My eyes blinked open. I’d nearly nodded off on the acupuncture table. My four year old was literally in my face, his searching blue eyes and button nose clownishly upside down as he peered over me from the head of the table.
How many needles, indeed? The million-dollar question. How many cycles? How many vials of donor sperm? How blood tests, ultrasounds, ovulation predictor kits? How many inseminations? How many thousands of dollars flushed down the toilet before our son’s younger sibling magically appeared?
The straight parents at preschool made it look so easy. Women with burgeoning bellies, toddlers still in diapers running around the playground while their moms and dads dropped off and picked up their older brothers and sisters. Soon, I kept telling myself. It’ll be us soon. But as time marched on, cycle after failed cycle, doubt started to seep in. What if this time I couldn’t conceive?
I smiled up at our son. On my very first visit to the acupuncturist, he’d looked on with alarm as the Chinese doctor inserted over half a dozen needles into my skin. As soon as she’d left the room, he’d asked gravely: “Mommy, are you dying?”
“No, honey,” I’d reassured him. “Mommy and Mama are just trying to make a baby, remember?”
This time, I gently clarified that it’s not the needles themselves that make the baby. They just help make Mommy’s body ready to carry the baby.
“But how many?” he persisted, his question no doubt fuelled more by impatience than by curiosity. He had been spending the bulk of this year, his last before kindergarten, pushing his Thomas trains around waiting areas and examining rooms as I pulled out all the stops to get pregnant. Amanda and I had now been at this for almost three years. I wasn’t getting any younger, and we were down to our final, last-ditch efforts to create number two.
The clock was ticking, in so many ways. In a few short months, our son would be at school all day. I had taken a partial hiatus from my teaching job at the university; my plan was to spend quality time with my boy, to savour ever last minute of his waning early childhood. As the prospects of having another child became increasingly dim, I was all too painfully aware that this might be it. But instead of the carefree days I’d imagined, playing together at home or at the park or at Science World, I’d been dragging him to and from medical appointments. We frequented the fertility clinic so regularly that the nurses and office support staff now greeted me by name. This, along with my bursting clinical file, were not-so subtle clues that it was taking me way too long to conceive, and that any sane person would have called it quits by now.
There were also regular visits with the naturopath and the chiropractor, each doing their part to coax my aging body to create another baby. Our son had won the heart of my acupuncturist, who saw me at least three times a cycle. They discussed trains and the sheer awesomeness of Captain Underpants, his two main passions du jour. She even passed on a blue- and white-striped Thomas the Tank engineering cap that her seven year-old had outgrown; our son was enthralled.
At an IVF consult, he amused the clinic nurse by photographing her with the camera app on his LeapPad Explorer. He expertly sketched over the shot with his stylus, adding neon pink hair and bright orange sunglasses. The final portrait left her in stitches: “It’s wonderful,” she hooted, taking a moment to wipe her eyes and catch her breath before continuing to demonstrate how I was to inject myself with a slew of powerful hormones.
If nothing else, our son was at least growing clear about how he’d come into the world. He’d been in the room with Amanda and me for countless IUIs, those months I’d surged early or on a weekend and we couldn’t snag last-minute childcare. He’d even made a passionate, expressive painting in art class that he told the teacher to title, Mommy and Mama going to the hospital to make a baby. At home, he’d proudly explained his masterpiece to his two moms, pointing out the fact that we were both smiling, because he was the baby we were about to create, and that this made us so happy. I’d met Amanda’s eyes, my heart so full it was about to burst, and we’d spontaneously joined together in a group hug, sandwiching our little guy in the middle.
“Yes,” we’d affirmed, “we love you so much.” Indeed, our son’s conception and birth were two of the happiest moments of our lives together. And yet, I realized later, as I revisited the beaming figures in his artwork, I hadn’t actually smiled on my way to an insemination in a long time. When had I given up hope?
In a few short months, it was over. Kindergarten began and, by the end of October, we’d completed our last cycle. In the end, the transition into kindergarten was much less catastrophic than I’d imagined. I had this sense that our son would be swallowed up by the school system, that he wouldn’t be fully mine anymore. I’d forgotten the golden hours that were ours to share afterschool. I’d underestimated the important bonding time as we cycled to and from school, his Trail-A-Bike hitched to the back of my Norco. And I’d had no idea just how proud and excited I’d be to watch him take his first, tentative steps towards independence.
I wish I could say the same thing about the infertility. I knew it was going to be deeply painful to stop trying and to close the door on a second child for good. But there’s no way I could have anticipated the intensity of the loss, how grief would completely slam into me, knock the wind out of me, and bring me to my knees. If our son’s final year of early childhood was the year of medical appointments, his kindergarten year was the year of grief. How many needles does it take to make a baby? How many tears to grieve a baby never conceived?
This past autumn, I was interviewed by Concordia journalism prof. Andrea Hunter, who is a doing a study on queer “mommy” blogs. At that point, my blog had been dormant for close to a year, but she wanted to talk to me anyway. Two of the many questions she asked were, “Is there anything you won’t write about?”and, as my friends, family and followers have also been inquiring, “Do you have plans to get your blog going again?”
The answer to both questions is “yes.” Yes, there are some places I don’t want to go and some lines I don’t want cross. Even though I’ve written intimately about our experiences as a queer family, my grief around my infertility is incredibly private. It was not something I wanted to chronicle, at least not as I was going through it. After all, how many ways are there to write, I feel sad, depressed, defeated? The last thing I wanted was my queer parenting blog to mutate into a blog solely about secondary infertility, even though my experience of secondary infertility is very much coloured by my queerness. Would it have been such a struggle to conceive if we’d had unlimited access to semen and the ability to try at home, several times a cycle? How much precious time was lost waiting for test results, for vials of sperm, and for our son’s donor to reappear? Right out of the gate, we were operating at a disadvantage.
As I was going through my year of grief, it was hard for me to write about anything else queer or family-related without it feeling faked or forced, because the reality was, the infertility was always there, spilling a grey wash over everything. Everywhere I looked in my life, from the daily, sibling stroller brigade outside our son’s elementary school to friends and close family giving birth, there were constant reminders of what I did not have, of how my own body had failed me.
And yes, I do want to start blogging more regularly again, and for the first time in a long while, that seems possible. Our son is now in grade one, and the year of grief has morphed into something new – a year of letting go, a year of daring to hope again. As I watch our son grow increasingly confident and independent, I too am able to start moving forward again in my life after being in a holding pattern for so long. For the first time in a long time, I have other things I want to write about, experiences other than grief and secondary infertility. But what I’ve come to realize after that conversation with Andrea – which was, incidentally, followed by months of false writing starts – is that in order to keep blogging, I first need to account for my time away. Not to apologize for my absence or to dwell over what happened, but to speak to that year of grief and to honour it, as I now move forward.