I assumed that motherhood would be there for me when I was ready for it.
When my first husband and I were dating, he asked me if I wanted kids. It was early December. We were 19 years old, sitting in the parking lot of my college dorm, in his Jeep that wasn’t fit for the winter. “Yeah,” I said. “You know, like when I’m 28 or 29.”
My first husband and I got married young (24) and he was mostly gone for our first year of marriage on military duty (right after 9/11). I waited a few years to get off of birth control. I also had to ease off of an antidepressant that I’d been on since I was 18. That wasn’t easy. And in fact, I ended up going back on it after coming off of it because I was too depressed to function. (No one’s going to get pregnant that way.)
At 29 years old, looming into 30, still without pregnancy, I talked with a mentor about depression I was feeling. She said to me, “Do you think you made a contract with yourself that you’d have kids by 30?” I never thought of it that way. But perhaps. At 15 or 16 years old, when I had my baby sister at my heels, becoming a mother seemed like something I didn’t want right away. 30 seemed like a good age. 30 seemed like an adult.
My sex life wasn’t that active in our young days of marriage. I blame the hurt that we caused each other even before we married. His alcoholism; my old memories of sexual trauma as a child.
I’ve believed that my anxieties around sex were at fault for why I wasn’t able to get pregnant. Let me say that again: I have been blaming myself for not being able to conceive because of something that was done to me at an early age and because my husbands have had their own issues around intimacy.
If I could be the wise motherly presence for myself right now, I’d hold this little girl within and tell her that it’s not her fault. It’s not her fault. Dear one, please do not hold this blame on yourself any more.
* * *
Sexual trauma had been my round-about reason for me to self-blame about not getting pregnant. The anxieties that I had about sex always ended up getting explained away in my head (or sometimes in bed) as the residual affects of being humiliated, shamed and taken advantage of by older neighborhood kids when I was 2 or 3 years old. I remembered (even so young) preparing myself to die on that day. I thought I was going to die.
When I didn’t die and they let me run home, I ran up the stairs to the bathroom in my house where my mom was giving my baby brother a bath. My dad was in the doorway. When I told them what happened, they didn’t believe me. For years I kept that silent. I never talked about it to anyone, feeling so ashamed. I even doubted myself that it happened. It’s a young age to remember events. I can remember the day I went to visit my brother in the hospital when he was born — and I was not yet 2 years old. (And that my parents believe me.)
Sexual trauma in adult relationships factor in, too. With intimacy, comes vulnerability, and with vulnerability comes all the baggage carried. In my experience, my intimate relationships have never been easy.
We need better fertility education
My sidebar here on sexual trauma leads me to the point that we as a culture/society (in America) need to stop the (sex-)swinging pendulum of polarities in the ways we think and talk about sex. It’s unbalanced. It’s either a taboo topic or overtly flaunted. The porn industry thrives, while couples struggle to have open conversations about their wants and needs in bed.
I’m tired of sex being something that we joke about, but when it comes to explaining how fertility works, it’s no more than a diagram about an egg meeting a sperm.
I grew up fearing getting pregnant, based on what my parents and teachers told me. Almost to the extent that I was afraid that if sperm could get on my pants — it MIGHT be possible I could get pregnant. (I know…it’s horribly naive.) Talk about uneducated.
The myth that I’ve believed and have been force-fed is that women are fertile all. the. damn. time. Sometimes it seems like that when I look at people in my life who seem to have zero trouble getting pregnant. (The key word in there is seem.)
Fertility is not a wide open window, letting all the fresh summer breezes in. Fertility is timing. It’s health. There’s mystery, too, but so much of it is science. And its science that still has so far to come in terms of education and understanding about how a woman’s body works.
Let’s focus on that, scientists, shall we?