The Mother’s Day that Almost Wasn’t

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So we just celebrated Mother’s Day, and I had a great time. But then again, I celebrate every day that I get to be a mother, because that almost didn’t happen for me.

I just finished reading a romance novel where the heroine is infertile, and the hero expects to revitalize his people by having a bunch of offspring. This is exactly the type of situation I’ve been searching for in these “fated mate” romances, and much to my delight, I not only found it in this book, it was also well done. I felt like the author understood the pain that a person goes through when dealing with infertility.

For me, infertility wasn’t the inability to get pregnant. I was pregnant five times! It was the early miscarriages—the horrible hope that shears off a piece of your soul when it’s torn away from you. Time after time. Hearing the heartbeat at eight weeks, strong and determined, only to hear silence at your next appointment. You learn by the third pregnancy not to buy anything for the baby. Not to even choose a name, or think about nursery colors. You learn to guard yourself from thinking too hard about the baby at all. But hope still betrays you. It still manages to seep in and find a way through the cracks in the fragile wall you’ve built. So when another pregnancy ends in failure you’re still left defenseless.

By the time I lost the fourth pregnancy, I’d finally gotten a medical answer beyond the casual “miscarriages are normal” answer that was so nonchalantly passed on to me as if I should just stop worrying about it—as if my grief was nothing. It turned out that my miscarriages were anything but normal. I have a chromosome abnormality called a Balanced Reciprocal Translocation. This caused some of my eggs to be nonviable. It seems that my body wasn’t failing me after all. It was doing its job. The babies couldn’t grow beyond a certain point because they didn’t have enough chromosomal information—or they had too much.

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With an answer, I found hope again. If you have a diagnosis, there has to be a solution right? Only in this case, the “solution” was expensive. They can now do pre-genetic determination during IVF where they test a cell from a growing zygote prior to implantation to tell whether the fetus is genetically viable. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we wanted to give it a go. After all, on top of having so many miscarriages, I’d gone for two years being unable to even get pregnant to try again. Plus, trying the natural way was like playing the lottery, only far more was on the line for me that mere money.

The genetic testing was both disappointing and eye-opening. Of the sixteen eggs harvested, only two were viable. My odds were terrible. Neither of those two implants took, and my husband and I were left devastated and in debt. We couldn’t take the heartbreak anymore. The emotional roller coaster was killing us, and my body was a mess after all the hormone treatments for IVF and the stress of the process. For seven years, we’d tried to grow our family of two. For seven years, we’d suffered the ravages of hope dashed. So we threw in the towel. We spoke vaguely of adoption, but the process for that was also exhausting and filled with bitter disappointments and challenges. We just didn’t have the strength left to get into another lengthy and grueling process.

We learned to picture our future without children, though it was something we’d both wanted. We’d learned to accept that we would never know what it was like to hold and protect a child of our own. Surprisingly, instead of tearing us apart, the experience brought us closer together. We weren’t turning away from each other in our time of need, but rather propping each other up through each emotional blow we received. United we stood strong against the fate that had been delivered to us. We found solace in each other. My husband didn’t despair that he would never build a dynasty out of his childrens’ futures, and I learned not to despair that I would never see his eyes in the face of my child. That reaffirmation of our love and commitment to each other went beyond the initial trials every new relationship faces.

And then one day, I mention that my period is late, and my husband turns to me and says, “I bet you’re pregnant.”

I said no way! It had been two years of trying. It was true that I’d had a procedure to remove some endometriosis, but the doctor had said there wasn’t as much as he’d thought. That couldn’t have been what was keeping me from even getting pregnant. When my husband went off to work, I bought a pregnancy test and took it.

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I’m not sure how to describe the stew of emotions I felt as I stared down at those two little lines. I couldn’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I’d taken in the past. So many, I’d lost count. So much wanting and pleading with the stick to show positive. So many disappointments. Yet every time it had shown positive, it had ended worse than if I hadn’t been pregnant at all. I didn’t want to gamble again. My heart ached too much from the last losses, and my husband and I were finally starting to heal.

I called him at work. Told him I was pregnant. Then promptly burst into tears. He was overjoyed, in stark contrast to my pessimistic despair. I knew this pregnancy would end like all the others. Appointment after appointment passed, where I knew that I would stop hearing the heartbeat. When I started bleeding at fourteen weeks, I thought I was prepared for it, but nope, that cursed hope had snuck past my defenses again. I sat in the emergency room cursing the world for being so damned unfair and wondering what terrible thing I’d done to deserve to suffer like this.

Then I saw my baby on the sonogram, swimming around hale and healthy, tiny but alive and filled with energy. The bleeding stopped, but seeing my baby moving had only made her that much more real to me, as if she wasn’t already!

At sixteen weeks, an amniocentesis showed that she had a chromosome abnormality—the same as mine. This wasn’t the worst possible outcome. We had hope. The geneticists were cautious. They didn’t want to reassure us. “This could be a problem,” they said, but I looked in the mirror every day at a healthy person. My baby was my little “mini-me” right down to her genetic problems. It was the first time I dared to feel kinship with the life growing inside me. Though I’d grieved for all the previous babies I’d lost, I’d never allowed myself to feel this much. I’d never dared to lower my walls and allow that much hope to pass through. I feared that if I lost her at that point, she would take the last of my soul with her.

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My husband remained strong at my side as I spent every day in fear. Every time I used the restroom, I checked for blood. Every. Single. Time. Do you know how often a pregnant woman has to use the bathroom?

It was the longest nine months of my life. The most harrowing. I dropped out of college because I didn’t want any stress to affect my pregnancy, and the Chemistry program was pretty stressful, especially since I have an almost compulsive drive to maintain a 4.0 GPA.

But this story has a happy ending. Eleven years ago, just before Christmas, I welcomed the best present I have ever or will ever receive into my life.  I’m a writer, and I can’t even find the words to describe what I felt when I looked down into the face of my newborn daughter. I can say there was definitely a sense of abject terror. When someone holds so much of your heart, you realize that you have so much to lose.

I write romance. I read romance. I thought I knew about love, but there is love far stronger than any romantic love. A love that transcends all that “fated mate” love. The love of a mother for her child is unlike anything I’ve ever known before. Yesterday, we celebrated mothers, but every single day of my life, I celebrate my daughter.

I’d given up hope. I didn’t believe it was possible to ever become a mother. The odds seemed to be against me. The doctors were even more pessimistic than I was. My story had a positive outcome, but I know that many women struggle daily with infertility. I know that sometimes hope seems like the enemy, and despair can move right in and take up permanent residence. Each person’s story is different, and I have no advice that I can offer to anyone else going through this. But I can say one thing. If anyone ever asks me if I believe in miracles, all I have to do is smile and pull out the most recent picture of my child. Yes. I do believe in miracles.

I know this wasn’t about writing, or about my books, or even about romance, though the real-life love that my husband and I share got us through this difficult time. Yet, I wanted to share this story because it is a big part of my life experience that informs my writing. I draw from my pain, my outrage at the unfairness of fate, my grief, my anger at the lies of hope—and my wonder at the existence of miracles when you’ve already given up—to create stories and characters that are as alive as it is within my power to make them.

I have yet to write an infertile heroine in one of my romances. I still cry when I write or talk about this. The wounds seem fresh, though a lot of time has passed. Someday, perhaps, I will tackle this issue in one of my stories, but for now, the best I can do is this post.

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