It’s Little E’s birthday. And of course what comes to my mind around these types of special days is the fertility challenges, special blessings, medical advances, and miracle families.
To quote something I wrote previously (from My First IVF Blog Post), it’s been an interesting road being truly aware of the various ways families can be started besides the “traditional” way. These new stories include IUI, IVF, adoption, and maybe even other ways I’m not exposed to. I just know after our own “adventures” the one thing I have to come to realize is that no matter how families are started, it definitely is a miracle.
I dedicate this post to my Little E, because my kids’ birthdays always remind me again how blessed I am, and at the same time usually dredges up these memories and emotions of what we went through and what I went through.
Happy Birthday Little E, I love you.
Writing about Infertility
I’ll do my best to keep this in some sort of logical flow. Often when I think about IVF, my thoughts wander a lot like one of those tangential snowball effects. IVF and fertility challenges are such a complex beast, which is why it can be quite an undertaking to write. One thing reminds you of the next, which reminds you of the next.
Still, trying to keep with my pledge in my previous Fertility Challenges And My Need To Write, I feel it is important to get this kind of stuff out there.
She Wanted A Sister..
Sheri and I are due in March with little boy #3, the successful result of IVF #5, and the last we plan to have of our bunch. As such we were at an appointment with our perinatologist, and our doctor was able to determine with high probability the gender of our baby from a blood test (can you believe they can do it from a BLOOD TEST now?). We asked her to seal the result in an envelope as we wanted to do the “reveal” with our family around.
Fast forward a week: So here we are having a get-together with our family and everyone is taking a guess of “Boy” or “Girl”. Amongst the guesses, our daughter KK smiles and loudly guesses: “Girl!”
Rewind back about 10 weeks: from the moment Sheri and I started with our IVF procedures, we had explained to KK that we were trying to have one more child. And it was pretty clear early on out KK wanted to have a little sister. She had her awesome little brother, Little E, that totally takes after her. And now she wanted a little sis. Sheri and I had thought early on, “Oh boy. Well we better help prepare her” and so when the topic came up where KK talked about hoping to have a little sister, we were always like “That’s great! It might be a boy, it might be a girl, we won’t know. It’ll be very special!”
My daughter KK’s change in demeanor was subtle, and still noticeable. KK’s answers definitely changed over the next few weeks. Whenever anyone asked her “Do you want a little brother or little sister?” her answer had changed from “Sister!” to “It might be a little brother or a little sister!”
Back To The Reveal: On the reveal when we went around the table to ask people their guesses, this huge smile was on her face and she said: “Girl!” That was the first time in many weeks that she had not said “It might be a little brother or a little sister!”
Well, we did the reveal, and we were going to have a little boy.
It looked like KK was sad. She went from excitement to dejection. A few of our relatives even saw her change in body language. They tried with “Wow KK! Aren’t you excited?”
I had actually started video recording the reveal with the intent to post it, but at that point I had to shut off the recorder. Because as everyone cheered and got excited, you could see KK’s body language just change as she melted back into the background.
It really looked like she was heartbroken.
And furthermore, for me personally, I was even more heartbroken for her because I knew that this was going to be our last child, and so KK would not ever get to have that little sister she wanted.
Infertility Rears Its Head Again
Right after this happened, I shut off the video recording.
KK looked like she might start tearing a bit. I sure was, feeling sad for her. I went over to her and spoke with her quietly asking if she was okay. Maybe she’d like to go upstairs with me and we could lie in bed together?
So we went upstairs and lied down together. And then we just talked a bit and hugged a bit. We teared up a little bit. And eventually fell asleep.
Upon waking up, she was back to her usual energetic spark plug self. And since then, she has excitedly told people she is having another brother and in fact she is suggesting names for him too.
To be fair, kids are probably the most resilient people in the world.
Okay, reality check here.
Our daughter KK seems to have since moved on.
