To “Mom” or Not to “Mom”

To Mom or Not to Mom: A 5-Day Open Salon on Infertility, Motherhood and the Silent Sorority

Welcome to our open salon, hosted by yours truly and Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority. We created this open salon to discuss both sides of the motherhood debate from our unique perspectives (me as newly pregnant after donor egg IVF, she as one of the leading childfree authors out there) in a responsorial fashion between our two blogs.

Over the next five days and culminating in an open Twitter discussion #ALIMomSalon this Friday at 12:30pm EDT, we seek to parse out the concerns and vulnerabilities of transition within the ALI community without tripping over political correctness and delicate sensibilities.

We hope you’ll join us every day this week and will be inspired to add your own responses in the comments here and at Pamela’s blog and even by writing your own blog posts about this salon too!

This past Saturday, I was called a mom for the first time. It was in front of a group of strangers; I was helping out at a Graco baby event at Babies R Us (summary post forthcoming on the #GoTeamZoll page). I was introduced as “Keiko, a new mom-to-be through IVF.”

I had this incredible desire to shoot my co-host this look of horror, as if to say, “What are you doing?! Don’t you know they can hear you?! You can’t say that! They’ll hear you!”

But I didn’t shoot her a look. I just stood there with a dumb grin on my face and waved hello to the crowd before showing them the 8 different clickable positions of this awesome Graco carseat.

I felt like an impostor.

(I’ll talk more about this on Wednesday and possibly even at a guest post at the PAIL Bloggers website soon, too.)

Is it REALLY possible for infertility patients to park with confidence into pregnancy and motherhood?

In the middle of my day, I got a phone call with an update on my third beta and my official first ultrasound date. I immediately thought: “Sweet! I should blog about this.”

And then I simultaneously thought: “Shit. I have to blog about this.”

Ever since finding out I’m pregnant (even typing that seems weird) I have been dealing with survivor’s guilt, like I’ve somehow committed this grand betrayal at this sacred space – despite many people assuring me that a) what I’m feeling is normal and b) that I should celebrate this moment. And despite everyone’s blessings and well wishes, I still feel like I’ve wandered into such unfamiliar territory with absolutely no map.

When I say I spent days on my pregnancy announcement post, I’m not kidding. I actually sent drafts to four very close, trusted confidantes and spent almost an hour on the phone with one of them discussing options. What you read a week ago was legitimately my tenth attempt at crafting that post. And even then, despite my efforts to be both joyful and sensitive, I still couldn’t help but squeeze “I’m sorry” in the silent spaces between each word.

Pamela Madsen, a dear colleague and mentor of mine, noticed this right away:

You would think that her announcement would just be one of happiness and joy. A moment of personal victory – pure and stand alone in it’s beauty. But it wasn’t just that. It was also filled with an undertone of apology for not failing. A careful dance of not wanting her hard won success to be a source of pain for any one of her readers that are still trying. (Source.)

The biggest challenge, as I consider this idea of “to mom or not to mom” and motherhood in a post-infertile paradigm, it figuring out how to remain true to my identity, my blog’s identity and mission while still enjoying that for which I’ve longed for so long. I have seriously asked myself this question over and over since October 11th:

Can I still be The Infertility Voice AND a mother?

My gut says yes. My internal compass is unsure of how to proceed however, and there are few guides out there to tell folks like me and any newly pregnant infertility patient just how to cope and process. My purpose remains the same: to advocate for this community. But as I venture through this new context, as I add the label “mom” to my personal identity vocabulary, perhaps I can become a resource of support, compassion and advocacy for this transitory subset of our community.

I do believe it’s possible “to mom” and still be true to this community. And I hope you’ll explore this new identity with me.

Tomorrow, I’ll tackle the “non-mom” side of this coin and what it means when motherhood doesn’t happen.

Thanks for tuning in to Day 1 of our To Mom or Not to Mom Salon. Be sure to head to Pamela’s blog today as she talks about Dealing with the Mommy Waiting Room and share your thoughts in the comments below. And we have have inspired a blog post in you today, link up in the LinkyTools widget below!

