by Amanda Queally
Recently, I found myself going through an old box of childhood collections – baby photos, tattered dolls, my 2-year-old clay hand print and I came across a pile of my nursery school drawings. Underneath some oddly shaped stick figures were my teacher’s scribed description of the drawing. I sifted through several, and then I discovered one that made me pause and take a deep breath: a small purple stick figure, a girl with a big smile. Underneath were the words: “I want to be a mother and a teacher.” At four-years-old, this was my dream for my future.
These are fairly common aspirations for a little girl, and many grown women would probably not have given this item from their past much attention. What made me stare at its simplicity was not even that I now find myself both a teacher and a mother, but that the yearning and desire to mother has been a part of me ever since I was a little girl. As an elementary school teacher, I am witness to many young people express their dreams for the future. They are the aspiring veterinarians, astronauts, professional football players, and Lego designers. I often try and picture them, all grown up, being who it is they hope to be.
My goals as a four-year-old child were not seemingly as lofty as those aspiring doctors and astronauts. How hard could it be to become a mother? I could never have imagined at that young age just how long my journey would be to make my dream come true.
My wonderful husband and I began dating in high school and married 12 years later. Our relationship has always been strong, loving and respectful, something I am very grateful for. After nearly two years of marriage, we were very excited and ready to start a family. I went off the birth control pills I had been religiously taking since I was 18, and was prepared for the possibility that it would take a little while for my hormones to balance themselves out and for my body to be ready to conceive. This was what my doctor had told me might be the case. To our surprise and delight, we got pregnant on my first cycle off the pill. The elation is something I will always remember, feeling the presence of that little being as I walked alone, talking about how we would set up the nursery, dreaming about a little boy or girl and who he or she would be.
Only three days later I started feeling terrible pains in my lower left side. It being my first pregnancy, I thought perhaps they were normal cramps. This was, however, the start of my realization that I knew my body better than anybody, and that I needed to trust it and trust my instincts to take care of it.
I woke early in the morning and told my husband that I thought I needed to go to the ER, that something just didn’t feel right. I was quickly diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, and went right in for laparoscopic surgery to remove the pregnancy and my left tube, as there was too much damage to save it. We came home that night, grief-stricken and sore. The doctors had all said that I was very healthy, and that this was just a bit of bad luck. I remember one doctor smiling at us as we left and saying, “I bet I will see you back here within the year, giving birth to your baby. You won’t have any trouble getting pregnant with only one tube.” Although very sad for our loss, I knew in my heart that we would be pregnant again soon. After all, we had only tried for a month and got pregnant right away.
But months went by and we began to spend more time worrying, and more money buying pregnancy tests only to end up devastated at the end of each cycle. After a year of trying, we were instantly put into that awful category of “unexplained infertility.” What my ears heard with this diagnosis was : “You are infertile and we don’t have any idea why.”
Thus began my frantic search for answers. Over the span of the next two years I saw multiple doctors, my husband had his sperm evaluated twice, I scoured bookstores and websites, bought herbs, did fertility yoga DVD’s, went to fertility acupuncture, and eventually had exploratory surgery to make sure I didn’t have scar tissue as a result of my ectopic pregnancy. When all of these attempts still resulted in “unexplained infertility,” I went on to have an HSG to look inside my uterus. My husband and I were painfully frustrated and sad. I began to live my life by that vicious two-week cycle, waiting for ovulation to happen then waiting two more weeks to see if I was pregnant. I doubted my body, felt ugly, felt less of a woman, felt as though I could not give my husband that ultimate gift of a child. Meanwhile “every woman that I knew” was either pregnant or giving birth to second children, while my husband and I were stuck in this devastating routine of hope and despair.
