I always knew I couldn’t reproduce. I’m not sure at what age I realized it, perhaps it was in my mid-20s. Later, I doubted it was true. I didn’t want it to be true. I challenged it. I made decisions based on the possibility that my gut feeling was mistaken.
I married. I stayed married when I wanted to leave. I stayed married all the times I wanted to leave. We tried on our own for over a year. When it didn’t happen naturally, I wanted to adopt a child from foster care. My husband wanted to try infertility treatments, he told me that he wanted us to have a child that was a part of both of us. I was touched by the sweetness with which he said this. I always wanted to believe in him, but it was more like a willing suspension of disbelief.
I admit it, I thought a baby would make me happy in my marriage. I thought a baby would make me happy in general. Also, I wanted a child my whole life. I thought about raising a daughter as I was growing up; it was how I coped with what I found unhappy in my childhood.
So, I agreed to infertility treatment. We were tested. He was fine-ish, 10 years older than me, still producing basically average swimmers in average numbers. He acted like he had gold medal sperm, and I watched his ego puff up after we got the results.
I had fibroids and a cervical polyp. I had two operations ― one major, one minor. I had hormone shots and several intrauterine inseminations (IUI ). At first, the hormones were mid-range strength. But when three of these attempts failed, the big guns were brought out. We were going to try IVF/ART. I was given the maximum strength hormones. It took the sperm donor, I mean my former husband, a half an hour to mix all of the vials into the syringe before he injected me.
I had to go to the doctors regularly during all of these procedures. There was constant “wanding,” which is also known as a transvaginal ultrasound to view my ovaries and follicles. There were frequent blood tests and constant fretting over my hormone levels. Months and months became years of testing, wanding, shots, blood letting. It was really violent. My body was so poked and prodded; it was under constant assault.
There was nothing wrong with me reproductively. All I had was something called, “advance maternal age.” I was 40 at the point I could see a good infertility doctor. The journey had begun late, we had bad insurance, and went to a sub-par clinic initially. But throughout the process, I had good ovarian reserve, but my antral follicles — or resting follicles just stayed asleep each month, that was the problem. Even on super-strength hormones, I failed to produce enough eggs for us to go forward with IVF. We had a final compromise IUI. I was labeled a “poor responder.”
The would-be-not baby dad only wanted to try IVF once, he announced in advance. He felt that more would be too much “for him.” He never asked me how I felt about his decision. And it seemed to me, his work in the baby quest was a lot less intrusive and probably a lot more pleasurable than mine. By this point, I had been living for reproduction for two and half years. I was an active infertility blogger, hoping to graduate to a mommy blogger. But I would never travel to that higher blogger circle.
When the last treatment failed, and failed very quickly after the treatment, I couldn’t be with my husband. I was in pain, and I was angry at him. In some ways, I blamed him for all of my pain, the trying, the failing, all those difficult years. Sure, it was my choice, too. I wasn’t forced into anything, but reeling from hormones and sadness, I blamed him. I blamed him for taking away any more chances for success too. Comfort was not something I could imagine finding with him, for many reasons. So, I ran away from home and went to Washington, D.C. I spent three days walking through all of the art museums in town.
I walked all day, for days, with this lump in my throat. I couldn’t cry. Crying was physically painful. Every tear brought a strong pain to my throat. I had to cry in small doses because more than that would physically hurt too much. I had never experienced any such painful tears like those before, or since, and I hope I never will. It was the worse pain of my life. I lost a child I never felt grow inside me and never would. I lost a child I would never hold and name. I lost a child I would never see play or hear laugh. My loss was entirely invisible and also it was also very real. I knew no one would understand it or equate it with the loss of an actual child. My pain was my own, deep and solitary. There would be no Isabella, no Douglas. No one would ever call me “Mommy.”
A few months later, the battle with infertility was replaced with the adoption quest (and post-infertility counseling). Sometimes I want to smack people who say, “you could just adopt”, because it’s really not easy at all.And, the absolute worst thing you can say is, “oh, if you adopt, you’ll get pregnant”. It happens, but rarely. It’s not a reason to adopt. It’s not like, oh adopt and you’ll be rewarded with a baby of yourown as if the adopted child were any less real or less valuable. Adoption is not an infertility treatment and it’s not second best. It’s another way you can growing your family and from what I’ve seen, it’s a very beautiful way.
I lost a child I never felt grow inside me and never would. I lost a child I would never hold and name.
We attempted to chart an adoption course. My heart was always with adopting a child from foster care. My ex-husband was always on edge about the idea. He pushed for foreign adoption. It took me a long time to realize he only wanted a white baby. Not because he was racist as much as because he couldn’t stand the thought of being in a conspicuous family. No, he didn’t say that exactly, but what he told me was close enough. And it wasn’t that he wasracist, but he did make that comment about not wanting to deal with rap music. . . I spent a lot of years with a man I never knew and when I saw who he was, it was quite an unhappy revelation.
