Infertility, feminine rage, and the secret mourning place of women trying to get pregnant
This was great, Rae! You really helped me understand what some of my friends are going through, so I shared this with them. Also, on a craft note, your writing is just so honest and beautiful but also crisp. The subjects you chose make for difficult reading, but the way you execute makes your essays easy reads. I hope that makes sense.
I don't have children. My wife and I are childless by choice. That decision wasn't one decision, but rather the result of 11-plus years of regularly talking about that choice. Honestly, I think some of those moments have been the times when I felt the most crazy. I think my wife would say the same. People look at you funny when you say you don't want kids, and they make all kinds of assumptions about your choice, and then the culture reinforces that vibe to the point where you can't help but wonder if you and your wife are making, not a just a huge mistake, but the biggest mistake of your lives. It's a lot. I don't know if any of that makes me feel rage -- rage is a little strong for me -- but I sometimes feel angry that our society can't seem to make just a little space for people who, for whatever reason (choice, biology, dumb luck, weird curses, etc.) don't have a children.
Oh my gosh, yes! First of all, thank you for sharing your story. This is coming at the exact right time for me. I’m currently reading So When Are You Having Kids by Jordan Davidson (highly recommend to anyone reflecting on this topic) and I’ve been thinking about motherhood a lot lately. I feel the desperation of my biological clock ticking (I’m 29 and single) but I’m also confused about whether I want to have kids because that’s what I’m “supposed” to do or if I actually want them versus now leaning towards not wanting them because I’m secretly afraid I won’t be able to have them. It’s exhausting!
I can’t help but think, after reading this, that even the concept of the empowered female has been splintered into good lists and bad lists.
At one point in our infertility and child loss journey, I remember thinking “I must be a bad feminist.” And that one thought sort of shone a light on all the ways that voices of liberation had actually imprisoned me. (Of course, coming from a high-control religious upbringing they ALSO brought tremendous light and possibility!) But I did feel over time that in order to be a good feminist I had to stay highly, impressively employed and whatever I do, stay outside my body and lived experience as much as possible. Ignore those instincts, good feminist. It perpetuated a lot of suffering by making my own self and longings the enemy.
Anyways, appreciate this piece, even if all the infertility acronyms made my right eye twitch just a little. ;)
This was a great read! I fear I come a little short-handed here... I'm childfree by choice at 31 going on 32, and have no partner (and haven't in a long long time! Caregiving preventing much of anything to bloom or to meet anyone to bloom anything with).
No biological clock ticking, or the rage at a partner in this way (probably because of such a lack of them)... Hmmm... Most crazy though? No in this obsessive way, but caregiving drove me to an edge I've never experienced before. For sure.
Great read, once again! Thank you for sharing!
I can pinpoint the night my first marriage fell apart: when I was collapsing into rage in our office, looking up at the ceiling and howling in emotional pain having received word of a failed IVF cycle. My then-husband looked at me and said, "I can't help you when you're like this. You should go to your sister's or something." I gave up on my marriage that night as I drove 90 miles north for pizza and wine with my sister.
I would add that HE is the one who desperately wanted children; he claimed it's why he was so unhappy. I felt like a failure as a woman and a wife to not be able to give him something he so clearly needed. I had achieved everything else I had set out in my life to achieve - why not this??
After 5 or 6 rounds of IVF, we hired a gestational carrier. We have twins now; and we are divorced. Ultimately, the ending was happy, even if it wasn't what I thought success would look like.
Just wanted to say how much of this essay spoke to my own experience - thank you for writing it.
After being unsure for many, many years I became obsessed with having a baby in my late thirties when time was clearly running out and I could no longer afford to wait for my husband to be ready. The fertility process was interrupted by surgical treatment to remove a large, benign but growing tumour from my pituitary gland. A year later, at the age of forty, I had the one round of IVF we could afford, which didn’t work. I grieved hard, so very hard for about three years but eventually decided to figure out a way to get on with my life.
The minute baby fever hit I felt crazy and remained crazy for years. It was such a powerful biological drive when everything in my life pointed to the wisdom of not having a child. My family doctor put me on hormone replacement therapy in my mid forties and only then did I stop feeling like I was losing my mind. There was a point when husband struggled to provide sperm on THE day of IVF where I felt rage but mostly what I felt during those years was relentless desperation. I am so relieved to have those years and those yearnings behind me.
I feel ‘crazy’ whenever I’m both accepting the cultural messaging and trying to comply while at the same time feeling the whisper of ‘this doesn’t feel right to me, I need to stop’. The cusp if ‘can I - should I - sacrifice Good Girl privilege just to have what I want (is need too strong) ? Am I even allowed? The insidious doubt of ‘is this just ‘weakness / sour grapes / acting out’? its never called ‘valid self-preservation’ or ‘the integrity of rebellion’ by my inner critic. This is where I thrash in agony. In my mid-50s this feels like the human experience rather than my unique fatal flaw.
Two agonising griefs in this world are wanting a child and being unable to have one, and having one you don’t want (and I include choosing termination here).
You really are one of my favorite writers here, Rae. I can tell that you're here to tell the truth, and there's nothing that means more to me, along with great writing. Thank you.
