In search of the anatomy of an emotional wound
In a strange way I’d rather be here. Done with fertility treatments that is. I’m no longer rendered a shadow of myself by slews of mentally and emotionally debilitating meds. I’m no longer the future’s bitch, living in an impotent present where all of my actions and energies are given to something over which I have no control, something that “might” happen in the future. I’m no longer dissolving in the barren sea of ART, no longer treading water in the finite shades of gray and maybe/maybe nots that are human reproduction, amidst the attempt of the ego inflated medical profession and delusional patients desperately trying to make it the black and white subject matter that it isn’t.
When pursuing assisted reproductive technology, life for the most part takes place behind the gates. A significant part of my nature happens to be that I don’t like gates. Like a hungry writhing race horse I felt myself, toward the end of baby making, twitching and thrashing around, ready to lurch at any chance of a way out. It wasn’t only that I couldn’t stand it, it was also that I was going after something that in my heart of hearts I knew was never going to work.
In the past few months, almost everyone around me, in one capacity or another, has noticed. I look better. I socialize more. My yoga practice is better. I laugh more, smile more. There is no doubt I’m more engaged in life again. My most forceful thoughts of going back to ART have amounted to nothing other than a meek occasional flicker.
Yet, this is without a doubt the toughest place I’ve ever been. And this, for some reason, almost no one around me notices. Although, unlike the pursuit of a pregnancy, this place is dynamic and fruitful, I announced to my counselor the other day that it is infinitely tougher and more complicated than being immersed in ART. Indescribably so, as a matter of fact.
There’s no question in my gut that I’m where I need to be at the moment. And if there’s one thing people should know about me it’s that I trust my gut implicitly. Yet my gut seems to be the only thing that knows these days. The rest of me feels like one humongous bastian of floundering confusion. I’ll make a humble attempt to explain, although I feel it’s impossible. I have moments of satisfaction and intense connectedness, especially when doing the things I like to do (I’ve chosen to keep going with the flute, yoga, and writing as I contemplate what my career will focus on). Doing things for the satisfaction of the moment often no longer feels like enough yet I seem to lack the ability to speculate about the future. I don’t know where this ability went. My innate desire to build and create has reemerged, my ability to look into the future and feel good about it hasn’t. Ouch. I can get through things I couldn’t have gotten through before, such as a backyard BBQ where we invited some new people and five hours at the mall which even six months ago would have been certain death to someone with ptsd. Yet I’m also more exhausted on a level than ever before, as getting through these things in the space I’m in also requires a remarkably refined level of decision making and navigation. And sadness abounds. I cry almost every day. I entertain the knowledge that in the end although we could have a good life just the two of us we’d rather have children side by side with the possibility that we are just too depleted to go any further and the reality that I may not be able to fully recover if anything else goes wrong. The motivation I have to obtain material things, such as new bedroom furniture or taking trips outweighs my motivation to save money for adoption at the moment. And I look at this in confusion. The sorrow that washes over me when the mom (who is likely around my age) of my adolescent band section mate sets up her tripod in content parental glee (and my section mate is an awesome kid so why shouldn’t mom be thrilled?) does not ignite even one spark in the adoption fire I thought I’d have. The searing pain I feel when I hear someone’s baby cry out over the audience in the middle of a band concert doesn’t budge me forward an inch. The fact that my age of 42 implies that if we’re going to move on with adoption we should do it sooner rather than later is nothing but a pesky irritant. “Why can’t I just pick a course of action (with adoption and my career) and friggen DO it for crying out loud?” is an impatient question I’ve been plagued with as of late. I know part of the answer, which is that both my husband and I made the conscious decision to honor ourselves and what is in this process. To not force a reality but rather to be sensitive to where we really are at any given point. We’ve chosen the organic way through as opposed to a forced way around, you could say. Oh but choosing it and actually being in it are experientially worlds apart.
So with my gut trudging through with a somewhat smug attitude of “yeah, what of it??” along with my mind vibrating at a notably HIGHER fever pitch perpetually screaming “What the hell is going on here????”, I started searching to define the place I’m in. I don’t feel I should move out of the place I’m in, but, where and what is “here”, exactly? When I realized I instinctively know where I am but completely lack the ability to verbalize it, I dropped this question in the raffle ticket box of my brain and went about my week.
