(I tend to title my posts after I’ve written them, so that I can pull a couple of weirdly angled ideas from the text and throw them on top for added silliness. But I’m doing it a little differently this time. I titled this post in advance because I know that like me, many of my reproductively challenged readers will scan the first few lines of text and their insides will start to squeeze up like an angry fist, ready to brace for the unbearable kick to the uterus that comes with learning that someone is pregnant. I don’t want to do that to anyone. So read on, fearless reader, now that you have been divested of your fear.)
Wow. I think I may have found a new definition of “roller coaster”. This has been an interesting week, my blogpeople.
It’s been such an unbelievable roller coaster that I almost don’t want to write about the ups in the same post as the downs, but I’m still so all mixed up that I don’t know if there’s any other way to do it. I guess I’ll rely on good old chronology as a way to start picking apart this mess.
The week started with a whole lot of awesome.
On Monday and Tuesday, I exchanged wonderfully chewy, creative emails with the director of the agency with whom I will be working in Ireland next year. She observed that many parents in her agency have lived with grinding, hopeless, inter-generational poverty and suffering from their earliest beginnings, and as a result have had very little beauty or pleasure in their lives. This resonated with me because I see this with the families I serve too. It’s something we are very aware of in community mental health, but I think it gets diluted and beaten flat into platitudinous rhetoric about “self-care”, which is great as a theory but doesn’t really translate to an unemployed single mom with no high school diploma, and 5 kids from 4 exes and trouble getting health care and rental assistance and child support from exes numbers 1 and 3 and orders of protection against exes numbers 2 and 4, and and and and… We can’t very well tell her to go home and have herself a nice soothing Aveda aromatherapy bath with a glass of flirty yet accessible Sauvignon Blanc. So I often find myself shaking things down to the marrow with a parent, looking for a glimmer of something lovely, something more alive than what they’ve been taught to expect by the combined oppressive forces of racism, classism and misogyny. And here’s this director of a far away organization basically presenting this conundrum and then saying, “Ok, GO!” What an unbelievable blessing! So I started marinating some cool ideas about how to bring real, non-hoity-toity pleasure and beauty to people who will likely think me a gobshite foreign arsehole the minute I walk in the room. Basic. Joyful. Forget therapy, therapists, theory. This is humanity, bitchez. Git up in it.
So THAT was awesome.
And then Tuesday night, Hubby and I went to an orientation for prospective foster parents*.
(*This may sound like deja vu all over again – I mentioned that we were doing this weeks ago in my last post. We did go, and due to the challenges of driving in rush hour deep into another county to offset the fact that as a community mental health child therapist I know basically every freaking caseworker and foster parent in our county and the neighboring ones, we were 3 minutes late and the instructor locked us out. So we had to try again this week.)
It was overwhelming, a near-terminal case of information overload. My bum fell asleep and would not be roused, even when I tried making Hubby’s lap into a footstool. There is SO much we have to think and talk about. Many hours of training must be had. Many – MANY – pages of impertinently invasive questionnaires need to be filled out, about your relationships with your parents and siblings and partner and the guy who runs the gas station down the street. About your sex life. No lie. Luckily we have a robust and unfailingly awesome one of those. Apparently they interview you and your partner separately without letting you communicate, like some kind of state-funded Newlyweds Game. And then they interview essentially everyone you’ve ever encountered since puberty. I think they want to try to disrupt and unsettle your relationships as much as possible to see if they’ll hold up under the weight of the grieving, traumatized, behaviorally mysterious child they will place in your home, encourage you to love, and then send back to potentially unfit parents. Cause that might be hard.
And yet, we were so excited. SO excited. I tested the Hubby a little to see what he thought about it afterward, and he was like, “Yeah, it’s cool. I’m, you know, a little excited.” Later I told him I was glad that he was a little excited because I was worried that he would just get overwhelmed beyond tolerance by all the information and only want to go forward if I made him, and he said, “Actually, I’m REALLY excited, I just said I was a little excited because I wasn’t sure how excited you were.” And then we both went “Squeeeeeee!” and started talking about which guest room is going to be a kid’s room.
Monday and Tuesday were banner days.
But then something toppled all the progress I’ve made in the last 4 months since deciding to stop fertility treatments. I’m not going to get into what it was, because A) it’s not mine to get into and B) it actually has nothing to do with what happened for me as a result. Suffice it to say that I got knocked off the pitch for a bit.
