With National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) upon us, I wanted to take a moment to share a personal story for those presently struggling with infertility, or as a reminder for those in the parenting trenches of how our greatest resources are often the ones standing right in front of us.
For as long as I can remember, I had a plan. A family plan. I know it may sound foreign for a man to openly express this, but it’s not actually as rare as many might think. Deep down, I always knew that becoming a father was one of the main reasons I was put on this earth. I yearned for the opportunity to watch proudly with my partner-in-crime as our child did something unexpected that left us simultaneously amazed and terrified. For all my past missteps to be transformed into amusing bedtime stories with an overly-simplified, 80s sitcom-like moral at the end. I could already picture the three of us walking hand-in-hand on the beach at sunset as a passerby whispers: What an attractive family.
Unfortunately, after a year of pregnancy test disappointments, my wife and I realized that the plan might not be as simple to achieve as previously estimated. And then, as anyone dealing with infertility could probably predict, I changed. I slowly began to go in my own head as I quietly obsessed about how great our lives would be… if we could only get pregnant.
Three more years passed as we struggled with further failed attempts. It was heart-wrenching. I tried throwing myself into work, but often struggled to find the passion that had made my work fulfilling in the past. I attempted to pack our social calendar to the point of exhaustion. I put on a smile, as I watched our friends have their first babies… and for some, second and third. But behind closed doors, I was falling into a deep depression as those same friends who used to say, “it’s only a matter of time” began making awkward statements like: “maybe it’s just not in the cards.” Or even worse, avoiding the topic entirely. But who could blame them? We had made absolutely no apparent progress. For the first time in my life, I began to question if dreams actually come true.
Looking back, I think one of the hardest parts of the experience was that as the non-birthing partner (even one with a lifelong dream of becoming a parent), not once did anyone ask me how I was feeling — not my friends, not my family, not my wife… not even me. And I get it. It almost felt selfish. I saw how much my wife was struggling. How could I think about myself?!
I should have known that bottled up feelings help absolutely no one, and usually end up creating much more chaos down the line, but you know what they say about hindsight. I think some part of me hoped that all my melancholy would simply evaporate with time. That’s the annoying thing about feelings though, pushing them down only makes them bubble up stronger than ever before and often ends in some form of internal combustion. Mine manifested as a need for control. I slowly transformed into a full-on helicopter husband. I studied what my wife was eating, and how much she was sleeping and exercising — analyzing every aspect of her life. And no surprise, she felt suffocated. I guess I thought getting pregnant would solve everything so the tension I was creating was worth it? But in my desperate attempt to gain some semblance of control over the situation, I was slowly pushing the person closest to me further away.
It wasn’t long before my wife and I felt so lost that we began to contemplate ending our marriage. Luckily, neither of us were willing to give the other up. And then one night, after an extremely tumultuous fight-turned-therapy-session, I broke open. I had spent years encouraging her to discuss her feelings with others, yet I never allowed myself that same space. I confessed how utterly useless I felt. In turn, my wife expressed how much pressure she felt. And then we each admitted how lonely we’d felt throughout the rollercoaster journey thus far – standing beside one another, yet buried in our own heads. Never taking the time to actually communicate what we were feeling with one another… or even ourselves. And with that, the pressure valve released. It seemed we had been ignoring one of the most important factors throughout our fertility journey – each other.
Together, we decided that it was no longer a matter of if we would become parents, but merely a matter of how. We put everything back on the table — from surrogacy to adoption. Yet to our surprise, before we officially dove into any of those options, we found ourselves… pregnant.
The truth is that neither of us can exactly put our finger on what flipped the switch – most likely a perfect storm. Yet, the entire experience opened me up in a way for which I will forever be grateful. It removed the armor that I thought was protecting me, but was actually keeping others at a safe distance. It reopened me to connection rather than hiding behind professional accolades, and… I soon found myself wondering if I was the only one out there who felt this way. That’s when I decided to create a forum to unite moms and dads with honest and inspiring stories of modern parenthood – stories like this that are too often swept under the rug. That concept became a podcast called DILF (DAD I’D LIKE TO… FRIEND), which helped me to not only build a support network of like-minded parents, but also helped me to realize that none of us are ever truly alone… if we exert the energy to let down our guard and truly engage with those around us.
Our baby boy is now almost five years old — equal to the amount of years we struggled to bring him into this world, and my first not-so-simple, 80s sitcom-like moral is finally glaringly clear:
Life does not often offer the easiest and most transparent path, but dreams can come true… if you’re willing to let go of your picture-perfect plan and remember that no matter where your journey leads you, you are not alone.