After our first daughter was born, my husband and I floated as if in a cotton candy vision of Heaven dream.
I know, get out the insulin, how saccharin was that? Aspartame level, surely. Wink and laugh and nudge.
Seriously, though, I don't know how else to describe it. We were dazed in a haze of happiness. I look back at photos of us the first few months. We look tired, a bit bewildered, but our faces are wide open with wonder and smiles. I look at pictures of me, cradling my newborn, and there is such a glow.
There is one picture in particular.
It was just before Easter, right after Patience was born. She was just a few months old. She had grown round with chubby cheeks, and her eyes had focused and looked intently at everything around her. Old soul eyes. She smiled, too, but only at you, not simply for you.
We dressed casual nice and went to the mall for Bunny photos. I wanted seasonal character photos of my daughter, every season, every year. I wanted to click snap trap every moment I could, something to take out and look at some day when I wanted or needed to, such as when she missed curfew for the fifth time in a row at 17.
Patience wore an adorable little Easter dress with full regalia: bonnet, tights, bow, and little tiny baby Mary Janes. A friend from infertility helped me select the outfit, and she talked me into the whole kitchen and sink too. She had boys, and loved to shop for girl stuff.
She and I got it one weekend when our group had gone down to Cape Cod for a little holiday.
As with anything with odds, in our infertility friend group only 50% of us had succeeded in achieving a viable pregnancy with live birth. (You grow to understand early on that achieving pregnancy is just one step, and carries no promises.) My friend had her two boys, her twin had a boy a little older than Patience, and I had just had Patience. Patience, who was attached to my chest, all the time.
I had asked…should I go? Would everyone be okay if Patience came?
All said yes…but it was one of those no-win situations I think. Certainly I knew I was damned if I did or didn’t. My presence---with baby---would be at least as loud as my absence, due to baby.
Because I wanted to believe everyone when they said it was okay, I did go, with Patience. She and I went, even though one friend had recently had another miscarriage, one friend had decided to adopt childfree living, and another was being crushed by increasing treatment attempts.
It was the last get-together for me, and I think the group somewhat splintered shortly after that.
Out of it, though, came good memories, and the Easter outfit, and from there the Easter photos, the ones in which I look marvelous.
My hair and outfit aren’t perfect, my smile isn’t enormous. Patience looks like a lump in my lap. But there’s something to it. My smile sits very comfortably on my face and looks very real, very natural, my face looks peaceful and relaxed, and my body looks confident holding my baby. All in all, I think the ‘it’ is how happy I seem within my own skin.
I look at that photo and think, “Wow, that woman is gorgeous with happiness." I think, "I've never looked so beautiful before or since, in my entire life."
My father is the one who made the comment that most specifically sticks with me, "Motherhood sure suits you, you look fantastic." He said it a little bit wonderingly.
My hair was glossy, luxurious curls instead of the usual waves and frizz. My skin was smooth and glowingly healthy, my cheeks and lips pink with color.
This is what I look like on Healthy and Happy. On post-partum hormones anyway. I think my body is backwards.
I have other photos, in other times, of me looking like that. I think of those times as the text, and the bad pieces on either side as the parentheses.
I think that’s why, despite all the happiness, a bit of me realized I was living in text, with an open parentheses behind me, waiting for the close parentheses.
That part, though, was like the open, screaming mouth on mute. I kept my eyes focused on the text: mothering my new baby.
Our daughter was a Precious Angel, and we called her that, Our Angel. She went practically everywhere with us and two people were never so happy to have to change their speed of life to parent.
We happily made new parenting friends who were also new first-time parents and redirected life to the parenting world. We felt like the forgiven, welcomed back into the fold of society, We felt like a Hallmark commercial, running along our town’s beach with the baby tucked in a Bjorn in my coat, my husband walking alongside, throwing a ball for the dog who fetched back and forth.
We have photos of that too, and snapshots permanently etched in my head along with emotions.
By the time our daughter was a year, though, the money we’d saved was coming to an end, and the part-time work and freelance writing and editing wasn’t sustaining our increased cost of living. It just wasn’t working.
The ‘close parentheses’ that we’d ignored was slamming on us with the clang of a metal door.
