The "I" Word
“It’s because you took birth control,” said my husband’s good friend.
“It’s because you have bitterness in your heart,” said the founder of a women’s magazine.
“It’s because your daughter needs you more,” said a well-meaning acquaintance.
“It’s because I’m not a good enough mother,” said my inner voice.
The “I” word: Infertility. Or, what it was called in our situation: Secondary Infertility; the inability to conceive and/or carry a child to term, after the birth of a living child.
Our journey started in June 2001. After being sure we would never want biological children, even though we only used natural family planning, we changed our minds and decided I would try to get pregnant. One month we said, one month we’d try and if it didn’t happen we’d take it as a sign. July 2001, I discover I’m pregnant and in March 2002, we welcomed our first child, the first niece, and the first grandbaby in the family.
March 2003 she turns one and we decide she really needs is a little brother or sister so we try again. Month after month, we try and finally in March 2004 we discover I’m pregnant. There is something about staring at those two pink lines, after 11 months of disappointment, that can’t be forgotten. Rejoicing, throwing up, and sharing the news lasted until May 2004, when we must tell our family and friends that at 12 weeks 6 days pregnant, I miscarried.
The miscarriage was an experience that thankfully few women will ever experience. Yes, miscarriage is common, but few will have nightmares of the experience 12 years later, like I do. Few will have panic attacks just thinking about getting seen by a doctor, because of their miscarriage experience. Few will have to have their husband attend every doctor’s appointment for the next 12 years because flashbacks of the night will assault their senses. From the bed pans they brought to try to support me, to the nurse arguing with the doctor to get me an actual OB bed, to the doctor making a comment about me peeing myself as my water broke, to the ultrasound tech kicking my husband out of the room and roughly trying to see if my baby was still alive. They will not have flashbacks to the OB telling me there was no baby and walking off, to the nurse cleaning up the blood clots that I lost as I stood up to be discharged, to the drive home in silence, to my screaming for my husband from the bathroom as I soaked the bathtub and bathroom floor with blood, to the silent drive back to the hospital, to the nurse trying to wish me a happy birthday, to the nurses arguing about what size catheter to use, to being in pre-op and then post-op and finally driving the 2 hours to my parents, where our daughter was, and me laying in my mom’s bed, the next day, my 26th birthday, crying as she held me. Then back to the doctor’s office for a follow up, past all the pregnant women, to be told I had a blighted ovum the baby never developed. And the weeks of morning sickness, the loss of 15+ pounds, and the horrific miscarriage experience was all because my body didn’t know it was not pregnant. Thankfully, that part of the story is unique to me.
Weeks passed. Emotionally, I was okay and physically I was okay. I knew I could get pregnant and that was hope. Hope that I had lost months prior. Then slowly, as each month passed and as I got my period month after month, the miscarriage nightmares started. Each month, as I went to sleep, once again reminded that I wasn’t pregnant; I would dream of May 27th and 28th, 2004 and wake up grieving. Not only of the baby we lost, who we named Hannah Sue, but grieving for that hope that I had just recently gotten back. Not only was I loosing hope again, I now had to tell our daughter, over and over, that no she wasn’t getting a brother or a sister and no I didn’t know why.
Months turned into years. We talked about getting tested, we even had an appointment set up with a family doctor, in hopes she would be able to run some tests (in the end she ended up having worse bed side manner than the ER doctor) The next closest doctor with fertility listed as their services was over an hour away, and we never set up an appointment. Partly because the money wasn’t there, partly because we didn’t want to make decisions about what to do next, but mostly because I didn’t want to know if there was something wrong with me. I blamed myself enough; I feared verification that it was because of me.
I turned to online support groups for hope and although I didn’t find it, I did find support. One group I joined after my miscarriage helped and I still keep in contact with some of those ladies. As each of them got their positive pregnancy test and welcomed their new baby into the world, I rejoiced with them. I was truly happy for them, but deep down I was sad. Why not me? What was wrong with me?
In 2006 we had enough. I packed up the thermometer that kept track of my basal body temp, packed up the spit microscope that showed specific ferning during ovulation, packed up the books and found myself content with just one biological child. We knew we wanted to foster or adopt and now that our daughter was almost 4, maybe it was time.
