I Struggle With Fertility—Here's What I Wish My Pregnant Friends Knew
I struggle with fertility. I can’t hide it, nor can I hide from it. After all, I'm a maternal-fetal medicine specialist who delivers babies and takes care of pregnant women. I'm who many of my friends turn to as soon as they get that positive pregnancy test.
I've been going through fertility treatments for two years now, but no one has really held back from telling me they're pregnant, asking pregnancy advice, or inviting me to pregnancy-related events.
I try to remain available — despite how difficult it can be to hear the news, see the photos, answer the questions, and buy a baby gift from a registry.
I'm not surprised, though. I was very available to everyone before I started trying to have a baby, and I have purposely tried to remain available — despite how difficult it can be at times to hear the news, see the photos, answer the questions, and buy a baby gift from a registry. I know I am a great obstetrician, and I know my friends trust my knowledge. I'm proud of that.
There is really no escape for me, though. I am surrounded by pregnant bellies every day.
I knew early on that if I let my inability to get pregnant consume me, I might lose my passion for a job that I love. I may ruin the relationship with my husband whom I cherish. I may lose friends who are going through the next phases of their lives and who recognize that they have something that I desperately want.
I have already lost so much through fertility struggles, but I refuse to lose everything. I refuse to let these challenges redefine who I am.
I realize that my friends might be hesitant to tell me their baby news or might even feel some guilt when the words leave their mouths. I sense it. I can hear it in their voices and see it in their faces. That sometimes makes the moment awkward, especially when they're so excited and then realize that they just told someone with fertility challenges that they are expecting.
Everyone struggling with fertility handles it their own way. Some people may not feel the way I do or handle it the way I’ve handled it. I think it’s important, though, for anyone who is struggling to let those close to them know how they really feel. So for those wondering how I might feel when you tell me you’re pregnant, here's what I want you to know:
1. I don’t feel angry, sad, or resentful.
I really don’t. My struggle with fertility has taught me many things. One is that having baby is a basic human endeavor — one that should be celebrated. It will continue to happen regardless of what my future holds.
I am truly happy anytime a child is brought into this world under the best possible circumstances, whether I'm delivering that child with my own hands or you're making a family. I choose to not occupy my mind with negative feelings about something that's so beautiful.
2. I do feel a bit jealous.
How can I not? I may have been fortunate to accomplish many things in my life that others never will, but I have yet to experience that basic human right that is childbirth. Something seemingly so simple and routine is something that makes me turn various shades of green. Something that many people take for granted, I see as a miracle.
I admit it: I get jealous.
3. Your pregnancy will remind me of my own struggle.
The toughest part, though, is when you catch me off-guard. When I am finally in a moment of not thinking about the fact that I have a hard time getting pregnant, and I'm suddenly jolted back into reality when you say, “I’m pregnant!”
After two years, I truly cherish the moments when I'm not living in my fertility struggles. I feel normal and am actually able to have a “good day." When I hear you're pregnant, I get a pit in my stomach and immediately feel panicked because I'm not there yet. I suddenly start to think, “Oh my God, I'm running out of time!”
My moment of peace is interrupted and that moment often doesn’t return. It’s not your fault. I am not mad at you. I am just reminded of my own reality—a reality that I'm trying to escape for just a moment.
Fortunately, these challenges have made me stronger in some ways. Although it's been by far the toughest thing I've ever had to go through, I know myself well. I know I will be okay no matter what happens. I want you to know that.
Overall, I am happy for you. I want you to be a good mom. I want you to cherish your miracle. But most of all, if you are my friend, I want you to never allow my fertility challenges to consume me or change who I am.
So, please believe me when I say I am happy you’re going to be a mama.
Shannon M. Clark, M.D. is a double board-certified Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist and OB/GYN at UTMB Galveston. She is the founder of Babies After 35, a site dedicated to fertility, pregnancy and motherhood after age 35. Clark is a women's health writer and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Glamour and Self Magazine.