A letter to my younger, trying to conceive, self
I keep thinking of you at seven years old, in a pink and orange bathing suit, at the edge of the swimming pool. You’re competing with three other girls to see which of you can stick your stomach out the farthest.
Who can look the most pregnant?
I can see the concentration on your small face, your eyes closing as you work to push your belly out a little bit more.
No wonder you are drowning in grief. This desire is at least 28 years in the making. I suspect it may have been there even before that day by the pool. Like the moment you left your own mother’s body, a longing awoke deep in your cells to cradle a newborn of your own.
And here you are, 35 years old, no baby in your arms. No baby in your belly.
Thousands of dollars spent on medications and sperm and tests and doctors visits. Millions of tears shed. Two pregnancies lost. Your wife’s body waiting to take over the task, and you, unwilling to let go. Hundreds of arguments centered on that fear that you — your heart, your soul, your marriage — will implode if you have to watch your wife do the thing you’ve been unable to do.
And no matter how hard you concentrate, you cannot will your body to become pregnant.
I know that sometimes when you are alone, you push your belly out again, the way you did when you were seven. You rub your hand over it and whisper words of encouragement to an imaginary baby.
And there are some things I need you to know.
You are not wrong for wanting this. The universe is not trying to send you a message. Motherhood comes in different forms and at different times. Some people become mothers — just like that. Others are slowly stretched into mothers, inch by painful inch.
When you feel that you’ve been drawn tight, beyond your heart’s ability to bear, and you keep going, that’s when you are expanding into the space you will inhabit as a mother.
Don’t mistake my words as pretending some silver lining. I offer simply the truth. This is how you will become a mother, and you will be a beautiful one.
Take a gentle breath and try to envision a family different from the one you’ve hoped for. Look at families whose children came to them through adoption, through fostering, through surrogacy. Watch a mother who didn’t give birth to the child in her arms.
I am not asking you to give up on your dream — just to expand it. To see, for your sake and for the sake of so many others, that love really does make a family. Don’t panic. You will give birth to a child, but only after you watch your wife grow a child in her belly and give birth to your son. Only after you learn how deep that bond can be.
In fact, once you have two children, you will sometimes — in a moment — forget that you didn’t give birth to both of them.
Honor your losses for as long and as intensely as you need to. They are yours, and there’s no right timeline for your grief. That means you’re also allowed to let it go when you’re ready.
Take time off if you need it. A month or two of waiting to try again may feel like agony. It may also feel like a tiny little freedom from analyzing every sensation in your body.
If you need something to feel grateful for when gratitude feels like an impossibility, look to the community of women going through this alongside you. They are there. You are not alone. Be grateful for their kindness and their support. Be grateful for the financial ability to do what you are doing.
When you look into your children’s faces one day, you will know it was worth it.
Honor your anger. Scream and cry. Punch pillows. Kick rocks. Turn off all the voices that taught you anger is impolite or not feminine. Be angry. Let it fuel you. Hold it tight when you’re sitting across from the glib doctor and need to be your own advocate.
And stop flogging yourself for hating pregnant women and mothers, for feeling only pain when they feel joy. Remember, you are drowning. It’s hard to rejoice in the person swimming alongside when what you need is a hand to pull you out.
Even so, I will let you in on a secret. One day you will have children of your own. You will walk them through the aisles of a grocery store and try to keep them from grabbing things off the shelf. You will feel bone tired and dirty and longing for a break, and when a woman passing by comments on how cute they are, you will raise your eyebrows and say, “They’re certainly a handful.”
A wave of shame will wash over you as you remember the promises you made to yourself, to God, to your future children — that you would never complain about them. That you would never forget how much it took to create them.
Don’t feel shame. Infertility is hard. So too, you will learn, is motherhood.
Here is what I need you to know more than anything. You will weather this. It’s not fair that you have to, and yet the life that comes after it will be beautiful and imperfect and everything you didn’t know you longed for — a life that could not be without all that came before it.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Katie Taylor is a writer and content strategist. She lives in Richmond, Vermont with her wife, two kids (one she birthed, one she did not), and a dog. You can read more about her infertility journey here. Katie induced lactation so that she could breastfeed the son her wife gave birth to, and she encourages anyone interested in learning more to reach out. katie (at) katietaylorwriting.com.