Wednesday, August 4, 2010

lessons

Sometimes I see things from which I don't know precisely what conclusion to draw, but I'm sure they mean something to which I should be paying attention.

Last night I called Aunt #3 (I have four aunts on my mom's side - big Irish family, you know...) for an update on my grandmother, who appears to be dying (she has rallied but is not expected to go home from the hospital). After updates on my grandmother and my mother (in great physical health and under care to work on her mental health as well - apparently with some progress lately), Aunt #3 said something or other a second time about how I would be such a good mother after having dealt with all this insanity as a child. I felt two comments required a response, so I said, "Well, that probably won't happen," and she responded with the obligatory, "Well, you're so young," and I felt it necessary to point out that after five years and lots of doctors, "young" didn't mean a lot and the odds were just plain low.

I know that this aunt has one child (from her second marriage), and if I do the math...I guess she had my cousin when she was 39? Maybe 37? So I thought there might well be a story there, and after I explained (in a decently successful attempt at brevity) my diagnoses and treatment so far, I actually did hear the story.

My Aunt E was married fairly young; we'll call her first husband Sam. When she married Sam (as I learned for the first time last night), she already knew he had testicular cancer. I'm not sure whether it was in remission at the time they married, but she knew it was impossible for him ever to have children. She married him knowing that he was all the family she would get, and she was happy with that because she loved him. But the cancer killed him after they had been married only a few years. In her thirties, she married my uncle - we'll call him Jim. It turns out they had a lot of trouble having children too. They had tried all the treatments and whatnot - she decided that IVF and ART were not for her, but she had been seeing a doctor - and they eventually decided to go with adoption. At that point, the pursuit of children had effectively taken over their marriage.

She said that in their entire marriage, she has seen him cry only twice. And the second time was then - they were going through the adoption process, and he finally broke down and told her, "I can't do this. I'm not going to court some eighteen-year-old for her baby." She thought about it, and she realized that her whole life had become about having children. It was driving them apart; and she realized she was jeopardizing her marriage. She concluded that being married to him was all that mattered. They decided that they would spend the rest of their marriage with just the two of them, and they found that they were really happy. Not long after that, she found out that in an effective medical miracle, she was pregnant with my cousin, but was never able to have another child.

She told me that - of course - she loves my cousin. But she said, with a conviction I couldn't possibly dispute, that she would have been just as happy if she and my uncle had never been able to have children. "You can have a happy life even if you never have kids," she said. I think it's easy to say once you get your baby that childlessness wasn't, in retrospect, so bad. But I think it's different to say as someone who truly accepted - happily - the idea of living childless, who had really embraced that life. And it's also different to say it as a 59-year-old, looking back on decades of marriage, and appreciating your child, but really understanding what it would have meant to have your whole marriage without her, and knowing what it means to say that you could have been happy either way.

I'm not saying that I understand how she feels, because I honestly can't look at my life right now and say that I will be perfectly happy if I can never have children. Maybe it's true, and I hope it's true and I come to understand it soon; but right now I can't see it. But talking to her, I believed her. I don't believe she's deceiving herself, and I don't believe she was lying, or embellishing, or sugar-coating, or...well, she's just not that type. And I can't dispute the wisdom of someone who has been there, plus a generation, and gotten to look back on the whole thing.

So there you are...for what it's worth.

15 comments:

  1. what a powerful conversation - I'm so glad you opened up to your aunt and she was able to share her story with you.

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  2. Wow - this was a great story. Really gave me something to think about. Thank you for sharing this!

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  3. I honestly DO believe that some people can be happy without kids, even if they once believed that they couldn't. I don't know that I am that person, now, or that I ever will be. But there's a chance that, had I been happier in my marriage these last eight years, I might have felt differently. For me, a child represents the unconditional love that I haven't been able to find elsewhere (aside from my own mother-daughter relationship).

    For me, I know that just being Mo and I will never be enough. Would it be with someone else? It's difficult to say.

    The question for you is: will it be for you?

    Hugs,
    Jo

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  4. I just don't think it's possible for anyone to say "I would have been..." and know for sure. Like you said, she had a child, so it's easy for her to look back and see herself as happy regardless of her child being there or not. Just like a lot of people say if they had trouble getting pregnant they would have no problem going straight to adoption, but it's different once you're experiencing it yourself. It's not so cut and dry.
    I'm glad you had such an open, honest conversation with your aunt. It's always nice to know there is something in the family that understands what you're going through.

