When Deciding Isn’t Enough
Try, try, try again.
There’s a pattern to life that society has thrusted upon us to follow. Go to school, get a job, find a mate and have children. Simple enough. And in this sequence of “expected” life events, we are also influenced to believe that if we put in the work and the time to make these things happen, they will happen. And more often than not, they will happen on the timeline we lay out for ourselves.
Although, the heartbreaking truth for many, is that when we decide it’s time to have children, there is not always the option to just “make it happen.” There is no magic wand that gives life on the month that we decide to “start trying” and there’s certainly no special privileges to those of us who followed life’s expected pattern. No, life is not biased and it’s certainly not handing out accolades.
I’m in the middle of reading a beautiful memoir, that I’ve enjoyed up until this point. The point where the adorning husband clumsily writes about him and his wife’s decision to have a baby. And wala! Baby is here! This simple phrase used to be entirely irrelevant to me. Five years ago I would not have batted an eye. But today, when a couple says, “we decided to have a baby” and the mother-to-be is glowing in her maternal skin, I find myself wishing congratulatory praise while simultaneously shuttering inside. Not because I’m not happy for them, the characters in this book, or pregnant strangers on the street; I am. But because the idea of “deciding” on your specific time clock to just green-light and “have a baby” is not a guarantee for many of us – or even an option. And if that is how it worked for you, or them, or the stranger on the street, than consider it a blessing, in a way some of us could never imagine.
I too, was once one of those starry-eyed believers. I met my husband in high school and we began having protected sex right away. Even with the proper goalie(s) in place, there was always that fear of what if? I can remember turning eighteen and saying to myself, Alright, if you were to get pregnant now, at least you’re of age. How ridiculous that sounds today looking back is besides-the-point, because at that time, this was a discussion the two of us had at many milestone ages. Twenty-one, not in the teens anymore. Twenty-three, married now, so it would be ‘okay’. Twenty-five, halfway to thirty. Don’t we sound old? Twenty-seven, the age I always assumed I’d be pregnant by. Thirty, where is the baby?
I know some of you are reading this, thinking man, she got married young and Thirty! What’s she worried about anyway? Plenty of time. And to some extent you are all right. I am still young, and it’s not out of the question, but the question has become just that, a question. That expectation of making it happen has shifted from: we have decided to have a baby. To: is something not working with us? And is now: we know something’s not working … will we be able to have our babies?
The mutual desire to have a family was never a question for us. A Family Stone situation is how we described the aspiration we both had for creating this unit of our own. When I was nineteen, I remember sitting in Econ class, jotting five names down onto my notepad. Three girls and two boys, not in that order. These were a combination of old fashioned family names we both liked, and two that would fall under the category of unique and / or original options; one he came up with and the other I did.
I can still feel the excitement in my gut of wanting to race home across the quad, into his room in that old rented house, and share with him our future – likely over a helping of cheeseburger macaroni. And knowing that he would be just as excited as I was for what lies ahead. For the life we would be building together.
It’s been eleven years since then, and the names haven’t wavered. And yet, a few years ago when we started “thinking about having kids”, we didn’t know that these names and personalities and little unborn lives to whom we already adore, may not be our reality after all. They may only live on that lined notebook paper and in our imagination of who they could have been. Truly, a reality I had never considered.
Four years ago, I went off birth control in preparation for “being ready.” It didn’t scare us to be unprotected. We had been married three years and had already been through our own respective struggles at that point. We knew we could handle it. We believed we could handle anything.
So for the first year, we didn’t try, but we didn’t not try either. A tricky turn-of-phrase that only those in the situation likely relate. We were both waiting for a sign to help lead us to what was next. We had been running a business together since the first year of our marriage and we were ready for a life change.
The pregnancy didn’t happen after several months, so we moved across country instead. That became our life change and in the moment, it was enough. A fresh start, a reason to put off having a family. And we did, for nearly the next year. We were still unprotected but we were not yet targeting the day and time we had sex. We were just living and living felt great. We were both the happiest we’d ever been in this new life together and we knew more than ever, how wonderful it would be to bring those dreamed-up little ones into our world.
Approaching the second year of living out East, we were ready to put in the work. I downloaded an app to track my cycle and on those peak fertility days, we had sex. A few months in and nothing happening, I remember us having a conversation agreeing that we should take a break and that I (specifically) wanted to wait a few months before trying again. It was Fall then and the thought of being pregnant in the peak of summer terrified me. The ignorance of how that sounds now makes me cringe, as I would take being nine months pregnant on the top of Mount St. Helens over this any day of the week. Being none-the-wiser, he agreed and we returned to our “casual” routine of intimacy over the next four months. When Spring hit, we tracked more vigilantly than ever and got back to work. Although at that time, it didn’t feel quite like work yet. It was still a fun, light-hearted attempt at becoming parents. It seemed that many of our friends around us were trying and conceiving overnight, and we just knew that our story would be the same.
