UN-Fertilized

UN-Fertilized

Growing up, I always knew more than anything that I wanted to be a wife and a mother.  I think that overwhelming desire can be traced back to my early childhood, which was not exactly what you would call “stable.” It was filled with a lot of heartache and stress. Fortunately, things turned around during my early teen years, and everything really settled into a routine.

I don’t harbor any blame or resentment about any of that, but I know that it was the driving force behind me wanting to have that “perfect family” and do things differently.  My parents were very young, and the deck was definitely stacked against them.  I love my mom and dad and I know that they did the best they could with what they had.  I think I turned out exceptionally well, all things considered. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, but I know my early upbringing created the resolve in me to have a different kind of life for my future family. To give my kids the childhood experiences that I didn’t have, or at least felt I didn’t,  I longed for that perfect, cookie cutter life.  I wanted the fairy tale.

I quickly learned things don’t usually work out that way.  My daughter was conceived when I was 25 on a drunken night of unprotected sex.  We tried to make it work for her sake, but it ultimately ended when she was a year old.  I was a single mom at 26 who still hadn’t finished her college degree and whose career choices were slim.  How’s that for a fairy tale?

Then one day, my fairy tale finally arrived.  He wasn’t neatly packaged in a nice simple box with a beautiful bow like I’d planned.  He was rough around the edges, a bit jaded, and extremely stubborn.  But he was the second chance I had prayed for. It took time, and trust, and courage, and tears, (and a little gentle nudging on my part) but the fairy tale finally came to fruition.  I married the love of my life.  We were buying a house and planning to expand our family.  Everything was finally working out the way I’d always dreamed it would.

I stopped taking my birth control pills 4 months before the wedding, because I’d always heard how it stays in your system for awhile after you stop it.  I didn’t know if it was true or not, but it didn’t matter.  Why not get a head start?  I was 35, I wasn’t getting any younger.  I was ready to get this party started before the ink on the marriage license had even dried.

And then…nothing.  I dotted all my “I’s” and crossed all my “T’s.”  I did everything I was supposed to do.  Tracked ovulation, basal body temperature, tried to reduce alcohol intake,  kept my blood sugar numbers nice and tight, (type 1 diabetes, whole other discussion.)  But no baby ever came.  Every gyno visit was normal, both my husband and I did some tests, and everything came back clear.  First a year went by, then two, then it was four, and now it’s almost seven.  And still no sign of those blue lines that every wannabe mom prays to see.  There was just…nothing.

Why couldn’t I get pregnant?  I didn’t understand.  What was wrong with me?  I was doing everything right.  The doctors said I was fine.  So we just kept trying.  After some serious discussion, we decided against medical intervention.  First, because it’s extremely costly, and second, because it’s stressful on a body and a marriage.  And I think my husband really just wanted everything to happen naturally.  I think he believed it would.  I don’t think he ever doubted that I would get pregnant.  That, unfortunately, didn’t turn out to be the case.  But why?  What was happening to me?  The unfairness of it all left me enraged.

Then one day, I heard a phrase I’d never heard before: Secondary Infertility.

You may be asking  yourself “What does that even mean?”  So, before I move on, let’s try to define what I’m talking about, at least in the literal sense.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Secondary Infertility as “When a woman is unable to bear a child, either due to the inability to become pregnant, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth following either a previous pregnancy or previous ability to carry a child to live birth.”  So what does that mean, really?  It means you got pregnant or have had one or more babies, and now it won’t happen again.  But no one talks about this, even though it’s actually pretty common.  1 in 6 women experience secondary infertility.

Although my first pregnancy was unplanned, I ended up with an amazing daughter that I love more than life itself.  But since it happened so easily, I couldn’t wrap my head around why I couldn’t get pregnant again.  The first time I actually planned it, and really wanted it, and was so excited for it, and it wouldn’t happen.

There’s not a lot known about secondary infertility.  There are many things that could contribute to it.  Age, weight, stress on the body from a previous pregnancy, hormones, or the one that seems to plague me…the unexplained.  The ever elusive reason that just…is.  Unexplained infertility.  It’s the most frustrating and heartbreaking diagnosis, because there is no fix.  It’s just the way things are.

What is a person supposed to do with that knowledge?  How do you reconcile the previous ability to get pregnant with the current status of not being able to? Most people don’t even know it’s a “thing,” and also quickly discount it with the “At least you have one” mentality.  Yes, you’re right, I do have one.  And I’m eternally grateful.  I know there are many families that never get that gift.  That is one of the things that makes this so much more devastating.  You’re made to feel like you can’t feel the pain of infertility, because if you had a baby, you aren’t “infertile.”  And you can’t grieve the loss of the children you wanted, because at least you were able to have one.  Any grief you exhibit is immediately squashed by the plights of those who had it worse than you.

But the truth is, no one else gets to define your pain for you.  It’s not like a pie, and the person who’s suffered the most gets the biggest slice.  Another person’s pain doesn’t make yours any less real.  It’s all relative.

