“How many pregnancies have you had total?” the technician asked as lightly as if she had asked about the weather.
I wasn’t prepared for that question.
It wasn’t the question I normally get from medical personal; that of, “Are you now or have you ever been pregnant?”
That is the question I am prepared for; that is the question that years of conditioning have numbed me to, as I always automatically respond, “No.”
But this question, “How many pregnancies have you had total?” this question felt like a shock to my system. This question was asking me to think of an area of my life that held reservoirs of pain and longing and quantify it. This question assumed that of course a woman of my age should be able to answer the question with a number, what kind of woman was I if I couldn’t?
“Zero.” I heard myself mumble as tears stung my eyes and I threatened myself with the wrath of every hateful thing I could think of if I let even one tear escape.
Zero. . . Zero. . . Zero. . . Zero.
As time went on, the word continued to reverberate in my head, fighting for dominance against the echoing, “How many pregnancies have you had total?”
Then, with “zero” winning the fight for space in my mind, all I could do was attach a number to things: zero relationships, zero dates in the last year, zero times hearing, “I love you” in a romantic relationship, zero engagements, zero marriages, zero pregnancies, zero times feeling a life kick inside me, zero hearings of a baby’s heartbeat on the same machine the technician was currently using to find what was wrong with me, why I’d been sick and why doctors had said to me that “zero” will probably continue to be my number when it comes to the only thing I have ever wanted my entire life: motherhood.
And then, suddenly, any control I had over my thoughts was gone and numbering turned into the bus Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves had driven in Speed – there was no stopping the quickness and fervor of all such a little number held for me: zero times hearing a baby’s first gasps of air and cries of arrival, zero holdings of a precious life I had helped create, zero times gazing at a child with awe and wonder and knowing what it means to feel a love only reserved for mothers and their children, zero late night feedings, zero fighting with a partner over who’s turn it was to change a diaper, zero first smiles, zero times choosing a name, zero rocking chair moments of complete exhaustion mixed with a jumble of all the emotions a person was capable of feeling at one time … Zero, zero, zero …. on and on it went through every moment I had never before known I had imagined for myself as a mother.
I couldn’t breathe. I wanted out of that room – out of my mind, my body, my life.
But instead I laid there, on the table, feeling shame at my failure in relationships and family and pain in the longing for nothing more than the chance at all I had wanted life to be.
The shame intensified as I humiliated myself with the thought, “Mia, you aren’t even married, the pain of not being able to bare children is not for you!”
Woah. Is that really what I believed?
I asked myself where that belief came from, where it was written that only those who are married and trying for a child could claim ownership of the pain that comes in wanting a child and not being able to have one? Why would my being told I couldn’t have children hurt any less because a spouse wasn’t by my side? It still was real; it still was a loss.
Why so many justifications and qualifications and dismissing of myself, my pain, my story? It brought me back to previous thoughts and ideas I’ve had about pain(previous post here); about the comparison that can come between our own pain and that of another and how real of a battle it can be to keep comparison out and to allow one’s pain to be real.
My comparison of pain left me believing I had no right to feel the way I was feeling, as if, once again, I had fallen short of being invited into the game of life that somehow only starts through the gate of marriage. However, like it or not, in that moment right had nothing to do with it because my reality was that all I was feeling was devastation.
Motherhood was all I have ever wanted and here I was in typical Mia fashion, still a step behind the rest, not married, and facing the possibility that before I even got the chance to try I was to be told my greatest wish would never come to pass.
Tears came then.
The technician thought she was hurting me and kept apologizing and all I could say as I cried was, “I’m fine, it’s fine, really I’m fine.”
But I wasn’t fine.
Nothing felt fine then and nothing feels fine now.
I am lucky to report that what they believed at first to be life threatening to me, a type of cancer, no longer is; but what they did uncover was something that feels life threatening to me in a different way – the inability to have children. I won’t go into the details of everything but that seems to be the consensus from two different opinions.
Even typing those words, “inability to have children,” fills my heart with a deep sadness I’m not ready to fully face.
We live in a world that is fast to problem solve, is fast to suggest fixes to any issue or challenge. Believe me – I get it; I am all about solving a problem, finding alternatives around challenges and coming out the victor.
But sometimes things can’t be fixed. Shattered glass remains shattered. I can try to glue it all back together and I can get close to what it was, but it will never be the same. Admitting that isn’t pessimism, it’s reality. Can I make the cup useable again? Of course I can but it will never be what it was.
I’ve felt that way over the last few months, broken and shattered and wanting someone to glue my pieces all back together again. I haven’t felt good physically and the emotional pain at what different doctors were telling me about my future family possibilities felt more than I knew how to bear. I’ve pulled back from writing, from friendships, and family because I haven’t been able to deal.
