Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering the experience of longing as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience. Read the single woman’s essay here.
Once upon a time, my husband would stop by consignment stores on his way home from work and select brightly-colored toys, onesies with robots on them, and books with rhyming titles. He’d bashfully bring them in from his car; we’d blush and laugh; he’d say something about taking advantage of sales and how we’d thank ourselves later. We’d tote them up to the room with the intense “future nursery” vibe, and I’d stand in the doorway, daydreaming about one day using that room as more than storage.
My husband doesn’t bring home toys anymore.
We haven’t been trying nearly as long as others have; I know some families who waited close to a decade before they could start buying tiny shoes. Yet, as the months stretched into years since we got married, and as we passed milestone after milestone without any happy news to share, little tells and changes crept into our lives. We noticed the other day that neither of us have contributed to our “future baby names” Google doc in a very long time. We adopted a second dog. We closed the nursery door.
It’s been a weird few years.
When the absence of a baby fills your life
See, the thing is, we’re incredibly lucky in many ways. So, I hesitate to detail our as-of-yet-unfulfilled wishes to add to our little family as if our journey is the worst thing ever. This is a hard year for a lot of people. People have gone through far worse trials than simply not being able to have a baby when they wanted to.
But the longing’s there, isn’t it? It’s everywhere. The longing for things to be different than they are now sits at every meal with us; it’s there when we plan our weekends and draft emails to family members. We want to feel like we’re moving forward with our lives; we want to have yelling and laughter to fill up the house we very pointedly bought for more than just two. We want to know what a little kid with my husband’s wild hair would look like. (We know he or she will have blue eyes, but we’re insanely curious about the rest.)
There’s a lot that we long for. We’ve spent a long time being confused and upset about why it isn’t happening for us.
There are times when I mourn the fact that, on some level, even when we do get pregnant, the joyful surprise and instant happiness that I’ve always associated with pregnancy won’t be there. We’ve been at this for a while. We’ve had a couple of losses. When I see those two lines on a home test, I’ll instantly jump to paranoia or anxiety that we’ll lose this kid, too. It’s going to take a lot to convince us that we won’t be heartbroken again.
How our longing impacts intimacy with others and each other
I never thought that I’d be the kind of person who’d be sad or jealous when other people announced good news: I’ve always been decent at compartmentalizing information and avoiding unhelpful comparisons (or so I thought).
Whenever a friend announces that she’s expecting, which does happen frequently, I do have to be careful with myself. There are some days, good days, where I’m able to receive a friend’s good news and not immediately think of our story. There are other days that are harder.
But I think there’s something innate in us that can’t help but see pregnancy announcements from our friends as reminders of our failure—and I hate that. We’ve worked hard to proactively support our friends, family, and other loved ones who have had children in the past couple of years, but it’s been harder than we expected. It’s a cliché, but I didn’t expect that to be as hard as it has been.
Coping goes better some days than others, of course. We’re leaning on each other. We recently decided to be more public about our infertility, which reduced a lot of (unintentional, I’m sure!) pressure from family and friends—that’s helped a lot.
Being as objective and scientific as we can has also helped. (We both have science and data-driven backgrounds, though, so maybe that’s just us.) Looking at statistics, learning more about the reproductive systems than we ever wanted to know, and finding out more about my specific biology: these have all helped a lot!
For example, I recently got a confirmed diagnosis of PCOS. It runs in my family, and I was aware of it, but I have a (very) sneaky version that basically presented with zero symptoms except for infertility. It took a long time to convince our doctors to actually get the tests for it!
Now that I know I have it, and that, as a result, I might not be ovulating on my own each month (which is kinda important for the whole conception thing), I feel, oddly, a lot better. It was sad to find out that I’ll likely need help to get pregnant (as in, medications to induce ovulation). It was also affirming to realize that there’s a reason it hasn’t happened for us—and took some pressure off me, honestly, which has been nice.
We’ve also been trying to prioritize other goals in order to cope. I recently started writing full-time, which has been wonderful, weird, and overwhelming. My husband is a design engineer for a solar company, and he’s working on advancing his career as well. We’re upgrading our home, we’re prioritizing our health, and we’re trying to learn how to relax better—so that when we do become parents, we’ll be in a really good place to parent well.
We play with our dogs. We build our relationships. We invest in our friendships. When we have a child, we’ll have the village in place to help raise him or her.
We’re also learning more about our alternative options—for example, fostering or adoption. I suppose that’s one of the hardest things, right now. Whether our first child is a bio-kid or an adopted one, we will be parents, someday.
But we like certainty. We like schedules. We like working towards very definable goals with very definable steps, and right now we’re just kind of . . . floating.
Finding confidence in the uncertain infertility journey
We both feel very sure that we’re called to be parents. Despite doing all that we can to make this happen, it’s not happening for us. It’s easy for that to feel like failure. It’s easy for that to be very, very hard.
I need to remember a couple of things:
Firstly, these days aren’t obstacles that are delaying the start of our real life. These obstacles are our life—and will always be a part of our lives. (Even after we’re parents, we’re always going to be people who deal or have dealt with infertility.)
Secondly, I need to stop myself whenever I think that we’re being forced to wait to start our family. My husband and I are already a family. That happened years ago.
There are days where I have enough objectivity to realize that it’s all part of a bigger timeline, and that there may likely be several ultimate benefits from waiting a bit longer to grow our family. In the meantime, we wait. We’re getting good at waiting. There has to be a benefit to that, right?
Do you have reflections on longing that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.