In the ether between excitement and despair there is a deep ravine. A ravine where you can lie dazed as a weighty inertia engages its claws with a Venus fly trap like cunningness.
In theoretical terms, healing is positive and exciting, the bearer of long-awaited ease, a blanket of comfort offering a Mother Theresa like energy.
Those of us who have had to actually do it know better.
In the past few months, the experience of feeling excited over future prospects has revisited me a bit. It’s been years, so the notion that something I’ll do now could positively affect something in the future is still, understandably, quite a peculiar one for me. Not easy for my whole self to grasp, the intoxicating illusion of purpose and the allure of productivity resulting from creativity has been tickling my skin as of late. And then flickering to black. There is nothing I can do to sustain it.
When one is in the grieving process, one does not rebound from a spell of excitement, however brief, by resting on an even keel. No. Being that I’m still actively grieving, the fading of excitement catapults me right back to the reality of my children not being here, the reality that whatever I was temporarily excited about is not what I really want to be doing anyway, as I sit staring cross-eyed at the gray spot where my future used to hang.
And it makes sense, really. Wouldn’t it be easier to chill out on a plateau than be pummeled furiously up and down a mountain by some force out of your control? This intense emotional ping ponging is what invites the Venus fly trap inertia, bringing to light the harsh truth that in the healing process, even the reemergence of positive feelings can really suck.
Oh, the thrills and frills of “being present”. Sure, if I were a different person I would try to quell my current purgatory with the supposed glossier aspects of this plight. That I will overcome my childlessness and have a good life, that I will end up enjoying the benefits of not having children. These things, after all, I don’t consider to be total untruths, but more so, irrelevant to the present. They are things that will be less likely to happen, authentically anyway, if I don’t do the work I need to do now and plow THROUGH the grieving and healing process.
I would have found myself in a career change if it weren’t for infertility. Although I adored my students and met many great people (their parents) through my work, my primary way of making a living via flute teaching had become well-worn. And there were issues with my actual flute playing too that made me realize performing was not going to be a major part of my life. Hearing detailed accounts of school sports teams along with announcements of every instrument played by all of my students’ siblings that comes with the inevitable personal relationship one develops in these situations was never my favorite part of the job – having to listen to that after almost every student two years and many treatments into trying to have a baby was essentially unbearable. And I found the topics of philosophy and personal empowerment creeping into my teaching more and more – I did have students who were in it for the love of it but all too often on Long Island the private instrument teacher is a mere cog in the college bound machine. So somewhere in the early throes of infertility I envisioned taking precious time with my young children I had worked so hard to bring into existence while easing into perhaps something yoga oriented I could focus on more when they went off to school. Alas.
And then the shit storm happened and kept happening. My perspective on life forever changed. I noticed the yoga world was a misaligned place for an infertile to be in many ways, from their law and order in the universe philosophical beliefs to their limited fertility knowledge (which they often seem to dangerously perceive as all-knowing). New skill sets and handicaps simultaneously emerged from my broken heart. And then there I was, grieving the loss of my children I had spent the last four years of my life trying to make with no career path to boot.
The problem with healing is that you start to expect things from yourself. The first year out of losing our children, I had major ptsd symptoms. There were legitimate limits as to what I could handle. We sadly and somewhat surprisingly figured out that adoption was not going to work for us. Enjoying part of the summer and repainting our bedroom qualified as major achievements on my part. But now, as symptoms (perpetual nausea, panic attacks and a major distaste for humans, to name a few) have become significantly less acute and time marches unsympathetically on, a blank space shows itself.
I have been saying for the past couple of years my career pause and then change has been a good thing and that it will benefit me in the end. I’ve been and continue to be grateful I’ll likely have the opportunity to keep figuring it out, although I’ve been holding my breath for the past few months, not sure if I should go back to work (doing my usual) right now as my husband’s business attempts to iron out a major financial wrinkle.
Creating a course of action and, well, ACTING on it used to be my forte. I would even describe my former self as irrepressible. It’s as if this quality evaporated into a flap of mystery, right along with my embryos, and everything else infertility took that should exist in my present but now doesn’t. Navigating new potential career waters with this personal leak has not been a good thing. As a matter of fact, it really kind of blows.
