It took me a long time to get pregnant. Approximately four years, from the time I first thought, Hmmm. I might be ready for a baby, to the morning I saw those two pink lines miraculously show up on the pregnancy test.
It was a journey that began gradually and naively for my husband and me; I simply tossed the rectangular box of tiny white pills in the trash one day and confidently waited for my body to do its thing. As the months and years passed, and no pregnancy appeared, my yearning grew stronger. I consulted with acupuncturists, fertility specialists and the most vociferous expert of all, The Internet. In the end, I can't really tell you the exact combination of diet changes and baby magic that caused us to conceive a child. What I can say is that those four years of infertility prepared me for the Adventure of Parenthood in six very specific ways:
1. The best laid plans...
When my husband and I first gave ourselves the green light to get pregnant, it was because the "timing was right." We lived in a great neighborhood, we were established in our careers and we had individually attended enough Margarita Parties to satisfy a lifetime quota of tequila. My hubby was quite a bit older than me, and we were both ready to settle down and do the family thing. We had no idea that this "thing" would take four years and that it didn't matter how "ready" we were. Our bodies would cooperate in their own time.
Parenting Application: How many times do parents plan out the perfect day, only to be foiled by a runny nose, sore throat or volcanic tantrum? When you're a parent, it is wise to mark the calendar and make the plans, but be prepared to break them and go with the flow at a moment's notice.
2. You're surrounded.
Have you ever purchased a new car -- and suddenly started noticing the same make and model everywhere you go? That is what it is like when you are trying to get pregnant. There are friggin' babies everywhere. Women pregnant with babies. Men holding babies. Parents loving on their babies (with little angels and birdies surrounding them). It feels like the entire universe is sticking out its tongue and taunting, "Nah, nah, nah, nah... you aren't pregnant." Even your coworker's cousin's wife is expecting... and you aren't. I gradually learned to tune out the baby-white-noise, and reassure myself that it would happen in its own time. After all, I reminded myself, I am defined by much more than my desire to conceive.
Parenting Application: After you have a little one, you will continue to find yourself surrounded by other parents and their cherubic babes. Resist the urge to make comparisons (i.e. whether your baby is snoozing, walking or talking at the same rate as the others). Every child's journey is unique and the comparisons are fruitless. They all tend to catch up to each other in the end.
3. Everyone is an expert.
Most of the people who knew I was trying to get pregnant had well-intentioned words of wisdom to share. They had heard of a specialist who could help. They knew something I should cut out from my diet. They had struggled with infertility themselves and they just felt sure it was going to happen for me. I regretted telling so many people that we were trying. Can't we just go back to discussing my awesome new wedges or the great movie we saw last weekend? I had to learn to take their advice gracefully and then remind myself that my body is unique and I know it better than anyone else.
Parenting Application: If you think everyone has opinions about fertility, just wait until you have a baby. If you have a child in your arms, everybody loves to give their child-rearing advice. My advice is to absorb the pointers that feel like a fit and then custom design your own parenting protocols.
4. It's never going to happen.
During the four years that my husband and I were trying, I swear that I funded an entire pregnancy test industry. I bought them in bulk and I grew to despise them. Peeing on a stick was unpleasant enough, but seeing that I was not pregnant, yet again, was devastating. I felt all hope and belief that I was going to be a mother slipping away. Looking back, I now recognize that the creeping pessimism was unfounded. There was so much more that my husband and I could have done to have a child: fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption. Yes, I would have grieved if I couldn't conceive naturally, but the options were endless if I truly wanted to be a parent.
Parenting Application: When you are raising babies, the word "never" will sneak in frequently: I'll never get a full night's sleep again. He'll never go a day without an accident. We'll never get through a week without vomit or snot or pee. Those nevers can feel daunting. I promise you that the nevers transition into sometimes and then into always. Keep your eye on the prize -- it's right around the corner.
5. Chill out.
OK, I have to skip back to #3 on this one. One of the most popular bits of advice I received when I was trying to conceive was, "Just relax. You'll get pregnant when you aren't worrying about it." I hate to admit it (and I HATED this advice), but they were right. When I began enjoying my life again -- dancing, frolicking, partying like it was 1999 -- it happened. I saw those two lines on that little test and could hardly believe my eyes. Yes, I had taken other measures: cut out sugar and dairy, started natural progesterone cream, endured a diagnostic procedure that painfully blasted blue ink through my fallopian tubes. But I feel sure that chilling out a little and tuning into other segments of my life helped my body to ease into motherhood. I know it doesn't work for everyone, but I do believe it worked for me.
Parenting Application: It is natural to feel uptight and want to do everything just right when you are a parent. When you loosen your grip and recognize that your children benefit from variety and imperfections, both you and your kids will enjoy life a little more.
6. Love, love, love...
I'm channeling The Beatles here. But I couldn't have said it any better myself. At the end of any infertility journey is a leap from a high-dive platform into pure, unadulterated love. I have friends who have had unexpected pregnancies, friends who have undergone extensive fertility treatments, and friends who have adopted. And when we gather together with our kids, there is no sliver of a difference in the love that each of us feels for our children.
If your desire to become a parent is strong enough, you will find a way to make it happen. And when you do, you will feel the most unrelinquishing love (and sometimes unrelinquishing fatigue and frustration) that you have ever experienced in your life. Everyone's path to parenthood is unique, but in the end, you get to hold a beautiful child, and the journey that brought you to that place will make the most perfect sense.