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Staying or Going in the Infertility World

So I read two articles back-to-back, and (of course) they reminded me of our little corner of the blogosphere, the ALI community.  Neither had anything to do with infertility on the surface.  But, you know, I can make anything about my wonky ovaries.


Image: Jenny Downing via Flickr

Send the Elevator Back Down

So the first article was about the concept of “send the elevator back down.”  Do you know this idea?  It’s paying-it-forward.  You succeed in your career goals, usually due to other people helping you along the way, and you turn around and help everyone else reach their similar career goals since you’re now in a unique position of holding useful knowledge and perhaps having connections that other people are trying to build.

I’m a big fan of this idea, and mostly put it in action when it comes to writing/publishing.  With an MFA and four books under my belt, I have knowledge and connections to give away to others.  I like to read, so it’s a win-win: I help you get your book published and I, in turn, have a new book to read.

And… well… we sort of see this play out in our community.  Someone resolves their infertility or they move from childless to parenting (two different things — you can resolve without reaching parenthood and you can equally reach parenthood without ever resolving), but they stick around to help guide or support other people.  Sometimes they stick around simply because this is their community where they feel most comfortable, but others make the conscious decision to help guide people through treatments or adoption or living child-free; either because they know how difficult it can be and want to make the journey easier for the next person, or because they benefitted from other people back when they were starting out, and they want to turn around and pay it forward.

I’d argue that the usefulness of the information and support after infertility is akin to the usefulness of the information and connections we see in the work world.  I can tell you how to write a proposal in the same way I can tell you my experience with clotting disorders, but one person cannot repeat another person’s experience moment for moment.  Sticking around and giving information is just that — sending the elevator back down.  You can’t control the other person’s ultimate elevator ride.  It’s about politeness.  It’s about not draining others.  It’s about sticking around once you have something of value — knowledge.

But it’s also about sticking around to continue to support even when you don’t technically need the support anymore.  Or the support you need has changed and you’re getting it from somewhere else.

So why would we ever run that type of person out of a community or declare their support unneeded?  Why would we ever reject the elevator being sent back down, insisting that we can either call for it ourselves or ask only that other people on the ground floor push the button?  To me, support is support, especially if it’s coming from someone within the same building.

I’m eternally grateful to the people who stuck around and sent the elevator back down for me.  They may not have had anything useful in terms of helping me reach my goal, but they were the people who sent down the styrofoam cups of tea on the elevator.  Or who simply held my hand when I was nervous riding to the next floor.  I didn’t need them to solve my problems, but I was grateful that when I was drowning, there were other people around me who were swimming that I could cling to when I need a few seconds to catch my breath.


The other was about the hot hot feminist trend (if Jezebel says it’s hot, it’s hot) of leaving it all behind with a breakcation.  Think Wild, think Eat, Pray, Love, think all the times you’ve read about people uprooting their lives and leaving their community/family/job behind to kickstart a new life/goal/mindset.

It’s nice to see women participating in something men have been doing for many centuries — the reinvention trope — and sometimes one needs a break in order to become their best selves.  I’m not talking about a break in the sense of a pause; I mean that sometimes people need to leave entirely to fulfill their needs.  Sometimes you need to focus on yourself.

There are some that are angry when people stop reading or writing when they hit pregnancy or parenthood.  There are some who call them selfish and lash out at them for leaving behind the people who supported them.

But I also understand that sometimes you need to do what is best for yourself.  You are the only person who can take care of you, and if leaving is what will help you, then that is what you should do.  No one should stay to send the elevator back down at the expense of their own sanity or happiness.

There are some who can’t stay.  Staying is too painful, too detrimental to their happiness, holding them back.  They aren’t leaving because they don’t care about others; they are leaving because they care about themselves.  And we should hug those people and send them on their way with good wishes.


Every single one of us will reach resolution (I hope) whether or not we reach parenthood, and we will all need to make the personal decision whether to stay or go.  Whether we’re going to stick around and send the elevator back down or make a clean break so we can start the next section of our life.  We won’t necessarily know beforehand how we’ll feel when we reach our own crossroads, but I would love for the decision to always rest in the hands of the individual.  That the community, as a living, breathing organism, doesn’t make the decision for the individual by turning our back or yanking their arm.

I have been lucky enough to be part of this online community for 8 1/2 years, and I’ve seen the community members shift and change as people enter and exit.  The beautiful thing, of course, in that longevity is holding on to the other people who have also been here for years; the stability in those relationships which allow the rest of the movement to feel more like a dance than a roller coaster ride.

To the people who have left, I wish you well.  I’m glad our lives bounced against each other when they did.  To the people who have stayed, thank you.  I know I always have a group of people I can say things to that get it.


1 Gypsy Mama { 01.21.15 at 8:18 am }

You draw some very interesting parallels here. Some of my strongest supporters while I was in the trenches came from women who were parenting after they had resolved. When I became pregnant, I started a new blog for my new journey because I was so worried about hurting those still in the trenches. I regret that decision now though because I lost so much of my story and friends in the move.

2 Kimberly { 01.21.15 at 8:23 am }

I just about did that (wild). My marraige was on a rocky decline 2012-early 2014 and I thought about totally leaving everything and starting over. But today, my marraige is stronger than ever – but I still enjoy nice long day hikes.

3 Brittny Hamilton { 01.21.15 at 9:03 am }

This was a really insightful. I’ve often wondered where I fit in now that we have decided to stop TTC and moved on to trying to adopt.

4 Northern Star { 01.21.15 at 9:26 am }

Love this Mel.

