A bitter taste that doesn’t fade

Mid-way through the two-day intensive child birth preparation seminar we attended last weekend one of our instructors asked:

Who here thinks giving birth is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

My hand stayed firmly at my side, while the hands of those around me shot straight up.  The mister and I gave one another a solemn, knowing look, and the moment passed.  It was likely a blip on the radar of so many others in the room – the woman who had to turn away during the bloody birth scene in one video, the many others who let out an audible gasp when our instructor introduced us to the Kiwi delivery device (the next-gen vacuum extractor), and the coach who got squeamish when our instructor noted that the prostoglandins in semen can induce labor.  But, to me, that 5-second show of hands was one of the biggest takeaways of our child birth education rite of passage.  I’m different.  We’re different.  Infertility doesn’t fade.

Don’t get me wrong, had the instructor phrased that question one of any number of different ways I might have joined in with my classmates.  One of the most physically taxing experiences of my life?  Sure.  Something for which I can’t be truly prepared until the moment arrives?  Absolutely.  An even that will redefine physical pain for the rest of my life?  I don’t doubt it.  But, to be entirely honest, I don’t suspect that the physical act of child birth will really, truly be the “hardest” moment of my life.  Whispering permission to die in my mother’s ear?  Bingo.  Walking in to maternity triage to get a double dose of methotrexate to terminate our first pregnancy?  Up there too.  Enduring 12 hours of contractions at home after being sent away from the hospital to birth our third dead fetus?  That definitely is on the list.  No, instructor, I don’t think giving birth is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

For better or for worse, I’m an education junkie and feel quite comfortable in the classroom.  That’s probably why I’ve built up the act of attending a child birth seminar in my mind so very much over these past 4.5 years.  It’s not that I’ve not gotten excited (and stressed) about finishing the nursery, and I even managed to find a sense of (uneasy) happiness at my first family shower two weeks ago; but, that child birth class?  That’s the moment I’ve most been waiting for.  That day that would tell me this is real.  I’ve always assumed that sitting on a floor huffing and puffing in comical fashion with a dozen other expectant couples would finally normalize this experience for me.  In a few ways, it did; but, in most ways, it absolutely didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, we left with valuable information and I’m extremely comforted by the fact that I now have my bearings in the hospital we’ll be delivering at.  (A hospital I never set foot in until Saturday.)  Mr. knows where to drop off the car, I know what the birthing rooms look like, and we both know that there’s a definite disconcerting bounce to the upper floors L&D occupies.  (Thankfully, I don’t think I’ll be fretting about a bouncing building mid-delivery.)

It’s just that I also left knowing that pretty much nothing is going to normalize this pregnancy after infertility stuff for me.  And by that I truly don’t mean to be negative.  I couldn’t be happier or more excited to meet this little man in a few short months, and I don’t remotely regret attending the classes.  Just as they prepared us to navigate the built environment of the large teaching hospital campus we’ll be using, the classes also provided me with the knowledge that a certain amount of bitterness is going to be my perpetual bedfellow in this journey.  I won’t wallow in it, but, sometimes it’s just nice to know the lay of the land.

And, the emotions I experienced during the class aren’t likely to go away as we (oh please God!) transition from pregnancy to parenthood.  At just 30 years old, I felt old in the classroom.  In league with one or two other couples, we were the “old parents.”  We were frequently the babies in the infertility waiting room, so seeing so many faces lacking wrinkles and heads missing gray hair was unanticipated and a good bit unsettling.

Then I realized that most of our fellow classmates knew one another or knew our instructors.  The city we’ll be delivering in is kind of a “small town, big city.”  The nurses that led the class were the appropriate age to be friends with the parents of the mid-twenty somethings that occupied the room with us, and many of them were.  Other classmates were young professionals with the same local firms, and still others came from the nearby army base.

In all of this, one word prevails – “nearby.”  Each of our fellow classmates (like most sensible people) are a short distance from their hospital of choice.  We, on the other hand, will be traveling just about an hour to get this baby out.  We have to; I’m high-risk and this is the only hospital equipped to deal with high-risk patients.  As our instructors taught us to leave for the hospital when our contractions were 5 minutes apart, 1 minute in duration, over the course of 1 hour, one casually commented, “… because no one’s from over an hour away, right?”  I raised my hand and our instructions were altered to 7 minutes apart, 1 minute in duration, for 1 hour.

