The period my husband and I spent struggling with infertility and wondering whether we’d ever be able to start a family was the hardest thing I’ve ever endured. I wouldn’t wish infertility struggles on my worst enemy, but I also wouldn’t rewrite our story. It made me more empathetic, more flexible and made my relationship with my husband stronger. In other words, and in the end, struggling with infertility prepared me for parenthood in ways I could never have imagined.
There’s a general portrayal of women or couples who struggle with infertility as heartbroken and weak. Honestly, sometimes I did feel “broken” or “soft” during the five years (and counting) my partner and I have dealt with not being able to have children. However, people who struggle with infertility are tough cookies, whether they feel like it or not. Infertility forces you to practice patience, learn to cope with disappointment, and, in our case, pushed us to think of another solution to start our family than the “traditional” route.
After five years of struggling with infertility, my husband and I decided to opt not for infertility treatments (although we’ve left that option on the table for the future if we so choose) but to turn our struggle into an adventure. We decided to take a “sabbatical” and move from Ireland to the United States and try to adopt a baby. It still sounds like a crazy plan that I can’t quite believe worked because our little girl arrived in our lives just five weeks after we arrived, and we are still on our extended “sabbatical” hoping to grow our family again. Our fertility solution certainly wasn’t the path of least resistance, and I’ve frequently been grateful that our struggles with infertility prepared us for parenthood in the following ways:
Perhaps you’re like my husband and me. We were married relatively young, at 23 and 24, spent a few years finding our feet and some semblance of financial stability, traveled around Europe, and then decided we were ready to start our family.
Well, those best-laid plans quickly went out the window. Five years later, an intercontinental move, and an adoption later, we know that we can’t plan our future step by step and expect it to materialize simply. It turns out, that is remarkably like parenthood! Big plans for a family trip? Odds are chicken pox will arrive the night before.
In one ear and out the other, dear reader. Or, at the very least, you’ve honed your filter for the many views people who barely know you feel compelled to share. If you thought mere acquaintances had opinions about your fertility, just wait until they want to weigh in on sleep training, bottle feeding, using a pacifier, and more.
Acupuncture and ten cups of fertility tea a day might have used to work for your friend’s cousin’s girlfriend, but that just doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to work for you (or anyone else, for that matter). Fertility takes different shapes and solutions, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Just like there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for your child’s fussiness or unwillingness to eat green beans until they’re fifteen.
Infertility is exhausting, and if you’ve managed to jump that hurdle into parenthood, then you’ve already had a serious introduction into what a marathon parenting is, both emotionally and physically. Sure, parenthood shouldn’t involve being stuck with needles on the regular, but the lack of sleep for several years on end strikes an individual comparison. If you obsessed over ovulation dates and symptoms, get ready to obsess over reflux symptoms and sleep schedules.
The one thing I always say when talking about our experience with infertility is, regardless of the trials and tribulations, I wouldn’t trade it in. Would get pregnant in our first month of trying have been much easier? Yeah, probably. However, there’s just no way I could have gained this much empathy, both for people desperately wanting to start or grow their families, or simply for people who don’t have the thing that they so desire. That empathy, for me at least, could only have come from experiencing a long and unfulfilled desire.
Struggling with infertility is one of the most heartbreaking things to work through as a couple, but working through it as a team does make you both stronger together. My biggest advice is to work your hardest to be kind to one another because your hearts are both hurting even if you show it in different ways. The closeness that an infertility struggle can bring will only help as you confront tough parenting difficulties in the future.
Infertility is an exercise in waiting; waiting for the perfect time in your cycle, waiting for your period, waiting for two pink lines after peeing on a stick. That patience will serve you well when your little one is asking, yet again, for yet another box of some sugar-filled snack.
We faced our infertility by coming up with a wacky solution that involved moving to another country to adopt. It wasn’t what we envisioned for how we were going to start our family, but if we hadn’t faced infertility, we wouldn’t have been pushed to think about other ways to reach our goal.
Middle of the night feedings, teething, potty training, toddler tantrums in a very public place: they all pale in comparison to waiting to start our family. That doesn’t mean being up in the night isn’t frustrating in the moment, but overall, being a parent feels remarkably easier and something to be grateful for, even in the hardest moments.
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