Tonight we had dinner plans with our friends who have a new baby. They actually started trying to conceive after we did, and now their baby just turned 6 months old. Of course, they brought the baby to dinner and he was adorable and delightful and a complete darling.
But as I was getting ready to go, I realized that I was making a little bit more of an effort than I probably would have if I'd just been planning to meet my best friend for dinner at the Indian place up the street. It was as if I was unconsciously trying to show them that "You might have that adorable baby, but I have glowing skin that's the result of 8 consecutive hours of sleep, shiny hair that I had plenty of time and money to have highlighted, and, (although I'm not going to pull it out at dinner) a vagina that's lovely, un-stretched and still fits in these jeans."
At some point, I think my inability to get pregnant turned into some sort of a competition in my head where I feel like it's Us vs. Them. The Haves vs. the Have Nots. The Sharks vs. the Jets. The Tutsis vs. The Hutus. The Fertiles vs. the Infertiles.
I resent it when my fertile friends make comments like, "Wow! You're so lucky that you can keep your house so clean!" or "Enjoy having the freedom to travel while you can!" Yet, when they're coming over for lunch, I frantically vacuum the floors and hide the piles of books and magazines under the couch. When they ask, "What have you been up to lately?" I go overboard about how excited we are for our upcoming trip to Mexico.
You could rightly argue that that showing off my clean house and gushing about my vacation plans are an absolutely fine response to these situations. After all, what am I supposed to do, invite them over to sit in my dusty living room amidst my piles of fertility books and boxes of hormone injections and tell them that what I've really been up to lately is frantically googling my estrogen numbers and follicle counts and comparing them with anonymous women on the internet?
But I think that there is actually more to the story than that.
When I was just starting junior high school, my parents got divorced and my mother went back to graduate school at the same time. For the next 4 years, we lived off my mother's graduate assistant stipend, which you can imagine, was not a lot to sustain an adult and two children. Compared to my friends in my suburban middle class town, we had very little money for new clothes, school trips and other activities. I certainly wasn't deprived compared to many people in the world, but I constantly felt different compared to the people around me.
So I took control of my situation. The way I saw it, I was different. So I had two options: I could be different because I was poor, or I could be different because I was interesting. I chose interesting. I didn't need back to school shopping trips at the Gap, I made my outfits from vintage clothes that I bought at Goodwill. I didn't need to join school activities that required money for equipment or uniforms, I was too busy working on my latest masterpiece in the art room after school. I didn't need school trips, I was planning to take the bus into the city and hang out in smoky coffeehouses talking to college boys.
This strategy worked really well for me and, on some level, it's still working for me. Once again I feel different compared to all the people around me. I can't be one of the women with their adorable new babies, sharing the dramas of parenting. Believe me, I've tried. So instead, I'll dazzle them with my gorgeous house that's like nothing they've seen since the day they gave birth and stories of trips that they can no longer afford and frankly would be too tired to take.
If I can't be fertile, I can at least be interesting. If I can't have a baby, I can at least have good hair.