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  1. tigger62077 says

    If it’s even possible, this might make you an even BETTER advocate. You know what it took you to get here. You know how hard it was. You know how hard it IS, to walk that fine line between having been in the trenches and now climbing ever-so-carefully out. Yes, you might lose readers…but you might also GAIN readers, people like me who STILL haven’t figured out how to walk that line. I’m fully out of the trenches, and I simply leapt out with a warning to readers as to what was to come. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, so I wanted them to be warned in the days leading up and the day I got the results. I was pregnant and freaked out and I was going to be posting because I didn’t know what else to do. Yup, I lose some of my very few readers but…I did what I needed to do. Don’t apologize for finally succeeding. It’s not like you were an “oops”. :D

  2. Pamela says

    So much of the infertility experience is involves being tested constantly — both physically and emotionally. While I’m biased, it sure does feels as though the pendulum (and mainstream focus) has swung pretty far in the direction of one of the two outcomes (motherhood). I hope with our continued dialogue we can also shed some light on the other very real outcome. They’re both relevant and each bring their own unique challenges. — as I’m sure we’ll explore more this week!

  3. m. says

    I was “outed” in a similar way a few months ago, and couldn’t decide if I was horrified or flattered – I couldn’t think of anything, I just stood with a dumb ass grin and a wave too.

    As a mom-to-be via surrogacy, I feel like my pendulum continues to linger in that middle area – neither mom nor non-mom – and I am so damned tempted to park in those m”expecting” parking spots, just to see if someone will challenge me. Seriously, I think about it every grocery trip.

    Looking forward to a discussion led by two incredibly thoughtful ladies. Thanks!

  4. Jenny says

    I rarely struggled with what I said on my blog when I was still trying and still failing. But ever since I learned a couple of weeks ago that I’m pregnant, I feel awkward and unsure of myself. I don’t want my joy to hurt anyone, but I also don’t want to pretend that nothing has changed. When I’ve expressed my fears and worries about this pregnancy, I’ve been told to just enjoy it. So I feel as if my writing has become overly bright and sunny, even though that’s not how I feel all the time. And I know that that’s probably alienating people, too. I’m struggling with this transition and I know that the struggle comes from trying to please everyone, which I know is impossible.

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job, Keiko. So much of what you’ve written is what I’ve been feeling, but didn’t have the words for. Thank you for being a voice for infertility, and for those of us trying to find our way in this new world of pregnancy.

  5. Justine says

    I think that you may be a better advocate in some ways because you can gain access to places and circles that infertiles without children can’t. I find that sometimes the opportunities for advocacy arise in mom’s groups … in the places where we are figuring out how to teach our children about family-building, and what families look like. My answer to your question is a resounding YES.

    But I understand the feeling of conflict.


  6. Tracey McClure says

    Yes! You can be a mom and still infertile. Infertility is much more than never being allowed to have a child. Infertility is a daily struggle. A struggle with how you feel, how you percieve how others will understand what you say, and how you look at your life from that moment forward. I have a spunky three year old and am due in June. However, due to my fertility I will suffer more than others when I share the news with my dear friends still struggling. I will be there to cry with them; tears of happiness due to my own child and tears of sorrow for the struggle they are still facing. But more than that, I will be a glimmer of hope for them. Hope to stay the course on wherever their journey of infertility will take them. I think (hope?) the hope will out weigh the sorrow for most!

  7. Mel says

    An interesting point that maybe could/should be unpacked in the upcoming days? When I felt uncomfortable talking about my pregnancy, it was all in the context of loss. I didn’t want to talk about it because I was scared that the pregnancy with the twins would end too. It was about my own lack of desire to talk about something that was difficult for me to talk about; not because I was worried about others. And at the same time, I think we were sensitive to others. People, at least, told me that I was sensitive and we moved on from there, still friends with the same people we were friends with beforehand, most of whom also did treatments (some who built their families from treatments or adoption and some who didn’t).

    What do we worry about when it comes to announcing something on our blogs? Is it a fear of the other shoe dropping? Is it a fear of our audience deserting us (and the ego bruising that contains as well as the loss of support)? Is it a fear of hurting other people’s feelings? How many people take the same care delivering the news to their face-to-face friends? Do people fret over that in the same way they take care with the online announcement?

    When did it go from worrying about the internal to worrying about the external? I wonder if people who are parents of older kids, who announced on blogs many years ago before blogging and social media became commonplace if the fear of talking was focused on the internal or external.

