Twenty-Three Years

by Ana Nelson

I married at 19, and because I was a young Mormon woman at BYU with a very high level of buy-in to the culture, I felt a lot of pressure to start adding children to our family fairly quickly. I believed using birth control was fine … but everybody around me was having babies. I quit my birth control pills the month I turned 20. Nothing happened. A few months later a sister-in-law said, “Oh, you think it’s hard to be trying to conceive for three months? Wait until you’ve been trying for nine months!” I look back and laugh. Bitterly, a little bit.

After six years, many tears, many tests, one surgery, and two procedures, we ended treatments before proceeding to IVF and finally became parents to a baby boy…through adoption. We adopted our second son 21 months after our first, then two more children through foster-adopt when our older two were 5 and 7 years old. Our house is full, our brains and our hands are busy to the point of overload, and we deal daily with the challenges of four kids with varying health, needs, and personalities. The kids are great, and as all parents know, parenting is hard. We know we are pretty lucky and pretty blessed.

You’ve heard that adoption gets you in the Mom/Dad Club, but it doesn’t solve your infertility. It’s true. You still have to deal with all your grief and loss about being unable to become a parent through pregnancy and birth. You still watch and feel left behind as your younger sisters and cousins become pregnant and birth and breastfeed their babies. You still sit awkwardly and quietly when you’re in a group of women whose conversation inevitably turns to the experiences they all have in common. You might try to speak up for yourself sometimes. You get tired of it, and you give up. It gets easier and smaller as your friend group moves on from childbearing. But it doesn’t go away.

It’s been 23 years since I quit the Pill. I have never been pregnant. I have barely ever had a delayed period. When my older two boys were small I had to take them with me to a gynecological appointment (I hated asking people for help—a longtime problem of mine). The doctor was very kind and patient with them and she and I had a nice conversation about adoption and how it’s supported in the Mormon church. She said to me, “You know what will probably happen. When you’re 40, when you’re ready to do something else with your life, you’ll get pregnant. You’ll have that surprise late baby.”

I loved that idea. I held onto it for a long time. Until I was 37, finishing up a second year of homeschooling a challenging child whom the public schools weren’t serving well, struggling with my own mental health, I realized—I might still long for the experience of pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding, but I didn’t really want another child. I wasn’t really capable of mothering another child. I was in over my head already, barely able to paddle hard enough to get my nose up to the surface occasionally for air.

So I began trying to let go. I realized quickly that I absolutely should not become pregnant if I couldn’t parent another child. I got back on the Pill. It helped my moods and some physical symptoms. I still had to say goodbye to my hope. It was difficult. My husband didn’t really understand. He had moved on more completely a long time ago. He hadn’t held onto the thread that I had clung to. Other people I knew and thought to be as infertile as we were had the surprise late pregnancies, and I went through the painful separation of, “We aren’t really so much alike, after all.” It was lonely. I passed my 40th birthday. I got a Master’s degree and re-entered the world of work. That helped. I passed my 41st and 42nd birthdays—the ages at which my mother and mother-in-law had their last babies.

This week I turned 43. My life is good. But I know I’m not ever going to be pregnant. It’s not what I want and anyway, it’s just not possible. I accept it. It doesn’t mean it’s not still sad. When I was in my 20s it hurt to be infertile at that moment. Now it hurts to be infertile forever.