Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I got exactly what I wanted

Specifically: not to have children.

If my posts haven't indicated this, I've been doing a lot of soul-searching (and, I hope it will turn out, healing) over the last year or so.  I feel the earth shifting under my feet, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.  One supposes that's a good thing; and I have small flashes of insight, but I have no great overarching enlightenment.

The latest small flash of insight came to me last night as I was (belatedly) finishing my daily baby-Examen.  And I am going to take the scenic route to explain it.  

I have said before that I would have very mixed feelings if I found out I were pregnant tomorrow (not a serious possibility).  The mixture heads more to "negative" every year, as I become more accustomed to my life the way it is, and my desire for a child of my own shrinks smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.  But it's not an uncomplicated "don't-want," for some reason.  There are lots of other things I generally wouldn't want: an(other) irregular PAP smear, a goiter, pantry moths - just off the top of my head.  I don't occasionally find myself paralyzed by the possibility that I might later turn out to have a goiter.  If a friend discovers she has pantry moths, I sympathize; I do not agonize.  Somehow, with pregnancy, it's all more complicated.

I interrogate myself, when I encounter these strange overly-complicated reactions.  "OK, yes, it would be bad news if being several weeks late meant you were pregnant.  It's understandable that you're apprehensive about how the test will turn out.  But you're also horrified that it might be negative.  You can't be upset about both possibilities.  Why would you think that?  It's not rational!"

I do not provide myself with particularly satisfying answers, but one conclusion that seems fairly confident is that a downside of my never-been-pregnant-and-never-will-be condition is that there is a blight, an incapacity, a shadow, if you will, on my life.  If I once saw those two pink lines, a significant portion of that shadow would be instantly lifted, never to return.  That means something huge and important entirely apart from the expectation that it will, some months later, result in a baby.  (Perhaps there are more rational infertile women, who see this issue entirely in terms of its effect on their ability to have children.  Obviously, I approach the matter differently.)  If I continue never to have that happy (?) news, I remain under the oppressive shadow - familiar, but still dark.

What I realized last night was that, at some point in the infertility journey - and possibly not all that far into it - I lost my attachment to a baby as an outcome.  (I have a near-pathological resistance to wanting things that are out of my reach.)  But that didn't protect me from the pain - as Brene pointed out, it never does.  What I did have was a profound, a keen appreciation of the ugliness of infertility.  Its twistedness.  Its absurdity.  Its poisonous attack on the very ideas that undergird the Christian life.  "For I know well the plans I have for you - plans to steal your hope, give you no legacy, make your attempts to live virtuously into a cautionary tale that renders the faith unattractive even to believers, empty your life of meaning, and rob your time of all that might make it valuable."  I could never find words to explain the whole of what I saw, but even the explanations I could manage seemed to outstrip the ideas of other infertile women, who often seemed scandalized by my perspective.

By the way - I was right.  They were just in denial.

I have lived under this shadow for years.  I know it intimately.  I know its banality and its malignancy.  I know its power to shut out all perspective, to make us forget how much worse things could be, and how many good things there are in our lives.  And I know its power to drive away blessings that seem to have nothing to do with it.  To poison holy days.  Undermine marriages.  Tear apart families.  I know its isolation of people who have asked nothing from those who reject them.  I know its wholesale destruction of the human spirit.  I know its power to maim, and even to kill - repeatedly (from the witness of others if not in my own life).  If this were a person, none of us would hesitate to assign it the death penalty.  It is a consummate evil.

I cannot know something so terrible and not want to be rid of it.  A part of my soul will always long to be free of it, as long as I live.  But more than I could ever want my freedom - after paying for this knowledge with so much pain, I want the truth.

If God allowed that I should have to live with this thing, there must be a reason.  An adequate reason.  Never has the word "adequate" demanded so much.  Even if He did not will this, if He so much as allowed it, in the expectation that more good could come of it than if it had not occurred (which is unimaginable - if all the childless women had been mothers, if all the babies who are not, had been!), there must be a reason - a reason as vast and pervasive as the terrible thing itself.  Everywhere its toxic fingers have reached, goodness, meaning, purpose must reach further.  And this reason, as it must be God's reason, is bound to correspond to the reality that is - not the good that could have been borne of this evil had I been someone better, stronger, purer than I am, but good that can be borne of this evil by a vessel as weak and flawed as I.  And as weak and flawed as is every other poor vessel who has had to carry this thing.

He owes me that much.  If I am morally obliged not only to have the life I have, but to claim to the world that in spite of all this ugliness God is good, and loving, and has a singular and precious and irreplaceable plan for each person's life including mine, then He has at least this much obligation - that those words must be true.  That this must all have meaning.  He owes me an explanation, and it will have to be staggering.  Bigger than anything I could possibly imagine, because I have a very active imagination, and I absolutely cannot come up with anything that would come close to being enough.

And if I were pregnant tomorrow, then He would be weaseling out of it.  He wouldn't not owe me the explanation - after ten years I have earned it, many times over, and that's to say nothing of the years and years of suffering that so many other women have endured - but by the idiotic shackles of Christian practice, I would be prevented from demanding it.

