So I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now, and I think the main reason I haven’t written it until today is that I am just now accepting this surprise as fact. But I get ahead of myself…let me tell you the story.
Fair warning: this post is about me and my life, but my hope is that it will encourage, enrich and bring something to your life as well. It’s vulnerable for me to tell you this story, but because I firmly believe we are at our best and grow the most when we are vulnerable with our innermost selves (validated by Brene Brown; thanks Brene), here goes.
Indulge me for a moment, if you would. The beginning of this surprise goes back about a decade – more, actually. It might even go back to my childhood, when I looked forward to being a Grown-Up. A Grown-Up was for me someone who makes money and has a house and a spouse and children. I couldn’t wait. I’ve always been a bit of an old soul, and I think some part of me knew I had to get through the crap of growing up before I could truly be happy. I wasn’t wrong.
So fast forward – I’m 29. I have a spouse (check), a house (check check), and (some) money (check check check). The only thing missing is children, so I get to work doing what you have to do to make a baby (ahem), with impressive regularity and the same determination that had gotten all of my goals summarily accomplished up to that point. I figured a baby would come along quickly and easily once I tried to have one – as easily as everything else had come when I had applied my winning combo of hard work and heartfelt determination.
Except, it didn’t.
We spent almost three years trying for that baby, and there was many a time I wondered if it would ever come. I also wondered:
- what was wrong with me – not just physically, but in every possible way;
- if I was a “real” woman if I couldn’t conceive;
- if my husband would love me any less, even though he said he wouldn’t and didn’t;
- if I was cursed or being punished for any number of past mistakes;
- if I could survive the monthly, daily, hourly crush of disappointment.
Did I mention that pregnant women were everywhere?? They were – having showers and excitement or ambivalence (the worst – when they weren’t sure they wanted what I would have killed for).
It was the worst time of my life. I went to and even threw baby showers for friends until I just couldn’t anymore, and then I made excuses and stayed home. I turned my head when walking through Target so I wouldn’t accidentally glance the baby section. I put on a brave face while I died inside a little more every day. I got a dog (I highly recommend this btw).
We tried everything, and finally, at the age of 31, something worked. I got pregnant – with twins. I gave birth at age 32, and spent those nine months (including terrible morning sickness and two months of bedrest) completely and totally blissed out. My happy ending was finally here.
I wish I could say that once they were born and everything was perfect, but it wasn’t. They were, thank God – but I suffered severe post-partum depression, and revisited the above list of self-doubts since what I had wanted most in the world wasn’t making me happy. Then I remembered – with the help of a therapist, family and friends – that it’s not me, it’s the hormones, stupid. I took some medication and rejoined the land of the living, and began to truly enjoy my children. (Side note – post-partum depression and anxiety is a very real and terrible thing. Don’t hesitate for a moment to get help, I beg you. You are not alone, and it doesn’t have to stay this way.)
Okay, backstory over. Our girls will be 10 this year. When they were three we tried again, but again nothing worked. Since I had my babies I wasn’t willing to spend the same time, money and energy on new babies I could be pouring into my already existing ones.
Over the years I mourned. Not all the time, but at definite moments – baby showers, new baby announcements…what I mourned was that it was never my choice. I knew I was blessed with my two girls, and always felt grateful for them, but the realization that there would never be any others would sometimes fill me with sadness. “It’s feast or famine in my house,” I would say to friends – meaning that yeah, we might be wholly absorbed in one stage of development, but once it passed there wasn’t anyone else coming up I could use my newfound skills on. When we were done with five, five was over – forever. I tried to enjoy every moment I could (even as they drove me crazy), knowing each was a fleeting gift that would never come again.
Yeah, never say never. This past fall I started feeling not so well. The girls had been sick with their usual back-to-school colds and viruses, so I didn’t think much of it until one day I woke up so dizzy I could barely walk. My husband, who had been nagging me to go to the doctor for a while, firmly told me I was going that very day, and I complied. I knew my body was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what, and so I was quite frankly scared.
I told the doctor I thought I was going into menopause. Either that, or something was really scary wrong with me – like cancer. She listened sympathetically, took some tests, and then came back and told me that it wasn’t menopause or cancer. I was pregnant.
I tried to argue with her – told her about the infertility, that I just don’t get pregnant on my own. Told her about my weird symptoms – totally different from my pregnancy with the girls. Told her I was forty-one and that I couldn’t be pregnant because I had a career and my top priority was that I had to go buy a file cabinet (I wasn’t fully in my right mind at that point).
She smiled. I was pregnant, it seemed, despite all the logic to the contrary.
To be honest, it’s been a wild ride. I’m now almost six months along, and let me tell you – pregnant at 31 with twins and pregnant at 41 with one isn’t even a draw – it was definitely easier a decade ago. I’m reminded every day that I am not the young woman I once was, and it doesn’t help that I started to really show at eight weeks. Did I mention the nearly constant nausea and exhaustion and aches and pains?
And emotionally…over the years I had developed an uneasy acceptance – even embracing – of my unwanted identity as an infertile woman. Yes, I had children, but over the past decade I’ve talked to and counseled (both personally and professionally) many, many women who faced the same, similar, or worse challenges with infertility that I did. I took my heartache and used it to help others – and I was proud and humbled to be able to do it. I figured that once you’re a member of a club you never wanted to belong to in the first place, you might as well do something positive with it. My struggle with infertility had also helped me attract and join with clients who were or are going through infertility struggles of their own, and my current pregnancy has unfortunately (but completely understandably) cost me some of those client relationships.
But don’t get me wrong, please. I am in awe. This has been the shock of my life, but it’s a good shock (as my husband says sardonically, “Better than cancer!”). Just yesterday I saw a pregnant woman in a cafe and we struck up a conversation. When she learned a bit about my story she proclaimed my baby a miracle, burst into tears and hugged and blessed me. I was deeply touched.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I have learned some valuable lessons that I think we can all apply:
- Life can change in an instant.
I knew this one already, but usually thought of it in a more negative context, as in, “I hope no one gets hit by a bus on the way to school,” etc. The truth is that life can also change for the better just as quickly – what a marvelous discovery.
- Don’t assume your situation is beyond hope.
It isn’t. No matter what you are struggling with today, hope is there. It may come in a form different from the one you want and/or think you need (or a decade after you’ve accepted there is none), but it is there, hiding in the shadows, waiting to make its appearance when the time is right.
- Even blessings can be stressful. You can be grateful and stressed at the same time.
This one is a gem straight from my own therapist. I was in her office a month ago, expressing shame that I felt all I had been doing lately was complaining about my aches and pains despite the miracle baby I am carrying. She said simply, “You know, you can feel both at the same time.” Boom. I think I already knew that intellectually (I think), but the realization that it was really okay to feel both and that acknowledging the yucky didn’t take away from the good was a big relief.
- You gotta go with the flow.
I meant what I said about the file cabinet – up until that day, it was one of the top things on my mind, along with the several other millions of things I needed to do for my family, my friends, my business. Then suddenly, all my priorities changed in an instant. Now I find myself having to consider information I discarded a decade ago, like finding a crib, what’s the safest stroller, opening another 529…but it’s all good.
There are many more things I could list, but this is a long post already, so I’ll stop here…but stay tuned. I have a feeling I’ll be learning a lot more as time goes on.
What’s been the greatest surprise of your life so far? I’d love to hear, and hear what changes it brought to your life. Leave me a comment and we can continue the conversation 🙂