Making peace with Mother’s Day

Earlier this week, my husband made the decision that we were not going to church today. I was totally on board with this, and very happy that I did not have to make the decision and the argument to go along with it. It’s not that we hate church; it’s just that the church in general worships mothers and traditional gender norms. The liturgy in our church has been more inclusive in recent years, but in general it’s just better for our mental health if we opt out.

So we did, and I had a fantastic day. The thing is, though, that correlation does not equal causation. Therefore while I had a chill morning of coffee and reading and thinking about planting flowers, the calm did not necessarily come from staying home from church. It’s all much more complicated than that.

It’s been five years since we decided to live life without pursuing parenthood, and seven years since we actively started trying to have children. Mother’s Day throughout those years has been tough. We are very thankful we have both of our mothers, but I’ve lost both grandmothers and my great-grandmother within the past 5 years. That grief plus the very intangible grief of infertility led me down a path of self-discovery that’s been often strewn with falling rocks, boulders, and paradoxically some of the most beautiful views.

I’ve been slowly finding my place in the world as a mid-30’s married woman with no children. You’d think that it’d be pretty easy to fit right in considering half the world’s population is women or people with a uterus, and my station in life really is not as marginalized as many I am acquainted with. However, in our arguably dominant microcosm of America, the pressure is on to be so many things all at the same time. Space is not held for those who want to tread their own path in life – we have to make the space ourselves, and usually that comes at a cost.

The cost for me, well, I’m not too sure what it’s been. Maybe friends. Maybe closeness with some family members. Maybe other opportunities. But now I’m at a point where I tell my story and make my own space. We had a “community circle” type of professional development recently at work where we had to answer the question, “What is a failure that you cherish?” Many people mentioned failures in school, in previous jobs, those sorts of things.

Whether or not people felt comfortable hearing it, I mentioned that infertility was a failure that I cherish for reasons that were shrouded in a fog of grief even a couple years ago. To this day I still can’t quite discern the reaction I felt from my fellow teachers – surprise, apathy, pity – but truly, I don’t care. I stated my peace while sharing just enough. A couple people told me “thank you” for sharing. I can’t say that I could have done it as gracefully a few years back. Maybe even as recently as six months ago. Self awareness and development is hard work, yo.

That’s how I feel every time I meet a new friend or new colleagues after being assigned a new work location. I’m always so glad people are meeting me at this very moment and not a minute sooner. I have more to offer that’s going to benefit other people. I don’t overshare. I really don’t give too many shits about what people think, but not in a self-destructive kind of way.

And that brings us back to Mother’s Day. Mostly today I felt like I was adjacent to the party, willingly hanging out on my own instead of feeling pushed out or shunned. That has a lot more to do with my own attitude and feelings toward this day than it does how people treat me. I think it was luck that intervened when I didn’t hear an ill-placed Mother’s Day wish, not people being mindful of whom they were extending Mother’s Day wishes. It was refreshing to not feel bitter or judge-y or torn-up. It was a feeling of, “I see you guys are having a good time celebrating your ability/choice to have children, but I’m not part of it and it’s okay. In fact, I’ve chosen to not go all in for this party.”

After doing hard work, I can be comfortable on this day. I can go out in public and not be walking on eggshells wondering how someone’s well-intentioned wishes may affect me by throwing off my whole day. If I do feel any ill effects, I lose minutes instead of afternoons or evenings. Most importantly, I’ve now mastered the training needed to hold space for others who feel othered.

Coming back into my body

Over the past seven years or so, I have been made acutely aware of my body. At first she seemed like a stranger to me, someone you pass in the night but can’t quite see past the darkness and shadows.

It’s quite ironic that I was so separated from my body because I am tall. I take up a lot of space, all 5’10” of me. I have big feet (size 10-10.5), relatively broad shoulders, a large bosom (though pretty proportional to the rest of me), and in general I have always been aware of the space I take up, but not necessarily been in sync and felt unity with my own body.

On being tall & taking up space

In conversations that date back to my years going through puberty, my aunt and I explored some of these feelings I had about my body. I felt I was too tall; she said I was beautiful. I thought my feet were too big; she said that if I didn’t have big enough feet, I would fall flat on my face. I guess this is probably true. But her messages about my body seemed to contradict the jokes I heard from other family members; namely, the ones about my shoes being pontoons and the cups of my bra drying above washer being soup bowls. Those comments were made in jest, for sure, and not meant to harm at all. But seeing as I am the only person in my immediate family who seems to carry the Scandinavian genes more than the others, it really made me super aware of the space I took up. And you can understand why during those years, I began to dissociate my self from my own body.

Recently I attended two consultations with plastic surgeons. I was interested in getting a breast reduction. I spent hours pouring over before and after pictures (I have never seen more boobs in my life….), comparing my breasts to headless women who kind of looked like me. I imagined the types of clothes I’d be able to wear, including cute lacey bras that resembled small ice cream cups rather than soup bowls. I imagined getting the surgery during a long break from work and healing up before a beach vacation, ready to take the ocean with my new & improved perky boobs.

