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Alice in Wandingland

I was reading MissConception’s blog recently and I was struck by all the othernesses she was experiencing, one on top of the other.  How she felt removed from the world around her as she went through this cycle.

I used to teach at a university, and my clinic had a satellite office on their campus in the hospital.  I would go teach my earliest class, then walk over to the clinic for the blood draw, and then return to teach another class.  And every time I had to do this, I would think of myself as Alice in Wonderland, except that instead of a tea party with the Mad Hatter, I was having a transvaginal ultrasound.  Which I guess isn’t the same thing at all.

The point is that whenever you’re engaging in an otherness, there is a sense of removal from the world around you.  How can there not be?  The students saw me as someone who taught sociology, who liked to talk research papers.  I saw myself as separate from everyone, both mentally and physically entering this alternate universe where I couldn’t procreate.  They had no idea where I went between classes.

Adjacent to the university was a convent of cloistered nuns.  I have to admit that I was blown away by their otherness, the way they purposefully removed themselves.  I didn’t want to be removed, but felt removed due to circumstances — all I wanted was to conceive on my own and carry to term like my friends.  And here were nuns who chose to be removed, who got a lot out of being removed from the rest of the world.  They let me use their parking lot — they certainly didn’t have cars or any need for the spaces.  Which meant I cut through their campus on the way to my own.  They took me into their building and showed me this gorgeous room with a rose window where they sat and prayed for hours.

I was struck by this thought as I read her blog of the otherness inside the otherness inside the otherness, running down almost as deep as Inception.  There is the general otherness of not being able to conceive without assistance.  And then there is the otherness — deeper than that — of utilizing something that is emotionally and physically painful (IVF) in order to bring you this wonderful thing (a child).  And deeper still is the otherness of trying to conceive again after a loss.

It would be as if Alice went into Wonderland, found another Wonderland, and then found a third Wonderland in that, and then had to go back to the real world and interact with people who don’t know what she has seen, how deeply she went into the otherness.  How can you possibly explain to someone what it feels like to conceive with assistance?  Or to conceive via something emotionally and physically painful?  Or to conceive after a loss?  You can’t.  We can’t even really explain it well to each other; even amongst those who know, who have experienced their own personal version.

The twins were born at the same hospital on the university campus because they were the hospital in the area that had the highest level NICU.  Sometimes I walked the other way, from the hospital to the campus and back to the hospital in order to buy a cup of coffee at the student union.  I would look at all these students milling about, students I might have been teaching if I hadn’t turned down the teaching position that summer.  They had no clue why I was in that building, what I was thinking, what we were going through.  All they saw was a thirty-something woman buying a coffee; the same action I took the summer before when I was teaching and doing treatments.

They had no idea how deeply I felt my otherness, just as I had no idea looking at them how deeply they felt their own othernesses.  I guess the only way we could have overcome that would have been to talk about it.  If I had been a nun, I would have brought them into my praying room, let them see the way the sunlight hit the wood, and I would have tried to help them understand that even with the things that divide us from each other, there is always that current underneath, that commonality in the existence of the otherness.


1 Peg { 03.18.12 at 7:39 am }

Beautiful, simply beautiful. Our loss has propelled us into an otherness only we can understand. Talking, writing helps. I hope in these ways I let people in and they can help someone in their life who is stuck in their otherness and have some empathy. Again, one of your best.

2 Mic @ IFCrossroads { 03.18.12 at 9:41 am }

This post left me breathless. I think this otherness you describe is something I’ve been living in for the past 4 years. Truly. Thank you for writing this.

3 Mali { 03.18.12 at 10:43 am }

You immediately prompted me to blog about this. http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/03/why-me.html

4 Lollipopgoldstein { 03.18.12 at 10:49 am }

Hey Mali –
As I said over there and I’ll put here too:

First and foremost, I am so sorry that you are writing this in physical pain. I think all pain brings a layer of otherness from back spasms to post-chemo because it’s a reminder of how much we’re tied to our bodies. It’s one of those things we can’t quit, can’t walk away from in a world where we deal with so much discomfort by walking away.

I think emotional pain does the same thing.

