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The Secret Handshake

So we all have this sliding scale of happiness. A few days ago, Ann wrote in the comments: “I think it’s because of this sliding scale that I’ve felt the need every time [I] tell someone that I’m pregnant, to add that it did take us a while, and quite a bit of medical help. Even to people that really don’t need (or probably want) to know. I just don’t want to rank low on someone else’s scale.” Which piggybacks on a comment written by a fellow Stirrup Queen directly to me a few weeks ago. Paz, who is currently pregnant after multiple miscarriages, discussed an incident that took place at Starbucks:

“So, back to Starbucks. I see a woman look at me and then look away, I mean really twisting her neck to look away as I am standing directly in front of her table. I thought I saw…did she wipe away a tear? I wanted to shout, I am not one of THEM. I am an IF! Is there an international sign or secret nod to say, I am one of you and I did it, so maybe you will too. See this belly, it’s the belly of an IF—we shall overcome! Proof that I am an IF: I might be imagining women cry in a Starbucks at the sight of my belly.”

Because who else is that sensitive that they notice the reaction of strangers than a fellow Stirrup Queen who currently has a big, pregnant belly? Who else but a Stirrup Queen–who should be happy and worked hard to attain that happiness–would be suffering from…Pregnancy Guilt.

Pregnancy Guilt: the overriding emotion one feels when she finally attains pregnancy but still remembers her sisters back in the trenches.

It’s survivor guilt. It’s not that you wanted to die too, but you don’t understand how you could still be walking around, shopping, loving, continuing life, while all these other people you know are gone. It’s the discomfort you feel when you wonder if you’ve lost your community. You are one of us, but now you’re experiencing the thing that makes them…THEM. So where do you fall? Are you infertile? Are you fertile? Are you fertile but holding your breath for nine months while you stress, stress, stress and never get to experience a carefree pregnancy?

Pregnancy guilt comes from remembering how you felt when you saw that big, pregnant belly at Starbucks when all you wanted was a five minute coffee break where you didn’t think about infertility. And you know we all feel differently when that pregnant belly is attached to someone who knows the sliding scale versus someone who is blissfully pregnant without a care in the world beyond putting on too much baby weight (because non-infertiles have post-baby exercise plans and Stirrup Queens have lost-baby emotional-insurance coping plans). So you want to let all the SQs know that you’re one of them. Not because you can’t deal with having someone secretly hate you–I think all SQs understand where those feelings come from and will never (I hope) utter the words, “why can’t you just be happy for me?” to another known SQ–but because you can’t stand the fact that you may have burdened a SQ with an additional minute of emotional pain.

Taking all suggestions for a secret handshake, nose wiggle, eye blink in order to convey community.


1 Royalyne { 08.07.06 at 8:59 am }

Can we get jewelry instead? When I was rushing the sorority we had to wear these ugly/cheap pins constantly or face the wrath of the sisters. We should flip that around and have some fantastic, yet tasteful, image that we claim as our own. We can wear it on a necklace, as a pin, earrings, bedazzle it onto our pants… I would wear mine everywhere, like a becon calling out to my IF sisters, and a conversation starter when all the fertiles want to know where I got my gorgeous necklace (and I’d get to tell them that it came from the Land of IF, it’s a residents only thing). Besides, those nifty handshakes are more of a guy thing. I don’t shake hands when I meet people, not all the time at least, and not when I see a pregnant stranger and pretend she’s one of us. And girls do love jewelry.

2 The Town Criers { 08.07.06 at 9:08 am }

Oooh! I’m all for jewelry!

A big, ruby uterus!

3 mandolyn { 08.07.06 at 9:25 am }

I think that some jewelry designing is in order.

4 DI_Dad { 08.07.06 at 10:07 am }

No handshake suggestion but similiar guilt issues…..

When our first DI child was about 17 to 18 months old we started trying to have #2. When we would enter the infertility clinic (one of the big four or so here in Manhattan) we thought to put a t-shirt on our son that read I am an IVF baby (not totally accurate but enough) as we did not want to bring pain to the folks in the waiting room.

– Eric

p.s. Finding a sitter at 7am is impossible and my wife wanted me at the clinic with her.

5 me and m { 08.07.06 at 11:07 am }

You’re absolutely right. I now understand pregnancy guilt.
I agree that we need to make a secret sign so other IF’ers know that we were once one of them! Or jewelry is a great idea too!


6 aah0424 { 08.07.06 at 12:46 pm }

My vote is for jewelry too! If we have to carry the burden of IF, we might as well have something cute to show for it!

7 KE { 08.07.06 at 1:26 pm }

I’d love some kind of jewelry to identify other people dealing with IF. It would be great to see someone wearing a visible sign of their (our) struggle so I could reach out to them!

8 ms. c { 08.07.06 at 1:31 pm }

Jewelry! Jewelry!!

