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I don’t have sophisticated tastes.  I eat like a child. I would never say that I even like most vegetables and I have to work to eat them. I have learned to ask for wine that is “fruity” but really, I mean “sweet.” I am the same way about stories, particularly TV shows and movies, probably because those are the stories I turn to for relief and escape. When an important character dies I sometimes feel betrayed, as though the rules of storytelling forbid it.  Like somebody put carrots in my trick-or-treat bag. An ending that isn’t happy – particularly death – feels wrong.

I am so brainwashed.  I have seen probably hundreds of thousands of stories, movies, TV shows, books, plays.  Each has an ending, and most of them have taught me all the wrong things about death. There are so many formulaic stories that the life events they portray have become like points in a game. Someone dies, you lose. Someone gets married, you win. If at the end of the story the characters you have come to (maybe) love are alive and happy, then that feels right.  We walk away from that story with those people frozen in time, forever.  If I think of all the fictional characters I have encountered in my 47 years, most of them are still alive, like the last chord of a piece of music echoing on forever. I have come to believe that real people should be that way too.

Despite what I know, what life tries to tell me, I am wired by all these stories to believe that all of this or that should go on forever, and then when death happens, it’s wrong. I have noticed my own deep immaturity in this area even as I’ve gotten older. I have not been helped by the lack of hard knocks in the death department. I haven’t had to face it very much. And so I fear death. I fear mine, and I fear losing those I love so much that it will probably be easier (in some ways) when it does come, because of the dread and horror I have attached to death. Sometimes I envy people in less “developed” cultures, or people from earlier centuries. Death was inescapable, and they saw it and smelled it and cleaned it up and went on. They probably did not have the selfish entitlement I feel to big fat slices of forever and happily ever after.

It’s not just death, it’s endings. Why does a group of friends, or a great team, or a love relationship have to change? Why can’t we be in that relational sweet spot forever? Duh. Do I really want to live in some kind of freeze frame where nothing changes and no one grows? Am I still such a baby that I don’t know how to take the bitter with the sweet? Apparently so. And when the ending, or the fading away, or the change, comes, I am so busy coveting my lost endlessness that I forget what it was about.  I forget that it was always the moment, the day, that mattered. It’s not like I’m going to wait until the end of my life to flip through the photo album and THEN get the big payoff, while the credits roll.  That was it.  It’s gone.

It’s 9:38, and at 11 we will be at the vet, holding our sweet kitty as she gets the shot that will end her life. She is 17 years old, and sick, and we’re doing this before she gets sicker, and all the agonizing about the whether and the when are done. But I’m struck by some of my fear and horror, again. I know that life doesn’t last forever, and I’m sort of getting it as I take in her aging and her discomfort. But still it feels wrong.  I have agonized about all the times I wasn’t a good enough “mom” to her.  The way we didn’t love her the same way after the baby came.  The times she wanted to be petted and I shoved her away.

This is typical, I guess. Wishing for more of what we didn’t appreciate. Missing her in advance. But for me, it was also something like, maybe if I’d been a better person to her things would… be different.  Really? Am I thinking that I could have earned a longer life for her? That I somehow “lose” because my cat has gotten old and sick, and because I deserve that? And that is a part of it, for me. In the sugary stories, the “better” people often end up with the better result. The stronger ones are able to exert some kind of control and things get fixed that aren’t the slightest bit fixable in real life.

Another sad part is thinking I should have cuddled her more when I had the chance, as if I could have saved it up somehow, and opened a can of it on some future day when I felt around at the foot of the bed and realized she wasn’t there. That’s not real either. The truth is she will be gone soon, very soon. And all of the perfect behavior and cuddling in the world would not have prevented this day from coming, and I think it would not prevent me from hurting either. I guess I just like to think that I could have done something.  Otherwise the idea that loss hits me like a freight train and will, every time, no matter what I do – that’s too scary.

Once in a while I can stop, and breathe, and think of her life as something that will not just end today; it will be complete. I will have given her the best possible life, within the range of my limitedness; I will have loved her so much, and I will have given her the best possible death. Even though I am stupid about death, I am pretty sure that there is beauty in a good one, even though we can only guess about what a “good” death might be, from our position as the spectator.

