As I’m sure is common, I wear some labels that my family of origin imparted on me. These were not the silly labels of a little girl or identities that I quickly grew out of (and possibly grew to resent). I was known as a caretaker in my family, known for my haste and known for being “the Queen of Non-Sequitur.” This last label had an impression that went along with it. A family member would look around in all directions grabbing at imaginary things floating by and say, “who am I?” The answer was me. I was known for inserting non-sequiturs in conversation but also being flighty in my interests and passions.
My path to parenthood has finally helped me to begin shedding these labels. (Though during those moments when the “what-ifs” come to visit, they play a key role.) I have a room with relics of abandoned hobbies – musical instruments, crafting supplies, sports equipment – and the what-ifs ask me whether the yen to have a child will be as short-lived as my fervent desire to become an accordion player. What if I only love the idea of becoming a mother and once I find my way to that role, I’ll find that I hate it / am terrible at it / made a big mistake.
The haste label is rolled up in a general impatience. It will be news to no one that trying to conceive tries one’s patience. At this point, my husband and I have been trying to become parents for over 7 years. There were the years without menstruation, due to a medication for Crohn’s disease, in which we slowly came to the idea of adoption. We became excited about adoption and then set ourselves the impossible task of completing a domestic open adoption during our year in the States. Then there were the years following a miscarriage, in which we’d thought that my body was telling us to go for a biological child. Then there were the 14 odd months of trying to get to IVF.What if I only love the idea of becoming a mother?Click To Tweet
We have a calligraphic print with Chinese Characters and the English translation “Path Unfolding” that we picked up during our year living next to San Francisco’s Chinatown. We sometimes quote it to one another when feeling hindered or disappointed along our path to parenthood. And some days I want to throw that sign against the wall. Our path unfolds like a peeling onion at times, making me tearful and pained and hating the path to that delicious onion. (Apologies for the strained metaphor, but damn if I don’t love onions.)
Then there’s the caretaker role. This is more likely a kind way of saying “codependent.” I’m the friend who has everything you need. I’m the family member with the eagle eye who walks in the house with dish detergent, just as you’re using the last dregs of the current bottle. Who has a plaster? Me. Who has a toothpick/tissue/spare pair of hose/piece of gum? Gimmie a second, it’s somewhere at the bottom of my bag, just beneath the emergency shoe-polish – there it is!
I’ve often thought that my caretaking meant that I would be a good mother. When I would get my period, I’d moan to the heavens “Universe! Don’t you get it?! I’m meant to be a mom!!!” I’ve treated my body as a ready vessel for our future progeny. No caffeine, nicotine or alcohol; loads of green vegetables, all my vitamins, rest and even bananas (I loathe bananas.) But the day that I went to the fertility clinic to have my eggs counted in advance of an IVF trigger shot, I had a swollen Bartholin gland. It could have been a cyst, or it could have been something to do with my Crohn’s disease; they weren’t certain in the exam room. I was heartbroken. It’s true that I had put added time pressure on my body. I knew that I needed to get pregnant in between the times when my Crohn’s is acting up. But I’d thought that we’d found our window and that it was finally our time. After all, our initial intake exams had been postponed 9 months prior due to a fistula and abscess from my Crohn’s. Wasn’t this baby time? It was not.
In all of our exuberance and preparedness and very expensive hormone therapy, we had our eye on the prize, but my body popped up and shifted our priorities. In the intervening month it has become clear that I need major surgery to overhaul my guts to combat my Crohn’s. I have to be more serious about my health and not just think of my body as a baby-incubator. My instinct is to be heartbroken. I find myself subconsciously doing the math of “If we adopted /got pregnant (enter month/year here), then we’d be _______ old when the kid graduates high school…” But I do feel committed to getting my health under control. I want to be a healthy mother and a healthy woman and not just healthy enough to procreate.
While making decisions about which surgery to have, I was grateful that the one that seems best for my overall, long term health also appears to be the one that will make pregnancy possible. But I find myself filing that in the “who knows?” folder. We’re doing adoption research again, but everything feels postponed and I realize that I’m not feeling the heartbreak of deferring parenthood that I’ve had in the past. I remember so vividly how crushed I was when I discovered that we would need home inspections from two separate offices to adopt and how much that would delay us getting into the waiting pool for open adoption. At the moment, I’m focusing on my health and that is my part in the path unfolding for now.
Throughout the process of trying to become a mother, I’ve been removing labels. Sex has been mislabeled and relabeled and rebranded and I am so grateful for the open, giving, playful priority that our sex life has become through this journey. I lost my mother a few years ago and lost some labels there. Booking my surgery and focusing on my health has helped rip off the haste label (though there’s still the sticky residue of adhesive there, if you’ll again pardon my poor metaphors.) I’m still caretaking, but I’m taking good care of myself in a way that I hadn’t in the past. And I feel like I’m finding a healthy timeline in caring for myself so that I’ll be better able to care for a future child, which feels pretty sequential to me.
Trying to conceive has also taught me that I am no clairvoyant and have no idea what the future holds for me. I might be blogging about adoption in the future, or blogging about pregnancy with an ostomy. But I know that I really have learned through this process and that if I stay open to it, I’ll find gratitude and lessons to combat my hopelessness along the way.
Photo credit: Brian Dunnett.