Throughout this process of consultations, I had conversations with my insurance company about the surgery. I got a letter of medical necessity from the chiropractor. Even when the procedure may not have been covered by insurance, the money really wasn’t an issue either way. We could have saved and made it work, if I had really wanted it.

A switch flipped in me about such a radical surgery. On the surface, it seems relatively harmless and it seems people get plastic surgery all the time. However, in the few months I spent obsessed with this idea, I began to get attached to my boobs (emotionally…). I saw them in a different light. I began to mourn their loss and eventually decided against a breast reduction.

On being infertile

Nearly seven years ago now, we began trying to conceive. As we know from other posts on this blog, it didn’t work. And in that process, the dissociation I felt with my body that began in adolescence only grew more pronounced. I began to resent and even despise my body. It’s a very uncomfortable state to be in because you can’t really get away. Thankfully I didn’t choose to engage in self-destructive behaviors, though I can imagine for some people that that would seem like a way out from those feelings.

It took a lot of therapy and research, even surgery (to diagnose and remove endometriosis) to help me heal. It took a rewiring of my brain when my period would start, that instead of absolutely hating my bum uterus* and emotional pain it caused me for so long, month after month, I just accepted that this is my body right now. I’m still in the reproductive, “child-bearing” phase of my life, and it is possible that very soon I will enter what is known as perimenopause. I decided that I can’t just hate on myself for the next 10-15-20 years until my body stops bleeding every month. I have to accept myself, come back into myself, and act like I love myself.

*I was misdiagnosed – I do not have a septate uterus. It turns out that I had benign uterine polyps and stage 2 endometriosis, mostly occurring in the deep cul-de-sac. I had a D&C to remove the polyps and excision for the endo. 2.5 years on, I feel pretty good, though I suspect the polyps might be coming back.

On being a sexual being

They say that women lose some of their inhibition around sex in their 30’s. I’ve not read up on the reasons why, but from personal experience, I could say that the previous two experiences of being tall and being infertile have had something to do with it. Once you peel back the layers of why your body & soul are disconnected, it’s really hard to not keep going, keep discovering, staying curious about yourself.

My journey with my one and only body has also been spiritual, which necessitates an analysis of my previous spiritual experiences and an examination of the things I was taught about my body. If being tall, having big boobs, and being infertile made me feel shame and embarrassment about my body, then learning that my body, literally the existence of it, could be tempting for boys and men or inherently sinful certainly did nothing for my self-esteem.

What has done something, in fact a lot for my self-esteem is engaging in exercise, especially long-distance running and yoga. Concerning running, there’s nothing quite like completing a marathon and realizing that your own body took you that far. It’s impossible to not feel proud of yourself, to shed the self-consciousness about what you might look like running 20 miles on country roads during training.

Yoga has by far been the most transformative experience, and the most daring I must say. In some Christian circles I have been a part of, yoga has been looked down on and considered “giving the devil a foothold.” I will be honest, though: the conservative Christian rhetoric surrounding women’s bodies, pregnancy, and infertility did very little for me as far as healing was concerned. (I have written a lot about that here, here, and here.) So I decided to explore elsewhere.

Forgive my facetiousness, but as it turns out, I have not turned into a witch or a Satan worshipper. I have, however, developed a broader sense of spirituality that I needed at the time which also includes my sexuality.

In Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, Nadia Bolz-Weber talks about the need for a new approach to sexuality as Christians. She makes a clear distinction between purity and holiness (hey-o those are some buzzwords!) that helps validate my journey to uniting my own body and spirit:

Purity most often leads to pride or despair, not to holiness. Because holiness is about union with and purity is about separation from.

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This brings me to the last practice or habit I’ve explored to help me come back into my body: reading. It’s been a way for me to round out my experiences of intense emotions, to inform my journey going forward. I have found that the topics of books I have read that have helped me realize a deeper connection to my own humanity include sex within the Christian world (Shameless: A Sexual Reformation), sexual health (Come as You Are), endometriosis (The Doctor Will See You Now), Jesus as a husband (The Book of Longings, post here), women’s health (In the Flo, Womancode), spiritual memoirs written by women (The Very Worst Missionary, Out of Sorts, Inspired, and Christian mysticism (The Universal Christ). While these topics might only seem marginally connected, the reflect the interconnectedness — union — of who we are as humans – complicated and complex in our sexuality and spirituality, in our body and our soul.

Books under the rug

The memories we have as children are grossly underestimated. The experiences, people, sayings, jokes, smells, foods, books… it’s really amazing that all of this fits so well as it’s swept under a rug. Until it doesn’t fit, and one by one each memory or book or food grows legs and crawls out, peeking its head out to see if we notice it.

And once you notice it, you can’t not notice it. And then you have to decide what to do with it. Ignore it? Try to shove it back under the rug? Good luck with that, because all the other things under the rug have already spread out a bit more, just like you do when your spouse leaves you and the dog sleeping in the bed. It’s the nature of living things to spread out and take up more space when they can.