I would be expected by all my acquaintance to laud my "miracle" - the miracle of not conceiving for ten years!  I would be expected to show an overwhelming gratitude - for a decade of barrenness, because it was not two decades!  It would be demanded that I exceed all others in glorifying God.  But He wouldn't deserve it.  Not for that.  Because a baby tomorrow wouldn't give me back my ten years and they matter.   All the money in the whole world would not be enough to purchase ten years of a healthy life.  The value is beyond counting.  And if He wants to be God, if He deserves our reverence, our faith, our love, He needs a reason good enough for those ten years (and all the decades to come).

After all these years, I realize, as much as I've hoped for a reprieve, above all I live in a horror of cheap grace.  A parent doesn't get to abandon his child for sixteen years and then become father of the year by showing up and buying him a car.  I would argue that that's nastier than never showing up at all, but being willing to admit that you're a deadbeat.

And as I've seen more and more - and more, and more - infertile women conceive, or adopt, or both, I realize that it is becoming possible for people to imagine childlessness as something that will ultimately happen only to me.  (And, yes, there are other long-term childless women, even some beyond "reproductive age" altogether - but have you noticed that after infertile women realize that conception will not be happening, and conclude that adoption is not their path, they tend to vanish from the internet?  You're actually relieved they've left, aren't you?)  For an infertile woman who conceives (or adopts), the motivation is strong to believe that becoming a mother does not merely discontinue her pain, but annuls it, as if it had never been.  There are many rewards to this line of thinking - to seeing oneself as having suffered so that a dearly desired outcome can occur (as if infertility caused pregnancy); and to seeing oneself as the recipient of particular favor (rather than as the sufferer of a particular cross - a much less attractive self-understanding).

Although I cannot say so from experience, I obviously am convinced that much of this belief is self-delusion - a natural self-protective reaction of the brain, and not at all an accurate perception of how God is working in these women's lives.  As a logical matter, the only woman who is in a position to say reliably how infertility has been a blessing in her life is one who did not ultimately have a child, and who does not expect to.  (And I am not prepared to say that infertility has been a blessing in my life.  I am still waiting on that explanation.)

If I am correct that the infertility-was-worth-it-because-now-I-have-this-wonderful-child reaction is largely self-protection, then it will necessarily follow that people who believe this will be hostile to any influence that might undermine their belief.  (And this would be as true for atheists as for Christians, I think; atheists often want to believe in a benevolent universe even if not a god.)  This would result in, I would think, viewing anyone who has not crossed with them into the blessed condition of motherhood as either (a) someone whose "miracle" of motherhood merely has not happened yet; or (b) someone whose miracle is not happening because she does not share the special favor - in other words, because she's unworthy of motherhood.  And if we're all honest with ourselves, I think we can admit that these two things are both happening a lot.  Not universally - but with disturbing frequency.

I will not have all my suffering - and that of so many others, whether they now disown their suffering or not - made nonsense.  We as a (former) community should be pursuing this answer, which we all need, even if many are scared to want it.  It is now more comfortable, in the main, to sweep exceptions like me under the rug, and refuse to have the conversation.  But I won't shut down the conversation in my own life.

I don't need a baby, but I need God's "love" not to be what would pass for hate if it came from anyone else.  I need His benevolence to be real benevolence.  I have to hold Him to all His extravagant promises.  He didn't have to make them; but He chose to, and He doesn't have the luxury of lying.  He has demanded too much of me - and everyone else - to go back on His word.  I can't continue to tell others why they should believe in Him, why He is the truth and the answer, that He loved us enough to die for us and there is nothing He would not do to make us happy, unless it is true.  I will not be schizophrenic to cover for Him or anybody else.  This is the ugliest thing that has ever happened in my own life, and it's not even huge, like a war or a famine.  It's just a little thing: my reproductive system hasn't worked for ten years when it was supposed to.

If He can't make that right, make it meaningful, make my life more good on the whole with that than it would have been without that, then He is not God, and nobody is.

In the end, I have what I wanted more - because if I had had a baby, then I would have been prompted to live a terrible lie, a lie I probably could not have survived.  As it stands, of course, I don't have my answer.  I don't have meaning and purpose and healing.  I am locked in a fearsome struggle - but a struggle with at least the possibility of redemption.  If the benevolent God I teach about is who He really is, then perhaps He has allowed me to stay on this path because, some day, He plans to offer me an adequate answer.  That would be worth more to me than anything else I have ever wished for.

Monday, April 13, 2015

'I'm sorry my idiot friends used the birthday party I threw you as an opportunity to announce their pregnancy'

Hallmark apparently does not make this card.  It's all part of the public celebration industry's conspiracy against the childless, the star event of which is coming up in a few weeks.

I have two friends with April birthdays - the friends I mentioned in my post about talking to a new acquaintance about infertility.  They decided they should have a joint birthday party, and asked whether they could throw it at my house.  I love hosting stuff, so I said yes. 

I was mildly apprehensive, because the headline events were to be beer pong and karaoke.  I have seen those things done and could figure out the logistics (though karaoke software is a BEAST that isn't at all apparent until you try it.  To save you the headache: get a stand-alone microphone and amp, and stream YouTube through your TV so everyone can see the words.  This likely means not stripping out the original vocals, but the software that takes care of that part plays so badly with all the other technology you'll need that it isn't really worth it).  But I don't do those things.  So I was afraid they might flounder.  It's always possible that other people will think like me, yes? 

