July 30, 2013 by Julia
I’m often curious about how it feels to be a mother to a different configuration of kids than my own. What is it like to have one five-year-old? Or six children under the age of twelve? What if those six were all girls, or all boys? Which would be harder?
Of course, these kinds of questions invite mass generalizations. Every parent has a different experience, even if the surface scenario is the same. But it’s interesting to compare our experiences, isn’t it? Not in a competitive way. More like a, “I’m thinking of trying for a fifth child…can you tell me what it’s like?” way. Or a, “I’ve been struggling with infertility. How did you cope before getting pregnant?” way.
So I’m going to share what it’s been like for me, in a four part series.
Part One: Infertility
Part Two: Having a First Child
Part Three: Having a Second Child
Part Four: Having a Girl and a Boy
And if you feel compelled to share any of your own parenting experiences in the comments as I go along, please do!
Dennis and I got married when he was twenty-five and I was twenty-four. We’d never lived together (shocking, I know!), and because we were still young, we decided to wait a while before starting a family. We traveled to England, enjoyed our jobs, and bought a house. After two and half years, we were ready to start trying for a kid.
I was excited. I thought, we’re ready for this next stage of life. Let’s do this! I thought I was relaxed. I thought we could control this part of our lives, just like other major choices, like going to college and finding a new job. I thought, after years of being on birth control, that once we went off, it would pretty much happen right away. You have this assumption that one slip-up is all it takes to get pregnant – which is true, sometimes! – but once you actually start trying to get pregnant, and it doesn’t happen that first month, it’s hard not to think: well, something must be wrong.
I was twenty-seven, and that first month of not getting pregnant upset me. I know that sounds ridiculous. But the fact that we couldn’t just make this happen, now that we’re ready had come as a shock to me. What would happen if I couldn’t get pregnant? Would I keep working forever? I’d wanted to stay home while the children were young. And in my case, work was not something that could ease the ache for a child. Would we undergo treatment? Adopt?
Yep, ALL of these questions sprung to mind just in that first month. And the anxiety intensified from there. I’d never been a hypochondriac, but now I was certain something was physically wrong. I read every article on infertility. By the third month, I was devastated every time I got my period.
But because we were young, and we hadn’t yet tried for a year, doctors said we should wait to be tested. So we let eleven months pass. And it was one of the hardest years of my life. This is what it felt like:
When well-meaning people told me not to worry, that I needed to relax, and that I would certainly have children, I did not believe them. I would smile and nod, but wanted to say, “You don’t know that I will ever get pregnant. Stop telling me this as though it’s a fact.” Each month was a countdown of dread. Often the worst part was telling Dennis when I got my period. It was horrible to always be the bearer of bad news, to see his disappointment and subsequent attempts to be strong for me while I broke down. If I tried to talk about it with my doctor or friends or family, I cried involuntarily, even in public, which is always really fun. Of course there were times during that year when having a baby wasn’t my main focus. But that desire was almost always in the background. And during the darkest days, when I was convinced all hope was lost, that desire crystallized into the purest form of sadness I’ve ever felt.
The need for a child was written into our biology and our souls. There was no villain to be angry with, no one to blame for our lack of a baby. And so it was just a sorrowful ache.
Finally at around the ten-month mark, my ob-gyn agreed that we should have conceived by then (especially given our young age). So Dennis and I both got tested, and went in to see the fertility doctor together for our results. We were shocked to learn that there were physical issues involved. Our doctor recommended treatment. There was some relief in being confirmed in my suspicions and forming a plan of action, but there was also a numb devastation in the realization that this infertility was real – not just a side effect of my anxiety.
I had to get a few more tests done. Just sitting in the waiting room at the reproductive center was hard. Women and couples of all ages filled the chairs at the early hour of 7 am, with varying degrees of discouragement or anxiety on their faces. Once, a woman arrived with a toddler boy in a stroller – the only child I ever saw in the waiting room. A visceral sense of how wrong she was to bring him struck me. I hated her. I sensed that everyone in the waiting room was aware of this child, shooting electricity into the air with his every movement, shaking us to our bones. I swore to myself that if I were lucky enough to have one child, I would never bring him here while trying to conceive a second. That day, as I drove home, I listened to Amy Winehouse’s “Love is Losing Game” on repeat as tears streamed down my face, somehow feeling that it applied to my situation. That trying to have a baby had become a game of chance, and we were doomed to lose.
