It was a Tuesday in April. The hospital room smelled the way that hospital rooms smell and I had an IV needle stuck in my arm like an arrow. There was a doctor sitting in the chair beside my bed, talking at me. I stared at him vacantly and wondered if he was speaking English. I wondered if he was making any sound at all. Maybe he was just mouthing words while he organized the papers on his clipboard. I wouldn't have known the difference.
A nurse came in and took out the IV and I changed back into my own clothes and dumbly followed my husband down the hallway, into the elevator, out the front doors. The sky was quieter and bigger and darker than usual, like it knew. We didn't say anything more about baby names or whose parents we should call first or how our house wasn't big enough for three people.
Because there were only two of us. And even though there had always only been two of us, it suddenly felt like someone was missing. Like there was a giant hole in the living room floor that I hadn't noticed before. It could swallow me up, I thought.
That was where it started. I hadn't wanted to be pregnant, but then I'd come around to the idea, and then I'd been really excited, and then it was over. These things just happen so fast. It flipped a switch in my brain though, and suddenly all I wanted was a baby. We started trying.
A few months passed, then a few more. I became suspicious. More months. I went from simply expecting that I would see the little pink plus sign, to hoping I would see it, to knowing I wouldn't. I had a friend who'd been trying to conceive for seven years. I watched her journey first with pity, then with dread, feeling like I was being granted a peek into my own future. A year passed, and then another one.
It suddenly seemed like everyone around me was pregnant. They came in a rash of excited announcements, like falling dominoes: all three of my sister-in-laws, my best friend, the friend who'd been trying for so long, ten other close friends all in a row, and then...everyone else. It wasn't a conspiracy, I was just at that age. I hugged people and congratulated them and tried so hard to feel genuinely happy for them. Then I went home and cried and felt like an awful person for crying and cried some more.
We kept it to ourselves at first. We didn't tell anyone about that April day in the hospital or any subsequent visits there or the endless doctor's appointments or the procedures or the specialists. But then people started asking why we didn't have kids, and didn't we want kids? And when were we thinking we might start trying? So, out of resignation and some kind of weird self preservation, I began admitting to people, starting with those closest to me and then to all of the disquisitive inhabitants of the world, that yes, we were trying but no, it didn't seem to be working.
It was surprisingly hard to explain to people why this was so hard. They liked to remind me that there was always a chance. That this was fairly common and that many people couldn't get pregnant right away. And that everything happens for a reason and that I should enjoy my freedom and sleep now while I had it and and and and
and so on.
It's a weird kind of wound, one that is constantly being picked open. Like a cut on the bottom of your foot - how do you avoid thinking about it when every time you take a step, there it is? You can't stop walking, but the pain is almost unbearable. So you limp and wince and make an attempt to grin and bear it and the people around kind of forget about it, even if they love you and mean well. It's just not on their mind the way that it's on yours because why should it be? You can't blame them.
But I thought about it daily. Hourly. I thought about never being called Mom. I thought about no one to take care of. I thought about no grand-babies for my parents. I thought about holidays and vacations, just the two of us. I thought about being left behind as my friends and family all stepped into this new world without me. I thought about not knowing what it was like to feel a baby kick inside my swollen belly.
It's strange grief, for a death that hasn't happened yet. As the months tick by, the dream of motherhood lies on its deathbed and time marches with alarming speed toward a time when all of your chances are used up. But at some point, you start to feel awkward about it, like it should be old news and like it shouldn't bother you anymore. You hate being the infertile one, the one people feel they have to tiptoe around, the one who cries in the bathroom at baby showers after one too many insensitive comments. So there's embarrassment and maybe guilt too. It's strange grief.
I remember one day where I had an uncomfortable, invasive, and unsuccessful procedure in the morning and hosted a baby shower that evening. There were lots of days like that. Sometimes I handled it, sometimes I didn't. I won't pretend like I did this whole thing well. I tried.
A note for those still on this journey: I know it's hard, and I know it doesn't get easier. I wish I could guarantee you success, but all I can guarantee you is that you're not alone. Be okay to cry and call it grief - it's legitimate. Don't feel guilty or embarrassed about it. Be honest with the people around you. Try to learn to share in their joy - this is a very valuable life skill - but don't be afraid to ask them to share in your pain too.
If I could go back a few years and tell myself only one thing, it wouldn't be that someday I would have a baby. It would be that no matter how this all turns out, this time of wanting and waiting and hoping is so valuable. That's all. It's a life lesson for all stages, no matter if what you're waiting for is a baby, or a partner, or a job, or a train. This is an opportunity to grow, to learn, to experience joy that's not dependent on life circumstances. To experience relationships that are rich and honest and to experience the freedom in realizing how little control you actually have over your life.
My own experience with infertility ended on May 24, 2013 at exactly 2:30 am. I woke up and was consumed by the thought that I felt different. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but I gave into it. I laid there and cried. It was confirmed in the morning with a pregnancy test, and I cried some more. I sat on the floor but it felt like I was sitting on a mountain summit, looking down at where I had come from. I was exhausted, and exhilarated, and completely in shock. Proud and humbled at the same time, knowing that I had come a long way but knowing that I hadn't done it alone.
I hadn't known when I started this climb how long it would take, or how hard it would be. Or how much I would learn and grow and be stretched and changed. Or how beautiful the view would be from up here. But as I sat there I decided that this moment was well worth the journey. That's the thing about mountains, I guess. People wouldn't go through all that work to climb them if there wasn't something amazing at the end.
I put a hand on my belly and said, "Hello."