What infertility taught me about a life well-lived
Twenty-two months. As I write this, in late January 2020, my husband and I have been trying to have a baby for 22 months. For nearly all of those months, I have scrambled to find pads and tampons every four weeks. I know the scrambling is self-imposed, but keeping extras around feels crushingly incongruent with my hopes, so scrambling is what I do.
But for some of those months, I didn’t have to scramble. I was pregnant. I was pregnant long enough to see the heartbeat. I was pregnant long enough to see the baby’s arms and legs. I was pregnant long enough to see those legs and arms and heart go still.
It was some time after those legs and arms and heart went still that I let myself count these months of waiting. Twenty-two months. More months than I have fingers and toes.
One month at a time, it wasn’t so bad. One month is just a series of weeks. One week for very hot baths and drinking beer and eating tuna. One week for using ovulation predictor kits. One week for hope and hands on my belly and symptom spotting. One week for the symptoms to fall away.
And then all over again.
Each of these weeks was doable, one at a time like this. But when I let myself count them all up, I realized those weeks of waiting added up to nearly two years of my life.
Nearly two years that I have been waiting. Not living: Waiting. It wasn’t my intention to wait away those months. Waiting is a waste of a life. I don’t want to wait anymore.
I don’t mean that I have found a way to magic a baby into my arms right this minute. I also don’t mean that we have decided to stop trying for one. Nor am I looking to kid myself. To pretend like we’re not actually trying to get pregnant. I want a baby, and I am not likely to forget this fact.
What I mean is this: I am not interested in pretending anymore. I am not interested in pretending that these weeks and months and years don’t matter except as a means to an end. I have been telling myself that, but that’s not the truth. Every week and month and year matters in and of itself. They are what life is made of.
So this month, this year, I am giving myself a new directive: Stop waiting; start savoring.
I started this practice on January 1. I guess you could say that “savor” is my word of the year.
I put the word “savor” on a Sticky Note, slapped it next to my facial serums, and it’s like the optometrist finally slid the correct prescription into the phoropter. Things feel more clear, more true-to-life. This little note helps me start my day with intention. It’s disrupted my waiting cycle enough that I am left with something else entirely: My life.
The rigid cycle of weeks has dissolved into days. Or it may be more correct to say it has dissolved into moments. The feel of a squishy toddler butt on my thighs, soft cheeks and wispy Johnson & Johnson hair just below my chin. My feet on the bouncy track and the smile from a power-walking old man wearing jeans and wrinkles. Impossibly cold, impossibly dry air in my lungs and heat in my cheeks; the feeling of aliveness.
I have realized some things, too, things not about babies and trying to get them to grow big and strong in my belly.
For instance, I realized something funny about savoring. I realized that savoring is knotted together with capitalism. When I think, “I love this.” I also think: “I should get another one.” I have a pen that I love to write with. I have known this since I bought it, but once I started intentionally savoring, the appreciation for that pen was turned up to 11. It got me thinking that I should really get more of them. I thumbed opened the Amazon app and hovered over that yellow button. Then I stopped myself. No, I shouldn’t buy more. I only need one pen at a time. What I should do is get more out of the one I have. Savoring, really savoring, means loosening the knot.
I have realized that when we’re not savoring, when we’re not really paying attention, we are only experiencing our lives and the people and things in them part-way. Of course part-way isn’t enough. We need a whole experience out of things. But no set of partial experiences added together will ever make a whole experience. That’s a fact.
So that craving for more? It’s really a cue. A gentle nudge from that wise place inside of you saying, “Notice this. This is good.” Listen to yourself. You know what to do.
So I am noticing my pen. I am noticing the people in my life. I am noticing the moments. I have learned that this noticing and savoring helps me do the impossible: It gives me more time. If you try it too, I think you’ll find the same. By stretching and cozying up in all the nooks and crannies of the minutes you already have, you will find more space there than you ever dreamed.
I think, ultimately, what savoring lets me do is better align my values and my actions. This alignment doesn’t leave much space for guilt and regret. Instead, with my values and actions better paired, I feel peaceful and at ease, even though I have not forgotten the baby I long to hold.
And, later this year — or the year after that, or the one after that, or the one after that — when I do get to bring our baby home, I will count all the months that we waited. I will start with my fingers, then my toes. Then I will move to the baby’s fingers. It may be that I’ll have to borrow some of the baby’s toes, too. I already know that the number will be bigger than I want it to be. But I also know that I will be counting time that I savored, and I will be glad.
This essay was syndicated in The Startup.