No Winners

When I first began writing for Babble, I wrote about our difficulty with getting pregnant.

I was amazed by how much support and empathy I received.  So many people offered encouragement and words of wisdom.

Then, I got a comment that read:

…this is not TTC difficulty! … It took us 4 1/2 years to conceive our second, with 3 losses in the last year. It was heart wrenching to go through that and I personally find it insulting to compare normal conception times with actual infertility struggles. I can’t tell you how many times I heard from those who weren’t really struggling, but weren’t getting PG fast enough (ie: the first time they had unprotected sex or within a couple months) say to me, “It hurts no matter how long you’ve been trying if you don’t get pregnant when you want to,” because I went through the first 2, 4, 6, 12, even 18 months with little concern or upset, and I could hardly wait to have a second baby. Sure I would be sad when my period started right on time yet again…but years 2 and 3…unless you have been through them, you cannot understand! Those were my hardest years. Those were the years that pregnant women followed me around, haunting me everywhere I went…when friends and family members announced pregnancies one after another, many unplanned ‘oopsies’…some had more than one child in that time! Those were the years I had to accept infertility and the possibility I may never have another baby! It was a kick in the face!!

If you want to talk about infertility or at least real conception difficulty, talk to someone who has been through a few years or who has a major fertility issue! Your conception journey, fortunately, cannot be compared!

I was floored.

My heart truly hurt for this woman because she had struggled so much.

She had been trying for a baby for so much longer than Craig and I have. I can’t even begin to know how difficult it is to try for that long.

But, does that mean that it hurts more? Does that mean that she wants a baby more than I do?

Why was it suddenly a competition? Why did she have more of a right to be sad and discouraged than I did?

In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I want to bust the myth that the length of time that we try to conceive in some way earns us some elevated status…that the longer it takes, the more we have a right to judge those who aren’t as far along on the journey as we are.

My reply to her read:

I believe that no matter how long we try for a child, what unites us all is our desire for a baby. I think it would be lovely if we all came together as a group that can understand the struggles, rather than dividing ourselves into groups based on how long we’ve been trying to conceive.
We all share the ache for a baby.
I am truly sorry that you’ve had such a difficult path. It is so heartbreaking.

My heart hurts.

I want another baby.

Her heart hurts.

She wants another baby.

Instead of competing with one another, we could have offered comfort.

How can we ever win if we are measuring our own sadness against that of another person who aches for the same thing we do?

I’m also busting a big myth about secondary infertility over on Babble.

Please go visit my friend Natalie who is busting another myth: It’s NIAW and It’s Complicated.

For more information on infertility, please visit the RESOLVE® website to read What is Infertility?


  1. Natalie

    You are so right, Nichole. The struggle somehow becomes a competition to some.

    And this sentence: How can we ever win if we are measuring our own sadness against that of another person who aches for the same thing we do?

    Gave me goosebumps. Because I get it…I understand.

  2. I found your blog through Natalie's blog. I'll never understand why some make it into a competition….who has it worse? Who suffered more? Who deserves parenthood more? It's crazy. You're so right that we should all be supporting one another, not breaking each other down over who's tried the longest or who's diagnosis is worse.

    Kind of reminds me of IVF Connections…a message board for those going through IVF treatments. There was a group on there who were called IVF Vets and they were so bitter and mean. I get it, though…it's easy to become angry and resentful. But why not come together during a difficult process rather than knocking each other down.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Helene

    Ugh, I just committed a major grammar faux pas and used "who's" instead of "whose"!!!!!

  4. Tracie

    This is just so so sad.

    When talking to abuse survivors, there is a "policy" that I have – Don't compare trauma. I think that applies here. The longing, the waiting, the unknowing…it doesn't matter how long it lasts, it hurts. The hurt is the same. Those of us who have gone through hurt should embrace each other with love and support, not compare our pain and use it as a club to beat others down with.

  5. SquashedMom

    It has been so long since I thought of it, but before I became pregnant (via IVF) with my now 8 year-old twins, I had my year of infertility. I found an online community (fertile thoughts), I struggled. It may have only been a year, but it was hell. I was 40 when we started trying, I knew our chances of success were iffy, nowhere near certain. I am actually baffled by the sense of competition over pain and suffering, the feeling that we are ranked by the number of years we have struggled. Because pain? It's pain.

    It reminds me of a divisive issue in the autism parenting community. While most of us feel a connection, a communal sense among us all, there are a small number of parents of severely autistic kids who get angry when parents of more mildly affected "higher functioning" kids complain about their lives and talk about their struggles, as if, again, there were a ranking system for pain, a competition.

