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You’re Never Fully Dressed Without an Oversmile

Last night, in addition to dreaming that my old friend Wade now looked like Apolo Ohno and that Wade/Apolo was inexplicably sleeping on my living room floor, I dreamed about babies.

Not just treatments–though part of the dream was setting up an appointment with the clinic–but that we also had the option to have children via sex.  At home.  In our own bed.  And–I feel very cheap adding this fact, but it’s our financial reality–we could have children for the low cost of a few co-pays.  The child might still cost the same after he has arrived, but beforehand, in my dream, we had the option of making small, semi-mindless charges to a credit card in twenty dollar increments.

And then I woke up.

Isn’t it so strange to think about sometimes?  That there are people who decide that they want to have a child in June, so they have sex in September or October, and nine months later, a full-term baby pops out.  And then they get to hold their child in the hospital and go home with said child and life continues on.  And that’s the norm.  I keep forgetting that it’s the norm for the majority of people because my friends shake out to over half of us having either done treatments or adopted or used donor gametes.  We run the gamut from biological infertility to situational infertility (GLBT or single parent by choice).

Beyond how we built our families, I have more friends who are like me who didn’t have the normal delivery-then-home experience.  I didn’t go seeking out infertile friends, but we have somehow found each other, both before trying to build our families and after.  It hits me sometimes that our norm is not the norm for other people.  That for the majority of the world, we are the anomaly, the women and men who can’t build their family without assistance.

But I forget that norm if I spend enough time around other infertile women.  I certainly forget it when I can blend outwardly with everyone else at the playgroup, at least until they get to the discussion about breastfeeding or how I ended up with twins.

Before we returned the clothing bags to the attic, I did end up going through them and in one, I found a series of tiny caps that we used in the NICU.  I couldn’t fit my fist inside.  My son’s head, at birth, was about the size of a satsuma.  As I was holding one, the Wolvog and ChickieNob both woke up and went to the bathroom for a drink of water.  I brought in the hat to show it to them and the ChickieNob said, “what a funny little hat.”  I tried to put it on the Wolvog’s head now, and it sat like a tiny, deflated pancake over a swirl of hair.  It was like a silver-dollar kepah.


I have been doing the Infertile Oversmile this week.  It’s that smile you do with people who know all about the fact that your FSH makes you look like an 86-year-old, but you want them to know that you! are! okay! you! are! really! okay! with! everything! including! giving! away! your! favourite! bouncey! seat!

I find myself doing this smile with fertile and infertile people alike because it is too hard to reel myself back in once I start crying again.  I make it big and brilliant, which makes me feel a little like a robot.  An infertile, grieving robot who is trying her best not to make other people uncomfortable.

It’s a tiring smile to do and it feels dishonest.  It feels like I’m selling that phantasm-child short.  I feel like that child is owed something more than crying in private.  Except that he or she is not really owed anything at all because that’s the thing about phantasms–they are merely fantasies, ideas that feel incredibly real to us but have no physical counterpart.

But I’m grateful that I can cry on the phone with friends.  That I can come over here and vent this out with people who get it.  Thank you for the free therapy.

I will be okay.  I can sense how this will turn out–that a few weeks from now, I won’t even think about all those old items or who was supposed to use them until something makes the thoughts pop up again.  They are in the forefront of my mind right now because I need to deal with them.

I do fear that Disney will be somewhat ruined; that I’ll walk through the park thinking, “this is our consolation prize” much in the same way that contestants who win a blender probably think about the fact that they didn’t win the car on the Price is Right every time they have to make a smoothie.  How can you drink a shake of yogurt and strawberries and not choke on what could have been?


I am working at the massive garage sale this weekend where I am selling the items and I am working the checkout line, which means that I will most likely see the families who purchase the phantasm-child’s backpack carrier and bouncey seats.  I tried to get a different job at the sale, but it’s hard to explain to the volunteer coordinator that you fear that you will throw yourself on the woman lugging out your old baby-proofing gate without coming across as completely insane.

My dream moment is that I am standing in line, helping take the tags off my old baby carrier, and the woman holding it admits that she is pregnant with her first child via treatments or that she is picking up these last items before she hits the road to meet the child she is matched to adopt.  We get into conversation and I don’t tell her that she is holding the carrier I used to walk around with the twins when they were a few months old, but I vicariously gain something from her smile because she’s daydreaming about how she is going to use this carrier to keep her child close as she cooks dinner.

And I’ll remember that I once smiled like that and I’ll shed this Infertile Oversmile soon and go back to my non-robot-like self.  Even if I’m not going to have her smile in the future, I got to have it once, and I will forever be grateful for that.