Not in this case.  Both beer pong and karaoke were huge hits.  The party was apparently a great success, and (in my humble opinion) a lot of fun. 

But it wouldn't be a party if it didn't give me at least some cause to be outraged at humanity. 

In this case, as mentioned, one of the birthday girls is infertile (in fact, she and her husband have recently been home study-approved).  Another guest is secondarily infertile and, after years of treatments that (bizarrely) had side effects so bad in her case as to require hospitalization, is now in the process of coming to terms with the fact that her two kids, now both school-aged, will be it.  (She does so with far more grace than I would have.)  Finally, you remember the gal with the ectopic pregnancy?  She's good friends with both birthday girls, so she and her husband were there.  And of course, Mr. and Mrs. Misfit are hurtling toward their tenth anniversary, and able to host all-night parties because - TA DA - no children!  This is easy math for all those attending (especially those who have known us for at least five years), right? 

Yeah, I made that one too easy. 

Also attending the party was another couple whose wedding I attended last summer.  To be entirely honest, they're nice people (a little socially...odd?  Hard to say exactly why), but they're not particular friends (and yes, they invited me to their wedding anyway).  I'll never be close enough to either of them to share the more personal parts of my life.  Not that there's anything wrong with that; we can all have best friends, and very good friends, and good friends, and friends, and sort-of friends, and good acquaintances - it's a big world.  Sometimes, however, I get the idea that other people - not all other people, just some other people whom I have a hard time understanding - think that if they have met me, and it would be cool for me (and 100 or 200 other people, obviously; I'm not that special) to be their best buddies - then automatically, we are. 

Well, OK, not exactly.  What I think I've seen several examples of recently is that people have something interesting happen to them.  To take a random example, let's suppose that they are married, and she gets pregnant.  Some neurons misfire in their heads, fueled no doubt by watching too many pop-lite movies and TV shows, and they conclude that the best way - nay, the only proper way - to experience this positive event is with a live studio audience.  You know - people who say oooh when something cute happens, and laugh when a character gets off a good one-liner, and groan appreciatively when something painful happens?  Like that.  That's how you live a life in Technicolor. 

These people don't realize that they aren't actually characters on a TV show, with a willing audience of millions who want to tune into their lives in 30-minute weekly increments.  Apparently, they don't realize that if you're not a TV character, then people, both individually and collectively, are likely to show exactly as keen an interest in events in your life as you show in theirs.  (So, for android human clones reading, one way to gauge whether you should share something deeply personal with someone else and what kind of reaction you should expect is to think back to the last time that person shared something deeply personal with you, and try to remember what reaction you had and whether it seemed satisfactory to that person.  If the person has never shared something deeply personal with you, then - abort mission.) 

These sort-of friends failed to perform that mental exercise.  Within 60 seconds of their arrival in my yard, the husband greeted my husband and another couple - also infertile.  (Oh, another one!)  That couple has been married almost four years and is known to the Pregnant Couple (as I shall henceforth refer to them), so, again, easy math for the Pregnant Couple about whether these folks have been able to have kids.  The Pregnant Husband immediately shared his Good News.  He was met with a polite (which is the most enthusiasm he possibly deserved) response.  My husband moved on from the conversation.  The Pregnant Wife then joined the conversation, and immediately inquired of the other parties whether the Pregnant Husband had yet announced that they were Pregnant.  God forbid she wait for them to say, "I hear congratulations are in order."  My husband then informed me of the Good News (but didn't have a chance to tell me how it had been conveyed - I assumed it was by some normal method). 

The Pregnant Wife then walked up to my husband greeting two young women (friends of one of the birthday girls) whom we did not know (and the Pregnant Couple did not know).  She interrupted the conversation, said hello, and told him she was Pregnant.  He congratulated her and then returned to the conversation with the other two girls (who had no idea how to respond to her interruption/announcement). 

I first encountered the Pregnant Wife in the kitchen, where she immediately said, "You may have heard already, but we're expecting."  I told her that I had heard already, and congratulated her, and she said that she figured I had heard already.  (They continued to have conversations like this all evening.)  My first conversation with the Pregnant Husband was some time thereafter.  I was talking to someone else, and he walked up to us.  He asked how I was, and I (unwisely) asked how he was.  He said that he was well, and then, "I don't know whether you heard, but [Pregnant Wife] and I are Pregnant." 

A little story about me.  I've been resisting the impulse to correct other people's language errors since I could talk - so, over three decades now.  I've gotten pretty good at it.  But it takes consistent energy.  Some of this energy I put in so I can do useful things, like hold down a job.  But most of the time, I do it to avoid hurting other people's feelings.  Not everyone deserves this energy, however. 

"BOTH of you?!"  I responded.  He was momentarily stymied.  The other party in the conversation laughed.  "Congratulations - and my sincere condolences!" I continued.  "But seriously, congratulations.  When are you due?"  He told me, and then began explaining how she had the conception date right and the doctors didn't, and I said that NFP was very impressive, and then I walked away.  I was the hostess - I had a lot of better things to do. 

Not long thereafter, I went upstairs to show another friend a guest room, and found the gal with the ectopic pregnancy there, crying.  She passed it off graciously.  Later, she apologized for being unfairly envious of people.  This makes me angry. 

