Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME
By Whitney Blake
May 23, 2016

Infertility made me feel ugly, like my body was broken. Deep down, I knew that my femininity or worth as a person was not tied to my ability to carry a baby. However, there was something about being unable to do something that comes so naturally, even effortlessly, to some that made me feel like less of a human.

I also struggled with feelings of jealousy. Any time a friend or family member would announce their pregnancy, it was like a kick to the stomach. I was happy for them and didn’t begrudge them any of the joy they were experiencing. But at the same time, I was so devastated for myself.

It sometimes took everything in me to put a smile on my face and then count down the minutes until I could excuse myself to go home and cry. I hated feeling this way. I’d never considered myself a bitter person, and it killed me that my knee-jerk reaction to someone else’s good news was to burst into tears.

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Infertility used to be such a consuming part of my life. I would monitor my temperature first thing in the morning and, for some stretches, go to the doctor almost daily. I spent so much time sitting on that stupid piece of butcher paper on the exam table, taking drugs and doing tests. So much time attending other people’s baby showers, seeing their pregnancy announcements, going through the frenzied hope and desire at the beginning of the month, only to experience acute heartache and despair.

Infertility is not the all-encompassing presence in my life that it used to be. But sometimes, usually pretty rarely, it’s still hard. Even now, as a mother to two spectacular little boys, there are still things about myself and my path to parenthood that make me feel like I don’t fit in. Infertility can be isolating and lonely.

However, after more than seven years of infertility, I can say that, while I will never love the heartache associated with it, I have developed an appreciation for how infertility has shaped my character and my story.

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Infertility led me to adoption, and adoption led me to my boys. You may point out that, if it weren’t for infertility, then I probably would have had kids anyway. But the thing is, they wouldn’t have been my Mason and my Kellen. Those mischievous, curly-haired, curious, sweet, fire-engine-loving little boys.

I can’t think about life without infertility because that would mean life without them.

For years, I have tried to think of the perfect way to explain how certain I am that our children were meant to be ours. It’s one of the very few things I feel and know with more certainty than anything else. I love those boys so deeply, so abundantly. I wouldn’t change a single thing about them, most especially the way they came to me. You see, waiting for them for so long and wanting them so much is part of what makes them so precious to me.

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If I picked up anything during my struggle with infertility—my one souvenir—I hope it’s a greater sense of compassion. It’s like that phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Infertility is kind of an invisible loss. It’s hard to describe the pain that comes from missing someone you have never met. It’s a deeply personal grief that many people will never know you carry. Having carried that grief myself, I try to be a little more sensitive to the sorrows of others. My execution is probably often clumsy and imperfect, but my capacity for empathy has grown through my own pain.

Whitney Blake is a wife, mother to two little boys, adoption advocate and photography dabbler who lives in San Francisco.

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