What 2017 Taught Me About Trying to Have a Baby

The winning submission of December’s Writers Club prompt!

12.30.17

At some point in the last year, I realized the overwhelming sadness I felt with every failed attempt at conception was grief. After receiving a diagnosis of idiopathic infertility and undergoing unsuccessful rounds of fertility treatments, more grief followed. It was then that I announced to my wonderfully supportive husband, I was also grieving the loss of my identity.

In the height of my sadness, I would hear, on haunting repeat in my mind, the spoken confidence of those who believed I would do something meaningful: when someone I admired named me as “an artist to watch” while being interviewed as an important artist himself; the way my thesis advisor introduced me to a visiting scholar by bragging about how I tackled a particularly difficult text; the parting words of a classmate who expressed her eagerness to see what I would accomplish over time. I would also imagine myself as the young woman my husband fell in love with, fearless and unstoppable in pursuing her dreams, wanting with all of her heart to do good for the world.

Now, I was doing nothing remarkable. The brief pause I planned to take to make time for pregnancy turned into a full stop. I hadn’t completed new work in years, and I could no longer think clearly about anything. Instead of feeling proud of what I’d done, I felt paralyzed by what I hadn’t, unable to assemble the shattered pieces of myself into the person I had once known myself to be.

In a way, that paralysis turned my sadness into a mantra of self-criticism—Not only am I failing to conceive a child, I am failing to live up to the person I convinced everyone I was. I felt like a farce. Sometimes I considered writing letters to explain my withdrawal. I wasn’t looking for sympathy or advice, I just wanted those I cared for to know my absence was not an abandonment of friendship or compassion. I simply wanted to say, “I’m still here! I will not disappoint you, I’ve just been gravely disappointed myself.”

For too long, I believed that once I was pregnant I would be able to move on with my life, with making art, with thinking, and that in conceiving a child, I’d receive some sort of clarity on how to effect positive change in the world. This year I realized I was mistaken. I wasn’t just lost or paralyzed. I was grieving, and grief, as slow as it may be, is movement.

Through grief, I learned how blindly insensitive we can be to ourselves and to one another as women. Through grief, I realized motherhood was my true desire, not pregnancy. I learned that by no means is one’s inability to conceive a denial of womanhood or motherhood. I have recognized compassion for women who choose abortion and for those who choose to place a child for adoption. I learned I am forever grateful to have my husband as my partner. Through grief, I learned I have immeasurable love for someone I have yet to meet. The year 2017 will be defined by that love, and our decision to become parents through adoption.

Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images. 

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  • Charlie

    I wish you all the best for 2018, Megan. I wish for you to have it filled to the brim with love and (self) compassion! Thank you for writing your story and sharing your words of wisdom.

    • Megan

      Thank You, Charlie! I wish the same for you!

  • Lara Clinton

    I know all too well how it feels to have your identity as a woman be wrapped up in this, and feel like a failure when your broken body can’t do what seemingly everyone else can. It’s so good to let ourselves grieve the dreams we had and how we envisioned our lives playing out. I hope 2018 holds the miracle you’ve been waiting for, congrats on beginning the adoption journey!

    • Jacqueline Myers

      My heart melted as I read your story. The grief you felt I had also felt, although through surgery I was able to have a daughter, whom I cherished. She turned 25 this year.
      Now she is faced with the same disappointment. My heart breaks for her.
      And once again I grieve also, to feel the love of a baby in my arms.

      • Megan

        Sending you and your daughter love and luck in the new year, Jacqueline. I hope you both can move through your grief over time.

    • Megan

      Thank you, Lara! I really think more women than we realize know this feeling. While knowing others relate doesn’t bring me comfort, simply because I wish no one had to know this grief, it does make me realize the need to talk openly about infertility. So much love and luck to you and your family in the new year!

      • Ruth

        I couldn’t agree more!

  • Katerina Rigopoulou

    You will see in time that the grief you went through was just worth it, that adoption is the ultimate decision of love both for yourself and for life! My brother was adopted 18 years after i was born, and only the ones who have experienced such a miracle can grasp the feelings of love, understanding and tenderness an adopted child can bring to your life! Congratulations! It’ s even better news than a pregnancy! I wish you the best with all my heart!

