As an aspiring actress, I always thought my lucky break was going to be landing a part in a Broadway play. When the diagnosis of "secondary infertility" arrived, I was in my forties, yearning for the child I thought would make our family complete. After years of pursuing neurosis as a primary career, I was finally sharing my life with a most wonderful man and a healthy, blue-eyed baby girl. A life-changer was not what I was looking for.
My first impulse was to assemble a team of the best and brightest to fix me as quickly as possible. It's what I'd always done -- call on experts to help with whatever ailed me. My plan was to enlist one of those experts to track down my last fertilizable egg and attend to the mechanics of turning that egg into a baby.
The only crimp in my plan was that none of the fertility specialists I attempted to enlist into my baby-making team would even consider standard avenues of treatment, such as fertility drugs or in-vitro-fertilization (IVF). Sadly, said one well meaning doctor after another, my soaring hormone levels had narrowed down my childbearing choices to zero. The only option they offered was egg donation. It was not an option I was ready for. When the syringes arrived, I stuffed the package into the back of the linen closet.
The panic and despair that set in seemed selfish and inappropriate. Why does it hurt so much, I thought, when I already have the most wonderful child in the world?
One day, in a last-ditch effort to prop up my wilting ovaries, I decided on a physical and emotional overhaul. I thought if I don't get pregnant, at least I'll be the healthiest I've ever been. The coming months brought the greatest growth spurt of my 43 years. Carefully, I reviewed all information given to me by my fertility doctors and did a great deal of research. One step at a time, a healing protocol emerged. This time, each item on the list made perfect sense to me, even if it didn't make sense to anyone else.
The diet and lifestyle changes were, for once, surprisingly easy. Pretty much overnight, I went from being a sugar and caffeine addict to a green juice-guzzling, quinoa and tempeh enthusiast.
Tackling the emotional piece was a more daunting enterprise. It meant acknowledging that after 17 years of psychoanalysis, I was still a child of Holocaust survivors. It meant engaging with the part of me that was still questioning whether or not I had earned the privilege of a fully lived life. Through hours of soul searching, coupled with carefully crafted mind body remedies, I gradually replaced the self-defeating images within me with pictures of possibility. I came to understand that my painful familial legacy was also at the root of my longing for another child and thus a source of strength.
When, several weeks later, my depression lifted and debilitating sinus headaches vanished, I knew I was onto something.
Eight months later, I was pregnant.
And soon after my younger daughter's birth, I conceived my life's work as a fertility educator and activist. Instead of a Broadway play, my lucky break turned out to be a devastating lab report that said I was too old and depleted to nurture new life.
In the last 18 years of working with women and couples, I've witnessed over and over the immense resilience of the human organism. It has been both humbling and emboldening to observe the innate self-regulatory system that kicks in when we respond to internal cues and hear the body's cry for help. Ultimately, achieving pregnancy is not the point of my work. Rather, it is to guide women and men toward embracing self-knowledge, becoming their own strongest allies and turning their diagnoses of infertility into the best thing that ever happened to them, regardless of results.
The curious wonder of a fertility challenge remains a mystery to everyone. After all these years -- 35, since the first test-tube baby! -- the most accomplished scientists cannot magically produce results 100% of the time. In the best-case scenario, with Olympic Swimmer Sperm and a Super Egg, a resulting "grade A" embryo will not necessarily a baby make. Something about conceiving a life makes it startlingly clear that we are more than a collection of well designed organs.
"The not-yet-born, who still know everything" is a phrase from Mary Oliver's poem "In Blackwater Woods." I wonder what the not-yet-born are trying to tell us these days. If I were a silky-faced baby about to plunge into this world, I would unquestionably lobby for change. A radical change.
I'd like to think that our lesson in fertility is to fully engage in our own health and discover that we're not as helpless as we sometimes feel. Perhaps our unborn children are asking us to turn our longing into action on their -- and on our own -- behalf. I imagine them calling for an end to the senseless circles of destruction and initiate, instead, circles of aspiring parents who'd speak up for the generations yet to come. Mothers and fathers who vow to care for themselves, one another and the earth as tenderly as they one day hope to care for a brand new child.