On Easter, two other friends had an Easter party.  They invited us, but we didn't go.  I later found out that the purpose of the party was to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord - no, no, I'm sorry, to announce their pregnancy.  I think abducting me at work, chaining me in the back of a van, and making me watch a ten-hour reel of Blue's Clues would be a nastier trick, but at least then if I could break free of my shackles, I could beat the hell out of whomever I got my hands on, and the police wouldn't bring charges.  If I had punched the asshole in my yard who told me FOR THE THIRD TIME IN ONE EVENING ABOUT THE SAME ****ING PREGNANCY, there might have been (totally unfair) consequences for me. 

I want to reiterate that these people are not close friends.  I have never invited them to anything when fewer than 70 other people got invitations.  I don't have (or want) their phone numbers.  She has never, ever said to me, "Hey, we should get coffee/go shopping/hang out some time."  (Neither has he.)  This is fine, because we're barely friends.  But by the same token, they do not have a legal obligation to firmly announce their pregnancy to me.  Or to anyone else at the party.  They did this to everyone.  They happen to be due in October, which means (I gather) that she just crossed the first-trimester mark and was now making a public announcement.  At someone else's birthday party.  In my yard. 

A lot of pregnancy announcements have been made at my house - I've lost track of exactly how many.  I see the attraction: they're big parties, and the announcers can do a lot of announcing at once. But they're MY parties. My DH and I spend the money and the time to host them, and we do so with a far different purpose in mind than providing a handy backdrop for others' pregnancy announcements. (Shocking, I realize.) And that's to say nothing of the point of view of the other guests. There are people with kids who come to these parties, but they're the exception.  Most of those present are single (most of those are longing to get married and have kids), and a good many are married folks who can't have kids.  This basically describes the demographic who can stay up late on a Saturday.  It extra-describes the demographic who can throw a really big party on a Saturday and stay up really late.  We're no longer averaging 25 - when everyone was excited by pregnancy and engagement announcements, anticipating that they'd be next.  We now average closer to 35. 

I would say that the people making these announcements don't know this - aren't aware of the age of the people they're telling, or those people's states in life, hopes and dreams, challenges and triumphs.  But I'd be lying.  I've been confided in by a number of the guests whom the Pregnant Couple doesn't know well enough to have heard from, but mostly, I know by observation.  I know that after four years of marriage and no kids, a devout Catholic couple has every pregnancy announcement they've heard etched on their brain.  I don't have to ask.  I just know.  I know that a 41-year-old single girl from a big family, who works for the church, and brought a date to the last party...but not this one, is hurting.  I don't have to ask her.  She doesn't need to cry at the party for me to know what in her life is hard.  She and I can have a delightful conversation about recipes, but I still know. 

The Pregnant Couple would know, too, if it wanted to know.  But it doesn't want to.  It doesn't want friends, as in, people whose joys and sorrows it can share, of whose lives it can be a part.  It wants friends, as in the television show.  It wants an audience, so that its special-ness can seem more special, by having admirers.  And though my two recent examples have to do with pregnancy announcements (a topic of particular irksomeness), I've seen numerous other examples of this behavior recently - often among millenials, but regrettably, not exclusively.  (Both recently-pregnant couples are well over 30.) 

This is not how humanity works, people. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sad news

A friend of mine just learned she had an ectopic pregnancy.  She had emergency surgery this week; the baby's heartbeat had already stopped.  She lost a Fallopian tube.  She's in her first year of marriage; they had been hoping for a BFP any day, of course.

So, if you would say a prayer for them, that would be great.  And, I'm afraid with time I've gotten fuzzy on everyone's medical history.  But I know there are some bloggers who've had ectopic pregnancies.  Some of whom went on to deliver healthy babies, yes?  Someone remind me of who that is if you would be so kind.  I'd like to point her to an example of someone who has been through the experience.

(Not that everyone will have a child - you all know my views on that score - but then again you also know my views on the special gift whereby anyone I meet who doesn't already have a diagnosis of infertility when we meet is guaranteed to go in to have children.  No exceptions.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

blather, continued

Returning briefly to the matter of my therapist - he and I entered an energetic debate on the meaning of trust and vulnerability; I was astonished to hear that he had a different opinion. (I suspect that when I see him next I am going to find out that the difference is to be explained as "mortification," which I am not looking forward to hearing but may need to hear anyway.) Meanwhile I went home to dig out my best tools to understand how I'd come to my own definition, and evaluate my understanding and our debate. I went to the internet. I re-watched (several times now) Brene Brown's magnificent talks for TED, which I have definitely mentioned here before (I believe I was originally led to them by the invaluable Pamela Tsigidnos of Silent Sorority), and which I urge you again to watch - even if you have watched them already. Begin here:





This time, I realized there were more (non-TED) videos of Brene on YouTube. I watched this one:


And again. And again.

My synopsis below will be of no use unless you watch it; watch it first, or quit reading (if anyone is).

She says...when we become UNCOMFORTABLE with VULNERABILITY, JOY leads to FOREBODING. Or words to that effect.

