Well, maybe every powerful movement starts out that way…so here goes nothing. This little dream was born a couple months ago as I wrestled with my thoughts and wrote these words…
I sat in the waiting room at the fertility clinic for 50 minutes. Fifty whole minutes. I was getting annoyed. Maybe I'm crazy, but there's a weird vibe in fertility clinic waiting rooms. When you sit in a regular doctor's waiting room, the people around you are there for all kinds of boring reasons - sore throat, ear infection, ingrown toenail...but at the fertility clinic, we're all there for the same exact reason. We want a baby. Really, really bad.
I try so hard not to stare at the people sitting near me, but I can't help it.
There is a woman in scrubs. She is my age and has a kind face. There's no way she's infertile, I think. She looks way too normal.
There's a really tall guy sitting behind me. His wife shows up and they talk quietly together. I want to give them some privacy, but I also kind of (okay, more than kind of) want to hear what they're saying. Are they doing IVF? Is it her issue or is it male factor infertility? Maybe both? How is their relationship holding up under this stress?
Another woman walks through the door, checks in and sits nearby. She leaves her coat on. She looks tired. I wonder how long she's been at this, how many cycles she's done, what meds she's tried, whether she's miscarried.
This happens to me every time I go to the clinic. Give me more than thirty seconds in that waiting room and I get this urge to start talking to the people around me. I want to ask the woman in scrubs how her treatments are going. I want to ask her if she has PCOS, endometriosis or low ovarian reserve. I want to ask about her husband's sperm count and whether they have any friends who have been down this road. I want to ask if they've considered IVF, whether they've gotten second opinions. I want to ask about their insurance coverage and how she's doing with all of this. Like really, how are you doing?
And I want her to ask me.
I want it to be a conversation. I want us to sit next to each other and laugh about the crazy places our men have given us shots and all of those birth control pills we religiously took way back when. I want the tired girl with the coat to hear us and move to where we're sitting, join in with a story about a pregnancy test she was sure was going to be positive...and wasn't. I want to put my hand on hers and tell her I'll say a prayer for her every time she comes to mind. I want to stand up when the nurse calls my name, turn back toward them and smile as I walk away. I want to say, "Nice talking with you."
But none of this happens. We just sit there - on our phones, in our magazines, sinking deeper into the collars of our shirts. We keep our mouths shut because we've heard of HIPAA and there's that sign ten feet from the front desk telling us to stand back to protect each other's privacy.
For some reason, all of this reminds me of the time I ran a marathon. The first thirteen miles were a breeze. Thousands of people lined the streets, cheering for us until their throats were sore. The spectators' roar mingled with my adrenaline to create the sensation that my feet were barely even hitting pavement. It was like I was floating. But then mile fourteen hit. It got really hard. The crowds lessened a bit. The day got hot. And I wanted more than anything to give up.
But there was this lady.
Her race badge said she was in the 70-75 age category and she ran with a limp, almost like she'd had a stroke. She passed me, and as she did, she spoke a word of encouragement that kept my feet moving. I passed her later on and made sure I returned the favor - just a "you go girl!" or "you're doing great!" to lift the spirits of a fellow runner. She passed me again. And again, she used a bit of that precious, fleeting energy to keep me going.
She wasn't the only one. There was a middle-aged guy, a couple of teenage girls, a group of moms. All of us runners were finding the strength to look past our own journey and speak words of encouragement to those who were struggling beside us. This is the reason I ran that marathon. It wasn’t just some crazy idea or something I wanted to check off my bucket list. Looking back, I know I was supposed to run that race so that I could feel that camaraderie...with total strangers.
And maybe this fertility stuff is kind of like a marathon. We're all running the same race with the same finish line. Some are young. Some are older. Some run with partners. And some run alone. Some run a little more smoothly and others really struggle. For some of us, it's our first race. And some of us know what it's like to cross that finish line. It can be exciting at first, even fun.
But then we hit mile fourteen. Maybe it's the realization that the money we set aside for treatments is running out. Maybe it's the third miscarriage, the eighth negative pregnancy test, the second canceled IVF cycle. And when we hit mile fourteen, we need more than we can offer ourselves. We need that 70-year-old lady. We need each other.
We're running the same race, with the same goal in sight, just an arm's reach from one another, but we're still really lonely.
So maybe someday, I'll do it. I might just speak up, take the risk.
"What are you in for?" I'll say to a woman in skinny jeans, clutching her insurance card. Maybe she'll be offended. Maybe she'll tell me it's none of my business.
Or maybe she'll take a deep breath and talk about it...actually talk about it. Maybe for the first time. Maybe she...maybe we...won't feel so lonely in that fertility clinic waiting room. Maybe I can be her lady with the limp. Maybe she can be mine.
And maybe someday, we won't really care how long it takes for the nurse to call our names.
It started with that dream, with that maybe. And then one day in the waiting room, I gathered up my courage…all of the courage that I’d earned from the infertility treatments and the blood draws and the tough conversations and the financial risks that infertility requires…and I used it to give my maybe a shot.
I decided to talk to someone. I picked a woman who looked really nice and friendly. I sat close enough to her to have a conversation but kept some distance between us to avoid freaking her out.
I took a deep breath and just dove in headfirst.
"Are you here for blood work or an ultrasound?" I asked.
She didn't speak English.
So I just smiled. A genuine, smile that said both “this sucks, doesn’t it?” and “you’ve got this, girl.”
And she smiled back. A smile that said both “this is so awkward,” and “this is really great…really important.”
That weird, seemingly insignificant interaction changed me. I decided that I was going to begin a personal mission to light up the waiting room. To smile. To gulp down my fear and insecurity and maybe even say something to somebody. To make eye contact with other men and women who are struggling through this journey like I am.
So how many of you want to join the movement? It’s a humble, scary, little movement, but it’s a movement nonetheless. A movement towards making infertility clinic waiting rooms warmer and more friendly. A movement about deciding that advocacy starts by learning how to look one another in the eye and offer a gentle smile, a kind hello, an unspoken commitment to be the lady with the limp.