I didn't realize that this even existed until I became pregnant two years ago. I also didn't know how many women have trouble having children: 6.1 million people in the U.S., and those are just the couples who report it. COUPLES, this is a very real issue for men and women. I'm just writing about the XX side because that's all I know, that implied definition of what it means to be female. I can't imagine how intensely frustrating it must also be for men. (So don't stop reading. Educate me.)
Pregnant women are everywhere. Children are everywhere. You walk around the park--hell, you walk around the middle school where I teach--and it looks like getting pregnant is as easy as taking a sip from the water fountain. I spent enough time worrying about the 1% chance on the pill that I found myself intuitively thinking 99% must be your chances without it.
I look back at the 7 women who attended my baby shower. A week ago one of them gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Soren. Another is agonizing over a 5-11 page essay response she has to turn into the adoption agency in her multi-tiered quest for a child, hopefully arriving this summer. A third starts her first IVF treatment January. The fourth has had three miscarriages after IVF, each more painful than the last. The fifth isn't married. The sixth was my mom.
Even having a first child isn't a sure sign that you'll be able to get pregnant again. That's the seventh. She struggled for years to get pregnant again, lost a child days before her scheduled 21-week ultrasound, and somehow found the courage to keep trying. Her youngest daughter is just as beautiful as her six-year-old sister.
With the exception of those of us who've had children (that's a little hard to disguise), the others don't even know about each others' silent struggles. It's pretty obvious to be around a friend who wants to be a mom, but no one talks about it. We just say things like "maybe someday" or "one child at a time" or "who knows" and politely, enviously admire the little girl who's holding her mother's hand.
So many intelligent, good, lovely people try to make the smart decision to wait for a stable marriage, a reliable spot on the career ladder, or even just enough physical space to have a second bedroom before getting pregnant. These are the girls who were taught how to judiciously avoid getting pregnant but who weren't taught that fertility begins declining at age 20. Not 35, not 28, but 20.
The worst part is how many of my friends blame themselves for not being able to be mothers. "We know it's my fault," one told me without a trace of irony, as if she personally discouraged each and every sperm to please turn around and go somewhere else.
Where am I going with all this? Who knows. It's sad. It breaks my heart. It makes me nervous.
And I realize that I have so very much to be thankful for.