‘I laid awake at night, my stomach in knots, terrified it was the boy embryo that took. I couldn’t even picture raising a boy. It brought me to tears. Full blown survivor’s guilt.’

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“On my 30th birthday, June 4th, 2015, my husband, Spenser, and I began trying to have a baby.

On July 31st, 2018…1,154 days later, our Finn was born.

What transpired during these last three years is nothing I could have ever imagined. I have always wanted to be a mom. I’ve known this since I was little. I feel like I was put on this earth to raise and nurture children. But unfortunately, the process of starting a family with my husband didn’t play out like they teach you in school it would.

Amanda Naor Photography

I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Doctors couldn’t find a single thing wrong with me or my husband — on paper, we both physically look perfect. There wasn’t a reason, a cause, or a diagnosis as to why we weren’t able to get pregnant.

Infertility struggles are SO common, and yet NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT. It is such an incredible, emotional roller coaster. It feels isolating. It feels unfair. It feels like Mother Nature and your body are betraying you. It is expensive. It is painful. It is full of fear. And couples silently suffer.

Amanda Naor Photography

As a newborn and family lifestyle photographer, my work is fueled by storytelling. I decided to begin documenting and sharing our story because I wanted others to know they are not alone. I became very passionate about breaking the taboo of not discussing the fact that sometimes couples and women go through hell and back to get pregnant and stay pregnant. Often all people see is the social media announcement and the beautiful belly bump…yet behind the scenes there was years of tears, pills, shots, doctor’s visits, tests, procedures, and even more tears. For my husband and myself, that social media announcement took nearly 3 years to post. Behind the scenes we endured an ectopic pregnancy, 4 IUIs, and eventually 2 IVF cycles, leading to a frozen embryo transfer.

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I am beyond grateful that our first frozen embryo transfer worked. But unfortunately, the trauma and struggle from infertility doesn’t end with the positive pregnancy test. I all of a sudden also found myself in limbo of two worlds. I didn’t belong in the infertility community anymore, and I didn’t fit in the natural pregnancy world either. In fact, I felt like I’ve betrayed the infertility community. Full blown survivor’s guilt.

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On top of that, we had decided to transfer two embryos, a boy and a girl- and learned at the first ultrasound that only 1 baby made it. I was finally, finally pregnant and simultaneously deeply grieving the daydream of twins, and the loss of another life that could have been. And then, I found myself lying awake in bed at night, my stomach in knots, absolutely and utterly terrified it was the boy embryo that took. I could always envision myself as a mom of twins, and I could also easily daydream my first born being a girl. I fundamentally couldn’t even picture raising a boy. The possibility that might be my future literally terrified me, kept me up at night with anxiety, brought me to tears.

Gender disappointment.

Gender disappointment after overcoming infertility? I felt awful. I felt selfish. But I was so disconnected, almost mad at the fact there was a perfect little boy growing inside me. When you don’t get to conceive a child ‘the natural way’ and lean on science and modern medicine to hopefully achieve your goal – you gain some power, some control. Or so you think. I was now angry at this process we went through- not even getting what we wanted. And even more so, I felt like a total entitled asshole for feeling this way.

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I went on message boards to read other women’s confessions. I would endlessly read about how other women struggled with being upset at the gender of their unborn baby. I would read responses of other mothers saying they felt the same, but then when that baby arrived- they couldn’t imagine having any other child. I feared I would be the exception.

I spent many sessions with my therapist talking, processing, crying through the concept that I was going to have a son. Ultimately, even though we had decided to keep the gender a secret from the rest of the world, she encouraged me to use his name and the pronoun ‘he’ when it was just the two of us at home. She suggested getting a 4D ultrasound done to ‘meet’ him, to get his room as ready as can be. Because even though my heart wasn’t connecting- doing these basic steps would hopefully help fuse brain to heart to be accepting and excited.

But the struggle was real. There was a long period during my pregnancy where I was suffering behind the scenes, and only my husband, therapist, and OB knew. Navigating overcoming infertility, yet being unhappy with the ‘results’ was truly an awful, awful feeling. How could I be so greedy? So privileged? Thousands and thousands of women were still fighting the fight to get pregnant. Stay pregnant. Desperately yearning for a healthy baby, and I’m crying over…well, sex organs.

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There came a point in the pregnancy where I did accept having a boy, but in a very neutral way. I took gender completely out of equation. I didn’t care anymore about my baby being born with a penis or a vagina. Because at the end of the day, we want to raise a curious, kind, and creative human. End of story. That perspective shift changed everything for me.

