Saturday, May 10, 2008

Motherhood, Part II: Creating Relationships Without Sharing Labor Stories

I have been pregnant Five times. I have given birth to children that have lived Four times. Each of the Five has rocked me to my core.

I have endured my greatest physical pain. I have felt the overwhelming relief and joy as each baby slipped out of my body. I have gazed into my husband's eyes as he tearfully and gratefully held each child.

I have felt the twinge of fear when hushed and frantic whispers flew back and forth over my child. I have imagined the worst, while praying for the best, and releasing my emotions in a torrential rain of tears when my child began to cry.

I have felt the anxiety my midwife exuded in her face as she worked steadily to help my bleeding to stop. In a second, I have seen a glimpse of what life would be like for my children without their mother.

I have felt the pain of loss. I have had expectations ripped from my grasp while I struggled for understanding. I have planned for a future that changed within seconds --when the bleeding began. I have concluded that I have no control over something I had ignorantly assumed was simple. I have learned there is nothing simple about it.

Like many other mothers around the world, I have shared the same experiences: grief, heartache, joy, pain, love, relief, and wonder. I think for a lot of us, it's nice to share these stories, to relate to each other, and to learn from one another. Nothing gave me more pleasure than to hear about other mother's labor and delivery stories, especially when I was on the cusp of delivering a baby myself. I also enjoy sharing my stories with other women --especially if they are on the cusp of delivering a baby. Learning from each other's experiences gives us knowledge, and knowledge is power.

But as time has gone by, I don't talk about my labor and delivery stories without persuasion. It's not as close to me as it was the first time I experienced it. New mothers, have you noticed how obsessed you become with the whole process? How conversations are full of labor stories, epidural stories, episiotomy stories, doctors, nurses, birth weights, etc.? As time goes by, these stories will change into things about teething, sickness, walking, talking, weaning, and potty training. Next it will become school, sports, friends, lost teeth, homework, reading, and piano lessons. After that it's...well...I haven't gotten there, yet [I'm sure it will be riddled with teenage drama, if my life is to come full circle!]. Each stage in our children's lives represent each stage in our mothering, and thereby, the change in conversations and story-telling.

But what of those that do not have children? What of those that want to have children but cannot? What of them? They do not have the same experiences, nor should anyone have expected them to. For some, they would give anything to feel the pain and heartache, the joy and wonder. They spend many nights praying and sobbing and wondering why they cannot have the desires of their hearts. Some of them are bitter and have turned from God. Others are faithful and try to endure. Many adopt children and have all the blessings they have desired given to them in one simple moment. Many suffer in silence. Many sit and listen to labor stories and wait until they are alone before allowing their grief to be shown. Many are tired of it, too. Tired of hearing the labor stories they will never experience.

I want to share with you Five stories. I have not received permission from these women, so they will be vague and anonymous:

Friend Number One:
After trying several different methods, this amazing couple was unable to conceive. So, after much prayer, they decided to try adopting. To their shock and amazement, they only had to wait 4 months until a baby was given to them. A sweet, little boy who filled their hearts with such gratitude and joy!
One month later, imagine their utter disbelief when they found out they were expecting! Ten months after adopting their son, they were blessed with a little girl. Two children in one year --who would have thought?

Friend Number Two:
For reasons I will not give, this couple knew they would never conceive. Trying to be supportive of friends, she would attend baby showers --always leaving early before the "labor stories" would begin. She hid her pain well, as many did not know of their struggles.
Now, years later, they are the proud parents of 2 little girls. Beautiful girls, two years apart, adopted with love. They are a beautiful family, and even though there is no bitterness, talking about labor stories is still awkward for her...

Friend Number Three:
It has been almost 8 years, and yet there are no children. Eight years of hope, fertility treatments, prayer, and longing. They are still waiting for the right answer, and they are still wondering if they will be the parents they long to be. As each year passes, the bitterness ebbs and flows...sometimes rising to the surface with such a vengeance that they feel unable to cope.

Friend Number Four:
She has three beautiful children. Expecting she would always have a bigger family, imagine her devastation when she was met with what is referred to as "second infertility" --a constant string of miscarriages. Desiring a big family was her greatest desire...she wanted many children! Grateful for the children she does have, her grief is still real --so tangible, she suffers with such a sorrow that is not easily relieved.

