One Infertile’s Perspective on Mother’s Day
That the experience of infertility changes the way one contemplates and goes through Mother’s Day really should go without saying. For those of us who are forced to endure any kind of loss, getting through days significant to that loss becomes a project of sorts, hurdles that survival mode warns you of yet also beckons you to clear. It’s not that I don’t want anyone else to enjoy Mother’s Day. Unfortunately I have to point that out since our culture has this weird habit of misinterpreting the expression of one’s pain as the desire to take happiness from another.
This isn’t that.
This is my fourth Mother’s Day as an infertile. It is my first as an involuntarily childless infertility survivor, my first knowing that I will never bring a child into this world through my body and will never have biological children. How to process Mother’s Day is quite the inquiry for someone who is a slender three months and eleven days out of their failed fertility treatments and currently too depleted on every level to decide on whether or not to pursue adoption. My mind turned to what to do about it, as the human brain is prone to do. One of the tough things about going through the infertile experience is having to constantly call off many of your instincts that are so innately human. The lack of control that is the nature of infertility renders many of these formerly tried and true coping skills useless. The need to problem solve and fix is one of them, and the instances over the past four years I’ve had to tell my brain “There is no fix, no solution for the moment. You are going to have to sit in it” are beyond plentiful.
Although I found myself sensing that this Mother’s Day was going to be one of those “nothing to do but sit in it” situations, my pesky, over active mind of course managed to fit in some musings in the space before I was able to redirect it. What would make Mother’s Day less worse?
My mind first turned to fantasizing about improvements that need to be made by the general public in order to make the outside world a less hostile place for infertiles. Knowing that my fellow infertiles and I are at least walking out into a world that is making a small effort to not add insult to our injury would help. Personally, I live for the day when “just relax and take a vacation” is considered as inappropriate of a response to the disease of infertility as it would be towards any other disease. The day when “when are you going to have children?” and questions like it are considered as rude and invasive as unsolicited questions regarding one’s sex life will also be a fine one. And everything else that needs to be done from mandating insurance coverage and providing more financial assistance for IVF to making efforts to make church, the place where infertiles are most uncomfortable, a more supportive experience, these changes would all help make getting through Mother’s Day (and every other day) less worse.
One of my best, oldest, and dearest friends did an awesome thing last year. She told me after the fact that on Mother’s Day they were having a prayer meditation of sorts at her church where people were offering up prayers for the different and more challenged aspects of motherhood, such as a prayer for people who have lost their mothers. So my friend suggested they pray for people who want to be mothers but aren’t getting to be, and the minister went with it. I wish more people would do more things like that more often. But the fact remains that these things I dream about are, for the most part, not yet happening in life here and now. Infertility is still one of the most disregarded, underestimated and disrespected life altering traumas of our time. And Mother’s Day is coming up soon. So me and my mind (that is like a naughty child scribbling on the wall with crayons for the duration of her time out) move on to thoughts that are closer to home.
“So what’s the issue, really?” I pondered to myself. And then I realized – it’s not that Mother’s Day isn’t my day but much more so that it should have been. I’ve often described infertility as “entailing the hard work and suffering of parenting, yet minus all of the joy and dividends.” My husband and I had been dealing with infertility for about two and a half years when one day we were reacting to yet another news story about an abused abandoned child. There was something intangible yet sensitive and involved in our response that made me stop. “Oh my god”, I said to my husband. “Look at us. We ARE parents. We’re parents WITHOUT children.” As victims of infertility we had been spending the vast majority of ourselves and our lives on children we didn’t yet have. Whenever people have questioned the ways in which I have chosen to deal with infertility I have often responded that “I haven’t done anything based on any principle that I would not passionately teach my children”. During the lowest “I just can’t take it anymore” points of my infertility I would ask myself things like “What do you want to tell your children about how they got here?” and “What do you want to teach your children about struggle?” It was the answers to those questions that would somehow propel me forward. I guess Mother’s Day and Father’s Day for us this year is kind of like going through the birthday of a loved one after they are dead. This year for us it’s about what could have and should have been, and there’s really no way around this. The only way out is through. Although we are fairly committed to not throwing away any more of our money on ART (assisted reproductive technology), we are not yet in a position to commit to becoming prospective adoptive parents or to living permanently involuntarily childless. Being in the category of “parents without children” puts you in the vast canyons of nowhere. What on earth does a mother without children do on Mother’s Day?
