It has been over 10 years since my journey to motherhood began. I know I am lucky that my three perfect daughters are healthy, and I am living the life I always wanted.
So why do I still cry when I hear a friend is pregnant? Why do I still cry when I see a newborn in her mother’s arms? Why do I still feel jealousy when people complain about their accidental pregnancies that came unexpectedly and proceed uneventfully?
When my husband and I decided that we were ready for kids, it seemed that the path to becoming a mother would be an easy one. I was pregnant within months. We were elated. But elation was replaced by shock as I miscarried a month into the pregnancy. This was not supposed to happen!
But I was young. It would be easy to conceive again. And it was. We were cautiously happy this next time. The OB assured us we would be fine. “Once we have heard and seen the heartbeat, I promise. All will be perfect.” Well, I proved him wrong. I miscarried at 11 weeks, had a D and C, and began to feel like everyone around me had figured this pregnancy thing out. What was wrong with me?
Good things come to those who wait, and nearly two years later my first daughter was born. She is the kid I was meant to have. By the time she came along, no one appreciated that baby more than I did. We decided to try for another baby immediately since no one knew better than we did: Things never go quite the way you want them to when you are trying for a baby.
Sixteen months later, our second daughter was born. That pregnancy was eventful. We had a scare after my amnio and for a couple of weeks did not know what would become of this pregnancy. All ended well, and our second daughter was born: healthy, beautiful, and perfect.
Our third daughter was born after yet another eventful high-risk pregnancy. And when enough time had passed that we forgot about how stressful pregnancy is for us, my husband and I began to discuss having another baby. We were in the middle of figuring out how to make one that would come out sleeping through the night and doing its own laundry, when my own health issues starting cropping up. I started feeling pelvic cramps that would not go away and I was spotting after spin class.
After a few tests, it became clear that I had some sort of a tumor on my ovary. Surgery revealed that it was a borderline tumor—basically a tumor that behaved like cancer but is not invasive. These tumors are painful and must be removed but will not—in most cases—spread to other organs. It was a relief to hear that my tumor was benign and a surgeon was able to remove just one ovary. He felt strongly that at age 38, there was no need to throw me into menopause and it did not look like anything had spread. Besides, he said, now I could have another baby if that was in the cards. I was to visit him every few months for blood tests, ultrasounds and internal exams, but he told me I should be fine until menopause—at which point I should plan to get a hysterectomy to alleviate my elevated risk of ovarian cancer.
As it turns out, another tumor grew on my remaining ovary. Nine months after my first surgery, I went in to remove my remaining ovary, uterus, cervix, and fallopian tube. I was now officially a 38-year-old menopausal woman. Hot flashes. Hormonal memory loss. The growing muffin top and swollen belly. The whole bit. But all of that I could handle.
What I didn’t expect was the feeling of loss I experienced when I looked at newborn babies and even toddlers. Right after my surgery, I was at the supermarket standing behind a woman with a brand new baby girl. I remarked to the woman how gorgeous her baby was. Before I had finished the sentence, I was bawling. “Why am I crying?” I asked myself in anger. “I have three perfect kids AND I have my health!” I was so grateful to be healthy, but so, so sad that I would never again have my own newborn. I was angry that in the end, I lost control of the decision.
Just when I think I am over it all, the grief will hit suddenly when I least expect it—like a blow to the stomach. Just yesterday, over a year and a half since my second surgery, a father with a 6-month-old daughter walked by me. She was cooing and giggling while he made noises at her and smooched her face. I was giggling with her, and before I knew it I was crying. No, I was sobbing. Tears. Horrifically runny nose. A blubbering fool in the lobby.
I struggle with this grief. Am I someone who is not satisfied with what she has? Even though I already have a full plate? Am I ungrateful? Have I trivialized the importance of my health in this picture? Or is this my way of avoiding thinking about my health and what could have been, had I ignored the signs my body was giving me?
For years, I have avoided passing on all of our baby clothes and gear. It is only in the last few months that I have been ready to empty out our closets. That is not to say that I don’t cry over every article of clothing that leaves the house, but at least I release it. It’s a small step, but it’s a step. And if you should pass me—or any other woman crying hysterically while you walk by with your baby, stop and offer a hug. Maybe that is all we need.