Note: Pregnancy mentioned
This morning, I was laying in bed while the house slept, listening to the birds and thinking. After Bobby and Maya were born and my body started regulating itself after that first year, I told Peter that I felt like their pregnancy had been my doctor in a way. My periods came back, the symptoms of my Hashimoto's and PCOS faded (even though clinically, those are still accurate diagnoses), and I was active and healthy. I even got pregnant, even though we miscarried- something we never thought possible, but which led us to the TAC. Bobby and Maya were, clearly, my little doctors. But even feeling like they cured a lot of my health issues with their not-quite-long-enough pregnancy, I never really felt "healed".
I don't mean a healing from the loss of Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander, or from our miscarriages. That's not possible. That's just a part of who I am and who I'll always be, simply because I'll always be their mother. I'll always miss them. I'll always wonder what it would have been like had they lived. I'll always love them. I don't believe anything ever fully "heals" the holes in our hearts that are left behind when a child ascends. We just learn to go on and to live again, but a piece of us remains with those we loved and who are no longer with us.
But there is a different healing, I think. Peter and I are backing up against 15 years together... 15 years of wanting a family, of hoping and dreaming. Of loss and of gain. Of sorrow and joy. 15 years of being "just the two of us" to a family that appeared as only two people to a family that looks like 4 even though it's considerably bigger. And now, this new view: the two of us with 2 sons and a daughter not here, with 2 sons and a daughter here with us. A view where I am pregnant, easily conceived and relatively easily carried. A view where we are planning to bring a baby home with us at discharge from the hospital. Where we are preparing our children for a new sibling to play with on earth.
My growing M.D. is more than his initials; like Bobby and Maya, he's another little doctor in my life. He's a different sort of healer.
When Bobby and Maya were two, Peter and I talked about how that seemed like the age that everyone started trying for their subsequent child. That it must be because kids were sleeping through the night, etc. and you were far enough out from infancy that you could look at it with rose-tinted glasses (untainted by a lack of sleep!) It was about that time that we started to lay to rest the idea of more children. We weren't going to do fertility treatments and risk prematurity or loss again due to my IC, so... that was that. There was a good year of me processing my feelings, crying about it on runs, and coming to terms with the feelings that are natural when you feel like your family building days are in the past. We took every single "first" with such joy because the chances there would be another set of "firsts" was slim to none. I remember, one night when I was especially emotional about it, that I wept and, as Peter held me, I told him that I was sorry there would never be a surprise pregnancy... never be a cute positive pregnancy test reveal... never be just us, making a baby... never be the long anticipated "it's time to have a baby!" that was said with excitement and joy verses trepidation and fear... never be the discharge and the new baby and introducing a new sibling to Bobby and Maya and all of the joy that comes with the bustling family. Infertility and a malformed cervix had taken that and failed adoptions had removed even the hope of more children.
I remember that night, sobbing against his chest, trying desperately to not wake Bobby and Maya. I remember those feelings of being so broken. Of the "nevers" and the anguish of not being a "normal" woman who could just get pregnant and have a baby.
It takes it out of you. Loss kills a part of your motherhood; but infertility destroys a piece of your womanhood. It makes you doubt your validity and your femininity and your value. It eats away at your self esteem and beats down your hope and faith. You are less than. Somehow, you are unworthy. Broken. Damaged goods. It colors every part of your life.
You see a pregnant woman and you are destroyed.
Your friends talk about how it's time to start trying and you are speechless.
Your cousins or siblings get pregnant on schedule and you are devastated.
You are no longer who you were because now you are defined: infertile.
I remember feeling like, at the very least, we'd taken control when we visited Dr. Lee, our reproductive endocrinologist. We'd already researched and knew what avenues we were willing to pursue. I rationalized it to myself. I wasn't broken, rather I was sick. That made it a little better. I wasn't infertile; I had infertility as a symptom of my Hashimoto's and PCOS, especially the latter. That was why... What was why we couldn't get pregnant. Clearly, it wasn't me; it was just that I was ill. We'd fix that and boom! I'd be fine.