9 royalyne { 08.07.06 at 2:15 pm }

I have a very pretty design that I want to use for my next tattoo (hey, I’m not pregnant and probably not gonna be for a while, might as well): it’s a star that they say is the sign of the Sumerian fertility goddess Inanna. Ummm, let me find the website and I’ll give you the link in just a second… http://tinyurl.com/zb7h8 Look at that, I even mastered the tiny url (since I don’t know how to hyperlink or if that even works in a blog comment). It’s a very cute 8-pointed star. You could have them made and sell them with your book, Mel…

10 Piccinigirl { 08.07.06 at 2:29 pm }

I always love jewelry!!!
I have to admit, I have told many, many people that I am IF in all kinds of places, WalMart lines, movies, nail salon, etc. I don’t want them to think I’m crazy or stalking them..ha. I always find that once I can get the words out that I feel better and the “PG belly” person has told me many times, it will be ok and just last 2 of them told me it took a long time, one even shared a dr’s name with me. That’s when I know that the communication works.

I vote for Jewelry. 🙂

11 Ella { 08.07.06 at 5:26 pm }

I love the jewelery idea! I would wear it with pride every day. I think a big garnet shaped pomegrantate – symbolizing blodd flow and fertility. Sounds kinda gross but kinda cool at the same time. My brother is actually a jeweler. I told him he should make me a pomegranate shaped charm as a good luck with this IF thing present. Perhaps he could market them for real.

12 The Town Criers { 08.07.06 at 5:58 pm }

I am totally, totally all for jewelry! And somewhat stuck on the whole pomegranate thing. In fact…I had already bookmarked this necklace on my computer in order to stick out the hint to my husband…


Especially because it is a sign of fertility. For those who don’t know the symbolism: in Judaism, one is supposed to eat a pomegranate between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (September 24–October 1 this year) to bring about good fertility. And then, for extra measure, a couple who has been trying to have a baby for a while is given the etrog a few weeks later at the end of Succot (an etrog is a citrus fruit that looks like an overgrown lemon). They are supposed to bite off the stem at the top (the pitom) and they will have a baby within the year. Though…we…er…have two etrogs in our house. So maybe it takes a while for them to work.

I also like the idea of a pomegranate-coloured (deep purplish red) string tied around the wrist. Simple. Subtle. Cheap. Easily replaceable. Sort of a play on the red fertility string from Judaism. Which I wore too.

Can you tell that I’m a little superstitious? I’ll try ANYTHING to get pregnant.

13 annmarie { 08.07.06 at 6:57 pm }

I like the jewelry idea, but in the meantime, maybe we can establish a wink or twitch. hell, we already feel odd in a sense, so an odd movement seems appropriate!

14 aah0424 { 08.08.06 at 6:39 am }

A couple of cycles ago I had 2 dreams about turtles and the next morning after the second one I went to get the paper and there was a turtle in my driveway. I started researching it and found the turtle was a symbol of fertility and motherhood in many Native American cultures. In one of my Google searches I found this site:

I have it bookmarked, but I haven’t bought it yet. I like the pomegranate, too!

15 ms. c { 08.08.06 at 7:26 am }

i love the pomegranate!

16 Lyrehca { 08.08.06 at 7:58 am }

I can’t find the link right now, but the Mister and I bought a clay pomegranate at an art show earlier this year. We moved it to “the creativity/children” corner of our bedroom (hey, a little feng shui never hurt anyone) and do these little rituals to urge our embryo (and at an earlier IVF point, my follicles) to grow. Weird, I know, but again, whatever helps the process along. When I get home I’ll post the link to the artist’s site.

17 mandolyn { 08.08.06 at 9:01 am }

I want a pomegranate necklace! (I also want to avoid work at the moment…)

I like the simplicity of this shape.


18 Rachel Inbar { 08.15.06 at 1:18 pm }

I’m all for jewelry as well. I think the IF blogging community is strong enough to get this going internationally – but maybe it needs a 2 step process (or more). The first step is going through IF, the 2nd is pregnant after IF or with an ART baby and the next perhaps and IF survivor…

Pregnancy guilt? OMG. I went through 13 years of IF, inc 6 IVF cycles that resulted in 3 kids (a singleton & twins from FET). I have since remarried, had a baby a few days before our 1st anniversary & then another a few days after our 2nd. I get tons of requests for interviews, but I refuse since I feel like an infertility fraud… after 13 years of infertility…

19 Anonymous { 03.08.07 at 4:23 am }

do not put any thing els on to do with thread

20 Anonymous { 06.19.07 at 10:37 pm }

i was just reading this thread,not even sure how i got here. but we have a home business and customize silicone wristbands. I’m sure we could get pomegranate colored ones and we could engrave them with stirrup queen or put a turtle on them or an awareness ribbon . . . .I’d be happy to help.

21 Firefly { 05.17.10 at 10:40 am }

I totally agree with the jewelry idea. We all can wear it as a badge of honor for all that we have been through and may go through. Plus we all need to nuture ourselves from this process!

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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