5 Cristy { 01.21.15 at 12:10 pm }

Nodding along as I’m reading this. I agree with what you’ve said
My one question is about those who don’t make the clean break. Those who write until pregnancy or parenting, stop writing and reading, then pop back up later when they are starting to think about the next child or realize that they haven’t resolved. Though many say support them, I often see anger and hurt feelings directed towards these people. This sense that they need to apologize before being allowed back in.
This one I certainly struggle with. On one hand, I can’t understand leaving the pain behind and embracing the new. Finding support when you need it. But I also understand how much it sucks to fel used. Where’s the happy medium?

6 gwinne { 01.21.15 at 12:56 pm }

My thoughts are most akin to Christy’s. I’m in a position right now, as someone actively publishing about infertility related issues, to be that person sending the elevator back down. And when I can, I do. But there are also some times–like being invited to my RE’s open house at her new place–that it’s just still TOO MUCH. It’s very much a cyclical thing for me. I’m guessing the balance will tip as the years go by, but perhaps not…

7 A. { 01.21.15 at 2:58 pm }

I was nodding and mm-hmming as I read it too. I think it also just needs to be said, from a practical perspective, that, umm, new babies are a ridiculous amount of work, and depending on temperament and support systems, they may not leave you with the luxury to keep blogging to support others. It’s not personal, just a reality, especially for working moms, and especially for moms who worked so damn hard to hold that baby, I imagine there’s a reluctance to put the kid down to go put in requisite time on the computer in the community, no? I know it’s not the most sensitive move from the perspective of someone who is not parenting, but most new mommas I know are just surviving, fertile or not.

8 Lori Lavender Luz { 01.21.15 at 3:16 pm }

This is timely, as recently I was noticing on FB people who are and aren’t Friends with me anymore, and how at one time in my nearly 8-year blogging journey, we had bbeen so close. I had moments of “what did I do wrong?” but this post helps me reframe that moving on sometimes happens without fault.

I’m grateful for those with whom I’ve created longevity <3.

9 Tiara { 01.21.15 at 3:18 pm }

So well said…I really like the idea of sending the elevator back down…a lot.

10 Petunia { 01.21.15 at 4:34 pm }

As usual, this post was so insightful. I’m thankful for the last 8.5 years that you’ve been sending the elevator back down! Thank you for always providing such thought-provoking pieces to our ALI community.

11 Sunny { 01.21.15 at 6:38 pm }

Insightful and beautiful as always, Mel. I have moved on from the IF community, but I still try to send the elevator back down when I can. It just happens organically as I go about my life now.

12 Luna { 01.21.15 at 6:53 pm }

What a great post, Mel. At times, I can’t believe how much support on-line communities have offered me through two different circumstances (breast cancer and treatment, then infertility-treatment). With both circumstances I have found that you can stay as long as you can be helpful, but as you said, you need to leave at times when it becomes too difficult or you are no longer being helpful to the community. You really have to read yourself to see where you are at any given moment and what you are giving back to the communities you are part of– I suppose that is true in all areas of our lives- not only on-line communities, but the reminder to stop every once in a while and see… what am I doing for this community- whether it is your work, your friendships, or your relationship. Thanks for a great post!

13 Justine { 01.21.15 at 9:42 pm }

I don’t know if I’ve stayed to send the elevator back down. I don’t think I know enough to do that. But I’ve stayed around to help hold the cables, perhaps, to make them a little bit stronger, to help the ride back up be a bit less bumpy … ?

And I’ve stayed because in many ways, this space IS my breakation.

14 Mali { 01.22.15 at 11:10 pm }

I think the reason people feel angry when someone leaves is because they feel hurt and forgotten. They’ve invested emotions with a particular blogger, and feel as if those emotions weren’t reciprocated. And that hurts. It’s not much different to losing a friend (or acquaintance) in real life. That really hurts – I’ve certainly had to deal with that. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to be grateful that those people were in my life when I needed them, and if them move on, then it doesn’t diminish the value they brought to my life. Feeling hurt is okay too – I have to own and acknowledge that loss.

We have to acknowledge too though that some people, perhaps because their hands are full or their attention is necessarily elsewhere, are simply unable to send the elevator down, or might send it down and it lands on the heads of those who are left! We can only offer help and support when we can, and we also have to acknowledge that our offers of help and support might be hurtful too. I am very careful what I say to bloggers who are in the midst of treatments. I don’t want to
offer support that might be taken the wrong way and cause hurt. I don’t want to scare people who are not ready to face certain outcomes. I understand why they might not want me around, in the same way that they might not want reminders that others have achieved what they want. But that’s less in the context of me staying around in my own space, and more about not inserting myself into others’ spaces, I think.

15 Jess { 01.23.15 at 9:31 pm }

I love the thoughtfulness of this post, the acknowledgment of birth ways things can and do go. I love the idea of sending the elevator back down. I had a time in the middle of my seemingly never-ending journey where I felt exhausted and only wanted to follow people just like me, in my stage of things. The problem is things don’t stay that way for long, and so inevitably everyone would get pregnant and post sporadically or disappear when the baby/ies came. Which I totally understand and agree with A. That New babies are a lot of work and prioritizing happens. It was still sad to lose people though. And to feel left behind. But, I found it was interesting to see what could lie ahead, and I stayed following more bloggers who were newer to this nonsense. It feels good too be encouraging, to share information despite my lack of success thus far. I hope to keep sending that elevator back down and I really, really appreciate everyone who has sent it down for me.

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