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?

Do infertile women ever get over it?

I didn’t. Not for a very long time. And I had my hands full with two toddler boys, who were healthy  and adorable, yet out of nowhere, the unpredictable, icy drop of doubt stung.  A piercing round of ‘I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve’ brought me to my knees.

It wasn’t enough that I felt sentenced to the regret of deciding against infertility treatments, even though, I was in my forties with one rusty fallopian tube and retirement-aged eggs. Nope, wasn’t enough. Not for me. I also harbored a deeper regret of not fighting for my little girl. We didn’t wage war against the birth mother, we were noble and no, contrary to popular belief, it never made me feel better that we took that route. I felt I’d let my infant daughter down. I promised her, I’d take care of her, I’d be there, no matter what. I hadn’t counted on the ‘what’ being her biological mother.

I’ve been thinking about my little Chicken Hawk quite a bit this month. We welcomed her into the world on the 3rd of this month, eighteen years ago, and I still remember our brief but potent and cherished time together. She aroused the maternal fire in me. How could I ever forget or get over her?

I wonder if we ever do get over infertility?

Have you?

Assumptions are the mother of misunderstandings # 2

During our first visit back into the fold,  I assumed my family would know exactly what to do and say after My Man and I had lost Sofia to her birth mother. I envisioned a group hug where Marty and I would be swallowed up in sympathy and the loss of our daughter would be at the heart of our visit. I expected my brothers and sisters to read my mind, see the gaping hole in our hearts, and express themselves with precisely the right selection of words that would bathe us in solace. I’d placed my family on a pedestal and then watched with a critical and judgmental eye to see who’d pass muster.

Chapter IV – January 1994 to May 1995

“…While I anticipated the Fourth of July pit stop in southern Arizona with my family, I girded myself for the inevitable: the next generation. Last year I’d daydreamed of Sofia huddled within the pack of newly hatched toddler nephews and nieces, forming a tight bond with her cousins. Marty and I would be in the fray of comparing baby gadgets, contributing our comical missteps, and turning to my mother for advice. I’d salivated years for that moment, but as soon as I set foot in my mother’s house with my backpack and not a bundle of joy, my flight response kicked in. After a boisterous welcome, I ferreted for Sofia’s photographs in my mother’s living the hallway, and her bedroom. They’d been put away to spare our feelings.

My siblings gathered, I doted on my nephews and nieces, praying my lighthearted façade remained intact, but once we exhausted our camping stories, my brothers rehashed their jokes, and my sisters conceded on refashioning my look the visit proved awkward and forced like a TV sitcom with a laugh track. No one brought up Sofia.

My mother, a night owl, kept me abreast of the family gossip late into the night, the two of us alone, sharing her bed while polishing off her stash of butter cookies and See’s Candies. The few times we brushed up against intimate conversation, I was certain she’d at least allude to Sofia, but when fatigue won over, I kissed her goodnight.

“Mijita, do me a favor,” my mother asked on my way out the bedroom door. “Reach into my top drawer.” She pointed to her dresser.

I pulled out Sofia’s silver-framed photograph, my precious little girl smiling back at me, and clutched it to my chest. Without a word between us, we embraced and wept. When I finally went to bed, I placed Sofia’s photograph among the other family portraits and thanked her.”

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.

Assumptions are the mother of all misunderstandings!

Somewhere, somehow I’d picked up on the notion that once we committed to adopting the boys everyone at the Ciudad Juárez orphanage could see the shimmery halo hovering over our noble heads. I imagined a decree from above  had guaranteed our qualification as perfect parents, cloaked us in absolute benevolence, and designated us the supreme couple.

Chapter IX  – January 1998

“…Ms. D waved me into her office, bracelets clinking, as she straightened a pile of file folders then tossed a clump of paper clips into her desk drawer. The shared office with two other social workers was tiny and cluttered, but her compact desk was a masterpiece of organization.

I pulled up a chair and initiated small talk about Santa Cruz and Juárez. Ms. D looked up, with a clothesline of an expression.

She cleared her throat. “Ricardo’s ear and respiratory infection are not getting better. This is after two rounds of antibiotics. The night staff told me he’s having high fevers and more earaches.”

“The mucus seems worse,” I agreed. “Is there anything we can do?”

My questions were answered with cryptic words and little eye contact.

“Thank you for your extra efforts with our sons.”

She looked up and cracked the color on her lips to utter two words, no more, no less: “Así es.” Loose translation: it is what it is. She was done and with two words dismissed me. I’d come to resent those two little words as much as I despised the sight of bureaucratic rubber stamps and ink pads. In my fantasy, I upended her desk as she shrieked, horrified, and apologized profusely. In reality, I was afraid to make her angry. Afraid she’d make a case against us adopting the boys. I also disliked confrontation, but I found I couldn’t stand up.

“Why don’t you like us?”

Her face met mine. I waited for her explanation and apology.

“I don’t trust Norte Americanos—they are frivolous.”

I caught my breath. She didn’t hem and haw or hesitate. Nor did she apologize. She sat there staring at me, triumphant, it seemed, that I had asked the question.

When I took too long to answer she said, “Así es.” She stood up to signal our meeting was over. I didn’t stand up. I remembered my diminutive Nana Herminia, strong as ironwood, stood up to condescending businessmen, who underestimated and chided her for running the front end of the restaurant business. I somehow channeled her courage.

“We adopted a little girl five years ago and gave her up when her birth mother changed her mind. Do you think it’s easy taking another risk like this? The frivolous couple that returned the boys were Mexicanos. Not Norte Americanos.” I could sense my grandmother’s pride at my succinct and tearless speech and sat up straighter waiting for the chink in her armor to appear.

It didn’t. She didn’t even blink, and I wondered if she’d been listening at all. No apology, no condolences over losing Sofia, merely an “Así es.”

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?