But in this day and age, it seems that more people than ever are struggling with infertility, or at least being more open about it than in years past. I think deep down we know there is sometimes more to the story. It’s about to get real up in here people. So if you don’t want to talk periods, ovulation, and baby-making, check out another post, like perhaps my Bacon Jalapeño Dip.
Let me tell you a little story. It’s the story of my pregnancies.
That collage is a great (and pretty honest) look about how pregnancy felt/feels. I look so sweet and innocent and YOUNG at the beginning. I don’t need to ask what happened; CHILDREN happened. But when you see a pregnant woman, what you don’t get is the story underneath and behind. So let’s talk about fertility.
Rob and I waited five years to try and start a family. After two years of marriage, we hit a crossroads. Either I was going to go to grad school for creative writing or we were going to try and start a family. We prayed about it, I applied to schools, and we ended up moving to Greensboro, NC for two years while I got my MFA.
We had tried a few methods of birth control during marriage. (Ps- This post is not going to speak on the pros/cons/morality of these.) Natural Family Planning was recommended to us, but after a few terrifying months where my temperatures and body signs peaked and valley-ed and were NEVER consistent in pointing to ovulation or anything else, I went back on the pill, which is what I had tried when we got married. I should point out that the terror came mostly because we had no insurance at the time. Unreliable birth control + no insurance on a tiny budget = terror, even for the faithful Christian.
The second year of grad school, I went cold turkey off the pill. We knew many friends that were infertile or struggled with fertility and so we had decided we would just see what happened without actively planning around ovulation calendars, and if we weren’t pregnant after nine months, go get checked out.
If you’ve ever tried to get pregnant, you know it goes something like this. Every time you have sex, you do numbers in your head. Dates and adding and subtracting and questioning: could this be the right time? Is this the one?
Then you wait. And wait. Then you start to feel what might be symptoms. Am I a little nauseated? Do my breasts look bigger? Am I more hungry than usual?
Then one of a few things happen. You take a pregnancy test and it’s…negative. But it might still be early! So you wait and take ten more, only to suddenly and surely get your period. Or: you take a test and get pregnant, but often that’s not the way the first month looks.
Because you have told everyone you know that you are trying, you start getting phone calls from excited friends. Then you have to try and put on a brave face while explaining that you are not, in fact, pregnant. But you’re still hopeful! you say to your friend. Even though inside you are full of secret fear, coiled up in your belly.
For us and that first pregnancy, that describes month one. And two. And three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. Every month, getting my period felt like someone was stabbing me in the face. A dream died a little and fear grew larger. I hated when friends called to ask and wished I had told no one at all. I got sad when I saw pregnant women and wondered if I would ever have children. Anyone been there?
Month nine and I remember Rob and I went on a date. To the dollar theater and then to Chachos, to be exact. I started feeling cramping, the sure sign from years past that my period would arrive within the next few hours.
“It’s been nine months,” I said over cilantro dip. I was trying to hold back tears. I was certain we would never have kids. Living on about 30k a year combined, adoption would probably be too expensive. “I guess it’s time to go to the doctor.”
I remember Rob taking my hand. “Kirsten,” he said, “Even if we can NEVER have kids, I am totally happy with just you.” This from the man who came from a family with 7 kids. Who had talked about wanting 10 of his own. This moment, more than our vows in front of the church, was maybe the most defining moments of our marriage.
And the next morning, I happened to see an unopened pregnancy test in the bathroom and, under the kind of compulsion that pregnancy tests create in me, took it. With surprising results. That cramping had not, in fact, been my period, but Sawyer saying hi.
That was pregnancy number one. Nine long months of waiting and a few lessons learned. So when we started feeling like it was maybe time to think about having another, we decided to start trying before we were totally ready. Mostly because I was in the middle of my rookie derby season. But wouldn’t you know it? First try’s the charm. To our great surprise, we got pregnant the very first month we tried. (And I’ll point out that anytime I say “try,” I just mean we aren’t using birth control of any kind. I can’t handle tracking things and am irregular, so we have never done the whole “Run home for an hour, I’m fertile NOW” kind of thing that people are always doing in the movies.)
