Shatter The Stigma
My husband James and I had been married for about three months when we made the giddy decision to initiate part three of “first comes love, then comes marriage,…” I had every expectation that I would become pregnant easily and deliver, within a year, the precious bundle I’d been dreaming of my entire life. I was a healthy 27-year old who ate my veggies reliably and came from a family of extremely fruitful women. But month after month of negative pregnancy tests rudely foreshadowed the struggle that was ahead of us.
After nine months of trying, the morning finally came when I breathlessly held in my hand, and checked, and double-checked a big fat positive pregnancy test! Weeks passed, my belly bulged a little, I threw up a lot, and life was unfolding exactly the way I had imagined it. But at my 9-week ultrasound, the doctor seemed a little too quiet as she measured and fiddled. Then the words came out that defined our next decade, “I think this is a miscarriage.” Despite visiting specialists, injecting up to five medications per day, enduring radical procedures, and completely draining our bank account, we would hear that sentence eight more times, an unrelenting echo that refused to dampen.
Pregnancy loss has a cascading effect. It steals much more than your baby. It erases an entire imagined childhood and adulthood, lobs off a longed-for limb of your family tree. Then it goes on to rupture your identity, confidence, and feeling of community. Your body, which you once trusted to carry out a commonplace, yet miraculous function, has failed. You question every step you took, every bite you ate, every thought you had while pregnant. And even though you blame yourself, you feel an utter lack of control. Few people know what to say to you. Interactions become excruciating. Events that are supposed to be joyous, like baby showers, inflict torture. I went through the daily motions, smiled at friends and coworkers, and kept the angry, throbbing stranger inside of me in solitary confinement, letting her out once in a while to release her wrath on an unsuspecting pillow.
In 2006, James and I traveled to Nogales, Mexico to receive an FDA-banned medical treatment prescribed by our doctor. Yes, we were that desperate. It was a surreal experience. Along with eight other intrepid couples, we met a clinic worker at a McDonalds in Arizona, near the border. He herded us into Mexico to the mysterious clinic. The treatment we received there was unnerving, painful, and did not end up working for me, but I will never consider the trip a waste. What Nogales gave us was eight other couples who knew precisely what we were feeling. We connected instantly, sharing eerily similar narratives. We had all heard terribly insensitive comments that had been intended to provide comfort. We had all felt punched in the gut at the sight of pregnant women, who seemed to stalk us wherever we went. We had all been so consumed by the desire to bring our children to life that we could scarcely direct a thought toward anything else. It felt like even though very few people shared our experience, there was something universal about our agony and our sometimes questionable sanity. My shame was lifted. I was no longer alone.Despite unwavering determination, I never was able to give birth to a live baby. Little by little, I was forced to re-envision what motherhood would look like for me. After three years of failed pregnancies, James and I worked up the courage to scale the daunting wall of adoption, towering over the ubiquitous question, “Why don’t those two just adopt?” After many slips and bruises, we ultimately welcomed two irresistible babies into our home through public adoption. Also, thanks to a generous, unexpected offer from a friend/angel, we were able to bring two long-frozen IVF embryos to life through surrogacy. We are bursting with love and pride for our hard-won family, each member a unique brand of delight. I can’t imagine our family any other way. But unfortunately, nothing can possibly erase the grief for our children that we have lost or the longing for the experiences that we will never have.
The only way that I have been able to process my emotions has been through writing. Somehow, by putting the experiences down on paper, I have been able to keep them from endlessly bouncing around in my mind. I found that the process of writing took some of the sting out of my story. Being a private, introverted person, I had not shared much of my struggle with many people. But somehow, in 2012, I worked up the courage to publish my writings in a memoir entitled The Pursuit of Family. It was liberating for me to put my truth out there, and it gave me the opportunity to connect with so many others who shared similar experiences.
