I clearly remember the first baby urge I ever had. I was 33, and my fiancé and I were walking along Eglinton Avenue in Toronto when we popped into a chic little boutique to browse. I picked up a tiny green-and-white striped onesie, which had been hanging over a minimalist Swedish-designed crib, and half-jokingly showed it to him. Our eyes locked and that was it: “Make a baby now!” my mind cried.
Growing up, I’d never had the same urge to be a mom as my friends did—I was always more focused on school, travel, and career goals. But when my now-husband and I began talking about the prospect of marriage, we decided we wanted to be a legal unit in case we had kids down the road (plus we loved each other deeply, had common interests, etc. etc.)
Still, something about the baby-making train wasn’t jiving—I kept imagining myself struggling with a stroller up the steps of the Queen Street streetcar, carrying a screaming toddler and bags of groceries. If this baby plan was going to pan out, we were going to need extra hands to help out — and more space than our tiny Toronto apartment afforded us.
So, in addition to planning a wedding, we started preparing for a 4,200-km move out to Salt Spring Island, B.C., a peaceful pastoral community on the other side of the country where I grew up and both of my parents still lived. My mom, a retired midwife and registered nurse, was eager to go through a pregnancy with her only daughter. And my dad—who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer three years earlier but wasn’t symptomatic—was thrilled we’d be there to spend time with him.
We got married in 2013, a year before the move, at which point we stopped using birth control and started planning how to make our careers work on a small island. For me, that meant saying goodbye to my beloved fashion-editor role and going full-time freelance as a travel and lifestyle writer. But we hit the ground running when we arrived: my husband commuted four hours a day to attend university on Vancouver Island, while I already had three travel stories commissioned from The Toronto Star newspaper.
And here’s where the best laid plans went awry.
Shortly after we arrived, my dad’s health took an abrupt and horrible turn. I shifted all my attention to nursing him, closing down his architecture company, and supporting my mom. In between international flights and story deadlines, my days were suddenly filled with morphine injections, phone calls to flustered clients, and end-of-life meetings with doctors.
He died eight months after we landed in B.C., and my outlook on the world permanently changed. My mom fell into a deep, dark depression, and I had to step in, handling her day-to-day responsibilities as well as her emotional wellbeing.
The stress of a new marriage, cross-country move, career change, sick parents and constant work-related travel began to add up. My focus was so far outside myself that I didn't have a chance to even glance at my own needs, or those of my marriage or our future family. To top it off, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (symptoms include uncontrollable diarrhea… fun!), which developed as the result of a bacterial infection I’d picked up on a far-flung work assignment.
Sex was the last thing I wanted—and when we did attempt it, it didn’t go well. I realized I had shut down my feelings, both the good and the bad, to survive the trauma I had just gone through. (Plus, any rocking motions sent me running for the bathroom, which everyone can agree is super sexy.)
Though we weren’t having sex regularly, we decided to have our fertility tested, just to give us an idea if getting pregnant could still be in the cards at my age. We found out that, physically, there was no reason we couldn’t conceive, which was some good news amidst the pain.
Then, soon after—buckle in, everyone!—my husband’s father was unexpectedly diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer, and put into palliative care. We flew to Toronto to say our goodbyes, then came back west determined to put our baby plan somewhat back on track. Life was too short to wait any longer.
I started seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist to help with my ratcheted-up anxiety. My mom started seeing him too, and it seemed to be doing her some good. I made an appointment with a nutritionist, who took me off of raw vegetables, grains, alcohol, sugar, caffeine and starch, to try and reduce my colitis-related inflammation. I figured if I could get in touch with my mind and body again, my systems would calm down and I could once again try to get pregnant. I began my new diet on Aug. 15, 2017.
The next day, my mom was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, admitted to hospital, and given three months to live. Yes, I promise you, this is real.
The daughter-as-caretaker cycle began again; fortunately, I was better prepared to handle it this time around. I cleared my work calendar, and Mom and I spent days going through her journals together, reading poetry and making lists of her preferred family baby names (Molly and Joseph, for the record). Her one wish for me was that I would get pregnant.
Her prognosis turned out to be horribly accurate, and she passed away that October. But despite my desperate heartache over losing her, my mom’s excitement at the idea of me having a baby helped restore my own desire.
Now as an orphaned adult of 38, I’m actively (and belatedly) trying to start my own family, with the aid of ovulation calendars, pee sticks, and, yes, regular sex. Having the end game of getting pregnant has actually helped me ease back into sex; as a practical, goal-oriented person, having charts, body temperatures, and fertility specialists telling me when it should happen has allowed me to relax and—gasp!—actually enjoy it again.
I just have to keep remembering that taking care of myself is just as important as taking care of others… especially when I (hopefully) do have that long-awaited baby.
Photos by Billie Woods (top) and Howard Fry (above)
Help knix the stigma by sharing your story. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #FacesofFertility and show your support with a custom-designed semi-permanent tattoo.