The American Dream
I was raised to believe that America is the “Land of Opportunity” and that I could accomplish anything I wanted in life if only I worked hard enough. This certainly seemed true for my parents, Chinese immigrants who came to the US in the 1960s with little, worked and saved, and achieved the “American Dream.” My husband Mark and I met in the first week of freshman year at Cornell.
We married at the age of 26, after I finished medical school. We had many aspirations in life, but we agreed that the top priority would always be family. It came as a shock when something that was supposed to come naturally to all women seemed impossible for me – conceiving and giving birth to a baby.
We were not too discouraged when we did not get pregnant right after marriage. After all, medical residency came with a stressful and hectic schedule. Some nights we didn’t even see each other, much less have time to try to make a baby. However, we had a plan to line up all my electives in the last several months of my 3rd year of residency training and really focus on baby making then.
In Jan 2004, we were ecstatic to find out we were pregnant! We naively had no reason to be anything but ecstatic, daydreaming about what he or she would look like, thinking of baby names… until one day in Feb, I started having cramping and bleeding and was rushed to the ER…
“Don’t worry. You’re still young.”
People want to be helpful after a miscarriage, but most people are awkward and don’t know what to say. “It was just a bunch of cells,” and “Don’t worry. You’re still young,” were two of the most common and least helpful phrases I heard. I truly appreciated those who would just be with me through my sadness.
A few weeks passed, and on the surface, life was back to normal. But waves of grief would still pass over me unexpectedly. I started to worry that I’d become a downer to my friends. So I found support in an online group of women who had all miscarried in Feb 2004 like me.
There, we could obsess together about our cycles and the timing of our sex, wait anxiously together to see if our periods would arrive, and commiserate when they did. But 6 mos later, there was no one left to commiserate with me. All the other ladies had gotten pregnant again – all except me.
This is when those values my parents taught me kicked in. I have to work harder at this! So off we went to visit the reproductive endocrinologist. We were 29 at the time, still young in reproductive terms. So when all our testing came back normal, the doctors and nurses were very optimistic.
“You will get pregnant!” “Maybe even twins!,” they said. I read books on infertility, I meditated, I went to acupuncture. I timed my shots impeccably, once having to stick a needle into my thigh as we were driving through the Lincoln Tunnel in NYC. Mark perfected the way to inject progesterone into my butt that would hurt the least (but it still hurt).
4 intrauterine inseminations, 2 in vitro fertilizations, 1 frozen transfer and one more pregnancy loss later, we still had no baby.
The Ongoing Loss
A miscarriage is recognized as a loss, but what many people do not understand is the ongoing loss of infertility. Every day I awoke with the sensation of a hole in my heart. I felt like I was missing out of the greatest purpose of my life, and that nothing else I did really mattered. Monday through Friday, I put on my happy face and went to work to care for patients. In the evenings and on weekends, I had no distraction from the emptiness.
One day, Mark and I decided it might be nice to go to a playground. Maybe just watching other children play would give us some of the innocent, joyful energy we so desperately wanted in our life. We quickly realized that two childless adults staring at other kids at a public park might not have been a well thought out idea. I can laugh about it now.
I was mad at God. And I was guilty for being mad. Then one day, something I read gave me permission to feel this way. It reminded me that God understands. He knows my heart and wants me to come to Him with my sorrows. Maybe that was what I needed in order to let go and allow myself to move on to the next chapter.
When something is meant to be, it unfolds so naturally that you may not realize the significance of the defining moments until you look back in hindsight. I don’t even remember how we met her, a mother who had adopted a child from China. Of course, after infertility and pregnancy losses, adoption had been in the back of our minds. But we asked ourselves what I’m sure most parents unfamiliar with adoption ask – could we love an adopted child as our own? Would we feel like we were missing out on something, not having that genetic bond?
The answer came quickly. We attended a picnic with “Families with Children from China.” The parents were mostly caucasian, and even though they appeared different from their children, it was clear to us that the love was the same as in any family.
We took the necessary time to grieve the fact that we would not be passing our genetics forward, and then we were ready. We adopted our first son in 2007, our second son in 2009 and our third in 2013.
The process, the trips, and how we ended up with three boys is a story for another time. It’s been 7 years since we completed our family, and now I could write a book on the challenges of adoption parenting, but that’s also for another time. In the end, I truly believe that our journey to becoming a family, pain and all, was part of God’s plan.
What can you do to support someone who is going through infertility and/or pregnancy loss?
1. Show her you care by being present and listening.
2. Tell her it’s okay for her to be sad with you.
3. Don’t minimize the pain or loss.
4. Don’t try to solve her problems by offering suggestions unless she asks you to do so. I was not open to the suggestion of adoption until my husband and I were mentally ready. It is not helpful to suggest it.
5. Acknowledge that events like pregnancy announcements, baby showers, Mother’s day or other holidays may be difficult for her.
6. Even though I believe this to be true in retrospect, don’t say it’s all part of God’s plan. It’s not helpful in the moment.
1. RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, established in 1974, is dedicated to ensuring that all people challenged in their family building journey reach resolution through being empowered by knowledge, supported by community, united by advocacy, and inspired to act. https://resolve.org/
2. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) is dedicated to the advancement of the science and practice of reproductive medicine. https://www.asrm.org/
3. Creating a Family is the national infertility, adoption, & foster care education and support nonprofit. Our mission is to strengthen families through unbiased education and support for infertility patients, adoptive parents, foster parents, and allied professionals. https://creatingafamily.org/
Short Article Review
- My husband and I were young, successful, career driven, but we always knew family would be our #1 priority.
- Miscarriages are common and yet we don’t talk about them enough. People are awkward in their condolences.
- Infertility is an even lesser recognized ongoing loss. It is hard to comprehend the physical, mental, and often financial burden that is associated with infertility.
- While adoption did turn out to be the right answer for us, it is not helpful to suggest this to someone before they have grieved having a biological child.
- Advice in trying to support someone going through this: Be present for their pain without trying to cheer them up or offer unsolicited advice.
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