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Cue: mass media hysteria. Wild celebrations. A million internet memes. Countless declarations that this is the best news since Donald Trump became President. A shining beacon of hope and joy during dark times. And two babies! A double blessing! Twice as many reasons to celebrate.
But not for everyone.
It is undeniably good news. For Beyoncé and her family who will now grow by two.
There’s a forgotten group of women, however, who are feeling quietly devastated this week. Women who are struggling to conceive. Women who can’t get pregnant or who are deep in grief following the loss of pregnancies they desperately wanted. They are silent.
But I see you. I feel you. I understand you. Because I have been you.
The grief, isolation, sense of failure that can descend over you like fog when you are struggling to conceive is real. And the feeling of being punched in the heart every time someone announces their pregnancy—whether it's a celebrity or someone you know—is so very hard to explain.
How churlish. How selfish. How mean-spirited. How negative.
That’s what your inner voice tells you, on top of the overwhelming desperation and desolation your un-pregnant state brings you every day. Why can’t you just be happy for her? For Beyoncé. For your sister-in-law. Your friend. Your co-worker. The woman standing beside you as you wait for your coffee, her hand absently rubbing her swollen belly. Your heart breaks again and again for yourself, for the baby you don’t have inside you.
When news of a celebrity pregnancy breaks and the world collectively breaks into a smile, the shame of your devastation stings as much as the devastation itself. You can’t tell anyone.
It’s not that you don’t wish all the pregnant ladies all the very best. Possibly, probably they have had their own struggles. Beyoncé has spoken about her own miscarriage. It’s a rare woman whose path to motherhood is paved smoothly and in gold.
But none of this matters because it’s not rational. It’s visceral. We don’t mean to compare but we do. When you’re painfully unpregnant, sometimes the joy of others can feel too much to bear.
Like an unwittingly cruel spotlight on your own failure.
There are a lot of things I’ve failed at. Relationships. Cooking. Being a TV executive. Decorating. The list is long.
Some of these failures have been short-lived, while others have been life-long. The feeling is always unpleasant, sometimes intensely so. The most challenging type of failure I’ve ever experienced though, is the failure I felt around pregnancy loss and the infertility that followed it.
Halfway through my second pregnancy, my baby daughter died. And I didn’t even know. My husband and I found out unexpectedly at the 19 week scan. She was there on the monitor and yet she was gone.
Among the tsunami of emotions that knocked me off my feet over the ensuing days and months and years, the feeling of failure was pervasive, punching its way up through my grief. I couldn’t wash it off. It clung to my most fundamental identity as a woman in a way that shocked me, making me feel hopeless and helpless and deeply, overwhelmingly ashamed.
I felt like my most primal function as a woman—to conceive a child, carry it to term and deliver it safely into the world—was something I’d failed at. No matter that I already had one healthy child. The baby I’d lost…I’d failed her. The babies I couldn’t conceive, month after agonizing month, I’d failed them too. I’d failed my husband. I’d failed myself. My body had failed me.
This acute and ongoing feeling of failure is the biggest challenge of miscarriage, pregnancy loss and infertility. As women, we turn against ourselves so often. The guilt about everything. The directing our pain inwards. The blaming ourselves. It’s a downward spiral of negativity that exacerbates every physical symptom and amplifies every hormonal wave, making us feel like shit in a way it’s really hard to explain.
Trying to conceive my daughter took a long time and involved another miscarriage, as well as fertility treatment using Clomid, an ovulation drug. I vividly remember sitting with my husband in my obstetrician’s office, my growing medical file on the desk between us, tears running down my face as I begged him to let me start IVF because I just couldn’t take it anymore; the crushing disappointment, the crushing sense of failure, the crushing cruelty of wanting something so desperately and not being able to pull it off. No matter how hard I tried.
He listened to me with great kindness and patience, promising that we would give it just one more month and then proceed to IVF. It turns out I was already a week or so pregnant so we didn’t have to go there. I was lucky.
A few years ago, I had another miscarriage and while the feeling of failure wasn’t nearly as intense—I have three beautiful, healthy children—it still washed over me, albeit more lightly that it has in the past.
You know that expression, “Failure is not an option”? Well, that’s bullshit. Sometimes it is an option. A very real, very frightening option that is always with you, hanging over your head. Sometimes it’s a reality. Sometimes you don’t get to choose whether you become a mother or not. Your failure is just handed to you and there’s nothing you can do to change it.
I have no way to wrap all this into an inspirational quote tied up with a bow. When you’re desperately trying to get pregnant those around you are always trying to cheer you up, point out the bright side and the silver lining. They mean well but it can be hard to hear.
You don’t feel lucky. There is no bright side. You’re in a dark and lonely place.
So all I wanted to say to all the women who are in that place right now is that I know. I know how you feel. I’ve felt it too and so have thousands and thousands of other women.
I see you and I understand your pain. You are not alone.