I've felt most crazy pursuing two of the main things that I always thought were expected of me as a man—getting married and having kids. I put a lot of energy into both of these and failed in all sorts of ways, and that did make me crazy for a good long while—if we take "crazy" (funny word, really) to include prolonged cognitive dissonance, knowing you're acting against what you know to be true, or just being so damn confused that there isn't any truth or ground to be found.
I really appreciate you writing about the frustration, anger and even hate that you felt waiting for him—and for All Men, in a way—to be ready. I hope it doesn't come as a surprise that as a man I've also felt the ticking of the clock, the desire to have children before it's too late, and the pressure to find a suitable mate, regardless and often in conflict with whatever else might be going on in my life, my inclinations, my dreams, my capabilities, and my failings.
The short answer to the rage question is yes, but I'll leave that for another time.
I’ve written quite a lot about my experience with marriage and (non)fatherhood here and also in my memoir which is linked from my stack →
The rage section landed hard — I feel it in my bones too. One of the best depictions of all the emotional ranges I’ve felt. Thank you for diving back into these feelings.
Another post and it feels like you are able to see the childlike drawings etched on the inner wall of my soul--the part created by my subconscious which no one else can see and I can’t really decipher myself.
Thank you a million times for this. I have been there with the howling rage, the conflicting shame and agony of realising the structures around you have been working against you most of your adult life. The true piercing desire. I have tried to write about my experience with trying to conceive and miscarriage but never reached anything so close to this. So beautiful and true. And thank you for articulating so well the enduring pain it leaves on a life. And how many crazy women our age I am close to also going through exactly this right now. ♥️🤲🏼
What a deeply personal essay, thank you for sharing.
I am turning 30 this year and six months before the dreaded date I had a full blown freak out about what I was sure was my impending infertility and how that would surely spell doom for my relationship.
I want to be a mother. Somedays that feeling is stronger, and some it is barely a whisper. But I also want to be a writer, to be selfish with life with my partner. I'm still working out how, or if I will ever have it all.
thank you for sharing your experience. It makes me feel less alone. That this desire is in fact complicated and it's okay to be confused by it.
Interestingly enough I am reading this on mother's day here in Australia. How apt.
“My longing wasn’t perfect, it was surely tinged with the impurities of ego and “should” and keeping up with the Joneses, but I believe that it was mostly a freakishly beautiful happening in me, a desire more uncluttered and clear and true than almost any I have ever had.”
Oh the longing...I’ve wrestled with the origins of mine too - mostly in an attempt to ‘see’ the possible future where I’m childless not by choice. I suppose in some ways hoping to chalk it up to my place within an extremely fertile society, the subconscious effects of a child centric culture. But it’s really so much simpler than that as you so eloquently describe Rae - a desire so pure, so clear, the pain of confronting the fact something so unbelievably personally sacred may never come into being (whilst others stumble on success having hardly felt the desire at all) shatters you in every which way.
I have screamed and howled like a banshee into a pillow following a pregnancy announcement. I have raged to my partner (in the midst of the fertile window when no one is feeling sexy) that he has only one thing to do and I have essentially traumatised and abused my body through treatments for over three years now so could he just you know...get excited please.
You capture so much of exactly how I feel in this piece - thank you for writing it. It’s stunning much like the desire for motherhood both beautiful and alarming in its totality.
I think you’re right that anyone who has been through it will understand but I’m not sure that there are ever any words that would truly resonate for those who’ve never experienced it. I will always be an outsider to the lived experience of parenting a human child no matter how much people may attempt to describe it to me. But I guess I should ask if you are attempting to make sense of it for others or for yourself?
I enjoyed reading this so much! Being hyper aware of “all the beeps and boops”- great way to put it, I connect so hard with that.
Thank you for sharing your experience so eloquently ❤️
Such a well-written text!
I hope you don't mind me saying it. When I read it, I realized that, despite the fact that we are on opposite ends when it comes to wanting children (as a child-free woman, not at all), there are some similarities. I have also felt deeply inadequate. I think a lot of times that I'm just broken and that there is something really wrong with me for not wanting children. Childless women often congregate on online or real-life forums, where we can support each other and don't feel so "crazy". And finally, of course, it's not as painful as for someone experiencing infertility, but I also feel sad when I hear that one of my friends is pregnant, which I'm of course ashamed of. Because I selfishly find myself apprehensive that our relationship will change. While thinking logically, I am more than happy that they got something they wanted and that makes them so joyful.
In the end, women are always meant to feel wrong or crazy, no matter what. Thanks for sharing and I hope you can stop feeling that you were wrong about your feelings. :)
I wanted a baby as a teenager and waited until I was 36. I had secondary infertility and I relate to every word of this. And I remember someone from a group I was in being annoyed because she was in my yoga class and I was chubbier and bad at yoga so why did I conceive when she did not? That was an odd experience because generally I don't feel lucky and no one gets what they deserve. I wanted many children --6,7,8?--but it turned out OK. I cannot believe the anguish though, I was pretty nuts for years. The miscarriages and so forth. It's very terrifying to look back though and think 'what if it hadn't worked out?' Anyone struggling with this gets my infinite sympathy. It's the hardest thing you can do with the the continual breath of people's criticism and very VERY little understanding.