Happy Birthday, Finally

An infertility survivor runs into contentment on her birthday……..

Oh, the unpredictability emitting journey through holidays while in the midst of a grieving process…….many of us know it well. Often an excruciating odyssey, dicey even when definable can be a best case scenario. There are many valid ways to maneuver oneself through this, though for me personally (and please don’t be shocked), I prioritize allowing whatever comes up emotionally coupled with the ever so important art of self – preservation.

Formerly my favorite “holiday”, my birthday had become just another casualty of infertility. And with having done fertility treatments over four consecutive Januaries (IUI #s 1 and 5, IVF #s 1 and 5), and twice having followed them with another round in March (IUI #2 and IVF #2), how could it have not? My quirky Aquarius/Pisces cuspy February 19th day always seemed to be surrounded by cesspools of fruitless baby making attempts.

I managed to throw a party for my 40th birthday a few weeks after failed IUI #5, but was showing serious signs of wear by that point. My 41st was the worst. About four weeks out of failed IVF #1 and gearing up for IVF #2 with a Feb 18 Dr’s appointment, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything except shower. I literally spent the day crying and staring at the wall, and went to my band rehearsal that night praying no one would know it was my birthday, as the last thing I needed was to burst into tears around people who wouldn’t get it. I met age 42 nineteen days after we lost our children. Knowing I couldn’t take it, I specifically told people to NOT call or send cards on or around that day. And although I’m normally a fan of facing reality, I chose to pretend this one just didn’t exist. Leaving for Vegas on the 23rd helped. Immensely.

So it took me by surprise this year when weeks ahead I felt like I wanted my birthday. Knowing all too well “expect the unexpected” should be grief’s slogan I took the wait and see approach. And two days before my birthday “it” happened. That unanticipated, unplanned feeling of annihilation, accompanied by dizziness, tears with no apparent provocation, and complete and utter listlessness. My new “holiday” feeling. I grudgingly figured I had stuff to process around this, so I was pleasantly surprised when the feeling began to ebb.

The night before my birthday, I was taken aback that I actually felt excited. I even didn’t sleep well because I was excited for my birthday – fancy that. It was a feeling I had not felt in so long I had trouble naming it, and believing it at first. But, I’m still a realist. Though I only had a chiropractic adjustment followed by a massage and then dinner in the city with my husband planned, anything can happen. I tempered my happy anticipation with gentle reminders of reality so as to not be shot down in my unexpected blaze of glory.

I know we’ve all been there. In that momentary state of unawareness that reminders of our losses are everywhere. Or intentionally getting out for a “break” in between failed rounds of IVF and knowing we “need” to have a good, trigger free time. Or, for many of us who have marched out of the main crisis of infertility with PTSD nipping at our heels, in that perpetual state of readiness.

Yes, I’ve often wondered how I’m supposed to get rid of my PTSD when it totally SERVES me on a major level. I’ve found it’s less damaging to anticipate the possibility of a heart impalement than to be seized from behind by one. So veteran that I am don’t think I didn’t wake up on my birthday that I was excited for expecting a pregnancy announcement, whether from a celebrity or someone in our outer circle, or in the form of one of those charming stork lawn ornaments that all too frequently pop up in my neighborhood. And don’t think I didn’t march into the restaurant that evening knowing full well we could be seated next to a pregnant couple, or someone cuddling a baby. I know those who are less sensitive to such happenings would look at the restaurant we went to and think I worried for nothing because no one would ever bring a baby to such a swanky place. Oh but think again, my little virgins, think again. Nowhere is safe. Heck I was half expecting that not only were the Duggars in town but that my husband and I of all people would be seated next to them. Or that I would, on my first seemingly happy birthday in years find myself over run by an all too exuberant midwife convention that would inevitably be going on in the hotel connected to the restaurant.


Though I know it’s easy to think I pull these scenarios from nowhere other than my over active mind, it is not wise to think things as seemingly unlikely don’t happened in real life. Anyone who has ever dealt with loss, especially an untimely one, can assure you they do.

