The Other Keiko: Motherhood’s Alternate Universe

Welcome to Day 2 of our open salon, hosted by yours truly and Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority. We created this dialogue to discuss both sides of the motherhood debate from our unique perspectives. Why? We seek to parse out the concerns and vulnerabilities of transition within the ALI community without tripping over political correctness and delicate sensibilities.

We hope you’ll join us every day this week and will be inspired to add your own responses in the comments here and at Pamela’s blog and even by writing your own blog posts about this salon too!

Today is role play day, and we all get to play! Those of you visiting this blog who are now mothers after infertility have to imagine yourselves as non-moms. Those of us non-moms after infertility get to assume the mom persona. Those in between have the option to choose whichever feels the most opposite of where you are today.

Beta day was seriously the longest wait of my life. I got up at the ass crack of dawn so I could be there when my clinic opened. I never get there that early. But there I was, at 6:35 in the morning, shivering as I walked into my RE’s office because there was no denying that October was here.

When we got the news, we were overjoyed, naturally. We planned a lovely night out to celebrate. We welcomed this new dynamic in our marriage and what would ultimately, be a new dynamic for the rest of our lives.

And yet, even amongst all the undeniable joy, as we walked up to the restaurant that night, I said this to Larry:

“Yanno, in another Universe tonight, it’s a very sad night for us. The Other Team Zoll got very bad news today.”

And this wasn’t a spontaneous thought in the moment, either; in truth, a few hours after the news had sunk in, my mind was already calculating this imaginary alternate Universe where no amount of hugs, booze or tears could comfort my pain.

It reminded me so much of the day I was diagnosed, as I watched movie reels of the way I had hoped to build our family vanish, like Marty McFly from his own pictures.

I like to use both the cancer patient and paraplegic analogies as comparable examples of the infertility experience. Our desire to parent is as real, valid and instinctual as the desire to live or to walk. And, like the cancer patient or the paraplegic: not everyone does. Sometimes, the cancer patient dies. Sometimes it’s just not possible for paraplegic to walk again. And sometimes: not everyone who desires to parent, infertile or otherwise – get to parent.

Pamela’s book, Silent Sorority, explores this path of resolution in more detail. It’s a path that, when I tried to review the book last summer: I couldn’t. I had panic attacks as I got further and further into her book, because, at that point in time, the idea of resolving without parenting wasn’t something that I couldn’t wrap my brain around.

Even still, it seems like this incredibly foreign and strange idea, counter not only to my own hopes and dreams, but to societal expectations as well. I think that’s what makes infertility as difficult as it can be, because our disease puts us at odds with cultural norms. Resolving without parenting then, only puts us further at odds.

To be a non-mom in the age of The Mom with a capital M is a feat of strength and both simultaneous acceptance and defiance: Acceptance of both one’s one situation and the cultural context of which you live and at the same time, a defiance of those norms by continuing to find fulfillment, abundance and joy despite those norms and societal expectations.

Because even though you may NOT parent, it doesn’t mean your life is over. Like the paraplegic, you may not walk, but you adapt. You relearn, you rethink, you readjust and course correct. And, as counter-intuitive as this may seem, a life without parenting doesn’t have to be a life without nurturing, a life without hope, purpose and abundance.

I’ve talked before some about savoring our temporary childlessness. This is a state of being I’m coming to appreciate more and more with each passing day. Even now, I’m writing this post from a hotel in Brunswick, Maine, as Larry and I took a last-minute mini vacation yesterday and today since we know opportunities like this may be few and far between a year from now.

I think of some of our friends who have decided not to have children and friends of my parents who never had children. I think of the lives they lead and I’m not envious: I’m impressed. And I’m happy for them because I know they are happy too. They aren’t living lives of doom and gloom and sadness. I’m sure those moments are there, behind the closed doors like any marriage. But outwardly, I see such richness of spirit.

It is from these friends I learn the truest embodiment of living in the moment.

Thank you for role-playing with me today. Head over to Pamela’s blog to read her take on what mothering and nurturing can look like for the non-mom. And don’t forget to join us Friday at 12:30PM EDT for the #ALIMomSalon Twitter chat.

Tune in tomorrow when Pamela and I sound off on Mommy Phenomenon, or, as I like to call it, the Queendom of Mommyhood. Written a post inspired by this salon? Link up below.

