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Julia

Of course, I don't know either. But I have to think the consolation of having a live baby next to you would soften the blow of any motherhood-induced growing pains.

I once saw a show on Oprah (yes, sorry) about mothers who were "speaking out" about the dark secrets of being a mother. This was while I was pregnant with Thomas. I couldn't help but wonder who had lied to these women all their lives? And how had they let themselves believe that motherhood was some pink-and-blue walk in the park non-stop bliss rollercoaster? Like everything important in life, motherhood must come with some straight-from-hell scary moments. But it must also come with straight-from-heaven glee.

I just can't wait to get to the glee moments, personally, as we've all already done the other.

Lil

I battled infertility for six years before conceiving twins via IVF. In that time we had failed IUI's and a failed adoption that left me with more grief and pain than I ever thought possible.
When I was pregnant I walked around so happy, despite the puking, the backaches and the constant fear I had that somehow something would go wrong. And I anxiously awaited the day that I could relax and say: I made it to motherhood. (yeah like it was a race or something)
I knew there would be poopy diapers and long nights (we did have a baby for a week) but I also thought that the glee moments that Julia talks about would make up for them. And they do: sort of.
I guess the one feeling that I got, that floored me, that came from nowhere and I didn't expect was this feeling that everyone was taking pieces of the essential me every day. That at the end of most days in the first six months I didn't feel like I had any ME left for me, if that makes any sense.
Now my babies are 14 months old and some days my heart feels like it would burst with joy. But I also think I'm just starting to get some of that ME back.
Oh and the lovely part about infertility; I felt guilty for wanting the pre-mommy me back even for an instant.

Julie

"I'm more the same than ever. I am more wholly myself than I have been in ten years, stripped down to the core, stronger and more fragile than I ever imagined."

Jo, this may be the truest thing I've ever read, anywhere.

jilbur

I don't think that the struggles and pain of mothering are because of "believing that motherhood was some pink-and-blue walk in the park non-stop bliss rollercoaster." It's a double-whammy on mothers when people imply that our difficulties arise out of naivete, or that if we didn't know what we were getting into, then maybe we just weren't cut out of the right cloth. While I was lucky enough to escape profound PPD, I would wager that some of what aggravates the experience for less fortunate mothers is the suspicion that their suffering is 'ungrateful.'

One of my core beliefs is that, paradoxically, we feel more pain when we try to shield our hearts. Opening myself to the pain of the moment hurts more at first, but softens the heart and leads to greater love and compassion for myself and others. Ultimately, it could help me to lighten up and be more open to what's joyful too. Maybe when you have a child, you don't have the option of entirely rejecting what's painful about your situation. Unlike, for instance, a miscarriage, it's not simply a Bad Thing to be rejected--it's a painful experience inextricably tied to a desired one. This paradox can actually complicate as much as it compensates.

It is surely true that having a much-wanted child, and coping with the sometimes very painful adjustment to what that means to one's life, is not identical to coping with infertility. It's pretty easy to see that not getting what one deeply desires--and being handed a large, unsolicited packet of grief along with it--are widely divergent experiences. It's not hard to guess which of the two most women would choose.

What about the implicit griefs that accompany the joys of motherhood, though? I don't have any personal stories of great tragedy to unfold, but--just for example--within the first week after my apparently healthy baby was born, we learned that she had a pigmented lesion covering 30% of her scalp, that put her at high risk for terminal cancer and/or neurological disease, and would have to be removed after her first year, and that she would require quarterly monitoring. As it turned out, that diagnosis was partially incorrect, and she didn't need the series of surgeries predicted. But we lived with that diagnosis for two years. "Achieving" one's child usually carries with it the implication that one is not confronted with the prospect of grieving and loss, but it's part of lots of mothers' (and fathers' of course) experience, and not always just hypothetically.

Melissa

I've never struggled with infertility, so I do have a certain amount of shame for having the mixed emotions I do about motherhood. As though I am nothing but a spoiled child who was handed the miracle of a child without having to earn it.

I do cherish my children and I do thank God for them at least every other day.

Whenever I read about a mother who has struggled with infertility (Brooke Shields is coming to mind) but still had a horrible post partum period. I feel quietly justified in my very real, very chemical response to becoming a mother.

I have a friend who worked very hard to get her little boy, and when she throws up her hands in defeat as she endures another tantrum, I feel quietly understood.

Since I don't know what it's like to have a child after infertility and loss, I don't know how it would feel. But I also know the experience is different for everyone, fertility issues, losses or not.

I also believe there will be those dark exhausting moments where you look in the mirror and wonder where 'you' went and it will be a more complex string of emotions simply because of what you had to endure to get to this point. It won't make sense in light of your history...but there it will be.

