The battle to build a family is often invisible and leaves scars on women that often never show. I am one of those women who bear the scars of infertility.
Infertility affects at least 12% of women who are 15-44 years of age, according to the Centers For Disease Control. That means that 7.4 million women have trouble either getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.
I always wanted to be a mother. I was the oldest child in a house where my ‘little’ mothering skills were valued (and depended upon, if honest) and I’ve always been a ‘baby whisperer.’
And like a lot of little girls who want to be mothers one day, I thought it was just an automatic; I wanted to have lots of babies, and I was in control of that happening.
When I learned I wasn’t, after a handful of years of ‘trying,’ I learned I was far from ‘in control,’ of anything.
The first scar of infertility I bore was that of disillusionment.
Years of trying with a doctor’s guidance only left us with unanswered questions. Diagnoses like ‘polycystic ovarian syndrome,’ and ‘endometriosis,’ also came with sidebar conversations that had me hearing, “But you’re not a typical PCOS patient,” and, “We don’t really think it’s endometriosis in this case that’s preventing pregnancy.”
That was the second scar of infertility for — confusion.
If the doctors didn’t know why I wasn’t getting pregnant, how on earth was I supposed to know? How could I fix it? How could I even have any hope about a ‘success,’ if no one even knew what was creating the heartbreaking ‘failure,’ my body had month after month after month?
The third scar of infertility wore on me as “failure.”
Getting pregnant, having a baby, mothering one’s child. Those were the most basic, natural aspects of being a woman, I thought, and if I couldn’t even do that, what kind of woman was I? What kind of wife was I? Should I even have been a mother after all?
The fourth scar of infertility I carried heavily was doubt.
Friends and family would tell me it would happen…in time; it would happen. I especially loved hearing, “Motherhood will happen for you in God’s timing.” Well-intentioned friends would tell me that, but when I responded with, “Well, maybe it’s not about God’s timing; maybe it’s about His plan and maybe His plan doesn’t include motherhood for me,” they’d shrink away with the uncomfortable awkwardness that I knew I’d hotly created.
The fifth scar of infertility looked like hostility.
The feelings of failure and doubt and confusion led me to become pretty hostile. As we pursued different approaches to family building, including fertility treatments and adoption processes that ended up failing, I became angry. It wasn’t fair that I couldn’t bring a child into our family. It wasn’t fair that others who didn’t even WANT children ended up pregnant at the sight of a baby, and I cried myself to sleep regularly. It wasn’t fair and didn’t make sense, and I was angry and felt hopeless.
The sixth scar of infertility was hopelessness.
By the time we decided to give IVF a try, we’d already dealt with 12 years of failed procedures, adoption processes and unanswered questions. I held no hope for success, but believed I had to go through the motions, if not for myself, at least for my husband. When my fertility doctor said he bet I’d get pregnant on the first IVF cycle, I laughed inside at his naive optimism.
The seventh scar of infertility was the loss of care.
By the time we were trying IVF, I’d really given up caring about what happened. I didn’t believe it would happen but at least I’d be able to say I’d given it the old college try and could whither away to tend to my wounds. I’d finally be able to shut people down with, “Yes. We’ve tried everything.”
The eighth scar of infertility ended with false hope.
When I got pregnant, (on the first IVF cycle, no less), I felt invincible. I felt like finally, finally, it was my turn. It had taken years of crying after baby showers and wondering if I’d ever know what my child felt like in my arms but getting pregnant with IVF made me feel like the battle had finally been won….that it would be smooth sailing in my motherhood adventure from that point on. Until the day my beautiful, perfect newly born son died.
The ninth scar of infertility was devastation.
Yes, I’d been ‘broken’ through the years of infertility, but nothing in my life has ever felt like the devastation of burying my child. He died from complications of undiagnosed vasa previa; a rare labor fluke that stole a healthy baby boy and my future with him. When he died, all our friends thought I’d give up, never wanting to subject myself to that possible pain again. They were right; I didn’t want to. But the taste of pregnancy and motherhood, even if so brief, was one I just had to taste again.
The tenth scar of infertility looks like desperation.
After my first son died, I then officially suffered from ‘secondary’ infertility. Secondary infertility is what happens when you suffer from infertility after the ‘successful’ birth of a child prior. Though he died, my son was full-term and perfect and I was in a different, uncharted territory as a woman still suffering from infertility even though she’d actually had a baby.
When we were able to get pregnant with my second son, who is now seven-years-old, we held our breath for every second of his pregnancy. A year after we had him, we spent a year desperately trying to bring a sibling to him, only to result in the miscarriage of another little boy at 15 weeks and several IVF cycles that took their toll on my body. After finding lumps in my breasts, my endocrinologists all agreed; I needed to stop trying so I could make sure the living son I had was not motherless.
The most permanent scar of infertility I wear is that of blunt acceptance.
I live a pretty amazing life. We are a military family with lots of adventures and I have wonderful friends and good support in so many different areas of my life. I find mothering the most incredible job in the world, and I am beyond grateful for the privilege, as it’s been hard fought for.
But while I work hard to let gratitude for my life and the lives of my children lead the way in all I say and do, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that still, nearly twenty years after we began trying to build our family, I’ve accepted that this is what it looks like on this earth and that’s not what I’d hoped for. I accept that it had nothing to do with me, or anything that I’ve done/not done, but it has left scars that still tingle sometimes when I hear another older mom is pregnant or that there are advances now that may have made our infertility journey less difficult.
I accept that my motherhood picture is messy and heartbreaking and beautiful and glorious. Some days I waffle more on the messy and heartbreaking, others I only soak in the beautiful and glorious. It just depends on what invisible scars rear their heads on any given day.