Thank you all for your sweet, encouraging messages (here and through e-mail). I am devastated by this news. And on top of that sadness, J got her period, which means no Christmas Eve baby. And on top of that sadness, both of our beloved moms are in the middle of scary health situations. So we are not pillars of joy right now. Don’t come here if you’re looking for rainbows and unicorns. Do listen to our friend M sing Dar Williams’s “Iowa” on my facebook page (if we’re friends in the real world. If not, I’ll try to find a version of this that can be linked here because our friend M can sing), as that could cheer anyone up. Seriously, folks, our friends are the level best. I love them like nobody’s business. (I stole this line from my friend MTB. She can sum up a sentiment.)
So the coping with this new development. Because I’ve always wanted to adopt, I tried one time in my mid twenties to adjust to the idea of never carrying a child, but I couldn’t make peace with it. I’ve always wanted that experience, as both a woman and a mother. I was the girl who loved her period because of what it represented. My all-time favorite Ani DiFranco Lyric is “I can make life. I can make breath” from “Blood in the Boardroom.” In a patriarchal world full of male privilege, I’ve remained optimistic because I’ve always secretly believed that this power to grow a person is so magical that it tips the scales of equality, making women unfathomably great. I know that lots of women choose never to have children, but I’ve had to work towards understanding that choice because it doesn’t make instinctive sense to me. (This is not meant as a judgment, as many women I love are deeply invested in that choice, and through them I’ve come to understand it more. I’m merely offering this aspect of my limited, human thinking as evidence of how entrenched I am in the notion of women as biological mothers).
It sounds old-fashioned, perhaps, or not in line with my politics, but I have always felt that a good deal of my strength comes from my reproductive system. And I’ve carefully waited to make use of that strength until I was where I wanted to be: with the right, forever person. At home enough in my body and my life to feel I could fully surrender, be taken over by the experience of being with child. It was my goal long before I learned to be this me: before I committed to this person, before I knew what I wanted to do professionally. I have constructed a life around the idea of motherhood (one that includes motherhood as a bodily experience) for so long that letting go of part of it feels like losing an unthinkably massive, central part of my being. I feel as though Emmett’s death began a hollowing out process that has left me, three months later, empty in ways I never could have imagined.
A saying we use a lot in my house is “right sized.” My wife and I try regularly to understand ourselves and our problems in these terms. Being right sized involves having the perspective to understand your wounds in terms of your blessings, but I think it also involves allowing yourself to look at and grieve your wounds. If I want to see myself as right sized, I have to allow that I am neither the greatest nor the worst at anything, and my problems are neither greater than those others face, nor less significant. I think it will take me a long time to understand this with any right-sizedness. My sense is that, like E, I will grieve this for the rest of my life. I don’t anticipate that I will ever be “over” it, in the sense of having no lingering sense of loss.
I keep saying to J that no one ever promised us more than this. I saw the kind of life I wanted in those around me – lovely people with healthy bodies (nurtured by real food and exercise), strong marriages, meaningful careers, kids, pretty old houses, animals, close friendships, joy – and I began to pursue these things for myself, but nobody ever promised that hard work would secure them all. I have no idea why I’m even alive (in an existential sense, I mean; what are we all doing here?), and that mystery alone, the opportunity to live today, is more than I’ve ever been guaranteed. Life was just given to me, and one day it will just be taken away, and in the meantime, nobody said that it would look a certain way. I am frustrated by people who move through the world with a sense of entitlement, but of course, I do that too. I never dreamed that I wouldn’t be allowed this. The body swelling with life. The quickening. The painful transition towards motherhood, towards the billions-strong club of women who’ve labored. Last night, I told J that if I believed in an embodied being in the sky, that being might sing to me: “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” Then I remembered another way of saying this, which is this Stephen Crane poem:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.
Touché, Mr. Crane.