Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent

Sometimes life is hard.

I've never had an easy marriage, and lately, I feel like it's taking more out of me than it usually does - or maybe it's taking no more out of me than it has in other difficult phases, but I just have less left over to give. Struggling with my husband's lack of (when not outright opposition to) the faith is probably the hardest part, even though I don't always recognize that when I'm thinking about it. Just look at the difference between a fight over "are you sure it's God will for you to do this financially imprudent thing and He has plans for the direction in which it will take our marriage and our lives?" versus a fight over "I know it's just your morbid obsession with personal failure that makes you want to do this financially imprudent thing, and I see that it's very important to you, but the numbers say it will be a financial disaster and you think it will make you happy but actually a more rational appraisal would say that when you do this thing and life is still hard, you'll be much more unhappy than before, and does selfless love require me to stand back and let you do this to yourself and ruin our finances in the process?" Yeah. Not easy.

I've moved from thinking I probably should get help but not really wanting to take that affirmative step and make some phone calls to being impatient for someone to answer my calls. I've called my insurance company. I've looked through the insurance company's provider directory (twice). I've called two different psychologists. This should already have happened. Why won't someone just give me an appointment to get my head examined already?

Anyway, that's not the point. I'm working on this going to daily Mass thing. So far that just means going back to the church right down the road (I mean, really, three doors down) where they speak no word of any language I understand. But I am bringing my missal so I can at least read the readings. (Then, because I have done this since I was - what, eighteen? - I go through the proper of saints to look for interesting-but-not-too-impossible names for children. I realized that even though I no longer intellectually believe I will have children, and so I don't make nursery or baby clothes purchases in my head, I have not lost my interest in picking out names. It's possible I never will, although as the years pass it will freak people out more and more if I say so. Speaking of which, I was reading this brilliant website today on the recommendation of brilliant and heartbreaking artist Monica Wiesblott, whose piece "I Tried Nesting" has been and probably will be again on my little header, and they had a little "you know you're infertile when" thing and several women admitted to giving friends intentionally bad advice on baby names to steer them away from the names they wanted to save. I never do this because when other people pick bad baby names I get very angry, and sometimes lose all my respect for the parents and don't ever want to talk to them. I know I have anger issues in general, but this really upsets me very much and has for years. However, as a suggestion, it's frankly brilliant. If I weren't so concerned that the deterioration of American baby names was causing an impending disaster in the culture and that just a few more appallingly-named children could push us past the point of no return, I would seriously start doing this. Anyone dumb enough to take that kind of bad advice deserves every Britney or Polycarp he ends up with.)

That is not what I was going to write about.

I've tried to be good a number of times and pray for...well, something delightful and pious-sounding with respect to never having children. But I always get hung up immediately on the caveats because of my previously-discussed conviction that God is playing gotcha with me, and if I say "OK, please send the other suffering infertiles babies first because I can deal with this for another year or two and am indeed already expecting to, and I know there are other people who probably can't," then He will scribble in in the margins EVERY INFERTILE ON THE PLANET and my innocently-phrased little offer will consume THE REST OF MY LIFE.

For some reason, this time, something someone had said recently (my spiritual director? The priest who gave the spiritual reflection for women in my living room? A brilliant blogger or commenter?) sunk in - not some bit of arcane wisdom or inscrutable insight, but something ordinary and obvious that I already knew but wasn't thinking straight about - and I stepped back a half step and looked again. Whenever I pray the "Thy will be done" part of the Our Father, for a moment I feel happy and peaceful. I believe that that is akin to praying for good things to happen to me - not superficial good things, like owning pretty shoes or having a really good cookie - but REALLY good things. The kind of things that are so good I won't even fully appreciate their value at first, the things that take decades or a lifetime to unfold. And I don't see them unfolding right now, but I feel at peace when I ask for them to do so. So how can I feel this way and worry so much about God's "gotcha" petitionary prayer clauses?

And I thought, God does not will infertility for me. Or irritable bowel syndrome or hypothyroidism or knee sprains or myopia or even hangnails. God's perfect vision for my life, as for all of our lives, is that I be healthy and holy and sinless and joyful and never die. That's not going to happen, but that is because His will in this matter is not being perfectly fulfilled, because of man's decisions to deviate from His will. God knew this was coming and He allowed it to happen, but it didn't happen because He wanted it that way. If I confuse what He wills (good things, even if not the selfsame good things that I know I want) with what He allows, and He allows, well, all the things that happen, then why pray for His will to be done? It doesn't need to be prayed for; whatever is done would be His will by definition. But I don't believe that.

