Crossing the Great Divide

This is another post that I wrote on my other blog, however as much of it deals with the experience of infertility, I thought it may be of interest on here as well.

Baby Boy turned one recently, which means that it’s been just over a year since I became a mother. There is an argument to be made that I was already a mother to the babies that started developing in my womb but did not make it, or to the embryoes created during our IVF, but in this post I want to focus on motherhood in the traditionally understood sense of the word: a woman with a child. As someone who struggled with infertility before becoming a parent, it has been interesting for me to explore over the last year to what extent my experience of infertility impacts my identity as a parent, and vice versa.

While we were trying to conceive, as the months and then the years passed by, I found myself detach more and more from the world around me. The experience of infertility is very isolating, and sometimes it felt like every day brought fresh reminders of how different our reality was from that of our friends, colleagues, and society in general.

When you are first trying to conceive, the initial months are unremarkable: you have sex at the “right time of month”; you read the first chapter of pregnancy books to make sure you’re doing all the right things to conceive; you imagine how your life will change when you have a baby; and then you wait to see if your period will arrive on schedule or not. It is very easy to find community and common ground with friends and strangers alike when you are in this stage.

As the months go by, you start to get discouraged, but it still feels like pregnancy is just around the corner. You did not get pregnant the first month trying, or even the second or third, but your experience continues to be unremarkable. At some point though (and this point is different for everyone), you start to notice a divide between your experience and what you have read or heard about. As you go further and further down the road, the divide becomes greater. Key events that signify that your experience is no longer “normal” may  include trying for over a year (and realizing you are now considered infertile), experiencing pregnancy loss, and the initial visit to a fertility clinic. Suddenly, you realize that you do not know anyone who shares these experiences (or maybe you do, but they have kept their struggles to themselves).

Realizing that you have to rely on a fertility clinic to help you conceive is a difficult thing to deal with, as is having to go through the testing and investigations required to narrow down what the problem is, and once identified, learning to accept the problem. Lying in bed after having sex, as you think of baby names for your likely newly conceived baby is a distant memory. There is another divide once you start fertility treatment, and then a further one when you move on to IVF, with each step leading to further isolation and loneliness as your story becomes more and more removed from the typical narrative (there are further divides, but I will stop there, because that is where my experience stops).

Once you become pregnant, the struggles do not stop. You are now part of a sisterhood that you have been yearning to join, and you are closer than ever to achieving what has often felt like a distant dream.  But, even though you are ridiculously happy, the divide is still there. While from the outside you look like any other pregnant woman, as soon as you speak to other pregnant women, or parents of young children, you are reminded of how different you still are. While they are complaining of the normal pregnancy aches and pains, you are terrified that there is something wrong with your baby, and are closely watching for pregnancy complications that could impact your baby’s health. You cannot relate to the experiences described on pregnancy websites.  Even though you are pregnant, you are still infertile.

And then you give birth to a healthy baby. You take your baby home, and your new concerns become feeding your baby, sleep (theirs and yours), and making sure baby is reaching their developmental milestones. You learn about teething, fevers in babies and starting solids. Perhaps you struggle with going back to work, and how to find childcare for when you do.

You find community with other new parents and find that they have all the same concerns. It does not matter how their babies got there; you are all in the same boat now. Sometimes you think you love your baby more because of how much you fought to bring them into the world, but then you see how they look at their babies, and how tenderly they hold them and you realize that they love their babies just as much.

And this is where I find myself today. I am first and foremost a parent. Whether I am talking to my friends who also had babies in the past year (without the experience of infertility), or whether I am reading my twitter feed filled with tweets from women parenting after infertility, the concerns are the same. We all want what’s best for our babies.

When politicians speak of family friendly policies, they are now speaking to me. At work, or at social gatherings, I can finally contribute to the conversations about the joys and challenges of having children. The huge weight that was on my shoulders has been lifted. The feelings of isolation, of “otherness”, of feeling different are gone. I have crossed the great divide.

This Time Will be Different

I published this post on my other blog, but I figured it had some relevance here too…

Sometime this year, my husband and I will start the process of trying to conceive baby #2. This moment is still months away, as there are a number of moving pieces that have to fall into place before we can reasonably attempt any baby making. At minimum, I need to wean, get my chicken pox vaccine, and get my period back. Since we have five frozen embryos from our IVF cycle, we are planning on jumping right into doing a frozen transfer as soon as we are in a position to do so, therefore there will also be the various tests and procedures that our clinic requires before proceeding with a transfer, not to mention coordinating our schedules with both the clinic where our embryos are, and the clinic where we will do our monitoring for the cycle. The many joys of procreating by committee will soon be upon us.

