Just got back from a week in Dallas for a work event. I realize that I am late for NIAW but as my own personal tribute to NIAW I wanted to post a story from the event that really touched upon a bunch of things that I’ve been thinking and feeling lately in regards to infertility.
The first night of the event they had a guest speaker, a Vietnam vet and POW named Captain Charlie Plumb. He survived 6 years as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, and told a harrowing story of what he experienced there. But his takeaway and lesson from the speech were all about how people handle adversity and challenges – from the day to day small dramas to the big life altering events. And a lot of what he shared resonated with me around how we struggle and try to overcome infertility, and how it changes us. I want to share a number of quotes that I took down from the presentation and found later on his website – as I enter into IVF #3 I am trying (as hard as I can, and as hard as it is) to be positive and optimistic about this round. I’ve provided quotes below as well as what they made me think of in terms of our infertility struggle as I was watching this presentation (in italics below the quotes).
On why he tells his story
“I want people to think better of themselves. Those six years were the greatest training a person could have. I can’t think now of a challenge in life I can’t overcome. I truly believe that if I could put each person through those years, they would come out with the self-confidence that I have.”
I started this blog because it seemed like a good idea to get my thoughts down as a form of ‘therapy’ and because I learned so much from all the blogs that I started to read and was so impressed and in awe of the amazing ladies and writers telling their stories. I am not a writer (I’m a tech geek) but I have been truly amazed and honored at how many people actually follow my blog and are invested in my story, and at how much I celebrate when one of us gets a win, and the sadness I feel when we get knocked down again. I do think from putting myself out there and telling my story and going through this, I do have more confidence in myself and in my marriage. I believe that if we can get through this with some shred of sanity intact, we can get through just about anything.
On attitude and life lessons
“It was his last year as a coach and we lost the last game. We were walking off the court and all I could think to say was, ‘I’m sorry, Coach, I guess we’re just a bunch of losers.’
“Coach squeezed my shoulder and said, ‘Son, whether you thing you’re a loser, or whether you think you’re a winner, you’re right!’
“Well, I didn’t learn much at the school of hard knocks over at the University of Hanoi but I did learn this: Coach Smith was right! Life is a choice. Life is a choice in a prison camp in Vietnam just like life is a choice each day. Don’t give away your choice by blaming somebody else for your problems.”
This is a lesson that I am trying to learn and get better at. I do feel like a loser sometimes for not being able to do this one thing that so many others (people who aren’t even trying to do this in many cases) take for granted. I am going to choose in this round of IVF to be positive and focus on the fact that we will make it out of this some day. We are doing everything that is in our power to make this round the successful one for us and we will be parents someday, even if it’s not this time, and even if it’s not the way that we imagined it.
On coming back to the states after being set free after 6 years and finding out his wife had become engaged to someone else
“And I said to myself. ‘Mister Lawyer, Mister Psychiatrist, I can sue everybody I can think of, I can feel sorry for myself, I can fall into a corner and atrophy and die. Or I can take Option No. 2. I can pick up the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle, put them back together as best I can, and put the energy in a positive direction. Thank you very much, I think that’s what I’ll do.’ And I did. And so did the other guys.”
I love this statement, this is what we all do. We take some time to feel crappy, to feel sorry for ourselves and to grieve the failures in the process (and in my case drink a case of wine), but we pick ourselves back up, we make a plan and we go on to support each other. I’ve started to think about how I can put this energy into an even more positive direction, I have the desire to do something more, to reach out, to foster more of a community in my area, to put my ‘energy in a positive direction’, if you will. Not sure where that will take me, but hopefully I’ll have some time in Denver to think about this more and what I want to do to help others.
On the first time another POW reached out to him to teach him the code that the POWs used to communicate
“…so there I was in my little cell with my little deck of cards and I heard a cricket across the floor, but it wasn’t a cricket. It was a wire being slid under the wall of the cell next to me. And at this point I needed so desperately somebody to validate my sanity, to tell me it was going to be all right. But you know my overriding reaction? I was afraid. I was afraid of the guy on the other end of the wire.”
“You see, I figured, well, whoever’s on the other end is another prisoner of war, he’s a fighter pilot, probably, and he’s probably a better pilot than me and he’s probably more handsome and bigger and stronger and he probably didn’t cry when the enemy tortured him, like I did. I didn’t want that guy to see me in the shape I was in.”
“Ever get like that? Ever afraid to expose the tender underbelly of your personality to somebody else? Sure, we all get that way once in a while. It’s tough to tug on a wire.”
This, in a nutshell, is how I feel about this beautiful and amazing community. It’s a strange thing to put yourself out there, even anonymously, for all the world to hear about your innermost fears and struggles, to put it out there and ask for advice, for support, and for help is a big deal. It is so tough to tug on that wire, but the messages and support that I’ve received back from everyone out there has been more than I could have hoped, and has provided me with a lifeline that I don’t think I could get from just my family and friends.
On the importance of having a good support system
He survived, Plumb tells his listeners, because he was lucky enough to have been exposed at several junctures in his life to people he calls “parachute packers.”
There was, literally, one anonymous seaman on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk who packed Plumb’s parachute properly before his last mission, allowing him to eject safely from his F-4 Phantom after it was shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile.
So the philosophical question here is this: How’s your parachute packing coming along? Who looks to you for strength in times of need? And perhaps, more importantly, who are the special people in your life who provide you the encouragement you need when the chips are down? Perhaps it’s time right now to give those people a call and thank them for packing your chute.
I’ll close this post with a thank you to all of you out there in the ALI community reading and commenting and supporting me. Thank you for packing my parachute and I hope that I can do some small thing someday to help pack yours in return. If there is anything I’ve learned through my infertility struggle it is who the special people are in my life that provide that encouragement and support, and along with my family and friends, I count this community as very much on that list. Thank you.