By Lisa Manterfield
Before I was even pregnant, I imagined my children vividly. I laid out a smorgasbord of family traits and handpicked the best of them.
My son, Valentino, would be named for my husband’s favorite uncle, and he’d be a chip off the old block. He’d have his daddy’s good looks—the profile of an Aztec Prince—paired with Grandma Tilly’s curiosity and great-grandpa Aureliano’s piercing green eyes. I pictured my Valentino to be charismatic and creative; he’d love music and art, and of course, he’d adore his mother.
My daughter, naturally, would take after my side of the family. Sophia would be named for my dad’s mother and would inherit her spirit of survival and her generosity, and she’d get my straight hair, so I’d know how to deal with it. I could picture Sophia easily, and I’m sure you’ll understand when I tell you that I knew she would be beautiful.
Before they were born—in fact, before they were even conceived—I imagined my children to life, and they were absolutely perfect. And why wouldn’t they be? Does any mother really imagine her future offspring any other way?
But here’s the thing. My children are perfect. Sophia and Valentino could never be anything but perfect, because they never got the chance to exist anywhere but in my imagination.
I was 38 years old, and four years into trying to conceive my children when my doctor pulled out a notepad and drew a lopsided oval. “Imagine this is your ovary,” he said.
“You have one producing follicle.”
It just takes one, I thought, but the doctor looked at the wall just past my eyes and I could tell this news wasn’t going to be good.
He explained what was going on in perfectly logical, unsentimental, doctor speak—I assume—but what I heard was:
“A normal ovary should have 6-10 good follicles, but you have mumbo-jumbo-icky-sticky-messed-up-insidy-bits-itis, so you have a snowflake’s chance in hell of having a baby.”
The actual math worked out like this:
Mr. Fab (my hubby) plus Lisa (that’s me) to the power of love, equals big fat nothing, no baby to infinity.
Mr. Fab plus Lisa times IVF times unknown X equals approximately 25 percent chance of conception.
Mr. Fab plus egg donor minus Lisa minus love, all to the power of voodoo times big bucks squared equals a 50-50 shot, maybe baby, maybe not.
I can’t move on from this particular part of the story without mentioning that up until this point, IVF had been sold to us as the silver bullet, the sure thing, with glossy brochures showing healthy bouncing babies and glowing parents. There was no mention of the outrageous expense, the painful injections, or the emotional toll of the slippery slope of hope, expectation, and disappointment. The odds quoted covered the vast spectrum of all women, all ages, all scenarios and were not calculated for one Lisa, one set of dud ovaries, one desperate attempt. Instead we were simply told, “It will all be worth it when you get your baby.”
I’m sure the doctor expected us to say, “Where do I sign?” But his glossy offer wasn’t nearly good enough for me to bet my money, my body, and, most of all, my heart on, so we said, “No thank you,” and left.
There’s a lot more to this story of course, enough to fill two books and more than 1,500 blog posts. Suffice to say, my husband and I, armed with information from every possible source, explored all the avenues available, but ultimately our children, a pregnancy, even a near-miss, eluded us. We made the hardest decision of our lives and started trying to figure out how to build a life that didn’t include Valentino or Sophia.
It’s been a long road of acceptance, filled with a lot of tears, much stomping around being furious at the world, and yes, I’ll admit it, a fair bit of glaring at mothers who don’t fully appreciate the children they’ve been given, and griping about the unfairness of how life’s blessings are sometimes doled out (see any Whiny Wednesday post for details.) But I’m doing pretty well at this childless thing now.
That said, my wounds have scabbed, rather than healed, and I have yet to put myself through the torture of accepting a baby shower invitation. The last one I went to was for a baby boy who’s now in middle school. I’ve sent gifts and visited every friend’s newborn, but I just couldn’t face all that comparing pregnant bellies and passing around impossibly tiny onesies, or the smiling faces saying, “You’re next!” I knew I’d just end up hyperventilating in the guest bathroom again.
But if a well-meaning, but stressed-out mom tells me, “You wouldn’t understand; you’re not a mother,” I can now simply grit my teeth and try to put myself in her shoes. I’ll suggest that maybe because I’m not entrenched in the child-rearing wars, I could offer a different perspective, and that perhaps my four decades of preparing for my own children, might give me some grounds for an opinion.
And when this mom tells me how perfect her children are, I’ll just smile and nod, because I know that mine are perfect, too. My daughter, Sophia, is whip smart and beautiful, and has never slammed a door or yelled that she hates me. And my son, my Valentino? He’s just so handsome, with those gorgeous green eyes, and oh, how he loves his mother.
I know every mother thinks her children are perfect, but in my memories and in my heart, mine really are—and they always will be.