For some, getting pregnant comes without any special skill. No charting, no testing, no pills, needles or third parties required. But for others, 1 in 8 couples of reproductive age, things just aren’t so simple.
April 19-25 is National Infertility Awareness Week. It’s no coincidence that the week falls shortly before Mother’s Day, perhaps the most heart-wrenching day for those struggling with infertility.
I feel crushed by guilt writing this, as my daughter plays with crayons in the corner of the room. I feel guilty because I have a child after all of this, and while today’s medicine means there is not much we can’t do, for some reading this your day has not yet come and I can’t guarantee that it will come. I feel guilty because even though my prayers were answered and I have the precious daughter I longed for, I want more than just one. My personal experience may be far less complex than some of yours, but, as articulated beautifully in a post by a fellow writer and momma, I do know all too well the pain, anger, and loneliness that infertility brings.
What is Infertility?
For those lucky enough not to have dealt with infertility first hand, infertility is defined by The International Committee for Maintaining Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART) as “a disease characterized by the inability to establish a clinical pregnancy after 12 months of regular, unprotected sex, or due to an impairment of a person’s capacity to reproduce as an individual or with his or her partner.” More detail from Mayo Clinic’s website elaborates that female factor infertility and male factor infertility each contribute to 1/3 each of cases, and a combination of both female and male factor infertility or unexplained infertility makes up the remainder of cases.
But what is it really?
For those actually going through it — probably in silence and afraid to share what they’re dealing with — it’s more than just a clinical definition or diagnosis.
It’s fear. Fear of not knowing what’s wrong, why your body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. When sometimes even doctors can’t tell you what’s wrong. It’s fear of not living the life you’d envisioned, being forever stuck waiting and hoping. It’s fear of letting down your partner or the rest of your family. It’s a fear of loss. Fear of another failed try or another failed treatment. Fear of exhausting your funds and not having anything to show for it.
It’s isolation. It’s secrecy and loneliness. It’s not being ready to share the details of why you aren’t pregnant yet with well-meaning friends or family. It’s a stigma attached to talking about your menstrual cycle or your partner’s sperm count. It’s having to tell people politely you’re just not ready to have a family yet when you’ve been ready for years. It’s an insurmountable weight on your shoulders that you feel you can’t share with anyone. It’s canceling plans because you can’t fake being happy at that moment, or face seeing your pregnant friends, or face going somewhere where there’ll be children.
It’s sadness. It’s crying alone on the bathroom floor when your period comes, or another pregnancy test comes back with a stark white window. It’s holding back tears when another friend announces their pregnancy. It’s feeling like you’ve been slapped in the face when you open your Facebook and see another ultrasound photo getting all the likes and congrats you’ve longed for. It’s a dark pit of sadness and hopelessness that you feel like you’ll never climb out of. It’s throwing yourself an all-out pity party, then picking yourself up and moving on to the next month.
It’s anger. Anger at yourself and your body for failing. Anger at your partner. Anger at other moms having what you want so badly. It’s anger at the healthcare system for not covering your fertility treatments. Anger at God. Anger at well-meaning friends who’ll tell you some cliché, like “just relax and it’ll happen” or that “everything happens for a reason.”
It’s jealousy. It’s an unwanted knee jerk reaction of bitterness when everyone around you gets effortlessly pregnant. It’s wondering irrationally if the stork is going to run out of babies before he gets to you. It’s wondering why you see moms with six kids while you can’t seem to even have one.
It’s uncertainty. It’s not knowing how or when or if it will happen? Wondering if you’ll ever see two pink lines on a test? wondering if you’ll ever hear another heartbeat inside you? If you’ll ever feel a tiny foot kicking you from the inside? If you’ll ever feel two tiny hands wrap around you and hug you and call you mommy? For me, as I approach the magical 12-month mark again, it’s wondering if time will run out for me, wondering if my daughter will ever have a sibling, wondering if her every “first” will be my last and wondering if I’ll have to compromise my lifelong dream of a big, messy, loud family for infertility.
I can’t promise everyone will get the happy ending they dream of and deserve. I know there are many different ways to become a mother. Many different treatments, many different paths to take. But I hope for everyone reading this, who are waiting, hoping and struggling with infertility that there will be brighter days ahead, whatever those look like for you. I want you to know that you’re not alone and that you shouldn’t lose hope.
To those of you who haven’t experienced infertility, be gentle with others. Be kind, be forgiving and lend a listening ear. Be there for your friends or loved ones going through this in whatever capacity they need. You never know what sort of battle others may be fighting.