I do regret not writing down my feelings of all this in the moment, because I’m sitting here with my incredible Finn napping on my chest as a I write this…and I love him so, so damn much. It is a love so intense, often times feeling uncontainable. Because you know what? Those women who responded on the message boards about gender disappointment were 100% right. I can’t imagine having any other baby. Truly.

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Finn was born after a super intense labor. I wanted a natural labor. I had a doula. I had a music playlist. I had battery operated candles lit around the room. I joked during my pregnancy that knowing my luck of wanting an unmedicated labor and delivery that I would end up in a c-section. And guess what happened? After laboring for 36 hours and pushing for 3, Finn’s head was cocked to the side in such a way that made him completely stuck. I ended up having a c-section. Both my husband and I sobbed when we were told the news, feeling like the last 2 days of the intense pain and dedication we went through to try to bring him into this world was for nothing. But we went into the OR accepting and eventually embracing this was the way we were finally going to meet our Finn.

When he came out, he didn’t cry. I didn’t get to see him when they briefly lifted him over the curtain. I yelled and cried that I couldn’t hear him and I didn’t get to see him. I was so scared. My husband told me later that he panicked and thought that if something happened to him, I would have never seen him alive.

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But after time stood still, he let out the sweetest little yelp. We cried and cried and cried. That sweet voice- it is forever imprinted in my heart.

Finn needed oxygen and his heart rate was low. It took awhile for him to stabilize, but then Spenser got to come over and meet him.

I still didn’t know what he looked like. I still didn’t get to touch him.

But then this moment happened.

An angel of a nurse, who knew how important skin to skin was for me, took it upon herself to unwrap him and finally brought him to me. And Spenser took this picture.

This was the moment we met.

This moment erased everything that transpired over the last 2 days. This moment, for the time being, erased everything that transpired over the last 2.5 years to bring him to us.

It was all for this moment.

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People say that once their baby arrives, it was as if they were always there. I didn’t feel that way. I remembered life before Finn. But one thing that became so very obvious was that our world was far, far better with him finally in it. He was genuinely worth the wait.

My DNA was destined to be a mother. I yearned for it. I ached for it. I fought ever so painfully for it. It’s truly all I ever wanted. From a microscopic embryo alongside his potential sister, to becoming my Finn. He made me the person I was meant to be.

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But all this isn’t to say I didn’t have my struggles. Just as I advocated for infertility awareness, I remain open and honest about motherhood.

Breastfeeding nearly broke me.

When Finn was 3 weeks old, my milk supply tanked as I don’t think I was properly eating and hydrating myself during the day once Spenser went back to work. As a result, Finn had been living on my boobs- which was an entirely new level of exhausting. Spenser came home from work one night and I just cried. He took Finn. I ate my dinner alone, and cried. I took a shower, guarding my nipples from the water because they were cracked and bleeding with deep and painful cuts. And I cried.

After the shower, just as I felt rejuvenated enough to take on the evening… I snapped my one and only pair of glasses in half.

Complete. Mama. Meltdown.

I didn’t have any backups. I’m blind without my glasses. I found one pair of contacts that expired in 2009. I didn’t have an updated prescription. I was officially overwhelmed, stressed, and beyond, beyond sad for my crying baby.

Thankfully, Spenser was able to temporarily glue my glasses back together with a paperclip and super glue. But that first night, there I was wearing my prescription sunglasses in the house. Spenser said I looked like a celebrity avoiding the paparazzi– but behind those glasses are puffy, tear soaked, tired eyes.

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I eventually hired an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) for a home assessment and consult. I was in immeasurable amounts of pain when Finn nursed, as well as battling clogged ducts and thrush. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew this couldn’t continue.

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The IBCLC, Lisa, stayed with me and Finn for 3 hours. Truly the best money I could have ever spent. She discovered he had lip and tongue ties, which was likely 99% the cause of all our issues. So at 7 weeks old, we drove 1.5 hours away to Dr. Jesse, one of the best pediatric dentists in the country, to get his ties revised via laser. Ohhhh that was a hard experience to go through… mostly for us as brand-new parents. Dr. Jesse was truly incredible, and even though it was something we didn’t want to put him through- we knew it was for the better in the long run. Within a few days, all my pain went away.

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That idea that breastfeeding is this beautiful and natural thing that just happens? It isn’t for most. It’s a learning curve. It’s a battle. It’s truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to work through with another (tiny) human. And while it goes without saying, fed is best. At the end of the day, a healthy and thriving baby is all that matters- in whatever way that happens.