1 Searching for Serenity { 03.09.10 at 4:54 pm }

When I see a beautiful pregnant belly, I try to imagine how she got to that point. I wonder if she’s one of us. Even if she’s not, I still try to convince myself of it. It cools the sting a little bit.

I hope this reflection and cleaning out brings you peace and clarity.

2 Bean { 03.09.10 at 4:57 pm }

Oh Mel. I’m so sorry. I know how hard that is. After we’d been trying for #2 for a couple of years I too made the decision that we just didn’t have room to save all the baby stuff. I didn’t get rid of all that much, but it about killed me. After Ben was born I went through all of Lucy’s old clothes (6 1/2 years worth) and kept 2 bins worth, but consigned, donated, gave to friends a lot more and it even with my sweet little boy at home with me it was so hard. I just finished nursing/pumping a week ago and I only just moved the pump from the kitchen to the closet. I know I need to get rid of it and all the associated paraphernalia, but I don’t think I can just yet. I KNOW we’re not having any more babies, but I don’t know I’m just not ready.

I’m sorry you’re having to do the oversmile, and sorry for all of it. We were at Disney about 9 months before I got pregnant with Ben. I was sort of dreading our visit to Disney because it just isn’t the easiest place for an infertile at any stage of the process, but I DID have a good time. Lucy was in heaven and it really was fun. I hope it’ll be the same for you.

3 a { 03.09.10 at 5:06 pm }

See, now, I’m just working the strained look. The one that says “Don’t even ask, unless you would like the waterworks.” And I seem to be creating serious lines around my mouth. But, I’m getting better. It’s time to let go. It’s just stuff.

Disney will be fun – it’s the Magic Kingdom. It has no ties to the rest of your life, so try to leave that particular piece of baggage (ie unrealized dreams/phantasm child) at home. It’s not a consolation prize – there is no consolation. It’s just a gateway to a new portion of your life.

*pats your back* It will be OK.

4 Sarah { 03.09.10 at 5:07 pm }

It’s incredibly hard sometimes to imagine a life where you can decide to have a baby….and then you do. What would that be like? We see our friends all around us doing just that, but it just doesn’t make it real for me. I know that will never be part of my reality, so I have a hard time believing that it is, in fact, reality for some.

5 Heather { 03.09.10 at 5:09 pm }

(tears freely flowing….)

I so hear you. And empathize. and sympathize.

I have every piece of Jack’s clothes. I got rid of all of Janson’s post-hysterectomy (in a fit of anger)…but there’s some part of me that wants to believe we’re going to win the lottery and get another baby.

And then, I get sad. 🙁

Love you my friend. xoxoxo

6 Megan { 03.09.10 at 5:28 pm }

Hey Mel,
In your previous post you wrote, “I am going to go live in the here and now and figure out how to stop thinking about the future when it makes me miss so much of the present.” I really needed to read that this morning. My head was pounding with the past and I need those words to be brought back tot he hear and now. I understand all too well your tears and your ‘oversmile’. I am a real pro at the ‘oversmile’ and it sucks!!! I wish you peace with your journey.

7 suburbancaroline { 03.09.10 at 6:10 pm }

I have a somewhat different oversmile going on right now… Currently at work, one woman is pregnant and two men are also expecting children. I regularly overhear conversations comparing ultrasounds and baby planning. Only a couple of people (and none of the ones expecting) know about my infertility (just had our second unsuccessful IVF and the doctor has strongly recommended donor eggs), so I find myself smiling politely and taking a lot of trips to other parts of the building when the conversations start again. It sucks.

8 Terry Elisabeth { 03.09.10 at 6:53 pm }

I’m glad you have friends to share what you are going through and that you have your blog to vent. It feels so lonely holding everything inside and it hurts even more. I found that it’s difficult to tell people how I feel when things are not good but I force myself to be honest about it and I am brief when I tell them that things are not okay, I’m miserable and I would eat chips, popcorn, fries and chocolate in a blender. I don’t go into details but just them knowing things are crappy, they act more compassionate and when they don’t know what to say or do (the incomfort you talk about) I tell them what I need. “Say that things will be alright. ” “Hug me” or I tell them that I need to be angry and vent and scream and cry for five minutes, will they please allow me too. It works.

9 Annacyclopedia { 03.09.10 at 6:56 pm }

Oh, Mel. I am listening and abiding with you and holding you in my heart and sending the biggest virtual batch of vegan chocolate maple brownies. You are doing hard, important heart-work right now, and you are doing great.

