Published on March 15th, 2018 | by Robin Silbergleid1
Taking Apart the Blue Crib: Infertility After Birth
There is a dismantled blue crib in my dining room, its four sides and bottom leaning against the book case, waiting. What do you do with a crib, when it’s been recalled so you can’t sell it or even give it away to a charity? What do you do with a crib when the much-wanted babies you bought it for are now all grown, moved into their own beds and rooms? What does it mean when you still can’t let it go?
I mark time by my ovaries. My daughter is almost eleven. My first miscarriage was twelve years ago. My second, the one that broke me, almost six. It’s been four years since the IVF that took; my son is now three.
It may seem like I should be “over” my infertility. I have the family I always wanted: a son, a daughter. I never wanted more children. And yet it’s happening again: every time I see a pregnant woman or newborn at the grocery store, the pain in my gut, my heart. Mostly it’s the whimsical longing for a spontaneous pregnancy, like so many post-IVF patients I know who get knocked up, as another patient and dear friend recently said to me, from “miracle pregnancy sex.” It’s hard to get pregnant from miracle pregnancy sex when you’re having no sex at all. My miracle is two embryos in cold storage, the ones for which I need to sign paperwork as regular as the solstice. They’re always there.
I don’t cry everyday anymore as I did those hard years, years I went to acupuncture and therapy and tried every crazy diet trick until finally, after we moved from the operating room, my RE sat me down and told me to eat something decadent and handed me a script for valium. The embryo that would become my son sucked it down. I felt him latch on, greedy, as I ate rich gluten-free brownies and watched a movie in bed on my laptop.
I don’t have the anxiety that sent me to a therapist and accompanied me through 37 weeks of pregnancy and new motherhood. I’m forty-two, single, a mother of two. I am done.
And yet. If I got surprised, somehow, I know without a doubt I would keep it.
“Stirrup Queen” Melissa Ford so rightly talks about resolving one’s infertility and resolving one’s childlessness as separate things. And now, more than ever, that seems to me exactly right. I have the children I wanted. But my body is infertile, becoming more so as I creep toward menopause, monthly reminders by irregular ovulation and the progesterone pills that are back in my medicine cabinet. I used an egg donor to have my son. My family is complete, but my disease was not cured. Its effects linger still.
I suspect that I am not the only one out there who has had her children but whose psyche, and identity, are forever changed by life at the fertility clinic, in all its complexity. I suspect there will come a time that I stop writing about infertility and pregnancy loss and move on to something else. But perhaps not. It’s been a long ride, and in so many ways, I’m still on this trip.
I bought the crib in 2003, heavily pregnant with my daughter. My friend and I borrowed her boyfriend’s truck and picked it up at Pottery Barn an hour down the highway. We brought it home and spent the afternoon assembling it, the spindled sides and the bottom, the drop-side that would eventually become illegal. I layered the inside with blue and pink jersey sheets, with afghans my colleagues’ wives crocheted, with fleece blankets from former students.
It was a long while before my daughter actually slept in it; mostly as a newborn she slept swaddled next to me or in her car seat or against my chest in the Bjorn carrier. Those were hard days, eons ago. I can’t imagine going through newborn days again. And yet.
I am in the baby aisle at Target, looking for a toddler bed for my son. He is now three. He can scale the sides; he’s ready to move from the crib. I tell myself if, somehow, I do have a miracle sex pregnancy I can always buy another crib. Scratch that: would love to buy another crib. Would love to buy all the baby things all over.
So why can’t I let this one go?
I also can’t yet box up the cloth diapers, the changing pad, the hands-free pumping bra. It means something bigger than it did when I boxed them up the first time, put them in storage, waiting on my son’s use. It means this is the end of babies.
What I am letting go of is not just the bittersweet memories of pregnancy and new motherhood but an identity that defined me for years. A woman who desperately wanted to mother. Every two weeks of every menstrual cycle thick with possibility. Now it mocks me. It is hard for me to say this because those years of my life were in many ways so terrible, years that pushed me almost over the edge. But desiring something so fiercely, that’s something I think I’d like back.
Settling in to quiet domesticity is harder than I ever thought. On a day-to-day basis, motherhood is both a joy and drudgery. It feels blasphemous to say that. It is hard work, having what you always wanted. Maybe this is just something resembling a midlife crisis, realizing that my twenties were graduate school and my thirties were making babies, and now at forty-two, life is good, really, but there needs to be more than driving kids home from debate team and grading papers and having meetings at work and then watching episodes of Homeland until I’m finally able to sleep. Is this really what I wanted all that time?
I’m spinning, mentally, like I did all those long drives back and forth to the clinic. Maybe all this is just figuring out the next thing. Or maybe the next thing is right here, and I just have to embrace it, sitting in bed drinking coffee while the kids are at school and the cats are asleep, snow thick on the ground that needs to be shoveled, Ella Fitzgerald crooning in the background.
I think about calling my ex, inviting him for a weekend. Miracle pregnancy sex. That would give me something.
My son kept me up last night. I am tired. Raw. Maybe this is grief. Maybe this is acknowledging that I am still infertile, and it was horrible and degrading and it almost broke me and as beautiful as my son is, as amazing, this light-eyed, light-haired boy-child was not part of the plan.
My son has a fake dad. He lives in a blue house that you can, apparently, see from my bedroom window. He says he has another sister and another mother who live there, and I really do try to take this all in stride except there’s this small part of me that wonders, how it would be possible, for this three year old to know that he really does have another brother and another sister and another mother who live somewhere, or did at least, nearby.
I chose an anonymous donor because I didn’t want to be confronted constantly with that reality, didn’t want to invite his second family to his birthdays, didn’t want to send cheery updates. Family is day in and day out. Family is thicker than blood, than double helixes of DNA. And yet when he talks about his dad in the blue house, the house of broken things, broken steering wheel, yapping dogs, I feel it in my gut or deeper perhaps, ovaries.
Grief is long, sometimes impossibly so. Sometimes it’s still there, even after the baby has moved out of a crib and into a big boy bed with Thomas the Train sheets.
Monday morning, I move words across the page, the cursor. My son is at daycare, my daughter the fifth grade. I have coffee, granola. I have a sleeping cat, maybe two, at the foot of the bed. The heat kicks on. There is an ache at the base of my shoulder blade that doesn’t ever go away; some days I can barely move my arm. On the map of the body, given to me years ago by the acupuncturist, it is the space that marks ungrieved loss. I reach over with my left hand, press through the tenderness until I feel the smallest release.