I enjoy posts where women interview their husbands about the manly side of infertility (you know, the side that smokes cigars and uses chain saws) or, in general, where the more physically involved partner interviews the less physically involved partner. I've never been inspired to do it myself, but I have considered interviewing the other main character in my life, BFB. After reading Secret Sloper's recent post about her best friend, I decided to do it. What follows is an interview conducted over IM. A few things I'd like to say at the outset. First, BFB has promised never look for this interview, and we can trust her. So if you have any thoughts, feel free to voice them as you won't be hurting her feelings. Second, it's possible something she says might make you feel bad or annoyed, and if so, fuck her! I'm doing this because I'm curious about what the experience looks like from the outside, not because I think she deserves a voice or something. 'Cause when it comes to IF, she doesn't. Her little sadnesses, while real, are trivial bullshit compared to what you guys are going through. If that makes any sense. And third, I realize this is an exercise in navel-gazing between two good friends, so may be of limited value to others. (Plus it has a certain self-congratulatory flavor...) But I learned a number of interesting new things by doing it. And if you can't be bothered to read it, you might at least enjoy knowing that a) she's envious of my internet friends, and b) I call her an obnoxious bag of fecundity.
Bunny: Okay. Here's my first question. What does my experience look like from the outside? I know that’s broad, but…
BFB: Oh, wow, yeah, that is a big question. It looks like it sucks, obviously, but that's not a particularly interesting observation. One thing that I didn't really appreciate before is how crummy it is for being both punctual (you get to have a sequence of MANY individual disappointing and miserable events) and unbounded (it goes on and on and you don't know when it will stop, and in a way I guess it doesn't ever stop — you will still feel certain ways no matter how many babies you have). Okay, so that's one thing. Another is… hmm, I'm finding this hard to articulate, but it's something like how much it can trump almost anything else. It gets first dibs on your schedule and your emotions, which must be really exhausting in its own right. At the moment, I find that I'm thinking of the experience as something separate from you that kind of assaults you. That's probably not right. But I'm trying to say that I'm impressed that you remain so much YOU while dealing with all this shit, and also that it seems pretty clear that it's something that can take up a lot of your sense of self. Ugh. Does that make any sense at all?
Bunny: Sure! Although on that last point, I'm not sure I believe you. I feel like a very different person. My sense of self has taken a real hit. Sometimes maybe I just pretend to be me. You know, 'cause gelatinous weeping person is less interesting to be around.
BFB: Well, don't we all. I'll always love you, my gelatinous blob friend. But yeah, that seems like a really hard part of it — keeping a sense of yourself aside from Being Infertile, or whatever. Also, I was really struck by what you said the other day about how it's hard to connect all the procedures to the desired outcome anymore. Oh, it's just this thing I do, having abdominal surgery and being wretched. It's my hobby!
Bunny: I think those are some good observations. Either you're astute or I've just been very clear about the sucky aspects. Some infertile women feel that their fertile friends don't understand how much it absorbs every moment of their existence, is all they think about, CAN'T be pushed aside... etc.
BFB: Well, you are articulate! Also, we've made a real effort to actually see each other often, which probably helps.
Bunny: So you said "didn't really appreciate before". I think before I had this experience I thought infertility (IF) only happened to sad losers with low sperm count. I was astonished at the lengths people went to in order to get pregnant. I was an ignorant, insensitive asshole. What was your prior experience?
BFB: Well, before we actually started trying to conceive, I'd been reading a few blogs by women dealing with infertility. Partly just because they were smart and funny, and partly because I had this idea that I should be prepared for the possibility. Soooo, on the one hand that helped to preempt some ignorant notions I might have formed. But on the other it has made me unfortunately hyper-aware and twitchy about how people think about "fertiles".
Bunny: Oh, I bet.
BFB: And so, quite aside from interacting with you and your specific experience, I've sometimes oscillated between feeling defensive (I'm not "a fertile"! People who have babies aren't necessarily ungrateful cows, even if they are ambivalent or sad!) and feeling like I am in no position to get to feel defensive about anything.
Bunny: Yeah, I think that's perfectly understandable. The whole ingroup / outgroup dynamic is unfortunate. Though also necessary.
BFB: It is, but… exactly.
Bunny: We could have a long conversation about it, but it would probably get really academic.
