Matt Oholendt was my first kiss, my high school best friend and the great love of my life before I even knew what that meant.
The fact that we were married at the ripe age of 21 and 23 surprised no one (aside from us) and while the majority of our friends chose to settle down and start their families right away, we had other plans.
Law school (him). Starting a business (me). Adventures, travels, a dog (or two) and as they tend to do, the years flew and by the time we looked up, it felt as if that time had arrived. We had aged, we had adventured, we had our first spotting of gray hair and maybe, just maybe, it was time to stop referencing ourselves as mom and dad to the dogs and actually become real ones to a tiny human who could actually call us that.
I, genuinely, thought it was going to be that easy. Pull the goalie, do the deed and let nature take its course? That’s what the movies had told me my whole life. That’s what 90% of my friends had experienced. Turns out that, for some, it’s just not that easy.
More than four years later, with (a lot) more gray hair, I look back at that version of myself with both nostalgia and maybe a little bit of “bless her little soul” sass. The Melissa who excitedly overshared with far too many people the week we decided to start “trying”. The one who planned her travel and work schedule around a baby that hadn’t been conceived yet. The girl who had no idea how her heart was about to face hardship like she’d never known before.
So let me introduce myself. My name is Melissa and I am barren.
It took me 8 months and a decent amount of verbal processing and friend-therapy to be able to say that out loud without simultaneously bursting into tears.
I’m other things too, of course. A photographer. A pretty ok wife. A Justin Timberlake fanatic. A truth-seeker. A champagne drinker. A reality TV watcher. A lover of all things home design. But the one descriptor that is still to-date noticeably absent?
Mother. I am not a mom, though my desire to be one far outweighs anything I’ve ever longed for in life.
Previous to having gone through it myself, I simply could not have understood the breadth and width of the insidious nature of infertility. To put it plainly, it spreads from a small blip on the radar of your life to a perfect storm of physical and emotional chaos that consumes every single bit of you.
In some ways, it must. The daily dedication to ovulation tests, doctor’s visits, blood draws, invasive testing, medicine and even the war you have to wage on your insurance company over coverage requires attention, vulnerability and a complete commitment towards the end goal.
But there are other ways in which it infiltrates your life that are harder to talk about. They are ways that even now, I shy away from talking about because often times it’s not the conversation people are expecting when they ask how you’re doing. (However, corner me with a glass of whiskey and a butterscotch budino from 112 Eatery and I’ll bare my soul to you.)
There’s a certain amount of hope that is absolutely necessary to get to the other side of infertility. The hope that this month could be different. The continued hope that those menstrual symptoms are actually pregnancy symptoms. The hope that gets you through the days where getting out of bed feels impossible and you wonder if it’s possible to get a sick day from life itself.
If that weren’t enough, the injustice you feel over your situation bleeds into your relationships and you find yourself short-tempered, snappy and prone to pick fights. Your sensitivity to all things pregnancy makes some of the people closest to you pull away for fear that their good news will hurt you. And in truth, it makes you pull away from the people you love because, yeah, sometimes their joy hurts.
And then there’s the outside world. And by outside world, I mean no disrespect, but you are a MF pill with your Facebook pregnancy announcements and your “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” shows. I’m not totally unconvinced that there might exist some conspiracy where every commercial or movie seems to showcase a pudgy face infant or woman about to give birth.
This one thing, that you didn’t know you wanted so desperately until you were there, haunts your every move, every interaction, every single hour of every single day. And trust me, those feelings are as involuntary as they are ugly.
It’s all pretty bleak, right?
That’s infertility. Or at least that is how it played out in my life. It took the happiest most optimistic gal you’ve ever encountered and turned her into a monster of her own making.
Those years of longing. Of wishing and praying. Of hoping. Of picking myself up off the floor when those same hopes are dashed. The weeks where even the daily act of fulfilling responsibilities and acting like a normal human being felt impossibly difficult. Living in the in-between of where you are and where you so desperately want to be. It hurts on a level that, even now with distance and perspective, I don’t have the words to describe.
Which brings us here.
It’s reported that 1 in 8 couples will struggle to achieve or maintain pregnancy. A (very) massive 12% of women in the United States (of child-bearing age) battle the emotions and identity issues that come alongside infertility.
I look at a room filled with women so differently now than I did four years ago.
In the depths of our unanswered infertility struggles, I couldn’t find the strength to talk about it even though that was likely exactly what I needed. I felt trapped by my desire to not allow infertility to define me which ran in complete opposition to the fact that it was, indeed, defining how I viewed myself and coloring the lenses through which I viewed the world. If I would have let down the “I’m fine. It’s all fine.” mask, I could have found a network of support, love, and empowerment just waiting to walk the trenches with me. A sisterhood who not only intimately understood the complicated capital-E emotions that ran rampant but who were just waiting for an opportunity to be there if I would have simply allowed myself the relief of not having to have it all together for a minute.
So, sister, if this is you – please don’t hold it in any longer. Reach out. Allow yourself to expose pieces of you that aren’t whole. I promise that on the days that you feel the longing of motherhood so painfully acute and unfulfilled, the result of giving your community the opportunity to rise up around you and help carry the burden of your longing will bolster your heart for the hard days.
And to the ones who did that for me once I allowed myself the vulnerability of honesty? Thank you; I’d truly be lost without you.
Today, I stand proudly in the ashes of how I dreamt my entrance into motherhood would be, because I still see so much beauty in this place; even in the midst of lost hopes. We have started down a different path toward parenthood – one of adoption – and while infertility may have broken parts of me I would have preferred to keep whole, it was the same measure of brokenness that was necessary to bring our journey to this point.
Our resolution to this story may still be months, or even years, away but we’ve found a new sense of purpose to the pain of those dark years. A purpose of hope, of love and one where the end goal is still the same, though the method may look nothing like how we originally thought it would.
For those of you who still are trudging through the mire of where you are and where you long to be, know that I am here for you and I am hoping for you. It’s ok to feel the sadness of the emotions you may be facing but I hope you also find the strength to share your own story. You don’t have to go it alone.
And even more, to the man who has walked this road with me from day one, in this month of love, know that I am yours. Forever and always will be. No matter what life throws our way, you’re mine.
To Baby Oho. We are still coming for you with hearts ablaze .
If you, yourself, are considering adoption or know of anyone who is, please don’t hesitate to contact us or share our website.
BY Melissa Ohos - February 15, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.