In April 2006, we had a yard sale and sold most of our baby gear. I felt healed, I was no longer having nightmares and as the baby swing left our drive-way I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry when we walked by a pregnant women and I didn’t get teary eyed as we saw a newborn. I had come to terms with it, I was sure.
In July 2006, as I stood in my mom’s kitchen, she got a call letting her know someone we knew was pregnant. As she hung up the phone and told me, I cried and I realized that it was always going to hurt. Maybe not as much, maybe not as intense, but part of me would always be sad when new babies were conceived and born. I felt selfish, I felt lonely, and I felt like no matter how hard I tried to explain, it just did not make sense to someone who had never experienced it.
Then we got news that she had miscarried and I cried harder. As sad as I was that I was not pregnant, I was sadder that someone else experienced the miscarriage and I was scared that someone I loved could possibly experience the “I” word, the loneliness, the longing, the wanting, the tears of infertility and I wanted that pain to be felt only by me.
My husband and I started trying to get pregnant with our second child in March 2003. In September 2006, I found out I was again pregnant, I cried when I called up our friend sad that my pregnancy was a reminder of their loss. I put my conception date in August 2006—3 years and 5 months after we started trying to get pregnant. I peed on more pregnancy tests in the next few weeks than I could count. I knew I wasn’t afraid of miscarrying. I knew my first experience wasn’t normal and we’d get through another miscarriage. But I did not want to go back to the world of infertility.
In May 2007, we welcomed our second child, our firstborn son into the world. 18 months later, in November 2008, we welcomed our third child, another son, into the world and 23 months (October 2010) after he was born, our second daughter and fourth child, joined the family. She is 3 years and 5 months younger than our first born son.
Some say my journey with infertility ended on May 22, 2007 when I held our son for the first time. The journey may have ended, but I am who I am because of those 3.5 years. In the past 3 years we’ve discussed maybe having another and in the end, I know that even if I really wanted another one, I could not try again. I could not go through the months of hoping, wanting and longing again.
Infertility is a private journey—even if you’ve experienced it, knowing how to help others who are going through it is hard. It’s hard to know what to say, what not to say, how to tell them you are pregnant, how to help. It’s a personal journey, a unique journey that nobody—not even your spouse—will ever be able to truly experience. It’s a journey that will tear you down month after month and then build you up when you look back and see the lessons.
Not everyone’s journey will end up like ours. Not everyone will get that child in the end. Not everyone will have panic attacks and avoid the doctor, 12 years later because of a miscarriage experience. Not everyone will even be able to talk about it or share the struggle with others and that is okay.
I remember a couple of years back; our oldest daughter looked at me and asked when I thought someone was going to have a baby. I looked at her and told her, “That’s not something you ask. You don’t know what that person is going through. You wait and let them come to you.” I’m not sure if that’s the right answer. I’m not sure if there is a right answer. I told anyone who asked that we had been trying to get pregnant since 2003 and I talked openly about the miscarriage (in less detail), but that’s because I needed to talk about it to those I felt safe with, because I needed acquaintances to only ask me once (I found that a really quick way to shut down the nosy questions was to tell someone who asks that you are trying to get pregnant and cannot. They will usually stop asking about your reproductive intentions and tell others not to ask as well). I saw their inquiring as a validation that I was a good mother (something I had many times over the years convinced myself that I was not and that was the reason I was not getting pregnant). I saw it as a validation that I could handle another child.
But, that’s me. That’s what I needed. Each person’s journey is different. Each person’s need is unique.
Chances are good you know someone going through infertility. You may not know they are going through infertility and they may not want you to know. But, chances are good you know someone. I wish I could tell you how to help them, but I can’t.
If you are the person going through infertility, I encourage you to find someone, anyone to talk with. Someone who will listen as you cry, when you get the next pregnancy announcement, someone who will listen as you cry after holding that brand new baby, someone who will buy you chocolate (or whatever you need) when your monthly reminder of your infertility comes, someone who will love you and listen as you question why, someone who will let you experience this journey in a safe place—understanding and accepting that your emotions are real and if not shared will explode. Don’t be ashamed, don’t blame yourself (or your spouse), don’t listen to the reasons well-meaning friends and acquaintances give you and don’t give up hope. I can’t promise you that one day you’ll have a child (or another child), but I can promise you that in the future you will look back at parts of this journey and see how it shaped you and helped you become the person you are today.