    • Megan

      Thank you, Katerina! Wishing you a wonderful new year!

    • Michelle Kline

      I am so happy for you that you have decided to adopt! It is a long and difficult path in its own right, but I want to echo the comment above. I have an adopted brother and grew up with him and two other sibs. There are certainly challenges with identity that he’s been through (he is a different race from the rest of my family) but it has always been obvious and automatic love, just as with any child who is part of a (healthy) family.

      • Katerina Rigopoulou

        Right! Love is best when it’s shared!!! Have a happy and healthy year, Michelle!

  • Selina

    This is the most relatable piece of writing I’ve read in months. You’re not alone. I used to feel awesome at life but am now just a random woman with diseased ovaries who has abandoned her career to salvage them. I spent 2017 grieving the loss of my fertility and my former self. No idea how 2018 will look… I’m afraid to imagine it. Your piece caught me in an important moment so thank you 🙂 And congratulations on your decision. You have a beautiful future ahead!

    • Megan

      Thank you, Selina. I hope you’re able to imagine what you want from 2018, instead of fearing what it will bring you. You are not alone, and I’m certain you are far more than what you’re identifying as at this moment. I hope the new year brings you love, happiness, and luck, and most importantly peace through your grief.

      • Selina

        ❤️

  • Toronto CS

    I went through infertility and for me it got better with time. I came to a kind of acceptance. Even though motherhood was something I always wanted, I got to a place where I could say “maybe this isn’t going to happen and that’s okay.” I felt more peaceful. I hope you feel better soon, because it can feel better even if you don’t conceive. And yes, I did eventually have children (not with ART, which I decided not to pursue, but just with time — and some use of clomid [horrible] and acupuncture [better, but can be expensive]).

  • Abby

    As someone who is currently trying to get pregnant, this was tough to read. I may have teared up a little…

    • Megan

      Love and luck to you and your family in the coming year, Abby!

  • Lil

    Can we get an article from someone who sees adoption as their first choice?

  • Ana Beatriz Quinto

    This is very deep and touching.

  • belle

    I know it isn’t my place to say, but I will anyway – whenever I hear these heartbreaking stories it makes me want to sit the person down and shake them, to remind them that they are a valuable and unique person in their own right. Your body is just the place where you live, and sometimes it doesn’t do everything right. It seems like everyone else’s bodies are in perfect working order, but nearly everyone has some sort of issue, from eyesight to allergies to organ function. Perhaps your body can’t produce insulin, or in this case, a fetus. I know it sounds a little clinical and harsh, but I see so many women get so wrapped up in the fact that their bodies don’t do what they expected that I wish I could give them just a little bit of perspective. I struggle with chronic depression and sometimes feel better if I remind myself that the deep, aching despair I feel seemingly out of nowhere isn’t an indicator of my worth or where I am in life – it’s just my brain chemistry giving me a big old “fuck you.” This type of thinking doesn’t cure my problems (of course) but it can be really helpful when trying to get through a rough day.

    • Selina

      I understand your view and see it reflected across a lot of MR commenters since Leandra has been talking about infertility for years now. It’s hard to grasp the full picture of the struggle if you haven’t experienced a call to parenthood.

      Emotionally, infertility is not a clinical issue. It’s an existential crisis. Psychology research shows that infertility treatment impacts mental health in the same way that cancer treatment does. People who have no history of mental health issues get depression over infertility the way cancer patients do about their own looming deaths. That’s a sign to me this problem transcends the clinical issue of being unable to create a fetus (vs something like insulin). There’s a clear reason why.

      The strength of social relationships is the primary driver of human happiness and fulfillment – literally, how you will feel over a 60+ year adulthood through the final moments on your deathbed (also supported by research). So it follow that it will crush your spirit if you discover that the most powerful relationship available to humanity is denied to you. The failure of our bodies is just one piece of infertility shit pie 🙁 Managing the emotions of disease is hard, but it’s still much easier than managing the existential crisis.

