The table I’m sitting at is too high to type at comfortably. Our last table, the one my ex-husband and I had custom made (and was probably the most beautiful table that I’ve ever seen) was also too high to type at comfortably from a regular-height chair. Maybe it’s a metaphor for my life, or even life in general, as it should be… when you get comfortable, you stop thinking about how you want things to be better. Or maybe it’s more reflective of one of my greatest downfalls.
You know the saying: “The grass is greener on the other side”? It’s not. The only reason that anyone’s “grass” is greener is because someone is watering it. Someone is tending to it, making sure that it’s weed-free and lush (but not because of herbicides, you should use weed diggers. You need to get that stuff out at the root, not just pour chemicals on it for aesthetic purposes. Oooh, deep. And applicable. But leave the dandelions for the bees, they’re pretty and it’s just a weird societal thing that labeled them as weeds. I digress). But my internal battle - I am always looking at everyone else’s grass, even if my lawn is the envy of the neighbourhood.
I’ve talked a bit about my struggles with infertility, so today I’m going to let you into that part of my life. For those of you who followed my previous blog "The Elusive Two Lines", this will expand on what I've said there. The whole infertility thing for me is kindof funny, actually… I didn’t used to want to have children at all - or at least never had any desire to bear a child, let alone multiple children. I figured if I was going to be a mom that I was going to adopt, it would probably be an older child - and I would not go through all of that nonsense of pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding and all that infant-related stuff that messes with your brain and your body. (How naive was I to think that by adopting an older child I’d be avoiding the parenting stuff that messes with your brain?).
But you see… that’s the thing about choice. I didn’t even know I how badly I wanted that option until it was taken away from me. Cats are the perfect example of this phenomenon; if you don’t know cats well, here’s what happens: You go into a room and close the door. Cat is instantly outside the door with its paws under the door or scratching at the door wanting in (this is usually the bathroom). In order to save your sanity and the paint on the door, you open the door, and close it behind the cat. The cat now feels trapped and starts trying to escape the bathroom/prison cell, so you open the door again and have to pee with the door open.
Wait… toddlers are like that too. So maybe you can relate with that?
And not entirely related, but referring to only wanting something if its presence is being threatened... this reminds me of a reality I realized a few years back: if you’re ever wondering the gender of the person who is going super slow in the fast lane in front of you (or even the slow lane, tbh), try to pass them. A man will (almost always) speed up, believing that the person trying to pass them is attempting to rob them of their manhood and therefore proper place in the fast lane. They will press the accelerator with all the power that their vehicle can muster in order to maintain proper order in the world, and balance only (apparently) exists if they are always at the front of their imaginary group. If you, the unfortunate soul who is trying to maintain actual social norms and proper societal harmony (like passing in the left lane), don’t manage to get in front of them, you will be stuck behind them in this game of inanity for ALL ETERNITY. If you do get in front of them, they will ride your bumper until the inevitable moment they’ve once again completely forgotten that they’re even operating a vehicle, and they’re back to going 60 in an 80.
A woman in this situation? Well, it's likely we are already in the right hand lane, because we’re just getting to where we’re going and we just don’t care. Ok… I lie. There is no “we” in that statement for me, even though most of the women I know are very laid-back drivers. If I’m driving, I am almost always determined to get to wherever I’m going FIRST. It is a race and get out of my way and my car is hopefully fast enough to get around you and yes I might have a toddler in the back and we are jamming to Ace of Base or Snoop or Raffi, but frig, get out the way.
Again- I digress. Back to infertility and children. Maybe I need to up my ADD medication dose, haha!
It's not as simple as not wanting to have a child until I found out I couldn’t. I had a dream, a picture in my head of what my life would be like if I got married (I also didn’t know if I ever wanted to get married, but that’s not for today). The last time I spoke with her, my therapist and I spent a lot of time discussing my “should’s”... I have a LOT of “should’s”. For example:
I should have known the man I married better than I did,
When I got married, I should have been married forever,
I should have been able to have a child without fertility treatments,
Fertility treatments should work,
My body, as a female, its' sole anthropological purpose is to reproduce and feed a child, and I should have been able to do that, and
When I had a child, I should have given her a mom and a dad, and that has been taken away from her.
Shoulds suck, and this is a very short list of my "shoulds". Who tells us this nonsense of how things “should be”, anyhow? So I suffered and struggled and gained a lot of weight and hated myself and everyone who had children or was pregnant. I couldn’t get over my shoulds. I had 5 miscarriages that I didn’t tell anyone about and I mourned in silence, because I didn’t want to burden anyone with my issues and my pain. PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. For us women with PCOS, the hormonal imbalance interferes with the growth, quality of, and release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation). I didn’t ovulate because my ovaries would develop painful cysts over the follicle where the egg was supposed to be released, and if I did ovulate, the chances of the ovum being poor quality were high. For women with PCOS, even those who ovulate, the pregnancy rate is low and the miscarriage rate is high.
