Infertility makes Father’s Day forever bittersweet by Jeffrey Collins
Infertility makes Father’s Day forever bittersweet
By Jeffrey Collins (Caution: Child Mentioned)
Like a lot of men, I’m sure, Father’s Day never meant a whole lot to me. For most of my life Father’s Day was only about my dad, and whether or not I’d remember to call him on “his day” or whether I’d just mow the lawn in homage to him instead. In my lifetime I’ve had only one friend who’d said that he’d always dreamed of being a dad. But he seems to be the exception in our crowd, not the rule. I know Father’s Day certainly never meant as much to me as Mother’s Day meant to my wife.
For a long time I didn’t know how important all this was to her because my wife and I didn’t plan on having kids right away after marriage. We weren’t young exactly, having finished college and started our careers. But we just didn’t see there was any need to rush things. We had our careers and years full of travel to wonderful places; hobbies, house-buying and remodeling, raising our pets, and enjoying each other without distractions. And besides, did the people with kids look all that happy, anyway? I remember how we always used to joke between ourselves that they didn’t. And I’d just always felt convinced, and thought my wife did too, that there was plenty of time for things to work out.
But still nothing happened. We tried harder. For years. Basal body temperature and charting everything from drinks with dinner to the actual act itself ruled our lives. What had been a pleasure became a duty. It became less like making love and more like doing a biology lab project. A seemingly never-ending project which we were apparently failing over and over again. When we started trying artificial insemination it was really strange, and I started to wonder why we were trying at all, since it just seemed that for us, it wasn’t going to be possible.
Eventually, we gave up. So for me, Father’s Day seemed like something that just didn’t apply to me. We’d tried for years, but if the fates held that we were going to be childless, then so be it. There were other things to devote our time to, and surely a married life filled with travel and leisure would be an acceptable substitute for having children. I could live with that.
But my wife couldn’t. For her there would always be a missing place in her heart where her love for a child should be. It didn’t always show, but sometimes there would be inexplicable sorrow, or anger over something that seemed small to me. Other couples, even strangers, would get pregnant, and she would be jealous and hurt. Pets would get pregnant, and she would be jealous and hurt.
I remember the day when I came home from work and found her laid-out on the living room floor, weeping. She’d opened the mail when she got home from work and had gotten two birth announcements on the same day. To me these things seemed trivial, but to her these things were a horrible reminder of what she couldn’t have. And it was more painful for her than I ever understood. So, seemingly defeated, we stopped trying. And something quiet and vague in her seemed to begin to die. Although I regret having to mention that I never really noticed it, and completely misjudged how deeply affected she’d become.
After a number of years like this, we agreed to start trying again. And finally, but also quite suddenly, after ten years of marriage, we got pregnant. We got the daughter that my wife had always wanted. And I found out that a baby in the house changes everything, but in pretty wonderful ways, by-and-large. After sufficient time had passed for us to recover our strength, we optimistically decided to try again. We tried, and tried, and tried again. We sought-out fertility specialists and spent thousands of dollars. For two years we returned to the sort of sex-life infertile couples live. But as fate would have it, we would never get to have our second child.
So even though I am a Father to a wonderful little girl, I will never experience that joy again. And Father’s Day, among other things, reminds me each year that I’ll never get over the regret I feel about that. I have one child to cherish, but I also worry constantly that something will happen to that one, priceless, precious child. And, as “the man of the family” I wonder what sort of strength I don’t feel I possess that it’ll take to get me through that sort of emotional decimation. And I secretly suspect, just as it was with trying to conceive, it’ll probably be my wife who’ll be the driving force that sees to it that I survive that sort of unimaginable loss. And it leaves me again amazed at her strength and ability to persevere despite terrible odds and obstacles.
And now Father’s Day does mean something to me after all. It means something pleasing and satisfying to me as a father, to be sure. But it also reminds me that I am a man who has tried to be a father, but who has failed over and over again. I’ve discovered that, much to my surprise, years of failure to reproduce really aren’t erased by a single success. I understand now a little bit of what my wife felt for years when she wanted so much to have a baby, but couldn’t. I’ll never know how strong the depth of her yearning for a child was, and how deeply felt her hidden depression was. But I understand at least a portion of it now, or some degree of the sensation, if only just a little bit.
My message to all would-be fathers is this: Keep trying, and give your wives all of the love and support you possibly can. And, if you can manage it, then give them even more. Because even if it doesn’t seem worth the time and anguish and expense, it may just be worth more than you realize, not only to your wife, but also to yourself. This is a journey no one should have to take. But at least it’s not a journey we or our partners make alone, and that’s a blessing.
And know, whether you’re finally successful or not, that there likely will remain for you a bittersweet nature to Father’s Day which, for this incredibly, unbelievably lucky man, has never gone away. I’ve learned over our years of marriage and years of trying that even though we were finally able to achieve our little success, we’re always going to feel as if we’ll remain an infertile couple. A couple whose failures so outweighed our single success that the scars of our infertility seem likely to remain in our lives forever.
The men who haven’t yet been able to become fathers and the men who’ve stopped trying are never far from the thoughts of the men who’ve had even the smallest of successes. Especially, I’ve learned, on Father’s Day.
Jeffrey D. Collins,
Editor’s Note: Jeffrey is the “dh” (husband) of one of INCIID’s volunteers.