10 Baby Smiling { 03.09.10 at 7:54 pm }

The NICU hat is the one thing I’d keep above everything else. I imagine balancing it onto their heads years from now.

I can just hear the pregnant-after-infertility or adoptive parents commenting about the curly-haired woman with the giant smile who checked them out at the garage sale.

11 Meg { 03.09.10 at 8:00 pm }

I love this post. Because even though I am 6 months pregnant with our first child after going through many rounds of infertility treatments, I am still so saddened by the thought of the great potential of not being able to be pregnant with future babies to give this baby siblings. I often wonder what it is like for all of my non-infertile friends and family who are able to get pregnant like it’s no big deal and not have to worry about the *cost* of just *trying* to conceive….

12 HereWeGoAJen { 03.09.10 at 8:24 pm }

Oh, no, Mel, Disney is perfect for you. It was designed with you in mind, you will have a fabulous time. I honestly think the magic of the whole place will overwhelm you.

13 Another Dreamer { 03.09.10 at 8:34 pm }

What a way to put it- thinking of you Mel. It is so hard to let go- you don’t have to oversmile with us.

14 Anjali { 03.09.10 at 8:49 pm }

I went to Disney with my two oldest girls, two months after my third miscarriage in a row.

I ended up being surprised that I had as much fun as I did. Yes, there were lots and lots of babies, but I found that I could experience Disney as the child I once was, not necessarily as the mother of the children I did not have.

15 Jen { 03.09.10 at 8:56 pm }

Yes, people have sex and get pregnant. They don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on treatments, needles, or drugs. Today, I went to my registration appointment at the military OB Clinic and sat with the twenty year olds who didn’t plan this. Because I live in another state from my RE, I was hoping to get them to do my transitional ultrasounds. Unbelievably, they were super nice to me and agreed to slide me in for them. The nurse just gave me a huge smile when I told her I didn’t have a last period date, but I did have an egg retrieval date. I wonder if she understood? It does happen, doesn’t it? {hugs}

16 Lavender Luz { 03.09.10 at 9:01 pm }

Your dream moment brought a lump to my throat. It’s the full circle thing.

And yes, we are blessed when we find friends who have our hearts and our backs. 🙂

17 Kristin { 03.09.10 at 9:27 pm }

Oh Mel…lots of love and {{{hugs}}} coming your way. Did you check your email? I sent you an email regarding this sweetie.

18 Bea { 03.09.10 at 10:45 pm }

It is funny to think about the norm. A friend – acquaintance – told me at a party once that they had just started trying. I guess she told me because I was pregnant at the time, because I certainly didn’t know her much, at all.

A year later, she and I were again invited to the same event by a mutual friend, and of course I was taking The Prata Baby along with, and I wondered how she was going to feel about that. Would it be awkward? Or was she not affected by other people’s babies like that? Did she need contact details for a good fertility specialist, or was she all set up with a doctor and a plan she was happy with and the advice would only irritate her? How could I let her know that I was happy to help, whilst at the same time giving her a way to decline because – after all – I was deep in baby land and maybe not the best person at this point and I didn’t know her all that well anyway and maybe it was all too personal for her to share and she didn’t want help from anyone at all, let alone me, and then, at the last minute, I was struck – struck is the right word – with the thought that maybe she was already pregnant and this idea kind of took some adjusting to, so I was desperately and, with a certain amount of wonderment, trying to get my head around it when she turned up with a four month old baby. Somehow, that possibility didn’t even occur to me. I’m not sure I get it, even now.

You are right, that in a few weeks this will not worry you any more. Or at least, after the Disney trip. The thing is, you will not only have room for living, but room for the fantasy child who gets all the great loot your blog pals will send you as baby shower gifts when we hear the great news. You know we wouldn’t have had anything to send if not for this cleanout.

But it’s still hard to say goodbye to the old fantasies, isn’t it?


19 Gerardine Baugh { 03.10.10 at 12:48 am }

I knew a woman years ago, who came home from the gynecologists office with news she would never get pregnant, never. We cried, and I tried to comfort her. She didn’t have the money to try treatments. She was too old to adopt. She never had a child.

She tried to talk a woman she met into allowing her to adopt her baby. Her husband didn’t want the one she was carrying. It wasn’t his; they had broken up for a few months while he found himself.
That ‘adoption’ never went through, she still had to get checked out and be put on a waiting list. In the meantime the adoption agency talked the pregnant woman into giving the baby to them to place. Fishy..
Relax, you have two wonderful children. Your next angel will come; you are doing everything you need to make sure that happens. Enjoy this moment.

