Children That Never Were

December 8 — Weeks Trying to Get Pregnant: 45 — Cycle 10

That subheader is misleading. Cycle 10 is out. It’s still here, but it’s out. Six week left until it’s been a year. I have the new patient questionnaire from the reproductive endocrinologist to prove it.

I have somewhat regular cycles which I track methodically, so for the last several months, I have been able to pinpoint exactly the day when my body switches from preparing for pregnancy to preparing for menstruation. Did you know that many women’s breasts get really sore a few days after they ovulate? That’s because their levels of progesterone increase causing an expansion in their milk ducts. Isn’t that crazy? It’s 37 weeks before the due date, and already a woman’s body is preparing to sustain life outside the womb.

I’m in my eleventh month of feeling that soreness peak and then fade away, to be replaced by cramps and spotting. I read this post the other day which resonated deeply:

Infertility is a disease that takes away your ability to conceive and bear children. But it rarely takes it away all at once (although it can).  It usually acts more stealthily, taking it away slowly, month after month.  As a result, its a continual mourning process of children that never were.  Children that no one will ever see or would ever even be expected to know about.

I wish it was more apparent to people that its not that we’re not thankful, its not that we’re not appreciative of what we do have, its just that our dreams, our husband’s and our children, are dying. On a repeating loop.  Right in front of us.  We are mothers to invisible, never-living children, and we are mourning.  Death cannot be moved past until it is properly grieved.

 

The sentiment shared by this courageous woman (who is so much further into the journey at the time of her writing than me), is probably why it drives me up a wall when someone tries to provide comfort by saying that we will have a family, one way or another. Yes, I also know there options for expanding our family if I never have a baby. And those options are absolutely on my mind as the months go by. Trust me, I think about my barrenness way more than you, friend.

But we are a single couple, we cannot fight a war on two fronts. (Likely) infertility is the battle we are in right now and it is not helpful in the slightest to preemptively turn our attention to what might be the next battle we face. Right now, it is about surviving. It is about grieving, month after month. It is about deep breathing through panic attacks when you’re by yourself for too long and the sadness finds its way in to take over every thought.

I have a great life. I have a good job that I really like. I have an amazing husband and our marriage is strong and goofy and fulfilling. I have amazing friends and family around me. I have faith in a God of peace and comfort. I also have immense, compounding grief. I have the memory of ten children that never were. Nothing can change that. As John Green wrote, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”

That’s all I’ve got for now. Signing out from the trenches.

Advertisements

Spiraling

December 8 — Weeks Trying to Get Pregnant: 40 — Cycle 9

This would be a terrible month to get pregnant, so of course I think it will be the magic cycle. My estimated due date if this is the cycle would be at the very end of August. I would still not be eligible for FMLA, my boss is getting married and going on a honeymoon in the middle of September, and one of my major annual events that I run is the third Wednesday of September. I also have a friend’s wedding out of state in September and I’d love to go to that. Still, we were not willing to not try this cycle. It is what it is.

Will I have to quit my job or go back to work two weeks after giving birth? Am I worrying for no reason because our efforts are unknowingly futile?

I cannot believe that I only have two cycles left after this one until we’ve been trying for a year. I have certainly found the holidays to be a difficult time to be struggling to conceive. Some of that is related to the specific holiday traditions. Watching my sister-in-law put up her kids’ Baby’s First Christmas ornaments on her tree was hard. But I’ve been surprised at how the sorrow is exponential. It’s not just sadness that we don’t have a reason to hang a baby’s first Christmas ornament this year. It is the deep, hollow ache of wondering if we will ever have a reason to hang such an ornament.

Will we have a baby in another year? Will we at least be expecting by then?

Annual get togethers with extended family, Thanksgiving, and Christmas celebrations this year have all been accompanied by the huge fear that we will be no closer to having children when these events roll around next year (or the next year…). And how much sharper will that pain feel if my fears come true?

This is similar to how pregnancy announcements feel for me. I am truly happy for someone who announces they are adding to their family. But their announcement brings my lacking into sharp relief. And it is not just my current lack of children or apparent inability to get pregnant that causes me pain when I see a pregnancy announcement. In a moment, I am struck with an abundance of painful questions and thoughts that overwhelm me.

What if I’m still not pregnant when this baby is born? Will I ever know what it feels like to see a positive test and plan a way to tell friends and family? How am I going to handle it if this baby gets a sibling before we have a child at all?

