It happened on my walk home from work.
With a gentle breeze blowing, the knowledge that fall is here was inescapable. I listened to the shouts of our newly-returned students as they played club rugby and ran frisbee drills. I noticed the new fall flowers along my path. I noted the watchful father sitting on his front step as his little one climbed a tree. I passed the women pushing strollers. I walked in my own back door and instinctively greeted my two cats with the usual, “Hello, my babies!”
Today I realized I’ll survive.
For the first time in nearly 4 years I asked myself, “Will I be happy in a life without children?” and could honestly answer, “Yes.” For the first time, that question popped up as almost an afterthought – an aside – and I answered instinctively and definitively. For the first time I asked it without feeling physically ill and I answered it without second-guessing that answer.
I wish I could pinpoint what caused this stealth revelation. Maybe it is because, with our IVF consult behind us, I know we yet again have a path in front of us. The prospect of IVF has caused me to hope in way that I haven’t at any stage in our conception journey. It comes with two kinds of hope. First, the promise of something new, something different, something unlike anything we’ve tried before. This, in a nutshell, is the hope I’m still partly afraid to utter. That hope that things might go differently this time.
The second hope is a harder one to verbalize, but the one I feel most wholly in this moment. It is the hope that, despite the outcome, IVF will bring us peace. We may not complete our pre-paid two-cycle package with a baby in our arms, but we will complete it knowing that we did everything we were comfortable doing to achieve our elusive biological child. (And, I should note here, just because we’ve drawn this highly arbitrary line at 2 IVFs does not mean that is the universal line at which all infertile women and men will draw this very important line. This is, yet again, another one of those malleable demarcations infertility throws at us.) Writing about her own recent decision to jump to IVF, Katherine over at Inconceivable! explained:
It’s amazing how once the decision was made, I could finally breathe again. It had happened, we had survived, we had enough resources to go ahead. The anxiety level dropped almost immediately. Finally, we had a plan. There was no specter lurking in the background to frighten, to wonder if we would have to cross a final frontier. Now we will know, even if the IVF doesn’t take, that we have done everything in our power to conceive a baby. I’m finding myself at some sort of peace at last.
And, to that, all I can say is a heartfelt ditto. The physical challenges of IVF seem trivial – I’ve been doing the needles, the anesthesia, the probes, and the pokes for longer than I care to think about. It was the finality that scared me the most over the past several years. Now, surprisingly, it is the specter of exactly that finality that has brought me the greatest solace.
I often feel like I occupy an oddly privileged space in this land of infertility. Because I’ve experienced so much pain in the past – because I watched my mother lose her battle to cancer when I was just 19 – I’ve often thought of myself as better prepared to handle the entirely different, yet entirely familiar, pain that infertility has brought to my life. I’d never say that that tragedy dulled my pain (in fact, I’ve written before about how it has actually complicated it), but I will say that having pain as a well-known bedfellow has often helped with processing each failed cycle, each miscarriage, each new bit of bad news. But, all that said, it wasn’t until today that I had a much-needed revelation. It’s OK if, once our path to parenthood to comes to a close, I still feel sadness at the future we won’t experience.
For 19 years of my life I envisioned my mom videotaping my college graduation, dancing at my wedding, holding her first grandchild. In a manner that only the naivete of youth can inspire, I never once doubted that each of those moments would form future memories. When I lost her, I also lost that future. Despite the drawn-out cruelty that is terminal cancer, the final blow came quickly, definitively, and inescapably that December night in 2002. Nothing could return that longed-for future to me, and all around me knew it. Death is final.
For the past several years, I’ve bemoaned the fact that unlike death, infertility is, in many regards, ongoing. There’s always another cycle, another treatment, another doctor, another potential way to envision that future coming to fruition. And, there’s always those around you who either ignore your battle (or don’t know about it in the first place) or try to minimize it. Infertility has often felt like a never-ending torment. “How,” I would ask,”can I ever move beyond that future version of my life that I so badly want?” Ultimately, I believe, I was asking the wrong question.
I didn’t erase the me-with-a-mother thoughts I had for all those years. I amended them. My mom wasn’t at my wedding, but the single pink rose we placed on the church alter was there in her memory. Plans not deleted, but revised.
How it has taken me so long to realize that I don’t have to erase the me-as-a-mother version of myself to move beyond this battle is beyond me. Hearing our neighbors’ children play, watching them bike down the street as I write this (and future posts) – it’s alright if that always causes a little heartache, a little sadness, a little remorse. I felt the same sadness when I saw that single rose up on our wedding altar. It didn’t ruin my wedding, it enhanced it. Like that rose, awareness of our infertility doesn’t have to destroy, it can also create. Acknowledging, remembering, and embracing the role this battle has played in my life and our relationship can bring peace. I’m not scared anymore. I’ll survive.