20 Anla { 03.10.10 at 1:01 am }

A few years ago, when we started trying (ha!) My middle sister got pregnant. Big issues between me and God here since she is not the best person and lives a lifestyle not conducive to children. During her pregnancy my mother gave me a rubbermaid tub filled with heirloom baby dresses that women in her family have been wearing for years. After my sister’s birth her pack n play, several items, and a crib came to live at my house. My mother was so sure we would have that baby. Well before we took the sanity break I gave a way a lot of things including the crib. It was so heartbreakingly liberating. I still have that container of heirloom dresses and I still hope to use them one day, but if not I have another sister to pass things to.

21 S.I.F. { 03.10.10 at 3:27 am }

Mel, how is it that you so consistently encapsulate my feelings? I feel like I am in mourning over the loss of my “normal” pregnancy experience. Because of endo and the damage it did, I will never get pregnant without IVF. I feel like I’m losing out somehow. That I will NEVER get the fun of “trying” because this all happened before I ever would have thought to try. When I think about the loss of that “normalcy” it tears me up inside. But, I have mastered the “infertile smile”. Most people in my life would never guess how torn up I am inside; how robbed I feel because of all of this. I’m just too darn good at pretending everything is fine and dandy.

Is it bad if some days I just want to be “normal” so bad it hurts?

22 Eve { 03.10.10 at 6:33 am }

Many hugs I’m returning to you in your hurting.

I marvel constantly at how most people get pregnant so seemingly effortlessly. I also marvel at the ease of their pregnancies. Did you know there are women who work until they deliver????? And paint their own nurseries?????

I refused the ‘oversmile’ when I was struggling with secondary IF. I had waaaaaay too much of it with my primary IF. So, instead people got quite an earful if they dared ask me how I was doing during these past few years. It felt good to me not to have to fake it anymore…honestly I didn’t have the energry. Some people embraced the honesty, some people were freaked out by it.

I have a friend who’s child died who used to tell me, “You’re lucky, the pain of infertility goes away, especially once you have a child.” I never had the guts to tell her she was so very, very wrong. Whether the child comes after or not…infertility leaves scars.

23 susy { 03.10.10 at 8:19 am }

Oh Mel!! Just the words ‘garage sale’ brought me back to this weekend as I watched strangers drive away w/ the Tweedles’ things. 🙁 I hope and dream for you too that YOUR dream may be. Incredible, but the IF Oversmile will be around even when we don’t want it to be, sadly. But then again, the opposite would be the IF Oversmile of “winning” this battle – what we all strive for, and some reach. And we share those too, and hope you have one of those… even at Disney. [[hugs mama!]]

24 Elizabeth { 03.10.10 at 9:05 am }

thinking of you these days – remembering what it was like to sit with my sister while she sorted through her husband’s clothes and things a week after his sudden death. I imagine it feels a lot the same.

25 Chickenpig { 03.10.10 at 9:27 am }

I know it sounds crazy, but are you REALLY ready to do this? Yeah, packing away the baby stuff should make you a little nostalgic, a little teary eyed, but you are way beyond that. I knew I was prepared to live with having only two children when I could give away their double stroller without looking back. It sounds to me like you are deciding that you are done so you should be ready to be done.

If you really think that a Disney trip will feel like a consolation prize, don’t go. Sell your stuff and use it. This isn’t a choice you are being forced to make, it is one you’re making because you feel it should be made…there is a difference. You know that there as many ways of paying for treatments as there are forms of treatments themselves, one is to open a tax deferred saving account that comes straight out of your paycheck. You can sell your stuff and put it into savings. Obviously, that money may be used for a trip at another time, or college, but you wouldn’t be making that decision NOW. At the very least it will take the emotional baggage out of selling your things. If you’re not ready to give up the dream, don’t give it up, defer it. I defer mine every month. I know I’ll never get pregnant the ole’ fashioned way, but I’m still ‘trying’. I’m fine giving away all my baby things, minus a shoebox of take home clothes and hats, but dumping my 4 remaining embryos? Not yet…but soon. Baby steps, Mel, right now you’re jumping off a cliff.

