I’m holding a glass of wine on the deck, my 8-pound dog resembles a curious alien and lounges on my lap. The sun is setting. The sky is beautiful and we look relaxed. A few hours later, I’m at a bar with my husband and friends. I’m smiling, he’s laughing. Someone told a funny story and we’re in hysterics, trying to hold our muddled fruit cocktails straight.
What you can’t see are the tears I’ve just wiped away. What you can’t know is that earlier in the day, I was at a fertility specialist to have three very thorough tests run to see why we weren’t getting pregnant. Why wasn’t this happening for us? I was there for hours. Four hours actually. And before leaving, a doctor spoke to me in a private office with bare walls. Staring at the collar of her shirt, she explained the “unfortunate news,” as she put it. Pregnancy, while unlikely, would mean multiple miscarriages for me. My uterus would never hold a baby to term. In a moment, I was shattered. The wind was knocked out of me and I deflated.
I’m standing with my husband and two friends in front of an RV. We rented it with the plan to drive one way across the country. Eighteen days, thousands of miles, endless adventure. Pictures of quirky cafes, ballerina stretches in the Badlands, star jumps in front of the Grand Tetons and Mount Rushmore, bison at Yellowstone, horse back riding in the Wyoming wilderness, lunch in the redwood forest, shady dive bars, and jaw dropping vineyards.
Every picture tells the story of a most memorable adventure.
What you can’t see is that every ounce of my determination and focus went into forgetting about my diagnosis and planning that trip. I needed to escape. To figure out what life might look like without children. Could we handle that? And what you don’t know is that 4 days into our trip, while I posed with a giant ear of corn, I had just gotten off the phone with a new specialist informing me that a 3D ultrasound revealed I had previously been misdiagnosed. Yes, my uterus had issues, but it was operable. After months of falling, my feet touched the ground.
I’m at a friends’ wedding, posing with people I haven’t seen in eons. I’m dancing to old college songs, joking like we used to before life got real. I’m smiling in an alumni photo, squeezing between old classmates. Someone is pregnant and I pose with her burgeoning belly.
What you can’t see is I’m out of breath. My husband and I just raced back from our car, strategically parked between two huge trees, to hurriedly perform the injections necessary for our first round of IVF. The surgery to my uterus had still left me without a positive pregnancy test and our IUI had just failed. We just wanted the rollercoaster to end.
I’m posing in a Christmas dress. My husband is next to me and his eyes are partially closed. I post it anyway because it’s the only decent picture of the two of us in our holiday best. Luminaries line the front walk to our house and we appear excited to throw our annual holiday extravaganza. The next picture shows me laughing with family and friends. My sister is singing and my friends are dancing to holiday music. A normal person would have cancelled.
What you can’t see is that I’m recovering. My stomach is pushing against my dress. Earlier in the day, I was under anesthesia, having my second egg retrieval from my second round of IVF performed. I was told that it had gone well. They had retrieved 30 eggs, which elated me. I was in pain before my first guests arrived and my body was showing signs of bloating. I worried all night about possible side effects from not taking it easy, sneaking Gatorade like a teenager sneaking liquor. I desperately wanted everything to work, but I was sick of infertility inconveniencing my life. I desperately wanted to feel the laughter that was coming out of me, but inside I was starting to feel hollow.
I’m posing with my husband and brother-in-law at happy hour in town. The bar is empty. Who goes to happy hour on a Tuesday?
What you can’t see is that these are cheer-up drinks. IVF didn’t work out again and I’m depressed. I feel beaten down. My husband has just told me that he doesn’t care if we have children. He says he loves me and thinks we’ll be happy anyway, but I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I’ve always wanted to see him as a dad.
I’m reading “Gone Girl” and showing off a teal manicure with a mustache on my ring finger. I make a joke about sociopaths and then post a cute picture of my dog laying flat across my lap.
What you can’t see is that after so many failures—a corrective surgery, an IUI, and two rounds of IVF, my first frozen embryo transfer was completed earlier that day. You can’t see that I’m paralyzed, physically and emotionally. Afraid to move off of the couch, even just to shower.
I’m in a Colonial Williamsburg gift shop, announcing my pregnancy to the world with a 22 week baby bump.
What you can’t see is that even at 22 weeks, I’m terrified that this will not work out. After a threatened miscarriage and bedrest, it still feels like everything can be taken away, but I post it anyway. It’s nice to seem normal sometimes.
I’m in the hospital, holding a baby. My baby. Underneath, the caption reads something like, “It’s been a long road, but we made it.” I look pale, but proud. It’s our first family photo. Everyone thinks I’m talking about going 11 days past my due date, but really it’s about everything else that got us here.
What you can’t see is that my delivery did not go as planned and that my placenta attached to the wall of my uterus. Separating resulted in a major loss in blood. You can’t see the two subsequent surgeries. You can’t see the vacant look in my eyes after refusing a blood transfusion out of the panic and confusion in the moment and you can’t see how hard it is to go through all the motions.
I’m posing with my daughter. She’s in most of my pictures now. But this time, we are posing with my in-laws. They’re in town from Washington to celebrate the holidays. We’re about to open gifts.
What you can’t see is that I’m having a miscarriage. While their plane was landing around midnight, I was vomiting and praying. But then the bleeding began and it didn’t stop. I had finally gotten pregnant naturally only to lose the baby 9 weeks later.
I’m posing with my daughter again. This time we’re on the beach and she’s showing off her belly while I show mine. I’m cool, calm and smiling at 17-weeks pregnant. She’s utterly adorable.
What you can’t see is relief. It’s almost over. Maybe this chapter can finally close. And I’m happy, scared, relieved. Really and truly. I’m fortunate, lucky and tired. I’m ready.
That’s what you can’t see.