I have two children. I have an incredibly smart and curious five year old boy and an energetic three year old boy who also happens to be the most naturally empathetic human being I’ve ever known. The joy, laughter and love that I have experienced since becoming a mother have been healing and are beyond explanation. Yes, there are hard times. Yes, I have a ton of anxiety about their futures and what I am doing to impact their futures. Yes, there are days when I am so tired of their fighting/whining/talking back/… that I have literally contemplated locking myself in the closet and not coming out for more than 24 hours. But, all of that is by far outweighed by the overwhelming love I feel for them and the joy I get from being a mother.
I got pregnant with M when we weren’t exactly trying nor were we preventing. We had tried for a couple of months about a year before but did not have any success. Then my husband lost his job and although I didn’t go back on birth control, we tried to be good about using protection but really were not. Condoms were used very rarely but it had been so long without getting pregnant that it didn’t really seem like something we needed to worry about preventing. I was thrilled when I found out that I was pregnant and knew right away that I wanted to have a medication-free labor and delivery experience. There has always just been something about giving birth without pain medications that shouts WOMAN to me. It is so admirable. So honorable. So barbaric and yet so beautiful. So what I wanted.
It never occurred to me that I would be unable to have a medication-free, vaginal birth. Not only did I need medications when having M but I ended up having to have a c section because “he was just too big for [my] body.” I was devastated. I felt like such a failure. I had failed at bringing M into the world in the way that I had planned and more importantly I had failed at being a woman. I discussed these feelings with my doctor at my six week check-up. She told me that the feelings would pass, I should focus on the happy/healthy baby and that having a c section doesn’t make you not a woman. I left feeling discouraged, unheard and guilty that I was dwelling on this when I did have a happy and healthy baby.
I got pregnant with N literally on the first try. I never went back on birth control between the boys, but we religiously used condoms until we realized that we had a month window to get pregnant or we would have to wait another year because of graduate school and starting a new job. We agreed to try and 12 days later, I saw a very faint pink line. I was so excited and for the first time in my motherhood journey, I felt like a WOMAN. The female body is designed to make and have babies. My body made a baby on the first try. It didn’t take special planning or calculations. All it took was a getting frisky one time without a condom. WOMAN.
This time around, I decided to forego traditional medicine and got connected with a birthing center where I was assigned two midwives and a doula. How WOMAN of me. There are no pain medications at the birth center. No MD who is tired and wants to go to sleep. No rushing of the birthing process. Surely, I would be having a natural birth and walk out of the birthing center feeling even more like a WOMAN than ever before.
After over 48 hours of intense labor, midwives tapping out, the head midwife of the birthing center stimulating my private areas and no sleep, I agreed to transfer to the hospital for an epidural. My midwife encouraged me that I would still be able to have a vaginal birth but that my body was over tired and getting an epidural would allow me to sleep and then get back to the whole labor thing. I arrived at the hospital and my midwife checked me in and requested that the Nurse Midwife (NM) be my attending provider.
The NM came in, examined me and said, “you aren’t having this baby vaginally.” I assured her that I was and got my epidural. The monitors alarmed frequently and the nurses kept making comments about the baby’s heartbeat. I ignored them and focused on the task at hand. I felt the urge to push and the nurse told me not to. I ignored her. The NM came in and examined me said that the baby seemed to be in distress so we would need to do a c section. I refused, explaining that I was feeling the urge to push and begged that she let me try it.
And then I was rolled into the operating room while still pushing despite everyone telling me not to. I remember being so angry with the NM, my midwife and myself in the OR that I refused to open my eyes and look at N when they held him over the curtain. My husband was getting mad at me, so I opened my eyes, took a peak, and then closed my eyes again. This was not my plan. This was not the experience I wanted. My body had failed me again and I certainly was no WOMAN.
I had another perfectly happy and healthy baby boy. There ended up being no known reason for N’s wonky heart rates when I was trying to push, which infuriated me. At least if he had come out with the cord wrapped around his neck, I would have felt better about not being a WOMAN. I would have been able to say, “no I had to sacrifice my wants for the safety of my sweet baby.” Instead, I had another c section under my belt, everyone around me telling me “you just are too small to push out a baby” and an MD I certainly wasn’t going to talk to about my feelings of disappointment and failure. In fact, that same MD actually said “I told you so” when I told her about the c section. All I heard was, you are NOT a WOMAN.
When we started trying for our third baby a little over eighteen months ago, I had had never heard of secondary infertility. I didn’t know that seemingly healthy women who have produced children before and are still in the child bearing age bracket could be diagnosed with infertility. I spent the first nine months or so haphazardly trying to conceive without success. Then I started to do some research and invested in ovulation test strips, a basal body thermometer and eventually a ferning microscope. I was told by several of my close confidants that I was probably not getting pregnant because I was trying too hard and stressing too much about it. When I finally got my doctor to take me seriously about my concerns, I was diagnosed with secondary infertility, likely associated with poly cystic ovary syndrome.
I have spent the last five months mourning the loss of something I never even had. It is still possible that I will have babies again, but with each passing day, I feel the loss even more. How not WOMAN of me. Not only was I physically unable to bring a baby into the world the way my body was designed to do so, but now I can’t even get pregnant. I don’t talk about this loss or my infertility with a lot of people. It feels shameful and like it is something that I am supposed to carry on my own. There are a few close friends who I can talk to but more often than not if I get over feeling ashamed long enough to confide in somebody new, I receive a response along the lines of, “why do you want THREE kids?” or “you need to just focus on the two kids that you do have.” Thank you, dear impolite “friend” who has taken my feelings of shame and added to it guilt for wanting more kids and not appreciating the kids I do have.
Conception, pregnancy, labor, delivery, infertility… these topics all seem so taboo, yet they are a part of my every day thought process. I worry that not only am I not a WOMAN but that I’m also not good enough because of my inabilities. I silently cry for the missed experiences of childbirth (both past and hopefully future) and for the babies that I have not conceived. I am terrified to even speak the word infertility out loud when discussing my experience for fear of offending someone who has not had the privilege of having children due to primary infertility. I am certain that other women have similar experiences, feelings and fears, but my experiences with insensitive (well-meaning, I’m sure) comments and my personal shame of not being WOMAN enough keep me emotionally isolated outside of the infertility community that only serves as a reminder of how I am NOT a WOMAN and that my body has failed me.