This is a picture of me at age 15. I am in Ireland, tromping through the grounds of Blarney Castle. Peeking out from beneath my tragically unflattering barn jacket is the jumper from a school uniform that I nicked in Bantry, Co. Cork, possibly from the deliciously dangerous boy I fell in love with during my brief stay there, but possibly not. The present-day jury is still out on the provenance of the school jumper. It is 1991. I am brassy and brave, silly and full of flaws, and the world is awaiting me.
I have had cause to ponder this girl in the past couple of weeks. Lately it seems like everything is a gentle reminder that I am no longer a young woman – not old, but about to be 38, which is also not young. This does not bother me in the traditional sense – I look very young still, and the cruel fact of infertility has carried a consolation prize in that all my fleshy bits are roughly where I left them at 30. I have a rewarding and challenging career and a marriage that is by leaps and bounds healthier than I ever thought possible for such a deeply and creatively fucked up individual as myself. Really the only thing that makes me feel the pain of aging is the relentless tick, tick, tick of that infernally cliche biological clock.
In slavish obedience to that clock, we have spent the last two years trying desperately to make a baby. It hasn’t been just because of some kind of cultural command to procreate – we’ve really, really wanted a baby. I’ve really, really wanted a baby. And everything else I might have wanted in my life when I got old enough and stable enough to handle it has been put on the backburner, because any minute, any day, any month, this baby shit could happen.
And slowly, slowly, all my identity markers have been subsumed by my desire for this one identity – motherhood – that I have had no power to obtain. I have watched myself fade in the mirror until the only thing left is the one thing that I am not, until the only way I can understand myself is to cradle the emptiness of what I can’t be. I have occupied this surreal limbo, at some deep seated level believing that I will finally be a grown up only when that hot ketchup mess of newborn is laid on my chest. Then I’ll be a real person. Then my life will start.
And the days drift by in a mechanical choreography of charting, timing, hoping, waiting, despairing. Another month and then another month goes by and I am still not the thing I want to be, not the woman I want to be.
They tell you that if you stop trying, that’s when it will happen. But the problem is that if you stop trying so that it will happen, you haven’t really stopped trying. You haven’t let go of anything. It’s like when you break up with someone who is not paying enough attention to you and make a big point of walking away, just so that you can see if they’ll follow. It’s not the same as walking away. It’s just a different form of pleading.
My husband and I recently started talking about a grand vacation next year if I’m not knocked up by then. Even before I was a 15 year old gallivanting around Ireland, it was always my first true love of all places. It was all I ever talked or dreamed about. So we decided that if by this time next year I’m not pregnant or just delivered, we’d walk across Ireland. The husband has never been, and I’ve never been back. It was an awesome plan.
But it still hinged on the ifs, and for the past few weeks that has felt sincerely flimsy to me. I am so, so, so, SO fucking over the ifs. There is nothing more full of wretched, dastardly, pestilential IFs than infertility. I feel like I have been iffed into a stupor, into paralysis, into the ground. I feel like I have sacrificed everything that ever mattered to me on the altar of the Ifs. I am done. With the ifs. For reals.
So yesterday morning I woke up after thinking and dreaming about Ireland for weeks, after talking to old friends about who I used to be and what I used to want, and I decided to change up the plan. I do not want a lovely tour predicated on ifs. I want to go and do something important, interesting, fucking hard, on purpose, and all by myself.
I’ve always dreamed of going abroad and doing some kind of social justice or advocacy work. I was one of those wannabe Peace Corps kids, who really loved the idea but was too wimpy to cough up two whole years of my tender youth. I’ve sort of half-arsedly looked into working abroad a number of times, but there was never the money to do something like that. And then when we finally found some kind of financial security and there was money for something like that, we’d started the babymaking and I couldn’t commit to such a massive undertaking. Because of the ifs.
But no more. This weekend, after talking to my ridiculously awesome husband (who can definitely understand the need to go have working adventures abroad, since he does it kind of year round) about it via Skype, I started drafting letters to mental health groups, advocacy groups and women’s groups in Ireland to see if I can carve out some kind of one- to three-month work stay in my beloved far-off country.
In order to do it, we’ll need to stop trying. I mean, we won’t need to try NOT to. If it happens it happens. We’re not going to rush out and buy condoms in bulk or anything. But the charting, the temp taking, the hormones, the procedures, the monitors – the whole operation is on shutdown. I’m going to take a vacation from this desperation and go do some work instead – the kind of work I wouldn’t be able to do if this other dream had been fulfilled.
It’s not a consolation prize. It’s an opportunity. I want it so badly that I’m actually hoping I won’t get pregnant. That might change, and this might be nothing but mad rebellion, but I’m going with it. I haven’t felt this grounded in two years.
So I guess then this blog becomes about letting go of the dream, letting go of the hope, letting go of the catbox. Who knows what that will be like. I’ll keep you posted.
And if any of my Irish readers have any ideas about where a highly experienced American psychotherapist might find a couple of month’s work, feel free to give me a holler.