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05/06/2003

Infertility for dummies

I was thinking today about what H. said to me about pain, and it occurred to me that I've learned a lot so far. Courtesy of my inner Pollyanna, here's a partial list — I think each phase teaches me something, though I'm not sure it's worth it.

1. Take as many drugs as you can legally acquire.

Pharmaceuticals are your colorful gelcapped friends. There is simply no reason to be undermedicated if you're going through painful procedures or pregnancy loss. If they offer you Tylenol 3, fill the prescription and take it, frequently. If they offer you something stronger, thank your lucky stars and take it, frequently. If they offer you horse tranquilizers, feel free to take them, frequently. Believe me: you will be glad for any help you can get.

If, on the other hand, they offer you nothing, grab your doctor by the lapels of his immaculate white lab coat and ask. In fact, insist. You might end up not needing pain medication, and you don't have to take it, but you should have it readily available just in case. If worse comes to worst, you can slip it to your nosy sister-in-law should she ask too many questions.

2. People who love you will say stupid, stupid shit.

No matter how dear they are, how sympathetic, how supportive, the people you love are going to say something sooner or later that's so breathtakingly stupid it'll make you want to scream. They love you and they want to make you feel better — and they honestly won't be able to help pissing you off.

They need to say something, because they truly hope to comfort you in a difficult time. But because they may not have dealt with infertility or loss themselves, they don't know what not to say. Either way, consider cutting them some slack. They do love you, stupid shit aside.

You have a couple of choices as to how you handle this: you can suck it up, or you can educate them. I personally chose to respond with a sickly smile, as I could see they truly did mean well, and crammed all my rage into a tiny ball, way down deep inside. (This approach may not work for those of you who are, you know, sane.)

3. There is not a limited amount of fertility in the world.

I can personally guarantee that while you're going through treatments, there will be at least one of your friends who gets pregnant with no trouble at all. In my case, it's three so far. Most days, I'm tempted to feel bitter (no shock, since we have already established that I am a petty, stunted person who should be shunted off immediately to work among the lepers for a much-needed lesson in generosity). Other days, the tiny rind of magnanimity in my soul surfaces and I think, Good for them. They're as happy as I'd be.

On these rare occasions, I'm able to remember that one person's pregnancy doesn't count against some great cosmic total: their extravagant fertility doesn't reduce mine. If nothing else, an acute appreciation of schadenfreude gets me over the hump: I may wish I had their ovaries, but I certainly don't envy the rest of their lives.

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