Earlier this year, after 3 years of concerted (and I’m told very enjoyable) effort, it was discovered that my daughter and her husband will most likely never be able to have biological children of their own. This, coupled with a myriad of other serious personal issues, delivered the one-two punch that culminated in this year’s nervous breakdown.
Having had my own torturous–and ultimately fruitless–turn at secondary infertility, (I spent my 40th birthday sobbing in my closet strung out on Clomid), I’m no stranger to the personal pain and torment of infertility. Being denied the children you so desperately desire is one of the worst things a person can endure. It is its own private nightmare with every pregnant belly you see a sucker punch to the gut, and every visit from that horrid bitch, Aunt Flo, a knife in your heart.
So in no way do I want to compare my grief to that of my daughter and her husband. There is no comparison.
Where are the Infertile Grandmothers?
But in all my travels around the web–and not an insignificant amount of time spent on infertility sites and blogs where I learned euphemistic phrases for your period like “riding the cotton pony”–I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any discussion devoted to the infertile grandmother, i.e. the grandmother whose arms will never be filled with biological grandchildren of her own.
It would seem that the infertile grandmother has no voice and no rights to one.
Put up and Shut up
Shouldn’t grandmothers be happy with whatever is handed to them? Isn’t a grandmother who isn’t initially thrilled about adopted grandchildren, or foster grandchildren, or even no grandchildren at all, a terrible, selfish bitch who probably deserves to be cut-off? Grandmothers, it seems, should just swallow whatever hopes and dreams they had for their own grandchildren and shut the fuck up. Imagine my shame as I must face now that the terrible, selfish bitch is me.
So, here it is. I’ll lay my heart open for the filleting and be the first grandmother to admit it out loud: I wanted biological grandchildren. From my daughter.
I wanted grandchildren who have my blue eyes; who might have some of my husband’s quirks. I wanted to see what these ginormous teeth that run in my family look like in the ginormous heads that run in my son-in-law’s family. Was that too much to ask?
My cursory Google search reveals that the phrase “infertile grandmother” brings up articles about grandmothers offering up their uteri to their children, mostly their daughters, for the purpose of bringing forth biological grandchildren. Let me just state for the record that if this were a possible solution to my daughter and her husband’s problem I’d do it in a heartbeat. Without question. But, one, I no longer possess a uterus, and two, it wouldn’t help if I did. Nothing I can do will help this. It is just a quirk of nature, a biological fluke. It is simply the way things are and there is nothing I can do about it.
Midwife, Heal Thyself
For the past 20+ years I have delivered babies for a living. When my own babies were tiny, I started off as a Le Leche League Leader (that’s Nipple Nazi to you), then took up an apprenticeship with a home birth midwife for nearly three years, and finally became a labor and delivery nurse. My entire professional life has been about birth.
And now I must face the hard fact that I will never kneel between my daughter’s legs to see my own grandchild enter the world. I will never watch my daughter amaze herself by doing the hardest physical task most women will ever perform, give birth. I’ll never help her bring her wet and squirmy baby to her breast. It will never happen for her, and that makes me so inordinately sad. But that means that it will never happen for me either. Do I not have the right to grieve?
True, my son might have biological children someday. But it will not be the same. I will not have the physical intimacy with his wife that I have with my own daughter. I might be fortunate to be included in the birth of his child; I might be fortunate to have a good relationship with my daughter-in-law, but that relationship will never be exactly like the one I have with my own daughter.
The loss of this dream is profound for me. And I feel so ashamed that I feel this way. Everyone knows that grandmothers are not allowed to have dreams of their own. Grandmothers should have no dreams at all.