Soaking In The Moments…Even The Tough Ones

It’s a well-known fact that parenting is hard. The day your baby is born, your life is suddenly run by a tiny dictator (or dictators, if you have multiples), who only knows how to convey their wishes through grunts, groans, and screams.

My son, K, is currently at a tough age to parent. He’s fairly mobile and loves to explore, which means he’s getting into anything and everything he can get his tiny hands on. His reasoning and language skills still need some work, so I’ve been facing meltdowns every time I’ve had to tell him no, or steer him away from something he shouldn’t get into.

I’m going to admit that one week recently, my tiny dictator caused me to question for just a split second why I fought so hard to become a mother. This is probably one of the biggest sins an infertile can commit, but I’m being honest. I know that deep down, I was just overwhelmed. My husband was away for a week on a business trip. Plus, as usual, I took K to work with me three days that week where he tore apart my office and instantly, my time to decompress, to breathe, was severely impacted.

I feel like I need to censor my feelings around my friends in the TTC (trying to conceive) and infertility communities. There are thousands of men and women out there who would do anything to parent a small human who cried for two hours straight for no apparent reason. I know this because just over a year ago, I was one of those women. Not everything is sunshine and roses on the other side. Trying to reason with an angry 11-month-old is like trying to reason with an angry cat, just with fewer claws.

In any one minute, I’m filled with love for my son, happy that he’s developmentally on track, fearing that one day I won’t be fast enough to catch him before he knocks his head on the table, angry that he’s trying to stand up in the bathtub yet again, guilty that I’m angry. Guilty that I’m complaining when so many are struggling. Guilty that I was able to overcome my infertility before those who struggled longer, or harder, or are more deserving. Guilty. There’s a lot of guilt.

I have to remember to be gentle with myself. Parenting is hard, no matter how long you struggled or how hard you wished for a child. I also need to remember that everything is just a phase, and soon K will be a walking, talking little boy who is no longer my baby, so I should try to soak in all of the moments, even the tough ones.

Making Peace With Pregnancy

“It will be different when it’s your baby,” my therapist said.

I had been talking to her about my fear of pregnant bellies and how much grief even the mere the sight of one would trigger in me. Eleven and a half years earlier I sat in front of a cold, blunt doctor who told me in no uncertain terms that I would never be pregnant.

“You were born without a womb.”

The world as I knew it ended and all of a sudden, I was on the outside looking in on all that I deemed to be “womanhood”. I would never have a period. I would never be pregnant. I would never feel a baby kick. I would never give birth screaming and bleeding whilst bringing a new life, the new life I had grown in my belly, into this world.

I didn’t believe the therapist. Every single pregnant belly I had ever seen since the day of my traumatic diagnosis had caused a visceral reaction that was so tangible I could almost touch it. I couldn’t bear to see the beautiful bellies, and certainly not uncovered, in their actual flesh. There was not a chance in hell I would touch one!

The sight of such beauty that I would never, could never, experience caused a wave of grief so overwhelming that I had to shut down whenever I was near a pregnant woman. I would have to, for my own sanity, pretend that her belly simply didn’t exist. It was the only way I could get through it. People on Facebook would get hidden for posting bump shots. If they posted uncovered bumps, it is possible they would be unfriended, unless I really liked them!

I was terrified of how I would feel once our Host Surrogate (our sister in law: Surro-SIL/SSIL) was pregnant with our child. Would I feel that primal fear, that familiar intense grief when I saw her belly? Would I be able to look at her, at ‘it’? Would I be able to touch ‘it’? I didn’t think I would.

“It will be different when it’s your baby,” my therapist had said.

Surprisingly, she was right; it is different.

It’s still hard, but it is different. SSIL has the most beautiful, perfect bump. It is easier because I know that the little baby blossoming within her is going to be in my arms in 18 weeks or less. That bump is my baby. It is still hard because my grief over the loss of the ability to be pregnant is ever present; I doubt it will ever go away.

It is different. That bump is a bump which holds joy; excitement; the child I never thought I would have! What could be more beautiful than that?