It is impossible to stay in the moment with this pain and fear. As such, I feel like I’m on guard at all times, looking out for anything that will send me into a spiral of fear. But the thing is, it’s not just TV shows with unplanned pregnancy plots or over-the-top bumpdates that I’d have to look out for to protect myself from the pain. No, the worry and anxiety is woven throughout my life, waiting at every turn to remind me that I am not pregnant and I may never be. It is there when I am updating our financial planning numbers which indicate how much we want to have saved when we buy a house next year. It is there when my boss talks about planning for 2019 events. It is there when we talk to friends and family about the future.

How much will we have to spend next year to try and get pregnant and will it end up being money down the drain? How will all of this affect my career? If I have to take off work for treatments next year, will my boss be sympathetic or not?

This is all really, really difficult. I don’t have a diagnosis and I cannot even claim to be suffering from infertility yet. Ten months in, it is already so very difficult. Especially right now with so much reflection around the holidays and end of year. Especially when so many peers have had success expanding their families.

And yet, the sinking truth that I feel deeply right now informs me that it is only going to get more difficult. Time will only add more spiraling questions and the pain of each milestone and holiday will be even more acute. I sincerely wonder how I will be able to cope.

Will this struggle be worth it in the end?

Confession Time

November 10 — Weeks Trying to Get Pregnant: 36 -Cycle 8

One of the things you always hear from people experiencing infertility is that it is very isolating. I’m 9 months in, so no infertility diagnosis yet, but the isolation is definitely something I understand. Mostly you feel a bit crazy from the cycling of hope and despair and paranoia and cynicism and anxiety. There are also so many thoughts that you are essentially forced into choking down. I’ve said in past posts that I have frequently felt foolish, here are some of my private thoughts and experiences which show why…


I only just barely stopped myself from creating a secret Amazon registry last March to start saving all the well-researched items we would need for our future baby. I did have a pre-conception call with my insurance company to learn about the great programs they have for expecting mothers. And I did look online for baby baluga whale toys or books which could be used to tell my husband about a positive pregnancy test (baluga whales are an inside joke thing). I don’t even have that insurance or job anymore and the other day I removed a baby baluga whale book from my Amazon wish list.


If you look on my Pinterest board (in 2016 I presciently titled this board: “Not Pregnant”), you can scroll back in the time-ordered pins and see my mood towards trying to conceive changing over the past couple years. I don’t remember the last time I pinned something fun about baby activities or healthy pregnancy tips. These days, it’s all about balancing hormones and dealing with pregnancy jealousy.


I took a break from temping this month. I feel both worried that this lack of data will cause me to miss something important and yet simultaneously embarrassed over my secret hope that this break will act as a reverse-jinx and I’ll definitely get pregnant because I’m not stressed over temping every morning. Seriously, when I’m temping, I wake up earlier and earlier each day because my subconscious mind is terrified I will sleep in and my temp times will be too varied to be useful. But once my body establishes that earlier temp time, I have to stick with the early time for the rest of the cycle. There is nothing quite like waking up at 4:30 am each morning to take your temperature and then reading a friend’s social media complaint about their baby waking them up at the same time. #sorrynotsorry


I am obsessively aware of all the women in my social circles who could potentially announce a pregnancy. I’m not talking about people who have told me they are trying, but the ones who are in the likely age range and life circumstance. Being blindsided by a pregnancy announcement from someone is a huge fear, especially if it’s from someone who either doesn’t know I’ve been trying for awhile or from someone who is perhaps not the most sensitive about such things. Instead I try to anticipate who could surprise me and prepare myself for handling their possible announcement. I worry that I’m drawing back from relationships out of self-preservation.


Regarding people in my social circle getting pregnant, I’m happier for people who I know have been trying for a long time or who had to pursue treatments. It’s not that I’m not happy for those who got pregnant in the first few months, but I won’t get teary when I hear their news. But when I think about a friend of mine who has been trying a couple months longer than me… I know I will cry when she gets pregnant. I have insight into how she has felt this year as each cycle ends in disappointment. I have been somewhat in her shoes. And I want her to get pregnant so very badly. I can’t wait to celebrate with her.


I spend a whole lot of time imaging potential uncomfortable conversations or questions. You know those pretend interactions you imagine while showering? I’ve always had a bit of a constant stream of those pretend conversations and lately they are dominated by my fears that someone will ask me why I haven’t started a family yet. I can’t seem to stop these cyclical thoughts.


