This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. In the spirit of that, I thought I would share a very honest look at what infertility has meant to me.

I’m the oldest of 3 girls. Being the oldest seems to naturally groom a lot of kids for parenthood. Plus, being female… the truth is we ARE socialized to start thinking about creating a family at very young ages. Like a lot of little girls in my generation, I played “House” with my friends in elementary school, where we all had husbands and babies and fantasized about being adults. When I was past the age of playing make believe, my friends and I would make paper fortune cookies and play “MASH” to predict whom we’d marry, how many kids we’d have and what cars we would drive. How come MASH never told me I’d be the 1 in 8 who suffers with infertility?

Honestly, I don’t know many kids who even grow up knowing about infertility let alone suspecting that could be them. I, like I’d imagine is true of many, lived my adolescent years in full terror that ONE incident of unprotected sex or a condom breaking could lead to a whole host of issues, but especially pregnancy. “Just ONE time,” my health teacher warned, “is all it takes.” With the surge of teenage pregnancies my senior year of high school, I certainly believed that was true! For many, it seems, it is.

By the time I’d graduated high school, I had my entire life course planned out. Graduate high school. Start college. Get married around 20 or 21. Have my first kid shortly after… and by the time I turned 25, I’d have my family complete. An amazing husband, three beautiful kids, a quaint little house with a huge yard for my three dogs.

Things seemed to be falling in line and even quicker than I expected. I was married just before I turned 19 and immediately felt the urge to start a family, but my then-husband and I decided to wait until our five year anniversary since we were young when we married and weren’t exactly financially stable. By the time year five came, our marriage was in a very rocky place. He was abusive and I was doing my best to “love him into changing”. All my efforts fell flat. I knew he was a terrible husband and I feared he’d be an even worse father so I knew he was not somebody I wanted to have children with. I left his sorry behind after our 6th anniversary. I was 25… the age I’d hoped to have my family complete, but I hadn’t even started yet.

Miraculously, within 7 months of separating from my ex, I met someone who was wonderful. We hit it off quickly and moved in together. In 2013, shortly before my 28th birthday, he proposed and we married a year and a half later.

In September 2014, I stopped taking the pill with the hope and expectation that we’d be pregnant by the end of the year. On Christmas morning, I turned to my husband in bed and said, “Just think! By this time next year we could have a baby!”

Two more Christmases have come and gone and each one is progressively more difficult. Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of a miracle… a miracle I’m still waiting and praying for myself. I can’t help but see the twinkling lights, the brightly colored candies and treats, and the adorable “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornaments and feel that vacancy in my womb grow noticeably larger. The Christmas cards come with family photos, people my age with their bouncy children and my heart yearns for the same. Yet the one thing I ask Santa for, never comes.

As of this month, it’s been 32 months we’ve been trying. No baby. No pregnancy. Not even a false positive pregnancy test. Nothing.

Around the 12 month mark, I started referring to this thing called “infertility”, but refusing to believe that was really me, really us. At that time, my husband told me of a dream he had… That I was pregnant and gave him a foil-covered egg. “When I opened it,” he explained, “there was pink and purple candies inside of it and I knew we were having a girl.” That is the only dream in the 6 years I’ve known my husband that he ever remembered a dream. I took it as a sign from God. Now, every Easter, I remember that dream and try to hold onto the hope that God will deliver on his promise. This also gets more difficult every year.

About a year after my husband shared his dream with me, I went to a reproductive specialist to find out why we had not yet conceived. After some bloodwork, ultrasounds, and an HSG, the doctor discovered I have one blocked fallopian tube and the other is misshaped. “It can be genetic,” he said, “but other than that, we don’t have any explanation as to why this occurs in some people. It’s nothing you did.” He strongly discouraged us to continue trying to conceive naturally and recommended for safety reasons as well as likelihood for good results, we not continue with any other methods and go straight to IVF (in vitro fertilization). I was shocked. IVF typically runs $12,000-15,000 per cycle and only has about a 40% success rate per cycle. In that moment, I felt like the weight of the world had settled on my shoulders and in my heart. I remember calling my husband and crying my eyes out. The dream was lost. Everything I ever envisioned for our life together… savagely ripped from my hands.

Since then, I have had to entertain the possibility that it might not be God’s will for me to ever be a mom or know what it’s like to feel a little being growing inside of my belly. That’s something I hope no one has to experience. To feel completely powerless over your own future, your own body. There is a feeling of self-betrayal that is unparalleled when your own body is incapable of doing the very thing it’s “supposed” to do.

If you want to know what infertility is like… It’s like mourning a death every day, every week, every month. Infertility is losing a child you never actually had. You dream, you plan, you hope, you expect… You plan for a pregnancy and wonder what cravings you’ll have or what it will be like to feel their kicks from inside your growing belly. You ponder and create pinterest boards for everything from nurseries to gender reveals. You imagine your child will have your spouse’s smile and your eyes. And I don’t know HOW it’s possible, but it is, you fall so deeply in love with this little person that doesn’t even exist yet. This little representation of the love between two people.

Then, one day, there’s a mysterious switch. The hope turns into doubt. The list of questions start brewing like a storm. Why her? Why not me? Will it ever be me? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with him? Am I being punished? What did I do to deserve this? Is God angry with me?

And you start to grieve.

Every pregnancy announcement, every baby shower, every kid’s birthday party, every holiday… it’s all a reminder of what you don’t have and what you fear you may never have. It’s when you hit the 2 year mark of trying and realize that you COULD have had a child that’s already walking and talking and being potty trained, but instead… you have an empty “nursery” that you can’t bring yourself to store anything in because you fear that’d be the beginning of giving up. Every birthday of your own becomes a benchmark to know how little time you actually have left to make this dream a reality. You take your temp every morning and chart it. You pee on a stick from cycle day 12 to 18 just to make sure you’re ovulating. You get that magical smiley face and then try to force sex with your husband even though you both had hellaciously busy work weeks and it’s the last thing you feel like doing on a Thursday night when you could be relaxing with a glass of white wine and watching Grey’s Anatomy. When he’s out of town during your ovulation day, you start to blame him for your pain. He’s the reason we’re not pregnant yet! And when he catches you sobbing in the bathroom because Aunt Flow came anyway and he starts to feel inadequate or wonder if his wife cares more about having a baby than him.

Infertility is synonymous with loneliness. It takes a toll on your friendships because they want to offer advice that doesn’t help. It affects family relationships when they can’t understand why you feel hurt by their repeated “hints” about grandbabies or questions about why you don’t have kids yet. It hurts marriages when partners blame each other or self-isolate. Infertility is not just about the absence of a child. It goes much much deeper than that.

I’m happy to say that since the awful day that I got the HSG results… so much has changed. I’ve come to a much deeper faith in myself, in my marriage, and in God. I’ve learned to relax and enjoy the people around me. I’ve seen more beauty in the eyes of my niece than I ever thought possible… and through her, I receive a little boost of God’s grace to get me through this difficult season of life. I know he created my heart to be a mother and love children. I also believe I will have my own child(ren) one day… even if it’s in a way I wouldn’t have expected. Most days are mild, but I still have the days where my heart aches for a little voice to call me mommy. It doesn’t go away. It’s always with me, but I’m learning to get through it one day at a time.