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.