As I’ve shared with a few people what has been going on with me I have had those whom I love, respect, and would never want to hurt by my response, offer me fast fixes – don’t worry you can adopt; there could always be a miracle; God promises are for here and eternity, you can have your family in the hereafter; you are an aunt and that’s better than being a mom because you just do the fun stuff; you work with children, there are plenty of ways to be involved with kids.
Respectfully and lovingly I am now replying: for me, none of those fixes are the same as having the experience of being a wife and a mother in the usual way that hundreds of people are living daily, right now, in this moment. I’m not suggesting that for others those suggestions don’t bring comfort or that somewhere in the future they might not bring comfort to me, but for now, they feel like salt in the wound.
So, for me, the unbearable pain of motherhood is simply not being a mother; as well as now having to face the high probability that I never will be. Looking at that reality is hard, painful, and makes me want to run in the opposite direction. In fact, I have been running from it for the last couple of months. However, lately, I’ve been thinking that if I don’t seek to face the reality of not being a mother, how will I ever get through it?
It is in facing our pain, grief, and fear that we start to overcome it. It is acknowledging that I am hurt and observing my thoughts and reactions to that hurt with compassion and understanding, that healing can come. When I choose to ignore my pain, when I seek to hide it or judge my reactions to my pain with anger, condemnation, and self-hatred, I am only increasing its depth and longevity.
I came across the word “barren” in something that I was recently reading and it hit me with such force. I looked up the exact definition and found it to be, “something not productive, unable to support growth.” I then wept as I read through a list of synonyms: arid, desolate, depleted, empty, fruitless, impotent, impoverished, desert, parched, sterile, unbarring, unfruitful, unproductive, a waste, because that list is exactly how I have felt and still do feel most days.
I feel as if I am in the desert of my life and I am fighting with all that I have to not succumb to the mirage of bitterness, to not believe that covering my heart through this pain with justifiable anger will be water to my soul; for it is exactly that: a mirage. Bitterness and anger feel so much better than sadness and grief, but in the end, the damage they cause is often worse than the pain they set out to cover.
So, I’m seeking to step into the pain of this new situation because I have often heard it quoted that the only way out of something is through.
I’ve cried myself to sleep at night more times than I can count. I see children anywhere and I instantly think, “you’ll never be a mom; you aren’t worthy enough for a child, you would be an awful parent.” I have been filled with a jealous longing and sadness with every post or picture I see announcing a new child, or pregnancy. It’s not pretty and I don’t like that about myself but it’s been the truth. I am happy for my friends, for those who have the blessing of motherhood and I would never want them to feel the need to censor their happiness because of what I lack in terms of marriage and family. Allowing myself the humanity of feeling two emotions at a time – happiness for someone else and sadness for myself, without condemning myself for those emotions is the path I’m trying to tread and the one that I believe will bring back hope and light into my life.
I need hope and light back into my life. I need to remind myself that I am going to be okay again.
I guess that is why I decided to write about this, why I decided to share another piece of my life even as I feel raw and vulnerable doing so. Writing has always given me light. Over the last year, as I have chosen to be real and write about my struggle with PTSD, suicide, and childhood sexual abuse, I have felt the pain from those experiences lessen and I have felt the power that comes in owning one’s story.
I share this not for pity or sympathy. I share because this is happening for me and I know that if it’s happening for me, it’s happening for many others. I spent too many years alone with my feelings, too many years believing that my struggles made me less than everyone else who seemed to have it all together. I figured out soon enough that no one has it all together but oh, how desperately we seek to pretend we do.
If you are reading this and you are struggling with the pain of unfilled expectations, of hopes dashed, and you feel as if you might never be whole again, I hope you know you are not alone.
If you are married with no children but desperately want them and are struggling through infertility, my heart aches for you; if you are married and have one child but always imagined your home full of little ones and that dream isn’t coming true no matter your effort, oh, how I wish I could weep with you; if you are single and suffering the pain that comes with “invisible infertility,” that deep darkness of not even believing you can claim the grief that comes in your lack of family and motherhood because your lack is circumstantial and not biological, I need you to know your pain is real and no less than those trying for a family and unable to conceive
It is a vicious trap we fall into when we believe our pain and struggle need to be “the worst” in order for it to be valid; or crueler still, when we believe that because someone else’s pain seems less than our own it’s not real pain. Reality dictates that one can always find a worse situation. How about we seek for less comparison and more compassion? Life is hard for everyone.
And while right now, my barrenness seems as all encompassing and dark as a storm at sea, as a pain that will never cease, I have to remember that it’s inability to support growth is only focused on my womb, my heart is another story.
I do not have a barren heart or a barren mind; both of those parts of me have an infinite capacity to support growth and goodness and so do those parts of you.
How will we seek to nurture that?
For me it will come as I allow myself to feel the pain of this new reality, as I seek for compassion for self and others, and as I fight the battle of anger and bitterness.
For you, it might be different and that’s okay. Whatever it is, I hope you know: you are loved, you matter, you are not alone.