My parents married with the intention of having a large family together, which is how I’m the firstborn of seven: five girls, two boys. Of all my parents’ daughters, I’m the only one diagnosed at 15 with polycystic ovarian syndrome and informed I’d never bear a child. While one of my sisters has chosen to remain single and childless so that she can achieve her dreams of international travel, each of my other sisters has married and had children.
It hurts to be the only married, childless woman among my fertile, married sisters. It hurts when I see two of them pregnant at the same time, especially when they pose together for pictures. It hurts to be at family gatherings, and their conversation turns to motherhood, and I cannot participate. Not knowing what else to do, I stopped going to family gatherings. I was hurting too much, and I wanted something I did not know how to communicate.
One time, I texted my sister, Sarah, volunteering to babysit for her. She replied, “Okay.” But due to lack of communication, I felt like she preferred that only women with children babysit for her. From that thought, I jumped to the conclusion that Sarah did not consider me qualified to babysit her children because I am not a mother.
My reproductive disability had me feeling “less than” my sisters because of how I desperately wanted children.
I felt that babysitting my sisters’ children was a privilege I desperately coveted, but how could I ask for it? I was like a beggar at a king’s banquet table, stomach rumbling with hunger, staring at heaps of delicious food, but unable to take part.
Many days I cried because all I wanted was to spend time with my nieces and nephews, but because I did not ask, I did not communicate; my sisters had no idea how much I hurt, or how to help. Even so, my mom and sisters told me they consider me a vital part of the family – a phrase which felt so meaningless to me. I thought, “If that’s true, then why can’t I babysit my sisters’ kids? I love them, too.”
I arrived at the bottom of my pit of despair when my oldest sister Sarah began mentoring our youngest sister April, who had her firstborn some months ago. April lives in another state, and she needed Sarah’s help in adjusting to the pressures of motherhood. I grieved over what my infertility cost me just on the sisterly level, and I felt just enough anger over my loss to finally verbalize what I had buried deep inside for too long.
I called my Mom and cried as I explained how one time, lots of months previously, I had offered to babysit for Sarah, and she had rejected my offer. I sobbed as I told her how that made me feel that I wasn’t qualified to babysit her children because I’m not a mom. I said that whenever I’m with my sisters’ children, I don’t feel the weight of my infertility grief because I’m focused on how blessed I am to be their aunt. Mom let me cry, and she listened, and then she said that she would approach both Sarah, and my other sister Laura, and ask them whether they would mind letting me babysit for them. Sarah has four children, and so does Laura.
Weeks passed, and silence prevailed. I didn’t get an update from Mom. But I felt so much relief from having expressed my desire to babysit, I didn’t despair. Instead, I made the choice that I would not place the burden of whether I could be happy upon my sisters. I knew that for the sake of my sanity, I had to choose to be content no matter what.
The next time my Mom saw me, she gave me a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses, and a greeting card congratulating me on my new job. Then she told me that she had spoken to my sisters, and she asked them if either of them would mind letting me babysit for them. They both enthusiastically embraced the idea. Each of them had thought that if they asked me to babysit for them, they would be burdening me, they had not felt comfortable asking me.
Their conversation had occurred weeks back, and Mom had forgotten to tell me about it, and she apologized for taking so long to get back with me. I cried again, but this time, feeling so loved! That phrase about me being a vital member of my family didn’t feel so meaningless anymore. My Mom hugged me and told me she loved me, and that she was thankful for how I dared to be vulnerable with her in the middle of my pain.
I visited with Sarah, and she said that she would be delighted to let me watch her children, as often as I ask. She said that she knew I was hurting, but she didn’t know a practical way she could help until our Mom asked her if I could babysit for her. I advised her that children were no burden, but my infertility grief is. Sarah told me she loves me so much.
We planned a babysitting day and she allowed me to keep her oldest two for a few hours. It happened! And their behavior was perfect – I enjoyed every moment with them, watching cartoons and eating snacks. Sarah used the time to get a massage. We both felt loved–her for getting her ‘me time’, and me for getting to spend time with her kids. The kids felt loved because they got to watch cartoons and eat snacks.
Soon, I have plans to visit Laura and her children. They are good at loving on me, too.
The beggar was given favor and allowed to take part in the feast. And now the beggar feels like royalty, too.