One weekend stands out as the worst. It was about a month after we’d undergone testing. My emotions ran deep and dark; I was sobbing to my mom one morning, several days later I was sprawled on my bed in the dark, immobilized by sadness.
Early the next morning, I realized my period was a day or two overdue. I went to take a pregnancy test while Dennis slept. It was positive. I stared at it. We hadn’t undergone any sort of treatment yet – not even drugs. We had barely even given conception a thought the previous month, thinking it was impossible on our own. I went back to bed and whispered to Dennis, “Guess what?” When I told him, he asked, “How is it possible?” We formed a cocoon of wonder under the covers.
And I was filled with the most cautious, fearful hope I’ve ever felt. The anxiety about conceiving immediately turned to anxiety about the tiny life inside me. I was convinced that there was only about a 50% chance of me carrying the baby to full term, despite the fact that there was no indication of a high-risk pregnancy. I was healthy and did all of the things I was supposed to do. But the sheer worry seemed like it would explode my head. I didn’t know if I could handle it for nine months.
Yet the baby grew and grew, against all the pessimistic odds in my mind, and I allowed myself enough hope to start enjoying the adorable baby clothes and nursery preparation.
Still, my birth plan was this: hospital, doctors, do whatever you have to get her here safely, that’s it. I used up too much energy worrying about her health to expend any more on scented candles or having the right playlist. Three days past my due date, the contractions got bad enough that we drove through snow to the hospital at midnight.
I took the pain meds and was in labor for a long time. Eventually I was told I needed a c-section because labor wasn’t progressing.
Around 5:00 pm they pushed and pulled her out of me. My first words were, “She’s huge!” (9 lbs 10 oz, to be exact.) And when Fiona was out of my belly, in the world, it was like a mountainous burden had been lifted not only from my belly, but from my shoulders. I was floating; I was free from the worry and sadness that had plagued me for the past two years. She was lovely. She looked like a TV-show “newborn,” not a real, wrinkly newborn. I couldn’t believe she was really with us.
And it was super-hard in the way that first babies are, and every time I complained about the lack of sleep or the crying, I felt guilty, because I had wanted her so badly – how could I not enjoy every moment? But at the same time, there was never a doubt in our minds that this was what we’d truly wanted. That Fiona’s presence in our lives brought joy that could not have been brought any other way. And for a long time, whenever I heard that sad Amy Winehouse song, I thought back on the year of doubt, and I thanked God for giving us this amazing gift.
Even though I’d lacked any faith that she would ever come to us, she did.
We did want another child, and we once again went off birth control a little over a year after Fiona was born. This time it felt different, though. I wasn’t panicking, because we had a family. The three of us made a family, even if we couldn’t provide a sibling for Fiona. Dennis and I both wanted it to happen, but I felt at peace with just waiting it out. We had time. We’d managed to get pregnant on our own once, without treatment, so it could feasibly happen again. I didn’t want to put us through those nerve-wracking procedures, if we could avoid them. And I believed that everything would be okay, no matter what, even if I was disappointed with each month that passed.
A year and a half went by. Two of my closest friends got pregnant with their second; one had her daughter in the early summer. Dennis and I began to discuss seeking treatment in the New Year – it was nearing Christmas at the time.
And then, I was pregnant. (Spoiler alert! It was Jack.) And we got to tell our families on Christmas, and that was AWESOME. I held up the bottle of red wine my sister-in-law Destinee had gifted me and said, “Well, too bad I can’t drink this, because I’M PREGNANT.” And everyone stood up and cried, even my brothers because they’re softies like my dad, and they said BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.
This story has a happy ending. Few days go by where I don’t reflect on how lucky we are to have these two particular children. They are like our hearts walking around outside of our bodies, laughing and screaming and playing.
And if you are struggling with infertility, please know that I haven’t forgotten what it felt like. I don’t think a woman ever forgets that longing. But I also want you to know that if you want a family, you will have one. No one can predict how or when for sure, but I believe that if our bodies can’t find a way (which they often do, even against obstacles, because we’re built to make babies), the need to love and raise a child is strong enough to make a family in another way.