An infertile woman’s confession

I was playing softball with around two dozen neighborhood kids and my siblings after the water truck had passed, we’d all gotten drenched, and Hereford Drive had become a tamped down oasis ready for play. As I waited my turn at bat, I doubled over from a stomach cramp, called time out, and went to the bathroom.

I never returned to the game. I thought I had gas or had eaten too much bacon at breakfast, but when I lowered my underwear and saw blood, I panicked, and called for La Jefita. My mother teared up, looked at me funny, then took me into the inner sanctum, her delicate wallpapered bathroom, and told me I was now a woman. Me, a woman! A dorky, pedal-pusher wearing ten-year old with a bad haircut had become a woman, all because I got my period?

Yep!  After getting all the equipment and explanation, my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts, their friends, and anyone else who ever found out I was menstruating informed me, I could now have  baby. And you didn’t want a baby until after you were married. It never dawned on me to ask any of them the particulars, so I spent the next four years, on guard, like I was playing dodgeball with all of the school bullies, who loved to throw the ball at me with such force that I’d fly like a bowling pin.

When my classmates in ninth grade gave me the sex low down, I was grossed out at the thought of a penis going inside me; I’d seen my brothers and they peed with it. Then I was horrified that the baby was going to come out of me. I took a fervent oath that day–I wasn’t going to get pregnant or have a baby. Nope. Not me. Never.

Chapter I – December 27, 1991

“I’d spent most of my twenties and early thirties avoiding motherhood and taking all precautions. Truth be told, I wanted to be the center of attention. Maybe being one of eleven had something to do with it. Maybe it was becoming a woman during the feminist movement and thinking that anyone could have a baby, but not a college degree. Maybe it was looking around at my mother, my aunts, my older sister, all saddled at home by endless demands. The only things on my horizon were career, travel, and not sharing the spotlight with anyone. Those aspirations were meaningless now. I wanted a baby and couldn’t have one. I was deeply hurt and humbled.

Anyone who moves away from a large family learns that you can never step back into that family and expect to be in sync with the pack, but I knew I belonged. I shared flesh and blood, memories, and secrets that bound us forever. There’s no better feeling than reconnecting with a brood of people who know you, warts and all.

Now, I wanted in the most esteemed pack of all—the pack of motherhood—but the portal had slammed shut in my face.”

The other side of an infertile woman…

I’ve introduced you to my steadfast matriarchs who continue, in spirit, to circle my wagon, but I’m not complete without you meeting my father. Peter M. Raptis II. He was Junior to his parents, Pete to my mother, and Papá to my siblings. He was bigger than life to me. There wasn’t a word to define or describe him. Think a swashbuckling Errol Flynn with a megawatt smile and infectious laugh.

And I wanted to grow up to be just like him. I don’t ever remember wanting to grow up to replicate my mother’s life, running a chaotic household and raising a rambunctious brood of demanding, and challenging kids, but I do remember approaching his office and wanting to be a part of that. I still do.

Chapter I – December 27, 1991

“In almost every family photograph from my tenth year on, I’m proudly holding a drooling baby boy. After a perfect son and three civilized daughters, my mother unleashed four sons in rapid succession into our neighborhood, where they terrorized prized rose bushes, cats, and mailmen. The bundles of steaming tamales and platters of homemade cookies my mother sent along with apologetic note cards and hefty checks helped keep the police and lawsuits away, but really it was the fact she was a widow, a young green-eyed beauty of a widow with too many children, that kept our neighbors from running us out of town.

My larger than life, successful, handsome, prankster of a father died in a car accident, two blocks from our home, when I was eleven and my mother was seven months pregnant. He was plucked out of our lives, just as we were beginning to get to know one another. Some things I’d preferred not knowing about him, but there were many more that made me feel grand and, most of all, feel safe. We’d lost our treasured, paternal Greek grandfather two years earlier, but when my father torpedoed to his death, it crippled us. As a family, we never recovered and have walked through life with a limp in our hearts.”

Do infertile women ever get over it?

I didn’t. Not for a very long time. And I had my hands full with two toddler boys, who were healthy  and adorable, yet out of nowhere, the unpredictable, icy drop of doubt stung.  A piercing round of ‘I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve’ brought me to my knees.

