When I think about my infertile condition, it hurts… In contrast to my seemly super-fertile family, it hurts much more.
My paternal grandmother gave birth to 16 children, 14 of which reached adulthood. The two toddlers she lost (her first and her third children) were taken by (at the time) common childhood diseases, such as tetanus and diphtheria. Think of rural South America about 80-90 years ago. There’s no vaccination and no doctors.
Loosing infants was so common, my grandpa would usually wait at least a couple of years before registering the kids. After all, they had to be registered in the nearest village, about 150 km away, which was a long journey by horse carriage. There’s a funny anecdote about this. My grandma would dutifully write down each child’s birth date and name on a piece of paper each time my grandpa went out to register them. Once, he screwed up and ended up registering two of my aunts with only 4 months difference, when in reality they have 1 year and 4 months between them. My aunt is still (and always will be) 1 year older on any of her documents than she ought to be.
I’ve also heard stories of first trimester miscarriages between births, but have no idea how many my grandma endured exactly, as these things as shushed about and are just a normal part of life (right?).
My grandma’s last daughter was born when she was already over 45 years old. Considering she got married when she’s about 17 or 18, she spent all of her childbearing years either pregnant or breastfeeding (or both). And she must have been pregnant about 20 times or more.
Before you make the didn’t they have a TV? joke, let me answer you. No, they didn’t. They didn’t have birth control either. I know there are some TV shows nowadays romanticising the idea of very big families, but let me tell you, they are really not that easy or fun. I’m pretty sure my grandma would have chosen a different life if she could. Being very faithful to her Catholic Church, she was suppose to carry every child God sent her, and so did she. No questions asked.
Each of her 13 surviving children got married once or more and had an average of 3 kids each (my father had 4). One of my uncles died of brain tumour in his early twenties, before bearing any children.
My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, gave birth to 14 children. She was much more fortunate to live in a bigger village with access to medical care and better means, so she didn’t loose any infants. She did have the usual miscarriages, which are, as you know, just a small ‘side effect’ of motherhood. Again, I know no details on these ‘insignificant’ women matters.
She passed away of heart attack still young, on her early forties, when my mom was only about 20-something years old and her youngest brother was about 1 and a half. If it wasn’t for this unfortunate accident, she’d probably have had a couple more children before reaching menopause. Again, no TV, no birth control, faithful Catholic wife.
Out of her offspring, two sons died before bearing children (cancer and kidney failure) and one son is gay (and only very recently homosexuals are allowed adoption or IVF in my home country, so he never had a chance). Ten others went on to get married and had an average of 2 children each (my mom had 2).
It goes without saying that my family is huge. People here in Europe tend to be amazed by this story, but in my home country it’s not that uncommon (not so common either). If you did the math, my immediate family consists of about 90 people. Adding step-children and the 4th generation (my cousins’ and siblings’ children) it easily reaches and surpasses 150.
Of all these people, I only know of 3 who struggled to conceive. My maternal aunt, who had a hysterectomy in her twenties (no idea of the cause, maybe endometriosis), my cousin who fought PCOS and myself. My aunt raised three step-daughters from very early age, my cousin had a daughter with help of IVF and I’m still fighting in the trenches.
Statistically, at least 10% of all child-bearing age people are infertile. So there should be no less than 10 infertiles in this bunch. Conclusion: my family is super-fertile, besides this (un)lucky one.
Can you imagine how lonely these thoughts make me feel?
Another very reasonable explanation could be that I simply don’t know of more cases because infertility and pregnancy loss are not discussed openly. Not even between immediate family members. And that only feeds the loneliness. I believe people prefer to stay away from these subjects, hoping that by avoiding them they are saving me pain. On the contrary, it only adds to it.
I’m open about my struggles and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I don’t care, I won’t let this silence perpetuates, it only makes grief harder than it has to be.
My grandmas had much of what I desire the most: children. However, in so many ways my life is much easier than theirs and I’m much more fortunate: I have a caring husband, who loves me and isn’t afraid to show me his affection (something my grandmas couldn’t even dream about), we have good jobs with decent salaries, a nice house with a big backyard and a car, access to medical care and we even get to have wonderful vacations every year.
My grandmas had lives full of hardships and difficulties, the only highlight being their children. I’m very grateful for all the great things I have, but the gift of motherhood is still my greatest desire, for the same simple reason it brought happiness and purpose to my grandmas’ existences: children unconditional love.