What if you want a baby, and you and your spouse start trying, and...nothing happens? Some of my best friends have had fertility problems, and it seems slow, frustrating and heartbreaking. Today, my friend Monica shares her honest story...
I am not someone who fantasized about having a baby. I like children but never thought about my own—even when I started dating my husband and knew early in our relationship that he was “the One.” After we got married, and people asked us when we were going to have kids, even then, I didn’t think about my own babies other than to know that, yes, one day I wanted them. I thought about children abstractly. Like, "it will be amazing to have a baby one day with my incredible husband, and, yes, I'll have another vodka soda, two limes, please."
Then it happened: After a few years of marriage, we both realized we were ready. It just felt right.
We had fun with it at first. After a while, I was like, well, maybe I should start counting the days of my cycle. And after three months of doing that, I called the doctor. I was still positive and optimistic that it would happen easily.
But I found out that I had a thyroid problem, and then it turned out that my prolactin levels were inexplicably high, and then they thought maybe I had a tumor…
Suddenly the one thing I rarely thought about—conceiving a baby—became the only thing I thought about, obsessed about, agonized about, cried about, irrationally blamed myself for, became angry at other people about.
One month of disappointment turned into three months, then six, then a year, and then another year. I cried on the subway, in the doctor's office, in my sister's lap, on my husband's lap, on my parents' shoulders. I hung up on one of my closest friends when she called me to tell me she was pregnant. Then I called her back, ashamed that I could act that way to a loved one sharing her special news.
One particularly awful day after yet another depressing doctor’s appointment, I met my sister and mom at Saks Fifth Avenue. They begged me to come along; they wanted to cheer me up. It was the middle of the day, and I wanted to go home, smoke cigarettes (I had quit smoking years before), cry in my red wine and feel sorry for myself. I got there and started to weep at the make-up counter. I put on my sunglasses. We went to try on clothes, and I announced out of nowhere that if my sister had another baby before I had one I would die. How insensitive and dramatic and hostile could I be?
I hated myself for what I was going through and I hated myself for the way I was acting. I took it personally whenever I saw a pregnant woman or a new mom. You watch all these TV shows, like 16 and Pregnant, and you’re like, why are all these people having babies? It seemed like everyone was having a baby.
I could only talk about it with my husband, parents, sister, and a very few close friends. I can admit now that I felt ashamed. Of course, there was absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, but I felt like I was being punished. It’s irrational, but I think I was trying to make myself feel better by saying, I must deserve this, or my body must be messed up. I tortured myself.
I was a different person back then. Now I don't even know what I'd go back and tell myself because I don't recognize that woman. I think I would just hug her and let her cry because sometimes that is all people need. That's what I needed. I didn't want to hear anyone say, "Don't worry, it will happen," or "You have to be positive," or "God has a plan," or “My sister's friend's husband’s co-worker’s sister was infertile, and they have three kids."
I knew when I was going to get my period. I would experience the same symptoms that I’d had since I was a teenager: bloating, cramps. The night before, I’d brace myself. The next morning, I sometimes couldn’t get out of bed. Every month, I would call my mother crying.
I can’t imagine how my husband handled it, day in and day out. He was so supportive. I was trying not to let him see that I was such a mess all the time. It was a downward spiral. I was constantly working hard to not fall into it. On one side, I was beating myself up and depressed, and on the other, I was trying to get better, if not for me, than for my husband, and the baby we were hoping to have.
But I felt out of control. I felt like I had no control whatsoever of my life, my body, my future.
I had an "A-HA!" moment one morning at the fertility center. The waiting room was packed, and I started looking around at the other patients. One woman was reading the US Weekly that I had read the night before when I couldn't sleep; another was reading Twilight, which I had just finished, someone else was typing furiously on her Blackberry—I related so much to these women.
Then a nurse comes in and says to someone, “Why are you here again?” And the woman said, “Oh, for the test.” And the nurse says, “Again? I can’t believe it. Again?” And the woman started crying, “Yes! Again. I’m here again, again, again, I'm here again...” She kept repeating it and crying. And everyone was staring because no one could believe it.
I suddenly realized: We were all the same. This woman was openly crying. I had openly cried in the subway so many times, I’d lost count. I didn’t even care, I didn’t care who saw me. I had been in my own world, always. You get wrapped up in yourself when you’re going through this; in my mind, it was just me and nobody else. Nobody else could understand. I was just so far down. Earlier that morning, I’d felt like I was alone, even though I was sitting in a room full of women on a Saturday morning. But after this A-HA moment, I absolutely felt less alone. I was like, these women are me. I am them. Not one of us was there because we had the strep throat or the flu—we were there because we didn't have something. And that something was a baby. We were dealing with a void and something that we wanted to have but could not. We are all the same.
After that, we decided to try a new fertility practice on the advice of my wonderful ob-gyn. (I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right doctor—not just a good one but the right one who listens and is supportive.) So, we went to a new fertility practice and saw our new reproductive endocrinologist. We sat in his office as he counseled us about IVF, and he said, "If all goes the way I think it should go, in six weeks you will be pregnant." I cried with disbelief. The next six weeks were about a lot of patience.
Finally, our doctor gave us the pregnancy test, and we found out we were going to have a baby. My husband took the day off work so that we could be together. The first time I felt the baby kick—I cannot even describe how it made me feel. Once we passed the three-month mark, I donated my leftover drugs back to the practice because I wanted to visualize the babies of those women who had sat in the waiting room with me every morning.
I know how lucky I am and I know what a struggle it is to go through infertility and that not all families have the results that we finally were able to achieve.
I still have moments of total disbelief—not only that I lived through that experience, but that I actually have a little girl. Only now am I able to talk about it, after all this time. When Joanna asked me to share my story, I was stunned that I actually agreed. I had been quiet about it for so long.
My baby girl is so strong, and she has been wildly opinionated and expressive from the second she was born. I really believe she wanted to be here with us and that we had to live through this experience in order to be together with her. When she is laughing or refusing to eat or smiling at her favorite book or proud because she figured something out or giving me a big, wet kiss, I just look at her and feel so lucky and thankful. I know that might sound trite but it's true. I hug her and kiss her, and I know she feels how thankful we are for her and how much we love her and waited for her.
I carry those feelings with me every day even if they are not in the front of my mind; this will always be part of me.
Thank you so much, Monica, for telling your beautiful, moving story. My darlings, have you ever had a similar experience? Or do you have any friends who have struggled with infertility? I would love to hear your thoughts...
P.S. Melanie Blodgett also writes beautifully about infertility, as well, including 10 things not to say to someone struggling with it. And more Motherhood Monday posts...
(Top photo credit unknown; bottom photos by Monica)