      • belle

        I’m certainly don’t think that infertility is purely a clinical issue. As someone who deals with mental health struggles on a daily basis, I can relate to the experience of having physical health issues expressed as and intertwined with emotional ones. But it can be good to take a step back whenever possible and remind yourself that you are not your problems. I don’t say this to minimize the pain of not being able to conceive – I say it to remind anyone reading that their struggle does not define them or their worth as an individual.

    • silvia bernardi

      Belle, your intervention is brave, sincere and generous, thank you for writing it and forgive me if I take it as an entry point to comment on this post.

      I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about depression and other emotional problems. The feelings related to motherhood can be similar to depressive states indeed, as you recognize. However, they don’t “come from nowhere” as you say that depression feels like for you sometimes. They come from straight clear-cut, devastating self-blame.

      Medicine doesn’t tell us what “idiopathic infertility is” and, unless you are religious, there is no “God or destiny” who didn’t grant you a child. Your body is technically perfectly able to conceive yet it doesn’t. Thousands of factors contribute to the genetic make over of the embryo. We have no idea what goes wrong and why some couple have difficulties obtaining genetically healthy embryos. Is it age? Did we make poor choices? Is it our life style? Is there anything we should have done differently? This way of thinking can drive anyone into an abyss of loss and grief as Megan describes. The society doesn’t make it easier by continuously remind you that there is a biological clock. Suddenly the time you spent becoming a better person, and thus a potentially good mother, or trying to understand if motherhood is right for you, all of that time previously considered wise-spent becomes a sin, a mistake you have made.

      Obviously that’s a “cognitive distortion”, a way of thinking that appears logical and real in the light of the grief, saddened and disbelief related to the trauma. By waiting to have children we only did what was reasonable doing for us at the time (and therefore for our potential children). But as you know better than I do, cognitive distortions are hard to shake. Megan here tells us how she raised above all of them and looked at the bigger picture. How she was able to frame her feelings of motherhood in a way that was compatible with her reality. That’s the opposite of depression. That’s being alive, responding to what life throws at you making the best of it exactly as you, Belle, do, when you remind yourself of what depression does to you. Way to go ladies!

      • belle

        Perhaps my comment was unclear – in no way am I equating my clinical depression (which does at times come out of the blue, due to chemical imbalances in my body) to infertility. They are not similar and it would be ignorant for me to make that claim. My comment points out that inability to conceive is not an indication of anything a woman did or didn’t do, although it can certainly send someone into a spiral of emotional anguish and grief. When I experience the severe symptoms of depression, it is often helpful for me to detach myself from the situation, if only for a bit. I’d imagine that someone experiencing infertility could try to do the same, and get a bit of breathing room in a world that so relentlessly equates a woman’s worth to her physical body.

  • Allie

    Such a moving piece, Megan. I come from a family with four adopted siblings from different places around the world. Having them in my life has been such a gift. Getting each of their referrals, picking them up from their respective orphanages and recently accompanying them to visit the countries they were born in are some of the most memorable and formative moments of my life. In my home, adoption days were cherished as much as birthdays. We even sing Happy Adoption Day to our dog. You are such a beautiful writer, I would love to hear more about your adoption process, should you ever feel inspired to share. Wishing you so much luck and patience through your adoption journey <3 It's so so worth it.

  • Stephanie

    So late to the comments, but I often describe infertility as “it’s like someone died.” So yes, yes! Also, congratulations on your brave choice to pursue adoption. I wish you the best. <3

  • Alex D

    Such an incredible read. Thank you for sharing this. Trying to get pregnant myself so this really hit home. ps trying to find your email to send you a more detailed comment. Where can I find your info??

  • Ruth

    Dear Megan, this is so spot-on. THANK YOU for expressing what I’ve been
    struggling to grasp. I feel much less alone and for the first time in a
    long time I feel truly understood. I wish you all the best and I’d be
    interested in hearing more stories from you, as you go along this path.