Royal baby news surprisingly strikes me sideways
I awoke rested and peaceful, cradled by a soggy morning filled with a delicious sense of pause.
As I made our coffee I reveled in having a day with my husband – a lazy morning and a day off, rare for him lately, where I felt good enough to go with him to get some much needed and long awaited clothes shopping done.
Delightfully anticipating dinner at our favorite authentic hole in the wall Japanese restaurant, I cracked open my laptop.
“Well god damnit!” I barked, as the latest royal family pregnancy news smacked me in the face. “Megan and Harry are pregnant already – they just got married like five minutes ago. I guess THAT was easy” I spewed to my husband.
I’ve generally been much less sensitive to triggers lately. I wrote about this time I thought would never come in my recent post, Where Have All the Triggers Gone?
The day prior, upon leaving a yoga class one of my classmates mentioned to me that she’s tied down in New York by some things but wants to move out of state to be closer to her grandchildren. And I didn’t even flinch. Now, I didn’t show any specific interest either. I instead responded by sharing that MY life was also currently in a suspended state where it wasn’t clear how and if all the pieces were going to fit together. I’m highly discerning regarding with whom and when I will take an interest in other people’s progeny. My approach is to save as much energy as I can to spend on my life, since I’ve learned the hard way the vast majority of other people won’t. But I digress.
Back with my husband, I kept bringing it up. He looked mildly irritated that the bubble that was our day seemed to have burst. “Let it go” he said gently (he’s the only person I know who can utter this and not make it sound like an offensively simplifying dismissal).
“I AM letting it go. By letting it OUT.” I shared. Though I considered ignoring them, I proceeded to peruse the headlines once and thoroughly, knowing this would dampen any potential future shock and facilitate feeling. Feeling that might illuminate something important about my process and my experience, feeling that will eventually expedite it through and out of my system.
When one hasn’t lost their innocence to baby making, as I have, or when one has acquired parenthood with relative ease, the result is a phenomenon I like to refer to as fertile world math. As perky as it is mindless and clueless, fertile world math presumes a pregnancy that is three months along automatically equals a live, healthy baby. And potential names. Gender guesses. What kind of parents they’ll be. What the kid will look like. All swaddled in a trance like sort of glee. In short, pregnancies provoke swirling chatter of all that I lost.
Infertile math is on a whole other level. And it goes a sumthin’ like this: “WTF?? She’s 37. I started trying when I was a year and change older than her and it didn’t go ANYTHING like this. It’s like they had the wedding, blinked and now here we are. I thought I’d have some more time. So if they’re announcing now, it must be at the typical 12 week mark, given the intense and ridiculous public scrutiny over these things. So that means they got pregnant mid to late July which means they got pregnant within a measly two or three cycles after getting married. Well isn’t that a shot to the gut in the form of EASY?? A few cycles is probably more than enough for someone living under such a microscope, but still. The simplicity of the whole thing just floors me. She’ll be barely 38 (because I did the real math!) when I bet they start trying for another one and I’m sure that will go just swimmingly too!”
In typical infertile math nature, my mind went right to the point – in spite of my aggravation I hoped that nothing would go wrong. Within the greater scheme of what could happen in human reproduction, potential names and genders are really quite irrelevant after all.
My eyes then happened to scan over a headline that “Prince William is pumped” over his brother and Megan having a baby. “Well of course he freakin’ is!” I continued to spout. “This way he won’t have to navigate difference – one thing the vast majority of parents exceedingly SUCK at. He won’t have to, within his immediate family, navigate the difference in experiences between easily procured parenthood and infertility, between parenthood and non parenthood. He’s getting the one thing so many parents thrive on, that’s having those around them enter their world and be just like them. I’ve seen from personal experience what a CHORE it can be for people who have known us for a long time, even for those well meaning folks, to acknowledge and oh hark, INTEGRATE our experiences into the whole. Prince William just unearned his way out of having to do something he would have failed at to some degree. So congrats on that. But so admirable it’s newsworthy? I don’t think so.”
At a certain point, after things had percolated for a bit, it started to become clear. There’s something deeper going on here. Isn’t there usually?
Pregnancies in and of themselves aren’t the annihilating sight and reality they used to be for me. But pregnancies involve so much more than what is apparent on the surface. The innocence and sense of belonging that allow someone to plunk themselves into the surrounding festivities are collateral damage in my world. The lens through which the general public views and expresses themselves around the topic of human reproduction now appears delusional to me. My dreams, and whole life track really, surrounding baby making, pregnancy and parenthood were unequivocally crushed. Over the past nine years now I’ve had to be flexible with those dreams, tortured by them, grieve them, sit in the confounding blank space that follows their absence, and start to seed new ones that, as promising as they are, are ultimately entirely incapable of replacing the old. I’m not yet able to dream the dreams I fought so hard for and lost on behalf of someone else. And while I’m open to wherever my process takes me, it’s ok if I never can.
In her heartfelt and insightful forward for my friend Kelley Lynn Shepherd’s book, My Husband Is Not a Rainbow, Michelle Neff Hernandez comments on secondary losses: “One of the most significant is the loss of innocence that accompanies grief.” She goes on to point out “Those days of living free from the keen awareness of the fragility of life are blissful, and fleeting.”
I lost embryos, dreams for the future – dreams that are societally assumed from day one at that – and the life track of parenthood. I have no idea what it’s like to loose a spouse, but yet I totally feel you Michelle!
