I have a secret identity.
No, I’m not a super hero, although if I was, I would like to have amazing superpowers like “ability to read ovulation charts with an eagle eye for thermal shifts” or “able to swallow large handfuls of vitamins and supplements in a single swig.” Is it a super power to be able to translate a sentence written almost entirely in letters, like “OPK=+. DH & I BD but BFN 14DPO?” WTF?
My secret identity is much more mundane, and much more common. I am a woman who struggles to get pregnant.
We’re easy to identify if you pay enough attention. We keep ourselves under tight control at baby showers, weddings, family events, sometimes slipping away before someone asks us if we want to hold the baby. When you start a conversation with “So, are you thinking about having a baby (adding to your family)?” we say something vague like “Oh, we aren’t ready quite yet,” rather than tell you the exact number of months we have been trying to conceive, which we know like we know our own birthdays. We’ll be the ones trying to be sure to publicly drink a glass of wine so you don’t come up and ask us if we are avoiding alcohol because we are pregnant, but sipping just a little so it doesn’t throw off our temperatures for the next morning, or dilute our urine because we need desperately to use an ovulation strip and see if we can get the timing down properly.
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In the public eye, we don’t look any different from the rest of the women you see. But in private, we have a stockpile of secrets that we’re afraid to tell anyone.
It started out innocently enough for me. When we decided we wanted a baby, I stopped taking birth control pills. Time passed. Cycles passed. We went from trying to not have a baby, to “not” not trying, to sort of trying, to trying very hard. As each month passed we’d try a little harder, adding something new into the regime. Basal body temping was a no go, ovulation prediction kits (OPK’s) never showed a positive, every other day just didn’t seem to be working. Just as we hit the one year mark and were considering asking a doctor for help, we found out we were pregnant.
We knew we wanted two children to be close in age. Since it took so long to conceive the first, we started when our daughter was nine months old. We joked about how funny it would be to get pregnant on the first try, ending up with two so young. We again went down the slippery slope of “not” not trying, then trying, then really really trying. I tried temping again and had more success, and also realized our timing was way off because of assumptions I made about my luteal phase. I returned to OPK’s with slightly more success than the previous time. Still, it was a year, and we began to think about calling a doctor, when we found out we were pregnant again.
Getting pregnant was always the hard part. No one ever expects miscarriage, but I really never expected to learn in my end of the first trimester checkup that the fetus had no heartbeat and had stopped growing three weeks earlier. I was hit hard by the loss, but although I mourned the child, I also mourned the time that was stolen from me: the weeks I wasted on morning sickness, the weeks that there had been no pregnancy, and the months it took for my body to filter out the pregnancy hormone so I could even consider trying again. I lost 220 days, over 7 months.
It has been 19 months now since we started to try for a second child. I swing back and forth between optimism and a belief that I will not get pregnant again. I know that should we get pregnant again I will never trust the pregnancy. I also know that I love my daughter and should be happy with what I have, as so many women don’t even have that. But I’ve also learned that I can love my daughter and my family and still want another child in my life, and that it doesn’t mean that I love them any less.
We don’t talk openly about infertility, even though one out of every ten women experience it. We don’t talk about miscarriage even though up to 25 percent of all pregnancies end in one. And we most definitely don’t talk about trying to get pregnant after miscarriage — the fear that it was our last shot at having a baby, that if we do get pregnant that we will have to suffer through it all again. The complete loss of innocence that comes from believing that your baby will be fat and healthy and nestled in your arms after nine uneventful months.
First it becomes a routine marker, then slowly a compulsion develops. What was once a daily prenatal vitamin morphed into a vitamin, additional folic acid, vitamin c, and, depending on the day in my cycle a growing hodgepodge of additional supplements that may or may not regulate my ovulation, give me more mucus, strengthen a potential egg, or just cost me lots of money per month. I wake up in a panic, glancing at the clock to see if I’ve been asleep long enough to take my temperature. I jokingly admit to the numerous OPKs and home pregnancy tests that I take, sometimes multiple times per day. I know more shades of purple, pink, gray and white lines than an art major finishing a masters thesis. Sometimes, to the right people, I’ll even laugh about how I dig tests out of the trash, scouring them to see if somehow, three, ten, twelve hours later, a line might have appeared.
Those things I can admit openly, although somewhat abashedly, with a sheepish grin that reinforces my image as the caricature of the woman trying to conceive, a cartoon version of the real, rational self.
I don’t tell people about the real secrets. About the pregnancy test I take a week after my period in case it wasn’t the end of the cycle, but instead the passing of a vanishing twin. That I have a small package in my underwear drawer that contains some prescription fertility drugs from a friend that I swear I’m just holding onto case I finally get really desperate. Or that I paid a psychic for a just a tiny glimmer of hope that it won’t always be like this.
I know that getting pregnant is just the beginning of the journey. I didn’t expect the beginning to be so long. I didn’t expect the beginning to be so lonely. And I definitely didn’t expect the beginning to be so quiet.
I hope that we can all stop keeping secrets someday.