So instead of telling God what I was willing to offer (and then setting up a number of caveats and limitations in case he should try to exploit the terms of the offer unfairly), I approached it a different way. I was able to make my prayer without terror - both because I wasn't worried any more about the "gotcha" clauses, and because all these years as I've been railing and complaining and living a life steeped in rage, I've been working away a little bit at the process of grieving my fertility, my dream of motherhood, my hopes for children. I'm not entirely done, but I think I've accepted far more than most women my age that I probably will never have my own children. I know a lot of infertiles roll around the word "never" on the tongue like a foreign thing. "Never" is a near companion to me, and I know that's been an unappreciated blessing.

And so I said, whatever is Your will for my life, I will accept it. If God wills that I deal with this the rest of my life, then fine. I don't want to procure, somehow, children He didn't will for me. Dealing with the ones He gives is hard enough, I know; what would I do with some rogue children I'd conjured up outside the natural order of things? I'd be up a creek. And I don't want my own amateur pastiche of what my vocation should be in my mind; I want the real thing, the path He picked out for me before all time, because He always knew that I would be, and already had in mind what my life should be like. Of course in my heart of hearts I have always wanted that path to be one that includes motherhood. But if it isn't, I would be better off with whatever it is than with some other path, not His - whether that includes motherhood or not. (And it might not.)

I don't suggest that there were angels singing at that little parish tonight, or that I walked out with a step lightened by joy. I am much as I ever was. I do have one care removed that had burdened me, but the crosses I had to carry, I still have. I did toy briefly with the notion of God's will for my life and why He might will for me to live out my days childless. I thought about the fact that one of the things that's so hard for me in losing all my former IF allies is not just that other people have babies to flaunt in my face, or that I feel I have fewer allies, but that there appear to be practically no examples of women who share my faith living childless lives. It gives the impression that if you're a faithful Catholic, you're eventually going to get yourself a baby, one way or another.

I know that can't really be the case - nothing else works that way (people aren't cured of cancer along religious lines, for example), and I believe that adoption is a vocation not synonymous with the inability to have biological children. Being Catholic and married does not mean ipso facto that you will have children. And yet it can appear that way. (I know there are one or two childless Catholic women out there, but even your ranks are being thinned by pregnancies and adoptions, as I'm sure you know.) The paucity of such examples makes this feel like even more of a punishment - a moral condemnation as well as a cross. I don't believe I'm called to adopt, and I don't know how that could make me a bad person, but that is the implication, is it not?

And, of course, the obvious response - I could be intended to be that example. God has done stranger things. I'm no example of any kind, of course; hardly a demonstration of how a holy, virtuous person could still be childless. If anyone is looking for an example of how a woman just crying out to be a bitter old crone got her opportunity early because she was barren, I'm pretty much made to order. I'd note that I was not bitter and angry like this before I was infertile - but who would believe me? People want to believe that I did something to deserve carrying this cross because then they can reassure themselves that it won't happen to them. Such is human nature. But I do share the Church's view of marriage and vocation and children; and if my anger ever wanes, perhaps I will think of motherhood and children fondly once again. Maybe...maybe.

Ah, Lent.

9 comments:

  1. You are so right, as always.:) In the Catholic world we often feel judged for having too few children or none at all. I don't think you did anything to deserve this, and anyone who thinks so is a vile human being. It is a testament to your character and faith that you are pursuing God's will and I know that makes Him pleased.

    I know what you mean about having fewer allies--I'm so glad for my IF friends when they conceive or adopt, but the allies in the trenches are getting fewer and fewer all the time.

    And I don't think you are a bad person for not feeling called to adoption. If you are not called, then you are not called...and following the path that you ARE called to is what God really wants.

    Stay strong, gal.

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  2. Don't even get me started about strange kid's names! As a teacher I have seen my share (if you want some examples shoot me an email, I've got some doozies!). I'm not saying there should be a list like in Norway, but there needs to be limits!