I disagree about the idea of being okay with your pain just because someone out there has it “so much worse” because where does that oneupmanship stop? Who gets to be the only person in emotional or physical pain in this world who is entitled to their emotional or physical pain?

Because always with that emotional or physical pain is the backstory — what are our coping mechanisms? What else have we gone through at another point that is baggage now? How can we really weigh out what is worse?

5 It Is What It Is { 03.18.12 at 10:52 am }

Oh, this puts words to how I’ve been feeling for the last 5 years. As we have tried every which way to have #2, I have felt a near constant otherness in my family life from #1. I have explained it as a distraction, a feeling that I have cycled away my son’s early life, something I worry that I will regret especially if we do not have a 2nd child. I’ve described it as insulated and self protective.

And, the otherness is so otherworldly because I don’t feel ‘cast out’ or ‘shunned’, necessarily, or, if I do, I’ve done it to myself because no one knows that I am cycling (or waiting for an adoption match, or waiting for a donated embryo match, or waiting on an egg donor, etc).

And, I especially feel the otherness around mom friends who conceived (and have continued to conceive) naturally. We are all mothers, sure, but I came by motherhood in a way that is completely foreign to them and that foreignness contributes to the otherness.

Otherness is palpable.

6 kh99 { 03.18.12 at 11:42 am }

Another great post that really speaks to what the community has been feeling and expressing lately. I’m beginning to believe that our natural state is “otherness” and beginning to appreciate the amount of effort on both sides it takes to try to bridge the divide or reach out to touch someone in their “otherness.”

On a side note, I had a similar experience as you at the university. We started cycling while I was in grad school and the cycle we tried IUI, I went to class and then drove up the street to the RE who had his office in the hospital on campus. Sort of bizarre.

7 Cristy { 03.18.12 at 12:06 pm }

Well said! I like the analogy of the nuns for being removed from the world. Being separate and not understood. What’s interesting about modern nuns is that there’s this general sense of not understanding why they chose to live their lives this way. So society comes up with myths, similar to those surrounding infertility.

The part where you talk about visiting their prayer room was powerful. It’s like Alice having the ability to show everyone in her life the rabbit hole. It’s not that I want to one-up others; life is filled with trials and pain. But for once, I’d like a way to really explain infertility to someone who really has no context, if for no other reason than to get them to accept that I’m hurting and there’s no quick fix.

8 S.I.F. { 03.18.12 at 2:05 pm }


“It would be as if Alice went into Wonderland, found another Wonderland, and then found a third Wonderland in that, and then had to go back to the real world and interact with people who don’t know what she has seen, how deeply she went into the otherness. ”

That is just so perfectly true. I think its a huge reason why I can’t really talk about what I’ve gone through with infertility to most in my life – it’s that feeling of otherness and the worry that they could never understand, so why even bother?

Alice in Wandingland… I love that.

9 Alissa S { 03.18.12 at 2:14 pm }

Love love love it. You hit the nail on the head. I love when a blog post makes me want to go directly to my keyboard and explore a subject further myself. I am happy that I might have been the catilyst for the moving post.
You are an inspiration my friend.

10 Daryl { 03.18.12 at 2:17 pm }

Beautiful post. Like Cristy, I wish there was a physical place I could take someone to show them this otherness I’m experiencing. There’s no stained glass and wood. It’s a rather stark place, but if they could see it with their own eyes, maybe it would be a little easier to understand.

11 Jo { 03.18.12 at 3:45 pm }

LOVE this post.

I especially love this quote:
“How can you possibly explain to someone what it feels like to conceive with assistance? Or to conceive via something emotionally and physically painful? Or to conceive after a loss? You can’t. We can’t even really explain it well to each other; even amongst those who know, who have experienced their own personal version.”

That is it in a nutshell. No one can understand, unless they’ve been there. And even then, you still feel that “otherness” because everyone’s journey is different. Your IF is different than mine, which is different from my sisters, which is different from any other blog I read. We are all “other” — and it has caused division as of late. But the more we recognize that we are different — and that is OKAY — I think the better we can learn to support each other in our differences.