It's simply reality and it's not entirely fair to judge the mothers who feel it in a more vocal and intense way than others. That Oprah show is an excellent example. The truth is, as much as people tell you how hard the job of raising children is...you really can not know until you are in it. It's then that it takes you by surprise.

Finally...in my most long winded comment ever. I would never ever claim that the joy of my children doesn't matter in light of the personal struggle I have to keep up with the work of them. It actually makes no sense at all, but I wouldn't trade this job for anything in the world. That's true and not at all a neat and tidy way to justify my angst about motherhood. It's true.

However, both of those feelings exist at once and I think it would have been helpful for me to understand that before I started the process. But then I don't think I could have.

Julia

Oh, Jilbur, please don't think I was referring to you! I was only referring - in a very strict way - to the specific few women I saw on this program. And it wasn't even all of the women on the program. I deeply empathized with all of them, nonetheless.

I think there is more soul-stretching in being a mother than anyone ever expects. And I wasn't trying to add guilt to anyone's experience. I think each and every one of us has a right to feel whatever we feel, whenever we feel it. And I certainly think it's okay to feel some disappointment and heartbreak even when your child lives and is healthy - it is life, afterall.

These few women on the show had been seriously misled by their female relatives and, in my opinion, by themselves into believing that motherhood WOULDN'T be soul-stretching and painful. And I thought it was a huge disservice to hold them up as examples of what all women believe motherhood will be. I think it got to me precisely because I've always believed motherhood will be the single most difficult and heartwrenching experience of my life - and that was long before I ever knew what was coming my way.

So please don't take offense. My apologies.

jilbur

Eeeeek--Julia, no apology really necessary--I think I overreacted to your comment. This is really a tough topic, on a lot of level. Whenever the recipe calls for 1 c. infertility grief plus 1 c. mother ambivalence, you have yourself one incredibly murky stew. If these comments make a productive, if difficult, dialogue happen, I think it could be immeasurably (more than 2 c., that is) emotionally worthwhile. Please don't censor yourself on my behalf.

The fact is, that the horribly sentimental and maudlin popular culture of motherhood is a hefty contributor to the already fraught realities of both mothering and infertility. So even though the premise of Jo's post is counterintuitive at first glance, I think it's a brilliant basis for potentially healing insights.

Kristine

I've just been pondering similar questions. Statistically, someone from my group of cyber-friends is going to have a healthy pregnancy (right??). Obviously it's going to affect their writing, their contributions to the group.
When I used to post on "ttc after miscarriage" boards we'd always say to someone new "welcome...hope you won't stay long." But for those of us who have journeyed this far into the abyss of infertility and multiple miscarriages, I don't think there is such a thing as just walking away. With a baby or without. We're different people because of our experiences. We'll be different as parents. I know my miscarriages have affected my relationship with my daughter. Not neccessarly in a negative way (or positve I guess, for that matter). I'm just different. I take less for granted...I guess that's positive. I suspect I hug her a little tighter and want her to grow up a little less quickly, knowing she might be the only one I have. And sometimes I look at her and worry, because I think- "what an enormous burden on your little shoulders--being so very much to me."
Well...I am feeling very sober, as I stare at my computer screen. I'm thinking of how unfair it seems that someone who wants to be a mother so very much is being denied that. I do believe the journey that so many of you women are going through will have a lasting effect on you, whether or not the end result is a child. I wish I had something more encouraging to say.

Moxie

The loss of self we feel during motherhood is, IMO, just another symptom of the society we've created, in which women are all alone in their own little houses with their own bodies and/or babies and/or grief. The same reason women don't know how hard breastfeeding is going to be. Because we don't see the normal cycle of life and womanhood. We haven't all been living together and being there for an aunt or cousin who is suffering from infertility, so it blindsides us when we can't conceive. We haven't seen how hard nursing is, so it spacks us upside the head when our nipples are sore and we're leaking milk all over the kitchen floor. We've never seen that complete breakdown of the self that comes in those first few weeks (OK, who am I kidding? Years!) of motherhood, so we think it's just us. How can we possibly blame ourselves for not knowing what we never had the chance to see? Thank God for the internet, which is allowing us to recreate our tribal lifestyle (which is probably the way humans should live). Any 16-year-old with a computer can read these insightful words by jilbur and Jo and everyone else. So maybe when she's TTC and becoming a mother and trying to nurse she won't be as unprepared for it as we all were.

FWIW, I had a horrible first trimester. I saw a therapist about it, and we worked through my main issue, which was that I thought I should be doing something to fight back at the fear and loss of self I was experienceing. She pointed out to me that just surviving the day was fighting back, and that sometimes all you can do is keep breathing. I learned that lesson through to my bones. It served me well when those planes crashed into my city, and it *really* served me well when I was nothing but a weeping milkwagon. So I'm of the opinion that if you can make your peace with the process of loss that is intrinsic to the journey of motherhood, the individual steps will come into perspective more easily.