I was violently transported back to the place where I relive the Big Miscarriage over and over, feel the scooping out of all my life and love and hope as I hear those words, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”, remember the precise color of the thing that slipped out of me into the coffin of the toilet like a neglected goldfish. I was engulfed by rage, despair, incoherent betrayal. The kinetic energy of it, vindictive and fierce after having been held off for months by optimism and a flimsy patchwork hope that we had nurtured like a starving animal, threatened to burn everything in its path. My husband had left that morning for a month tour and had never felt so far away. No one in my immediate fleshly life has struggled with infertility, or if they have it’s been resolved eventually. I was totally, completely alone. For about 24 hours I couldn’t stop crying, glass-eyed and hollow, moving around the stage props of my life without any connection to them.
This is what went on in me during that time.
I walked around the city, watching people with their babies and children, feeling like a bona-fide alien. There was no one I could talk to, nothing I could do, no measure I could take to somehow make my body do the thing that billions of people, people around me can apparently do without a shred of effort. I felt – I feel – isolated and different, ejected from the common stream of humanity. I got very quiet and listened to the resigned wisdom of my body, which is that the hope that there will be an unintended “oops” that turns into a baby is not going to be realized. The quiet voice of my body said, “This is not going to happen.” And I felt, for the first time in my bones, that it was true.
Watch them pick up their babies, press them to their chests. Watch them grow irritated with toddlers, or heedless, or off-handedly turn a little body this way or that, as if it is a given, as if it should always be so. Watch them and wonder at how inter-galactically far their planet feels from your own, stand in awe of just how different you are from the rest of humanity. Think of the quickening and the flutter, the turning and the arrival, primal and bloody and so beautiful that they weep when they tell of it, those women who are real women. Think of the miracles you cannot imagine because you are not the same and will not be the same. Think of the babies you will have to see bred and carried and born and raised, lives seeded at the root and growing unstoppably in the certainty of lineage, for whatever that’s worth. Think of all that you will never know.
And all our amazing movement forward felt pathetic, this process we have begun to bring children into our home felt like a thing you do when you cannot do what you ought to be able to do. It felt like a prosthetic limb. I felt like I am not a real woman.
Real women will conceive, will spark and grow, will keep the life in momentum until it rips out of them with its fists flailing. Real women will watch bellies stretch and round, and their partners will smile and rub their bellies and be in awe of them, and they will dream together about the shape of the nose, the lift of the chin. Real women will know the feeling of a life wheeling about in them, will chide it for its boisterousness when they are trying to nap, will name it before its fingers and toes have been counted. Real women will get pregnant and have babies. If I am not among them, then I don’t know what I am.
On Thursday night I finally let all of this grief roar up through me and out of my mouth on the phone with my sister, who did not in any way try to make me feel better. If I believed in a god I would thank him/her/it for that, for the fact that my sister did not demand logic or right thinking or hope from me in that moment. Because if you ask me on a good day, I know that the above assertions – that to be a real woman you must be able to make babies come out of you, that I am not part of humanity, that what we are doing in becoming foster parents is not real or good enough, even that there is no chance that we will ever bear our own genetic child – are all patently false. I can give you concrete evidence that disproves each and every one of them. Doesn’t matter. As my sister so wisely put it, it doesn’t have to be real in this universe to be real right now.
When I was a kid, my mother habitually pointed out how strange I was and announced to anyone listening that I was a foundling, an alien from Xenon sent down to gather information for the Home Planet. I was young enough that I believed it, and our upbringing gnarly enough that I watched the night sky for a sign that my People were coming to take me away from fear and loneliness and the otherness that I felt all the time. It has become a running joke between my sister and I.
On the phone on Thursday night, my sister allowed me to scrape up the nastiest, tarriest, nuclear-waste-iest pain I had in there and spit it out like vomit. She metaphorically held my hair. It was exactly what I needed. In response to me howling about feeling like an alien, she let out a hoarse chuckle and said, “Honey, we’ve known that for years. So what? They just don’t have children the same way where you come from. Maybe becoming a foster parent is how they do it there. And I’ve got to tell you, of all the women I know who have had babies the Earth way, there’s not one of them that could do what you’re going to do. And you can, and you will. And you’ll be good at it.”
Today I feel better.
I feel sad, and I feel like I have been through something catastrophic that I did not know was lying in wait for me, dormant until the perfect storm tore it up from below. I still feel like an alien, but maybe like a kind of sad, good humored ex-patriot alien – Ford Prefect? – who is working to find meaning in the incomprehensible otherness that seems to surround her, because she is pretty committed to figuring out how to live on this planet. I am still not sure how to move forward without splitting open again. It is imperative that I move forward without splitting open again, for me and for my loved ones. I am working it out.
In the meantime, this song/video by Amanda Palmer is making me really, really fucking happy. Watch it. Seriously.
No, seriously. You have to watch it.