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I knew that new moms often struggled with their loss of identity after they have a baby. But for me, I truly never felt more complete.

Where I did have a loss of identity was with my physical appearance. My soul was finally so content, and yet when I looked in the mirror- I didn’t recognize myself.

It wasn’t even about the stretch marks or the 20lbs more of baby weight I needed to lose. It was about the glasses I’ve been wearing for 9 years that snapped in half. It was about my spiral coconut shell earring that went missing in the first few days home from the hospital that I had been wearing every day for 11 years. It was that I never, ever wore my hair in a ponytail and that’s was the only way my hair was now. It was that my maternity clothes were too big, my pre-baby clothes were too small, and barely any of them are conducive to breastfeeding anyways.

My glasses, my earrings, my clothes, my hair- these literal, tangible, physical parts of who I was before motherhood were gone in various regards. And I struggled looking at myself in the mirror and not knowing who I saw looking back.

Amanda Naor Photography

Inside I felt so unbelievably complete, and on the outside I feel like a stranger.

I realized that there’s a balance that every mama needs. She will always put her baby first, but I think self care is equally important. When you give so much of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally to your baby- there needs to be something, SOMETHING, that connects you to you.

I am a mama.

but I am Amanda, the mama.

And being Amanda the mama meant getting my hair cut back to what makes me feel the best, beautiful stud earrings back in my ears, new breastfeeding friendly shirts that are comfy and my style. Because all those things make me feel like me. And then also spit up. Because now that also makes me too.

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Finn is now 5 months old.

I knew babies grew and changed quickly.

In fact, the ‘pitch’, if you will, of my newborn photography business was the fact that this time is so fleeting and deserves to be preserved.

I knew it would go fast. I didn’t know it would go THIS fast.

At 19 weeks old, Finn cut his first tooth and I cried. The next day, a second tooth popped up. I cried. When he rolled over onto his belly for the first time, I cried. Oh goodness, I struggle with these milestones. Any step forward is filled with elation but also grief. It pangs my heart how fast things change.

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I’ve realized that these moments are so hard for me because of the fear of experiencing last firsts. I have yet to pack away his newborn clothes from the dresser in his room. Deep down I’m terrified I’ll never have another newborn to put those clothes on. Even though we still have two frozen embryos waiting for us, navigating infertility has instilled in me the fact that nothing is a guarantee. I don’t know if I’ll ever be pregnant again. I don’t know if I’ll have another baby, or give Finn a brother or sister. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another toothless, drooling grin smiling up at me.

Amanda Naor Photography

While I burst with joy to see my baby growing and thriving- every milestone is tinged with fear that I’m experiencing a first moment for the very last time.

I selfishly want to hold onto who he is at every stage of his life. It’s a desire that is literally impossible to achieve. So instead, I choose to soak in every second, and grasp to every detail. I am forever present in his existence, but simultaneously grieving the moment while living it.

Amanda Naor Photography

There simply are no easy ‘tied up in a neat little bow’ scenarios of life after infertility. The trauma doesn’t go away- even if you’re fortunate enough to become a mother. Women and couples experience years and years of navigating jealousy, sadness, and bitterness in their head and hearts. Pregnancy announcements are often still a punch in the gut. Seeing a family with multiple children can sting my heart.

Though I carry this trauma, I am also grateful for it. Motherhood is hard. It is sometimes lonely. It is so, so selfless. But it is a world I thought I may never experience. Every hardship, the sometimes mundane day to day of life, is deeply laced with a perspective of thankfulness.

The route to having a baby was a path I never imagined going down. Finally being pregnant wasn’t sunshine and rainbows like I daydreamed it being. The way my baby came into this world, being cut out of me, wasn’t my plan. But now I’m grateful for this c-section scar. Every day when I see it, every moment that I feel a tender, sore, or numb spot below my stomach- I am reminded that my body grew a human. I am reminded of the battle I fought. I am reminded of those days of utter despair when flipping over another pregnancy test and seeing it stark white and negative. It sometimes feels easy to forget the past, when now all I feel is this all-consuming love for my child. But my scar reminds me of what I endured to get him, and for that- I embrace and celebrate it. I am grateful for all of it. The treacherous journey where literally nothing went to plan, my Finn was worth it all.”

Amanda Naor Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Naor of Amanda Naor Photography in Los Angeles, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram. She was inspired to create her #worththewait series after experiencing her own infertility struggle. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

Read Amanda’s candid, in-depth story about her infertility here:

‘Worth the wait’: Photographer captures her grueling infertility struggle to let others know ‘they are not alone’

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