the other side

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.


20 thoughts on “the other side

  1. this is a *powerful* entry. i’ve observed my own grieving in my pregnancy and labor not being what i thought they “should” be – yet, like you, i accept that as part of the path that led us to our beautiful son. he is such a gift; and if all of those things were what it took to bring him to use, then so be it. after reading this, knowing the advocacy that you are both doing, and following your blog, i have this to say: y’all need to right a book (or two, or three)! :)

    • Ha! Thanks, Danielle. If I ever manage to finish this dissertation, and then revise it to make it a book, maybe we’ll consider it. For now we’re just grateful to have this community of amazing people to go through all of this alongside.

      • keep doing this blog and by the time you’re finished with your dissertation and your eyes have come uncrossed, you’ll have your rough draft! :)

  2. R, I’m struck so often by the amazing strength you exhibit every day. Thank you for posting this. I’ve often wondered about the difficulty of J’s pregnancy for both of you so soon after losing E, and the mourning you must be experiencing while simultaneously loving J’s pregnancy, but I was (shamefully) very afraid to reach out to you. I am very far removed from this subject position, and I was terrified of bringing up painful issues for you, or saying the wrong thing. I’m sorry for being so cowardly and for the selfishness of making it more about what I might feel than what you were both feeling, but please know that I was thinking of you and J both, and I’m really moved by your words. Thank you for helping those of us who are far from this understand, and I truly admire your bravery in voicing this all in a society that, reprehensibly, often minimizes these issues or sees them as invisible. Much much love.

    • Oh, Mick. Please don’t feel bad at all. I would have had a difficult time talking about these issues while J was still pregnant. It’s only because we’re past that now that I feel able to explore them at all. I don’t think you were being cowardly; I think you were picking up on my boundaries. I very much trust your instincts, and in this case, they served you well. Thank you for these sweet words, though. I really wish we could see you two sometime soon!

  3. I can’t find your email to write you a personal message, rather than a comment. Can you let me know? I’m a blog reader not a creep I promise. Just prefer to not share in the comments. Thanks.

  4. It’s been so interesting (and heartbreaking and life-affirming and joyous) to be able to follow your journey. I’m not in your position, but I can see it so clearly, and so close. Throughout my own process I have wondered if infertility that can be fixed (through IVF, through a partner’s womb) still counts–and I think it does. You still have to give up the dreams of the easy, almost accidental pregnancy that so many other women experience (often with attendant negative emotions and decisions) and have to decide whether to just keep quiet about the fullness of your journey or to open up and give explanations to friends, family, and strangers about why things aren’t as easy and blissful as they might seem. And to be queer on top of that means the extra questions about logistics and donors and so on and so forth that just adds to an already difficult conversation. But I do agree with you that it’s an important conversation to have.

    • I agree with you. Infertility is a broad, broad term impacting lots and lots of families. We should talk about it in all of its incarnations if we hope to undermine the culture of silence around these things. Thanks for the comment!

    • Aw, thank you Bonnie. I’m proud to call you my friend, as well, and I look forward to introducing you to this cute child!

  5. Thank you so much for replying. I read this yesterday (as I compulsively check your blog every day looking for updates), but wasn’t sure how or if I should respond. Then my partner read it.

    While she didn’t immediately recognize it as me, as soon as she did she thought about how sad it was. Maybe, for her, she never actually thought about the potential negative emotions I would feel. And not that they are entirely negative, but you hit the nail on the head when you said that you both lost trust in the joy of the simple excitement over pregnancy. We will not have that simple joy – and I think that’s hard for any parent to realize. Pregnancy, and bringing a child into a family, is supposed to be such a momentous occassion that its hard to grasp the idea that it won’t be filled with the sunshine and rainbows everyone speaks of.

    On my part, I want to thank you. For validating my feelings I suppose. This journey is a very lonely one, and as you pointed out – there are not many of us who have travelled it or at least not many who speak of it. I felt isolated, and almost as if my feelings were wrong or that I should find some way to get over them completely to get into a position of pure excitement. I now know there are room for both excitement and sorrow – and that’s okay, it’s normal, I am not alone.

    Lastly, I want to thank you for pointing out how, directly, you were integral to the making of Bram – just by controlling what moment, pressure, etc. I had never thought of that. I had always imagined the NGP’s role of conception as one of place or idea only, not actual act. It’s wonderful to know that I will have control too, that I will have a say in who this child is. It a viewpoint I had never considered.

    I hope you don’t mind if I continue to comment from time to time as my partner and I go through our journey to conception, pregnancy, and birth. It will be wonderful for me to go along this path with somone who has been there – who knows both the overwhelming joy, and intense grief.

