However, being an infertile mom can feel a bit fuzzy, as if you don't quite belong in either the infertile community or in the mom's club. In a way you almost feel guilty for enjoying your new motherhood, like "you've turned your back on the other infertile women who are still in the trenches of their own personal war." This article explains it perfectly - "Infertility froze us in time – while everyone else’s life was progressing, we were stuck in Groundhog Day. Until we did, indeed, have a miracle child. I was “in” now, the way a makeover might suddenly turn a geeky adolescent into the popular girl. All the doors that were closed to me were now open. I felt like Cinderella at the ball – but that included feeling that my true identity was a secret. None of the other moms I met knew anything about my past life, and after discussing the circumstances of their babies’ conceptions (surprise pregnancies, planning for the season of the birth, positive pregnancy tests a month after the honeymoon) I wasn’t sure they could relate."
The pain of infertility is not cured by motherhood. While you no longer feel that desperate ache for a child, some of the grief of your childless years remains with you. You feel like you have no right to those feelings anymore, though, because you know exactly how your infertile friends would react. You've been in their place and you might have even had the same thoughts at some point. "Why does it bother you so much? You have a baby. You were even able to carry and give birth to one. Try wasting thousands of dollars on a failed IVF before you complain." You also fear your fertile friends and family wouldn't understand, and you feel it would be selfish to dampen their spirits by expressing how their ease in conception brings painful memories back to you. It hurts to learn that something which brings you so much joy could bring grief to someone else, so I always did my best to focus on the beauty of the situation and chose not to burden anyone with my ongoing struggles.
I have to admit, though, I'm not always able to focus on the positive. Even with an adorable 2 year old boy and a baby girl only 4 weeks away, I recently found myself holding back tears, lamenting an experience infertility had forever robbed me of having. Fortunately I was able to work through those feelings rather quickly, but I berated myself a bit for letting it get to me as much as it did. I know how wonderful motherhood is, so what kind of a selfish person am I to think about myself instead of immediately celebrating someone else's good news?
While I was pregnant with Tyler I wrote these infertility posts in order to help give hope to those who are struggling and to educate those around them on how they could "mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." Sharing my story helped those scars close up and let true healing begin, but for years afterwards I was still missing something vital. I couldn't yet rejoice with those that rejoiced. Baby showers and pregnancy announcements remained incredibly difficult for me unless they came from someone I'd known had also struggled to conceive. It was hard not to resent seeing women get pregnant so effortlessly, though I always put on a happy face, which I don't necessarily believe is a bad thing. Although I think it's emotionally harmful to deny your negative feelings, there's nothing wrong with putting them away until you're in a better place to face them. Many of these joyous announcements came from people I loved. I didn't want my own lingering grief to disrupt their happiness, even if I wasn't able to share in that happiness with them. I couldn't really be happy for them because I hadn't yet reached that point of healing, but deep down I wanted to be, and I knew that that's what God would want from me. To me it was an act of faith that one day He would help me find that place where I could be.
Here's a little family background. Oscar is the 2nd of six children. In February of 2006 he was the first of them to get married. The rest of the siblings are all married now, but at the time of our wedding they were either too young or didn't have any potential prospects. Since we didn't know that 6 years of infertility were in store for us, I was sure we would be the first to provide grandchildren and nieces and nephews for the Hunt family. Oscar's mom is the oldest of nine, so I also assumed we would be the first to have great-grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews for the Flinders family.
