I stand in front of the mirror and look at my reflection, turning this way and that, imagining a soft swell in my belly. I gently press my hand there and move it in small circles, willing our baby into existence. Rubbing and wishing, like one would for a genie in a lamp. Could it have happened this month? Have we conceived? I think I feel more tired than usual, and I felt dizzy this week, and the nose bleed earlier…they must be signs. I chart my temperature, pee on a stick, and swallow half a dozen prenatal tablets. This is how every morning begins.
I have held off for a while on writing about this topic – our journey to parenthood. I am nervous to. There seems to be enough pressure on a couple trying to conceive without letting the whole world know about it. However, after nearly two years, most of our worlds do know about it. So, I feel ok with sharing my emotions, that it will be therapeutic, and if it helps or resonates with someone going through the same thing, then all the better for it.
At first, it is exciting, fun – making the momentous decision to bring another being into the world, then going about making that happen. You think of the child-filled lives stretched out before you – the baby’s sweet smile, their laughter, their first steps – of holding onto your spouse, as you look into their awed, loved-filled face, which mirrors yours. You imagine the books you will read your child, the skills you will teach, the lessons you will guide them through. You and your spouse try with abandon. You laugh in excitement as you imagine the sperm making its way towards the egg, cheering it on. Each month you fill with anticipation. You cannot wait for this to be a part of your lives.
After time it becomes harder. The anticipation becomes uncertainty, worry, pressure. Disappointment sinks in. Why isn’t this working? Is there something wrong with me? Or with my spouse? You do not want to find anything wrong with either of you. That would be hard – one or the other could feel guilty or to blame. Although you tell yourselves if that did happen, it would not matter – you are in this together, you are a team. They run tests. You have numbers and terms assigned to you. Excellent, good, normal, average, or the dreaded term fair (at least it appeared to me to be said that way). You feel labelled and categorized. None of our results appeared abnormal, low, or reduced. It was a relief, but seemed almost as hard as finding something wrong. We had nothing specific to work with or fix.
That led me to thinking – is it psychological rather than physical? Are we too stressed? Do we need to relax more? There it is, that key term R-E-L-A-X, which everyone tells you to do. It is easier said than done. I cannot help but to gather as much information as possible. I read copious books, I search endless blogs, we see chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists. We take herbs and vitamins, I stay warm, we get more sleep, drink less caffeine and alcohol, eat more fruits and vegetables, good fats, and less sugar. The more time it takes, the more willing you are to try anything. I think, I analyze, I stress. I try not to stress! I relax, I do yoga, and I work out – but not too much. I decide to skip on strenuous workouts, even though the sun is shining and my bike is calling, and I would love to. I read a book or take a walk instead, and assure myself that this is best for me and for making our baby.
Sometimes I go on that ride, but make it a gentle one. Once, as I returned home, I saw a father and son side-by-side on their bikes, silhouetted against the sun. The father’s hand on his son’s back, gently encouraging him along. My heart ached. It aches in happiness for them and their bond, but also aches for the child I want and the relationship we will have, and for more than my own needs, for wanting this so badly for my spouse too, that it hurts.
If it is not this father and son, I see others – mothers pushing their babies on the swings, singing to them; infants peering over their father’s shoulders at church, smiling at me; parents and children looking together at the brightly colored fruits in the grocery store; friends with their toddlers, or swollen bellies carrying their child. Several friends who also had difficulty conceiving, have told me they felt jealousy towards others and the ‘why them and not me’ mindset. I totally understand that. I feel for them and their pain. However, I have honestly never felt that feeling towards anyone else who has children. The emotion has never entered my psyche. I feel fortunate for that. While there is pain at the hole in our lives we want filled, l have happiness and gladness in my heart for people with children. I especially love to see my husband, parents, siblings, and in-laws interact with my nephews and nieces. The smile on their faces and glow in their hearts is tangible. Children are a gift.
I say ‘gift’, realizing parenting is not all easy. I am under no illusion that rearing children will bring only joy. I have not built it up to be something unrealistic. I have spent time with children – as an aunt, a friend, a teacher. I know there will be times of frustration, tiredness, and tediousness; there will disagreements, tantrums, and tears (from all parties involved)! When people think about the freedom and flexibility before children and say lightheartedly to us “Enjoy it while you can!” I wince. We do appreciate it now, but we dearly want the next step. (I was going to say we are ready for the next step, but I realize – are you ever truly ready for something you do not know?) We may not be ready in all senses of the word, but we want it, we are excited for it, we are willing, we will try. This gift, the whole package, the ups and the downs, the joy and the tears – we welcome it. We expect this in parenthood (as with marriage too). When you love someone and have them in your lives, you face emotions on all ends of the spectrum; you are in it for it all.
I anticipate the love for my children being different than that towards my spouse – not loving them more than him, but not in the same way. Children are more vulnerable than adults are; they need us, especially as babies. It inspires a different type of love, a protectiveness. I hear most parents saying they would lay down their lives for their children – their own needs and indeed their very being, no longer coming first. I believe many people would do the same for their spouse too. It may be easier to claim such sacrifices for your child, your own flesh and blood, than it would for your spouse. But, in wanting to be a selfless, loving, giving parent, it inspires me to want to be a better spouse as well. Planning to give my all to our children, reminds me to do that for my spouse. I know there will be hard times, and our marriage will be tested, but overall I hope it will enhance my love towards my spouse.
Over the last few years, I have shed very few tears over this. I think most of the time I try to push my emotions deep inside and cover them up. I know this is not healthy and I am getting better at talking about it. I have some very dear family and friends who are great listeners, advisers, confidants. Some who have been through this and some who have not -those who understand and those who try their best to understand. All of them I appreciate greatly. I have had one or two meltdowns. I have stood in the bedrooms we have planned for our children, and cried, and cried, with my head in my hands, until I thought I could cry no more. I have let a single tear slide down my cheek as my period begins, and another month goes by with no success. I wipe it away with the back of my hand. I hug my spouse, and we hope. We hope, we pray, we love each other, and we carry on. We know this journey is different for everyone. As our journey unfolds, it is all we can do. When it does happen, we cannot wait to meet you our sweet child…