Thursday, January 9, 2014

being that woman

I already shared the story of my ultrasound at the infertility clinic - the ultrasound I had to bring Harriet to, the  ultrasound that first introduced me to the twins. But I want to talk more about it, specifically about the internal aspects of that experience.

To refresh your memory, I had gotten a positive pregnancy test the week earlier and was having an ultrasound to confirm it. I was six weeks, five days pregnant. Andrew was camping on the north shore and both of our babysitters had sick kids, so I brought Harriet along to the ultrasound. She slept on my shoulder as I walked into the clinic and took the elevator to the fourth floor. I had called the clinic ahead of time, asking if they could scoot me right back to a room so I didn't have to make anyone's clinic visit all the more unpleasant with the presence of a longed-for child. I stood in the hallway while I waited to be called back to the ultrasound room.

I was facing the desk, and when I turned around, there she was - a woman a bit older than me in a wheelchair and hospital gown, being slowly pushed down the hallway by her husband. The tear lines on her face looked like they had become permanent ruts over time - riverbeds of sorrow. I assumed that she had recently woken up from an egg retrieval and had been given bad news. She looked up at me holding my daughter and the look on her face spoke so clearly - Really? A woman with a child in the infertility clinic right now? In my moment of pain and disappointment? I can't take any more of this.

Her husband looked at me too, but his look had a little more anger in it. I could tell he felt protective of his wife and I don't blame him. She looked so vulnerable and broken-hearted. I wanted to protect her too, but without meaning to, I was the one rubbing salt in her wounds.

Thankfully, soon after they left, I was called back for my ultrasound. I left the office with tears on my cheeks too...but they were thrilled/humbled/grateful tears, not the tears of disappointment I had seen on the face of the woman in the wheelchair.

In the elevator on the way to my car, mixed up with elation and shock were feelings of...what else? Guilt. I was her. I was that woman with the toddler on my hip, two babies in my belly and a free IVF in my back pocket. This realization stunned me. I am one of the fertile infertile. I am one of those women for whom fertility treatments actually work...more than once. The mix of emotions can be dizzying - gratitude, joy, the ever-present guilt, even embarrassment. There are worries about hurting others, offending others, selfish fears of having my infertility invalidated because I'm pregnant again.

I love being that woman and I hate being that woman.

But I've also been that other woman with two babies in heaven. I've been that woman who brings down the mood during conversations about pregnancy by adding a comment about the birth of my son after he died. I've been that woman whom no one wants to invite to their baby shower. I've been that woman whom moms can't be real with about the toughest parts of pregnancy and parenthood. I've been that woman who protects her pain ferociously and damages relationships along the way. I've been that woman who unfollows the blogs of pregnant women because I just...had to. I have been that woman, angry and disheartened by the presence of a child at the fertility clinic.

I've been that woman too. And I hated being her. It was so, so hard to be her. And it sure is easy for me to say now that I'm on the other side of it, but despite all the pain and waiting and uncertainty, I'm glad that infertility is part of my story. I will always love the babies that we lost and wouldn't trade their place in our family for a honeymoon oops baby...not in a million years.

As I click "publish" on this post, I am praying with all of my heart that the tearful woman from the clinic is now pregnant and that several years from now, she will be wrestling with these same feelings - what it's like to be infertile with a toddler on your hip and another (or two) on the way.


  1. You have such a wonderful way of putting into words so much of what I have thought and felt through my own IF journey. I have never experienced loss like you, but just from going through IF and then getting easily pregnant with #2, it was such a cluster of emotions to go through (like the fear of being "invalidated" as an Infertile and the guilt that it wasn't that easy for everyone)... ya, it's hard.

    That being said, I'm glad my journey has brought me to this place at this time. We all have our own paths to walk...

  2. I try to remind myself all of the time that someones looks don't tell the entire story. I think that pretty much goes with what you are saying, because she doesn't know what you have been through and also the other way around. My prayers are with you and your little ones :)

  3. Wow. Great post. I only know how to be the first woman and wonder if I'll ever be that second woman, but I still love, love this post! Thank you for writing it!

  4. So well said. Praying for the woman you saw, that she is pregnant and full of hope.

  5. Great post. I am right there with you right now- I have survivor's guilt even though I'm still so far from being an actual survivor (in so far as I define 'surviving' right now as having more than one living child). But I'm already ahead of some very good friends who never got this far in their quest to make their family one of four rather than three. And it is hard. It detracts a lot from trying to enjoy this pregnancy because I feel so guilty all the time. (And I have a lot of failed IVF and FET cycles but, knock wood, no pregnancy loss.)

    I want to hear more about the twins!

  6. Thank you for this post Em. Though I haven't been in your exact situation, the fact that I now have my family when a year ago it seemed impossible has really left me struggling emotionally. Though I can't believe the amount of joy in my life at the moment, there are moments of intense guilt knowing how lucky we are to be here. Thank you for helping me remember that each IF story will have an ending and for many, regardless how they resolve, it will be a happy one.

  7. It's so hard crossing over and becoming "that woman." I have read many blogs where women feel guilty for having to take a child in to the fertility clinic with them. Some say it makes them mad or sad, but others see it as a sign of hope. That one day that could be them. If only it were easy for everyone and we could all just have babies on our own time. Hugs to you!

