Every year on June 26th, my enormous extended family would come together to celebrate my grandfather’s birthday. More planning and preparation went into this event than every other holiday combined. There were always a million photos taken, especially of the birthday patriarch cradling the newest members of our family. For years, I watched from the sidelines and dreamed of that magical year when I’d have a little one of my own who would get to be a part of the love and chaos that embodied that day. 

Yet year after year, it seemed that life for everyone else in the family marched on, while I was stuck permanently in the dream stage. New babies were born, little ones got taller, and a heartbreaking Alzheimer’s diagnosis rocked the foundation of our family. Dreams cracked as my partner and I came to grips with the fact that there were some introductions that were never going to take place. 

We struggled with infertility and loss, not just of pregnancies, but of those memories we’d hoped to have. Those imagined photos on the wall faded as time ran out for some of the most important people in our lives as we waited impatiently for the next generation. 

Until finally all of that fear, hope, grief, and pain came together on another June 26th: My late grandfather’s birthday, the day we suddenly had to say goodbye to my partner’s grandfather, the day we transferred our final embryos. It was a strange experience, rushing from our fertility clinic to attend a funeral on a day that had always been focused on celebrating life and family.

And as new life grew, another funeral as yet one more family member missed the chance to meet their great-grandchildren by mere months. 

My heart still hurts when I think of all the time they would have had together if only I’d been able to get pregnant when we first started trying, if only I’d stayed pregnant. My children carry their names, but know them only in stories. 

We like to think that maybe our grandfathers got together that day in June to sprinkle a little bit of baby dust, but the legacy of loss that surrounds the long-awaited arrival of our little ones is a permanent part of their story. The pain that accompanies fertility and family building challenges isn’t just reserved for the uncomfortable procedures or the difficult decisions in the moment, it’s in the family photos that you’ll never get to take, it’s in the birthday celebrations that you’ll never get to share, and it’s in the ache for the “if onlys” that you’re left to contend with.

It’s there on that bittersweet day every June, where the celebration of new lives, and the memories of lives that were, come together for a moment, even though they never had a chance to meet.

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