I am becoming more confident around her bump as Stevie (our daughter’s nickname) grows. A couple of weeks ago, I touched the bump and felt the tiniest of movements deep below her skin. It was incredible.

Last week for the very first time, I interacted with my daughter. SSIL lay next to me on the sofa and put my hand on her tummy, telling me where Stevie was. She wasn’t moving much at the time, so I prodded the harder area where she was apparently lying. Stevie kicked me back! I felt a strong and clear tap on the heel of my hand! Our very first interaction was:

Me: *prod*

Baby: *tap*.

My heart melted.

The beautiful bump may not physically belong to my body but it is carrying the most precious of things: my daughter.

It is different.

Blood

Vial after vial of blood drawn for testing.

The blood that sent me to the emergency room to find out the pregnancy wasn’t viable.

Blood draw after blood draw until the ectopic pregnancy was “resolved.”

The monthly disappointment of seeing blood yet again.

Another trip to the ER to learn that this time the blood was from implantation.

Checking for blood during every trip to the bathroom for nine months.

The blood splattered across the delivery room, the doctor, and me from the quick delivery.

The bloody scalpel as they repaired my tear.

Blood for weeks after getting an IUD because I just can’t chance another loss.

Blood coming from my nipples after breastfeeding challenges.

Blood coming from my son’s mouth after he consumed it from my nipples.

So much blood.

The blood turns to scabs and the scabs to scars.

We expect our battles to be bloody, but this battle has left me with scars that are not visible.

My son is my blood, not because of biology and genetics (although that is technically true), but because of the depth of the bond we share. He is the salve to my wounds that cannot fully heal. He is my miracle, my rainbow, my unicorn.

My son carries in his blood the memories and legacy of the older sibling who never came to be. It’s a lot for such a little guy to take on.

I know we have more blood in our future, the skinned knees and bloody noses of childhood. A childhood I am delighted to witness. He was born of my blood and he carries my history.

I’d Like You to Know…

This is a piece written for us by a member of the infertility, loss, and adoption community on Twitter.


I am infertile. I have secondary infertility, which means I cannot have another child. We’ve been trying for 4 years for a second child and only ‘managed’ 3 miscarriages. Early ones. My body rejected the 3 out of 44 attempts that stood a fighting chance. We are doing our first round of IVF, and to be able to do so I donated half of my eggs that were collected as we can’t afford to self fund. That is us, our life, and you don’t know this about me and so unfortunately you’ve asked me innocent questions that have really hurt me.

Let me explain.

I’ve lost track of the number of times well meaning people like you have asked me, ‘when will you have another child?’; ‘don’t you want to have any more children?’ Or when people have given me their opinion on my parental status, ‘isn’t it time you were having another?’; ‘don’t you think your son would love a brother or sister?’; ‘you’re going to end up with a very big age gap if you leave it much longer’. Every single time one of your voices, your thoughts or opinions on the fact I am not pregnant with my second child is aired, they are twisting a knife in my chest.

In answer to those intrusive question and comments, I don’t know when I can have another child, perhaps never. I do want a baby with every fibre of my being. It breaks my heart on a daily basis that my body will not perform the supposedly most natural of things, I feel a failure. I agree, I think I should have had another by now, but your question just reminded me of our 3 miscarriages. Yes, my son would love a brother or sister but it’s hard enough for me to hear him asking about that let alone have you pour salt on that wound. Every single month we fail to get pregnant, I am reminded of the ever-increasing age gap and your comment has reinforced my insecurities over this.

I often smile and nod and laugh away whilst I fight back the tears. I go home and cry and relay the conversation to my husband. I remind myself that you don’t mean to hurt me with your questions and comments. That you’d probably be mortified if you knew how your innocent questions make me feel. You don’t realise what you’re saying and the impact your words are having on my self-confidence. My happiness. My sense of worth as a woman.