So then you have this thing to deal with. You can decide what to do with it. Deal with it immediately? Hold it and inspect it for cracks and lies? Set it on a shelf to collect dust? Whatever it is, your brain has a neural pathway for that, I promise.

My neural pathways have made detours and new paths with lots of gravel and potholes, but new inroads nonetheless.

Upon learning of my impending transition to teaching high school again, I judiciously curated my collection of items I’d acquired over the past four years of teaching elementary. This included a box of books that is now on the floor of my office closet. Many of those books were ones I purchase to have a copy for when I was working on students with the prescribed curricula – books about Biscuit and Little Bear and rocks and Willy Wonka.

Where this overlaps is that many of these books I had on the bookshelf in the nursery in my mind. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of my gifts for their children knows that I am a pusher of literacy. You will read, and you will like it. Or at the very least, know how to do it and use it to your advantage. In teaching elementary students, I found many books I added to the bookshelf in my head. One that was already there was Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman.

And thoughts and memories of this book are what catapulted me into an ugly cry at 6:05 AM after I’d been laying awake for at least an hour and a half. It was triggered by something as innocent as my husband telling the dog to “give your momma a kiss, no not me, I’m not your momma…”

Are You My Mother? is a children’s story about a baby bird that falls out of a tree and thus is separated from his mother. He spends the whole book walking around, trying to find out where his mother is. We can assume that he’s so young that he’s not yet imprinted on his bird mother and maybe this is a reason he’s having trouble figuring out that no, the dog is not his mother. And the boat was not his mother. And so on.

Some descriptions of this book call the baby bird’s wandering “hilarious,” but fuck me if this isn’t one of the saddest books out there. I never realized this sad perspective until the memory of the book came back to me. How sad for the mother and the baby bird to go through this event.

I could not tell you why this was one of my favorite books when I was young, and one of my favorites to introduce my students to (most of them were Spanish-speaking and I had the bilingual edition). I knew who my mother was, and I never questioned it. I was never separated from my mother like this baby bird was. I’m sure there’s more I could explore about being emotionally separated for a period of time.

I wanted to read this to my child. Over and over. To teach them the basic names of certain things, and to indirectly teach them how invert the subject and verb to make a yes/no question (linguist here). I wanted this book to get lots of handprints on the cover and maybe some crayon marks throughout. I wanted this book to have a wobbly name amateurly written inside the front cover.

So yet again in this journey that I 0/10 would not recommend to anyone I have found something else to mourn. For awhile I could hold off on it because I was sharing books with my young students, and sending books like this to nieces, nephews, and niblings. Most of the children in my life are getting older and ready for novels and fantasy stories and maybe poetry compilations. I have so many books to share and nowhere for them to go, except a box in my office closet. At least they’re not under the rug anymore.

Boundaries

I don’t normally write for this blog on my work laptop and I usually have my Sunday post done by now, but my personal laptop seems to be dead. At least for now. Quite a bummer, too, because I was working on a very cozy vibe for a mid-autumn Sunday morning – complete quiet, a drowsy and cloudy sunrise, French press coffee. A few years ago something like my laptop completely kicking the bucket would have really thrown me off, but here I am writing about it.

I think we can all agree that in this time of the pandemic, having boundaries is good and helpful. Obviously we have the concrete example of a face mask, a literal boundary that we wear every day. We have “social distancing” as another concrete physical boundary. I hope that people also are beginning to understand the importance of work/life boundaries.

Fortunately, I’m no stranger to this practice of creating and enforcing boundaries. Long before infertility, long before moving to the East Coast, tunneling through time to when Aaron and I were first married, I had to set a boundary with work and life. He had been laid off and was in the process of joining the military, active duty. I was in my first year of teaching – which many teachers say that no matter what, is like this year for everyone.

In February of that year, Aaron took his last paycheck at the job that laid him off, and he was set to leave for basic training in April. Only two months away. I knew that it would be at least ten weeks from the time he left for Missouri to the time I’d see him again, and who knows after that. So I created a boundary with work, that I would get what I needed to get done at work, and come home at a decent hour so we could take advantage of the time we had together.

My memories of my first year of teaching are becoming fuzzier as I make room for more memories of teaching high school, but I do remember that not everything got done every day. My to-do list was long and never-ending, but I had to draw a line in the sand and say, “Done. I’m done for the day.” Because spending time with my new husband was more important. Because enjoying time we had together before an enormous change in our life was important. I was fortunate to have to learn about boundaries so young.

As the years went on throughout our experience as a military family, many boundaries were created, especially with time. When he would come home for a visit, such as Christmas break during Advanced Individual Training (AIT) or on leave from his tour in Korea, I would drop everything so we could 100% focus on being together – just the two of us and also with family. Yes, work was important, but our time and health of our marriage was more so.

As it turns out, this practice with concrete situations has really served me well throughout our time of attempting to add to our family, failing in the “natural” way, making decisions about which treatments to pursue if any, and then finally deciding to live without children.