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  5. That's a moving story. I believe your aunt is right. My DH and I were at the point where we believed we would never have a child. While we weren't happy with that situation - and we weren't ready to quit just yet - we knew we'd have a perfectly happy, contented life together with just the two of us. I still believe that. That's not to say you won't have regrets, but you can still be happy while acknowledging the regrets.

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  6. That's interesting. I also have an aunt who has been able to have children (male factor, though). They desparately wanted to be parents (they both chode professions working with children), but my uncle didn't want to adopt. They were going to try ivf, but they didn't - they just decided it wasn't for them. She's in her 40s now, and she says that she honestly believes they ended up being happier without having children than they would have been had they been able to. She doesn't have a comparison (since they never did have children), but I do look at them as an example of accepting a childfree life and finding joy in it. They do take full advantage of the life they have, too - lots of amazing trips, very active, etc. When my aunt tells me that all of this does get easier over time, I believe her, because she's been there.

    ~http://tryingagian.blogspot.com/

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  7. What an awesome story your aunt shared. I do believe she has your best interests at heart...she did give up and she did have a baby. She just wants you to know there's still hope. Isn't that the right thing to do and offer? How would you have felt if she said "It will never happen for you?" Probably a little upset,,,,huh?

    Now at my age...no one really says hopeful things like that anymore. Some people do have children in their 40's...I'm not going to be one of those people. I know that and work a lot at accepting GOd's will and finding happiness with that. My dh and I just talked (in length) about how after all of these years if a child would make us happier. I answered...I don't know about "happier" but we'd have a different kind of happiness than what we have now. Life, in the here and now, is what you make of it. Right?

    BTW: I also have an aunt and uncle who had trouble conceiving...so they decided to adopt and a few years later..she did get pregnant. They have two sons. My cousin at 40 got married for the first time last Aug..rumor is him and his wife are TTC'ing.

    My dh has an aunt who couldn't conceive...her oldest child is adopted..the others are biological after many years of TTC'ing.


    Sometimes it's nice to know your not the only one in the family. God Bless.

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  8. I've been thinking more and more about the option of being childless. I don't know if it's the impatience of being IF for FIVE LONG YEARS or if it is truly a calling. I have no idea what I need to do to discern this calling, but it's definitely something else to ponder!

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  9. What a wonderful perspective to post, and it sounds like she really knows what she's talking about. Thank you for this.

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  10. Wow, this is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. I believe you were saying you wanted examples of childless couples, happy and fulfilled and truly at peace and it sounds like you got it. Btw, still bugging my friend who fits this bill, to guest post. I think she is having trouble feeling like she would be preachy or something when it isn't her place, but i have assured her we just want her to comment on her story and peace. We'll see...

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  11. What a great resource to have in your own family!! Not only that she believes truly in her heart that she "would" have been happy, but more convincing for me is that she KNEW she would never have children with her 1st DH and yet still married him and would have lived blissfully with him if he had lived 100 years. That is amazing.
    I really do look up to people who have made the choice, after years of IF, to live a childless life and are doing it so beautifully. Unfortunately I know very few (because most adopt), but it is a real inspiration to me to know there is a potential for joyful living if I cannot conceive or adopt.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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  12. What an incredible story. And one that happened so long ago without you having any idea.

    I'm glad you are close with your aunt and you were able to connect. I know it would be easy to say you could have lived happy without children once you've had your miracle baby, but truthfully you don't hear that very often.

    Besides TTC, her story tells an important one about marriage. It is so easy to put your marriage on the side when you have your sights set on another prize.

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  13. What a wonderful story. I'm glad you were able to talk to her about how they had come to terms with being childless and would have been able to led a happy life and have a happy marriage, even if your cousin had never come along.

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  14. Thank you so much for posting this story. I am currently struggling while coming to terms with the knowledge that I myself will be going on in life with no children. The situation may be different, but the end result is still the same. I also wanted to give you this link: http://eternalbutterfly.wordpress.com/ just in case you are interested :-)

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  15. Wow. Just ... WOW!

    You know what? Depending on your (as in Hubby & you) OWN decisions on this path of infertility ... whether you eventually have children OR accept a life without children ... the conversation you had with your Aunt is undeniably unforgettable.

    I've always said people come into our lives at the most appropriate times; when we need some insight or reflection. This conversation? This is a prime example of this.

    HUGS, Misfit. I'll be rooting for you with whatever path your IF journey takes you to.

    xoxo
    Emily

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