The Global Sisterhood Summit Part 2
Wrestling with the feeling that the other shoe is always about to drop was unavoidable – my subconscious associates anything infertility with the reasonable becoming a debacle, things going wrong when you do everything right and, most of all, deprivation. I was concerned that my flights weren’t real, that my boarding passes wouldn’t print and anything else non – sensical you can think of.
I even thought of my plane crashing – it would be some high profile crash, likely terrorist related, where, weeks later, the biographical information of passengers and crew lost would come out on CNN. And of course, my favorite Anderson Cooper who has a heart as big as the sky, the best shot of a human to not throw my story under the bus, would just have been whisked away on assignment, covering something no doubt crucial to humanity such as Antarctican midwifery. The last shred of my legacy would be left to mono toned mono everything Wolf Blitzer: “John Bertucci, father of two was on his way to a business meeting. Kevin Smith was heading to a rock climbing expedition with his buddies. Kathryn McGhee was on her way to her 25th high school reunion, she leaves behind three children. Sarah Chamberlin, 44, was….now, what does it say here? She was (insert befuddled tone here) on her way to gather with women who wanted children but couldn’t have them? What would cause them to do that? Seems to me they could just adopt.” And there it would happen, the end of my life sealed by world – wide blank stares, Wolf’s permanent iceberg expression, my life entombed in the collective ignorant, unrealistic, abusive and forced paradigm of infertiles-owe-it-to-the-world-to-adopt.
In other words, I was a hot mess. Things didn’t get any better when my plane took off from LaGuardia over an hour late and I then, having practically no experience travelling internationally, was funneled through an unexpected labyrinth in the Montreal airport, going through customs (thought that would happen in Vancouver), having to go through security again, getting ½ my liquids confiscated and my luggage searched as I hoped to make my flight to Vancouver. “No, THIS is what I’m leaving” I ordered the security person as I shoved my forced relinquishments in her direction and consolidated the rest into one bag in .8 seconds. My organizational structure was clear – enough with people not getting it. Enough already!!
I tried to quell myself with reasonable truths: “Most annoying scenario is you’ll get another flight and get in really late or stay in a hotel and fly there tomorrow – no big deal” and “Hey, you lost your children, the worst has already happened, remember?? You can chill.” But nothing would tone me down as I speed walked, and even ran at times, through the airport. I moved faster than the people walking on the moving walkways. I was seeking human connection in the way one would seek oxygen after a compromising period of deprivation. I needed hydration and damn it I was going to get it!! I tried to detach myself from the fact that Pamela Tsigdinos and a glass of wine awaited me at the end of my travels, but this only made my steps lighter and faster, turning me into the white girl version of road runner. I may as well have been sixteen and driving down from my native Boston to New York to meet Madonna for coffee. I boarded my flight five minutes before it took off, and as the plane launched into the air I felt inexplicably right for the first time in a very very very long time.
I knocked on the hotel room door and held my breath. Texting back and forth in the taxi and at the hotel felt so normal, yet a lightning bolt of adrenaline surged through me at the last minute for some reason. “You’re such a moron” I chided myself, amused at my own nerves and excitement.
An effortless and fascinating three hour conversation with Pamela ensued. A wonderful meeting with Lisa happened the next day as we met in the hotel lobby for the first time and breezily walked to have lunch, quickly discovering things we have in common. We soon became four and chit chatted in all different combinations, with me getting to know everyone within the new found freedom of shared experience. An afternoon walk with one of the ladies followed, then meeting our final compadre and dinner. The ease continued, my realities flowing in and out of the conversation slick as motor oil, not as the inconvenient bricks they often feel like in my life at home. One of the ladies stared at me for a moment. “You’re glowing” she observed.
It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly happened that weekend, in a way. I could describe in full detail (because really what can’t I describe in full detail??) all of the moments that stood out, but it would take too long. Plus I’m still processing. So, I’ll highlight a few.
Our shared laughter was such a release. I feel fortunate that some of my closest friends, my mom and especially my husband are able to get and engage in humor surrounding my situation. But being in a group or out in public, seeing something a certain way and wanting to crack a joke that either a) no one present has the context to “get” or b) I might even be negatively judged for is a constant in my life. It was joyful to connect this way with people I had just met, from howling at the irony that we were sharing Granville Island with their annual children’s festival that weekend to laughing it up over other related scenarios. “If you just keep trying, persistence pays off” jokes flew back and forth effortlessly. “Really, you’d think I’d be handling situations where I have no control better by now,” I joked as I reiterated my Montreal airport escapade. Easily gotten. We had the pleasure of a local bravely joining our group on Sunday morning and were gathered around her to say goodbye, feeling a connection after not much more than an hour together. She impishly raised the subject of the children’s festival which resulted in an immediate collective outburst of laughter, in a public hallway, nonetheless!! So liberating.
I thank goodness for the blogosphere, but it has left me still feeling like I’m missing something. There were countless times throughout the weekend where we all shared experiences and were met with a delicious knowing smile and a nod, or even a genuine “I’m sorry you had to go through that.” From challenges with relationships to the “lack of meaning” feeling that often smothers us for a period of time while we’re coming to terms, to responses to other life situations we didn’t know others shared. We all have special and important differences, yet “me too!” flowed in abundance right along with the wine. Those knowing smiles and nods would have been worth a trip to Mars.
