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As I stood on the side of a hot road in the Caribbean far away from home, hands pressed firmly into my thighs supporting my upper body, I couldn’t stop the tears and gasping breaths. It was in that moment I realized I might not get the experience I want most – to grow, birth and raise a child.
That morning I had bled. A lot. Not a symptom you hope for when you’re dropping thousands on fertility treatments.
At 38, I have an egg reserve that is far below average for my age. I am not a candidate for egg harvesting and in vitro fertilization (IVF) – the gold standard of fertility treatments – at this point. The best option if I want my child to be biologically related to me is a well-timed, medicated round of intrauterine insemination (IUI).
For a lucky few, fertility treatment works quickly. For others, it takes longer. And for some it never works. When I started this fertility journey, I was pompous and overconfident. I figured things would work out quickly for me. It would be an easy box to tick.
So far, I have not been so lucky. My rounds of IUI have been unsuccessful. The blows hit harder and harder each time.
And yet they’ve been just what I needed.
Failing at something is one of the most unwelcome experiences in life. It feels awful not to be able to accomplish what we put our minds to. In these moments of inadequacy, we are forced to see ourselves as mere mortals. Beings with imperfections and insufficiencies. It’s a vulnerable spot to be. But it is also in these moments of hardship that we have the opportunity to experience humility and learn to move differently through difficult and painful parts of our lives.
Once while descending a treacherous mountain trail on foot, a dear one in my life taught me that as you run downhill, to always be on the lookout for your next hold – that tree or rock that you will grab to slow yourself down or to prevent yourself from falling.
I took the advice to heart in the physical world and as I flew down more and more mountains, I learned how to rely gently or heavily on these natural limbs by quickly assessing their strength. I didn’t always get it right. Sometimes a tree looked able to hold my weight as I grasped its branches only to find out its roots were dry and weak. Over time, though, I learned what a dangerous downhill pace felt like, what a sturdy hold looked like, how to alter my gait, calm my breath, and sometimes how to take a pause until I could safely move down the mountain again.
Though I can keep things calm on my way down steep pitches in the physical world, I am still learning how to soften the downward trails in my emotional life – where our falls are sometimes messy and irrational, and where we can lose sight of perspective, possibility and positivity.
It is in these experiences – where it feels as if we are losing everything – that we are forced back to the reality of life: that in fact we can’t have it all. There is give and take in everything. Nothing is going to be perfect – but it will usually be okay.
In these bleak moments exist the greatest possibilities for growth. We are given the chance to understand how to pick ourselves up, how to respond in a new way to hardship, how to try differently next time.
On that hot morning in the Caribbean, as I bent over unable to catch my breath, I didn’t know where to turn next. Where was my next hold possibly going to come from? I needed to make a move in this complicated game of life. I sat on the grass and texted friends and family who I knew would care.
Then I got up and started jogging again one foot in front of the other. The pings of messages came in. “I’m so proud of you. Grateful for that strong, resilient body,” read one of the texts. My eyes teared up.
But not in the way they had earlier that morning. The lump in my throat got a little smaller. The holds were appearing. Little branches of love I could gently hold onto. I was seen and loved. I was going to be all right.
I want to have hope that I will be able to grow a child. But I also want to be prepared for a life that may mean I am unable to. I actually don’t want to only be prepared, I want to imagine myself able to find joy on many life paths.
One path leads to the experience of growing someone inside me, birthing them, guiding them through park music classes, temper tantrums, scuffed walls, stained carpets, graduations, rowdy teenage years with clinking bottles in knapsacks rushing out of the house thinking I’m oblivious to the mischief – all of that.
Then there are the infinite other paths – including alternate ways of becoming a parent – available to me in this life. All unique and all equally fulfilling and deserving of celebration of a life well lived.
And so I work to move forward through the next few days, months, years and lifetime with intention. Always looking to extend my own branches to others and working to recognize the holds available to me as I forge my path in this complicated world.
Glenna Fraumeni lives in Toronto.