Though my loss doesn’t entail the death of a physical person, I also found this to be quite relevant: “Death sharpens your view of life in a painfully clear way, as if you are looking through a kaleidoscope pointed directly at the sun. For a time, that flash of color blinds you, and then slowly, day by painful day, your sight returns. But you suddenly see the world with bionic eyes. Everything will be different in your post loss life, because surviving the death of someone you love changes you.”
It is these changes Michelle refers to that have been almost as distressing as the loss of my children itself. I am different in the world now. The predominant outwardly expressed perspectives on human reproduction are entirely incongruent with my lived experiences and those of my tribe. The naiveté with which so many can or are willing to dive into baby frenzy touches a very sore place within me. I wonder if it’s the actual baby people are so thrilled about, or is it really that Harry and Megan’s scenario validates their belief in a fair, just and orderly world?
Interestingly, some of the judgements towards them were equally miffing. A critically toned report that Megan used an app to accompany her conception efforts. A judgey
woman who probably had two easily conceived kids in her twenties “expert” saying it is a bit too soon, supplying a brief sermon on marital stress born from having children early in a marriage. “What about the marital stress caused by infertility and the herculean decision making that comes with that and involuntary childlessness, ya moron?” I found myself thinking. While I was irritated and triggered by the news, I don’t think anyone has the right to judge Megan. To try to get pregnant in the public eye in her late thirties in a role that implies, well, producing lineage, she can do whatever she needs to do as far as I’m concerned.
I’m now aware, painfully so, of the numbers of people for whom things don’t go this easily, and of those whose ending doesn’t involve a baby or child at all. Though of course not Harry and Megan’s fault, I’m achingly aware of the messages a quickly procured high profile pregnancy sends to the general public – that this is the way it always goes. And I’m excruciatingly aware of the social losses and missing ease that have resulted from my changed world view I never asked for. I have come to the point where I notice flickers of appreciation for the wisdom, insight and realism my experiences have dumped upon me. Not worth the loss of my children, but it does seem to breed an interesting confidence of sorts, and I’m not about to ignore any of the good stuff that emerges. I’ve come a long way in my reconciliation process, but there are still days when I resent having to see life and the world in the way it has been shown to me. In short, part of me misses being dumb. It was just easier.
Speaking of retained innocence, as it also turns out the pregnancy was announced on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day which is acknowledged in many countries around the world. This was addressed in a piece in the Huffington Post. I tried to keep the comments in perspective, but most I glanced at were dismissive, judgmental and cruel. Ultimately, I’d like to think we humans can find ways to respectfully coexist amid the strikingly different experiences of fertility and infertility, parenthood and non parenthood. And that would have to involve the privileged majority’s willingness to step aside from time to time, giving those who struggle the well deserved space to be seen and heard.
Strange as it is to admit, I realized that I had subconsciously identified with Megan and Harry a bit. I too am in an inter-racial marriage and am a few years older than my husband. I had never wanted to be a young mother, I wanted to be an experienced mom. I had been through my own hard knocks and was adventurous with my career pursuits, experiences that I had hoped would perhaps benefit my children. I had gotten some creativity out of my system so that I would be less likely to pass my own bitterness over unwalked paths and dreams untried on to my children. I felt some loose parallels between Megan’s path and mine, except that when I got to the point of having a baby, the baby didn’t come.
I’m not a very externally driven person, especially these days. The feeling of belonging, however, is a most basic human need, as is the need to see yourself reflected somewhere out in the world. It’s not that I feel I don’t or can’t belong anywhere, however a basic assumed sense of belonging in this world is one of the things often stripped by infertility and involuntary childlessness. There is some obscure layer of me seeping through in all this, looking for someone like me. An ever vigilant watchdog giving the horizon a thorough binocular scan, back and forth, back and forth. Though I don’t wish what I’ve been through on my worst enemy, Harry and Megan could have been one of us.
They could have had trouble conceiving. Perhaps they would have come out with their infertility battle, maybe even succeeding in enlightening the general public. They could have needed the support and backing of our community. They might have come to a point where they needed to refocus on their marriage, moving ahead without children. Megan could have joined Gateway Women.
In reality though, this is an awful scenario. First, Harry has already lost enough. And then, for every “everything happens for a reason”, “your time will come”, and “god works in mysterious ways” utterance we have gotten, they would be privy to thousands if not more. And I’m not sure that’s survivable to be honest. The thought of going through what I went through in their position, under the microscope of the public eye, an ultra uninformed public eye at that, is enough to make me spontaneously fall over. In the end, having the pregnancy out there is better than knowing someone is in such overbearing pain. Plus, they could go through hell and in spite of their high profile experience the public would probably still be thick as a stone wall when it comes to empathizing with the experiences of infertility and involuntary childlessness.
So alas, here we are. One of the plusses of being almost five years out of treatments and into a life without children is that these outside occurrences don’t knock me down hardly as far or as long. A mere two weeks later and I’ve pretty much forgotten. Most days, any images or mentions I may be unwittingly exposed to only spark a slight eye roll and the tiniest of kicks to my well-calloused gut.
To those still in the trenches of absorbing our absurd reality, that place where every unsolicited image turns your insides upside down and illicits a full body sting, I salute you. You are in a place that is as raw and real and human as it gets, a place that requires the utmost courage to inhabit. To those who have somehow made it to slightly less churning waters, or maybe even have been washed up on a sandy beach, welcome in its solidity, remember to honor your grief waves that still come ashore. The collateral damage from our losses is deep reaching, getting a grip on our new reality is a most layered journey.
Process on, my fellow warriors. Process on.