It’s taken me awhile to understand that, and be able to feel my grief over it, and let go of all the guilt that comes with it. I know now that it’s not going to happen.  The ship has sailed.  But it becomes difficult to deal with sometimes.  And it just sneaks up on you. It’s the pain and guilt that seep in every time someone I know announces their pregnancy.  Or gives birth.  Sometimes it feels like I’m leading a double life.  There’s the me that is truly, genuinely over the moon excited and happy for my friends.  Who can’t wait to see the babies, and if I’m lucky enough, be a part of their lives.  I share in that joy with all of my heart.  Then there’s the me that is heartbroken.  The me that is sad and bitter, and yes, I’ll say it out loud, jealous.  The me that longs for what they are experiencing, and longs even more for the future that comes with it.  I hate that person, because it all adds up to guilt.  But I’m starting to realize that I can still feel pure joy for someone, and still have my own feelings of sadness about what I’ve lost.  It doesn’t make me less of a friend or a bad person.

Still, it can be tough.  In addition to the joy your expectant parent friends are experiencing, there’s also the endless, unsolicited commentary that comes with having an only child.  The “She’s still an only child?” or “Why haven’t you given her a sibling?” and “You need to have more kids to fill up that big house you live in.”  and of course, “You don’t want her to grow up as an only child, do you?” I’m honestly still learning to handle those questions with grace, instead of anger.

Probably the hardest part for me, though, is to have to stand in front of the man I married and not be able to give him the children he wants. The guilt I feel over that is immeasurable. It feels like the ultimate failure when your body won’t do what it was created to do. And for the longest time, we didn’t discuss it. It was, at least for me, just this awkward, unaddressed elephant that follows us into every room.  Instead of talking it through and leaning on each other, we were dealing with on our own. In our own ways, but still alone.  But who does that serve? If we want to make our peace with it, we have to face it, no matter how difficult it may be.   We have to face that cloud that comes over us every time a friend gets pregnant, or we spend time with babies, or when someone asks us when we’re having more. The realization that it will just be us, for the rest of our lives.

If you have a friend struggling with infertility (TRUST ME, YOU DO) the best thing you can do for them is be caring and supportive of their grief, but also, in my opinion, keep living your best life with the family you have.  Be thankful.  Cherish those blessings.  As much as I may hurt when I see others around me having babies, I also feel so much excitement for them and the journey they are on.  I would never begrudge them that.  Seeing happy families gives me joy. And as cliche as it sounds, I truly do believe everything happens for a reason, and that God has another plan for my life than I had for myself.

If you yourself are struggling with infertility, I beg you to always keep close to your heart these two vital truths:

1. It is NOT your fault. You are NOT a failure.

2. You are still a good person if you feel envy and sadness while at the same time feeling joy for someone who is expecting. IT IS NORMAL AND OKAY.

I’m learning how to accept this fact of my life and make the best of it. I don’t want to scar my future with pain over things I cannot control. Besides…turns out there are some perks with being the parent of only one child.  But that’s a topic for another day.  🙂

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Is there something in the water?

Is there something in the water?

They say things happen in threes.  Births, deaths, accidents, engagements, and apparently…divorces.  I’m seriously starting to wonder if it’s something in the water.

Divorce is so common no one even blinks an eye anymore.  50% divorce rate in the US if you listen to the statistics.  For me though, it’s never really hit that close to home, with the exception of my parents divorcing when I was a kid.  You hear about celebrity divorces practically every day.  Or it’s a co-worker, or your neighbor, or your friend’s uncle’s roommate.  But then it gets more real.  It’s your parents.  Or your sibling.  Or your close friends.  Once it hits that close, it makes you see things differently.  These past few months have been like that for me.

I’ve always had the opinion that most people give up too easily on their marriages.  We live in a society where instant gratification is at our fingertips.  So many things that used to require hard work don’t anymore.  If you want a cup of coffee, you push a button.  If you want to know some random, obscure fact, you ask Google.  And sadly, if you’re in an even remotely unhappy relationship, there’s always seemingly greener grass at the snap of a finger. You don’t even have to leave your house or even shower to meet someone nowadays thanks to internet dating.  If something is broken, you don’t fix it, you throw it away and get a newer, shinier version.  That’s the way of the world we live in.

Now obviously not all divorces are avoidable.  If you’re in an abusive relationship, emotionally or physically, that’s unhealthy.  If someone repeatedly violates your wedding vows or has no basic respect for the marriage, that is also a recipe for disaster.  Sometimes people change the rules after the marriage license is signed.  You definitely have to be with someone who has the same life goals and values, and shares the same level of commitment to your relationship.  But when people say “we grew apart” or “we’re not in love anymore” I feel like that is a cop out.  Marriage is a choice.  Love is a choice. And it’s a choice you have to make over, and over, and over again.  It’s for better or worse, and sometimes the worse comes before the better.  The grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s greener where you water it.

