“And the day before the baby was born…” My husband paused.
We were sitting in my daughter’s room, me holding our tiny girl, my husband reading our current book out loud to me. I knew, in a moment of terrible sadness, where this story was headed and why he had paused. “No,” I said. “Oh, no.”
Both of us had tears in our eyes as he finished reading the sentence.
At some point in the infertility journey, perhaps there comes the “after”. A pregnancy. A birth. An adoption. A decision that it is time to end treatments or adoption attempts. It’s the point which, at the beginning of the journey seems so far away as to be almost unimaginable.
When I gave birth to my premature 2 lb 8 oz daughter after two fresh rounds of IVF, an FET, miscarriage, failed cycles, bleeding, and rupture of my membranes at 21 weeks pregnant, I entered an entirely new world. All of a sudden, I became a mother. I think there was a part of me that expected, particularly when we first started trying to conceive, that this would lead to a swift resolution.
I had a baby, after all.
Why couldn’t I just be as excited as everyone else?
A society that is uncomfortable with people in the midst of the difficult scenarios of trying to conceive, suffering loss, adopting after infertility or going through treatments is just as uncomfortable with the aftermath. No matter how one came to the “after” part of the journey, there is often an assumption that everything is now okay.
In the last few weeks, I’ve discovered that most people want to talk about the baby. With a few much appreciated exceptions, they do not want to talk about my fears of losing her. They do not want to talk about the treatments or the losses. They do not want to hear me tell the story of staring at an ultrasound screen, the sinking feeling, the being told that our baby wasn’t going to make it, the discussion my husband and I had about where to bury our child. They do not want to hear about how terrifying a NEC scare feels, the bradycardia episodes that make my own heart want to stop, or the worry that something will happen to set her back or worse. Or maybe sometimes, I don’t want to talk about them because admitting it makes it feel altogether too real.
“She’s doing so well against all those odds!” I have been reminded brightly on some occasions if I start to cross into this territory.
We are so incredibly, insanely grateful that our daughter is here. With everything we have, we are grateful. We know we are the honest-to-heaven recipients of a capital-M Miracle.
And yet, the passage in the book my husband reads aloud finds me back in those moments, reliving them in my mind.
We’ve hit up too many slender odds to be reassured that the chances of something going terribly wrong are tiny.
I have reached a new place in the infertility journey, but I am surprised to find how far I still have to go.
The “after” is difficult to explain except by experiences and examples. It is the averted eyes, the carefully avoided conversations by either the person who has experienced infertility or the other person. It is the child’s name that isn’t mentioned. It is the assumption that one chose not to have children. It is the assumption that one chose to have a single child. It is the stories that aren’t told or are silenced by some variant on “aren’t you over that yet?”.
I’m finding that there is no rhythm to my own experience of “after”. The sadness, the strength, the things I’ve gained, the things I’ve lost come and go at unpredictable intervals. I struggle to think. Struggle to talk. Struggle to write. I remember how much I wanted to be in the “after”. Anything to make the exhausting cycle of treatments, waiting for treatments, failures and losses stop.
I imagine some people don’t go through this stage I’ve described, or pass through it quickly. But I’m here and the “after” is not a place to traverse alone, any more than the trenches of active infertility struggles.
All I can do is put my story out there to say: if you are in the nebulous place of the “after” in infertility, you are not alone.