Only when her life is over will I truly understand all that was right, and good, about it.  Not forever, not free of pain, not perfectly sweet. Just: right.

This is the second part of my infertility monologue.  My performance of these monologues plus some other monologues and 5 songs is delayed for a month because we had a major Tennessee Snow Panic.  This is an event where everything closes before any snow falls, and in this case not one flake ever did fall last Friday.  I am not kidding.  Happily I will still be doing my performance next month, or I would be an angry person about putting all this work and then getting canceled for not even any snow.   Today we have actual snow, maybe 3-4 inches, and it actually makes sense to shut everything down since I think we have one snowplow in this town, and if I want to go out I’ll be on my own.

Here’s the rest of the IVF monologue.  Some of it’s about faith and God stuff, so take what you like & leave the rest.

“But we are Christians, and we will pray.

At the beginning, we pray that God will give us children.  A boy and a girl, born close enough to be friends but not so close that we can’t lose the weight in between.  Because we lose the weight.  Like that’s hard?

But after a year, nothing happens, so we pray that the IVF works, and we tell God that it’s His will if it’s twins or just one, but we secretly know that it will be twins.  A boy and a girl.  Because God is all about abundance, and the desires of our hearts, right?  God was whispering something to me about that, but it didn’t make sense.

And after another year, and nothing happens, we pray to God that the IVF will work and there will be a baby.

And after another year you we pray to God “why?”

“Why?”

Christians will tell you why.

They might say: “Maybe God doesn’t want you to be a mother.”  Really?  My neighbor’s son died in a car accident.  Does God not want her to be a mother anymore?   My friend has cancer.  Does God want her to only have one breast, and no eyebrows?

People will say: “Have you prayed for a baby?”  Oh! I was praying for a toaster.

People will say “my friend just kept believing that God could heal her, and then blah blah blah she had a baby.”  I don’t believe that God can physically heal me.  I know He can. I just don’t know if He will.

People sometimes say: “Why did you wait so long to get married?  Didn’t you think about it?”

Did I think about getting too old to have a baby?

Every day.

Every day that I trusted God to bring me a husband.

Every day as I hoped and prayed and dated and waited.  Every year as I saved myself for my wedding night and wondered if even that would ever come. Yeah.  I thought about it.

One of the things I do in my real life, and I do have one, is perform as a singer/songwriter.  Over the years, the little explanations and bits between songs grew into full-on monologues and stories.  This Friday I’m doing a mini-version of a show I’m planning for February, and I’m doing it for my moms’ group.  While I think infertility is a great topic to encourage gratitude in moms, especially those whose babies came easily, this little performance also might do a little something more.  That is, I hope, to educate those who conceived easily about what it’s like for those of us who did not.

This is the first part of the infertility monologue:

When you have an IVF done to try to get pregnant, it takes 2-3 months before, and 2 weeks after.  You have countless visits to the fertility clinic.  One of the things they do the most often, besides taking your blood, is the vaginal ultrasound.  Which means you’re at the doctor’s office, well, you’re not – but I am – and so I see this big plastic… wand… with a kind of familiar shape and since I’m sitting there with no underpants on, I’m thinking, well I guess I know where that’s going.  And then while I’m thinking that, the ultrasound tech person puts a condom on the wand.  Which strikes me as odd.  Am I NOT here to get pregnant?  And we’re using birth control?  Because if it’s the wand that gets me pregnant, I am okay with that.

When you have an IVF done, and I hope you never do, there are lots of medications.  I have to give myself shots.  In the belly, for which they gave me a needle this long, and I wasn’t quite sure about that.  And I have to give myself shots in the thigh, and in the butt.  There are pills to take, and patches to wear, and then there are pills to be inserted. Apparently we have to constantly put things in there before a baby is ever going to come out of there.  Y’all just had to put something in there once.

