I didn’t enjoy my last pregnancy — or, if we’re being honest, any of my four pregnancies. Though I was haunted by the near-constant “I should be enjoying this” echoing in my brain, my body made it difficult. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t walk (er, waddle) without feeling like a wishbone precariously close to splitting in half. I couldn’t climb even a few stairs without getting huffy and winded. I had a painful varicose vein on my nether regions. (Yes, it is as unpleasant as it sounds.) I had preeclampsia, which made my feet swell so badly I couldn’t wear shoes and skyrocketed my blood pressure to dangerous heights. I gained amounts of weight that raised the collective eyebrows of friends, family members, doctors, and total strangers everywhere: 90, 80, 70, and 60 pounds respectively. Everywhere I went, I was perpetually asked a.) if there was more than one baby in there or b.) if I was overdue. Without fail.
There wasn’t. And I wasn’t overdue. I was just huge, all right? Sheesh.
But every time I went to complain about any of these things — and there were a lot of times — I thought about the years I spent brokenhearted and wishing that I could experience it. Any of it.
I think about the crushing despair and desperation when every month, for years on end, I wasn’t pregnant … yet again. The feeling of isolation when it seemed like everyone around me was. The searing, involuntary jealousy every time I’d see a baby bump, and the subsequent guilt I’d feel for being so jealous. The frustration at not being able to do what my body was designed to do. The inability to go to someone’s baby shower, or even skirt the baby-product aisles at the store, without mourning something I thought would never be mine. The sting of the innocent but deeply hurtful comments like, “Just relax and stop trying,” and “All my husband has to do is look at me and I’m pregnant, ha ha.”
Every month, my body was filled with fertility drugs, intrusively monitored, and poked and prodded in places that most women only expose to intimate partners. The bend of my arm still bears a permanent scar from the volume of blood draws I underwent to check my hormone levels. I had exploratory surgery, took round after round of ovulation-inducing pills, and injected syringes of medication into my abdomen every day.
But it wasn’t just my body; my brain and my emotions suffered, too. Sometimes all the hormones made me feel like I had PMS times 1000. It took a toll on my marriage, my husband unsure what to do with a wife who could (and did) cry or get angry at the drop of a hat. Sex was a scheduled event, not a romantic rendezvous. My last shred of dignity — and my husband’s — were handed to our fertility doctor on a cold, sterilized tray as he tried to do in his office what most people can successfully accomplish in the privacy of their own bedroom.
I prayed, ceaselessly. I hoped, fervently, with everything I had in me. It relentlessly occupied my thoughts; I could barely focus on anything else. Every single month, I went through hell … only to look down at each pregnancy test with one lonely line; a cruel confirmation of yet another failure. It was a crushing blow, equally difficult every time.
But every time I thought I couldn’t possibly handle one more injection or exam or flippant comment or baby shower announcement or negative pregnancy test, I thought about my sole reason for going through all this in the first place: the chance to be a mother. And it kept me going … battered and broken and bleeding, maybe, but going.
Fast forward nearly two decades, and I’m now — finally — a proud mom: we have four sons, ranging in age from 10-17. I never in a million years expected to be here, and I don’t know how it happened. Not the pregnancies (I’m pretty sure I know exactly how those happened, and it wasn’t the fertility treatments, surprisingly enough) but the fact that I could get pregnant at all. The fact that something just happened to “click” in my body one day, and just like that, it understood what it was supposed to do and did it. No explanation to my frustrating “unexplained infertility” category — the one that plagued me for five long years — has ever been offered, no solutions found. There was never a magic bullet, nothing I did differently that finally allowed me to get pregnant.
But however it happened, whatever ultimately fell into place … I have what I wanted more than anything, ever. Four miracle babies, now growing into amazing young men.
So while pregnancy may have been a whole different type of ordeal for me, physically anyway, I had nothing to complain about. Not really. Not when there are countless people (and their partners) who would give absolutely anything, and everything, to experience even the most painful parts. In the grand scheme of things, the simple physical discomfort I went through is laughable compared to the suffering they feel every day, every week, month after month throughout the whole seemingly-endless cycle. Because above all else, I could at least be reasonably certain that by end of my pregnancy, I would be holding a baby.
But those suffering from infertility don’t have the luxury of knowing whether that’s in the cards for them, and that’s the worst part of all.
So if you know someone who’s having trouble conceiving, hug them extra tightly. Offer no advice or words of consolation; just listen and be a shoulder to cry on. And if you’re currently pregnant, or can get pregnant fairly effortlessly, or are able to tuck your kids in at night and watch them as they sleep peacefully … be sure to count your blessings, today and every day, for those who still hold hope that someday, they can too.
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