We waited a little longer after number two, partially because I had an unplanned c-section, and partially because I REALLY wanted to get through a derby season. We began trying, expecting this time to get pregnant right away. Month one: nothing. Months two, three, and four..nada. I may have had a miscarriage in there somewhere, but it was hard to tell if it was a real miscarriage or just a really difficult period. Around month five, I started feeling like I wasn’t quite ready for #3, so Rob and I took a break in trying and I decided to stick out one more derby season.
Having no idea what to expect in terms of timing, we started trying towards the end of the derby season. I suspected that we might have had some luck, but held off knowing for SURE until after the championship game. Yup—once again, we had gotten pregnant the very first time.
And this time? I got a surprise with a period when Cooper was four months old. (With the other kids it had been seven or eight months, despite vastly different nursing and sleeping schedules.) The next month I got no period and no positive test, so I figured it was a fluke. Another month later when I was feeling nauseated all the time, I took another test. BOOM. Baby.
Let’s sum this up, since I’ve been so long-winded.
Pregnancy 1: took 9 months
Pregnancy 2: very first try
Pregnancy 3: 5 months of nothing and then first try
Pregnancy 4: uh, we weren’t trying (nursing baby was 5 months old)
Why am I being so frank about my periods and all this pregnancy stuff? It may look from the outside as though Rob and I look at each other and get pregnant. We will will have, after all, four kids within a six year period when this is all done. But the behind-the-scenes isn’t so Easy Street. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
I tell you this because you may be struggling. Many, many people do. Maybe you’ve been trying. Maybe you’re not married but really want to be and long for kids. Or maybe, like me, it’s been a mixed bag. It might have worked the first time, but not the second or third. Or maybe you’ve had a succession of miscarriages and are feeling despair.
I think these kinds of stories are important to hear. I don’t know that it will make you feel better necessarily, but I do think it’s important to know that we are all in this together. If you’re struggling and feel like someone like me who is “SO FERTILE!” can’t possibly understand, you’d be wrong. We can’t fully share experiences, sure. I mean, I am not you and won’t know exactly what it feels like to be in your shoes and vice versa. But by swapping stories and having compassion and caring for each other’s joys and struggles, I think we share the load. Maybe just a tiny bit.
You are not alone. Wherever you are in this, you are not alone. There are other women with similar issues or struggles, joys or sorrows. Though it may seem like I’m super-fertile and may not be sympathetic or understanding of where you might be, I might just be more understanding than you know.
You know who else cares? God.
Throughout the Bible, God hears fervent prayers of infertile women. I’m sure there are many who were never blessed with children, but we also see many women like Hannah and Elizabeth and Rachel who had “surprise” babies when they were infertile or even post-menopausal. God concerned himself with those women and he created amazing people who did amazing things and were a part of his great story of reconciling the world to himself.
Just to be clear, I don’t mean to be one of those people who says, “God works all things for the good,” when you are in the middle of real suffering. Pithy Bible quotes drive me insane. They are insensitive and often ill-applied. I do believe God works for the good of those who love him. I do believe he cares for women (and men) who are suffering. But the way things work out here on this side of heaven, we may not get the answer to prayer we want. We may not understand how God works. We may doubt how involved he is or how much he cares. We may hear Christians with well-intentions using Scripture like a harpoon aimed straight at your heart.
I share my story and my thoughts on fertility simply to say that things are not always what they seem on the outside. I may have been blessed with four pregnancies, but I also do understand at least a little of what it’s like to hope every month and despair when those hopes are crushed. If you are out there and about to start on a journey toward pregnancy, remember that you aren’t alone. (And maybe take this advice and keep it to yourself. That way if you struggle to get pregnant, you don’t have people asking you every 28 days.) Know that there are many people who can understand and that there is a God who may not grant wishes like a genie, but does hear and see you, just as he saw Hagar crying out alone in the desert, thinking she was about to die.
Are you struggling? Have you had mixed results with fertility? I’d love to know YOUR story. Though our stories are different, we are all in this together.