    This is in no way belittling the enormous care that you took with your announcement. I know it was very much appreciated. It is a testament to your deep sensitivity.

  8. Carolyn Savage says

    News flash…Once an infertile…always an infertile. Infertility changes the way we see every step of pregnancy and motherhood. I know this. I also think it embeds a compassion and sensitivity inside of our hearts that can muddie the waters when it comes to sharing a success story.

    Being called a mom for the first time is a moment. I hope you soaked yours up. for feeling like an imposter…it takes time for the status of motherhood really sinks in. Especially early on in pregnancy when you can’t “see” the baby. I think that imposter feeling is universal. Infertiles just take it a step further because we are so grateful for the opportunity.

    Lastly, when you do finally meet your little one, you’ll be inspired to fight even harder for other infertiles. You’ll truly understand what you are fighting for!


    • Pamela says

      “when you do finally meet your little one, you’ll be inspired to fight even harder for other infertiles. You’ll truly understand what you are fighting for!”

      You’ve opened the door here, Carolyn, for me to play devil’s advocate: does your statement imply that those of us who did not succeed beyond an alpha pregnancy are no’t fighting as hard for “other infertiles?”

      • Carolyn Savage says

        Not at all. What it does imply is the fact that I think Keiko, like so many other women who have “crossed over” ,may find herself inspired to fight for infertile women even more after realizing her dream of becoming a mother.

        In different words…

        Instead of pushing us across the line with her advocacy, she’ll be pulling us over.

        • Pamela says

          Adding to your thoughts, crossing over in my little corner of the ALI blogosphere means finding peace and acceptance and helping other infertile women achieve the same…

          • Kathy says

            Love this interchange Pam & Carolyn! I really appreciate both of your perspectives here! And thank you Keiko for this thoughtful post. I look forward to reading more of yours and Pam’s and others. :)

  9. loribeth says

    “I do believe it’s possible “to mom” and still be true to this community. ”

    I do too. I can certainly think of a few moms after infertility &/or loss, both online & in “real life,” who seem to have distanced themselves from the ALI community for whatever reason (too painful to look back, too busy (lol), etc.). But I think that, for the vast majority of us, whether or not we wind up parenting, our infertility experiences have affected us profoundly… I am who I am today, for better AND for worse, because of infertility & stillbirth. I can’t forget, and I wouldn’t want to either.

    As for you personally, I have no doubt that you can pull off the balancing act. ; ) As Mel said above, your pregnancy announcement was extraordinarily well crafted. I think everyone could see & appreciate the care & emotion you invested in writing it.

    I am so glad you & Pamela are doing this! — you are both articulate voices of reason within our community, and I am looking forward to what the rest of the week has in store! (I may even have to finally get a Twitter account to follow along on Friday!) ; )

  10. Cristy says

    One of the biggest miss conceptions is that the second you get that positive pregnancy test/see the heartbeat/give birth, you are not longer infertile. As in being pregnant washes away all the hell from this experience. As we stated in the podcast, I’m so looking forward to reading pregnant Keiko, because I am so fricking happy for you, but also because I know you will never forget this community. You will speak openly about all you’ve lived with and been through, unapologetically and with pride. If anyone can marry the Infertility Voice and motherhood, you can. Just as so many other amazing ALIers have.

    Looking forward to the discussion.

  11. luna says

    keiko, I STILL feel like an impostor. and I’ve got 2 littles now.

    it’s true, once an infertile, always an infertile. it does shape the way we experience and view everything.
    I do think there is something about owning it that becomes important. your sensitivity of course is outstanding. you have to remain true to yourself though too, and I think you will have much to say.

    thanks for this important dialogue! I look forward to following along.

  12. SRB says

    “I do believe it’s possible “to mom” and still be true to this community. ”

    I firmly believe this to be true. I try very hard, to the best of my ability and comfort level to be doing this more and more in my own space, and at PAIL where I feel much more comfortable tackling some of the stickier parts. Being a mom doesn’t cure your infertility – and it certainly doesn’t erase everything that came with it. Deep wounds leave scars.