Within my own family around this time, my brother and his wife had been trying to get pregnant for about 7 months. I teased my brother that we might get pregnant before he did. As it turned out, they actually got pregnant a few weeks later with my nephew Ethan. A couple years down the road when they decided to try for children again, they quickly conceived twin girls. I was super excited to have a nephew and two more nieces, but I felt disappointed not to be able to provide cousins for them. If Oscar and I had been able to get pregnant after first getting married, our child would have been the exact same age as Ethan and only 2 years younger than my sister's daughter Hana. Part of me still mourns the vacations they might have had together. I can picture the three of them getting into all kinds of mischief with each other while Mike, Lia, and I shared our funny parenting stories. As it is my siblings have now taken medical procedures to keep from having anymore children, and they recently teased me for preventing the possibility of an adult only siblings vacation with my continued spawning. But hey, they gave me adorable nieces and nephews to dote on all those years. Now it's my turn to give back once their kids have outgrown their cuteness. ;)
As for Oscar's side, the eldest of his sisters married the year after we did and had her first two boys by 2011. I'd missed out on having the first grandchild, but by this point Oscar's other set of grandparents had 17 great-grandsons and still no great-granddaughters. I held out hope that we could be the first in the family to have a girl, especially now that we'd started going to a fertility clinic. That didn't work out either. After our three failed IUI procedures we learned Emily was now pregnant with a girl. As for great grandchildren on the Flinders side, I think Tyler ended up being #7.
These days this does not matter to me in the slightest. I look back and think "why the heck did I care so much about being the first?" My inlaws certainly don't love my child any less because of the order he came in, and if anything everyone was that much more excited for his birth because they knew everything we'd gone through to have him. When I was in the grips of infertility, though, these little things I'd looked forward to and missed out on hit me very hard. While the deepest wound came from not being able to have children, those little things were like rubbing a bit of salt on it. The more the wound was open, the more they stung, but at least the sting was only temporary.
After we had Tyler and I'd experienced the miracle of birth and the creation of new life, I assumed I'd be thrilled for anyone else to have that same experience. This was tested about 3 months in when we went down to Utah to visit our families. We were taking some family pictures out in the yard when Oscar's younger brother Phil and his wife Sharlie made a surprise pregnancy announcement. While we were posing for our final picture, the photographer (who secretly was actually video recording) said "1,2,3 Sharlie's pregnant!" Of course everyone was delightfully surprised and thrilled for them, but as much as I wanted to participate in the joy, I wasn't there yet. I was stuck in resentment that yet another couple was able to get pregnant in their youth without difficulty. I think I smiled, said a quick congratulations, then deliberately busied myself with taking care of Tyler. I knew my feelings were unkind, and deep down I really wanted to be happy for them, so I latched onto the random coincidence that Troy's due date was actually on my birthday. When I'd be reminded about it by say, my mom reading about their pregnancy on Facebook, I could respond "yes, and he's due on my birthday. Isn't that cool?" In my family we have a bit of a tradition of sharing birthdays with extended relatives. My birthday is the same as my dad's aunt Mary, my brother's is the same as dad's cousin Vonnie, and my nephew's is the same as my cousin Justin. It was fun to think about maybe getting to carry on that tradition, and that helped get me back into a positive mindset. The awesome thing about happiness is that it has the tendency to expand. Finding a source of that happiness ultimately helped me work through any remaining negativity. By the time Troy was born I was genuinely happy for their family, though Troy and I didn't end up sharing a birthday (he was two days late). I loved seeing the pictures Sharlie posted to Facebook and looking for the little resemblances between him and Tyler as newborns. We got to meet Troy a few months later, and of course, he was adorable. It's always nice to meet a baby who's just mastered smiling and giggling.
Many women are able to get pregnant on their own after a successful IVF, like they just needed to get the tap going and then their body figured out what to do. I held out hope that this would happen to me, but by about Spring of 2014 it became clear that successful pregnancy had not magically fixed my inability to conceive. This reopened the wound a bit right about the time we learned that Emily was pregnant with baby #4. At the same time a friend I grew up with who'd married merely a month before I did already had 5 children with one more on the way. I have always wanted a large family. Seeing people get large families at such a young age always stung a little because I didn't think I ever could. Doing the IVF at the relatively young age of 30 gave me one baby and possibly one more. Though my insurance offered me two more covered rounds of IVF, my eggs had been slow to grow on the 1st cycle, and I figured they would only get worse as I aged. I'd also recently read an article saying fertility actually starts declining earlier than scientists had thought. Instead of the initial decline starting at 35, they now says it starts around 32. At that point I was 32 and would be nearly 33 by the time my insurance would cover another round of IVF.
