I just finished reading (listening) to the book What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It was recommended to me by a friend who thought it would be an easy summer read (listen) and has a secondary story line about infertility that my friend thought I might find interesting. I gave it a listen and thought the IF story line and the feelings portrayed were pretty accurate. I won't spoil anything for anyone interested in taking a look, but there were a few lines that stood out to me and made me think about how truly life/identity changing the infertility experience can be.
The character, Elizabeth, says, "I've lost my ability to chat, too. I listen to people talk about their interesting full lives-- they're training for marathons, they're learning Japanese, they're taking the kids camping and renovating the bathroom. I had a life like that once too--I was interesting, active and informed. Now my life is three things, work, television, IVF. I no longer have anecdotes. People say, 'what have you been up to Elizabeth?' and I have to stop myself from treating them to a complete medical update... my infertility fills every corner of my mind."
I remember really feeling like that. Like I didn't have a suitable answer to the question, "how are you?" It was as if I wanted to share everything and nothing at the same time. There were moments of wanting to spare others the boring details of failed fertility treatments and moments where I honestly didn't now what my answer was. How was I? In that moment? In life? In general? In the grand scheme of things? As my obsession with having a baby took on life of its own, my areas of interest narrowed to just that-- ways to get/make/find/create/have a baby. Supplements, procedures, dietary changes, magic-- it started to become difficult to related to anyone who didn't have at least some basis of understanding of the quest for parenthood. It was a difficult place to live because prior to IF Island I felt pretty confident I could have a variety of conversations about a variety of different topics and didn't constantly worry about managing my feelings if something triggered me or upset me. It was really hard to live in the world for a lot of the time.
I work with many people on IF Island and I see a common theme of this, but also a very strategic and adaptive coping tool to counter some of these feelings. And that is to live your life. It's not always easy when your life and goals and expectations have taken a massive nose dive, but the people who end up feeling the most themselves or the most solid are those who actively pursue a life outside of infertility. It's a tricky balance at times to be genuine to oneself while living in the fertile world, but there are few specific things I've seen people do that seem helpful. One is contain the fertility talk as much as possible, or rather designate times when fertility stuff is off the table. That might be a date night, a movie, a comedy club, dinner with friends/people who don't have kids and don't want kids. Fertility and the what-ifs permeate everything-- it's so hard to set boundaries because it's your brain that's stuck trying to make sense of your life. But consciously setting those boundaries can be very helpful in giving your mind a break. The second is to try something new. A new hobby, a new kind of exercise-- pottery, yoga, adult coloring-- It feels like there are often a lot of limitations to exercise and life in general when on IF Island. Sometimes it feels like the "I can't" overpowers the "maybe I should try..." and that's what sucks about being handcuffed to your ovaries. But there must be some things, some activities that are doctor approved and worth trying. It's also an opportunity to meet new people who have a common interest which can be refreshing. Another thing I wish I was able to do while in the thick of it was remember and pursue the path I was on before I got derailed. The experience of infertility changes many of us-- in a variety of ways. While I was transforming through different identities and trying to figure out how to be in the world as a woman searching for a baby, I often forgot who I was before that search. Taking some time to get back to my roots, my self, my goals and dreams that were not related to having a baby would probably have helped me a bit. It's easier to say in retrospect though, I know that.
Anyway, check out this book if you're looking for an easy summer read with a solid shout-out to IF Island. And please share what helps you personally get some space and connect to who you are at heart. I'd love to hear. I'm also trying to compile a list of resources-- books, apps, websites, professionals, agencies etc. that can be helpful to others so if you've come across something really helpful please share. Thanks!