What I’m about to share is my personal journey with infertility. Parts of it are harrowing and I’m sure difficult to read. For me, it has been such a huge part of my life that I’ve come to embrace it for all of the goodness I’ve received. At one time, I truly believed I was broken.
I am not, and neither are you.
Of course, a part of me will always wish it were different and that I might now, at this age, be playing with grandbabies.
That is not my reality though and I’ve long ago reconciled this so please, know this letter is meant to help those that haven’t had this experience better understand those that have as well to connect my heart to those that have lost babies no matter how far along you were. It is also for my sisters that have never heard the words ‘you are pregnant’ when they really desperately wanted to.
You do not need to hide this part of your life. There is nothing to be ashamed of and you don’t need to protect anyone from the truth. We are all in this together.
In 2005 at the age of 39, I sat in a doctor’s office and listened to words that would alter my life once again: “Jill, it is almost impossible for you to carry a baby to term, and the chances of even getting pregnant are about 10%.” It was a gut punch. He said a bunch of other stuff after that and I don’t remember any of it.
I was never going to be able to have babies.
That’s all that kept ringing in my head. As a matter of fact, it had been impossible for many many years, I just didn’t know that. I had one tube full of scar tissue that had impacted my uterus and a floating ovary on the other side as the tube had been removed years before.
That conversation changed me. You see, for 17 years I had grieved every month that I bled. That is 204 months that ended in grief and I had gotten used to it. It was my normal and it didn’t matter if I was married, single or dating; I wanted to birth a child. It was the one and only dream I’d had since early childhood. Actually, that’s not true: I also wanted to be an Olympic gymnast but Mr. Smith told me how utterly ridiculous that was in the 7th grade. Asshole. But I digress…
The moment this new reality set in two things occurred simultaneously:
- I was released from an expectation that had me in its grip for 17 years, giving me back my breath.
- There was deep and profound grief as I was forced to let go of my dream.
Allow me to back up to the beginning if you will.
At the age of 18, I was in a relationship with the man (boy) I would eventually marry. We were sexually active but I was terrified my Mother would find out. Looking back, I am aware that she knew all along, as mothers do. One day I woke up in excruciating pain and ended up in hospital. Due to the fact that I refused to fess up to fucking my bf, they removed my appendix only to discover there was nothing wrong with it. What they missed was the ectopic in my tube that would become scar tissue over time. One tube down.
A few months later we moved in together and then I got pregnant. After going through the hell of telling the parents, (they were not pleased) we decided to get married. The wedding was planned, I bought a pastel pink dropped waist lace dress and forced him to buy a matching pink shirt. Don’t judge! It was 1985. It went with my Farrah Fawcett hair and his feathered style. Also, I was pregnant remember so the style would sorta-kinda hide my belly. My Dad agreed to pay for the booze and my husband-to-be’s workplace, which was owned by his sister and brother-in-law, supplied the food and location.
And then I had a miscarriage.
As you can imagine, I was devasted. It truly messed with me but back then everyone tried to make it NBD. No Big Deal They’d say things like “It’s probably for the best. You’re both so young!” and “There’s plenty of time to have babies.” and “Don’t worry. You’ll be pregnant again in no time!” Fuck off. FUCK OFF! That’s what I was screaming in my head while my eyes welled up and I nodded my head and said thank you like the nice girl that I was. Seriously, fuck off.
We went ahead and got married anyway, me in the pink dress and him in the pink shirt. I got very very drunk.
Less than a year later we were living in Hamilton and once again I was pregnant. We were thrilled! Well, I was thrilled. I’m pretty sure he was terrified. For almost 3 months I would stand in front of the mirror and gauge how much of a bump I had. Did I mention that I loved that I was pregnant? Like, I LOVED it. I felt like I’d hit the lottery of life. Giving birth was the ultimate miracle to me and I wanted the whole enchilada; getting big, having boobs, breastfeeding, actually giving birth…all. of. it.
We were at a friends place when I started bleeding.
I was in shock. This could not be happening again! It was, and this time I was in for a hell of a ride.
When the bleeding started I contacted the gynecologist who told me to come in and then said I wasn’t ‘for sure’ losing the baby and sent me home to bed. Three days and several calls later, my husband finally picked my limp body off the couch and carried me to the car while I hallucinated and went in and out of consciousness. That was the just the beginning. At the hospital, I was given pain meds and left out in the hallway for almost 3 hours until they could do an ultrasound. In the meantime, they wheeled me into a temporary room and the doc came in with several med students to examine me, feet in stirrups, legs spread open and my vagina on display for all to see. I was in so much pain and shock that I didn’t have the wherewithal to object.
Finally, I was in a room and full of numbing pain meds. Exhausted, I fell asleep. The doc came in to check on me and asked how I was feeling. I was very surprised to realize the pain had stopped. “Hurrah!” I thought. Maybe everything is ok! That lasted about 30 seconds as he immediately called in the nurse and told her to prep me for surgery. Mind you, he did this without explaining to me why or what was happening. (Remember, it’s 1987. Or 1988. I don’t remember anymore.)
Turns out the reason I was no longer in pain was that my tube had imploded from the pressure of a growing fetus that was stuck inside it and when that happens you begin to bleed to death but the pain stops.
Guess when I found out what had happened and how close I’d come to dying? Common’…. guess! Fine, I’ll tell you. About 2 weeks after I got out of the hospital and my brother told me that’s why they’d come to see me. They didn’t know if they’d see me or my corpse. (It’s ok to take a pause here. I actually had to get up for a minute because the reality of this hit me hard again.)
Just to give you an idea of what it was like back then, the doctor came into my room the day after surgery, found me attempting to figure out what happened by reading a book and gave me shit while still telling me very little. That’s the same day I almost killed my then husband for giving me shit for smoking.
At no point did the doctor ever tell me the whole story, leaving me to believe that although I now had a missing piece in one tube I was still perfectly capable of conceiving. This turned out to be a lie that wasn’t revealed for many more years, hence the 204 months of grief that followed.
Over the years since, much has happened.
I now have stepdaughters whom I love from my second marriage, I had a hand in raising several others over the years and am at least partially responsible for 2 humans arriving on the planet after their moms had very difficult decisions to make. My life now is incredibly satisfying and full and I’m close to many young people. I adore my nieces and nephews and great niece and nephews and am always happy to have a wee one around.
Here’s what I would have done differently:
I would have told the truth at the hospital when I was a teenager.
I would have been more demanding of answers instead of trusting the crap I was fed.
I would have done the testing that finally happened at 39 much sooner.
I would have gotten help with the massive amount of grief I was carrying.
Hindsight is 20/20.
What I wish someone had told me was that the shame I felt for so long was not necessary. I hadn’t done anything wrong and there was nothing inherently wrong with me.
This was my journey with infertility. Each of us has our own stories whether you lost one and had 6 or, like me, you were never able to carry to term. It’s time we give ourselves room to acknowledge and honor these angel babies, ya? I’m not sure it’s possible to express the full depth of emotion or the roller coaster ride that it all was but I can say this:
The most profound joy I have ever experienced in my life was when I heard the words “You’re pregnant!” and the most grief and pain I’ve experienced is the moment I was told I would not carry to term. For these times I am deeply grateful. It is an incredible gift to be given a chance to feel so fully alive and that was true on both ends of the experience.
What I wish for you is to know you are seen and heard. That you feel validated in your pain and free to speak this truth. I wish healing and love for your heart and peace in your life. I see you. I feel you. I love you.