    I understand that the challenges and disappointments of the parents of a non-verbal, self-injuring severely autistic child are significantly more profound, their lives much more severely circumscribed. But still, how does that make the pain of a parent of a high functioning Aspergers child who has just witnessed their child being viciously teased on a playground any less real and legitimate?

    I know that when people are in pain, they sometimes lash out. Thank you for your gentle, wise and sensitive handling of this. You are gracious in this, as always.

  6. Heidi Smith Luedtke

    I just finished an article on IF last week for Washington FAMILY and the best interview/book I read for the project was Melissa Ford (Navigating the Land of IF). Her blog, is fantastic for moral support and has a blogroll sorted by difficulty so people can find others who understand their unique struggles. I experienced secondary infertility and conceived my daughter through IVF. I posted about my experience here:

    I totally agree with you that there are no winners in this game. Pain hurts. What hurts most about IF, in my opinion, is confronting and possibly giving up a vision of what your future will be. That isn't easier to do just because you already have one child or because you haven't been "trying" that long. Our internalized images of what our lives will be like are very powerful. They are part of our identities. Giving that up hurts deeply.

    I think your response took compassion and restraint. Kudos and hugs to you.

  7. You are completely right and loved your response – perfect. With my first son, we tried for close to a year, had to see a specialist and finally got pregnant. While a year might not seem like a long time to those trying for several years {and I cant even imagine}, my heart hurt and it consumed my every thought. I agree with you. Doesn't matter how long you have been trying, its the desire to have a child that hurts so bad.

  8. Jessica

    Just as Varda mentioned above, it seems that with every highly emotional issue there are people that are so emotionally charged that it become divisive instead of supportive. I'm sorry you got such a negative comment but you handled it beautifully, of course.

  9. Oh I'm so glad you wrote this and are writing for NIAW. Infertility is something that I wouldn't wish on my very worst enemy. Also, when we try to have a competition about who tried longer, who had more heartache etc, you're right , no one wins.

    the only way to attack this horrible disease that takes so much from us is to be a unified force against it, to understand and empathize with each couple that seeks to become or add to their family.

    your answer to her was exactly what is should have been, your words asking for support and not divsion in this world of IF where we can feel so alone. I thought your answer was perfect and spoke to the pain each of feels about our struggle, no matter how it's been.

  10. Evonne

    Just because our experiences are different does not mean we need to compete. I think when we try to compete, we end up pushing people away.

    I'm sorry you had to deal with this negativity, but you handled it very well.

  11. It is so difficult to step back and look at a situation like that objectively when so many emotions are involved. Unfortunately, I think many emotional struggles become almost competitive; it's an unattractive part of human nature. I see it happen with petty things like engagement rings and private schools and serious things like infertility and eating disorders :(

    Our struggles, our pain, our joy, our triumphs are all real and valid and sharing them shouldn't mean putting them on a universal measuring scale.

    You handled the comment with grace, of course, and I hope that anyone that reads it (not just the original commenter) takes the time to really think about your words.

  12. Mrs. Jen B

    You handled that so well. It pains me to think that there are people in the world who are hurting so badly that they feel it makes them "better" somehow, or more worthy of the pain they feel.

    On the other hand, I feel bad for being anxious and sad about our non-pg status when we haven't been trying for very long. I feel that there are so many other people out there who try much harder and longer than we have.

  13. JaimesStory

    It's so hard to see past our own hurts. I'm guessing this woman just found it easier to lash out at you then to deal with her hurt.

    What an incredibly sweet person you are not to lash back. To see her hurt. I don't know that I could have done the same.

  14. mad woman

    Oh Nichole, that woman's words hurt me too. Regardless of status, time, procedures, we are all women with the desire to have a child. Is that not enough to unite us?
    I did my best not to whine through the losses, the challenges, the damn waiting. I weathered cruel comments from women who took their fertility for granted. What I learned from my experience was how to reach out and help others.
    Your words are so true and so appropriate. And I wish we had more voices like yours!

  15. Sherri

    I had a hard time when I read her comment initially, because although I could feel her hurt it felt like she was implying that it was a competition. And that your wanting of a baby was less than hers.

    There are some infertile couples who may never cross that bridge and become pregnant, but that longing for a baby? It's universal and equal.

  16. Yuliya

    I think we've talked about this very topic Nichole, the fact that for some people the measure of their pain is only measured against others. And you handled it beautifully.

  17. Kathleen

    I think you handled that very well. I agree it should not be a competition – ttc is hard and having fertility issues or even low fertility (like me) does not make someone deserve it more than others. It sounds like she was deeply hurt by the process……….

