The entry was about experience and how we related those experiences to others.
Everyone has experienced something in our lives, unique to our lives. Not completely unique mind you, but unique enough that we find ourselves in an exclusive club of people. Some of my life experiences, "unique" to me include:
- Growing up in south Florida
- Playing high school sports and traveling around the country with those sports
- Attending a Division I college on full basketball scholarship
- Being married to my high school sweetheart
- Waiting ten years to be parents
- Spending five years doing infertility treatments
- Living in Kentucky
- Living in Minnesota
- Adopting a baby (ISAAC!!!!!!)
- Adopting from China
- Being pregnant after infertility
- Owning a Dalmatian
- Being 6'3"
. . . Okay, okay. You get the idea. These are things that I consider myself "knowledgeable" about, or at least semi-knowledgeable, simply due to the fact that I participated in them.Let me jump to one of my life lessons. That life lesson involves the title of this blog: Life in the Polar North. As most of you know, I spent four long winters in Rochester, Minnesota. You'd think that that would entitle me to claim a bit of "club membership" to the exclusive group of Minnesotans. Right?
Ha! Yeah right! Even though I learned how to say "Out and about" regularly and agreed to call my Coke or Soda a "pop" . . . I left Minnesota four years later feeling that, alas, I was not welcome in their club at all!
I promise you that no matter how cold it got or how much snow there was or how far I drove off the road into that corn field in that snow storm, the Minnesotans would not allow me to feel if I was in their club, especially when it came to the weather.
An example. The first winter I was in Minnesota it reached 40 below with windchill. Pretty cold I think. I made the mistake of running out to my car after teaching and coaching without my hat on. I had left it in my classroom and just didn't feel like going all the way back upstairs to retrieve it.
As I sat behind the steering wheel, begging the Lord to take away the unimaginable pain in my ears from the exposure to the cold for just a mere fifteen seconds and, quite literally, trying very hard not to start sobbing uncontrollably in the fear of doing this for four more years, I thought: Okay. Now, I have experienced cold.
At least I thought that until I ran into some locals the next day. Their responses? Oh you think THAT was cold. You should have been here in the winter of '61 . . . or some other variation of that statement.
I had lived through forty below zero and I still wasn't in the club. Go figure!
The last winter we were in Minnesota, we had a snow storm in May. The record books even etched this one in as the largest snowfall ever recorded in the month of May in a 24-hour-period or something else of the like. Awesome! Now I am in the club! I lived in Minnesota for a record setting summer day.
Yeah right! For one reason or another, despite the fact that two feet of snow had fallen as my birth date neared, I still didn't belong. This record really didn't count. Why? Well it depended on who you talked to. One person told me that it didn't count because while there was a lot of snow that fell in that 24-hour period, there wasn't as much snow already on the ground to measure into accumulation. When he was a kid there was snow on top of snow on top of snow and that was worse. Another person told me that these records didn't go back long enough. If they had gone back to when he was a kid (he was really old), then our May total would be rather pitiful.
You get the idea.
Clubless. Left out completely.
Okay, so, my point. Sorry.
My point is that I realized we all, myself included, do what the local Minnesotans did to me during those long winters. We want our pain or our experience to be the worst or the most important. It's human nature.
I used a fun example. I mean, who really cares if I belong to the Minnesotan club, right? But on a more serious note, there are other clubs. There are clubs for those who have lost a child, lost a parent, lost a spouse. There are clubs for those who have gone through infertility like we did or for people who have battled a terminal illness.
An example: I cannot tell you the number of times I have had someone say to me: "My husband and I have been trying to have kids for ___ years and have not been successful."
At this point I have two options. The first option is to weigh their situation and determine whether their pain qualifies them to be in my club. I can do this by saying things like:
- “Oh, that’s nothing, I…”
- “Just you wait…”
- “When it happened to me…”
- “Toughen up…”
- “You’ll get over it…”
- “Trust me, I know…”
Or something similar.
But instead of trying to compare my pain . . . instead of trying to make sure that they are "allowed" or "justified" to feel the same pain as me, I could use a second option which sounds more like this:
- “I’m so sorry you’re experiencing so much pain…”
- “Keep hope, it’s hard but it will pass…”
- “Tell me more about it…”
- “How can I help?”
Or best of all, silence and a good set of listening ears.
I have had so many people write me emails or say to me in person that they feel guilty grieving their own infertility when they read how long and how hard the journey JB and I traveled. I am quick to tell them that grief is not something you can measure. My five years may seem like a lot. Four negative IVFs seems like a lot. But trust me. Somewhere there is someone who is looking at my little 'bout of infertility and feeling that I don't belong in the club.
The truth is, if you have dealt with infertility for even one month longer than you thought you should, you have a taste of this cruddy road. You understand my grief. You can sympathize. You can feel for me and for others like me. Your understanding may be different. It may less or more intense. But grief is grief. We can all sympathize and be there for someone no matter what. Heck, even if we haven't lived with infertility ourselves, we can be there for other people with understanding and kind words.
I leave you with the hope that the next time someone tries to join your club, you welcome them with a listening ear and words of encouragement -- not guilt that they aren't as worthy a member as you are. I also want to encourage those of you out there who are in the early months or years of struggling with infertility to feel free to email me as you deal with your grief. I will never think that you don't have a right to be frustrated, scared, grief-stricken, overwhelmed. There are no rules when it comes to grief, and if it's been one month, three years, or ten years, your understanding of what it is like to watch a dream slip away is real.
Oh and c'mon local Minnesotans . . . even if I only did four winters in Minnesota, I think I put in enough time to at least have a partial membership to your club. Don't you?!