Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sterile as a Surgeon

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, and as someone who cannot have biological children of her own, I feel the need to offer my two cents about coping with infertility, both as an atheist and trans woman.

Beth Presswood shared a great article this week, The Art of Giving Advice to Your Infertile Friend - Don't!, the list included:

1.  Don't tell them what position worked for you.
2.  Don't tell them they can always adopt.
3.  Don't tell them that kids aren't all they're cracked up to be.
4.  Don't tell them to relax.
5.  Don't tell them not to worry.

I found the article helpful and amusing, but found it insufficient from my personal perspectives.  So I thought I would add to the list:

6.  Don't tell them to pray or that "God has a plan".
Not everyone believes in deities or supernatural forces.  Even if they do, this just implies the reason people are unable to have children is because of some character flaw rather than a medical condition preventing pregnancy.

7.  Don't tell them they're being selfish.
Yes, the world is overpopulated.  Yes, there are multiple options out there to becoming a parent.  Yes, not everyone has what it takes to be a parent.  But these are not helpful things to point out to a friend who is mourning their infertility.  They very well may come to accept their situation and find a way to work with it, but now is not the time to criticize them.

8.  Don't tell them "miracles" or "surprises" happen.
That might be true for some, but some of us are 100% incapable of reproducing.  I have no uterus or ovaries, and therefore will absolutely never birth a child.  And I'm not the only woman out there who knows that about her body.  So this phrase is completely unhelpful.

And a special one for trans people:
9.  Don't tell them they "chose" to be infertile.
You may see my "choice" to go on hormone therapy as the end of my fertility, but I don't see it that way.  The truth is I was unable to birth children of my own from the day I was born.  Yes, some trans people freeze their eggs or sperm before starting hormones, but I personally found the idea of "fathering" a child in the future to be dysphoric.  (Not making any judgments about girls that do, it's just my own issue.)  And the same holds true for same-sex couples.  Just because they can't have biological children from sex alone doesn't give you the right to call their difficulties a "choice".

I'll be completely honest, accepting the fact of my infertility has been a real struggle for me sometimes.  I still feel a twinge of jealousy and resentment whenever I see a pregnant woman.  It's subsided over the years, but I still think, "Does she even know how lucky she is?  Or does she just walk through life oblivious to her privilege?"

I feel the same way when cis women I know tell me I'm "so lucky" because I don't menstruate.  Most of the time I just let it slide off my back, but sometimes it makes me want to lash out.  First of all, I still have all the "symptoms" you do, minus the bleeding.  My hormones cycle, I get PMS occasionally, and have to deal with bloating, food cravings, and all the rest.  Secondly, can you remember when you were waiting for your first period to "welcome you into womanhood"?  Maybe you thought it was scary or exciting.  Maybe you worried about being the last one of your group of friends.  Well, imagine going through all those emotions and then having it never happen.  Sure, you get over it and move on with your life, but it still nags at the corner of your mind from time to time.  Every time a girl asks if I can lend her a tampon or talks about something I'm expected to relate to but can't, a tiny part of me dies.

It's just another case of the grass being greener on the other side.  In many ways, having absolutely no danger of unwanted pregnancy is a relief.  My partner and I don't have to worry about birth control and I'm extremely lucky to have met someone who already wanted to adopt before he met me.  And when I think logically about it, it's actually a good thing we can't have biological children.  There's mental illness and cancer in my family and plenty of health issues in his family.  And even though the hardcore feminist in me knows there's way more to being a woman than menstruation and pregnancy, there's still a teeny tiny part of me that has internalized the sexist belief that my lack of either makes me less of a woman.

Most of the time I try to have a sense of humor about my situation.  The title of this article, "Sterile as a Surgeon", is a phrase I use quite often to describe my reproductive abilities.  But it's not the only thing that defines me.  I don't like to brag, but I'm a pretty awesome lady in a lot of ways, and I strongly believe I will be a pretty awesome mother in the future to my adopted kids.  I'll have my own issues to deal with, just as a woman dealing with pregnancy will have her own issues to deal with, but we can still stick up for each other.  We can encourage each other.  We can talk about what makes a woman or what makes a mom and what does not.  Whenever I feel down about my sterility, I just remember that being infertile is only a state of being and it is no more or less valid than any other.  We're all human beings who deserve love and respect, the rest is just details to keep life interesting.


  1. I am pregnant now, and I feel incredibly lucky. Humbled, really.

    I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome at an early age. 13 or so.

    Got told by lots of friends I was SOOOO LUCKY I didn't have to deal with a period. Men I dated always happily jumped to the conclusion, "So this means we don't need condoms!?"

    I was jealous of pregnant women, especially those who didn't even plan their pregnancies. Docs said I wouldn't conceive without drugs or IVF, and maybe not even then...

    PCOS, because of its hormonal imbalances, also causes the appearance of facial hair, body hair, acne, and baldness. These things, despite my pregnancy, are things I will always deal with. And even now that I'm carrying, I have trouble feeling feminine.

    I know my experiences differ from yours, but from someone who can relate just a little bit, *big hugs*


    1. *big hugs right back*

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Infertility seems to be one of those things that aren't talked about very much, but deeply affect many. Congratulations on your pregnancy, I hope everything goes well. From what little I know about you, it sounds like you'll be a fantastic mom.

  2. I'm glad you posted this, it answers some questions I had. I feel some of your pain from a different perspective, my partner is almost sterile due to an accident when he was a kid, and I'm told that I have a low chance myself of getting pregnant. Sure we could adopt, but I too die a little inside when I'm late & then my period shows up. I can imagine a little about how you feel. But my partner is no less of a man, and you and I are no less of women, and I'm glad that you're strong & know that. However if you're ever feeling down about it, I personally like beating out my frusturations (& PMS) on a punching bag. :)


    1. I used to play roller derby, and before that I kickboxed to get out my frustration and PMS. Now I run. You do what you need to cope, right? I hope things work out for you and your partner, whatever choices you might make about children and how to have them.