We’ve probably all been told at some point, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And we’ve seen the motivational posters. We’ve maybe even said it to someone else or told it to ourselves. It seems like such a nice encouragement, and I’ve heard variations of it a number of times during my infertility journey. But when I hear it I hesitate.
This journey is making me stronger? Please. When I’m told this I roll my eyes, or more often I try *not* to roll my eyes — I know it’s not considered nice — but, to be honest, I have never had a good poker face and I’m sure that even as I bite my tongue and try to control my eyeballs, the well-intentioned person trying to encourage me can see the unpleasant emotions filling me up. Because honestly, this is how I feel about it: if I wanted to be stronger, I would go to the gym more often.
I know that no one says this kind of thing intending it to be physical strength. I am aware that they are referring to strength of character. But I really don’t think infertility has had much of a positive impact in my life — infertility certainly doesn’t make me feel strong. In fact, I think the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you broken” is far more accurate for describing infertility.
Having my heart broken by infertility has made me feel weak and powerless. Crying on the way home from bad news at the doctor’s office doesn’t feel strong. Feeling hopeless and sad when my period starts and my blood test confirms no pregnancy doesn’t feel strong. Sitting with my grief is important, but it does not feel strong. Facing the fear of not knowing whether or not I will have children is certainly powerful, but not in a victorious, strength-filled kind of way. And honestly, I don’t really like the idea of only proceeding with half hope — it’s not fair and it feels weak. I’d like to push forward with full hope and forget all of this agony crap. But we all know I can’t do that. I’ve learned the hard way to be cautious and careful. The infertility roller coaster is a rough ride.
But I don’t really like the idea that infertility is making me broken… and I’m trying hard not to think of it like that, even though it’s how it feels. So I try my best to put the broken pieces of myself back together. I hold them together with love and hope. And I try to think of other ways to think about the experiences I’ve had on this journey. I have a quote saved on pinterest that says, “You are not broken. You are breaking through.” I really hope that’s the case.
So as I go around trying my best to stay in one piece, and then I’m told that infertility must be making me stronger, I really wonder if and where that strength is accumulating. Because infertility doesn’t feel strong. So where *is* all of that strength going?
Perhaps the strength is building up my stubbornness. Because I really want to be a mom. Like really, really. Ugh. Don’t you get it, infertility?? <she says as she crosses her arms and stomps her foot> But really. I’m stubbornly pursuing treatment despite our failures, asking questions to stay informed, and hoping for the best even though the past has repeatedly let me down.
I also think that infertility has strengthened a little defiant streak in me, particularly in regards to my body. Infertility has made me feel so out of control of my body, so in attempts to take a stand and own myself again I’ve made a couple small changes. A few months ago I added purple highlights to my hair. I pierced my nose last summer. And I like the changes. They suit me, at least right now (I sometimes have to remind my mom that these changes aren’t permanent!), and these little changes have been a tiny, somewhat defiant, way for me to take control and make a statement about owning my body.
Or perhaps the strength is increasing my patience? I have certainly been waiting for a long time for our child, and although I have bad days, I think I have yet to throw any grand tantrum. But… then I do find myself stuck in traffic feeling frustrated with the badly timed lights and poor traffic flow in our city… so it must not be that. Infertility has given me a lot of practice in patience, yes, but apparently it’s not helping me in daily life… darn. It’d be great if I could claim patience among my virtues.
Maybe after all this, all I’m building is insanity. After all, we keep trying again and again and expecting different results — isn’t that a silly definition of insanity on t-shirts or something? Yikes. To be honest, sometimes I do feel like I’m losing it… but I like to blame that on my medications and hormones. Let’s really hope insanity is not gaining strength.
So if not patience or insanity, perhaps infertility is strengthening my courage. In the face of all of our failures, we do keep trying and hoping for the best. Infertility keeps throwing me around, and I keep picking myself up and carrying on, trying not to let it get the best of me. I may not always feel very strong while I pick myself up and brush the dust off, but with Matt’s help, and love and encouragement from our family and friends, I’ve managed to have enough courage to continue on.
When I asked Matt where he thought my strength was going, he told me that maybe this journey is making me more resilient; that I’m handling the lows better than I used to. Hmm. Practice makes perfect? Ha. I’m not sure this is the case. I told him maybe infertility has just made me more jaded. Usually I’m not even surprised anymore when I’m not pregnant. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still sad and disappointed, but not altogether surprised. Sad, right? But why should I expect different results?
But if I think about resiliency more carefully, he might be onto something. He’s a pretty smart guy. Maybe infertility *has* made me more resilient, and maybe this is what people really mean when they say this journey is making me stronger. I have practiced a lot of coping mechanisms that have helped me to try to stay in one piece, so that I can bend with the harsh conditions of the roller coaster instead of snap. I really don’t think I am able to just bounce back; after all I’ve learned that sitting with my grief is really important…but I do think I’ve learned a lot about myself, Matt, and our relationship during this time, and I suppose that the things I’ve learned have brought us closer together and better equipped to face this tough world we live in.
But I think that maybe most of my strength is going into my ability to hold on to the threads of hope we still have. Half of the threads we’ve got left on our rope are agony — they’re filled with pain and loss and disappointment, and we’re trying to let those ones go. We’re still hoping for children. We’re hoping for our future to be happy and full of love. We’re hanging on to our threads of hope with all the strength we’ve got, and we’re trying to let the other ones blow in the wind, hoping that they’ll loosen and fall out of sight.
So is this journey making me stronger? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just making me flex my muscles in different ways than I used to, focusing my strengths into different areas. Either way, I think this journey is shaping me into a different person… One who is trying to be hopeful in the face of disappointment. One who is practicing patience. One who is attempting to hold the pieces of herself together, and break through this difficult time. And all of that requires strength, whether it’s newly gained strength or not.