If you have ever experienced infertility, perhaps the title of this article alone made you really mad. Perhaps you are still experiencing infertility and the title even made you feel a little bit violent. Those are both acceptable reactions to this topic. You see, it’s more than a bit taboo to talk about having a horrible pregnancy after struggling to conceive, but I don’t think it should be. Let’s get it out of the way right now - of course, it was all worth it. The little nugget is great. Yes, I would do it all again. Yes, I know that people currently experiencing infertility would do anything to have the same experience. Yes, I can hear you telling me to get over myself. That's OK. I accept that this is a tough topic to read about. But this isn't random complaining about minor inconveniences. It's the truth about my experience and the truth of other women I know, too. Being pregnant was a far more difficult experience than I ever could imagine. The physical symptoms were terrible, but the pressure that I put on myself and felt from other people to revere everything-pregnancy made it worse. There were very real, very low points during my pregnancy where I questioned if the trade-off was fair. And I think that is OK. You can still be grateful for your pregnancy while acknowledging the process is difficult. And you shouldn't have to pretend otherwise.
Infertility is Tough. Pregnancy Can be Too.
After battling infertility, how can pregnancy be so bad, you might ask? My answer to this is all-day, debilitating nausea and vomiting, also known as hyperemesis gravidarum. This ever-present feeling was punctuated by flares of intense vomiting triggered by something as innocuous as a stranger's hand cream as they walked past me. This wasn’t an upset stomach feeling, but rather a stop-you-in-your-tracks, not able to function feeling. I often found myself debating what is preferable - not vomiting with no relief or vomiting and experiencing the brief post-vomit absence of nausea. Being ill impacted every part of my daily routine. Going into public places meant uncontrollable heaving or vomiting with an audience. This wasn’t isolated to the first trimester but until the day of delivery. Alright, not ideal - but at least I could get pregnant, right? I agree. And that's what I told myself again and again. But it only made me feel like a failure.
After Infertility, My Expectations of Pregnancy Were Unrealistic
What made the whole situation worse is that my difficulty getting pregnant had led me to develop an idealized vision of what pregnancy would be. It was to be the finish line filled with joy and delight after a battle with infertility. During the many negative tests, tears, and silent promises, I think I made a subconscious deal with myself that getting pregnant would be the solution to my eternal happiness. I did a lot of 'let’s pretend' about how awesome of a pregnant lady I was going to be. I was going to ‘do’ pregnancy so well once I got there. I did not do pregnancy well and I felt shame for positively detesting the experience.
Others’ Expectations of your Post-Infertility Pregnancy
People don’t feel bad for a vomiting pregnant lady. You hear jokes about pregnancy and barf; It is just something that happens. And besides, the general response from most people was, well, at least you are lucky enough to be pregnant. This is not untrue. I was indeed lucky. This was clear to me. What wasn't clear is why being pregnant overrides your experience as a person. Going about my daily routine while very sick was a great prescription for bitterness. Even though I have a loving, supportive husband, he had a very hard time handling the reality of my pregnancy and why I was miserable. When he repeatedly lied to family and friends, saying that I was “doing great,” despite all of the evidence to the contrary, I became a seething mixture of mad and hurt. I was not OK, but for some reason, it did not seem acceptable to say so.
Comradery in Gratitude and Barf
My initial solution was to suffer alone in my pregnancy hell. Then I discovered that one of my colleagues happened to be pregnant at the same time. After 10 years of battling infertility, she found herself pregnant at age 40. Of course she was excited. She was thrilled. She was also very sick. When I asked her how she was doing, she replied, “Oh, well, I guess I just have to be thankful to be pregnant, considering my situation and all.” Gratitude is a great thing - always. But does she really need to suffer in silence, simply because of how hard she has worked towards the experience? Not as far as I am concerned. And I told her so. She was relieved. She thought that saying she was having a hard pregnancy was the same thing as saying she wasn’t grateful to be having a child. I was ecstatic to hear someone else voice what had been eating at my soul.
When you work towards a goal of achieving pregnancy for so long, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that life will be perfect, if only you could see that pink plus sign. And if it is for you - great! But for some, being pregnant may not end up on par with the vision they had for themselves. You don't need to go out of your way to destroy other people still experiencing infertility with trite comments about minor pregnancy-related inconveniences, but you shouldn't need to lie about your experience either. Bottom line: you can be immensely grateful to be pregnant, you can recognize it is an opportunity that not all who want it will be able to have, you can love your baby, all while admitting that pregnancy is hard, and perhaps not the experience you expected it to be.