It has not been easy, and for most of it I’ve been afraid of pissing other people off or at the very least, making them uncomfortable. However, at some point when you are so desperate for some peace and quiet in your mind, you stop caring about what people think and you just do what you need to do to feel safe.

I had not really considered that avenue before, as growing up I was taught to just deal with the feelings, push through, get over it… whatever phrases there were circulating from parents to children born in the 1980’s or early 1990’s, I heard it. I was taught to make people feel welcome and comfortable. I think that’s a good thing to teach your children, but it crosses a line when that becomes a detriment to the emotional safety of the individual.

Over the last six and a half years, since we officially started “trying” (those of you in the “actively trying” camp, please revise the list of jargon…), I and my husband both have had to lay down some boundaries.

Consequently, they have come in quite handy over the past few weeks. I’ve written a lot about church and the pressure on anyone who is not married with children to become married with children, be it single people, young married people thinking about becoming parents, or older people who have been widowed (minus the children part). I have a lot to say about the culture of the church, but I will leave that there for now.

There are many activities at church that just aren’t comfortable or welcoming for us. They weren’t even as young married people who weren’t ready for children yet. Trunk or Treats… small groups that are demographically alike… certain children’s ministries… They are all difficult, we have had to put our foot down about it. Sometimes we give a reason, sometimes we don’t. Mostly whether we give a reason or not depends on the apparent willingness to empathize of the intended party.

It had been awhile since I waved my infertility flag at church, probably since a Mother’s Day where I wrote in to the person who works on the service order and request that a single carnation be placed on the altar in honor of all mothers who could not become mothers for whatever reason. But I was asked to help out with a virtual “children’s/family ministry moment” and I had to decline, and in addition I have many feelings about the use of the word “family” in church vernacular.

Immediately when in my head I decided “Nope, can’t do it” all the justifications were running through my mind… Things like: ,Don’t get me wrong, I like kids but… or I just don’t have time right now…

But I didn’t use those to justify saying no. Instead, after reviewing the situation and the person asking, I decided to be honest and speak my peace. Having not done that in awhile, I was nervous… and this was over email! So I told the person something to the effect of, “Thank you for inviting me, but after our struggle with infertility, some things involving children are difficult and I cannot participate.” And guess what, my faith in humanity rose even the slightest bit with receiving a very empathetic and caring response.

So that happened shortly before Halloween.

Then Halloween arrived, and we were ready with costumes we bought from Walmart and full size candy bars. Yes, friends, we want to be those neighbors. Just like the folks who lived on Washington Street in our hometown gave out full size candy bars.

I really anticipated that I would be okay. The first few Halloweens of our infertility journey found me grocery shopping – all the kids would be out and about, so it was pretty peaceful to run my errands. For the past couple years, I sat on the fence, one foot in the tradition and one foot out – I would sit on my porch with candy, but have a drink in my hand. Alcohol does wonders for numbing feelings, let me tell you.

This year, I haven’t been drinking, so I’ve been having to deal with my feelings as they come up. It sucks when the feelings are in the “bad” category. And on Halloween, instead of participating like a “normal” human being (I’ve been lied to and tricked into thinking that alllllll Americans participate… and they don’t), I sat in my house, front porch light off, not dressed in my Halloween best, because at the last minute I had to draw a boundary. I didn’t anticipate it, but I whipped out that skill like a pumpkin pie out of the oven on Thanksgiving. (You can see where my mind is…)

So not only have I been running interference on boundaries, but my husband has as well on our behalf. It was pretty clear to him that I was struggling with some things and so when a situation arose with a family member, he shut it down. He didn’t even consult me first, and that felt really nice. Like he had my back. And that comes from me continuing to communicate about the boundaries I need and how I use them, and from his confidence in shutting down certain situations. We’re still a team, children or not, and that is worth its weight in….. candy bars? No, gold. It’s worth its weight in gold.

How the prosperity gospel ruined my peace, and other stories | [Unpublished post from 2015].

I’m sharing this private unpublished post in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week. To all the people who are sick of society’s and the collective church’s bullshit about conceiving a child and what constitutes a family.

When I’m in crisis, I write. A lot. As a colleague says when there’s nothing else to say: words, words, feelings, words. I wonder what other writers write out of crisis or desperation. Most likely I’m not alone.

We’ve been trying to conceive a child for over a year, 16 months to be exact. In the time we’ve been trying, I have seen dozens of babies come into the lives of my friends and family. I’ve seen a friend get engaged, married, pregnant, and give birth in that amount of time. Time is relative, and while 16 months would be a very young age for a child, 16 months of hopefulness followed by disappointment followed by despair times 16 can make one age more than 16 months.

In this time, I’ve confided in several people. My mom, my sisters (one who is a mother and one who’s childfree, so I have my bases covered), and a handful of close friends who are all actually mothers. Maybe that was my first mistake, confiding in mothers. But I guess I was hoping for some encouragement that yes, this will happen. Some of my mother-friends conceived very quickly, and others took longer. I’ve learned more than I need to know about the female reproductive system and all the crazy things that can happen. I know way more than any sane person should know about childbirth, all kinds of childbirth. Quick, long, scary, natural, c-section.