While I have tried hard not to speculate about what trying to conceive will be like this go around until the time comes, in the last few weeks I’ve often found my mind spinning as I try to process the ramifications of what getting back on the baby making train will mean for us. This is due partly to the fact that we are starting to have preliminary discussions about what our timing is going to look like, and that I am getting close to weaning Baby Boy (I had planned to breastfeed him to a year, which is another two months away, but based on his lack of interest over the last few weeks I suspect our wean date will come sooner than that). I have also recently read a lot of blog and twitter posts that touch on some of the issues I have been struggling to get my head around, related to life after infertility, secondary infertility, and infertility amnesia.

I have no idea if or when we will have another baby. If we do have another baby, I don’t know if we will get pregnant via frozen transfer, natural conception (ha – sounds like immaculate conception to me!), or through further fertility treatments. I don’t know if it will happen on our first try, or after multiple attempts. But despite all of the uncertainty, rather than feel panic at the thought of climbing back on the roller coaster, I am at peace with whatever our outcome may be. I am at peace, because I know that the worst is behind us.

The experience of infertility while trying to conceive Baby Boy was akin to falling down a deep chasm, and having no idea how far you had left to fall, or what sort of landing you would have. Along the way, we were willing to grasp at anything that would help us achieve a quick and safe landing – in the six months before we conceived Baby Boy, my husband and I agreed that we would pursue donor eggs, donor sperm, or surrogacy if we got any indication that any of those would resolve our infertility (unexplained infertility is its own deep chasm, but that’s another story).

I am a planner by nature, and while trying to conceive Baby Boy, having a plan gave me some semblance of control over an uncontrollable process. I was always two steps ahead: if the current cycle/treatment option failed, I had a plan A, and then a plan B if plan A failed. At the time we conceived Baby Boy, I had my plan A and plan B all set, and my husband and I had the resources (financial, emotional, physical) to keep going balls to the wall until we achieved our goal. We were not at the point where we had an end date (whether fixed on the calendar, or based on a number of things happening, or not) at which point we would change course to pursue adoption (when we had last discussed it, this was an option my husband was not interested in), or living permanently child free.

While overall, our mindset was that given enough time and treatments, we would eventually be successful, not knowing how our story would end was still terrifying. The future held so much uncertainty, and there was no way of knowing how much more heartbreak in terms of failed cycles, pregnancy loss, or even just the cruel passage of time we would have to endure before we held our baby in our arms.

This brings me back to my original point about starting the process of trying to conceive again. No matter how many times I turn the idea of it around in my head, I come to the same conclusion: this time will be different.

This time will be different because we are not starting at zero: not only do we know way more than we should about all the ways that conception can go wrong and therefore are intimately familiar with how difficult it can be; but the existence of our five frozen embryos (that paradoxically only exist due to the extent of our struggles first time around), mean that we are starting out ahead of the game.

This time will be different because we are no longer in a chasm of unknown depth. I can look ahead and know with certainty that I will not have to endure multiple fresh IVF cycles in order to bring my baby home (I am not ruling out the possibility of doing another fresh cycle if none of our current embryos take, but I don’t see a scenario where I would do more than one more fresh cycle). I know that if we are to have another child, it will take us less time to conceive this time around than the 3+ years it took us the first time, for the simple reason that due to my age it has to (I’ll be between 37 and 38 when we start trying again).

This time,  there are limits to what we will go through in order to conceive. I know that we will transfer each of our existing embryos until one sticks, but if we are not successful, we are not going to go to heroic efforts to have another baby. Lastly, knowing that we had the strength to survive failed cycles and pregnancy loss the first time around gives me comfort that if needed, we have the strength to survive again. All of these factors mean that when we start trying again, we will be able to feel, or at the very least, see the ground below our feet. We will be able to reach our hands out and find something sturdy to hold on to, rather than grasping at air as it slips through our fingers.

This time will be different because no matter what happens, I will never forget that even our “worst case scenario” of being parents to one healthy, amazing baby boy is many people’s dream.

