any information that your friend hasn't authorized.

Don't Push Adoption (Yet)
Adoption is a wonderful way for infertile people to become parents. (As an adoptive parent, I can fully vouch for this!!) However, the couple needs to work through many issues before they will be ready to make an adoption decision. Before they can make the decision to love a "stranger's baby," they must first grieve the loss of that baby with Daddy's eyes and Mommy's nose. Adoption social workers recognize the importance of the grieving process. When my husband and I went for our initial adoption interview, we expected the first question to be, "Why do you want to adopt a baby?" Instead, the question was, "Have you grieved the loss of your biological child yet?" Our social worker emphasized how important it is to shut one door before you open another.

You do, indeed, need to grieve this loss before you are ready to start the adoption process. The adoption process is very long and expensive, and it is not an easy road. So, the couple needs to be very sure that they can let go of the hope of a biological child and that they can love an adopted baby. This takes time, and some couples are never able to reach this point. If your friend cannot love a baby that isn't her "own," then adoption isn't the right decision for her, and it is certainly not what is best for the baby.

Mentioning adoption in passing can be a comfort to some couples. (The only words that ever offered me comfort were from my sister, who said, "Whether through pregnancy or adoption, you will be a mother one day.") However, "pushing" the issue can frustrate your friend. So, mention the idea in passing if it seems appropriate, and then drop it. When your friend is ready to talk about adoption, she will raise the issue herself.

So, what can you say to your infertile friends? Unless you say "I am giving you this baby," there is nothing you can say that will erase their pain. So, take that pressure off of yourself. It isn't your job to erase their pain, but there is a lot you can do to lesson the load. Here are a few ideas.

Let Them Know That You Care
The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards. Let them cry on your shoulder. If they are religious, let them know you are praying for them. Offer the same support you would offer a friend who has lost a loved one. Just knowing they can count on you to be there for them lightens the load and lets them know that they aren't going through this alone.

Remember Them on Mother's Day
With all of the activity on Mother's Day, people tend to forget about women who cannot become mothers. Mother's Day is an incredibly painful time for infertile women. You cannot get away from it-There are ads on the TV, posters at the stores, church sermons devoted to celebrating motherhood, and all of the plans for celebrating with your own mother and mother-in-law.
Mother's Day is an important celebration and one that I relish now that I am a mother. However, it was very painful while I was waiting for my baby. Remember your infertile friends on Mother's Day, and send them a card to let them know you are thinking of them. They will appreciate knowing that you haven't "forgotten" them.

Support Their Decision to Stop Treatments
No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonizing decision to make, and it involves even more grief. Even if the couple chooses to adopt a baby, they must still first grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy's nose and daddy's eyes.
Once the couple has made the decision to stop treatments, support their decision. Don't encourage them to try again, and don't discourage them from adopting, if that is their choice. Once the couple has reached resolution (whether to live without children, adopt a child, or become foster parents), they can finally put that chapter of their lives behind them. Don't try to open that chapter again.

And finally, support them in all of their decisions.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  Even if you would do something differently, try to understand where they are coming from.  Be happy for them when they have good news.  Maybe they have a good feeling about an IVF cycle.  Rejoice with them about it.  Even if it doesn't work, you can let them lean on your shoulder later.  Be excited for them if they decide they are ready for adoption.  Try to find ways to be excited and involved, just as you are about a normal pregnancy.  Journey with them.

And if you can't read this entirely too-long post, at least watch this video:

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