Up until recently, all this information brought up in conversation felt normal to me. Childrearing is something that affects nearly all women, right? I was brought up to believe that one day I’d have children, and even through my 20’s (I’m on the cusp of 30) while we were still preventing, I always had this future family in my mind’s eye, albeit still far away.

I never thought we’d have a problem conceiving. We’re healthy, we stay fit by working out and running, we eat relatively healthy. It was a given in my mind that we’d have children biologically our own. To be honest, I never considered another possibility. That is, until a year had passed with not so much as a faint line on a pregnancy test and I realized just how long this journey could be.

First there’s bloodwork and an ultrasound, and after that there’s fertility meds that make you ovulate better or “stronger” or whateverthefuck my doctor called it. They made me crazy. So I stopped after one month. Through all my “research” (I use that term lightly because I actually am a scholar-teacher-researcher so I know not to play around with that term that so many others use blithely, ugh) I determined that I’d ask my doctor for a hysterosalpingography, basically a test where they shoot radioactive dye through my tubes to see if they’re blocked. Because if they’re blocked, no egg can get through no matter how “strong” the ovulation is. Thus, no baby can be formed.

My doctor was hesitant to approve this test because there were no other signs that this might be the problem. That’s the kicker though with blocked tubes – there are generally no symptoms. But, I got the test approved and to satiate my own logical and perhaps morbid curiosity, I’ll schedule this test soon.

And now I actually can schedule this test because I just started spotting this morning. This means that MY PERIOD IS COMING (Game of Thrones style). The test is also know to sometimes “clean things out” which can apparently result in increased fertility. The ironic part is that my husband will be gone for work during my fertile time this month, so joke’s on us.

The very unfortunate thing is that past this test, things get very invasive and very expensive, fast. At the beginning of this, we drew our line in the sand that no, we would not be doing IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF (in vitro fertilization). We might do the fertility meds. Which I did do, but the side effects made it clear I’d not be doing it again.

So. We’re almost at the end of what we’re willing to try, and with continued failed cycles with like I said, not so much as a faint eensy teensy line, we’re at the end of what we’re willing to try emotionally. I am for sure. My poor husband watches me every month get so disappointed to the point of ugly cry. Every. Month. Times sixteen.

We’ve been discussing this idea of living our lives without children of our own. Now, read that sentence again. It seems more than logical, right? This is not our second cycle and we’re throwing in the towel. This is over a year of heartache with no return on our emotional investment. Now, you tell that sentence to someone and most people lose their minds. Avail yourselves of the following list of things people have said when I mention this possibility:

  1. “Don’t give up yet!”
  2. “What else have you tried?”
  3. “My sister/mom/friend/cousin-twice-removed tried for over a year and then when they stopped trying, they got pregnant!”
  4. “You guys are too amazing of a couple for God not to bless you with children!”
  5. “I just know that God will provide a family for you, whether it’s your kids or adopted kids.”
  6. “Do you think taking the pill for so long is affecting your fertility now?”

Please see below for reactions and honest-to-goodness truth.

Giving up is not necessarily a bad thing. Insanity (or stupidity, or both) is doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result. Uhhhh. That sounds a lot like what we’ve been doing.

Well, we haven’t tried having sex. Maybe we should do that? /s In all seriousness, people want to help us “fix” our “problem”. That’s a nice intention, but if you’re not my doctor, please don’t go there. Believe me, we’ve tried pretty much anything you can think of. I’ve peed on ovulation sticks, charted my cycles (most people would consider this trying) and I’ve also just been a regular woman who’s sexually attracted to my husband and had sex whenever I’ve felt like it. We’ve gone on vacation, spent money on fancy dinners and wine… anything to relax or “not try”. And to boot, “not trying” is not as simple as you think. When for the past year you’ve had sex to make a baby (and for other reasons….) you can’t not try when you’re not using protection. The other thing about this comment is that no one talks about their aunt/sister/friend who doesn’t get pregnant after “not trying”. So stop. STAHP.

I’ve really wanted to believe those words said in love. But you know what? Moses was pretty damn amazing and he never got to see the Promised Land. Read the Bible… there are stories upon stories of disappointment. Some of them found peace. I actually have been on my journey of finding peace, praying for peace about this. My prayer is not, “God, give me children or I’ll die!”; it’s “God, whatever the outcome, give me peace and direction.”

Please don’t claim to know what God wants for our family (read: two people constitute a family). Don’t attempt to project on to me the result of what you refuse to see: this isn’t workingMy junk is not working. This is not a faith issue; this is most likely a biological issue. I don’t need to petition God for children if that is actually not in His plan. When talking to the friend who said this, she literally could not understand the possibility that maybe we would live without children. Granted, I’d said  something about maybe adopting one day. But that was after I qualified that by saying, “If [having biological children] is not what the plan is, I can live with that. I just need to move on and heal and be whole before I’d consider adoption. I don’t want to do it out of desperation.”

