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The Rippling Effect of Infertility’s Pain

My son, Dave and daughter-in-law, Sarah, were home for the holidays. Dave and I sat in the kitchen as I frosted the last few batches of Christmas cookies. Because we lived 11 hours apart, the chance to catch up face-to-face was a welcome one. We chatted happily for a long while before I leaned across the countertop, patted his hand and asked, “How’s it going?

Dave and Sarah had been struggling to conceive a baby since their wedding seven years ago. We didn’t talk about that every time we picked up the phone. I tried to keep a respectful distance – a balance between allowing them to navigate this journey themselves and letting them know how much we cared – how much we hurt for them — for their frustration, longing, and loss. When I asked the question, he knew I wasn’t asking about his job.

Dave didn’t respond right away. Instead, he stared into the bottom of his coffee cup and slowly lifted his head, leveling his gaze at my face. “Not great,” he said with a shrug. And then he started to sob — his shoulders drooping, his entire frame heaving with waves of sadness and grief. I lunged across the space between us and threw my arms around his back. We were a pair of soppy, tear-stained wrecks by the time I managed to speak.

You know, you don’t always have to be strong,” I said.

Yes, I do,” he responded.

Dave proceeded to explain that he had to be strong for Sarah. Since she was so deeply burdened with the medical procedures, shots, tests, and mood swings, she needed his consistent support, understanding, patience, and love. She didn’t need the additional angst of his sadness, disappointment or occasional doubt. That morning, his emotions came pouring out — real and raw — dripping with the salty, stinging tears that had been brewing for so many agonizing years. I told him that to best take care of Sarah, he needed to take care of himself. I told him how enormously proud I was of them both and then I let him talk.

That morning I wept with my son not knowing whether he would ever experience the joys of parenthood, wondering how much longer he and Sarah could persevere or how they would come to define family for themselves. That’s the morning I stopped dreaming about a grandchild and began praying that both Dave and Sarah would find a way to be okay. Fortunately, they are more than okay — their dream of having a child made possible through embryo donation. The next time I heard Dave cry was on January 1, 2020, when he called to tell me that Elliot Charles had finally arrived. We sobbed together — a grateful, glorious flood of joy and relief. The jagged edges of so many tumultuous, painful years were suddenly smoothed with this new little life. For Dave and Sarah and their loving extended family, Elliot’s birth was the beginning of a whole new magnificent chapter.

Janet E., NC

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