They Are Not Here

The truth of losing my children to infertility

It was a sublimely gorgeous September day, the kind that is almost good enough to be summer, and definitely the kind that calls forth a gentle yearning to be somewhere other than where you are.

“This would be a great day for Greenport”, I said wistfully to my husband, as we headed out of our development to run an errand. He agreed and after a few moments of pause pointed out that he had a full staff at all of his locations that day. “Hmmm, and you know, I just shaved my legs….” I half sarcastically pointed out, somewhat startled that he actually seemed serious. About a minute later we were turned around, heading back to our house to get changed and run out for an impromptu day on Long Island’s north fork. We had quickly run through checklists in our head….businesses ok, the projects I’m working on could wait a day, and our house with no children in it would be just fine without us.

We sped off towards the Long Island Expressway heading east, sunroof wide open, our faces holding the subtle satisfied grins of someone who had just successfully robbed a cookie jar. For a moment I luxuriated in the light sense of luck that hovered around me. I then turned my attention to the also present lump in my throat, which delivered me to the parallel universe of the life we had wanted and worked so hard for. For as enticing as the scenario that I was living that day is, and for as grateful and appreciative as we are for it, our children are still and will always be missing.

Had our last fertility treatment worked our baby or babies would have come around this time. I’m not a big observer of due dates that never were. When you’ve got ten failed fertility treatments under your belt, your whole year is like one big freakin due date that never happened. But this last one I was aware of as it had a certain finality to it, so I pondered what I’d be doing today if only, if only…………Would I be anticipating a delivery? Would I be engorged with vivid hopes and dreams for the future? Hopes and dreams that today in my real life I haven’t yet let go of? But also can no longer harness as they now seem incomprehensible to me on a level? Or if one of my previous IVF’s had worked I’d be home, collapsing for a few hours here and there for some much needed sleep, delirious with the joy, honor, chaos, frustration and fear entailed in protecting my hard fought for off spring and leading them through the first perilous and sweeter than words months of their lives. What I wouldn’t give to be waking up five times a night and changing dirty diapers now.

During the first few minutes of our car ride my “well if I’m going to be denied children than I am sure as hell going to take advantage of EVERYTHING ELSE my life has to offer” spirit roared up inside of me. It was as if with turning around to indulge in a spontaneous day in Long Island wine country I was giving the spiritual finger to the powers that be who dole out babies in this existence. After all, I’m nothing if not efficient. And wholeheartedly irreverent.

But as the exits spread themselves farther and farther apart, buildings became sparser and land flatter, my trip to our parallel universe had my eyes filled with tears.

We get to do this, have this amazing day, because our children don’t get to exist.

It is clear the dreams that we had for this time and the months prior still resonate, each ping jostling my already well-worn and bleeding heart.

“Do you know how many people would give anything to be able to do that?” my Mom said the next day as I told her about our surprise trip. Very little that she says offends me as she has been one of our most dedicated supporters, and I don’t think she meant it in a bad way. It was just an observation, though I made sure to remind her that it’s not what we chose, it’s not what we worked for, and that it’s far from what we’d really like to be doing right now.

However it got me thinking. About those who would give anything, or so they think, to be in our shoes. Business wise, I can see the point. But being able to take off for the day, or me being able to take a couple of years to figure out my life after infertility comes after years of blood, sweat, tears, risk and sacrifice that we poured into my husband’s businesses. I try not to forget that we earned all of this, hard, fair, and square.

But for those who feel “tied down” by children who think they’d give anything to be able to take off for the day just don’t know. They think they want our life because they lack the capacity to imagine what it would be like to come home to a house that will be empty of children. Forever. They can’t envision milestones not existing – birthdays, graduations, all firsts. They are incapable of seeing a future with no grandchildren. Or the full feeling that comes from helping a child through a struggle becoming obsolete. And they overlook the most blatant truth. That, in terms of parenthood, having a broken heart tied to empty arms is perhaps the starkest of tetherings.

In my experience, each phase of infertility has presented a new myth to bust, a new misconception to take aim at. And sometimes well-meaning commentary from people that is just off. In this post fertility treatment phase it is, for me, being repetitively “informed” that I can have a great life without children. Really?? No shit.

I feel these comments come from a constructive supportive place. Yet, they make me want to scream. WHO CARES ABOUT A GREAT LIFE??? MY CHILDREN ARE NOT HERE!!!! AND I MISS THEM!!!!!

Although I’m sure I must do it to people all of the time, my impatient demanding side has a huge aversion to being told things I already know when I’m in dire straits. It’s like I’m trying to plow up an unforgiving raging river in an impotent raft and someone says “Hey, you know if you dip the paddle in the water and pull towards you……” AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

As someone whose demon is fear, strangely the greatest loss of my life has very little to do with it. For all of my flaws (it’s a long list so I won’t bore you), I’m one of the more creative and resourceful people I know. Building castles out of shit happens to be a thing that I do. But that’s not the point. Whatever I do, or don’t do, it will have to be without my children. Because whatever I do or don’t do, my children are not here. They don’t get to be here.

