I seem to be just getting started, however I know the week is about over. To those of you who stayed with me this week, thanks for your abidance. I felt as if I spent the week with some of you in a way, and I liked it! It also goes without saying I admire your endurance:-) So just one more post……..
Coming Out to the Band
A few months before we did our first round of IVF, I joined a symphonic band. Having played flute since I was ten years old, and having made a living teaching lessons and playing weddings for the first portion of my adult life, (about 15 years), it was a quaint notion to be able to “just sit and play” after my years of hustling. And better yet, I was second flute for the first time in my life, a position that averted me the pressure of solos and afforded my playing to be “off” when I was on hard hitting meds. Plus I was thrilled to be playing harmony for the first time in my life, also a quaint notion, this time for the big fish in the little ponds who always ended up in the developmentally limiting position of first chair.
One of the things our band director does is send both birth and death e-mail announcements to the group, the death announcement subject line reading “regret to advise”. People’s joyous and heartbreaking life events would be acknowledged over and over again as I tumbled through round after round of failed IVF in silence. In this experience I observed rage, loneliness, sadness and disenfranchisement.
Truth was, I wanted my own regret to advise. And last year, one year and almost three months after the loss of our children, with national infertility awareness week approaching, I was ready to ask.
Looking back, I have to think a bit on what motivated me then. The warp speed and trajectory of grief and healing can make mere weeks feel like seven people ago.
I’d love to say it was the desire to educate and make the world a better place. Like a lot of people, I held such drives and ideals somewhere inside of me, but I don’t think that’s what initially pushed me past the barriers of silence and passivity. No, I recall that I had grown tired. Tired of doggy paddling my way through a world where the loss of parenthood didn’t even exist, in a world where not possessing children is automatically deemed a choice and where people don’t hesitate to slap your wrist with your “luckiness” within moments of you expressing an ounce of pain.
Which is all a far cry from MY general rule of thumb – “if you wouldn’t say it to someone who lost all of their children in a tragic accident (and indeed subsequently, all of their grandchildren), then you shouldn’t say it to people like me.”
I was propelled by the announcement of my grief as much as I was the desire to educate about infertility, wanting to assert the proclamation that parenthood can be lost just the same as anything else precious in this life.
And so I pulled myself together and e-mailed my band director, requesting a regret to advise e-mail during national infertility awareness week. As I had to miss a few more rehearsals than I would have liked, he already knew of our struggles, and had even advocated for me once when someone had unexpectedly brought their newborn to rehearsal and I found myself in the midst of yet another unsolicited panic attack.
And what do you know? He was willing, but concerned. He didn’t want people to pity me.
“Pity isn’t great, but I’ll take it any day over indifference.” I typed back.
He was worried about how it would be for me to be in the group from here on out, that people would see me differently.
“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m tougher than I look. Way tougher.”
One thing I had learned on the thorn adorned path from infertility to not raising children is that when you speak, you are unloading some of the social responsibility on to other people. And for whatever awkwardness arises, this is a great thing. It erases the “well, they didn’t know” component from the picture. And once people do know, whether they realize it or not, there is onus on them to at least attempt consideration. I was told in regards to another situation where I revealed myself that “people don’t know what to do”. And to that I say “terrific”. At least they are thinking about it. Before I spoke, they weren’t, I can assure you.
And so we went back and forth crafting the e-mail. It was nice to have a collaborator on board for a change. And I benefitted, as it seems I often do in my adulthood, from male energy – male energy that grounds me and keeps me from jumping the gun and exploding too forcefully from the gates. His suggestions pulled things in and toned them down a bit. It was harrowing, at the same time, to make sure things were presented in such a way that I wouldn’t be creating more trouble for myself. Truth was I was still way too raw to field a bunch of adoption questions or miracle baby stories. Another truth is that there ARE open minded people out there who will listen and work with you. You don’t always run into them, but, sometimes, you do.
And so the e-mail, though not an official “regret to advise”, basically informed the group of national infertility awareness week, and that my husband and I came out of treatments without children. It included a few informative links and stated that “in light of the lack of social protocol for such losses, Sarah and Julio are suggesting ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ as one possible welcome response.” It was sent on a Sunday morning, with band rehearsal coming up on Tuesday.
In finally having a minute to reflect, I’m seeing that this and any other speaking out I have done has been shaped as much by my limits as by what drove me at the time. I was healing from four years of perpetual trauma. I was grieving the loss of my children, parenthood and grandparenthood in one fell swoop. I was grappling with how to be and interact in a world where my reality doesn’t outwardly exist, and where what I had lost generally functions as the central fiber of female socialization. For whatever strengths and wisdom can be gained from such torture, initially these experiences are quite confining. I was still highly prone to panic attacks and was just approaching a new phase where my sole focus no longer had to be keeping myself safe. After putting everything into having a child to get nothing, my ability and wanting to set goals had been obliterated. Envisioning anything was just about impossible as grieving the future I thought I was going to have was all consuming. In other words, I was in no position to be leading a revolution, writing a book or formulating a mass influence of any kind. And I knew it. So thus my finagling how to express myself and make involuntary childlessness known in smaller daily life situations was born. Relentless minds always find a way.
When I walked into band rehearsal that week I could only hold my head high. I was beyond clear that I had done nothing wrong. There was a subtle yet potent relief I experienced in revealing myself. It was an ideal situation in many ways because although we all play together, any chit chat before and after rehearsal and during breaks is voluntary. We don’t come together on a personally intimate level the way people do in the yoga world.
My band director caught my eyes before we began. “How are you doing?” he inquired, which I so appreciated.
“I’m good to go” I responded with a confidence I hadn’t felt in quite some time.
The response from the group was minimal but varied. I’m sure a handful of members never read the e-mail and still don’t know. One member sent me a lovely e-mail in the days prior, another very sweetly and thoughtfully pulled me aside to tell me of a loss situation in their family. It had, however, still resulted in live children and I struggled, as I still do, to hold empathy, acknowledgement, self – protection and truth all in the same breath. I’ve learned that no matter how harsh the loss, a situation resulting in live children will eventually result in a conversation that leads to – yes you guessed it – children and parenting. Of which I am, again, hurt and left out.
And then, during break, it came. We always hear the expression “if I influenced/helped/reached one person then it was worth it.” We hear it so often it has become cliché, but as someone who often finds herself in this position, it is also a most luminous truth. And when you’re compelled to put your raw self out there for reasons partially undefined, it’s everything.
Turning around I happened to catch the eyes of a player behind me, a twenty something guy getting started with his adult life out in the world is what I had figured from conversation fragments caught here and there. We exchanged an empathetic glance and then his words “I’m sorry for your loss” poured over me. I have no idea what motivated him and doubt he even remembers it. For me it was thrilling – music to my own heartbroken and under nourished ears AND the knowing that even if he forgot this moment, somewhere in his brain cells there was now a precedent. A precedent that, while it might need strengthening, could serve as compassion to one of his friends or family members who have to deal with infertility one day, or as an awareness that yes this can happen and he is not alone if he should one day find himself in such a position.
And there I have it. THAT is why I speak.
From The Rainbow – D.H. Lawrence