Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Infertility's Waiting Room

We do a lot of waiting when we are infertile or have suffered loss.  Waiting for the right time for a start.  Then waiting every month to see if we're pregnant.  And even that waiting is filled with waiting – waiting for our fertile days, for ovulation, for the days when we can realistically test to see if this month was the one.  Then we wait to be referred to a specialist, wait for appointments, for cycles to begin, to get lab results, to inject, to get more lab results, to collect, to fertilise, to grow, to transfer, to test, to try again.  Then for some there is other waiting - to see beta results rise, to reach viability, to give birth.  Or for approval, a match, a birth mother, a court date.  Frequently, there is waiting for the financial resources we need to support all the other waiting.

Yes, we spend a lot of time in the waiting rooms of infertility.  And in that waiting room, there are a number of doors.  The door we enter through immediately locks behind us, and we can never pass back through it again.  We are changed, and if we are honest, the totality of the life behind that door is lost to us.  Often we leave our innocence and hope and faith and trust in a fair world behind that door. The fact that this door remains closed surprises many.  They think they will be able to go back through it, and get back to “normal” as if they never left.  They especially expect this if they get what they came for.  It is a shock to many to find that it isn't that easy; to find that what brought us to the waiting room stays with us.

So we sit in the waiting room of infertility, and we wait.  Some of us run around and try all the tools available to us in the room, over and over again, and some are more choosy for a myriad reasons.  Some too don’t have the means (financial, medical, social, emotional) to try all the tools. But ultimately, waiting is what we all do there.

And as we wait, we look at the other doors with exit signs.  One of those doors is brightly painted, is festooned with flowers and balloons, and has flashing lights around it.  When that door opens, a glow of light beams through, and we hear cheers and laughter and the popping of corks when we see one of our number walk through it.  We feel the warmth of a large group waiting to welcome us in.  This is the door we want to go through.  This is why we’re in the waiting room.

We don't see past the initial lights and music though.  We don’t want to.  We don’t see that through this door there are still clouds and sadness and hard work and jangling alarms and stress and arguments and guilt and worry.  We don’t want to, because it might make us question everything we are going through, back in the waiting room.  We want to believe.  We want the holy grail.  So we just see and imagine the sunshine and friends and family, all painted in happily ever after.  This means that, when they get through the door, some are surprised that they still carry with them the fears and sensitivities and anxiety (sometimes more) that built up in the waiting room.  That life still has its downs as well as its ups.  Thankfully, though, there are people who write about this, opening the door a crack further for those still in the waiting room, helping them understand.

Back in the waiting room we see another door.  It is more subdued than the first door, but adorned with flowering bushes and lush ferns, and when we see women leave through it, we also hear applause and glasses clinking and the laughter of children.  It is muted, there has been grief and struggle to get to this stage, but still there is happiness and warmth on the other side, and initially it seems a deceptively easy door to walk through.

We don't see the tests we might have to go through once we choose to walk through that door, or all the twists and turns on that path.  From our seat in the waiting room, we only see the portraits of happy families on the walls as they open the door.  We don't see the same joys that are through the first door, but we assume and hope that they will be there.  And we have a barrage of people outside the waiting room urging us to take this door, reminding us that this door is always an option.  They too don't see or understand the twists and turns of this door, or how difficult it can be to go through it, or how difficult it might be on the other side, how complicated it can be, the loss that has occurred for the room to exist at all.  They think it is simply a matter of just doing it - opening the door and going through.  If only that were the case.

Then there is a third door.  Most of the seats in the waiting room face away from this door.  It is hidden in a corner, indiscreet and unattractive, certainly unadorned.  The pot plants around it are dusty and drooping, neglected, in need of some tender loving care.  For some of our time in the waiting room, we might not even notice this door, because we are convinced that we're going through the door surrounded by light.

But then one day we see it (some sooner than others).  And once we've seen it, we can't ignore it ever again.  It looms large in our peripheral vision, and as we spend more and more time in the waiting room, it grows and takes on an ominous hue.  When the door opens for a woman to walk through, often she is weeping.   These are the women who have tried all the options and used all the tools in the waiting room, or they are the ones who couldn’t reach some of those tools, or who collapsed on the floor in exhaustion, unable to get up and try again. We watch them grieve, and go through that door in varying states.  Sometimes they go willingly, accepting that this is their only option, some with a dejected slump, some determinedly thrusting their shoulders back and holding their heads high, with sadness in their eyes.  Sometimes they are pushed through the door, kicking and screaming, trying to cling on to their waiting room seat with its view of the other two doors.  

