It would take ten years for me to become a mother. It was the worst decade of my life. But now I see that it was also my first experience of how perfect and magical the universe truly is. I have been a mother now for ten years. It seems fitting to honor the story of how it all came to be on Mother’s Day.
We were 32, my husband and I, when we decided to start our family. In doing the math, that gave me 72 chances to get pregnant before I turned 38. It was a seemingly endless amount of possibilities.
We wanted a girl most of all. We had already named her Isabella, and hoped with all our might that she would have his curly hair and my brown eyes.
Because I was certain it wouldn’t be long before I was pregnant, I turned my focus to how I would surprise Michael with the news. I decided to sing him Danny’s Song by Kenny Loggins. It held special meaning to us both. We would drive around in his jeep with the top down on some winding country road on a summer day with no particular place to be and no particular time to return; singing it out loud, unabashedly attempting some harmony around “even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey…” and I would have to stop singing for the tears that closed my throat. It was the perfect choice.
During an annual exam I mentioned to my ob-gyn that I had stopped taking birth control and that we were trying to get pregnant. She congratulated me and asked how long it had been. “Over a year,” I said. She paused, looking over her clipboard and said, “Well if that’s the case we need to run some tests to make sure you aren’t infertile.”
I didn’t hear anything after the word “infertile.” My ears started ringing - high pitched and thunderous at the same time. I blurted out “Ok” but I was farthest thing from ok. I imagine it is like any thing you don’t want to hear. First comes the denial. Then fear. It’s the fear that will get you.
Although the tests were inconclusive, I was given the label “unexplained infertility,” and advised that the best way to get pregnant was through medical intervention. And this began what would be eight years of infertility treatments and drugs; and thousands upon thousands of dollars to have a baby.
It’s a journey that shakes every belief out of you that you may have had; of being entitled in anyway to a body that works, to insurance that won’t fail you, to a medical system that cares and to doctors who have all the answers.
You have no option but to trust the course in front of you, because why pursue it if you aren’t going to believe with every fiber of your being, with every wish on a candle, with every silent prayer, with every tearful plea, in its success? It’s a game that there is no preparation for but you agree to play anyway to achieve one of the most desired outcomes that two people who love each other want: a baby. To create another human life. To do with our bodies what they were intended to do.
That’s the medical term for it: a cycle. The cycle is vicious. Daily injections and scheduled sex and blood draws and the grand finale of semen into a jar, hyper-spun and cleaned and then injected inside of your uterus with hopes that these super swimmers will find your plethora of jacked-up eggs, collide and stick around to grow as one.
Then you wait for the phone call with the results of your blood test. Even though you have, of course, snuck in two home pregnancy tests, eyes bored onto the strip of paper willing a line to appear and when one does not, convincing yourself that it was too early anyway. The phone call from the nurse is all business, “Sorry. It’s negative.”
You don’t recover easily. As it goes on, you actually don’t recover at all, only you don’t realize it. Think of a massive drill pounding the earth; it rises higher with new hope each cycle, but crashes deeper down below the surface with each failure.
We averaged six cycles a year for eight years. I had eleven surgeries. Insurance would no longer cover anything below my boobs. Not that they were covering any of these expenses anyway. It was all out of pocket.
I could no longer be in the presence of babies. Most times I would merely tear up, but others I would sob uncontrollably, and I had zero control over it. You were either going to get the woman with tears dropping quietly or a crazy woman crying the ugly cry with snot dripping down her nose. I couldn’t walk by a Baby Gap in the mall and I sent “regrets only” to every baby shower I was invited to. Everywhere I looked I saw baby’s and baby’s saw me, staring right at me, their beautiful innocent eyes looking right through me. Not one of my friends with children understood - how could they? It was the single most isolating experience of my life.
Slowly, my husband and I drifted apart as if on separate rafts in the ocean riding two different currents. Undetectable at all until we looked up and saw how far apart we actually were.
Questioning everything, we began to explore anything. Fertility goddesses, known healers, diets, vitamins - anything that held promise. I went to a Maori Indian healer, asking for Papa as I had been instructed to, only to be informed, “Papa only goes where he is needed.” At the end of my session I would find myself surrounded by every healer in the room, Papa at my feet. My body was vibrating so strongly from their energy I could have sworn I was levitating.
