What I Didn’t Know 18 Months Ago, Before the Word ‘Infertility’

Eighteen months ago, I had absolutely no idea that pineapples had anything to do with fertility, conception, or embryo implantation. This knowledge wasn’t taking up any space in my brain. It was never a random trivia fact I could pull out of my back pocket. It was never important. Should I have known that little factoid? Should I have started eating pineapples earlier in life? What if I start eating them now? Will that help?

I certainly didn’t know there were rules to eating it either. Obviously, you can only eat the core of the pineapple. And it must be cut into five pieces… oh and you absolutely cannot eat it in one sitting; you should eat it over the course of five days. One piece each day, no more, no less. Didn’t you know that? Didn’t you know that ritual makes babies? Should I have known that?

Eighteen months ago, I didn’t know I would follow the rules of the pineapple to the T, more than once. Did I know I would I have an intense desire to believe I tried absolutely everything I could? Did I know I would do anything to take the words, “at this point we consider this unexplained infertility,” out of the air? The words that were fogging up my space and making it difficult to breathe.

Did I know that in that moment I became part of the one in eight couples in the U.S. and the one in four couples worldwide facing the possibility of being childless?

Apparently, I should have eaten more pineapple.

Eighteen months ago, I had absolutely no idea how my husband and I would manage one of the most intensely intimate and vulnerable grieving processes two people can ever share. Nor could I have imagined how we, as newlyweds, without a major crisis as a married couple under our belt, would work together. Eighteen months ago, I didn’t know I could love him more.

I didn’t know that some days I would be so incredibly grateful to him for living and breathing the exact reasons I married him. I didn’t know I would need to thank him for being such an unbelievably kind and gentle human. For protecting my heart so fiercely that I could fall apart without fear there wouldn’t be help to pick up the pieces. To want him to know how aware I am that he works tirelessly to make sure I never go a second without knowing how incredibly loved I am. How was I to know we would prove ourselves as a team?

Eighteen months ago, I never would have known.

Seven procedures ago, I didn’t know how much physical distress I would force my body to endure. Seven procedures ago, I didn’t know “it will just feel like slight cramping” actually means, “brace yourself, this is going to make you want to rip your insides out.” Seven procedures ago, I didn’t know what it meant to have to do three to four injections a day. I certainly didn’t know that repeated subcutaneous injections cause bruising. Seven procedures ago, I didn’t use the words subcutaneous or intramuscular on a daily basis.

Seven procedures ago, I didn’t know I had three large intrauterine fibroids renting space free of charge in my body. I didn’t know the intense cramping and pain I have experienced every month, and worsening as the beginning of my 30s passed by, wasn’t normal.

Seven procedures ago, I didn’t know there would be a human being who would deliberately choose to crawl inside of my emotional pain pit and live there with me for moments at a time. Never was I aware another person existed in the world who felt as deeply as me. Seven procedures ago, I didn’t know what it was like to know I have another soulmate friend on this earth. Seven procedures ago, I didn’t know I would want to hug her until all of the pain she has helped me shoulder came flowing out of her so there would never be anything weighing her down from beaming joy every single step of her own pregnancy.

Five embryos ago, I didn’t know that embryos not surviving to day five in their petri dishes would be devastating and world-shattering. Five embryos ago I didn’t know we would see the passing of our soul-touching and devastatingly sweet 4-year-old pup, Harley, quickly and without warning.

I didn’t know the rapid succession of these events would challenge my emotional health and my commitment to self-care. I didn’t know I could feel all of that loss piled on top of each other and live while barely able to breathe.

I didn’t know I could grieve so intensely that everything looked dark and hope seemed too far out of reach. Five embryos ago, I didn’t know how to discern one loss from another. They were piling up. I didn’t know they would forever be connected; intertwined for all of eternity.

Five embryos ago, I was struggling to write. I couldn’t hear my own voice amidst the crashing waves of grief. Five embryos ago, I was setting my sights on embryo transfer day. I was setting up the next thing I would allow myself to be hopeful for. Five embryos ago, I wanted to believe the end was in sight. The poking, the prodding, the daily visits to the fertility clinic needed to be over.

Five embryos ago, people knew what to say to me.

Five embryos ago, I couldn’t say:

I am one in eight in the United States.
I am one in four worldwide.

Post-five-embryos ago, I have witnessed firsthand how each of the closest female friends I have manage grief. I have been privileged to the wide array of reactions, feelings, processing, strange words, beautiful words, all of these empowering women have shared. Each so uniquely different. Each so incredibly fragile. I intimately saw the way grief shows up as fear just as many times as it shows up as hope. I got to see the balancing act that is our universe. For each one of these women that senses the despair, there is another one who perceives only hope. Sometimes their roles switch. Sometimes they disappear. Sometimes they use humor, sometimes they only tell the positive-ending stories, sometimes they crawl inside the pain pit and stay and sometimes they leave. But gone is never forgotten and they will return. In time and with love.

I am humbled to know your hearts in this way, my friends.

Post-five-embryos ago, I’m connecting with my voice. I’m far away but in there somewhere. I’ve been there beneath the estrogen haze and the progesterone fog. I have been in there burrowed behind the clomid agitation and the menopur burn. I have been immersed in this foreign, “trying to conceive” (TTC) community of women who hope together and who virtually hold each other’s hands through loss after loss.

My voice sounds different, even to me. It has changed. It has evolved in some way. I am connecting with my voice and will have to learn who I am in this next phase of my journey.

I will find my authentic self again but this time because of the crashing waves of grief.

I will emerge (possibly) to do it all over again. Maybe not. Surrendering to living in the unknown openly, vulnerably, and with tremendous love and tremendous sorrow. In reality we have lived in the unknown since the day we were born. We are all professionals.

Today I am a childless mother. Today I am four days post failed IVF cycle with 16 months of battle under my belt. Today I am following the only guiding rule I swear by in my life:

There is beauty in the pain I experience. One does not exist without the other. I know joy because I know sorrow. Find the beauty.

Follow this journey on Chasing Peonies.

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