Today is my daughter’s birthday, so this post is a little about her and a lot about mothering. I want to write this post mostly for me, but also to explain my experience with parenting after infertility and to give some of you hope (I hope). What I don’t want — the very, very last thing I want — is to cause anyone additional pain or grief. I hope this post is okay.
Two years ago today, I became a mother. The child I had longed for, cried for, and craved was finally placed into my arms. After fifteen months of infertility and nine months of worry, fear, and complications, she was finally here. It was a moment I once believed I would never experience. But in that instant, it did not matter what it took to get her there. The memories of Clomid, charts, OPKs, and doctor visits were gone. The tears, the pain, the grief were gone. Not forgotten, just entirely insignificant. Because all that mattered in those first moments was the miracle that was in my arms. She was mine at last and she was no different than any other baby born at that hospital, except (perhaps) she was more loved and more cherished than most.
I have found, though, that in the days, weeks, months, and years since giving birth, the road that I walked to achieve that dream has colored my parenting experience. There is still a part of me, even now, that is afraid that we will lose Cupcake. I remember, early on, being very scared of SIDS. This was not a normal fear; it was truly a phobia. The highest risk of SIDS is from two to four months and as my daughter approached the two-month mark, there were nights when I felt such panic in my chest that I could scarcely breathe, I was unable to sleep, and I was sweaty and clammy with the thought of what could happen. I obsessively googled and did everything I could that might prevent SIDS, even waking up multiple times a night to check on Cupcake, but even then there were days I was convinced that we would lose her. I felt as sure of it as anything else I have ever felt. It was only time that helped to diminish the panic and reassure me that SIDS would not take my daughter away. These days, I am a bit more chill and a bit more confident that she will be sticking with us, but it does not take much to send me right back to that dark and fearful place. The other day, I was watching a show about a young child with cancer and I spent many hours after that crying and worrying. Is this normal? I can’t really say because it is all I’ve known,but I imagine it’s probably not. Not to this degree anyways. Perhaps these fears stem from having lost so many people I love early in my life. I am always afraid that I will lose one more. But I think it is because infertility has the power to fundamentally change a person and the way she reacts to the world. We know too well that there are no guarantees. No guarantees that we will ovulate. No guarantees that we will conceive. No guarantees that what has been given to us will be with us forever. We realize the fragility, and utter value, of life itself.
But infertility has not damaged me completely. In some ways, it has built me up and made me a better mother. As I told Theresa in a comment on one of her recent posts, I have a constant sense of gratitude. I have been faced with the possibility of never holding my own child, and this does not escape me any moment of any day. During midnight feedings early on and during tantrums yesterday and tomorrow, I have never forgotten that, while what I’m going through in that minute is hard, there are other things that are much, much harder. You know that poem about infertility? The one that starts like this:
There are women that become mothers without effort, without thought, without patience or loss and though they are good mothers and love their children, I know I will be better.
I will be better not because of genetics or money or that I have read more books but because I have struggled and toiled for this child. I have longed and waited. I have cried and I prayed. I have endured and planned over and over again.
There have never been any truer words. I am not a perfect mother. I lose my patience, sometimes I yell, sometimes I do things that do not set a good example (like eating a lot of Nutella straight from the jar). But I know that I am better than I ever would have been without going through what I did. I am better because I know the life of my child should not be taken for granted. I treasure her every day, even when she is crying, or screaming, or hitting me in the face with her new Elmo doll. I cherish the chocolatey kisses that stain my clothes, the hair pulling when she tries to brush my hair, the toys flying across the room because she is frustrated and doesn’t have the words to say it. Every day, I am reminded of what could have been if I had had never had her, and what might never be again if I am unable to have another baby and experience this all from the start one more time. So I work harder, play harder, and laugh harder, all because infertility has shown me that every child is a precious, precious gift.
They say when a child is born, so is a mother. How true. It’s funny to think that while I imagined having a big family most of my life (except for one period in middle school when I declared I would never have children), and for all the trouble I went to trying to start one, I was never positively sure that I be a mother. Or that I would be any good at it. I thought maybe I’m too selfish, too lazy, too unsure, too indecisive. My free time too precious and my sleep at nighttime too cherished. But once you have a child, nothing has meaning without that child. I didn’t care that my time became our time. I didn’t mind the sacrifices I had to make or the things I lost because so much was also gained. This is one of the things that my daughter has taught me. Because of her, I have learned that the only thing that truly matters in this world is love. Giving and receiving it. Because of her, I care less about things and care more about treasuring those I have in my life. In the last two years, I have also learned to have patience when necessary, to appreciate the simple things in life (like the slug creeping on our sidewalk and the sound the leaves make when blowing in the wind), to speak up at the most important times, and to not sweat the small stuff (though I’m still working on that one, every day). As a new mother, and especially as a survivor of infertility, I have come a long ways.
It seems appropriate to me that Cupcake was born the week of Thanksgiving. As you might remember, I have a lot to be thankful for, but there is nothing in this world that gives me more gratitude than my daughter. Every year, as we celebrate her birthday and especially in a particularly difficult year like this one, I am reminded of how lucky or how blessed (take your pick) I am. I hope one day soon each of you are able to say the same. Really, there is little else in this world that I want more. And for all of my fellow Americans, I wish you all the happiest and sweetest of Thanksgivings and, no matter where you are at in your journey, I hope and I pray that there is something, however small, for which you can be thankful. XO