by Iris Waichler
Mother’s day is over now. For those who are still trying to become a parent it is an incredibly difficult day. I hope you were able to find someone or something special to do to get the love and support you deserve. For those who are mom’s after experiencing infertility it is usually an emotional day for different reasons. It got me thinking about what it means to become a mother after infertility and how the experience impacts your parenting.
When I was in the midst of my infertility I remember thinking if the day ever comes when I become a mother I will remember what it took to get here and I will be the best mom I possibly can be. We make these promises to ourselves as we engage in the necessary treatments or adoption processes to make our parenting dreams a reality.
That journey can be long and painful with many ups and downs. The journey severely tests our resolve, spirit, values, bodies, finances, and relationships.
What we don’t always realize is that the challenges we face along the road to family building ultimately can help us become better parents. Those of us who are lucky enough to emerge from our family building efforts with a child come out with new skills that perhaps we didn’t know we had.
My infertility, repeated miscarriages, failed attempts at finding a donor, tested my patience in ways that I had never faced before. It also helped me survive these disappointments. I emerged stronger. I believe I am a more patient mother than I might have been without living through these disappointments. I try to take a quiet moment or a deep breath at times when my daughter gets angry or frustrated with me for seemingly senseless reasons. I think about the fact that I have a daughter and remember that this might not have been the case and it helps to diffuse my initial negative response.
We sometimes do have our heated moments. She reminds me about the inevitability of more coming as she enters her teenage years. I stop and try to imagine what my life would be like without her. It was a real possibility. I have a strong feeling of gratitude for all of the moments, good and bad, that we have gone through together. I find myself looking forward to the years ahead and curious about what they will hold for us and our relationship. Memories about my past infertility definitely shapes my feelings about this future.
When I was growing up and had fights with my mom, sometimes she would get angry and tell me “you don’t know what I had to go through to have you.” She also experienced multiple miscarriages and had a difficult pregnancy with me. Those words had a sting to them, a negative connotation for me. I think what she was saying was she made sacrifices to have me and I should recognize this and feel grateful to her. As I recall her tone made it hard for me to feel that gratitude. I don’t want my daughter to have the sense that the sacrifices I made to become her mother were burdensome. I would willingly take them on again to hear my child call me mama.
The process of infertility and the decisions that needed to be made brought my husband and me closer together. We faced it as equal partners and openly shared fears, thoughts, hopes, and sometimes disagreed. It laid a good foundation for us in our role as parents. We do the same in our daily lives in terms of making parenting decisions as my daughter becomes older raising questions like how much independence she should have. We offer her guidance and support as a parenting team.
My friends in my parenting after infertility group sometimes look at how our infertility treatment connects to our parenting decisions. My daughter does believe that at times I am too protective for example not letting her walk home from school alone. When she keeps pushing the boundaries of independence I confess I do sometimes think about how close we came to not having a child. I believe on some level it does influence me to err on the more cautious side. I find it to be a delicate dance, wanting her to have the “right amount of autonomy and independence” while I suppress my occasional underlying fear of “something bad happening to her if we make the wrong choice.” Yes I am afraid that my mom was right, that voice saying “you don’t know what I went to have you” is buried somewhere in my psyche.
I don’t want to imply that having to go through infertility was a good thing. What I do know is whether we emerge from infertility with or without a child it forever changes us in ways that we don’t always recognize. I do believe it is good to step back when you feel you are emotionally ready and take some time to consider how your infertility has shaped you as a person/parent. Perhaps the answers you find will surprise you.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.