Almost three months ago we marked my 30th birthday. My aversion to the day is nothing new; it’s been several years now since we’ve celebrated. The fact that it happens to be the anniversary of our first early loss from 2012 has changed the way I feel about it, but it’s also painful in that it represents valuable time slipping away. Somehow being dragged into this new decade made August feel even worse than usual.
My age shouldn’t even be an issue yet. I’ve always been on the younger side of infertility patients and we should have years for possible treatments stretching out ahead of us. During our first appointment in the surrogacy process, our doctor even mentioned how young we were to be in this position, pointing out that at just 26 I had some time yet before I reached his cutoff of 52 years of age for an intended parent. In the surrogacy world it’s also common for an intended mother to be older than her gestational carrier, but I am seven years younger than Elle. And while our current circumstances have prevented us from starting the process over for another child, at the very least we should have the time to wait. Except that we don’t. From the beginning, our timeline has always been stuck on fast-forward, and for me, reaching 30 has always represented the beginning of the end.
For almost 20 years, the plan has been to have my final surgery in my early 30’s– as in the surgery, a hysterectomy. The goal over nearly two decades of my life was always to maintain my fertility until I was able to have the family I wanted. After that, my doctors assured me, one last surgery would give me a much more normal life: I’d be pain-free again, my days would no longer revolve around a monthly cycle, and the pressure to do everything possible to save my fertility would be gone. It would all be over, and at last I’d be free.
Living with pain is physically and emotionally wearing, but it has never been my greatest fear. I remember desperately trying to bargain with God at 15 or 16, offering to accept any physical pain if only my ability to have children could be spared. It was a price I was willing to pay, and over the years I clung to this image: being 30-something with three kids and a body that no longer hurt. That was the only thing that kept me going through the very worst of days. In those moments, when all I wanted was to be rid of the pain for good, I’d remind myself that it was worth it to be able to have children someday. I truly believed that there was a purpose to my pain.
Over the years we’ve made a lot of decisions around this deadline for surgery, including meeting with two different doctors Spring and Summer of 2011 to discuss plans for what was likely to be a complicated pregnancy. It has been since that time that we have remained focused on having a family, and as I’ve reached this new decade more than 6 years later, I’ve found that I don’t know how to accept our bitter reality. I am hurtling towards a hysterectomy, but my life would have been infinitely better if I’d simply had my uterus removed from the start– as it turns out, I’ve only ever needed my ovaries to have Ross.
Becoming a mom was always the priority, but doing so through surrogacy didn’t suddenly dissolve the feelings of loss I have over never being pregnant. I wanted to have the experience that is able to unite women in a common bond across every race, culture, and generation; I wanted to have the ability to make my own choices in regards to family planning; and I wanted to have all the little things that came with being able to carry a child: telling my husband he was going to be a father because I was carrying his child, feeling my baby kick from inside me, and going through delivery knowing that my body had done this amazing thing despite its brokenness. I wasn’t so naive as to think that we would never struggle; I knew that as time went on and my disease continued to progress, it was likely we’d need intervention along the way as we became a family of five. But I never imagined that by 24-years-old my window of opportunity was already shut, and that the experience of a full-term pregnancy– even just once– was forever out of reach.
It seems people expect me to have accepted infertility by now, especially after a successful surrogacy journey, and there is a lot I have accepted. I am at peace with Ross’ story and I am grateful to have Elle and her family in our lives. Truthfully, it’s not the infertility that I find so unbearable to accept, it’s the permanence of our situation. This is not a phase for us, it feels like an ending. All along we’ve been fighting a war– and I’ve been fighting long before Kyle ever came into my life. We lost many battles together, more than I have shared in the three years I’ve been writing here. And then the tides turned and we came out victorious one day. Nothing can take away the joy we’ve experienced, but that hasn’t changed the fact that we are still stuck in this war that has consumed our lives. It’s tiring and painful and worst of all, I know how this goes; we’ve been here before.
I honestly don’t know how to accept that we may never have another child because surrogacy is by far the most expensive, most intense kind of intervention you can possibly need– or that 18 years of living my life in chronic pain have been for absolutely nothing. The final blow is that, because of complications, living pain-free again someday is now no longer an option, no matter what organs I have removed. Accepting this reality feels like I’d be saying that everything I’ve suffered is okay, but it’s not. I’m angry and heartbroken, and I want my life back.
This isn’t how the story was supposed to end.
Do you ever feel like you’re living the wrong life? There are moments when I think about how over the last few years I’ve become the poster child for surrogacy among family and friends and I just want to say, That’s not me! That was someone else! Somewhere out there we are living a different life: Ross is a second child and we’re getting ready to have a third when Kyle finishes his degree in May. Our first-born child, the one that we were meant to have, is turning 5-years-old. And while my upcoming hysterectomy still won’t fix everything, it will at least bring relief from some of the pain, and I will be at peace knowing that I did not spend my life suffering in vain.
But that’s not a life I will ever know.