Monday, July 28, 2008

Infertility is like math

You know, Saturday's nice little comment got me thinking more about a theory I have been formulating. I call it the "infertility is like math" theory. Or "infertility is like maths" if you speak the Queen's English.

See, I'm a nerd. I have a degree in physics. Yup, told you...nerd. But what I noticed in high school and college is that in math (and physics and electronics - probably all of the "hard" sciences) most people eventually hit a wall. Like that wall in marathon running. Oooh, wait, maybe I should have an offshoot theory of "infertility is like marathon running".

Anyway, the math wall. You would be going along, going to classes, understanding all the concepts, getting your homework done, being as happy as you can be with math. And then a new topic would come along and you'd have no clue. No freakin' clue. And you'd look around yourself surreptitiously, to check out the looks on everyone else's faces but somehow they seemed to all be understanding it and yet you were inexplicably floundering at that point. You'd hit a big nasty brick wall in your understanding of math. Somehow, you were pushing through this fog in your brain and the teacher was doing an impression of Charlie Brown's teacher saying "Waaaah wah wah wah-wah" without any of it making any sense to you.

Pretty much all of my friends hit that wall before me, and all at different times. And, being as I was a nerd, they came to me and asked me to explain. We'd work on the problem together. I'd try and think up different ways of explaining it. Sometimes my friends "got it" fairly easily, sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they never did, and math became a looong hard slog until they could finally quit it with relief. And eventually, I too hit a math wall. I remember it distinctly. I even remember the lecture theater I was in at the time and how many people were there (maybe 2nd year undergraduate?). It was volume differential equations. I had no problem with ordinary differential equations, but somehow adding another dimension just made my brain go splat. And suddenly I was like "OH! This is how all my friends felt at various points when they would come to me and say how much they hated maths".

But the thing is, although I might have secretly wondered if my friends weren't as smart as me if they hit the wall over something "easy" like fractions, I never voiced that out loud to them. I worked with them and tried to explain. Most of the time, I knew my friends were smart, because I knew they could breeze through French class with ease, or English, or any number of things. It was just math. So I knew this was just something where my brain was wired a bit differently than theirs.

So this brings me to infertility. I have a friend at work who hit the "infertility wall" - the point at which she didn't or wouldn't or couldn't go any further - at OPKs. She just couldn't bring herself to use an OPK because it felt wrong, it felt like too much intervention. It wasn't something that she felt comfortable doing. And it took her 3 years to conceive, but eventually she did conceive and now has a healthy boy. I suppose if things had never picked up for her, she might have been able to sit back and deeply examine her feelings and finally do something more about it. Or she might not have. She might have decided that having children was not meant for her. Personally, of course, I didn't quite understand what the big deal was about an OPK but, well, it's her life. That was her wall.

My own "infertility wall" has been moving away from using my own eggs. I just wasn't able to understand it, emotionally. I wasn't happy and wasn't comfortable. But due to some serious hard work, I AM now ready. The sensations have felt the same as hitting that math wall, though. I have looked around and seen other women "understanding" it easily. They "got the concept" of giving up on the genetic connection much easier than me. I wondered what they had that I didn't. But in the end, it just all comes down to different wiring, brain or heart or history. Who am I to judge someone's path if they gave up on their own eggs before even one round of Clomid and moved on to adoption? That's obviously the best path for them, and good luck to 'em. Maybe Clomid was their "wall" and although it was something that scared me at the time, it was merely a small hurdle to me.

So I guess what I'm saying is that 99% of the women out there DO intuitively get that everyone's "infertility wall" is in a different place. There comes a point to all of us (if we don't get lucky and finally get knocked up) where we have to do some serious thinking about the next step. I suppose a lot of people don't even come across a wall. They come to a fork in the road, and just decide to go down one path or another without too much pain. Perhaps it's just a hurdle that they have to jump, like filling that first Clomid prescription was for me. Perhaps they just see the sunshine and pretty views that are open to them down one path and they don't even realize that the other path goes into a dark place and has a big ole wall blocking its way or they see that wall and just think that sunshine and pretty views are so much more inviting and don't even think too hard about the wall. But that 99% of women don't judge other women for where their wall is, or how high the wall is, or how hard it is to get around. At least, they don't judge them "out loud", which is almost as good. It's the other 1% like that commenter that feel the need to not only secretly think how dumb we must be for hitting a wall at a place that they didn't, but to try to shout at us "just get over the freakin' wall already and get on with it". They're like an army drill sergeant yelling at a squaddie rather than someone that'll take time to explain how to get over the wall, or someone who will patiently wait with you while you figure it out for yourself, even if it's now gone dark and everyone else has completed the obstacle course and gone home.

Me, yes, I've been beating my head against the wall for a long time. But I had to beat my head against it enough times just to be sure it wasn't going to crumble and fall and let me get through it instead of having to go a different way.


Anonymous said...


I wrote you before about this issue but it was deleted. I'm not sure why.

In the past, you've been very focused on conceiving with a genetic tie. WHILE you were focusing on that, any other way of having children seemed like a failure.

Now that the door to conceiving with your own eggs has closed for good, what seems like a failure in the past begins to look like a good option.

I think this is very typical of people who eventually adopt or use donor eggs. I have a feeling that eventually you'll also grow very excited about the process of having a child in an alternative manner.


bleu said...

Thank you Sarah, that was so beautifully written.
It is funny though, I always enjoyed maths (maths) until I had a poor teacher. We know people can learn math through different routes and math teachers, in my opinion, should be able to teach to at least 4-5 different learning methods to cover the majority of students. This is for more basic maths I assume, up through calculus let's say. I used to tutor friends in algebra a lot who were convinced they were just not "math minded" and I would always show them they could and it was a language and it could be totally gotten.

So when I first started reading your wonderful analogy I was thinking inside "but you can be taught through the wall if done correct!!"

And that is just like IF too I think, not the rude commenter's but some of the people who try so hard, in a nice way, to convince you through this or that and unwittingly say totally wrong things much of the time. But you were talking about a true math wall, a much further along one, and while some people hit that IF wall at the earlier ones and some hit at later ones there are definitely all sorts of walls.

I am so rambling, I was just really moved by what you said.
Thanks so much for writing it.

katedaphne said...

This was really well-said. I had a math wall too (for me it was calculus) and an IF wall. Actually, I have felt that every step of IF treatment has been a wall to break through, and boy are my knuckles bruised and sore. But they are still punching...

calliope said...

wow. you just made such giant sense to me with this analogy. The math wall is so so true, and to have it applied to infertility- wow. So apt.

great post.


Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

I have been lurking on your site now for a good long time and decided that this post was well worthy of a de-lurk.

Beautifully said. Doesn't just sum up the IF journey but the LIFE journey and I love it.

Thumbs down to the judgers. Thumbs down to those who think they get to disapprove of your very own decisions for your very own life. Big fat thumbs down!!!!!


ms.bri said...

You are doing such a beautiful job of explaining this. I will admit to being judge-y in general, notsomuch with you but with people like the OPK woman. I read that and felt a wave of annoyed come over me. You are right, though. My wall was there. It kept moving. It was very personal. When I started I was unsure if I could ever bring myself to try Clomid. By the time I got to Clomid I was willing to try IVF if necessary. I was not ever willing to adopt. I certainly didn't want to hear anyone's opinions of my walls. It's good for me to be reminded to be less judgmental.

Meg said...

Exactly! You're brilliant!