The desire to conceive a child can be all-consuming for women who are feeling that relentless biological pull. The laundry list of to-dos, and the god-forbid-you-should-ever-dos, is exhaustive — and any woman who has that list inked on her palm can tell you about it. I can tell you about it firsthand.
We prop pillows under our hips after well-timed obligatory sex, and we monitor our basal body temperatures. We swallow pills, inject ourselves, double-check our bank balances, and make our second home at the clinic while medical professionals take goop, wands, syringes and pressure-washers to our reproductive systems. It’s the physical and emotional parkour demanded of us. And, for a while, it’s exciting. We’re happy to do it.
Fertility warriors, we’re called. We’re well acquainted with our endocrine systems, the curious nature of our cervices, and the road map of veins on our tender breasts, starkly visible in the days that may or may not lead up to yet another unwanted period, with sad songs played on repeat and little piles of balled-up tissues on our bedside tables.
During that two-week wait after ovulation, we flock to reputable medical websites and crowded fertility forums; we squint as we hold our pregnancy tests up to the morning sunlight just before we toss them dejectedly into the wastebasket, and we eat our weight in consolation brownies and let tears cascade down our cheeks while Netflix nags us for the dozenth time over whether we’re still watching Season 1 of “The Office.” (We are. Sort of.)
And through it all, the message from those around us is clear: Don’t Give Up Hope. It’s laced into every blog post we read, and into every encouraging message from friends and strangers. And so we don’t. We hang on. And month after month, we wipe away the tears and keep going, despite this tiny voice in the back of our minds that questions whether we even want to; because somewhere along the line, we realized that nothing about this feels particularly fun anymore.
It took my husband and me 14 months to conceive our only living child. When our daughter was 18 months old, I lost our second child in utero, and shortly thereafter I was slammed with the news that I’d never be pregnant again. A secondary infertility diagnosis catapulted me into a years-long fog of grief; and although grief offers a buffet of varying stages, I happily set up camp in the denial stage. I got so comfortable there, in fact, that I spent years building a home and filling it with undying hope. I had flippant disregard for my medical diagnosis, and engaged in rebellious, I’ll-prove-science-wrong sex.
Time passed, my husband and I kept trying and my grief remained. Each attempt resulted in failure, but I clung to my hope as I floundered in a sea of desperation, confusion and anger. It was the life preserver that kept me above the surface — or so I thought, until three years had gone by and I recognized nearly nothing about myself. I was emotional, vitriolic and perpetually disappointed. That hope, it occurred to me, wasn’t my life preserver at all. It was the sea, swallowing me whole.
Raw and terrifying though it was, letting go felt revolutionary. The doctors had been right all along, I conceded; I no longer needed to heave the weight of my effort into something that would never be. I’d expended every last ounce of my sadness in the years that trailed behind me; I had no sorrow left. So I loosened my grip, let my hope slip through my fingers, and left the mess of it all in my wake. To call it liberating would be an understatement.
I stopped trying. I tossed my basal body temperature thermometer in the garbage, I threw all my fertility charts in the recycling bin and I quit putting my body and its inner workings under the proverbial microscope month after month. I felt good — I was light, my jealousy of mothers carrying infants morphed into gratitude for never needing to change another diaper, and I let that singular, unused pregnancy test live in my bathroom for no other reason than posterity, really.
So a year later, when I grabbed it out of that drawer and used it, the last thing I expected to see were those two familiar pink lines; and yet, there they were. And now, as I feel the small, soft kicks of that baby the doctors told me I’d never conceive, my confusion competes with my gratitude and disbelief. My third child is alive and well inside me; and although I can’t make sense of her existence, I can say with certainty that hope played no role in her creation.
If somewhere along the line you were roped into believing that hope is the secret ingredient in all of this, that it’s the booster shot that either comes before egg retrieval or after implantation, you’ve been misinformed. Whether it’s perfect timing, perfect specimens, sex, syringe, miracle or magic, one fact remains: Neither lingering hope nor enduring faith have anything to do with the creation, incubation and birth of humankind.
Hope does not make babies — and frankly, more often than not, neither does sex. So, women, hear me well as I say this: It’s okay to give up; it’s okay to quit, to let go and to walk away from every ritual and convention you’ve clung to. Hope or none, the sun will set tonight and rise again in the morning. And although letting go may not grant you what you want, it very well may give you exactly what you need.
Sandy Jorgenson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn. She blogs at sandsmama.com, or find her on Twitter @sandsmamablog.