I have always had that hard core attitude about marriage.  You stick it out.  You honor your vows and you make it work, excluding the situations oulined above.  But these past few months, my confidence has been shaken a bit.  When you see people close to you, people you love, people you never dreamed wouldn’t make it, get divored, it makes you start to question your own marriage.  If these marriages that I thought were so amazing and strong could fall apart, who’s to say it won’t happen to my marriage? When I hear of so much infidelity everywhere, it makes me wonder, what’s to stop my husband from straying?   When my husband and I have had the same fight for the 500th time, I start to wonder if we are even compatible.  Then I start to fall into this doubt spiral and question everything I know.  It is a sad thing to see people you care about go through something so difficult and to see those dreams shattered.  And although I know in those particular cases all the parties involved will go on to be happier and better people, it’s still shocking and sad and definitely casts some doubt now and then. 

Luckily for me, I know that even though I have these doubts occasionally, I know they aren’t anything I ever have to actually worry about.  I know without a shadow of a doubt that my husband is all in.  Even though it took him 7 years to propose, (pause for reaction!) I know he is 100% committed to us and our family and our life that we’ve built together.  We have our share of fights, believe me.  We are both passionate and stubborn, and have different opinions when it comes to a lot of hot button topics.  That makes for some volatile arguments occasionally.  There are most definitely days I have to actively choose to love my husband. And I’m sure it’s the same for him from time to time.  But no matter what, we always choose to forgive each other and move on.  I always say “Oh you’re mad?  Sorry about ya.  Have a seat and get comfy because we’re gonna work this shit out!”

There is a quote from Cory on Boy Meets World (yes, I love that show, what of it?) and it perfectly sums up the way my husband feels about our marriage.  And it’s how I know he will never betray me or leave me.  He says “Every statistic that you throw at me is gonna be about other people.  I don’t care about other people.  I care about you and me.  If every marriage failed except one, I guarantee you that one would be ours.”  That is how we both feel about each other, and that’s how I know our marriage will stand the test of time.  That, and…this:

  

The Blitz

The Blitz

Before I became a mother, I had no clue how much my life was going to change.  It was definitely a rude awakening!  Soon after my child was born, I realized I was the equivalent of the blitz.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the the blitz, allow me to explain:

“The Blitz” is a reference from another one of my all-time favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother.  The curse of the blitz is a curse that results in the victim missing epic, and sometimes miraculous occurences.  The effect is so strong that the victim’s absence is sometimes thought to be the cause of the epic events.  So if you are “the blitz,” it’s pretty much a given that any time you leave a room, something awesome is going to happen and you will miss it.

That was me for the longest time.  Here I was, a 26 year-old single mom of a child with special needs.  I was living in a crappy apartment, driving a crappy car, and had a crappy job.  Every time I “left the room” (i.e, quit college, took time out from my friends, didn’t go for that better job, became single) it would turn out that amazing things were happening to other people.  Every time I turned my back, someone was getting that great promotion or raise, someone was getting engaged, or married, or having a baby.  Getting a new car, or house, or that advanced degree.  Obviously my absence wasn’t what caused those things, but sometimes it felt that way.  For a long time I felt self pity, because I had not even gotten close to the succesful and driven woman I had set out to be.

Fast forward several years, and I am now a stay-at-home mom with my 10 year old and trying for another.  I still have not quite finished my college degree.  I have a part-time job, but I’m not a lawyer, or a doctor, or any of the successful things I thought I might have been.  I’m a wife and a mom.  And to be real, that actually always was my dream.  I just didn’t realize all the sacrifice and self-doubt that comes with it.  It’s the dream versus the reality, and somewhere you find the happy medium. 

The dream is that you’re this June Cleaver clone, perfectly groomed and dressed, cooking perfect gourmet four-course meals every day, with an immaculate house and a kick-ass body.  The reality is much different. I’m a hot mess! At this point in my life, the trash goes out more than I do.   Changing out of my flannel pj’s into black yoga pants qualifies as getting dressed.  You think being a stay-at-home mom means you don’t have to work, but in reality, it means you NEVER leave work.  It means doing all the work, but having people say you don’t work.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize I’m not the blitz, I am a super-star.  I have like 50 careers rolled into one title: Mom. I’m a housekeeper, tutor, private chef, waste removal specialist, ghost exorcist, child therapist, referee, private shopper, pet sitter and groomer, life coach, personal stylist, nurse, amatuer construction worker, and internet police woman, just to name a few.  I came to realize, I am amazing, and do not have to make apologies for the life I lead.

Being a mom is the most important job I will ever have.  The truth is, I didn’t lose myself when I became a mom, I found myself.  As it turns out, children aren’t a distraction from the real work.  They are the most important work.  It’s not about what you gave up to have a child, but what you gained by having one.  The most special thing I will ever do in my life is raise this little girl to be a strong, smart, confident, and caring woman.  My role in her life is the most essential and most eternal role ever.  And I plan to live up to that role to the best of my ability.  And even though most of the time I feel like I’m screwing it up, I know I’m doing the best job I can.  And it’s a job I will never regret having.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing moms out there.  Let’s elebrate each other and our children, and the screwed up but beautiful lives we all lead.  Have an amazing day!