I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps looking at the floor as she recounts the moment she knew her period wasn't coming; why she's downplaying this monumental moment in her life. It's because I've had three miscarriages. It's because she has seen me struggle. It's because my fertility issues are a black shadow on a new path she's taking toward motherhood. It's because of me and my faulty uterus that seems hellbent on providing me one child, and one child only. It's me.
I don't want it to be this way, though. I remember what it's like to hold a positive pregnancy test in your hot little hands, the fact that you peed on it only minutes earlier the least of your concerns. I know that mixture of excitement and fear and suspense and peace that often comes with the realization that in 40 weeks, more or less, someone is going to call you mom. I want my friends to be as free to celebrate this life choice as I was when I found out I was pregnant with my son. I want them to know they can tell me every thought and feeling — every fear and hope — as they process the profound changes that come with pregnancy. And I do not want my miscarriages to be a footnote in their own pregnancy story. And yet, what I want and do not want cannot keep my thoughtful friends from curtailing their joy. For better or worse, they care about my wish to expand my family, and my apparent inability to do so. It is their love and devotion that both warms me and fills me with an insurmountable amount of guilt. I am moved by their thoughtfulness, but I am also haunted by it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a reported 12% of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. And the Mayo Clinic reports that as many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage. In other words, miscarriages are not atypical, and one in four women will experience pregnancy loss sometime in their life.
But the commonality of a miscarriage doesn't make the experience any easier to endure. I've been trying to carry a pregnancy to term for a little over two years; a year after I brought my son into the world; 1,095 days after the end of a terrifying pregnancy and a heartbreaking labor and delivery. Initially pregnant with twins, I experienced numerous pregnancy complications including a blood infection, a fetal loss at 19 weeks, countless pre-term labor scares that ended when I gave birth to a child that was alive, and a diminished twin that wasn't. Pregnancy was emotionally, physically, and spiritually taxing on not only me, but my partner and our fairly young relationship, and still: I want to do it again. I want to give my son a brother or sister. I want him to have a lifelong confidant and bond with another human being that only siblings can enjoy. I want to give my love to another child because I know, with every fiber of my disheartened being, that I have more love to give.
The world spins madly on, regardless of my empty womb.
But with each passing year, each unwanted period, and each demoralizing miscarriage, I feel further and further away from that want. My arms are outstretched but the possibility of another child feels beyond my reach. The vision I have for my family — a family of four — is getting that much harder to see clearly.
Still, countless women are continuing to get pregnant every single day. In 2016 there were 3,945,875 births in the United States, according to the CDC, and 62 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The world spins madly on, regardless of my empty womb, and I truly don't believe my experience justifies the silencing of another's. Does it hurt to see another woman announcing her pregnancy via Facebook, or shuffling her baby bump down the sidewalk, or welcoming another child to their growing family? Yes. I am a human being, after all, and each pregnant woman is an unwanted reminder that I am not her. In fact, there's a good chance I will never be her. I likely suffer from secondary infertility which, according to The Mayo Clinic, "is the inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby." It can be caused by endometriosis and complications related to prior pregnancy or surgery and, since I have both, there's a very real possibility that my son will be an only child. I will be a "one and done" mom not by choice, but by inescapable happenstance.
But I was that pregnant woman once, and my newly pregnant friends deserve every unabashed celebration I wholeheartedly enjoyed. They deserve to share the ups and downs of pregnancy. They deserve to bitch about morning sickness and unfathomably exhaustion and incredibly quick-shrinking clothes, and without someone snidely responding, "Well, at least you're pregnant."
Please do hug me and jump up and down and scream that kind-of-unbearable excitement-screech when you discuss baby shower registries and nursery decorations and labor and delivery plans.
My infertility doesn't diminish their discomfort. The growing pile of negative pregnancy tests doesn't negate the positive tests they couldn't wait to show their partners. My sadness doesn't make their happiness cruel or unusual or vindictive. Our stories, however different, can exist in the same book. After all, we are all characters in the mystical and extreme nonfiction tale of pregnancy, and as such we should all be respected as representations of the impact pregnancy can have. The good. The bad. And the ugly.
Some of us get pregnant, some of us don't. Some of us want to be pregnant and can't be. Some of us don't want to be pregnant and end up scheduling abortions. Some of us have complication-free pregnancies and some of us endure multiple miscarriages. But we're all attached to one another by the spectrum of reproductive experiences, and as such we must support, celebrate, cry with, and stand next to one another. Always.
So please, my dearest friend trying to keep her lunch down as her poppyseed-sized zygote grows into a fig-sized fetus, do talk to me about your pregnancy. Please do look me in the eye and smile when you tell me that you're so excited to have a baby. Please do hug me and jump up and down and scream that kind-of-unbearable excitement-screech when you discuss baby shower registries and nursery decorations and labor and delivery plans.
Please keep celebrating every single second of your pregnancy, because I know what it's like to do the very same thing. And I know what it's like to not be able to do it again.