The Women in Housing series is a project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Hannah Frei.
After six years in the field, I am fluent housing professional acronyms. IRs, RAs, and RIFs just roll of the tongue without a second thought. But, there is another set of abbreviations taking up a lot of space in my brain over the past year. CDs, AFs, and BFNs are part of a language I wish I did not have to learn, as my partner and I have been trying to conceive, with no luck yet.
Yep, you read that correctly. I have been trying to get pregnant for about a year and yes, I know my name is attached to this blog post. I understand that society expects me to keep my fertility business a secret, but I’m not quite sure why. Probably for the same reason I have been stashing tampons inconspicuously up my sleeve as I sneak off to the restroom for the better part of 15 years. Women’s bodies are objectified, revered, shamed, admired, censored, and legislated; anything and everything, it seems, barring any reference to the “gory” details on how they actually work.
So, I figured this blog would be a good place to talk about some “lady stuff,” even the stuff that may be considered off-limits. Feel free to proceed, but you can’t say I did not warn you.
I respect that many women have no interest in ever having children, while others choose to adopt, intentionally wait until their 30s or 40s, use a surrogate, or get pregnant without really trying, and I think all of those options and all the others out there are outstanding. Family planning (or not planning!) is a very personal experience and I am not about to tell you how to live your life. I am only choosing to talk about wanting a child and struggling with conception because that is the untold story that happens to reflect my own lived experience, making it the only one I feel qualified to tell.
After taking a required health course in high school, I understood the basics of how babies are made and knew that pregnancy could be the terrifying result of just one missed birth control pill. I spent years actively trying NOT to conceive, so it was a major mental shift to do precisely the opposite when my partner and I decided we were ready to give it a shot. My friends who had been pregnant never reported any setbacks and it seemed like a relatively straightforward process. I was 26 and had just run two half marathons. Words like “infertility,” “ovulation test,” and “basal body temperature” were not even part of the vernacular for people like me.
Flash forward to five months later, still no news. I scheduled a meeting with my doctor, who told me that it just takes some women longer than others. There was nothing to test or worry about. He told me to try to “relax” and “be patient,” and he sent me on my way. (Pro-tip: Even if you have the very best of intentions, telling someone to “relax” and “be patient” about something that is taking up a significant portion of their mental capacity is likely going to have an adverse effect).
I was sad. I was frustrated. I was not relaxed (see pro-tip above). I was also in full swing of RA training and fall opening as a Residence Hall Director. “How can anyone focus on work at a time like this?” I remember thinking to myself. I felt as though my own body was betraying me and yet, I was still smiling my way through ice breakers and first floor meetings. I had to participate in teambuilding activities so my team could get to know me, but I was not able to share the one part of my identity that felt like it was consuming all the others.
For my StrengthsQuest fans in the house and to provide a bit more context, four of my top five strengths include Strategic, Futuristic, Activator, and Achiever (I’ll keep the last strength under wraps to maintain some shroud of privacy about my life. Only kidding - it’s Communication). Oh, the woeful irony of being naturally skilled in planning and executing while trying to manipulate a process in which I quickly found I only had very limited control! The best laid plans, am I right?
Finally, I sheepishly broached the topic in a one on one meeting with my supervisor, who is a mother of two sons and someone with whom I felt personally connected. She was very receptive and helpful in her response, and referred me to mutual friends in our division who had been through similar experiences. This was a turning point for me. Fertility issues can be isolating, but talking to others about it (Out loud! In public!) was mutually beneficial; the women I spoke with felt unburdened through the process of sharing their story, and I felt less alone and privileged to serve as their captive audience. There is an inherent comfort in knowing how others cope with challenges similar to your own, no matter what those challenges are.
I’d like to think of this blog post as what my authentic self would have liked to share in some of those teambuilding activities last August. It’s what I wish I had heard before my partner and I started trying, or when the process became more work and less fun. The late, great Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” For me, that untold story is about struggling to get pregnant. For you, it may be something else. Our field, and our society, could benefit from people being a little brave and letting some of those untold stories out.
Hannah Frei is an Area Coordinator and recently completed her second MA in Women’s Studies at the University of Florida. A proud native of the Chicago suburbs, Hannah sort of enjoys running and definitely enjoys eating frozen yogurt.
The Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.