In recognition of National Infertility Awareness Week, we are seeking to raise awareness about this struggle by sharing stories from local moms and a dad who have been in this difficult place, as well as additional local resources to help parents along this journey. Through this series, we hope to provide encouragement for women and men who are facing infertility and perspective for those supporting them in the battle. Thank you to our sponsors, UAB Women & Infants Services, and to each of the contributors to this series — especially the courageous parents who have shared a painful piece of your journeys.
Since infertility is such a sensitive subject, let me start with a short disclaimer: Each story of infertility, waiting, longing, and heartache is unique. My thoughts, opinions, life experience, and hurts will be different than everyone else’s. I’m so thankful that as women, as moms, and as waiting moms, we make space for each other in this. Also, infertility and waiting for children is not limited to women who do not have any children in their home or who have never been pregnant. It’s important when talking about this topic that we leave all our assumptions at the door and make space for individual struggles. Last year on my personal blog during National Infertility Awareness Week, I shared 5 things I want you to know (I also share my personal story of waiting to become a mother through a 4+ year adoption process and infertility). This post helped spark so many wonderful conversations with friends and loved ones who didn’t understand how hard and hurtful it is to wait for children we long for so much. I hope that my words that you read today can be a continuation of that conversation on a larger platform and for many more women.
For better or for worse, our culture is obsessed with a certain progression of life. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes . . . well, you know the rest. But what happens when that’s not the hand you’re dealt? What happens when what you want most is to feel a baby kick inside of you, but instead all you get is a heap of negative pregnancy tests? I’ve been there. I’ve stared down a pregnancy test, or ten, willing it to turn into two little lines. I’ve been overly aware of gurgles my stomach makes, vowing not to bring it up because what if it’s morning sickness or nausea? and I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I’ve lain in bed imagining myself with a round belly, matted hair in a hospital bed, and holding a baby for its first breaths. I wasn’t dealt the cards that come along with cute little rhymes, and there are many others who join me in this group.
Unfortunately, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes waiting and waiting and lots of adoption paperwork and/or fertility treatments” doesn’t sound very appealing. And do you know why? Because it’s not. It’s hard, emotional, and painful; and I hope that my words can either encourage you on your similar journey, or allow you to understand a journey different from yours that affects so many women who may be your friends or family members.
Almost immediately after I got married in 2012, people began asking when we would have children. I don’t know if it’s Southern culture or what, but I could never post anything halfway vague on Facebook because people would start commenting, “OMG I bet you’re pregnant!” Knowing that I had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) when I was 16 years old, I shrugged off the question and assumptions because I truly had no idea what building our family would look like for my new husband and me.
Building our family took a sharp left turn when we decided to pursue international adoption one year into our marriage, before we even knew if we could have biological children. This brought to the table every question that people could think of, both thoughtful and completely inappropriate. Two years (and no children) into the adoption process, we made the decision to get off of birth control and try our hand at having a biological child. It’s been over two years since that decision was made, and we do have one beautiful daughter, our little Texan whom we adopted domestically at birth in the midst of waiting for our international adoption (still waiting) and waiting for a biological child (also still waiting). She’s our miracle, and our joy that came from all of this waiting and heartache.
While we were waiting to become parents for the first time, I shared with a friend that I was really struggling to attend baby showers. They were hard to show up for, what with their cute little petit fours, adorable baby animal gift wrapping, and the never-ending supplies that come along with children. I would find myself thinking about if the couple we were celebrating had even been married when we began our quest to become parents. I wondered if they’d been trying to get pregnant longer than us. When it came down to it, I really just wanted it to be my turn. I didn’t like the way baby showers made me feel, think, or act.
As I shared all of this with with my friend, she affirmed my feelings. She didn’t make me feel bad about what I’d just admitted; truly, I felt badly enough for the way I felt already. She said that she understood how hard it must be, even though she had not been in my shoes. The next time I saw her, she asked if she could walk out to the car with me when it was time to leave. I didn’t think much of it as we walked and talked, but when we got to our cars she reached into her back seat and pulled out a baby shower-themed gift bag. Holding back tears, I quickly said thank you, got into my car, and drove home. When I got home, I opened the bag as fast as I could and held in my hands a beautiful baby blanket with the name “Judah” monogrammed on it (Judah is the name that we’ve picked for our son coming to us through international adoption). She’d written a sweet card that said that even though we were still waiting to snuggle our boy, she hoped that this baby gift would be a reminder that he’s on his way.
Even thinking back to that gesture brings tears to my eyes. It’s not the act of receiving a gift that meant so much to me, but rather that my friend showed up, acknowledged my deep longing, and figuratively stood in that hard place with me.
My plan with this post was to write a listicle of day-in and day-out things that are hard for those of us struggling with infertility. However, as I began to make that list, I found myself wondering if other women who have walked similar roads would say the same things or not. I couldn’t find the words that were inclusive enough, yet captured the essence of the day-to-day wait that those of us who have experienced infertility and waiting walk. So instead of a list, I’ll leave you with a simple bit of wisdom . . .
Show up, and let people in.
For those of you who have friends or family members who are walking through infertility: show up for them, acknowledge their longing (also read: don’t give advice or try to fix it), and stand with them in their hard place.
For those of us who are waiting and longing for a child: let people you trust be this for you. Not only will it be cathartic to bear your burdens with trusted friends, but you will also be giving people who care about you the opportunity to bless you either by offering their listening ear, by praying for you, by buying you a baby blanket, or by just being there.
Infertility is a very personal and very daily struggle. There can be so much joy and love in the midst of it, but there can also be hurt, shame, fear, anger, and pain. If you are walking through this season, don’t do it alone – don’t isolate yourself and let these emotions and fears win. Allow yourself to be loved by your people. And friends and family members, don’t let us live in isolation – we need you! We need to be reminded of joy and love, and most of all, that we are cared for.
While there isn’t quite a happy ending since we are still waiting for both a biological child and our international adoption, I did get to have my very own baby shower when we brought our daughter, Brighten, home. True to character, my baby blanket friend helped host the shower, and she even got me a matching blanket for Brighten.
For all of you who show up for all of us who are waiting, hurting, struggling, and battling against many fears, I want to say thank you. And for those of you who are like me and who feel like there’s not an end to this wait in sight, I want you to know that you’re not alone.