“You have no chance of becoming pregnant.”
Those words were the culmination of my 20-year journey to become a mother. My initiation into the world of infertility began when I was 19 years old. One day I experienced abdominal pain so severe I could barely walk. Admission to the hospital resulted in surgery to remove half of my reproductive organs as they had collapsed under the weight of a large cyst. Upon discharge, I was reassured that I could still become pregnant, but the doctor suggested I focus on having children at a young age since these issues could be chronic.
Chasing the Dream
Nearly 20 years after my first surgery, I was still childless. I had tried numerous rounds of fertility medications over the years, but I had yet to become pregnant. I would develop cysts or tumors when I would discontinue birth control, and I required 2 additional surgeries including removal of a portion of my remaining ovary. I knew the odds were against me, but I still believed one day I would be a mother.
I met my current husband when I was 37, and I knew on our first date he was special. I told him about my fertility struggles early in the relationship, and he assured me we would face any issues together. We married a year later, and I once again allowed myself to dream. What would our baby look like? Would he or she have my husband’s beautiful blue eyes? How would it feel to finally be called mom? I knew I was risking heartbreak, but I was full of hope that our dream of starting a family would come true.
My Worst Fear
Four years went by with no pregnancy. Each month I would get my hopes up only to face another negative pregnancy test. The pain had also returned, and I went back to the doctor. “You have no chance of becoming pregnant”, he said after reviewing my scans. On some level I had known this was the case, but hearing the words had a devastating effect on me. I could not stop the tears that were fueled by years of pent up disappointment and yearning. Physically I would feel better after having surgery, but how would I repair the emotional emptiness that would result?
Surgery came and went. Complete hysterectomy. I felt free in a sense as I knew the pain that had ruled my life for decades would never sideline me again. My emotions did not heal as quickly as my body, however. I had been overwhelmed by sadness one day, and I burst into tears when my husband came home. I felt I had let him down and by loving me he was going to be deprived of great joy in life. We talked through my feelings, and he said something so simple but so profound. “It is not your fault, Lisa.” He said it repeatedly until I really stopped and listened. In that moment I realized how much blame I had imposed on myself over the years. I had spent the past 20 years wondering what was wrong with me, comparing myself to other women and blaming myself. It was time to stop.
After our conversation, I worked on changing the tone I used with myself. Instead of blaming myself, I would acknowledge my hurt. Instead of accusing myself of being less than others, I would commend myself for the grace I displayed in dealing with such a painful issue for so long. I vowed to show myself the same love and kindness I had always dreamed of directing toward a child so I could heal the wounds of infertility and reclaim my life.
Over 2 years have passed since my surgery, and I have learned that acceptance is the key to moving on. I will never give birth to my own child, and I cannot change that fact. I can, however, decide that it will not overshadow the many beautiful aspects of my life. I have also learned that isolation only serves to worsen the struggles of infertility. Infertility can be a silent and lonely battle, and once you crack the door and begin to let others in the burden becomes more bearable. The fact that I will never give birth does not have to translate into not knowing joy or the experience of making a difference in the world. As one teenager I know told me, “You are like everyone’s mother.” Her words showed me that I can leave a legacy of love and kindness even without the title of mom.
Perhaps one day my husband and I will adopt or foster a child, but until that time I am making daily progress with gaining acceptance and getting to know myself again. Who am I? What do I enjoy doing? What are my dreams in life aside from being a mother? How can I take my experience with infertility and lessen the pain for other women? I did not choose this journey. I am not flawed or lacking in some way, and I am finally learning to be kind to myself.
Each woman who walks this road has unique struggles, but as my husband stated so simply, “It is not your fault.” If you are a woman struggling with infertility, please listen to those words. It is not your fault. You have not failed, and you can find the strength to accept infertility and have a meaningful life. As for me, infertility may have dominated my past, but I refuse to let it define my future.