I have a zillion thoughts. What about when it isn't joy, but just the foreboding? What about fear? Does that go in another box? And what could be the solution to this joy-brings-foreboding problem? She said gratitude. That sounded trite, to me. The solution is obviously detachment - my practice of asceticism is not a brilliant success, but the ideas of asceticism are my native language. So, you look at your child sleeping in his crib, you love him to an overwhelming degree, you feel the inkling of terror that he could ever be taken away - and you tell yourself, He isn't mine. He was never mine. All that I am and all that I have could be whisked away in an instant, and I must hold it lightly; for the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

But she went on to say that she spoke to a man who had spent his whole life trying to take things lightly, never becoming too attached, and when his wife died, said that he regretted all of that - because none of his attempts to hold onto things lightly lessened the grief he endured; they only meant that he had missed a chance to live life fully in the first place.

That fellow's approach (which is apparently wrong) is about like my running recipe for avoiding a morbid conviction that all that I hold dear is about to be ripped away by a malicious God (Who in His apparent malice is only acting for my good, of course, good being defined as something that looks very bad but is still officially called good - my theology is mathematically perfect). It's the malicious God, or love nothing too much.

I concluded, of course, that my grief with infertility (and everything else I've ever struggled with) indicated a failure to embrace proper detachment. After all, I've done some spiritual reading here and there. Detachment is a legit spiritual practice.

But she seems to say that's not the answer. She says that the route to take is GRATITUDE. What does that even MEAN? If I'm grateful for something, it will never be taken away? Or, I won't care when I lose it? Or it won't hurt? Or pain will no longer be a bad thing? None of that even makes SENSE. Detachment actually adds up as an answer - with the small problem that for me, so far, with the biggest things (the ones that would hurt the most to lose), detachment has proved toxic to an emotionally healthy life in the time when I haven't lost the things yet. How could gratitude fix that? And why would I bother to try to construct a new spiritual understanding on the basis of a YouTube video?

And then I thought about this. What if...what if the point of all blessings is not that they're contingent? At a concert at my parish a few months ago, I was reflecting on one of the hymns; I no longer remember the hymn or the words, but I remember mulling over some less-familiar phrasing of the very-familiar idea that God doesn't give us more than we can handle (I Corinthians 10:13 - about which Mother Teresa famously said, "I just wish He didn't trust me so much"). This phrasing was something along the lines of - "EITHER He will spare us suffering, OR He will give us the strength to bear it." This is very obvious, yes? These are the two things we always pray for (one, the other, or both), at the core of all petitions.

But sometimes a slightly different phrasing opens things to a whole new light. What if...instead of it being the case that I (like everyone) am given occasional material or spiritual blessings in life (a wonderful day, the love of a friend, health, good news at work, a blessing for a family member, a fantastic memory to share with my husband), and that I am to be detached from all of them (to mortify my desire for any good short of God Himself), and therefore my greatest good would be that all of them would be taken away and I would learn to deal with that, but that, what with the effects of free will and sin in the world and God not orchestrating every single circumstance by hand, SOME of them will not be taken away from me, but that's random, and I should be grateful for the non-difficulties that remain to me, but not too dependent on or attached to or proud of them, and grateful for all the things that are taken away, so that I can learn to depend on and desire God only...

that's my usual view. Not the one I necessarily act from out of habit in the small and unexamined things of each day. Nor does it really tally with the loving God I tell OTHER people about who ask me who this God person is. But in my heart of hearts, that's the reality I know, created and maintained by the only God I know. (Whom you wouldn't like. I don't.)

But what if...what if, actually, it works the opposite of that? What if all the blessings in my life, the good things - God PREPARED those for me. What if when a small moment seems just so perfectly ordained to make me happy, it's not because I finally mortified my selfishness enough to - for one second - be happy with something just the way it is. Rather, it's because Someone who is omniscient and omnipotent allowed it to be that I should be right there at the right moment to experience and celebrate something that was just fitted to bring joy to my particular strange little soul, because He loves me so much He wants me to be HAPPY?

And then, the other times. The times when the precious thing was ripped away, when my most cherished dreams were dashed, when the love and support I needed in difficult times were a gaping chasm, when a person I love met me with meanness and anger rather than tenderness. There's no denying those times, and any theology, or philosophy, that tries to sweep them under the rug is a lie and a failure. Indeed, I think it's those times we need theology FOR. (After all, it's only a screwed-up soul like mine, having wandered through years of bitterness and grief, that experiences a moment of lightness and love and peers into the heavens to demand, "God, WHY?") So, what of them? Well, maybe THEY, and not the un-stolen blessings, are the exceptions. Maybe God would prefer to give us blessings and joy - but He knows that we need privation to learn and grow. (Is this not the attitude of a loving parent toward a child?) And so sometimes, He allows it that the precious thing - the thing we NEED - is taken away, and in those times, He gives us the strength to endure, so that we experience another kind of blessing - a more painful one, but one necessary even for the joys to be joys, because suffering is the seed-bed of our capacity for virtue and love, which ultimately are the source of the greatest joy of all.

And I know I've said this here before, but my picture of God giving us the strength to endure trials has been wrong a long time, too. The image I want to latch onto is that of the supremely gifted athlete crossing the finish line amidst an ecstatically cheering throng - exhausted, covered in sweat and dirt and maybe blood, having trained and suffered through endless preparation, near death of thirst, but victorious, and acclaimed as such by every person on the planet.

That is ridiculous, of course.

