Infertility is a path walked by many but discussed by few. It’s not a title anyone wants associated with their family planning, but it affects one out of eight couples. What is talked about even less is life after infertility. When you get your “take-home baby” or when your path has ended and you have your child — or sometimes you don’t — what happens next? Who are you if you aren’t actively infertile? Advanced reproductive therapies take up so much time, money, and emotional real estate that when all that is handed back to you, it can feel like a weight instead of a gift and carries a scar that is worn long after the wound may have healed.
Life after infertility can mean that every pregnancy announcement hurts. You can still smile and make the gifts and host the showers, but that twinge of loss doesn’t ever completely go away. Friends get older and move past their “planned families” and have “oops babies,” and the concept that someone can accidentally get pregnant can be beyond your mental comprehension; it can be enraging. Every new birth and new tiny, floppy, ducky-haired baby can break your heart just a little bit more, even as they snuggle into your arms with their doting parents by your side. For every baby born and loved by their parents, there is a baby loved that never made it earth-side. These emotions can be complicated even further if you experienced pregnancy loss. The duration of your pregnancy doesn’t matter; as any pregnancy-loss mom can tell you, you can fit a lifetime of dreams into a single day.
Women who work through infertility are warriors. They are the women who endured countless pokes and prods and painful procedures. Who had to discuss the most intimate details of their lives with a paid stranger. Who literally gave blood in pursuit of a dream and followed it with single-minded determination. They have endured loss of all kinds. Their life has been measured by failure in two-week increments. These are women who walked through a shadow and came out the other side with firsthand knowledge of fertility’s worst-case scenarios, and the restraint to not terrify every newly pregnant friend with their hard-won wisdom. They love, support, and provide for their friends and families while holding raw pieces of their heart together. And often, they do all of this in complete silence.
While I would not wish membership on this “club” to anyone, I would tell new or expecting moms who have a friend or family member with fertility struggles to honor them. Honor their stories, their journeys, and their strength. It is the world’s worst club with the world’s best members. Know that what they have experienced does not go away. And know how fierce their love for you must be that they passed through that valley to stand by your side.
To the moms who are in this club — you are not alone. You are not selfish, and you are not ungrateful. No one should feel that they have to suffer in silence, and I hope that you all have friends and family to surround yourselves with who can help support you through such complex emotions. It can be impossible to try and explain how such extreme joy and profound disappointment can coexist in a single pregnancy announcement — but try anyway. Find people who can be what you need, and trust them. They are lucky to have a woman on their side who knows how to walk through fire and survive.