It was five years ago today that I took a pregnancy test for the first time and saw a second pink line darken before the control line.
I didn’t know it then, but at that moment the biological clock that had been ticking for years started counting down to the infertility diagnosis that had been waiting in the wings since the moment of my own conception.
This memory got me thinking: What have I learned in five years?
I’ve learned that pregnancy loss, infertility, and egg donation are widely misunderstood by those who haven’t experienced it themselves, and this has led to more teaching moments than I was prepared for.
Some people don’t understand that grief isn’t linear and has no timeline.
Some people won’t understand the depth of loss a miscarriage brings. They don’t understand that words like, “at least you know you can get pregnant,” isn’t actually true for some people (like me)—but, still, it misses the point.
Some people don’t think infertility is a big deal because it isn’t a life or death diagnosis. They haven’t understood that life isn’t binary.
Some people don’t understand that infertility is a monthly cycle of despair when you’re trying to conceive on your own. Others haven’t realised that when you’re doing multiple FETs, you have only a few times a year in which you can actually conceive, so the emotional and hormonal roller coaster of 12 months is crammed into these 2-3 opportunities.
Similarly, most people have no idea what it’s like to be clubbed over the head with chemical menopause. Naturally, menopause occurs over a period of years. Take all of the ‘hormotional’ parts of natural menopause and condense it into a single, convenient monthly injection, and you too can bash in your pituitary gland in with Leuprolide Acetate.
Some people don’t understand that an infertility diagnosis will shape you, and once its hands have moulded the clay and fired you in its oven, you are changed. And having been changed, sometimes you break down again.
Some people think broken pottery is ugly and to be discarded. Others think flaws are to be celebrated. (See: Kintsugi.)
Some people think you’re stupid or nuts to attempt another pregnancy, knowing that things could go horribly wrong again. Some people think you’re crazy, knowing the odds of a second child are against you. Others marvel at your determination.
Some people are sick of hearing about infertility. They forget that raising a child who shares DNA with only one parent means that not talking about infertility is a privilege afforded them, but not us parents who have children via third party reproduction.
Some people don’t know how to ask you if you’re okay, so they say nothing. Their silence is far worse than the time your friend clumsily referred to your egg donor as “the real mother” (which is about as big a faux pas as you can get).
Some people don’t understand that having a second child wouldn’t automagically erase all of this pain.
Some people are flaky. Even though they have a child conceived with the same donor and claim they want to connect with other families, when you reach out they ignore your message.
Some people are other parents, and even though they seem friendly, if something makes you not want to be open with them about how your daughter was conceived, listen to your gut. It’s a great litmus test for potential friendship.
Some people are just nasty, so you end the friendship.
But the people who embrace you, all of you, become some of your closest friends.
Sometimes you despair that you’ll never have a second child.
Sometimes you’re sad that your body is so broken, and other people’s bodies work so effortlessly.
Sometimes you’re angry that your Long List of Things That Have Gone Wrong is longer than a lot of people’s.
Sometimes you’re just tired. Really sick and tired of living with the ripple effects of pregnancy loss and infertility.
Sometimes you wonder about your donor. Sometimes you think it’s strange that there’s a woman out there whom you’ve never met but who gave your kid 50% of their genes. Sometimes you think it’s a beautiful story of grit and love.
Sometimes you feel alienated from your support network of fellow infertiles because you’re too much in TTC mode to be part of the Life After Infertility crowd, too infertile to be a regular parent, and too much of a parent to be allowed in the No-Kids-Yet-TTC gang.
Sometimes you can embrace the idea of remaining a family of three.
Sometimes you look at your face in the mirror and realise you’re not going to be able to hydrate away the fine lines, and you have three more white hairs, and you think you look like a hag. A tired, ugly, and barren hag who’s going to be 40 soon.
Sometimes you think fuck the patriarchy and its standards of ideal beauty.
Sometimes you think you’re doing alright.
Sometimes you know you are.
Sometimes you’re proud of yourself for making it this far. For setting boundaries and sticking to them. For standing up for yourself and for what you believe in.
Sometimes you even think you’re going to rock 40—wrinkles, white hairs, warts and all.