I know there are a few ideas on this out there. Ideas such as spending Mother’s Day being grateful for my own mother, and/or appreciating the ways in which I can be nurturing and mothering even though I don’t have children. I know that these are viable perspectives for a lot of people in my position, and I hold absolutely no judgment or opinion on that. Rule #1 for dealing with infertility is WHATEVER WORKS as far as I’m concerned. For me personally, while these ideas may be acceptable pieces of “what is”, they really aren’t cutting it. Not this year anyway.
For the past couple of years I’ve spent Mother’s Day with my parents. I would inconspicuously make the three and a half hour drive up from Long Island to my home town of Groton Massachusetts and snuggle down at the end of my parent’s quiet dead end street that held older neighbors whose children were all grown and gone. Quite close to an ideal setting for an infertile on Mother’s Day, if there even is such a thing. I believe for one visit I was in between our IUI’s and the discovery of my endometriosis, and in between IVF #’s two and three last year. And it would actually turn out to be quite a respite. I’d say to my Mom, “Can we have a day together and pretend it’s not Mother’s Day?” She would easily oblige and, in spite of grumbling from my Dad (who is more from the school of shut up and deal with it whereas I’m more from the school of no, YOU shut up and deal with ME), we had some very nice “non” Mother’s Days together. She knew how much I was going through and I think was fine with being a willing participant in the facilitation of a break for me. They have since moved to Maryland to be near my brother, sister and law and nephew. So now my family situation is farther away and includes two mothers and an eight year old. In spite of the fact that my sister in law is always ultra-inclusive and acknowledging of other people’s heartache, my nephew should really just be celebrating Mother’s Day. I know they would have me but the truth is that even amongst the best of family members, infertility is profoundly isolating. I want them to enjoy the day and I am also equally adamant about the fact that I don’t want to have ANY part of it this year. Infertility has caused some rifts and serious bumps between us, but my family overall has been very supportive of our struggle. My Mom has been our most prodigious cheerleader and I’m grateful for her every day. Many of the things she has (and hasn’t!) done could be material for an article on “how to be a good mother to an infertile”, which maybe I’ll just go ahead and write.
I appreciate the broadminded, inclusive nature held within the ideals of being grateful for one’s mother (should that be appropriate for one’s situation) and celebrating other aspects of nurturing besides having one’s own children. That these perspectives are often presented (mostly by people who haven’t gone through infertility) as “solutions” or “alternatives” to dealing with one’s pain is the point on which they lose me. This angle is sometimes born from the intense emotional polarization that exists in our culture that manifests itself in assumptions such as if I’m spending time feeling my pain then I must NOT be grateful for or enjoying my mother. Or that if I’m lamenting the loss of my biological children I must have turned my back completely on my ability to be a caring person in other situations. Not true. The average human being has the capacity to hold a vast array of emotions and experiences. At the end of the day everything, my grief, my gratitude for my Mom, and my scope as a healing nurturing person is all just another piece of what is. Am I grateful for my mom? A million times definitely. Does that make up for the fact that, after everything, I’m not getting to be one? Not in a million years. It’s more a question of what needs my attention, and, as my thought process continues to swirl around it seems all roads are pointing to grief. My deepest self knows that grieving is what I need to be doing right now. I’d rather be with what is pressing than wrapped up in forcing a peripheral scenario that is incongruent with my current internal landscape.
