I have four cats, all elderly: Kelso, Franklin, Ellie, and Bailey. I used to have six cats and a 60 lb English Bulldog. Funny how your animals can remind you of your past and randomly evoke strong emotion on a random Sunday.
When you live in a house as loud as mine on the daily, it is easy to forget or put out of your mind the quietness that used to exist. The longing for a baby, the jealousy over close family and friends who so easily conceived. But, I still remember.
Those were the years I was figuring out my life, not in my teens and early twenties like many of my peers. Luckily I picked the right guy early, but I pranced through several career tracks, flitting here and there through retail, management, and social work positions. All I excelled in, but none ever kept my interest longer than a year or two.
When we felt ready to have a baby, it just was not in the cards. For years we tried, feeling the anguish each month when it did not work out as planned. We went through IUIs and fertility meds without success, and the male doctor we were seeing at the time said, “Well, you guys have about as good of a chance conceiving on your own as I do.” Well. We were broke from paying out-of-pocket thousands. That was that.
We had run out of funds and patience. So, I decided to go to nursing school. I was 27. We would come back around to kids later, or possibly never have them. The thought of my husband not ever becoming a father broke my heart. I threw myself into my studies and focused on the future. Babies danced in the background, but it was too sad of a concept to visit at the time. The upside was, we really enjoyed our time together as a couple. Weekends were for seeing live bands and being young. Ah, feels so long ago!
During those years, I rescued every damn animal I could find. Mind you, I did not actively seek out all of the animals, they just sort of came to me. What started as watching my gram’s dog Packer for a two week stint turned into two months, then turned into two years. I did not mean to steal her dog, I swear. But that dog surely rescued me. He was maybe 8 or 9 when we got him, horrible skin and icky eyes. He farted. He sometimes slobbered on my couch. He started in a cage and wormed his way onto my couch and eventually my bed, pushing under the pillows and sprawling under the covers like a mini-me. Gram let me keep him because she knew. She knew we needed each other, and it was perhaps the most selfless thing she ever did.
He was my baby before I had my baby. I loved him fiercely. He was in our family picture. He cuddled with me while I studied every night. He made it with me during nursing school and passed away two weeks before Ryan was born. It was the saddest time in my life that I can remember to date. I will never forget being 9 months pregnant and Dave and I taking him for a hamburger, then holding him as they mercifully put my suffering baby down. I have never cried so hard, ever. He was about to become a big brother. At the time, I would have given up being pregnant to keep him here. Sounds ridiculous now, but Packer was my life. That dog rescued me during the darkest years of struggling with infertility and figuring out what to do with my life. That dog was my best friend. He was everything. I still miss him so.
Ryan was a surprise, my miracle baby. I found out I was pregnant during the third semester of nursing school. I had just ran the Shamrock Shuffle 8K the week before, and was wondering why I was still so tired a week later. I purchased a few pregnancy tests reluctantly, scoffing as I peed on the sticks like so many times before. Every one of them was positive. Right before my eyes. Denial set up shop and did not leave until I felt the little kicks that reassured me I was not imagining. Twenty four hours of labor and one rough emergency c-section later and I was a mother. Dave was a father. Despite giving up all hope, I witnessed firsthand that miracles do happen.
I actually changed jobs in order to find insurance that would cover an attempt at IVF for a second baby. I felt guilty even wanting another. Had I not been incredibly lucky to have one healthy child? I had been. We suffered through a ridiculously difficult second pregnancy. At 18 weeks I discovered I had placenta previa, and after thinking I was miscarrying, was put on bed rest for a week. Luckily all went well the remainder of it, and I worked through the entire high risk pregnancy until Ben came into the world a month early like the little boss he is. We stayed in the NICU for three days and went straight home, because he is a small little fighter dude.
My favorite cat Fez died while Ben was in the NICU, and as I cried holding my newest miracle infant, I grieved for the cat baby I had loved since I was 20 years old. I remember thinking, these people probably think I am a hot mess over my infant here in the NICU. But no, I cried for my little black kitty girl.
Ask anyone in my family and they would tell you that yes, I like animals. I have saved many on the side of the road, returning them happily to their owners (or adopting them myself). Am I necessarily a “dog person”, though? Not really. I saved four of those six cats in those years too, they just sort of merged in with my other ones when they needed us. I needed them, too. I needed to feel needed and be responsible for others, human or not. They helped to fill my soul when I felt empty and defeated. Infertility is a beast that stripped me of my ability to feel happy for others and left me questioning my purpose in life. It left me broke, depressed, and grieving. Those animals, even the weird, eccentric cats – saved me. Packer was the best thing that ever happened to me, other than Dave and my subsequent miracle kids. He was also my biggest loss, and he changed me forever.
I will never forget the quiet stillness of our home… back then, before the miracles I kiss every morning and night. I will never forget my favorite four-legged girl, and my favorite chubby bulldog. I carry all of those memories and feelings with me, and they have shaped me into the person and mom I am today.
This weekend I have a loud, booming house. It is filled with laughter, yelling, and love. Sticky fingers and smudges on walls. Homework and potty training and work and soccer practice and stretched thin schedules. Ignored laundry in piles and toys strewn throughout the rooms. Exhaustion and ear infections and ADHD medications and work deadlines. Halloween costumes and school lunches and excited Christmas mornings. Gratefulness.
If you are going through infertility, know you are not alone. Also know, miracles do happen. Today I have two beautiful boys, through some strategic planning and some dumb luck. The memories of heartache and loss remain with me. I still have four cats that remind me of my past and have been with me through it all.