When I’m not at work, I keep myself occupied with one form or other of martial arts. I’ve done Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, kickboxing and the like for 25 years. One of the things you learn when studying the science of beating the stuffing out of people is to try and hit them when and where they least expect it.
I mention this because life has apparently studied a bit of kickboxing as well, and one of the things that will happen to anyone struggling with infertility is exactly that. You don’t just get punched, kicked and beaten up at the doctor’s office, or the pharmacist, or at home in the various intimacies of coupling, injecting and waiting for test results. Life will hit you, right where it hurts, and when you least expect it.
At some point, something will catch you completely off guard and knock you to your emotional (or literal) knees. Moreover, some of the individual instances will be unique to one of you, rooted in your internal self-image, generations of archetypes and gender roles and familial traditions and expectations of what it means to be a man, or a woman, a mother or a father or a “Jones of the Chicago Joneses.”
I would love to tell you that I’m explaining this in order to provide a solution, the kung fu blocking pattern that will protect you from the punch that comes when you least expect it. I can’t actually tell you that. It’s going to happen to you, and it’s going to hurt when it does.
What I can tell you is that it’s normal, it’s ok and, as odd as this sounds, you get used to it. It doesn’t exactly hurt less, but you can become… tolerant… of certain types of pain if you have a team to help you prepare. It’s how boxers learn to shrug off dozens of punches any one of which would lay a normal person out flat.
Let me offer a concrete example of this happening to me so you can understand what I mean. I typically use my long commute to educate myself through audio books. During our IVF treatments I decided to listen to “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, a delightful and utterly readable layman’s walk through the history of science by humourist Bill Bryson which (despite what I am about to say) I completely recommend. I popped in the first CD, put the car in gear, and headed off to work.
I pulled over not five minutes in, psychologically flattened by the hook punch I never saw coming. This absolutely wonderful book opens with the following passage, which would strike anyone who isn’t struggling with infertility as completely charming.
“Welcome, and congratulations. I’m delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize… To be here now, now, alive in the 21st century and smart enough to know it, you not only had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune, but you have been extremely – make that miraculously – fortunate in your personal ancestry.
Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears, on both sides, has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so.
Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner, at the right moment, in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all to briefly – in you.”
Engage brakes, pull to side of road, transmission into “park”, commence complete meltdown.
All I wanted to do was drink my soda, drive to work and enjoy the day. And Bryson opens what is, in my opinion, the best book of his career by saying (or at least what I’m hearing is) that after three billion years of fortuitous circumstance and biological vigor, the ancient, timeless and incomprehensibly complicated series of events that brought my family, my line, my genes down through the endless ages may very well be about to end, and it’s all my fault….
After a million million generations from time immemorial, I am the guy who ruins the whole thing. No offspring to perpetuate my genes, no son to bear my name, no daughter to carry on the lovely blue eyes they say capture the seas and skies of our ancestral home in Norway, no next generation to carry on the mathematical bent that has ensured gainful employment since my father’s father’s father.
What, after all, is IVF but the embodiment of my utter failure, as Bryson puts it, at the most fundamental duty of a man and a father, “life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment”?
Whatever the differences in our culture, religion, views or upbringing, each of us as a potential father goes into adulthood with the weight of generations of tradition, obligation, expectations and beliefs on our shoulders.
Few things that I have ever experienced can be more difficult to bear, or harder to talk about, than the internal questioning of this most foundational, most elemental duty of a man, a father and a living creature. The most basic drive in nature is to reproduce, to perpetuate our genes, to leave behind a living legacy and a reflection of our best selves in our sons and daughters.
I wish I had a panacea to protect you from the random and utterly unpredictable moments that will cause this all to come welling up and coldcock you. I don’t. All I can do, as I promised in my first post, is to forewarn you those moments are coming, and remind you that you’ve got a team in your corner. All of us, from Cathy and I on the blog to the wonderful doctors and staff at Conceive, are here to help you get back up when you’re knocked down by the punch you never saw coming.
This post is also available in: Arabic