I had written the following blog a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't want to post it because it would open old wounds and make me feel vulnerable. Now, I'm not sure if it's ironic, sad, or unseemly to post it, but here it is.
I don't like self-help books, but one day, I was browsing amazon.com and this book showed up under "Recommendations for You." I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. The book is titled, Unsung Lullabies and provides coping strategies for those suffering infertility. I ordered the book mainly because its focus on fertility narratives appealed to me. I read the book in one sitting, feeling all the while like someone finally got it. Someone understood how I feel. I cried and cried. The first time I had allowed myself to cry for an absent baby in a very long time.
The book accurately explains that for someone who suffers infertility, it isn't just about the inability to conceive. The real problem is the fertility narrative we tell ourselves (and that society tells us) from the time we are children. We imagine ourselves rocking a child, holding a child, singing them lullabies. Essentially, we tell ourselves, "When I have children, fill in the blank." For some, "When I have children, the nursery is going to look like this." For others, "When I have children, we are going to have early morning Christmas traditions." And still others, "When I have children, I will sing them the songs my mother sang to me." Or, "When I have children, I am going to give them the childhood I didn't have." There are so many stories we tell ourselves throughout our lives. Also, having a child is one of those milestones that let us know that we're adults. That we are responsible. That we are...well, enough.
I have been taking care of my niece and nephew since I was thirteen, so my fertility narrative began early. I took care of them when they were sick, when they were happy, when they were sad. I was always there. And I dreamed of the day when I would have my own child. As I sang to the beautiful babies I held in my arms and watched them grow, I knew that I wanted children of my own.
I am an educated woman, and logically, I know that I am not less of a woman for not having children. I can even push down the nausea and heartbreak that washes over me when people ask that most dreaded question, "Do you have kids?" I see the look on their faces that tell me that they simultaneously feel sorry for me and feel superior to me. (Trust me, they feel this way). Some even think, because they don't know my story, that I'm one of those selfish feminists. I know all of this is not necessarily true. I am still a woman. But my heart rebels. It tells me that I am incomplete. I feel the emptiness of my womb all day, everyday. I feel that selfish envy and soul-crushing shame when I see pregnant women. And I hate myself for it.
But all of these things, I could perhaps deal with. It's the stories that are unbearable. For eight years, we have tried to get pregnant. I have had surgery, charted my cycle, taken my temperature, lain with my legs in the air, taken round after round of hormones. Still, nothing. (and last week I found out once again that not only am I not pregnant, but I can no longer take hormones. And it seems that the endometriosis has returned.) I have run out of options. I'm open to adoption or IVF. But both are immensely expensive and can take years. There are so many logistics involved with both that it is absolutely impossible right now.
So, the hard part is that my fertility story has ended. Yet, all the stories are still in my head. The book advises that you tell your friends how you feel, but what the book doesn't consider is that your friends may not understand. Certainly, they will try to understand. But they can't. Unless they have been there, they don't understand how frustrating it is when you have turned sex and conception into a science, knowing what your temperature is and what your ovaries are doing at any given moment. They don't understand that you're not being selfish when you don't attend baby showers, when it's hard to talk about babies, or when you can hardly look at a pregnant woman without crying. They don't understand that you're not selfish at all. You're heartbroken. You don't know how to keep going through the day like everything is normal. You don't know how to smile anymore. Or when you do smile, it's painful. They don't know that the holidays are brutal. Christmas is one of my stories. I always imagined sitting around the Christmas tree with my children, unwrapping gifts and drinking hot cocoa. It may seem cheesy, but the gifts and hot cocoa seem empty when you don't have the children you imagined sharing them with.