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Mother’s Day in the Wake of Infertility

Jen Jones Donatelli is an author and journalist whose work has appeared in REDBOOK, Budget Travel, GOOD, Playboy, Natural Health, Whole Life Times, Los Angeles Confidential and many more. Her specialties include lifestyle, travel, dining...

When it comes to my relationship with Mother’s Day, well, it’s complicated

On the second Saturday of every month, I lead a Resolve support group meeting — not because I am currently struggling with infertility, but because infertility is still a part of me. And so are the women who attend the group, who were by my side when I was deep in the trenches, many of them still there and striving with all their being to find a way out.

When our group meets around holidays, the meetings take on even more significance as a place to vent, cry and say the things that can’t be said to anyone else. Not surprisingly, Mother’s Day tops them all — because for every joyful Facebook post depicting a bouquet of flowers, breakfast in bed or a special handmade gift, there’s a woman viewing those photos with a strong sense of longing and despair. I know, because I was one of those women (who at one point had a very long “unfollow” list on Facebook.)

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In the 18 months since I gave birth to my boy-girl twins, that unfollow list has gotten steadily shorter as I begin to view and appreciate those back-to-school photos, ultrasound images and holiday pictures through a different lens. I’m also conscious about how often I post photos of my own kids since I know what it’s like to be on the other side of that equation. And that translates to how I celebrate Mother’s Day too. While I now experience the day as a badge of motherhood and celebration of my own journey, I’m still very much aware of what it’s like to spend the day wondering if you’ll ever be a mother.

It’s all part of the complicated jumble of emotions that accompanies motherhood after infertility. It starts during pregnancy, when every happy milestone is met with relief (and overwhelming trepidation about whether you’ll make it to the next one). When you’re over the moon because you can’t believe you’re actually making a pregnancy announcement, but then you hem and haw about posting it because you know how painful it can be for those experiencing infertility. (Not to mention you’re terrified of going public with the news in the first place). And when you hesitate to make a registry or Pinterest board with nursery themes because you can’t afford to jinx anything.

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It continues after giving birth, when you’re absolutely head-over-heels for your precious little ones, but also deathly afraid that something will happen to them. I vividly remember the first time my son rolled over onto his stomach during the night, when I found him facedown on his crib mattress. I didn’t sleep that night. Instead, I spent the entire evening glued to the baby monitor, crying and gripping it in fear that he wouldn’t be able to breathe — in between futile attempts to get him to stay on his back. It was a guttural feeling that shook me to my core, one that was born of the difficult pregnancy losses that preceded him. (My first miscarriage happened at nine weeks; the second was at seven weeks — the triplet to my now-twins).

But those amped-up emotions go both ways, and I get to experience heightened joy just as much as I feel the fear. Every single day, I’m filled with wonder and awe at their every movement, expression and emerging quirk. Wonder and awe that they even exist — that somehow, despite a three-year struggle with infertility and diminished ovarian reserve, my body managed to defy the odds and create not one, but two of the sweetest little beings you could possibly imagine. That’s the beauty of how infertility has shaped my experience of motherhood.

I carry that dual perspective with me when it comes to the concept of Mother’s Day. Last year on Mother’s Day, I spent the morning browsing the Melrose Trading Post flea market with my husband and (then-7-month-old) twins, followed by a brunch at a new Italian restaurant and some glorious alone time at the nail salon. This year, I’m sure my husband has something equally awesome in store, and it feels really good to be in that happy, celebratory place. I can own that, although it still doesn’t feel 100 percent real.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still carry the feeling of Mother’s Day just a few short years ago when I was in the throes of one of the worst months of my life. It was May 2014, and I was just starting my first IVF cycle after three unsuccessful IUI attempts in a row. The day was also sandwiched between the deaths of my beloved grandparents, who died within four weeks of each other that spring. (I gave myself my first hormone injection while on the plane to my grandma’s funeral.) It was a day of deep grief, not only for my lost family members, but for the unfounded hope I’d once had of conceiving naturally.

That IVF cycle was the first of three, the last of which resulted in my twins. Fittingly enough, I found out I was pregnant on April Fool’s Day. (Yet another reason to doubt the good news!) But it was legit. And ever since then, I’ve had one foot in the trenches of infertility and one in the valley of motherhood. It’s a complicated place to be, but I’m navigating it one day at a time.

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So, for all of you who aren’t feeling quite so jubilant this Mother’s Day, I want you to know that you’re not alone. It’s no secret that Mother’s Day is hard for those who’ve lost their mothers, but the lesser-told story is that it’s equally unbearable for those still awaiting their turn to become mothers. For those who’ve spent thousands of dollars on fertility treatments with no return on their investment. For those whose lives have been in limbo for years. For those who grin and bear it when their loved ones harp on the question, “Why haven’t you had kids yet?”

You’re in my heart, and I salute you this Mother’s Day. May the next Mother’s Day be different.

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, please visit the Resolve website for resources, information, and support: http://www.resolve.org.

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