‘Charlie?! CHARLIE!’ My son wouldn’t look at me anymore. I didn’t even recognize him. My entire world came crashing down. The doctor told me ‘not to worry’. I later learned how wrong she was.’

“It all happened so fast. He stopped speaking altogether. I wasn’t hearing his sweet little voice saying ‘thank you’ after I gave him a cookie. He didn’t like to be touched anymore. He avoided people, even us, his parents. I wasn’t prepared to hear the diagnosis. It hit me hard. My jaw dropped.”

‘I sobbed as my husband picked up. He knew immediately it was a ‘no.’ We made plans of all the ways I’d ‘surprise’ him with a pregnancy announcement. This call was NOT part of our plan.’

“’Katie, is now an okay time to talk?’ It was our IVF coordinator. ‘Unfortunately, I don’t have very good news.’ I choked back tears, and thanked her. He had a total of 12 sperm. My husband hugged me and apologized. It was heartbreaking. Our doctor grabbed my hand. I looked at her in disbelief.”

‘Her husband and I kept it a secret. As she opened the door, her eyes welled with tears. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered in my ear. She was weak in my arms.’

“A month ago, my friend’s otherwise perfect pregnancy ended in a blood bath, and her saying goodbye to a lifeless version of her daughter. Her words, ‘She’s gone! My baby is gone!’ will forever ring in my head. Then, I received a text from her husband. ‘She’s not sleeping. Not eating. Please help me.’ So, I did just that. That’s just what friends do.”

‘Daniel may have trouble fathering children. He had a botched surgery when he was very young. As 18-year-olds, we didn’t grasp the seriousness of his male infertility. Then I realized something was wrong with me, too.’

“My husband’s counts had dropped to almost nothing. Six live sperm were found. Six! No six thousand. Just six. We got a letter in the mail. The yearly fee to keep his sperm frozen was due. It was hundreds of dollars. We had to make a decision about our future– right now. At 26 years old, I VOLUNTARILY had a hysterectomy. Then, we got the call.”

‘Did you tell her about the drama at work?’ I noticed my husband get uncomfortable. ‘There is a rumor your husband is sleeping with a girl who works with us.’ He laughed.’

“The week after bringing my son home, I couldn’t get a hold of my husband. I had the urge to check his social media. There they were. Messages between him and a girl. He would tell her where to pick him up, where to meet. Most times were in the middle of the night when I had laid pregnant and asleep. ‘HE WAS LYING TO YOU!’”

‘I woke with tired eyes, snappy replies. I had a mountain of laundry to start. ‘What if, for once, I wasn’t productive?’ I had this eager feeling. So, I did it. Disguised in active wear, I rented a five-dollar robe.’

“My husband and baby were gone. I shaved my leg fuzz, packed a bag, and drove to the fitness center. Now, don’t be fooled. I haven’t completely lost my mind and decided to partake in some sort of exercise. Let’s all calm down. No, no, no. This place has LOUNGERS, and ROBES, and a JACUZZI! Remember a jacuzzi?! Neither do I!”

‘I had a great 4th of July. Except for the part where I almost died. I ate macaroni salad. I didn’t realize it was different, until I was SURE I tasted fish. Not just fish, but CRAB. I was convinced of it.’

“My ears started to burn. My lips tingled. My thoughts consumed me. My brain went into overdrive. The voice inside my head started panicking and screaming into my itchy ear, ‘That’s it, you’re gonna die.’ I had to act quickly before my throat closed and my hands seized. Then, I saw it. It took my breath away.”

‘I didn’t think twice about giving my 3-year-old popcorn. She was happily sitting when she began to cough and choke. Soon, she was wheezing. I knew this wasn’t normal. I should’ve trusted my gut.’

“I should’ve called an ambulance. I didn’t realize the seriousness of it. A few days went on and she had a terrible wheeze and was struggling to breathe. She couldn’t run, swim, or play. The doctor was frustrated with me and assured me if it was the popcorn, it wouldn’t be dangerous. Ignored my instincts.”

‘I held this dark secret. I remember thinking, ‘What the heck? Are people weird like me, too?’ Cruel kids would ask, ‘What are you doing? Why are you pulling out your hair?’ I’m done hiding.’

“When I was 8 years old, I vividly remember pulling out an eyelash as I sat in my mom’s car in the drive-thru. And you know what? I LIKED the feeling from it. It was oddly satisfying. I kept pulling them out until my eyelashes were bald. Then, my parents began to notice. They couldn’t accept I was doing this to myself.”

‘He went quiet. ‘You’re out with who?!’ he snarled. Surprised by his reaction, I laughed. His anger grew. ‘Tell him to go home. Tell him to leave. Now.’ This must be my mistake, I thought.’

“As an insecure 18-year-old, it felt great that this older, successful man liked me. When he asked me to be his girlfriend only two weeks later, I was all in. I was so charmed by him. When I went upstairs to gather my things, he followed, blocking the front door. ‘You’re not going anywhere.’ He wouldn’t move. He wouldn’t let me leave.”

‘You need to get over it,’ he said. ‘You’re being ridiculous.’ My boyfriend yelled at me in our Uber. He was so upset with me, and told me I was ‘too emotional.’ All I felt was fear.’

“We went out. I had too much to drink. I went to the bathroom and thought my current boyfriend was going to wait for me, but instead, I couldn’t find him after. Then all of a sudden, I saw a guy from my past. I was a victim of his, and I had a panic attack. I found my boyfriend. ‘We need to leave.’”

‘As I lay on the operating table, I heard the ONE word I dreaded. They wrapped him up, brought him over. I began to sob. ‘How can my heart be rejoicing and breaking at the same time?!’

“The room began spinning. I was thrilled to have my baby but terrified by the words used to describe him. Unlike his older brother’s birth, not one person came to see him. No flowers were delivered. No one knew what to say, so they said nothing. On that day, my life became defined by two words. Before and after.”

‘Are you pregnant? On drugs?!’ I abandoned my customer service post and collapsed into a chair. The edges of my vision darkened. I felt like I was drowning on dry land.’

“My high-school sweetheart cheated on me, then dumped me. My friends couldn’t cope with my ‘new normal’ and turned away. I didn’t want to be different. My body was thin, my face swollen. I looked like an alien. Minutes later, he pointed to a black hole of goo where my lungs should’ve been. I frantically tried to make it to the break room but blacked out.”