General Ramblings

Starfish Fingers: My Infertility Story

About four months ago, I found out that I was infertile.

I’d just undergone an ultrasound as the first step to an official diagnosis for my long-suspected endometriosis. “Nothing to indicate actual deposits,” I was told. “But you have low ovarian motility and a retroverted uterus. You most likely have it and we’ll need to do more tests to investigate how bad it is.”

And then my doctor looked me straight in the eye and said, “Usually with this sort of presentation, the ovaries appear to be stuck to the uterus. That can mean complications if you are ever planning to get pregnant.”

“What kind of complications?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I always already know the answer when it comes to things like this.

“It probably means you’re infertile. I’m sorry.”

And just like that, everything I’d always suspected was true.

Image credit: http://www.patriciawillocq.com/Flickr

I’m not planning to have children anytime soon. In fact, I don’t know if I was ever planning to have children because I always knew it probably wouldn’t happen. I can’t tell you how I knew – but I never saw myself raising kids. I love children and I wanted them – want them – dearly. But I just could never see myself as a mother. I wonder if I always knew that my uterus just wasn’t one of the ones that could hold a child and keep it safe.

While other friends of mine complain about late-night wakeups and proudly show their children’s artwork or tell stories of their latest skill, I imagined doing the same thing and never could see myself in their shoes. Where they told of long days cleaning up vomit, I secretly was glad it would never be me. Where they described how their children’s hugs felt, I felt sad, because I knew that I would never have a child of my own that would give me hugs like that.

And then the dreams started.

I would dream of being pregnant and never being able to have the baby. I would dream that I had a baby and the baby would be born dead, or worse, be given away to someone else because the baby was never really mine to have in the first place.

So, when I got the news, it didn’t surprise me. It confirmed what I already knew. But it did kill any lingering dreams I had about seeing a child with my eyes or my hair or my smile. It killed the idea that I was worthy to bear life of my own – that the one thing that biologically I am here to do, I cannot do. And it killed the last questions I had about how I would handle pregnancy, or breastfeeding, or any of those questions that all parents have about their unborn children. Those questions will not be for me. I will not know the answers.

I know doctors can be wrong. Miracles happen. I also know that there are other ways to have children, and that those doors remain open to me. But I struggle sometimes, with anger, and sadness, and secret relief. Anger at my body that seems to fight me at every turn, whether it’s mentally or physically, that offers me pain and discomfort and anxiety and illness instead of health and happiness and the brain power for success. Sadness at the fact that I have the profound honour to hold many children in my arms, but none are mine and none will give me the same love that a child of my own would. And relief that I won’t have to worry about genetic tendencies for the illnesses I have or the mental health issues I face. Relief, too, that the scary things about pregnancy and parenthood are, as of right now, things I will never have to worry about.

While it’s better than it used to be, there is still a taboo about the “barren women” of our society. That we must be sad and dried up and bitter. That we must be child-haters. That we know nothing and hate that we know nothing, forever outside of the warm circle of parenthood that so many women take for granted.

The thing is, we may feel bitterness or sadness because to be told you are infertile is to be told you are giving up a very specific dream. It’s not creating the perfect baby inside your head; it’s the dream of knowing that the life in your womb is yours and yours only for months before he or she joins the world. That you share secrets, genetic material, hopes, dreams – things that you can only share with the tiny beating heart and little clinging fingers that only you can feel inside.

So it’s not about giving up the idea of a successful, beautiful, perfect child. There is no such thing. It’s about giving up the idea of having the profound honour of being a parent to someone who is made from you. And yes, it’s bitter and it’s sad and sometimes it’s easy to turn that hatred on the innocent children and families who have nothing to do with your personal pain. I’ve been there. I’ve let it go, but I feel nothing but sympathy for those that can’t.

Being infertile is also to feel broken. Broken in your body, in this womb that won’t work and only brings pain and nausea every day. Broken in your soul, that you know how people look on you with pity or with incomprehension, that every day another parent will be smug about how much they know over you – and you will never have the chance to know it that way, too. And broken in your spirit, that if you can’t even procreate – if you can’t even biologically fulfil your purpose on the earth, which is to create new life – then what is the point? Why are you here?

We are more evolved than that. I know that, and believe that. But regardless, these are the thoughts that have passed through my head in the days since I found out that my body doesn’t work. And these are the thoughts that I have carried forward, mulled over, and eventually decided that I will rise above.

The end result of infertility is to find someone else to love. Whether it’s your spouse, or your friends, or an adopted child, or a foster child, or in my case, the many beautiful children that I get to look after every single day; you find someone else to pour that love upon and to give all you would give to that dream-child that will never exist. And it helps. And it heals.

I had a dream the night after the appointment. In it, I dreamed of fingers splayed like starfish; fingers reaching out. And I blew a kiss towards them. I tried to touch the printless pads. But while they reached, we could never touch. And then I stopped trying, and they faded away.

The only heartbeat I hear is my own. The fingers I see reaching are mine. I’ve said goodbye to the starfish fingers and I’ve turned towards the hands that reach towards me here. The hands of friends. The hands of family. The hands of children who exist in the here and now, and who need me to guide them in a unique way that has become, and has always been, my biological purpose.

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