  8. You want to know why I love you? Because you care and notice the other women who haven't yet been as blessed as you. You went so far out of your way to keep your sweet girl from causing anyone pain. And months later, you still think of the woman who might have been affected by you that day! You have such a tender heart and you take good care of your friends who are still in the trenches! I for one, couldn't be more happy for you! You more than deserve the happiness you have and the joy you have coming! So thankful for you Em! Hope you and those babies are doing well!

  9. What a fantastic post!! So very well put. You always know the right words that many others are thinking or feeling. I am so glad that you are now 'that' woman.. the one on the 'other side'. You did your time as the other woman and you deserve to be where you are now more than ever. Like you said, hope the other lady will be there soon too.

  10. Well Em, I was in that same 4th floor waiting room this past May, and in the shoes of the girl in the wheelchair. Except I wasn't in a wheelchair. Just a blubbering mess after a 4th failed IUI. But I gave dirty looks to the TWO moms who brought their toddlers to appts. I have so much guilt about it too. Ugh. I wish I had allowed more grace, and thought, "Hey, maybe this was their only option. Get over yourself, Lauren." I thought about it a lot after, and wished I had gone up and talked to the one mom with the unruly toddler. I'm a nanny after all. Kids are my jam. But I was bitter, sad, and miserable instead. Ugh.

    1. Don't beat yourself up. Our fertility clinic has a strict "no young kids in the waiting room" policy - and for good reason. People like you, people like I once was, people like so many coming up behind us are fragile and shouldn't be expected to face that. I know that sometimes it can't be avoided (like what Em describes here), but in those situations, the fertility clinic should reschedule appointments or refer their patients to an OB to do the scan for them. It makes me sad that your clinic is not as compassionate with their patients as ours is. No woman doing IF treatments should be faced with this and then feel guilty later.

      BUT - I feel it should be the clinic's policy and NOT be put on the patients like Em. She obviously didn't break any rules and was quite compassionate. I know enough from reading her that had there been a policy against this, that she would not have asked for an exception!

      Shame on the clinic.

  11. Such a fantastic post, loved this!!! I too have been both women and I couldn't agree more with that last statement. I too can say I'm thankful for the infertility journey I've experienced because it truly has made me who I am today, a more understanding and compassionate person and someone that has perspective of how precious the lives of my children really are

  12. the way you write just speaks to my heart.
    love you in every way.

  13. Em, I don't know what else to say besides I love you and I love your writing. It always brings up emotions that I didn't realize I had and makes me think.

    Also, I don't think you could ever be "that woman" who brings in her child without realizing what emotions it could possibly bring to someone else. You obviously did the best you could with your situation and the fact that you felt so much emotion for that other woman shows that you could never be "that woman."

    I hope your pregnancy is going well, I'd love to hear an update about the twins!

  14. The truth is we never know the journey of another. I hope that woman has found some peace and healing. I've been her, too. Thank you for this beautiful post.

  15. Perfect post. Such true feelings.

  16. Em, this is an amazing post. I would get to annoyed seeing those babies and toddlers in the clinics. I always thought that waiting room was a safe place. That being said, I have seen women like you come in quietly and respectfully and I have seen women come in with the bratty toddler and Mom talking baby talk. Big difference. You have suck a big heart and I loved when you wrote that original post. I've been that woman in the wheelchair multiple times, so I feel for her. I love your perspective.

  17. A couple of months ago, I came out of my acupuncture session all blissed out. As I entered the reception, there she was. A pregnant woman with a huge belly, beaming at me. My mood immediately darkened. I wanted to cry, but couldn't. I tried to focus on the protective bubble that acupuncture had given me, but it was too late. I shielded her from my view and fled. When I got to my car, I screamed and cried, demanding to know WHY for the millionth time that year. WHY HER AND NOT ME? WHEN DOES THIS GET EASIER? As usual, no response came. I dried my eyes and went home, a little black cloud over my head.

    A couple of weeks later at my next appointment, my acupuncturist asked if I was okay. Turns out she had tried to text me to see if I was okay. She wasn't sure what happened, but suspected my greatest grief trigger had been triggered. I admitted what happened and told her that the pregnant woman's smile was the final slap around my face. And you know what she said?

    "That woman's smile was her way of trying to tell you, I know your pain and I have walked in your shoes."

    What a different perspective!

    So, Em, I hope that your wish for that woman you saw in the clinic comes true, as do I. But I also hope for her that in the meantime, someone she knows was able to offer her a different perspective. Because for me, another woman's pregnancy gave me a lot of hope, and sometimes hope is was carries us through.

  18. Having been that woman and now carrying our firstborn I hear you out having survival guilt. Mixed emotions cut to the core. Being a foster parent I've made friends with many foster families who found their way to fostering in hopes to adopt due to infertility. We go to a foster family support group and my baby bump is so obvious and I always feel like it's just a tease to the rest of them who have tried some for 10+ years. It's mixed emotions for sure and you captured it perfectly in your words!

  19. I always felt guilty walking out into the waiting room following an ultrasound with my u/s pics. It seemed unfair that I could be so happy with pics of my little babies, while there were women sitting in the waiting room desperately hoping for the same thing. Having you put your thoughts into words here, makes me realize that any woman in the clinic with a child most likely knows what the other is going through.


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