Crossing the Great Divide – Part 1

A picture from our professional photo shoot the day before Baby Boy's birthday!

A picture from our professional photo shoot the day before Baby Boy’s birthday!

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)

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This Time Will be Different

Sometime this year, my husband and I will start the process of trying to conceive baby #2. This moment is still months away, as there are a number of moving pieces that have to fall into place before we can reasonably attempt any baby making. At minimum, I need to wean, get my chicken pox vaccine, and get my period back. Since we have five frozen embryos from our IVF cycle, we are planning on jumping right into doing a frozen transfer as soon as we are in a position to do so, therefore there will also be the various tests and procedures that our clinic requires before proceeding with a transfer, not to mention coordinating our schedules with both the clinic where our embryos are, and the clinic where we will do our monitoring for the cycle. The many joys of procreating by committee will soon be upon us.

While I have tried hard not to speculate about what trying to conceive will be like this go around until the time comes, in the last few weeks I’ve often found my mind spinning as I try to process the ramifications of what getting back on the baby making train will mean for us. This is due partly to the fact that we are starting to have preliminary discussions about what our timing is going to look like, and that I am getting close to weaning Baby Boy (I had planned to breastfeed him to a year, which is another two months away, but based on his lack of interest over the last few weeks I suspect our wean date will come sooner than that). I have also recently read a lot of blog and twitter posts that touch on some of the issues I have been struggling to get my head around, related to life after infertility, secondary infertility, and infertility amnesia.

I have no idea if or when we will have another baby. If we do have another baby, I don’t know if we will get pregnant via frozen transfer, natural conception (ha – sounds like immaculate conception to me!), or through further fertility treatments. I don’t know if it will happen on our first try, or after multiple attempts. But despite all of the uncertainty, rather than feel panic at the thought of climbing back on the roller coaster, I am at peace with whatever our outcome may be. I am at peace, because I know that the worst is behind us.

The experience of infertility while trying to conceive Baby Boy was akin to falling down a deep chasm, and having no idea how far you had left to fall, or what sort of landing you would have. Along the way, we were willing to grasp at anything that would help us achieve a quick and safe landing – in the six months before we conceived Baby Boy, my husband and I agreed that we would pursue donor eggs, donor sperm, or surrogacy if we got any indication that any of those would resolve our infertility (unexplained infertility is its own deep chasm, but that’s another story).

I am a planner by nature, and while trying to conceive Baby Boy, having a plan gave me some semblance of control over an uncontrollable process. I was always two steps ahead: if the current cycle/treatment option failed, I had a plan A, and then a plan B if plan A failed. At the time we conceived Baby Boy, I had my plan A and plan B all set, and my husband and I had the resources (financial, emotional, physical) to keep going balls to the wall until we achieved our goal. We were not at the point where we had an end date (whether fixed on the calendar, or based on a number of things happening, or not) at which point we would change course to pursue adoption (when we had last discussed it, this was an option my husband was not interested in), or living permanently child free.

While overall, our mindset was that given enough time and treatments, we would eventually be successful, not knowing how our story would end was still terrifying. The future held so much uncertainty, and there was no way of knowing how much more heartbreak in terms of failed cycles, pregnancy loss, or even just the cruel passage of time we would have to endure before we held our baby in our arms.

This brings me back to my original point about starting the process of trying to conceive again. No matter how many times I turn the idea of it around in my head, I come to the same conclusion: this time will be different.

This time will be different because we are not starting at zero: not only do we know way more than we should about all the ways that conception can go wrong and therefore are intimately familiar with how difficult it can be; but the existence of our five frozen embryos (that paradoxically only exist due to the extent of our struggles first time around), mean that we are starting out ahead of the game.

This time will be different because we are no longer in a chasm of unknown depth. I can look ahead and know with certainty that I will not have to endure multiple fresh IVF cycles in order to bring my baby home (I am not ruling out the possibility of doing another fresh cycle if none of our current embryos take, but I don’t see a scenario where I would do more than one more fresh cycle). I know that if we are to have another child, it will take us less time to conceive this time around than the 3+ years it took us the first time, for the simple reason that due to my age it has to (I’ll be between 37 and 38 when we start trying again).

This time,  there are limits to what we will go through in order to conceive. I know that we will transfer each of our existing embryos until one sticks, but if we are not successful, we are not going to go to heroic efforts to have another baby. Lastly, knowing that we had the strength to survive failed cycles and pregnancy loss the first time around gives me comfort that if needed, we have the strength to survive again. All of these factors mean that when we start trying again, we will be able to feel, or at the very least, see the ground below our feet. We will be able to reach our hands out and find something sturdy to hold on to, rather than grasping at air as it slips through our fingers.

This time will be different because no matter what happens, I will never forget that even our “worst case scenario” of being parents to one healthy, amazing baby boy is many people’s dream.

Hello Mommy!

I can’t believe how quickly the ten weeks since Baby Boy’s birth have flown! I’ve had a few posts in mind, but have found it very difficult to squeeze out the time to post. While we are blessed to have a  good (night) sleeper, Baby Boy is not a consistent napper, so most days I don’t have a reasonable stretch of time during the day to post anything, given everything else I want to get done. I have now given myself the seemingly realistic goal of posting something once a week, so  we’ll see how well I do with that.

Ten weeks in, I am still amazed at my new role as “mom” or “mommy” and all the responsibility, wonder, and street cred that come with it. As I wrote on my old blog (www.unfertilized.wordpress.com), I loved being pregnant. Even though I normally do not like being the centre of attention, while I was pregnant I loved the attention that sporting a belly would bring me. After years of being on the outside looking in, I loved finally being able to take part in the primal, animal act of gestating a new human.

However, even while I was pregnant, the idea that I was going to be a mom did not fully sink in. Yes, I knew that my life was about to change (as parents everywhere were quick to remind me), and I knew that a baby was going to be coming into my life very soon, but I was not yet able to think of myself as a parent.

I was first jolted into thinking of myself as a mom during our pre-natal classes when the instructor discussed what mom and dad would be doing during the various stages of labour. The first time I heard this, it did not register that the word mom referred to me – I automatically thought of my mom and tried to reconcile what the instructor was saying with what I saw as my mom’s role in the process. Even when I realized that mom referred to me, it didn’t feel quite right. How could I possibly be a mom?

Once Baby Boy was born, to the outside world, I became a mom. Throughout my stay at the hospital, the  medical staff repeatedly referred to me as “Mom”, whether in discussions among themselves, written documentation, or in speaking to me directly about my baby. As I slowly got used to the idea that I had a son, I knew that by definition, it meant that I was a mom, but it still didn’t feel real to me.

I still remember the moment when I first started to own the word mom(my). It was a few weeks after Baby Boy was born and he was lying awake in his crib in the afternoon. I was standing next to the crib, bending down to peek through the bars and trying to catch his attention. Without thinking, I said “Hi Sweetie, Mommy’s here. Look at Mommy.” to get his attention. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I stopped short, overcome by the most amazing mix of emotions. Mom(my) was no longer a word that referred to someone else – to this one, tiny human being who was not aware of anything that came before him, I am mommy. And that is all that matters.