Updated: Aug 27, 2020
This is an anonymous story submission about infertility, loss and a new life. The author shared it so that we can learn from her pain. No one wants to experience pain, but when it hits us, it often comes with deep growth… It's part of my series about working through grief. CLICK HERE TO READ MY INTRO TO THE SERIES.
Unfortunately my story is not unique.
Not jarring, not uncommon.
It is a reality many women face today.
I’ve learned over the years that while tragedy hits all around us, our own personal experiences with it can still be marked as profound; not only by what actually occurred, but through recognition of the ripple effects that the tragedy produced.
I was a young and naive newlywed about to start my first semester of nursing school, fresh out of college. I had BIG plans!
I was sure my husband and I would be blessed with a child, or at least expecting by the time our first anniversary arrived. But month after month we were hit with disappointment. I held the anxiety inward, mounting concern... but letting it abate slowly because I honestly did not know what the next step would be. As an extremely private person, I don’t voice concern and I don’t like to burden others with my struggles. In this situation I was most certainly not going to broadcast the intimate details of my married life.
One day while riding in the car with my mom, I broke down. I told her everything - my pent up frustration, my fears, and my overwhelming anxiety with every period that came. Looking back, I think we tend to take for granted how much of a burden we place on our moms when we share - how much of our emotional distress we lay upon them hoping for solutions. My mom sat listening... and after a few minutes of thought she said, “You need to speak to your doctor. You need to do something.”
I felt like I received the stamp of approval that I was subconsciously craving. First step would be to get some blood work at my doctor’s office, check levels, do some preliminary testing. Finally, I got an appointment for after Sukkos.
On the morning of my appointment I stopped off at my mom’s house to pick something up. Standing in the kitchen, with a look of uncertainty she asked me if I could feel something on her chest, “You’re almost a nurse right?” I inched closer, a little timid, and felt a hard mass on her mid-chest area. She looked concerned but not too concerned, mentioning that she had a history of fibroids but felt maybe she should check it out. I suggested that she join me on my trip to the gynecologist’s office, where I was currently headed. I called up and replaced my visit with hers.
It was that day that my journey with infertility began, alongside my mother’s fight with stage four breast cancer.
Two years later I was blessed with a beautiful baby boy.
Two and half years later my mother was niftar (passed away).
During those two years I would go to my 5:00am fertility appointment and then head over to accompany my mom during her chemo, take her to her doctor's appointments, scheduled procedures and medical tests.
Our journeys were linked.
I can honestly say I never felt closer to my mother than I did in those two years. While not having children in toe was a trying experience, I was able to run to my mom whenever she needed me. Some of those conversations are etched into my memory. We spent mornings together. Lunch dates when I finished my clinicals early. We discussed how chemo had stripped her of all the things that made her feel like a woman. I told her how fertility treatments made me feel like my body had failed me as a woman.
When my son was born, things got very bad. My mother’s cancer had spread to her brain, causing her to feel extreme dizziness, vomiting and fatigue. She willed herself to show up to my son’s Shabbos bris (circumcision), walking there in 100 degree weather. I remember her sobbing when my son let out the cry after the mohel had performed the bris. She turned to me and said “Everything will be ok.” She willed herself to make it to his pidyon haben (a traditional ceremony held when a Jewish first-born male is 30 days old).
My friends would always mention how they couldn’t have managed their life without their mother’s help after giving birth to their first child. And after the birth of each of their babies they knew they could count on their mom. They were doted on and taken care of.
I know if my mother would have been able to she would have. I regret now how little I appreciated her. How resentful I was that she couldn’t help me after I had waited so long for this moment. Instead, she held on to my baby stroller for stability because I made her come with me to buy baby basics. She cried out of frustration when she knew the baby’s diaper was wet but didn’t have the physical dexterity to change his diaper.
I nursed my baby while running back and forth to the hospital during my mother’s delicate brain surgery. On my day off from work I would spend the whole day with her, newborn in toe. She would marvel at him, knowing what a true miracle he was.
My life at that time was a blur. I was trying to be a good mom - having prayed for this baby for so long - all while trying to be a good daughter - not wanting to abandon my mom in her time of need. The physical and emotional exhaustion was there, but it only set in once she was niftar (died). Once I didn’t know who to run to for support anymore. Once I had a moment to actually process what had just transpired.
Emerging from those two years I may have looked like the same person but inside I was forced to live with an entirely new perspective.
I’m not one of those people who rattles on about the unbelievable growth that tragedy and disappointment grants us.
No one should have to go through this pain.
All I can say is that, for better or for worse, I became a totally and completely different person.
My outlook had changed.
My personality had changed.
My BIG plans for life had to change, morphing into a life unlike anything I could have imagined .
It’s been eight years and four miracle children later and I still think about my mother every single day. She is still on my mind all the time.
While I had originally thought I would be a pediatric nurse, after working in one of the most prestigious pediatric ICUs in NYC, I’ve since found an even deeper calling as a hospice and palliative care nurse. People think I’m crazy. How are you able to handle those kinds of situations? Tragedy after tragedy? Is it because of my mom?
It’s not that I cleave to tragedy, it’s that I see light in it.
My mother’s early passing and battle with cancer was devastating. My journey with infertility was overwhelming and heartbreaking . At the same time, there’s a light and strength inside of me that I find others do not possess. It’s called resiliency.
My outlook is different.
My appreciation of life is different.
My sadness is deep, delicate and intricate. I now have the capacity to connect with people on a deeper level. Not because I know their pain, because everyone’s pain is unique, but because I now know how to listen and empathize.
In general I am OK. But sometimes, usually at certain life events, my pain resurfaces. It springs to the forefront without me realizing it until it's too late. And then I go through the motions of living a “normal” life. I’ll seem happy and together on the outside, but falling apart on the inside.
And then I always think back to my mom and how she shouldered my burdens even when the weight of the world was on her own. So I use that as strength, as a source of resiliency and power. I try to engage with the light.
With this in mind, I started to write a daily memoir for my daughters. I chronicle the small and big daily life struggles, with the hope that they will see their mother’s perspective on life’s struggles when they get older. Because not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I could hear what my mother would have said about everything that has happened over these crazy years. What would she say about my family now? What would she think of our home? Of my day to day life? Of all those struggles that I endured without her? I hope and pray that a piece of her is transmitted through my writing and outlook on life… and I hope and pray that through this, my children can appreciate the grandmother they never got to meet...