Friend Number Five:
[This is actually about four separate friends of mine.]
Nearing age 30, she is well aware of the fact that she is "still" single. She works hard, has a fulfilling life, loves the Gospel, graduated from college, and even served a mission. She enjoys children and asks her friends about their kids' lives. She loves her nieces and nephews and babysits whenever she gets the chance. But she longs for her own family; her own husband, her own children. She has tried --and keeps trying --to do whatever it is the Lord wants her to do, hoping that one day she will have what she wants the most: A Family.

Every single one of us know these women. They are our sisters, our cousins, our old roommates, our aunts, our friends, and our co-workers. They are our neighbors, our visiting teachers, and our children's leaders. They are a part of our lives, and they desire the same thing: To Be Mothers.

What if, instead of wallowing in labor stories, we were very careful of the words we use around each other when it comes to Motherhood? What if, when we find ourselves speaking to a friend who suffers in silence, we tell them about our pregnancies instead of letting them hear it through the grapevine? What if, instead of complaining about our children, we pray and hope that the same blessing will be given to our friend? What if, when we feel the need to apologize for having children while our friend does not, we just be grateful and talk about something else?

What if the basis of connecting with each other wasn't always reliant upon shared experiences, but a love for each other as sisters and daughters of God?

Dear reader, I hope this post doesn't come across as preachy. You are wise, and kind, and I'm sure you understand my point of view. It's just that I have seen the embarrassment experienced by women who "didn't realize" and the severe pain inflicted upon those who suffer with infertility or are longing for marriage. If the "moral" of this post offends you in some way, or if you feel guilt, I apologize. My intent was to show a different side to the dilemma face by many women in the world --infertility is a nasty monster, and compassion tends to be the only soothing balm.

I shared two links in my last post that were written by women who suffered with infertility. If you would like to read them, you can find them in my previous post (at the end of the post)...if you already read them, I encourage you to read them again. They are powerful in teaching us what it feels like to suffer --and then to be healed!

Have you ever suffered from infertility? Have you wished you could be married and bear children? How have you dealt with this challenge? Have you ever found yourself suffering by what others have said, or unknowingly causing suffering? Do you have any advice you could share that would help those wanting to be more aware and sensitive to this issue?


Lanette said...

Beautiful post Cheryl! We miss you...

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

Beautifully written Cheryl. There's a reason that your's is the first blog I check everyday. :)

So I have been on both sides of this dilemma. I have been the one to stick my foot in my mouth (more than I even realize, I'm sure), as well as being the one who suffers silently.

After Wild Boy #3 and the permanent nerve damage to my left leg that came with him, I was told by my legion of doctors that I would have a high chance of being paralyzed from the waist down if I ever became pregnant again. Also, I was/am on pain meds/nerve regulation meds that would cause severe deformations in a fetus. Effectively, I was told that I would never have any more.

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, "So, when are you going to try for that girl?" This happens so much more in Utah, I think it's a cultural thing. Anyway, I usually just say, "Oh, three is enough for me" or "There are enough hormones in the house with just me." But inside I feel sad. I know people mean well, but I agree with you Cheryl, that we should be more careful.

I think the pain of "not having a daughter" is compounded for me because I actually do have a daughter. She is sealed to her amazing adoptive family, and we exchange pictures and letters every year. I chose to place her for adoption because I knew I was giving her a better life, but that doesn't mean that I didn't want so desperately to be her mother. For many years I didn't share this with many people. But that meant that I didn't get to brag about how I delivered my actual first child on pitocin without an epidural. Or how I have delivered 4 children, not just the 3 you can see.

What blogging has done for me is to remind me of who I am personally, not just as somebody's mom. I love that I can get to know others without having to have anything in common...and I love realizing that I do have other things in common with my blog friends than just motherhood. Trust me, I'm not dissing being a mom at all, or the bonding that CAN happen when swapping labor stories. I'm just advocating the idea of being more open-minded and aware of those around us. :)

Now, can somebody help me down from this soapbox? You now, bum leg and all. :D

Jill said...

What a beautiful post, Cheryl, and mother of the wild boys, WOW! What a strong woman you are.

I struggled to get pregnant. After we had been married two years, we decided that it was time to have a baby. We tried for a year before we had extensive testing (paying out of pocket because our insurance didn't cover "infertility" treatments that were really just tries at diagnosing the problem) and being told that it was unexplained infertility. Countless people asked when we were going to start our family. I would lightly respond that when Heavenly Father was ready for us to be parents it would happen. Every time, it cut my heart. In the spring of 2005, after having been married almost 4 1/2 years, we contacted the state adoption agency in Nebraska. While working our way through that packet for application, we were shocked to find out I was pregnant. Emery was born in November. Just after Emery turned one, we were surprised again to find out we were expecting Chani.