I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life on everything from teaching lessons, playing weddings, waiting tables part-time, surviving and then recovering from chronic depression due to untreated biochemical imbalances, working 6 or 7 days per week for many years, helping my husband start restaurants and fixing a fixer upper house. Which was promptly followed by being thrown headlong into the never-ending thrust of baby making via cycle charting, medical appointments, holistic safaris, needles, drugs, wading through doctor after doctor, decision making and waiting waiting waiting only for a sad, sidelining end. Suffice it to say, time is not something I’m used to having. Having squandered much of my creativity on other people’s needs and on the pursuit of the suburban American dream over the years, I’m not blind to nor ungrateful for the potential opening that lies in front of me. That is has to be veiled by the overwhelming absence of what I really wanted to be doing is far from amusing.
This journey has drawn me away from the MO of forcing things. I possessed the knowing that forging ahead come hell or high water while carelessly tossing my emotions and mental health issues off to the side like unwelcome house guests would inevitably sell myself short. And I wasn’t willing to do that. Along the way I also imbibed the steely, steadfast refinement it takes to come from a place of yielding and surrender. But I’m not a believer in absolutes either. There’s a time and a place I always say. And I know I can pull my reliable grab the bull by the horns self out and dust her off should I need to. She probably won’t even need a tune up.
One fine mid evening, as I was wallowing in unexplained fatigue, not accomplishing what I had wanted to that day and in not being able to harvest one ounce of excitement over an idea that required practice that I had been utterly smitten with on and off for the past month, I knew it was time.
I lay a dull knock on my proverbial closet of tricks.
“Yehl-low…” the voice responded with nonchalance.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry I kept you in there for so long” I apologized. “I kind of, uh….”
“I know, I’ve been watching. Not too pretty, I’d say.” Grab the bull by the horns bitch was already slinging on her black leather jacket.
“I’m surprised you survived without me for this long.” She lay a sideways smirk in my direction as she sauntered out of the closet, cowboy boots clomping on the wood floor. “Don’t worry, I’ve totally got this.”
And then I sat myself down for a talk. “So what do you want to do?? Write where your gut is pulling you. Write it again and that’s what you’re GOING to do, god damn it! Who cares if they are the “wrong” things. Wrong is better than nothing. And I know, I know it won’t hold a candle to your children and I get it since I hear you moaning and groaning every day – That this world is dumb and meant to be doesn’t exist and people who think that it does are annoying and everyone who commits a crime has at least three fuck and get lucky children and you’re afraid of working hard for something because look what happened last time and mothering animals is so NOT the same thing so why do people have to go on like it is and these new desires and visions feel so strange and blah blah blah.
Maybe you don’t really care now but the truth is, you’ll make a fine yoga teacher. Maybe you’ll find a niche in the yoga world with the bereaved or the traumatized, maybe you won’t. And you’ll make a fantastic grief coach. You’ll start a support group. You will end up helping people in some way. You will find your long awaited in person tribe. You’ll keep writing and serving as a voice for the experience of infertility and childlessness. Many of these things won’t be easy, some may not be the slightest bit fruitful. And they will not unfold even half quickly enough for your impatient ass. Most of all your loss will eclipse a good deal of the excitement and satisfaction one would normally feel from these things, not forever, but for a while. BUT DO THEM ANYWAY!!! GET. UP. NOW.”
You know, I really missed her.
10 thoughts on “Pain In Progress (Part 1)”
I am there with you. Our final treatment failed and now we are left with the question of “now what?” I needed a career change before we started down the infertiltiy road years ago, but I put that on hold while we were focusing on having a baby. Now I have to revisit that whole question of “what do I want to do with my life” with the addition of the failure and trauma the last few years have brought upon me. I wasn’t sure how to answer that question before all of this happened, and now having to make big life decisions while also working through so much grief is not easy. I want something meaningful to come from all this suffereing, and I think we will both find ways to make that happen, even if it takes longer than we would like. It sounds like you already are! I agree that it would be nice to see some sort of cause and effect between effort and outcome again – such a novel concept to me now! Best of luck to you 🙂
I’m so sorry to hear your last treatment failed. My thoughts are with you. Be kind be kind be kind to yourself – it fixes nothing but can make things less worse in some respects.
Thanks so much for your comment, it made me feel a little less crazy! I hear you on wanting something meaningful to come from all of this suffering. I often struggle with feeling very driven in that direction vs not wanting to be beholden to it either. Who knows where things will land?? The exploration and journey through all of my broken pieces feels like a full time job in and of itself.