So, whatever, except the pills to be inserted are blue. I need artificial coloring to get pregnant?  I don’t know what color it is in there, I mean I know the equipment isn’t working, but is it really about the décor?  And then of course, the blue comes off all over the place, and of course at first I forget about those pills, and so there’s the blue, and then I’m thinking BLUE.  No wonder I can’t… I’m BLUE.

When you have an IVF done, the statistics are always around 50% chance that it will work.  Sometimes way less than that, sometimes a teeny bit more.  And those are just the chances of pregnancy.  The chances that a pregnancy will last, and there will be a real live baby at the end of it – you can’t count on it.  But when you have an IVF done, there are certain things you can count on.

The first is that when you go to the doctor, they will need to do certain things on certain days of your cycle. Whatever cycle day they need it to be, is yesterday.  So you’re dying to get the show on the road before you’re 47, but every time you go to the doctor he says “Well! We’ll see you in about a month.”

There are other things you can count on.  For example: When you’ve gone through all the drugs, and all the hormones, and all the waiting, and then you had to wait two weeks to see if it worked, and you were sure you felt weird, and maybe a little nauseated, and a little twinge here maybe?  And then the nurse takes your blood to see if you’re pregnant, and says she’ll call after 1, and she finally calls and you can tell by the way she says your name that it’s not good news.  And all the drugs and the money and the hopes and the time are just… gone.  That’s when you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will say “So, when are you two going to have a little one?” or “What are you waiting for?” or “Aren’t you worried about Down’s Syndrome if you wait too long?”

And if you found out you were pregnant and then you went in for the ultrasound – you know, the one you’re going to put on Facebook to let your friends know?  Except when they looked for the heartbeat, there wasn’t one.  When that happens, you can be sure that one of your friends is going to call you, breathless.  “We have news.” Or your co-worker is going to say “It’s so unfair!  I can’t believe I’m pregnant AGAIN.”  Or your sister-in-law will say “oh my gosh, I was so worried because it took four months… you should so get pregnant too so we can have our babies at the same time!”

That, you can count on.

But then, it finally happens. You get the good phone call and the heartbeat is there and you can even tell some people and you’re throwing up a little bit.  But then there’s the night with the bleeding and cramping and the emergency room and the doctor says he’s sorry, and then they tell you that you have to have a D&C, which shows up on your insurance that you had an abortion.  That will be two days before your best friend’s baby shower. At your house.

When you do an IVF, you can count on that.

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I have been doing some hardcore psychotherapy.  I started in, oh, a few months ago.  My therapist is digging into some of my deepest hurt and fear from abusive childhood stuff and it’s been good for me but hard.  Without going into too much boring detail, the method has to do with identifying different “parts” of me that sometimes show up during different situations.  It’s not like real-live disassociative disorder (i.e. Sybil) but just the mild version that all of us have.  For example, if you were called into your boss’ office and fired and then marched to your desk and then shortly thereafter walked out the door with The Box that says “Yes, I’ve just been canned,” you might do it in a state of numbness, a state of iron self-control that surprises you; but then at some point later you’d probably shift into crying, throwing things, or whatever your flavor of coping might be.  My therapist would say that a “manager part” of you handled the mechanics of getting out the door, remembering to get all your stuff out of your desk including the air-conditioning cardigan sweater that you leave in the closet, and then that manager part would recede once you were in a safe place and your other feelings could come out.

This has been incredibly helpful for me and I’m now looking at the “part” of me that overeats.  Motherhood and overeating seem to go together, can I get an amen?  Because motherhood is stress, and it’s a new stress.  I’m approaching my motherhood stress in a special way, and by “special” I mean “uniquely effed up.”  Because of my vow never to complain about motherhood, I’m eating all the complaints and I want to stop.

Complaints happen.  Motherhood is hard.  If you hate me for having a child and complaining, then click away, Dixieland.

For me the stressed-out feeling comes because it never ends.  “It” being the “on-duty” feeling.  As I’m sitting here on the couch now, typing, and D. is playing right next to me, and we’re gated into the living room, it doesn’t seem so bad.  And “bad,” it isn’t.  But it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  That’s for sure.

