In my humble, personal opinion, trying to conceive (TTC) is one of the most fraught, misunderstood, and romanticized parts of parenthood. I knew I wanted a baby, don't get me wrong, but I didn't realize wanting a baby would almost ruin my relationship. Perhaps it's because the difficulties of TTC are never talked about openly and honestly, or perhaps you just can't fathom how your relationship will be tested by a specific situation until you're actually experiencing it. Either way, TTC was far more challenging than I expected.
There is this flawed and romanticized idea that TTC is going to be this sweet journey that brings you and your partner closer. That's not what my partner and I experiences. Quite frankly, even when it was "easy" to conceive it still took a crowbar to our relationship. Sure, the journey has made us closer in retrospect, but at the time we must have had some divine intervention to help us survive it. (Just kidding. We survived it our damned selves.)
I'd like to be clear. This is not everyone's experience, it's not meant to stand for anyone else. For one thing, because of our anatomy, my partner and I were able to have sex to conceive and didn't require other people or medical interventions. I realize the place of privilege that puts us in in this country. I can only imagine the greater burden failing at TTC would place on family units, for example, who had to pay $5,000 for each insemination.
From the disconnection, to the (multiple) failures, to the grief of changed minds, TTC can be an incredibly painful experience that makes you question if you ever really knew what you were doing in the first place. I mean, why are you choosing to create a family with this other person if the very beginning of the process is so damn difficult? I knew parenting would be challenging, but I at least thought it would be a beautifully transformative experience during the experience itself. But it wasn't. Not at all. So with that in mind, here's how TTC almost ended my relationship:
When you're constantly having sex to achieve an end goal (i.e. getting pregnant) the last thing you want to do is have sex for fun. If I'm honest, dear reader, there were many times where I didn't even want to look at or touch my partner if I didn't have to. When we were trying to conceive baby number three everything between us felt stressful and forced. Because the first two kids had been relatively easy to conceive, it was hard not to blame each other. As a result, emotional connection became a luxury we didn't think we could afford.
Month after month. Period after Period. Miscarriage after miscarriage. It's hard to not start blaming yourself, and each other. We were big fat failures which made it hard to look in the mirror and, if I'm being honest, to look at my partner.
The Mind Changing
I'd had three miscarriages and we had been TTC for almost two years when my partner said that maybe we weren't supposed to have another child. Maybe it was time we stop trying and accept it. This nearly broke me. I was so angry, so blindsided, and so hurt. If you're not the one getting pregnant, losing pregnancies, putting your body through unimaginable chaos and change while hoping to have a real, live baby at the end of it all, I think it's impossible to understand the toll that TTC takes on those with uteruses. I have no doubt the other partner(s) feel things I can't understand, too.
After trying for so long I was determined to have my final child. The idea that I had almost no control over whether this happened or not was hard to take. When I thought my partner would take away what little control I had left by saying he didn't want to try anymore? Well, I was devastated, to say the least, and felt betrayed by him.
Of course he was being completely reasonable but I wasn't ready to hear it.
There's nothing quite like shared grief in a couple to provoke the "you're doing it wrong" mentality. I imagine my partner couldn't quite understand how I had tunnel vision the entire TTC period. Nothing else mattered as much as getting pregnant again. It wasn't my intention to block everything out, it's just how my grief took over.
On the other hand, I think I resented him for not feeling the miscarriages the way that I did. His grief, no matter how he did or didn't express it, wasn't the same as mine. I was angry that he couldn't truly feel what it was like to have my insides scraped out time after time (two of my miscarriages required D&Cs) when what I wanted was to keep my insides and transform them into healthy babies.
I don't know if I can adequately explain how angry I would get when I would hear my partner disciplining our two older children while we were TTC. It was especially frustrating (my heart felt like it was going to explode in rage) immediately after I found out about miscarriage number one. I was burrowed in my bed, holding my belly that still housed the non-viable fetus. I could hear my partner raising his voice at some infraction one of the kids had apparently committed. In that moment, I blamed him. I was so angry that he could know we'd lost what we'd hoped would be our next child and not be absolutely reverent at all times with our current children.
The Not Knowing
Because my doctors couldn't find anything wrong with me, and I'd had two healthy pregnancies before, we just simply didn't know why the miscarriages kept happening. Ambivalence is hard for the human mind. It's damaging to a relationship where each of us was thinking: "Well, if it's not me, it must be something. Is it you?" Unanswered questions in TTC and miscarriages are fodder for resentment and blame to grow.
For us, the most damaging — and potentially fatal — part of the TTC process was the silence. I'm sure we talked about what was going on, because I'm an external processor and can't imagine not having done so. But it felt like my partner and I were heavily silent about it all the time. The TTC, and what seemed like constant failing, hung like a heavy, dark cloud over our home, our kids, our hearts, and our lives.
We did eventually get to meet our rainbow baby, who turned 1 in April. In the year since our third child was born we've been able to hash out all the stale remnants of grief, isolation, and division that had sprung up around us. We've come out the other side stronger as a couple, as individuals, and as a family. But if I hadn't been able to carry my precious babe to term? I'm not sure I'd be writing the same ending to this story.