Medically speaking, I am infertile. For years I was unable to conceive, and even with medical interventions, I could not achieve a viable pregnancy. My body seemed to have all the working parts, some measuring above average, but they could not work together to produce progeny. Most assisted reproductive technologies did not help either. However, like our barren biblical matriarchs, I became a mother.
And as I write this, I am pregnant…again.
My husband and I spent three years trying to conceive the first time. We quickly escalated from thermometers to medications, injections, procedures, and in-vitro fertilization. IVF led to our first pregnancy and our first miscarriage. After repeating that cycle a few times and increasing our losses, we accepted our limits. With the help of an egg donor, we were finally able to have a successful pregnancy.
Active infertility is a silent and painful struggle. The topic is not typical dinner conversation. For some the silence is about maintaining privacy; for others it is a suffocating shame. For me the silence hid a fear that if I truly opened up about the experience, the pain would be so great that I may not be able to pull myself together. This was the case before my first successful pregnancy and again during the struggles of secondary infertility, which came with two more years of deafening silence.
Early on the quest for parenthood, infertility was a temporary state. Each month renewed the potential of fertility but ended without. Each pregnancy brought hope that ended too. While experiencing secondary infertility, the feeling of infertility grew more acute. The process became more detached since our many attempts were embryo transfers, which are more about sustaining and hosting than creating. The loss of my own embryos through a failed thaw and another cycle halted due to the development of ovarian cysts came as an odd reminder that my body used to have fertile capabilities.
Ultimately, becoming pregnant and even being a mother did not erase the identity of infertility. Even if I’m pregnant again.
As my belly began to protrude, people’s excitement, assumptions, and warm wishes flowed onto me. My pregnancy portrays hope, potential, the future, and fertility, and I feel that. Pregnancy after infertility often imbeds a deep existential gratitude borne of being denied something so innately human. Yet it is not the finish line. It’s an in between state that brings an equal mix of perspectives—doubt, hope, defiance, fear, triumph, and many more.
My experience of pregnancy is veiled by infertility. This pregnancy being the result of our last available embryo, I silently hold my cautious optimism and fears as it progresses.
A recent study shows rates of depression are higher among women who had successful infertility treatment than those who were unsuccessful. While initially counter intuitive, it makes perfect sense to those who experience it. Pregnancy after infertility is another phase of possibility without guarantee, of hope living in the shadow of fear, beyond limits with the scent of loss lingering.
In the Jewish tradition, one does not say congratulations (mazel tov) to a pregnant woman; rather one says, “in good time,” (b’sha’ah tovah) with the implication that it may all go well in that time. This is because pregnancy, like the journey to become pregnant, is fraught with unknowns.
To be clear, I feel incredibly blessed to be pregnant. However, to say I should be happy and celebrating would be like saying to a carefree and doubtless pregnant woman that she should be concerned and cautious. While pregnancy is a blessing, it comes with risks and without guarantees. So for all pregnancies regardless, we can wish for them that it all goes well—in good time.
While a part of me wants to shout from the rooftops that I am pregnant, my heart always carries a reminder that others will never know this experience. Too much attention also feels disingenuous in light of the real doubts that come with pregnancy after infertility.
Yet my belly is growing rounder, my pregnancy is obvious, and I look like a picture of fertility. My belly does not show my medical diagnosis, the path it took to get here, or my cautious optimism. It does not show that I walk around balancing two identities at once. I’m infertile and pregnant.