I’ve been known in the past as having somewhat of a potty mouth, a frequent user of certain expletives, particularly when out with certain similar-spoken friends. Although that was when I was much younger of course (“wild and free,” right?) and long, long before I became someone’s mother.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been caught by my toddler more than once uttering a four-letter word under my breath, but for the most part, I do try my best to keep my language, in general and particularly around my son, “mommy approved.”
Nevertheless, it appears there is a new “bad” word floating about. Despite being longer and technically non-vulgar, it rivals the most popular four-letter profanities in both shock value and embarrassment when its users are caught uttering it. It also has the power to make anyone who says this dirty, little word immediately feel vulnerable and ashamed. Okay, so what is it you ask? What is this filthy, new swear word I am talking about?
I’ll tell you what it is: infertility.
The dictionary defines “infertility” as:
1. Absent or diminished fertility.
2. The persistent inability to conceive a child.
That’s great and all but, having personally experienced it, here’s how I would define it:
1. The most painful, frustrating, soul-crushing, emotionally crippling, relationship-destroying, medical condition you could ever be cursed with, which consumes every facet of your life, and which you would not wish upon your worst enemy.
Does that paint a more accurate picture? Maybe. I’m not sure. I’m not sure if anyone can truly grasp the magnitude of such a painful predicament until they find they are in it themselves, but my definition is a lot more accurate and truthful than the one the dictionary or any doctor may give you when first diagnosed. Sadly, with the numbers quickly rising, I know a lot of women can relate to my definition. Statistics say 1 in 6 couples are faced with it, the numbers growing larger every day.
Just in case my definition wasn’t concise enough, I’ll add this piece of personal wisdom: infertility f***ing sucks. The sad part? Nobody talks about it. Even sadder? It never goes away.
Women feel like their struggle with infertility is a dirty little secret, meant to be hidden away and never admitted or discussed. Like there must be something wrong with them because they are unable to do the one, most natural, thing their bodies were designed to do. The simple act of getting pregnant, portrayed by the media as an effortless feat that, at times, is hard to prevent is joked about and spoofed, making light of the situation. Meanwhile, infertility is treated as a bad-mannered obscenity. The thought of speaking the word out loud in public is looked down upon, often whispered in hushed tones. Enough of that crap; Infertility is real. It is real and it hurts something fierce.
Then you have “secondary infertility,” as they call it. That’s when you were able to get pregnant once but are faced with problems getting pregnant a second time. I guess you could say I am sort of stuck in the middle, one of the “lucky” ones inflicted with both infertility and secondary infertility, although I managed to find the gold at the end of my rainbow. Although it took five years to get pregnant with our son, and we did seek out medical assistance in hopes of achieving it, it didn’t work. I somehow got pregnant naturally. I can’t tell you how nor can I even say we were “trying” because we had both thrown in the towel and were finally beginning to come to terms with the reality of never having a baby. We hadn’t ruled out adoption, but we were still too beaten down, the wounds still too raw, to even consider opening up that can of worms.
Women feel like their struggle with infertility is a dirty little secret, meant to be hidden away and never admitted or discussed.
Then, miraculously, by some sort of divine intervention, the universe decided we had endured enough punishment for a while and magically, unexplainably, I became pregnant. A rough, complicated, high-risk nine months later, we got our reward: a beautiful, healthy little boy. Does that mean I forgot about all it took to get there, the pain of the five-year hell ride, disappeared? Hell no. The memory of that tumultuous roller coaster ride is forever burned in my brain and is now part of my son’s story.
People are quick to judge and often quip, inquiring, “How can you still be upset by it? Look at the beautiful child you finally ended up with!” And yes, I feel like a humongous asshole for even getting a little bit sad that I got my period this month, while chasing my toddler around the house, while my best friend is still riding the torturous roller coaster, struggling to make those two pink lines appear for the first time.
In my head, I know I shouldn’t allow myself to feel disappointment ― and don’t get me wrong, I am beyond grateful for what I have got: a spunky, hilarious, blonde little monster I love more than words could say. But tell my heart that because it still hurts. Even though, astonishingly, I was able to get pregnant with my son, I’m not magically cured; I certainly wish it worked that way.
You don’t just forget about your infertility once you have a baby in your arms. The pain remains inside you. Sure, it begins to dull and fade while you are overjoyed and in bliss over the little bundle looking up at you, the one which you worked so hard to get and are instantly head-over-heels in love with. But it isn’t gone for good. It sticks with you like a jagged, unwanted scar that you can cover up with a bathrobe but that is all too real and ugly as it grows red, inflamed, drawing your eyes to it immediately, as you emerge from the tub.
You don’t just forget about your infertility once you have a baby in your arms. The pain remains inside you.
It is there when you pass a family of four at the park, watching the two siblings chasing one another down the slide, shrieking with joy. It is there when you are at the grocery store, quietly loading your groceries into your cart and the sweet, elderly lady behind you asks if the blue-eyed beauty in the car seat is your “first,” and you nod your head, all the while thinking “and likely my only.” It is there every month when you begin to feel the twinge of cramps in your mid-section and the ache in your breasts, followed by the crimson reminder that nope, once again, this isn’t our month. That new four-letter word, glaringly present as you go about your life, a semblance of normality.
It is always there. So, how do you stop yourself sinking below the dark, choppy waters you’ve endured once before? How do you keep yourself afloat, clinging to the tattered life raft and propel yourself into calmer seas? I don’t really know for sure, but I can tell you this: it is a contradictory struggle I experience inside myself every single day. How can my heart be so full while I sit and read to my son, his soft, little body melting into mine as he balances on my lap, yet my spirits fall so quickly when we he innocently remarks about how Pete the Cat has a brother but he does not.
It is like a constant tug-o-war between my heart and my brain. I feel such gratitude for what I have yet longing for what I do not. I feel immense guilt thinking of others who have had to face the loss of babies, an unthinkable pain that nobody should have to suffer, or those who are faced with the inability to ever conceive at all. I feel joy for the precious life my husband and I were blessed to raise and then the guilt creeps back in, making me feel selfish for wishing that a second miracle would come our way.
Mostly though, I feel sadness. Sadness for all those that can’t have what they want more than anything in this world. Sadness for the millions of innocent children that are born into the world by unfit parents who don’t appreciate the true gift they have been given. Sadness for the marriages that dissolve entirely because of the stress and pain that infertility inflicts upon everyone it touches.
If there is one thing I have learned, having been on this roller coaster ride before, it is that life is a wild adventure and we are all just along for the ride.
Then comes anger. Anger that the world can be so cruel. Anger that goodness and fairness do not equate. Anger that the government will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars providing drugs to strung-out, drug addicts, unable to contribute positively to our society, yet won’t provide deserving, tax-paying, couples with the funds for IVF. Anger that young women aren’t warned earlier about their aging reproductive health and given the knowledge about the options available to them to make the uphill battle possibly less of a struggle.
Once the anger subsides and the emotions stop swirling, and I am left feeling restless and depleted, I stop and think of my son. I sneak into his room and perch on the side of his bed, carefully listening to his soft snores and watching the gentle rise and fall of his little chest.
It is then that I feel hope. Hope that anyone and everyone who has ever wanted to be a parent will have that dream fulfilled. Hope that despite the odds against me, I may be gifted another miracle baby. Hope that advances in science and progressive changes in health care will make the painful infertility journey a little less painful for all that are faced with it.
Hope that if we are unable to give our son a sibling he will grow up happy and well-adjusted nonetheless. Hope that it will all figure itself out in the end. Because if there is one thing I have learned, having been on this roller coaster ride before, it is that life is a wild adventure and we are all just along for the ride.