A few weeks ago, I did something I swore I would never do.

I got a tattoo.

The idea had been rattling in my head for over a year, as a way to memorialize or give physical presence to the grief I’ve been carrying for my failed pregnancies.  We had 5, with 7 embryos used during the IVF cycles.   That is a lot of grief.

But there is no tombstone, no grave.  No one has memories to share with me to help in the healing.  Instead there is silence and nothingness.

So I went with a friend who also needed a physical representation of her own miscarriages,  and I let a man use a needle to draw 7 hearts: one for each possible life.

Grief is a weird thing.  It sneaks up on you when you least expect it.  It takes energy you didn’t know you had or needed, and it pulls things apart subtly and suddenly.

One time I was in the hospital with my husband’s family waiting and praying for a member of his family who was dying.  I was struck at how the grief took up the room.  It was sitting there with us, and as more people entered and we spilled into the hallway, the grief followed. It took up more and more space until it felt like there was not enough air in the room.

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately.  Like sometimes there isn’t enough room to breathe, that the vast nothingness is expanding more and more.

I wonder if this feeling of nothingness is unique to grief about infertility, because part of what dies is the possibilities.  We carry around with us not memories, but what if’s, not pictures but empty baby albums.  We have empty arms, with no memory of a baby in them.

I’m lucky to have three beautiful children that came into my life a different way.  I get to hold them and love them, watch them grow and celebrate in their healing and accomplishments.  (In a very strange coincidence two of them look like they could be my biological children…) I love my girls and I can’t imagine life without them.  But I also grieve for the babies that I will never have.

At our fertility clinic every time we went through a cycle we received a photograph of the embryos.  It is a nice idea, to have a picture of your baby right there at the beginning of conception.  Not many people have that.  But now I have pictures of the embryos and nothing else.  No month by month growth pictures, no first birthdays, no toddler smiles wearing weird outfits.  Just black and white photos of a possibility that never materialized, that my body rejected.

So now I have a tattoo.  Hearts to remind me of the love I have for the babies I never bore.  Hearts to remind me of the love I have from my girls.

A way to remember that even in the nothingness, even in the grief, I am surrounded by love and grace.