Then, I felt like a bone between dogs. As my daughter blossomed into a toddler and added walking, talking, playing, interacting and a Big Personality to her repertoire, I suddenly remembered I had a name other than Mama.
I was torn between Julie and Mama…who took precedence?
It seemed like Mama did. So I made decisions based on that.
The close parentheses packed a lot in a little curve. My husband lost his job. I went back to work. We traded roles. I found I had missed Julie, a lot. My husband found Dad. New friends who had made up such a prominent part of our first year as parents began to drift, as we all resumed our more normal lives. Finances got tighter, and parenting became more challenging. Sleep deprivation caught up.
We learned that adding in a baby ultimately means adding in another person, who definitely has her own mind.
Each of us had to adjust to the changed dynamic in ourselves and in our family.
Still, though, we breathed air in our family that was redolent of sweet things. And so we said, yes, let’s try for another one.
We’d always meant to. We’d always said, oh yes, two children and then…well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Having a sibling felt natural, although I can’t explain why.
Maybe because both my husband and I come from families with multiple children.
Maybe because in adulthood we found close friends in our siblings.
Maybe because we thought it was best for us and our daughter.
And a little bit, oh yes, just a little bit…it was selfishness and hubris.
I thought I was a good mom. I thought my husband and I made a very pretty, very smart and very cool baby. I was flush with success. I had enjoyed being pregnant. I had enjoyed the babyhood. I didn’t want it back; I wanted it all again.
And here’s the kicker: I wanted to prove that this time, this time I could do it. On my own. This time my body would succeed. This time my husband and I would create a baby on our own, just us, the old-fashioned/typical/non-intervention way.
I won’t say “the natural way.”
You’ll never hear me say that because the flip side is “the unnatural way.” When people hear my objection to “naturally” as a description for how one conceived, they say to me, well, medical intervention is not natural after all, what is there to be offended about, it’s only a fact.
No, Jack, it’s not a fact.
I don’t automatically concur that medical intervention is unnatural. My infertility is a disorder. I sought treatment.
You have allergies? You take medicine?
You have flu? You take medicine?
You have a broken bone? You wear a cast?
You have infertility? You treat it.
We got pregnant with treatment. You got pregnant. That simple. Period.
And this time, the second time, my husband and I had renewed hope that whatever hadn’t worked pre-gravida would work post-gravida.
That was, after all, conventional armchair expert thoughtless zinger wisdom: the second time is always easier.
And anecdotal evidence---the bit I observed and noted versus that which I ignored---seemed to back that up.
In my La Leche League group, they swore you could get pregnant while nursing. Plenty of people do. When Patience began really eating at about nine months, my cycles resumed, and shortly thereafter, we began trying for a second. My husband doesn’t count that basically year and a half as trying because, as he says, I had a bit of birth control in me called nursing hormones. I think he’s silly. Every single woman in my LLL group who nursed and tried to conceive managed to do so, and they all nursed through their pregnancies too.
Once again, as months passed and I had no happy announcement, and people asked more and more frequently whether/when we would have another, I felt myself slipping away from the regular world, the fertile world. Excommunicated…or self-imposed exile. Or both.
I was in no man’s land.
See, my infertile friends, the ones who were still trying to conceive because they hadn’t yet achieved a viable pregnancy didn’t want to hear my secondary infertility woes. My friends who managed one baby and said, good enough, had no interest in discussing more trying to conceive trauma…they wanted to let that sleeping dog lie. My friends who had moved on to adoption were busily parenting. My fertile friends were, as before, limited in how much understanding they could extend.
All my friends tried. They meant well. And in many cases, most were there for me. But it was tempered by time and other challenges, but mainly by me feeling uncomfortable. I knew I was no longer a straightforward bitter infertile woman. I’d gotten pregnant and had a live, healthy baby. Nor was I a straightforward fertile woman who believed conception, or not, was a choice I got to make.
Still, here I was greedily asking for pregnancy and live, healthy baby again. What’s more, I wanted the same unconditional, loving support I’d had before. Except, as things will, things had changed.
Once again, my husband and I hit the armchair expert, thoughtless zinger wall.
“Maybe you should be happy with what you’ve got,” we were told more than once.
And there you have it, the bottom line of infertility: beggars can’t be choosers.
At some point in my life, I had transitioned from “woman who could have it all” to “beggar who can’t be choosy.”
