What hurts

Author: Kate Zinsmeister Harvey ’10

While the MRI hammers away around me, I whisper Our Fathers and send my thoughts into the universe. This is all for you, little one. I picture a happier scene. I see the child I’m fighting for, and even in my imagination the relief is so real it stings at my eyes. For a moment I move through pain and arrive at courage. This is all for you.

It’s been two years of Sturm und Drang. A tussle between fear and faith, desolate tears and determined strength that starts all over again every month. Battling infertility changes a person. Thoughtless comments from strangers have power over me despite huge efforts to be thick-skinned. I notice young mothers pushing strollers down the street and women with sweet rounded bellies buying paint in the hardware store and families who take up a whole pew in church. The longing sometimes feels like a physical hole that exists somewhere between my throat and my stomach.

I’ve learned that words can hurt more than sticks or stones. It’s impossible to know how to respond to a friend complaining about an uncomfortable pregnancy or a fussy baby. The catch-all “I’m sorry” would feel strange to say. If I had more nerve I would throw a dash of humor and spice into the conversation. “Oh, what I would give to be throwing up every morning!” (That has the advantage of being true.) Or I could politely explain that I’m not the best person to talk to about this and risk a pitying look.

I never say these things. I only smile and hope she doesn’t read on my face the sadness she’s reminded me of. I know she didn’t mean for her words to sting; our perspectives are just too different. Morning sickness is an annoyance for one woman and for another it is her biggest dream come true.

Words comfort, too; oh, how they comfort and heal. One day I came across a comment typed at the end of a blog post I’d been reading. This person, whose name I don’t know, was writing about the many women who fight to bring children into the world. She wrote: “You ladies who share this detour, you have a lot to give, and your babies are so so lucky because you love them from a place those of us who are afraid of getting pregnant again will never understand.”

What a gift to be lifted up like this! Infertility is a brutally isolated island, and it’s common to feel inadequate, unfeminine even, month after lonely month. It warmed me deeply to be reminded by this kind, wise stranger that there’s beauty in our pain and that a rare goodness will come of it.

After a recent round of appointments and testing I went out to get the mail and saw a magazine addressed to me, one I hadn’t ordered and had never seen before (or since). It was a health magazine, and on the cover were two tiny, identical newborn babies. Hours before I’d been fretting that certain kinds of fertility treatments increase the likelihood for multiples. As I gazed at the picture I felt that worry melt away and grace fill its spot. I kept the magazine for several weeks like a sort of talisman, and it made me happy every time I saw it sitting on the table. That particular fear hasn’t been back since.

I’m on a near constant quest for peace. I often sit down at my piano to play Chopin’s “Berceuse” lullaby. As I play I have a vision of a tiny bundle in a bassinet by my side, cradled by the bend in the piano and soothed into a gentle sleep. For me this is a form of prayer. This is the release of my nurturing energy. This is how I talk to God, my music like a carrier pigeon sent out the window with a note, Please, I’m ready now, tied to its foot on a string.

I’m worried and I’m afraid and my heart aches for a baby, but I would not say I’m unhappy. My husband and I share a fierce and loving closeness. I’m learning how to be vulnerable and am beginning to understand that this is the key to forging the most powerful kinds of human connection. I’m figuring out what it means to want something with every ounce of me. I’m figuring out how to be okay with not having it. I’ve become more tender toward myself, and I’m more gracious with others. I’m comforted knowing that every day an army of prayers is sent heavenward for us. Hemingway once said to write hard and clear about what hurts, so I do, and it helps. I’m wading through darkness, but God’s love has never been more brilliant.

I take long walks to clear my mind and pray. I stop to look at the daffodils. My arms spread wide to catch the wind, and I marvel at a newly planted garden. I grin at driveways studded with little bikes and toy trucks and crooked chalk drawings.

I approach the long, steep Virginia hills with confidence and clarity. I trust my body and the strength in my lungs and heart and muscles. I close my eyes as I climb, and all doubts are erased. I block out the distance I have yet to go — uphill, breathing hard — until I’ve reached the top, and when I’m there, my eyes flutter open. I’ve made it.

May the rest of this journey to motherhood be like that.

Kate Zinsmeister Harvey is a classical pianist and teacher who runs a private studio out of her home in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is vice president of the Charlottesville Music Teachers Association. Her article was awarded an honorable mention in this magazine’s 2015 Young Alumni Essay contest.