Becoming a step-parent (a term I despise, by the way) to two children was the hardest thing I ever thought I would do
I fell in love with my husband almost instantly, partially because of what a loving and amazing father he was. And on the night of our first date, I told him that not having kids of my own would be a deal breaker. I wanted nothing more than to be a mom. During my first time hanging out with his kids, my future stepdaughter literally jumped into my arms from the back of the sofa as I walked in the room (she had always been very shy to his previous girlfriends), and my future stepson kept insisting I sit with him all day. We were all instantly in love, and it was wonderful.
Little did we know how hard it would be to be so happy
I hadn’t realized that these wonderful children (4 and 6 at the time) would constantly compare me to their mother in every way. And we all know how much we love to be compared to our significant other’s exes! I hadn’t realized that it would upset me so much when a stranger would stop us and say how much the kids looked like me, thinking they were mine. It became awkward immediately, because I would feel an obligation to confess to this stranger that I was just “Daddy’s girlfriend” because I didn’t want the kids telling their mom that I was letting strangers think they were actually my children. I never wanted their mother to think I was trying to claim what was hers, even though I secretly wanted it.
But over the years, some things got easier, while a lot has gotten harder
Mother’s Day for example. My husband has 50-50 custody of his kids, which means 50% of the time, they are under my roof, following my rules, with me acting as their mother. I take them shopping, I pick them up from school when they’re sick, I take them to sports practices, I am the one they wake up when they have nightmares, I do most of the virtual learning with them, etc. But when that Sunday of Mother’s Day rolls around every year, I am abandoned by those children because they legally have to spend it with their mother. And I get that, and I would never try to take that away from her. It’s her day. She is the Mother. She’s actually been very generous and let me have the day before to celebrate with the kids a few times. But that Sunday is heartbreakingly lonely for me, no matter what we do. I’ve cried every Mother’s Day for the past 7 years, at one point or another.
This year, I got homemade cards from the kids, which was very sweet
I know their father made them do it, though. But one kid wrote, “You love us so much It’s almost like you’re our actual mom.” OUCH! I know that it was meant in a loving and sweet way, I do. But it was also a dagger in my heart. Because no matter how much I love them, I will never be their actual mom. And now I have it in writing, hidden away in my nightstand.
So, as difficult as all that is, let’s throw in the fact that we’re also going through IVF, IUI, supplements, dieting, cutting down on booze, and anything else under the sun that might allow us to have our own child. I desperately want my own biological child, especially after raising someone else’s for 7 years (yes, they’re now 11 and 13). Finding out that you’re not maybe as fertile (or possibly not fertile at all?) as you thought you were, and that you may not be able to have children with your husband is devastating. But then throw in the fact that he somehow managed to have two children with someone else makes your mind go into a tailspin of doubt, resentment, anger, jealousy and despair. What did I do wrong? Why could he get her pregnant but not me? What’s wrong with me? Why I am raising her children if I can’t have my own?
My mind has gone to some pretty dark places, I’m not going to lie
I love my stepchildren very much, and I truly believe I treat them the same as I would my own. But there are times where I’m so resentful and sad about all our failed attempts that seeing them just hurts, and I don’t want to deal with it.
I don’t want to hear comments about their ‘actual’ mom. I don’t want to hear that awful phrase ‘stepmom.’ I don’t want to hear what they’ve learned in 7th-grade science about genetics and dominant and recessive genes, and hear their questions about who they get what trait from… because none of it has anything to do with me. And then I get sad again, because I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have that conversation with a biological child of my own.
My IVF experience has had all these hurdles
In addition to trying to schedule transfers, polypectomies, retrievals, IUIs and Beta testing around custody and sports schedules for my stepchildren. We have to look at the calendar and ask if we can move Beta testing to a day without the kids, or try to schedule surgery when they’re not with us. The worst was when I had to ask the nurses to call me with Beta results before 2:30pm or after 5:15pm one day – if they were going to call me early and it was bad news, I needed time to have a breakdown and recover before the kids got off the bus, or I needed them to call me after I’d dropped one of the kids off at a practice field so I could break down in my car in private.
And then there are the friends and family that don’t know what to say or how to act around us, or to be honest, mostly me
My husband doesn’t get nearly as many comments and questions as I do. But these ‘consolers’ try to serve up some optimism by saying things like, “Well, at least you have two wonderful stepchildren.” And yes, I do. And I love them. But as much as I, and so many other people, want them to be able to fill the giant void/hole in my heart, they can’t. They just can’t. It’s not the same, no matter how hard people want to pretend it is. Trust me, I’ve tried. And I’ve gotten the question about adoption many times. I truly think my opinion would be different if I didn’t already have stepchildren. I don’t think I have the strength to raise another child that someday asks me about their ‘real’ or ‘actual’ mom, like I’m not enough. I think it would truly break my heart to the point of no repair. But then again, I worry that that’s going to happen anyway if I’m unable to have my own biological child. It has taken over my life. It has affected our marriage. It’s a terrifying, horrible feeling not knowing if you’re ever going to be able to feel like a whole person.
I don’t know what our next steps are at this point
Due to Covid-19, I’ve been laid off from my advertising job and without my income, we can’t afford to do anything (we’re still paying off loans from the last IVF round). I turn 39 next month, which scares the hell out of me. I feel like I have a huge Expiration Date sticker on my eggs with this birthday. Our infertility is unexplained, for the most part. It’s ironic that when you go through something like this, you beg for some horrible diagnosis, so at least you’ll have an answer. With a diagnosis, you have a specific problem to solve, or you have an answer that might help you finally get closure with the whole thing. Having multitudes of tests and doctors constantly tell you that ”everything looks great” and then having four failed embryo transfers and one failed IUI (not to mention all the other months when you tried the good-old-fashioned way and then got your period like clockwork) is enough to make a lot of people go crazy.
I know we’re not alone. We’re a part of the absolute worst club which is made up of the strongest and most loving and compassionate people on earth.
I know I’m not the only stepmom (or stepdad) out there going through this. So, to the rest of you warriors, please know you’re not alone. And know that your feelings are justified, even if they’re darker than you’d like them to be. Don’t ever feel guilty about them.
There is no instruction manual for this. We are mourning losses more than most have to deal with and everyone processes grief in her own way. What we’re going through is extremely unique, and there aren’t many warriors out there that would be strong enough to persevere and come out of this journey stronger than they went in.
And in the meantime, I still have hope that our own miracle will happen one day soon.
Are you a stepmother TTC? How are you coping? How is your relationship with your stepchildren? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org