I knew when I started the IVF process that it would not be my path. That sounds ridiculous given how awful I made it sound, but I am severely impatient and further crippled by what it means to identify a problem (temporary lack of ovulation) and not immediately implement a solution (fertility treatment). When I look at it now, I feel like this reaction is disproportionate to the circumstance but when you’re caught gripping for life, literal new life, at a tree in the forrest of your self-doubt, it’s hard to remember where you are.
Most of the doctors I spoke to said the same thing: you’re young, your history with periods is healthy, your eggs look fine, they are manifold and your hormone levels are normal. Just go easy on yourself. Take a break. Don’t work so hard. Relax.
I took this to mean be less ambitious, which I resented so much, so when one doctor recommended that I look into IVF treatment because of a genetic mutation that I carry called the BRCA 1 gene, I clung to the suggestion: here was an answer that would not conflate who I was professionally with who I was personally.
Of course there is no real difference between these two people according to the human body. So plenty of untreated stress, 17 frozen embryos and two failed transfers later, I foolishly convinced myself that I did have fertility issues. That I was destined to a life of paying rent to a clinical freezer for children that may or may not come into existence. Maybe literal motherhood was not my path. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to care for a child. (Of course, I didn’t actually believe these things — and I still don’t, but when you’re depressed and defeated, sometimes indulging in your own sorrow is the only way to cope.)
I stopped seeing that IVF doctor, took the summer to stop thinking about procreation and in September — with an editorial director and new president of Man Repeller confidently in place, reinvigorated emotionally, intellectually, physically and bullishly ready to start over — I began seeing a new doctor. At my second visit, he informed me that I was four weeks pregnant.
At last! I was right! IVF would not be my path! Without a period and with a fulfilling, time consuming career still definitively in place (though make no mistake, I am confident that finding people who I trusted to share the stress of running a company had no doubt contributed to the news of my new fortune), I had become pregnant naturally.
It felt fucking awesome.
I heard the heartbeat at six weeks, it was so loud and strong. I started seeing the structure develop at week nine. There was a head and a tiny little belly. Two small, folded legs and elbows. At week 10, it was bouncing around inside my uterus like a cat on a trampoline while I weathered the side effects: nausea, crippling fatigue, severe mood swings and sometimes downright nastiness towards people who really, really didn’t deserve it, I reminded myself that at the end of this I’d have the coolest baby ever.
But by week 11, the mood swings turned into full-blown depression. I started to feel, I don’t know, dead inside. I tried to power through it and remind myself, again, that at the end of this would be a baby. My baby. I felt really guilty really often — here I’d spent all this time trying to conceive, to reach this goal and finally, I’d hit it and I was insufferable. To myself (I would look in the mirror some mornings and say to the reflection, “I hate you”), to people who really love and care about me. Then at week 14, I lost the baby. I’d rather not expound upon the details — it is pain I don’t wish upon Hitler’s most devout follower. It felt impossible to deal with emotionally, but even harder to try and suppress, which I so wanted to. Over-sharer that I am, though, if anyone is to ask how I’m doing I can’t help but tell them, “I lost a baby last week, but it’s going to be okay.” Almost as if it’s a badge of honor: I can get pregnant, too, you know.
And in tandem with my loss came the pregnancy announcements of several dear, dear friends. This, of course, made me want to die.
It’s only been 11 days. I felt it instantaneously: I had gone from pregnant to regular again in a cruel, brutal flash. The second beating heart was no longer there, the bouncing had conclusively been terminated. But I don’t want to be a regular person. I want to be pregnant. I’ll take the vomiting and the fatigue and the severe mood swings — I swear I’ll work on the nastiness — just please, give me a baby.
Most mornings I wake up and wish I was still sleeping. I tried so hard to figure out why this happened to me, what I did to deserve it, whether I had made some unwitting deal with my deity that I would see professional success but personally, was destined to years of suffering. I take it back. Am I being punished? Tested? I don’t know.
I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m writing this because yesterday, I woke up feeling hopeful again. Bullishly ready, again, to start over. I got out of bed and shook my head. I closed my eyes and jumped for five minutes, shrieking at the top of my lungs every time I exhaled. I went to the kitchen to find my husband making toast. I hugged him, eyes welling, because I was too caught up in my extreme upset to appreciate his unwavering commitment to making me smile. I thanked him for collecting my bones when I couldn’t stand up straight, for watching 26 episodes of Friends next to me, even with a splitting migraine on Thanksgiving day. For letting me say terrible, terrible things to myself. For allowing me to indulge that harsh voice in my head — for understanding that this voice is just trying to protect me. Even though it doesn’t quite know how.
I called my mom to thank her too. For taking off work and spending full days at my apartment next to me eating bagels. She hates bagels. For stroking my hair and tucking me into bed, for forgiving me for having told her while I was still pregnant that I hope I could be a better mom than she was. That was a stupid thing to say. The most important thing I did, though, was start talking to myself. I mean really talking to myself.
I looked into the mirror and apologized, first for saying such nasty things. I thanked my body for recovering. I told us that it’s okay to be sad. That we would get through this, that we’re strong. I tried to give myself the advice that I would give to my own daughter. Or to my best friend. I congratulated my body for getting pregnant on its own. I commended it for holding a baby for 14 weeks. I assured it that together, we would hold another. Several others! Those times for much longer. I ran my fingers through my hair. I said “I love you.”
I’ve never had to be kind to myself, I realized, because of the strength of my support system.
But that’s a bullshit excuse. Without self-compassion, how can you possibly know how to receive someone else’s love? The doctors were right. I needed to take it easy, to relax, to not be so hard on myself. But that had nothing to do with how much work I did or didn’t do and absolutely everything to do with how I spoke to myself. How I let myself think. Believe.
You know, I sent an email to my team the evening I found out my pregnancy would be no longer. I’d like to share some of it with you — every bit members of my team. Maybe you will feel compelled to put some of it in practice.
The timing of this news feels almost fortuitous given the upcoming holiday season and if you are willing to do me a favor, I would love for each of you to take some time to make two lists. The first should be of the things you admire about yourself. Write them down and hang them on your fridge! Read this list every day. Add to it every time you think of something else. Look in the mirror with an understanding that in this world, during this lifetime, you only have only yourself for support and based on that tenet alone, there is no choice but to love yourself, so you are going to choose to treat yourself kindly. To ask yourself: Is what I am doing good for me? Is this the kind thing to do? What is my body telling me that it needs right now? Resolve to listen to the answers and hug yourself when it’s necessary. It’s okay to be hungry and eager to want to improve, it is not okay to push yourself so hard that when you get in front of that mirror, you can’t recognize who is staring back.
For the second list, I want you to write down at least three things you’re grateful for. They can be anything. If they are people, reach out to them and let them know they’re on your list. Apologize for whatever if you feel like you have to and then get up, get out and do something nice for an unassuming stranger. This can be anything.
Honestly, though, I’m still pretty broken. In some moments I’m strong and can almost feel a tiny finger tip clutching at my shoulder. In other moments, I am so weak that the best I can do is cancel every event on my calendar, hug my knees into my chest and close my eyes. But I’m also confident that with time — the greatest healer we know and have — the weak moments will get smaller and shorter. That when I say we’ll have our baby, no matter what it takes, I’ll genuinely believe it.
And you? You will have whatever you want. Just take care of yourself.
We’ll have our babies, no matter what it takes.
Illustration via Getty Images.