On a wintry Valentines’ weekend, our preschooler safely tucked away at his auntie’s house, my husband and I treated ourselves to the rare double date at a particularly good restaurant. One of those gems you find in New England, housed in a hundreds-year-old home with tiny, charmingly decorated rooms and winding corridors (and most importantly, strong drinks and fresh seafood drenched in butter). A real grown up evening out! Not a sippy cup or chicken nugget in sight.
We were seated next to a large table of several couples in our age bracket, who also seemed to be imbibing freely in the spirit of the evening. They were a bit noisy in the close quarters, but I had no doubt we would soon catch up to their merriment. However, no sooner had we unfolded our napkins then one couple made an announcement. They were expecting a baby! The room exploded with the cheers and embraces of their group. My husband and I locked eyes. Both our faces crestfallen. My heart sunk down to the floor. The very thing we had so wanted to forget about on this evening, the pregnancy test at home in the bathroom trash, its one sad line mocking us with a giant NO, was now at the forefront of our minds.
This was the twelfth such pregnancy test to find its way into our wastebasket. A year of hopes, plans, trials, and disappointments repeated a dozen times over. That night at the restaurant, my husband acted quickly and decisively. The saying is true that not all heroes wear capes. Within minutes, he had gotten us a new table in a far off, quieter part of the restaurant. He had made believable excuses to our friends about wanting to move so we could hear one another better. And we proceeded to enjoy a pleasant evening of excessive alcohol, butter, sugar, and fat, just as we had planned.
I should pause here to say that I am pregnant now. I am 6 months pregnant with a healthy baby girl. And even so, as I write this, I feel fearful. I fear that by writing about my pregnancy, by acknowledging and processing the difficult journey that my husband and I have traveled, I will somehow cause everything to go awry. Even as I feel my daughter’s strong kicks inside of me, I worry “Will I feel a next kick?” Because she was so hard to come by, I worry that this baby will be equally hard to hold on to. And that’s a big reason why I’ve been silent. I haven’t written for many months because it simply felt too dangerous to do so.
But we never feel just one thing at any time do we? Along with my fear, I am so incredibly happy. The day I got those double pink lines, it was like I tossed the heaviness of months of sadness, doubts, and insecurities off my shoulders. I locked it safely away in a box labeled “secondary infertility.” Only now do I dare crack open the lid. So here goes.
“Secondary infertility.” That was the diagnosis I saw on my lab slips and test forms as I was poked and prodded to try to figure out why, month after month, we could not produce a sibling for our son. The “secondary” part perhaps stung the worst because the first time we conceived was so unremarkable and easy. So why not this time? No answers arrived, which caused a strange mixture of relief (because there was no good reason I wasn’t getting pregnant) and rage (because there was no good reason I wasn’t getting pregnant dammit!) At first, I was terrified that I was among the small percentage of women rendered infertile by my postpartum hemorrhage. “Great,” I thought, “I start off motherhood with a near-death experience, and now I’m unable to have more children.” But tests proved otherwise. Everything looked “fine.” Which was maddening when month after month, no baby.
On that aforementioned cold night in February, my husband saved the dinner date and the day. But he couldn’t always save me. He couldn’t save me from the spiraling rage, despair, and jealousy triggered by every social media announcement of a new pregnancy or birth, every movie with a pregnancy plot line, every interaction where I had to swallow my misery and say “Congratulations” to someone else. I was becoming a vile, hateful person incapable of being happy for other people. I could barely recognize myself.
So I did what I could to save myself. I took breaks from social media. I reached out to my old therapist. I used my support network as much as I felt I could (I didn’t want to reveal to them ALL my hateful feelings for fear they would think I was a monster.) My husband and I had a lot of hard talks and made difficult decisions together. The day I took the test that announced our baby girl, we were two days out from our first appointment at a fertility clinic. 48 hours away from going down a path that may have included more invasive procedures, mounting expenses, impossible decisions, discouraging odds, and potential disappointments. And instead, we got to go the other way. We were so unbelievably lucky.
After all that, how was I able to, within moments of a positive pregnancy test, shove my “secondary infertility” experience into the background? Or rather WHY did I do that? Well, for one obvious reason, I was tired of being miserable! Over a year of sadness and grief was enough already! But on the other hand, I recognize now that I was motivated by guilt. I feel guilty that I am carrying a healthy baby and will soon have a sister for my son when I know other women who are continuing to go through the hell of infertility. Many of whom do so with far more resilience and grace than I found myself to be capable of. I feel guilty because I now think of what my husband and I went through as “infertility lite.” Yes, we went through turmoil and uncertainty and I want to honor that, but our journey changed at a point when it was about to become significantly more arduous. And our path became easier. As “easy” as any pregnancy can be. We traded unwanted problems for very, very wanted ones.
I started writing because after I became a parent, I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I had changed so much, both in positive ways and in ways I didn’t like. Many life experiences can cause this kind of shift, but for me pregnancy, birth, and motherhood were an earthquake, shaking and transforming me to my core. I needed space to process that. To get to know myself again and embrace the person and the mother that I am, instead of mourning for the parts of myself that seem forever lost.
It wasn’t easy, but I got to a place where I was prepared for another earthquake. I was excited about the prospect of a whole new little person to forever change the landscape of our family. And then infertility came along. And with it came pain and bitterness and ugliness. And I can’t say I liked much about myself during that time. But part of my writing is a challenge to myself to speak my truth. So here it is. Infertility sucks. It’s just NOT FAIR. But if there is anything good that came out of this experience for me, it’s more knowledge and more empathy. I have tasted infertility, at least in the “lite” version. And this time around, I can’t talk about my pregnancy or post about it on social media without a slightly bitter aftertaste. A little sting of pain underneath the joy. That’s my truth now, and I know it’s true for so many of you.
I love you all.