Yes, the always imaginative, and boundary-pushing Walt Disney, created a scene in Dumbo that I’m sure speaks to many women. In the opening scene, when Mr. Stork is dropping off baby animals to their mothers, Mrs. Jumbo gets left out. She winds up being the only animal in the entire circus to not get a baby delivered to her living space. She looks left, looks right, as little bundles are dropped gently into her neighbors’ pens, but she’s left looking despondent and longing, without a baby to call her own. (With that said, it makes sense why she didn’t care that Dumbo’s ears were on the larger side; she was just happy he was alive, and that she was finally a mother.) Disney perfectly captured the pain and depression that accompanies the woes of not having a child, for a woman who so desperately wants one.
My own struggles with infertility this past year and a half have made me empathize with the gentle giant Mrs. Jumbo even more, and I feel like she’s my “spirit animal.” I’m still holding onto hope though, and waiting for the day when I can care for my own little bundle of joy, and join motherhood alongside my wonderful Mommy friends! I’m not sure if Walt Disney consciously realized just how relevant the character of Mrs. Jumbo and her struggle would be, 75 years later. I don’t know if that reference was as intentional as it seemed in making its obvious point, but for me that elephant should be the official mascot for women everywhere who are struggling to conceive.
So, I can honestly say that Mrs. Jumbo’s situation appears all too familiar to me, but there were a few other emotions that were left out of the equation of infertility. From my point of view, the dilemma of infertility has something in common with death, romantic break-ups and the end of friendships: The Five Stages of Grief. Yes, the very same cycle of emotions that commonly show up during those three aforementioned, life-changing scenarios, also make their appearance in women who are trying to conceive.
At first, you find yourself in denial about the whole thing. Oh I’m sure everything’s fine, you’ll reason with yourself. I’ve got time, and it’s only been seven months. Things will happen when they’re meant to, so I guess it’s just not time yet. Meanwhile, you find other ways to get your baby fix: babysitting for friends’/relatives’ kids, making a Babies “R” Us wish list for future reference, scouring Babble for heartwarming articles, doing pre-pregnancy research on WhatToExpect.com, all the way to creating a board on Pinterest of tips and items you’ll want for your baby (which no doubt will include everything from useful infographics, stylish clothes and the nursery design of your dreams).
Then, you’ll move into the anger phase. That’s always fun (not!). There is nothing you want more than to avoid pregnant women and mothers like the plague, whether this is limited exclusively to strangers, or it includes friends and/or relatives you’ve grown jealous of. The anger stage though can really become aggravating, just in the way it makes you become so crazy and cranky. There’s nothing insignificant about how you feel at this point, and there have been weeks where my anger felt like a toxic poison coursing through my veins. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling by any means, and it can be very difficult to get yourself out of it, especially for all those times you just want to punch someone in the face for being fertile. Yet, you decide not to get into fisticuffs, lest you land yourself in jail. So the anger continues, because you can’t seem to find a way to achieve any feeling of true relief. You just stew, and grumble, and wallow in the hate and resentment. You become resigned to accept your situation, and the fact that it sucks major ass!
Ahh, the bargaining phase, everyone’s favorite (insert sarcastic tone here)! This is the halfway point, where you find yourself at a crossroad, starting to wonder what you could be doing differently to improve your chances of getting a positive pregnancy test result. That can manifest itself in a few ways. You decide to start eating more fruits and veggies, in an attempt to up your intake of folic acid, iron, protein and other essential vitamins and minerals. But just to be sure, you decide to go the extra mile and take a pre-natal multivitamin to help prep your body for its baby-making duties, kind of like decorating the nursery that is your uterus. (Note: gummy vitamins taste the best, and they don’t give you heartburn like those awful horse-choker iron pills.) Then you start to consider ditching your favorite brand of sex-shop lube, in favor of going natural, or possibly something a little more fertility friendly from the drugstore. You consider getting ovulation predictor stick kits, until you see the price tag and decide to wait. You tell yourself to start tracking your cycle more closely on a smartphone app, and wait for the algorithm to tell you when your window of potential peak days come about, along with looking for physical signals from your bod. You also decide to ditch alcohol. No more fruity beers, no more liquor, no more wine. Whatever your poison is, you decide to stick to the safe side for the time being. Then you make sure that you’re not taking any crazy meds that could be screwing up your chances, and then you wait…and you wait, and when you don’t get your cycle on time, you start to feel a sliver of hope, and you wait a little longer… Until finally a week or two has gone by, and you can’t stand the feeling of not knowing any longer, so you take a test—aaaaaaannnnnd it comes up negative. BFN (Big Fat Negative)? More like BFB (Big Fat Bummer).