We had a new group of friends forming in New York and we were enjoying our late nights out and carefree adult fun we all were having together. No one in this group were parents yet, and it wasn’t really on the radar in the same way it was for our friends back in the Midwest. It was refreshing and we loved this new peer culture we were experiencing. After all, thirty on the East Coast is equivalent to twenty-five in the Midwest. This is not a fact, but if you live in both places, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say the age pendulum falls much later here (in the best of ways). Becoming parents was what we wanted, but we were patient and content with the ways things were.
Until one day, we weren’t.
I know it may sound crazy, but I believe that those of you who are or have been in our shoes, understand exactly what I mean when I say, one day you are living life and okay with whatever it brings you. And then the next, you both know (almost in-an-instant) that having a family is all you need. It consumes your day-to-day thoughts, your plans six months down the road, and if you are going to have that second (or third) cocktail. Babies weave their way into your brain like yarn onto a loom.
So we spent the next twelve months timing, planning, doing, wishing and being let down. Over and over again.
The questions of when-will-you-be-ready? that you brushed off before, suddenly irk you. Make you cry even. The endless stream of babies on your social media platforms make you jealous, sad and irritated … and then jealous again. The women who complain about their children not sleeping, or what a struggle it’s been adjusting to their new routine, fill you with a resentment you didn’t know you were capable of carrying. And those that imply they need to “lock it down” to avoid any more accidents before their next baby pops out, makes you the angriest of all. But the mind numbing thoughts of feeling this way are what upset you the most. You used to be happy for them after all.
But what does all this mean for you, for me, for us? We are smart women and we know that envy is not becoming. So how do we pull through? Do we continue to smile through our teeth when it feels like everyone has a baby but you? When an adorable nugget is staring straight into our hearts on the subway ride? Do we like, love and comment on all our friends and family’s mini-me’s endless stream of photos?
Of course we do.
The thing about life is, that life is unplannable, despite the patterns we were told about all those years ago. You will be down and you will be up, and then at some point you will likely be down again. And those around you may remain up, and God willing that they do. And no, they may not understand how you feel or how their babies twentieth bath time photo makes you sad. Or even how their complaining of their own “lack of sleep” makes you want to shit in a bag and send it their way (not that you ever would). And they shouldn’t. Because they are up right now. And just because you are down, does not mean you won’t have your chance to be up someday.
Someday soon I hope.
So my unsolicited advice for all of this? Throw away your expectations. Go to the doctor, get yourself tested, get your partner tested, see the specialist, PUT IN THE WORK.
You are not alone.
You are not the only one struggling with this hurdle.
You will do whatever it takes to have your family of four, of five, of SEVEN even!
You will cherish the moments of just you and him (or her).
And you will be incredibly grateful when your time comes.
And it when it does, you will be the most sensitive to those around you who may be struggling like you once did.
Because this wasn’t easy for you, for me, for us – but nothing worth waiting for ever is.
Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t
This is the dilemma we are in. I want to support you, like I always have. I want to be your cheerleader, your partner in life. But you’ve found another partner now. You say it’s just business. This scares me most, because business is the most important part of your life. You say I’m most important, and I appreciate it when you do, but we both know it’s more about you. You are a dream setter. You want a better life for us, but most importantly, you want a better life for you. And that’s okay, babe. I want you to know that I understand.
The long nights and early mornings, the sacrifices, the feelings hurt, the days gone – they are all just the beginning of a lifetime ahead. A lifetime where you move on and I stand still. A new life where I no longer walk beside you. The triumphs and pitfalls, I won’t be there for. The big wins, I won’t be the first to know. This is particularly hard for me, babe. It’s hard because it used to be us. Us against the world. You counted on me as your sounding board. Your voice of reason. Your steady hand. See you’ve always acted out of emotion. You’ve lit the flame and are there with the spark when the ashes begin to fall. You are my fire starter and I am your water.
Remember when it was just you and I, in that large, bare office off Second Street? Two hand-me-down desks, facing one another and a conference table placed awkwardly in that space near the backdoor. Remember how we were so excited and fearful at the same time? We went out to celebrate even though we knew we shouldn’t. We treated ourselves to drinks we couldn’t afford and we talked about dreams we didn’t know if we’d ever achieve. They were so far off, so unrealistic and immature. And yet, I knew you believed them, babe. I knew you did, because I did too.
I think about those days, those days of real struggle. Those days that feel like a lifetime away from us now, and I wonder how we got here. To a place that is so far removed from our humble beginnings and apartment offices. People say that when you have it all, you often lose the things you always had but never fought to keep. I hope that’s not the path we’re on now, babe. I hope we haven’t become too big for ourselves.