And when they open this last door, all we can see from the waiting room is darkness.  There are no bells and music and popping of corks going through this door.  When the door opens, a chill air rushes into the waiting room, and those seated there recoil, huddling into themselves, pulling their hope around them in comfort, trying to ignore the fear that has taken root and grows within.  They see darkness through that door, and they believe that all the darkness and despair they feel in the waiting room comes from this door.  It must be avoided at all costs.

What most people don’t see though is that people who stand to walk through any of those doors stand straighter as they leave the waiting room. Because that is where the darkness and despair live and thrive.  Those still in the waiting room don’t see the light behind this door, because the light is hidden by a dark screen, a healing screen that eventually we all manage to walk through. The waiting don’t see the women there shed their burdens, feel lighter and become more alive.  They can only see the darkness.  They are simply unable to imagine there is any light behind that door. They don’t hear the throngs welcoming us in, because there are fewer people behind that door and their welcome is more muted.  Many of them might be busy doing different things, but they are there, and when we encounter them they are welcoming and compassionate and thoughtful.

And once through that door, once through the difficult maze of dark reconciliation, the sun comes out, and hope and inspiration bloom.  Yes, there are difficulties and sadness through this door, as there are through each of the doors.  But there is also sunshine and light, the scent of summer flowers, and - when I went through at least - the sound of champagne glasses being filled on the decks of a ship in the Aegean.

But all this is largely unknown to those who sit in the waiting room of infertility.  They can't see any of this.   And that's why I write.  To offer a view further through that last door, as others* offer different views further through the other doors. To let people in the waiting room know that whichever door you open, there will be happiness and sadness and wonderful surprises. And that hidden door, the one that opens in your worst nightmares?  I hope that here I can paint this door in happy colours and nurture the plants around it to make it less scary.  I want to bring it out of the shadows and bathe it in light.  



* and many more

38 comments:

  1. What a great analogy and a lovely piece of writing. I am so grateful that this community offers community and support from behind all the doors - and, indeed, the waiting room itself.

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  2. Love this! Thank you for capturing the struggle so accurately and beautifully.

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  3. Mali, thank you for being here, continuing to share this perspective. Though I'm still in the waiting room, I always look forward to your posts and find lots of hope and wisdom there.

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  4. I don't very often cry over blog posts any more, but I'm sniffing away my tears now.
    thank you for a beautiful post

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  5. What a beautifully written post. Thank you!

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  6. Beautifully written. As one who is trying to move to the second door (but without much hope really), I appreciate a well-rounded view of all the possibilites.

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  7. In tears from this. Because it is amazingly insightful and spot on. Thank you Mali.

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  8. This is so true: "whichever door you open, there will be happiness and sadness and wonderful surprises."

    I'm more than 10 years through my door, which has alternatively offered intense celebrations and immense frustrations that I could not have foreseen.

    I'm so glad that you and others show what it's like behind your door.

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  9. ENCOOOOREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! That was the first word coming to my mind. This is so mind-blowingly beautiful. You acknowledge each door and each adventures, joys, and struggles behind each door.

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  10. I'm going to contemplate this post and your previous post a bit further. The first thought that came to mind is that a great deal of the anxiety of worrying and wondering associated with the waiting room comes from society's conventional wisdom that parenthood is required for self-actualization -- that parenthood is the key that unlocks the door to some special prized membership in the human race. I often wonder how different my 30s and early 40s would have been if someone had told me during my first fertility workup at 29: "don't rely on your uterus or a child to validate you. You possess great value in your own right. Your presence on this planet and the people you encounter because of your extraordinary biology will carry gifts beyond your imagining."

    In a play on your words, I wish someone had told me not to waste time, money and years of my life trapped in a surreal waiting room, psychologically tortured in the first place. I would tell my younger self: "Don't be seduced into thinking motherhood brings an elevated status. Don't fall prey to the siren song and the misplaced expectation that fertility can be bought or that a child is required to make you whole. Live your life fully as the unique woman you are."

