In the aftermath of infertility, on the heels of the numbness and avalanche of grief that follows, there is a lot of sorting to do.
For me, it conjures the image of a once complete home now in shreds of rubble and shrapnel post tornado. Some of the pieces are just missing. Some still present are unrecognizable. Most noticeable is that the pieces no longer fit together into a form that shouts sense, direction and continuity.
And so in my mind, I have piles.
There’s the invisible “That’s gone forever” pile. The part of my person that used to be comforted by the naive idea that things happen for a reason and was curious to explore law and order in the universe is no more. She has left the building, I couldn’t bring her back even if I wanted to.
And there’s the “Oh, I remember that” pile. The part of me that is able to look forward to things. The part of me that enjoys children. This pile is slow to form but with patience and self-care it consistently grows.
And then there’s the “I know what this is but can’t use it in my new life” pile. Appeasing others and social expectations, obsession with mundane stuff that doesn’t matter, the quaint notion that with hard work anything is possible. Those things had to be donated to good will.
The “I don’t really want that but for my own authenticity and well-being I have to keep it” pile. Distance from people as many of them can and do inflict harm on my new life, a disengagement from and a blatant disinterest in conventional daily life. A level of apathy and not caring.
There’s of course the “I’m totally keeping that” pile. Mine is a heap of courage, fighting spirit, resourcefulness and love.
And the “look what the cat dragged in” pile. Elements that you may have seen before, in other people’s yards or in the backdrop of your being but now it has blown in and onto your lap. Creativity, surrender, acceptance, discernment, the ability to be present and listen.
Which brings me to the most confounding pile of all, the “Now what in the hell am I going to do with THAT” pile.
You know. Those things that you pick up, turn over, are familiar with but maybe don’t want to admit it, you know you need them but can’t for the life of you relate to them anymore. For me, it’s “goals”.
The first two years out of treatments I could not even look at the concept of goals without scoffing. “Yeah, like as if shit actually pans out ever” I’d grumble to myself. It wasn’t that I would not go there, it was that I could not. Psychologically or conceptually. Repeated failed fertility treatments and holistic modalities had severed the part of me that believed in cause, effect and outcome from the rest of me. The part of me interested in grasping also was missing; the only thing rendered relevant without my children by my side was survival.
Now looking back, the notion of having goals in the two years following our treatments still appears ridiculous. I was intermittently numb and crying. As someone who generally needs and is able to utilize excessive amounts of space, the space that had been filled by appointments and procedures and the looming space where my children were supposed to be even I found clobbering. We went through the grueling process of considering and researching adoption, only to realize it was not feasible for us. In the dust of all of our other losses, we were now left to grapple with this one too. I had committed myself to being in my grief, taking the onslaughts as they came. The future I was not going to have was like constant spit in my eyes, allowing me to see nothing else for the time being. And, I was saddled daily with the towering task of trying to live a life in a world that no longer made any sense. In other words, I was rather busy.
Now, three years and change out of treatments, I am definitely surviving. I am not yet thriving and I feel no shame in writing that.
When any amount of time is spent trying to conceive while having to exist in the world, it’s inevitable that parts of our true selves become veiled. Survival requires this of us. Social folks stop enjoying people, extroverts become hermits. Over the course of my healing it has returned to my attention that I am by nature both driven and hard-working (pulled from the “Oh, I remember that” pile).
The second year out of treatments, I found myself forcefully yanked in certain directions I could not explain. I soon realized I was now riding, often painfully so, on the love I have for my children that did not and will not evaporate with their absence. The cornerstone of my new life was going to be love for that which can never exist. Yeah, that’s normal. Pair some goals with THAT.
I found myself only more drawn to writing, the subjects of sociology and grief and grief counseling, and learning to teach yoga as a partner to these two other things. “Those are three pretty distinct things, and career worlds some of which you don’t know much about. You might need some goals for that, genius” I pointed out to myself. I’ve also recognized that while a fulfilling work life will never take the place of my children, it is something I need and could benefit from on multiple levels.
And so here I now am, a driven, hard-working and passionate human who hasn’t yet healed her goal wound. After the fruitlessness and tail-chasing of trying to conceive, how could the idea of envisioning something, mapping it out, and working towards a desired result be anything BUT laughable?? Setting goals reminds me of when I was a little kid in my backyard sand box, persistently shoveling away, certain I was digging a hole to China. “That’s nice, honey. Good luck with that.”
With my husband’s restaurants (much of which my blood, sweat and tears went into launching) barely covering the bills, I’m in a fortunate yet hard-earned and somewhat misleading position. Since TTC, things like saving for retirement and saving anything at all have gone by the wayside. “How about your old age? Can you at least be motivated to save for that? Wouldn’t you like some money to travel? You’re not getting any younger….” My promptings are only met with a soulful “MEH.”
In a society that heralds procreation, parenting, ambition and direction above all else, it’s a wonder I converse with anyone. I am, peripherally and at the moment, what many fear to be and will jump through hoops to avert – UNDEFINED. (Gasp). And further more, I’m mostly ok with that.