Shortly after finishing the book, I was hit with a sudden, overwhelming drive to write songs about my experiences. I found songwriting to be an extremely powerful way for me to slay personal demons. Music is the art form that I resonate with the most. When I thought about it, I realized that the experience of infertility and pregnancy loss, which impacts millions of people, is almost completely absent from the world of music. I could only find three songs (two by Tori Amos and one by the Dixie Chicks) that dared to break that conspicuous silence. Those songs had been my best friends through my darkest times. So despite the fact that my songwriting, much less my singing, had never ventured outside of my living room, I made the decision to put it out into the world in case it might resonate with someone else going through similar dark times. In 2015, I released my first album, “The Weather”, which navigates the sorrow, trauma, and loss of identity that comes with infertility and pregnancy loss. I released my second album in 2017. Entitled “Integration,” it covers the healing process, including the triumphs and pitfalls on the road to integration of the grieving self. I hope that through my music and writing, those who are unfamiliar with the torment of infertility and pregnancy loss will gain empathy and understanding. And of course, my deepest hope is to connect with those who are in the midst of this deep loss and to let them know that they are not alone.
I first heard about “Don’t Talk About the Baby” when I stumbled upon an article that contained some early buzz about the film. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that someone was finally shining a spotlight on the black hole of pregnancy loss. I rushed to the DTATB website, ugly-cried through the trailer, and in an uncharacteristically impulsive move, sent an email through the website, offering to help with the music for the film. To my surprise, Ann Zamudio responded back with interest in my music. The next thing I knew, I was in a telephone conference being asked for new, original music for the film. I was flattered, excited, and breathing into a paper bag. I have absolutely no songwriting process. For me, songwriting has always been a bit like a sudden stomach virus. I will go about my day and suddenly become overwhelmed with a new song. Once that happens, I have no control and will continue to heave until the song forcefully makes its way out. I can’t really decide when to do it or what the song will be about. It just happens. Now I was being asked for very specific songs. The one that worried me the most was a song that was supposed to be inspirational and uplifting – definitely not my area of expertise. Gut-wrenching was more my wheelhouse. I agreed to tackle the song, but my inner voice was wondering if my outer voice had lost its flipping mind. As weeks passed, I only knew one thing about the song - I wanted to use the tagline that had served as the film’s hashtag, #shatterthestigma. But that was my only idea. One evening, I received an email update from the DTATB production blog which led me to wander back to the website and re-watch the trailer. There was a powerful moment in the trailer where multiple people popped up in separate boxes on the screen, simultaneously telling their stories. It was then that I suddenly had a vision for the song. It would begin with one voice singing to herself about her loss. Gradually more voices would be added, all telling similar stories, overlapping each other, but still separate. Then the song would take a sudden shift, and the voices would unite and find their power in telling their stories together. The entire song came out over the span of about 30 minutes. I called on Terry Carleton, the amazing producer/musician/teacher who had hand-held me through the process of recording and producing my first two records. He connected me with two fabulous local singers, Amanda Dieck and Mary Ellen Duell, who provided the powerful vocals alongside mine. As it turned out, Amanda had her own experience with infertility and pregnancy loss, and through working on the song, we were able to connect our experiences. I am excited about what we created and extremely eager to see it all come to life in “Don’t Talk About the Baby.” I am hopeful that the music and the film will start a conversation that will build more and more momentum and lead us to a day when the stigma of infertility and pregnancy loss is truly shattered.
Shatter the Stigma
I’m singing to myself.
I’m screaming in my pillow.
I’m hiding from “It was not meant to be.”
And “You can try again, don’t you know?”
My voice is breaking. (My voice cannot break through) ((What do I do to make it through?))
My song isn’t sweet.
You can’t wrap it up in 3 minutes. (I don’t begin to know what to do)
You can’t begin to dance to the beat.
If I sang it out, (I can’t let it go) ((Nobody’s home, I’m alone))
Would you be deaf to my tone?
So I shut the door, (I’m here, on my own)
And sing it alone.
But what if we sing as one,
Reveal what’s inside us?
Shout out that there is no way we’ll dim
Our broken silence.
We’ll stand up and open the door,
And shatter the stigma.
We’ll make them see more
Than just the blurry outlines of our figures.
We’ll walk together hand in hand.
I’ll catch you when you fall.
And those who will have to walk our path
Will get strength from us all.
For more info, visit http://www.julieaguas.com/
Check out The Pursuit of Family here
Check out “The Weather” at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/julieaguas (also available through iTunes or Amazon)
Check out “Integration” at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/julieaguas2 (also available through iTunes or Amazon)