Growing up I was blessed with a happy demeanor and a confidence that I was good at certain things. School. Getting along with adults. Aside from a few shaky years around junior-high (come on, who didn't have those?), I always knew where I fit in and enjoyed myself doing it. I wasn't the best athlete, or an awesome artist or stellar musician, but I excelled at following any kind of process, and my family found ways of praising that and making me feel extraordinary.
In college, I continued to love school. I got good grades, I had a job that I loved, and I spent my summers traveling for credit. I was always on a scholarship, always in the good graces of my teachers and peers, and thrived in the academic environment. In my last semester, I married my best friend and the greatest guy to grace this earth. I managed a wedding and a graduation within weeks of each other, and was hired on at an on-the-rise advertising agency for a good salary. Once again I felt like I had won at life.
Around two years into our marriage, I started to feel the itch. I was seeing babies everywhere and the idea no longer seemed crazy to me. I knew Landon wanted kids - I was the one who had always made it clear that I wanted to "do something" first. I'm still not sure what this illusive "something" was, but at that time I began to realize that marriage hadn't slowed me down or made me miserable, and I guessed that kids probably wouldn't fundamentally change who I was, either. I had a few strong spiritual experiences and just knew I was ready. Landon heartily agreed. That was in January.
We knew that getting pregnant may not happen right away. Due to a genetic mutation that runs in my family, I am prone to blood clotting and cannot take traditional birth control pills. The injection that I had been having could take at least 3 months to wear off. But we knew others who had had a much faster turn-around time, and we were optimistic.
In May I still was not having any signs that the shot had worn off. It was a little discouraging, but not shocking. We remained hopeful that something would change for us soon. After all, we had had a confirmation, through prayer, that we were supposed to start our family. So it would work out.
A few weeks later I lost my job.
My whole world changed that day. Landon was on one of many out-of-town field trips and unreachable by phone. I spent the afternoon in a shocked, panic driven frenzy of resume sending. I laid on my bed and watched Gilmore Girls and ate gummy bears, wondering what had happened and where we would go from here. I felt completely lost. In the weeks that followed, I tried to keep busy with anything I could think of: cooking, cleaning, looking online for jobs, exercising, running errands, anything so that I wouldn't think the one thought that I couldn't handle: I had failed. You see, I'd never seriously failed at anything before. I didn't want to process that information and admit defeat. And so, along with many other activities, I threw myself into trying to get pregnant. If I couldn't be the awesome, powerful, successful career woman, I'd be the quintessential cookie baking but subtly young and hip mother.
By August, I was a total train wreck. I knew I wasn't ovulating - I wasn't even having close to regular cycles. I had completely lost control over my life. Meanwhile, my friends still in school were excelling - getting high-profile internships, winning competitions, making good money on the side with their amazing talents, and starting grad school. I felt left behind, used-up, and miserable. What I perceived as snide comments didn't help.."When are you going to have a family?" or "Are you getting baby hungry yet?" became "You loser. You terrible excuse for a woman. You aren't even working anymore, so why haven't you popped out a man-cub yet?" in my deranged state of mind. One comment in particular from a well-meaning friend stung horribly: "Maybe if you concentrated on having a family instead of your career you'd be happier."
I eventually found work, doing a job that was fun at times, but seriously un-challenging, and barely paid more than my unemployment insurance had. It was a dead end, and I knew it. I remember so clearly late one night sobbing to Landon that I was a failure at everything. I had lost at life. I couldn't support him well, I couldn't give him kids. I was broken, I was worthless. Bless his heart, he held me, let me cry, and assured me that he hadn't married me for my womb. But I still felt the heartbreak.
In September of that year I finally found a doctor willing to see me even though we hadn't quite been trying for the ascribed one-year period. I knew something was seriously wrong, and more time wasn't going to make a difference. He did some tests and confirmed what I already knew: nothing was working down there. He gave me some pills to take and said that if they didn't work to come back in a month.