I know people with their comments are trying to be helpful. I totally appreciate that. And yes, I’m coming from a place of sensitivity about this topic, especially when the majority of these comments are from women who were able to relatively easily become mothers.

But please don’t use pseudo-theology to quell my fears or try to make me rethink things. I’m emotional, yes, but I’m also as rational, logical, and analytical a human being as there ever was, and I know my body and limitations best. I know that continuing on this path would most likely render me sunken into a corner of my couch, depressed and hating my body and life. I can’t do that, not again. If this is what it will be, that I can accept that. My husband and I can accept that and live a fulfilled, happy life where we actually do contribute to the next generation by our relationships with biological and honorary nieces and nephews, with my international students, etc.

Having biological children is a de-facto imperative of the Church, and it needs to stop. Not everyone is meant to have their own, and just because they can’t have their own doesn’t mean they need to run off to China or Korea or Ethiopia and adopt kids.  If you’re called to do that, great. But please don’t use your prosperity gospel to ruin my peace, especially when I’ve almost found it.

Vanishing

With all this time at home and so many headlines, I find I’m spending way more time on my phone in the past week than I have in a long time. As a result of scrolling, I saw this video of Kelly Clarkson (have always been a fan) doing an a cappella version of Mariah Carey’s “Vanishing”, or “track 5” as Kelly called it. I felt that in my soul – the eponymous album by the diva hooked me as a little girl and up into my teens I was still purchasing her CDs with my piano teaching money and listening to them on repeat. Of course, the listening came with an attempted vocal accompaniment by yours truly… attempted. By an untrained amateur alto.

After watching Kelly belt it out in her bathroom in a Montana cabin (ugh, that sounds awesome), I played “Track 5” by Mariah while working in the kitchen. That in itself felt strange, to play the song out of context. The album is one to be enjoyed in its entirety, preferably with the huge 80’s-era headphones of my dad’s, sitting on the living room floor completely oblivious to the world, bass cranked.

I was finishing up picking the meat off of a homecooked “rotisserie” chicken and putting the bones and some veggie scraps back into the Instant Pot to make a broth. My alto voice was (attempting to) sing along to the first verse, chorus, second verse… then I was putting away dishes from the dishwasher to make room for dirty ones.

If I could recapture || All of the memories || And bring them to life Surely I would

Before I knew it, I was in tears. Utterly blindsided. I could not have seen it coming from miles away. It all happened so fast, the train of thought that left the station quickly and then slammed on the brakes. I was swaying a bit (I’m home alone this afternoon so who cares) and in a split second I was reminded of my mom telling me that when I was little, she and I would dance to this in the kitchen. I was four years old when the album was released, in 1990.

Hear the distant laughter || Wasn’t it you and me || Surviving the night || You’re fading out of my sight || Swiftly

And suddenly the four-year-old blonde haired blue eyed girl became the nearly 34-year-old woman holding the four-year-old girl, swaying and dancing with her. Not in the Bacon Street kitchen, but in my kitchen in 2020 during a global pandemic. I, the almost 34-year-old woman was not looking at my mother, but I was mesmerized, gazing at my own daughter, at her messy ponytail swaying and her little legs and bare feet kicking and her mouth open, laughing. And that, with the lyrics and music and felt experience, I was realizing just how real the song felt in my bones and I just started crying.

Oh, I was so enraptured || No sensibility || To open my eyes || I misunderstood || Now you’re fading faster || It’s suddenly hard to see || You’re taking the light || Letting the shadows inside || Swiftly

So, like any sane person does when a song moves them, I played it again, while letting myself not just feel the feelings, but experience the feelings. The loss. The life that could have been. How this quarantine could be so different. How my life certainly must be playing out in a different way in a parallel universe. That’s the way we have to be present and sit with it (or sway to it in your kitchen with a dish towel in hand). It’s really not an option for me anymore to acknowledge the feeling with a nod of my chin and a few teary blinks and move on.

Fuck, it hurts. It’s a physical pain in my heart and chest. It’s intense, and lasts for a little while. But it’s necessary. And a reminder that while in general I am content with my life, and free from worry about bringing children into this crazy-ass world, I am not immune to my own grief and hurt and despair. It comes to the surface every now and then, a reminder that I am human and I am or was a mother (in another life) and that for some reason the souls of my children never made it to this world.

Reaching out into the distance
Searching for spirits of the past
Just a trace of your existence to grasp

Passion + espresso

I am terrified I won’t feel passion for any life decision again. I spent 28 years of my life preparing to house and birth a child. I chose my college major and my profession around my desire to be a mother. When dating I looked for someone who would not only be a great life partner, but also a good person to raise little people with. When I lost weight initially it was to be healthy for carrying of said child.

How could all of that come from no passion?

Now I’m left with the, needless to say, solid and good consequences from those life decisions. How could it still be empty and (sometimes feel) meaningless?

When I’d be frustrated at work or fed up with someone outside of my home, it was easy for me to escape that situation mentally. In the same vein, when things were good at work and I was really enjoying whatever task was at hand, I had these little jolts of adrenaline (or some other hormone, so sue me I’m not a doctor) that made my heart skip a beat and make me feel infinite happiness and contentment, even just for a moment.

