I remember lying in hospital with OHSS, tubes everywhere, unable to rise without assistance, throwing up because I'd taken morphine for the pain and it wasn't agreeing with me. My mother was by my bedside. And one day she looked at me and said, "Is it really worth it?" And I looked back at her - rather cruelly in hindsight - and said, "Well you tell me, mum." She never answered. How could she?

Was she going to tell me I should keep trying again and again til I nearly killed myself, if necessary, and if it still didn't work that I should just know, for the rest of my life, that I had absolutely missed out in a quite enormous way? Or was she going to stand there and say, "Look, dear, I like you ok and everything, but I'm not that into you." That's the first reason I have trouble answering this question. I can't stand here and say something which might be misread as not loving my child enough, nor can I bring myself to perpetuate the myth that happiness is only to be found through procreation - for my child's sake, for anyone else's, and also in the name of truth.

These quibbles, however, are relatively easy to overcome. Without a bustling nurse to interrupt the awkward pause and set the conversation onto a new track, I could produce a cohesive version of the reality. I could talk about the many worthwhile things one can do in life, how parenting is one of them but not the only one, the strength it takes to overcome great odds in pursuit of great dreams, and the equally great strength - and wisdom - it takes to know the right time to walk away. I would rabbit on for a bit about how, as complex individuals, we will find that a variety of things satisfy us. Then there would probably be a few cliches - doors opening as others close, opportunities coming in strange guises, etc etc - and although I would stop short of waxing lyrical about silver linings, I would probably feel compelled to philosophise for a bit about the nature of love, the unknowableness of alternative paths not taken, and the extent to which someone who doesn't exist yet can have interests, and if so, what would those interests be?

But here's where I'd come unstuck: I wouldn't be able to provide a means by which to weigh any of this shit against any of the rest of this shit. And the reason, basically, is because we always have to answer the question in the absence of key information. And that's exactly where Julie also came unstuck earlier this week, when someone asked her the self-same question, and she tried, so honestly, to answer.

It's easy for the hopeful infertility patient to focus on their lack of information about the future. Of course it's impossible to predict what will happen, but where it really gets tangly is your uncertainty over how you'll feel about it. No matter how much you hear, read, and observe about parenthood, everywhere you will hear it said: "You don't really know what it's like til you've been there." This is, of course, true for any experience, technically speaking and to a greater or lesser extent, so much so that it's almost not worth noting out loud. I can buy a cafe latte every morning from the very same barista at the very same coffee shop and I can never really know if drinking it will feel the same tomorrow as it did today. Parenthood is, of course, a slightly more profound and altering experience - if anyone thinks otherwise, please tell me where you get your coffee - and so the expectation gap between what you envision and what you get is probably going to be a lot larger, or at least more significant. It is true, to at least some extent - and it weighs heavily on those still waiting - that parenting is yet another of those experiences you can't totally foresee*. And with others' responses to parenthood covering such positive and negative extremes, it's hard not to be at least a little nervous about where on the spectrum your own, personal feelings will lie. So we lack a lot of information about the future, but of this, we are almost painfully aware.

What is less obvious is how much information we lack about the past. Julie touches on our natural forgetfulness - that wonderful human inability to conjure up the full depths of our past unhappiness. I remember what it was like, from time to time, prompted by one thing or another, but no matter how vivid those memories feel, it's not the same as being there, living it, every hour, every day, with no end in sight. How can I possibly sit where I am now and weigh what I've got with what I went through, when I can't accurately recall what I went through? Even if I read through my own archives, tears in my eyes, there's always a little voice in the back of my mind singing, "It's ok - it's over now." No - it's impossible. It's lost. It's information I can only approximate at this point in time.

Even less obvious than our lack of information about the past, is our lack of information about the present. Have you ever read those psych studies where they get groups of undergrad students to perform certain tasks under various arrangements of threat or reward, and then conduct complicated questionnaires and interviews with them? Paradoxically, people tend to believe more earnestly in the inherent worth of a task the less they can see a corresponding reward - and they don't even know they're doing it. What this means is that, no matter how careful and honest I try to be with myself, I can't be quite sure how much my subconscious is adding in the background. And with a couple of years of infertility hell added on to the wails and dirty nappies of the "downsides" end of the equation, I suspect it's adding doubly hard. Woman is not rational, but rationalising, and I want, so badly - for our sake and our son's - to say yes, this is great, we love it, we're all in love, it's perfect, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Was it worth it? Is it worth it? The truth is that nobody can accurately weigh the effort against the outcome, because from every standpoint we lack the precise information needed to do so. Nevertheless, I have an answer.

