Friday, September 17, 2004

the same but different

Late last night a friend of mine here in Mexico called. She said she just wanted to check on me. We were supposed to get together earlier in the day, but I had canceled. I'm at the tail-end of my cold and want to totally beat this thing before I have to go back to work on Monday. That, and I didn't think it would be all that considerate to expose her baby to my germs. So when we spoke yesterday morning, I told her that I'd give her a call on Saturday if I was feeling better and wanted to do something.

When she called last night and asked me how I was doing, I assumed she meant physically. So I told her that my cold had moved out of my head and down into my chest, but overall I was feeling a million times better than I had been earlier in the week. She asked if my husband had called from DC and I told her that he had, but that he hadn't had his appointment yet and so I didn't have any news on that front.

"You sound like you're keeping in good spirits," she said and again I assumed she meant because I had spent the entire day inside the house, save for a quick trip to the video store to stock up on brat pack films.

"Well," I answered. I've rested a lot today and am feeling better." Not to mention I had just watched "Pretty in Pink" one of my all-time favorite movies from the 80's.

But that's not what she meant.

"You know, when we had this problem last year, whenever my husband was away, I cried and cried. But you sound like you're doing okay. But please call me if you need to talk tomorrow after you find out how the appointment went."

And I realized that she wasn't calling to check up on my physical health, but my mental health. And while it was a well-intentioned gesture, it rubbed me the wrong way. Not the gesture itself, but the idea that she put our fertility problems into the same category.

I realize that I'm probably not being completely fair. She and her husband tried for a year to get pregnant with no results. And then they went in for tests. She was fine, but her husband had a low sperm count. Not zero, mind you, but low. And the doctor told him to drink lots of water and take some hormone shots once a week. And he did. And a month later, she was pregnant. Their baby was born in April.

The part that kills me about their story (not that I'm not happy for them- their little girl is absolutely precious) is the part where they conceived a month after their diagnosis. Maybe I'm mistaken (though with all of my recent reading on the male reproductive system, I don't think so), but my understanding is that the sperm that a man ejaculates today was made 72 days ago. So, yes, her husband had a couple of shots and yes, he drank all that water, but the truth of the matter is the sperm that got her pregnant was not likely affected by the new hormones raging through his system.

They had one or two doctors visits, got treatment and got pregnant. But as we all know, its usually not that easy. Not even close.

And so when she suggested that as soon as my husband returns from the States, we should all get together because they know exactly what we're going through and can give us some support and advice, I wanted to say "Hold on a minute there, girlfriend. You went through something, but not what we're going through."

I'm not trying to say that it wasn't hard for them. Or frustrating. Or meaningful. Or eye-opening. I'm not trying to suggest that they didn't struggle. This friend and I used to work together and I remember how each month that they were trying to conceive, she would think (like so many of us) that THIS was it. This was the month. And she'd list her symptoms hopefully. And when her period arrived, she was always shocked, dejected, sad.

So, I know how much she wanted a baby. And I know how hard it was for her to see our co-workers and colleagues pregnant. I know that she was scared. That she and her husband discussed adoption and donor sperm and had come to terms with the fact that adding to their family might not happen in the way that they had imagined.

And yet. And yet, I still can't help but feel that it was easier for them. Because, well, it was. Maybe harder for them than for other people. But easier for them than for me. And since I'm in a self-centered place right now, that's all I care about. The fact that she sees my situation as the same as hers. Or at least similar.

There are similarities of course. I'm struggling with a male factor just as she was. But they didn't have a million consultations with various specialists before pinpointing the problem and figuring out a way to solve it. Her husband didn't have to have surgery on the most sensitive part of his body. They weren't told that there was only a 5-20% of finding any sperm at all. They didn't have to worry about whether their doctor was proceeding in the most potentially successful way possible. They didn't have to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to conceive. They got to do it the old-fsahioned way. To me, right now, that seems lucky. And do I dare say it: easy.

I don't begrudge my friend her success at achieving motherhood so quickly. Just as I wouldn't want anyone to begrudge me if I became pregnant without the help of a team of specialists. But I do want her to acknowledge that its different, what we're going through. And that even the way we deal with it is different.

