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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Three weeks ago, I stopped pretending. No more faking it, no more disguises.
Now the world knows what's going on behind the facade of my everyday persona: My husband and I are struggling to have a family. We have lost a pregnancy, endured tests, treatments and in-vitro fertilizations, felt scared, sad, inadequate and lonely. We're broken, and just flat broke.
Infertility's special cruelty is that it isolates you: from friends (especially friends with kids), from family (so many hopes and expectations unfulfilled), sometimes from your spouse, from the whole human endeavor. My main goals in telling my story were to give infertile couples a way to talk about what they've been through and to help others understand us. The response has been tremendous.
Since my story, "The Longing," was published on Sept. 30, I have received phone calls, e-mails, letters, books, and an in-person visit to my desk from a supportive work acquaintance and her IVF twins. A few readers chastised me for not adopting a needy child or for having misplaced priorities or an overactive ego.
But most letters were more like these:
"I needed a good cry and to know that I wasn't alone in my overwhelming longing to be a Mom."
"Thank you for putting such a real, human face on infertility. So many times, it's hidden, covered up, kept quiet . . . It feels so shameful, that we cannot do the most basic of human functions."
"I too am the last one I know that hasn't gotten pregnant. All the new friends I made on this journey, even those with 'less than a 2% chance,' have gotten pregnant. I am 38 now and I still am not ready to give up either. My 401K may be my next victim. Thank you for putting into words so much of what my husband and I have felt. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone."
Infertility patients around the country are picking up the story and putting down the disguise. The story has been passed around, posted on Internet bulletin boards (not just the one I frequent myself), and linked on several infertility blogs.
"When I'm ready to share my 'adventures' with my family and friends and the reason why I've been MIA, I'm going to pass them your article."
"I am going to show it to my other friends who just don't get it."
One woman sent the article to her sister-in-law, who e-mailed her back: "It really made me understand a little better what you are going through. I mean, I knew it was tough, but I had no idea just how tough."
For some, my story was a cautionary tale. It made them confront the possibility that they may have difficulty getting pregnant - something that never occurred to me until I started trying.
"It made me think, for the first time, about something that I have preferred to push off. I have a medical condition that can make fertility an issue . . . After reading your article, I think I should talk more seriously with my husband and doctors about what to expect and how much time to allow. I feel that I am young, newly married and don't want children yet. But your story made me aware that, like anything else in life, there are no guarantees that things will happen at the time and in the way I would plan them."
For others, it was a call to arms. They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. One e-mail came from a writer at the Kansas City Star, who saw my story because a friend who knew she'd "been there" sent it to her.
The struggle "brought more depth to my writing. I really felt the pain and longing and all the injustices that seemed to be going on around me . . . I volunteered to go to Iraq. The first woman from the Star to go to a war zone. Then I went back again. The paper trusted me to send me to Hurricane Katrina. And then last summer, I went to Afghanistan. To me, it seemed if I could handle the pressure of an in-vitro cycle I could handle nearly anything."
The adoption option
On the other hand, some said I am looking for love in all the wrong places. Many letters came from adoptive parents. Surprisingly, most weren't bossy or judgmental. They just wanted me to be as happy as they are.
"(Adoption is) NOT second best. It's a wonderful way to build your family . . . But, first, you have to grieve your infertility."
"I think you are wise at this time to insist that you don't want to 'just adopt' . . . I will add this to possibly ponder in the future, however: Genes didn't seem relevant to me in that room in the Fort Wayne Children's Home where I was first handed our tiny Kathy with her big-eyed look of 'what the heck's goin' on?' "
I'm sure everyone who considers adoption has the same fear - what if the adoption falls through? - but one reader comforted me. " 'How do you get through the near misses?' We cried for a week, then jerked ourselves up and said, 'There's a baby out there for us and we're going to find it! Obviously this baby wasn't the one with our name on it.' "
A few took me to task for not considering adoption. "I just finished reading the story of the child that was brutalized by the mother's boyfriend . . . Then I turned the page to your pity party. I have no pity to offer you. There are too many children on this planet now that desperately need a mother or any decent loving person to WANT them, show them love, respect, care and offer them a normal life. Meanwhile, you are spending thousands of dollars and wasting mountains of time so you can bring another life onto the planet, while ignoring the ones that are already here."
Others think I am hopeless.
"(I am) now adoptive parent to the most beautiful human beings in the world. Please don't adopt! No child should know that their mother would bankrupt her family, mortgage her future, and suffer excruciating torment to avoid them."
If I have learned nothing else, it's that life isn't about getting what you deserve. It's about handling what you get. "It's just heartbreaking to hear your story; then you see stories like Britney Spears' kids being taken from her. If everyone had to go thru the hoops and heartache necessary for adoption or infertility, to have a child, the need for foster care would probably be eliminated."
Many people suggested doctors or recommended treatments. A doctoral student writing her thesis on the psychological needs of women undergoing IVF understood that the emotional strain has been much worse than the physical. She wrote, "Women should be receiving both physical and psychological care to help maximize reproductive functioning, improve the quality of daily life, and prepare them in the event that IVF attempts are unsuccessful. Psychologists with an understanding of the rigors of IVF treatment and issues related to involuntary childlessness can appropriately treat and thus help women undergoing IVF in a multitude of ways."
Several recommended acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. Perhaps I should have mentioned it before, but I did try acupuncture. It helped with PMS, headaches, stress and insomnia. No baby, alas.
Others suggested unscientific methods.
"This is the secret - and this has helped many couples I know who had given up - to succeed in bearing a child. Put a pillow under your hips after sex . . ."
"One doctor suggested, jokingly, that my husband and I rent a '63 Chevy and go to the local drive-in on a Friday night."
This one still makes me teary to behold its kindness: "It made me wish I could do something to help. But, unfortunately, I am neither a doctor or a philanthropist. I'd like to at least send you my good wishes." Thank you, I'll take them gratefully.
Not the end
Others wrote to remind me that life without children can be okay too. Some seem happier with their choices than others.
"We love our lives and the freedom to pull up stakes and move on a whim, we've seen some great cities, and some not so great. . . and we've traveled at will, bought a two-seater car, and partied into the wee hours. I'm hoping there's still hope, but if someday there isn't, I'm begging you, don't forget to live. Go to the dog track or catch a new indie band and rock until they throw you out at closing time . . . Take a job that pays less, if it makes you happier."
"Kate, I truly hope that you can find meaning in your life outside bearing your own children. I can't imagine a sadder way to live than to base your entire existence around the one thing you can't have."
"You may be investing too much emotion and money into this. Our kids grew up, moved far away, and now ignore us. Was it worth the effort? Your life depends on what YOU achieve, not just kids."
In the end, I know that I have to go on the best way I can, just like everyone else.
"Hope is a tricky thing. I remember praying to God to squash my hopes so I could go on with my life. But hope never dies. And in the end I'm glad it doesn't (even though we did not get what we wanted)."
"I know that hindsight is 20/20 and it is impossible to imagine this, but I would seriously do this 100 times over if I knew the end result would be (my son). He is the greatest blessing in our lives."
"Be sure to always let your little ones know how much they were wanted and loved from the get-go!"
I will tell them, I promise. I fully expect a whiny adolescent to retort, "I didn't ASK to be born, you know!"