After all, we know what GREAT victory out of GREAT trial looks like. It looks like a shredded skeleton of a man hanging dead off a cross on a hill outside the city that was covered with the bones of centuries of unburied, unloved, forgotten criminals. Abandoned by almost everyone He knew. Ridiculed and taunted by the few onlookers who bothered. Regarded as the wretchedest of sinners. Beaten and stripped and scorned and humiliated. So why do I expect a crown of laurels and a crowd of well-wishers? What book have I been reading?

The truth is that I want the trial to be JUST painful enough to make for a good story, and the victory to be close enough and pleasant enough and public enough to make the trial, well, not all that bad, all things considered. What kind of a trial is that? The truth is that when God says He'll give us the strength we need, what He really means is that, in the most difficult trials, we'll have just enough strength to TRY to get up under the weight of the cross, unable actually to do so without assistance; we'll have enough strength to stagger and stumble brokenly and still end up, over and over, face-down in the dirt. But we'll still be breathing, still trying to move forward. Under the worst of circumstances, that's actually an extraordinary amount of strength. But it's ugly and it doesn't prompt the admiration of the crowds. Even our fellow Christians will walk away from that spectacle, because they don't want to see the unpleasantness and they sure don't want to believe that's what enduring trials could look like when it's their turn. (And how often am I guilty of walking away from the painful spectacle, and the sufferer who needs my compassion, so I don't have to contemplate the implications for me? EVERY DAY.)

Most of our sufferings aren't going to be face-down-in-the-dirt types - not for most people. But that will happen to everyone at some point; it's going to happen to some people a lot. (And lest there be any confusion: I know I am not a soul who has been called to suffer exceptionally, not to date.) And the thing is to love enough to know that that's coming and love just as fiercely, anyway. Not the hopefulness of someone whose life always turns up roses; the hopefulness of Pawel at the end of Sophia House (or, for a more pop-culture reference, Walt at the end of Gran Torino). It's all going to be OK. But that doesn't mean what you want it to. And it was all worth it.

I don't know how to do that yet.

Monday, February 2, 2015

infertility conversations

The "blather" will return when I finish making sense of reality.  (Insert uncontrollable, slightly maniacal laughter.) 

In the meantime, I've had a couple of interesting conversations.  The most recent one was very short (so far).  I've met some lovely new people through volunteering at my church lately.  One is an employee of the parish, a delightful person, and she has been married three years.  No kids.  Very Catholic.  I think I add up all these little things unconsciously (the same way I notice abdomen-adjacent gestures and slight weight gains before other people - this is my brain, knowing life is still difficult, and that I need to be forewarned about stressful conversations and calm myself down and practice my "That's so nice for you!" face so that I don't have an unfortunate episode in front of a stranger on a particularly bad day).  But that doesn't mean I say anything. 

Because...well, I find it hard to say why.  Because occasionally I've known that someone was DEFINITELY A MEMBER OF MY TRIBE and been all excited to have someone to share the knowing comments with, and decided not to assault her with my bitterness-enthusiasm (yes that's a thing.  In my life, anyway), and instead made some casual reference that brought me out of the IF closet, so she could say, "Oh, you too?" and then she didn't...so maybe I was too sly...so I tried again...nothing...and eventually I realized: this person does not want to talk to me about this.  Maybe I called it wrong and they're not infertile, they're just...married and celibate?  Or, maybe she doesn't experience it the same way I do.  Maybe this woman has not gone through the "infertility journey," she was just born without a uterus, and she is not picking up on my wee hints because they don't resonate with her (though surely she, too, has been asked when she's planning to have kids seventy million times?).  Maybe she doesn't like to talk about difficult and unpleasant things AT ALL, so she's not looking for an ally, she's looking to be left alone.  Or maybe I brought it up at a time when, if she talks about it, she will cry, and she doesn't want to have to deal with her messed-up mascara at work.  Or maybe she likes to have allies, but she is not interested in one of those people being ME.  (It's a free country.  And don't I envy any woman who has so many options in that arena that she can be picky!) 

And after a few rounds of that, I stopped.  I don't assume that I'm wrong about whether a couple is having trouble conceiving; I figure I'm right 90% of the time.  (And that has been borne out by eventual confirmation, after the fact.)  But that 10% could be dangerous territory; some people are TTA because of other health or life issues, and those are not my business, not from a new acquaintance.  Some people experience the passage of time differently; they might start noticing the lack of a pregnancy at about 18 months married, where I noticed it in the first month, and the second month, and the third month, and the fourth month...but then, I had my first surgery for endometriosis before I was even engaged, and I knew I had reason to worry.  Other people may not have reason to worry.  Or they may have reason, but not worry, anyway.  Some people whom I am sizing up are already (newly) pregnant; I just don't know yet.  Some may be less on the Catholic bandwagon than I've guessed, and I will learn this when they tentatively begin a conversation about embracing the Church's teaching on openness to life.  (Mystery solved.)  Some have miscarried four times already and that is none of my business, and I am no more entitled to pry it out of them by launching into "Don't you just hate people asking you when you're going to get pregnant already?" than some idiot stranger is entitled to pry "I can't, thank you," out of me by asking, "When are you planning to have kids?" 

With this litany (all of it true), I am reassuring myself that I did the right thing, with my new acquaintance.  I figured that at three years married and childless, and very Catholic, she is one of my tribe.  But I didn't say anything.  And as blunt as I may think I am, I do not actually introduce myself (even to other folks at Church), "Hi, I'm the misfit!  I volunteer with the youth group, and I can't have children.  What's your name?"  Even I would be alarmed by a woman who introduced herself that way.  (OK, let's be honest: I would be alarmed, and then the next time I saw her I would ask her out for drinks and stay up all night comparing stories about the best awful comments we've received.) 

