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Life After Infertility: Love Letter to "Sarah"By Sally Evans
It took three attempts tonight to get on the elevator that would take me to the Maternity Ward at the Kelowna General Hospital. Each time I tried the tears welled up and I felt so weak inside and out. I knew that once I pressed the number for the third floor there would be no turning back from the strong emotions that I had no control over. When I finally found the courage to get into the, thankfully, empty elevator I clenched my fists and let out a low guttural scream. Two nights ago, my younger sister, Meg, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Jesse, and I was so upset. You're probably wondering if there's a problem with my sister or the baby. No, no problems ... they're both fine. This pain is mine. I'm infertile.
Do you remember that skipping rhyme from childhood -- the one about "then comes love and then comes marriage, then comes Susie with a baby carriage"? Well, I grew up in Kelowna believing, as all little girls do, that that rhyme sang of my future. I dreamt of the handsome prince and the magnificent wedding day and, of course, the baseball team of children that we would raise together in a cute little house with a white picket fence! When my appendix ruptured when I was 14 I had no idea that my dreams of motherhood would always be just dreams. I had no idea when I got married at 24 that I would never be big with child and feel my husbands hands caressing my swollen belly. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would be a mom and a great one at that! After all, I'm a woman.
It wasn't until I had lived through years of hell -- years of trying everything to become pregnant -- years of tests, temperature charts, planned intimacy, surgeries and the feeling of total inadequacy that my dreams shattered. The scars left by the surgery at 14 had woven an impenetrable web around my ovaries. The fertility specialists at the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg where we lived at the time did their best. But as I woke up after my last operation the first words the doctor softly said to me were, "Sure hope that you have your names in for adoption." It was too late for adoption, too late for in vitro fertilization and too late for dreams because my marriage did not survive my infertility. It died a silent death amidst the all-consuming struggle to become a family.
We divorced and I headed back home to the Okanagan to try to make a new life for myself. I buried my dreams deep. I now know that the emotional rawness of the past made way for the years of numbness that followed. I avoided pregnant women and babies and quite boldly told everyone that I was infertile, barren and didn't really like kids anyway. However something happened when I turned 40 and I realized that inside I was screaming to expose my emptiness not only to the world but, most importantly, to myself. A friend of a friend gave me the guidance I needed. Lorraine told me of the death of her infant son and how she had travelled deep into the woods to bury a symbol of his life and her love for him. Her story bit through the numbness of my soul and I remember how relieved and excited I felt at the thought of openly feeling my pain. I knew then that I needed to give my lost child a rightful burial. I needed to lay to rest the dream of motherhood that had eaten at my spirit for so, so long. I even had the perfect symbol to bury. Years ago a well-meaning clerk at a children's wear store I worked in had given me a tiny pair of baby socks trimmed with yellow lace. The morning after my conversation with Lorraine I sat down at the table and with pen in hand this poem to the baby that I would never hold flowed with an endless stream of tears onto paper........
I will never hold you in my arms to nurse your tender mouth, my child,
You are lost to me forever ...
So long ago I saw you, with soft brown hair tied up in ribbons ... eyes so green ... your fathers' nose,
For years I've grieved your love, your laugh and longed to make you mine.
But you were not meant to be and I not meant for you --
On this day, I take the time to give this dream its due ...
To place a symbol deep within the ground, your memory deep within my heart ...
I pray for strength to live my days without the blessing of you, my child ...
To lay to rest as best I can the desire for your existence.
It is a lonely life without you but I am living it and loving it -- in your honor ... always.
My letter to the daughter I wanted so badly sat on the table for three days and the tears never stopped. There was no need for the burial because, at last, I was grieving. I showed my poem to everyone that I was close to. It felt so good, so healing to share how I really felt inside. The masquerade was over ...
As I write my story I am so thankful for the love and understanding that my sister showed me earlier tonight. She cried openly with me when I walked into her hospital room and saw her lying with her newborn in her arms. She knows how deep my sense of loss runs. She shared every detail of her labor and the birth of Jesse with me. I was as close as I ever will be to the miracle of birth. It's been many years since I've held a baby. I have never trusted myself not to breakdown hysterically. But tonight I did it. Meg gently placed Jesse into my arms and let me cry and cry and cry. My sister then so generously gave me the gift of time alone with Jesse so that I could tell him through my tears about the cousin, Sarah, that we would never know and to whisper tenderly that I will love him forever. I am a lucky woman.
The love letter that I wrote to "Sarah" has been hanging in a frame on my bedroom wall for three years now. Not a day goes by that I don't read it and yes, I still cry for her -- especially on this night. But there is life after infertility, not the kind of life that we dream of as little girls but certainly a life worth living. I am no longer ashamed of my inability to give birth. The word "resolve" is in my vocabulary. There is a peaceful acceptance in my soul.