Like the time my friend who, having been tragically and unexpectedly widowed a few years back and on her way to her first Camp Widow convention, was stuck next to a bride getting her hair trial in the hair salon. Only to then be “serenaded” by a string quartet playing the bridal march on her way through Penn Station. Seriously. Please.

There was the time I stopped by one of our restaurants after a “planned” (back when I was so naïve as to think I could) trigger free day on Long Island’s North Fork. Only to have to meet a VIP who launched into a description of this Anglo/Hispanic family she knows that we should meet because they have four beautiful children and we’d (my husband is from El Salvador) get to see what our gorgeous children will look like. Not able to recall what such a simple view of the world even felt like, I had to glare at her, stone faced, until she finally stopped talking.

And how about my bank vault moment? Attempting to pull out our last pile of cash in order to clear the massive drug bill for our fourth fresh IVF cycle in nine months, I not so surprisingly found myself almost alone in a bank vault. Many employees had come and gone, all who proclaimed they could “always get the tricky safe deposit boxes open”, but to no avail. And there I stood, childless, penniless, and void of sanity while infested with Lupron, listening to the one other person left down there talking.

“I hope you don’t need the money for some emergency.”

A kind thought, yes, but even diarrhea of the mouth me was not ABOUT to touch that one with a ten foot pole.

“I’ll be fine, thanks” I grumbled.

“Well, you know, it’s like I tell my kids….I’ve got one in seventh grade, and another in ninth……and I tell them during challenges that…….”

I couldn’t hear the rest. I was just a little busy simultaneously processing that this was actually happening while giving her the most disinterested stare I could muster. I was sure that if I had to listen to any more I would snap. I think some steam even shot out of my ears, which was probably a good thing since fertiles typically need way more than a subtle cue to get them to zip it.

So yeah, “You can’t make this stuff up”, as my brother always says. And I have no problem with these people existing. People who have and who talk about kids are an important part of life. What I do fault them for is that 99 times out of 100, they are profoundly unaware that people around them inevitably include those who have suffered miscarriages, are undergoing fertility treatments, and have altogether lost children they never got to meet. I have been consistently offended by the marginalizing expectation that those of us who have suffered early child losses somehow owe it to the world to appease the existence of those who haven’t. We don’t. I would be considerably less gutted by their presence if fertile people having even a minimal level of awareness and respect for those of us who are not so fortunate was the established social norm.

Having many miles to go in achieving this kind of social change, and still immersed in the raw phase of a grieving process, for the time being I’ve got no choice but to roll with what’s in front of me. And on the off chance things actually work out, I revel in it like nobody’s business.

“There are, like, no families with kids here” my husband said, as if in a valium induced dream like state. “Have I died and gone to heaven?” I mused as I floated across the restaurant dining room.

If there were such a thing as child free not by choice infertility survivor porn, this would have been IT. As it was, I was already internally moaning with pleasure as we were seated at our table.

It turned out there was one child present, but as my journey through involuntarily childlessness has unfolded I’ve discovered it is so NOT the kids that trigger. Plus she was a giddily talking, hair tossing, I’m out for a fancy dinner kind of 9 or 10 year old – a girl after my own heart if there ever was one.

In that trigger free space in time I became a person again. Just a happily married woman appreciative of her health, her passions, the people in her life, and of the time she gets to spend with them. That evening my husband looked like my husband instead of the face of our children we will never get to meet. In short, I got to luxuriate in what is instead of being pelted with what isn’t. And on my very own birthday nonetheless. What a gift.

The only other thing in life as rapture inducing as no triggers?  CHEESE.  Rich, pungent CHEESE!!!!
The only other thing in life as rapture inducing as no triggers? CHEESE. Rich, pungent CHEESE!!!!

And then the most beautiful thing happened. The hostess, unprompted, made it over to our table, pointedly smiled down at me, wished me happy birthday, and took my breath away when she said “I hope you live a long and happy life.”

Simple enough, yes, but I was so moved I (not a touchy feely person), reached out and touched her hand as I said thank you. A lump in my throat formed as I basked in this rare moment of pertinent human contact. Human contact that had nothing to do with explaining one’s child status, self-protection, misunderstood grief, having to let people know that where I’m at is not where they are at, or being forced to witness that which we lost. A moment that oozed with sweetness as the part of me that knows a long happy life is not guaranteed but still very possible was massaged by her gesture.