But, ultimately, I wasn’t worrying nearly as much as my fellow nervous classmates about deciding when to head for the hospital, because odds are our drive up will be timed to the convenience of our physicians, not my body, as they intend to induce if I get to 39 weeks.  And induction means doing it all at the hospital.  Being high-risk also means constant monitoring that made our tour of the whirlpool tubs and discussions of laboring in water all the more frustrating to listen to since those won’t be options for me.  At times, I found myself sitting back and mentally saying to my fellow students, “Oh, honey, don’t worry about how big that bathtub is… you’re gonna be begging for an epidural the second you roll in.  Accept it and move on.”

I had thoroughly othered myself.  An older transplant to the region that would never have the “typical” birth story (whatever that is!).  That’s not going away anytime soon, so acceptance sooner rather than later is probably a good bet.

Oddly enough, I only started easing into comfort with the classes on the second day when our instructors had learned enough to start calling me out as the special snowflake that I am.  On day one I was pretty miserable.  The class began as our instructors noted that, while their own pregnancies had been a while ago, they were still L&D nurses and instructors and were abreast of how the field had changed in the intervening years.  And, even more importantly screamed one, “My kids have given my grand kids!  Squeal!”  To which the other one replied, “Yes, my children have been delinquent and haven’t given me any yet, but they will soon or they’ll be hearing about it!”  The room laughed lightly, the instructors playfully jabbed one another, I turned a violent shade of fuchsia, formed my fist into a ball, and almost walked out barely thirty seconds into the class.  I was fuming for most of the rest of the 2.5 hour session.

Saturday morning was similar in tone, and then came lunch.  The instructors sat at our table and did something that oddly made me feel instantly better.  We had the names of our OB/GYNs on our name tags (to help us find our “labor buddies” with similar practices?!? Yea, no one else was with my MFM…) so the one instructor asked, “So, why are you with Dr. S?  He only takes really difficult cases, no?”  That might have made some of you squirm, but to me it was just the opening I needed to start the conversation about how I found her comments the day before a bit unsettling.  I listed off my resume – IVF, 3 miscarriages, antiphospholipid syndrome – and she went from playful (bumbling) kindergarten teacher holding the hands of a bevy of nervous fergiles to the educated L&D nurse instructor that she was at her day job.  From that point on – during the tour, through our discussion of pain management options, to the section on induction and labor augmentation – she looked me in the eyes, gave me additional tips and advice, and waited until I’d asked all my questions.  It’s amazing how you can go from hating something to loving something in the blink of an eye.  I even began to cut my classmates some slack, not the least of which because one particularly squirmy gasper overheard my conversation with the instructor at lunch and identified herself to the two of us as the survivor of 7 IVF cycles, the last of which landed her in our midst.

I’ve always known that there are many different and equally appropriate ways for women and men to endure struggle.  Mine has always been to latch on and find strength in difference.  To be brash in the defense of my journey and emotions.  I rarely sugarcoat the death of my mother, and – over time – I’ve come to be downright obnoxious about our IF.  It’s what works for me.  Others, though, are going to find strength in, well, not necessarily “forgetting,” but in moving on.  Child birth videos don’t make me squirm because, well, I’ve watched videos and seen pictures of my laparoscopies and those are a wee bit more frightening to my mind.  And, I was always a masochist throughout my IF.  I watched the videos, I read the child birth books, I was the most birth-educated non-mother around.  Whereas others can compartmentalize, I always wanted to know it all and know it NOW.  No one way is better or worse, but I sure wish I had taken the time to reflect on how my methods of coping would impact my move from IF to (lasting) PG after IF to (again, please God) parenting after IF.  Then again, I don’t know that I could have worked through this all any earlier than this moment.  That I could have anticipated how defining myself through difference would change when the differences became different.  And, that’s why I’m oddly happy we did take these child birth classes.  No, I didn’t need to learn about the stages of labor, or form bonds with my fellow nervous mamas to be, but I clearly DID need to work through some of this baggage.  And I think I’m closer now than I have been at any other stage of this pregnancy…

12 thoughts on “A bitter taste that doesn’t fade

  1. Loved this post. I’ve often wondered how it might feel to be PG after all of this IF heartache, and this post made it very real. Even if we do conceive, I will never be a part of the blissfully ignorant fertile sorority. Also love that you unintentionally became the brave spokesperson for the silent minority in the room!

    • Thanks, Erika! I struggled with writing it, just like I’ve struggled with most of my posts post-pregnancy, because it’s hard not to sound ungrateful. I’m so glad it helped, rather than hurt!