Fortunately, though, I didn't find myself resenting their ease in conception. I was happy for them, and I was happy for Tyler to now have two younger cousins that were a bit closer to his age than his older ones. We were in Utah for Oscar's family reunion in July of that year, and Emily was due a couple days after we were scheduled to leave. She ended up being induced a few days early, so we were able to enjoy meeting and holding little Bonnie in the hospital just before we took off. She felt so tiny. I had a hard time believing Tyler was ever that size, though Bonnie actually weighed a bit more than he did at birth. I felt no bitterness. It's hard to feel anything but love and joy while you're holding a brand new baby. Birth is one of those things that's always miraculous in spite of how common it is.
That December we were able to do our 2nd IVF and had better results than I could have dreamed. It was clear that the scientists were right when we ended up with only 5 embryos rather than our previous 8, but to our surprise I got pregnant with one of them and two more were able to join our first little frostie in the cryogenic cooler. Since our insurance still covers one more IVF attempt, that gives us a potential of having 5+ children! This opened up an option that I thought was forever lost to us. We now have some level of choice on how large we'd like our family to be. We could use that last covered attempt and try to conceive more embryos, or we could use it to transfer one of our little frosties. Having a large family is now a real possibility for us, and we now get to decide if we want to aim for 3-4 or if we should shoot for 5-6.
Now I felt I could fully celebrate hearing pregnancy announcements since we will likely make more ourselves. Now I could stop feeling bitter about people with large families because I was no longer being deprived of having one of my own. My infertility wasn't going to hurt me anymore. When my inlaws came up at the beginning of June, I had fun speculating with my mother in law on how many more grandchildren she thought they'd have. I remember holding back from asking if she knew if any of the siblings were trying for a/another baby or when they planned to start (after going through infertility you learn never to ask that question. It's far too personal whether you're having difficulty conceiving or not). I looked forward to Oscar's siblings having children - a big extended family for my own children to play with whenever we visited Utah. I have 40 cousins on my mom's side, and I have fond memories of family Chistmas parties and big family get togethers with them. I'm glad my own children will be able to have that experience too. I was in prime position to be ecstatic about the next family pregnancy announcement.
Turns out I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Admittedly, though, I was in a much better position. The negative feelings weren't nearly as intense as they've been in the past, and I was able to work through them much more quickly. I had definitely come a long way, but I wasn't healed yet. There was still a bit of bitterness for having missed out on the way I'd planned my life would go. Time and improved circumstances can help close up wounds, but without proper treatment they can easily be reopened. Lasting healing comes through taking upon ourselves the Atonement of Christ. I had received His comfort and assurances, and those burdens had been lightened considerably, but I was still carrying them around. I hadn't yet laid them at His feet and let go of any lingering pain. I still needed to come to a place of complete trust in Him. I would continue feeling pain until I could stop seeing my infertility as some sort of injustice or punishment that I hadn't deserved. The Lord chose to give me this trial because He could forsee that I and others would benefit from it in a way that we wouldn't have otherwise. While I had come to accept the Lord's plan and had faith that it could bring me happiness, I was still holding onto the idea that my original plan would have been better. My faith had grown, but it was incomplete.
About a month ago, we got an email from Oscar's sister with a link to a video called "Our First Year in Review...And a Surprise." Oscar had already watched it on his phone downstairs, and in obvious excitement he called out to me upstairs to watch it. I sat down at the upstairs computer and opened up my email. The "and a surprise" part was cut off in the video preview within the email, so I didn't realize it was a pregnancy announcement until partway in when Melissa talks about being extra tired and nauseated. She decides to give her husband the good news by asking him to fold the laundry. Inside the laundry were a bunch of white newborn onesies and a positive pregnancy test. It's an adorable, well made video, and I love the cute way she surprised him. I also find it hilarious that Matthew totally missed the white onesies. I think my own husband would have done the same.
