Alt-IF aims to collect the voices of people who have dealt with or are dealing with infertility, specifically the voices of those also in alternative/non-majority subcultures, or those who feel like outsiders for any number of reasons (being younger than average, being in grad school or college, being tattooed, being nonreligious or non-Christian, being male, etc). Submit your story. Find your people.
Every time you see a movie about an infertile couple, it’s almost always wistful (even in Away We Go, where the recurrent-loss couple does go out drinking and lives in a city, they’re still upper class and have a nice house and a life that at first seems desirable until you realize the reason for the wonderful gaggle of adopted children — and that movie rocks). They seem to have perfect homes, the better for showing that they are ready, they are set and society-approved to parent upper middle-class children, how tragic that the huge rambling backyard is barren of treehouses, trampolines, baseball mitts. Tragic suburban woe. Gosh, what a big house you have. The better to show you our emptiness, my dear.
The non-mom (nom?) is probably Jennifer Garner (see Juno and The Odd Life of Timothy Green). Or else she’s supposed to resemble Jennifer Garner. Hence, Jennifer Garner Syndrome. I mean, I get it. Most people aren’t covered in tattoos and stuff. But the problem is that this becomes the overarching goddamn theme. Which means that when it’s somebody decidedly not Jennifer Garner-esque, people either dismiss you, have no idea you could possibly be suffering this shit in the first place, and you basically feel like you’re alone in the deep end of the pool while all the Jennifer Garners are, while still suffering, at least suffering together. In the Jennifer Garner Infertility side of the pool, where at least they have good jobs (that they got by waiting to have kids, natch), and they probably aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. At least, it can seem that way when you’re feeling weird and bitter in the Reproductive Endocrinologist’s (RE’s) office.
So here I am, and yeah, I’m in the pool. Great. The wonderful Infertility Community Pool that everyone doesn’t actually want to join. But even though I’m in the pool, I’m not in the right side of things. Everyone says not to wait to have kids until you have the money (or else they tell you to wait to have them and enjoy marriage; you can’t win), but when you’re young and discover you’re infertile, actually undergoing any sort of treatment will pretty much guarantee you a lot more judgement, because now you have to lay your finances bare to everyone just to try to spawn, and oh, you’re living paycheck to paycheck, how EVER did you plan on having a kid?! Nevermind the fact that despite what magical thinking would like you to believe, IVF is not for everyone. It is for people who have money, or else have good debt-to-income ratios so they can get loans for said treatment. Or it’s for people who have rich relatives who can loan them money that way. Or people with insurance. Or it’s for the people who have assets they can sell off, homes to refinance, a lack of crippling student loan debt. Basically, it’s just not something everyone can do. It is not for us. (We own a home. We also have a less-than-perfect debt-to-income ratio. And ahoy there, crippling student loan debt that was worthwhile but still ultimately crippling.)
So there’s the first strike. Finances. Finances separate us from some of the Jennifer Garners. (Not all. Some.)
Then there’s looks. This is a bigger dividing line.
I know, I know, having a kid doesn’t require you to look attractive. And that’s not really my complaint. I’m not pretty, I get it. My husband looks downright scruffy. This is in part due to the fact that he got a degree in anthropology — no, he doesn’t have some cool-yet-scruffy Indiana Jones-type job; he’s a grad student by night and an office supply company guy by day. Not a suit and tie or even a khakis and polo type of job. Toss in his long curly hair and goatee and tattoos and you’re simply not going to look at him and think ‘Middle class guy who can afford stuff.’ It’s all about the look and the money you infer. Meanwhile, while I have a more officey type job and thus more business casual wear and thus look like maybe I could afford things, I still look younger than I am, and let’s not forget, I’m kind of weird looking. And I have a nose stud. And some tattoos. So toss us in an RE’s beige office full of magazines about investment banking and summer cottage living and we basically look totally out of place next to the two Jennifer Garners and their John Krasinski husbands. We look like people who don’t belong. Because we don’t. Except we do. We somehow ended up with these damn pool passes.
