My son’s conception was anything but conventional.
The room in which he was conceived, a lab in New Jersey, was just about as sterile as it gets. Contaminants in our everyday air disrupts the growth of embryos, so air in the lab is filtered and replaced 30 times per hour. Just to give you an idea of how clean that is, air outside has over 35,000,000 particles per cubic meter. A typical embryology lab has around 1,000 particles per cubic meter.
Also unconventional, was the number of people in attendance while I was getting “knocked up.” There were five individuals; my husband was not one of them!
I watched the embryo transfer unfold on a large monitor on the wall: the embryologist sent the little embryo along his way with a puff of air pushing him through the catheter and into my uterus. He (our son) was just a microscopic speck; it was crazy.
Also crazy, and surreal, was the doctor performing the procedure. He was a devout Jew, kippah and all, blessing that Little Speck, over and over, throughout his journey from one end of the catheter to the other. Afterwards, instead of indulging in snuggles or falling fast asleep in the arms of my significant other, I got in my car and drove.
I drove home to North Carolina, which was a 10 hour drive, and just about the entire time, I wondered what that Little Speck was up to.
Well, that Little Speck decided to stick around and we were pregnant! But, worry set in immediately.
I tried to be "in the moment" and let the good news soak in, but I was obsessed with staying pregnant. And, the fact that I had weekly doctor appointments for bloodwork and an ultrasound didn’t help. For reference: Typically you only go to the doctor once or twice in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Checking on the status once a week was killer for my psyche. Each visit was a buildup of anxiety and as soon as we saw that the fetus was developing properly, my restless mind began worrying about the next week.
There were breaks in my worry and anxiety. There was the thrill of finally experiencing morning sickness. When we were trying to conceive, every month was the same waiting to see if my period would come. I was overly tuned into my body. So much so, that I was like a kid trying to move a Ouija board with their mind.
“Did I just feel nausea...omg, I’m nauseous! Oh wait, no, I’m not feeling it anymore...wait…”
It was relentless.
Also, it didn’t help that you can google just about any body part, along with a verb, and the phrase “pregnancy symptom”, and something will pop up. I swear, it gets weird.
Try “pinkie numb,” “eyes watering,” or “tongue bleeding,” - some pregnant lady has experienced and written about all of these! Anyway, when “morning” sickness set in, I began to feel joyful and started thinking for the first time maybe this could really happen.
The next few months were an emotional rollercoaster that I would not have survived had it not been for women around me who were also pregnant after infertility. Slowly but surely many of the women in our infertility support group became pregnant after years of trying. The joy I felt for these friends was just about as strong as the joy I felt for my own pregnancy.
I knew exactly how they felt. I had seen the same despair in their eyes that I had felt myself. I knew bits and pieces of their stories - frequent disappointments and the endless struggles. I also felt incredibly guilty for the women still struggling.
After our first doctor told us it was time to figure out another way to become parents, I thought that carrying a baby was out of the question. Going to New Jersey, to try a new clinic, was literally a last ditch effort. I wasn’t doing it because I thought it would lead to a pregnancy, but because I didn’t want to look back later in life and wonder “what if?”
I knew some of the women struggling felt that same level of despair. Like it was impossible.
I wished I could communicate to them that it was possible. The “1 in every 7 couples experience infertility” statistic haunted me. I knew my fat stomach was a potential trigger for many of the women with which I crossed paths. I wanted to wear a sign that explaining how it didn’t come easy for me.
I think there is a moment of realization in which pregnant women who've dealt with infertility have, that their pain doesn’t just disappear. We all have our stories of being surprised that our triggers are still in fact triggers. We try to rationalize the pain away, because after all, if not having a baby was the cause of our pain then the opposite of that should be true! That would be too easy.
At first I was very hard on myself for the difficulty I “allowed” infertility to cause me both pre- and post-baby. I criticized and judged myself for having such strong feelings and fears. I thought that I should have the strength to overcome the sadness and anger, and live my life basically as a robot.
But I’ve softened up some, and have learned to have some self-compassion. Having friends who have gone through the exact same thing has definitely helped. Sometimes it’s easier to have compassion for friends than for yourself.
I think that many times when we are cheering each other on, we are also cheering on ourselves.