Motherhood after infertility
I was washing my hands in the bathroom at work, six months pregnant with my second child– only a year after I’d gotten pregnant with our first– when one of my coworkers made a joke about how I was a “fertile Myrtle.” I would have laughed, but I was caught completely off-guard. Was this how people saw me now?
What my colleague didn’t realize was that we had tried to conceive our first child for three years, closer to four if you count the time we were off birth control but not “officially” trying. There were questions and bloodwork and ultrasounds of my ovaries and a horrific miscarriage followed by more bloodwork and pills and then a chemical pregnancy, which turned out to be a really nice name for an early miscarriage. My coworker’s comment was completely outside of my reality.
I mean, by the time we were parents of two, I’d spent nearly twice as long thinking of myself as infertile as I had thinking of myself as a parent! It was amazing, but when you’ve spent so long thinking of yourself as barren, being labeled a “fertile Myrtle” is a bit of a mental adjustment.
There are some things that no one tells you about life after infertility- here are a few things I’ve learned:
- 1. You don’t really ever get over it.
I thought having children would magically erase the sadness and jealousy and bitterness and hurt that had been my companions for so long. Having children has certainly eased a lot of it– I can even plan baby showers now!– but there are still moments when people who don’t know my history make glib remarks about how easy it was for them to get pregnant, and I clench my teeth and try not to be rude. Heck, sometimes I’m annoyed with myself about how easy it was for us to get pregnant the second time! It took so long to have one successful pregnancy that we assumed it would take another three to four years to have another. Instead, it was three to four months. To say we were not prepared would be an understatement.
But infertility still haunts me from time to time. I spent my first pregnancy very cautiously optimistic, and realized during my second that I would never be able to enjoy a pregnancy with the wild abandon that some others can. I am always waiting to hear a heartbeat or see an ultrasound or feel a kick.
I remain jealous of those who will never have to worry about these things, who can enjoy pregnancy completely, without any fear. I refused to name my girls before they were born mostly because naming something makes it real, and until I met my children, I was too scared to let them be real.
After infertility, some people turn into helicopter parents. Other parents go the opposite direction, so relieved to have gotten past the pregnancy, that they throw all caution to the wind and let their children play in the street. Okay, I don’t really let my kids play in the street, but my biggest fears have already been realized: What is a broken arm compared to the loss of a child?
- 2. Sometimes you won’t feel thankful.
Being thankful for children after infertility seems pretty easy- and it is, often. It is a miracle, and it is wonderful, and I am very thankful to now have the opportunity to have children.
But there are days and moments when I am absolutely not thankful, stretched to my limit, irritated with the constant demands, and exhausted by motherhood. Sometimes my infertile self will come back to haunt me, and remind me “Hey, you wanted this! You *prayed* for the opportunity to change diapers, sucker.” Which is not so helpful in the middle of a 2 a.m. tantrum over who gets to hold the Desitin. Or I will hear myself complain about some aspect of childrearing, and think to myself “Remember when hearing parents complain made you crazy?” I do… but I know better now. Still- I tend to bite back my stronger feelings, and paint a rosier picture than perhaps I should, because when speaking with friends who are still struggling with infertility, I know it may be impossible for them to imagine that the demands of motherhood could be anything other than wonderful. They are- and they are not.
- 3. The pressure to be perfect will be stronger than you think.
Because of the infertility, my view of motherhood was skewed. I had to work pretty hard to let go of holding myself to impossible standards, and I knew, as a child of someone who struggled with infertility, that it is easy to let your baby become the center of your universe. And that is not necessarily the healthiest place for any individual to be.
That pressure to let motherhood be all-consuming is very strong in some parts of our society, and wanting to avoid it partially drove my decision to return to work. It is still something I struggle with, because I spent so many years swearing to myself that if I were a parent I would never yell at my kids in public, never ignore them when they were saying “Mama!” I was wrong. It is impossible to be the perfect mother all of the time.
- 4. Like infertility, motherhood will affect your friendships.
When I was in the midst of infertility, there were points where I had to cut off contact – even just online contact!- with certain friends. The worst were my friends who got pregnant for the first time at the same time I did- my pregnancy ended in the loss of twins, while most of theirs had much happier endings. There were friends whose baby showers I skipped because I was in so much pain that it was easier to skip a two-hour shower than go and spend the next 12 hours in tears.
After I got pregnant, I had survivor’s guilt related to my friends who were still in the trenches, fighting their own battles. I really struggled with whether to invite friends from my infertility support group to my baby shower; some skipped, others were visibly emotional. And having been on the other side of that equation, I knew just how they were feeling… and yet, their reactions did affect our friendship. I regret now that I unintentionally hurt some of my friends in my bid to keep myself from feeling too much pain, but hindsight is 20/20 and in the midst of it, I did not have that clarity of thought.
But just as infertility caused some friendships to get much stronger and others to fall apart, motherhood did the same. Like infertility, only other mothers know about some of the ups and downs of motherhood. I used to joke that I felt like moms were a secret club that I wasn’t allowed into- turns out I was at least half right. It is kind of like a secret club, because (and I *hate* to say this) you can’t understand parenthood until you’re a parent. Every once in a while, I find another mom who has been through infertility or miscarriage, and it is like a nearly instant bond- those friends are few and far between, but they are some of my dearest companions.
- 5. You will survive it.
Sometimes, I thought that infertility would be the death of me. And then, I thought having two under two would be! And while the latter did come close, you muddle through, and do the best you can, and somewhere along the way you realize that you have gotten through it. You have a child! It is a wonder! Your child is potty trained! That is a wonder, too. You will get through this, whatever it is, and come out the better for it.
Infertility shapes you- sometimes it feels like it’s for the worse, but it can be for the better. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself “How do people who’ve never struggled with infertility stay sane while raising kids?” I mean, really- it is *hard* to raise children, and having that little pocket of extra thankfulness and patience that came only by way of having struggled to become a parent is a lifesaver.
Like infertility, parenthood has shaped me and changed me into a better version of myself. Parenthood has made me a much better person; infertility made me a better parent. That, too, is a wonder, as surprising to me as how small fingernails can actually be.