No matter how the news has been delivered, the result has been the same for the past three-and-a-half years; with me feeling as though I have been kicked in the gut and sobbing in a puddle on the floor.
“You probably figured it out by now, but I’m pregnant!” This was a text message.
“You’ll never believe it – TWINS!” I’ve heard this twice.
“We have something to tell you – we’re expecting!” This was in my own kitchen.
“And we weren’t even trying!” Particularly irritating, this has happened more times than I can count.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy, sincerely, for these families, as they enter this new and exciting stage in their lives. But it doesn’t mean I’m not pissed about it, too, because dammit I want to be pregnant. I’ve wanted it for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like not to want it anymore. It’s become a constant in my life, this unresolved pain that just sits and won’t go away. If you’ve struggled with infertility, I know you’ll understand. If you haven’t, well, lucky you. But let me try to explain just how excruciating it can be.
Having had the good fortune of giving birth to a healthy daughter after a reasonable time “trying,” I thought for sure that getting pregnant a second time would be a breeze. This, unfortunately, was not to be. Initially, I wasn’t too concerned, but after nine months without the need to even purchase a pregnancy test, I decided to check in with my ob/gyn. Soon thereafter I had my first failed Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), and harboring a general aversion to medication, I looked to alternatives. I tried acupuncture. I tried sticking a thermometer in my mouth every morning before I even blinked my eyes open to accurately capture the oh-so-elusive basal body temperature. I tried royal jelly, in various forms. I pray to St Gerard every night before bed. I started going back to the gym. I tried, and am still trying, therapy. Then, after a year-and-a-half of period after period, I went to a fertility clinic.
Since I decided to bring in the “big guns” with my trip to the clinic, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got pregnant. Everyone I knew who had gone to this practice walked away with at least one baby, so my eventual pregnancy was a given. I mean, I had only been pregnant once and it went perfectly, so this was the last stop, my final fix. Except it wasn’t. I have had so many transvaginal ultrasounds, it’s impossible to count. The functionality of my fallopian tubes has proven effective, and there was a not-really-pleasant saline test that I “passed,” but without the gold star of conception. I followed all of my instructions to the letter. I injected myself with hormones, something I really didn’t want to have to do. I took progesterone pills that literally made me feel as though my brain was on fire. And as an added bonus, I had two more failed IUIs.
In retrospect, I’m actually grateful I didn’t get pregnant taking all those meds. I don’t judge others for their choices in the face of infertility, but my preference, if given the option, is always drug-free. I pushed out a nine-pound baby without pain medication and felt like a rock star for doing it. So even though it felt necessary to go through the motions and follow the fertility specialist’s directions, it never felt quite right. You can imagine, then, my decision to rule out I. I’ve never had a surgical procedure, hated being on hormones and felt as though In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was crossing my personal boundaries. I didn’t want to play God. If I got pregnant with multiples, or if something was wrong with the pregnancy, I don’t know if I would have been able to forgive myself for effing around with the creation of life. And that’s when things hit bottom.
As my birthday approached, I was still un-pregnant and we were about to welcome another baby in our family. Another baby that wasn’t mine. It was all just too much for me, and every day I felt hopeless, useless and betrayed by my own body. The cyclical reminders of my perpetual state of non-pregnancy were unbearable. I needed to get off my monthly roller coaster ride, but didn’t know how. I’m fortunate that I don’t seem to have depressive tendencies (anxiety, for sure, though) because I don’t know how I would have been able to dig out of the dark tunnel in which I found myself. Every day was a struggle, and it was as if every pregnant woman and every newborn was a searing reminder of what I did not have. And yet. And yet.
The constant reminders of my good life are all around me. My husband is the truest and most wonderful partner I could ask for. He has picked me up off the floor and calmed me from my heaving sobs. We have good jobs, a beautiful home and loving family who live nearby. Then there’s our daughter. She is simultaneously cathartic and enraging. We created this perfect little being—absolutely beautiful, so smart and funny and almost always happy—why couldn’t we do it again? If she didn’t exist, though, well…I…no. I just can’t even imagine it. So why do I feel guilty for wanting more? The word “selfish” has particularly negative connotations for me, so I’m afraid that I’m being selfish for desiring another child. Really, though, is it selfish for wanting to bring a child into a loving home with a pretty amazing older sister? Having grown up an only child, I simply don’t want that for our daughter. Even though I know her childhood is already completely different from mine, I have always longed for someone with whom I could have shared my youth and my parents. Being the “only” can be filled with burdens, and I simply don’t want her to have to bear them.
There are times when my husband and I say to each other that maybe one is fine. Maybe outnumbering our child is a good thing; we don’t have to play zone defense, and she almost always has a parent who is willing to engage with her. I can’t help but feel as though I’m “less than” as a mother. Since I only have one child, and with an amazing partner as her father, it shouldn’t be too difficult for me to keep my cool and not lose my patience. And yet I do. My irrational brain tells me that the role of a mother of more than one is somehow more legitimate than mine. I’m still working on that one; it flares up every now and then and makes me feel pretty crummy. I’m also working on not calculating the age of every mother I either meet or read about, and trying to determine how old she was when she gave birth. As if that would somehow give me permission to have a more than six year age gap (at a minimum) between my children. Or that another woman giving birth at 40 gives me two more years of this joy ride.
If you’ve written to me, I’ve saved your notes. I’ve treasured your calls or texts, your words of kindness that let me know you’re thinking of me. I’m so grateful for the tears you’ve wiped, the support you’ve given. I know it was hard to tell me you were pregnant, again, even though I’d never want you to feel that way. I don’t want to be the friend who always brings you down, or makes you feel guilty for so easily attaining a family number that remains inexplicably elusive to me. Ideally, I want to be the friend who, like you, was able to conceive and deliver beautiful, healthy children, and who shares the joys and difficulties of parenting those kids. I’m constantly working to make my peace with my reality, and often let this passage drift through my consciousness: “…and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
At this point, most of my days are good and I am able to capture and relish in the joy of being the mother of a ridiculously delicious, lovable and loving child. Some days, though, when I see yet another Facebook post with a toddler sporting a “I’m going to be a big sister” t-shirt, well, let’s just say I want to scream: “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE?!?!?!” When those days come, I try to remember just how lucky I am, and that one day I will not define myself by this struggle. Until then, I remain so very grateful for the many blessings in my life and so very hopeful for what is yet to come.