My Task

I didn’t plant the trees
That tower above me
Or move the earth
To make the mountain I stand on
I didn’t invent candles
Or paper or pens
I didn’t develop
The fantastic mechanisms of the breath
Or engineer the tireless heart
Or the frenetic wiring in my skull
(I couldn’t even build
A single cell)
I didn’t mine the metal
Used to cut my belly
Or train the surgeon
In the art of cutting the right things
I didn’t write the books or music
That make my life worth living
I didn’t raise my husband
Or mother myself
Yet all of it is mine
Given freely down the years.

My task in this life
Aside from enjoying what is
Is to plant a tree now and then
With love for people I will never know.

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Life is Good, Even when it Isn’t

There’s plenty to say about why this sucks (and I’ll do that soon), but for now I’m going to write about ten things to be grateful for in all this. Not that these in any way “make up” for losing the pregnancy. But life is almost never all negative, and it’s good to remember that.

Please note: Saying “Look on the bright side” or “It could be worse” to someone who’s grieving is, almost always, a dick move (unless you’re a very close / very wise friend or you’ve gone through something very similar). Don’t do it. If you don’t, it’ll be much easier for them to eventually say it to themselves.

THINGS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR

      1. Even though I’d much rather be pregnant than playing soccer, I have to admit, it was painful watching my team play without me, running around in the grass as the sun set. Now I can play this fall after all. Not a bad silver lining.

2. I no longer have to be treated like a delicate flower. I can travel without worrying the stress will hurt anyone but me, I can eat and drink whatever I want (though I tend to eat pretty healthy anyway), I can exercise as hard as I want (within reason), and I can carry my own heavy bags and help Ahmed when we move into our new apartment. I don’t have to freak out if I feel thirsty and realize I’ve let myself get dehydrated.

I understand that a big part of parenting is living more for someone else than for yourself, and pregnancy is preparation for that. And I’m more than willing to do it. But I can also enjoy and appreciate at least one more month of autonomy.

3. This blog won’t (immediately) turn into just another boring pregnancy blog. Kidding! I mean about pregnancy blogs being boring. I love when women are brutally honest about such a visceral, primal experience. But for a while at least I’ll remain motivated, from personal experience, to finish the entries I envisioned when I began this blog about dealing with not being pregnant when you really want to be.

4. I was pregnant for a few glorious weeks, and I got to share that excitement with a lot of people and dream about what our twins might be like. As one friend said, “They will always have been.”

After the loss it’s been helpful that people know, and to hear kind words and learn about other people’s experiences. It’s not something I’d want to tackle alone.

5. I found out that I can get pregnant, on my very first embryo transfer no less, which is a good thing to know. It was much better than no pregnancy at all. And it’s hopeful in a way that my body recognized the problem early instead of hanging onto it for another month or more, stringing our hopes along with it. Little Nymeria provided us with a lot of useful information. He might even have “woken up” my long-dormant uterus and might help get it ready for whatever may come next. Who knows? And we still have the three embryos frozen in Istanbul. One of them might be our lucky break if we decide to use them in a few months.

If not, it’s great to know there are so many other ways to create a family these days.

6. The wondering (at least about this particular hard-fought pregnancy) is over. I’m no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop. It done dropped. I didn’t realize what an unbearable tightrope of tension I was walking until I fell off. But the tension was horrible. I couldn’t enjoy anything properly. I felt like unspeakable doom was hanging over me, and the longer it went on, the worse it got. When the axe fell, it was almost a relief. Which means I wasn’t really doing it the way I wanted to be doing it, spiritually or psychologically. And that’s a big avenue for growth.

7. After those five months in Istanbul, with non-stop hormones and drugs and supplements and shots and being guests in people’s homes and sweating through AC-less summer days and spending obsessive hours researching reproductive endocrinology, I was kind of a mess. I’d lost weight, fitness, and muscle tone and just felt not quite right. The summer had many great moments, but it had a lot of stress and heartache, too. Finally I can stop all the medications, and just being home, in our own place, relaxing together, cooking healthy meals, exercising regularly, getting my thyroid levels well-controlled, hopefully I can get back to feeling good again. That may make the difference next time.

8. When someone I know dies, for a while the world seems more brilliant, more meaningful, more precious, because I’m still here to enjoy it while they aren’t, and I owe it to them not to take it for granted. That’s a gift.

9. As I’ve said, I don’t know if there’s inherent meaning in the universe (or what exactly that would mean). But I do know humans are prolific meaning creators. And when you’re jarred out of your everyday complacency—that’s a time when people instinctively seek out meaning as well as meaningful actions to take. It’s a wonderful characteristic of our species (though it’s a pity it often takes serious grief to wake us up, and often we go right back to sleep again not long afterwards). The least I can do is try to be a better version of myself out of love for the ones lost and the ones, hopefully, to come.

One thing I’ve learned about myself through all this is that I need to learn to quit looking for some kind of redeeming awesome thing to happen to “make it all worthwhile.” I need to make every moment worthwhile by paying it due attention. That’s basic meditation 101, I realize. But there are so many layers of delusion, and when things get intense, it can be particularly easy to lose your way. And to realize how and why you’re losing your way. And maybe, eventually, to find your way better than you ever have before.

10. My Mom told me on my wedding day that however much I loved my husband now, it was nothing compared to how much I would love him in ten, twenty, thirty years. It’s only been a couple of years so far. But I’m starting to see what she meant.

Life is very unfair, at least in our understanding of fairness. It’s awesome, though, and an incredible privilege to be vanishingly lucky enough to make it into existence. These kinds of things help remind us of that.

Artwork by Patricia Ryan Madson
Artwork by Patricia Ryan Madson

They also remind us that if we allow ourselves to define our lives by our misfortunes, it’s a bit of a spit in the face of all the wonder and grace that comes our way on the daily. (But of course sometimes we do need to grieve. Even the Dalai Lama was sad when he lost his brother. That’s part of being human, too.)

By the way, some people have said I’m brave for sharing this stuff. But what’s amazing to me is that we live in a society where it is considered brave to share this stuff. Everything surrounding conception, gestation, and birth is both utterly common (the continuation of our species kind of depends on it, and every single one of us has gone through the process) and intense, cosmic, and fascinating. Why shouldn’t we talk about it?

And why shouldn’t we talk about it honestly? Why hide the nitty gritty emotional, painful, euphoric, or bloody details? It’s life. It’s real. It’s all of us, the legacy of the “slime and eggshells” of our primeval past. We’re not robots. We’re not some bepearled vision of 50s housewives. We’re animals. And this shit is messy and complicated and incredible. It requires strength, courage, stamina, and a whole range of emotional skills to navigate it well.

But it’s almost like since women do it, it’s somehow less interesting. Or even shameful. We can talk about all this wimminny stuff discreetly at our sewing circles, but in public we’re just supposed to be bumps and bows and smiles (or totally silent because God knows we wouldn’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable if something goes “wrong” or tarnish our image as a mother-goddess who’s got it all figured out).

I’d guess that at least a third of women if not half (or more) have gone through something other than picture-perfect conceptions, pregnancies, and births. And yet there’s so much silence around the subject, it turns something that can already be extremely difficult into something that can also be incredibly lonely. As if, if you’re not that vision of a perfect 50s housewife, you’re doing it wrong.

I know I’m not saying anything novel. And of course women who want to maintain their privacy should be respected in that choice.

But yeah. I don’t feel “brave” for sharing this stuff. I think anyone who wants to share should be able to, and hopefully be as kindly supported as I’ve been. For me it’s been a big help.