I called a priest, an acupuncturist and a psychic in the course of an hour one day and I met with each one. From the priest I asked forgiveness for divorcing my first husband. Still under the sway of my catholic upbringing, I had convinced myself that I was being punished by God for the divorce.
The acupuncturist, who I went to weekly for a year, gave me the type of period she said women are supposed to have: pain and symptom free.
The psychic told me I would not be denied a child; there was a little girl coming to me and she is beautiful and lively. That my child would be an answered prayer, but comes to me in an unexpected way. I hung onto her every word. I so wanted to believe her.
At some point, hoping for some brevity from it all, we watched the dark comedy “Raising Arizona” with Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter. Michael thought it was funny. I fully rationalized the fact that they stole a baby. I understood that level of desperation.
When depression took hold of me, it slid into the room like an intoxicating invisible vapor, coating everything with a haze of gray. I became ambivalent about everything. I didn’t know anything about depression and never even realized how deep down a hole I had fallen until I somehow had the strength to pull out of it. I knew I had come out the other end because instead of being numb I could feel again. I remember thinking, “Huh. THAT’s what depression is.”
A single 26-year-old woman in Pennsylvania who didn’t want to be a mother sought out to find someone who did. I got the call from our lawyer who said, “There’s a woman in Pennsylvania and she has chosen you to be the parents of her unborn baby.” And then, “Kerrie? Kerrie? Are you there?” On the other end of the line I nodded my head silently, but tears had choked my throat too tight to answer.
We flew out to meet her. I wanted to know the woman who was making this ultimate sacrifice for us. She lived in a poor area of town. Her car had been impounded for parking tickets. Her apartment was on the fourth floor of a run down building with no working elevator. She had no kitchen, only a microwave. She had no friends or family nearby, and walked to her appointments at the local medical facility, despite being ordered to bed rest. She was a chain smoker, skinny as a rail and had a tough chick disposition. It was sobering to take in her reality.
Her apartment was too tiny to hold us all comfortably, so after a few awkward exchanges, we suggested lunch and headed out to Ruby Tuesday, one of the only “sit-down” (her words) restaurants in the area.
Michael and I made nervous chatter in the car. I kept stealing glances at her. She was tiny, really tiny, and her belly was huge. I resisted the urge to touch it. We stopped outside the restaurant so she could smoke. It crushed me to watch her.
When she finished she snubbed out her cigaret on the sidewalk and we headed into the restaurant. I watched as Michael approached the hostess stand, took two steps towards him and stopped dead in my tracks. Michael turned back to look at me and saw my distress. My face had contorted in way that was all too familiar to him and tears started falling. “Honey, what's wrong?” I could only say his name, “Michael.” I grabbed his hand, squeezing it hard. I felt like everyone around us froze as if a still frame in a movie as Michael and I stood there, facing each other and holding hands. I didn't need to say anything else. It took him just a moment to cock his head upward and hear the music: “People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one. Life’s just begun. Think I’m gonna have a son. He will be like you and me, as free as a dove...”
Here in Lebanon Pennsylvania, 10 years later, we are with the woman who would give us a child. And the song I had wanted to sing to my husband to tell him the news about our baby was playing in the restaurant.
After all this time. I felt like the child herself was speaking to me: “This is how it was to be all along. Don’t you see? You took all of the steps leading to this very moment. I knew all along that it would be this way. That I would come to you, your Isabella. I’ve been waiting for you as long as you have been waiting for me.”
We watched Isabella Maria DeMay being born in Nashville. Her middle name to honor the woman who brought her to us. Every year on Mother’s Day and on her birthday, I sit with the knowledge that this child my husband and I so desperately wanted was always destined to come to us. The little girl that we planned for. The one with his curly hair and my brown eyes. “…she will be like you and me, as free as a dove.”
I held onto my secrets for years. Decades, actually. And there are many reasons why. Reasons that anyone who has endured it — lived it — will understand. But only those who have endured it — lived it — will.
I’m writing this for everyone else.
I love you, but I’ve got to let you go.
Each time our paths cross I open my heart with renewed hope that it will be different somehow. And each time I walk away feeling empty.
My dear (____________), I realize now that at some point, I gave away my power to you. I was rebuilding my life, creating it piece by piece, and in all of its uncertainty and tender roots, I shyly let a chosen few in to tread softly and take a peek. I wanted to share my trepidation and fear and doubt and exhilaration and sheer anticipation with you. So I gave you permission to validate me. In no small way I longed for it. But it never came.