So we went through years of fertility treatments and I took and injected all the drugs to help me ovulate, and my husband went to the fertility centre at 5:30am for weeks in a row to get a number for me to be seen (they treat you like you’re getting deli meat), and then we ran out of money and coverage and had to let those dreams go. I was told that I was not going to be a mother, at least not biologically. So we looked into adoption… and let me tell you… unless you are adopting from the province you live in and are looking to adopt a child that is older, it is insanely expensive. And when I say this, I don’t mean a few thousand dollars, I mean $20-$100k. It was beyond comprehension how much it costs to try to love and raise a child when you can’t have your own. So those of you who were blessed with the innate ability to have children and your bodies work like they “should”... Please take one minute, right now, and look at your child/children and remember the 1 in 6 couples who struggle with infertility and aren’t able to have children. Hug your kid(s) for no reason at all, tell them you love them, and tell them how blessed you are to be their parent. Because let me tell you… you are. You have been given a divine gift of another human who loves you unconditionally and a body that allowed you to create them. Yeah… you created a human. How absolutely incredible is that?
So as you may have figured out, a few years after we had given up the non-working parts of my body worked and I got pregnant. To say that I was surprised or shocked is a huge understatement; you know how there’s the myth (yeah, it’s not true) that the Inuit have 50 words for “snow”? I never felt like there were enough words in the English language to describe infertility nor how I felt when I was actually pregnant. You just can't put into words the despair, hopelessness, and feelings of being out of control with infertility. And I cannot find words to explain how I felt about finding out I was pregnant, nor how I feel about my daughter now.
This might shock you or weird you out a bit, but bear with me - when I thought I wasn’t able to have children, I had a membership, of sorts, that has since been taken away from me. Of course, nobody wants membership in the “I can’t have kids” club, but it was a group of lovely compassionate people who supported each other. Misery does love company, and there was company to be had when I was told I couldn’t have kids. I could commiserate and connect with people over our shared failures, sorrow, feelings of jealousy, and bodily malfunctions, and I felt like I was part of something.
My daughter is an amazing miracle. And yes, of course, every child conceived is a miracle… but when you’ve been through infertility treatments and been told you’ll never have kids, even though the exact same physiological stuff happens to create every child, you probably feel like they’re even more of a miracle.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was in such shock that I said (sorry Mom and Jesus and family for my language, but this is how it went…) “holy shit” out loud for at least an hour. I didn’t even tell my husband during that entire hour (he was sleeping after coming home from night shifts up north), but I was in such disbelief that I couldn’t think of other or better words to express how I felt.
Just as my life came crashing down when I was told I’d never have kids, my life came crashing down again… you see, I had spent 2 years coming to terms with not having children, learning to look forward to my life as the best auntie ever and to the perks that being DINKS (Dual-Income No Kids, in case you didn’t know) meant for us. It meant vacations and sleeping in and going out for nice meals and lives of general leisure and… selfishness. I don’t mean that word in a bad way, either, but here I am, at a loss for words again (can I blame the concussion? haha)… I want to take away the “disregard for others” part and mean it in the way that we were able to think of ourselves because we didn’t have children to consider, and that it was alright to be that way.
Here’s some more honesty about my miracle pregnancy: it was a tough pill to swallow. I didn’t want to be a 40-year-old new mom because it felt old to me (focus on "to me". This has zero relevance to anyone else's age when they have children). All of my friends and family were basically done having kids and most of their kids were at least a few years old by now. I felt alone and like I was going to be the outcast again. I sometimes feel like I’ve spent a bit of my adult life as the odd-(wo)man out.. Years before being pregnant, when I was one of the only single girls in their 30’s, I felt like everyone I knew was in a relationship or married. Then we were the couple that had no kids when everyone else had kids, and now I was going to be the lone new-mom who wouldn’t fit in and whose child wouldn’t be old enough to keep up with their kids. (And let’s not mention the fact that I’m now the divorced 42-year-old single mom of a toddler who fits none of the boxes of anyone I know. Oh wait. I mentioned it. What a silly concept, saying “let’s not mention” things you then mention!)
I wasn’t ungrateful, not for a second. I was scared. I was in a marriage that was already struggling and now I was bringing a child into it. I didn’t know how to be a mom and I had been laid off and didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt like my world had fallen apart and now I had to try to get it together for this tiny human who would call me “mom” and would need me to keep them alive and not mess them up emotionally TOO much. One of my main goals as a mom, as an aside, is to not be the main reason my daughter goes to therapy.