At that time I knew that whatever situation I was experiencing would not compare to what it’d be like to be at home with my nuclear family, my 2.5 kids exactly all 2 years apart, wiping their hands and mouths at lunchtime while the spring breeze blew through the window. I knew at that moment that I’d look at my babies and think back to when I worked and how I couldn’t wait for this moment right here, and how I was finally here and how all existentially amazing that was and pity my former nonparent self. (Disclaimer: I’m kind of a bitch to myself.)

Now, when I have any situation at work, with a friend, or wherever, that is my moment. That is what is, that’s the present. There’s no future moment that’ll come Back-to-the-Future me, no Delorian that will transport me to mornings of dirty high chair trays and fresh laundry coming out of the dryer. There’s just this moment.

The kicker is that I want that breeze-blowing, laundry-scented moment anyway. All the time. Because someone somewhere told me if I just pray enough or am good enough or worthy enough, God will give me the desires of my heart.

The children of that well-meaning but mistaken person should be given a kitten and a few shots of espresso and let loose in the china shop.

Just don’t take my espresso and give it to that child. I’ll be sipping it at the kitchen table, windows open, letting the breeze cool it before it touches my lips.

To my little girl.

We had names for you both.

One of you was going to be Dagny Elayne, the first name after Dagny Taggart of Atlas Shrugged, a real go-getter with a kickass personality; the second name was after a character in your daddy’s all time favorite book series, Wheel of Time. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Dagny when your father suggested it. But over several years, it grew on me. Together your names would mean “new light”. Perfect, I thought. Leah Beth gave me a little pair of pink linen shorts with a bow at the waist and told me, “These are for little Dagny” because she knew that that was going to be your name.

I don’t have those shorts anymore.

At your great-grandmother’s funeral, I decided then that I wanted to change your name to Eleanor Jane, after her. Your daddy didn’t even mind – he loved her too. I always loved old, classic names. This is one thing I agreed with your Mimi on – someday, a little girl was going to grow up and be a professional or doctor or something with a nameplate outside her office, or have her name read at a graduation ceremony, so she should have a really strong name. I totally agreed with that. I thought it would be so poetic, if a little tragic, if I had conceived you the same month your Grammie Jane passed away – I saw it as her spirit living on. She would have been so happy.

I saw you in my dreams. I don’t remember seeing your face in every dream, but I knew that you had bright blue eyes, just like mine. My whole life they’ve been my claim to fame and I wanted to pass them to you. I know with these eyes you’d be an honest, caring, compassionate child. I saw your long brown hair, a few inches above your waist, a rich brown like your daddy’s. All I ever imagined is that my daughter would have more beautiful hair than I ever did, thick and unwieldy. And now my hair’s going gray. My theory is that we tried so long to have you that all the stress started making my hair gray.

When you grew to be a little girl, I was going to make sure I read you all of my favorite books. And I’d read these to your brother too – Goodnight, Moon; Are You My Mother?; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Little House on the Prairie; A Wrinkle in Time – we’d sit on your little bed under a fuzzy blanket and read by the lamp next to your bed. You’d be curious and not be able to wait until the next day to read a new chapter. You’d be a bookworm, just like your daddy, and have shelves and shelves full of books.

Your father and I always discussed how important it was for kids to try lots of new things. We wanted to make sure you stayed physically healthy and meet new friends, so we would have loved for you to join a local tee-ball team, or do karate, or participate in an community art class. We’d also want you to be involved in something musical – not because we were going to be overbearing parents, but because we both were musically inclined and wanted you to enjoy music as well. Maybe your little hands would have graced a violin, or clutched drumsticks. Maybe you would have sung in a choir or had a solo. Maybe you would have been able to just play any song you hear, and not be like me where I can’t memorize anything. I never would have been mad about you innocently plinking away on the piano that was your great-great-grandmother’s if you had wanted to.

I was so enamored with you as a little girl. To be honest, I never pictured you being older than 4 or 5. I never pictured your wedding (if you wanted to get married), or your children (if you wanted to be a mother). I never pictured you talking back to me as a tween. I only pictured the sweet memories we would have had. I would have been kinder and more patient than your Mimi. I would have let you keep your hair long when you were little, if you wanted to.

I would have taught you how to spell and write before you entered kindergarten. I was unsure about putting you in preschool or pre-kindergarten, because you know, I am a teacher and would have made sure you were ready. I kept aprons for you to help me cook in the kitchen – and I wouldn’t have gotten mad at you for spilling something on the clean floor.

I had a dream one time where I saw you, face to face, and you, Dagny (Eleanor), were just the sweetest little girl. I told you in my dream as I held you close to hug you and pick you up, “I wanted you so badly. We both wanted you so much.” That’s it. That’s all we said. I woke up on my side of the bed with your daddy asleep next to me, and cried silently into my pillow. I don’t know if he knows this. But I cried.

