“Wouldn’t I make an adorable pregnant bride?” I stuck a pillow under my dress and mimed walking down the aisle, my face beaming. My then-fiancee (now wife) looked up from the music mix she was making for our upcoming wedding and laughed. “I’m sure you would, but let’s just wait until we’re married.”
Then we did the things newlyweds do: bought a house and planted a garden and started trying to get pregnant. I got the first positive test in the bathroom of our new home, just days after we moved in, seven months after we walked down the aisle. A week later, the pregnancy was over. For two more years, I lugged tanks holding vials of sperm into doctors’ offices. I lay back on the crinkly white paper and got inseminated again and again. I changed my diet and listened to fertility meditation CDs and exercised and stopped exercising and took increasingly stronger hormones and gave myself shots and peed on too many sticks. I began to think of that early pregnancy as a blip on the radar, when my body was confused and thought, for just a moment, that it could get pregnant.
Eventually, the doctors began asking, as they turned from me and my empty womb and looked instead at my wife: “Well, have you ever considered getting pregnant? There are two uteruses in this room.” We had a perfect solution for our baby-less family, didn’t we?
Except for one thing: It wasn’t a solution I wanted. We had always planned for my wife to carry our second child (at least back when planning out pregnancies had seemed like a reasonable thing to do). But the plan had never been for me to try again and again without success, to feel broken and betrayed by my body and then say, “Okay babe, your turn.”
After a surgery to diagnose and remove endometriosis, we moved forward with IVF, setting ourselves a tentative boundary of one year later. If I wasn’t pregnant by then, my wife would take over. I nodded but told myself we would never get to that point. The doctors had said this would work.
I had another miscarriage, which turned into a grueling three-month process of more and more invasive efforts to make sure my womb was recovered. I lost hope that a baby would ever grow inside me, but I kept trying because I couldn’t stop. I was terrified of what it would feel like to hand over the reins. What if I felt consumed by jealousy toward my wife the way I felt toward other pregnant women? What if the baby felt like hers and not ours? Would people see me as just as much the mom as her? Would I?
We continued thawing our frozen embryos. The magnified tiny bundle of cells showed on a screen in our room, and as I lay back in the stirrups, my wife took photos of the image. We held hands and then walked away with an ultrasound picture of the moment the embryo landed in my uterus.
They failed. Every one.
I sobbed on my therapist’s couch. “But you can’t really be worried that you’re not going to love a baby that your wife gives birth to, can you?” she asked. “Of course I’m going to love the baby,” I said, frustrated that she had missed the point. I wasn’t sure exactly what the point was, but it wasn’t about lack of love.
Shortly after my miscarriage, I met a woman in an online support group for lesbians with infertility. She and her wife had been trying to get pregnant for a year when they got their first glimpse at success. But it turned out she was having an ectopic pregnancy, a condition dangerous for the mother and fatal to the embryo. Their doctor advised them to wait three months before trying again. They decided that her wife should try during those three months, and she got pregnant on the first try.
My new friend told me about their first ultrasound during her wife’s pregnancy, how all she could think about was her own ultrasound, when the doctor had told her that something was wrong. “It just looped over and over again in my head,” she told me. When her wife’s ultrasound showed a heartbeat, the nurses clapped and told them congratulations, and she was trapped in her own personal memory hell.
She had been in a support group for lesbians going through infertility, but when her wife got pregnant, the group said she couldn’t come anymore. I marveled that they thought her wife’s ability to conceive could negate all of her own feelings about her infertility and pregnancy loss.
It seemed at times that this woman was the only person in the world who truly understood my fears, but her words brought equal measures of comfort and terror. As my wife and I talked more about her carrying, I had become obsessed with a very specific image: me standing next to her as the doctors watched the heartbeat on her ultrasound, in the same room where they had said to me, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.”
My conversations with this woman told me I wasn’t alone but also confirmed that everything I feared could come to pass.
“I am afraid I’ll be bitter for the rest of my life,” I told my mom. “I can’t seem to move past this — that I have tried so hard and failed. I’ve tried everything, and my body just won’t have a baby. All these pregnant women everywhere I look, and my body just won’t.” She rubbed my back. “I know I would love the baby she gives birth to, but what if, at the same time, I feel cheated forever?”
The day we got my wife’s positive pregnancy test, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I also cried in her arms. At our first ultrasound appointment, we were both tense. I rubbed my wife’s shoulders, terrified about how it would feel to see that little heartbeat but also realizing for the first time that it could happen again: There could be stillness instead of movement.
“Do you see it?” I said to her the moment I saw the tiny flutter. “No,” she said, tears already running down her face.
“Right there,” the ultrasound tech brought the image into focus and pointed at the tiny spot on the screen that was blinking at us, saying hello. We stared at it in awe.
When the ultrasound tech left the room, my wife sat up and put her head against me. “I’m so sorry it wasn’t you,” she sobbed out. I patted her head and let my tears drip into her hair. “You did good, baby,” I cooed at her, in that moment wanting nothing more than to take away her pain and her fear and her guilt.
As we walked out of the doctor’s office, hand in hand, she looked at me skeptically. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I am,” I told her, acknowledging that I was a little surprised by it myself. “I’m so in love with that little baby already.”
When people say “aren’t you lucky that there are two of you, that you can switch?” I give them a tight smile. After two miscarriages and three years of ultrasounds and shots and embryos and dashed hopes, I’m grateful that my wife can carry a child for us. But it is a gratitude born of pain, and that rarely feels like luck. I thought, for a time, that our marriage might be poisoned forever by my anger and resentment over what had not been mine. Through what I can only call grace — the grace of my heart to grow and the grace of my wife’s heart to hurt with me and love me through that growth — I have arrived at gratitude for what is becoming ours.
I talked with my online friend a few days later. The moment we got on the phone, she sounded different, lighter. Her wife had given birth. “He’s amazing,” she crooned over her newborn son. “If I had to go through everything that happened to have this particular baby, then it was worth it.”
I can’t quite get to that spot yet, the memories of my lost babies too heavy on my heart. But when I watch the video I took with my phone of that ultrasound screen, that tiny little fluttering inside my wife’s belly, I know it’s where I’m headed.
Katie Taylor writes about creativity and the messy open spaces that invite personal exploration. You can find her at www.ktmade.com.
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