This article was originally written by UIRC's executive director, Camille Hawkins, for Art of Infertility's blog. The original article can be found here.
I was recently part of a discussion in a “Pregnancy & Parenting after Infertility” Support group. The question was posed: Would you change the fact that you struggled with infertility?
How would life be different if I didn’t struggle with infertility? Even though this was the most difficult experience of my entire life, would I change it? It brought more heart ache, more tears, took more energy, and also more money than any other trial I’ve faced. The consensus as each group member deeply reflected on this question was a resounding no. If you would have asked each of them in the heat of the struggle, the answer would have been different. But the common theme was that they had gained so much from their infertility journey, and there were still some very difficult parts about it, but they wouldn’t trade it.
My husband and I met at Utah State University in 2007. Once married, we waited a year to start trying to have a baby. We quickly learned it wouldn’t come easy. After 5 years of tracking monthly cycles, timed intercourse, surgery, fertility medications, injections, intra-uterine inseminations, in vitro fertilizations, a miscarriage, and being completely broken down emotionally, we became parents to two beautiful girls through the miracle of adoption. Becoming a mom was the best day of my entire life. I will never forget that feeling.
Even though my life is now consumed of changing diapers, making bottles, and rocking crying babies during the night, my infertility will always be a part of me. My diagnosis makes it so I will always be infertile. The wound of infertility may be healed in my heart, but the scar will always be there as a reminder of all I went through to get my girls. This journey has shaped my life more than anything else has. It helped me be the best mom I could be.
Here are 5 ways my infertility struggles taught me to be a great mom to my daughters.
1. Peace – coming to accept my situation was difficult and took a lot of time and energy. I had to grieve every time I had a failed cycle, a failed treatment, grieve the death of my embryos, and the loss of my only pregnancy. I had to grieve having a biological child –the one I always dreamed of looking just like my darling husband. As a woman, I had to grieve not being able to experience pregnancy, child birth, breast feeding, and the things I was raised to most closely associate with womanhood. Through this process, frustration and resentment for my imperfect body eventually turned to peace and acceptance. I learned that things aren’t going to be perfect in life, but I can still be okay. I will teach my daughters their bodies are unique and special, and don’t have to be perfect in order to be beautiful. I will help them find peace and acceptance with the situations they find themselves in so they can look for the happiness and joy that surrounds them.
2. Balance – I grew up in a culture that taught my most important and divine role would be that of a mother. Everything should revolve around that role, even my education, my career choices, everything. When I realized I was unable to conform to that norm, I was forced to either sit around and do nothing while the time passed, or do something productive with my time. I decided to get a master’s degree in social work and begin a career in counseling. I worked at a nonprofit community mental health center helping children heal from trauma. I volunteered with an organization running kids grief groups. I fell in love with my husband over and over again, traveled the world, and I became a dog mom, enjoying the beautiful outdoors hiking with my two retrievers. Infertility tends to consume you completely, like a black hole. The lows were the lowest I could ever imagine. Learning to keep balance in my life was crucial to surviving the black hole of infertility, and I’m learning that balance as a mom is crucial to being the best mom I can be to my daughters. I would like my daughters to have balance in their lives too, and to know it’s okay to be lots of things, to do lots of things, and most importantly to take care of themselves.
3. Patience – Infertility makes you wait…….and wait……..and wait some more. It makes you cry night after night, feeling hopeless and that all is lost. False hope is sometimes the only thing you have left. I learned that things don’t work out necessarily in the way I expect, but it’s possible for them to work out in some way. My mom told me I was a very impatient child. I wanted things NOW! Patience is something I was forced into learning through my infertility journey. Now as a mother, patience is my saving grace. Motherhood is not easy; I never said it was going to be. Having patience shoved down my throat during infertility has allowed me to see things in motherhood through a different lens. I can make it through my baby’s crying spell. I can make it through my daughter refusing to sleep throughout the night. I can make it through two babies crying at once……Infertility helped me learn the patience for these moments.
4. Appreciation – When you yearn for a child, you yearn for the good and the bad. Being a mother isn’t easy, but I realize I appreciate all the moments so much more than I would have because I worked so hard to get there. My girls will grow up knowing how much they were wanted, how much they were sought for, and how special they are. I know I am so lucky, so blessed, and so fortunate to be “Mamma” to my sweet baby girls. I have so much gratitude for their birth families for entrusting us to raise these little girls.
5. Determination –I have met many women who struggle with infertility and I have found that these are some of the strongest women in the world. My husband and I experienced failure month after month, year after year, and still we pressed on. We did this because family is so important to us and we would not stop until we became parents. I learned I can do hard things, and my daughters will learn they can do hard things too. When I face failure and frustrations in motherhood, I remind myself of the obstacles I have overcome and rely on that strength to get me through hard times.
The journey of infertility is treacherous. No one deserves the pain that comes from an inability to get or remain pregnant when that is their deepest desire. The wound of infertility often runs deep. But there is hope. There is a lot we can learn. And we can have tremendous growth which can prepare us to be great parents when that glorious day finally comes.
Camille Hawkins, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is the executive director of Utah Infertility Resource Center.