When driving around town, have you ever noticed cars with those stick figure families on the rear window? You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, Yep, I’ve got one on the back of my car! Where we live, they are especially popular. There’s usually a mom, a dad, several children, and the family pet(s). The little girls are typically waving pom-poms and cheering for their favorite university team. The boys are throwing footballs or holding baseball bats and lacrosse sticks. The little babies of the house are often represented with the obligatory single curl poking out of their otherwise bald heads.
When we were struggling to get pregnant and have children, these stick figure families were a gut-wrenching eyesore to me. One day, after driving for hours on a road trip, I turned to my husband and said, “Maybe we should order one of those stick figure family sets. We could have a man and a woman, and four little angel babies over our heads, so it kind of looks like they are in heaven.” He just stared back at me, unsure of how to respond. “Relax, I’m kidding. I’m just kidding. But really, I have to admit, it does make me feel sad.”
It was a difficult season of our lives. On my 30th birthday, I spontaneously lost our first pregnancy when the baby was at 18 weeks gestation. The next two losses were early, and the fourth was at about 11 weeks, when the baby died due to Turner Syndrome. Throughout all this, I worked for a company where almost every single employee was a woman of child-bearing age. There was always someone waddling around the office with a protruding pregnant belly. I think we held a baby shower at least once a month. This was my first ever run-in with jealousy. Never in my life had I been envious of another human being, but my desire to successfully carry a baby to full term and bear children was something I couldn’t seem to do, despite the fact that everyone around me was easily getting the job done. It disgusted me to feel this way about others. I was secretly embarrassed and ashamed.
My husband and I lived in a neighborhood with large houses, usually containing four to five bedrooms. As I would be bleeding from a miscarriage, neighbors regularly asked when we planned to have kids and why we were waiting so long. They simply couldn’t understand why we bought such a big house when we didn’t have any children. And it had been that way for years. In addition, there was pressure from family and friends, especially at first. Once we had multiple losses, the pressure subsided, but the hurtful comments still came.
Pregnancy loss and infertility is a weird beast. It’s something people tend to keep very private, yet it’s something immensely consuming and completely agonizing for couples living through it. It affects your marriage, your sex life, your relationships with family and friends, your finances, your faith, your physical and emotional well-being, and so much more. I discovered that people unaffected by pregnancy loss or infertility are well intentioned and mean to say the right things, but often don’t. Worst of all, they may say nothing at all. The lack of acknowledgment was extremely painful to me. And I hated hearing all of the usual platitudes:
It will be okay. Everything happens for a reason.
God only gives you what you can handle.
Don’t you think it’s time to move on and just get over it?
Gosh, it was so easy for us…I wonder what’s wrong with you?
To add insult to injury, many of the pregnant women swarming around me shared how they just couldn’t wait to deliver their babies. They were frustrated because they were getting SO BIG and SO UNCOMFORTABLE. They didn’t get sympathy from me.
The fifth pregnancy we lost was a little girl born at 22 weeks gestation. My water broke, and I was forced to deliver our daughter, Tess. She died in my husband’s arms later that day. It killed me to hear those women complaining about how they couldn’t wait to get their babies out when they were in their third trimester. I tried to bite my tongue, but couldn’t. I told them bad things happen when a baby is born too soon. I knew all too well…I would have happily gained an extra 20 permanent pounds and cut off my right arm to deliver a healthy baby. It had taken us nearly a year to get pregnant with our daughter. I knew couples fussing over the fact that they had gotten pregnant by accident with their most recent baby, and they just didn’t know how they planned to make it work. For one couple in particular, they griped and moaned so much I finally offered to adopt their child if they didn’t want it. That shut them up. They could tell I was serious.
The most disturbing emotion I ever encountered was that after all of our losses, I sometimes wished other people knew how I felt. I realized this meant they, too, would need to experience infertility or pregnancy loss. Only by living it would they truly understand my pain. Only by walking in shoes just like mine would they comprehend the extent of the suffering. That is why it’s so important that as a victim of infertility and pregnancy loss, you find others who have survived it. There is a special bond, a sisterhood of sorts, for those of us who belong to this club. We surround each other with love and understanding. We try hard to keep precious memories alive for the babies who have passed. We offer encouraging words for what might be another negative pregnancy test. We laugh, we cry, and we do what we can to survive through the storm of devastation that hits whenever a baby is lost.
Ultimately, I was able to carry one child to term and we had another child through the miracle of a surrogate mother. I’ve never ordered a stick figure family set for the back of my car, but if I did, I’d figure out a way to include my little ones who are not here living life with us. It only seems fair to honor them in a way that demonstrates they are not forgotten.
Special thanks to Tina Perry (tinaperryart.com) for the stick figure drawing of the Urrutia Family.