Monday, January 27, 2014

Sibling Rivalry

I've written and re-written this post in my head for months now. My hesitancy to delve into this topic reflects the raw emotions, guilt, and ambivalence I feel.

I have two younger sisters, one four years younger than I am and then another 3 years younger than her. I have always been closer to AE, the middle-sister, likely because we were much closer in age. We're not particularly similar. She was always more social, more into fashion and popularity, and much better at cooking and baking and crafting. I was the book-smart introvert who always bragged that I didn't need to learn to cook because I would make enough money to pay someone else do it for me (ha!). My other sister and I would often joke that she was the favorite, as she was pretty good at getting attention,  being dramatic, and getting what she wanted from our parents. I was never that savvy.

Despite our differences, we both played soccer and both were in girl scouts. We both tried to get good grades in school and we both started dating about the same time (not the same age, but the same time). AE had this tendency to do everything I did six months after I did it, despite her being four years younger. There was often this underlying competition that would bubble up when someone made the more competitive soccer team, or had a new boyfriend, or got engaged.

AE got engaged within four months of C and I getting married. She announced that she and her future husband were trying to conceive three months before her wedding, while C and I were just beginning to discuss the idea. She made it very clear that she wanted to be the first sister to have a baby, that being the middle child never allows her to be the first at anything. I was more than happy to allow her this win, naively assuming she had a 6+ month head start.

Nine months later, I'd been off birth control for several months to "regulate my cycles" and was realizing that this was not happening. AE was extremely upset each month when she would get her period. I saw my GYN who ran some tests, determined I wasn't ovulating, diagnosed me with PCOS, and recommended beginning Clomid. She thought this was a great idea and promptly made an appointment with her GYN, beginning Clomid about a month after me. And so it began.

Every month we'd be going through the similar treatments and comparing notes. Not that there are better or worse cases of infertility, but I would get frustrated when month after month I was non-responsive to the medications and she was. However, despite ovulating each month, she was still not getting pregnant. After a few months of Clomid, my GYN recommended moving on to RE and of course my sister followed suit the next month. Her RE was a little more aggressive than ours and while she was beginning IUIs, we were still struggling to find a medication regimen that would actually get my eggs to grow and ovulate.

She would call me frequently, upset that she only produced one egg, or that she ovulated earlier than expected and it wrecked her plans, or convinced that she wasn't pregnant within 7 days from ovulation. She would forget to ask how I was doing. She would put her foot in her mouth by complaining about her insurance deductible (that covers infertility) despite knowing that I have no coverage. I would listen patiently and provide empathy and support, like the big sister and psychologist that I was. But when we got off the phone, I would be upset and furious.

The breaking point was in November when I got the results that I wasn't responding to my last shot at oral medications. Since then, our relationship has changed, likely for good. We stopped talking at all for a while but have recently been calling each other more. Our sharing is more guarded, or at least it is for me. If she doesn't know what is going on with me, then I can't get upset when she says insensitive things because I can assume its out of ignorance. Needless to say, she does not yet know about our decision to move on to IVF.

My hesitancy towards sharing this is primarily because of the feeling as though I am betraying the AF community, or at least a fellow IFer. When people first find out that my sister is struggling with infertility at the same time, they express assumed gratitude that I have an automatic support system. As if we should be able to have an inherent understanding of what the other is emoting. Us IFers, we're all in this together, right?

I've just recently come to terms with the fact that just because we're suffering from the same disease does not mean that we cope with it in the same ways. None of us do. Honestly, there have been some blogs that I've stopped reading because their coping strategies and attitude towards IF annoyed me. But I can't stop "following" my sister. We just must accept that everyone copes and manages it in their own way, what works best for them. Just because we have one unifying similarity does not automatically make us the perfect supports for one another. To expect this would be synonymous to expecting people to grieve in the same ways and on the same timeline or to expect that someone in the middle of their own grief would be a great support for someone else at the same time.  Increased understanding should not be undervalued, but this alone does not make for improved support.


  1. I don't have any siblings so I can't say I completely understand but I do feel your frustration. Whether it is a sister or a good friend, I would feel frustrated if someone did what your sister did to you. And I agree, not everyone has the same coping mechanism and just because you're going it through together doesn't mean you have to be each other's support system.

    I laughed at your 'i'll have someone to cook for me' because that's exactly what I said when I was growing up! I said I'll make enough money to have my own cleaner, cook and enough to fly business/first class when I travel. That never happened! Ha!

  2. I grew up in a household with some sibling rivalry but not to the degree you described. It must be incredibly painful to know you do share this but can't really openly support one another because of that competitive trait. I'm tempted to say talk it out and share the frustration you shared here, but you've probably tried. Wishing you peace and some resolution...
    Elizabeth via ICLW

  3. I am an only child so I can't relate on a personal level, but I have seen sibling rivalry at it's finest with my husband and his brothers, and it has caused some big upsets and family issues. I'm sorry that your sister is being this way, I can only imagine how tough that must be.

  4. I can feel how painful this is for you coming right through your post. I don't have any sisters, but my best friend and I had a very competitive relationship until shortly after we both got married and it was so hard to both want good things for someone and also want better things for yourself at the same time. An emotional rollercoaster in itself, and then when you add in IF it's just overwhelming. You are so so right that someone else in the same situation is often not the best support. While they can be good for helping you to know your feelings are normal and you're not alone, they're hardly in a position to lift you up when they have their own struggle to attend to. I don't blame you for not sharing your latest news, you really do have to protect yourself. This is something I've learned a lot in the last 6 months. You don't owe it to anyone to force yourself into situations and conversations that make you feel shitty just so that other person feels okay about what's going on with you. Do whatever you need to do to cope, even if that means shutting people out a little. Take care of you!!