Mindy

Kristine--EXACTLY! You don't just walk away from infertility or loss, and it DOES make you a different person and mother.

I have about seventeen thousand colliding thoughts in my head right now, and don't know how to organize them for a decent comment, but Jo, man oh man could I wax poetic on the subject.

"Is this disintegration and coalescing anything like what happens when a woman first becomes a mother?"

YES. It totally is. And more. I am most assuredly more brittle and stronger than I was in 1995, the last year I touched birth control. I know a few people who have had the fairy tale experience (pregnant the first time they tried--each time, kids who slept through the night from 6 weeks, no serious illnesses or injuries, extensive family around and great support systems, great post-partum sex), and though they love me and believe me when I describe our struggles, I can't help feeling that they can't quite grab onto it. Somewhere in there I think they are wondering just how unbalanced you have to be to come out of childbirth feeling desperate and sad and suicidal and unhinged and lonely and exasperated and inadequate and resentful as a mother, as a wife, and as a woman.

That can be lonely, oh yes it can, sing it to the rafters.

However, and I sure hope this is a tiny consolation: once you become a mother after infertility (and for good measure I'll also say, "Once you become a mother after infertility and a second-trimester termination for defects and then more infertility and then a perfect birth followed eight days later by devastating heart failure and damage and a miraculous recovery after weeks on life support"), I believe that you are in some ways better equiped for parenthood.

You are better able to handle the adversity and disappointment because you are used to it. And on some level, you are expecting it because, really, why should life be any different NOW?

You are better able to erect appropriate barriers between yourself and others when it comes to unwelcome or unsolicted advice and direction. After all, you've already had to deal with nosy and/or clueless "well-wishers" and have gone to battle with doctors over differential diagnoses. You have your battle scars and know you can handle a few more.

You know that medical science is not infallible. You have learned to trust your instincts as well as SOME of the experts. You know how to temper one with the other, and are not likely to fall into the trap of blindly following every other mother's advice and warnings because, hey, if they don't know, who does??? Answer: YOU do, with the help of a little snappy research and the firing a few few synapses.

Jo, I think you are on the right track, and you have the decided advantage of insight and empathy and self-knowledge and the very coolest, bestest friend and support you could ask for. If I didn't like you so much, I would try to steal Jilbur and make her my very own.

runnerwoman

I've been chewing on this for hours, but I can't quite wrap my head around it. Well done, Jo.

Studies show that people who parent after dealing with infertility (and I believe, IVF specifically) show less stress and more satisfaction with parenting. I don't know what that means, though. I have to believe that there's room in there for complaining about a lack of sleep or a complete meltdown because parenthood isn't quite what you thought it would be.

I have to think that parenting after infertility means that you get to be a *parent* - you get to make the same mistakes and feel the same stress as those lucky folks who get pregnant the first time they try. It's just that parents who have come through infertility get to frame things through their own reality. I hope I get the chance.

Julia

Mindy - you rock.

getupgrrl

Everyone else has made such eloquent, insightful points that I don't really have anything to add, except for one thing - at the end of your post, you asked, "What do you think?" And I just wanted to say that I think you're very brave.

Jo

I'm blown away, as usual.

There isn't really anything I can add; I'm so grateful to read everyone's wise words. And of course there's no way to really know until you've done whatever it is that you do and fifteen years have passed and then you can look back and say, holy God, how does anyone survive that? But all of us are surviving, right this minute. That burns up a lot of energy sometimes.

And to those of you who said I'm brave, I have insight and self-knowledge -- well, thank you. I feel the very same about all of you and countless others. We've earned every bit of it, too. I am honored to be part of our impromptu, shifting internet tribe.

Keep it coming, too, if anyone has more to say. It's so tempting to print this up and, in a Project Mayhem-style act, tuck it into every infertility survival guide, and the motherhood posts in every Dr. Sears baby book. (I'm not even going to bother with What to Expect; that one belongs with the corncobs in a two-holer outhouse.)

Karen

Well, I'm not a mother. Yet.

But recently, for the first time since I started trying (now two years), I started to think: I could be okay without kids.

This thought scared the shit out of me. All I've known for the past two years--and fifteen years before that--is that I want a child. More. Than. Anything. And now, I am thinking: I have the afternoon to myself. I don't have to make dinner, if I don't want to. We have more money to spend on us. And then I think: wow, am I getting selfish?

It was a fleeting moment. I still want a baby more than anything. But I have seen another side to IF, that it offers a kind of freedom that I'm not sure motherhood offers. Because I'm not a mom, I can be more Karen. Hopefully, I stay "me" when I become a mom, but I bet I do lose a little of myself.

So--because I could imagine my life without children, even for a brief second, I can imagine that mothers could feel conflicted, at times, about their children.

Really thoughtful post, and responses.

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