But three years in is a very hard patch of the IF journey (as I've only to look back at my own blog to remember).  And though I am not the picture of serenity on this topic (and probably never will be), I've crossed over into a place of far less misery about it.  I genuinely believe it's my job to help those who are coming after; after all, I owe a great deal to those already-graduated ladies who helped me keep the last shreds of sanity.  And I said - nothing.  (In my defense - sort of - she's never seemed particularly sad or upset.) 

But when she and another friend and I went jogging yesterday, I did share a story (which I am just about to share with you) about some nitwit asking when I was going to have a baby.  And then I stepped out of the room, and she asked our other friend whether I'd likely be OK with discussing IF.  Friend #2 said yes, of course, and then let me know.  So all of that went well - but I immediately felt bad for making her reach out to me.  People shouldn't have to do the work to find support when they are suffering.  I should be there offering it.  To people in general - let alone to infertile women.  Let alone to infertile women I have already spotted.  But, hey, maybe I was right to say just a little.  Maybe people don't want a mountain of IF sharing dumped on them by a new friend.  Maybe. 

So I figured I would send her an email (to start with) so that we don't have to have the "hey I heard that you wanted to talk about..." conversation with other people around.  (I think that's right.  I often prefer email for serious topics, so I can pretend to be normal, and delete my initial, crazy message.)  But I haven't done it yet.  This morning I was doing my itty bit of daily prayer (that I was supposed to finish last night) and I stopped to ponder: in the ten million words I have stored up to throw at unwise people who broach this topic with me, what does she actually need to hear?  What did I need to hear?  The list I came up with was surprisingly short.  You tell me if I've missed anything. 

(1) Tell me all about it.  Where have you been so far?  How has that been for you? 
(2) This is awful.  No one should have to deal with it, neither the small indignities nor the grand spiritual crisis.  Everyone else who has to go through it feels terrible about it, too, and it's not something you can just shrug off and do gracefully; it's painful and it will burden the healthiest person very heavily.  And I'm sorry. 
(3) You're not crazy.  We've all had those thoughts, too.  Stealing babies?  Forcibly sterilizing women who take their blessings for granted?  Setting fire to the baby showers of women who proclaim their impending delivery with explanations of how God has favored them?  Throwing her glass of wine in the face of the friend in her second trimester who says she "just cannot go on without at least half a glass of wine, I mean, the baby will obviously be fine, right?"?  Tearing your husband's face off if he accuses you of overthinking TTC?  Beating a cashier to death with the 20 pregnancy tests you're buying if he has the audacity to look at you cross-eyed?  These are images engraved in my mind.  You are not the first.  You are not the millionth.  You're not the ten millionth...welcome to the club. 
(4) God has not willed this suffering for you; He is not punishing you and He does not hate you.  Sickness and suffering are the result of sin in the world, which He allows, but never wanted.  But these things don't catch Him by surprise, either.  He did not have a beautiful plan for your life that this privation has thwarted.  Defects of nature cannot thwart His plans; your life will be beautiful and meaningful and precious the way that it is to be, not the way that you imagined it would be.  You are irreplaceable and the world needs you to show up for life, scars and all. 
(5) Statistics (and my observation) say you will probably conceive or adopt (or both) given time and if it's what you really want.  But I can say from experience (and observing better people) that even if you never have a baby, life can still be good.  To the degree possible - namely, not very much - don't let the pursuit of the baby take over. 
(6) Call me and tell me when people are driving you crazy.  You cannot bore me.  Go ahead and try. 
(7) Do you need anything concretely?  Such as...have you selected a doctor?  Do you know what you want to do and not do treatment-wise?  Are you looking for a therapist?  Other women to talk to?  Want to learn more about the adoption process?  I have forgotten more about IF than I ever wanted to know.  Tell me if you need information.  But that's usually the least of what people need. 
(8) You don't have to do any treatment just because someone else did.  Or skip it because someone else (including me) skipped it.  You don't have to do anything at all, or you can do everything.  But take care of yourself, because none of the professionals "helping" you are going to make that a priority. 

I have fifty million stories, but she does not need them.  And I have to concentrate, really hard, to try to remember what helped me.  (Very very few of the things I heard, as it turns out.  Unfortunate, but true.  So now, I have a chance to make the next turn of the wheel better.  God willing!) 

And here's the story I told yesterday, that apparently inspired this new friend to ask our other friend whether she should ask me about IF.  My husband's work "holiday" party was just a few weekends ago.  There I met the wife of one of his coworkers for the first time.  She is very sweet.  English is not her first language (and I think that doesn't matter to what comes next, but maybe somehow a language barrier explains this).  She said something about not getting to visit his office so often now that she has a baby, and I congratulated her (like a non-bitter person!  Points for me!).  And she asked, "Do you have a baby?"  I think asking that question in those words is Not a Thing, but here, perhaps - language barrier.  Reminding myself not to add unnecessary words to the answer (as I am wont to do), I said, "No, I don't." 