We went on to spend thousands of dollars on rounds of Clomid, more diagnostic testing, and eventually, IUI’s. Those were the worst of the doctor’s visits. There we sat in the doctor’s waiting room, with my husband’s “sample” wrapped snuggly in a wool sock inside a brown bag. On the table were parenting magazines and all around us were women in various stages of pregnancy awaiting their checkups while we waited to be artificially inseminated. We did this three times, and although we held very real hope that each time would be the time it finally worked, there was always something inside me that didn’t feel right about it. My body would tense up, I would always arrive in tears and leave with even more. The final attempt my body tensed up so much that they couldn’t insert the tube to inseminate me, and several doctors were called in the room to try. This made my appointment time run late, making me late for work.
I teach first grade, and was late for the start of the school day. I remember my 21 6-year-old students all making a point to tell me all of the routine things I had forgotten to do in the classroom that morning due to my tardiness. Instead of finding humor in their innocent need for everything to be just as it always is, I saw 21 annoying kids at whom I wanted to scream, “I am terribly sorry I didn’t write the date on the board like usual, but I was busy getting artificially inseminated this morning and am getting very tired of always taking care of other people’s children when all I want is one of my own!”
After nearly three years of battling infertility, I was becoming a much more hostile, unhappy, and self-pitying woman. Lucky for me, I have an unbelievably supportive husband who always tried to make me feel like a beautiful, fully-functioning woman when all I felt was broken and unworthy. His love was what kept me going, and what kept my hope alive. This hope is what found me once more in the bookstore, looking for yet one more source of inspiration or the ultimate cure, since no doctor had offered me any. At this point, the doctors had said that IVF would be my next option. We weren’t ready for either the emotional or financial realities that this treatment presented. I wanted a natural conception. I found The Fertile Female at Borders and read the first couple of chapters right there in the Women’s Health aisle.
What I read wasn’t a promise for a cure, or a prescription for a remedy, but a wisdom that spoke to me and immediately made me feel less broken and more trusting of my body. I read it twice, and also began exploring Julia’s website, FertileHeart. I ordered the Fertile Heart Imagery CD and started to use some of the OVUM tools. Although I felt as though I had found the fertility support resources and online group I had been searching for, I still felt like I needed to connect to Julia’s work more intimately.
I found out about her all-day intensive workshops in Woodstock and initially thought it was a crazy idea to drive the eight hours there when I had no idea what to expect and when I could use the $375 it cost for another IUI, or some other treatment that might actually result in a pregnancy. Just as I had trusted my body and my instincts when I had my ectopic pregnancy, I decided to trust myself again and do what felt right. With some family financial support, we found ourselves in the car on the road to Woodstock for a fertility workshop. Never in a billion years would I have anticipated this to have been part of our journey towards a family.
I started a new cycle the same morning we woke up to attend Julia’s workshop, so I arrived pouring tears and once again feeling defeated by my body. I was exhausted by my sadness. Looking back, this exhaustion was exactly what allowed me to be so receptive to Julia’s teaching and to the energy of all of the other struggling couples we sat beside that day. I have never felt so uncomfortable while also feeling like I was exactly in the right place in all my life. I felt very connected to Julia, and was, for the first time, in the company of other people who knew our struggles and shared the same feelings of devastation and despair. That felt so incredible.
Our trip to Woodstock made the words of The Fertile Female come alive for me. When I returned home, I craved Julia’s voice and was able to hear it as I read the pages again. I started doing imagery work and dabbled in Body Truth, and signed myself up for some phone circle support groups with Julia. I also began connecting online with some of the folks in our group at the Woodstock workshop. I certainly felt a renewed sense of hope.
The OVUM tools were a new form of fertility treatment, and one that demanded more of me. I couldn’t just show up at a doctor’s office and have a procedure that I hoped would work, or simply pop a pill to boost the amount of eggs I would release. This fertility treatment was hard emotional work and there were times when I felt like giving up, since after several months I still wasn’t pregnant. I kept reading the website, taking part in the phone circles and always kept The Fertile Female by my bed to read each night. I also bought a juicer, started to eat healthier, and thought less about my next medical step in order to conceive.
