A woman holding her baby, both looking at each other and smiling with flowers in the background
Photo courtesy of Risa Kerslake

After Infertility, The World Can Be Kind Of Difficult To Handle

Several years ago, as infertility dragged on for me, I struggled more and more with how I was going to get through the day. I stopped attending my Sunday church service after I watched numbly from my seat one Mother's Day as the pastor had all the moms stand and receive a rose. One year, my husband and I left out of state on a vacation conveniently over that weekend and it was the best decision we could have made. Not because I didn’t want to celebrate and honor my own mother, who has always been my rock, but because I needed the escape when my heart was hurting so much. The intentions on Mother's Day are only good, but they often have the effect of making women dealing with infertility feel left out. Of reminding them, on a day celebrating something they want more than anything in the world, that it’s not happening for them.

I was still in my first trimester when my unofficial first Mother’s Day came around, and aside from wanting to simultaneously dry heave and eat three hot dogs right off the grill, I managed to hold myself together. I decided I couldn’t emotionally handle going to church, but my husband got me a necklace. It was a swirly outline of a mother holding a child with a pearl in the middle of her, representing the miracle that grew inside me, and embracing the child I never got to hold. I lost Adam during our first in-vitro fertilization — far before I knew his sex, but in my heart I knew he was my son.

These moments present themselves every time someone announces their pregnancy, or the birth of a child, or when a celebrity proclaims that motherhood made her "whole," presenting a phrasing that implies women who have not brought a child to term are somehow less-than.

When you’ve gone through infertility, celebrating a world that is centered around having kids is complicated. Even as a parent, now, I can't imagine not feeling some sort of grief when I consider reveling in my motherhood. After six years of fighting to become a mom, I wasn’t prepared for having my heart shattered into a million pieces when I finally saw my wish come true. I’m picking the pieces up slowly, one by one, trying to figure out how I fit into this world of motherhood when it didn’t come easy for me. When I didn’t think it would come at all.

Celebrating after you have lost babies is hard. Celebrating after you have endured the special hell that is infertility is daunting. We went through three in vitro fertilizations and two rounds of donor eggs before I finally became pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t get her the traditional way. Most people I knew in real life had no trouble getting pregnant. But then the others, the ones I met while going through infertility, the ones still in the trenches, awaiting their own baby — I felt like a fraud with them, too.

There is more baggage that comes with infertility than we acknowledge — more covert triggers littered around the place that people who haven't dealt with infertility simply aren't aware of.

Walking a line, infertility on one side, and motherhood on the other — it’s difficult. You’re so incredibly grateful for this gift you’ve been given. You’re also hurting for those still waiting.

The difficulties of infertility don't leave you when you have a child. The commercials of moms cradling glowing babies still trundle by on buses. Magazines still publish gushy spreads of famous people with their "miracle babies." Few and far between admit, like Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge did, that "motherhood is an incredible privilege."

If anything, the emotions are more conflicted. I’m happy, and I’m grateful. My heart is full of love and thankfulness for this child that almost wasn’t. But there’s a lot of ambivalence, too. Every year, I send out a handful of cards to the women in my life who may not having a child here in Earth — don't fit our definition of "mother" — but are mothers all the same. After all, they’ve proven they can love someone whom they’ve never even met face to face. So along with these mixed feelings I’m battling, I’m also enduring the survivor’s guilt that comes from receiving something when others in your community are still fighting for theirs. Walking a line, infertility on one side, and motherhood on the other — it’s difficult. You’re so incredibly grateful for this gift you’ve been given. You’re also hurting for those still waiting.

Anyone who knows my story knows getting pregnant didn’t come easy for me. But for the women in my life who have lost children or are still trying to get pregnant, there is still an ache in my heart. Because I know how hard this journey is. I know what this holiday means to them. I still have PTSD from the years of fertility treatments. I remember them like it was yesterday and not four years ago.

My daughter was six months old when Mother's Day came around again. I opened a jewelry box that morning from my husband while she played on the floor. This necklace held two birthstones, one for my little girl, and the other, in the month Adam should have been born.

Please remember them all.