I’ve been thinking about jobs I have had in the past.  I do very well with brainy, individual projects that I can work on and complete on my own schedule.  I do well with deadlines, because even then I can still be in control.  For example: if you require me to be at work from 10 to 6, during which time you hope I can get as much done editing on a 10,000 page manuscript as possible, and you begin thrusting pages at me the minute my ass hits the chair, I’ll do okay.  But if you say to me that you need 5000 pages edited as soon as possible, I’ll probably get more pages done that way, in the same amount of time.

I’ve done a few jobs where the pace was up to someone else.  I worked in retail at exactly one job for exactly two weeks before I was fired.  I worked at UPS loading boxes, and that was pretty freaking stressful.  The boxes just kept coming.  Although, I will say, that the shift did end and the boxes dried up.  And, packing boxes that are almost all uniformly square is a lot different than trying to be a perfect mother, giver of affection, consistent disciplinarian, preparer of nutritious meals, innovator, and cheerful reader of the same book a million times – that ain’t no square box.

Another facet of my mothering aptitude is repetitive tasks.  I suck at them.  If, on a temp job, I had to do a huge and messy xeroxing job, I would generally mess it up, because it was so boring I could not stay focused on the job.  Sigh.  All of this rumination about my various jobs makes me feel that I am selfish and spoiled.

It is what it is.  The important thing is that whatever my objection to spending 13 straight sole caregiver hours with my son, they are surmountable.  But the part of me that eats thinks I can’t handle it, so that part takes over and suggests that cookies will help.

And, here’s the bitch of it: they do.  Unless it’s cookies #6 and 7, which is way too many cookies even for me, they DO help.  They feel wonderful.  They make me feel like a kid in a good way.  My mouth (amazingly) forgets the soft bloom of sweet that fills my body even if it’s only been a few hours, and so it is wonderful all over again.   Obviously cookies only help for a minute, but the part of me that eats is convinced that one minute is all the comfort we can hope for.

So I need to admit that I feel trapped.  When it’s time to pick my indescribably loved and wonderful child up from daycare, I feel selfish and frustrated.  I feel afraid that I somehow won’t “handle” the next six hours even though I do handle it, every day.  Instead of just jumping in, having fun, and staying in the moment with this somewhat angelic little boy, I sometimes count up the hours in my head until bedtime, and they feel heavy on my spirit.  Sometimes I try to “get things done” while taking care of my child, and he ends up throwing things at me to get my attention.  I end up appalled and angry that he is such a little savage when he really just wants his mama to look at him and snuggle him for a minute.  Sometimes I eat cookies or candy that I don’t really want, and sometimes I watch TV and garbage on the computer, because I feel cheated or stolen from, and I eat to “get something back.”

Nice, huh?

Another weakness of mine comes into play, and that is the persistent idea that “getting things done” is more important than raising my child.  That two loads of done laundry and two batches of chicken chili has more value for the family than a day of laughing with my child.  We all will say oh, no, that can’t be true!  It’s the most important job in the world blah blah blah.  I agree with that, but if so, why do daycare workers get paid so little?  Why are teachers paid so little?  Are we so blind that we can only see the value in some tangible thing like a vacuumed rug, even though that rug will have to be vacuumed again, and our child will never be this exact age again?   I think we all want it to be the most important job in the world but we don’t know how to see it that way.  I sure don’t, nor do I know how to do it that way.

The crowning irony is that when I feel resentful and afraid of the demands of motherhood, there is a part of me that tries to protect me from those feelings by eating.  I am mothering myself in that way.  Badly.

A thousand of you can write and tell me your own version of this, and I’ll still feel like I’m not redeemable, selfish, spoiled.  That I forgot so quickly that not having a child hurts so much more.   So I just have to do the work of letting the ugly out and somehow finding a way to own it and maybe I can move past it.  Which for me means not medicating it with food.

Old dear in the breakfast room at the hotel:  Oh, he’s so cute!  Is he your only grandchild?

Me: My mother seems to think so!

Old dear:  Awww…. (as she wanders away)

 

Sigh.  Note to self: snappy comebacks wasted on the hard of hearing.