    • I’m so glad you’re okay with me responding on the blog this way. It seems like it’s been of service to others, and I thank you for inspiring that. I’m SO excited to follow your story as your family grows, so please please please keep us in the know! And in terms of my involvement, we searched for a practitioner who would let us (J when we got pregnant with E, me when we got pregnant with B) push the plunger during IUIs, and that has meant the world to us. You might have to really advocate for it, but I’ll bet you can find that kind of support and inclusivity too. And please know that as I sit here with my son ring-slinged to my chest (I wear him a lot, which I think has cemented our bond), I can’t imagine feeling closer to him, nor can I fathom a life where he wasn’t my son. You have so much deep joy to look forward to. Enough joy to override the pain a thousand times. I truly believe this.

  6. Thank you for this entry.

    I too, am in this position. My wife and I had been trying to get pregnant with my body over a year. Prior to this experience, I hadn’t taken Tylenol or cold medicine in years – but I quickly handed myself over to the ‘experts’ for months of escalating treatments – finally culminating in an unsuccessful IVF cycle last fall. We spent our savings, and then some.

    My wife never had a desire to become pregnant. I, on the other hand, spent my childhood ‘giving birth’ to cabbage patch dolls. I never, for a minute, questioned the fact that I would give birth to my babies.

    The failed IVF was a wake-up call. It was suddenly glaringly obvious that my tunnel-vision desire to become pregnant was hurting us too much – emotionally, financially, physically, spiritually. It had become a roadblock standing in the way of our child.

    It was through reading your blog, and following your story, that I first began to try to separate my desire to parent with my desire to be pregnant. For me, the desire to experience pregnancy is tangled up with a lifetime of body issues. Like so many women, my body and I have been at odds for most of my life. I believed that if I could only become pregnant, I would feel power in a way I have never felt, and pride in a body that I have never been too particularly proud of. I dreamed of finding healing and forgiveness through growing and birthing a child.

    The desire to parent is entirely separate. It is older and more primal. I have no doubt that I will adore any child that makes his/her way to us. I refuse to allow the sadness and betrayal I feel in my body to prevent me from becoming the mama I was meant to become.

    We switched to inseminating my wife last December. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done.

    Last week, we experienced a very, very early loss on her 3rd attempt. We had only just found out she was pregnant, and then the bleeding started up…. For some reason, even through a miscarriage, we were so excited. A positive, no matter how fleeting, felt better than all the negatives. I must admit, however, I am jealous of her experience already. We trudged through some teary conversations…. but teary conversations, and detangling, will be a small price to pay for all the joy that is to come. It feels closer now.

    Thank you so much for sharing your life with us. Your family is a beautiful example of what can be gained by pushing past your comfort zone, and rewriting the original plan.

    • “For me, the desire to experience pregnancy is tangled up with a lifetime of body issues. Like so many women, my body and I have been at odds for most of my life. I believed that if I could only become pregnant, I would feel power in a way I have never felt, and pride in a body that I have never been too particularly proud of. I dreamed of finding healing and forgiveness through growing and birthing a child.”

      That statement is very powerful and really resonates with me…so much so that I needed to say this.

    • Wow. Thank you so much for trusting us with your story here. I can relate to so much of this, and you word it so beautifully. The body image piece: yes! How could I call myself a feminist and still believe that women had to birth to fully qualify as women? I have no idea, but I did. I did believe that. What freedom to have finally begun to let that go. And I love the language you use to describe parenting itself: as a desire that is older and more primal. For me this is exactly right. Bram has awoken in me a mother, a woman who is every bit as connected to the mothers who’ve come before her as any biological mom has ever been.

      I’m heartbroken for your recent loss. I’m so sorry. I can never make sense of why so many people have such easy paths to parenthood while some of us just struggle at every turn. I’m so glad you’re still devoted to trying, though, and that you two are having those conversations, no matter how painful. It takes SO MUCH WORK to stay on the same page through all of this. So much work and so many tears. That’s something I wasn’t prepared for.

      Please keep us posted on your family as it (gods willing) grows very soon. I’m so glad to know of other women whose paths to motherhood have looked similar to mine. 80% of women carry children to term. 2% of women adopt. I admire those women so much because they see through everything culture tells them about biology. They see through it all and find intense love. I don’t know what tiny percentage of women become mothers this way, but I know I’m proud to be among them.

    • Thank you, Kate. I always look forward to your honesty and eloquence as well. I can’t imagine this journey without this community.

  7. This is an amazing post. Your honesty is appreciated. We don’t have a lot of the same experience, except for the overall NGP aspect, but this post still touched me deeply. Too often “these things” are not openly discussed, and it seems as though it would be helpful to everyone if they were.

    • Thank you for reading along. I agree about how silent these issues are, and I am grateful beyond words for this conversation, and for everyone who has taken part in it.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I also don’t believe in regret/wishing away the dark parts of the past because they are what has allowed the present. I’ve said this about my father’s death – even though I hate that I lost him when I was so young I simply can’t spend my life wishing he had lived. I love this life too much and his death is part of my life and a huge part of who I am.

    I don’t mean to process in your comments! What I mean to do is tell you that you are amazing and what you wrote is incredibly powerful and I’m so glad you shared it.

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