I am infertile. And I’m not unique. There are so many of us now. According to the New York Times, fertility rates hit an all-time low in 2016.
So, I’m in this club, this collective of women fighting the odds, but I’m also a mother. I’ve birthed three babies in my lifetime. My son is now five and my boy/girl twins are three.
The thing about infertility that no one understands is that it never leaves you despite your motherhood. I cherish my babies, but having a baby doesn’t erase the years of struggle and hopes deferred, because like any life-altering event, it’s…well, life-altering. I am not the woman I was before my battle with infertility began. It added another layer, several, to my person. It both softened me and toughened me up. I am well-seasoned and for that I am grateful.
Nine years ago, I wed a man and we ran headfirst into life together. Eight years ago, we realized kids were not going to be part of that life without some serious help. Seven years ago, I had a miscarriage, losing a life just beginning to grow. Six years ago, I got pregnant again with a boy who was diagnosed with a rare disorder before birth. He was my baby to finally hold. But even after all that and even after the twins were born, laying a double dose of motherhood at my feet, I still feel my infertile self underneath.
The rates are rising. I hear other women’s struggles with infertility, their thighs sore from intramuscular shots, their bodies swollen from hormones, their thoughts foaming with discontent. Their souls are pushed to the tipping point. And I am taken right back there. Having been pushed to the edge myself, I recognize the chaos just below their surface. Because of that, I participate in awareness walks once a year. I hold vigil for my lost child. I offer an ear when I can. No one really wants advice. They just want to be on the other side, teleported to a not-so-distant future where two people make a third and create one whole family.
To be honest, there really isn’t another side—a great beyond. Because when you cross that line into motherhood, you take all the other pieces of you with you. And you are better for it. I’m a better mother for what I remember and a more compassionate human for what I’ve survived and a grittier fighter for the rounds I’ve lost and won. We are all papier-mache works of art. The wrinkles of memories tucked deep in each fold have stories to tell. They bear witness to the makings of us.
When my oldest son was still young, freshly out of the NICU and medically fragile with a tracheotomy so he could breathe, I sat next to a woman crying in church. We were in the very last row so that the sound of my son’s suction machine, clearing out the goop from his throat, wouldn’t bother the rest of the congregation. It thrummed like a lawnmower. This woman next to me, my age give or take a few years, was quietly crying over a prayer issued for want-to-be mothers. My eyes traveled over and then regretted their trespass. She wasn’t sobbing, didn’t even need a tissue really, but her shoulders shook and every now and then her breathing hitched. I wanted to reach out, give her hand a squeeze, but my hands were busy, operating the machine that would operate my son in those first few years. So, I reached out with my mind, and all the fissures of me where infertility had settled. I gave her all the courage and wisdom and unbound hope I could.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it can also take one to make one. The fact that I’ve made it to the other side does not mean I’ve forgotten the road that took me here. It can’t be paved over. It shouldn’t be, really. You pave over something you want to forget, but to really walk the earth, you’ve got to feel the dirt under your toes.