What many women and men experience, yet rarely talk about openly, are infertility issues. Like discussing your salary, society believes our reproductive organs are a taboo conversation topic. It makes people squirm and change the subject, or gossip and shame about later. Why? People openly share about so many personal things quite freely on social media, yet this topic in particular is shut behind the caged door of our hearts.
I have more girlfriends than I can count on my fingers and toes who only shared about miscarriages after they were far enough along in another pregnancy that they were sure would go to term. It’s a fairly common belief that one shouldn’t share about pregnancy until after the first trimester, just in case they lose the baby. Yet, it’s in those very sad and trying times that people (both the mother AND the father) need a support system of love and holding space. Grief is not meant to be bottled up and hidden away like a dark secret. There is no shame in feeling a natural emotion.
With society’s expectations on women to bear children, there is a level of shame in not being able to. Like, somehow, you are less of a woman if you’re infertile. Growing up, that was certainly the expectation my parents put on me. I remember my mother telling me that the goal of going to college was to receive my MRS. I should meet a nice, successful man, get married and then start popping out babies. After all, isn’t motherhood is the most noble of life’s purposes?
For my own mother, the thought of an empty nest terrified her because all she knew was keeping house. She would naturally need grand babies immediately.
So if one cannot conceive, what then?
I have girlfriends who, without a doubt, believe that is their purpose in life. And if that is indeed their higher self’s true calling, then I absolutely support their pursuit of it. My hunch is that many women listen to their social self over their essential self…and then grin and bear it once they are mothers. (Tell me where I am wrong.)
I’ll admit that I, myself, have kept my own health issues within a small, inner circle of close friends and family. No, I have not had any miscarriages. Although in keeping my own infertility information private, my story has not been able to bring the comfort of empathy to some people in my life.
Yesterday, my sister shared that she and her husband have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant for the past six years. Only hearing now about her pain, I reached out privately to share about my own experience and let her know that she is not alone and I’m here if she wants to talk. Her response surprised me. That simple act made a world of difference. Even her husband reached out to thank me and share how much it meant to her.
If we openly talked about all of this, so many women would not feel alone in their grief. They would have a community to ask questions of and gain knowledge from. It wouldn’t be so shocking or thought of as abnormal.
So I’m going to end this cycle of secrecy by sharing my own story. Not because I am grieving, but because I’ve found a sense of peace and acceptance about it. In fact, I realized in the past year that I’m actually quite relieved I am not a mother. (Call it getting crotchety in my old age, but kids are really loud, messy and high-maintenance. I really like my freedom and quiet.)
If you don’t care to know, or if the topic of reproductive organs makes you uncomfortable, don’t continue reading.
Since puberty, I have never had a regular menses cycle. In college, I went on birth control to regulate it with the hopes that when it came time to plan a family, my body would be accustomed to a 28-day regularity.
When I was 31, I woke at 4 a.m. to an extremely sharp pain in my lower abdomen. When the pain didn’t lesson after a few hours, I drove myself to the emergency room, where they determined that I had a burst ovarian cyst. The ultrasounds revealed that I had thousands of them and what is called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. The doctor shared then that I would most likely have trouble conceiving.
Fast forward to the age of 33, and having been forewarned of the hurdles, my husband and I started trying almost immediately to get pregnant…because that’s what you do when you get married, right? Start a family, of course. I mean, I was already behind all of my friends in getting that party started. (Oh my social self was so loud in my head then.)
After a year of peeing on both ovulation and pregnancy sticks to no avail, we saw a fertility specialist. She ran a bunch of tests and saw that among my thousands of cysts, I also had a dermoid cyst in my left ovary that would need to be watched. We did a few months of hormone treatments, but the doctor warned that the same hormones that cause eggs to drop also cause cysts to grow. We were limited in our options.
We flushed quite a lot of money down the fertility drain before we threw up our hands and said that if the universe wanted to give us a baby, it would. We went back to the old fashioned way of baby-making for the fun of it and pushed that agenda item off our to-do list.
When questioned about why we didn’t have kids, my usual snarky response was, “It’s not for lack of trying.”
To which people usually responded, “There’s always adoption. Have you looked into it?”
It’s like basically saying, “You should be a mother one way or the other. It’s mandatory and get right on it, will ya?”
Two years ago, my OBGYN advised that I have surgery to remove high-grade pre-cancerous cells from my cervix that my body hadn’t cleared in three years. By then, it is pretty much inevitable that it will turn cancerous. I went ahead with the surgery.
Then a year ago, I returned to the emergency room for pain in my abdomen. An ultrasound revealed that my once 2 centimeter dermoid cyst was now 5.5 centimeters (larger than a golf ball). It had grown to bursting-size and would not only destroy my ovary but also cause internal damage. In addition, a burst would require clearing out the dermoid’s contents of hair and teeth that would be floating around my abdomen like a burst appendix spreads waste. The wisest choice was to proactively go in and remove the cyst and, in doing so, my left ovary.
Am I less of a woman because I only have one ovary? Of course not!
My femininity does not come from any organs or hormones, in the same way that I believe transgendered individuals are no less the gender they identify with just because they were born with the opposite gender’s body parts. And I certainly don’t have any less purpose in life because I am unable of creating life in the traditional sense.
I create life in other ways…simply by living my life to my most fullest in every opportunity that finds me. I have created a life full of joy with my husband, who is my travel and adventure buddy. I have saved a life by adopting our mutt, Tucker. I have plants that I feed and nurture, and the oxygen they produce adds to the life of all creatures that breathe it. I create in many artistic ways through my cooking, writing, crafts and house projects. I create a safe place for my clients to come as they are and discover the answers waiting to rise up.
I am more than the sum of my physical parts. I am more than any identity role and I will continue to create in ways I haven’t even thought of yet.
For all you women (and men) out there who want children and can’t conceive, there is so much more to you (and the life you can live) than parenthood. Find the feeling state that you believe children would bring…whatever that may be: love, contentment, wholeness, purpose…sit in that state, picture having all you want already in your life…let your heart expand and know that you just gave yourself that gift.
It doesn’t come when you ‘get’ something, it is already inside you. Spend time in that feeling state and notice what other activities, people or places hold that same feeling in your life. Then find small steps you can take to add a little bit of that to each day. Before you know it, you’ll be drawing more love, contentment, wholeness, and purpose to you.