I walked along the sidewalk with two other moms I’d recently met, three astride, our newborn babies in strollers in front of us. A jogger approached from the other direction, but none of us made a move, expecting her to go around us on the grass. “You could get out of the way,” she snidely snipped as she passed. I felt bad for our lack of consideration, but one of the moms said, “You never know, maybe she can’t have kids and is taking it out on us.” The other mom agreed, but they didn’t know “us” didn’t really apply to me.
You see, I couldn’t have kids. For six years. My son is the result of seven IVFs, five miscarriages, countless procedures and surgeries, forays into adoption and emotional trauma that will never quite heal. And yet here I am, finally part of the moms’ club. Two years ago, the sight of activities I’m now a part of – stroller walks, park play dates, moms’ group meet-ups at Starbucks – would have sent me running for the hills.
During those dark days, I lived in fear of running into babies, because my heart would break every time I saw one. I stayed inside a lot, only attending events where kids would be at a minimum. At the family-friendly get-togethers I had to go to, it would take every ounce of stamina I had not to break down into a sobbing heap on the floor.
My husband and I once went to a party at the house of a friend of his – his friends’ buddies, my husband assured me, were mostly single, so I thought I was safe. But three pregnant women and countless children later, I sat in the corner desperately waiting for an appropriate time to leave. “Better watch out around all these pregnant women – they might rub off on you!” the hostess joked. “That might not be a bad thing,” I mumbled in retort.
A couple of years later at a particularly horrifying neighborhood Christmas party, 20 kids gathered around Santa while my husband and I tried to keep our composure as we wondered why we’d come. The holidays were always the most trying time for us, because the thing we most wanted could not be bought in a store, and the notion of a Christmas miracle seemed a mockery.
I don’t expect much sympathy for having been an infertile in a fertile world. Kids are everywhere, and I know it’s impossible to avoid them. Other people can’t, and shouldn’t, focus their lives on making my husband and I feel better about ours. But nevertheless, it was hell, plain and simple. Infertility froze us in time – while everyone else’s life was progressing, we were stuck in Groundhog Day.
Until we did, indeed, have a miracle child. Joy was mixed with surreality as I joined a new moms support group. I was “in” now, the way a makeover might suddenly turn a geeky adolescent into the popular girl. All the doors that were closed to me were now open. I felt like Cinderella at the ball – but that included feeling that my true identity was a secret. None of the other moms I met knew anything about my past life, and after discussing the circumstances of their babies’ conceptions (surprise pregnancies, planning for the season of the birth, positive pregnancy tests a month after the honeymoon) I wasn’t sure they could relate even if they did.
As I got to know some moms better, I revealed a little about the journey I had been on, but I still glossed over it, lest it make anyone uncomfortable. “I had a hard time getting pregnant,” I’d say, or, “We tried for a long time to have him.” I didn’t reveal the soul-crushing feeling I had when the doctor told me I would never conceive with my own eggs. I didn’t share the grief that my husband and I went through after I delivered our daughter, too small to survive, at 17 weeks, or detail what her tiny body looked like as we held her.
I didn’t talk about the years of wondering if we would ever have children, and the desperation of not knowing when or how it would happen. The debate over whether to end fertility treatments and pursue adoption. The roller coaster of fearing I was losing my now-son, only to have his heart miraculously start beating inside of me. I felt guilty for keeping it all secret, like I was denying the babies I’d lost or turning my back on the other infertile women who were still in the trenches of their own personal war.
Yet when people asked me how we came up with my son’s name, I just said we liked it. In reality, Samuel is named after his lost sister, Samantha, whose name most people don’t even know. And although we are not particularly religious, I found inspiration from the bible story of Hannah, and how she was finally granted a child, Samuel, after years of infertility.
It was my own choice not to reveal my past, but the topics of infertility and miscarriage aren’t something generally talked about with people you’ve just met. They are still shrouded in stigma and secrecy, and I admit I hadn’t been doing anything to change that. I found it difficult to figure out how to broach the topic without making others feel awkward.
Now, life is moving on from infertility. My mom club has turned into real and true friends who know more about what I’ve been through as I’ve gained the courage to open up to them, and to write about it. Even still, I wonder if I will always feel just a little bit different from other parents. Infertility never really leaves you, but I struggle to not let it define me.
And in the meantime, I’ll continue my mom meet-ups and stroller walks, hoping that I’m not scaring off any fellow infertiles who might cross my path.
Donvito is a freelance writer. You can read more of her work at foggymommy.com.
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