When I went to the library a week or so ago, I was prompted to look, again, for books on dealing with IF. (I know, there's lots of blogs! I was thinking more in terms of psychologically constructive methods - sort of expert advice?) Foolishly, I searched under "infertility" in the card catalog again. Books and books of remedies, treatments, technologies, cures...nothing on just being infertile. This time I had a plan B: finding the Dewey decimal number for the psychology/grief section, I went to peruse that.
I found a couple of titles I figured it couldn't hurt to bring home. One was about helping children deal with grief - yes, this seems cruelly ironic, but in fact, I was thinking that I need to think about how to help a third party deal with grief. They had no books on helping spouses or adult loved ones to heal, so I settled for that. I also grabbed John Welshons's Awakening from Grief. It's subtitled as if it provided actual methods for addressing grief, but this is barely true.
It's basically a smallish book, in optimistic tone, giving a delightful set of stories about how he dealt with grief. The stories do not actually translate into constructive results for the reader, and though he eventually describes a series of techniques, these are a very small portion of the book, and are directed toward working through the grievning process (valuable, obviously), and don't claim to lead to the zen-like quality he claims to have attained himself. But, every book has its limits. (The other limitation is that he is, apparently, an adherent of some sort of Eastern spirituality, and consequently asserts things about the nature of love and of the human person that are untrue and misleading. I have a whole diatribe about this in my head, but that threatens to become a totally engulfing tangent.)
Anyway. I was reading the little chapter on grieving techniques before I fell asleep last night. He talked about grieving for the lost person, or thing (he mentions career/job loss), picturing what he/it was, telling him/it how you feel, etc. These exercises obviously would also have some value in contemplative prayer. I was reading it basically for its teaching value in dealing with IF. I recognize - and many experts have acknowledged - that IF causes grief. But what loss are we mourning, specifically?
I realized reading that I am not mourning the loss of a specific child or children (miscarriage sufferers will presumably have a different take here). I am bitterly grieving the loss of someone, but that person is me. I am mourning, and have long been mourning, the person I believed I would be, and who I was already becoming when infertility put an insuperable barricade across my forward road. Whether reality would otherwise have followed my mental image I don't know (it rarely does); but I'm not grieving the loss of particular maternity clothes or a specific neighborhood or number or character of children.
What I can't bear to have lost is the character and temperament of the person I thought I'd be. And though I'm sure motherhood would have worn me down far more than I expected, and my feeble virtues would have been burdened more than I thought, and buoyed less, by the avocation I expected, nevertheless - I'm convinced my predictions weren't wholly off the mark. In my heart I had already laid the foundation for that person. That foundation has been abandoned. I've just up and gone elsewhere to work on something else.
I know that's what I'm mourning, because that's the image that brings tears to my eyes; not a baby, but a lovely young woman who has the look in her eyes that I used to have, that I can still see, dramatically, in pictures of my younger self. I know this sounds terribly narcissistic, but it's just the truth. And it's not that I was happier; I was often sad. But I had something else - some sort of innocence, some sort of underlying joy. It's not merely time that took that away. Something I had, has died.
I think I've been on the verge of this realization before. And then I had a thought far more jarring than that one. It's not just that the person I wanted so much to become has died; it's that I blame the person I became instead for killing the person I wanted to be. I'm the murderer of a person worth being. I've not become quite the anti-matter opposite, but it's very close. I was a more or less kindhearted traditionalist who didn't care about her appearance, was constantly praying, volunteered for most everything, loved babies, and prized family first. I'm now a career woman who avoids other people's children, is emotionally exhausted by baby pictures, owns way too much clothing, never says daily prayers, goes to Mass only on Sundays, and has become professional, thick-skinned, and jaded. The one pursuit I maintained (until recently, largely by choice) was an active social life, in which I stay up until all hours. I'm the woman that other woman would have sincerely, and rightly, seen as heartless, empty, and evil. I live the life I was hoping to flee.
I'm not sure why this was so hard to see. I hate who I've become. I would vehemently defend a lot of the particular choices I've made, on the basis that no more prudent option existed; it was what was necessary; it happened by itself; or I literally had no other options. Most of those arguments are objectively correct. I literally did do my best on many of these fronts - the consequences are not blameworthy. On some fronts, they are, and I could have done better, though it would have been a really uphill battle. But I see the person I've become as worthless, or, more accurately, as affirmatively bad.
And I structure my life around that - I can see that, now. Though I hardly make extraordinary efforts to be diplomatic, if I need to spend time with people, I work to make my company not objectively objectionable - so that on a rational analysis, I could argue that it does them no more harm to spend time with me than with anyone else. I try to say nice things, demand of them little, make myself useful, support entertaining topics. When I don't care about people's regard, I'm often difficult, of course, but if I'm trying to be good company, I do it rather scientifically. Anybody who is willing to spend time with me is either doing the same superficial analysis - she's no trouble to be around and she can be entertaining - or is motivated by his own charity and generosity only.
It puts an interesting spin on the graduation of others from this purgatory here. While I wish nobody ill - there's nobody I want to see get another BFN, lose another child, endure another failed procedure - the migration of fellow infertiles en masse from these blackened shores carries an additional message: that they weren't worthless, as I am; their suffering was a test of the faithful, an opportunity for them to see yet greater value in their future blessings. My suffering is deserved, and to prove that, this is where I will ever remain. It's funny - I have such strident eloquent arguments against the ignorant and malicious who claim that infertility is earned by infertiles, which they conclude precisely because they don't have to suffer it. But I can argue as loudly as I want to against what others say - and I can be perfectly right; but it doesn't make a bit of difference if I believe I deserve it myself.
I know this is a disaster - I can't see the road back from here and if I keep moving forward I will travel deeper into the forest. Maybe there actually isn't any way out. But, in any case, I can't really understand how I got here. What about just not having children is so horrible that it's driven all the value out of who I am?
And, for what it's worth, I'm not looking for reassurance that my life is more valuable on the whole than not - it's not something, I think, that the ideas of others could fix. Just a belated realization of how I've come to see my life. And worth sharing, I thought, as it was rather an epiphany; but perhaps I'm mistaken. Either way.