A Note to Self

Dear Self,

Please don’t forget. You are not living the life you chose.

Cognitively, you get it. In terms of bringing home a baby, everything under the sun didn’t work. You are not financially or emotionally capable of adopting right now, and should that space come you will have timed out, age wise, of the process.

Yet in the vast spiritual and emotional expanse of being human that stretches past and even defies cognition, you are a mother. Had things gone as they should have, your ten month old and toddler would be taking up much of your life, and parenthood providing you with many of your revelations. Part of you, in some parallel non – physical universe, carries on with this scenario as the section of your heart that is left here remains broken, paralyzed.

Please be understanding.

You did not go through four years of trying to make a baby so that you could learn how to grieve, contemplate how to expel rage, figure out how to relate to people again, and draw your new meaning of life on a blank yet murky canvas (paint not included) while everything you ever believed about how life “works” has been fractured.

And even the good stuff – meager consolation prizes at best. You did not go through one surgery and ten failed fertility treatments for time to contemplate new friendships, a deeper immersion into yoga or to be able to play in a symphonic band. You did not endure ten “Sarah, I’m sorry I’m not calling with better news” phone calls so that you could revel, undisturbed, in your gardens. Right down to the writing that you so enjoy, “this writing thing” as you call it. That was never part of the plan. All you knew was that you liked writing personal narratives in the tenth grade. You never grew up saying “Hey, one day I want to spend hours upon hours writing about infertility and the loss of my children as I navigate the complexities of the infertile community in an inundated blogosphere while acquiring the tightest hips ever from sitting too long as my mind is constantly invaded by ideas of what to write, in my sleep and in the middle of my activities, all so I can STAY SANE. Yeah. No one aspires to that. Like, ever.

Please remember to be patient.

I know, I know, “We all have to deal with things in life that we don’t chose” says the two dimensional peanut gallery. Easier said than done, most notably for those who have never had to do it. Truth is, dismissive generalities do little to encapsulate life’s harsher brutalities. Learning how to live a life we didn’t choose is a process, glacial, harrowing and painstaking. And that the life you didn’t choose is permanently without something so basic as offspring, something that the majority of the population needs the focus of a rodent to procure, something that is immeasurable and irreplaceable, well, that puts the journey on a whole other level.

That you will figure it out is not in question. That you can accept now is not quite the time is the challenge.

That in time your flame will not be so fickle and your gratitude less forced is not in question. But can you harness the courage to lead from where you really are now? From that place of loss and betrayal and energetic demise?

Please remember to be kind.

That you often don’t want to get out of bed is okay. That you frequently don’t wholeheartedly enjoy things like you think you should, totally acceptable. And your absence of arousal over the notion of transformation? Completely normal. After all, you experienced quite a transformation recovering from chronic depression years ago, and you no doubt would have transformed as the result of parenthood as well. So the idea of transforming from not getting to have children – you really don’t have to marry it right now. And your passion for making lemonade out of lemons? It can stay the infrequent house guest that it is for as long as it needs. You are so fine in your not-fine-ness.

Do you remember those precious days when trying was enough?

Swimming was never my thing. It took me three whole years to pass “beginners”, as they used to call it, whereas most everyone else who stuck with it was out in two years, if not one. It was a bit odd, since I was not entirely un-athletic. Though not really a team sport person, I rode my bike everywhere I could and jumped into my share of pick-up street hockey games whenever the boys would have me. And just try and keep me out of a tree – until my teen years I could often be found climbing any one that was reasonable to climb.

But wretched swimming (particularly, putting my head under water) had deposited me to the grand finale of having to pass beginners alone, unsure if I would be able to pull it off even at the end of year three. Making it across the short length of the pool would grant me my “beginners” card.

And as I stood there looking across the seemingly insurmountable pool while in my own pool of nerves and self-un-assuredness, so did my swim teacher. Blonde, athletic, tough and kind, Summer Hookinson was not one of those teachers I recall as a major influence, or fell in love with for that matter (more so because I hated swimming and less so because of her). But she kindly rode a moment with me I’ll never forget.

Eight years old and overwhelmed by the immense journey before me (so funny to think of now – what could it have been 40 feet or so?), Summer held my hand as I shed a few tears and momentarily shied away from my challenge. “You can do it, Sarah,” she assured me, “But you have to have confidence.” Duly noted. That having confidence while swimming felt as crappy as it did failed to reconcile in my eight year old mind – also duly noted.

