I recently received a comment that meant a great, great deal to me. I first planned to respond only to the woman who wrote it, but since part of what I love about this community is its ability to reach out to people we don’t even know are reading (this woman, L, has been reading Breaking Into Blossom for awhile, but I never knew), I thought I’d share my response here. L wrote that she and her partner also lost a daughter during pregnancy, that though she wants to desperately, she will not be able to carry again, and that they are switching to her partner’s body. She wrote that she has no fears about her ability to bond with a child coming to her in this new way, but that she’s heartbroken about all of the experiences she’s losing out on: the kicks, the nursing, the whole bodily deal. She wants to know how I have grieved this. What’s hurt. What’s helped.
This is a somewhat unusual subject position (a lesbian who wants to carry as much or more than her partner, but can’t). Until L contacted me, I’ve only known of two other women who share it, both of whom I’ve come into contact with via this blog. I’ll offer L – and anyone else who’s interested – my thoughts here, but if you’re out there, and you’re in this position, I’d love to hear what you think. How you’ve made peace with the loss you’ve faced (your child or children, your fertility, your bodily trust). Please share anything you feel safe sharing in the comments section of this post, or, if you have a blog, let us know so we can tune in. I think this conversation is worth having.
The infertility piece itself is one thing, and it’s a thing that deserves more attention. We should be talking about infertility a lot more than we are. Still, support is out there. I’ve wanted to get an infertility awareness ribbon for the blog for awhile now, but I haven’t known if it was right for me to do so. In my case, I could technically try again. I had a relatively easy time getting pregnant. They think there’s only around a 1 in 3 chance of what happened to Emmett happening again. Only, I’m still heartbroken over our little girl. I always will be. I can’t get behind 1 in 3; not where there are other paths. And with the thyroid disease that has surfaced since (as a result of?) my pregnancy, doing so feels dangerous. Pregnancy hormones wreck havoc on women with autoimmune disease. And what I want more than I want to carry is to raise Bram. To raise other children. So I never know whether what I have counts as infertility. I’m making this choice. What I do know is that the longing doesn’t go away. At least not for me, and at least not so far. I don’t even know that it’s gotten better. I do think, though, that I’ve made space for it, allowed that it will always be a part of me. It’s started to feel familiar. There’s an odd comfort in that.
The NGP experience, for a person who has struggled with this longing, is bittersweet. I compare it to adoption in my mind a lot, both because that’s where many heterosexual couples turn when they face what I’ve faced and because that’s where I hope we’ll turn for our next child. On the one hand, you get so many of the experiences that adoptive parents don’t necessarily get. I did J’s insemination, so I am as responsible for why B is who B is as much as J, or as our donor. A different moment or different pressure would have made a different child. And the memories of this pregnancy are so, so sweet to me. That first faint line, and the buzzing I felt in those early days. The protectiveness that sprang up in me. Nursing J through morning sickness. Watching the baby grow inside the woman I love most in the world. Cooking them nutritious food. Attending every single midwife appointment, and hearing all those heartbeats. All those heartbeats. The ultrasounds. The kicks, which I started to feel only one week after J. The reading and the singing to the belly. Those sweet hours in bed with my hand so close to his body. Just layers of beloved flesh away from my beloved son. The labor preparation, and the labor, and the believing my wife when she says that I was pivotal all those hours. Catching my son. Being the first person to touch him. Holding him when he took his first breath. These memories are the sweetest of my life. The level best. They are such a part of my love for him that I know I’ll mourn them deeply if we get to adopt our next child. In this way, queerness becomes a sparkling privilege, one unbeatable ability that outshines all of the rights we’re denied. If one womb falters, for whatever reason, there may be another womb there waiting. J and I were a team in making our children, and I feel with all of my body that we share them both equally. I know she mourns E as much as I do. I know B is as much my son.
But there’s another side to these moments, which is watching your beloved experience each and every moment of something you wish you could do. Watching her feel those first kicks. Watching her grow. Watching strangers congratulate her (leaving you completely out of the conversation even when they know you’re together). Noting her cravings and aversions. Learning about labor with her in spaces that make it clear that you’re very much secondary. Watching her labor with, and then deliver, your child, and feeling none of the pain. Being surprised that you don’t feel the pain. There’s privilege here, but the intimacy of being oh-so-close to pregnancy, and yet not being pregnant, is not without deep sorrow. I often think I had to grieve my infertility more fully as a result of J’s pregnancy. Had we gone straight to adoption, there’s so much I would never have seen, never have known I was missing. All that beauty would have been enough out of my reach that it just might never have haunted me. It did haunt me, though, and it made every second of J’s pregnancy complex. Neither of us could just revel in the glory of it. It was all double-edged, even for her, which broke my heart. We’ve had to grieve that too: that trust. That simple excitement.
If you might occupy this subject position in the future, you should know that the pain you’ll likely feel will be pretty much invisible. Even more so than infertility or pregnancy loss, and those are pretty invisible too. Very few (deeply empathic) people in your life will understand the complexity that is a subsequent pregnancy, not of your body. People will be insensitive, not because they’re cruel but because the subject position will be so far outside of what they can grasp. If your partner struggles with pregnancy (if the hyper-femininity of that subject position is foreign to her), you’ll have to work through that too. You’ll have to sympathize with her, stay compassionate about the parts of pregnancy that are daunting to her, all the while struggling to put down your own jealousy. There will likely be much talk about irony. You will both feel hurt and isolated sometimes.
So that’s some of what you might face. How you get through it, though? I don’t know. I can tell you what I’ve done. I’ve searched for power in the loss, in the vulnerability. I’ve come to understand that this (my infertility) was the only path to this child, and I will say this: this child is the most incredible creature I have ever known. I don’t believe in destiny, but I can’t imagine a wider joy than being my son’s mother. For this reason, I can’t wish away a moment of what it took to get here. I’ve also investigated the assumptions I held about womanhood, and I’ve let lots and lots of them go. I’ve noticed, from this place, how left out fathers and other NGPs are from the pregnancy and birth experience, and I’ve become an activist in that arena. J and I have stretched and grown into roles we weren’t sure we’d be any good at filling. As a result, we’ve discovered that our capacities far exceed what we assumed them to be. She found her female body empowering for the first time in her life. That’s just huge. And I found deep pleasure in nurturing both of them, which I could not have done if I’d had the inherent self-absorption of pregnancy. J found a calling: she’s attending doula training now, and she wants to become an advocate for LGBT parents. To offer consultations, family-inclusive childbirth classes, and doula services. And I found a calling, too, in advocating not just for NGPs but for a redefinition of family that is not about blood. I am passionately devoted to undermining the weight those around me place on biology. Family is about so much more.
I think it would be easy to miss all of the unexpected beauty this experience stands to offer. To stay in the hurt, the resentment, the bitterness so that your eyes are closed to all that you’re being handed. Sometimes I’ve done that, and I think that’s okay. More often, though, I’ve rediscovered myself. I’m proud of who I’ve become through all of this. When I first lost E, I felt like less of a woman. Now I feel like more of one: I am resilient, adaptive, and generous. I am open to vulnerability. I hope that if you’re reading this, and you share this position, you’re able to find a path through that brings you more fully into yourself. I hope that you find a path to motherhood that is full of more joy than you ever could have imagined, even if that joy comes alongside sorrow. And if you ever want to talk, please seek me out. It can be lonely work, this grief business. I’m here if you need a friend.