So, I am an infertile woman who’s fought tooth and nail for nearly seven years to have a baby. And tomorrow, I will begin the 29th week of my pregnancy. Yes, even reaching the 3rd trimester has not deterred me from identifying myself as an infertile woman. Infertility will mostly likely be a part of my identity for the rest of my life. Strange? Maybe. But, it’s the truth.
As an infertile, I know only too well how fragile conceptions, pregnancies and births can be. One meets other women in similarly heartbreaking situations — through social networking, support groups and other routes–and one hears about their gut-wrenching journeys . The longer it takes and as the number of failed treatments, unsuccessful cycles and miscarriages increase, the more one learns and the more one realizes how utterly arbitrary, random and illogical procreation truly is. And the more one learns, the more one gets a clue as to just how many ways there are for things to go wrong. One cannot help it. And, once one hears others’ stories, one cannot unlearn the facts. Fear enters every cell and worry finds a home in every dark corner of the mind. Sad? Yes. But, it’s the truth.
I have never sugar coated my particular situation. Basically, my husband and I were looking at the end of the road when we saw this tiny beating dot on a scratchy ultrasound screen one late summer day last year. It was a microscopic ember of hope. But, we had seen an ember like this before, and that fire never came to be. So fear, anxiety and worry become our constant companions. For weeks, we watched this little beating heart grow, take shape and change, too afraid to truly trust and accept that everything would be fine. But, along with the fear, anxiety and worry, there was hope, wish, promise and so much love. I believed in this little growing being with all my heart, right along side the untamable fear that came from knowing all the ways things could go wrong. Two completely contradicting feelings, thoughts and states resided inside me week after week.
There’s an apt Persian expression that goes something like this: the snake-beaten is afraid of a black and white rope. YES!! Exactly. We, the snake-beaten infertitles who have struggled year after year and who have experienced losses, setbacks, heartaches and failures over and over cannot help but be afraid of every single black and white rope that lays on our way to parenthood. It goes against all of society’s pathological push for positivity and optimism in this day and age. But, with a little logic and empathy, anyone can see that we cannot feel any other way. We have a natural fear of what is known to us.
As weeks went by and as the belly grew, I found my brain slowly shifting from the worries of this pregnancy not going well, to accepting that maybe this time is indeed different and maybe this time is finally our time. Then I noticed my heart creeping along, also following my brain little by little. This transition is not by any means overnight or quick. Instead the brain and the heart move at a glacial pace, at times completely stalling for days or weeks. Hearing the heartbeat is a novel epiphany each and every single time. It really is. Every single time we hear our baby’s heartbeat, it feels as though we just received proof of life. Relief washes all over us, and so do tears. And with every epiphany, the brain and the heart soften a little more and relax into believing a bit more strongly. At almost 30 weeks, I am here to admit that the transition is still not complete, but on-going and evolving. Crazy? Maybe. But, it’s the truth.
Once the baby’s movements became detectable to me, I began to get multiple proofs of life on daily basis. It took me longer to feel her (yes, she’s a girl) than most others because of my anatomy and the position of the placenta. So, of course reading articles that said I was supposed to be feelings kicks when I wasn’t feeling anything brought all the black and white ropes out of the emotional closets and laid them at my feet all over again. But, for the last couple of weeks, I clearly feel her kick, jab, swoosh and flick and I thank her for having slayed all my imaginary snakes for me. She has already saved her mommy’s sanity and life without even being here yet.
So, armed with a new reality sans black and white ropes, I began to do the tasks that an expected mom does: dreaming of what my baby will look like, imagining the day I finally get to meet this illusive being I have pursued for nearly a decade, picking items for the registry, thinking about her room and how I’d decorate it, and reading books on child rearing and child birth. I am coasting along and, for a few days, feeling very little fear. No snakes and no ropes in sight.
Then, I begin to have conversations about the birth. And it strikes me for the first time in a long time that I am afraid of giving birth! Wait! What? You’d think that a person who’s been to hell and back several times, endured painful procedures, and subjected her body to all manners of infertility treatments would have made peace with birthing. I mean, isn’t that what the last seven years have been all about?
The short answer is no!
Realize this: when one falls down the rabbit hole of infertility, all one sees in the dark is the next step. All I have been focused on has been getting through the step immediately ahead of me. I’ve always just had enough strength and bravery to get through the task at hand at the moment. “Let’s just get through the retrieval.” “Let’s just see how many good embryos there are.” “Let this ultrasound show a heartbeat.” There’s no room or capacity for giant and holistic assimilations or adjustments.
So, I’m here now: feeling like I might finally be able to maybe trust that this kicking, swooshing little fish inside my belly will turn into a real life baby whose mom I will be. But, I have found a whole new stash of unknown black and white ropes to fear! “Can I do this?” “How can I do this?” “What will THIS be like?”
Welcome to the portion of the program entitled The Fear of the Unknown. And, to be honest, the rhetoric from the new and old moms I know, the current magazines I read and the society in general doesn’t help at all. Aside from every Jill, Jane and Mary feeling the need to tell me their labor horror stories while laughing at the novice little me, I am bombarded with daily messages about motherhood: it’s the end of your life as you know it; you’ll never bathe or sleep again; you’ll never be the same again; just wait until X, Y, Z happen to you. I am amazed that a society that pays so much lip service to the magic of motherhood also tries to scare the crap out of every mom-to-be, even before there’s a baby to care for.
I have never been one to follow the masses. I don’t give much care to peer pressure and the fastest way to get me to not do something is to tell me that “it’s the way things are done”. So, I believe with my whole heart that I will not feel like motherhood is the end of anything other than my childlessness. But, I am not immune to being vibed or scared by the immense amount of negative messaging that flows my way. And I have developed an emotional muscle for baby-related fearfulness. So, I find myself with a whole bunch of new black and white ropes that I haven’t even earned fearing yet.
Now, some believe that knowledge is power. I usually agree with that. But, is it really constructive to discuss with me the possibility of a three-day labor during an informational interview, as one prospective doula just did a few days ago? For me, it’s not. I, of all people, understand that complications happen and that most often life doesn’t go how we plan for it to go. But, is it necessary to constantly try to scare the pants off me while knowing what I’ve been through to get here? I may be naïve, but I really don’t think so.
So, I’m just going to put my feet up and read uplifting, positive things about how I would like to raise this little one. I am going to avoid the “peanut gallery” and all its unsolicited wisdom. I am going to focus on the belly and all the kicking, jabbing, swooshing and flicking I feel and I’ll be thinking about the day I finally get to meet this illusive being I have nearly killed myself to be the mother of, no matter how that day will end up being. All else will have to work itself out somehow. Is this unrealistic? Maybe. But, it’s the truth—my truth. So, take your “you will never go to the bathroom alone again” stories and all the black and white ropes you’ve brought with you and stuff them. I am not interested.