As much as I want to get pregnant this month or in December or January, I’m also terrified what that will mean for my job since I will not have reached the one year point yet. The odds at this point are definitely in favor of it not happening and I know I don’t want to push out potential treatments by another 3 months, but I can’t help but worry.


And finally…

If this isn’t the month, then I think I will feel some relief when I get past the 40 weeks trying mark. December 8th would have likely been my estimated due date if we had gotten pregnant the first month of trying. We would already have our hospital bag packed and we’d be washing onesies. I’ve had an easier time seeing all the many blessings in my life this month as I transitioned into a better job for me and also had a ton of friends just being there for me. I think getting out from under the shadow of what could have been will also be helpful. It will still be immensely difficult, but I think it will help me not to have that date to fixate on.

No Whammies — Job Searching While Female

October 20 – Weeks Trying to Get Pregnant: 33 -Cycle 8

“What made you change your mind and start applying for jobs now?” my male friend asks.

It was probably about 2 years ago when I first started feeling dissatisfied with my job. But it pays well with good benefits and there is a 5 year vest in a very strong pension. I figured I could make it to that 5 year mark in July 2018 and then look for something else.

I also thought that I’d have a baby while I worked here. I expected to have a kid sometime in the late winter or early spring, come back from maternity leave, work a couple more months to vest, then start looking for a new job. The timing would have been great. And having a countdown to baby would help me get through the last few months of a difficult job.

But now, even if I got pregnant this cycle, I wouldn’t have that baby until just after I vest in July. Then you factor in a couple months of maternity leave and of course you can’t come back from maternity leave and give your two weeks. That would look terrible: “Thanks for all that free health insurance, chumps, but I’m outta here!” While not strictly against the rules, it would not be a smooth way to leave a position. So even if I got pregnant this month, waiting to leave until after a baby would see me staying at this job for another 14+ months.

There is also, of course, the other potential scenario… the very real possibility that I will keep not getting pregnant and find myself in the same miserable situation months from now with no baby and no job satisfaction. So do I push out my leave date each month that pregnancy doesn’t happen, even though my Sunday nights are filled with dread and panic over having to go back to a job I hate? Or do I take a leap and let the chips fall where they may because while I have no control over when I will get pregnant, I can at least control where I spend 40 hours a week?


But it’s not that simple either. FMLA protections take 12 months to kick in. So if you get pregnant in the first couple months of employment, your employer does not have to give you any more time off than what you’ve saved in vacation and sick days. And there is a significant likelihood that they will be a bit peeved at you too. It’s not exactly their ideal situation to hire a new person and then 10 months later have to cover for their extended absence.

That is a major reason why I was trying to wait it out and switch jobs after I had a baby. If I knew the future and I knew how long it was going to take, then I could figure out which path to take. But I don’t. It could take years. It could never happen. Or it could happen this month.

I just wish that as a woman in the workplace, my hands weren’t tied and my career decisions weren’t dictated by family planning. My husband could switch jobs every other month of a potential pregnancy and still likely be able to take a week of time off after the baby was born. He wouldn’t be side-eyed or gossiped about for leaving a place of employment right after his baby was born. He wouldn’t have to worry about telling a new employer that he’s expecting only a few months after starting work there.

It’s not fair. And it sucks.

In the end, I decided to go ahead and start applying for jobs. Because I don’t want to go another 8 months and find myself in the exact same position of not knowing when I will get pregnant and being even more miserable in a job that is crushing my spirit. And if I get pregnant in the next three months, well, I’m not going to be sorry about that.


Before we started trying, I remember thinking that I would really prefer not to have a baby at the beginning of a school year. I was a July birthday and young in my class, and I couldn’t imagine having to wait that whole extra year before going to school and then always being older than everyone. That’s not why we started trying in March, however. Mark had shoulder surgery in January, so we wouldn’t have been able to try that month or the next. March made sense.

Now that our attempt at creating a baby is the size of a head of celery, I could not care less what month or season our imaginary baby is born during. Sometimes the desperation and longing is all-encompassing,

This past cycle was certainly rough on the milestone front. I did not get pregnant by our third wedding anniversary (yesterday). I will not have a baby before I turn 29. We will not have a baby before we buy a house. We will only have two more chances to get pregnant in 2017. Because I have longer cycles, I actually only have 4 cycles (including this one) before we get to claim our infertility badge.

