Baby Boy turned one recently, which means that it’s been just over a year since I became a mother. There is an argument to be made that I was already a mother to the babies that started developing in my womb but did not make it, or to the embryoes created during our IVF, but in this post I want to focus on motherhood in the traditionally understood sense of the word: a woman with a child. As someone who struggled with infertility before becoming a parent, it has been interesting for me to explore over the last year to what extent my experience of infertility impacts my identity as a parent, and vice versa.
While we were trying to conceive, as the months and then the years passed by, I found myself detach more and more from the world around me. The experience of infertility is very isolating, and sometimes it felt like every day brought fresh reminders of how different our reality was from that of our friends, colleagues, and society in general.
When you are first trying to conceive, the initial months are unremarkable: you have sex at the “right time of month”; you read the first chapter of pregnancy books to make sure you’re doing all the right things to conceive; you imagine how your life will change when you have a baby; and then you wait to see if your period will arrive on schedule or not. It is very easy to find community and common ground with friends and strangers alike when you are in this stage.
As the months go by, you start to get discouraged, but it still feels like pregnancy is just around the corner. You did not get pregnant the first month trying, or even the second or third, but your experience continues to be unremarkable. At some point though (and this point is different for everyone), you start to notice a divide between your experience and what you have read or heard about. As you go further and further down the road, the divide becomes greater. Key events that signify that your experience is no longer “normal” may include trying for over a year (and realizing you are now considered infertile), experiencing pregnancy loss, and the initial visit to a fertility clinic. Suddenly, you realize that you do not know anyone who shares these experiences (or maybe you do, but they have kept their struggles to themselves).
Realizing that you have to rely on a fertility clinic to help you conceive is a difficult thing to deal with, as is having to go through the testing and investigations required to narrow down what the problem is, and once identified, learning to accept the problem. Lying in bed after having sex, as you think of baby names for your likely newly conceived baby is a distant memory. There is another divide once you start fertility treatment, and then a further one when you move on to IVF, with each step leading to further isolation and loneliness as your story becomes more and more removed from the typical narrative (there are further divides, but I will stop there, because that is where my experience stops).
Once you become pregnant, the struggles do not stop. You are now part of a sisterhood that you have been yearning to join, and you are closer than ever to achieving what has often felt like a distant dream. But, even though you are ridiculously happy, the divide is still there. While from the outside you look like any other pregnant woman, as soon as you speak to other pregnant women, or parents of young children, you are reminded of how different you still are. While they are complaining of the normal pregnancy aches and pains, you are terrified that there is something wrong with your baby, and are closely watching for pregnancy complications that could impact your baby’s health. You cannot relate to the experiences described on pregnancy websites. Even though you are pregnant, you are still infertile.
And then you give birth to a healthy baby. You take your baby home, and your new concerns become feeding your baby, sleep (theirs and yours), and making sure baby is reaching their developmental milestones. You learn about teething, fevers in babies and starting solids. Perhaps you struggle with going back to work, and how to find childcare for when you do.
You find community with other new parents and find that they have all the same concerns. It does not matter how their babies got there; you are all in the same boat now. Sometimes you think you love your baby more because of how much you fought to bring them into the world, but then you see how they look at their babies, and how tenderly they hold them and you realize that they love their babies just as much.
And this is where I find myself today. I am first and foremost a parent. Whether I am talking to my friends who also had babies in the past year (without the experience of infertility), or whether I am reading my twitter feed filled with tweets from women parenting after infertility, the concerns are the same. We all want what’s best for our babies.
When politicians speak of family friendly policies, they are now speaking to me. At work, or at social gatherings, I can finally contribute to the conversations about the joys and challenges of having children. The huge weight that was on my shoulders has been lifted. The feelings of isolation, of “otherness”, of feeling different are gone. I have crossed the great divide.
(To be continued in part 2)