What I think about other women in the fertility clinic waiting room
And what I think about me
The fertility clinic waiting room is a stoney place packed with the unspoken. At the clinic I frequent, the waiting room has cream-colored walls and potted snake plants and cushioned armchairs (given the cost of the treatments, I suppose there is money for a nice place to wait.) We women in the waiting room, usually four to six of us at any given time, are technically there together, “in the same boat”, you might say, but that’s not how it feels. It feels more like we are each in our own tiny boat floating within sight of, but definitely not with, all the other little boats. Speaking only of my boat, it has often been a breaking down dinghy with holes in the bottom recklessly careening through waves of a height that it was not built to withstand. I suspect that more than one person in that room is drowning in some way. I suspect that more than one is crying out for help. But all that is visible is well-maintained facial neutrality against cream-colored walls. It’s a bizarre experience to sit in that waiting room, hearing nothing but the vast silence of waiting, knowing the torrents of pain that exist behind the masks.
In some ways, we are really similar, the women in the waiting room. We are women, mostly in our thirties and forties, we want kids, now or later. Or, probably most commonly, yesterday. Many are suffering the same cycle of hope and loss that typically gains one access to that room. Some are thinking to the future, trying to prevent that cycle of loss for their older selves. We are almost always alone. This would have surprised me before I embarked on my dozens of visits to that waiting room. Alone? At a fertility clinic? Seems like it’s a place you’d want to have some support. But how many people really have a partner or friend who can make it to the clinic every other morning for weeks, months, years, with visits always scheduled at the last minute and requiring the deprioritization of all other commitments and plans. Who can really make it work to attend dozens or hundreds of such visits, other than the longing woman herself? So we are there alone. We all have our necks bent over our phones, scrolling, trying to momentarily escape this shitty reality. I used to judge myself for this phone escapism, but now I don’t. There is a time and place for enforcing phone restraint. The fertility clinic waiting room is not one.
When I do look up, I can’t help but peek at the other women, sideways, briefly, so I’m not staring, so that it’s not weird. I wonder about them. What is the situation in that body? Has she been at this for years? Did she just find out she’s pregnant? I hope not, because I still can’t stand anyone else being pregnant when I’m not, that heinous, shameful, lasting scar of my infertility journey. Again, more recently, this is a suboptimal reality that I have come to allow, versus fight against. For me, for now, it makes me sad and anxious when other people are pregnant. This is simply the awful truth, and I hope someday it won’t be.
In any case, in the fertility clinic waiting room, I can’t tell if she’s pregnant or not. Whatever is happening for her is completely invisible—we all look far too usual for the magnitude of the physical and emotional task that we are undertaking (I suppose you could say this about everyone, all the time). I’ve never seen anyone cry in the fertility clinic waiting room, which is astounding to me. Since no one lets on even the slightest bit to her inner world, I instead occupy myself checking out the other women’s outfits, noting a jean jacket and a pair of sneakers and a shirt/belt combo that I like. It’s a superficial and materialistic activity and, again, I deem it permissible in the fertility clinic waiting room. We’re all doing our best to hold it together.
I remember one morning in the waiting room, I glanced up from my phone to see a woman wearing a multicolored track suit. The matching pants and jacket were splashed with streaks of deep purple, yellow and teal. Yes, I thought, that is so right. Not for me—I’m not the purple/teal track suit type—but for her. It brought to mind a phrase my friend used to describe an outfit she was rocking that featured overalls covered in cheery little carrots and beets—she called it “dopamine dressing.” The phrase is self explanatory, which is why it’s so perfect. Yes, that seems like a good idea for anyone in the fertility clinic waiting room: dopamine dressing.
I guess what I’m saying is: in the infertility waiting rooms of your life, those places that are just intrinsically awful and lonely, the peak horrible places, I think the move is to just do whatever makes it slightly easier and less miserable. Do I wish that the infertility waiting room was a place of connection, where I felt supported by my partner and in community with the other women? Sure. Would it be more ideal if I spent those purgatorial minutes reading the little booklet provided by the clinic with quotes from other women who have been through the journey? Yes, probably. But would I instead prefer to scroll through useless garbage on my phone and, once in awhile, glance up at other women’s outfits? Yes. Is that fine with me? Yes.
I feel confident that, in the context of my extended relationship with the infertility clinic waiting room, this acceptance is real progress. And also, I am going to try a little dopamine dressing on my next visit.
If you’re reading this in a fertility clinic waiting room, or if you’ve ever been in one, you’ll probably like it here. Enter your email to follow along.
What are those places that are just intrinsically awful and lonely for you? How do you end up spending that time? Is there anything that makes it any less miserable?
**Quick head’s up: This essay is from a year ago, I am now officially on maternity leave! During this time, my wonderful consultant/collaboratorwill be doing some light moderation in the comments, so look for her name and please keep supporting each other in the comment sections. After nearly a year of working with Erin to define and shape this newsletter, I am confident that she will bring only the best Inner Workings vibes to the conversation.
While I’m offline, I’ll be sharing updated favorites from my archives as well as some new work that I’ve been saving up, covering topics from feeling meek at the doctor, being a CEO in Silicon Valley, gardening, forest bathing, trying to control our bodies and so much more! These include some of my favorite long-form essays, which were developed over many months, as well as shorter essays like the ones I typically send weekly. I would love to hear what you think, I am hopeful they’ll be a salve in the slow winter months.
And special gratitude (again) to all you subscribers who are choosing to stick with me through this leave. You make this whole thing work and lay the foundation for what’s to come at Inner Workings and beyond. I am sending you so much love.