It is also, of course, hard to think about going into the holidays with this burden on our hearts and minds. I think about the little babies on family Christmas cards, or the themed announcements of new pregnancies, or the parade of babies at church in their fancy Christmas clothes… and frankly I can’t even get through the thought without crying.

If this post has a point, I suppose it is that life does, as it must, go on. There will be more milestones. There will be more life events that cause disruptions in family planning. There will be holidays and there will be pregnancy announcements from friends and family. Other people’s lives are not in stasis. Our life is not in stasis until we become parents either.

That statement might seem really obvious to anyone who hasn’t found themselves in this position. But when you are in the middle of it, every decision feels like a new turn on Press Your Luck. It feels like every choice has the potential to make or break our chances at pregnancy that cycle. As such, it is so hard not be paralyzed with indecision as you are always waiting and seeing.

This cycle I am trying to remember that every choice so far, despite my best intentions or anything that the internet has promised, has resulted in a whammy. I would like that knowledge to give me freedom. I would like to really internalize the fact that I can keep on living my life and making plans for the future and that won’t have any affect on whether I get pregnant or not. There is no combination of finger crossing or jinx-free decisions that will cause me to get pregnant.

To summarize… I have to move forward each day and make decisions which are right for me and us today, because I don’t know how many whammies are on the board and staying in one place won’t change the game. I will take the new job, I will enjoy the vacation, I will remember that other’s happy Christmas cards are not attacks. Hopefully.

Kindness in the Storm

September 30 – Weeks Trying to Get Pregnant: 30 – Cycle 7

(9/27) I am at my work’s annual conference sitting in my hotel room after our opening reception. Right before things closed up, I stopped and chatted with one of my favorite sales guys, an associate member of our organization. He is always a riot and remembers everyone’s story, the text book example of a good salesman. He grabbed my hand in between his as he was jokingly imploring me for a better golf tournament tie-breaker, and then he noticed my wedding ring. He said he didn’t remember that I was married and asked if I had any kids. I told him “no” and he looked at me and said, “I hope whatever you want in that really works out.”

I’m shedding a few tears now as I think about this interaction because he was so sincere. And I didn’t realize until then how much I needed that statement.

It turns out the jealousy and despair doesn’t wait to attack you until you’ve been trying for 12 months. I’m really struggling right now with envy. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m in close relationships with many pregnant women and women with brand new babies. Being around them, and existing in the midst of the excitement that others have towards them and their pregnancies/infants, has a way of turning my uterus into a tell-tale heart, reminding me of its barren state with every breath. I don’t get jealous of others for their possessions or careers or lifestyles, so this is somewhat new for me. Then again, I’ve never wanted anything this badly before either.

As for the despair, well, I’ve just found it difficult to be optimistic these past couple cycles. That is partly because I have some legitimate red flag concerns that I’m going in to the doctor about soon. But it is also about self-preservation. The first few cycles I was all about taking an early pregnancy test and looking out for early pregnancy symptoms. Now I find myself moving on in my thoughts to the next cycle before I’m even officially out of the current one. Sometimes I wish I didn’t always assume the worst-case-scenario, but I also don’t know how to be hopeful in the face of repeated disappointment.

So tonight when Dennis looked me in the eyes and made such an empathetic statement, I was moved. It was such a non-judgmental statement. It didn’t offer false assurances and it wasn’t dismissive. It was just kind.


(9/30) When conceiving doesn’t come easily to you, it is hard to listen to the complaints of the pregnant and infant parents. What wouldn’t I give for my lost sleep to be caused by pregnancy discomfort or a newborn’s cries instead of anxious dreams and night sweats? I don’t actually think it’s wrong for these mothers to share frustrations or complaints. I don’t want them to feel like a complaint or tired exasperation means they didn’t deserve their baby or that they are not grateful enough. It’s just really hard hearing it sometimes.

I’m not an “everything happens for a reason” person. I don’t believe God is a baby-giver or baby-taker (a phrase from this fantastic podcast episode about infertility). That kind of thinking is a real slippery slope into a prosperity Gospel theology where good and bad things happen to you based on the quality of your faith. I’m not cool with that theology. Things just happen sometimes, and right now, not getting pregnant is what is happening to me.

That said, I do think it’s important to try and learn something from everything you go through. I hope what I’m learning right now is how to be more kind. I want to pass along that empathy and kindness that Dennis gave me with a small and simple comment. I want to notice the person who is getting lost in the swirl of excitement which they are left out of. I want to be more mindful of my words and their affect on others. I want to be a safe place for people where they don’t feel like they have to be on guard to protect their vulnerable spots from my or others’ flippant complaints and comments.

