Survivor's Guilt

If there's any emotion that runs rampant in infertility circles, it's survivor's guilt. A woman spends years of her life in painful, gut-wrenching, emotionally draining, and marriage-straining treatment, and then a very lucky, blessed few receive the ultimate reward at the end: a live "take-home" baby.

But for every woman who survives this gauntlet, achieves pregnancy, and delivers her baby at the end, there are literally thousands of other women who go through exactly the same thing, but have nothing, no baby, to show for their anguish at the end. These women go through cycle after cycle of IVF, fresh cycles and FET (frozen embryo transfer) cycles, in the hopes that maybe this time will be different. Maybe this will be the cycle where their motherhood dreams come true. They pay tens of thousands of dollars for a mere chance at what fertile women can accomplish for free, and many times without even thinking about it.

If there's any emotion that encapsulates what I feel about carrying Beastie, it's lucky. I read many infertility blogs. Some of them are listed in my blog roll. Some aren't. I keep in touch with a few women I've met on infertility message boards who started trying to conceive when I did, two and a half years ago, and who today are still trying. These are my sisters. I feel a kinship with them that I don't feel with any of my other friends, simply because they know. They get it. They understand things about the emotions of surviving infertility that no other person, no matter how empathetic to what we go through, can possibly understand, because they've lived it, and many are still living it.

Today I got to see one of my sisters in person, and I felt an overwhelming sense of what can only be described as survivor's guilt. I returned to my clinic to drop off my leftover medicine, a huge package of unused syringes, and a sharps container of used needles for them to dispose of. Unfortunately, they don't have a donation program, so my leftover drugs (worth, by my estimate, at least $1,000) won't go toward a couple who cannot afford IVF, but the drugs will go toward a couple whose medicine doesn't arrive in time for their cycle start, or who run out of medicine halfway through their injections.

My clinic is the largest in the area, located in the doctor's building attached to the hospital. It's strategically located at the end of a long hallway comprised of two other departments. No doors, just open waiting room areas where you can see the patients waiting for their appointments. And as an added kick in the teeth for the infertile women trucking up there two, three, and sometimes four times a week, and some for years on end, these departments are Obstetrics and Gynecology and Ultrasound and Fetal Monitoring. And at the very end of the hall is the clinic. That's right. Not only must you suffer the indignity of infertility and all that entails. You must also pass pregnant women, oftentimes with their other children in tow, waiting for their appointments in these other departments. As one who made this walk of shame at least once a week for 14 months, there is nothing more difficult than this.

I timed my medicine drop-off to occur just after lunchtime, when I knew the receptionist would be back from lunch, and hopefully before the afternoon appointments began to arrive. I didn't want any of those women, still waiting for their turns for what I've been given, and many times accompanied by their husbands, to see me. And I wore a jacket, zipped up, even though it's 80 degrees here today. I've sat in those seats, so many times, and watched other patients bring in their children for their appointments, even though the handbook they give you at your very first visit asks you to leave your other children (should you have any) at home, for the consideration of other patients. I didn't want them to see me, with my belly clearly visible now no matter what I wear. I didn't want to cause them any pain, because while I know some may see a pregnant former patient (or a current patient with children in tow) as a sign of hope, that's not what I thought when I was in their shoes.

The clinic has a new receptionist now. But the place looks exactly the same as it did when I was last there, on December 6, 2005, the day of my embryo transfer. There was a couple in the waiting room. They were holding hands. They might have been there for their first consultation with their doctor. They might have been there for a routine mid-cycle ultrasound. They might have been there for their IVF teaching appointment. But I've been where they are. I know what they're thinking. And though I'm pregnant now, I won't forget what it was like to be on the other side of things.

Hopeful Mother had her egg retrieval today. If you would, go wish her luck.

6 Responses to “Survivor's Guilt”

  1. # Blogger l

    Kristi, your compassion is so inpsiring. Beastie's a lucky one to have a smart, creative, caring, generous person as a mother - traits and values you'll surely pass on to Beastie.  

  2. # Anonymous sher

    Oh Kristi, that post made me feel so many emotions--but mostly I feel such admiration for you. I also think that your empathy and compassion are one of the greatest gifts you can give Beastie! A big hug from me!  

  3. # Blogger Binulatti

    I've heard it said that "it is only through our own pain that we learn the pain of others" - and unfortunate though it is that we have to suffer, it makes us better people in the end, more empathetic, more human. You are a perfect example of this. It's no coincidence that the people you encounter in life who have had everything fed to them on a silver spoon tend to end up being shallow, selfish, and transparent...Anyways, even if you don't get a spoken 'thank you' from the other women in the clinic for your consideration, you have to believe that it was appreciated. A falling tree in the forest *does* make a sound ;-)  

  4. # Blogger Kristi

    L and Sher-Thank you. Your words really mean a lot to me, because these are exactly the characteristics I want to pass on to Beastie.

    Karrie-I completely agree, and of course we know several examples of exactly this type of person. And if that woman waiting was anything like me when I was in her shoes, I know she would have been appreciative, had she known what I did.  

  5. # Blogger hoorhuslu


  6. # Anonymous Anonymous

    best regards, nice info »  

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    IVF and girl/boy twins born in October 2008 following FET. Come along as I document the search for my lost intellect. It's a bumpy ride. Consider yourself warned.

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