Perhaps I should tell you, open the flood gates and spill out all the pain, guilt, hurt and difficulties we’ve gone through, tell you that we are infertile and cannot naturally have a child. That’s a big ask though, it so deeply personal. Sometimes I might open up, if I’m close to you. Some of you though, I don’t want to reveal all of this to you as I might not know you that well or just don’t feel I can talk to you about this yet. That is absolutely my right as it is my life and my fertility in debate. By asking those questions of me, you are choosing to bring my fertility into discussion and I don’t think that is right.

I’m being unfair though, I expect some of you are not just being glib with what you’re saying. Perhaps you might want to talk to me as you’ve begun to wonder if there are some fertility issues? Maybe you’ve put some of the pieces together and worked it out? Perhaps you think if you ask these types of questions, it might open up the discussion? In all honesty, it probably won’t. Most infertile women I know bristle at these intrusions and struggle to keep it together. You’re more likely to make me close up further as I think you might be insensitive to my reality. If you want to open up the discussion, then try being honest by explaining you were concerned and had wondered if everything was ok. Failing that, chat about someone else (they don’t have to be real!) who is in a similar circumstance, and maybe if I feel up to it, I might bite the cherry and tell you about me. If I do though, there are a whole load of other things you should be aware of saying or not saying, but that is another blog post altogether!

10 years ago, I would have made these same well-meaning mistakes, I took fertility for granted the way you do when you’re young or if you have had no issues with it. Now though, having been on our journey, I never ask people without a child when they are planning to have children. If they have one or two children or a whole football team of kids, I still never ask them if they are going to have any more. The simple reason for this is that I worry they might not be able to have a child, and that my innocent question is breaking their fragile heart.

Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples and there are people in your life in that situation. Next time you wonder about a friend who doesn’t have children; the friend who, several years ago, alluded to the fact she wanted more than she currently has; perhaps the couple who’ve been together years but still don’t have kids or the ones who’ve been married a short while and you expected to be pregnant by now—please, don’t ask them anything about their fertility. It’s theirs, not yours, and you might be saving them from a lot of pain by not asking. They’ll tell you what you need to know, if and when they are ready and if they want you to know—infertile or not.

As Long As They Are Okay

I secretly delighted in being labeled “high risk”—at first. High risk meant closer monitoring and more ultrasound scans—more chances to see how my twin girls were doing. When life seems so tenuous on this journey—reassurance is both welcomed and feared. I thought of it as “Schroedinger’s babies”—they were both doing fine AND in some sort of danger in my mind until I saw the comforting image each time—one of them smiling, the other getting kicked in the head by the smiling one.

At first the complications started off small. My jaw became stiff, making it difficult to eat; my gums were bleeding and my wrists became useless as carpal tunnel syndrome tightened my fingers. I couldn’t eat solid foods or wipe my behind after using the restroom but “as long as they are okay,” I told myself with a gigantic smile (and anyone who would listen), “I can handle anything!”

At the 16 week ultrasound scan I was informed that I had complete placenta previa. I was told that I shouldn’t walk long distances and to stay rested.  This included pelvic rest (which incidentally is the name of my fictitious all female punk band.) I was warned by “the internet” that twin pregnancies often result in bed rest and since I was still able to walk around—a little—I considered this a victory.  “The placenta previa will most likely clear on its own,” so I wasn’t worried. And even if it didn’t, I would be at risk for a Cesarean section. But the golf ball sized fibroid removed from my uterus a year prior already dictated that I would require one of those.

Just about the time the placenta previa resolved, gestational diabetes arrived to take its place. I considered it the universe intervening on my intake of ice cream. I would now have to learn different ways to “increase my calcium intake for the girls.” This was an inconvenience, but always looking for the silver lining I determined eating 6 times a day was not all negative (especially when cheese was involved.) I turned to the internet to prepare myself for the pitfalls of gestational diabetes: overly large children—a positive I thought, considering twins—and a potential C-section—already predetermined. Monitoring my sugars four times a day gave me something to focus on besides whether or not I would lose my girls at any point. And again I thought, “as long as they are okay, I can handle anything.”