That pattern went on for the next 5 months - take this or that medication, try this or that vitamin, do x and y, and if that doesn't work, come back in a month. It had now been well over a year and nothing was making a difference. After walking out of church several times crying, after missing so much work for Dr. appointments, and planning every detail of our lives around the possibility that something might be able to get me pregnant, we quit. We took some time off and pretended that we didn't want a baby anymore. But infertility doesn't go away just because you will it so. It defines you. Two months later I was of course back at the Dr.'s office, begging for more drugs so we could "try again."
In August we tried a different kind of test - and the devastating results were that we couldn't have a child on our own, and would need an IUI procedure at the very least. I took that day off of work. Landon rented me "Letters to Juliet" and there we were, back in bed, watching TV and eating gummy bears, wondering what had happened and where we would go from here.
We scheduled our consultation and looked into costs and prepared ourselves for one more disappointment. My heart wasn't in it. I wasn't convinced that it would work for us, and I was emotionally raw, not sure how to be excited or happy about anything connected with the dreaded infertility mess.
The day before our consultation, I woke up very early, feeling strange. I had butterflies in my stomach. I realized that I was a day or two "late." I tried not to feel anything about this, because it had happened before and for me, wasn't much of an indication of anything other than a failed reproductive process. I found however, that once the thought had entered my mind, I couldn't go back to sleep. So I wandered in to the bathroom and pulled out my always on-hand supply of pregnancy tests. I sleepily did the test and waited, figuring Landon would never know I had tested and I could just go back to sleep.
3 minutes later, I turned over the stick and saw the faintest, thinnest, palest, pink line. I started shivering uncontrollably. I walked slowly into the bedroom and woke Landon up. I dragged back to the bathroom with me and showed him the test.
"Do you see a line there?" I almost pleaded.
"Yeah." Said Landon, clearly confused about what was going on.
"Is it pink?" I was almost hysterical.
"I think I'm pregnant."
We both stood there, stunned, for a minute or two, while it sunk in. Then we started jumping up and down. Lots of hugs. Some tears. And then, before anything else, we got on our knees and prayed. A prayer of sincere gratitude for this miracle, and that this hellish journey was finally over. But that's the thing about infertility; when it's finally over - what you get is a new beginning.
I can't say I'm thankful for this trial. Not yet. It was a refiner's fire of the cruelest sort: I questioned my identity, my purpose, my self-worth. Those questions have not really gone away, although the double-toothed grin I now see every morning is helping to slowly push them to the corners of my mind.
But I am thankful, in hindsight, for some aspects of it. I am thankful that I was only 3 months pregnant when Landon left for Antarctica, and not home alone with a brand new baby and working full time. I am thankful that I learned to rely solely on my husband as my rock, confidante, and best friend. I am thankful that nearly two years of praying every day/hour/moment for a baby helped me to work through some of my fears about raising children and losing myself in the endeavor. I am thankful that through this, I learned to let go of my "plan" for 3 perfect kids with even spaces in between who would all grow up to be geniuses. I am thankful that I have learned to embrace another plan, His plan, where we may only get our one miracle baby boy to raise...and that is enough. And if more children come to this house, it will be in His time and with His perfect number, not mine.
Not everyone gets their miracle. Some get their miracle after many more years of stress and emotional battering. Some get their miracle after many expensive and painful procedures. Some get their miracle through adoption. It would be easy for me to stand by with my cherubic baby on my hip and say "It will all work out in the end." It would also be easy for me to say, with my fairly easy-going and perfectly healthy little boy in tow, "How dare you complain about your kids." Neither of these maxims are helpful. I hope, if those nearly 2 years taught me anything, it was this: You don't know. Just because someone presents a certain face to the world doesn't mean everything is perfect. People suffer. They deal with infertility, depression, burn out, financial struggles, medical issues, a million different things that are very real and very painful. No one's trial is small. And so it behooves all of us to be a little more kind, a little less judgmental, and to keep our comments about someone's life choices quietly to ourselves.
So, although it isn't the easy thing for me to say, my message to someone experiencing infertility, or whatever is hard for you right now, is simply this: "Here's a little love for you, from me."