So you figure, well, there’s a larger community of IF (that’s infertility, but you already know that, right?) people on the Internet and in books, right? We’ll find our pool buddies there. Except a lot of blogs and forums end up being full of unreadable bubbly fonts and talk about God’s Will and “baby dancing” and “baby dust” and oh Jesus tapdancing Christ WTF. (Again, there are exceptions. Stirrup Queens, Infertility Voice, etc. Not knocking everyone. But you gotta admit, punky weirdos aren’t the face of infertility.)
I’m sure you’ve been there if you’re here now. You went to the RE in the morning and sat uncomfortably next to Jennifer Garner and John Kras, talked awkwardly to the RE himself/herself and felt like maybe there was a hint of judgement and condescension, maybe due to the tattoos on your arms, maybe your nose piercing, maybe your husband’s warehouse uniform shirt. Later back at work you browse forums online but end up logging out at the billionth glittery sparkletext blingy gif in someone’s signature (it’s just not your Internet culture). So you go to a friend’s punk BBQ later that night. That’s safe, right? It’s Your People. Except you get there and there are four babies, and what used to be your standard post-college crowd of early twenty-somethings with beers has turned into a post-college crowd of mid-twenty-somethings with babies. So while you still aren’t Jennifer and John, you’re still pretty damn alone in your pool.
“God, this place has turned into a bunch of old people with kids,” someone remarks, casually complaining but only sort of, sidling up to you and rolling his eyes, pegging childless you for a person who, not having a baby and being married a few years now, must not want one. “We’re old now.”
“Yup,” you say. You don’t bother saying, And I wish I were one of them. Just, “Yup.”
So maybe that’s where you are, and why you’ve decided to visit this Tumblr. You aren’t Jennifer Garner*, so you don’t fit in with the stereotypical couple dealing with infertility, but you’re also kind of alone in your peer group. Maybe you’re in your twenties and this is not what you planned. Maybe all your friends are popping out babies with ease. Maybe you want to punch something. Someone. I totally get it. Look, let’s face it: if you’re not in the Garner Group, you probably won’t be. You probably won’t suddenly have a McMansion that’s full of empty rooms ready to fill with kids. You want a kid. You could afford to raise a kid. You can’t afford the crazy price tag that appears when you can’t bake one the old-fashioned way, that’s all. Your tattoos aren’t going to magically disappear, making you seem like a more traditionally-approved parent, either to your RE, that adoption agency, the other people in the waiting room. And you know what? Fuck that. Because Jennifer Garners aren’t the only ones who deserve to be parents. They shouldn’t be the only ones afforded a glance by adoption agents (note: I’m just assuming this; who knows, maybe nobody cares — but if tattoos are frowned upon in job interviews, I can only assume they’ll be frowned upon en masse for baby interviews). Tattoos and nose piercings and jobs that don’t have fancy titles don’t mean people aren’t going to be wonderful, awesome, fit parents.
But, one can tirade against that all one wants. Probably won’t change the situation, right? The fact is, some of us tattooed pierced people may never get to be the parents we wished to be. Who knows, maybe Mom was right, maybe that tattoo was the worst decision of a lifetime. But — well, shit, I’m out of good advice here, beyond Be Yoself, Haters Gonna Hate. Pull up a chair poolside and let’s populate the pierced side of the water.
*Jennifer, if you’re reading this, no hard feelings, okay? (I liked Juno. You just look like a good society-approved mom.)
P.S. I know this is full of a lot of assumptions about people, particularly the Jennifers and Johns of the waiting room. Who knows. Maybe they have tattoos under those polo shirts, I don’t know. If we could talk and commiserate in the RE’s office then maybe we *would* feel less alone in real life. But that’s not the waiting room custom, so I’m left with a lot of judgements on the people I’m around, just as I’m sure they’re judging me. Fair enough. We get tattoos knowing they can cause judgment. It’s still sucky sometimes though.
P.P.S. Some of my best friends are Jennifer Garners. No hard feelings, normies.
P.P.P.S. “Looking” weird, as a friend pointed out, isn’t the only way to feel outside the norm in the IF world. But hopefully there will be more posts talking about that.