I had received the baby shower invitation three weeks prior. At the time, I was excited. At the time, I was still pregnant. On the morning of the shower, I thumbed numbly through my closet. Every hanger scraped one-by-one down the row of clothes. When I reached the end of the closet, I started again. I finally settled on a dress made of a flowy material, hoping it would hide the lingering signs of my failed pregnancy. I dressed. Then I cried. My husband asked why I was going. I sobbed that sometimes it wasn’t about me. Desperately I wished for it to be about me, not today, but soon.
Stiffly I drove to the party. The closer I got, the slower I drove. I willed myself to swallow the tears, to focus on the baby we were celebrating. It was easy to find the hostess’ house, as it was covered in pink streamers. A baby shaped balloon danced fervently in the spring wind. I smoothed down my dress, pausing just a moment at my stomach. My throat tightened. My eyes stung. I bit my lip. But I did not cry. I pulled my shoulders back and walked purposefully to the front door, my steps echoing hollowly on the walkway. With one more deep breath, I pushed open the door.
The house was loud. It was a boisterous celebration of mother and baby. Expected small talk, whispered gossip, and delighted squeals wafted through each room. I squeezed my way to the gift table and wedged my pink bag with pink tissue paper into the mass of other pink packages. I smiled “hello” to the cheerful party goers as I made my way to the kitchen. I picked up a glass of champagne. I don’t drink. The champagne was a deterrent from expected baby shower questions: “Do y’all plan to have any soon?” and “How long have you been married? It’s time isn’t it for your own little one?” The drink doesn’t stop the questions, but I have found that it slows them. I carried my always-full glass with me, arming myself against well-meaning but nosy questions.
Someone offered me pink cake, but I declined. I felt sick. The cruelest reminder of my most recent miscarriage was the haunting morning sickness. It turned my stomach, lurching my disappointment into my throat. I floated from conversation to conversation, searching for a non-baby topic. There were none. I stood awkwardly between two groups, holding warm champagne. I nodded absently like I was a part of whichever group my body happened to be the closest.
Conversation stopped suddenly. I looked up. The group that was closest was looking at me, waiting. I sputtered an apology. “No worries, Hun. We were just asking if you have any children,” probed one lady with a smudge of red lipstick on her teeth. My face flushed. I said that I do not. She smiled at me, but her smile wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t happy. It was paired with her scanning me up and down. Maybe the dress didn’t hide that bump well enough. Maybe she could see how sick I felt. Maybe she heard the sharpness in my reply. Her lips drew tight. I held my breath waiting for her next words. I tried to push the rising heat of my cheeks back down with my tears. Another one patted my arm sympathetically, “Well there’s time, Darling,” she clucked. They all nodded mechanically. I sighed with relief. Perhaps they would move on. Perhaps.
“Don’t wait too long though,” warned the one with lipstick teeth. I groaned. She launched into a synopsis of a concerning article she read about women waiting too long to have children. Her eyes were fixated on me. All of the women nodded their agreements. I didn’t listen. I watched the red stain on her teeth. She spoke of carrying children like it was the most natural thing in the world. I suppose it was. I suppose that’s how it should be. But it wasn’t for me. My body fought the children we conceived until I miscarried. I choked the urge to tell her where she could stick her “concerning article”, not because I was trying to be polite but because I was afraid I couldn’t say it without crumpling. I grimaced.
I used to nod right along with the others, parroting the women just like the lipstick toothed one. I used to be oblivious to the cruel realities of infertility. I used to not be so bitter. I am southern and a Christian. I am not supposed to be bitter. I am supposed to have manners and Jesus. With infertility it’s easy to talk about the sadness. Sadness is expected. The anger and the bitterness I tucked away and never discussed with anyone. I felt ashamed of those emotions. I felt I should pull it together. The harder I tried, the more I wanted to punch the lady in her teeth.
The two-hour baby shower passed slowly and painfully, but it passed. I excused myself with a hug to the expectant mother and a “thank you” to the hostess. I climbed back into my car and drove to just the street over. Out of view of the celebration I shifted my car into park. And I screamed. I screamed until I was hoarse, until my throat was raw, until there was not a sound left in the pit of my soul, I screamed. I gripped desperately at my belly cursing the empty womb. I pulled at the flowy dress, hating it. My skin crawled with the touch of its fabric. I fidgeted and twisted trying to wriggle away from the sudden tightness of its grip.
For a moment I quit being what was expected of me. I made it about me. I begged for God to let it be about me. I cried for streamers, and a baby shaped balloon, and a cake with our baby’s name on it. I cried for the nursery that still sat empty and for the unused bag of baby items that was now shoved into the darkest corner of the closet. I cried at the heaviness my empty arms. The sobs caught in my throat as I hiccupped, “Please. How much longer? How much longer do I have to wait? How many more times can I go through this?” Minutes passed. My sobs slowed. My tears dried on my cheeks. I shifted the car into gear, and I drove home.
Baby showers are some of the hardest moments for those who are trying to conceive. These everyday events that were once celebrated and even looked forward to become nightmares. I never told anyone that. It was too embarrassing, too shameful to admit that I was pitying myself when I should have been celebrating someone else. I never told anyone what it felt like to watch an expectant mom gush over a darling outfit, knowing that I had the exact outfit stuffed into a dark corner waiting for my own baby to wear.
The bitterness was consuming and heart-wrenching. It hurt more than the sadness, more than the disappointment. Every day I willed my feet to hit the floor. Some days I barely had the will at all. I promised myself that every day the sun would rise would be a day I got out of bed. I prayed constantly. I read the Bible story of Hannah and Samuel until the pages became brittle with the turning. I poured myself into my graduate work. I hoped the bitterness would fade. Every day the sun rose. Every day I put my feet on the floor. It was the hardest thing I ever did. Eventually the bitterness did fade. Eventually the constant pain wasn’t quite as sharp.
Time passed as it always does, whether we want it to or not. Suddenly I found myself getting dressed for another baby shower. This time the dress was already picked. I pulled it over my head and tied the bow. I laughed as it already seemed shorter than the last time I tried it on. I drove to where the party was being hosted and beamed at the streamers covering the door, at the balloons dancing. My throat tightened. My eyes stung. And I let the tears fall. I brushed my hand across my stomach and breathed a prayer of thanks. This day it was my turn. This day was still not about me; it was so much about so much more than me. It was about the healthy baby I was miraculously carrying.
Mini Bio: Casi Ortiz is a world-read blogger and writer. Her blog, mamacravings, journeys with Casi as she discusses the realities of gentle parenting, infertility, and adoption. She and her husband have been married for eight years and live in Texas. They have an adventurous, curious, tender-hearted 5 year-old boy named Eli who came into this world as a miraculous, medical mystery. Casi has a B.A. in psychology and an M.A. in education. By day she is a classroom teacher, and by night she is a writer and parenting coach.