Sometime at the beginning of the third trimester, I was unable to walk. Acute sesamoiditis of the accessory navicular bone, the intense pain that rendered my right foot useless, would be the beginning in a series of incidents for which I was unprepared. X-rays showed that I was one of the “lucky” people that had extra bones in my feet. Being lucky in my life is always juxtaposed with some unfortunate occurrence. Accompanying the jaw and wrist issues—my ligaments had loosened around these extra bones and I could no longer walk. Putting the slightest amount of pressure on my foot instantly brought tears to my face and I worried about how I would get to the refrigerator (for cheese) to eat every 2-3 hours. My husband would have to stay home for the next few days as it resolved to take care of us. A pregnant woman on crutches with three flights of stairs in her tall, skinny house required some supervision.

During the 30th week, I ate ice cream for the first time in weeks. I should have known better. Forty five minutes later, I felt like I had received novocaine at the dentist. My lips were numb and I couldn’t taste anything. I didn’t think too much about it until I woke up the following morning with the left side of my face incapacitated, left eyelid frozen, eye tearing and no longer able to easily move my lips. Labor and Delivery triage doctors determined that “good news!” I didn’t have a stroke! But rather, I developed Bell’s Palsy. I asked if this would affect the girls at all and doctors assured me once again they would be okay. And they would be okay after the two courses of steroids. And they would be okay after the trip to the Emergency Room when the pain behind my ear and along my jawline was so bad that I was crying in pain—again. Doctors told me I could expect recovery in three weeks. Nine months later, I have 75% function of my face. Now I tell myself that whatever beauty I ever had—I gave to my girls before they were born.

My father, knowing full well that these would be my only children, joked with me that I was having the “full pregnancy experience.” I laughed even though I no longer found any of this funny.

At this point in time, cliched hands on belly, I whispered to myself, “as long as they are okay…” I no longer felt the need to tempt fate to see what else I could develop.

I felt horrible, even guilty for thinking about how I might be seen as complaining about my pregnancy. The girls were growing, heartbeats strong and I didn’t want to feel ungrateful about how *lucky* I was that our second IVF treatment worked.

During my fourth or fifth nonstress test around 34 weeks, my blood pressure started to creep up. There was protein in my urine.

Things moved quickly now.

A day or two later, what I thought were Braxton-Hicks contractions were happening every hour. Another trip to L & D triage—and they couldn’t complete a nonstress test on one of my girls. Her biophysical profile scored low. I had a headache. My blood pressure was rising. What I did not know earlier on was that Bell’s Palsy has a correlation with preeclampsia; and I was developing it.

Around midnight, I was transferred by ambulance to a hospital with a Trauma Level III NICU. The surgical team met me in my room shortly after my arrival and told me that the twins were coming into the world and they were coming now. Through tears, I pleaded with them to take good care of my girls.

They would be born an hour later at 2:33 am and 2:35 am—on room air. They would need no significant interventions in the NICU for the next twelve days as they just worked on gaining weight.

I couldn’t help but feel like I was willing to make any sacrifice for them. Scientifically, the things that happened to me were unrelated to how the girls fared. My foot issues weren’t protecting the girls from possible congenital heart defects. My carpal tunnel syndrome wouldn’t guarantee that they would be developmentally normal. However, infertility changed how I thought. The fear of saying anything positive inevitably felt like it would lead to loss in some way, some irreversible detriment that would break my heart.  Despite my outspoken war on jinxes, I always still secretly believed in them.  And as things got more difficult for me physically, I truly believed that I was protecting them and taking the blows of the universe for them—so that they were okay.

Next Time

“You should really have another one, a girl next time, he’s so pretty”

I smiled as I heard these words slip from my mother’s mouth as she rocked my son. He was only 2 months old. Still wrinkly and soft with that newborn smell and here we were, talking about next time.

Next time, it’s a phrase that terrifies me.

“Maybe next time you can do it un-medicated,” my best friend said when I expressed my sadness about not having the birth I planned.

“Next time you’ll know what to look for, “the doctor said after he revised O’s tongue tie, the simple procedure that saved our breastfeeding relationship.

“With two, you won’t be able to afford daycare, next time you can stay home from work.” This one came from my dad when I called him in tears on my way home from my first day back to work.

