I knew I was a Cystic Fibrosis carrier. I’d known since I was 6. I knew what it meant, and what my life would be like if I had a CF child. I knew my spouse would need to be tested before we had kids. I knew hard choices would need to be made.
I didn’t expect that my husband would be a carrier too. He was, and in retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised. We were counselled not to have children. We were counselled to abort if we did “have an accident” (never an option for us). For months, my pain flooded down my cheeks in unguarded moments. My every hope of being a mother was dashed, and all I knew was endless emptiness. No one could understand. Those who knew our situation felt we’d made the right choice. We were brave, noble. Wise. It was best.
I was alone.
My friends – one single and one in an unhappy relationship doomed to fail – didn’t even pretend to understand. In my haze of misery it was clear they felt nothing, cared nothing.
I was alone.
We agonised for months, weighing our options, certain that children would never feature in our lives – at least, not biological children. We decided to adopt. We’d always wanted to (we still do), and we believed this was what needed to be for our family.
One day the adoption papers arrived in the mail. It was time to start becoming parents. We agreed. We felt, in every part of our beings, that it was indeed time to start becoming parents. We just couldn’t shake the desperate craving, deep within us, to become REAL parents. It was foolish and rash. We had no idea, in those halcyon days, what it meant to love a child. We could imagine it, but we could never comprehend the depth of that love, the pain of it. We could never grasp, then, the ever-present fear of loss.
Like Thelma and Louise, we gripped each other’s hands and drove off the cliff and into the unknown. We decided to have children “of our own”. We started “trying”, as it was euphemistically called.
Trying. How very accurate that term turned out to be.
We tried. And tried. And tried. We read books. We took vitamins. We did exercises. We visited doctors. We attended workshops. We measured temperature and painted nurseries. And we cried.
Well, I cried. In those days Papa Bear was even more circumspect about his feelings than he is now. And he was always very zen about the process. Without a womb of his own, lying barren and fallow month after month, he couldn’t fully engage in my pain. He reminded me that adoption would always be on the cards (and it always is). But in the end, whether the baby he held in his arms one day grew in my tummy or someone else’s made little difference.
I imagine it was a foolish and whimsical thing to mind. But I did mind. I wanted to be a mama. I couldn’t be a mama.
Each month, the dreaded cycle would repeat. Each month, the proud badge of womanhood would taunt me more fiercely than the month before, mocking my efforts and showing me up for the worthless human being I clearly was. Every month I’d be reminded that I’d failed. I couldn’t even do this one thing properly – this one thing that illiterate peasants could do without a moment’s conscious thought. I couldn’t even be a woman. Simple. Natural.
I failed and I failed and I failed. The more my husband loved me, the worse it was. I was failing him. I was failing me. I was failing our parents and my own empty arms. No amount of logic could assuage the guilt. The doctors had warned me (ever so gently) of the damage I may have done to my body. I’d read the books. Now I’d married the perfect Daddy (carefully selected for that very trait), and I couldn’t give him the missing ingredient of his fatherhood: a child.
At length, after many months of debilitating periods and blank pregnancy tests, we gave up. Our doctor advised a course of fertility treatment, and we decided to consider that in a year’s time, when we’d both settled into the jobs we’d just started. I had surgery for endometriosis, and we dusted off our adoption papers. We started a work out regime and got serious about our eating plan.
It was after an early morning cycle ride that I came home and went straight to bed, too sick to go to work. My mom called and told me I was pregnant. And she was right. The year of agony was over as we stared a terrifying, wonderful new adventure. While the threat of Cystic Fibrosis loomed over us for many months, the hole in our family would soon be filled.
While our story had a happy ending, I know many that haven’t. We are blessed beyond the words we have to explain our happiness. But we knew that pain – I felt that searing agony – of not knowing for sure if parenthood would ever be an option for us. Those empty years were by far the longest of my life. If you’re facing that now, or have ever faced it, I can’t really offer anything except my compassion, my love and my prayers. There is peace to be found in the pain, and healing in the heart ache. There are over 2 million children in South Africa right now, waiting to be adopted. I am going to be part of the solution for at least one of those children, and I hope you’ll join me in that adventure. If that’s not your path, just know that you’re not alone. There are many of us here, willing and ready to listen, wanting to care for you. You are so deeply loved.