For many, this feels like a taboo word. It’s an uncomfortable topic. It’s personal. It’s intimate, and kind of yucky. It is pitiful and painful. Honestly, who wants to spend time dwelling on something so sad and depressing?
I do. I do because even though infertility is not a common topic of conversation, it is a common reality. More common, I think, than most people realize. More common than I realized. It is also my reality, and it floats in my mind and on my heart every day.
Many of you may be able to remember being a child and wondering about the future. You may have wondered what job you would have, where you would live, who you would marry, if you would marry, how many kids you might have, maybe which friendships would last the test of time. And chances are, as you got older you started to make plans based on the decisions you made about these things. For me, it was never a question that I was meant to be a mother. All of the other stuff was background noise. Being a mother was always part of my plan, and part of what I knew in my heart God had in store for me. It was just a matter of when. Even if you have never felt the pull to be a parent, there is probably something great that was part of your own vision for your future that you can refer to for relating. It is the one thing that feels like your purpose in life. Your reason for being. Your contribution to the world. Your destiny.
Consider that apparent purpose now, whether it has already come to fruition or not. Consider that you have done everything that you needed to do to achieve that purpose. You have done all the work, and then some. You have done everything exactly right and put in more than your fair share of blood, sweat and tears. You have emptied your wallet. You have been patient. And you have nothing to show for it. You are left empty-handed. You feel purposeless, denied, unworthy, rejected, undeserving.
This is just a glimpse of what it feels like to live life sporting the “infertility” label.
Infertility, while common, comes in many forms and painfully exists in a variety of different ways. Here is an abbreviated version of my story (I swear, this truly is the short version):
After my husband and I got married, we decided within a couple of months that we were ready to become parents. I remember the moment that the emotional switch flipped on for me, and I truly felt like my time had come to be a mom. It was Christmas, and my brother and his girlfriend had gotten us (newlyweds) a set of Milwaukee Brewers pacifiers as a joke… sort of. While we did think it was a humorous little “nudge” toward parenthood, it was the first time I actually held something tangible in my hands that was fully intended for my own real child. It brought tears to my eyes. My husband felt the same way and we started trying to conceive (TTC in infertility lingo) a week later. Two months in I knew something wasn’t right. Call me crazy, but I just knew. I now feel that God was easing me into what was to come. Everyone told me it was early, and to “just relax.” They continued to say things like this to me month, after month, after month. “These things take time,” they said. “It will happen when it’s meant to.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “You need to just stop trying, and BAM… You’ll be pregnant.” That last one is my personal favorite. If anyone ever figures out the magical way to just stop trying overnight, I’m all ears. “You should try adopting! Every time someone adopts, they get pregnant.” (Let me clarify: I don’t blame anyone for saying these things. I even used to say some of them myself, and I know that the words always come from a good place.) Around month eleven, I read somewhere that one year is the milestone where you unofficially earn the diagnosis of infertility. That milestone sadly came and went. Friends and family were having babies left and right, while we stood on the sidelines cheering them on and wondering when it would be our turn. Another year went by.
During that year we tried holistic methods for conceiving to no avail. After the two-year mark we decided it was time to give things a closer look. We started testing with some of the best reproductive doctors in the state (A friend of mine who shares a similar story compares this experience to becoming a human pin cushion because of the amount of times you are poked and prodded.). Everything came back normal and our diagnosis officially changed to “unexplained infertility.” While some may see this as good news, our hearts fell. This meant there was nothing to blame it on, and nothing to fix. No one could give us a solid answer to explain in medical terms why this wasn’t happening for us. We decided to try for six more months the old fashioned way – lots of sex and lots of prayer. Nothing happened. It was time to pursue medical treatment.
We put the effort, time and money into this for three months with no success. (Fun fact: The lack of success was despite the fact that it turned out that not only was I fertile, I was super fertile! One month I managed to produce eight eggs while on medication. I felt like I was being Punk’d. Anyway…) When the third treatment didn’t work we were heartbroken, at our rock bottom. After a few days of crying at home, we decided to take a break from trying.
A few months went by of no sex schedules, no doctor’s appointments, no baby talk, and then I asked God for some new direction. He told me it was time to look into becoming foster parents. I talked to my husband about this and he felt it was the right thing too, after together ruling out private adoption. After a little more prayer, we made the call to the county and got the ball rolling. For the first time in almost three years, we finally felt we were on our way to becoming parents. Fast forward to January, our three-year mark. We expected to receive a call to start our home study (the final step of our application), landing us at potential certification around March and possible placement anytime after that. Instead, we got a call asking us to consider expediting our application so that we could accept a toddler sibling placement that was a good fit for our situation. We cautiously explored the opportunity and ultimately decided to move forward. I am elated to say we are now loving being foster parents to two of the most beautiful tiny people we have ever known.
