Since I started navigating the labyrinth of fertility, what I’ve mostly learned is that every path is a different path, and every path has some hardship and some joy. But what I’ve also learned is that women are set up to be on teams: the pre-kids team, the child-free team, the trying to conceive team, the infertile team, the pregnant team, and of course, team motherhood. None of this reflects my experience thus far. Identity and experiences are fluid with fuzzy edges, and the best we can do is negotiate our own paths with as much grace as we can muster, pausing to give hugs and share snacks. So this week we’re discussing the fertility journey from many perspectives. Because as Hayley sums up so beautifully in this piece, “What I really want to say is this: there are no perfect decisions, and there are times when you simply have to be brave.” So as we talk about beginnings, here is to letting go of 2012 and kindling bravery, one twig at a time, in 2013.
If you had told teenage me that I’d choose to move away from my husband for a career while he waited behind to take care of selling/renting out our house, she would have laughed. That’s what my parents did twice, and after moving around as a teen, I vowed to never leave a place and people I loved if I could help it. And then the recession hit. I got married, made new vows. We bought a house in a city we loved. And then we slowly and painfully discovered we were dealing with infertility. I finished a master’s degree in a field that brings me joy (library science), then no local jobs were to be found for said degree. So I applied for a job several hours away, and got an offer the day after the interview. Actually, to be more precise, I got the job offer while sitting in the parking lot of my reproductive endocrinologist’s office waiting to get started on an IUI (which didn’t work). I tossed that teenage vow about not moving away from places and people I love out the window, and I accepted the job.
So now I’m living in an apartment with one of our two dogs, while my husband tries to rent out our lovely little house we scrabbled and worked to start a family in. This could start to come across as a pity party, but what I really want to say is this: there are no perfect decisions, and there are times when you simply have to be brave. You cannot make new beginnings knowing all of the places you’re going to land on the board. I have no idea if we’re going to be stuck living apart for a few more weeks or a few more months.
I’ve had a lot of reactions along the line of, “Wow, I don’t think I could do that,” regarding the whole business. “Yes, you could,” I want to say firmly, kindly, honestly. Because if there’s one thing I’m learning through both this living alone in a new city and simultaneous infertility, it’s that you’re probably more capable of doing painful, hard, tough, brave things than you think you are. The key is taking a breath and just doing it. Accepting that it’s a huge, huge risk, accepting that you’re going to lose a lot, accepting that there will be pain, accepting the idea that you can do something like rip out your heart Indiana-Jones style and survive. Maybe even thrive, eventually.
Of course, this new beginning has other strings attached. We’re not only beginning a new life, we’re actively closing the door on the life we thought we’d have. The one in our city, in our house near family, with the little ones that we envisioned would surely be ours—the ones that we would walk to the free petting zoo down the street. (I mean seriously, how perfect.) That takes a lot of bravery. Bravery you have—I’m not just tooting my own horn. You do. Really. And then, once you make the brave decision, don’t look back. I ended up getting three interview requests in my home city a week or so after moving away, including one job I didn’t even apply for, and I turned them all down. It may sound crazy, but once we made the decision to leave everything and start anew, and when I got here and made myself a little home in this shitty month-to-month apartment, that was it. Like Maya Rudolph says in Bridesmaids, “It’s happening. It happened.” I own this now.
To get myself through this process (because happening and being real and final doesn’t mean it isn’t excruciating sometimes), I find myself turning to the reading we used in our wedding from the Quaker text “Faith and Practice.” (The fact that we chose a reading that references childlessness prior to knowing it would ever be an honest possible reality for us is not lost on me.):
Marriage is to be taken seriously, but not always in grim earnest; its problems take perspective from fun, adventure and fulfillment, and joy and sorrow are mingled together. We rejoice in success, but we must also be glad that we can console each other in failure. “With my body I thee worship” is to many a blessed phrase: but while some find a perfect physical relationship easily, others reach it the hard way, and it is not less precious for that. It is wonderful never to quarrel, but it means missing the dear delight of making it up. Children bring joy and grief; some will have none and will miss both the joy and the grief. For some, there is a monogamy so entire that no other love ever touches it; but others “fall in love” time and time again, and must learn to make riches of their affection without destroying their marriage or their friends. Let us be thankful for what we share, which enables us to understand; and for the infinite variety in which each marriage stands alone.
We are thankful, then, for the pleasures, joys, and triumphs of marriage; for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and parties, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of the events of the day; for the ecstasy of caresses, for gay mockery at each other’s follies; for plans and projects, fun and struggle; praying that we may neither neglect nor undervalue these things, nor be tempted to think of them as self-contained and self-sufficient.
Right now, we don’t have much. Our bravery took some things away. But we’re gaining things too, triumphing in the face of a particularly rough 2012. Take that, shitty year. We cannot share physical cups of tea (or anything physical), but we can talk in the evening over Gchat. We can mail each other cards. We can share gay mockeries over the phone (and cry and comfort each other, too). We are beginning anew, but we are also rooting these simple things so deeply into the soil of our partnership. What our future looks like now is different. But it was already different, and once you accept one major change in your future—in our case, what a family will look like for us—it’s remarkably easy to let other changes in, too. It’s sort of like letting one little twig or kindling catch fire so the whole pile can eventually light. In letting one big change in and accepting it, we allowed ourselves to be open to leaving behind our original ideas of the future as well. To bigger changes, to a whole different life together.
And maybe we’re a little braver because of it. Ultimately, that’s what this beginning has taught me: that I have a well of bravery that my teenage self assumed I didn’t have.
So to anyone thinking about take a big leap that has the potential for both pain and joy: you can do it. Really. Let the big change in. I’m not saying it won’t be hard (teenage me is nodding her head sagely), but it may be right. And it may be okay. And scary. But also okay.
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