In reality, Oscar doesn't actually care about missing out on any of that. The idea that we were denied something we'd deserved is all in my own head. We have our own unique stories to tell about our own unique situation. When I learned the good news we'd been waiting and praying nearly 7 years for, I had to tell my husband as soon as possible. Of course he knew about all the labwork, so he was anticipating an answer, and it would have been cruel to lie and tell him we weren't pregnant just so I could hold out for some intricate surprise. I also remember fondly how thrilled I was to get the voicemail that both of our questionable embryos had reached viability, and then running out of the gym bathroom to find Oscar and let him know. For the next 1/4 mile he ran nearly at top speed without it tiring him. The guy next to him on the treadmill looked very confused about what the good news was since I was using technical terms like "extended blastocyst." In hindsight I realize those negative feelings are less about having missed out on a special experience and more about a lingering attachment to my original plans for our family.
At the end of the video, there was a link to another one called "Our Decision to Have a Baby." In it Matthew and Melissa talk about originally using birth control with the intent to do so until Melissa was done with school. As time passed they each felt prompted to stop the birth control, and Matthew had a specific impression that once they did, they would get pregnant. They stopped the birth control and became pregnant at the earliest opportunity.
I sat there at the computer for a few minutes, breathing hard and slightly shaking, not knowing what to think. More than anything I felt blindsighted by the complete conflict of emotion taking over my mind. I was feeling so much at once, but I also couldn't understand how I was supposed to feel. I wanted to mourn the life I'd been denied. I wanted to grieve for the 8 year old and five other children I might have had by now. I wanted an explanation for why the same prompting resulted in pregnancy for them and infertility for us. Another part of me didn't understand why I was feeling that way. I'd already been given so many answers helping me understand the reasons we were given this trial and how we are indisputably better for it. Why was I doubting that now? Tears wanted to come, but I wouldn't let myself shed them. I told myself I had no right to feel this way. These were people I loved. Wasn't I happy for them? Would I really wish my difficulties on someone else just so the universe would seem more fair? Don't I want Melissa and every other woman I care about to experience the joy of motherhood? I needed to calm my mind and get out of the negativity.
|Me with some of my extended family|
Later that night I realized our misunderstanding came about largely because I automatically expected Oscar to be my defender. After all, he'd lived through it with me. However, he didn't have quite the same experience as me, and he can't quite empathize with my feelings. While both of us appear to be healthy and fertile, the baby doesn't conceive and implant itself within his body. It's not his issue. He doesn't know the pain of feeling damaged. He probably would have had a child quickly if he'd married someone else. He also didn't go through anything like what I went through emotionally. In the beginning his attitude was always "if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't," but after a couple years without getting pregnant, he got comfortable with being childless. He began fearing how much parenthood would disrupt his life, especially our finances. His hesitancy was a huge part of the reason why it took us so long to pursue assisted reproductive techniques. About 3 years into our marriage we were required to use contraceptives for 7 months while I took part in an HGV vaccine study, but after that time period had passed Oscar persuaded me to continue using them while I waited for him to become ready to have a child. Over a year later after we'd both finished up our schooling, he'd received a promotion at work, and we'd taken dozens of awesome vacations together, he still wasn't ready. That was when I put my foot down. I refused to use contraceptives anymore, and once another full year had passed, I insisted we at least get a diagnosis. He did start wanting a child once we were putting real money and effort into it, but even then it was more out of wanting to see a return on his investment. Once we got pregnant and particularly once we had Tyler, he realized his fears had been groundless and that any burden having a baby placed on us was more than made up for by the joys he brought to us. His journey was significant for him and made him into a better father and a better person, but it was very different from mine. Our initial reactions to Melissa's pregnancy were at complete odds. He was crazy excited for his sister now that he knows how awesome parenting is. We'd had many talks about how much more fulfilled we feel as parents, so my lack of enthusiam didn't make much sense to him. He hadn't meant to upset me with his comment. He just didn't understand where I was coming from, and though it was late at night and he was super tired, he held me and listened until I calmed down and figured things out.