One thing people fail to take into account is that there is no protocol for this. There is no particular thing one should be doing or not doing, feeling or not feeling, upon ceasing fertility treatments when they are unsure of their next step. It is a place of passage that is so deep yet so unrecognized. Whoever said “make no mistake about it, we’re all in this alone” could not have been closer to the truth. Not only is there little acknowledgement from the outside world, self-acknowledgement is practically impossible since this space I’m in is not talked about and is vastly under explored as well as all too often misunderstood. I’ve got no map, and I feel it big time.
I was on the heels of a week of band concerts (very satisfying but also very public) and an evening hang with the neighbors that, though wonderful and fun on a level, also felt like a dip into the acidic pool of fertile world central on another. It’s no one’s fault, it is what it is. Nestling into a couple of much needed days of solitude, it came to me as I was cleaning the bathroom.
“You’re bleeding” the voice said as I was finishing up the toilet. I stood up.
I make no bones about it, I do hear voices sometimes. Not restless undiscernible chatter, but very clear concise statements. I always have. Perhaps it comes from a wiser deeper part of myself. Or it could be the spirit world that I now consider over rated, who time and time again told different psychics the exact same scenario that I would have twins and that I would give birth. Perhaps they are trying to redeem themselves and actually provide me with something useful for a change. Jerks. But it doesn’t really matter. I’ll take clear answers that make sense no matter where they come from.
I’m immediately engaged.
Sarah: “Yeah….hmmm, bleeding”
Voice: “What’s the purpose of bleeding? Why is it good to let a wound bleed before you patch it up?”
S: Well it gets the bad stuff out. The toxic shit you don’t want stuck beneath the surface.
V: Right. That’s what you’re doing right now.
I start to see that looking at an emotional wound like a physical one could make some sense. I start to explore the idea of wounds in general and am taken back to when I broke my left tibia at the end of seventh grade.
V: Remember the days after your injury?
S: Yeah, yeah!! I was in a splint. They said they couldn’t set the bone back in place until the swelling went down. I thought it was so freaky and scary that I had to just sit there with bones out of place for a few days.
V: Exactly. So the immediacy of tending to that wound was not about fixing or putting things in a functional place…..can you see that’s where you are emotionally now?
I start to run with it. The metaphor of looking at my emotional wound like a physical one is working, I can feel it. I AM swollen and bleeding. That is what “here” is! I feel relieved after all of these months to at least finally have a name for it. Swelling and bleeding are necessary components of healing. They are also likely the most helpless aspects, where the option of being proactive is essentially non – existent while one is instead forced to sit back and rely on what are hopefully the best intentions of life on a cellular and molecular level. They are the ugly unresolved parts that entail broken bones and open wounds and blood and guts. It is a profoundly fragile state, calls for a very protected environment, and leaves room for little movement. Anyone who has had to sit with an injury knows that one’s greatest initial concern is getting reinjured. But while sitting still and being passive, bleeding and swelling also requires a vigor and a life force the velocity of which is likely unparalleled. A non-healed wound also demands immediate attention, as it is all about the moment. I sure don’t recall much thought about the future in the days after I broke my leg.
Healing from infertility is more like healing from an amputation than a broken leg. No matter how neatly closed up and sealed the wound is, there will always be an obvious piece missing the absence of which is life changing. But at the same time it is all starting to make sense. My inability to deal with the future now seems logical as I acknowledge the delicacy and uncertainty of the present. My lack of desire to move forward (“I’m just so tired of GIVING a shit” I recently said to my counselor) also now makes sense. Moving forward with adoption now would be like if I had tried to walk on my broken leg before it was set. As opposed to what might happen in the future, the pain of my children that will never be, Sam and Julia as I named them three and a half years ago, is what is most prominent because that it what HURTS. My ease at deciding to spend money on material things now makes complete sense, given the fragile state of a just starting to heal wound. After all, I’m no dummy. Baby making and family building can fuck you up the ass. New bedroom furniture, unless you just happen to be under the bed when it collapses or are randomly attacked by a falling armoir, can’t. It is perhaps a natural and balancing opposition to my current state. Quite possibly nothing to be perplexed over. This metaphor sparked the swift transformation from a swirling state of confusion to “DUH Sarah! It all makes sense.”
