Words and Photo by Sandy Jorgenson
[ Pregnancy loss and infertility need to be talked about. Silence and suffering alone helps no one. We need to gather our fear up, stuff it inside a duffel bag, and toss it off a cliff. ]
I’m no stranger to infertility. After my husband and I had gone through the gamut of tests to determine the cause of the tumbleweeds that were rolling around in my uterus for over a year, my medical record was slapped with a giant red, flashing “primary infertility” sign. (Or honestly, maybe it wasn’t red. Maybe it wasn’t even plugged in to the wall. But that’s how I see it in my mind.)
But then, as if by magic and effectively out of thin air, our daughter was conceived. We were in that game for 14 agonizing and altogether un-fun months, and then suddenly the winds of change were upon us, and bliss swallowed me whole.
My pregnancy was a dream. I know I say this partly because it’s easy to romanticize the past and partly because I crave a do-over so badly that my rose-colored glasses are permanently affixed to my face, but I am honest when I say that at the time, I really wouldn’t have minded staying pregnant forever, if not for my insatiable desire to meet that squirmy little person who took so kindly to using my various organs as a pillow, an ottoman or a punching bag depending on how she saw fit at any given moment. I spent 40 weeks and 3 days pregnant, convinced even in those final days that I’d surely become the first woman to ever remain pregnant forever. (This was not an exciting thought at the time.) But out came my daughter, perfectly chunky and strange-looking yet altogether familiar, born into the water and lifted swiftly to my breast, where she effectively stayed for the ensuing three years of her life.
I remember spending an inordinate amount of time after her birth grappling over how to go about family-planning; my husband and I knew we wanted more children, but we had no idea whether to play that game carefully or not. In those final months that led up to my daughter’s conception, I effectively swore off birth control forever – I cursed every dollar we’d spent on condoms, and every day I lived with maniacal hormones swirling around in my brain while I had been on the pill. We don’t make babies easily, I thought, so why bother ever trying to prevent a pregnancy again? Except our daughter came in like the wind – just as mysteriously and as swiftly; we had weathered over a year waiting and trying fruitlessly, and then out of the blue, suddenly there she was – just a speck inside my body, but a little growing being nonetheless.
So once those early and confused days of new motherhood with an infant had passed, sometime around my daughter’s first birthday, it occurred to me that I had no idea whether we needed to start trying hard for another baby, or whether we needed to play our cards carefully. I had a newfound confidence in my body and its power, and didn’t know exactly what it was capable of. So we decided to hold off on throwing caution to the wind, and take intentional steps when we were ready.
And wouldn’t you know it, I got pregnant again on our very first try. It was one of those whims where neither of us particularly cared which way the cards fell. I couldn’t believe it; it was totally new territory for me. Where once I’d invested every last brain cell into taking my temperature, monitoring my cervical position and its fluid output and dissecting every last theoretical pregnancy symptom like it was a frog on the table of my 10th grade biology classroom, here I was juggling a toddler and having no idea how far along I was, when I had had my last period or, really, whether that splotch on my shirt was food or puke. I had a hard enough time remembering whether I’d fed the cat that morning or poured her dry food pebbles into my cereal bowl; sleep deprivation has that way about it.
The spotting that kept showing up on the toilet paper didn’t concern me, and in retrospect I have no idea why. I knew that spotting during pregnancy wasn’t altogether uncommon, but why I never sought medical help is beyond me. I finally got around to checking in with my clinic at 8 weeks along, when I went in for an ultrasound and ultimately got one small chance to say hello and goodbye to my living child, too small but with a heart beating away, before a week would pass and I’d see that wee babe again on that ultrasound screen, unmoving and effectively gone.
A lot of things happened to me in the seconds, the minutes and the unending hours and days that passed after my miscarriage. A lot of feelings ripped through my head and my heart in the endless collection of moments that gathered at my feet once I found out my baby was dead inside my body. What I never anticipated, though, was never getting a do-over.
While there still exists great stigma around child loss and grief, there simultaneously exists a great movement to call forward and celebrate what are referred to as rainbow babies – babies born after loss – after a great storm of grief. Rainbow babies are these glorious beings, these great miracles of thought, of longing and of life – as terrifying as it can be to grow and birth these beings, they are the ultimate gift of restoration for a grieving mother.
What, though, can be said for secondary infertility? What if we never get our rainbow? What if those clouds never part, never break open and never place restoration or reparation in our arms? What if we exist as mothers, with a child or with children running around at our feet, and are still overcome by the grief that comes with having our futures pulled out from under our feet?
Five hundred and sixty days have passed since the loss of my baby; 18 cycles passed; four months of Vitex, five rounds of Clomid, six months of Metformin, and countless days spent wishing, hoping, visualizing and believing that I might get my do-over, my third baby, my second go-round. 18 cycles was my limit, it turns out. It was exactly the amount of time it took before my hope fizzled, my iron will rusted to dust and I accepted defeat.
I had hopped back on that medical carousel and gone through the gamut of tests all over again, and had lain down while “secondary infertility”, electric and screaming, was slapped on my medical record. It’s loud, it’s blaring and it won’t get off my back.
Secondary infertility is a dark and cruel being. Secondary infertility spits in my face every time I open my daughter’s closet and see all the baby clothes we were saving for our second-born; every time I look on top of my fridge and see my breast pump (why haven't I put that away?); and every time I remember we have no more need to buy a bigger car, or make more room in our home. Secondary infertility clambers up my back every month that I get another period. It taps me incessantly on the shoulder when I remember I'll never get to experience a second round of firsts. When I remember that my girl’s going to grow up without a sibling. When I remember that nothing about my life is going to end up looking the way I thought it would. When I have to rethink everything. When I have to pull out all those puzzle pieces and try to put them back together in a different order. When I have to come to terms with that dizzying, awful realization that our family stops here; grows no more; comes to a halt at us three.
So I ask again: what, then, if we never get our rainbow? What if those clouds never part, never break open and never place restoration or reparation in our arms?
How blessed I am to have a daughter to tumble so deeply into love with, but how torturous it is to grieve that which I’ll never again have, knowing full well the extent of what I’ve lost and what I’m missing. What a struggle it is to clamber up this great mountain called It’s All Over.
Connect with the author on Instagram @sandsmama