She cried to me on the phone when she first learned of her husband's sperm count last summer. I told her casually about mine one day on the phone when she asked if I was pregnant yet. I cry about our infertility sometimes (though not recently) but usually when I'm alone. It's just not my style to cry in front of people. It never has been. And I think that throws her for a loop. That maybe if I'm not crying all the time, if I can talk about it without my voice cracking, its not as bad as it sounds. I don't know.

I'm glad she's offering to be there for me. I just wish I knew how to make her see that I can use her support even if we didn't experience the same things. That just being a friend is enough. We don't have to have the same story in order to comfort each other.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think this is a tough one. I have a friend who likes to commiserate with me because she's "been there"--except her standards for having been there are so radically different from my own that it's hard to give credence to her own experiences, which sometimes makes me like a competitor in the pain olympics. And who likes that?

~Brooklyn Girl

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a difficult thing to think "She just doesn't get it" when this is based on the fact she hasn't had the exact same experience as you. In dealing with my chronic illness I tend to draw the same lines, but it being a rare illness has forced me to accept the understanding of friends whose illness experiences have been radically different from my own without judging my friends as less for not REALLY getting it. She may not get it but she doesn't have to have a mirror experience to provide you with some empathy & sympathy, and for you to accept it. I've been on both ends of the stick, and both suck. No one understands me, but I'm not allowed to try & understand them becasue we are not identically experienced. I know the internet has opened us up to communities of people who have more exactly our same experiences and perhaps it has spoiled a lot of us. I sympathize with your experiences and enjoy your blog but I am not ever planning on having children nor do I have any interest. Nonetheless, I empathize with you & wish you the best of luck. Does my not being in the same boat make that any less valuable to you?

1:10 PM  
Blogger la gringa said...

I didn't mean to imply (and I don't think I did) that my friend doesn't get it. She's had her own struggles with getting pregnant (as I mentioned) and she knows how hard it is to go through something like this. I just want her to understand that she and I don't have to have the same experience in order to draw comfort and support from each other. Most of my friends either have children (and got pregnant relatively easily) or aren't even thinking about having children and they all have been wonderfully supportive.
What bothers me about the particular friend I posted about is that she seems to think that we're going through the same thing that she did. I don't think anyone experiences infertility in the same way. Even when the diagnoses and treatments are similar.Ths's not to say she doesn't get it, or can't get it. It's just to say that things are different.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought this was a really interesting post.

I have friends that have gone through clomid cycles, and now have kids. My mom always wants me to call them, as if they can comfort me.

The problem is that it's near to impossible to use your own experience with infertility to comfort, really, especially if you are pregnant or have a child. Because your result will always be, "see, I had a child," and you just can't make that assumption for other people. YOur friend had a child. So her comfort will be, "See, I had a child. I went through all that and it was okay." But she can't guess at what will happen to you, because fertility and infertility is so unpredictable.

So I hear everything you are saying. And I think you're brave and wonderful for just being able to talk to her without wanting to smack your head against a wall. I lost so many pregnant friends because I felt so bad.

Anyway, great entry, and good luck with your friend--and your treatments. My husband is also having surgery.

Karen/Naked ovary

9:29 AM  
Blogger Barren Mare said...

This is a great post, and definitely food for thought. One of the things I have learned through my experience with infertility is that it's usually better not to compare it anyone else's. Partly because there is still so much to find out, and partly because everyone copes differently, everyone wears their pain differently, every woman's body responds differently, each pregnancy is different, etc- and to be honest, NO ONE has the same experience.

I had a friend who I told about our probs- she e-mailed me and said, "Oh yes, we tried for a year, gave up, got a cat & I got pg."

Which to me said a lot. That someone could try & then just "give up" without even seeing a doctor puts it into a whole different realm for me. I'm not judging her, but it did make me pause and realise that think that the reaction she had was so different to mine. Interesting.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry. I reread your blog in a more leisurely fashion after your response to my post (anonymous #2), and I see now what you were getting at. I have been going through the same "same but different" issue with a close friend recently re: my illness vs her illness & I think I jumped in with what I wanted to say to her. We butt heads and it's radically different and, no, on a visceral level I do not experience the same pain/loss of control as she does, but we know what it is like to suddenly have to look at futures we won't ever have after years of planning and grieve for that loss. So we understand each other's grief & loss & disillusionment & depression, but we often won't admit it, or can't express it properly.

A very thought-provoking post. Thank you for responding to me and forcing me to read it again. I apologize if I seemed I was attacking you.

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