This motto extended beyond secondary infertility, right into parenting.
You see, I had No Right to Complain. Because I had Succeeded! Gotten pregnant! Had a baby! I was meant to be ecstatic…all the time.
Except, after a while, the post-partum bliss (sort of the spectrum opposite of post-partum depression) faded. Parenting was challenging. My baby was sick. She wasn’t thriving. She was colicky. She didn’t sleep. We saw doctors and specialists. We changed doctors and specialists. It took over a year to get Patience a decent diagnosis and correct treatment. The delay cost us long-term and we deal with fall-out to this day. Breastfeeding was hard. Finances were tough. Life handed us crises such as layoffs. I was torn between the career I had spent so many years building and my desire to mother my baby 100% all myself (not excluding my husband…I meant excluding childcare), especially since I began to think this might be my only chance with a 1, 2, 3, 4 month old and so on. I was torn between understanding her developmental advances and the accompanying behavior (good, bad, curious, etc.) that went with it, and my own frustration and lack of patience at times.
But, you see…at the end of the day, what did I have to complain about. I had Succeeded! Gotten Pregnant! Had a Baby!
So to want it again…to ask for another. Well.
People understood. People were caring. Many friends were awesome, the raison d'etre for my sanity in large part.
But…somewhere in the back of it all was “be happy with what you’ve got.” Sing que sera, sera all day every day.
Still, we pushed it. We fought resuming treatment because I knew what it entailed, and I didn’t want Patience’s toddlerhood to be built around infertility. I knew what it did to me, and to my husband, and from that, to our family. How can you ask a not-quite two year old to deal with “sorry baby Mama has to sob for an hour just now” or “Mama is extra short on patience today because her hormones are wacky.” What about extra childcare? Or, taking her with me to the many appointments? Taking her to some degree was inevitable.
I recall laughing at a friend’s story, before I’d had Patience. Her four year old went with her to all her appointments and had done one of those “funny as in funny embarrassing please help me see this as humorous so I don’t want to shrink under the rug” stunts where he said something about how mommy and the doctor and a tube made his little brother in mommy’s tummy.
I wasn’t sure when I or Patience would be ready to discuss the facts of life---and as for the facts of her life, we’ll be honest, at the right time, in the right way---but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be at two and stimulated by her watching an IUI.
By the time Patience turned two, though, my husband and I had accepted that if we really, really wanted another child we needed to resume treatment, or adoption proceedings. We discussed how to protect Patience, and how to handle our own feelings and situations better than last time.
And so, two weeks after Patience’s second birthday, we were back in office with my reproductive endocrinologist. We were gearing up for an assisted cycle. The doctor jokingly asked what we hoped for and we said, “Another one just like her,” and pointed lovingly to our precious angel.
For some reason, we had assumed that if we followed the exact protocol that had brought us Patience, we’d have quick success. My body, once again, didn’t cooperate. We had crazy low to no response, and then a crazy over the top response to the medication. The doctor had assumed that birth would have fixed my cervical and canal malformations, and we were unpleasantly surprised to find that it hadn’t. Because I was a patient with one pregnancy behind me, he was even more cautious.
For a reproductive endocrinologist, a singleton pregnancy is a success. Twins are okay, but multiples beyond that are negligence.
For an infertility patient, a singleton pregnancy is a success, twins are called Winning the Lottery and triplets are scary but exciting. Multiples beyond that are negligence.
So, it was with sadness on the doctor’s part and under extreme protest from us that my doctor cancelled our third IUI due to overstimulation. It wasn’t enough to convert to IVF, but was too risky for multiples.
He told us to abstain, or use two forms of birth control. He said the thing that strikes terror into all infertility patients and REs: McCaughey Septuplets.
The McCaughey’s had ignored medical advice and tried on their own during a scratched overstimulation cycle. And got seven.
We knew. Oh we knew. We also weren’t sure whether we could ever do a selective reduction, so we agreed 100% with our doctor’s conservative approach.
So, we were good.
It took every ounce of self-control. Once again, we agonized, “What if this is our only chance?”
When you go into treatment, you aren’t really in a “que sera, sera” mode of thinking. You are taking the bull by the horns and having to make decisions, choices…and as you do so, you always wonder will we be able to live with and accept whatever outcome we get, or will we regret it?