Easier said than done. Thyroid hormones can be regulated but antibodies don't just go away. She explained that, because the cause was an autoimmune disease, all that could really be done was to treat the symptoms of the Hashimoto's and that, over time, as my body adapted to the medication, it would have to be increased. Okay... No biggie... People take meds forever and, really, this wasn't a big deal. Just a small hormone imbalance that, if properly treated, wouldn't impact the pregnancy that I was sure to achieve...
PCOS... Yeah, that doesn't really go away either and there's not much to do. Some women have no impact to their fertility, others... it's a big deal. (And clearly, I was in the latter group, with a decade of infertility under my belt). It could impact miscarriage, raise the risk of complications (already raised since I had the classic signs of hypertension, high cholesterol, and was insulin, while normal was on the high side, meaning I had a much higher risk of gestational diabetes, plus I was obese), and lead to, still, a lack of conceiving. No medications that were a magic fix.
We went from "Maybe I'm just sick and there's a magic pill" to "let's discuss the interventions you are comfortable with." For the 6 weeks between our first appointment with Dr. Lee and when we conceived Nicholas and Sophia, I remember thinking that fertility drugs and even IUI wouldn't be that bad. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, they were pretty low on the totem pole of assisted reproductive technology. The injections played into my whole "well, I'm sick and this will fix it" although, it didn't. Not really. The drugs could make my ovaries respond and ovulate, but nothing was "fixed". And then there was the constant ultrasounds... makes trying to conceive a bit less fun. And then the "big day". The trigger to ovulate, the shifting of obligations so that we could make it to the doctor's office, the IUI, the going home and "getting busy" according to schedule. And the waiting. Getting pregnant- with your doctor and nursing staff and insurance company and pharmacy all standing by.
Now, in the swing of things, you are just grateful that you might be pregnant. You write off the feelings of "this isn't natural", "this isn't normal", "why cant I do what every other woman can do", and what not. Because, hey! You are going to have a baby. This is GOING to work! And, in my case, I was lucky- 5 times over. One cycle=pregnancy. Two pregnancies lost to IC, two lost to m/c, and then Bobby and Maya's pregnancy, but still... When you think that I saw Dr. Lee in Sept 2007, was pregnant in Oct 2007 and conceived our last pregnancy with her in March 2009, that's a year and a half and 7 cycles, 5 of which were positive pregnancy cycles. Not bad odds in the infertility community.
Excluding the losses and the feelings that go along with that, there's the feeling that you just cant. You cant do this natural, normal thing. You need help to do the most basic. In the throws of pregnancy, you toss those feelings because they aren't productive- but they are still there. And, when your pregnancy journey sucks, you get a double helping. Maybe you couldn't get pregnant for a reason... Maybe you are broken all around. You go back and forth between how unfair it is and in thinking that it's all you- you are the problem. Just like before, when the pain eats away at your self esteem, the infertility plus "poor obstetrics history" and pregnancy lead you down a dark hole.
But eventually, you feel like you come out on the other side- if you are one of the lucky ones. You have a baby- a live baby that, in spite of complications, comes home with you. Your body failed you and your child(ren) but... hey! You made it to parenthood! You are grateful- enormously so- and you try to lock away those feelings of inadequacy and heartbreak. You embrace parenting and try to just let it go... let the infertility and the anger and the hurt go.
And, most days, you can. You look at your children and you see the beauty and magic and wonder, and you don't care that it took drugs and monitoring and help to get them here. The bedrest of pregnancy, the NICU stay- it all pales to the lights that are your sweet babies.
But that twinge... that twinge in your heart of "what if"... What if you had more children... if you were pregnant again... if, if, if.... what, what, what... What would you crave this time? Would you have stretch marks? Could you take prenatal yoga or childbirth education? What about a birth plan? Planning the nursery or having a baby shower, maybe even before your baby was born? Getting pregnant simply by making love- stop, STOP, STOP IT. Dreams. Pipe dreams. Because YOU.ARE.BROKEN. Do not pass go. Do not buy a pregnancy test. Just stop. Accept. Move on.