  2. I’m glad you found the silver lining in the end! You’ve inspired me to go into my childbirth class with an open mind. I’ll admit, I have been dreading it, mostly because I’ve convinced myself that I’ll be surrounded by young fertiles boasting about how their twins are “all natural” or something equally insensitive. I have no reason to believe that will actually happen. But it sort of illustrates how I’m afraid I will feel like a complete outsider. I thought about not attending a class at all – like you, I read and research a LOT, plus I have a doula who used to be a L&D nurse, so I don’t really need to learn about labor and birth. What I do need is to learn what to expect at MY hospital.

    • Yes, ultimately it was definitely worth it, even though I felt like I was slogging through that first night. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it also was nice to realize how prepared I really am in the grand scheme of things. I definitely didn’t need much of the “education” our instructors were there to provide, but it still felt nice to know that my knowledge parlayed nicely with what they felt we needed to know, you know?

      99% of the moms I know who went to child birth classes told me that 1. they were a waste, and 2. they didn’t remember a single thing they learned there. I’d say that’s a fair assessment. But I will also say that I WILL remember what it felt like to ride that elevator to the L&D floor, how helpful it was to see what THEIR equipment looked like, and how it felt to have the Mr. practice rubbing my back during “relaxation” exercises. (Maybe I’m just willing to do anything for a back rub???)

  3. I’ve recently found myself in the midst of a group of moms that is all rah rah homebirth your body can do anything and trust in your body. I mostly keep my mouth shut especially when it comes to the mandatory sharing of positive only birth stories at their baby showers. I just can’t understand them. It is like I am a foreigner. My body already failed me many times over so telling me to trust in a natural process that didn’t have a natural beginning seems laughable. Luckily back in the day for the hospital class I sat next to the other infertile couple that had done IVF. Just pure randomness but it made the class better. 🙂

    Take care. I think of you a lot.

    • So very VERY true –> “My body already failed me many times over so telling me to trust in a natural process that didn’t have a natural beginning seems laughable.”

      On the flip side, I also got offended when the instructor said off-handedly and without any supporting information that “ALL IVF pregnancies require constant monitoring during labor because they aren’t placed ‘naturally’ in the uterus.” It was another near flip-out moment, not the least of which because it was just wrong. Had I not developed antiphospholipid syndrome during this pregnancy, this IVF pregnancy would have been treated like any other run-of-the-mill “first” pregnancy by my former OB/GYN practice. I can call my pregnancy unnatural, but you sure as hell can’t lady! 😉

      • Wooza… what a stupid and uninformed comment. Maybe she is referring to an increased risk of placenta previa? That doesn’t mean we all have it. Have heart I wasn’t constantly monitored even during my induction. I was allowed to go for walks and take showers etc.

        That is too true. It’s like how I can beat up my brother but no one else was allowed to 🙂

        I am being treated like a leper by OB offices up here in MA because I am on lovenox. Most wouldn’t even take me. Then the home birth crowd gets going. One Mom is treating her homozygous MTHFR “naturally” and kind of was condescending in her tone toward me for taking lovenox. If I had to stand on my head to make sure the baby was healthy I would! I stupid shot a day I can take.

        • Yea, no kidding. Her “reasoning” was that there was an increased incidence of early placental failure/insufficiency in their IVF population. I’d like to see the stats on that, though. Either way, I do know that’s exactly what they are looking for in me, but because of my APS NOT my IVF status.

          Unfortunately, my hospital does not allow anything to do with water (tubs, showers, etc.) if you’re on constant monitoring. All other positions, walking, etc. are fine though.

          And, I MAY start standing on my head pretty soon. Today’s entire appointment was about the possibility of a C thanks to little man’s constant breech position. Breech + lots of Braxton Hicks + lovenox means they’re already putting me on the scheduled C train. NOT a happy camper… 🙁

  4. I definitely fall into the camp of being obnoxious about IF and the difficulties of getting pregnant. I know for a fact I’ve made some people uncomfortable discussing IUI, IVF, and miscarriage, but I ALSO know that some people have been inspired by it – I’ve had people come up to me later and say, “you know, I had a miscarriage at X weeks, and no one talks about it,” or “it took us X months/years of trying, and we thought it would never happen.” It totally makes up for the ignorant comments (“just adopt” “maybe nature/god is trying to tell you not to reproduce” etc). Keep on being obnoxious! Fuck this silence shit.

  5. I hate how Infertility has altered every single thought, experience and belief we have in how life is supposed to be. I wish I could be that clueless, happy go lucky person I once was. Hell, I wish I could go back and be the person who was so upset to have to give up running during IVF. If only that was the worst thing I had to do.

    • IF does seem to come with a sliding scale of “worst things ever.” It’s like constantly falling down a rabbit hole with no known bottom…

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