The writer Elizabeth Stone once said: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
If only the getting was as easy as the deciding. Everyone agrees that parenting is hard, but pregnancy and parenting after infertility is an untamed beast. In some ways, the hardest part of the ride is over. A few are able to ride bare-back into the sunset without a backwards glance; but most of us regularly wrestle with the bucking.
We have to remind ourselves that it’s okay to complain about the pregnancy we fought so hard to achieve. That it’s okay that pregnancy and birth announcements still knock the breath out of you—even years later. That it’s possible to be simultaneously delighted that your child is healthy, and anxious because of miscarriage, infertility, giving up a genetic connection, a traumatic birth. It’s possible that some of us are also sad that we might not be able to have the second or third child we always dreamed we’d have.
We remind ourselves that the joy of holding our beautiful, precious child is so great that we’d experience every last damn bit of pain again to have them, we love them that much. And sometimes we do do it all again—the scores of injections that bruise and welt, the invasive procedures that sting and burn your insides, the hurdles of disappointment that we barely clear; the suffocating shame, the dejected rage, the screaming grief that grips you with a pregnancy or birth announcement—and pay the eye-watering sums of money to an infertility clinic or adoption agency for a mere chance at adding to our family. We are patients learning to be patient. In time, we learn to accept what is, and not what we think should be.
So we rely heavily on others like us—people we may have met only online, but whom we consider good friends—to tell us it’s okay to break down and cry. That reproductive PTSD is real. That all these complicated feelings are what makes us normal parents.
Except we’re not normal parents. Normal parents are our well-meaning friends and families, the people who effortlessly procreate and are able celebrate others’ joyful pregnancy and birth announcements. Normal parents are the strangers in the store whose innocent question about your baby’s red hair quietly reminds you that you couldn’t pass on your own DNA. Normal parents are the fertile population that doesn’t understand that having a baby cures childlessness—but not infertility.
We infertility parents are caught between two groups: we can’t fully relate to those who conceived effortlessly, but nor do we quite fit in with those still trying so hard to overcome their childlessness or accept it. So we band together and hold on tight. Infertility is a strange beast of burden, but we are grateful that these days our arms hold up children—and, also each other.
Lauren C., CA