Guest Writer Wednesday: Worth the Wait
“Emotional pain cannot be quantified. The comparable suffering of others does not diminish, nor does it validate, your suffering.”
I relay this message somewhat frequently to my patients. Those who look at me with shame, explaining that they have no business in a psychologist’s office, knowing the pain that others feel must be far worse than their own. “You deserve to feel your own pain, to seek comfort and support for that suffering. It doesn’t have to be bigger than everyone else’s to matter.” Therefore, we begin what I hope is a process of self-acceptance and nurturing, walking through that pain in an effort to come out the other side as some sort of more [insert desired trait here] person than the one who started the journey.
Why is it that we are so often unable to apply the grace to ourselves that we extend toward others? My OBGYN once said to me, after asking how I was dealing with my own feelings of depression, “Ugh, Healer, heal thyself!” I suppose that is why I have kept my own pain mostly to myself...because I did not think my suffering was enough. Not in comparison to those women who have never experienced motherhood. Those who long to feel what I had felt not once, but twice.
I did not deserve to compare my feelings to those devastating experiences of women who had given years of their lives to the struggle, only to end up grieving what I had already attained—the title of “mom.” I did allow others into that space, but primarily just select family members and close friends and co-workers; when you work within the field of mental health, you had better accept a little help from your friends.
My infertility struggle began just as I opened a much-awaited chapter to my own story. A chapter that included my new groom, and my two children who he accepted as his own. Despite this acceptance, and the love I had for our life together, I knew that the joy of adding to our family was something that would bring us immeasurably closer. He had never experienced witnessing his child take his first breath, opening his eyes to a world in which he was completely reliant upon those two people looking down at him—his parents. I longed to share that with him, and I knew that the fertility clock was ticking as I was approaching my mid-30’s. “Will we have just one, or maybe two?” was my only question. With two siblings at least 6 years older, I thought maybe two would be best—you know, give the new little love a companion closer in age. We would surely have some time to make that decision after becoming parents together; you know, about a year after the first anniversary of our wedding day. We would try for a few months or maybe six, but we’d have time.
Then, six months turned into closer to twelve. The sound of the ticking clock became louder and more relevant, and then developed into a nagging feeling of doubt and concern. We did our due diligence with Clomid, riding the roller coaster of sky high hopes and rock bottom disappointment. After throwing numerous negative pregnancy tests into the trash can in despair, my OBGYN did her due diligence and sent us on our way to a reproductive endocrinologist. After parting with what seemed like half of my blood supply for lab work, I heard the foreign words of an infertility diagnosis with which I was previously blissfully unfamiliar: Diminished Ovarian Reserve. The scientist in me immediately consulted the medical literature to read anything I could understand about this unfortunate condition. The other part of me went where all of us go: Dr. Google. I googled the shit out of those words, hungry for any and all information that would provide me with some hope that all would be okay, and affirm that I could achieve pregnancy. I frantically searched for comparable online fertility nightmare cases—women with similarly crap-tastic AMH levels as mine (0.22 for my fellow infertility nerds). The statistics were ugly, daunting, and devastating. I stuck it out, though, agreeing to try anything suggested by my RE. Throughout all of the girly doctor visits that he didn’t fully understand but fully supported, my husband (bless his little accountant heart) went along with all of it. Failed IUI attempts turned into the inevitable: IVF. We were going to attempt to locate one of my non-rotten eggs, douse her with medicine more expensive than liquid gold, and transform her into a baby. Or something more medicine-y than that, but you get the idea.
I was pumped full of maximum doses of stimulation meds, only to end up fat, moody, and broke. Yet, still without a baby. Awesome. Our efforts were tremendous and all fertility avenues were exhausted. Our awesome RE finally told us that we had given a valiant effort, but my body just was not responding favorably to fertility treatments. I quite literally could not buy a worthwhile follicle. We had reached the end of our fertility journey. I was heartbroken. I would see perfect, chubby babies in public and sob in private. I was grieving that one person I would never meet, my baby that I was so sure would exist. I cried buckets of tears, for months, knowing that my husband was being robbed of that human rite of passage of being a parent. “He’s such an amazing stepdad,” others would console me. I would smile and nod, and agree that we were so lucky to have the family we had and I would believe those words, while bitterly holding onto the grief of the culmination of the now two years we had spent trudging through infertility hell.
As the months turned into a year, bitterness slowly turned into some sort of acceptance, as I told myself that we would be okay, and that I could feel fulfilled while grieving that third child that I had longed to meet. I relied on those closest to me to lift me up through the toughest moments, and turned to a new interest in meditation and mindfulness that I hoped would help carry me through my heartache, while widening my skill base to share with patients to hopefully support them through their own sorrow.
"That is where this chapter should have ended.
That is where this chapter should have ended. Because...science. So, when I saw those two pink lines on that stick, a full year after my last fertility med had been injected, some sort of sound came from my body that I had never heard before, and am sure will never hear again. I laughed hysterically, and then cried hysterically, then all at the same time. The 2% had happened. I was one of those stories I had read about on Dr. Google, but was sure would never happen to me. I was the person who was told by so many well-meaning people to “Relax. It will happen when you stop stressing,” and thought, "Suck it; statistics says it will not," internally. I did not know why it happened to me, and I still don’t. I am still shocked; to this day, I’m shocked that I get to be a mom again. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense that I get this privilege while others suffer. I do not have an explanation. I do not believe that my good fortune was some omnipotent deity’s will; that I get to be a mom for a third time, while another woman mourns that she will never carry a child. I will never utter the words, “Just relax, it will happen when you stop stressing over it.” I never stopped stressing; I just stopped trying. I never accepted our unfortunate fate; I just gave up fighting against it. Because I had run out of fight, had run out of hope. I never ran out of the bitter feeling that it was not right and NOT FAIR that I didn’t get to be a mom again.
Then, I did get to be a mom again. I got to witness my husband look down at our son as he breathed his first breaths of air; I saw his face as he felt the gravity of the emotions that grab ahold of a new parent and shake them to their inner core. We have received that precious gift that so many others still await. Grateful cannot begin to describe my feelings. As I get to know that third child who I once mourned that I would never meet, a feeling of immeasurable joy has filled my world. I once read that their parents cherish “IVF babies” in a special way; they are wanted in such an exceptional manner, that parents who haven’t experienced infertility cannot quite grasp. I understand that now. As a mom who has become a mother without obstacle, and given every part of myself only to be told I would likely not be given that title again, I have a unique perspective that I would not have otherwise had. I still believe that everything happens for a reason; while I do not believe that the reason has been entirely learned, I do know that I have grown stronger on my journey.
I have a newly found perspective of gratitude for the three miracles that call me “mom” along the way.
-Sarah Konrady Appelhof
Sarah is a midwestern girl who loves traveling to new places and is finding her 30s to be her most insightful decade of self-discovery yet. Her behavioral intuition is as strong as her geographical sense of direction is poor. Sarah welcomes the benefits that accompany age and experience as pathways to continually improve her professional skills within her field of psychology. She loves a good brunch almost as much as she loves her adoring husband and three children, and can be found shamelessly boutique shopping for clothes she doesn't need. Sarah is honored to be a part of the unicorn mission while learning about the broad experiences of its inspiring community.
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