At this point I think the language barrier stops being relevant.  She asked, "Do you want a baby?"  I decided avoidance of oversharing was a better goal than accuracy, and I said, "Well, we'll see."  And here I erred; the correct answer is, OF COURSE, "I beg your pardon!"  I pride myself for being fast on my feet, but truly, that's when my personal life is not in question.  And since I had not adequately discouraged her, she rejoined: "Oh, you really should have one.  Babies are wonderful..."  I think more details followed, but at this point I excused myself to find a beverage (or another person to talk to), a skill I finally have practiced enough to remember to use it. 

I had two more encounters with her that evening, in which (of course) she took the opportunity to follow up on her earlier comments, lest I should have missed her wisdom the first time(s).  I know this story is one of a thousand thousand stories so many other women could tell (and top).  But in my retellings of it, I have been focusing on the point that really galled me: I missed the precious, precious opportunity to respond, "No, actually.  I was born a man."  If I could do accents, I would throw in Robin Williams: "I don't work with the boys.  I used to be one."  People deserve - really, they have a right to have us provide this gift to them! - lessons that they will remember.  I let her down. 

I'll do better next time. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

things that make you go...

So I have more blather coming. I need to do all of ONE photo - stupid blogger. Anyway. Before I do that, I had to share this. Today's readings (available here) include the lame man whose friends lowered him through the roof of the house where Jesus was preaching. In the homily, our priest quoted something from St. Peter Chrysologus that blew me away. I thought you might find it interesting, too: "Take up your bed. Carry the very mat that once carried you. Change places, so that what was proof of your sickness may now give testimony to your soundness. Your bed of pain becomes the sign of healing, its very weight the measure of the strength that has been restored to you."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

against all odds

...the reflective phase has continued. Indeed, I fear it may  continue into book-length in this little spot, where now (fortunately) I really write only for myself to read. I shall endeavor, at least, to break it into chapters.

I've mentioned before (I think) that I have a therapist. For...almost a year now?  I'd have to look that matter up. I try to go every other week (to match my work schedule), so it isn't a fast process. I think he's really good, and I've learned a number of useful things. I don't know exactly what I thought therapy would be like (something along the lines of: someone to listen to me rant about the things that most bother me, and either tell me that it's OK and I'm not crazy; or that my reactions and behaviors are unhealthy and should be altered as follows; or both), but this is not it. I'm not sure I like it - to find it emotionally painful is normal; to find it dissatisfying and somehow missing the mark, when it is not simply miserable or enraging, is not so typical, perhaps. I intend to keep going. Though I toy with the possibility that I would be better off with a female therapist.

Meanwhile as you know (the hypothetical "you" who has read all my previous posts and also remembers them - this does not describe even me) I finished taking depo at the beginning of February, 2013; thus, my last dose wore off (theoretically) at the end of April, 2013. I first saw signs of my cycle returning December 25, 2013. It varied widely for some time after; in summer, Dr. C told me she thought I was going into perimenopause (I am 32). I disagreed, as my cycle had never regularized post-depo. She told me to keep a chart (which for various sound reasons I had not been doing).

She was right. After various other irregularities, I am now weeks "late" and DECIDEDLY not pregnant. The pain of endo has not returned, and I am going on two years free of the depo. It had side effects I didn't like and it's seemed to have lingering side effects I don't like (which I now suspect are due to the Change of Life, which for me is more plus ca change...). But it has offered me a minor miracle: my own health (largely) back, and now, with the advent of menopause, significant hope that I will never need a hysterectomy, or at least, not in my 30s. Praise God!

And yet...I am 32, headed rapidly toward menopause. And I am grieving, again, for all that I have lost.

All this is perhaps significant enough, but I know one thing is the most significant in my life this past year (and the most significant in many years) and...I am at a loss for words to describe it. I shall stick to the simple facts. I volunteer with my parish's high school youth group. This fall we began a new format for formation and instruction which appears very promising so far. As part of it, we have made a prayer challenge to the teens - which has been of absolutely no interest whatsoever to any of them despite months of exhortation from all involved adults. This will have to be their problem. I, however, concluded that I could not very well ask a bunch of high schoolers to undertake a specific practice of daily prayer that I was not undertaking myself, especially since I had no regular practice of daily prayer (Mass around every other day, many small prayers and petitions, but nothing consistent). So I took it up. I probably manage it five or six days in seven, along with a few other daily prayers I felt moved to add (google "Blessed Is She" if you're looking for a daily reflection, delivered to your inbox), for several months now.

My therapist had told me I would make no further progress with my very long-term issues with a malevolent God unless I increased my prayer time, but I was very inconsistent. This practice is (potentially - it's flexible) brief, and I didn't take it up in response to his suggestion, but to avoid a very just accusation of hypocrisy. And nothing has changed. And everything has changed. And I can feel that it has not done changing, and will be a long road. I won't claim to have a consistent hold on anything as bright as a firm hope, but if I have been walking through an endless dark forest, the trees around me are now thinning just a bit, and I can imagine that at some future place they might abate altogether. But I can't know for sure.

If you think this is the end of my blathering, you haven't read many of my posts (and are unlikely to do so now!). But there will be more blather. Starting...tomorrow? I have a fancy new tablet that can probably upload videos (not mine, of course) and edit text all pretty, for the next phase of reflection, in which I pretend to know something about theology! HA.

P.S. Happy new year!