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    1. This is so powerful. I absolutely agree that society needs to reassess the value of a life solely on one's ability to procreate. I've met so many amazing people who are not parenting and also those who are some of the worst examples of humanity who have no difficulty procreating.

      It's time we restructure this thought-process an remind everyone that having children is not a measure of a successful life.

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    2. You're so right. Everyone says that door #1 is the one to go through, with few asking why, or validating the choices (or lack of choice) to go through the other doors. Oddly, for much of my adult life - certainly all my 20s and most of my 30s, I didn't think that I needed to have a child to be fulfilled, to have real value as a human, or to live a good life. But infertility changed all that, and made me question my worth, my womanhood, everything.

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    3. Parenthood also has a temporary aspect to it. Children grow and leave, as they should. You need to be whole in yourself to be a successful parent and allow that to happen.

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  11. I found this to be a beautiful piece of writing. Funnily enough I thought about that dark door right at the beginning when I was contemplating the one surrounded by lights. Until I'd stepped on the treadmill that is the fertility industry, I hadn't thought of it as a dark door at all, it was the one surrounded in lights at the time. Step by step, I'm reaching out for the handle.

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    1. That's a really interesting point, Annette - that the fear of the door is particularly accentuated when we're on the fertility treadmill. I think loss comes into it too - I know a number of women who weren't trying, got pregnant, lost the baby, and suddenly became frantic to have one. By the loss, perhaps, they were thrust into the waiting room, and absorbed the fear there. I'm thinking more on that.

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  12. I love this post... I am still in the waiting room, but it's wonderful to know the dark room isn't as scary as I imagine. I also had a good cry, feels like a release I needed today.

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  13. Such a beautiful post. I used to get this sad feeling when I thought of people without kids - because I had been raised to believe that your life isn't worthy anything unless you have children. It took me a long time to realize that, although a great part of life, it's not the ONLY way to live. I'm no where near where I'd like to be with that realization for my own life, but I'm making peace with the possibilities. I really wish someone had told me that my worth as a human being wasn't tied until how many children I had, then it may have been easier to get through all of this. I love this post!

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  14. It's a great piece.
    I've left the waiting room and I've gone through that scary door (could somebody gloss over the chipped beige paint and water the droopy brown spider plants around it please?). I'm now stumbling about in a long dark corridor, looking for another door (there's blimmin' thousands of them) with the right view and ambience behind it to tempt me in. I'm a bit sick of playing Alice to be honest but I'll keep going. What I have discovered is this - in this wing, from this corridor, there are no forevers. You can open a door, walk in and spend some time in that particular room but if it's not what you were looking for you can walk back into the corridor and try another one. You can try as many doors as you like, until you find the room that suits you just fine.

    I walked back to the waiting room (yes, you can go there any time you want but not recommended) and I studied that beige door and only then did I realise that on the frame above it is a tiny little sign that you can almost miss if you aren't looking through your tears. It says freedom. Tiny, dusty little letters but most definitely there.
    The things is, even if that door from the waiting room was painted in neon pink and had the equivalent of Glastonbury & Woodstock combined going on behind it, we wouldn't choose it anyway. If the word freedom were painted in 6ft high letters on this door we wouldn't believe it or trust it.
    Because we know that there are no biological children past that door and no amount of glitter can polish that turd. The sign and door are deliberately understated because you have to figure out for yourself that there is another way. You can only leave the corridor when you're ready to know this.

    Open doors ladies, slam them shut if you don't like what's on the other side (the WI flower arranging consortium? Piss off!). Find your room and make it your own. I think I'm looking for the 'start a business and never work for a big corporate company full-time ever again' door but.... who knows, I might not like it.
    Freedom. It's our booby prize. Not bad eh?

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    1. Love the tiny sign that says Freedom.

      A small point though - for many of us, we can never return to the waiting room.

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    2. Didn't mean returning to try again, meant return to the grief and depression etc.

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  15. I've shared this link with some other ladies in a forum and here are some of their comments:

    - It's beautiful.

    - Teary-eyed after reading it. A beautifully articulated piece.

    - OK, I'm crying now.

    - Yes, definitely moist-eyed. It's a really wonderful conceit. A big part of me wants to post the link to my facebook page, but I'm just not brave enough. Not brave enough to announce to everyone what we're going through. Which is sad, because I think it would be helpful for other people to understand what infertility is like. 