So what IS my deal this year? On the one hand I have the new, swollen delicate wound of officially never getting to have children. On the other hand I’ve got this hardened infertility veteran “Been there done that…..I know I’m going to get kicked but I also know I’ll rise again for the…how many times have I risen again? I’ve lost count…….” bravado not so subtly boiling beneath my battered surface. The sludge at the bottom of the “I’ve been denied biological children” barrel IS faintly laced with shreds of pride bordering on condescension for having survived a life crisis of such a far reaching magnitude. I must confess that, when seeing moms with their young children in the month after our official loss, the uncensored feeling provoked by adrenaline that most often leapt up from my gut was “you may have a child to raise, but I am tougher than you.”
I will be spending Sunday alone as my wonderful husband will be working hard at his restaurants all day, preparing scrumptious food that families with children will be enjoying. Grateful for the business, absolutely without a doubt, but oh the tragic irony. Throughout my infertile journey it has often been the best choice to remove myself from outside life in order to protect myself emotionally. Although I believe things will improve over time, as of now the outside world is neither inclusive nor sympathetic to me and people like me. On the media side of things I have already started listening only to XM radio in my car to bypass the never ending Mother’s Day commercials, and on Sunday my TV will be off as well. Away from having to react to external triggers, I become closer to my emotional state. In a conversation with a friend, I recently said in regards to being an infertile in this world, “I consider it QUITE a fortunate thing that I truly like to be alone.” This Mother’s Day will be no exception.
I realized in mulling it over that there are very few solutions for an infertile on Mother’s Day, or at the very least for me this year. Restaurants are crawling with
PTSD triggers families with children. I won’t even be able to watch the Red Sox since games on Mother’s Day are quite the festive assault. Pink bats and wrist bands and camera shots of moms with their children and announcers mentioning Mother’s Day before and after every commercial break litter the entire game, with nary a mention (or I suspect even a thought!) for those of us who struggle. It IS fantastic that ML baseball uses this day in support of the great cause of breast cancer awareness, and I have no desire to take that from anyone. And there’s nothing to say that breast cancer won’t be my problem at some point because, like infertility, no one is exempt. However, the persistent MOMOMOMOMOM bombardments do exclude me from watching. If Mother’s Day is the day that gets this important issue the most attention, so be it. But also let it be said that there are plenty of non-moms who suffer from breast cancer too. Let’s not forget that breast cancer is primarily a WOMEN’S disease, not a Mom’s disease. Hopefully people can come together on such a grand public scale for the disease of infertility and those of us who suffer from it one day.
I had thought it would be fitting to have a bunch of non-parents over for an enticing spread of food and drink. But, at my age most of my childless friends are still fortunate enough to have parents around and do have family obligations on Mother’s Day. And, even more of a factor is this: I just spent a total of three years and one month of my life on five IUI’s (all with injectables), one laparoscopy surgery to remove stage three endometriosis I didn’t know I had, and on five IVF’s, three of which entailed very long, intense and demanding drug protocols. The brutal and unforgiving road of trying to become a parent typically doesn’t leave one much time or energy for the cultivation of new friendships. The truth seems to be that Mother’s Day, at least this one in the months following the official loss of my bio kids, needs to be something that I face on my own, something to take on with my own grieving process so that I can become more intimately familiarized with where I am.
What I WILL do is I will be keeping the blinds on my front windows closed. I had been hoping for bad weather but alas it looks as though Mother’s Day will be the best weather day of all of the days both before and after. I live in a fantastic neighborhood – you know the kind anyone should be so lucky to get to live in. A modest yet carefully kept development of three bedroom split level homes where people move to start and raise families. And it seems all of them have except us. Like birds after a rain storm they come out when the weather is nice, other people’s children playing, the sounds of which zing through the neighborhood (as well as through my heart and nervous system), and of course the strollers. Yes, it is the most ghastly feeling to be walking into my living room, or sitting in my little den watching TV, or practicing yoga or flute in our two empty bedrooms that were supposed to be holding our CHILDREN only to then have my eye catch someone out walking their baby. I could read through a whole dictionary and not find the words to describe how awful it feels. Given the current weather report, Sunday has the potential to be a stroller parade in my rabbit lair. A blinds and windows open person in my pre-infertile life, I’ve made an effort to stay that way whenever I can throughout my infertility. I will absolutely be sparing myself that on Mother’s Day, however.
