Your Life, My Life, Shared Life

Dear Sherah,

Last week (exactly a year after I wrote that piece about secondary infertility that you referenced in your last post), a man I had just met asked me a very direct, very personal question.

"Is there any chance you're pregnant right now?" 

This is one of those situations in which context is everything. The guy was a Physician's Assistant, and he was asking because he wanted to give me steroids, muscle relaxers, morphine, and an x-ray for a back injury. But even so, hearing that question come out of someone else's mouth was almost eerie. I've lived with that question ringing in my head almost every day for the last two years. I've turned down drinks at social events, avoided certain medications when in doubt, and popped prenatal vitamin after prenatal vitamin. I've felt my hopes rise and plummet and plateau, over and over and over. I've texted my best friend on the first day of my last twenty-four periods, utilizing the full spectrum of emojis. One month I'm outraged, another month I'm strangely relieved, the next month I'm heartbroken, the following month I'm at peace. (Okay, fine, "cranky and annoyed," not "at peace." No matter how zen I'm feeling about infertility, a period is still a period.) 

You know that bit of brave recklessness you have to summon before trying to have a baby? That center of the seesaw between terror and desire where you balance, a little wobbly, wondering whether you'll pull this off before you change your mind? How I went from there (knees bent and barely standing) to here (the confusing world of fertility testing and treatment options), I'm not quite sure. 

But I am sure about this. That lavish grace you were talking about? I've discovered and experienced it in so many ways these past two years. I've experienced it in quiet, precious moments with my one little boy, when we're snuggling nose-to-nose and my heart is bursting with enough. I've experienced it in the embrace of my husband—a place where both of our disappointments added together somehow feels lighter. I've experienced it in prayer and music and long walks, and in all twenty-four of those text conversations with my best friend.

But one of the ways I've experienced grace most has been in celebrating other pregnancies and babies. You and other friends have gently shared your happy news with me, and I'm grateful for the sensitivity. But I don't feel the stab of disappointment or jealousy in that moment—just genuine happiness. And the only reason I can come up with is grace. 

While we were trying to get pregnant with Anders, one of my best friends announced she was pregnant on the same day that (unbeknownst to her) I took a negative test. I remember how I felt, swallowing my disappointment, trying to say all the right things, feeling intensely jealous. "We weren't even trying!" cut like a knife. And then, a month later, I found out I was pregnant with Anders the day after she miscarried. Another friend accidentally broke the news before I could find a way to gently tell her. While we were both at the hospital visiting another friend who had just had a baby. 

This is the part of womanhood that I never picked up on when I was little girl, watching my mom and her friends have babies. It all looked so simple, so straightforward. Grow up, have babies. But it's not that simple and nothing about it is easy. Comparing one woman's experience to the another is useless and fragmenting; we're all in this together. From the 30-something woman who doesn't know whether she'll ever have kids to the mom of four littles and every woman between or beyond: this isn't easy. Even if the decision to have a baby is yours to make, making that decision is scary for some of us. Even if the decision is easy for you, getting pregnant can be difficult. Even if getting pregnant is a piece of cake, growing a human is a nine-month exercise in faith. Even if you have a healthy pregnancy, childbirth is painful and dangerous. And even if childbirth goes well and your baby is healthy and none of your worst fears are immediately founded: your heart (as they say) now exists outside of your body in another human being for the rest of your life. It doesn't get any freaking easier from there. 

You know what does make it easier? When we share it. When we offer our joys and struggles and stories as women without fear of being disqualified or shut down. When I can share what it felt like having a male nurse report that the pregnancy test came back negative, and when you can share what it felt like when someone called your growing body "fat." When there's space for both of those experiences in the same conversation and the same friendship, neither one putting the other "into perspective" but letting them each just be, it's easier. 

(Not easier—I should stop saying easier. It's better. It's bigger and richer and better.)

More and more I'm coming to realize that stories don't belong in a hierarchy and other people's lives are not a lens by which to view or assess my own. Your life is your life, my life is my life, and then there's this sweet spot between us of shared life; this whole extra space we create when we do life together. I'm not happy for you, my friend; I'm happy with you. And I'm tickled pink that we're adding a precious little girl to this shared life of ours.

Thank you, thank you, for always making space for me.