I love reading your thought process in these posts. You are so very honest, dealing with how you’re feeling now, but not closing off the future. That is the key, I think. You recognise that the good will come, but that it is a long process, this healing from infertility and loss. It is so good to see your progress.
As for the whole career issue, (apart from the fact I played the flute, but not well enough or for long enough – it was my secondary instrument – to teach it!) I can relate. I stopped working fulltime between ectopic pregnancies. I had great plans of having a business that I could do from home, with children. Ha! That didn’t work out did it. And the business I established was soon neglected, as other opportunities arose and overtook my time and efforts. I had a friend who gave me a “talking to,” much in the way that you’ve done for yourself. She pushed me to accept a new and challenging (and quite frankly, scary and stressful) role, before I felt ready for it. And yes, it was challenging, scary and stressful, but I am glad she gave me that push, because ultimately the challenge helped me feel better about myself, recognise the capable woman I had been before infertility. About 4 years after ending my attempts at fertility, I realised that I’d found deep contentment in a life doing three different things. Two of them in a more corporate sense, and one purely as a volunteer. Writing, as a fourth, soon became very important to me too. There was no perfect answer to what I’d do – and no “next big thing” either (as you know if you read my blog on that perennial).
I’m back there again now, trying to figure out how to build a life around the things I enjoy, and the things I can do, and the things that will pay me to survive. It’s still hard, but this time, I do recognise that the pain of that loss is behind me.
Thanks so much for sharing this part of your story, Mali. It’s amazing how infertility, and especially coming out of it without children, throws a question mark over all aspects of one’s life, both internal and external. Although I can’t envision a road map for myself as of yet, hearing from the “other side” is helpful.
I loved reading this. It made me not feel so alone. I don’t think I’m ready for that “talk” with myself just yet.
Thanks Katie, I’m so glad. As far as the timing of the “talk”, I totally hear you. Most things at the wrong time won’t do us any good. Had anyone told me even two weeks before that I was going to have it with myself, I’d have told them to piss off. It just goes to show the rapid and layered nature of this process – in the weeks before my talk I was in major “be nice and go easy on yourself” mode – go figure.
Listening to your gut, diving off of the cliff with the confidence that there’s water below is something that is so hard post-infertility. I used to (and it sounds like you did too) have the confidence to dive head first into something new, to take risks, but infertility zapped that. I’ve spent the past few years of my life playing it safe with the sole goal of protecting myself from more hurt. It seems like you and I are coming out of it at the same time.
I’m glad your starting to see glimpses of your old self. I can’t wait to hear about what the future brings for you! You are awesome!
No – YOU’RE awesome:-) The renewal of risk taking ability (as well as the general ability to give a shit for any extended period of time) is, unfortunately, something that cannot be forced. Cheers to our re-emergence, glacial though it may be.
What you describe is so familiar and yet also feels far away. I’ve read your post, dear Sarah, several times over the course of the past few days. Each time I feel the density of the ideas, the weightiness of the questions you pose and the complex ideas infusing this remarkable piece of writing. I keep stumbling over my own response. I’ve stepped away a few times hoping to come back with something that doesn’t sound trite or overly fatuous. That stillness, that heaviness you describe, the sense of what the F@*K … now whatdoIdo? once hung over me just as you describe. “It” lingered for an extended period and then began to lift ever so slowly the longer I sat with it, turned it over and explored it without expectation or fear.
I truly didn’t realize I was moving forward again, that the malaise I once felt mired in was receding until one day I realized that I was beginning to feel lighter.
I recognize that hearing about someone else’s recovery and healing doesn’t diminish the work and challenge for someone else, but I do hope that knowing someone else has been where you are – suspended in a what seems like a directionless, feckless state – this isn’t your fate. It’s just a stop along the way. From what I’ve seen in your writing and in your story, I have a hunch you will — like me and others who have found themselves where you are now — surprisingly discover that you are on the precipice of something new and fresh and …. those blank spaces will fill up.
Keep asking those questions; stoke that fire that lies within you. That inner ‘bull by the horns bitch’ you refer to?. I sense great things from her!
As always, thanks for your perspective. Each word is worth its weight in gold.
It’s been a strange time – being able to be aware of the space that now is in my life, the return of a faint yearning for something new coupled with the inability to sustain focus or drive. I’ll keep your words of wisdom with me as I flounder through……