Over the past few days, several articles about why you shouldn’t ask couples about their plans to start a family have popped up in my Facebook news feed. I actually wrote most of this post before seeing those articles, so it seems this is as good a time as any to share our story – our struggle to conceive.
You may think this is way too personal to share publicly. I get it. Some people are private. I’ve been very open about my experience with grief and loss. Trying to conceive is also a big part of my experience. It adds an extra layer of pain, frustration, disappointment, and confusion to an already difficult journey. It should also be known that this isn’t just our story. This is the story and struggle of so many other couples.
Ben and I spent years trying not to get pregnant. We wanted to wait until the time was “right.” How many times have you heard that one? The “right” time finally came. But guess what. Getting pregnant wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. We are a young, healthy couple. We thought it would take a few months to get pregnant, maybe six months max. After all, I was tracking my cycle and using ovulation predictor kits. It shouldn’t be that hard, right?
Being young and healthy doesn’t mean anything when it comes to reproduction. Of course, being young and healthy helps, BUT it doesn’t guarantee quick or natural conception. We were able to get pregnant naturally with Elliot but it took us an entire year. We don’t know why it took so long. It just did. I was convinced our year long struggle happened for a reason, because Elliot was meant to be ours. I still believe that wholeheartedly. That long, difficult year was worth it because in the end we were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. As short as it was, her life was meant to be. Her death, on the other hand, was not meant to be. No one will ever convince me of that. Not everything has to happen for a reason. Yes, I am picking and choosing what does and does not happen for a reason. As a grieving parent, I’m allowed to do that.
In the beginning, I often questioned why God would make us wait so long for our baby, only to then take her away from us. I’ve since made peace with the fact that for as long as I’m alive on this earth, that question will remain unanswered.
Ben and I met with a high risk OB about a month after Elliot was born. She recommended we wait six months to try for baby #2. My body needed time to heal and Ben and I needed time to process our emotions. We felt ready to begin trying for baby #2 four months after Elliot was born. Our OB supported our decision and gave us the green light. If you do that math, it’s been nearly seven months since we started down this all too familiar road. You could even go a step further and figure out that it’s been over two and half years since we decided the time was right, and we still do not have a living child in our arms. You probably aren’t surprised to learn that I often ask myself, “What kind of bullshit is this?”
Luckily, reproductive technology is advanced enough to help couples like Ben and me. I’m not sure I’m ready to go into that much detail, mostly because it is a long, draining process on its own…and we haven’t even done much of anything yet.
I’m not sharing this part of our story because I want anyone to feel sorry for us. Please don’t. I just want people to be aware that “having another” is much easier said than done. I want people to know that being young and healthy sometimes doesn’t mean a whole lot when it comes to making babies and carrying them to full term. I want people to understand that not every woman can safely carry a baby to term. I want people to be sensitive to the fact that some couples can’t even consider getting pregnant due to certain medical conditions. I want people to be careful with their words to couples struggling with diagnosed or unexplained fertility issues.
Please think before you ask someone a seemingly innocent question such as “When are you going to have a baby?” or “Why don’t you have any children yet?”
Maybe they simply don’t want to have children. Maybe they’ve been trying for years without success. Maybe they are physically unable to have children. Maybe they’ve had multiple losses and the fear of another loss outweighs their hope of ever bringing home a baby so they made the difficult decision to stop trying. Maybe they were lucky enough to bring home one healthy baby and now struggle with secondary infertility. Maybe they recently experienced a loss and have been trying for months. Maybe they recently experienced a loss and haven’t been medically cleared to start trying again.
It’s doubly hurtful when you get these questions as a bereaved parent.
Personally, I don’t mind if family, friends, or other loss moms ask me what our plans are for more children. But not everyone is comfortable with that. I certainly do not welcome these kinds of questions from strangers.
My one piece of advice for today – unless you have that kind of relationship with someone, just don’t ask. Even then, you should be very cautious.
Okay, I have another bit of advice, please don’t ever tell a grieving parent they’ll “have another.” It just isn’t true. I know this kind of comment come from a good place. But it does more harm than good. Our children cannot be replaced. Ben and I certainly will never have another Elliot. Most people are not suggesting that the missing child can be replaced, but that’s how it’s interpreted by the grieving parent. Also, you can’t promise someone they’ll have more children. You may believe it wholeheartedly, but there’s no guarantee. I want people to stay positive for us. We need as many prayers and positive thoughts as possible. But when you become a bereaved parent, nothing is guaranteed. We’ll continue to hope, but we just don’t know.
Yes, it’s complicated. Very complicated.