I never ask about when people are starting or adding to their family. I do listen, though, and try to listen for what is implied but maybe not said. If I think it will help, I share my experience. I belong to a fantastic group of women who have suffered from infertility, and they are bonded together in a way I can’t explain. I have seen their love and compassion as strong as, if not stronger than, in the sisterhood found in our church.

Even though it didn’t happen the way I expected, I am grateful for my experience, and that it took me 5 years to become a mom. I know that the plan Heavenly Father has for me is much bigger than my own, and trusting in his love and power will bring me the greatest happiness I could ever find.

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

Jill, what an amazing testimony and motherhood story. Sometimes it is so hard to trust our Heavenly Father's plan, but the rewards are worth it. (your two sweet rewards are adorable!) Thanks for sharing. :)

Amanda said...

Great post, Cheryl and great comments too.

We had no problems conceiving baby #1, and for some reason we couldn't get pregnant again. We did fertility treatments until the next step was IVF. We decided to not try IVF, as adoption was about the same price and gauranteed us a baby. We were blessed with our daughter a couple of months later. They told me that I wouldn't get pregnant again, so imagine my surprise when I went in for a yearly check up, and I was pregnant.

Thanks again, Cheryl, this has me thinking!

Amanda said...

One other thing I was thinking of is that when we were trying for baby #2, my SIL found out she was pregnant. They didn't tell us because they were afraid that we would be hurt by it. What hurt me was that they didn't know that we would be happy for them. I was thrilled for them. When I saw other pregnant people (and it seems like EVERYONE is pregnant when you are trying) it made me sad, but overall I was happy for them.

Julie said...

I have not struggled in any way with infertility, but I am very close to someone who has. In the time she has been trying I have been pregnant 4 times. At first it was so difficult to know how to tell her. This time around, she & her husband were the first ones we told, even before our parents. It was incredible to see the difference. They so appreciated that we didn't try to hide the inevitable and that we shared our joy with them. They have had 2 unsuccessful attempts at in vitro and two adoptions fall through very late in the process. It has been incredibly painful for them and those who love them. One of the greatest lessons they've taught us is that life keeps moving forward.
Mother of the Wild Boys -- can I just thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so generous and giving the parents of your daughter that incredible gift. My constant prayer is that a young woman will make that unselfish and truly Christ-like decision on behalf of my dear friend. Thank you thank you thank you for your decision.
And Cheryl, thank you so much for this post. I want every person in the church to read it!

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

Julie, thanks for those beautiful words. It's so comforting to hear, and helps me be less nervous in sharing. :) I agree that everyone in the Church should read this post...thanks for writing it Cheryl!

m&m said...

I hope I don't take away from this post...I had some additional thoughts on this, but my comment got too long, so I put it on my blog.

Lisa said...

I hope it's OK if I post even though I don't know you--I was surfing and came across your blog. Discussions on infertility always spark my interest.

I've been married almost 13 years, started to ttc after 3 weeks of marriage. We have two children through adoption; our oldest came after 5 years of ttc and then 2 years of adoption efforts.

I think there is a balance between modifying our conversations to avoid hurting people and being able to be real about our own lives. I understand that pregnancy and birth are life-changing experiences, and that women need to talk about them. I think the greatest care needs to be taken when in group settings, where almost all in the group have shared experiences, but one or two are left out. I do pretty well with pregnancy and birth conversations if they are one-on-one between me and someone else, but I still feel those old familiar pangs of resentment and envy when I'm in a group and realize that everyone else has as bond that I don't share.

Infertility is also a life-changing experience, but there are few opportunities to use that experience to connect, like there are with mothering experiences. On the contrary, infertility breeds isolation, and I think that is very dangerous, both emotionally and spiritually. I would love it if both pregancy/birth and infertility could be openly shared in a connecting sense. I have learned to open and and share my experiences, and mostly it has been a good thing. However, at times I feel like other women think I am complaining or bringing down conversations. Maybe they don't think that at all, but I worry about it. However, I can't keep silent on the thing that has impacted my life more than anything else.

