I remember a family Thanksgiving when we all went around the circle saying one thing we were thankful for. My mind was spinning, frantically searching for something to say that would cover up the pain of the one thing I couldn’t say. I wanted a baby. I wanted to be thankful for the gift of motherhood. Instead, I was childless again, begging God that this would be the last Thanksgiving I wouldn’t be able to be thankful for a child. I remember firmly believing that if I could just have a child I would never stop being thankful.
I’m tempted to look back at that version of me and tell her she’s being naive. Motherhood will be hard. You’ll always be thankful for your kids, but this thing will be a struggle like you’ve never experienced before. You will have moments where you won’t feel thankful at all.
But it’s just not true.
Infertility changes you. I think it fundamentally changes how you view motherhood and children. Even as a mother of six kids (4 adopted, 2 bios) who has experienced pregnancy four times, the dull ache of infertility is something I can easily remember. It feels like a ghost that haunts my memories. I see it in the pictures we took during those infertile days—trying so hard to “enjoy” our childless years. I remember it when I look at the Christmas ornaments we bought during those years, wishing we were buying a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament instead.
Even in the joy of Thanksgiving, I remember the sadness of those years. It’s just the jolt of perspective I need when I’m feeling frustrated with my mashed potatoes that always turn out too lumpy, or irritated about how filthy the kitchen gets in the meal prep mayhem, or exasperated as my daughter spills cranberry sauce on her dress. There are worse things than the mess and chaos of Thanksgiving. A quiet, childless Thanksgiving would be worse. I know because I’ve been there.
As I look at my kids in their pajamas, eating cereal in front of the TV, watching the Thanksgiving parade, I can’t help but feel emotional. This is a tradition I didn’t have as a child, but it’s one my husband’s family cherished—the lazy fun of watching for the Santa float at the end to signal that it was time to get ready to go to the grandparents’ house. These are the traditions that now define my little family, too.
I waited years for this joy. I was willing to endure whatever hardships it would take to get here—a lengthy international adoption process, the uncertainty of foster care, medically complicated pregnancies. Infertility gave me new eyes to see the joy of being a mom, that the struggle was worth it. It still is worth it.
There were days I wasn’t sure this could ever happen. I didn’t picture this family—the overabundant blessing of six children. It would have seemed like too much to hope for. There are hard days and difficult times. There are moments I’m not sure I’m doing this right. But there’s never a day I’m not grateful that I get the chance to try.
When we were going through the home study process for our first adoption, the social worker asked a question about how we were processing our infertility. I told her I thought I had reached a place of peace about it, but I still got frustrated when I heard pregnant women complaining about being pregnant—the morning sickness, the achy feet, the weight gain. I felt unkind admitting the truthfulness of my own envious heart. I quickly added something like, “But I know if I was pregnant I’d probably do the same thing.” That social worker interrupted me to tell me that I probably WOULDN’T do the same thing. She reminded me that infertility had given me a new perspective that I wouldn’t forget even if I was able to experience pregnancy someday.
She was right.
I’m not saying other infertile women can’t feel frustration or moments when they’re less than thankful for the complicated moments of parenthood. I’m not saying fertile women aren’t equally grateful for their children. I’m just saying that as much as I may appear to the world to be a woman who (as I’m often reminded by strangers) has her “hands full,” I vividly remember a time before all this and all the rest of my motherhood is shaped by those memories.
Infertility changes you. It changed me for the better. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but when I look at this family of mine, all I feel is thankful for who infertility made me.