My twins start kindergarten next week.
As we engage in the back to school rituals – buying new clothes, finding the right backpack, adjusting to earlier bed times – my mind rewound the tape of my kids short lives and I lovingly lingered at every moment of their existence.
The life changing call from the nurse. First ultrasound showing two heartbeats. Four feet kicking me from the inside every night. Holding two beautiful, screaming newborn babies. Tummy time, first smiles, tentative first steps, garbled first words. Etc, etc.
Unable to comprehend that my little ones are old enough to start elementary school, my mind rewound the tape ever further back – to a long, difficult time when there were no kids running around the house, no adorable voices singing “Fight Song” from the back seat of the car, no one scrambling to sit in my lap and give hugs and kisses.
You see, for nearly ten years, I was the one out of every twelve couples who suffered from infertility.
My story is by no means unique.
In fact, you probably knew some version of me, as I went by many names.
Double Income No Kids. Workaholic. Avoids hanging out with friends who have kids. Links every major decision to (not) having kids. Stiff Upper Lip. World Traveler.
Depressed. Super Volunteer. Emotional. Overly sensitive. To name a few.
At first, there seemed no cause for concern. It takes a few tries, people would say. You’re too stressed, others would say. It will happen when you least expect it, still others would say.
Then one year became two, two years became three. Tests were run and results came back vague. The romantic notion of “it happened one night” was slowly replaced with hormone therapy and Intrauterine insemination (six in all).
Three years became four, four years became five. I found myself googling “fertility supplements” over and over, and considering alternative approaches like acupuncture.
Five years became six and six years became seven. I counted the days and months of injections and blood work, leading to the next In Vitro Fertilization procedure. With each failed attempt, I promised to study what went wrong to improve my chances for the next time. And I secretly wondered how many next times I could afford – emotionally and financially.
Seven years became eight and eight years became nine. I traveled the world seeking prayers, treatments, guidance and distraction from the crisis of my life. I walked around my house and wondered why I needed all these rooms.
Nine years became ten and one last try (four IVFs in all). Make it or break it, we were done and resolved to find happiness somehow.
Cue up the tape. The life changing call from the nurse.
My story is many people’s story. Some with the ending they hoped for, others with a different ending that has brought them even greater joy. Still others trying to figure out what ending will make them happy.
Whenever I meet versions of me – out in the community, at the grocery store, through mutual friends – I try to share a smile, a glance, even a meeting of the eyes. Any gesture that conveys, “I am you, and you are me. I know the pain of (y)our story.”
After all, had it not been for a community of caring individuals – from close relatives to dear friends to complete strangers – offering prayers, tips and resources, sharing the private versions of their lives – the story I am presenting here might have had a different ending.
So part of what I celebrate of this ten-year trial is the importance of connection, empathy and understanding. With people we know and with those we don’t. Because we are all versions of each other.
I think that is the best advice I can give my twins as I adjust the straps on their backpacks, hand them their carefully chosen lunch boxes and prepare to send them into the world.