But It wasn’t until December of 2009 when I reached out to Julia for more support that I began to dedicate myself completely to this work. Julia gave me a public challenge to give it my all to the OVUM practice. She offered me one free private session each month, asked that I come into each of the teleconference support circles with something I was “burning” to work on, and she gave me weekly “homework.”
She generously offered me this if, after I became pregnant, I promised to help her with her Peace Project.
For many weeks I found myself on the phone with Julia, being guided through imageries that would lead me to make many positive changes in my life and come to realizations about both my own relationship with myself and with people in my life. I made dietary changes to aid my digestion, and ate to nourish my fertile body.
I continued to go to an acupuncturist, but I continued this with the knowledge that although it was part of my healing regimen, she wasn’t going to cure my infertility. As I worked with Julia, I continued to feel jealous of pregnant friends, to regret baby shower invitations and to feel desperate and sad that I couldn’t make my husband a father and me a mother. I felt all of these deep emotions, but this time I knew what to do with them. Julia taught me how to use them in my process of healing, to listen to them and to respond to them in a healthy way.
It was 3:20 in the afternoon on March 11th, 2010 that I, once again, trusted what my body was feeling and went to buy a pregnancy test for the first time in many, many months. I had stopped wasting the money, since my cycles were so regular. I recall feeling a very peaceful hopefulness, knowing that if the test turned out to be negative, I had the tools now to deal with my feelings. What I didn’t anticipate was my reaction when that test turned out to be positive! I saw the plus sign and began shaking. Not only did it represent the possibility of a little life growing inside me, but it also marked the end of our very long journey as well as solidified for me the notion that my body was to be trusted. I fell into my husband’s arms as I threw the test stick at him, and our bodies that had been ravaged by years of despair gave way to the bliss of letting go.
I had a very healthy pregnancy. We found out at 18 weeks that we were having a baby girl with a beautiful button nose. I am not sure if the word “coincidence” is the correct one to use when I write that her due date of November 17th is also Julia’s birthday. Coincidence doesn’t seem to be a word of enough strength to describe such a reality. For 39 weeks we awaited the arrival of this miracle baby, immersed in love from so many people in our lives who knew of our journey to meet her. Carrying this little being and feeling the nurturing from my husband was intensely joyous. I had never felt more feminine or more fertile.
Annabelle Katherine Queally arrived on November 11th, 2011 at 4:23 AM. She was born in the water, under a full moon whose brilliance crept out only briefly from behind storm clouds. The rainstorm and howling wind that were happening outside during our labor made me feel at peace inside the shelter of our hospital room, as if there was no place else in the world we were supposed to be. I pictured the earth’s beings all huddled under their own dry, warm shelter, awaiting her birth.
I had wanted a water birth, yet had prepared for other eventualities, since I had no idea what my body was going to feel like doing. I labored for 13 very long and painful hours, always wanting to ask for something to take the pain away, but never did. This was the ultimate moment of trusting my body to do what it was supposed to do like I had so many times in this journey to meet our daughter. Besides my husband’s healing hands, and my sister-in-law’s perfectly soothing touch, there were a few other elements during labor that helped get me through the pain. I had just begun to push, and heard my midwife’s serene voice from across the room. She said “Remember…your body won’t give you pain it can’t handle.” It was reminiscent of Julia’s wisdom that our bodies know exactly what to do, but that it is up to us to trust in the wisdom of our bodies.
The final push that allowed for my daughter’s passage from my body into my husband’s awaiting hands made me realize my body’s incredible strength. It was the final push after years of yearning for that moment, after a lifetime of wanting to be a mother. Our daughter was born to this world on what some believe to be an auspicious date, 11/11/11. Perhaps these numbers bring luck, or light, prosperity, or a new dawn. For me this date simply holds the perfection of our daughter’s birth. We had wanted her years before this date, but as Julia once said to a latecomer to our Woodstock workshop, “You are not late. You are right on time, because this is the time that you arrived.”
Amanda Queally is a mom and a teacher living in Yarmouth, Maine.