Fertility Loss and a Mom's Love
Today’s my mom’s birthday. It’s not an easy birthday this year. At least for me, not sure about for her although I will ask her later.
I’ve been grappling with emotions, actions, decisions and yes, words and terminology ever since my sister died less than two months ago. Do I still have two sisters, only one is deceased? Am I still one of three sisters? One of three daughters? Do I have to preface a comment with “younger” anymore since I no longer have an “older” sister? No answers to any of those questions yet and of course they have me wondering.
The loss of a child or a pregnancy loss demands a certain thoughtfulness around these questions because it hurts when we don’t acknowledge a life or even the beginning or possibility of a life. For those of us who have undergone fertility treatment, IVF particularly, we see embryos that are dividing and “growing”. Yet they are not children or even babies and will not be until they are born.
So why do they so often have names? And without question, these embryos carry our hopes and dreams for the children that they could become. If they just would. If they just would continue to divide and implant and thrive and continue developing to become the baby we are hoping for.
We mourn losses that may not make sense to others. We mourn menstruating each month when we are hoping that this will be the month that our journey towards parenthood will begin. We mourn our embryos not turning into our daughters and our sons. We mourn pregnancy losses, no matter how early, when they do not continue into becoming our children.
And we mourn the death of a child. Whether an infant loss or a two-year-old or a seven-year-old or a fifty-four-year-old. It is not our expectation to outlive our children. It’s not what we believe is the natural order of things.
Happy Birthday to Our Mom
It’s my mom’s birthday today and she has two living daughters who are here to celebrate it with her. My sister Shari believed in heaven and I have no doubt that she is where she wanted to be; with my father and uncle and grandparents. I have no doubt that Shari is sending my mom love and smiles and sunshine and warmth and hugs and kisses today. I have no doubt at all. I never, ever would doubt either of my sisters' ability to continue to be a loving presence, no matter what the circumstances. And I have enough faith for us all.
I have faith that my mom is wrapped up in love today, that the cool breezes and the spring sun and emerging buds are my sister Shari wrapping her up lovingly. I have faith that this is a glorious day because she was born and that there is joy today because she is still here with us.
I know this is a hard birthday without the physical presence of my sister Shari. I know that losses feel like the bottoms of our lives have dropped out.
Another thing that I know about my sister Shari is that she would want my mother to enjoy her birthday. My sister Shari was a joyful person despite pain, setbacks and difficulties. She would have wanted my mom, our mom, to feel loved today.
I’d like to think that all of us who have experienced losses have that additional resource of feeling loved by those beings not here with us on the earth. And if you don’t believe that or can’t feel it, that’s ok, I don’t want to impose my belief system on you.
I will just hold some extra space for all of us who are feeling those losses. Imagine that space as a vast reservoir of love and peace.
To my mom, today, a special birthday wish from all three of her daughters. We love you. We cherish you. We appreciate you. We’re so blessed to have you as our mother.
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Today is my husband's 55th birthday. Which makes him older than my father was when he died. Astonishing to think about. I've been good. I haven't made him go for a stress test or see a cardiologist (he has no heart disease in his family, which is what my Dad died of). It's been a long enough time since my father died that I don't project it on my husband anymore. Or at least not too often.
It is interesting to see the connections the brain makes. What one thinks about as it moves in and out of the past, present and future. The grandchildren that my father didn't get to meet, that he didn't even know about. The grandfather that they didn't get to meet, but only hear about second and third hand.
What infertility takes away and the unexpected gifts that are also offered. The loss that we are sure we are going to continue to feel. That sense, that absolutely knowing sometimes, that this will never work. The dread of not making our parents into grandparents. The understanding that we ourselves will not be grandparents either. Our families, our genes will not be continuing on, nor our heritages or lineage.
Except when it works. I know you know that it will never work. You will never become pregnant. Except that so often, so incredibly frequently, we do become pregnant. Treatment works, cycles succeed, we do become pregnant. We do have babies. Our families do continue. Our parents become grandparents, we become parents, our sisters and brothers become aunts and uncles and often, we watch our children play with their cousins.
Why are we in treatment? Because it works. Very often. Very frequently. It works. And we become parents.
For no other reason than it's my husband's birthday and he is now older than my father was when he died and that it's the second to last day of 2010, I offer up a wish for all of us.
That this is the year we become parents.
In the midst of infertility treatment, I refused to tell people my age. I was young, very young. A fact that every reproductive endocrinologist I ever saw was always happy to tell me. I know that my age made my fertility doctors hopeful for a few reasons.
It made my chances of becoming pregnant higher as maternal age is a predictor of success and I had age on my side.
There was time to work with; the doctors didn’t feel as much pressure as they would if I had been older, with my ovarian reserve diminishing each month.
And I felt old at 26. Old, incapable, insufficient, blighted. Old, old, old.
When I would meet someone, I would not mention my age. When it came up in conversation casually, I would not tell people my age. When I was asked pointedly, I refused to tell people my age. I would smile and say that it wasn’t something I talked about. I had one friend who truly was driven crazy by my refusal to tell her and I admit to a fairly medium size dose of satisfaction out of torturing her about it. After all, I was feeling my age in ways that she never suspected. Anyone who wanted to know my age that badly was not going to be someone I wanted to share my infertility pain with. No way.
Infertility ruined every birthday for six years. I hated my birthday, more even than New Year’s Eve, which was also an official marking of time. Every birthday confirmed my feeling of how old I was. Old, not young. Because it was clear, quickly with infertility treatment, that age was my enemy. I was beautiful at 26, lovely unlined skin, graceful and strong body. The pictures I have of myself of that age do not tell you the whole truth. Think Dorian Grey. Think of how that portrait aged and became scarred and ugly. That was how I felt. At 26, I felt old and ugly.
Therapy helped. Yoga helped. Friends who were able to listen and not advise helped. My best friend in the throes of her own infertility helped. My family helped tremendously. My mother helped. For my 30th birthday, my present was her Grandmother’s diamond wedding band. Having my mom pass down an heirloom to me at that time was critical. It wasn’t being saved for my sister who one day might be able to give her grandchildren. It was being given to me, with love and affection for who I was, right there, in the middle of being old and ugly. Boy, did that help. Thanks Mom!
Fighting for how I felt helped too. That is was ok to feel how I felt. That I didn’t have to judge how I felt on top of feeling how I felt. In yoga, we observe our breath, not to change it or judge it, but to notice and even appreciate it, just as it is.
And that’s where I got. I started to have moments of appreciating my strength, beauty and yes, youth. Moments when I was 27, more moments at 28. And I remember feeling quite lovely, beautiful and young at 31. Much younger than when I was 26.
Tomorrow I am 49. I understand that it’s a significant age. Multiples of 7, prime numbers, cycles of 7. All I know? Is that I feel beautiful. And young.