Amy O'Brien, New Hampshire
Portrait by Lori Pedrick

Finding Strength

When I was younger and I thought of my future, being an adult woman meant having a successful career, being put together, being a wife and having a family. Basically, doing it all. I have spent a good portion of my adulthood trying to do just that. I have a college degree, a wonderful husband and a great job that I love. Where I have fallen short is having a family. I have struggled with infertility for most of my adult life. 

       When I was a teenager, I was a late bloomer. At 17 I had not yet experienced my first period. My mother knew something was wrong and she took me to see a gynecologist. That doctor told me after one visit that I would probably not be able to have children. I was devastated for a moment, but that feeling faded quickly. After all, at 17, having children was not remotely on my mind and it wouldn’t be for years to come. At the time, I think my mother was more upset than I was. Over the next few years, I convinced myself that I didn’t want to have children, that they were a hassle not worth the frustration, and I was better off. But, I always felt like less-than, like I was not fully a woman.

       I went away to college and worked my way into a good job. Meanwhile, questioning what kind of woman I was if I couldn’t produce a family. In my mid-twenties, most of my girlfriends were having children. They acted like they were missing out on a childfree lifestyle. In reality, I felt like I was missing out on having the bond they had with their children. Imagining seeing a smiling young face and knowing that I created it, that someone was a piece of me.

       When I was twenty-seven, I had been living with my husband for a couple years, he urged me to go see a doctor. I had never actually been diagnosed with any ailment. I had rested my whole future on the opinion of one doctor that had only seen me for ten minutes, ten years prior. Convincing myself that I didn’t want to have children was my way of avoiding this unknown problem, a defense mechanism. It wasn’t just for me now, I had a partner and he didn’t want to accept our fate that easily. I was scared but I decided to see a doctor for him.

       I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome, a condition that causes a hormonal imbalance and can impact fertility. My fears grew: if I were going to get pregnant, what would I have to put my body through? It took me four more years of indecision before I chose to go ahead with fertility treatments. My fear of regret finally out-grew my fear of physical pain.

       It was after making this decision that I learned what real strength is. Only a strong woman could go through what I was about to go through. There was a year of testing, needles, and invasive procedures before I was finally able to begin IVF. In Vitro Fertilization was more painful than I could have ever anticipated. I had many sleepless nights of anxiety and expectations. I have been through much physical pain and have had my high hopes dashed. But, I was doing it, enduring and carrying on. 

       Two years later I am still trying to conceive. But, the feeling of overcoming my fear and moving ahead with all of this has made me feel proud. If I am never able to have a child, I know now that I am fully a woman. Being a woman means giving it all to our dreams and transcending our insecurities and I have done that. Even if I can’t have it all, that doesn’t make me less-than. 

— Amy O’Brien