“You have one bebé? Just one?” she asked in her broken English.
We have these little talks when I see this lovely Hispanic woman where she works.
“Sí, uno. Solamente uno,” I used my limited Spanish to confirm that I had just one baby.
“Ahh,” she nodded.
I just kept nodding awkwardly because I had a feeling what she was going to ask next.
Indeed, with a gleam in her eye and a big grin, she asked, “How many you want?” She held up her fingers to count on them, “You want one? Two? Three bebé?”
She kept grinning.
I don’t even know how to answer that question in my native tongue.
There was a time when I would have burst, saying, “Yes! I would love to have two, three or four!” eagerly counting them out on my own fingers.
And now? What I want is no longer clear for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that I have a history of infertility. There’s a certain futility to wanting more when it was hard enough to have one.
I didn’t have the Spanish to tell her that.
I looked her in the eye, “no puedo,” I said very gravely, meaning to say simply, “I can’t.” Then I gestured to my womb, made a sad face, and hung my head.
“Ohhh…” she groaned.
I didn’t have to elaborate. Even across the language barrier she felt my meaning.
“Just one,” she nodded in understanding. I nodded back, relieved to have communicated my situation.
I don’t get asked those questions as much now as I did before I became pregnant with my son who is 9 now.
For the first several years of our marriage I was working on my degree. When the question of children came up I just said we were waiting until I was done with college.
Most people accepted that and I didn’t have to tell them that I seriously questioned whether it ever could happen because I already knew my body wasn’t working right.
When I finished my degree things changed and the questions came hurling toward us. As a beloved young couple in the public eye, inquiring minds wanted to know:
- “Isn’t it time to start thinking about a family?”
- “You two have so much love, don’t you want to share it?”
- “Is there a little Tinker in the plans any time soon?”
I hope I handle those questions better now than I did then.
I was so angry back then.
I was angry at my body for being so dysfunctional.
I was angry at God for making me wrong. I was angry at God for not loving me enough to make me right.
I was angry at myself for not being good enough for God to let my body do what a “real woman” ought to be able to do.
I was angry at myself for thinking about myself as less of a woman for my infertility because I would not let any other woman in the world get away with that kind of talk about herself.
I was angry at people for whom it was easy to conceive.
I was angry when people asked me about having children. I was angry when they didn’t understand and I was angry even when they were understanding.
I was so knotted up emotionally that I’m afraid I lacked grace in many of the situations where people inquired about my prospects for children. For those I hurt back then, I am sorry.
I know that when people ask it is for all the right reasons. That’s why I try to be kinder now when the questions come.
I don’t hesitate to say, “I can’t” when they ask. I let them know the truth because being coy just draws out their questioning making it even more awkward for everyone. I’m definitive, but not curt.
I think it is safe to say that I can’t.
The Unnofficial Guide to Overcoming Infertility, by Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D., says that a couple can be considered infertile if after a year of “trying” they don’t conceive. This means no pill, and no protection of any kind.
Well, I have never been on the pill and we have never used any kind of protection and in 17 years of marriage we have only had one child. That’s how broken my body is. That’s how much I can’t.
That’s not to say that I’m certain I couldn’t ever. I mean, I did once.
I have to tell you though, all that we went through to get that one bundle of joy sapped our marriage of much of its joy at the time.
I lost count of how many doctor’s appointments, medications, procedures, and needles I had to deal with in those days.
When I woke up in the morning I dutifully took my basal body temperature. Throughout my day I closely monitored my nutrition. Before bed each night I chronicled everything in a health journal.
When I was done with the health journal, I scrawled all my deepest longings, my darkest thoughts, and yes, my anger, into my main journal.
Is there still hope that I could technically get the right treatments, eat the right foods and eventually conceive again?
The “angry me” from back then might accuse the “now me” of failing to appreciate that I already had what so many women still long for.
I always have been and always will be grateful for my dear boy. I am a better person for having him in my life, for being his mom. He is a blessing.
I have tried to make peace with not being able to have two, three, four.
That peace tends to come and go though.
I do not feel deprived that I don’t have more children, but I lament that I can’t. I lament my broken body.
In all of this, in the peace and in the unrest, I cling to the God who loves me. I know I can lament and God will listen. Even in my angry days, I knew my God was strong enough to be mad at.
I find my worth in God’s love and that alone.