    It takes me a long time to get pg. When I watched two friends have two kids in the time I tried for my second – I was hurt and jealous and had to cut off contact. They could not understand where I was coming from getting pg when they wanted and so easily……….We are friends again now – I needed to be in a better place and they have learned that for some life does not go how they envision. We all have something that makes us better people. I do not wish having trouble getting pg on anyone but in hindsight I can see what a better person it has made me. Though I am a bit jealous of a few of my friends who are pg and due when I would have been. It is still a struggle these years later………
    Good luck

  18. C.Mom

    Fertility, or infertility stir up such raw emotion. I agree so much that it is not a competition for who is hurting more, but a journey that so many people face–that is always eased when their is support and camaraderie. Your response was eloquent and gentle, and just like you—generous and supportive.

  19. Some people become blinded by their bitterness.
    I don't see why it should be a competition. When I opened up to someone about my miscarriage, it was dismissed as 'not that big of a deal' because I had only had one, and the person I spoke to had 3. Yes, with every one the hurt does deepen, but how did it make mine unimportant?! I was hurt, but have since then realized that some people are bitter and competitive because they are unhappy with their lives.
    I think your response was perfect. You are a wonderful person… I'm not sure I could have been that gentle.

  20. thisismynewmoon

    I don't have kids, so I don't know what that journey is like, but as with any difficult thing, no one's situation is more superior to the person next door. We need to support each other, no matter what. As women. As friends. As human beings.

  21. @katefineske

    What a great response. Excellent post with an EXCELLENT message. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Rachel

    I think your response was perfect. I feel like her comment was making it into a competition….

  23. sugarbowlmix

    You handled this with such sensitivity and grace. It sounds like she is really hurting and is dealing with a lot of anger about her own situation and I sympathize with her, but that doesn't make your journey any less worthy. It's sad that she had to make it into a competition.

  24. Ashley

    Wow, I think you answered a lot nicer than I could have! Ay yi yi, shouldn't be a competition.. it sucks, plain and simple. It took us two years to get my daughter, and that was tough even from the first month on!

  25. Sigh. I love connecting with other mothers and other women. I find we create beautiful bonds over shared experiences. But I have also noticed that women seem to need to "one-up" each other. I don't know if it is a feeling of unworthiness that some have in their hearts or if it is just a way to search for attention and approval? But it is common and sad.

    There is a person in my family who is very much like this, her story is always worse, and our relationship struggles because of it. I think it is so wonderful when we can be open about our stories and share our experiences in a way that connects us. You do a very good job of that! xo

  26. Carina

    That's a great positive attitude to take – particularly in the face of adversity. Some people use frustrating situations to "build their own prison instead of something bigger and better" as my husband likes to say. Be proud you're the second.

    A great submission for "Bust a Myth".

  27. midwestmomments

    You are an amazing person to be able to respond so eloquently. I would have cried and deleted it. Well, maybe not, but I would have wanted to, and I probably wouldn't have responded at all, or responded rudely. It is a very frustrating thing that we all have the need to compete to see who is worst off. Hugs to all of you who are struggling.

  28. ksluiter

    I wish I knew about this week earlier. i would have loved to "bust a myth".

    And this one is so well done, my friend.

    I felt like someone kicked me in the teeth when they would say to me, "you did not have problems. what you had was a little setback. talk to me when…."

    2 miscarriages and then six months of nothing did not feel like a "little setback". It was hard and awful and it tore at me.

    Just because I didn't try for YEARS and have double digit mc's doesn't mean my losses and my struggles didn't hurt.

    We all hurt.

    We have to support each other in our time of hurt, not try to "out do" each other's pains.

  29. It makes me so sad that people think that everything mommy related is a competition. Everyone has their own battles and their own reasons. My heart is sad for anyone experiencing this, but that's when we should all band together and provide support.

    You are a beautiful and gracious person. Always.

  30. Kristi

    My heart breaks for both of you. Though I'm sure it was a difficult comment to read, it sounds like you handled it well and with kindness also. I wish this was a struggle that no one had to face. Thank you for sharing your journey with everyone here and at Babble as well.

  31. gigi

    You're a better person than I would have been. You handled it with your usual grace and kindness.

    Unfortunately, we as a community of mothers tend to judge one another even when we think we're not doing it. Glad you're out busting the myths. I'm writing on a very similar topic for a friend on her blog soon. The bottom line is this: there is ALWAYS someone in a worse situation than you. Even that commenter, whose pain is clearly evident from her tone.

  32. You are so right, Nichole. You stated it perfectly in the first line of your response. We aren't in competition with each other at all. We all want something…doesn't matter how much longer than the other.

  33. wow. this is heartbreaking. your response was right on target. keep it up nichole!

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