BFB: Ha, yes, I was just thinking the very same thing. I guess the other thing I want to say on that same topic is that one thing that has made me sad is the sense that fertility seems to give me automatic lifetime status as a Fortunate Person, which I certainly am, in more ways than just that! But… it means that I don't feel entitled to look for much in the way of sympathy when things aren't perfect. Which, whatever, it's probably good for me to get over myself sometimes. And I can always cry at Mr. BFB. This dynamic isn't something I particularly attribute to you, by the way. It's just there.
Bunny: Sure, I can see how that would be the case. I've felt something a little similar in that I've got this cushy job... Do you think that would have been less of an issue if you hadn't been reading IF blogs? You know, if you'd kept yourself more ignorant?
BFB: Maybe! Although it's not like I wouldn't have been able to see that you are right there having a FUCKING MISERABLE time. But, yeah, I probably wouldn't be quite as aware that pretty much everyone agrees that infertility misery completely trumps things like "I lack career success." On the other hand, then I would be even more of a dink than I am, so there's that.
Bunny: Except actually very few people agree that IF misery trumps other things, it would appear. Mainly they're like Why don't you just adopt? Even nice people like Mutual Friend. So I think you somehow managed to arrive at a pretty enlightened view. Moving on. So you'd been reading these blogs...what was it like when you learned I was ONE OF THEM?
BFB: It was like OH SHIT SHE'LL HATE ME FOREVER IF I GET PREGNANT.
Bunny: Which I obviously do and will.
Bunny: Okay, so next question.
BFB: And later I was jealous that now you had Internet Friends of your own that I won't know.
Bunny: Seriously? But you've always had YOUR internet friends!
BFB: I know! It's stupid.
Bunny: I think it's sweet. So how much time do / did you spend worrying about my feelings? Either when you were pregnant or now? And if that number is greater than zero, what are some of the specific things you’ve worried about saying or doing?
BFB: Oh my god. I spend loads of time worrying about your feelings! Here are things I have worried about: Upsetting you with my mere presence. Nattering on about myself and my baby. Forgetting to ask how things are going, or asking when you want to think about something else. Overstepping my bounds in acting like I know about IF, both all its glorious technical details and its emotional valences. Taking the wrong attitude with respect to when vs. if you get pregnant. Comparing your experience to something else — which you would think would be simple enough to JUST AVOID, and yet it's a very common conversational strategy. Oh! And finally, and this is a big one, making you feel like I am tiptoeing around something in a way that would make you feel hurt and sad, while also not just gratuitously talking about things that rub your nose in feeling hurt and sad.
Bunny: Things as in pregnancy things you were experiencing?
BFB: Yeah. I think mostly I've just erred on the side of telling you about everything.
Bunny: Yeah, and I have (at least, I think I have) tended to ask.
BFB: You have!
Bunny: You've said you're interested in hearing about what I’m going through, and I believe you. But you don't always ask. So if you’re not asking about it, is it more likely that you're not interested at the moment (because no one can be interested in one topic at all times) or is it more likely that you’re not sure if I want to talk?
BFB: The latter. Sometimes people want to natter about other stuff when they're sad (Mr. BFB, especially, which probably has trained me in this direction) and I don't always see the right conversational opening. But I can ask more if that would feel better for you. However, it really is the case that I would ALWAYS like to know.
Bunny: I think you should feel free to ask. (It's very weird to me that Mr. BFB would rather talk about other things when he's sad. CRAZY! I wonder if Mr. Bunny it the same! It doesn't seem like it, but it would explain some exchanges...) I think it's one of those things where I feel like I'm burdening you if I bring it up and you worry about me not wanting to talk about it, so you're denied my fascinating stories about fascinating me, and I feel...I dunno...unsupported. Not that I'm saying I feel unsupported, which I don't, except to the extent that you can't possibly support me. We just need a code word that sums up the whole I want to hear if you want to talk biznazz.
BFB: We totally do.
Bunny: Ummm...onions is the first thing that comes to mind. In an interrogative tone. Interrogative onions?
BFB: I like it.