I did eventually gasp, sputter and gurgle my way awkwardly across that pool, damn it, and was patiently greeted on the other side by a smiling Summer pulling out my beginner’s swim card. Whatever was going on behind the scenes I’m not sure, but it seems to me that Summer possessed that ultra – human yet all too rare ability to meet a person where they are. At the time I didn’t feel I, swimming wise, deserved my beginner’s card, but at the same time it felt good. It was as if Summer accepted that it was not my thing, but also got that I tried hard amid my struggle, and moreover, she was willing to count that for something.

I think it’s super cool she encouraged me, but didn’t promise the card to me, beforehand. I had to earn it and in doing so was shown that not all things in life are achieved through grace and skill. What resonates with me the most though is her abidance. Not only did she allow me my tough moment, my self – doubt, my struggle – she remained present throughout it.

So most of all, self, please don’t forget to be your own Summer.

Don’t forget that no matter the degree to which you spit, choke, curse, kick aimlessly and tread water in the exasperating ocean between infertility and non – parenthood, it is ok. You may not always WANT to get up, enjoy things and care about your life and its future, but you try anyway. And that, if you recall, earns a person their beginner’s card. Fair and square.

Love always,

RUSH/FAR CRY/Pariah dogs and wandering madmen/Barking at strangers and speaking in tongues/The ebb and flow of tidal fortune/Electrical changes are charging up the young/It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit/It’s a far cry from the way we thought we’d share it/You can almost feel the current flowing/You can almost see the circuits blowing//One day I feel I’m on top of the world and the next it’s falling in on me/I can get back on, I can get back on/One day I feel I’m ahead of the wheel and the next it’s rolling over me/I can get back on, I can get back on//Whirlwind life of faith and betrayal/Rise in anger, fall back and repeat/Slow degrees on the dark horizon/Full moon rising lays silver at your feet/It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit/You can almost see the circle growing/You can almost feel the planet glowing//One day I fly through a crack in the sky and the next it’s falling in on me/I can get back on, I can get back on

12 thoughts on “A Note to Self

  • Thank you so much Sarah for your blog. You expressing being you out loud, allows me to be me with more comfort, ease & self acceptance (no matter how others choose to judge me…) than almost all other words e.t.c. I have come across since my infertility journey began over 10 years ago now. I am trying to come to terms with being childless not-by-choice for life now. I have come a long way re acceptance & being more grateful & cheerful in the past 2.5 years since we quit TTC but I still grieve & some days are very lonely with it. best wishes & love to you & many, many thanks, xoxo

  • “You may not always WANT to get up, enjoy things and care about your life and its future, but you try anyway. And that, if you recall, earns a person their beginner’s card. Fair and square.” This. Yes. That’s all you can ask of yourself. Trying. Or even, promising yourself to try tomorrow. These are the first steps.

    Take joy in little things. Be kind to yourself if you don’t want to get out of bed. And on the days that you get out of bed when you don’t want to? Well, that’s a little victory. So is staying sane! Recognise them as such. (Actually, staying sane is not a little victory – it’s a big one!)

    • I appreciate you adding “Be kind to yourself if you don’t want to get out of bed,” Mali. So important, and so OK.

      I had lapsed a bit in the recognition department you mention, thus the provocation for this piece.

  • Thank you Sarah for your candor and your honesty. Navigating the world of infertility has been a tricky one for me. Seeing an uncomfortable expression or a blank stare on someone’s face when I attempt to explain my IVF/ Subsequent divorce story in the past has made me feel very alone. My journey started some 7 years ago, and while the pain of the loss subsides, it never goes away. It’s appearance has taken on different shapes & forms through the years. I have learned to honor this pain and be kind to myself. It takes a lot of courage to be so honest & honor this pain. Your ability to share your journey is a great gift to all of us kindred spirits.

    • I’m sorry for all of your losses, Wendy. For me, I abhor the blank stares. People’s discomfort is unfortunate too, but my reasoning is that at least they are feeling SOMETHING. It’s all tough to navigate, as you stated. So admirable that you’ve learned to “honor this pain and be kind to your (my)self” – a harrowing journey of trial and error for sure, and as I’m in the middle of experiencing, it’s something that is so easy to be neglectful of if we’re not careful.

  • Hugs! Don’t ever forget to be your own Summer! If needed, ask someone to be Summer for you, to provide gentle encouragement (or a swift kick in the ass) when needed.

    And be damn proud of that beginners card!

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