I still remember it though. And it makes me wonder (and I’ve talked to Sheri about this too). I don’t know how much of the above was reality, and how much of it was my own perception, especially considering my sensitivity. Or if you’re a psychologist, my generalization of my own experiences and feelings on to others.
It could have not been as bad as I thought. Or maybe KK just needed that small bit of grieving before being able to move forward.
And that’s when I thought that maybe it’s just the emotional baggage I still have, even after four years have passed, about all the complicated emotions from our challenges with fertility.
Life’s Not Fair…
While going through our fertility challenges, one thing we learned: this is an aspect where life really isn’t fair.
There, I said it. Life isn’t fair.
While there are people who do not seem fit to be parents that have no problems having kid after kid after kid, there are people who would make the best parents and will never get that opportunity.
There, I said that too.
Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
And sometimes the only thing you can do is grieve, make the best of that situation, and try to move on. That’s what I had learned during our fertility challenges.
And I also realized, these types of losses of things we hope for and don’t get affect us in many ways.
A good example: Secondary Infertility. Just as huge an issue as first time infertility, but it does not get its due of how devastating it can be emotionally. Because friends now can try to comfort you with “Well, you should feel thankful you were able to have the first one.”.
Sure this is true, and yet for those suffering secondary infertility, this is likely NOT comforting, and in some cases might make it worse. Because while the infertility itself is devastating, but now you are not allowed to feel that same grief? Because you are supposed to be thankful, not grieving, that you already have one? Which adds to the guilt for feeling bad about this?
Then I realized:
Well, what about the older sister that really wants a little sister? But won’t ever get to have one? Should we tell her “Oh wow! You get to have two little brothers now! You should be happy!”
Maybe one that might hit closer to home with the adults: What about the mother that wants a daughter and instead only has sons? Or the dad that wants a son and only has daughters? Should we tell them how they SHOULD be feeling? “Be happy you have healthy little boys!”
How about… maybe just acknowledge that this is a loss of some sort, and it’s okay to grieve? The parent won’t get that hoped for little son or little daughter in this case obviously will love their children no matter what. All children are a blessing and as you grow with them and love them you can’t imagine your life without them, but should that mean we should lessen the impact of what is felt emotionally? And decide that it is not worthy of at least grieving some sort of loss?
Understanding A Loss …
When Sheri and I had our first positive pregnancy test, it came after four years of trying and with our first IVF procedure (two years before we successfully had KK). We lost the baby after two weeks. And we cried. And mourned. And then we felt, for lack of a better term, that we were being “ninnies”. After all, how emotionally attached can you get to a two week old embryo? But then one of our friends had said to us, “It was your child. And you lost your child. Why should that be any less of a tragedy?”
Our friend definitely gave us a gift. Because then instead of feeling guilty, we could properly grieve the loss that we felt personally.
Why can’t an older sister grieve the loss of a younger sister? Even if it’s just a bit of crying with dad for just a few minutes?
Why can’t the mom who doesn’t ever get to have her daughter be told that it’s okay to feel this as a loss?
I’m reminded of a fantastic blog post by a friend of mine. She was looking forward to having a daughter at some point. She even had all her dresses from when she grew up. Along came their first child: a boy. A very handsome little man. Then came their second: another boy. And my friend Kate blogged about feeling a bit depressed it wasn’t a girl, then the complicated emotions about feeling depressed about it (she blogged about it right here). Today, they are expecting their third and last child: a boy.
From her blog:
“This is our third, and last, pregnancy and realizing I will never get to experience that mother daughter bond with my own daughter saddens me a bit. There will be no mommy daughter trips to the nail salon, french braiding her hair for her first day at school or helping her pick out her prom dress.”
And of course she will love all three of her boys.
At the same time:
“Finding out I was having another boy was a blow, I’m not gonna lie. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as when I was pregnant with my second, which I’ve written about on the Right Start Blog, “So we found out the sex and I’m not excited.” Yet I still had to grieve a bit and have a good cry.”
