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.