So, for a while it was foreign adoption, but we never filled out our applications, and when I say “we”, of course, I mean “I”. My heart wasn’t there. It was an ethical quagmire and for me. I didn’t like the idea of taking someone away from their birth culture even if that culture had rejected them. It just didn’t feel right for me. Foreign adoption is right for other people and I am happy for those people and those families, it wasn’t a fit for me. It scared me. I won the battle on adopting from foster care.
We were actually in the middle of our home study when it became evident that my husband didn’t want to adopt at all. He made it impossible to go forward with the plan. And that’s when our dead marriage stopped doing its zombie walk. It was a relief, I had spent a lot of years trying not to hate the man I was married to and I ended up hating myself in the process.
After my divorce, the pain of not having that child still lingered and then, in time, it faded away. When the dust cleared, I realized I was happy that I didn’t have a child. I was able to have single woman adventures. I have a wonderful stepson I raised. He was in college when the infertility treatment began. It would have been a long stretch of parenting if I had brought another child into my life, and it would have kept me tied to a man I wasn’t happy with.
My stepson was eight when he came into my life. Part of what fueled my baby quest was that I was sad I didn’t know what he was like when he was younger. I felt sad that I never saw his first steps, heard his first words, or felt him fall asleep in my arms. Part of the reason I wanted a child was to capture those missing years from my stepson’s life. And you know what? I’m not sure how much I wanted a child versus how much my biological programming drove me.
I wish someone had told me the truth about infertility treatment before I started out on the path. Sure, for some it’s easy and it works. Drastic measures aren’t always necessary. Science is always evolving. But it’s also true that it is invasive, painful, stressful and difficult. It’s a tormenting hormonal roller coaster. There is so much hope and then so much disappointment, every single month.
My feelings about myself were painful during my infertility journey. I felt unworthy and inadequate. I felt ashamed. I felt less womanly. Once I got on that ride, it took me places I never knew I would go. I lost all perspective.
I wonder if it might have been easier had I not gotten involved in the infertility blogging circles. That really heightened the drama of it all. There was not just my pain, but the pain of dozens of other women I shared. And then, when someone had success, there was always a mix of happiness and sadness — that woman would become lost to you because it was too hard to read about the progress of her pregnancy. No matter how long I read her blog or how much we interacted, I had to say goodbye, and so did so many other women still caught up in the struggle.
The infertility bloggers would graduate into various groups. Those continuing the battle, perhaps with a surrogate or donor eggs. Those who achieved pregnancy. Those who move on to adoption. The women who decided to be childless just disappeared. I knew nothing of their journeys.
I had gotten so close to these women. I met them in person. They even sent me a care package when my last treatment failed. I am grateful for their support, but now I wonder what decisions I might have made had I not been so involved in that blogging community. I was so fully immersed in the baby quest. I am not sure I made my decisions fully independently.
What if I had considered what it would mean to be childless as a positive rather than how I saw it then — an unthinkable and horrible fate?
I didn’t have to have a child. I really didn’t think about that option. I was so driven to procreate, I couldn’t even consider what it would be like not to have a child. Or in my case, a child in addition to my stepson — who did live with us. It didn’t occur to me that there could be any positives in not having another child. And the truth is, I feel that it’s okay to be barren. It’s not a medical condition that has to be cured. I wish I had realized that at the start of my journey rather than at the end.
I know the pain of not having a child when I wanted one. It is deep and profound. I do not wish this pain on anyone. I am just left wondering, thinking back, what if I had considered what it would mean to be childless as a positive rather than how I saw it then — an unthinkable and horrible fate?
I might have worked on my marriage or I might have divorced years earlier. Sometimes the story book version of life just doesn’t fit and that’s okay. I wish I had given myself the space to write my own story. Perhaps I would have made all the same choices. But it would have been nice to see childlessness as a valid and potentially happy option along with infertility treatments and adoption. Looking back, I see it didn’t have to be so all or nothing.
Of course, it goes without saying: a baby is no way to save an unhappy marriage. Sometimes we tell ourselves lies in a marriage and then we forget they are lies, or we don’t see them very clearly because life offers so many distractions. And then, there is love or the memory of love.
Most of all, I took my marriage vows very seriously, I put them above my own happiness which was my mistake. I was happy to be released from those vows, and my lies. In time, I was happy that I was free of all commitments and I was happy I had only myself to look after. It was challenging to think of myself first and take care of myself instead of others, it still is, but it’s a happy challenge. Being barren gave me the gift of myself.
Copyright 2016 by A. Breslin