If you are brave enough to talk about this with non-infertiles, you may hear how you should be grateful for your child(ren) and just get over it. How you shouldn't try for more than you should have. How God knows what he's doing and you really won out thanks to modern science or luck or whathaveyou because, hey! 100 years ago, you wouldn't even had had a chance! Hearts may be in the right place but the words hit you right on target- in that place where you know you really weren't worthy in the first place and you feel like maybe you got around the fate of not having living children to parent.
It's like that.
There were moments where I would look at Bobby and Maya and just be so damn grateful that I could barely breathe, tempered by the thudding in my heart that told me I just wasn't good enough to be able to get pregnant with them and carry them without serious help on all fronts. Some runs, I'd run so hard that my muscles would want to spasm and my lungs would want to collapse, all just so I could take the pain from my infertile heart and force it elsewhere. I would wake up in the middle of the night, wondering what it would be like to just be able to... to just do that one thing... to just feel- for once as an adult woman- that I could...
My dad tells people that I don't know how to fail. He's proud of that. He's proud that he was half the team that raised an independent daughter who doesn't know how to stay down. Sometimes, when you hit the mat in boxing, though, your body is desperate for you to stay down, even when your brain tells you to get back up. Even when you are cracked and bleeding. Once he told me that he didn't know if "cant" was part of my vocabulary because I never, even as a kid, let anything stop me. What did I think when he said that? If only he knew. But he couldn't know. I wouldn't tell him the secrets harbored in the blackness... That I really couldn't... That I really was a failure in one of the basics of humanity and womanhood. That I was "infertile" and couldn't do basic science by my own will.
I'd gotten to a place where I accepted my limitations and decided to rebuild my self image. I got healthy in spite of whatever was going on inside my body. I decided that my dad was right, and failure was something I wasn't capable of- in spite of what Mother Nature might say. Pregnancy, smegmancy. I was going to be happy. We all have our crosses. And, in the grand scheme of things, I was blessed and I was going to take that and run with it. Why hold myself hostage to infertility and to something I couldn't change anyway?
In wanting to fight back, I found that all I could do, for myself and for remaining sane, was to accept. To let go and to just roll with it. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. Why worry about what I cant change?
Sweet, little Michael.
Took my reverie and threw it on its head, from that first pregnancy dream that led me to a home pregnancy test before my period was even due.
Took my resolve and gave me a lump in my throat.
Took my miscarriages and moved beyond them.
Took my losses from an incompetent cervix and kept me on my feet and behaving like a typical pregnant woman, even when my husband was away.
Took my bedrest and gave me running and yoga instead.
Took my milestones and passed them.
Brought me here, to this point.
My brain is still infertile. Like loss, a history of not being able to conceive stays with you forever. Nothing takes those memories away.
But the feelings of "never", the feelings of "if only", the feelings of "what if"... Michael's pregnancy has taken that away. I've felt like Bobby and Maya fixed my body, my Michael has fixed my self. He has given me the hope to see myself in a different light.
As funny as it may sound, his pregnancy has given me the peace to see myself as more than a womb with ovaries that work (or not). As more than a patient. As more than a scheduled cesarean delivery. As more than just.
I am enormously grateful for the opportunity at a surprise pregnancy, at a normal pregnancy, and for all the things that come with it. But, as I sit an ponder, from a selfish view, the hidden side of this pregnancy, it's the gift that my son has given to me. That gift of feeling like I'm not a failure- but that I wasn't a failure 10 years ago, 15 years ago, either. That gift that every chance is a new chance. That hope isn't wasted. That love never fails.
That I, for all I am and am not, for all I have and don't have and will never have, and more than the sum of all those things- that I'm not "just good enough", but that I'm enough.