‘It Felt Like Something of Mine Was Stolen’

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Among the many emails we’ve received from readers struggling with infertility, one of the emotions that keeps coming up is envy—unspoken envy toward people who seem to have no trouble conceiving and giving birth to healthy children. As one of our previous readers put it:

I also struggle with jealousy. “Oh! We weren’t even trying to get pregnant!” Even a good friend of mine at age 42 is about to have a baby girl via IVF. I think of her every day and hope I am so lucky.

Another reader can relate:

I am in my late forties. I have not been on birth control since my early twenties and have been married 17 years. We have been through IVF three times.  I would have thought the next step was adoption, but my husband said that was a deal breaker. I was not willing to get a divorce over it, so I just suppress my feelings of wanting to be a mother and channel them into caring for three dogs and a horse.

Everyone automatically assumes you can just get pregnant whenever you want. People even say to me they got pregnant just by talking to their husband. It’s very hard to hear that as someone who has tried so hard and has been through so much. I can’t even tell you how many pregnancy tests I have peed on—a ridiculous amount of hope each time, only to have a huge amount of disappointment and tears after. Not to mention the money we have poured in.  

I gave up in my late 30s. Having a family should have just been easy—something everyone assumes will happen if you want it. I do feel I have been successful in other areas in my life, but it still is hard seeing all of my friends and their happy families.

This next reader’s excitement over being an aunt was clouded by her feelings of jealousy:

In five days, I’ll have my second FET (frozen embryo transfer) and I feel I like I should be excited, but I’m just numb.

My husband and I have been struggling with infertility for almost three years—about the same amount of time we’ve been married.  I wouldn’t say this issue has been hard on our marriage [unlike these readers], because he’s been more than supportive. It’s definitely affected me more than him. My heart aches for a child.

We got pregnant right after our wedding and were thrilled to see the tiny heartbeat at our eight-week appointment. But the joy was short-lived, as I miscarried right after. We had already told friends and family that we were expecting. I was so naive about miscarriages, as I had only known one other person who had gone through one. But after mine, I heard from friends who had also had a miscarriage, which made me feel better that we had told people. [Read many more stories of miscarriage here.] I also learned that most women who have a miscarriage go on to have healthy children soon after, so I was hopeful.

Then, just a month after the miscarriage, my younger brother and sister-in-law announced they were having a baby. I was devastated. It’s irrational, I know, but it felt like something of mine was stolen: a due date close to our baby’s, our parent’s first grandchild, and just the joy I once had was now theirs. I kept up appearances around them, but inside I ached. I had difficulty being around her pregnancy, but once my niece arrived, I couldn’t help but have joy in being her aunt.

It took about six months before I got pregnant again. That one only lasted maybe five weeks. I went on to get two more positive pregnancy tests and yet two more rounds of disappointing news.

That’s when we saw a fertility doctor and decided to go with IVF and genetic testing on the embryos, since miscarriages are usually caused by genetic abnormalities. My husband and I both were tested for about everything that could affect pregnancy. Nothing was found. We had unexplained infertility.

After two egg retrievals, we had five healthy embryos. In August, we had our transfer of one embryo. I was so excited for the pregnancy test, thinking that this would be it. Our chances of success after genetic testing were even higher. We had eliminated the major factor causing miscarriages, so how could this not work?

It didn’t, and I didn’t even get a positive pregnancy test.

Around this time, my brother and his wife announced they were pregnant with their second child. Of course they were. Them and everyone I know on Facebook.

All of this is why infertility has made me numb. I protect myself from pain, because I’m afraid to put too much hope into it. I brace myself for disappointment. All I know is I won’t give up. I will have a child one day, however that may come.

Even if this isn’t shared, it was definitely cathartic to write this out. So thanks.

If you have any words of support or advice for either of these readers, please send us a note and I’ll update.