So back to being pregnant... I was actually pregnant with twins but lost one of the twins very early on, and my daughter was only given a 50% chance to survive the surgery (called a salpingectomy). My pregnancy consisted of one viable child and one ectopic, and is called a “heterotopic pregnancy” - and according to my surgeon, the chances of having such a pregnancy are 1 in 700,000. So here I was with my miracle pregnancy and there was a chance it would all be ripped from me (us). I still cry about the ectopic baby sometimes… I think about the fact that my daughter will never have a sibling, and about how much my sister and brother have enriched my life and how she’ll never have this. I think she’d be an amazing sister. But I do know that having a sibling doesn’t guarantee that there will be a close or good relationship- and I’ll do as much as I can for her to have other kids in her life that she can form bonds with. I'm also blessed with close family bonds myself so she has cousins that love her so much it brings me to tears (I cry a lot, ok? It took a lot to get me to the point of crying at all… so much therapy!). And - I am remembering a blog post I wrote in my Elusive Two Lines blog called "Never will I ever" that was about all the things I would never have or experience because I wouldn't be a mother... I suppose that's a lesson in how I don't get to decide a lot of the outcome of my life! Never say never!
My daughter is feisty and a fighter and now she’s 2, and she’s incredible. Even though I've been looking at her for almost 800 days, I still regularly look at her in awe… today my thoughts surrounded how I didn’t understand how something so absolutely perfect could be created by someone so incredibly flawed. How was I given the opportunity to be a mom to such a wonderful child… how did I ever deserve this blessing? I guess I can attribute it to something I have always believed: You don’t get what you deserve. (Side note about this amazing, perfect child, she's currently in her crib, an hour and a half past her bedtime, kicking the walls as hard as she can and shouting "No! I want bubble bath!!", because her bubble bath was cut short because she crapped in the tub.)
So to backtrack a little, I was pregnant and my daughter pulled through the weeks of uncertainty of whether she would be strong enough to survive the surgery that removed her ectopic twin, and despite my 9 months of nausea and sickness, I still had another feeling. An unexpected feeling: guilt.
I had what I call “conceivers guilt”.
As I've mentioned, I don’t believe that people get what they deserve, and let me tell you, I didn’t know why I had been blessed with a pregnancy. God knows that I had done nothing special to deserve to have a child, and I couldn’t understand why I had been chosen to be her mother and why there were so many women, so many women that were certainly more deserving than I, who weren’t able to have a child.
I had overwhelming guilt, and still to this day have pangs of it. I had connected with women on an intimate, deep level over our inability to have children, and I felt like this was the ultimate betrayal. At that time, I thought of a friend with whom I had commiserated over our inability to conceive, and all of a sudden, she disappeared and stopped talking to me. I had assumed as much, but found out a few months later that she was pregnant. Of course, this was a crappy way to handle what we had been dealing with, but nobody ever teaches us how to support people who are struggling in their lives (did I mention that’s what my free eBook is about? I help you support those you love who are struggling, because nobody teaches us how). Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, I reached out to a couple of my closest women who struggled with infertility; I didn’t want them to find out through a Facebook post. I thought about how I felt when I found out about other people’s pregnancies this way… and while I wanted to be happy for these women, these friends, or these people I loved deeply, I couldn’t be. And I did not expect the women who couldn't have children to be happy for me, but I needed them to know that I still honored their struggles and their feelings.
This doesn’t make me an awesome person or better than anyone, it makes me someone who has taken the time to learn about how to love others, how to support them in their pain and struggles, and how to do something to help them feel loved and heard even when what I was saying would hurt.
This guilt just won't go away. It's faded and doesn't consume me, but it's still there. I am trying to temper this with bringing normalcy to pregnancy and infant loss; it doesn’t need to be something that is taboo or that we’re afraid to talk about. It is sad, and devastating, but isolating those who have experienced it just isn’t the way to go about dealing with it. Those who have lost a child (either during pregnancy or right after birth) need you, they need to know that you love them and that you hurt with them. If you know someone who is struggling with this, sign up for the free eBook I mentioned earlier (that will be delivered straight to your inbox!) that will help you support them, because goodness knows it’s tough to know what to do or say.
And those of us who have been through these losses, we’re not lost. We can still be joyful and laugh and even find humor in our trials. There’s even a book called “999 Reasons to Laugh at Infertility”, and I recommend it if you or someone you know needs some joy while they’re struggling.
I'm working on my guilt. I'm working this baggage. Work with me?