An infertile woman’s pet peeves…

I’ve received enough comments throughout October to warrant this reminder to good-hearted, well-meaning folks–if you haven’t been on this side of infertility, please tread lightly when comforting or sharing your news with someone whose sorrow is profound, at times, hidden or downplayed, and rarely acknowledged. No one is to blame. We just need to be reminded.

When comforting an infertile woman, please don’t say too much, period. “I’m so sorry,” works wonders. Otherwise, shut up. Just be there, hold, and listen. Most of us do, but sometimes we screw up and find ourselves contorted in bitter-tasting small talk.

When sharing good or bad news, this may seem like common sense to most of you, but, humor me, and please refrain from telling an infertile woman–

how relieved you are at not being pregnant,

about the birth of your baby while still groggy from labor,

that you’re going to terminate a pregnancy, or

shit, I can’t believe it! I’m pregnant again.

Any others?

Me, infertile? No way, I’m a Latina!

I must admit, I gulped that Kool-Aid early on in life–All Latinas ooze fertility. I aIso had bonus credentials thanks to a Mexican mother and Greek father who bred like rabbits. So I was stunned, when my Ob/Gyn yanked me out of my ‘Latina’s are prolific’ world.  At first I still believed it was all a mistake. Not me. They’ll see. Before long someone would come, all smiles, perfumed apologies, and lead me back to my world. Where I rightly belonged. Just ask my grandmothers, who promised me I was merely a late bloomer. We’d laugh about this one day, my mother reassured me. We’d have the last laugh.

Chapter II – Spring 1993

“A year after my third miscarriage, my Ob/Gyn, acupuncturist, homeopath, along with my soothsayer of a neighbor concurred my ovaries had indeed gone into early retirement. The shiftless thirty-nine-year-old eggs slacking around the sacs were out of warranty. Blanks. For long periods of time I’d immerse myself in writing and work, but Mother’s Day brunches and Hallmark cards always lurked around the corner.
One day I got fed up and declared no more. I’d had it. No more nudges or downcast looks for me at tortuous baby showers, baptisms, and birthday parties, where inevitably someone asked if I had children.
No more.
Give me motherhood or give me the right to be a complete pain in the ass about these two empty arms. I’m one of eleven children, for God’s sake. I grew up in a town where I was related to half of the population on both sides of the border. I was entitled to raising my own after helping raise eight brothers and sisters. I was an Aries. I rammed through obstacles. I bulldozed challenges. I got what I wanted….”

Infertile women hate the word “Relax”

The very first time I heard that word as an infertile woman, white sandy beaches and spontaneous sex during languishing balmy days no longer came to mind. Like a record player needle dragged across the vinyl, scratching and digging into the grooves, the sensuous samba ended. 

Chapter II – Spring 1993

“Its just part of the process.”

“I’m not worried about her changing her mind.” I stuck my face out at her. “I don’t believe she wants to give her baby up. Period. Let me talk with her alone.”

“Trust me. She’s decided.” Ms. K straightened the miniature doll collection stationed on top of her computer. “She hasn’t wavered once in our meetings. You’re nervous, that’s all. And that’s normal, too.” Her hands flew to her hair and in half a minute had an upswept hairdo secured with chopsticks. “She’s due in less than a month, and by Halloween you’ll be a mom. I promise. I’ve seen this happen a hundred times before. Ree laah kss. Just relax.”

I blanched and clamped down on my purse until the overpowering urge to punch her subsided. I despised that word: relax. How dare she utter that word in my direction? Didn’t she, an adoption matchmaker to a passel of infertile women, know how that one word scraped us raw? News flash! Infertile women never relax. We don’t know how to relax. We’re wound up tight with guilt, envy, regret, and desperation, stumbling down the only path we’ll accept: the one with a baby at the end of it. Before I could give her a piece of my mind, she stood up and sprayed lavender water into the air. My time was up.

Desperately Seeking Baby!

Within seven years, I’d undergone three miscarriages, two ectopic surgeries, one failed adoption, and been sucker punched when our county adoption agency rejected our application. We’d been naive when the intake social worker pressed us for details and we’d been too eager to recount how the Children’s Home Society in San Jose had botched our adoption and then had shown us the door. Mind you, there were dozens of Latino babies and toddlers waiting for homes, but we were cast as troublemakers and blacklisted. I do have the immense satisfaction of telling the social worker, her supervisor, and then the director where they could shove their application.

My Man and I were researching and gathering the requirements for an international adoption when we received a phone call on our ninth wedding anniversary that enticed us to fly down to Ciudad Juárez, México. We were to meet with the director of DIF, Mexico’s version of our Children’s Protective Services, who might offer us the opportunity to adopt one of their orphans.

Chapter VI – October 1997

“… By nine o’clock most of the people in the lobby had met with one of the social workers. Some walked back out within five minutes clutching papers, their eyes haunted. When our name was called, we followed a social worker and re-entered the world of interviews, forms, and psychological evaluation exams.

After the testing we entered the nursery. Imagine a large rectangular room with a carpeted sunken pit area where eighty-plus children, ranging from toddlers to young teenagers, spent the day with precious little to do.

The second we walked through the double doors, every single child, as if on cue, turned our way. The noise settled down from one corner of the pit to the other. Some of the kids smiled, some looked away, others stared, but the older girls approached us.

One of the girls asked about my citizenship when I greeted them in fluent Spanish. They eyed my clothes. A doe-eyed beauty with a swollen, stitched-up lip gently touched my earring, and the leader of the pack snatched her hand away, reminding her of her manners.

“You speak Spanish well, for a gringa.” They giggled.

“Gracias.” I told them my mother would be pleased by their compliment.

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

When I said it didn’t matter, they eyed me with what seemed like suspicion.

“Do you want an infant or toddler?”

Before I could answer, they pointed out the favored candidates. Those toddlers didn’t cry much and had light curly hair. A couple of the girls trotted off and returned with fair-skinned babies.

Surreal. These young girls knew their chances of ever being adopted were slim to non-existent. When we asked them questions, they politely stated the rules unless, of course, we wanted to adopt them. Their eyes held hope.

An older girl, a few yards away, seemed to be massaging a toddler’s small head.

When I asked her what she was doing, she answered, without looking up, “lice,” refusing to make eye contact or conversation with me. In a far corner of the room a group of older girls each attended to a baby while little boys ran around playing with and fighting over broken toys. With fierce determination they protected pieces of plastic and metal and wailed when they were left empty-handed.

We wandered into a large, stifling-hot sleeping room filled with rows of metal twin beds on either side. Toddlers everywhere—crawling, walking, crying, having their diaper or clothes changed by women who consoled them and played with them for a few minutes before needing to go on to the next one. The room smelled of soiled diapers, sweat, and baby powder. We held the little ones, who wailed when we put them down to pick up another. How did one choose? Were we going to choose? Was I holding our child and didn’t know it?