It wasn’t enough that I felt sentenced to the regret of deciding against infertility treatments, even though, I was in my forties with one rusty fallopian tube and retirement-aged eggs. Nope, wasn’t enough. Not for me. I also harbored a deeper regret of not fighting for my little girl. We didn’t wage war against the birth mother, we were noble and no, contrary to popular belief, it never made me feel better that we took that route. I felt I’d let my infant daughter down. I promised her, I’d take care of her, I’d be there, no matter what. I hadn’t counted on the ‘what’ being her biological mother.

I’ve been thinking about my little Chicken Hawk quite a bit this month. We welcomed her into the world on the 3rd of this month, eighteen years ago, and I still remember our brief but potent and cherished time together. She aroused the maternal fire in me. How could I ever forget or get over her?

I wonder if we ever do get over infertility?

Have you?

Infertile women hate the word “Relax”

The very first time I heard that word as an infertile woman, white sandy beaches and spontaneous sex during languishing balmy days no longer came to mind. Like a record player needle dragged across the vinyl, scratching and digging into the grooves, the sensuous samba ended. 

Chapter II – Spring 1993

“Its just part of the process.”

“I’m not worried about her changing her mind.” I stuck my face out at her. “I don’t believe she wants to give her baby up. Period. Let me talk with her alone.”

“Trust me. She’s decided.” Ms. K straightened the miniature doll collection stationed on top of her computer. “She hasn’t wavered once in our meetings. You’re nervous, that’s all. And that’s normal, too.” Her hands flew to her hair and in half a minute had an upswept hairdo secured with chopsticks. “She’s due in less than a month, and by Halloween you’ll be a mom. I promise. I’ve seen this happen a hundred times before. Ree laah kss. Just relax.”

I blanched and clamped down on my purse until the overpowering urge to punch her subsided. I despised that word: relax. How dare she utter that word in my direction? Didn’t she, an adoption matchmaker to a passel of infertile women, know how that one word scraped us raw? News flash! Infertile women never relax. We don’t know how to relax. We’re wound up tight with guilt, envy, regret, and desperation, stumbling down the only path we’ll accept: the one with a baby at the end of it. Before I could give her a piece of my mind, she stood up and sprayed lavender water into the air. My time was up.

Infertile women can only dream…

Sometimes my dreams jolted me awake at night, sweaty palms pushed the blankets away, jaw clenched, mouth parched, and heart beat pummeling my chest while I waited for my eyes to adjust in the dark. Another stress dream where either someone else adopted the boys or I’d given birth to Rosemary’s Baby. I struggled to wake up from those dreams where my newborn weighed more than a Sumo wrestler and had a set of metallic jack o’ lantern teeth. In another I cradled a baby without a face and was told that an older mom couldn’t be picky. Some I scribbled in my journal, others I tried to forget, but once in a great while my dreams revealed the magic portal, and I rushed in.

Chapter X – February 1998

“…In my dreams, I was fit, showing, and mother-magazine radiant in a hip earth-toned maternity outfit with a youthful hairstyle and a stylish backpack. No diaper bag for me. My dreams showcased the pregnancy I never had the chance to have. Me, swimming at four months and eating tubs of ice cream. Me, assembling a sustainable wood crib, at seven months, a crooked smile splayed across my chubby face. My favorite: me barefoot, and waddling around at nine months. I even dreamt I had a toddler and was thirteen months pregnant in another. A colossal relief to wake up from that one.

I complained and whined about being sick, but was slyly grateful. Sick equaled sleep. Sleep equaled dreams. I could carry on a divine affair with a fetus: a second and third trimester pregnancy. It was luscious. My dream world whisked me away to a brief but gold-leafed past. I’d gotten pregnant before. Three times actually, but never made it past the first trimester. I miscarried twice and the third time a weathered and spent fertilized egg ran out of steam on its way through my right fallopian tube. Like a firecracker dud, it didn’t blossom into a baby, but had enough power to blow through my tube. Messy. Very messy.

The intense desire to turn my body into a factory never wavered, I just didn’t vocalize it any more.”