Being more kind won’t win me a pregnancy or baby in a cosmic, points-based game of life. But if I can quietly provide that needed lifeline with a simple and personal word of kindness, then I absolutely must pay that forward.

The Frequency Illusion

September 7 – Weeks Trying to Get Pregnant: 27 – Cycle 6, Month 7

What do my coworker who got married last November, my high school classmate, my middle school classmate, Joy-Anna Duggar, my former roommate slash bridesmaid, and Princess Kate all have in common? They all announced they were pregnant in the last two weeks.

What do my high school friend, my former babysitter, and my other coworker have in common? They all had babies in the last two weeks.

All of these women have had unique journeys or obstacles on their way to pregnancy. Well, except for Joy-Anna. She seems to have gotten pregnant on or near her wedding night which is also the first time she kissed anyone, so there’s that. And maybe some of the others got pregnant easily too. As much as I want to scream at every pregnant woman, “How long did you try for?, Were you even taking your BBT?, How many tries did you get in your fertile window?,” I can’t actually ask for intimate details of her conception.

There is not a limited number of babies in the universe, I remind myself. And I know at least two of the above-mentioned women have endured immense loss before getting to this point. But it is not about who has gone through the hardest time or deserves a baby the most, is it?

[Side Note: If it was merit-based, Jenelle Evans sure as heck wouldn’t have gotten pregnant four times, amiright?!]

I’m 28 years old, so it’s not overstating it to say that I know and interact with a lot of pregnant women. I’ve been trying for going on 7 months and in that time 7 babies have been born in my family or social circle. And I’m not talking about the former classmates or babysitters, this is cousins or friends I still talk to or people I go to church with. But beyond the very real fact that there are a lot of babies and pregnancies around me, I’m also falling victim to the Frequency Illusion.

Once you start trying to get pregnant, you notice the pregnancies and babies everywhere. I frequently walk at the mall on my lunch break. Maybe the mall was filled with pregnant women before I started trying to get pregnant, but I don’t remember because I didn’t have a sixth sense about it back then. Now, it seems like I can’t get away from them.

[Side Note: I just received an email while editing this post at work. One of my coworkers announced & shared pictures of his brand new grand-baby who was born yesterday. Mazel Tov.]

Maybe I don’t have any real claim to being so sad or jealous, seeing as how I’m not suffering infertility yet. Instead, I live in this awkward limbo where I cannot claim fertility or infertility. The majority of people actively trying would have been pregnant by now. But you don’t get an infertility diagnosis until you reach one year of trying — or have some condition discovered prior to then.

I think that is why I started sharing here. This is not a post I will share broadly and I will absolutely get less than 10 reads. That feels right. I’m not just shouting into the void, but most people will never see it. Maybe I will find out next week that this cycle actually is a winner and these posts will fade in my mind. Or maybe I’ll still be sitting here a year from now and I will appreciate the record of this time in sub-fertile land.

In sub-fertile land, I already feel sadness and longing and jealousy. I am trying not to dismiss these feelings as irrational and instead attempting to accept that it is normal. I do not need to diminish what I am feeling just because others have suffered for a much longer time with no results. It is not absurd to be upset before that year of waiting is complete.

Next week will mark my third trimester of trying to get pregnant. That sounds a lot more real than 7 months. If I’d gotten pregnant the first try, my baby would be the size of a head of cauliflower today. Instead I am still worried about every twinge. Was that the beginning of a PMS cramp, or maybe I just literally felt the implantation of a little baby embryo? You cannot feel implantation, I remind myself.

It really messes with your head. Even when you’ve “just” been trying for seven months.


Two people at work know I am trying. One is the aforementioned woman who is expecting in March. The other is my office neighbor and yesterday he basically rubbed other co-worker’s pregnancy in my face. He needled me, gleefully trying to get information about if I’m expecting too and did I already know she was expecting. I stewed for an hour while he was on a conference call. Then I confronted him. I didn’t say 1/4 of the things I’d been stewing about, but I think he got the picture: I’m not being coy and I don’t want to talk about it.

My productivity has been so low lately, probably due to an increase in my anxiety and depression. But I know the stress of not getting pregnant has been one culprit behind this increase.

How do you create healthy mental separation from something causing anxiety when that something is your own body?

I know this state is untenable. I know I need to learn how to accept that it is what it is. I’m working on it.