What do you do with years of expectation about roles and identity?
How do you turn off the tape in your head about what was supposed to be the rest of your life?
Where do you find a new sense of purpose and meaning? Those are some of the big, huge, enormous questions that have been accumulating in my in-box the past few weeks.
Pour a drink.
Pass the Magic 8 Ball.
In fact, I think a good-old fashioned sleepover might be needed. Join me as I mull over the following reader mail:
I’m “Coming2Terms” with my own infertility and something has been bothering me lately. I thought you might be able to help. How do you turn off the part of your brain that has been on autopilot about one day having children? For instance, when I hear a unique name I automatically think “Oh I like that one! Maybe we’ll name our child that!” It’s frustrating to have to keep reminding myself “you are not going to have your own children, so stop thinking that way.” Does it just take time, or is it something I will continue to do? I know you’ve had more time to adjust to all of this so I thought you might be able to give me some insight.
I have learned to accept feeling left out, losing my “mom” friends, societal insensitivity, and running into every pregnant person in town when I go to the grocery store, but the part that bothers me the most is whether or not, when all is said and done, that my life will matter.
It troubles me whether or not I am contributing to society in a way that is on some level “equal” to people with children. It seems that moms and dads sort of get a free pass on doing something meaningful — that whether or not they try, they’ve already achieved their mark in life by pointing to their children. Those of us without children don’t get that free pass. I want to know that when I get to the end of the line, my life mattered. This is one of the lesser discussed parts of infertility and childlessness in general.
A while ago, I met a wonderful man. He is everything I could hope for: patient, passionate, loyal, ambitious, “sane,” and so much more. The only problem was that I found out he’s sterile. I was devastated when I first found out, because I knew I’d never have children with this man, but then I thought, “Do I really need kids to make my life complete?” After digging around, I found out that I don’t, in fact, “need” to have children in order to be happy in life. Now, I feel so much better. What are a few words of advice/tips that you remembered when you initially decided not to have children? I would really, really appreciate obtaining a bit of your wisdom.
Hokey. (The glass is half full here — of Cabernet). First, wisdom is far too generous. Hard-won lessons may be more like it.
#1: Don’t fall for the PR sugar-spun version of parenthood and the not so subliminal messages that your life by comparison doesn’t measure up. I admit I once wished long and hard for the happily-ever-after-fairy-tale-perfect-family ending that involved me as the mom, my husband as the dad and a couple of whip-smart, adorable and polite children. It looked so good with my nose pressed up against the glass. In time, I realized that the soft-focus lensed life filled with giggles and perfect children wasn’t my destiny nor was it realistic. It took some years of mourning what might have been and coping with the post-traumatic stress of failed fertility treatments before I began to question those who bragged endlessly on about their children. I wondered if their need to emphasize their parenting prowess might actually be a cover up for a different sense of inadequacy.
#2: Don’t overlook the many good things in your life. It took me a while to do an honest inventory, but once I took the time to clearly catalog and assess, I came to have a new appreciation for the gifts and the very special people in my life. I also looked more closely at the lives of those around me and saw a different set of hard realities. Instead I saw lives challenged by hardship, disease, and relationship troubles. There is no picture-perfect existence.
Halos aren’t delivered the same day someone becomes a parent in the delivery room or in a court house. I know plenty of single or married without children folk who earn their wings every day looking out for elderly relatives, volunteering with community and religious organizations and playing important roles in the lives of those of all ages — looking after needs ranging from emotional to physical to financial.
#4: There is generation upon generation of programming to overcome here – both primal and societal. It’s easy to see how we buy-into the myth that there is only one way to live a meaningful life. We’re surrounded by messages every day that have the power to belittle or marginalize us if we allow them to own or control us. It’s self-defeating, though, to accept at face value someone else’s idea of what life is supposed to be like.
Remember this: You’re the star of your own life. You get to write the script, design your costumes, own the stage, and sing your own tunes. Make it yours!
Anyone care to share Lesson #5 (or #6 or more)? I know I have some pretty smart and savvy readers out there.