A little over twelve years have passed since my hysterectomy and I still feel a twinge of emotion every time I see a pregnant woman. Dare I admit that sometimes it is even more than a twinge? I live in a neighborhood that should go down in the books as one of the most prolific baby making areas of all time. Maybe my pregnant woman radar is heightened due to my own situation but I’m telling you that at any given day at the park near our home I am likely to encounter no less than 5… most likely more… pregnant women. Most days I can smile politely and mask the hurt underneath, however, at other times I must confess that it is agony. I usually don’t say anything because, of course, these women have every right to rejoice in their situations. They also have every right to complain about the hard times that I’m sure pregnancy brings. There are days, though, when I just want to stand up in that crowd of beautiful swollen bellies and scream, “Do you know how lucky you are?!? Do you know what I would give to be in your shoes, if only for a few hours?” I promise you that I would relish the morning sickness, swollen ankles, and constant bladder pressure. Oh wait… I have that anyway thanks to my poor confused body, but I don’t get a bundle of joy at the end. “Sigh”
I also experience some of those same emotions each time I have to sit in my gyno’s office amidst pregnant mothers who, unsuspecting of my inner turmoil, quietly wait for their appointment. Little do they know that after I leave the office I usually spend about 10 minutes in my car quietly expending my grief before I drive home. I feel a little stab each time I pass by the maternity section in a clothing store. I get this inane urge to browse the over-large shirts and pants with elastic waist bands. I wonder how I would have looked as a pregnant woman. Would I be cute, would I get huge, would I waddle just a little? I know, harebrained, but still I have a feeling that there are others out there that have felt these same emotions as they face their own infertility.
Over the past week I have felt these hauntings more than I care to admit. I was in the bookstore and for some reason the book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” jumped out at me like a troll under a bridge wanting me to pay an emotional toll before I passed the shelf. This got me to thinking, clearly a dangerous pass-time for me; maybe I should write a book for women like me entitled “What to Expect When You Can’t Expect.” Let’s call this post my chapter outlines…
Chapter 1 – People Say the Darndest Things
People WILL say the darndest things. My favorite comment, “Well you can just adopt.” Seriously? Have you ever tried to adopt a baby? It doesn’t just “happen” like you’d think. Although there are many children who need good homes, they are surprisingly difficult and insanely expensive to obtain. Another remark that I often hear, “Oh I know how you feel, it took us 6 months to get pregnant.” Uh, OK? And my all time favorite, “I wish I could have my babies your way.” Um… no… you don’t, you really, really, don’t. I would happily endure a million stretch marks, retching over my toilet, and not being able to fit my shoes on my feet for just one moment where I could feel the miracle of a baby moving within me. I would waddle my way through the grocery store, tolerate all of the lower back pain, and relish every mood swing for that wonderful moment when you first hear your baby’s heartbeat or see them on the ultrasound monitor. I would pay the nearly $100,000 it took to finally adopt our son Alex to be able to pee on a stick and rejoice in a positive pregnancy test. Alas, these experiences will never be mine, so cherish yours… please.
Chapter 2 – When Encountering a Pregnant Woman
When you see a pregnant woman you may feel this childish urge to turn and run away as if she has the plague. This urge is probably due to the fact that your emotions are so raw that your public filtering system is shot. You are afraid of what you might say or do. Most of all you are probably afraid that you will burst into tears and then you might be stuck trying to explain why the sight of this perfect stranger has evoked such strong emotions. And heaven help this poor woman should she decide to mention any plight due to her blessed condition. Without a properly functioning filter it may be difficult to bite your tongue.
Some people will tell you that you must resist the urge to turn and run and, instead, face your fears and calmly smile as you pass her by. I say, run… run as far and as fast as you feel is necessary in order to protect your aching heart. There will come a time when you will be able to control this compulsion, until then run to the nearest ice-cream parlor, bakery, or chocolatier and treat yourself to a little emotional healing. It’s OK to do what you need to in order to heal and feel some modicum of sanity on this crazy roller coaster. I promise that better days are ahead. While you will still feel these impulses at times, they do get easier and eventually you will be able to face down that “scary” pregnant lady with a genuine smile and a polite nod.