26 Carla { 03.10.10 at 9:53 am }

I find myself doing the oversmile quite a lot lately. My youngest brother’s wife is due in June. Somthing that helped me cope with that was a conversation I had with a close family friend at my Mom’s house over Christmas. This friend, I’ll call her D, and I were born on the same day, and she and her husband live a few houses down from my Mom, so the whole gang is always together. At Christmas, she told me that she has PCOS, they’ve been trying for a few years, but her husband had thus far been reluctant to be tested, so they haven’t done any treatments. We had a great talk. I finally, finally had somebody in the ‘family’ who understood. Exactly one month later (and is there anybody out there who can’t guess what’s coming next???) my Mom calls to tell me that D is pregnant and due in August. She was already pregnant at Christmas but didn’t know it yet. Since then, there is no conversation at family gatherings that does not revolve around babies and nursury decorations. And, of course, helpful comments from everyone along the lines of “See! D got pregnant and you two are the Exact Same Age, so its not too late for you!” Cue the oversmile and grit my teeth together to stop myself from yelling that they are all idiots, that I could be 23 and still have the problems that I have, etc.

Wish I could join you at Disney! I agree with Anjali–something about it brings out the kid in you, and my husband and I somehow always have a good time there, in spite of the fact that we are probably the only childless couple in a 20 mile radius.

27 Beth { 03.10.10 at 9:54 am }

Just wanted you to know that I’m here – with you – holding you in my heart as you grieve the child that isn’t…. yet.

28 loribeth { 03.10.10 at 10:02 am }

Sending you some big (((hugs))). I know that frozen oversmile all too well. You’re right, it’s so hard to fathom sometimes that people can just go out & get pregnant — and bring home a live, healthy baby afterwards to boot. I know teachers who have PLANNED their pregnancies to coincide with summer break. Of course, it usually happens without a hitch, & the odd time it doesn’t, they fret about their plans getting messed up, & if it takes longer than three or four months, they moan about being “infertile” & they just don’t understand why it’s not happening?? (Cry me a river….)

I suppose our lives are just as unfathomable to them as theirs are to us. The thing is, I don’t think too many of them give us & our family building problems too much thought, while we’re obsessed with the (seeming?) ease with which they get the families they take for granted will be theirs.

29 serenity { 03.10.10 at 10:38 am }

Ah, the oversmile. I remember this.

I, too, always forget that it’s NORMAL for people have sex, get pregnant, and take home their babies. It just seems so WEIRD to me that it happens that way. Dunno why.



30 Dora { 03.10.10 at 11:14 am }

Hard stuff. Thanks goodness we have each other. Maybe you can imagine all of us stopping by the garage sale, giving you a knowing look and a little shoulder squeeze to help you hold it together.

My mother (who got pg easily with both her children easily before she was 25) doesn’t understand my deep internet friendships. She’s rather confused by the beautiful, heartfelt baby gifts I’ve received from women I’ve never met in person. But the gifts from my ALI friends mean the most. These are the people who REALLY understand what it took for me to become a mom. Who understand why I can’t get rid of that last sharps container in the back of my linen closet. My peeps!

31 Kir { 03.10.10 at 12:33 pm }

I always forget, in fact when someone starts talking about being PG, I have been known to ask,,”how?” and then John looks at me and just shakes his head as if to say . “they just had sex honey, some people still do that” and I back peddle because I forgot.


32 nh { 03.10.10 at 12:55 pm }

It’s funny isn’t it – how we all recognise that oversmile. And how easy it is to forget that some people do just get pregnant. I’m sorry that you are struggling with this, but we all know and understand.

33 opposite of oops { 03.10.10 at 4:30 pm }

Oh Mel. 🙁 I want to give you a big hug.

34 Flying Monkeys { 03.10.10 at 6:47 pm }

Looks like this weekend will be one of many “letting go”s so to speak, for a lot of people. I will be thinking of you and hoping your oversmile softens and becomes a real smile. ((hugs)) Don’t forget to breathe and remember how many hearts and thoughts will be with you.

35 Cherish { 03.11.10 at 9:26 am }

Oh my, my heart just ached as I read this post and everyone’s comments. I don’t know how you’ll make it through this, but good luck. My thoughts are with you.

36 Kim { 03.11.10 at 3:04 pm }

That can be her story if you imagine it to be. Or you can silently name her a beloved infertile blogger still in the trenches, and make that your gift to those who we all wish we could give such an easy gift to.

I am smiling the Infertile Oversmile this week, as I returned to work after m/c #3. I have been feeling dishonest, denying my babies their fair grieving, like a faker who moves along while inside her heart is breaking.

I’m sorry to hear you feel this way, too. ♥

37 Battynurse { 03.12.10 at 11:35 am }

Thinking of you and hoping the sale and all the other stuff goes ok. Hugs to you.

38 Billy { 03.12.10 at 12:51 pm }


39 Mommy-In-Waiting { 03.13.10 at 1:20 am }

Wow, that was so beautifully put, sorry to say that your pain is beautiful, but your words spoke right to the heart of me today. I hope tomorrow is a better day and the ‘oversmile’ gets to be put away.

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