That week after additional prayer and soul searching, I realized it was okay, even necessary, for me to have those feelings. There was nothing wrong with me. I was not being selfish. I wasn't feeling resentment at Melissa and Matthew's pregnancy. I was happy for them. However, I was stuck in a moment of weakness; struggling to understand why I'd had to go through so much difficulty before the righteous desires of my heart could begin being fulfilled. That struggle had remained with me for years, even if eventual pregnancy and motherhood had pushed it to the back of my mind. Seeing their video hadn't brought on the pain. It just forced me to deal with it. In that rock bottom moment when I felt damaged beyond repair is when I turned to the only person I knew could make me whole again. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that God isn't disappointed or angry at us for being weak. He knows we're weak, and he's not going to chastise us for it. Instead he's pleased when we recognize that weakness and humbly turn to Him for strength. "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27)."
God chastises pride, not weakness. Throughout my journey I've been confused, frustrated, and hurt. There were times that I actually felt betrayed by God for not granting my righteous desires and rewarding me for responding to His promptings. I often didn't humbly accept his will, but there was always something inside me that wanted to. That's the difference between being weak and being proud. Even if every part of my own reasoning seemed to contradict it, I remained willing to accept that God knew better and that the journey we went through was all a part of His plan. That was my first little mustard seed of faith that helped me begin pulling myself out of bitterness. As that seed sprouted it became "I must figure out how I can accept His plan" and as it flowered it turned into "I will do whatever I can to accept His plan. Even if I can't accept it now, I know one day I will."
That's the place I found myself in. I did need to accept his will, but it wasn't just going to magically happen one day. There was a step I was missing that would complete the puzzle. I figured it out by remembering some advice we were given while we were considering adoption - "have you sufficiently mourned the loss of your biological child?" They want adoptive parents to have reached that point of closure before they take on the challenges of parenting a child without mommy's eyes and daddy's nose. Though I hadn't lost the chance to parent a biological child, I had lost the chance to raise the family I had always planned on. I needed to mourn that loss before I could fully accept and appreciate the family I now have. I had to stop pushing away the pain I still felt out of fear of what others would think of me. Sometimes shedding the tears now means you won't have to fight against them again in the future.
I knew I needed to write this post. I didn’t know why or what exactly I would say, but it ended up being very therapeutic. I cried with every paragraph as I grieved for the life I might have had, but in doing so I began seeing that what I have now is exponentially better. I grieved for the child I meant to have at the start of my marriage, the one that would have been Ethan’s buddy. Then I remembered this beautiful moment last March - seeing Ethan and Tyler alone having the time of their lives with each other in spite of the 6 and ½ year age difference. That moment brought me so much joy, and it was that much sweeter because I never thought it could happen. I grieved for our difficulty in conception, but then I remembered the difference between the man my husband was at the start of our marriage compared to who he is now. He needed conception to be difficult and costly so he could more fully appreciate it when it happened, and he needed those years of childlessness so he could know what they were like by comparison. How grateful I am that the Oscar I’m married to now is the father of my babies! The more specific aspects I grieved, the more I began seeing our struggle as a blessing, not an undeserved punishment. I can’t know what our lives would have been like had we not been through infertility, but I’ve seen the beauties of the life we have now, and I wouldn’t give them up. I have faith that God knew what He was doing, that this life is more beautiful than the one I thought I’d have, and I don’t feel so much longing anymore for what might have been. Will I never feel pain over my infertility again? That's doubtful. I’m sure there will still be occasional struggles, but I’ll have this post to remind myself that faith helped me figure it out once, and it can always do so again. What's most significant is that I've come to understand what was preventing me from fully accepting the atonement - that continued attachment to my original plans and to the idea that what I'd had in mind would have been best.
Should my friends or family feel bad about telling me about their pregnancies or that they need to approach the subject sensitively with me? Absolutely not. I do not expect anyone else to change in order to accomodate me. Even if it does cause me a bit of grief, that's just a sign that I have additional work to do. No one should feel the need to downplay their excitement for my sake. They have new life growing inside them, and that is awesome! They should celebrate it! Would that every pregnancy were celebrated as much as I celebrate mine! If there's anything I've learned throughout our journey, it's how miraculous each child is. The process that turns a simple zygote into a fully functioning baby is truly incredible. My children are miracles, but so is every child. My babies' early development cycles were simply more easily observed than most.