When I was a little girl, I had tons of doll babies. Each one unique, special, and named- I had triplet babies, babies that looked real, babies that could crawl, and one little baby doll (A Magic Nursery baby, for all my 90’s friends!) that was a preemie, and well, my favorite. (Oh if only my 9 year old heart could have known then…) I had babies, babies, babies…and as I grew, I always thought that I’d be a momma to many. A baby for both hips, and one wrapped around my leg, toddling along. That was my picture of my perfect mommy life.
It’s funny how life has a way of changing your pictures.
At 16, I received my full diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis, and with it, my picture was ripped to a thousand tiny pieces. I was told the crushing news that children would not be in my future. It was a devastating blow, even at 16. I wanted children. I remember watching Juno shortly there after, and falling apart when Jennifer Gardner’s character explains how her first adoption fell through because the mother changed her mind. I saw my future self in that character- a devastated young woman, trying to start her family, and relying on the hope that another mother would give me her baby. It was just too much. I curled up into a ball on my bedroom floor, which is where my dad found me a few minutes later when I crawled into his lap and sobbed until there was nothing left to say and no tears left to cry. He probably doesn’t remember the moment or the conversation, but I carry those words with me, even today:
“Don’t you give up. You don’t know what you’re up against. We don’t know your story yet.”
Into adulthood, I learned more, and found that while it wasn’t impossible, it may as well be. The risks were higher, and the probability of conception was far lower- in a few words, I was a long shot. Another chapter in my story. And so, it came as no surprise to me, that when I met my now husband, I laid it all on the table very early on. I needed him to know, and I needed him to understand what any type of future for us might involve. I needed someone who would be open to heartaches that came along with not being able to have children of our own, and that could see a future with adopted children, regardless of how difficult that road may be. Lucky for me, I had found someone that wanted a life with ME regardless of what children we did or did not have, even if our children were furry and had 4 legs. (which, we do have an adorable little fur baby… our first born, as we call him.)
When we thought about starting to plan our family, we had a lot of specialists to talk to, and a lot of testing. We knew the rules we had set into place for ourselves, and we held hands as we held our breath. We were given the green light, but were cautioned that we were about to go down a long road that would probably lead to a lot of heartache, torn emotions, and potentially shattered dreams. From what I heard, and what I had researched, even the healthiest of CFers could expect 5 years of struggles, a variety of fertility treatments, countless testing, and even then, could walk away having not conceived. This was our path- that painful chapter in a novel where the protagonist is faced with an internal struggle, and the reader roots for them to make it through to the other side…to come out stronger.
After a long, hard year of no luck, we knew it was time for phase 2 of our timeline. We had decided to take a little break to refocus our energy, our thoughts, and mend our hearts. We’d start fresh after a move into our new house, in the new year…I kept it light-hearted by using the Field of Dreams line “if you build it, they will come” as we searched for a house with a potential nursery. Then, the day I called to make our appointments with a fertility specialist and endocrinologist, our timeline and lives shifted- WE WERE PREGNANT!
I tried desperately to be a well-behaved pregnant woman. I quit coffee entirely, I stayed hydrated, I monitored my health and my little peanut’s health like a crazy person. I slept. I ate. I babied myself, and let myself be babied by those around me. I basked in the joy of an unexpected miracle. I had never felt more proud of my body than during those months, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, this would be something that would come easily for me after all. Maybe I could still have my torn picture of babies, babies, babies… and in my mind, I began to piece it back together with tape and glue.
Perhaps I should have known better. At 31 weeks and 5 days, I went into early labor for reasons unknown. I didn’t even realize it- honest- I got to 7 cm with only a few thoughts of “ow, this kind of hurts”. My little guy was hell-bent on arriving, and at 32 weeks and 2 days (4 days in labor and delivery!) he made his arrival. It had been the most terrifying 4 days of my life. 4 pounds, 8 ounces- tiny but fiesty. Thank God. We were all okay, but I knew… this was it for me.
My doctor confirmed my thoughts a few weeks later when he said I probably shouldn’t consider having more children. I nodded, because well, what else do you do at that moment. It would pose a series of risks for myself and for any future babies. It was technically POSSIBLE, but it would require bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy and even then, I’d probably still deliver early. Something to think about, as he put it.
And, if that wasn’t enough, the final nail in the coffin came 3 months following that appointment when my doctors discovered early stage cervical cancer. Not serious enough for chemo, radiation, or a full hysterectomy, but serious enough to warrant cutting out a rather large portion of my cervix and girlie bits. (As a side note, there is nothing QUITE as alarming as seeing smoke coming from your girl parts. Just in case anyone wondered.) I was told that this would render my cervix ‘incompetent’ when carrying a child. I laughed at this. REALLY laughed, and joked that “it was oh-so competent before!” It sort of broke the icy chill in the room that occurs when you have to tell a young woman that just started her family… that she’s done. My poor OB- he really is just the NICEST guy.
And so, now I am here in my story- 30 years old with an 11 month old and tons of people around me, ranging from extended family to total strangers, telling me that I know I want to have another baby… that “oh, you make such cute babies, you HAVE to make more”…and that my son needs a sibling. All of these are innocent comments, yet all of them cut me to the core. They see my picture and think it is incomplete. They don’t see how tattered my picture already is, or the story that goes with that little picture.
They can’t possibly know how many times that picture has been ripped apart and pieced back together- some of the pieces missing, and new pieces taking their place where we didn’t think the piece would fit. I look at it and see a beautiful and perfect picture. I know that my son will be my one and only baby. I watch him grow and feel a range of emotion- elation and joy at his “FIRSTS” and accomplishments, and sadness and sorrow to know that his firsts are also our lasts. You learn to appreciate all of the little moments that much more. I slow down. I let the laundry go some days, and focus on what matters, because these days are fleeting and precious. It’s a little bittersweet letting go of the other pieces of my old picture, and it’s hard for others to see it through my lenses.
Here is this tiny, precious boy that years ago, I was told would be impossible.
He isn’t the picture I saw at 8, and he wasn’t the image I saw of my future at 18.
He’s even different from the picture I saw at 28.
He was never the picture that I saw….
…but he’s so much more than any picture I could have imagined. And I know, our story has just begun.