Our framework and expectations about life are sown early in our childhood: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.
But you're hardly a lemming, are you? You sometimes zig when others zag and yet for all your uniqueness you're moved by powerful forces, shaped by the waves of life that have been guiding humans for centuries. Amid the predictable tides you do what others do – you chart a course for your life.
After sowing some wild oats, you find yourself for the first time thinking about the quality of schools in your neighborhood. You stare at your body in the mirror and imagine what you will look like pregnant. You see a new tenderness in your mate and imagine what he'll be like as a father. The first in a long series of baby shower invitations arrive. With wonder and amazement your friends describe the sensations of life growing in their belly, the deep connection they feel as they breastfeed. While your acquaintances bemoan the loss of their independence, they speaking lovingly, almost reverently, about the birth of their child, the deep meaning they found looking into their newborn's eyes for the first time.
You are swept up and eagerly anticipate your own transition to motherhood. How will it change you? What awaits you as you join an army of parents pushing their strollers and bonding at school recitals? What tradeoffs will you make? How will your pregnancy coincide with plans for the summer, the holidays, the New Year, spring …
Your friends have their second children. The baby announcements now elicit a mixed reaction. Chatter surrounds you with experiences that are unfamiliar. You nod vacantly. You lie in bed at night with a sense of worry hanging over you. You now stare at your body with concern. Once spontaneous and blissful couplings now become a structured regimen. You no longer count ahead by seasons but by days – 28 days to be exact. You know every aspect of your biology and the prognosis isn't encouraging.
Meanwhile unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends pours forth. "You really need to relax." "Have you tried those ovulation thingies?" "My sister-in-law's sister adopted and got pregnant the next month." "Why don't you try that fertility thing that Kate Gosselin did – but without the TV show and the drama?"
Your life plans are on hold but not those of your friends and colleagues, who fill the air waves with teething and potty training trials. Their Facebook pages chronicle every burp, step and achievement. Parental chatter is now death by a thousand cuts as each month brings another reminder of what didn't take place in your womb.
In the background, your team of experts test and prod and test some more. Years go by and with it reports of first days of kindergarten, little league season kickoffs, Halloweens. You begin to feel invisible swept up in a storm that has taken you far off course.
Nature and science have found their limits. It begins to dawn on you that your DNA now ends with you. You won't see your husband's crooked smile reflected back from your child's face. You won't feel the stirrings of life within. Your barren womb throbs and your heart hangs heavy. Ultrasound images of your once-promising embryos, your children to be are tucked gently into manila folders. Your refrigerator, covered in magnets from places far and wide, doesn't hold any toothless smiles or report cards.
One day long ago you were like everyone else imagining your life as mommy, a mother of the bride, a grandmother. You're not like everyone else but they don't know that. Each day the seemingly innocuous but cutting question comes from strangers and colleagues alike, "do you have any children?"
Before you silently nod no, there's a profound pause. Do you let them know about the alpha pregnancies? Those who don't know any better make misguided assumptions and often cruel comments sometimes while you're in ear shot: Must be selfish. Must have waited too long. Must not like children.
Your colleagues and friends assume (wrongly) that infertility is only about the babies. It's not. The implications touch every aspect of your life. While the acute pain lessens in time, a dull ache remains with perennial reminders of what might have been.
And all you ask for now is a little empathy.