It was early May and time to register my four year old son for preschool for the following fall. I handed his registration sheet to the sweet administrative assistant at his school for her to review. As she ran her finger down his registration, she suddenly stopped on the space for “siblings,” where I had written “none.” She frowned and looked up at me, as I braced myself for what was coming, “Aww…. he doesn’t have any brothers and sisters? He needs at least one! You should work on that…”
I forced a smile and mumbled that we were working on it and turned around to leave before she could see the tears in my eyes. I should be used to the questions, comments, and the congratulations I get from acquaintances, many of whom see my belly swollen from hormones, and assume I’m pregnant. Unfortunately, every passing year without a baby, it only seems to be getting harder.
If only she knew… we were only a few days away from what would have been my due date, had I not suffered my fifth miscarriage in the fall. The emptiness and heartache was only growing heavier as that date approached.
If only she knew… that after seven rounds of IVF (five since the birth of my son), I have been left with a body I no longer recognize or feel as though I control. That we have depleted most of our resources emotionally, financially, and physically in order to give our son a sibling and us another child.
If only she knew… the countless nights I have laid awake, obsessing and reading about the possibility of raising an only child. Although I realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with having an only child, it is far from the family my husband and I dreamed of when we began our journey.
If only she knew… the guilt I feel for not being able to make the family we want. On SO many levels. If only I hadn’t gone to that birthday party, lifted my son, or been so stressed, maybe I wouldn’t have miscarried. Maybe if I had chosen another doctor/IVF lab, we would have had different results. If only we had chosen to do genetic testing on our embryos, maybe we would not have had to go through some of this heartache. The guilt I feel when I watch my son’s face light up every time he sees a baby and at the same time seeing my husband’s face fall, thinking of the babies we have lost.
If only she knew… the career I have loved for many years now provokes so much anxiety. I have had to learn to give myself a “pep talk” and put myself into “work mode” to try to separate my own personal feelings from the emotions I feel while caring for pregnant women as a nurse.
Many people are probably thinking that I should be grateful for the son I have and realize that there are many women out there experiencing infertility with no children. I do feel guilty for feeling this much pain, when I know that we are so lucky to have a child. There is not a day that goes by that I look at him and can’t believe he is here. We came very close to losing him early in my pregnancy. I love him beyond words and am so thankful to him for giving me the chance to be a mom. We often use “quality over quantity” in reference to our son because he is very special and brings us so much joy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t lessen the guilt I have for not being able to give him a brother or sister. It does not lessen the pain of not being able to give my husband and myself another son or daughter. I have been told that “a sibling is the greatest gift you can give your child”. Being a mom who wants to give my child the world, I find myself constantly trying to make up for not being able to give him this “greatest gift.”
I have been comforted by joining online support groups and hearing about other women’s experiences with miscarriage and infertility. However, I find myself searching and yearning to find another mother going through a journey similar to mine. Most of the stories I read are either women still trying to have a baby or women who have experienced infertility/IVF, but have been fortunate enough to complete their family. Although we all share the similar struggles with hormone injections, mood swings, weight gain, etc., I am still left feeling the need to justify my pain because I am fortunate enough to have a child.
Countless times in my career, I have held the hands of a grieving mother, blaming herself for losing her baby. I have repeated over and over to her, It’s not your fault. You did nothing wrong. You did nothing to cause this. In my heart of hearts, I know this to be true. Things happen that are beyond our control. Medical research confirms that in a majority of cases, there is nothing that can be done to prevent a miscarriage. Why then, am I constantly blaming myself when I’m in the exact same situation? Why can’t I listen to my own knowledge and advice? Now I realize, no matter how true, no matter how many times I try to ingrain into my patient’s head, a mother will always blame herself to some extent for failing to protect her child. There is a lot of discussion around at what point does a woman become a mother? For me, it was the moment I started the hormone shots. Setting timers on my phone, reading my IVF instructions over and over, making sure I did everything exactly right to ensure the best outcome. Seeing the pictures of our beautiful embryos on transfer day, only made the feeling stronger. I was a mother already. I could not truly empathize with my patients until I experienced it myself. Now I am able to say to them, I understand how you’re feeling. You are not alone. I know that as a mother you did everything you could to try to protect your baby. I know there is not much I can say to ease the pain, but hopefully knowing they are not alone provides some comfort.
Although I pray and hope every day for another child, I am starting to get used to the idea of our little family of three. I am weighing the stress and heartache with the potential benefit. Up until now, I have always believed in doing everything possible for another baby. That we would just keep trucking along with IVF until it happened. Now, I am questioning at what point do we say stop. Over the past six years, we have planned our entire lives around hormone schedules and fertility procedures. I have missed out on activities with my son because of the numerous doctors appointments. My coworkers have had to bend to my countless schedule changes, sometimes at the last minute. We have chosen to use our savings for IVF instead of vacations. Not to mention, the emotional rollercoaster and toll the entire process has taken us on. How much more are we willing to go through and sacrifice? I don’t have the answer to this question yet, but I know it needs to be made soon due to my age. In my Reproductive Endocrinologist’s words, the door is closing.
It has taken me many years to write my story. I know there must be others with similar journeys looking for consolation, as I constantly am. I wish I had all of the answers, but I feel like over the years I am left with even more questions. I have learned to let go of the life plan I made years ago and have faith in the plan that is mapped out for me. Looking at my son and my supportive husband, I know that no matter what is in that plan, things will work out how they are meant to. As for those hurtful comments from others? I am hopeful that someday my skin will be thick enough to brush them off. For now, I am just going to have to stay strong and be thankful for all that I have.
About Kari H.
Kari works part time now as a High Risk OB Flight Nurse after spending many years as a Labor and Delivery RN. She grew up in Iowa and will always be a midwest girl at heart. In her free time, she loves to swim, travel, especially to the mountains to downhill ski, and find new adventures / playgrounds with her son. Last but not least, she enjoys winding down with a good book or a glass of wine with a friend.