I must admit, I do not know what “healed” looks like for me, nor do I want to encage myself by defining that before I’m ready. What I do know for sure is that, in the meantime, I’ve surrendered myself the best that I can on any given day to the innately intelligent ability to process grief I believe is inside all of us. This means I feel how I feel, which is more often than not NOT easy. I didn’t want to spend New Year’s Eve lassoed by onslaughts of tears, fragile and depleted to the point where contact with my fellow humans would have only added to the hurt. Who does? But that was what it was, and given that 2014 was the year we lost our children, denying myself that moment would have been, well, MEAN.

I imagine “healed” entails some level of not being quite such a slave to the spin cycle of triggers that may or may not be around me at any given moment. Having decided to not superficially manufacture this process, my emotional gut will dictate the when and the how of this unfolding. For now, my expanded capacity to meet my obliterated moments has also forged a heightened ability to curl up in my joyful and even neutral ones. And that is something I’ll take.


11 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Finally

  • I never really comment on your blogs even though I ALWAYS read them, but on this one I must comment. I am so proud of the woman you’ve become, a far cry from the recent college music grad with bi-level hair of years gone by. You had a great birthday and in spite of everything that has happened, you glowed. I can feel it through your words. Although I know that we can never truly recover from life’s heartaches, I look forward to meeting you in the summer doing your favorite thing, eating cheese! OK, maybe it’s not your best favorite thing, life isn’t perfect but we can still have the simple pleasures of life, even if it is cheese (with a little wine). Happy Birthday again Sarah, you deserve it!!

    • Aw, thanks. How about we meet for cheese and wine in the spring?? Can’t wait. And many thanks for rescuing me from my early nineties bi-level haircut. I owe you for that……And one thing that hasn’t changed is that I loved your bluntness then AND I love it now too.

  • Happy Birthday! I’m glad that you felt like celebrating your birthday this year. Also, I need to commit “infertility survivor porn” to memory so that I can (hopefully) use it sometime!

    • I know you can do it. Feel free. And if it’s used in the form of a comeback, snarky commentary, or in defense of an infertile point of view of any kind, no need to credit me whatsoever. I’m more than happy to share.

  • Hey, Sarah. Happy belated Birthday!! Beautiful, poignant post — so appreciate all the ironies. I have one to share as well. On the day several years ago that I screwed up the necessary courage to be a speaker on a panel about the difficulty of reconciling infertility without children to a mommy blogger audience I discovered that to get to the “speaker green room” meant I had to walk by the lactation room. No sh*t!

    • Oh, friggen no.

      There’s such a thing as a lactation room? Damn it. Thanks for the head’s up, anyway.

      Speaking to a mommy blogger audience….I’m having a panic attack just thinking about it:-) Did you write a post on it? I’d love to hear an account, if you have one.

  • I’m pretty new to your blog, but have found that your experience and method of processing the grief is extremely similar to my own. I nodded my head all throughout all the posts of yours that I’ve read. I am glad you had a happy birthday and I wish you many – many – happy returns on the day!

    • Oh, thank you. It helps to hear that because #1) my grief (just like everyone else’s) didn’t come with an owner’s manual and #2) my first thought when I sit down to write is often that I have no clue how and if I’m going to be able to convey what I’m feeling.

  • Happy Belated Birthday! It is SO awesome to have those moments that are restorative,especially after a holiday/special day has been somewhat ruined for us by infertility. For me, it was Christmas…I used to love it, but having a hysterectomy 3 days before Christmas killed that feeling.

    I’m so so so happy you were able to go out, have a nice time in a kid-free environment. It looks like a lovely meal! I find that these types of “healing” moments often happen when we least expect it.

  • Look at you with all your comments on your blog now. Youre, like, famous. Loved this post. Im also beginning to feel this way too, lately. The past few months. I think its the very beginnings of the start to the start of something called healing – and dammit, do we ever deserve it.

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