Mamaspeak: Christine Onorati on the calmness of an IVF warrior

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Do good things come to those who wait? The answer, resoundingly, is oh yes for savvy small business owner Christine Onorati, who waited sixteen years for her babies. That, my friends, is patience.

Actually, patience might be too weak a word — perseverance is more like it. She first started trying to get pregnant with her husband (and high school sweetheart) Vinnie back in 1998 while opening up a neighborhood bookstore in their home of Long Island, but found frustration on both fronts. Five years later, they did an atypical reverse retreat, and moved from the suburbs into New York City. With a fresh start, she opened up WORD, a bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and called her first NYU fertility specialist.

Now, after wrapping up one of the most monumental years of her life — opening a second WORD in Jersey City, moving from Brooklyn to Montclair, NJ (back to the ‘burbs!), and birthing twin girls Cora and Vivian in July (who join five-year-old Adrian) — she’s recently been able to take in and marvel at her remarkable journey these past sixteen years.

Screenshot 2015-02-05 13.44.30Christine Onorati, 43

Montclair, NJ

Occupation: Independent bookstore owner

First off, congrats on everything! New babies, new store, new house. You are truly a mama doing it all, and then some. How did you manage to get through it all in one piece?

We’re realizing what a huge upheaval it’s been this year. It’s been hard work. We just had to keep our eyes on the prize. Cora and Vivian were our eighth time doing in vitro, so none of this hard work is necessarily surprising. We just keep telling ourselves, it’s all good things! But I’m tired. The girls are starting to teeth. Last year when we moved to Montclair, we were dealing with a foot of snow for the first two months. Then it cleared up, but by then I was so large [being pregnant with the twins], I couldn’t walk around the neighborhood as much. So I actually began to enjoy exploring Montclair just this past fall.

What was the toughest part of this past pregnancy?

My size! My belly was so big. Cora and Vivian went full-full term and weighed almost 7 pounds each. Physically, it was a struggle. I started to feel like a prisoner in my own body. I didn’t even gain a lot of weight, just a lot of baby. They were both stretched across me. My whole center of gravity was thrown off. At one point, Adrian asked “Mommy before you had babies in your belly, could you run fast?” I think we had all forgotten what life was like before I became such a fixture of largeness and pain! I didn’t move for almost the whole month of July.

Screenshot 2015-02-05 13.47.01 34 weeks.

I’m feeling my age more for sure. It’s a big difference having a baby when you’re 43 versus 38, when I had Adrian. I didn’t sleep for four months, for any great length of time. I couldn’t get comfortable and was having panic attacks. I’d wander the night, from room to room. I’d get so angry at my husband Vinnie snoring away happily.

I never want to complain about pregnancy considering how long it took me to get pregnant, but this one did me in. I had a C-section with the girls. And even though I obviously couldn’t feel the procedure, as soon as they took the second one out, I said “Ahhh! I can breathe!

pregnant carnegie hall

You and Vinnie have been together for over 20 years. What’s your secret to staying blissful and happy?

I met him when I was 15. We were best friends for six years, started dating and got engaged within a year, married within a year of that. That friendship we had for so many years is an amazing base. We didn’t have the drama that some women have when their relationships start out super-romantic. No matter what, we feel like we’re best friends first. We’ve known each other for so long, we have very little separate lives. To be honest, we really like being with each other. I find it funny when other women say, “I just need a girls’ night. I just need to get away!” I’ve never really needed that. I don’t want to go away with the girls!

We complement each other, too. Even though we’re both Italian, I come from the more conventional yelling family and he is from a quieter, farming family from Italy. While I’m louder and more volatile, he’s the quiet disciplinarian. I’m the director of the ship. He just makes me laugh all the time!

Going through eleven years of fertility treatments is extremely intense and emotional. How does something like that affect marriage?

It was definitely a tough strain on our marriage. But I think that the fact that we got through it intact was the ultimate test of our commitment to each other. I feel like we are closer than ever, and again I’m sure our base friendship helped us more than anything.

Maybe because we had unexplained infertility, in which we didn’t know why we never got pregnant, that made us feel equally involved in it. Vinnie was supportive, involved, and we were in it together 100%. Going through those ups and downs, the disappointments and crazy hope definitely wreak havoc. That is pretty intense. But I never felt like it was my burden to handle alone. It was always us, as partners.

from Dag IMG_3241

How were you personally able to handle the emotional toll of fertility issues?

First, being open and talking about it were the only ways I could get through it. I know some women go through it very privately, because they don’t want pity or feel like a failure, which I totally understand. But I know the few times we had failed attempts and didn’t tell anyone we were doing it, we felt worse after having this sadness and no one knew why. I just can’t imagine going through it all alone, and not talking about it with someone. So I was an open book. My openness also helped to bring other people struggling with infertility out. We would swap stories, and I know for a fact that some people talked about it only because I was so open about my own issues.

