I already had a child—how could I possibly want more?
My wife and I were both 33 when we welcomed our daughter into the world eleven years ago. “A textbook pregnancy,” our midwife liked to say. We beat the odds, pregnant on the first try—a success story that surprised our fertility doctor, who beamed and joked about his improved stats.
Two years later when it was my turn to start taking folic acid, scheduling mid-cycle ultrasounds, excusing myself from work early to accommodate optimally-timed IUIs—I was filled with equal parts hope and fear. I loved being a mom, but part of my bigger dream was to carry a child and give birth. I was encouraged by our fertility doctor to think of it as a numbers game. For a healthy woman of my age, it could take, on average, six cycles for a successful pregnancy by IUI—around a 15% chance I’d get pregnant each try.
When I didn’t get pregnant by the sixth attempt, I’d already had a hysterosalpingogram (a contrast dye x-ray to check for any blockages in the fallopian tubes) and tried Clomid for a few unsuccessful cycles. Then I moved onto some expensive injectable drugs and started seeing a chiropractor who offered treatments designed to support fertility.
I did get pregnant on my ninth IUI, but lost the pregnancy at six weeks.
Women struggling with fertility know the length of a pregnancy doesn’t matter when a much wanted baby is lost. I was heartbroken I would never meet the baby I’d been talking to every morning before my wife and daughter woke up. Devastated when the tingly feeling in my full, growing breasts—a sign that told me, even before the blood test confirmed it, that I was pregnant—disappeared.
I already had a wonderful, sweet, funny toddler to love. But that did not make me stop wanting to have another baby. So six weeks after the pregnancy loss, my wife and I decided we’d try one more IUI. And then—because in so many ways we couldn’t go on—we would stop.
I tried to prepare myself physically, emotionally, and psychologically for my last and final round of fertility treatment.
In my meetings with a grief counsellor we talked about the role writing could play in my healing from reproductive crisis. I hoped she could also point me to visual art as well as memoir, poetry and music inspired by reproductive crisis, but she didn’t know of any to recommend.
I researched what was out there—some interesting books, music, art projects—but not nearly enough to possibly represent the experiences of so many women struggling with this all too common sorrow.
In the early days, before I was able to bring myself to a counsellor’s office—still sick, still aching, still bleeding—I gave in to what my grief was telling me to do. Quietly in my head I heard, Record it. With a digital camera I took a series of self-portraits on day three in my bedroom; I didn’t know if I’d ever want to look at the pictures when I took them. Later I decided to turn them into a photo essay.
Now I know that it wasn’t that I wanted to remember the pain of that loss; it was that I wanted to honour it, to be its witness—to understand that the pregnancy, that baby, was for a time, real.
I kept a healing journal in the weeks that followed and one day, when I was ready, I knew I would write a book.
Nine years later I have an eleven year old daughter and eight year old son. I work with healing hearts as my life’s work: I teach creative writing. By far the subject writers most want help with is writing their stories of trauma, loss, and grief.
Here’s what I’ve learned about making art out of my journey to have my son: when you open up painful memories, you will feel whatever emotions are there, waiting to be processed, and that can be difficult. But if you can stay with the work long enough to keep moving through those feelings, you may begin to feel something new.
I’m not talking about closure, and I’m not suggesting there will be no more sorrow.
But I am saying there is something very special—even healing—about being able to stand apart from your experience after exploring it deeply, allowing those memories so very close.
When you make art from your grief, it can be shared. Someone else can then see, and more hearts may be touched. Isolation, that awful lonely feeling of invisibility, is no longer the story.
Being able to hold in my hand the book I wrote to the baby I lost allowed me see my loss as something tangible.
I had made something out of those swirling thoughts and emotions, moments and memories, inside me. I made something I can look at whenever I want to, and also, close and put away.
I was able to make choices during my fertility journey, but I couldn’t control what happened. None of us can. I was, however, in control of my story—when and how I choose to tell it, what is OK to leave out and essential to include, with whom I share it, and for what purpose.
You are, too.
Making art out of my journey gave me back a sense of power. Something beautiful could be made out of my loss, and that act was truly healing.
By Nicole Breit
Nicole Breit is an award-winning writer who lives in Gibsons, BC—the traditional territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh people—with her wife and two children. Her lyric essay about raising a rainbow family, “Spectrum”, won the 2016 carte blanche/CNFC award. I Can Make Life, Nicole’s debut poetry collection, was a finalist for the 2012 Mary Ballard poetry chapbook prize.