This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I’ve written about my own journey a few times in this space, but whenever it comes up in my offline life my emotional reaction to it always surprises me.
I’m always surprised by how deep-seated the pain of not being able to bear children is. It’s ironic since having biological children never seemed to be super high on my bucket list, but the process of learning that it wasn’t going to happen still stings to the point of tears.
I’m also surprised by how deeply personal it feels. Certainly, I write about a good chunk of my life here, and I share a lot in my work because I don’t mind and it makes me relatable which makes my job a lot easier. Yet, some of the people closest to me still don’t know about this loss or if they know about it; I’ve successfully downplayed it to the point where it is assumed to be a non-issue, something I problem-solved through adoption.
I love being a mom, and more specifically, I love being Hope’s mom.
But please be clear that Hope is not a replacement kid; she doesn’t fill the hole of grief that sits below my navel. My love of her and mothering her co-exists with that grief, just like her grief around the circumstances that necessitated adoption sits beside her love for me.
It all just sits together at a big lunch table, maybe at separate ends, but it is there, sharing space, it’s visible, and it’s real.
Recently I was talking to a close relation on my way to work. We got to talking about assistive reproduction and the choices people make. There are so many ways you can rule out so many risks in having a child these days, but somewhere in the gap science meets miracle, and sometimes miracles aren’t always pretty. My conversation partner played up how science has reduced so much of the mystery and that really there should be no surprises. Our conversation eventually led me to tell her my own story about not being able to have biological children.
Before I knew it, I was reaching for a tissue from my glovebox and my voice was hitching with emotion. The rush of sadness and feelings of being betrayed by my body were surprisingly close to the surface despite my routine efforts to just contain them on an emotional box in my emotional storage shed. No, there they were in all their glory practically sitting on the living room table on Front Street in my emotional house.
It is still tender. It still hurts. It will probably hurt in some way or another forever.
There is no shame in not being able to bear children. There isn’t. It doesn’t make me less of a woman or a failure, even if my mind and heart sometimes tell me that it does. There is no shame in grieving the ability to have children, and yet many of us feel shame or something close to it—guilt, fear of judgment, cloaking sadness, even wild-green jealousy—and all of those feelings keep us from talking about infertility.
I look forward to the day when I don’t drop tears when telling my story. I look forward to just being able to talk about it more freely—I mean, sure it doesn’t come up all the time “Hey Brad, could you tell me what aisle the cinnamon Frosted Flakes are on? BTW, I am infertile!”—but I long for a time when I’m not as silent on the issue. I think it will help me continue to move past that chapter. I look forward to being well past childbearing age (Damn you fly, 50 yo Janet Jackson), when the looking beyond fertility becomes moot.
I just want to look forward to a time when it just won’t sting so badly.