The Other Side of Grief is a series about the life-changing power of loss. These powerful first-person stories explore the many reasons and ways we experience grief and navigate a new normal.
The love-and-mostly-hate relationship I have with my reproductive system dates back to a specific Sunday afternoon when I was in eighth grade.
I still contend that getting my period was my worst day. I didn’t want to celebrate. Rather, I hid in my bedroom the entire day hoping it would just go away.
My sentiments flipped during my college years. Getting my period was like getting exactly what you’d wanted for Christmas.
Yes! Phew! Finally, I thought you’d never get here! That little toilet-seat happy dance meant that whatever fun I’d had that month could keep being fun a little longer.
And a few years later, when I was married, I’d wish away my period like I was concentrating on moving an object with my mind. When the dull ache of cramps would settle into my pelvis, I’d know that we, yet again, weren’t pregnant.
I played this game with myself for 31 months in a row before I finally went to the doctor.
Any woman who’s ever been primed to get pregnant and start a family knows that you watch your cycle closer than the shipping notification on a case of wine.
For nearly three years, I’d track my ovulation, coordinate specific sex days, and then hold my breath hoping my period wouldn’t show up.
Month after month, just one little red dot meant there was no point in trying for two pink lines.
As the months added up and turned into years of trying, I felt more and more defeated. I grew resentful of those around me who were effortlessly getting pregnant. I questioned everything I’d ever done that might’ve impacted my fertility or brought bad karma my way.
I even developed an overwhelming sense of entitlement. My husband and I were married with college degrees and a mortgage — good people who gave back to our community. Why didn’t we deserve a baby when some of our teenage family members were getting one?
Some days were filled with deep, achy sadness, and other days full of intractable rage.
The time between the excellent baby-making sex and the tell-tale sign that it didn’t work felt exciting. I always trusted that this session did it, this was the one.
I would prematurely count out 40 weeks to see when our baby would arrive. This time meant a Christmas baby, or that time might coincide with giving a grandparent a new baby for their birthday, or what a delight a Spring baby would be.
But I’d eventually find myself staring at one more failed attempt, erasing penciled-in notes on the calendar, and waiting all over again.
Facing my pain alone because of the taboo around infertility
Infertility is the loneliest club I’ve ever belonged to.
Nobody can really empathize with it. Even your mom and life-long best friend can only say “I’m sorry.”
And it’s not their fault they don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to do. Your partner doesn’t even know what to do.
It’s the one thing you both want to give to each other more than anything... and you simply can’t.
I was fortunate to have a partner who was all-in with me — we shared the sadness and the burden, and later the celebrations. We agreed it was “our” infertility, something to face together.
Infertility is shrouded in taboo and shame, so I felt like I couldn’t talk about it openly. I found that there was little information that I could actually identify or connect with. I was left to manage a primal yearning, with broken parts on my own.
Instead of being able to stuff that painful topic — infertility — deep down and ignore it, the red light special notification comes back. Every single month, you’re forced to reconcile all that you’re feeling and desiring and hurting for.
As much as I could manage my feelings between cycles, every month I’d be forced to remember exactly where we were and delve back into intense disappointment all over again.
Infertility infected our lives like a virus.
I’d think I was fine, make my peace with it, just live our lives as happily and fully as we could as a twosome. But it was always waiting for me at every baby shower, where the grief would well up and send me to the bathroom sobbing.
It was always waiting for me when a stranger on an airplane would ask how many children I had, and I’d have to say none.
It was always waiting for me when a well-meaning aunt at a wedding would reprimand us for not having given her a baby to play with, like her needs in this scenario were bigger than ours.
I wanted a baby and a family — to be a mother — more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life.
And missing out on that — even though I didn’t yet know what I was truly missing — felt like a loss.
Our Science Baby, and the lingering feeling of missing out on more
We tried getting pregnant on our own for two years before we turned to a doctor for help.
That first doctor’s appointment turned into four months of basal body temperature charting, which turned into my husband having his parts checked, which turned into a diagnosis for a congenital absence of the vas deferens, which turned into four more years of waiting and saving for a $20,000 in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle.
Cash. Out of pocket.
We finally went through the IVF process in 2009, after five years of trying, waiting, and hoping.
We were, admittedly, fortunate. Our first cycle was a successful one, which was good because we’d agreed to a one-and-done plan: either this worked, or we moved on.
The cycle itself was brutal — emotionally and physically.
I had 67 consecutive days of injections (during a hot Kansas summer), sometimes two a day. Every single poke felt like progress, yet it also reminded me how unfair all of this was.
With every poke, I could feel the $20 to $1,500 price tag per injection squirting under my skin.
But it was worth it.
We had a perfectly healthy, beautiful girl nine months later.
She’s 8 years old now, and my gratitude for her knows no bounds. Our friends call her the Science Baby. And true to me and my husband’s promise to each other, she’s our only one.
We make a pretty solid three-pack. While I can’t, at this point, imagine our lives being any other way, it’s often hard not to wonder what we missed by not having more children.
For a long time people asked if we’d have another. We thought about it, but we agreed that emotionally, physically, and financially we didn’t have another IVF gamble in us. If it didn’t work out the same, I’d be broken. Devastated.
So while I’ve made my peace with having an only child (she’s pretty great), and reconciled that fate dealt us one hand and we bluffed our way hard into another, I don’t know if I’ll ever actually shake the desire to have another child.
The grief of infertility, even after you’ve seemingly overcome it, never fully goes away.
It’s waiting for you every time your friends post a picture celebrating their pregnancy and you realize that you’ll never get to revel in your own pregnancy news again.
It’s waiting for you every time your friends introduce their eldest to their new youngest and the cuteness could break the internet, but you’ll never know what that’s like.
It’s waiting for you every time your child hits a milestone and you realize that not only is this a first worth celebrating, there will never, ever be another one.
It’s waiting for you when you realize you were just like everyone who had an easy time conceiving for nine blissful months, and in one big push you were returned to the infertility club.
These days, I’m entertaining a hysterectomy because, since being pregnant, I have two periods a month. Each one reminds me that they’re so pointless and such a waste of my time because there’s nothing that will come of it.
I laugh at how full-circle I’ve come with this phenomenon in my life, and how I’m starting to talk to my own daughter about periods.
This embattled relationship with something I have no control over — yet something that’s dictated so much of my life — continues to lord over me.
On some days I’m grateful, because it brought me my greatest gift. On others, it still reminds me that I never once got to know what it feels like to pee on a stick and change the course of my life forever.
Want to read more stories from people navigating a new normal as they encounter unexpected, life-changing, and sometimes taboo moments of grief? Check out the full series here.
Brandi Koskie is the founder of Banter Strategy, where she serves as a content strategist and health journalist for dynamic clients. She’s got a wanderlust spirit, believes in the power of kindness, and works and plays in the foothills of Denver with her family.