About 23 years. That’s how long I thought I was infertile.
I was seven years old when doctors first informed me I would never have children, but it’s safe to say my future infertility was the least of my concerns at that point. I’d just survived a rare bone-marrow disease. So what if the chemotherapy and radiation rendered me infertile? I was alive. I could go to school with my friends and play in the yard untethered from my IV pump. I could leave the hospital and go home. Infertility? I’d deal with that later.
And I did. But, not altogether. You see, you don’t have to deal with infertility for 23 years to know how it gnaws at you. The diagnosis doesn’t just sink its teeth into those who fight it for a certain amount of time. Once it bites, it doesn’t tend to let go.
You’d think I would have come to grips with my diagnosis at an early age considering its long span—and I thought I had, too—but hindsight tells a different story.
As a kid, infertility affirmed the moments I felt like I didn’t belong. Through my teenage years, it set up comparison traps for me to fall into whenever other girls would talk about getting married and having babies. In my 20s, it applauded my fear when I told certain boyfriends I couldn’t have children, and it echoed the shame I felt when one of those boyfriends stated no one would want to marry me because of it.
Of course, he was wrong. And so was infertility. The fact is—my physical capacity to have children had no bearing whatsoever on my self-worth.
I say that now not just because of the son I have the honor of calling mine but because I believe it as much as the existence in the air I’m breathing. However, as someone who fought the fight, I know that there are women battling infertility who will read those words and still not believe them about themselves. Rather than speak to those women, I have a thing or two to say to their diagnosis.
I thought I was done with you, but here I am on the other side, and we need to talk. Unfortunately, you’re playing a role in the life of a woman reading this. It’s time we clarify what that role is.
Let’s start with what you are. Yes, you are relevant. You are life-changing. You are a part of this woman’s journey to motherhood. You are all of those things in the worst ways. And, although you’ve inserted yourself into the plans this woman made for herself, this woman does not deserve you.
She didn’t deserve to be knocked down by your diagnosis when she least expected it and by no fault of her own.
She doesn’t deserve to be shamed or guilted by you.
She doesn’t deserve to feel the pang of longing every time she passes a mother holding hands with her toddler at the grocery store, receives a baby shower invitation, or sees a picture-perfect baby announcement.
She doesn’t deserve the pokes, the medicine, the bad news, and the rollercoaster of highs and lows that come with her fertility treatments.
She doesn’t deserve the negative pregnancy tests month after month.
She doesn’t deserve the loss.
She doesn’t deserve the tension in her marriage.
And she most certainly doesn’t deserve to feel broken or alone; although, that’s what you’ve told her she is.
I assume you’ve also told this woman her story isn’t one of victory. You’ve reminded her of the statistics associated with her diagnosis and assured her she’s on the losing end. When she hears a story of someone beating you, you’ve whispered that she won’t. When she feels hope, you’ve tried to crush it.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about a woman who wants a child it’s that she doesn’t just lose hope because you’re around. Yes, her hope may waver and she might stay on the ground where you’ve left her for a bit, but that’s where women like me come in.
With every no you tell this woman, there is a tribe of us out there telling her yes.
As you hiss that her body has failed her, we will declare that it is still her temple.
When she feels like she’s had enough and can’t get back up again, we will cheer her on as she finds the strength.
Because she will.
I may not know exactly how this woman’s fertility journey will unfold. But, as I sit here listening to the hum of my son’s baby monitor, I can tell you that one day she’ll be on the other side of you, and you will have lost again.
So, let’s take it back to the part of this letter where we decided to clarify what you really are. You, infertility, are defined as a medical diagnosis of this woman’s body. But, listen up—you do not define this woman.