Infertility has changed me. I am not proud of most of the ways I have changed, but they are my truth nonetheless. I have become more selfish. I have experienced a degree of jealousy that I never would have imagined was possible. I have hurt people I love because I was incapable of being happy for them during their time of joy. Friends and family came to fear sharing their good news with me. I have scoffed at what feels like a never-ending stream of pregnancy announcements on Facebook. My self-esteem on my wedding day was at an all-time high; Today, it is at an all time low. I feel like less of a woman because I have been unable to make my body do the things it was designed to naturally do. I feel less attractive, and it takes a lot more work on my poor husband’s part to make me feel sexy. While I used to look in the mirror and suck my stomach in, now I stick it out and imagine what it would be like to see a beautiful bump under my shirt. I stare longingly at maternity clothes when I shop at department stores. I experience all five stages of grief every month. I don’t believe I will ever fully shake the feeling that presses on me every time I walk past the room meant to be a nursery and feel sick to my stomach as I am reminded of its emptiness. I have come to hate baby showers and maternity photos. I became that friend that everyone has to walk on eggshells around out of fear of offending me because there is very little that doesn’t make me think of my empty womb. Thus, my friendships have changed. I became unpleasant to be around; I was the Debby Downer of the group. Even I didn’t want to be around me, how could I blame anyone else for not wanting to? Those closest to me began to adopt my pain too, and I developed a new sense of guilt for that. It was one thing to bear my own pain, it was another for those I love to have to bear it too. I made a playlist of songs I wanted to someday play for my child to remind him or her of how much they were wanted. I would play it on shuffle when I was in the car by myself, just so I could wallow, hope, and feel the depth of the situation instead of denying it, even if just for five minutes while I drove to my next distraction. I prayed. A lot. I got mad at God. A lot. I got mad at my husband, my family, my co-workers, the bank teller, the guy who cut me off on the interstate. I judged every parent I witnessed complaining about their kid, thinking “You don’t know how lucky you are to have that problem.” Infertility turned me into a very ugly version of myself. But even from under my dark cloud I can see the beauty in what is happening to me and my husband. The love that has grown in our hearts for our future children, whoever they may be, however they may come to be ours, is a very unique kind of love.
The way I see my foster children now has taught me about that love in brand new ways. Not surprisingly, going from no kids to two toddlers with very little time to prepare is just a tad overwhelming. Sure, I have had breakdowns, taken my own “mommy timeouts,” and the thought has crossed my mind that suffering through infertility must have seriously pushed me to certifiable insanity. But I would still NEVER change it. Those kids are everything to my husband and I right now, and we will care for them as if they were our biological children as long as we are allowed to. Many people have told us how blessed these kids are to have landed in our home. The truth is, it’s the other way around. The pain we have felt is nothing compared to what they are enduring. THEY are OUR heroes. They are saving us. And while my pain still exists and the road ahead still doesn’t have a foreseeable end, I am coming to cherish our story for what it is. Learning how to love this way has been a gift. It is a gift that I despise sometimes for its obstacles, but a gift that I am grateful for nonetheless.
I decided to share my story publicly because I want to encourage conversation. If you can relate to my words, please know you can talk about it. And you SHOULD. I want you to feel encouraged to find ways to overcome whatever it is that is keeping you quiet, and keeping your from embracing your story. As soon as my husband and I started talking about our situation more openly (around the year mark), we realized just how many of our friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors were going through the same thing. Infertility is a topic that is avoided for very understandable, justifiable reasons. But it exists. It is very real for many people you know whether you are aware of it or not, and it SUCKS. Just like anything else that tears someone down, infertility requires support. Personally, nothing consoled me quite like talking to someone else who knew what I was feeling, especially after receiving the “unexplained infertility” diagnosis. When there is no known solution, there is comfort in knowing you are not alone. Join or form a care group. Explore online discussions. Be open about your experience and invite others to be open with you about theirs. In addition to considering opening up about your struggles in an effort to help yourself and others, also continue to do things that make you happy. You may look back someday and hope you would have enjoyed more alone time with your significant other, travelled, and took advantage of not having to reserve a babysitter whenever you wanted a night out. Looking at the time you have as a gift instead of a curse will make the time go faster and help you maintain your sanity. But above all, remind yourself often of my previous point: You are not alone.
A little note to those of you who have not had to withstand the burden of this challenge: Be graceful to those you know who are experiencing infertility issues. I guarantee they know full well their strengths aren’t shining, but they are doing their best – They don’t need you to remind them of their shortcomings. Be supportive and understanding, even if you can’t relate. Hug your babies a little tighter tonight (or the next time you see them if they are grown). Never take for granted the gigantic blessing that your ability to conceive naturally and easily was. And remember that you cross paths with people every day who would give anything to have what you have, including the tougher moments.
In an effort to respect confidentiality and to protect my foster children, I decided to write this anonymously. However, I promise that I continue to talk about my journey openly with those I know and trust. And should the day come when my journey is coming to an end and I am finally arriving at my destination of official motherhood, you can bet I will be screaming it from the rooftops. I assure you, I will have worked harder for it than anything else in my life.
Just keep swimming. 😉
To learn more about how to become a foster parent, contact your local Health & Human Services office.
Other Adoption & Foster Care Resources:
Disclosure: This is a post written as part of our guest blogger series: #REALLIFESERIES on The Lake Country Mom. The author has chosen to remain anonymous.