Today I am dedicating my blog to National Infertility Awareness Week and to the launch of Justine Brooks Froelker's latest book The Mother of Second Chances, based on her blog Ever Upward releasing on April 17th. For five weeks, 25 amazing women will share their stories of infertility and loss as part of this incredible blog tour, because together we can shatter the stigma.
Yesterday Candace shared her story and tomorrow we will hear from Kelly at The Dovecote. We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We’d especially love to see your own broken silence by sharing your own infertility story using the hastags: #NIAW, #infertility and #EverUpward.
I never threw away the papers. I never intended to hold onto them, but then again, I never expected to have them in the first place.
They are stacked and neatly folded into quarters and tucked into the outside flap pocket of my pink flowered toiletries bag, the one I use when I travel. I fill the interior of the bag with the typical sundries – toothpaste, soap, a hairbrush, an emery board, assorted potions. Once in a while I’ll stick a shower cap in the outside pocket and I’ll catch a glimpse of the papers I have yet to remove from the bag that goes everywhere with me.
Over the past twenty years, those papers have been to California (several times), Canada (twenty times, at least), and Costa Rica (only once, sadly), along with a host of other states across America. They have even cruised to Bermuda. When I leave home for more than a night, the papers come along with me.
But I don’t need them any more; like an appendix, they are vestigial from a much earlier phase of my history when they served a purpose. I have outgrown their usefulness, though they maintain their place in my life (and in my bag) regardless. They are part of who I am and they tell my story.
The papers are three sheets of graph paper filled with tiny pencil dots and scratchy zigzagging lines. Day after day, month after month, I would plot my daily temperature on the small black intersections and connect the lines across the axis. Some graphs have dosages marked next to them – these were from the months I was prescribed escalating amounts of Clomid.
None of the lines moved in the direction they were supposed to, despite the fact that I was only 25 years old and 25 year olds were not supposed to be infertile. Every month resulted in a basal body temperature chart that not only showed that I wasn’t ovulating, it sketched out a rudimentary yet immediately identifiable black-and-white graphic illustrating the reality of wanting so badly to conceive but having no hope of doing so. Month after month I drew a new image of failure.
This is not a sad story, however. After eighteen months of charting and hoping and legs-up-on-the-wall after baby dancing, we conceived and I delivered a healthy baby girl nine months later. I never charted my cycles after that - our other two children were conceived very quickly. I had three children in three years and I was never happier.
My pregnancies and deliveries were redemptive, empowering and magnificent - I never felt more like my true, most authentic self than I did when I was pregnant. I loved it so much that I went on to be a gestational carrier, birthing nine additional babies for six different couples. Beyond becoming a mother myself, I’ve experienced no greater joy than helping infertile couples become parents, for I have walked in those shoes.
By all accounts, I am a success story. And I truly believe that I am. But I am more than just my successes. I am also my failures. They’re all part of who I am today.
Although I’ve delivered twelve babies, there’s a significant portion of me that still identifies with my infertility diagnosis. I can still conjure the feelings of emptiness and frustration and despair that defined that time with a ferocity that equals the elation I felt seeing each positive pregnancy test over the years, knowing that my family was growing or my intended parents’ lives were about to change forever.
And my life changed too, because my heart grew just a little bit more as I delivered each child and each surrogate baby. Science is finally beginning to understand what I’ve known all along – that each baby who lives inside your body changes it on the cellular level. Bits of each baby’s DNA live on inside the mother (or in my case, surrogate mother) forever. I never needed science to tell me this is true, it was just something I’ve always known to be fact.
Infertility does the same, I’ve found. It lives on, no matter who or what has transpired in my life during the interceding twenty years, for better and for worse. Though my own infertility was resolved, it was and never will be removed.
It will always be part of who I am, and I have the papers to prove it.