I also wanted to give you my maiden name as a middle name. I didn’t want to hyphenate it though. I liked how your name looked written out – Dagny Elayne (or Eleanor Jane) – and I was going to call you Dag for short.

And now I have to say goodbye before I even get to say hello. It’s a cruel world out there, sweetheart, and even though I was a good little girl, and then a (mostly) good teenager, and then became a good responsible woman, I still never got to welcome you into our life. Dagny, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s how life is. You don’t get to pick and choose – sometimes you have to deal with whatever comes.

But Dagny Elayne, I have to let you go. I’m sorry. Mommy is sorry. Daddy is sorry. Mommy has to let you go and let your spirit be free.

Rejecting platitudes and accepting the pain of grief

I couldn’t hear one more platitude as I shared my story. I couldn’t stomach one more look of pity, or even worse, blank space behind the eyes. It was just too painful.

I became exhausted listening to all the things people said to me. And I say me specifically because for some reason the man’s role in reproducing just isn’t on many people’s radars. And for some reason the questions about kids – whether we had them, why we didn’t have them – were directed towards me.

Thanks.

It seems that the ‘thing’ these days is instead of being present with people as they’re rocked by the waves of grief, we try to fix the pain. We’re uncomfortable as a society to see people in pain. And it needs to stop.

I experienced this with the death of my grandmother, Jane, who I absolutely adored and loved. I found myself justifying my grief at what to our whole family came largely as a surprise – how ridiculous is that?

“My grandmother passed away, but she lived a long life.

“My grandmother died last month, but now she no longer suffers.

“My grandmother died suddenly, but she’s with Jesus now.

These are things I said, and I so longed to just allow the discomfort of the heart-wrenching loss and let people join me in my grief.

We look at the other side as greener. It’s the American way, right?

“We can’t have kids, but now we can travel and do whatever we want!”

“We could have gone through IUI or IVF, but it just would have had a horrible impact on my mental state.”

These “but….” phrases are dangerous. Not only do they not satisfy us and make us feel better, but they allow us to completely drive by the very real grief a person is going through. I don’t owe anybody an explanation or a platitude to make them feel better, for God’s sake. When we’re grieving, we have a horrible propensity to do unnecessary emotional labor for others.

I was (am) desperate to just say, “We couldn’t have kids.” and allow that truth, however uncomfortable, to settle in. I wanted to say for once, “I lost my grandmother and we were very close.”

I had to do this on my own. Even my church community seemed to be at a loss, more about the intangible loss of parenthood than about losing a person who was lucky enough to live 87 years.

There is a lot of work to be done in the area of grief, death, dying, and trauma in this society. But those of us who have been afflicted can’t stay silent. We need to be willing to compassionately educate others – to have the difficult conversations,

To let the uncomfortable truth of loss fall where it may. To allow space for discomfort. To reject platitudes. To accept our grief. It is only in this acceptance and space that we as a society can get closer to the hard things and be okay with it. And from there, we can better comfort those in need and in grief.

The maternity section

For years and years I imagined what I’d look like with the coveted and adorable baby bump. I remember even from a young age I’d playfully stick out my stomach (especially after eating) and see what a baby might look like. I thought it was pretty cute. No lies – I’ve done this as an adult too.

Whenever I went shopping at places that still have a dedicated maternity section, like Target, I’d make a mental note of the types of clothes I’d want to buy when I needed to bedazzle the bump.

I even had a Pinterest board called “Baby W” or something equally banal, with all things baby pinned, including maternity wear. (Said board was deleted probably a year and a half ago.)

I dreamed of when leggings and long tunics would actually be socially acceptable to wear to work, when comfort would finally be justified over every other quality in my closet.

How naive I was.

When we were trying to have a baby (#wilcoxonstakeonbabymaking2014… #notarealhashtag) I made sure that the items of clothing I bought would cover a I-might-just-be-fat belly as well as a pretty-much-a-whale belly. Just to be safe. Just to make sure I didn’t waste any of my clothing budget on stuff that wouldn’t fit in a few months.

Again, how naive I was.

The point is that the quest for motherhood was absolutely all encompassing, even affecting decisions like what to buy to make sure it’ll fit my beautiful, fertile, pregnant belly.

So in the end, I ended up with a lot of cute comfy tunics (that started off as dresses but basically became shirts because ya girl is tall) and leggings. I also had, ya know, real clothes, like skinny jeans and work pants. Now I can go to the store and nothing holds me back from buying something except for the price (I never buy anything that’s full price. I’m the queen of Target’s Cartwheel app, and also thrifting).

I won’t lie: I do have two dresses that are actually maternity dresses. When I found them, at first I didn’t realize they were meant for baby bumps (not food babies…) but they fit really well so I decided to buy them anyway.

I feel a slight bit salty when I wear them – they’re really cute, no one would know they’re maternity, and I feel a slight bit vindicated that ha! I do get to have something remotely related to motherhood. Take that!

And then the 31-year-old voice in my head speaks to me:

#growupelizabeth #actyourage #buildabridgeandgetoverit