I’d like to introduce you to my 5-headed Infertility Beast. As one who has experienced four pregnancies and zero live births, my infertility appeared in the form of recurrent miscarriages. But, any form of infertility can bring a Beast along with it, and every person’s Beast is a little different.
Let’s talk Beast noggins (listed alphabetically).
Head 1: Betrayal
To understate it, miscarriages can be rough—all the first trimester misery that abruptly ends in death, followed by even more intense misery. You endure the hormones, the bleeding, the doctor’s visits and blood draws, the pain (emotional and physical). And when it happens over and over (and over and over) again, you kind of just look at your body in the mirror or, like me, wildly grab a handful of flesh from your mid-section and yell, “What the heck, Body? Get it together!” But, sometimes, no amount of natural hormone balancing, eating the right things, exercising, or praying is going to make a difference. Your body just isn’t going to cooperate, and, after doing all the right things for so long, you often can’t help but feel betrayed by your own body. When the Betrayal head strikes, it will keep you in that place of feeling betrayed, or bring it up if you have somehow managed not to think about it for a while. It will introduce general distrust and disgust toward your body, it will keep you from liking your body and appreciating it, and it will have you wishing you had another body. The Betrayal head will also lunge at you with other kinds of betrayal. Maybe you feel God let you down, and you were betrayed by a faith that promises the fulfillment of desires.
Head 2: Entitlement
The Entitlement head had me in its jaws for a good while… After all, first comes love (Christian love, abstinent, and let’s call it courting), then comes marriage (again, virginal, denoted by the white dress, in a church, gospel message stealthily inserted into the service, the whole nine yards), then comes the baby in the baby carriage. Of course, the baby will come because we did everything “right” and now God is eager to bless our union with children. The Entitlement head won’t snap and snarl at you like Envy will (see below). Oh no, Entitlement will nuzzle up to you and whisper all sorts of pleasing things about you into your ear—all the reasons why you deserve a baby. And, especially now that you’ve endured the absolute hell of recurrent miscarriages, how you’ve earned that baby. It’ll affirm all the reasons why your miscarriages were so unfair. When it is being particularly vicious, it may even tell you all the reasons why certain other people don’t deserve a baby as much as you do. And you find yourself drawn in by agreement, by the smack of authenticity to it all. Entitlement says all the right things and delicately scoops you into its jaws, practically cradling you there as it slowly, numbingly, devours your humility and your perspective.
Head 3: Envy
The pregnancy announcements, the baby shower invites, the dimpled cherub in the cart ahead of you in the check-out line—when Envy strikes, you sense that feeling creep into the pit of your stomach and into your throat. It’s the well-rehearsed, cheery-on-the-outside but-weary (or-devastated)-on-the-inside smile and “Congratulations!” The genuine interest and, yet, concurrent internal cringing that occurs when your girlfriends get going on birth stories or baby spacing or complaints about pregnancy or newborn-induced lack of sleep or (probably the most cringe-inducing), gender selection methods. The Envy head strikes fast and often and is probably the most predictable of all the heads, although that is little consolation, really. It still gets you every freaking time.
Head 4: Grief
Disclaimer: When I refer to “grief” in this section, I am not speaking of the “grieving process” or the healthy aspects of grief that are necessary and helpful. I am talking about The Beast.
The head of Grief sometimes acts as a gatekeeper and it also acts in extremes. One moment, it smugly denies you “the right” to properly grieve your baby (or babies) lost to miscarriage and helps you stuff your feelings and “get over it.” The next moment, it unleashes a deluge of pain and sorrow and tears that threaten to overtake you. The Grief head will constantly compare your loss to the losses of others that seem so much more significant and grief-worthy. It will silence you, isolate you, create anxiety and doubt, and chip away at any sense of hope or dignity. When the Grief head strikes, it can also play with your mind. You may even start to question if you were ever really pregnant, especially for those of us familiar with early losses and were never able to see or hear a heartbeat or any other “concrete” evidence of our babies’ existence. And yet, Grief will also wake you with a start in the middle of the night because you swear you hear a baby crying. It happens. You’re not crazy. The Grief head just wants you to think you are.
Head 5: Immortality
During my first worldviews class in college, I read Socrates’ philosophy of childbearing and immortality. He explained that, in childbearing, we are actually fulfilling a desire for immortality; having children is a way of allowing a piece of us to live on. It makes sense, even though this may prove a somewhat self-centered and vain motivation to procreate. Even the wide-eyed, naive, 18-year-old me, brand new to the adult world and also new to Socratic philosophy knew the whole notion felt a bit off and kind of icky. So, I determined then that I would not worship the fertility gods at the altar of immortality, no matter how “natural” it may seem. Having done my homework on this one years before I was introduced to my Beast, I thought I could steer clear of that sneaky Immortality head pretty easily. Yet, following the fourth miscarriage and our choice to completely close the door on biological reproduction, the Immortality head was the first to strike.
If you have a Beast of your own, maybe it has different heads. Perhaps it has more or fewer heads than mine. The Beast can be vicious and unpredictable; thankfully, it can also be tamed. Taming the Beast will be the topic of a future post.