The Untold Story

Two days ago grandmother joined my daughter and I over at my aunt’s house for dinner. As we walked up to the front door, a family of four followed us in from the street. I immediately recognized my cousin’s long time friend but couldn’t remember her name. She had a son who looked about 4 years old walking beside her and an infant who couldn’t have been more than six month old cradled in her arms.

Later I found out that her older son is 4.5 years old and her younger son is 4 months old. Even before I heard their definitive ages I assumed that something in her family building experience had gone awry. I doubt there are many young families in St. Louis that purposefully space their children four years apart. I would have bet really good money on an infertility or loss story hiding between those two siblings.

I asked my cousin about it yesterday. She said her friend had struggled greatly to have her second child. Actually, the difficulties started when she was diagnosed with preeclampsia during her first pregnancy and her older son was born over two months premature. He weighed only three pounds at birth and spent months in the NICU. I don’t know if that experience caused them to wait a little longer than most would to have another but the experienced two losses while trying for their second son. Again she dealt with preeclampsia and was put on bed rest from five months.

She seemed like the nicest woman, so gracious with her everyone around her, even us. Watching her for those few hours at my aunt’s house I was sure she was one of those women who, outwardly at least, took her struggles in stride. I can’t imagine she even complained about what she was going through to people she knew; I wonder if she talked about it at all. She just seemed so happy, but maybe that is only how she felt after her second son arrived safely in her arms.

My cousin and her friend sat on the floor with their baby boys and talked and talked. It was interesting to watch them and notice all the feelings that came up. Normally I would have felt a certain anger or bitterness watching two young mothers (or at least younger than me) sitting with their second babies, cooing over them as they compared stories of what it was like to parent two. But feeling so certain that my cousin’s friend had dealt with something difficult to get that baby in her arms, those emotions couldn’t quite manifest. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt, I couldn’t name any of the swirling emotions.

Instead I spent most of the time wondering what that woman’s story was, what her struggle had been like. I wondered how she had processed it all, if she had handled it as graciously as I imagined she did. I pondered what it might have been like for her on the inside and I even cocked my head at the sudden realization that she might even write a blog of her own, that maybe I even I read her.

This blogging community has made me so much more aware of all the infertility and loss stories out there and I find myself noticing the landscape of families and inserting my own assumptions when there seems to be something amiss. I wonder if other women I see have struggled to build their families, whether they reached out for help if they did.

Most of all, watching that woman sit with my cousin and talk about her infant son, I ached to know how much of her story she carried with her that day. Was tshe actively conscious of her losses in those moments? Did they teeter on the tip of her tongue, during that entire conversation, present but never mentioned? Or did the birth of her beautiful baby boy push them farther back into her mind, where they linger like light shadows on a cloudy day, only visible if one purposefully looks for them?

I suppose I wanted to know because I wonder where my struggle will end up, if/when my baby boy arrives safely. Will I always see him as the miracle I consider him to be today? Or will there come a time when I barely recognize the struggle that today feels so prominent in the space between my children? I guess only time will tell.

Do you find yourself wondering if women have struggled with infertility or loss? If you know that they have, does it change the way you feel about them?

7 responses

  1. I often assume that other women have been struggling with IF, when in most situations, I’ll never know if they did or did not. This helped me accept their pregnancies long ago, but I am past that feeling now. I do think this wondering and assuming lessens in time.

  2. I wonder the same things when I meet other women who have obviously gone through infertility related struggles. I usually end up obsessing over what their story is. Kind of creepy I guess, but I’m always curious how others have made it through to the other side.

  3. I find that while this community has made me more understanding/aware of people’s fertility issues, it’s also skewed my perception. For instance, I assume that everyone sees IF as a part of their identity. I had a friend who went through 8 IUI’s and didn’t identify as infertile at all. I also assume that everybody wants to talk about it. Another friend of mine is currently pregnant after 14 assisted cycles, and she mostly doesn’t want to discuss it at all, even knowing I’ve dealt with some of it too. So that’s one thing to be aware of – IF bloggers are only a portion of all the people dealing with infertility. I do feel more comfortable, myself, with people who’ve been through some of this struggle, though.

  4. This pregnancy has made me really evaluate how I judged other women without knowing their stories. For example, if you looked at me on the street a year from now, you’d see two “perfectly” spaced kids (based on your ideal), born almost exactly two years apart (which ironically is honestly much CLOSER than I would have wanted them!). You’d have no idea of our backstory or how long we struggled for #1 or the fact that I really did NOT want to be pregnant again yet and that if I could have “planned” these pregnancies, I’d have wanted the kids at least 3-4 years apart.

    I guess my point is that we often project or our ideals or hopes onto other’s family makeups – without realizing that we really have no way of knowing what THEY had hoped for or what they went through to get where they are.

    So yeah, every time I was jealous at a pregnant lady’s belly while we were TTC for Stella, it was really hard for me to even conceptualize that she easily could have gone through a lot of pain and heartache to get where she was, and that even if she hadn’t, it still wasn’t my place to begrudge her her happiness b/c her pregnancy wasn’t the reason for my lack thereof. That’s been the toughest lesson for me to take to heart and internalize I think, and probably something I will always struggle with…

  5. I feel like Josey. My two are LESS than 2 years apart. I almost feel compelled to jump in with some mention of IF so I don’t get written off as a fertile whore!
    One thing I’ve been learning in life is that really most everyone has an untold story. Whether its past trauma, IF, marriage troubles, mental health, financial worries etc… etc… etc… Its helping me cut back on the judging & the envy. I mean, look at my life, from the outside—perfect. From the inside—as messy as any of us.

  6. I do tend to think, when I see children spaced farther apart, that people have struggled with infertility and loss. On the other hand, though, I’ve also known people with second marriages, or a first “oops” baby before marriage and other children after their lives stabilized … so I try to stop myself when I find myself making those assumptions, try to remind myself that my story is my own, and that we write them and carry them differently even when they look the same. I think that’s another good thing that the IF community has taught me … that the stories are as varied as we are, even if the circumstances are identical. I do think it’s hard not to wonder, though, especially given that we are prone to narrative.

  7. I definitely wonder about all the unknowns. One in eight, which means that more people that I know IRL would have struggled. I wonder if they, like me, keep quiet about their struggles and invent personas of childfree.

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