You see, we’ve been so wrapped up in each-others minds for so long that I selfishly can’t bear to watch your mind have an affair with anyone else. To admire, to idealize, to adore anyone other than me. And I know this isn’t fair to you, babe. I know this is a shameful way to think. I know this is part of growing up and growing apart from one another. I know that I have failed you in some way for even mentioning my concerns. I know I am the lesser of us two. The one who dreams big with no execution. A talentless one.
But mostly, I know you don’t deserve this, babe.
I know you need to take this next step. I couldn’t bear to be the wall that held you back. I understand it fully and that may be what hurts the most because I know you will never forgive me if you let it pass. You won’t blame me the first day and maybe not even the next, but it will come. You will wonder what could have been. You will look at me differently. I couldn’t take that, babe. I couldn’t take that, because some days I feel like maybe you already do.
When I handed you the fertility testing script, you got so angry at me. You asked me when you would have time to do this. You reminded me of just how busy you were. When I saw it sitting there on the night stand, for the ninth day in a row, I began to question things. Things like if you were ready for us to become parents. Things like, how bad did you really want this. And things like, if you knew that’d I’d already given a dozen valves of blood and had to return to give more tomorrow. Things like, if you understood why I got mad at you the other night for not cumming inside of me because there was only a small slither of days each month that were precious ones. And on these precious days, I needed you to be on the mission with me. To know that I don’t want to nag you, that I just want to give you what I thought we both wanted. To put selfish desires aside and focus on our future. And when you didn’t this month, my questions grew. My worries are becoming unbearable, babe. I’m sorry I’m not stronger for you.
And then there was that night you eluded she was pretty. That really set me off, babe. Your desire to protect her and lift her up rubbed me sideways and sent my mind to a place it didn’t want to be. I said something immature, bashing this stranger’s character, and you lashed back out at me. This reflex to come to her defense said more than a thousand words, babe. It told me your connection was deeper than you led on, deeper than I wanted to believe. It revealed the depths of the long days and projects the two of you had shared. And when I set you up to say exactly what I wanted to hear, prompting something pathetic like how I’m not as pretty as her, you sat silently. A quick disagreeance would have been enough to ease my anxious brain. Instead you let me stew and I know I probably deserved it. But that self-realization didn’t change the sting it caused in my chest as the confirmation that we both knew I was right sunk in. And at that point, I knew she had already won.
We always said we were lucky to have not outgrown each other. People always comment about how rare it is to meet a high school couple still so much in love. I always believed they were right about us. That we were the rare lucky ones. But last night I worried that we were no longer that oddity. That we were just like them and as this thought grew stronger, the piercing in my head grew to unbearable strengths and I wanted to disappear. To run away because I’m a coward, babe. I’m so afraid you’ll hurt me like she did. Like they all have. But I want you to know that I feel lucky to have spent half of my life with you, babe.
This is the part of the story where I get brave. Where I tell you that I’m a bigger person than all of this. Where I convince you that everything will be okay even if I stay. And this is the part where you choose to believe me, even just for a minute. And you smile to yourself, because you think everything really is going to be okay. And I smile because you’re smiling. Relief rushes over us as you hold me tight. The warmth of your skin on mine gives me peace and I feel loved. Then it ends, and I am cold again. I ask you a question that you don’t have the answer to. Our foundational cracks are too large to manage and we are lost again, babe.
So this is the dilemma we are in.
If I ask you to stay where you are because of my shallow insecurities you’ll resent me forever. If I tell you to go, the jealousy of who you’re becoming with her will eat my soul like maggots on meat. I’ll play nice because I was raised that way, but you’ll always know I’m not okay. You’ll hear the condescending tones in my voice when you mention her. The false enthusiasm when the two of you land a big job and want to celebrate. And I’ll be at home, busy with our family, the laundry, the daily obligations life demands. I’ll be at home resenting that it’s not me with you. That I didn’t believe I was smart enough to stand by your side like I once did. That I didn’t believe I was brave enough to jump into this much bigger sea of apples, even if you asked me to. That I’ll never be her or have the talent to create magic with you anymore.
I’m not demanding pity, babe despite how this may sound. No, I just want you to know what’s happening behind the scenes in a tortured woman’s head. To understand the seemingly erratic outbursts, the fits of displacement and the unprecedented rage. To know that I understand your love and know it to be true and that the problem lies within me and the trepidation of the unknown. To know that I will never be capable of sharing a love like ours again. Because to me, you’re the only story that ever mattered. You are the only truth I ever want to know.
And I know you don’t deserve this, babe. Because you deserve the world.
And I want to give the world to you and everything that is important to you. And what’s important to you is your work. If I eliminate myself than you can have it all. I want you to have it all, babe. More than air, more than wine, more than us – I want you to have it all, babe.
I don’t deserve you.