Second, I got to the point where I realized that everyone who wanted to comfort me in some way really didn’t know how, and that was okay. I put myself in their position and recognized that it was hard for them to know how to deal with me, and that somehow made it all easier. I knew they didn’t mean anything by their blind optimism or their comments of “Relax, it will happen” or “Start to adopt, it will happen” or “Wow, I get pregnant if my husband even looks at me.” I know they were just struggling to come up with something appropriate to say, and I stopped letting it bother me. I just felt comfort that I had people on my side.

floor me and girlsSo, you don’t think there is a “right” thing to say to someone going through infertility?

I don’t think so. Nothing beyond, “I’m here when you want to talk. Or scream. Or cry.” There’s really nothing that can be said to make things better. But really, emotionally, everyone is so different, and the basic platitudes I mentioned above are tough to swallow because we’ve heard them 100 times.  So just recognize that some women want to talk and some don’t, but if they know there are people there to listen and hope for them, that’s usually enough.

I swear, in 11 years if one more person told me to “relax” I think I’d go insane.

Do you have advice for someone just starting out with fertility options?

Go to the best clinic you possibly can. The one with the best success rates, because it matters. I did IVF five times with three different doctors, thinking that it was all the same, but then I went to NYU and they got me pregnant on the first try. Then I got pregnant again on my 7th try, which I miscarried, but still, I got pregnant. Then they got me pregnant with the twins on my 8th try. I believe that they are successful for a reason, their embryologists or whatever are just superior.

What surprised you the most about becoming a parent?

I know the answer probably should be how tired I always am, but I think I’ll say how serious it is. I feel a deep responsibility to raise my son to be a kind, open-minded, happy and self-assured man. I feel like there are lessons to be taught at every turn, and I’m always curious how many things I should have approached differently after the fact. Today I feel like raising boys to be good men is more important than ever. I’m sure as the girls grow I’ll feel equal weight of that responsibility as well.

me and books

What’s the hardest thing about motherhood?

Balancing my time! When I start to ​feel jealous of my babysitter, that she has one job and that’s to take care of the babies and play with them, I know I need a break. I feel like I can never just sit and enjoy them, that I always have 100 other things on my mind or emails to answer or work stuff to deal with. Running a business has many rewards, but the down side is that I’m almost never “off” so being 100% mommy is always tough. But I wouldn’t trade it all for the world.

In caring for twins, what has been your favorite baby or mama gear?

I love carriers, but with two it’s not so easy. I haven’t quite perfected carrying one in the back and one in the front. However, I found this great carrier from Bity Bean that I can put in my purse, and if we go out with the double stroller, and one of them is fussy, I can just pull it out and carry her. It folds up really small, but it’s strong and holds up to 40 pounds. It’s handy!

What’s been your best mama moment to date?

It took me so long to become a mama that I try to remind myself that all moments are pretty great. But having our 5 year old meet our newborn twins for the first time was pretty special. I’m not sure we can beat that moment.

kids_first_meeting

With all that’s on your plate, have you had any insane moments as a mama?

Well, here’s my perfect example of how much of a balancing act motherhood and being a business owner can be: one day when Adrian was younger and we were working on potty training, I had a fellow bookstore owner over to my house. She was pregnant with her first, and wanted to talk about motherhood and work. Adrian was running around without pants on and pooped on the floor. As I left the room to get stuff to clean it up, I found my friend ​frantically trying to push my little dachshund away from the poop, because she was gobbling it up. It was a crazy moment and all we could do was laugh.

Because you worked so hard and long at getting pregnant, how do you approach parenting differently than others?

Through the years, we were able to watch a lot of people have children, and it gave us a degree of calmness that I’m not sure we would have had years back. Or, maybe it’s because we’re so tired and old. 🙂 But I think one thing to remember is to take a breath and remember that with most parenting there is not one right answer, as many will lead you to believe. It’s pretty hard to do it completely wrong as long as you love your kids unconditionally and show them how to be kind by example. ​

xmas five of us

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7 replies
  1. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    This is truly inspiring. Thank you Christine for the tips on helping friends who are going through IVF. I have at least 8 girlfriends/family members who have gone through it and I’ve never known what to say, and I feel helpless. But now it’s clear I don ‘t need to say anything. I just need to Be There and that’s enough 🙂

    Reply
  2. Kat
    Kat says:

    Great interview! I know a few mothers who went to NYU Fertility too for consults and injections, and they were happy with their experience there.

    Reply
  3. Maureen
    Maureen says:

    You’re incredible tenacity and well balanced emotional approach is truly inspiring. The support and stories you offered Julie and me while we were writing A FEW GOOD EGGS was so helpful to many women. Being open about the experience of infertility is very healthy. Congrats to you and Vinny. Having baby girls at 43 may be challenging but just wait till you have Tweens at 53! I speak from experience

    Reply

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