Next, you move into the stage of depression. (More like settling in on a comfy couch with a blanket and a clean sleeve or box of tissues.) This stage definitely makes you feel bad, for obvious reasons. You find yourself drowning in your sorrows, and it’s not just about the initial heartbreak of getting a negative pregnancy test result (or your monthly cycle, whichever happens first). It’s about the fact that you see your friends, and everyone around you doing just fine. No one is struggling, no one is tormented. You have your friends who are all smiles with their happy little families, and then you have your other few friends who have chosen to remain child-free. This leaves you with very few people (or in some cases, none at all) who can actually, currently relate to your struggle, and you start to feel all alone. You don’t want your friends to go through the same thing you are, but it’s hard feeling like the odd one out. You don’t just feel outnumbered, you worry that your friends think you’re selfish, or that you don’t want kids, or even like them. When in reality, you don’t want to get too close to their kids, because it hurts too much, and you don’t want your friends thinking you’re trying to take over their role as the mom. You start to feel like you don’t have as much in common with your friends anymore because they’re moms and you’re not. You can’t swap stories, tips or baby clothes, or re-gift maternity clothes.
All of this insecurity leads to you going out less, isolating yourself from friends and family, in favor of indulging in mindless movie marathons on Netflix, complete with candy and alcohol. All the junk food, all the bad stuff you swore you were done with, because why bother? You already know what’s going to happen next month, because it’s the same damn thing that happened last month, and the month before that. You’re well into your first infertile year by this point, and you just can’t stand going out, because whenever you do, you always see mothers out and about with their little ones, and it makes you feel jealous (of course), but more than that…hopeless. You’re left with this empty, hollow feeling in your belly and your heart, and you start wondering, “When is it going to be my turn? Why can’t I just have a family already?”
Eventually, you get to a point of acceptance, but technically it only lasts so long. It kind of merges back into the beginning of the denial phase, and you have to go through this emotional crap all over again. These five stages of infertility grief are destined to circle around in a continuous loop, until you finally get pregnant. Until then, once you reach this phase of pseudo-acceptance, you start to look for reasons to babysit for your friends, while trying not to appear overly desperate or seem too attached to these kiddos for whom you’re an honorary auntie. Instead, you babysit, have as much fun as you can and take a few photos of the cuteness to smile at later. When you’re on Facebook, you tell your friends how lucky they are, how cute their kids are, how you can’t wait to have one of your own, etc. You send humorous, relatable parenting jokes to your friends, show whoever is expecting an adorable nursery idea or outfit you found online, and you tell yourself that you’re fine, you’ll be OK. It doesn’t have to happen right now, you’re not out to rush anything…when in reality it’s all you can think about. Even when you’re not actively thinking about it, it’s always there, floating just under the surface of your subconscious. Yet, you press on, and try to act like it doesn’t bother you, even though it does. You tell yourself it’s just not time yet, even though you feel like it should be, because you know you deserve to have a turn—it’s time.
I know that for most Millennials, we’re often told that there’s more to life than just being a wife and mother. We’re encouraged to seek more for ourselves and to live as much life as we can, while pursuing something we love! We’re told to want more! Well, I do want more, and for me, that means having a baby. I’ve already started pursuing my dreams of writing. I’m currently an editorial writer, a creative writing student and am working on a few of my own fiction projects. I’m not without an identity of my own, I know who I am, and I’m happy with who I am. I know what I want, I enjoy student life, my career and indulging in my hobbies. I also know that I would like children to share my life journey with. I want to read to my kids, talk to them before they’ve even spoken their first word, ask them questions about themselves as they get older, and share with them the wisdom I’ve gained from my personal experiences, while not forcing them to limit their options. I want to watch my husband be a father and laugh at my kids when they play with our dogs. So even though I may feel like Mrs. Jumbo at times, I remind myself that she had a happy ending, and got the baby of her dreams. For now though, I’ll kiss my husband, hold our dogs tight, and enjoy the love that we are fortunate enough to have. Here’s hoping Mr. Stork will be arriving soon! In the meantime, I’m enjoying the colorful rainbow slide that is my life, while still hoping to reach that “pot of gold” at the end of it!