I know that’s life in general, but it’s not quite the same. In infertility you are stuck on a trauma wheel that rotates in the short cycle of 30 days. You pack a lot of emotion and events into a small span of days. It’s intense. It flavors, spills over into, the rest of your life, and everything takes on an out of proportion level of importance.
But we did it: followed doctor’s orders. We even agreed to a no-drug rest cycle the following month, then a protocol review the following month.
The clock, though, was running. I was hitting the beginning of advanced maternal age. And we were about to have to move to another state for work for my husband and a lower cost of living. The new state was not a nice, cushy little socialistic commonwealth. The new state was a republic, and we already knew healthcare there was not half as good, and didn’t cover infertility.
We only had a few months left. We’d give it our best shot. And then, we’d accept…not be choosy beggars.
We decided to try on our own during the rest cycle month. No reason not to, and we got the okay from the doctor.
And what do you know…we achieved the grand prize of infertility: pregnancy on our own during a rest cycle.
We almost hated ourselves for adding to the armchair expert anecdotes.
Almost. But not quite.
This pregnancy was nothing like the last. It had plenty of symptoms, and problems. It included swelling, blood sugar issues, a brief hospital stay, bed rest and plenty of other “excitement.”
The biggest excitement was that my due date was Patience’s birthday. Yes, apparently there is one week in one month a year in which I can get pregnant. I know other women like this too.
I was determined to miss that day though. Three days out from Patience’s birthday, I lost patience. No pun intended. My mother was visiting, so that morning I woke my husband and said, “Today is the day.”
We went to the hospital where I faked hard labor. You heard me. I faked hard labor. I jogged in to look flushed and clammy, added in the glazed, rolling, unfocused eyes and lied about my contractions, which were still irregular.
I did a job to make the Academy proud and won the prize: admittance.
The nurse said, “You should be having this baby any minute from the sounds of things!”
And I said, “From your lips to God’s ears, sister!”
Which she thought was funny, and which my husband did not think was funny at all. He’s not near the actor or liar I am in these sorts of cases. His job was to look inconspicuous and keep his mouth shut. My job was to figure out how to explain the loss of contractions from when I walked in---allegedly at two minutes apart---to when they hooked me up to the machine and would find weak, unproductive erratic pre-labor. The same I’d had for the last two weeks.
Attempt A: I prefer a natural birth so don’t want to be hooked up and tied down.
Nice try but…they need at least a ten minute reading for the doctor.
Attempt B: I want to see Dr. Nice first
Nice try but…he’s in delivery and will want a work-up first.
I could smell her suspicion mounting so I prayed to every deity possible for a divine intervention, and succumbed to the inevitable.
The cervical check went well, “Wow! Already just past 6 cm dilated! I bet you have a baby within an hour!”
The contraction check, not so well.
At first, the nurse thought the machine wasn’t working. It wasn’t backing up the rest of the evidence. But machines never lie. People do, but not machines.
After two machines and twenty minutes, she turned to me, confused and suspicious, “How are you feeling now?”
I said, “You know, since laying here, it’s funny, I haven’t really felt anything.” True.
“But you had contractions before you came in here?”
“Oh yes.” True.
“Real ones? Regular? Two minutes apart?”
“I think so.”
“But you water didn’t break?”
“Listen, if you aren’t really in labor…we’re really busy and can’t do any inductions today.”
“I swear,” I pleaded, “I swear I am having this baby today, this morning, on my own, here. Please let me see Dr. Nice.”
He came in. He broke my water. Three hours later, baby girl in arms, I was waiting for a room in the maternity ward.
The nurse said, “I don’t know what you did, how you did it, but if I’d had to bet, I’d have bet I’d be sending you home now, to wait, not sending you with a baby to the maternity ward.”
Will power, lady. The will power I’d developed through years of challenges. Determination. Persistence.
Two days later, I went home with my Persistence, to join my Patience.
Where I now sit---my heart, my will, my hope, my dreams, my patience and my persistence living beings now, walking and talking and demanding creatures instead of mere words---and wonder whether these are the only manifestations of virtue I am meant to have, or if there is another…
(Next bit…what to do when crickets still chirp when anyone asks about additional children, and how part of my silence is due to the choosy beggar motto that still seems to govern me…)
By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.
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