    - Lovely, made me a bit teary too. Here's to getting out of that bloody waiting room! x

    - Ok, I'm crying too. I just needed this. Just this week, I decided it was time I took a step towards that dusty little door. Anyway, I've got my hand on the door handle, I just can't stay in the waiting room any longer, I don't want too, I'm crying again, it hurts, but if I stay waiting here any longer I'll go mad.

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  16. Had to reblog this, sooo spot on. I wish I had the gift of eloquent words, I find others are alway so much better than me at expressing how I am feeling. http://infertilegirlinafertileworld.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/reblog-infertilitys-waiting-room-from-no-kidding-in-nz/

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  17. This was such an incredible piece. Thank you for this. I was in that waiting room for 7 years! And it was just as you described it. If someone told me when I was 30 that was ahead of me, I would not have believed them. I chose the door to adoption and you were so right about that - way more complicated than I ever imagined, yet it was worth it for us to have our incredible child to love and to hold. Yet I am forever changed by the experience of infertility. And it's a bittersweet change.

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  18. Thanks to everyone who appreciated this post. I didn't expect this reaction, but I'm touched that it resonated with you.

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  19. Beautiful post. Thank you from someone who walked through that door xoxo

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  20. Thank you. Just beautiful. I just let the tears roll.

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  21. Great post. Very well stated analogy. I think waiting is the hardest part--it's the perpetual in limbo state that is so emotionally draining. For me, I am still in the waiting room, but creeping closer to the third door. Sometimes I feel like I catch glimpses of it or hear the voices on the other side. It does seem dark and scary, but it is in reading blogs like yours that lets me know there is life, light and joy in that space, too. It makes the waiting room a little more bearable because I'm not rushing for an outcome just yet. It helps me to be more patient in the moment and to let go of trying to control it. But, I am not as scared or sad if the moment comes if the third door is my fate. Of course, if it does happen, I know there will be a lot to process. But, at least there is hope waiting on the other side of it, if that makes sense.

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  22. well done sista ! and congrats for your beautifull and true blogpost from two german bloggers ......also passed door no 3 and still survived :-) ..... even more......being very happy again after years of waiting......
    xoxo
    Isa

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  23. I first read this post not long after you first published it... I've had to come back a few times to absorb it all and think about some more. I love the analogy, Mali, and I look forward to helping you brighten up the ambiance around door #3 and trying to make it a little less scary for those brave souls who are venturing through after us.

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  24. Great post, expresses so well what it feels like.

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  25. I commented when you first posted this, and I'm back now with Creme. Your vision of the room and the doors -- it's profound, and it resonates for so many. Such a great Creme contribution!

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  26. Does one need to walk through this door and just accept what it is or do they need to change their lives take some chances to find their happiness?

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    1. Happiness does not come in just one form. So if we thought we would find happiness with children, it doesn't mean that our chance of happiness is gone if we're not going to have children. Acceptance of our situation is the first step to finding and pursuing our happiness. But it takes time too.

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  27. This is such a wonderful post – portraying so well the difficulties of infertility, the eternal waiting and the avoidance of the last door. I went through the third door 18 months ago – I had to be pushed, kicking and screaming, tears flowing. I’ve had a backward glance on the door ever since – it’s still not fully closed behind me. I’m in the corridor trying other doors and coming back to the corridor – I am experiencing the light behind some of the other doors but I find it difficult not to look back at the waiting room and think it is still better in there with hope, however minute. I am still waiting – waiting for someone else to close the door of the waiting room. It is only just open – I thank my husband for taking me through the 3rd door – I never wanted it to be my decision to leave the waiting room – I waited for clinics to send me to the 3rd door, I am still waiting for it close behind me because I will soon be too old to return. Now I think I hope for the courage to walk up to the door and shut it firmly on my own – because I want to and I finally see the light around this door and realise the darkness is only still will me because it is slightly ajar – I so badly wanted to walk through the 1st door and part of me is still waiting to – even from outside the 3rd door in the corridor I am looking longingly at the 1st door, still praying. After being in the waiting room for 17 years, I find I am still waiting……. I at least know that when the door on the waiting room finally closes there is definitely joy and peace that awaits me.
    Thank you Mali for this post - Jane P (followed link from LWB)

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