Grieving A Loss
aka The “Letter Writing” Exercise
Bringing it back to my personal experiences:
When we thought we had to go to adoption, one of the adoption seminars we attended was .. well … heartbreaking and depressing. Part of the process was that we would have to write a letter to our unborn natural children to say goodbye to them before we would be mentally ready for adoption.
Sheri and I were like … Wow.
I don’t think we were quite ready for that type of emotional stunning.
I understand the idea why this would be important with the grieving and then being able to properly receive our potential adopted child.
That didn’t make it any less heartbreaking. And the emotions I felt right then and there continue to stick out in my mind.
Supporting and Understanding The Challenges Of Infertility
The point that I want to make: One of the challenges of going through infertility is being able to get the emotional support. It is extremely difficult.
One of the hardest parts is just opening up about it. It can feel very shameful to not be able to have children. Which makes it hard to want to open up. (I described this a bit more at the end of my post Fertility Challenges And My Need To write)
An equally hard part is being understood:
When an effort to finally open up to someone was made, many of our friends meant well, and yet it was just hard to still get that support and understanding. I appreciated the effort, and it just magnified the complexity of our feelings and made it hard to want to open up in the future.
Just like the person who tries to comfort someone with secondary infertility says: “Be glad you have one”
Or comforting a mom who always wanted the daughter and wouldn’t have one: “At least you have healthy little boys!”.
These types of loss can be so complex psychologically, and it can be hard to understand, and thus hard to comfort. Which makes it even more difficult as opening up to this kind of thing can leave a person quite vulnerable, making it then harder to want to open up again in the future.
Thinking Back To … Imagining Writing That Letter
So perhaps this might also help people gain an understanding of the complexity of infertility, by making the experience more universal.
Imagine you are that parent with your heart set on someday having a little girl. And now you must write her a letter to say… you love her, and you’re sorry you will never get a chance to meet her. You won’t get a chance to do her hair. You won’t get a chance to go prom dress shopping. And as much as you wish you could meet her, you won’t ever get to be together.
Or imagine you are that parent, and you are looking forward to having that little son. And now you must write him a letter to say… you love him, and you’re sorry you will never get a chance to meet him. You won’t get a chance to play catch. You won’t get a chance to watch football games together. And as much as you wish you could meet him, you won’t ever get to be together.
Or imagine you are that couple , and you are looking forward to having those little children which are a part of your blood and lifeline. And now you must write them a letter to say… you love them, and you’re sorry you will never get a chance to meet them. You won’t get a chance to change their diapers, you won’t be able to tickle their toes or chew their chubby cheeks, you’ll never chase them around the playground or help them with homework. You want so badly to hug them and kiss them and put them to bed, but you know you never will. You were so looking forward to watching them graduate, get jobs, get married. But you know it won’t ever happen. You’re sorry you will never be together.
That is what going through this type of loss felt like to me personally, and is a glimpse of what infertility might be for others.
Writing about Infertility
Which brings me back around to why I feel compelled to write.
Maybe I just want to say … for those out there going through something similar, you’re not alone. There is not only support out there, but understanding out there as well.
Maybe I just want to say … for those who would like to understand more what your friends might be going through when it comes to infertility, hopefully I have expressed a bit of what I went through and that helps. At the least I hope I have expressed this is also a very complicated mix of emotions and it will be different for everyone. And at least understanding that can be very helpful.
And maybe I just want to say … something I’ve wanted to say to many people in the past.
And that is, sometimes it is just fine to say something like:
“I am really sorry, I don’t know if I can even pretend to understand what you’re going through and how to comfort you. I just hope it gets better.”
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the heartbreaking emotion of six years of never knowing if we would ever have children. And perhaps that is the true blessing I’ve been given:
I feel blessed every day to have my kids and my family.
I feel blessed to know that I have learned I will never take them for granted.
And I feel blessed to now be at a point to let some of these emotions out into the public arena and dearly hope it is helpful to others.
Thank you for reading, please share with those you think it will help.