In thinking about it, I do have goals. I did go through my first yoga teacher training last year, am waiting to complete the requirements (stupid dysautonomia) and aim to be teaching in 2018. That’s a goal, right? Please confirm, I forgot what they look like. But in many ways mine are different now. Perhaps they are better labeled as non results driven intentions. There’s something about unexpected life altering traumatic loss that funnels a person right to what’s important. It is my intention to take care of myself and honor myself always. I aim to listen to and honor those who share with me their painful stories. And I no longer aspire to be great. My post infertility aspirations lie in being human – an unequivocal full – fledged, raw and imperfect human being.
Truth is, I’ve changed. After all, if one hasn’t changed throughout the course of four years trying to conceive, one surgery, ten failed treatments and unexpected involuntary childlessness that follows, how awake could one possibly be? I am now more enamoured with the art of being than I am with what I might become. I now specifically need connection, I specifically do not need distraction. Gone is the illusion that the future is guaranteed to be brighter – it may be but it could also be a lot darker or multiple shades of gray in between. I mostly just care about now.
About five times a week I walk up and down the stairs in my house for 20 minutes and then do a modified yoga practice later in the day. A contained amount of exercise is supposedly good for dysautonomia patients, and so in week 3 of my illness I started dragging myself up and down the stairs for 5 minutes a clip to get the blood flowing. I kept going, diligence comes easily after all I’ve been through. And a few months in was going for 20 minutes and enjoying the blast from the past feeling of motivation as I was noticing improvements in how I was feeling. Such an easy state, the idea that our actions are actually impacting things.
I took note that I was reveling in the simplicity of the moment, which I amended with the note to myself that I likely wasn’t influencing the state of things as much as I would have liked to think I was (wink wink from infertility survivor to old self). There was something child like to me about my temporary illusion of control in which I was basking, kind of like being swept away by pawing through a box of my eighties clothing – intriguing, vibrant, but a thing of the past. Those neon accessories where both fantastic AND pointless.
A few weeks later I found myself in a dysautonomia relapse due to a minor cold. Before I was able to see my neurologist who assured me this is normal, I got through it by reminding myself of what I’ve learned: that the REAL challenge in life is not in affecting and manipulating it, but in surrendering to it.
It’s hard to be driven by ambition and goals when you’ve come up empty-handed after having worked harder than most to have what so many acquire so easily. Infertility forces you to taste your own irrelevance and become intimate with your powerlessness. If it doesn’t cultivate at least some humility in a person, probably nothing will. It undermines your original sense of purpose and meaning. It’s hard to marry goals with the knowledge that anything can be stripped from you at any second and that all you can really do as a human is engage in the present moment. And it makes no sense when you no longer need an externally driven definition of yourself to feel whole. To make one’s way through infertility survivorhood requires a deep internal reach. When you’ve lost so much, things on the outside become less important.
I looked up the definition of goal and it was the synonyms that caught my eye. Aim, End, Target, Design, Purpose, Plan, Desire, Hope, Wish, Dream. All of the things repeated failed fertility treatments and massive efforts to conceive pulverize, basically.
“Well no wonder it’s taking some time to integrate. Cut yourself some damn slack!” I commanded.
So what to do? I’m still driven and hard-working by nature, a rocket ship at heart, but am perhaps learning how to be powered by the ignition of love and spark of curiosity as opposed to the gasoline of ambition and achievement. There is a boomerang like aspect to my nature still, perhaps it’s waiting for the direction of a new flight and a new axis from which to spin. The old me would have set goals to try to “make it happen”. The new me, not so much. The new me is content to witness the unfurling, however indirect, and convoluted, the path may be.
If there’s one area where infertility informs us it’s that we don’t control much in life. While it will take time and awkwardness for me to weave this and other awarenesses into my self and new life, it’s not un-useful in its current form. This past December, my husband and I danced up a storm at his restaurant holiday party. I bought new shoes and jewelry for the occasion, and was happy that I could be happy about such a thing during that time of year. Five days later I was in the ER facing the onset of what I did not know then was dysautonomia.
We were reflecting on the party a few months later.
“You see honey, THAT’S why you dance all night” I sparsely stated amid a pause in our conversation.
“Because you just never know what pile of shit might be lurking around the corner.”
I could have gone home that night, gone to bed earlier, steeped in the illusion of control working towards my “goals” only to have been side lined by dysautonomia anyway.
Instead, I danced. And I love that.
PRESTO/RUSH//If I could wave my magic wand/I am made from the dust of the stars and the oceans flow in my veins/Here I hide in the heart of the city like a stranger coming out of the rain/The evening plane rises up from the runway over constellations of light/I look down into a million houses and wonder what you’re doing tonight/If I could wave my magic wand/I’d make everything all right//I’m not one to believe in magic/But I sometimes have a second sight/I’m not one with a sense of proportion/When my heart still changes overnight//I had a dream of a winter garden a midnight rendezvous/Silver blue and frozen silence, what a fool I was for you/I had a dream of the open water, I was swimming was out to sea/So deep I could never touch bottom, what a fool I used to be/If I could wave my magic wand/I’d set everybody free//I’m not one to believe in magic/But I sometimes have a second sight/I’m not one to go pointing my finger/when I radiate more heat than light//Don’t ask me, I’m just improvising/My illusion’s a harmless flight/Can’t you see my temperature’s rising/I radiate more heat than light