I sat on the edge of my bed bracing myself, willing my mind not to count the required five minutes to pass. This month was number 24. Twenty four months of recording basal temperatures, discharge consistency, ovulation results, and worst of all, negative pregnancy tests. After an eternity passed, my husband handed me the stick, and I saw two lonely lines.
As every month before this one, I could not find the word to describe the feeling those two lines brought me. Month after month I felt this devastation and sadness, anger and resentment. Then suddenly my husband asked if I was grieving. That’s exactly it.
Grieving a Lost Future
I was grieving the baby I never had. The little baby with 10 wiggly toes and a tiny nose. The sweet baby wrapped in a swaddle needing to be rocked. The sleeping baby snuggled into mama’s chest. The pink or blue nursery with a pretty white crib and rocking chair. A closet full of tiny clothes and a dresser stacked with sleepers and blankets. I was grieving all the wonderful things I may never experience. Walking through a neighborhood pushing a stroller, helping my child on the monkey bars, celebrating graduations, even meeting other moms for lunch. As I sat with my new revelation that I was grieving, a familiar feeling washed over me.
Comparing the Pain
I was used to feeling guilty at this point. I felt guilty for not being able to give my husband the child he so much deserved. I felt guilty for resenting other moms who announced their pregnancy or simply walked by me at the store with their beautiful, round, pregnant belly. I felt guilty for judging other moms who complained about their pregnancy, which I swore I would never do. I felt guilty for not being overjoyed when a friend or colleague announced exciting news. Now there was a new reason for my guilt. I was grieving a baby I never had, but what about the moms who were grieving a baby they did have? How could I dare compare my feeling or struggle or sadness to theirs. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t. I should be ashamed, which I was.
The What-If Mind Game
Oh the shame that comes with infertility. The one thing I should be able to do as a woman, I could not. When you are struggling to conceive, it feels as if every person you know gets pregnant. Every woman in your office, every woman at the mall, every woman at the zoo — they’re all reminders that the entire world can get pregnant. I felt broken and useless. Shame is a powerful thing. At a time when I needed more support than ever, shame kept me from talking. And when I chose to open up to someone, shame would eventually shut it down, and I would pretend I stopped trying. People have the best intentions, but the helpful stories and words of wisdom can be the most painful.
We all think we know someone trying to conceive. We all know a friend or cousin who tried to get pregnant for years, and as soon as they stopped trying — bam! baby on board. Every time I heard this story I went deep into my guilt and shame. What is wrong with me? Is it in my head? Should I stop trying? What if next month is THE month and I miss it because I stop trying? What if I stop tracking all the things and my doctor blames me for not trying hard enough? What if tracking all the things is making me too tense or too anxious and it IS all my fault? What if I just don’t deserve a baby? What if this is a sign that I wouldn’t be a good parent?
Month after month, I promised the universe I would be the best parent any child could have. I promised, I begged. I spent thousands of dollars on medical exams and bloodwork and vitamins and ovulation kits and pregnancy tests. I read every book about trying to conceive. My Pinterest boards were scarred with TTC memes and articles that gave false hope. I changed my diet. I followed moon cycles. I joined infertility support groups. I did whatever I had to do to get through the days.
To all the women trying to conceive, I’m sorry. I won’t tell you to think positively because I hated hearing that. I won’t tell you it gets better because I don’t know if it will. What I can tell you is there are so many women out there who feel how you feel. You are absolutely not alone. There should be zero shame in this journey, but it’s okay if you have to learn that on your own. It’s okay to be angry and sad and resentful. You shouldn’t feel guilty, but it’s normal and okay if you do. My only advice is to keep communication open with your partner and find support wherever you feel comfortable. And on Mother’s Day, I will be thinking of you.
About the author: Chris and her family are Fort Worth newbies by way of North Carolina and Colorado, though she grew up in Western New York. She is the annual giving coordinator at ACH Child and Family Services, leads Tarrant County North Moms, and the proud mama of two feisty, little girls.