My fears over not being a mom are minimal. My fears over an old age with no family are minimal. My fears over a marriage with no children are minimal. I believe it is our dreams of and for our children that initially make us parents. I do not believe it is possible for a human being to work so hard to try to conceive without flying in the face of those dreams. Daily. The fact of the matter is that during almost four years of trying to conceive, one surgery and ten failed fertility treatments, along with the viewing of our twenty four beautiful and vibrant embryos, I fell in love with beings that don’t get to exist. And a future that will never be. THAT is losing your children to infertility. I lost my children. This is why I’m sad. This is why I grieve. And this is why I am incapable of doing jumping jacks when I’m told of the great life I can still have.

Do we immediately point out to children who lose their mothers what a great life they can have without them? Yeah, hey, sorry that having a mom thing didn’t work out, but did you know you can have a wonderful life without yours? Or do we tell someone who just lost their spouse what great life they can have WITHOUT the love of their life? Bummer your husband died unexpectedly but hey the lives of our single friends are just crazy wonderful!! Does someone who suffers the unjust blow of losing their physical children get told “Isn’t it great you’re free to travel now”?

I’m open to the possibilities that do exist, yet I’m well aware of and hurt deeply for the ones that no longer do. My children are not here. My children that I worked for, fought for, hoped for and dreamed about. For years of my life. They are not here. They are not here. They are not here.

Epilogue: The morning after I read this piece to my husband he told me about a dream he had just had. He and I had a young daughter that we had to sacrifice for some unknown reason, so essentially in the first part of the dream we were preparing her for her death. At one point it hit my husband that there was no “why” for the fact we had to give her up and he pulled our daughter into his arms to assure her he would never let her go and that she was safe. In the dream he hugged her long and tight and sobbed profusely, and then eventually awoke with a (very real) pain in his heart. “I never knew the heart could physically hurt like that” he said.

“Exactly” I kept saying as he was recounting the dream, tears rolling down my cheeks. I hurt for his pain, yet am mildly comforted that he too wrestles with the unrelenting abyss between the life we dreamed of and our physical reality. I am mildly comforted that at least the child in our dreams has a remarkable Daddy, but as I walk out into a world that contains anxious expectant parents wondering if they’ll be good enough, I hurt for the wonderful parents I know without a doubt we would have been.

MY IMMORTAL/BY EVANESCENCE/I’m so tired of being here/Suppressed by all my childish fears/And if you have to leave/I wish that you would just leave/Your presence still lingers here/And it won’t leave me alone/These wounds won’t seem to heal/This pain is just too real/There’s just so much that time cannot erase//When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears/When you’d scream I’d fight away all of your fears/I held your hand through all of these years/But you still have all of me//You used to captivate me by your resonating light/Now I’m bound by the life you left behind/Your face it haunts my once pleasant dreams/Your voice it chased away all the sanity in me/These wounds won’t seem to heal/This pain is just to real/There’s just so much that time cannot erase//I’ve tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone/But though you’re still with me/I’ve been alone all along

8 thoughts on “They Are Not Here

  • “I fell in love with beings that don’t get to exist. And a future that will never be.”-heartbreaking and real. I had a different experience with pregnancy losses and am also lucky to have surviving children, so I have not walked in your shoes. But I am very moved by your words and the two realities you’re living.

  • As I read about the pain and loss your family is enduring my heart breaks with wanting to write you a different story. I know the “oh but you can have a great life” crap is terrible, and maybe my reaction is just another version of that. It’s a defensive reflex against how unjust this is. So for whatever internet stranger sentiment is worth these days, know there’s one of them out there shaking her fist at the universe for you because it’s all I can do.

    Also, if you have the notion, you would write a hell of a book. Had to be said.

    • Knowing someone out there perceives the injustice is worth a lot! So many of us humans have to deal with it in our lives in one form or another, mine happens to come through the channel of infertility. I know in time I’ll find something worthwhile to do with the unfairness (at least some of it), but in the meantime the vision of a stranger shaking her fist at the universe brings a very satisfied smirk to my face:-) Thanks for reading, and for commenting.

  • This is really powerful. I’m going through some similar emotions right now — I recently lost my job. My husband lost his job last year and just sent in the paperwork to claim his pension. So here we are, essentially retired at 53 and 57. Autumn through Christmas was always my busiest, most stressful time at work — and so I have been revelling in day trips to take in the beautiful fall colours and not having to get up at 5 a.m., etc. I know a LOT of people are envious of me & dh right now — who gets to retire in their 50s these days? Part of is the luck of us both having two long-term well-paying jobs with two good defined benefit pension plans — part of it is good savings habits and being careful with our money — but not having had children to feed, clothe & educate is also a major part of the equation. I feel like we earned all of this too — and yet we would trade it all in a heartbeat & work until 65 or beyond if it meant we could have kept our daughter with us. Thanks for an amazingly eloquent post.

    • I completely understand the knowing that you would “trade it all in a heartbeat”. It’s a strange experience when good things exist because bad things happened. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  • Sarah, this is the single most amazingly poignant blog I have ever read. I have never been interested in following a blog, and now will be bingeing on yours like a Netflix series. I thank you for sharing, as you have somehow plucked my struggles right out of my head, heart and being, expressed them in a way I never could, and given me something to share with family/friends to try to bring awareness to my everyday reality that ‘they are not here’.

    • Wow Koira – I almost don’t know what to say. Please know your comment found me in a place of inertia and snapped me out of it a bit in reminding me why I keep going. So thank you.

      If you ever feel like it, I’d be curious to know how the family and friends sharing goes.

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