I've been lucky enough to facilitate an infertility support group in my town for the past two years. It's a small group, and we usually have only two or three women attend each month, and we meet in a local yoga studio. I like the intimacy that this lends to the group. It's a quiet, private environment that feels safe. Everyone is able to share and support. There's always a box of tissues in the center of our circle because we bring big big feelings to this place.
In this time, I've been struck by a theme that has emerged in our discussions. While we talk about the ins and outs of our cycles, diagnoses, and treatments with relative ease, we often come back to the fears that haunt us throughout this journey. They are deep and dark and relentless; and we feel we cannot escape them.
The fear of never being a mother. As time progresses, and we experience more and more failed cycles and negative pregnancy tests, it's only natural to wonder - "will I ever get pregnant?" Maybe for a few months we can stay positive, knowing we're still in the "normal" zone and can try again next month. But, at some point, and the negative pregnancy tests pile up and the fear creeps in. Maybe you sense that something isn't quite right with your body or with your partner. Maybe you see your friends and family getting pregnant easily; a little too easily, even. "Why isn't it happening for me?" As time moves on, maybe doctors enter our lives, drugs and procedures and surgeries and treatment cycles; with each one the stakes increase, and the fear grows. "Why isn't this working? What do I do?" We feel the reality that time and resources (emotional, financial, physical) are not infinite, and that at some point, we will have to stop. Baby, or no baby.
As horrifying as this fear of never being a mother can be, I've noticed it is a speakable fear. As hard as it is say the words "maybe this won't happen for me," at some point, most of us do. We share our fear, and hopefully, find people who understand it, and can hold us during these hard times. The fear of losing a partner; however, lurks in deeper, closed of places. It is unspeakable for many of us. (I know I never spoke about it until I was in support group.) If we are the ones diagnosed with the medical condition that results in infertility, we might feel broken. We might feel like it's our "fault" that we can't get pregnant. We might feel less-than. We might even tell our partners that they should leave us for someone who is fertile and escape this pain. (But, we really really don't mean that. We are just very very scared.) Deep down, we fear that we are so flawed and broken that we can't be loved. That the love we give our partners isn't enough to stand up to the loss of having biological children. We fear that our partners will leave us. And that they will have biological children with someone else. And we will be alone, and empty, and broken; forever.
Even if we do manage to get pregnant, we are not free of fear. The fear of losing a pregnancy haunts many of us for those 9 months. We are robbed of the daily joy of watching this miracle unfold within us, as we are possessed with the fear of losing it. We watch nervously as our betas rise. "Is it rising ENOUGH?" We panic if it seems that pregnancy symptoms are waning. "Why aren't I puking anymore??" We wait anxiously for each ultrasound, fearing the worst. We buy home dopler machines so we can check on the baby every time we feel the fear - where is the heart beat? We don't announce our pregnancy to family and friends in the ways we once imagined we would - what if it's gone tomorrow? We don't set up registries or a nursery. We shut down; paralyzed by the fear that what we've worked so hard for - sacrificed so much for - can all be gone in a moment. We wait and we wait and we wait for the pregnancy to be over, for this fear to cease, and to hold our babies, alive and wailing.
And recently, I found another fear triggered. The fear of losing my child. A member of my community recently lost their son, who was 14 months old. It was an unspeakable tragedy that struck everyone I know deeply, as we came together to support this family as they grieved a terrible, terrible loss. But, as an infertile woman and an adoptive mother, this loss triggered me in other ways. My motherhood was hard won, after four years of struggle and loss that changed me in every way imaginable. And, though I'm now lucky enough to parent an amazing little girl every day, the fear of losing her still lives deep within me.
We went through a year of loss when we realized that we could not get pregnant on our own. Then there was the loss of realizing that fertility treatments were not going to bring us our baby without a fight. The loss of miscarriage. And then, after our daughter was born, the fear that may not stay with us. We were asked to parent her from the day of her birth by her birth mother, an incredible gift that I still cannot describe. However, during the first five days of her life, while we held her and fed her and discovered every little thing about this beautiful new human, we had no legal claim to her. She was not ours, and we could have lost her at any moment. After her birth mother signed the papers releasing herself from parenting, we had another eight month phase before we would be legally secure in our family. While we were relatively confident that our family would stay in tact, the fear that it could all fall apart was ever-present. (This is not a criticism of the legal process, which I believe in and support. Biological parents need to have every opportunity to make the best decision for themselves and their children. That said, the emotional tole this takes on adoptive parents should not be overlooked.) I remember waiting for every court date, every update from our lawyer; counting every day until we could be secure and let go of our fear.
All of this adds up to a parenting perspective that is decidedly different than those who conceive without intervention, carry pregnancies to term, and deliver live, healthy babies. In the midst of grieving for our family friends, and honoring their son, I was suddenly struck by my persistent fear of losing my daughter. That moment where I realized, "oh, this is different for me" was intense. I was standing in my kitchen making lunch, and everything stopped. That's when I hit the wall and just sobbed. And later that week, at the memorial, when I saw another adoptive mother that I know, I sensed that she too was carrying a slightly different grief than the rest of our community. I could feel her fear, too. I hugged her a little bit longer, a little bit tighter.
I wish I had some sage words of advice to offer to everyone who is sitting with these fears, who are trying every day to walk through the world with these pains and burdens and wounds throbbing. I don't think there is an answer, and there is certainly no reassurance to be offered. The truth is, we don't know if we will ever be mothers until we are. We don't know if our relationships will survive infertility in tact. We can't know, G-d forbid, how long our children will be with us once we have them. We don't know how it's all going to end. And, some of us will learn that our fears were justified, and we will grieve those losses.
But we can talk about it. We can share it in safe spaces, like our blogs and twitter accounts. In therapy. At support group. And, then, maybe once the fears have eased a bit, and once we feel just a little bit safer and more secure, we can share it with the world. So everyone can understand what it means to experience infertility and how it changes everything about us. Hopefully, by speaking out about our fears, we can bring a little light into those dark spaces, hold hands with those who understand, and keep walking.