February 2014. My parents and I look at my week-old son as he sleeps in my arms. It’s your typical heartwarming scene. “Wasn’t all this worth it?” my father said.
My story had its happy ending, but getting there, well, let’s just say I do not think “it was all worth it.” I love my child, but I wish I hadn’t had to go through the emotional hell to have him.
In 2009, my friend Carrie and I had gone through the worst years of our lives personally and professionally. We decided to throw away convention and pursue our deepest-held dreams, which for me was motherhood. (Carrie, by the way, became a yoga teacher and now runs a consulting business in Boulder, Colo., that works with organic-food companies.) I went the sperm-bank route.Â
The specialists said that because I was five years younger than their average patient — I was 33 — we could play around with lots of options. “We’d be surprised if it took longer than four or five months,” my doctor said.
I never expected to go through years of infertility treatments, surgery for endometriosis, acupuncture, yoga, forced bed rest, curtailed running that wasn’t injury related, and heaven knows what else. I even rubbed a voodoo doll and wore a fertility necklace. I had so many failed tries that I qualified for free vials of sperm from the fertility bank I was using. My reproductive endocrinologist called me a “negative statistic.” What does that even mean? (Answer: when the doctor has tested for everything and still can’t figure out what’s wrong. Someone has to be the unexplained statistic.)
I watched more than 25 people in my life have babies, including 20 from August 2011 to June 2012. I distanced myself from friends even if they didn’t have children. As for the ones who did, at first I played the good Auntie Lisa type. The shower-giver. The one who did hospital and home visits. I joined a single-moms group. I managed not to scream at the one from the group who said, albeit in a fit of new-mother exhaustion, “You should be glad you don’t have children.” (She said this around the time my seventh attempt failed.)
I kept hoping that if I surrounded myself with fertile beings, eventually the world would smile down on me, and it would be my turn. But it never was, and I silently cracked a little more each month.Â Silently, because I feared the ugliness of the breakdown.Â
People called me strong, but I felt like a fraud. Was avoiding my most painful thoughts really strong? I couldn’t even cry in therapy. I lived my life by cycles and remained trapped cycling through the stages of grief. I didn’t want to do IVF —Â it’sÂ cost-prohibitive, plus I feared multiples — and had to deal with accusations I didn’t want my dream badly enough. I felt guilty that other relationships had dulled any desire to adopt. How do you live your life when your biggest dream doesn’t come true? No one tells you that.
Meanwhile, I drowned myself in my job while simultaneously praying I would get pregnant so I’d have a reason to get off the merry-go-round. By Memorial Day 2013, I decided it was time to let go and figure out how to live the rest of my life. I started exploring work transfers to London, my go-to place as I mourned failed pregnancy attempts. I had one vial of sperm left, but hey, my other 14 tries hadn’t worked. Why should this one?
Fate’s a funny animal. One year to the day of my endometriosis surgery, I heard my son’s heartbeat for the first time.