Motherhood After Infertility: What It Really Looks Like
As I sit here assembling my daughter’s scrapbook with Mother’s Day in the air, the onslaught of picture-driven memories reminds me what a wild year it has been. My daughter, Emily, we’ll call her, is just one year old now, and I think back to last Mother’s Day when I held my teeny, tiny newborn for the first time. A true gift after miscarriage, fertility struggles, and ultimately, IVF.
Let’s be clear, here - I am NOT a scrapbooker. This is hard work for me, and I don’t really enjoy the act of it. Do I enjoy seeing the progression of my daughter’s first year of life, from squishy newborn to stumbling almost-toddler? Sure! But I don’t enjoy the stickers and the exclamation points and the glue…in fact, I’ve decided to go the old school route of scrapbooking.
I bought the same style of scrapbook that my mother used for all of our scrapbooks. She had four of us, and she managed to create multiple volumes for each child. My mother was the original anti-scrapbooker who mastered scrapbooking. With four kids and a full-time job, she didn’t have time for 3D stickers and fru-frus. She swore by the good ol’ cellophane peel-back style photo books where you slap down a photo and voila, it sticks. You can write a caption...or not. You can add some flare…or not. You can smooth out the wrinkles in the cellophane…or not.
She figured it out, so the pressure is on. I only have one child right now, after all.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
The pictures I’ve printed to be included in the scrapbook have been meticulously selected from hundreds, maybe even thousands of photos documenting Emily’s exciting life thus far. My iPhone camera roll is inundated with her face (and my dogs, of course). And you know how it goes - for every good photo, there are at least 32 snapshots of the same. exact. moment.
But I think I found the perfect ones to evoke the struggle, the beauty, the gratitude, and the exhaustion I’ve felt over the past 365 days. It’s never been more clear to me how light and dark motherhood can be at the same time. How hard and soft, airy and claustrophobic, smelly and aromatic, “yes!” and “no!” it can be.
To my fellow fertility warriors: does that sound like I’m complaining? I promise I’m not. I know how lucky I am to have my baby girl. But if infertility taught me anything, it’s that struggle exists so that beauty can, too. The hard parts SUCK. But they provide a juxtaposition for the amazing. Without left, there wouldn’t be right.
So now, I’m taking a break from my scrapbooking-lite to reflect on what new motherhood means to me, especially as it’s developed entirely under the umbrella of a pandemic.
The Motherhood Dichotomy: A Reflection to Avoid Scrapbooking
The Waddle and The Swaddle
My postpartum loot. If you know, you know.
If you don’t know, you have probably heard. The struggle after birth, whether you deliver vaginally or by c-section, can be rough. It’s not cute, it’s not fun, and it’s definitely not modest. The waddle is real.
But the flip side? My little, swaddled burrito.
The first emotions of motherhood are fierce and painfully intense. Whether you cope by numbing or by feeling all the feels, this is a reality of motherhood that tends to stay hush-hush. I’ll never forget what my AMAZING OB-GYN told me after I birthed Emily and was clearly experiencing some internal trauma:
“I’m going to tell you the truth. You may love this baby, or you may not. And if you do love the baby, you will certainly not like it all the time. Especially over the next several months. Your relationship with her will be magical and miserable, but you will get through it.”
Then she turned to my husband.
“Make your wife sleep. Give her earplugs and let her check out for three hours when she needs it.”
He nodded, “How will I know she needs it?”
“Oh. You’ll know.”
A year later, I no longer am swollen and walking funny, but the waddle versus swaddle phenomenon is still oh-so-present. And according to all the mothers I know, those two emotions are constantly at odds with one another...forever.
The Miss and The Bliss
It’s no secret that when you become a parent, your social life can take a hit. Throw in a global pandemic and no one’s social life even exists, parent or not. So, while I can’t say I was alone in the newfound hermit life, I can say that as people begin to venture out to restaurants, bars, and events, our bedtimes still come early and furiously.
Not to mention the fact that even going to the grocery story with a baby is a to-do. I never realized! And when you see women with those fabrics stretched to the maximum around their upper body, squeezing a baby to their chest, just know: it’s as complicated as it looks.
“Going out” doesn’t look the same. I haven’t seen midnight (on purpose) in a long time. But then there’s the flip side…
The absolute bliss you feel when you’re feeding your baby before bedtime. Especially when I think back on all the pokes and prods it took to get her here, the quiet and stillness of her room is an opposite euphoria I never could have imagined. I read her a book or two, play with her tootsies, and finish up with some Xs and Os. It’s pure joy. I don’t want to be anywhere else.
Thriving and Surviving
Rule #1 of motherhood: keep the ship afloat.
The teetering between surviving and thriving is like sailing rough seas, splashing between “I got this!” and “mayday!”
I think back to our fertility journey, and it’s pretty much the same. For us at least. Moments of confidence and progress followed by moments of failure and roadblocks.
You literally do everything you can to feel empowered, try to manage treatment and emotions on top of your daily schedules and to-do lists, but sometimes, things just don’t click and the entire structure crumbles. I’ve been there - on both sides of motherhood. Before pregnancy, when it’s all I ever wanted, and after pregnancy, whenever I daydream of less responsibility.
And then Emily does something amazing.
This little cheeky girl says, “Mama,” starts clapping for the first time, or takes a step all on her own. “OMG,” I think, “this chick knew I needed a win today.”
For me, it’s come when I least expect it and when I most need it. Sometimes it’s a personal manifestation (those who know me know that I love the phrase, “fake it ‘til you make it!”), and sometimes it’s divine intervention. Emily, the beautiful bundle that nearly tore me in half, has all the power in her two little hands to make all those rough seas worth it.
The Truth of It All
Emily’s Year One scrapbook is half-complete, and I’m trying to channel my own mother’s energy. I’m not sure if I’ll ever live up to her legacy, though - she endured a tremendously hard labor with me, had little to no social life until I turned 21 and my younger sister (the last of the four) went off to college, and has held our entire family above water the whole time.
So, the final dichotomy is this: I try to be the best mother I can be, but I’ll never live up to my own mother, and I’m 100% okay with that. I recognize that everyone has a different relationship with their parents, and I’m not claiming mine to be perfect. But now, more than ever, I will always value the little things she did. Because as I sit here, three hours past my daughter’s bedtime, I realize how freaking hard it is to make a scrapbook.