I struggled with infertility for years. YEARS. I have the same story as most women going through ART: I grew up wanting to be a mommy, cradling my baby dolls in my arms and singing softly to them; stuffing pillows under my shirt and looking at myself sideways in the mirror to see what I would look like when, one day, I was pregnant; feeding my baby alive doll real baby food with great tenderness. Then I’d run outside and play baseball in the yard with my brothers and the rest of the neighborhood kids. Mommy on one note, tomboy/ feminist/ do-it-all-and-have-it-all woman on the next. When my husband and I started doing rounds of IVF (after every other imaginable form of ART), I was simply stunned. My story is very long and very complicated, so I’ll cut to the chase and dive right into why I find myself still confused about to which community I really belong. After 4 failed rounds of IVF, we switched doctors. My new Doc suggested doing something called the beta-3 integrin test on my uterine lining. I tested negative twice. Basically, I was born without the receptor protein necessary for carrying and maintaining a pregnancy. My husband’s Nephew and his wife (who is my age and had had 3 kids- the last of which was born at home, with me present) offered to be gestational carriers for us. Now here’s an ironic fact: My doctor actually looked at me one day and said that it was ridiculous how “fertile” I was, but that I couldn’t carry a pregnancy. Excellent. I have actually been pregnant 3 times, but have never gotten past 8 weeks and have never given birth. When we did the 5th round of IVF, they harvested 32 eggs. 32. Apparently, I broke a record for the clinic. Awesome. 21 fertilized, we did PGD on all 21: 5 were normal. FIVE. out of 32. We implanted a boy and a girl into my niece, and she carried our babies. Sophie and Alex are now 5- turning 6 in December. I am fully entrenched in having kindergartners: PTA events, birthday parties, first lost tooth, still potty training at night, the works. It’s really hard some days to keep my head. But I NEVER forget my struggle to have them. Because I didn’t have them. I was handed them. The state that we live in had no laws 6 years ago about any of this, and I had to go through a formal court process, after which I had to basically adopt my own children. After all that I had gone through, this was such a slap in my face. Talk about underlining my already fragile sense of having become a mother-by-proxy. The issue of a woman’s worth (ala Handmaid’s Tale) is one I struggle with daily. I still feel very closely tied to the infertility community, because I am infertile. I feel close to the mommy community, because I am a mommy. I AM a mommy. I have “two beautiful children” (as everyone who hears my story is so quick to point out). Yes. I have two beautiful children, who are made from my eggs and my husband’s sperm. They are made from my DNA. I am SO lucky and blessed. But I am still infertile. I have and never will experience pregnancy or childbirth. Never. I cannot begin to voice the double sided pain this twists my guts into. Even to see those words typed out, causes me to want to wretch. Yes. I am thankful- beyond imagination. Yes I still think of myself as someone continuing to struggle with infertility- if nothing else, than simply because I am still infertile. The joy and happiness I feel for others when they become pregnant after struggles with infertility is completely valid. But so is the ever-so-slight pang of jealousy and sorrow that inevitably arises in me. It will always be there. I try as best I can to channel that corner of my emotions into completely positive mojo: I even went on to become a birth Doula, and have helped to deliver lots of babies. The pure magic and miracle of birth and honour of being present when a human being takes their first breath is unspeakable. In those moments, I am filled with the very presence and awesomeness of G-D. But there is a tiny corner of my emotions where my own sorrow resides. It’s always there.
Two years ago, we did a 6th round of IVF with the left-over frozen embryos from the cycle that created Sophie and Alex. My thought was this: if these embryos are going to “die,” then they should do so back inside my body and be re-absorbed by me. And they were. Round 6 was unsuccessful, and now I’m pretty much out of eggs- shop is closing. I am desperately trying to come to peaceful terms with the idea that I’ll never carry a baby in my belly, or give birth. I’ll never know the feeling of bonding with my unborn child, or feeling him/her kick inside me. I’ll never know what it’s REALLY like to push until your eyeballs want to pop out of your head, to get that babys’ head and shoulders out. I can help other women to do this- and trust me, I’m a really good Doula! I made a solemn promise a couple of years ago: If I can’t do it, by G-D, I’m going to help other women who CAN! But it isn’t anything I will ever have first-hand experience at.
But I have two beautiful children. And they love me even though they know they grew in someone else’s tummy because “Mommy’s tummy broke.”
An interesting thing happened to me this morning- something which prompted me to write this. My Dad’s “big” birthday and party are this weekend- lots of family coming in from out of town, us co-hosting events, etc. I was on the phone, driving to work (the plight of a full-time working mom: arranging many many things while driving thus and fro) arranging the babysitter who will come on Saturday afternoon while I get things done and go to the party. While we were talking about times, and what fun activities they were all going to do, my eyes filled with tears- enough so that a few spilled out. When I hung up, I realized that this happens alot. I have absolutely NO frame of reference for what this emotion is: it’s different from any other for me. Is it that I’m thinking about all the fun things my kids will be doing with the babysitter instead of with me? Is it that I’d rather stay home and do those fun things with them? Is it that I know I can’t, and I’m jealous or sad? Is it that I’m so touched that the babysitter loves my kids too and is excited to see them- knowing that I have really great kids- pride? I have no idea. I simply have no definition for this emotion. It happens often to me when I talk about my kids. It’s not that heart-swelling “Grinch moment” of love so overwhelming my heart feels as though it will burst out of my chest. It’s something other. It’s tainted with a smidge of sadness, of sorry somehow. I don’t know why. It’s like happiness and sorrow mixed at the same time, and my eyes just leak. Maybe it has something to do with the anxiety that developed for me when they were in-utero and that utero wasn’t mine. Don’t know. But there it is. I’m the in-between. I’m a mom. I’m infertile. Just call me Sybil. Without the green kitchen.