    Speaking from my own heart and experience, I think it is vitally important for the conversation to continue after the elusive second line finally shows her face (should we be so lucky). Because for me, the pain of IF and loss didn’t go away then – it got worse. And I felt adrift and alone, terrified and ashamed of my feelings. Trying to cope with them was what led me to find the ALI community. Failing to cope with them still long after the birth of my son was what lead me to starting talking about them openly (albeit ever so slowly). Believing that a realistic look into even one woman’s experience in parenting after IF was what lead me to join PAIL. I suddenly knew I needed to started talking. I simply wasn’t made “all better by baby”. It has brought me great comfort and validation to know that I am not alone in this stage either. To know that this journey is a process – that the healing is not linear, but fluid.

    What I am saying (in a roundabout way that made it all about me – sorry!) was that the conversation NEEDS to keep happening, through all stages and forms of resolution, if we are to not only be true to ourselves within the community, but to advocate for a broader understanding to the community in general. Keep talking, girl.

    • Jules says

      I was going to post my own comment, but I feel like what I have to say needs to fit here under SRB’s comment because she captured the essence of my thoughts with one line: “Because for me, the pain of IF and loss didn’t go away then – it got worse.”

      At the risk of sounding like a seasoned online-message-board-goer: THIS.

      My fears during my pregnancy were all about loss– and I’ve never experienced a loss (and hope, G-d willing, I never will). I was terrified until about an hour before the girls were born. Then I INSTANTLY switched my “they’re going to die inside me” fear to “they’re going to suffocate because I will swaddle them wrong and they’ll loosen the blankets.” They hit six months and started solids, and it was (and still is) the vivid images of them choking on their food that keeps me up some nights. I still have a looooot of anxiety and I just keep transferring it onto whatever seems developmentally appropriate, because I am CONVINCED that I am so ill-equipped to make babies that there’s no possible way I can have kept them alive all this time through anything other than luck… and that other shoe is bound to drop.

      Man, even typing that makes me nervous, like I’m solidifying it into a reality by acknowledging it.

      So I think this is a key place where conversations need to happen– around the topic of transferring that fear, anxiety and lack of trust as we transition from one place in our journeys to motherhood to a new (unfamiliar) one. It’s not about “a baby cures all” for us because the underlying emotions can get put on the back burner when our circumstances change, and especially because early parenthood is a crazy, sleepless, feverishly emotional time and other stuff rises to the surface to be dealt with, but that anxiety lingers, and when things quiet down it’ll float up to the top in a new form.

      • Traathy says

        These two ladies have said it so well.

        I’m coming from a place where infertility was never an issue. I could get pregnant just looking at my husband but could never carry a pregnancy. While searching for comfort/understanding/recognition during our RPL, I found such amazing voices that truly helped me heal while we pursued our domestic adoption. Once we had our baby though, I didn’t want to look back there was too much pain in that community and even though I had been through it my heart just hurt too much reading. Even now I find it so hard to read blogs that seem to be headed down the same path that we were. I ache for them and it was too much for me so I stopped reading them. I did feel like I was abandoning people but it just wasn’t healthy for me. Finding PAIL was amazing because there were people who had similar past’s as me but also were mothers now. Nothing from the past was erased but it felt more “ok” to write about happiness in a space of a new audience that had more similarities. I can still talk about my RPL and the way it still affects my life but I can throw in the happiness of being a mom without fear or guilt. It’s in this new space that I can still advocate for my community and still be a tired/grumpy/happy mom!

  13. Lori Lavender Luz says

    “Can I still be The Infertility Voice AND a mother?”

    I think, clearly, yes. You experienced it. You have things to say about it. You *knock wood* will have overcome it within the next 3 seasons. It has marked you and it is a part of your life story. It has shaped your worldview and is likely to have an influence on your parenting.

    Eager to read Pamela’s post now!

  14. Jjiraffe says

    I personally love that there are lots of angles brought to the ALI table. I came to the ALI blogosphere as a parent who just wasn’t healing at all from my past experience with infertility, then another loss after the twins were born. I actually thought no one would care about my blog (who’d want to read about someone who was still sad after parenting two kids?!) but I have been so pleasantly surprised by this incredibly diverse yet inclusive group. I credit this community with so much, but mostly the “we get it” attitude has bolstered my self-esteem like I would never have believed possible. I will always be infertile, And I believe there are many different ways to handle and resolve (if that’s ever really possible) infertility and loss, and I support them all: Silent Sorority was such an important book for this reason. Moreover, I want to hear about them, and I think the public NEEDS to hear about them. And: this includes Parenting After Infertility, which I know you will tackle with verve and sensitivity.

