I had known Phil just 4 days when he asked me if Tom, Beth and Joshua would be good names for our children. Much to his surprise, I burst into tears: I already knew I was very unlikely to be able to get pregnant.
There have since been a seemingly never ending variety of conversations that follow a similar pattern. Someone makes a kindly intended, seemingly innocuous comment based on the presumption that getting pregnant is part of life’s naturally unfurling pattern. I either erect a wall to protect myself or drop my defenses to show them a little of my pain.
I demolished the wall and Phil saw more pain than I had allowed myself to acknowledge before then. As a single woman, my infertility could be held at a distance, disconnected from my reality like an unproven theory. Phil’s words brought it hurtling into the present.
The moments that followed were bursting with potential for disaster. One clumsy statement from Phil and I would retreat into my shell of shame and fear. Succumbing to the desire to cling to the unfounded dream of a perfect wife and Phil would leave the story on this page.
Thankfully, Phil says it was in the moment of my tearful honest vulnerability, that he knew he was in love with me. Which is just as well because his next words sealed my love for him. ‘I want all of you, not just your womb.’ And he held me as we both wept.
Many similar conversations have not finished so well.
The initial comment or question has sometimes been met with a hardening of my defences and a brush off, varying from fragile & gentle to angry & brusque. The other in the conversation probably bewildered and confused wondering what on earth went wrong. I am left feeling unfaithful to my infertile history and community, I know that telling my story is a means of chipping away at the shame associated with infertility.
Sometimes it goes the other way. I drop my defenses and respond honestly. Then the other in the conversation is trusted for a moment to hold a little of my brokenness, which is frightening.
It is a difficult gift to handle and some drop it immediately, leaving me to pick up the bits and carry on. Others meet my brokenness with embarrassment, which matches my shame and we share some mutual discomfort. Excruciatingly some glibly belittle the grief or express their relief that someone as strong as I is able to carry such a burden. Yet others propose an infallible solution, over 17 years I’ve heard quite a range, imagining that perhaps we hadn’t furnished ourselves with accurate details of how to go about making babies in the first place.
Phil’s response that acknowledged the problem and embraced me as a person, a whole and yet broken person, has been echoed by others over the years. There have been many brave friends and strangers that have seen the absorbing mess of infertility and embraced my vulnerability anyway. For that, I am thankful.