Sometimes I wonder, What if I’d gotten pregnant, stayed pregnant, gone to one doctor and poof, had a baby some nine months later, just like in the movies? What if I’d never lost those babies, never had to go to multiple doctors, clinics, countries, and been made entirely and completely a lunatic from all the desperate wanting, hoping, and failing? I’d surely be richer, younger, and a little less insane. But what kind of mother would I have been?
You see, infertility changed me. I used to be a happy-go-lucky optimist, certain that things would always work out. Book a trip at the last minute? Definitely. Lost my luggage? No worries, we’ll just figure it out—and get a whole new wardrobe. Give up my life in L.A. in order to meet a guy in New York? Sure! I was game for anything and everything.
And yet, losing pregnancy after pregnancy, going through unsuccessful IVF cycles made me pessimistic. The medical journey—charting ovulation, planning sex, revolving my entire being around IVF, made me less carefree. Not only did fertility treatment turn me into an anxious worrier, it also made me into a planner, a think-ahead type-A personality instead of a “let’s wait and see” type B.
“Is there more pressure to do everything right because you spent so much time and energy on this?” a “regular” mother asked me. God, there is so much pressure to do motherhood right (I could say “parenthood,” but that’s a blatant lie—[my husband] Solomon thinks he’s a great dad when he gets her outfit on right-side up) that it’s hard to imagine something creating even more pressure. “I Did IVF and All I Got Was This Lousy Kid,” the souvenir T-shirts should say. Except she’s not lousy, she’s wonderful. “You the best mama,” she says to me.
So maybe infertility wasn’t all bad for motherhood. By now you must know that I’m not one of those people who searches for silver linings in everything, so there’s no way I’m going to be grateful for my struggles to have a baby. But I will say that it made some of early motherhood less daunting. “Oh my God, I lost my life, I have no self!” some new mamas complain. Ha! I long ago lost myself in Hormone City, and spent years at a full-time job called “Waiting in Line at the IVF Clinic.” “I can’t believe I have to take all this stuff for the baby just to go on a trip to the grocery store,” others complain. For years my head had been so filled with medicine schedules and prognosticating for every possible outcome that packing for an eight-pound baby’s outing to Midtown was nothing.
And yes, while I did engage in The Great Stroller Debate of 2016, the stakes were so much lower than IVF that it felt like I was doing it just to belong to the Regular Moms Club.
Once, at my friend Emily’s baby shower (a single mom doing IVF ) as everyone went around in a circle to give her a toast or advice, I said, “After years of IVF, nothing will be as hard.” Although the moms of teenagers rolled their eyes, no doubt thinking, You ain’t seen nothing yet, the point I was trying to convey is that infertility is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll ever succeed.
Parenting is challenging, but you have the reward of a kid. And what a reward that is.
No complaining, IVF Mama!
I will never, ever complain about parenting, I promised myself during those long years of Trying. “Oh, you don’t know what tired is until you have kids,” an exhausted mom would say, rolling her eyes. “Your body will never be the same,” another said, pinching her pouch. “Can’t wait to go back to work. These vacation days are killing me,” another posted on Facebook.
Of course I never responded to those parents—those ungrateful, insensitive, unappreciative people who didn’t know how lucky they were to have kids to complain about. I would have given up all my vacation days just to spend it with my kid.
Or so I told myself.
And then I had a baby. So what if my breasts weren’t producing enough milk and my c-section scar wasn’t healing and my mother-in-law didn’t want me to let the baby cry it out and I would never ever sleep again? I was NOT going to complain.
I mean, seriously. How long can a vow like that last? I’ll tell you: six months. At half a year I was losing my mind from a baby who wouldn’t take a bottle (yup, that meant I couldn’t go anywhere for more than three hours) and the sheer exhaustion of it all.
I was ecstatic to have a daughter and be off the IVF train, but I needed to vent, to let off steam, to rant and rave at Solomon or whoever else might have been in a hundred-mile vicinity. Also, isn’t that a part of motherhood? Infertility shouldn’t steal another rite of passage: complaining. In the age of social media, it seems like an essential part of motherhood.
When I was interminably single, I promised I’d never complain about my spouse, either. But then I got one. Hello! I’m human.
I do complain at times about marriage, motherhood, life itself, but I try to do it only to the right people. Just like I don’t bitch to my single girlfriends about my husband, I try not to complain to the childless, either.
Going through infertility has made me more sensitive to others because I remember what it was like. I don’t remember every hCG beta, every embryo count, every medical protocol. But I do remember the pain, the frustration, the desolation of not having a child.
Having a child—this child, this wonderful, beautiful, adorable person (“I’m not cute, I’m smart!” I’ve trained her to tell strangers)—is beyond amazing.
“She’s incredible,” Solomon constantly tells me. Doesn’t every parent feel that way? Or just those of us who went through hell and back to get here?
The other day, we took our daughter to the pool and saw her swim, without floaties, for the first time—and she’s not even four! A giant balloon of tears welled up in me: I don’t care if she becomes a ballerina, goes to Harvard, or cures cancer. That she had so much of me and my love of water in her, that she had achieved so much in such a short time, made me so proud, so incredulous that I get to shepherd her into the world.
There were so many dark days and long nights when I never thought I would get here. I didn’t know whether I would recover from a pregnancy loss. I didn’t know that I could start fertility treatment, take so many drugs, uproot my life and move across the world, witness the world getting pregnant and moving on without me—me, who was denied the one thing I wanted. I did not know what would become of me, of Solomon, of us together.
Yet here we are, with our curly girl in a mermaid bathing suit flopping around like a fish. Most days the gratitude is too gargantuan to acknowledge, and I have to just pretend to be a regular mom in a regular family. I guess we are a regular family. Regular parents. Regular (extraordinary) kid.
I hope you are all lucky enough to be a parent. You deserve it.
From the book The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind by Amy Klein. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Klein. Publishing by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.