When my mom and dad married, they started trying right away to build their family. After three years, they finally had me. My sister followed thirteen months later. My mom stopped working to be home with us and although that meant some sacrifice, I am so grateful to have had her there. My parents insisted on family dinners every night of the week, never missed gathering for birthdays or holidays, and instilled in us a sense of loyalty. Today, my sister and I are best friends and we remain close and connected to our parents. There’s something to be said for traditional family values.
I am now past 40 and am married to a man who I believe is the perfect partner for me. We started trying to have kids before we were even married. After five years without a pregnancy, we sought professional help. Two IVF cycles left us still without a child (and my body changed forever). Along the way, I lost track of the number of people who told us to “just relax.” I really tired of those who told us to “stop thinking about it.” Our sex life became structured around cycles and I waited every month to pee on a stick. It was exhausting and demoralizing. How could I just stop thinking about it?
I have found that infertility is one of those quiet struggles that couples face. Everyone assumes that a healthy relationship will result in children. People are never shy to ask, “When are you going to have a baby?” I cringe when a wedding reception isn’t even over and guests are already asking when the baby is going to come. And I am outraged when people actually have the gall to ask, “So why don’t you have kids?”
I think most people fail to recognize what a true blessing having children is. The miracle of conception is just that – the divine happening of everything being just right in just the right moment. The complex process of conception – and then everything that has to go perfectly for the pregnancy to progress – goes unrecognized in a society where women who weren’t even trying to get pregnant pop out baby after baby. When a girlfriend looks optimistically ahead at her life and says, “When I have kids,” a piece of my heart aches and I can’t help but quietly correct her in my mind: “IF you have kids,” I think. “IF” is the appropriate word.
There are, in fact, many, many couples who have been unable to conceive. The reasons are varied and, at the end of the day, don’t really matter. We have injected ourselves with chemicals, put too much hope in a petri dish, grieved over miscarriages, and struggled with the feeling of not being good enough to deserve a child. We have spent countless dollars and cried too many tears for our struggle to have not become a part of who we are. Our struggle deserves to be respected and supported. Infertility is not a dirty word.
All that said, there is in fact a blessing in my story. My relationship with my husband is stronger than ever; stronger than it may have been if we hadn’t shared the struggle to get pregnant. It is a part of who we are as a couple. We don’t blame each other for it. Instead, we embrace it as something that we weathered together. We may never understand it, but we have accepted it.
Today, there is nothing more joyful for me than when a friend shares she is pregnant. I don’t get jealous and I don’t begrudge her the bliss she deserves. But I also never forget the true blessing of that child. So, moms, I will make you deal: I will delight in your pregnancy and “like” all the photos you share of your child if you promise to stop posting on Facebook how fat you are and what a pain in the ass your life has become with a child in the house. Please try to remember that the struggles you face are ones that many women would give their right arm to have. And instead of asking someone, “When are you going to have kids?” please try to remember that we don’t always get to choose the answer to that question.