As I've progressed through infertility, I've cycled through different stages in my tolerance for certain kinds of conversations. At times when the grief and anger were too intense, I couldn't handle any talk about birth or motherhood. I think it's important to be sensitive to and respect a woman's feeling when she's in this stage. I got a lot of lectures from well-meaning friends and family, things like "well, you just have to learn to be happy for other people". In a sense, that was a true statement, but at that time in my life I was not capable of feeling happy for anyone else, my own feelings were so overwhelming.

On the other hand, I've seen what happens when a person gets so stuck in their own trials that they make everyone's life around them difficult. I think there's a difference between being sensitive and having to walk on eggshells. I have a sister-in-law who has never married and is so bitter about that and other challenges that she has literally stopped speaking to each of her siblings and their new spouses when they've gotten married. I knew how much that hurt me when I was the recipient of that treatment, and I vowed during my infertility grief never to get to the point where I would ruin my relationships with my family members.

As an adoptive mother, I do wish that conversations about babies could branch away from birth once in awhile. :) I had an experience once in a parenting group. The women, all LDS, were sharing birth stories. One other mother and I shared our stories of our children's adoption journeys and placements. The stories were extremely well-received. However, I had shared some of the feelings I felt upon seeing my son's birthmother say goodbye to him. It was a profound part of my own "becoming" a mother to be in that sacred setting (which was every bit as intense as a birth). I was surprised when there were many responses to what I had shared, but every single one of those responses was talking only about his birthmom and her role. Now, I was there--I was awed, amazed, and humbled by her sacrifice and by what transpired at that placement. Nobody felt more deeply about her or about her experience than I did. Yet I was a little hurt that all these other moms identified more with her than with me. They did not see that this was not her story (she had her own, and it wasn't mine to tell), it was MY story--my "becoming a mother" story. Yet all they could think about was how they would feel if they had to birth a baby and say goodbye. On one hand, I was glad that they could in some sense appreciate her sacrifice and have respect for her, but on the other hand, I felt like they missed completely MY process of entering motherhood--they couldn't even relate to it. That was a huge reminder that I was still "different", still left out.

Sorry these thoughts are kind of long and rambling.

Leslie said...

I know this comment is late (since I have been away from blogging for a few days), but yes...I have wished to be married but wasnt. I have struggled with infertility. I have experienced many of the emotions you discussed.

My advise to anyone who struggles: Remember the Lord knows YOU. He is aware of your suffering and He also knows what challenges you can handle. Trust Him, trust His timing, put your hand in His and let Him lead you. He loves you more than you can know!

Cheryl said...

You are always welcome to leave long comments! And welcome to the discussion. I'm glad you came, because your experiences are important.

Thank you for your post over on your blog...!

MotWB, Amanda, Leslie, Julie, and Jill-
THANK YOU!! I loved hearing about your own struggles and thoughts. They mean a lot to me...

Michele Davis said...

Between having Hailey and Brooklyn, I lost a baby at 20 weeks of pregnancy. It was especially hard because everyone in my ward knew, and no one talked about it to me or even talked to me. It was like they didn't know what to say so no one talked to me at all. It was very hard and I felt like such an outcast. If I hadn't had my best friend who had gone through exactly the same thing right before I met her (Heavenly Father knew I would need her) then I don't know what I would have done.

Another thing I have a hard time with is people that make insensitive comments because you have a lot of children. I understand that it is hurtful when you don't have kids and want them for people to ask you about it. But at least they are mostly well meaning and not meaning to hurt your feelings. Well as a mother of 6, I get people that are snotty, sarcastic and down right rude. They say stuff like: are they all yours?!! (i say yes - insert look of horror from other person) are you going to have any more? (possibly, we don't know yet - insert REALLY horrified look from other person) Are they twins/triplets, whatever? (no- insert extremely shocked look from other person) and my favorite? All the people that say you do know what causes that right? (why, didn't your parents tell you?) or telling my husband that he needs to get "fixed" (obviously nothing is broken) because the world is over populated. One person that said that was pregnant!! I now have a shirt I had made that I like to wear when I go out. It says "No, they're not all mine. I gather up all the neighborhood kids, then go shopping."
Sorry for my little rant. I just wish people would understand that people who have lots of kids have feelings too. :)

Cheryl said...

AMEN! I actually wrote a post about that (and I only have four kids!) and you can read about it here.

m&m said...

And Michele, Elder Oaks and Sister Beck even commented on people commenting on people's family size in the Worldwide Leadership Broadcast. Hope more people heard that reminder. :)

As for me and my house, we rejoice in large families, even if we haven't been able to have one! YOU GO GIRL(S)!