Letting Go…In a Good Way

The phrase “letting go” is often used to describe the process of accepting the bad things that happen to us. The infertility journey is no different – from the time we first start trying to conceive, to accepting that timed intercourse is just not going to cut it for us, and eventually enduring the rollercoaster of infertility treatments, infertility provides successive opportunities for us to let go of our many hopes and dreams for starting a family – each one harder to accept than the last.

But letting go can also be a relief when it means letting go of anger or grief or other difficult emotions that we have been carrying with us for too long, and I was lucky to be reminded of  this last week.

As many infertiles can attest to, it can be difficult to see our friends, family members and coworkers achieve successful pregnancies while we are still stuck with the uncertainty of not knowing when or even if we will ever be so fortunate. I think that for the most part I’ve done pretty well with this, but at the same time I have not been immune to the feelings of jealousy and resentment that can come when others close to you get what you so desperately want.

For me, there is one friend in particular who I just couldn’t face while she was pregnant. I’ve written a bit about her here and here. To briefly summarize, I found out last year that she had a miscarriage a few months before we did and upon this realization we had a few moments of comparing notes and sharing the frustrations that come with trying to conceive. When she got pregnant shortly afterwards I felt betrayed. She had been trying for several months and was already feeling worn down by the process while I’d been trying for years with no luck.

It probably helps to clarify that while she is a good friend, it hasn’t always been an “easy” relationship due to a competitive undercurrent. She is incredibly competitive about everything, and I think the fact that we have a lot in common (we share the same profession, were running buddies due to our very similar pace, share a love of shoes, and were born a month apart) makes me a natural foil for her competitive nature.

When I first found out she was pregnant again, it stung but I assumed I would be okay with it. I was wrong. I saw her a few times during her pregnancy, and while all of our encounters were very positive (and I believe she was trying hard to be respectful of my feelings), in between seeing her, I stewed. I stewed when I saw her announce the pregnancy on facebook (I’d already known about it for some time); I stewed when she posted her nursery pictures; and I stewed when she gave birth to a healthy boy on my 35th birthday.

And then I felt bad because I hadn’t seen her since December and the ball was in my court to initiate something.

So when she sent out an invite to a drop-in barbecue/meet the baby event at her house this past week, I accepted right away. Five months had gone by since I’d last seen her, and it was time. As the barbecue approached, I had mixed feelings – on the one hand I was looking forward to seeing her and catching up, but on the other hand I wasn’t sure if I could handle seeing her with her baby while I was still not pregnant.

But by the time the day arrived, I’d gotten over my fears and was genuinely looking forward to the event. We showed up around dinner (strategic timing on my part to try to avoid as many people with kids as possible), and as soon as I walked into the living room and saw her holding her baby, I felt none of the resentment or bitterness that had been stewing over the previous months. All I felt was happiness – happiness for her and her son, and happiness to be seeing her again.

We spent quite a lot of time catching up, and made a lunch date for next week to catch up further. And when I saw her baby related post on facebook a few days later, it didn’t bother me at all. I had let go of the negative emotions that I’d been harbouring.

Of Babies and Unicorns

Recently, I have found myself amazed at the sight of a woman with a baby or toddler. Amazed, filled with wonder, even blown away. Over the last few years, and especially the last six months I have learned much more than I ever wanted to know about the miracle that is human life. While millions of sperm fighting over one egg makes it sound like a no brainer that the egg will be fertilized, resulting in a baby being born nine months later, the actual story is a lot more complicated. Hormone levels, a sufficient number of quality sperm, a quality egg matured for just the right amount of time, healthy fallopian tubes, and a suitable uterine lining are just a few of the things that need to be just so in order for an egg to fertilize and implant in a woman’s uterus.

As if all that weren’t daunting enough, once a positive pregnancy result occurs, there is a score of other things that could keep the pregnancy from progressing properly and resulting in a live birth.  These can include factors caused by the mother’s body such as immune responses, blood clotting issues, or an abnormally shaped uterus; or chromosomal and/or physical abnormalities with the growing baby, all of which can lead to pregnancy loss. And sometimes, the baby’s heart will just stop beating for no apparent reason.

Knowing all of this, a newborn baby (especially one of my own) has become akin to a mystical, elusive being much like the mythical unicorn.   And the question remains – how much magic will it take to conjure it up?