And on the other side of coping with this holiday, there is the fact that the rhythms of my life these days are in no way in sync with the outside world. Moreover, I have a sense of contentment around this coupled with no drive whatsoever to conform. I’ve given Mother’s Day attention for the benefit of my own grieving and self-protection. The truth is I’m more focused on the things that are my life at the moment. Like calling my senators and representative to express my support for bills that will help people, especially the non-reproductively privileged, build their families – The Family Act, the Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act, and the Woman Veterans Act. Like purchasing a beautiful Cherokee dogwood tree and finding just the right box so that my husband and I can bury the pictures of our twenty four embryos beneath it. And working on my career change (provoked by infertility) by preparing my application for a 200 hour yoga teacher training coming up in the next few months. Completing this will allow me to pursue my goal of additional training that will qualify me to teach trauma sensitive yoga classes. Because, as I always like to say, as an infertile I hardly freakin got any (trauma sensitivity, that is). Throughout the course of my infertility, holidays have become simultaneously painful and irrelevant. Although there are times when forcefully constructing a new reality is useful and empowering, my yoga practice has relieved me of the need to always do that. And it has introduced me to the state of not having to do anything but be. With no longer having the need to make something good that really isn’t, I seem to find a peace and joy in ordinary moments that wasn’t there in my pre-infertile life. Like this past Monday on Long Island’s North Fork. My husband and I made sure to go on a quick get-away the first weekend in May. We knew what holiday was coming up and that it could be tough. Might as well enjoy a random MONDAY, then.
My future Mother’s Days may include being a parent to adoptive children or preparing over the top meals and dining with my non parent friends. But for now, my mind FINALLY settles where I had originally sensed it would. Over the course of these next few days, there is nothing left to do but sit in my grief.
So the all too familiar tug of war within me finally comes to a close.
Ego: Hey, you know what? I think all I can really do this Sunday is feel.
Higher Self: No shit. That’s what I told you five minutes ago, dumbass.
Ego: I know, but I figured it out. ME. Isn’t that great? I’m so smart!
Higher Self: (breathes a heavy sigh)
I’ve learned that grief has a mind of its own and that it is my job, at least for now, and to my benefit to yield to it whenever possible. As with other aspects of infertility, I’ll be approaching my first Mother’s Day as an involuntarily childless infertility survivor with whatever level of self compassion I can muster. Please remember none of this is even half as graceful as it sounds. It is just quirky old me practicing mindfulness, so it’s all relative. I learn a lot of this stuff with the finesse of a train wreck and with the ease of a hail storm. Sitting in it is hard, uncomfortable, and can evoke a profound feeling of unfairness. I never lose sight of the fact that what I wanted was a child, and that having an intimate connection to my own pain does not make up for my loss. If my experience with infertility has taught me one thing though, it has taught me that seeing, feeling, and being with my pain is one of the kindest gifts I can give myself. Although distracting myself or denying my emotions may on some occasions be the better way to go, as absolutes these things fail to be self-serving. I’ll be ready for a tough day, but open to a neutral one. You just never know. “Sunday” could very well end up being spent doing things inside the house that I enjoy and watching a few James Bond movies (one of my trusty infertile outlets). While infertility has obliterated my faith in outside forces, it has also shown me that there is a deep enlightened emotional intelligence inside all of us that doesn’t fail when we allow it to breathe. I know that whatever kind of day I have it’ll be what I need, it will be real, and I will have the strength to sit in it as it carries me through my crisis. And, if worst comes to worst, that Monday holds the potential to at least suck a little less.