Bunny: And of course you have to NOT be hurt if I'm like NO ONIONS! Which places the burden on you, but hey. (Here we talk about the fact that I pretty much avoided her for most of October and all of November. She notes that she worried, while trying not to take it personally. We talk about the Celebratory Pre-Birth Event. We talk about an event where she tried to be sensitive and got shat upon, though this was mainly a miscommunication coupled with my natural tendency to be a sullen asshole.) Okay, next question. What are the experiences you feel like you missed out on because of what I was dealing with?
BFB: Well, so I missed out on the uncomplicated joy stuff. Especially because my family is also small. And I missed you, because you had to hide. And I missed not feeling like "a fertile" or whatever. I was afraid I'd lose my best friend. Thanks for being awesome.
Bunny: Any thoughts on the best and worst aspects of this experience?
BFB: Best: (a) I feel like we actually both know a lot more about each other than we would have if we hadn't had to make such a massive effort to avoid catastrophe. (b) I suspect that because I know how lucky I am, I've attended a lot more to the positive rather than the scary/disconcerting aspects of pregnancy and early parenthood. Worst: The way that your self gets all tied up with your fertility status. I hated the fact that my body could be a big alienating insensitive jerk on my behalf. You get attached to the idea that you aren't your body, you know?
Bunny: Boy do I ever. Trying to believe that is a big struggle. In fact, I'd say at the moment I don't believe it at all. But I hope someday I will, however this turns out.
BFB: I hope so too. I mean, I guess I think this: your body IS you, but you aren't your body.
BFB: Pass the chips.
BFB: (remind me to tell you something about that in person!)
Bunny: Very well. It is about your BOWELS? I BET IT IS! So the “not feeling like a fertile”...do you think that would have happened anyway? You know, without wonderful me in your life?
BFB: Hmm. Possibly it would have happened in more galling ways, actually. I mean, so, being concerned with the way that I suddenly inhabited this particular identity category with respect to wonderful you
Bunny: OMG JARGON!
BFB: ... has pretty much completely overshadowed the bullshit I was expecting with respect to the general public. Being lumped in with "moms" or whatever. And you are you, not the general public, so it is more of a genuine, individual identity something-or-other.
Bunny: So is it like, "I'm not entirely comfortable with this identity as pregnant woman / mom, but when I look at the alternative it makes it seem less upsetting to my sense of self. Cause at least I'm not Defective Un-woman"?
BFB: RIGHT. Noooooo. It is like, "I'm not entirely comfortable with this identity as pregnant woman / mom, but frankly that cultural identity is so patently not very much to do with my real experience, as illustrated by these other identity categories that strike much closer to home."
Bunny: Hmmm... so are you saying you felt more like me than like the mommies at your birthing class or whatever? (Mommies is shorthand for women whose entire existence is defined by motherhood in a gross and boring way. No offense to those who like the term.)
BFB: Oh yes. And, I don't know, I guess I just didn't care much anymore if some idiot lumped me in with them; I cared much more about not being lumped into a group defined by being unlike you. Or something. I am doing a poor job of articulating this, sadly.
Bunny: So it was more like "I don't care if people see me as a mommy, as long as intelligent infertile women don't see me as an obnoxious bag of fecundity"?
BFB: Mm, yes! Boy, that makes me sound charming. Maybe it's because I'm not a mommy and I know it, but I'm afraid I am an obnoxious bag of fecundity.
Bunny: Well, I mean, the reality is that you are fecund, but you were never obnoxious to me. And I doubt that you were to others. So last question. Ignoring the fact that you might be uncomfortable issuing advice on this matter, any advice on how to keep a friendship strong while going through this?
BFB: I think it's been very good that both of us have talked a lot about what is going on with us, and seen each other regularly, because then an individual shitty interaction gets drowned out. And, on the flip side, as you say, both parties should ideally be very much on board with the idea that there are times when the infertile party needs to hide, and she should recognize that rather than try to fake it. And the fertile party should believe what she says. Even if occasionally the infertile party is in fact mistaken. And if the infertile party has to take solace afterwards in saying that the fertile party is fat and haggard and stupid, and her baby is funny looking, so be it! But, uh, don't let the fertile party find out that you feel that way.
Bunny: Any last thoughts?
BFB: It strikes me that, on top of everything else, I should (and do) feel really valued by the fact that you have gone to such effort to preserve our friendship. I hope you feel the same.
Bunny: I do indeed. It is perhaps not shocking that our final conclusion is: WE ROCK.
BFB: Perhaps! It is inescapable, really.