I’m ten weeks today, and it suddenly struck me that I have written little about where I am emotionally with this pregnancy.
Of course, I have one basic emotion; I hope it comes through in my updates. I’m grateful. Unbelievably, overwhelmingly, every-moment grateful. Grateful in a way I can’t imagine I would have been if this had happened when we first started trying two-and-a-half years ago.
But there’s other stuff going on, too.
I didn’t talk about this before I got pregnant, but I’ve always been aware that, in the realm of infertility blogs, this one doesn’t exactly fit in. That’s putting it mildly, actually: I’m waaaay below the average age (far enough that I imagine more than one person read my profile and thought me ridiculous for complaining about infertility at age twenty-three); we weren’t actively pursuing adoption or treatment or even fertility testing; and I’ve written as much about theology and other random topics as I have about our quest for a family.
I always thought it appropriate that my blog didn’t fit in, because I’ve also felt from the beginning that infertility was, for me, a different sort of struggle than the one most of the women around me in blogworld were undergoing. (I don’t mean this in a look-at-me-my-pain-is-so-unique way; bear with me here.) With my background, it was bound to be.
It has to do with being Catholic, the particular brand of Catholic that we are. (I am on friendly terms with more people who don’t use birth control than most of you will meet in your entire lives, I imagine.) When Bryan and I got married at twenty-one and nineteen, lots of people, mostly friends of his parents, told us that we should make sure to wait a few years before having children. And I think that most people who get married at the age we did (assuming they’re not getting married because they already have children) plan to wait, to enjoy life together for a few years before they take on the responsibility of parenthood. But Bryan and I never planned to do that, because we believed we couldn’t, in good conscience. We did use NFP to avoid conception during our first year of marriage, when we had no income, but as soon as Bryan landed a job in the summer of 2003, we started trying. The rest, as they say, is history.
It seems to me that most people start trying to have a baby because they want a baby. It’s part of what makes infertility so hard – seeing babies all around, and not having one of your own. I can definitely relate to that, as my desire for a little one to care for and kiss and love definitely increased as the months of our wait went on. At the beginning, though, the decision to start trying wasn’t about that. I was barely twenty-one at the time. I was concerned about midterms and research papers, excited about having my first legal margarita. The decision to start trying was one of obedience more than anything else; Bryan and I both felt strongly that now that we had the means to provide for a child, we had the responsibility as Catholics to be generous with our fertility, and to let the children come if that was what God willed.
In the meantime, I was busy. Ever since I had started kindergarten in the fall of 1987, I’d been a student. My parents impressed on us from the time we were little our responsibility to be good stewards of the talents God had given us, and in the academic realm, I found, I could use my talents well. I loved math, science, history, politics, literature, philosophy, theology - and, especially after I transferred to my little liberal arts college, got a lot of fulfillment out of learning and out of communicating what I had learned. I may have dreaded writing those papers and procrastinated on them until the last minute, but I discovered, again and again, that the writing itself was actually enjoyable for me. Heated class discussions felt like my natural habitat. “Student” was a good identity for me.
During my last year of college I watched my classmates face, as college seniors everywhere must, the question: what comes next? Some made plans to go to grad school or seminary – they would continue to be students, at least for a while. Others found jobs – they would be teachers, or construction workers, or cubicle-dwellers for faceless corporate entities. A few girls had plans to get married right after graduation – they would be wives, and soon after (they expected) mothers.
I identified the most with those who struggled with the challenge, who had found no plan to fit them, for I considered that I was among them. I’d had my identity planned out for as long as I could remember – as a student until I graduated from college, and then as a wife and stay-at-home-mom. I’d jumped the gun a bit on the “wife” part, but the “student” part still sufficed as identity for me. Now I was losing it, and the “mother” part didn’t seem to be coming along, and the questions loomed. What would I do? Who would I be?