We all feel a little alien on this journey — and that can serve to unite us just as much as shared experience (infertility) can.

12 Lora { 03.18.12 at 4:26 pm }

This is beautiful. It sums up the emotions that have been racing through my head for the last week as we had a chemical pregnancy after IVF #2.

So many well-wishers and so many others just going along their merry way while I feel disconnected from everything and everyone around me. Everything in my life is different than it was a few years ago, when I was naive enough to think that we would have kids any time we decided too. Some relationships have suffered, a job that I once loved no longer brings the same fulfillment and most importantly its affecting my marriage.

It begs the question, when is it enough? Where is the line between chasing your dreams and risking everything else in the process? How long can we stumble around in “Wandingland?”

13 Justine { 03.18.12 at 8:28 pm }

I love the way you end this. That the only way to touch the other in their otherness is to talk about it … it’s as close as we get to understanding what it’s like to be someone else.

I’ve lived this so, so many times. You walk here, or there, looking at other people, thinking, “they cannot possibly know me. I am so not-them.” Feeling distanced, feeling like you exist in some parallel universe. The thing is … we never *really* know how other we are. And how much we really share with the people we assume are not-us.

14 Lisa { 03.18.12 at 8:56 pm }

I found myself reading this thinking, “That’s it! That’s it!”

Sometimes, when I’m caught up in my “otherness” I think about the people around me and wonder if they have their own “otherness.” If they have a challenge or pain in their life that makes them feel like they just don’t quite belong.

15 slowmamma { 03.18.12 at 10:14 pm }

What a beautiful, perfect post. I will say that I have felt this many different times in my life and I’m sure that many, if not most people can probably relate to this sense of otherness at some point in their lives.

16 a { 03.18.12 at 10:25 pm }

I think there is also a sense of otherness in the “is this really happening to me? Because it doesn’t seem possible for all this misfortune to fall at my door” sense- a kind of disconnect from reality. Of being an observer in your own life.

17 Alexicographer { 03.18.12 at 11:40 pm }

This rings so true. I haven’t experienced all the othernesses you describe, but like you, I pursued treatment in a clinic at the university where I was working … it was literally perhaps 500 yards from my office and also literally true that to get from my office to the main campus one would walk — I would walk, my colleagues would walk — through the hospital and within perhaps 100 yards of the clinic itself.

My DH never fully understood why I insisted that we pay to park in the hospital parking garage (not my nearby gated office lot, for which I had a permit) and traverse the second floor of the hospital, then take the back elevator, when going for treatment. I needed those 2 worlds to be separate, and my privacy to remain intact.

18 Jendeis { 03.19.12 at 2:29 pm }

I love the Inception idea – of the levels of otherness within levels of otherness. I almost feel like the ALI community is like that, only we have you to help us bridge (yes, bridges!) the gaps.

19 Rebecca { 03.19.12 at 3:04 pm }

This is so beautiful and so true.

I’ve felt like I’ve lived in a bizarre other world for years, now. My RE’s clinic is 90 miles away. I would come to work, teach a class, drive 90 miles to Wandingland (love that), then drive 90 miles back and walk right back into a lab with the same students. I felt like I’d experienced three different days by the time the day was over but no one else had any idea.

I’ve felt so removed from my “normal” world for so long that it’s been incredibly hard to become part of it again and believe that anyone could understand the otherness I’ve experienced.

20 Deathstar { 03.19.12 at 6:18 pm }

You know, after reading your post – sometimes I think I never came out of it in a way. I just stayed.

21 Eve { 03.19.12 at 11:55 pm }

My son’s death was like a portal into a new and abstract world where it was as if everyone was just a mirage. I would find myself having a calm and sane interaction with a cashier and yet screaming about dead babies in my head. Loss, whether from infertility or death is somber reminder that things are not always right with the world as most attempt to believe. Things are often horribly wrong – but invisable to most.

22 loribeth { 03.20.12 at 10:05 am }

Great post.

I sometimes feel like I lead a double life — my everyday work & out-in-public life, & my “real” life as a stillbirth mother & infertility blogger. ; ) And seldom the two seem to meet. :p

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