I read a lot of blogs. A lot. I think it’s a great way to “hone my craft” (I’ve always wanted to say that now that I’m part of the “artistic community”) and get inspired.
And I’m a huge supporter of anyone who puts herself out there. As moms, sharing our stories is an important, dare I say an essential, part of building a world where all women can stand together, hand in hand and say there is more that unites us than divides us (or is that all those mid-term advertisements talking?)
For example, the other day, a really sweet young blogger popped up in my feed with a new post. It was a touching tribute detailing her birth story to honor her son’s first year of life. She talked about how her pregnancy was completely dictated by intuition and she did not even seek a doctor’s care. She experienced every symptom with joy and trust, knowing her body could handle the task. She had a home delivery using a birthing tub and a doula. Her piece was poetically written using all sorts of beautiful phrases like blissfully intense, birthing heaven and life-giving power surges. For this sweet, strong mom, she would not change a thing, as the process from beginning to end was “an amazing and peaceful journey that ended in the priceless gift of motherhood.”
By the time I got to the end of her piece, I was convinced her vagina was a magical portal. I imagined a place with rainbows and unicorns and babies popping out from ornate tunnels into fields of flowers.
It was almost exactly how my birth experience went.
I delivered twins ten years ago. Before you ask if they were natural, they weren’t. They were completely un-natural. In fact, my husband and I weren’t even in the same room when they were conceived. He “delivered the goods” early one snowy January morning before heading out of town for a meeting. I followed two hours later and had intercourse with a tube that shot my husband’s best swimmers up to my overly ripe, hormonally-charged eggs. Just to make sure the first group of swimmers weren’t slacking off, we sent a second batch up the next morning. It’s totally possible that I got pregnant with one daughter on a Tuesday and the second on Wednesday. This beautiful process is called intrauterine insemination.
Eleven days later, a blood test — which could barely be taken because my veins were collapsed from all the prior needles used to inject drugs and check hormone levels during the “fertility” process — did indeed show that I was with-child. I wanted to trust my body, but my doctor had trust-issues, so she suggested I stick progesterone suppositories up my hoo-hoo to make sure those kids weren’t going anywhere. My husband and I were blissfully happy for about nine days. That’s when the acute morning sickness kicked in.
By about week sixteen, I started feeling great, but I had to visit the doctor regularly because I started having edema in my feet. To quote my husband, Fred Flintstone had nothing on me. By week twenty-six, it was official. I had preeclampsia and pre-term contractions. My life-giving power surges were happening a little early.
Somehow by the grace of God, bed rest and the power of off-script pharmaceuticals, I made it to thirty-five weeks with my precious cargo. Because my kids have a sense of humor, one decided to lay breech and the other transverse, which basically means she was stretched out horizontally across my belly. My doctor lovingly said, “You never had a chance of a vaginal birth anyway.”
After a very intimate experience with an anesthesiologist who placed a six-inch needle between vertebrae in my spine, I was surrounded by 18 strangers I had never met before all ready to leap into action. It was a soothing environment. As my husband held my hand and stroked my hair, I laid on a cold metal table like Jesus on the cross, and I was resurrected as soon as I heard those two little cries.
They were little, but strong. I did it. That’s when I found my zen and calmly turned to my husband and anesthesiologist and said, “I think I am going to throw up now.”
And I did. No one was safe. I vomited on my husband, and then continued to heave for forty-five minutes while the doctor tried to sew me up as I swore to her that I did not eat anything after the ice cream sundae I devoured at 9:30 the previous night.
But it didn’t stop. I threw up on my mother in law in the recovery room, which was a beautiful bonding experience. Then it was the nice nurse’s turn who checked in on me before leaving her shift. Even my sister-in-law wasn’t spared during the epic puking phase. I was so sick that I don’t even remember the first time I actually held my kids, which I only did because my husband insisted. He wheeled my magic catheter bag and IV drip and drug-induced self all the way down to the NICU so I could hold those two beautiful miracles. Or so I am told.
About two days later, I started coming around. I took a shower, changed from a hospital gown into my pajamas and met my new best friend, my industrial sized breast pump, which got more action than my husband for the next six months.
This was my journey into the priceless gift of motherhood, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
I told you our birth stories were almost the same.
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It’s National Infertility Awareness Week, a cause near and dear to my heart.
I have never made it a secret that we struggled conceiving. I’ve discussed my issues with strangers in dentist offices, grocery stores, soccer fields and playgrounds. Sometimes I don’t even know how I got into the conversation. One minute I’m discussing where I’m from, the next we’re talking about my lazy ovary.
My husband — bless his heart — has given women at his workplace the names of doctors and talked about our story countless times. This from a man who is scared to compliment a female co-worker’s new hair cut for fear of a claim of sexual harassment.
I think we just want to help anyone and everyone that may be going through what we did. Or we may have lost any sense of social decorum.
But I also understand why people don’t discuss their extremely personal fertility issues. When you are unable to get pregnant, and that’s what you want more than anything in the world, it’s just plain awful. I know I felt humiliated, frustrated, resentful and depressed….and that was just a few of the stops on the emotional roller coaster I rode each day.