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  1. EC says

    I think the opposite of where I am today would be maybe laying on a beach drinking a margarita and relaxing instead of trying to get some work done and instead wondering if our IVF cycle worked. :)

    I have been thinking about something that’s sort of related, though. My beta is on Thursday, and it feels almost like a line in the sand for me. There’s the time before the test, which is where I am now, and is still considered part of my IVF cycle. Then, there’s the time after the test, which will either be a happy but probably still nerve-wracking time, or a sad time where I might be trying to figure out what to do next. It will be the newly pregnant version of me or the newly failed IVF cycle version of me. Either way, though, life will go on. I see things on the calendar after Thursday, and I’m sort of taken off guard – as if everything should be suspended until I know which version of me will be in attendance. It doesn’t work that way, though, and no matter what happens, I’ll still take that work trip in two weeks, our house guests will arrive a week later, and we’ll get ready for Thanksgiving right after that. In my mind, though, it doesn’t feel that way.

  2. luna says

    “a feat of strength and both simultaneous acceptance and defiance” — yes, this.

    I know I wasn’t ready for that reality when I faced it too — ie, after our treatments were over but before we could both agree to pursue adoption to build our family. those dark months rival those after our unborn son died as the longest and most difficult of my life, rivaled only by watching my loved one die a slow and tortuous death from cancer. because to me, that’s what it was, a death: the end of our lives as we envisioned, of our dream of a family, and certainly biological parenthood. it needed to be mourned and I was not ready for the finality of it.

    as it happened, through many long discussions, counseling, and searching our hearts, we eventually landed on adoption to build our family. and hope was renewed. but that darkness became a part of me and shaped who I am today. it also instilled compassion and respect for those who choose another path, because I know it’s one of the hardest things to do.

  3. Lori Lavender Luz says

    What is helpful about following Loribeth’s and Pamela’s journeys is that they have taken what once might have been called “handicapped” (using the paralysis analogy) and show instead that they are differently abled. Clearly, they, and others who resolved their family-building efforts by choosing child-free living, live full lives, exciting lives, lives that on occasion make me envious.

  4. loribeth says

    I remember your post about Pamela’s book.. did you ever finish reading it??

    Sometimes, some of us find ourselves facing our worst fears… and surviving. (I had panic attacks myself after our final IUI failed and I found a childless future staring me in the face.)

    As I’ve often said — it’s not the life we thought we’d be living, or wanted to live — but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t, or can’t be, a good life on its own merits.

  5. Erica says

    When I read Silent Sorority I felt the same way. But I was so impressed with her resilience. She is such an inspiration for overcoming something extremely difficult in life. I understand that even though you received the good news you had hoped for, you can’t help but think of how you would have reacted if your test was negative. We will never forget the dark days of infertility no matter how far we come. We may heal, but I don’t think we will forget.

  6. Suzanne says

    A couple months ago my husband were in the reproductive clinic for an IUI, and we noticed a doppelganger couple across the couch. Same age range, similar nerdy look, and we even had breakfast at the same restaurant while waiting for labs/procedures. I’ve often wondered whether they were able to move on, or if they’re stuck in the same no-baby, more-treatment limbo as we are. It’s hard for me to put myself in either “camp” yet, because it’s too hard to think of myself as NEVER a mom. I get the same hyper-anxiety that it seems Keiko and many others get when I think, “What if I never have children?” And I have an irrational fear that planning too much “mom” stuff (Pinterest boards, buying ANY baby stuff for our own future children, going down the “nursery planning” road) will somehow jinx us going forward.
    Loving the dialogue, Pamela’s posts and the comments. Thanks for continuing to be such an amazing writer and advocate for all of us, Keiko. And from the bottom of my heart, congratulations on your good news!

  7. Kathy says

    “I think that’s what makes infertility as difficult as it can be, because our disease puts us at odds with cultural norms. Resolving without parenting then, only puts us further at odds.”

    So well said. I love the idea of considering an alternate universe. I have done that in my imagination many times. Sometime that vision includes some or all of the babies we lost surviving and me raising 4 – 6 children right now. I also at times do think about a life without children. We have a few friends/couples who are childless by choice (as far as we know) and it is always interesting to spend time with them. Sometimes the grass seems greener and sometimes it doesn’t. But I certainly respect their choice and feel for those who ultimately live child-free after trying to have children. I should also say that I admire those who know when it feels right to stop trying. That takes a lot of courage and strength I and I have so much respect for those who know when to stop and move on with their lives. I am sure that peace and acceptance takes a while to “come to terms” with as Pam has shared, but it certainly helps those living on to be able to find joy and meaning in their lives, despite not being parents..