What It's Like Living Through the Emotional Toll of Infertility
What is it like to struggle with infertility when you desperately want to become a parent? The simple answer is it is tough and exhausting — both physically and emotionally. The long answer is that words cannot adequately describe your feelings during this time. My husband and I struggled for seven years to conceive. It was a long road and included me being diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder as well as endometriosis. But the one thing I don’t think I realized that happened during those years, was the emotional toll infertility took on my mental health.
At first when you and your partner decide to go off birth control and try, you are just praying, excited and hopeful. You stock up on pregnancy and ovulation tests. And at first, being intimate frequently is a lot of fun.
But then it’s month 8. The fun has faded. As the months go by, you get more and more jealous of the people around you who are becoming pregnant. Being intimate has become a chore. You buy more tests, download period trackers, read articles online about how to conceive and even try some of the suggestions , which may or may not be pure bunk. But you’re both desperate, so you give some of those ideas a try. You change what you eat, how you move, everything you can think of or find in order to make that baby happen.
Then it’s month 24. By now, a year or so into the journey, the questions about kids are almost the first thing you are asked at every party and family gathering. “So, when are you guys going to have kids?” It becomes a dreaded question — one you try to avoid answering at all costs. Why? Because you don’t know why you aren’t pregnant, and you don’t want to have to explain something you don’t understand to people who really need to mind their own business. Grandma says things like, “I want to see you have a baby before I die.” Your mom looks at your younger brother’s two kids, looks and you and taps her wrist: what she means is clear. Your biological clock is ticking. Where is your baby?
It’s month 25 of hoping and things are getting worse. Every month you experience endless building hope. This is going to be the month, you just feel it. There’s this excitement you can’t help but feel, and yet you feel like you can’t let yourself have any excitement because you aren’t sure if you can take another month of disappointment. You’re mentally at war with yourself: one side telling yourself not to get your hopes up so that you don’t have to worry about them being dashed; the other side crossing fingers, toes, knocking on wood, praying and being certain…absolutely certain…that this month it will happen.
It’s month 26 of waiting. As your normal period time approaches, you get more and more stressed and more and more hopeful. For every day your period is late, your excitement builds. And you pray, “Please, please let this be the month. Please.” You begin to analyze every tiny thing you feel your body doing and wonder, “is that a symptom of pregnancy?” You Google it. It is! Does that mean I’m expecting? Do I feel sick in the morning? And as each hour passes, each day passes, the hope burns a little brighter…and the fear grows a little more. And the stress builds.
What if I am? (Oh the joy!)
What if I’m not? (I’m not sure how much longer I can take the disappointment.)
You plan names and baby announcements in your head, not talking about it with your partner because you don’t want to get his hopes up either. You plan how to answer questions from family and friends. You say over and over to people who ask, “We’re trying but we will be blessed when we are blessed.” While all the time inside, you’ve switched from praying to begging and not just to the God you know and grew up worshiping, but any God of anyone anywhere. Your prayers have become more of an anguished wail for help than a coherent thought.
You’re anxious and stressed. You can’t eat or sleep. And that of course delays your cycle, which compounds the problem because for every day you’re late, it’s one more day of the hope/fear war going on inside your head.
It’s month 30. You’re three days late. You take a pregnancy test and it’s negative. Just to make sure you stare at it until your eyes cross trying to see two blue lines. You don’t believe the result so you buy another brand of test and just to be sure, you decide to wait just one more day. By this point, you’ve spent hundreds on tests. Buying one more isn’t going to matter.
Then it happens, you feel it. And you know that your hopes are dashed as you feel your period start. You rush to the bathroom for confirmation, and it’s true: the blood on the toilet paper doesn’t lie. Your period has come.
The sobbing begins as you buy period supplies you were positive you wouldn’t need for 10 months. You can’t help it. Those cramps you thought were implantation? They were normal period cramps. So you cry, eat a ton of comfort food and cry some more…. and rage at the world and deities and beg and pray. Now your prayers sound like screams: “Why me? What have I done to deserve this? What sin have I committed that you won’t fill my womb? What more do you want from me? I pray, I go to worship services, I do good works. What am I supposed to do or not do so you will bless me with a child?” You try to bargain: “If you bless me, I’ll never ask for another thing again,” knowing even as you pray that statement is a lie and knowing God knows it’s a lie, but by now you cannot help yourself. You just want a baby. You stand in the shower or are held by your husband as you sob your heart out. For every day you bleed, you feel like a part of you is dying.
Then after a few days, you become resigned. You tell yourself it is OK. It’s another lie — because it isn’t OK at all. But you put on smile and be brave while lying again and again to yourself and your loved ones. Next month, you think. Next month will be the month. Maybe we will try (insert new thing here). You make up excuses for why you don’t have kids yet. “We’re waiting to save money, or, work is too stressful/unstable, or, we’re never home, and we enjoy each other’s company just fine thank you.” Meanwhile, your body is aging and the biological clock is ticking.
Weeks pass, it’s month 31. You’ve forgotten a little about your desire for a baby, until you ovulate — and your hope builds anew. And cycle begins again.
Each month, each year that passes, the valleys of depression and peaks of excitement get deeper and higher. You know you can’t take much more of this. Intimacy is a job now, as carefully timed and regulated as any punch clock. You are dying more and more every month, and you just don’t understand why? Why you? You can’t read stories of child abuse in the news because you can’t understand why children are given to those who don’t want them and who hurt them, while you (who wants a child so desperately), are kept from becoming a mother.
It’s month 43. When your friends have babies, you smile through tear filled eyes at them because while you are happy for them, you are sad for yourself and so jealous of them your skin might as well be green. When your sisters-in-law announce their first, or second baby, you smile at them and congratulate them, but sob inside. You rage against your deity, you bribe them, you bargain with them, you promise them everything and anything. Aren’t we told over and over that deities can make anything possible? Why then isn’t this possible? Miracles happen all the time. Why not for us?
You talk babies, learning all you can about their care and feeding so you’ll be ready, because you know, somehow you know, that you will be pregnant this time next month. You plan the nursery in its tiniest details; thoughtfully plan out the diaper bag must haves; choose the things you can’t live without and plan books you want to share with your child. And you hope.
It’s month 57 and you haven’t conceived. Another month passes and another. Still no baby. You’ve stopped crying on your husband’s shoulder. Everything is affecting him too. He’s not stupid; he sees the tampons and pads. What more is there to say? Another month passes.
You notice babies everywhere you go. When you hold those children of friends and family, you inhale their baby scent, touch their soft skin and stroke their hair, their toes, and their fingers. You hold them tightly as you dare. You leave family gatherings offering to nap with the baby, saying things such as, “I’ll just give you a break I’m sure it’s hard,” or, “I’m happy to put her down,” just so you can have more time with the baby.
It’s month 65. You become known as the family baby hog — the one who rarely gives up the baby for anyone else. And while you laugh at the nickname, inside you are a sobbing shaking wreck. You don’t have the strength to explain why you hold so tightly to the little one. You offer to babysit just for the joy of holding the tiny mini-humans; the copies of other people and notice the family nose, the family mouth. You hold them and you wonder if you will ever get to see what your children will look like.
Your tears sprinkle their tiny sleeping forms as you rock them to sleep, singing to them the songs you’ve dreamed of singing to your own children. Whenever you hold those babies, you commit every second of that time in your arms to memory: every breath, every sigh, every yawn, every coo, every burp and every diaper change is permanently imprinted on you.
Because by now you have realized that this might be as close as you can come to having your own child. Your heart is beyond broken.
You’ve finally called the fertility doctor, but they can’t see you for three more months. And it’s month 85…
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