Infertility Sucks!

Since I received so many heart-felt comments on “Infertility and Loneliness Go Hand in Hand”, I’ve decided to follow this thread a bit longer.

Infertility not only strips a woman of her most basic role and status in life as a mother, it maims friendships, and mangles even the strongest of family bonds. Our loved ones just want us to get over it, get back on the saddle, and pick up life where we left off without realizing that that life no longer exists, and never will again.

Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, especially when women hear  their biological clock ticking like a jack hammer.

Chapter V – Summer 1995 to September 1997

“…Friends welcomed us back into the fold, excited to hear about our adventures, catching us up on life and gossip, but thankfully skirted the topic of children. I’m embarrassed to admit that I selfishly didn’t reconnect with all of our friends—those who had babies, toddlers, or were in any stage of pregnancy were off limits. I’d rather undergo a root canal sans anesthesia than withstand the stories, photographs, and videos of their baby’s head crowning while a sage midwife coached them at home, in their bathtub, to the sounds of Enya or Kokopelli flutes. The thought of watching my friends with their kids, up close, mortified me. It hurt, and I don’t mean my feelings. It physically hurt, like a scalding bucket of water thrown on me. I’d feel sunburned for days. Give me time, I’d plead with Marty, who finally threw his hands up in the air and grew used to me ditching him whenever there was a family sighting. He’d stay to congratulate and fawn over our friends’ kids, pretending I was somewhere else, and promised that we’d get together.  Soon. Soon equaled never. No way. No how. When I’d reappear with a flimsy excuse, he’d scowl and tell me he hated lying to our friends. My apologies were wearing thin.

 

Deep down inside, though, I didn’t care if our friends felt slighted. After one cautious visit or two, I knew the powerful floodgates of motherhooditis would give way. I’d come back from México tanned, fit, with a resolve to create a new life, but beneath my brittle veneer, nothing had truly changed. Why did I have to sacrifice my feelings, I reasoned, just to be polite? Marty countered that I couldn’t keep running away and hiding from life. Oh yeah, says who?”

Infertility and Loneliness Go Hand in Hand

I learned from the very first time I was pregnant and saw the blood stains on my underwear to keep my fear and disappointment to myself. Maybe, just maybe, it was a false alarm. If I kept this secret then I could bargain with the Heavens as I prayed the rosary. I’d promise to work less, stop making love, I’d take the horse pill-sized supplements, I’d brew and drink the foul-smelling, nasty tasting potion my acupuncturist prescribed, and slather peanut butter on my stomach and hop on one foot naked, if anyone could guarantee that I wouldn’t miscarry.

I kept my misery to myself to avoid the well-meaning pitying looks and platitudes, to pretend that I was like every female in my family and group of friends, who seemed to sneeze and get pregnant. They were on their second or third child and I couldn’t get farther than the first trimester. When an ectopic pregnancy ruptured my right fallopian tube and halved my chances of conceiving , I imploded emotionally.

Chapter I – December 27, 1991

My grief compounded after the surgery, even though I feigned hopeful, good spirits during our Easter visit in Arizona. Family and friends were well-meaning, but the callow wound of infertility throbbed with each word of solace. To make matters worse, they rarely admitted to a miscarriage, an abortion, or an adoption; when they did, it was in hurried whispers with downcast eyes behind closed doors. When I took the plunge, they smothered me in, “It’s all in the timing.” or “Relax.” The darling of the bunch was, “Let go, let God.” Really? Are you fucking kidding me? He sure didn’t seem to be in my corner on this one. In fact, he seemed to be sending a pretty clear all-points biblical bulletin that I was barren with a capital B. I was even pissed off at the Virgin Mary, who didn’t do a thing, not one damn thing, and she got pregnant. Poof! Just like that. With my luck, the best I might expect from Divine intervention was a stigmata, bleeding from my hands, and spending the rest of my life cloistered in a cold, dank convent tower feeding pigeons.

At home in Santa Cruz, I’d tear up the sand as I walked the neighborhood beaches, scanning the horizon for an answer, a clue that might bring some relief from the insurmountable yearning and guilt. What had I done wrong? Where had I gone wrong? When had I become damaged goods?