    I continue to pray for you and your struggle. There seem to be so many roadblocks in your way. I've toyed with seeking professional help more than one and I know that when it's right for me, I will know. I hope the same for you.

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  3. I would love to call my child Perpetua if only so I can say in my most English voice,
    "No Perpetua Darling, Mummy is terribly busy"
    Sadly, I cannot live with my conscious or the haunting looks of the child for giving her such a terrible name.
    Also, husband is a mean husband and is forbidding me.

    Perhaps I need to get a cat.
    It's a perfect name for a cat.....

    We have our names picked out and I have told my family members and close girlfriends who are of age that could get pregnant by just looking at them (how very dare they!) so if they were to use Lillian or Oliver or even Ruby or William (in case I was to have twins) they will be aware that I will call them names and silently curse them until the day I die.

    Thinking and praying for you my sweet.

    xo

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  4. Prayer and caveats, oh yeah...where do I start. Well, I actually I won't bore you with that, you wrote about it much more eloquently. But, it is hard, I fear the Lord way more than I think of him as merciful and it is hard to get out of the "gotcha mentality". Thank you for your insights on this.

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  5. I absolutely abhor a lot of these newfangled names for kids out there! 50 versions of the same name, all starting with a different consonant...shudder. My aunt just had a baby girl and named her Audrey Jane - two names that I had picked out and Hubby had actually approved. Then, I just find out another blogger used another of my favorite names, but I don't really KNOW the blogger in person and most likely our kids would never meet, so technically that name could still be on the table. Naming is serious stuff!
    There is nothing wrong with NOT feeling called to adoption - like you said, it's not like adoption is reserved for the infertile, it just happens to be a way for some of us to become mothers who can't get pregnant. Weren't we talking about women who have a deep desire to be mothers vs. women who just happen into the role the other night? Those accidental mothers will never understand the deep yearning we experience year after year. It's just a different mindset, which they can't understand because they didn't have that drive themselves. Just as some people can say they will NEVER be childless, and don't understand those who choose to live childfree...it's a common thing for people to project their feelings onto other people. That's why you hear things like "SURELY if they wanted to be parents badly enough, they'd just adopt" and every infertile's favorite "If I were unable to conceive, I would adopt", and other such obnoxiousness.
    I hope you can get someone to call you back already for therapy. That is ridiculous that they aren't making it easier for you to seek help! What is that about?

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  6. Thanks for opening up and sharing such a hard time. I've been going through a rough patch with my guy lately, too. Keeping my fingers crossed everything improves.

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  7. Yes, why are there so many horrible names out there? It's very sad.. Although I have my own names picked out for the 4 children I plan on having,(God is laughing at me right now) and I never give out those names, b/c I don't want anyone to take them! Is that terrible?

    Anyway, I'm sorry about your troubles, you are always in my prayers.

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  8. Hoping things get better for you. It is a huge thing to pray for God's will and our acceptance because we know the power that holds. I didn't mean it when I started, but each time I pray the prayer I mean it more and say it with less fear. The Holy Spirit prayer on my blog home page is just about this. That is sort of the spirit in which my blog was created and the whole wheelbarrow theme ties in. Its been pretty huge in my world and good things happen when I let go, of course. Praying for the same for you. Its very freeing.

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  9. The names: I had to laugh because I’ve recently heard of a baby Polycarp and just had to cringe. Scares me though. We’re struggling between 2 names and I’ve had friends vote. I hope they’ve been sincere!

    I understand the “gotcha” mentality. My prayers sometimes sound like legal contracts with ever caveat I can think of included lest God find a loophole. So silly, but I think it means I do not trust near as much as I think I should. But don’t try to make your prayers pious or perfect. Honest is best, even when it isn’t pretty, but does always need to end with that “Thy will be done” and you are absolutely right: it can be terrifying, but freeing when you do realizes that whatever He wills for you might not be easy, pretty, or what you want, but whatever it is, it isn’t pain.

    No, adoption is not for everyone and it’s a great disservice to everyone involved to act like it is. We’ve been the only childless couple around here for a long time (9th anniversary is today) – including a couple of families who have adopted lovely children. It does feel isolating to look around and feel like you are the one and only Catholic childless couple to ever exist.

    Prayers for you. As always.

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