How My Fifth-Grade Self Helped Me on My Fertility Quest

I've always imagined having kids. And I always thought that when I was ready to be a mother, it would happen in a snap. A decade into our marriage, we felt ready. We excitedly began trying and nothing happened. Well, something happened: I couldn't get pregnant.
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One night while my husband and I were watching the Olympics, my memory was jogged by the name of a Chinese ski jumper. I had all but forgotten that in the fifth grade, I was cast as the title role in Ah Wing Fu and the Golden Dragon, a children's play adapted from an ancient Asian folk tale. In the story, Ah Wing Fu becomes bored with life and goes out into the world to seek truth and beauty. At the end of the story and as a result of this quest, Ah Wing transforms into a beautiful butterfly. One thing you should know: Ah Wing Fu was an old Chinese man.

This news did not go over too well with fifth-grade me. There was another school play being cast about a group of exotic animals and I had my sights set on the cute little kangaroo. What little girl dreams of becoming a disgruntled Chinese man? That was NOT why I got into the theatre. I pouted for a day or two but rallied remarkably quickly. I don't know if it was naiveté or some deep-seeded knowing that The Show Must Go On, but I climbed on board. And even managed to have fun.

It didn't hurt that my ingeniously crafty Grandma made me a fabulous costume. She MacGyvered a red satin coat so that when I stuck my hands into the pockets, I could pull out these giant, flowing butterfly wings. They were magic. Along with my coat, I wore old-age makeup and a long black wig that was combed into a single fat braid. I may have also sported a man-voice complete with Chinese accent. I'm a little horrified to imagine my little-girl-self doing this but I think she fully went for it. (I've blocked that part out and maybe it's for the best.)

All these Ah Wing Fu flashbacks got me thinking about how we're full of big ideas on how things "should" go and hell if they ever truly go that way. They pretty much always go places that feel way off course.

Case in point:

I've always imagined having kids. And I always thought that when I was ready to be a mother, it would happen in a snap. Especially after years of panicky sex with boyfriends during which I was thoroughly convinced I'd get knocked up. That thought was unfathomable -- I had way too much to do before becoming a parent. I eventually married a man who shared the same feeling so we enjoyed our life together and didn't give it a second thought until, a decade into our marriage, we felt ready. We excitedly began trying and nothing happened. Well, something happened: I couldn't get pregnant.

Over these last four years, my baby quest has led me to gynecologists and reproductive specialists and endocrinologists. It's led me to fertility hypnotherapists (I know) and Internet articles entitled Cervical Mucus and You (for reals). It's led me to write journals, read infertility books and see psychics, nutritionists, acupuncturists and kinesiologists. It's led me to painfully uncomfortable probes and procedures and way too many people peeping into my vagina (and my spirit-vagina) than I care to count. It's led me to arduous baby showers and forced smiles when I'm told by yet another friend she's with child ("We weren't even trying!").

I've learned (the hard way) that the best answer to "Do you have kids?" is a simple no. And I've learned to pray the asker doesn't follow up with an impolite "Why?". I've learned to not flinch when asked, "When are you guys gonna have kids?" as if children are a foregone conclusion for everyone or that our childlessness is our choice. And God forbid I've chosen to share my predicament, for everyone has a method or a doctor or a story or an answer. I've learned that my friends with children are often miserable and exhausted. And that's made me question how hard I'm fighting for something that may make me miserable and exhausted. It's led me to wonder how badly I want children. Or if I'm even meant to since it's been so difficult. It's strained my marriage to the brink of divorce.

So, yeah. Off course.

Now I've been trying for so long I've become a cliche: yet another infertile woman, well aware of the fertility statistics facing middle-aged women (hint: it's not pretty). I've resisted writing about it because it feels like admitting failure and frankly, it's a downer. I also don't want it to define me: The Woman Who Can't Get Pregnant. And it feels like a topic scads of child-free ladies have written about and I wonder what I could possibly add to the already-heaping pile.

But here's why I am. Because I am a seeker (just like Ah Wing Fu!) and I seek to get to the bottom of something. Everyone I know has at least one sticking point in their life, one area that isn't working. Maybe it's relationships or money or career or health or a yearning for a baby. And these are basically happy people who are blessed in so many other areas (including me). So how do we knock it off? How do we figure this out?

You're holding back the best parts of yourself from any relationship when you are wishing it were something else. That's true of all relationships: the ones between you and others, you and your career, you and your bank account, or you and your lady parts. Not to say we shouldn't wish for things to change, but if we're miserable where we are, we'll never get there anyway. We're too busy looking for what's not working. And as freaking frustrated as I can get about things not being how I want them to be, it's become more important to me to not be a diminished version of myself.

So I've taken to having these kinds of conversations:

Ok, God/Life/Angels/Universe, show me how to do this gracefully. Show me how to either find my way to a child or accept my life the way it is right now. Or preferably both. Show me the playing-a-Chinese-man version of not being a mother yet. Help me get on board. Show me I'm going to be okay. Show me how to have courage and do it full-on. Show me how to love myself more.

Maybe it's my foolish optimism (I'm an actress accustomed to rejection after all) but I really do somehow still feel like our child is on its way to us. And if I'm being honest, while this four year journey has led to a shit ton of pain, it's also led to a tremendous amount of good. It's forced my marriage to expand to a new, fiercely loving place that couldn't have happened otherwise. I've been blessed with introspection and growth and acceptance and patience and a million other qualities that will make me a better mother if I'm so lucky. And if not, absolutely a better, more compassionate person.

What if the things we think are not working are actually working in perfect order to get us to a place that the higher part of us yearns for? It simply might look differently on the outside than we envisioned. And maybe we shouldn't rush to take score. Whether this is true or not, doesn't it feel better to believe it? I wish this peaceful perspective for all of us.

So I look to my fifth-grade self and learn from her guts. God bless that little girl who became an old Chinese man with aplomb. I love her more than if she'd gotten to play the easy ingenue, the expected role. I can see her now in her transformation scene, proudly pulling out her magic butterfly pocket-wings and running around in her Chinese slippers, long braid flapping, believing she was airborne.


This article first appeared on the blog Joeycake.

{photo by Jolie Jenkins}