The common theme here is that next time will be better/easier or possible.  But what if there is no next time? What if this is the only shot we’ve got? I’m going to make the best of it.

I try not to dwell on next time too much. I live in the moment with my son. The son that took so long to show up. I watch him with wonder as he learns each little new skill, knowing that this might be the only “first” I’ll ever see. I bask in his giggles; melt under his gaze, my heart swells as he reaches for me. My husband jokes that he’ll still be in our room when he’s 13. I’ve commented that I’ll wean him when his first girlfriend asks me to. I can’t let it go, this might be my only chance and I’m holding on to every single piece of it.

Maybe there will be a next time. Maybe we’ll get lucky again and I’ll get to experience a whole new set of firsts. Maybe I’ll struggle less with feeling happy. Maybe I won’t need to be reassured #jinxesarentreal every week or more. Maybe I won’t have complications; maybe I’ll get the un-medicated birth I planned on. Maybe I’ll go to the classes this time, or finish a nursery or have a perfect latch right out of the chute. Maybe I won’t miss the first time my second one gets in a swimming pool. But that is a lot of maybes, isn’t it?

I’d be lying if I didn’t think about next time with fondness. But I try not to live there. I’m forever grateful that I have this time. Not everyone has this chance; I know that all too well.

Beast and Burden

Does red hair run in your family?

It’s a question I’m asked every time I venture outside with my daughter.

The bold side of me longs to snark back, Well, red hair is a recessive gene, so it would have to, wouldn’t it?

Most people, it would seem, don’t understand what a recessive gene is. If they understood that both genetic parents had to carry the gene for red hair then perhaps they would be confused by my emphatic Nope!

I am a mother thanks to many people. My daughter was conceived in a petrie dish. An embryologist injected 28 sperms from my husband into 28 eggs from our kind and generous donor. Six days later, my RE inserted two embryos into my uterus. That summer, I was monitored closely by a team of ultrasound technicians. Eight months after transfer, my daughter was born, guided safely through my abdomen by my OB’s hands. The same hands which worked for hours to stop the bleeding but save my uterus — the only part of my reproductive system that works — and, ultimately, my life.

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.”

Everyone agrees that parenting is hard. But pregnancy and parenting after loss and/or infertility is an untamed beast. A few are able to ride bare-back into the sunset without a backwards glance. 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 understandable that pregnancy and birth announcements still sting. That it’s possible to be simultaneously delighted that your baby is healthy and anxious because of her traumatic birth and sad that you might not be able to have the second or third child you always dreamed you’d have.

We remind ourselves that the joy of holding our beautiful, precious baby is so great that we’d do it all again in a Doppler heartbeat — yes, the bleeding, the injections, the invasive procedures, the HSG that burns your insides, the shame, the rage, the screaming grief — you’d experience every last damn bit of pain again to have this child, because already you love her that much.

But sometimes guilt creeps in. Is this residual grief? Postpartum depression? Am I a shitty parent for feeling this way?

If not guilt, then doubt. Maybe I’m no good at this parenting stuff. Maybe there’s a reason I struggled to have this baby. Maybe I’m just not cut out for parenthood.

And sometimes a new understanding. Everyone assumes that my daughter and I share the same genes. She’s so young people assume I was pregnant with her. I never realised that parents via adoption and surrogacy probably experience similar assumptions too.

So we rely heavily on others like us — people we may not have met but whom we consider good friends — to tell us it’s okay to break down and cry. 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 strangers in the store whose innocent question about your baby’s hair quietly reminds you you’re a miscarriage and infertility warrior. The population that doesn’t understand that having a baby cures childlessness, but not infertility.

We’re caught between two groups: we can’t fully relate to those who conceived effortlessly, but nor do we quite fit in with those trying so hard to overcome their childlessness or accept it.

Almost nine months into this motherhood gig, I look at my copper-haired daughter with a mixture of awe and affection. In a different way, I look at myself with a mixture of awe and affection. Parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility is a strange beast of burden. So we warriors band together and hold on tight, grateful that these days our arms are both open to each other and full of babes.