Did you ever watch The West Wing? Did you see the one - I think it was season six - with Penn and Teller in it? Josh stops them in the hallway to question them about a trick they just performed at a private party in the White House. He wants to know, did they actually burn an American flag, or did they just make it appear as if they had burnt an American flag? "What difference does it make?" is Penn's answer, and he shrugs.

Do I really think I gained more than I lost through infertility, or does it simply appear that way from where I stand now, with the past paling into the background and my subconscious doing who-knows-what to close any potential gaps? What difference does it make? I am here, it is done, we are glad.

I have no idea what kind of person Julie's reader is. Perhaps that's not the answer she wants to hear. If not, there are plenty of others to choose from, and I guess she can take her pick. I do know that Infertile Bea of days past would have found immense comfort in hearing what I have written now. Upon finishing, she would have sat back and breathed out, feeling the world come back into focus as her head and heart gradually ceased their frantic spinning. Then she would have concluded: it's time to stop worrying so intensely about whether we're about to get it right. It's time, instead, to find peace in making the best choices we can with the information - incomplete and uncertain as it may be - we have here, at this moment in time.

*I say this, although, to be honest, my biggest surprise regarding parenting is that it's almost exactly like I thought it would be. Someone asked me at one point how I was finding it, and I said pretty much like I expected, which I didn't see coming at all, which means that, really, it isn't like what I expected because I was expecting it to be different to what I thought it would be like, but then again, the unexpectedness of this fulfilment of expectation means that it probably meets my expectations of unexpectedness after all. Which is pretty much what I expected. Which...


Lollipop Goldstein said...

I'm glad you posted this here where more people could read it. I love this line: "no matter how careful and honest I try to be with myself, I can't be quite sure how much my subconscious is adding in the background."

What about the idea of entering (or attempting to enter) parenthood without any expectations therefore there is never a gap. Everything is what it is and you are willing to take any experience to be in that moment?

Bea said...

I think you necessarily form some idea of what you're aiming at in order to decide whether or not to aim there. But I do think being open-minded with your expectations - trying not to make them too firm or specific - is a good idea, though a hard one to follow through when it's infertility, and especially when you're at the point of making a high-stakes decision about where to go next.

Jess said...

....and how can anyone ever know if it was worth it? What if something else would have indeed been "better" but you never know because you pursued parenthood.

Or what if you chose, reluctantly, to live childless instead of doing that IVF, and saved your potential child from some sort of fatal disease and early death? It's so hard to say what "worth it" is. Even now, with "healthy" kids....who knows how long that health runs, and if a child dies at 3, has it been worth it? I'd like to say yes, of course, and that IS the reflex, BUT....but...is it, for the family and the child? It's all impossible to guess. You have to just do what feels right for you and hope that with God's help you can make good of it.

I have really thought these posts lately have been fascinating! Thanks for sharing your input!

Cibele said...

you are a brilliant writer my friend. As for me, it was worth it... looking back I would have done some things differently (as long as the final outcome was the same). With my failed marriage, sometimes I wonder how it would be if I did not have her, I ask if I would have tried so hard if I knew that I was going to end up as a single mother. In the beginning I was not sure, but with time I am certain, certain that my life is much better because of her and I would do everything all over again.

No Minimom said...

I think you do have a sort of selective amnesia once you have a child after infertility. I would try to have another child in a heartbeat, but my husband more clearly remembers the toll on me and our marriage. Like you said, I can look back on my blog posts about the physical and emotional stress of ttc and miscarriage, but it's like there's a filter there that tells me if I did it again, it wouldn't be so bad.

My answer to the question "Is it worth it?" is a resounding yes, because I think my sons are worth any amount of sacrifice on my part. But what if I had never been able to have a child? Would my answer be the same? Probably not.

Lut C. said...

I couldn't have put it into words, but I think you've nailed it.

When we were still in the throws of treatment, I once said if a pill existed to make the desire to have children go away forever, I would probably take it. I stand by that.

It doesn't mean I don't love Linnea.

That was then, this is now.

Alena said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Baby Smiling In Back Seat said...

Here from LFCA/Kirtsy...

I enjoyed the whole post, but particularly the discussion of cognitive dissonance. Although I'm very familiar with the concept, I'd never considered it in relation to infertility -- rather surprising, given that infertility is all I thought about for so many years.

The difference between the cognitive dissonance experiments and IF treatments is that the low reward that convinces us that treatments are so worthwhile eventually becomes a tremendously high reward. The conundrum is that if anything, after having a child we perceive the treatments to have been more worthwhile.

Cibele said...

Hi, just want to let you know that I changes my blog address so some people can't find me. I had some uninvited guests and I don't wanna go password protected yet. The blog is the same just update your link to http://www.cibele-hopeful1.blogspot.com/

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