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Infertility is the Most Painful Journey of Self-Discovery You’ll Ever Take

Posted Jan 29 2013 2:11pm

I was selfish, fickle, flighty and distracted four years ago. I still am, but the difference today, four years later, is that I recognize these qualities about myself now.

I am also brave, strong, bold and empowered.

If you told me four years ago I would one day say that about myself, I would have laughed in your face.

“I’m nothing,” I would have said. “I’m broken. I’m a failure. I have no idea what tomorrow is even going to look like, let alone feel bold or empowered.”

That’s how I felt in the hours and days following my diagnosis. How I felt for months. And then gradually, I started to move beyond the feelings of failure and shame. I don’t know what the exact moment was, but it was like a gradual realization, like the slow opening of a flower bud or a seedling poking through the soil to touch the air for the first time.

And while I can’t pinpoint that moment of change, I know that I must have made a choice fairly early on to stop letting infertility dictate my life and instead learning to live with it, merely a part of me instead of consuming me. I couldn’t choose to magically resume my fertility again, but I could choose to decide how to live with my infertility.

It’s how I approach my depression right now, too. I can’t choose to magically balance the chemical responses firing away in my brain and endocrine system, but I can choose to decide how to live with my depression.

(Depression and infertility are basically interchangeable in this instance.)

I described this phenomenon to Esperanza , as we chatted online recently. I talked about how over the course of the last four years, I’ve let pain become a part of my life instead of consuming it. Rather than drown in the pain, I learned to breathe it in like a fish. I learned and accepted that pain was simply a part of my environment but that it wasn’t the ONLY thing in my world. It’s almost like swimming through a polluted stream: I still have to breathe, but the water will clear again.

In these past four years, I’ve learned to swim with the current : honoring grief, pain, messiness, anger, guilt, shame. But I’ve also learned to swim against it , too.

Infertility is the Most Painful Journey of Self-Discovery You'll Ever Take

Photo by Beth Punches via Flickr

And I had a LOT of time on my hands before we ever dived into the madness that is fertility treatments. I kept myself busy, but it wasn’t “busy work.” I’d like to think I’ve been doing important work for this community that’s made a difference. It might not be on some grand, paradigm-shifting level (which, is still my goal) – but I see it in the emails and comments that people leave telling me how much this space and my words have meant to them. That’s what keeps me coming back to the space, but I know it matters to others. (So fret not: this is not some parting soliloquy of blog abandonment.)

And during all that time, all this waiting – it allowed me to really re-evaluate not just my whole life, but fundamentally, who I am as a person.

I’ve realized now that infertility is the most painful journey of self-discovery you’ll ever take.

And you know what? Nine times out of ten it’s a journey that you’re pulled into against your will, whether you’re ready to take that journey or not. Infertility is not just putting your feet to the fire… it puts your very sense of self to the test.

I have learned some stark truths about myself. I have seen darkness and shadows and grief and pain within me like I never even thought was possible. But I’ve also seen resolve and light and hope and peace within me too, with reserves so deep I wonder just how deep those emotional reserves really go.

This weekend was my first retreat for the Boston New Leaders Council Institute . To say that it was transformative is an understatement: I was surrounded by 17 NLC Fellows whose life stories, triumphs and ambitions overwhelm me to the point I almost wonder exactly how the hell I got into this group of greatness. In 48 hours, I identified – I mean really dove deep and identified my strengths. I put to paper and my soul the work I really need to be doing: not the work I want to do, not the work that’s easy to do, not the work that others expect me to do – but the work that feeds my purpose.

And so I’m taking the remaining five NLC Institute weekends and the rest of this year to commit myself to this work, the details of which will be slowly forthcoming here in this space. And, shocker – I’ll be creating (yet another) website in the next few months as I sort it all out.

None of this would have been possible without my infertility.

I would never have had the courage to take the great leaps of faith and bold risks that I intend to take over the next twelve months if I hadn’t dug as deep as I have over the last four years: examining the kind of life I have, the life I seek to create, the woman I want to become and the legacy I intend to leave.

There will be false-starts and disappointment and frustrations. But I also hope there will be growth, success and new ventures that are going to benefit of LOT of people – beyond the infertility community. I’m just not ready to share any plans yet, simply because there ARE no concrete plans yet, just lots of bold ideas. But as committed as I was to seeing my way through infertility, I intend to see these plans through as well. And I can’t wait to share the fruits of those labors with you when it’s time.

And remember: no matter how painful this journey of self-discovery might be – just hang on. Do what you have to do to work through it. It is worth it so that you can look yourself in the mirror, look at all the invisible scars of this long-fought battle and say to yourself:

I am brave.

I am strong.

I am bold and empowered.

Because you are.

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