2016 was supposed to be the year of the baby.
I had always felt impartial about the topic of children, taking a “sure, maybe one day” mentality. I was never the type of who stopped in the street to ogle a newborn, and I never looked at a woman’s swollen belly and felt incomplete. I’d heard countless women say that you just know when you are ready, and I assumed that those women were full of crap – they were the type of women who were born to be mothers, I was not. My 20’s drifted by and the mothering urge never kicked in, it never felt like the right time. But then one day I woke up one day at age 29 and it was like a switch had flipped: it was time. I needed a baby, like, yesterday.
So it was decided that 2016 would be the year of the baby. Like most people, I was under the assumption that getting pregnant was going to be easy – isn’t that what we are taught in Sex Ed? So I naively thought around Christmastime last year that by this Christmas I’d either have a baby or expecting. Except, as the year draws to a close, there is something noticeably absent from my belly and our lives. 2016 was supposed to be the year of the baby, and it is not.
While most of our family and friends know what we are going through, I haven’t posted anything publicly about this struggle, if for no other reason than writing about it makes it so… real. It felt like if I didn’t type out those words, then it wasn’t really happening to us- that the tests and the pills and the appointments and the disappointments weren’t real.
I came to the slow realization that there is already such a stigma surrounding infertility, and my NOT talking about it only exacerbates the problem. Bottling it up inside only makes me feel more terrible, and it does nothing to help anyone who is suffering in the same childless silence. So many women feel like they are walking around with scarlet letter “I” on their chests, and if nothing else this post is for them: you are not alone.
Last weekend I had a conversation with someone who has been trying IVF for several years now; we each lamented how in spite of having supportive spouses, families, and friends it still feels like such a personal struggle. Like we are somehow defective as women because we can’t do the one thing that we are biologically designed to do. It’s so easy to look at the situation objectively when it is someone else’s problem, and so hard to be rational when it’s your own. I would never tell a friend, “If only you hadn’t made all those comments as a teenager about how you are NEVER having children, you’d have one by now!” and yet, I catch myself thinking this all the time.
Last Friday afternoon, I saw no less than four birth announcements on Facebook and in spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t help but feel a tightening in my throat as I looked at those sonogram pictures and baby bumps. Why hasn’t it happened yet? Again while wandering aimlessly around Barnes & Noble looking for book for Brendan, I found myself unexpectedly standing in front of the pregnancy section, hardcover edition of The Expectant Father staring me down and daring me not to burst into a very ugly cry in a very public place. Why hasn’t it happened yet? While shopping for baby clothes for my nephew and feeling the familiar pull at my heartstrings. Why hasn’t it happened yet?
I think this time of year is especially hard. Endless pictures of cherubic looking kids on Santa’s lap. Tiny Christmas outfits on display at Target. Every mail delivery bringing the possibility of another “Baby’s First Christmas!” card. Well-intentioned friends and relatives unfailingly asking questions or offering unsolicited advice:
“So, have you guys thought about having kids any time soon?”
Only every single day.
“If you just stopped thinking about it so much, it would happen!”
Isn’t that just a thinly-veiled way of saying that this is somehow my fault?
“Have you tried _____?”
“You don’t need a child to be complete.”
Then why does it feel like a piece of me is missing?
It’s strange how you can want people to stop asking about it because it’s so nosy, and yet you also want them to keep asking because talking about it feels like removing the heavy anchor of grief from around your neck and giving it to someone else to hold on to for a while.
I think the best thing to say to someone who is struggling infertility -with any shitty situation, really – is: “I’m sorry that you are going through that.” And if you are going through a shitty situation, I think the best thing you can do is realize that even though it may seem like it, the universe isn’t conspiring against you. When you can’t have what you desire, life has a way of reminding you about it at least 1,000 times a day.
I don’t want to be the person who hears someone else’s exciting news and immediately sees my own shortcomings, as if there is a limited supply of good fortune and happiness to go around and someone is dipping in to my stash. I don’t want to be the person who is too afraid to say, “you know, this really sucks and I wish I didn’t feel alone”, as if the better option was to instead become an emotional recluse. That isn’t the type of person I would want to be want to be around, and it isn’t a good way to live. So I’m setting it free, putting it out there instead of internalizing it.
Christmas this year will not be spent with a newborn, nor will it be spent with morning sickness and cankles. Christmas will be spent cherishing the many gifts that we DO have, rather than wishing for the one thing that we don’t have. Focusing on the present is all that we can do, and if nothing else, infertility teaches that lesson well.
2016 was not the year of the baby and 2017 will not take the title either. Declaring it to be is only planting the seed for more disappointment. Instead, 2017 will be the year of humbly accepting that life doesn’t give a shit about your guidelines or timeline.