On Infertility and Being a Woman
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 13 of Holl & Lane Magazine.
Words by Amy Braswell
I AM BARREN. Apparently.
Because nobody’s actually ever told me that. Despite multiple IVF attempts, countless shots, and drugs and hormones pumped into my body. Despite test after test after test. I’ve never received an explanation for why my body is seemingly unable to do what it’s supposed to be able to do – produce life.
When I got married, I was 33. Such a young age, looking back. But it felt old at the time. So when my husband and I weren’t pregnant after a year of trying, we headed to an infertility clinic. And we took tests. And tests. And then a few more tests. Which all came back wonderful. I happily continued my streak as a Straight A student. And my husband? Well, he’ll be proud to tell you that he scored off the charts. Seriously, it was all he could talk about for weeks. So we went into this whole fertility journey thinking, “Woo hoo! We’re superstars! This will be super easy! We will be pregnant in like the next ten minutes!”
Not so fast, ladies and gentlemen. My body didn’t react well to Clomid, so we had to skip the lovingly nicknamed “turkey baster” technique and head straight to IVF. “Awesome,” we thought, “they’re pulling out the big guns for us!"
So I tromped in to the doctor’s office almost daily and was poked, prodded, and probed by various people I may or may not have previously met. I could talk endlessly about my uterus, my ovaries, and how many follicles I was growing at any given moment. Sadly, so could my husband. I gave vials and vials of blood regularly. So much blood. On one occasion, the phlebotomist refused to take the entire amount of blood my doctor wanted drawn and I had to return the next day for the second half. Of course the tests all came back fine.
I, however, was not fine. I was sick from the hormones. I was exhausted from the constant emotional roller coaster. And I was going through other major life events at the same time – mainly the loss of my stepfather, the man who had raised me since I was 5 years old, and my mother’s breast cancer battle. Which she eventually won.
Six rounds of IVF later, including two with donor eggs, and nothing. Absolutely nothing. And in the meantime, I became one of “those people”. I did everything I could think of, tried every trick in the book to try and coerce my body into doing what I was warned for years it would do simply by looking at a boy the wrong way. I ate pineapple core. I drank only whole milk. I tried acupuncture. Nothing worked and I felt like a failure.
Because my body refused to do what millions of women did every day, I felt like a complete and utter failure. I cried and complained and I ate a lot of chocolate. I told my husband he should leave me because I was broken. (Luckily, he didn’t). I skipped baby showers. I resented my friends.
And I still held out hope.
We ended up adopting an amazing, spirited, vibrant little boy who I can't imagine life without. I also can't imagine having a second child at this point, simply because he's two years old, a total spitfire, and needs all hands on deck at every moment. (Good Lord, how in the world were we ever praying for twins?)
But still I hold out hope. Even when I’m a couple of days late and I think that after all of that time, after now being in my 40s, after having such an awesome handful of a son that I can’t possibly be pregnant because oh my goodness how would I even handle that… There’s a tiny part of me that hopes.
That hopes my body has finally figured out what it was meant to do.
That feels equal parts sorrow and relief at the inevitable signs of a period.
That knows what it feels like to be a wife and knows what it feels like to be a mom.
But wonders, in those quiet moments, what it truly feels like to be a Woman.
And the funny thing is, several years later, I find myself unable to remember all those stats and numbers and facts. I vaguely recall the feeling of the shots, but only as a funny anecdote my husband and I tell from time to time – “Honey, remember that time you had to give me the trigger shot in my butt and I bled everywhere and we called the nurse in a panic thinking I was going to bleed out? Wasn’t that hysterical?” I can’t remember the names of the nurses that I saw every single day. I have to pause to think about when we started and when we finally gave up. And how they told us to give up. Although, I remember it was kind.
Now what I can talk endlessly about is potty training. And the last time my son woke in the night. And the adorable thing he said the other day. And the feel of stickiness everywhere in my house.
We might have found our answer recently, as to why we never got pregnant. I had a laparoscopy procedure done and the doctor found a ton of endometriosis in there. A surprising amount, apparently. Enough that I went to sleep expecting one incision and woke up to find four. But it actually made me happy. I was happy to find out that maybe that was the reason. Or that there even was a reason.
In the end, it didn’t really matter. We’re happy with our sticky, happy, boisterous handful and we can’t imagine life any other way. (Except maybe with less stickiness.)
It doesn’t matter that my body didn’t produce him. It doesn’t matter that we don’t share DNA. It doesn’t matter that he spent 9 months in someone else’s stomach because now he’s in my heart.
And one day he’ll understand that somehow, despite being formed from someone else’s body, from two other people’s bodies, that he is still my flesh and blood. And I say this with confidence, because I somehow knew, even from the beginning, that my stepdad was anything but a ‘step’ dad. He was my dad. People used to tell us we looked alike – people who had no idea I wasn’t his biological child. And my husband and I get that with our son now, too. He has my eyes and looks a lot like my husband.
Funny how that works.
I think once you’ve wiped enough butts and cleaned up enough vomit, once you’ve wiped your child’s nose using just your hand, once you’ve eaten food that they’ve literally taken out of their mouths because they really, really want you to eat it instead…when you know their body better than you know your own. THAT’S what it truly feels like to be a woman.