Bleeding and swelling has yet to receive its due from the outside world. Most just don’t want to be around it. Theoretical folk on the outskirts of their own emotional experiences can incorrectly label it as clinging or hanging on. People generally over the age of 65 (whom I have dubbed, quite appropriately I think, “generation emotional dysfunction”) more often than not offer innate looks of disapproval topped off with the occasional “that should be private” holier than thou smokescreen of cowardly emotional aversion. Those who have never truly been through trauma, grief and loss mistake it for a “negative attitude”. And most hurtful and offensive is when I can sense someone minimizing my wound and loss as a mere case of misperception on my part. No. I’m quite certain I’m NOT mistaken. My emotional wounds from infertility are no less real than my tibia that was broken in two at age 13. Whether the wound be emotional or physical I dare say swelling and bleeding is the start of the only real way through.
Voice: What does it take to bleed?
Sarah: Well, courage. A lot of courage. At least if you are bleeding emotionally, especially since this culture looks down on it and has so many ways around it to offer.
Voice: So, do you see now? You weren’t seeing it. You’re in a place a lot of people haven’t been and where many choose not to go.
The sense of purpose I had been lacking and scrambling to define started to become clearer. Swelling and bleeding are important and respectable, god damn – it! I may not be “in control” of the process, but I am now aware of my job and purpose. Having known in my gut that we are in the least worst, and most potentially beneficial place for us is now accompanied by a definition of where and what “here” is. Though the ability of putting the pedal to the metal is a powerful one, the ability to pause within the wounds of loss requires a specific, special resolve. Is it possible that our most invisible, confused, and weakened times can also serve as breeding grounds for the emergence of the best pieces of us?
I can’t seem to resist the urge to poke fun at anything “positive thinking”. Not that I don’t think it’s a good idea to readjust one’s thoughts from time to time in a way that is more directed towards self- compassion and self appreciation. After all, my bleeding and swelling revelation helped do just that. However there is something about the world of positive thinking and motivational speaking and vision boards that invites mockery, as these things oh so conveniently leave out the aspects of life that are the most difficult to deal with and that as a result must draw on what is most human within us. The “I’m in control of my own destiny” and the “Change your thoughts, change your life” approaches, while not entirely untrue, obviously provide no coping mechanism for the things in life that we don’t control. Which is most of it, as I’ve discovered on my journey! These approaches thumb their arrogant noses at the most primal sides of us that in the greatest times of trouble can be the most useful.
So needless to say I’m a huge NON fan of Tony Robbins. He reminds me of plastic furniture covering, like as in eventually you’ve got to sit on the damn sofa as it IS, even if a few stains will result. I can smell the lack of nuance and missing shreds of reality in statements such as “go out and make it a great day” from a mile away. So in honor of my positivity and motivational speaker mockery, I now wake up in the morning and tell myself to “go out and make it a BLOODY, SWOLLEN day you god damn warrior you!”
There is still much risk. When one is being honest they know they are not in total control of the grieving process. What if the bleeding doesn’t stop and the swelling doesn’t go down in time? But I now have a greater appreciation for the position I’m in and where my work lies. And that is at least a bit of something I CAN control.
WHY SHOULD I CRY FOR YOU?
By STING from the album Soul Cages
Under the dog-star sail
Over the reefs of moonshine
Under the skies of fall
North-north-west the stone of Faroe
Under the Artic fire
Over the seas of silence
Hauling on frozen ropes
For all my days remaining
Would north be true?
All colours bleed to red
Asleep on the ocean’s bed
Drifting on empty seas
For all my days remaining
Would north be true?
Why should I, why should I cry for you?
Dark angels follow me
Over a godless sea
Mountains of endless falling
For all my days remaining
What would be true?
Sometimes I see your face
The stars seem to lose their place
Why must I think of you?
Why must I? Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
Why would you want me to?
And what would it mean to say,
I loved you in my fashion?
What would be true?
Why should I, why should I cry for you?
Why should I cry?