We also validated each other’s strengh, an acknowledgement that seems to be missing from the outside world. When Kathleen, who possesses an artful knack for pointing out people’s strong characteristics, referred to me as a warrior, I felt a gentle return to myself. I get so busy surviving and riding the tumultuous waves of change that follow loss, I forget there are powerful qualities expressed through my survival. I often just forget in a world that often fails to perceive it.
Not quite yet 2.5 years out of my final loss, or “time of death”, so to speak, I was the fledgling of the group. At times I felt mildly sad over the disparity between where other people are in their re-invention process vs. where I am. I completely know I do the best I can every day, I’ve done a good job and that is enough, but what served as inspiration was also a reminder of the distance I have yet to cover. My therapist asked how that felt for me, thoughtfully acknowledging it could be tough. “The beauty was that I was in a group where I could have expressed myself had wanted to, had the feeling been pressing enough (it wasn’t). I was around people who were sensitive to this already it seemed, people who would have understood, acknowledged, supported, not judged and most of all accepted my space.” My regular normal consists of holding back to avoid further laceration, to not misplace my sharing in the face of people who don’t get it or because there is just no room for me in the conversation and by the time I find a way in the moment is gone. For the first time in years I experienced not expressing myself because I didn’t need to, but yet trusting I’d be met in the right way if I did need to. It was pure bliss.
That said, I tremendously enjoyed stimulating conversation about careers, and reinvention from those who have actually done it and done it on the heels of resurrection as opposed to pure choice or expected life circumstances (so NOT the same thing). I was relieved to finally be in a space that was able to hold an unspoken understanding of the changes that take place post trauma when life hasn’t worked out the way you wanted. There was an innate perception that the internal drives the external and that these drives have been incubated in part by our experiences and that we all have something special to offer because of them.
Things that are objects of avoidance on a bad day and mere tolerance on a good one in my daily life became practically celebrated. Cathy was very excited by my Infertile on Board car sign (which of course made me love her even more), Andrea eagerly started to watch a video of me administering my drug protocol during my fourth IVF. The sound was not audible, so we’ll have to finish it another time but there was a real interest along with her usual observant and intelligent commentary.
Most remarkable was way conversation smoothly leapt from things trauma and loss to food to frustrations and life challenges to travel to societal issues to laughter to work to creativity…..and then back around again. Yet it was what I would have expected, to be honest. I’ve noticed a lot of humans, or “my little grief and trauma virgins”, as I often refer to them, seem to lack an emotional agility of sorts. Pressuring themselves with the tyranny of linear perception (happy=good, sad=bad), their emotional gear boxes get so easily jammed and are often in great need of some WD-40. Many spend so much of themselves trying to avert pain and raw emotion that they waste boatloads of real human interaction in the process. I’ve found this to be less true of those who have gone through (not over or around, mind you!) life’s tougher trials, and I enjoyed every minute of being in the presence of it.
Our weekend was chock full of the following:
Most of all I was struck by the level of compassion and nurturing in the group – capacities that we expressed differently through our individual personalities and that I suspect have been greatly deepened and widened by the experience of wanting children but not being able to have them.
Although I had tried to be open for anything and to check my expectations at the door, in the end there really were no surprises. Our weekend confirmed what I had known all along, that our experience is a universal one. To be greeted with similar perceptions and feelings from someone you’ve never met after literally years of experiencing them alone is undeniably powerful.
I think Pamela was right – it all boils down to acceptance. While I’d like to think everyone would accept us, people often don’t, really. And I have to try and remember that it’s not personal. As bad luck would have it, the experiences of infertility and childlessness are the ultimate collection of that which humans universally have a hard time accepting.
People struggle to accept pain. And harsh realities. That feeling and expressing these things is essential to the healing process. And that empathy is a necessity, not a favor.
That infertility is something that people do nothing to create, cause or invite. That not all humans are able to reproduce, more of us than you’d think, actually. That the ability to reproduce, and parenthood for that matter, has got nothing to do with worthiness. That infertility and involuntary childlessness needs to be part of the human conversation.
And that the absence of my children is no less significant than the presence of someone else’s.
It’s hard for many to accept that for some things there are no suitable answers.
That in this life we often have much less control than we’d like to think we do. There are those who may not accept that the pursuit of adoption can threaten irreparable injury to a couple. That the subject of raising children can be painful for those of us who wanted to do it but don’t get to. That some things perhaps don’t happen for a reason.
And that life’s harsher brutalities inevitably change a person and furthermore, my new normal is perfectly ok. I’m often not going to see or experience things the same as someone with easily conceived children or someone who chose not to have them or even someone who suffered greatly to have them, as a matter of fact I will likely see things differently, to one degree or another a lot of the time. All views matter.
There was none of the above during our weekend. I was not bogged down by those who grapple with such concepts, I was in the presence of those who have mastered them in their own unique ways. For the first time in years I spent days not having to explain my normal, justify my world view, educating, enduring blank stares and handling people who won’t yield to my experience. My normal, for once, was alive and innately understood. I was seen, heard and honored. I finally got to just be out in the world and it was being at its finest.
It must not be easy to imagine what living without these things is like, all I can tell you is that their absence has left a void I suspect is comparable to that of my children’s absence. Like I’ve said, it’s just so basic. Resonance with other humans is a basic, basic need. Once you’re without it, you appreciate it on a whole other level. “One of the four food groups” the spouse of one of the ladies accurately described.
And so the journey into the unknown continues. Who knows where it all goes from here but at least, in the meantime, a piece of my soul has been sewn back into place, knowing that what I’ve been missing IS out there somewhere.