  15. CJ says

    My “coming out” post announcing my pregnancy reads like a fearful apology. And I didn’t mean it to be, I just knew how I felt reading blog posts announcing a blogger was preggo, happy but also sad, because I wasn’t. So I totally get how you feel. In fact part of me now, has resisted blogging about my daughter because a) I still can’t believe she is really here and b) I don’t want to in any way unintentionally hurt a fellow IFer.
    I understand your worry, can you still be a voice for something like IF now that you are pregnant. And while I whole-heartedly believe you can, I get the internal struggle. The answer, for me at least, comes in the fact that I STILL struggle with what we went through to become parents, the loss, the procedures, the fear and hopelessness, and the fear that we will face this all again if we want another child. Infertility I am convinced is a long term traumatic event, and given that, it doesn’t just go away. Just like the trauma of having a long term illness or catastraphic event occur. It has to be dealt with, all while processing the fact that you are now a mom, another layer of complexity. So, that is my answer, you can still be “the voice” because this is STILL your reality, pregnancy does not change your reality of being an IF-er.

  16. Courtney says

    You can most definitely be a mom but also be our advocate. I’m a mom, but I feel like I’m an advocate for others in the ALI community. You can be the advocate who made it to the other side, who knows what it feels like to win her own race, but who also is still not fully at peace with the outcome. I say this because you’re already having some survivor’s guilt (which is so normal). I have the same guilt – on a daily basis. Having my child did not cure me of compassion, of understanding, or the pain I feel for others. Having my child did not erase the years of horrible memories leading up to taking my son home with me. Having my child has made me much more compassionate for others.

    I disagree with Mel on her question about why we are hesitant to post certain things. I just prepped my readers today to not expect my beta numbers tomorrow. And it’s not to protect myself. I know I’ll have a good beta – I am not worried about that in the slightest. What I worry about is how my news may impact others who are reading it. I feel so much guilt for being successful (so far) with this latest cycle. I feel compassion for those still working hard to get their baby..

    I want you to me my advocate, Keiko! I think you’re the best woman for the job – baby and all :)

  17. Tiffany says

    I too suffer from infertity. PCOS to be exact. 4 years waiting on a baby and I must say I am truly happy to read your posts. Truly happy to see another infertile couple get the chance at parenthood. So don’t feel guilty. I understand why you do. but those of us still struggling want to hear about your happiness, your success. It gives me hope. I will gladly be reading about team zoll. GO TEAM ZOLL!

  18. Lisa Manterfield says

    Thank you for having the courage to speak about this. The quote from Pamela, “It was also filled with an undertone of apology for not failing” struck such a deep chord with me. You’ve been a tireless voice for the infertility community. You have already done so much to raise awareness and offer support and empathy to others. Even if you chose to shut down this chapter of your life and move into the new chapter that you’ve worked towards for so long, you will have made a difference. For that, there should be no apology.

    Wishing you well on the next stage of your journey.


  19. Kelley says

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t mind reading about successes. When you are in the midst of failing over and over and over and over no matter what you try, or that’s at least what it feels like, it’s actually nice to be reminded that you aren’t just doing all the things you’re doing with failure as an inevitability– there is success somewhere in the world and there’s still a chance that, in whatever form it comes in, be it a naturally conceived kid, a kid created through ART, an adopted kid, or a great life without kids, you might succeed one day as well. Thanks for that.

  20. Mali says

    I’m coming to this very late, as I’ve been overseas and was unable (sadly) to participate in this salon. I understand your mixed feelings about announcing your pregnancy (and congratulations by the way), but I have always felt that you should never feel guilty for going on to get that BFP and beyond. In the same way that I don’t (or try not to) feel guilty for enjoying my childfree life. We all have something in common – we all tried or wanted to be pregnant. It doesn’t happen for everyone – but being part of this community doesn’t depend on whether you become pregnant/have the baby or not. It is the process, the journey, the emotions that we have all shared that bring us together. Not the result. So of course yes you can continue to advocate for this community. .