It’s a sucker punch out of the clear blue. One minute I’m watching Law and Order SVU, and 5 minutes and a sappy Sally Field movie trailer later, and I’m ugly crying into a box of Entenmann’s. The triggers are scattered like landmines, as innocuous as an old high school friend posting a new profile picture of her grandchild’s wedding on Facebook, as a baby giggling in the freezer section of the grocery store (or literally any scene in This is Us). I’m making a salad one minute and hiccuping into the goat cheese the next.
Mine isn’t a story about a woman who always wanted children but couldn’t have them—my life took more twists and turns than that. But somehow that doesn’t make it easier to swallow or simpler to share. In fact, I didn’t really think about having children when I was young. And I knew my first marriage was wrong even as I was walking down the aisle to get married, so it never occurred to me that we’d carry on and have kids. After we inevitably divorced, I was single for 8 years, and I was mostly content. I didn’t even worry about getting married again—so many of my friends got married later in their lives or had second marriages, so it wasn’t as though I was surrounded by people having babies.
If I’m honest, I didn’t really think about children, even when I remarried in 1985. But then something changed. My husband Tom and I had—and still have—this amazing, kinetic, vibrant love, and I suddenly wanted to make something lasting from that love. A family.
Tom was immediately on board when I told him that I wanted a baby. I remember telling everybody in the family, “We’re going to have a baby now!” That’s how clear and simple it was to me at that time. It was going to happen because I was ready for it.
I’ll never forget our first visit with the fertility specialist. After asking questions about our history, he looked at both of us and said, “I’ll have you pregnant in 8 months.” When that didn’t happen, my first emotion was disbelief. I spent most of my early adulthood worrying about getting pregnant when I wasn’t ready, and now that I was, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t happening. It took a long time to figure out that we were having problems, and Tom and I had every test you can imagine. The results looked positive—everything was where it should be. There was no scar tissue, no endometriosis, and Tom didn’t have a low sperm count or motility issues. We actually never found a reason why we were having difficulty getting pregnant.
We eventually progressed to cervical insemination, then intrauterine insemination. I started taking Clomid, which was supposed to increase the number and quality of my eggs, all the while I was having regular ultrasounds to see if the eggs looked good before they injected the sperm.
I’d start out each month on a high. I was emotional, on edge, waiting for that phone call. Then it came, and I’d be crushed. I really don’t remember anything between the high at the beginning of the month and the crash at the end.
When all that failed, we moved on to in vitro fertilization. More shots and many more ultrasounds. At the end of the first round of IVF, I I got the usual phone call. Not pregnant.
But then, the second time, it worked. They implanted three or four eggs, and they said two of them looked really good. When I called from work to get the results, the doctor said, “You’re pregnant!” I can still remember the clothes I was wearing. I called Tom, and he took me right to my parents to tell them I was pregnant. I called all my friends. My friend Nancy drove 15 miles to my house just to give me a hug.
At 9 weeks, I went for an ultrasound. They said the sac wasn’t developing at the same rate as the baby, and there was no heartbeat. I had to have a D&E. I was absolutely devastated. Even now, at 67, just thinking of that day makes me cry.
At that point, we realized we were finished trying to have a biological baby. Tom was done with watching doctors stick needles into me and with watching me endure all these procedures and, especially, with watching the emotional torment. I was a wreck, but I felt as though I had to pull myself together quickly. If I’d lost a spouse or a parent, I’d be “allowed” to grieve in my own time. But with an early-term miscarriage, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to grieve the same way. Looking back, this was years of trying to make a baby. I finally made one, and then it was gone. This was like a death to me.
This thing that millions of women do every day, why couldn’t we do it? I spent a lot of time thinking life was so unfair.
Eventually, we tried to adopt, but by that time, I was almost 41, and few places told us we were too old. And the overseas option took way too long. We were advised to get an attorney and place ads in papers all over the country. We set up an 800-line in our house and made a booklet about ourselves and our lives to give to any serious candidates, explaining why we wanted a baby.
My sister-in-law worked at home, so she could cover any calls that came in while we were at work. Sometimes we got calls in the middle of the night from someone out west. There were a lot of people trying to scam us, which we were warned about.
The closest we got to adopting a baby was with a 19-year-old who contacted our lawyer. He sent us her profile, and, of course, we said yes. We thought that was it—we were going to get this baby. But at the last minute, her family told her they didn’t want her to give up the baby for adoption, and that was that.
I was just done—emotionally fried. I thought that over time I’d be at peace with that decision. But here I am, decades later, still struggling to come to terms with the loss of my baby that never was. Once the door was shut—really shut—I fell into a black hole. It wasn’t pretty. I suffered from panic attacks and depression. And I started to binge to fill the emptiness, a habit I struggle with to this day.
I can’t imagine under what circumstance I’ll ever be able to be at peace with my childlessness. I have a joyful, loving marriage, two adorable dogs, nieces and nephews I adore, and very close, loyal friends, but all these years later I can still feel the cold, empty walls of that hole, like somehow I don’t have legitimacy without children or a legacy to leave behind.
It’s a work in progress, and I’m still trying to inoculate myself to the Hallmark movies on Mother’s Day and Love Your Mom Day on Facebook. Maybe I never will. And I don’t know what my legacy will be. But I think back to the main reason I wanted to have kids in the first place—to create something from the love I shared with my husband. But maybe the thing we created is more important than a legacy. We created a life together, and I will treasure that forever.