Chapter 3- The Gynecologist
Every woman hates these appointments. If you actually like them please raise your hand. If you just raised your hand please call a therapist, no really, I think you need help. Imagine if you will sitting in a room full of women who have attained your deepest desire, one that you know will never be yours, and must hold yourself together. After all, this is a public place and the last thing you want to do is cry so hard that snot is running down your chin. Besides, crying like that in a room full of hormonally charged women is probably not a good idea. You may start a mass crying jag at which point the Dr may have to throw you out in hopes of comforting his baby making patients. Yeah, that sounds like fun. Then once you’ve finally made it back into the exam room you have to explain to every nurse under the sun at any Dr’s visit, not just your gyno, that the last time you had your period was um… well for me 12 years ago. The sad part? Inevitably, without fail, the nurse’s eyes go wide as she tries to comprehend what you just said. Expect some nurses to actually make the astounding leap that you may have been pregnant for the last 12 years. No, really. A few years ago I actually had a nurse ask me if I was positive that I wasn’t pregnant. I just looked at her and said, “Well, let me think, maybe you’re right! I have been pregnant for about 9 years straight. Do you think the Dr can fix that?” I get so sick of having to explain myself over, and over, and over, and over again. Sure, there are days when I can laugh it all off and make some silly joke, but deep down I always feel a little stab of pain whenever I have to say, “My last period was over 12 years ago, and no, I am most certainly not pregnant.”
Chapter 4- Maternity Clothes
Expect to secretly want to try on maternity clothes if only to imagine what you may have looked like as a pregnant woman. You will probably do one of two things when faced with the maternity section at the clothing store. You will either want to peruse the clothing or you may studiously ignore it all as you rush past with tears in your eyes. Either way, expect to react to the maternity aisle. It can’t be helped, nor can it be avoided. It is normal to wonder what it would all be like. It is normal to envy those women who are trying to make their clothes fit as long as humanly possible before they purchase maternity wear. For me it is like passing a candy shop, its shelves stocked with enticing morsels that look oh so delectable but I will never be able to partake of those yummy confections. In my case those sweets are the cute tops and expandable pants, those are my forbidden fruit. Silly, I know…
Chapter 5- When Are You Going To Have Kids?
This may have been a good fit in “Chapter 1 – People Say the Darndest Things” but upon further reflection I felt it deserved its very own chapter. There will be those who don’t understand your situation who unwittingly “step in it” and wonder aloud why you don’t have kids yet; or in our case, why we don’t have MORE than our two lovely boys. Some may casually remark, “Are you going to have more kids? Your boys need a little sister. You should really have a little girl, they are so much fun!” May I remind you that even if I could get pregnant, I still can’t control the gender of the baby and while I may be able to do so through adoption, if you only knew how difficult that road is… I know, I am overly sensitive when it comes to this. People are just trying to be nice, they are only asking out of curiosity. So in this chapter I would expound on how to navigate these comments while keeping your cool and remembering that the enquiring minds who want to know are not the enemy. Remember that public filter that is pushed to its limits? Time to get it out, brush it off, and put it through some strength training. My advice? Not that you asked for it; be honest but not hostile. I’ve found that once people understand my situation they become true and fast friends who love and support me. This leads me to my next chapter.
Chapter 6- Being Honest but NOT HOSTILE
This one is really hard. The emotions that accompany facing one’s infertility can be varied and fierce. When I say fierce, I mean FIERCE! They range from intense grief to brutal anger, from unfounded guilt to a dangerous kind of apathy that can lead to severe depression. It is no wonder then, that while navigating these emotional waves, it is difficult to respond to the good intentions of others without getting defensive. Friends and family truly do have our best interests at heart. They want to help, they hate to watch our suffering, but they are only human and will say things that make it hurt more. What to do? Be honest; be true to yourself; express the anger, pain, and grief. Tell them that you’re feeling defensive, warn them that your “filter” is broken and then let them in. It has been a difficult road for me but I am finally to the place where I can allow others under my defenses and let them help me. I realized that I was acting like a wounded animal, and rightly so, but when I stopped trying to “bite the hands that fed me” I was surprised at just how wonderful and caring people truly are.
Chapter 7- You Will Always Wonder
Healing will come. I promise it will if you let it. It takes time, a lot of time. It also requires a great deal of effort on your part to accept the circumstances for what they are. Even though healing does come, expect to always wonder. You will always wonder what it feels like to be pregnant. You will always find yourself in situations that bring complicated emotions to the fore. You may even be secretly jealous of those stretch marks every woman complains about. OK, maybe not, but you get the point.
There it is. Do you think anyone would buy it? I could go on and on with the chapters but I’ll spare you my crazy musings for now. Instead I shall go sneak into my boys’ room and kiss their little faces counting my blessings. They may not be my flesh and blood, but they are mine in heart and soul.