Three different women I know miscarried in the past two weeks. Then, this story, Waiting for Gabriel, found its way into my Google Reader. And then I dreamed my second dream this week about nursing a new baby – but the baby was ill and puny.
Babies. Pregnancy. Grief. Longing.
It’s time to write our infertility story.
Growing up, the thought of being a mother rarely, if at all, crossed my mind. As I slowly converted to Catholicism my appreciation for children, for parents, for family life increased, but I only began think of motherhood for myself when I met my husband. A vocation to marriage is not an abstraction but a specific call to a specific person, and not until this specific person came into my life was I able to recognize a concurrent desire for children.
It rose, quickly. The new desire was both exciting and frightening. Exciting, because I was entering into a union and a new life with this man; frightening, because I didn’t know what it meant or what it held.
We would joke about our future baseball team. We built homeschooling-baby-nursing-family-praying castles in the air. We anticipated the life we thought all “good” Catholics would have, if they were “open to life”: he, providing, me, nurturing, and us with a van full of happy, pious children.
With such an opening, we should have anticipated the punchline.
We honeymooned in Rome and Pope (Blessed) John Paul II blessed our marriage. With such an auspicious start, we expected a honeymoon baby! But no baby.
Oh, well, we consoled ourselves. Maybe next month. No baby. And no baby the month after that, either.
Still, we expected. We gave lip service to a child being a “gift,” but, deep down, we believed otherwise. Unconsciously, we believed we could will ourselves to become parents.
In the meantime, I had to do something.
I worked. I was restless at work. I switched jobs, went into teaching. I love teaching but strained under the physical and emotional stress of it. I switched jobs again, taught part-time, tried my hand at being a parish DRE. That didn’t work. I thought about going back to school. But my husband was in school already. That wasn’t going to work. And what would I study, anyway?
I was adrift, and I knew I was adrift, and it rankled me.
In the meantime, my husband was gently trying to pry my head out of the sand with regards our fertility. Any hint of “going to the doctor” and I was up in arms. “I hate going to doctor. I don’t want to go to the doctor. It makes me uncomfortable to go to the doctor.”
“Shouldn’t we chart?…”
“I really dislike the Billings Method,” I’d say. “All these stupid rules just don’t work for us. I’d rather just let things happen.” Because “letting things happen” was my way of not thinking about it.
Eventually I did see a doctor. After hearing my symptoms, he suggested endometriosis and referred me to his colleague. My wincing and yelping during a routine pelvic exam immediately convinced this doctor to schedule laparoscopic surgery. In June 2007, on the second to last Friday of the school year, I underwent surgery to diagnosis and remove, as far as possible, the endometriosis lesions that had developed on my uterus, on and within my fallopian tubes, and on the surrounding organs.
Nothing like surgery – and color pictures of one’s insides! - to bring a girl’s head out of the sand.
I’d like to say that my head stayed out of the sand. It didn’t. Renewed hope for a baby following the surgery slowly faded as month after month went by with no change, no double blue line, no news to report. Pain, alleviated dramatically after the surgery, slowly, imperceptibly returned. Surgery provides temporary relief; endometriosis itself has no known cure.
I had become friends with another endometriosis sufferer, whose condition was – and is – twice as severe as mine. In secretly comparing myself to her, I felt I ought not to complain.
But this friend’s sufferings and mutual encouragement (she is so, so dear to me!) helped me to see that I, too, needed help. Another friend of ours was training to be a Creighton Model instructor and needed practice clients. I volunteered.
And somewhere in the process of this, I had “let go” of the situation.
The month we began charting was a lousy month (not because of charting, though it was an additional “load” I had to think about). I had been teaching at two different schools and was overwhelmed by my schedule. My husband was busy studying for his Ph.D. comprehensive exams. And winter was settling in.
I was the Queen of Grump, and nothing in my behavior that month would make me think that I was in any way “deserving” of the gift of a child.
And yet, he came. After five years of marriage, two years after my surgery, and with no physical “help” beyond charting.
Without our knowing it, four different sets of friends, in four different states, felt strongly compelled to pray for us during the Mass of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8). They, through their prayers, were brought into the joy of this mystery.
My pregnancy was our Christmas gift.
Continued in Part Two…