Saturday, February 15, 2014

Shades of fertility grey

I was flipping through this morning's newspapers & organizing the sections in the order I like to read them in (please tell me I'm not the only person who does this??), when a headline on the front page of the Insight section of the Toronto Star caught my eye:  "The hardest border I've ever tried to cross."

As someone who was born on the Canada-U.S. border -- which has become increasingly difficult to cross over the past decade -- border issues have always interested me, so I took a closer look. Imagine my reaction when I saw the subhead:  "A globetrotting correspondent comes to terms with maternal yearnings that may have arrived too late."  (For most of the morning, it was the featured lead story on the Star's website.)

Michelle Shephard is the national security reporter for the Star, a job that has taken her to places like Rwanda & Guantanamo. The woman obviously has guts. And it took guts to write such a personal article and put herself out there under her own byline, to admit her ambivalence about motherhood and yet her disappointment when it became increasingly apparent that motherhood might not be in the cards. She tells her story matter-of-factly but still conveys a good picture of what it's like to go through infertility, the obstacles, he humiliation, the decisions that must be made.

There was so much here I could relate to:
I don’t feel comfortable talking about this. Here’s the problem, though: no one does, and with silence comes shame. 
The struggle women face balancing careers and motherhood is often discussed — which is wonderful. But talking about the struggle to become a mother remains largely taboo. I understand why...  
It’s just difficult to explain why you dread going to a doctor’s appointment Thursday to decide if you’ll spend thousands of dollars and turn your body into a medical experiment just to, quite likely, deal with the disappointment again when the test comes back negative.

And here: 
By 2006, when I was 33, I was thinking about Mogadishu and Peshawar, not babies. People would often say, “Ah, I was selfish at your age too,” which I would reply to with a tight smile, making me more determined not to apply for membership in the parenthood club.

Oh boy, can I relate.

I will admit that I too was ambivalent about having children, to some degree. I have questioned, at times, whether I really did want children, want them badly enough.

And I believe that I did. Children were always part of the plan. But the timing was always a question. Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I struggled, I questioned -- was I truly ready -- financially, mentally -- to handle such an immense responsibility? (I've often said that too many parents leap into parenthood without giving the matter too much thought;  perhaps our problem was that we thought about it too much.)  We had very little money those first few years;  I was just starting a good job after years (and thousands of my parents' dollars) spent at school.  I was far away from my family and knew I wouldn't have a lot of help when the time came to have a baby. I was newly married to a man I had spent three years in a long-distance relationship with;  I wanted to spend some time with him first before sharing our life with a baby.

And perhaps, in the back of my mind, there was doubt. Not that I really wanted children, but that I was up to the task.

And -- getting back to Shephard's words above -- I will admit to having a bit of a stubborn/contrarian streak. I gave a few tight smiles myself after similar comments & nudges from friends & relatives wanting to know if I had any "news."  No frickin' way was I going to run out & get knocked up just because people were bugging me to, expecting me to. It was none of their damned business.

I struggled with the resentment I felt -- that I still feel, when I think about it. Why couldn't they show the same interest or excitement over some other aspect of my life? Why did I get the feeling that their primary interest in me was baby-related?

And so we waited.

Perhaps we waited too long. Perhaps the other issues uncovered during testing & treatment  would have prevented us from having a child anyway. We'll never know.

Shephard's closing paragraphs also resonated with me:
The numbers are cruel but not surprising: You’re 41. You’ve done two IUI’s. IVF with all the drugs will cost about $15,000. There is a three to 10 per cent chance of success.     So the decision is basically can you handle the disappointment when there is a 90 per cent chance the procedure won’t work. More important, can you live without the 10 per cent chance it could...   
Life has taught me there is really no black and white, and I’ve always loved exploring the shades of grey. I can live without the three to 10 per cent gamble. There is relief in moving on.

I've always been a "shades of grey" person too (& I'm not talking E.L. James, lol). And I'm not much of a gambler either, especially with those sorts of odds. We did three IUIs before deciding against IVF.  And yes, there is a certain relief in moving on. Eventually.

Thank you, Michelle Shephard, for telling your story -- because it's a story shared by so many women in their 40s and 50s right now. It is a hard thing to break the silence, especially in such a public way, but you have done it well.  Whether you eventually do adopt (as you hinted in the story) or continue to live without children, I wish you well.

The comments are about what you might expect -- caveat emptor.


  1. dear Loribeth,
    thank you for sharing the link and your thoughts.

  2. I skipped the comments on that article. I normally don't read the Star, but I saw a link to the article on Twitter this morning and read it. Always grateful when people use their platform to educate. Both YOU and Michelle.

  3. I loved this article - and particularly appreciated your thoughts on it too.

    "I have questioned, at times, whether I really did want children, want them badly enough." I know I certainly felt this way - and I think when we do decide to move on to a life without children, and find that we can be happy, it is natural. But I rarely do this now.

    And I can also totally relate to the contrarian streak. I married very young, and even at my wedding, as a new university graduate, aunts and uncles started making hints. To keep them quiet, I said "no babies for 10 years" which seemed so outrageous at the time that it shocked everyone into silence!

    And that lingering sense of resentment. Thank you for putting words to these thoughts.

    Finally, I actually found the comments (in general) to be remarkably supportive (in comparison with Huff Post comments etc). But still as you say, caveat emptor.

  4. @Mali: Overall, the comments did turn out to be pleasantly supportive, didn't they? Earlier on, though, when I wrote the post, there weren't as many comments posted yet and so I think the more negatives ones stood out more.

  5. That was an excellent article, very well written. It certainly made me think back to when I told DH I wanted to have a baby and then ... I ended up running to the pharmacy looking for the morning after pill. After spending so long trying not to get pregnant I was stricken with panic at the very thought of it at first.