Infertility is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. First, there were the shots. Lots and lots of shots — in my abdomen, in my hip — and thanks to the oil-based progesterone I needed to take nightly, I got some pretty righteous lumps under my skin just to add insult to injury. There was the enormous cost — tens of thousands of dollars per in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle, and we did three of them. There was the awkwardness of dodging people’s well-meaning, but honestly really inappropriate comments and questions. There were tears — lots of them. There were the sleepless nights when I would lie awake and wonder how I could possibly live my life without children. Struggling with infertility is bad. Struggling with infertility on Mother’s Day is pretty much the worst.
I know it’s just one day. I know I have a wonderful mother myself, whom I get to celebrate every year. Trust me: There’s guilt that comes with wrestling with the sting of Mother’s Day and yet still feeling grateful for the woman who raised me. But Mother’s Day is a special kind of hell for those of us fighting to bring a baby into the world. I mean, it’s all about, you know, motherhood. Something those of us in the Infertility Club have all been fighting for — some of us for years, decades even.
When my husband and I first started trying to conceive, it was right around Mother’s Day, in 2009. Hey, I thought, maybe next year I’ll be a mother myself, celebrating the holiday with my baby. Then, the next year, I thought, OK, 2011 is going to be my year.
By 2012, my optimistic smile started to waver. I was working with an OB, taking tiny white pills five days in a row, peeing on ovulation sticks until I saw a smiley face, and carefully timing my sex life around it all. By the end of the year, we were doing our first of three intrauterine insemination cycles, or IUIs. None of them led to a positive pregnancy test.
I knew that next Mother’s Day was going to be a little harder. In fact, it was pretty much going to suck. So we booked a trip to Chicago, conveniently over Mother’s Day weekend. We went sightseeing. We had a lot of non-doctor-dictated sex. I stayed off social media, and I called my mom to wish her well. Traveling over Mother’s Day was the best decision we could have made, because it meant I didn’t have to be around my relatives — those who wished my cousins a happy Mother’s Day and cooed over their babies and toddlers. It was the first of many times I would find myself protecting my heart over this holiday.
I didn’t think it could get harder to endure Mother’s Day. I had stopped attending church service on the holiday, because I couldn’t deal with all the moms being invited to stand, to be celebrated. Ten months prior, I had seen my first positive pregnancy test — only for it to end in a devastating miscarriage.
In 2014, on Mother’s Day, I dressed for a party at my grandparents’ house. I pulled a sweater over my head, brushed my hair, and tried not to cry. If I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I stayed off my phone, because I couldn’t stand to see the social media posts of my friends with their smiling children — a perfect picture of something that had been so cruelly taken from me.
My husband came into the room with a jewelry box. In it was a necklace, the swirling outline of a woman pregnant, a beautiful pearl in the middle of her. The baby who had been with me for only a little while. Tears streamed down my face as I put it on.
I went to the party. I hugged my mom, who whispered a quiet “happy Mother’s Day” to me. Then I spent some time in the bathroom, fist stuffed into my mouth as I felt my heart shattering all over again while the laughter and celebration continued outside the door.
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The next time Mother’s Day came around, things were a little different. There was a baby growing inside me, eight weeks along, after my fifth embryo transfer. It was both incredible and triggering all at the same time. When my daughter arrived later that year, her cries echoing off the walls of the operating room suite, I didn’t know what to do with the joy I felt in my heart. It was too much.
The embryo transfer that brought her to us was our final one; she was the baby who almost wasn’t.
I thought those holidays would finally get better. I thought that now that I had a baby, those feelings I had felt for years — fear, regret, despair, failure — would disappear, and I’d only feel elation.
But my daughter is three now, and every single Mother’s Day, I have a breakdown. Every year on this day, I get dressed in the bathroom, and I sit on the floor and sob. I don’t even know why. But this holiday is still so incredibly hard. It still takes a Herculean effort to open that bathroom door, to hug my daughter, to go celebrate with my family, to wish my mom a happy Mother’s Day.
Every year, I send out cards and text messages to my friends still in the trenches — the ones waiting for their own miracles. I send cards to the moms whose babies have died, to the ones who have had yet another failed IVF cycle.
This day is so hard. I’m still not sure I even like to celebrate it. I have a breathtakingly beautiful little girl, and yet I’m still grieving. I still remember all those years of shots and tears and doctor’s appointments. Those memories will never leave — and I’m not ready to let them. I always want to know where I came from, what I lost, and what I later was given. This year is no exception.