A job dropped into my lap moments after I graduated, and I seized upon it as the answer to my dilemma. Now I was no longer a student, but I was a paralegal. As an identity I imagined it would work just as well. Unfortunately, as I discovered in the following months, “paralegal” was not an identity that fit my personality and talents the way “student” had. In fact, it made me miserable. I hit rock-bottom before I gave my perfectionist self permission to bail on that one, and was surprised at how relieved I felt.
But still I was faced with the question: who am I? It was the part that always hurt me the most about infertility, not being able to take on the role I’d always expected to take on, a role for which I believe I am well-suited.
My parents got married when my dad was still doing his undergrad work, and they had me and Rosie before he graduated. They were very poor for a few years, but they felt confident that God was calling them to have children, and so they did. Along the same line, I know many young Catholic couples who struggle with their finances in order that they make continue to be open to the children God sends them. (No joke, I know a couple who got married four months after we did who are already expecting their third.) Young, poor, but fulfilled and happy – it’s the story of these years for them; it was the story of my parents’ early years; I always imagined it would be the story of mine.
Instead, we’ve got a house and two cars and we travel and go out to dinner and have a Netflix subscription and never worry about where that next meal is coming from. We’re not rich by any standards, but we’re comfortable, and I know people who can’t even imagine what “comfortable” feels like. I am not complaining about the fact that I don’t have to pinch pennies, but when I got married at nineteen I imagined that penny-pinching would necessarily be in my future because children (early and often) would also be. I am grateful for the fact that we’re comfortable financially, but it is not worth it; I would much rather have had those children than the extra cash.
After I found myself in the middle of a depression and got up the courage to drop the impossible identity of “paralegal,” I started thinking about my identity crisis. I had imagined I would be a mother by now, poor but happy, and instead I found myself in an empty house, with a third bedroom that sits unused almost all the time, not needing to work but with little to occupy my time otherwise. I pondered for a while (weeks, not just hours) and, as always seems to be the case when I pray and ponder hard enough, found myself with a solution of sorts, with an identity that fit me, at least fit me far better than “paralegal” had.
I started applying myself to housework, meal planning, etc., and found that, when I took care to do it well, it occupied a lot more of my time than I’d expected. But in addition (and this is the key part, I think), I embraced the fact that “waiting to be a mother” can be identity, too. I’d prayed and begged and wrestled with God for long enough to realize that the answer of “Sure, go ahead and [adopt, do fertility treatments, etc] right away” was not forthcoming. I had the choice: reject what I was hearing and go ahead with my own plan, or accept that “one who waits and hopes” was meant to be my title for now.
The first was never really an option. So I accepted that hated identity. I didn’t necessarily accept it gracefully, but I accepted it, and found a lot more peace than I had expected to find. It surprised me that the new identity seemed to fit me so well, although it shouldn’t have. Like any true vocation, it was bound to fit.
But then, before I knew it, I was pregnant. And it completely floored me. I was not prepared for the abject fear that rolled over me moments after I saw that second pink line. I wrote this post the day after I found out I was pregnant, and the fear I was talking about had been brought on almost completely by my pregnancy.
The pain of “sorry, not this time” that I faced each cycle was something I knew I could handle, having been through it so many times before. The pain of losing a child, even an embryonic one, was something I couldn’t face.
As I told my husband, tearfully, “I know how to wait. I don’t know how to do this.”
I think that the pain of missing identity was the hardest part of infertility for me. Now that I’m facing the possibility, more real with each passing week, of giving birth and dedicating myself to taking care of that little one, the missing identity of “mother” is within my grasp. It’s an adjustment, and it (already!) involves sacrifices, and I am much, much more vulnerable here than I ever expected to be.
It’s true. I don’t know how to do this. But fortunately we humans are an adaptable race, and this is a happy adjustment. I’m unbelievably grateful to be making it. And I have thirty more weeks to do it, so all will be well.
Pregnant! Me! Still surreal, but you won’t find me complaining.