Infertility made me stronger–it’s true. When I first learned I was infertile I would have never guessed that it would fundamentally change me for the better.
After several years of hemming and hawing, I had only just come to terms with having a baby solo. I didn’t have a partner yet, so it was time to move forward alone since my “fertility window” was closing.
I was finally sitting in my doctor’s office when she said to me, “If you want to get pregnant, you will likely need to use an egg donor,” She made this prediction after running some preliminary tests before I even started trying to get pregnant so this seemed like a pretty cruel joke.
And, even though it was a horrible cruel joke, one that I was not willing to accept after attempting to beat the odds, I learned more about myself and how to be a mother from my journey through infertility than I could have through numerous years in therapy.
The 18 months that I tried to get pregnant, were the most difficult and introspective of my life.
Rather than accepting my doctor’s advice, I fought the diagnosis — determined to beat the odds, refusing to use an egg donor. But it meant I was thrown into a constant cycle of hope and despair. Each month I tried to inseminate, and each month it was a big fat negative.
After many failed attempts, I was forced to decide whether a genetic link to a child was important enough to forego motherhood. I had to ask myself whether I could I use an egg donor or adopt and still be happy?
The answer to that question was eventually, “YES!” But it took me a long time, and lots of introspection to get there.
Infertility tore me apart and spit me out the other side as a better person and, more importantly a better mother. It made me better because I had to face head on so many self-defeating ideas about myself and the world. And, now I am the proud mother of a gorgeous 2-year-old boy conceived via egg and sperm donor, with absolutely not regrets about my decisions.
Here are 4 of the lessons I learned from my journey.
1. There are no guarantees in life. The nature of life is uncertainty.
As phrased in Buddhist teachings: The nature of life is uncertainty. Oh boy, did I learn this one — multiple times.
My first encounter with this was in deciding to become a single mother by choice. I was fixated on the idea that if I had a child alone, I’d be single forever.
My teacher pointed out to me that there were no guarantees in life. I couldn’t guarantee that if I got pregnant with a partner he would stick around for the baby to be born or reach certain milestones. I couldn’t predict whether he might die or we might divorce. (I know, sort of morbid to think about, but it’s true).
In short, there was no more certainty that I would end up finding a lasting partnership if I waited to get pregnant than if I didn’t.
2. Doing my best IS good enough.
While I was trying to get pregnant against the odds, I took on a healthy eating regimen, meditated, practiced Qigong daily, got good sleep, gave up coffee, wheat, dairy, and alcohol — you name it. Yet, when I reflected, I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I had to do more. Sometimes I would slip up on my regimen by having a cookie or a glass of wine and berate myself for screwing up. With these slip ups, I would convince myself that I had blown my chances for getting pregnant.
Until one day, I came across two articles back to back. One outlined a study in which women who added large amounts of milk to their diets suddenly got pregnant at a staggeringly high rate. In another study, women who completely gave up dairy and milk significantly improved their pregnancy rates. At first I was mad and confused. And then, suddenly it dawned on me … No one really knows the answer!
There was no magic formula that was guaranteed to work. I could drive myself crazy trying every approach under the sun. Or, I could trust my intuition, and recognize that I was doing my best, and that my best was enough. I had to forgive myself for any missteps along the way.
3. Self kindness isn’t a luxury, it’s a vital necessity.
While I was struggling to get pregnant, it was staggering to me to realize the depth of my self-hatred. I was angry at myself for not having decided to get pregnant sooner. I was angry for not having a partner. Most of all, I was angry at my body for failing to perform this basic function of being a woman.
At one point, my fertility clinic screwed up and gave me someone else’s positive pregnancy test results. For 48 glorious hours, I loved myself more than I ever have. I was so proud of myself for beating the odds and getting pregnant. And, I was so in love with the baby growing inside me. I showered myself with self-love! But, when the doctor’s realized their mistake, and told me I had never been pregnant, the self-hatred came back in full force.
The contrast of these two states helped me see the constant stream of insults and criticisms I had normally been inflicting upon myself. The self hatred was usually quite subtle, a quiet but insidious voice criticizing and second guessing my every move. It lurked, constantly whittling away at my being.
That stark contrast forced me to see that I had to love myself despite my “failing” body and numerous other imperfections. One day in meditation, it hit me, “Nothing except love makes sense!” This repeated in my mind like a broker record and became my mantra for months afterwards. The constant reminder helped me forgive and love myself and others.
I’d tried to cultivate more self-love many times in the past through therapy and self-help workshops, but it never integrated into my being — it remained an idea. This time, I really got it. It was no longer a saying or an idea — it became part of my being.
4. Knowing when to surrender is one of the greatest blessings you can offer yourself.
After almost a year of trying to beat the odds and refusing to succumb to the fact that my own eggs would not work, I gave in and used an egg donor. It was a huge loss and something I had to grieve for months prior. But once I finally let go, I realized that being a mother was the goal. It did not matter how I got there. If I surrendered to my desire to be a mother, then the answer was easy. My whole life I had wanted this and gripping to a genetic connection was not going to serve me.
I’m one of those left of center, alternative, woo woo types, and I was determined to have a natural birth. Not only did I read and watch every birthing book and video about the medicalization of child birth, my undergraduate thesis had been about it. I had also been planning to develop a Qigong birthing style, and spent my entire pregnancy trying to understand the effects of Qigong on pregnancy so I could incorporate the practice into my birth plan. My birth plan had contemplated every last detail–candles, music play list, who would catch the baby etc.
A few weeks before I was due, my intricate, well thought out birth plan was completely derailed. I found out my blood pressure had sky rocketed. My midwife immediately had me admitted to a hospital, transferred my care to a doctor I didn’t know, and an induction of labor began.
More than a week later, I was still in the hospital, fighting to deliver my baby naturally. There were no candles or music playing. it was a tense affair. Eventually, I had to surrender my expectations and have a C-Section. give birth via C-Section. I felt angry. I’d been robbed of my dream in so many ways.
And then I had to cope with trying to care for my son with a huge incision across my belly. The pain prevented me from sitting up and walking, yet I had to lay my baby across my stomach to breastfeed. Trying to care for a baby as a single mom while suffering that much pain was mind-boggling.
It was like someone hit me over the head and said, “Welcome to motherhood. Your life, your body, your identity, and your notion of control are gone! Get used to it.”
I realized I could fight to have control and remain the woman I was before motherhood, or I could surrender and be the best mother I could be. I was no longer in this world just for myself, I was in service to this amazing, healthy baby.
My struggle through infertility was hard, painful, and gut-wrenching.
I was forced to question and examine almost every aspect of my life and ideas. I don’t wish it upon anyone.
At the same time, these were lessons I’d been trying to learn throughout my entire life, but had never before been able to understand at the core of my being.
Infertility made me fundamentally accept who I was in the world. This thing that beat me up, eventually cultivated a deep sense of love and surrender.
I’m so blessed to have been able to examine my life in this way, and to be able to grow into a far more healthy and loving mother than I otherwise might have been.
I’m a single mom by choice, Fertility Doula, Life Coach, author and founder of Motherhood Reimagined. I help women who are contemplating single motherhood, facing fertility issues, and/or raising donor conceived children re-imagine what it means to be a mother so they can remain open to what’s possible. Join my mailing list to get updated about new articles and special offers.