Sometimes talking about it really helped. Sometimes I just wanted to crawl into a hole and not see a soul. As someone who realizes great joy out of other people’s happiness, I began to dread being around any woman my own age who could possibly share the news that they were going to have a baby. I cringed when I heard of celebrities getting pregnant “by accident.” I spent all my spare time reading up on any new scheme that may improve my chances to conceive, just in case my doctors couldn’t seem to figure it out. I had officially boarded the crazy train.
Sometimes my days were spent trying not to throttle the people who constantly said things that I know they thought were helping, even though they often brought me to tears. It wasn’t their fault. Well, not totally their fault. Until they started telling me about the story of their Aunt’s first cousin’s neighbor who adopted two kids and then got pregnant on their own. Yeah, because that would take my mind off of my problems and give me hope.
What was most frustrating about the infertility process was the toll it took on my marriage. Don’t get me wrong. My husband was ridiculously supportive. Not only did he have to go through his own rounds of painful and embarrassing tests and procedures, but he was also lucky enough to be legally bound to a wife who had gone off the deep end. We did our best, but I would not say we had a model marriage during that time.
What was worse, though, is that having to try to get pregnant — I mean really having to try — kinda takes the fun out of the whole sex/romance thing. Peeing on sticks constantly, skipping the cuddling because you want to lie on your back with your legs up in the air (to ensure the sperm gets to the egg), calling your husband and screaming that he has to come home RIGHT NOW or we may miss the optimal impregnation time, does not, in fact, bring sexy back. There’s a reason Justin Timberlake didn’t add that to his lyrics.
And then let’s briefly discuss the actual treatments to help get you pregnant, if they work. The hormone injections, pills, inserts, doctors’ visits, blood draws, lab tests and procedures. Now that stuff is how you really want to spend your time together. I know some people like it, but my version of foreplay is not having your husband stick a needle in your bottom.
The big joke in our house is that my husband and I weren’t even in the same town when I got pregnant. He had a meeting so he took his, um, genetic material to the lab one freezing January day, carefully protecting it in his coat pocket in order for it not to get cold. He had to get to work for a meeting, so I went to the doctor’s office later that morning to “receive the goods,” following up with a return trip the next morning for an additional shoot up of my husband’s merchandise. I think I saw my husband about two times that week. Intrauterine Insemination. Now if that doesn’t scream out “making love” I don’t know what does.
The good news for us was that it worked, and we got a two-fer with beautiful baby girls born about eight months later. I was one of the lucky ones. Millions of other couples have to try for years, sometimes not succeeding. We were ridiculously grateful.
Even though my journey with infertility ended nine years ago, I still feel like my pain is fresh. I remember the pain associated with not being able to conceive on my own. I remember the pain of some of the procedures. I remember the hot flashes from taking Clomid. I remember the pain of my miscarriage, and the sadness of knowing each month that we didn’t get pregnant….yet again.
And even though I miraculously got pregnant on my own after going through infertility, I will always refer to that time — the time when I was reproductively challenged — as my Dark Times.
So, I have a soft spot for anyone who has faced infertility. A ginormous one. That’s why I thought I would share my top five things never to say to a woman trying to conceive (and yes, these were all said to me):
5. You have plenty of time, don’t worry. I promise you, anyone who is having a problem getting pregnant is going to worry, and trust me, time is never on your side.
4. It will happen when the time is right, so put it in God’s hands. I am a very spiritual person and a believer in Christ; however, God and I had a bit of a falling out during this period. It got so bad that I could barely enter a church without crying. A lot of dealing with infertility is putting your faith — and your fate — in other people’s hands. Being told to give up any more control than I already had just drove me nuts. God did have a plan for me, but people facing infertility don’t need advice or a reminder to have faith. They need support.
3. I would love to trade places with you for a day. My kids are driving me crazy! Seriously, do I have to address this one? Why don’t you just cut me and throw salt right into my wound? I was more than happy to discuss the various issues my friends were facing, but I could not bear to hear anything about being frustrated with having a child. I wanted a baby so badly that it definitely clouded my ability to be compassionate to the everyday woes of a mother. I only kinda feel bad about that now.
2. Is it your problem or your husband’s? Yes, I know. I just shared a lot with you, but this question seems to cross the line, even with me. And I know my other reproductively challenged sisters feel the same way. No one wants to place blame when it comes to being infertile. For men, it is such a sensitive subject and for women it is so emotional. When someone is discussing their infertility with you, it’s always best to let them offer the information.
1. Try not to think about it. When you relax it will happen. This is the one where I often had to sublimate my rage. I was pretty sure if women could get pregnant during famines, wars and other natural disasters, that I should be able to get pregnant on a regular Thursday night after a glass of chardonnay, so giving me another reason to blame myself for not getting pregnant probably did not help so much.
What should you say? Not much. Listening will work wonders. I think my very best friends were the ones that just accepted my highs and lows, and let me vent. They let me vent a lot, without judgement or being condescending.
And the nicest thing anyone ever said to me during the Dark Times: “I am so sorry that you are going through this. I know you are going to make a great mom. Can I do anything?”
Well, just by saying that, she already did enough.
Did you/are you facing fertility issues? Did you hear any doozies?