Can I call you friends? I guess I feel a little like we are kindred spirits of sorts. You see, I have been there. In fact, I am there right now, in some ways. I understand the feeling of seeing new babies and expectant baby bellies everywhere when all you want is one of your own, forcing a smile and merriment as you hear of yet another pregnancy in your circle of friends, wandering through the baby department to pick out a shower gift, every aisle filled with miniature pink and blue items, all pointing out what you don't have.
I tell people that I've been trying to become a mama for 5 years, but I feel like I've been saying that for a while. If I was inclined to sit and do the calculations, I think much more time has passed since we "started trying" (which is quite different from when you "stop preventing", as anyone who has struggled to conceive knows). Perhaps I'm not willing to move the clock past the 5-year mark, as saying "5 years" sounds much better to me than "7 years" or "8 years". It feels like the more time passes, the less hope there is. So I've been sticking to the 5 year mark so far.
And during those years, there have been lots of temperatures and charts and timing everything just right, but no baby. I was referred to a fertility specialist in Newfoundland and, after a year of waiting, finally got in to see her. I really liked Dr. O'Grady; she was no nonsense, which I appreciated. No beating around any bushes in her office, she told it like it was. After ruling out any obvious causes, the tests started. Unfortunately, the summer schedule of the physicians and hospitals resulted in a whole lot of "hurry up and wait", and it was fall before everything was completed. Dean and I both endured some pretty embarrassing medical procedures in the name of being deemed alright, but we both were. In a way, it was relieving to know that everything was normal, but a secret part of me felt disappointed. How much easier would it have been to be told "oh, you just need to take "xy medication" and all will be well" ? The diagnosis of "unexplained infertility" was perhaps the most frustrating label to be given.
Then very unexpectedly, before I returned for a follow-up appointment with Dr. O'Grady, I became pregnant on my own over the holidays. Well, my husband played a part in it, of course. As I'm sure you know by "on my own", I mean without medical intervention. The funny part was that we had given up on the charts and the temps and the timing, knowing we were returning to begin fertility treatments in the new year. When I saw that positive pregnancy test, I was in shock. Total shock. At that point in my life, I had peed on so many sticks and had only ever gotten that single "not-pregnant" line, I wondered if the second "you're pregnant" line was a result of some sort of weird double-vision causing disease that had come over me suddenly. After the initial shock wore off, we were so very excited.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. At the first ultrasound, the baby was measuring smaller than expected. The following week, the baby had shown no growth and the heartbeat had slowed. I was told I had a "non-viable pregnancy", and was scheduled to see Dr. O'Grady the following week to review my "options". Before the appointment came, I miscarried the baby naturally, on Valentine's Day.
I appeared to be doing alright, and most people thought that I was dealing with things well, including me. Of course I was sad and disappointed. After so very long trying to conceive, from just a few moments after I found out that I was pregnant, I practically had this little peanut's life planned out. But I was trying to focus on the positive - I may not have successfully carried the baby to term, but I did manage to get pregnant - and move forward.
The following January, Dean and I made a move away from Newfoundland, when his employer offered to send him back to school to do his masters at Rutgers University. It's only when we arrived in New Jersey and I could look back at the last couple of years did I gain some perspective and realize that I was not dealing well at all. Instead, I think I was going through the motions of life, but in actuality was close to falling apart completely. After all, Dean and I left a life we loved in New Orleans to return home to Newfoundland and start a family, something we were trying hard to to do, but failing miserably at.
I can see now that having a baby was the entire focus of my life. Every decision made, from what house plan to eventually build on our land to choices in the direction of my career, was made with the assumption that there was a wee one just around the next corner, waiting for us to be it's parents. The term "motherless child" is a common one. Well, in every aspect of my life, I was acting like a "childless mother". I had no idea who I was without that baby around the corner. It's a scary feeling to realize that your entire self is built around the uncertainty of potential parenthood and its wispy, fragile hope. The expectation of conception was filled with all that pressure.
I needed to let go of "baby" as a singular focus and, first, imagine a path for Dean and I without children. In my mind's eye, I had to be able to see what life would be like if our family consisted of just the two of us, with the occasional furry family member thrown in for good measure. Certainly, our life will be different if we never succeed in expanding our family, but no less worthwhile. I am lucky to be married to a wonderful man and together we can share so much. We can still make a meaningful contribution to this world without being parents.
When the focus was entirely on getting pregnant, especially when it seemed like every other woman of childbearing age on earth was reproducing with ease, I was so discouraged. I was failing at the main goal I had in life, and subsequently felt like a total failure at just about everything else, when I had the energy to engage in anything else, that is.
So please take this advice from someone who has been there: you are more than a potential mother. Perhaps you are a wife, a daughter, a sister. Maybe you have a successful career, are a spirited athlete, a talented artist, an avid gardener with a green thumb. Take some time and energy to focus on these other aspects of yourself. Value yourself for all the things you contribute to your family, others around you, the world at large. Don't lose yourself and your very important place here on earth on the sometimes difficult, rocky path to parenthood, with it's unexpected twists and turns.
Looking back, I can see how I was drowning under the weight of the pressure I was putting on myself. Now I feel like a brick has been lifted off my chest, and I can breath again. When I look at a new baby or hear of a new pregnancy today, there may be a moment of sadness or a brief "why not me?", but mostly I am alright. I can feel joy in the birth of a brand new little person instead of an overwhelming sadness, a longing, a void. For this I am glad, as I love children, and don't want to grow into someone whose bitterness and resentment for what I do not have prevent me from enjoying them now and later in life.
Of course, what has not changed for me is that I still want to be a mama more than anything. With 35 just around the corner, I know time is shorter than it was 5 years ago. Right now, we have taken a break from officially "trying", instead letting the chips fall where they may. So far, they haven't fallen in favor of a pregnancy. But whether a baby is something we eventually conceive on our own or with the help of medical intervention, whether we choose alternate methods of adding a child to our family, such as adoption, or whether we remain forever a family of two, I have vowed to celebrate who I am right now everyday - a wife, daughter and grand-daughter, friend, student, therapist, artist of sorts, amateur photographer, knitter, dog owner. I think this will help me be a better mama if the day finally comes when we get our wish and we are blessed to become parents. But if we don't, it will be as equally an important approach in preventing my life from passing me by while I am busy ignoring all else, laying in wait for a child that may never be.
So please, recognize that life is short. It's alright to have hope, make plans, dream of the day when you will be blessed with a little one of your own. But don't let those hopes, plans and dreams of the future overshadow what you have to be grateful for today.
With hope that you find peace,
P.S. May I give you another piece pf advice? Resist buying up pregnancy tests to have on hand "just in case". It's my experience that, if one is there, you will take it at a moment's notice for just about any reason. Not only does one negative test after another get discouraging, those darned things are expensive. I have made someone at the makers of "First Response" pregnancy tests a bundle. Wait until you really, really need it before you run out and buy one.