What knocked me out – and ultimately woke me up.
I think it’s important to include my journey so you can understand where I’m coming from. I also see it as a great opportunity to own my story and practice vulnerability…things that I have discovered are necessary for living wholeheartedly; although not always easy to follow.. as I found out when trying to write my first blog post (Going All In). So here it is, but be warned, this is not a quick read.
The last few years have been the most challenging, painful times in my life so far. Not that I hadn’t known struggle before this; admittedly I spent much of my teen and young adult years struggling with panic disorder and depression. But for now, back to recent past..
I had just turned 28 (April 2014) and found myself facing the much anticipated phone call from the IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) clinic, and the dreaded words “I’m sorry, it’s negative” coming from the apologetic nurse on the other end of the line. This was the fourth time hearing these words and facing this failure in less than a year’s time- a year filled with infertility treatments after already struggling through 3 years before this of repeated failures and trying everything imaginable on our own (including acupuncture, clomid, every diet, supplement, and trick in the book). Our first IVF had given us hope; a positive pregnancy test that filled us with relief and elation, unfortunately it was quickly taken away from us and replaced with unspeakable grief. The repeated failures after this drained us even more. We gave it everything we had; emotionally, physically, and financially.
I was 24 when we started trying to conceive. We had planned everything out rationally; paid off student debt, saved an appropriate amount of money, had gone on a romantic trip, and had finally ‘earned’ the right to start a family. From researching online I figured it would take us max 3-4 months to conceive; and although I scoff at the naivety and ignorance now, I must admit it was a reasonable assumption at the time.
My whole life my dreams revolved around having a family. I have been yearning to be a mother from the time I pretended with dolls at the age of three. It was always something I took for granted; an assumed future that was purely a given. I would seek out every opportunity to take care of babies and children; from the time I was a young child, throughout my adolescence, and into my adulthood. Even my career choice has been strongly influenced by my passion to influence the lives of children and to set up a life that is agreeable to raising a family. I didn’t just enjoy taking care of children, it was part of my identity. I was always told by others that I was great with kids, and that I would make a fantastic mother some day. I held this belief close to my heart and wore it with pride. As my mother used to tell me; “You are meant to be a mother, it has to happen”.
But two weeks after turning 28 I found myself sitting in the specialist’s office, hearing the words I never truly imagined I’d ever hear. A reality that seemed so foreign to me that I could almost imagine every other possible life scenario before it. I was informed that based on the results from our 4 IVF trials it seemed that the quality of my eggs are not good enough to produce a baby. Despite normal hormone levels and normal results on all of our tests, the quality of my eggs for some unknown reason were lacking. It was recommended that we stop treatment and accept that we will most likely never have a child.
And if you are like most people I have come across you will be now be saying to the page in front of you, “Why not adopt?/donor egg?/foster?/Why not _(insert your own society led perceived easy answer to this issue)_?”. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of why we as a couple couldn’t pursue these other options of parenting, but I can assure you they were discussed and researched at length, and in the end it was simply not feasible for us in our current reality. There are plenty of assumptions that are made about all of these options, ones that most people (including myself) are naive and ignorant of before they are actually involved in their processes. They are not simple answers or quick fixes to “I can’t have children”. And contrary to popular belief, they aren’t available to everyone- even if the desire to pursue them is there.
So there I was, falling off the peak of where I should have been. Watching all my friends enjoy the view from the mountaintop as I plummet into the unknown, scrambling to find a way to survive this.
— Excerpt from my book: “Falling Off the Peak.. and Living to Tell About It. Surviving Infertility in Your Twenties.”
All those years I had been waiting for my life to begin, and then I come to find out that it never will. I know how it sounds, but this is where I was. I had only ever really lived for the future, which of course (as I realize now) wasn’t living at all. But this is what my life was. And it crumbled in front of me.
At the same time that I was trying to swallow my new childless fate, my mother of 58 was diagnosed with dementia. I wasn’t only losing my dream of motherhood, I was also losing my mother.
Dementia is a life changer. It robs you of the people you love, forcing you to watch your loved one disappear in front of you. And it’s one of those things that I imagined if it was to happen to our family, I’d be older and somehow more prepared for it… though I’m sure you can never truly be prepared for such a thing. The role reversal has been difficult to accept emotionally, and tricky to navigate. My mother doesn’t seem to have insight into the disease; she thinks she is fine and is quick to get upset or angry if you imply differently. On one hand it means she isn’t depressed over her diagnosis, but on the other hand it makes it very difficult to assess her needs and requires a lot of creativity to put in the help she needs without her realizing what you’re doing.
This year alone she has stopped cooking, driving, has a very difficult time communicating and relaying information (language difficulties), her memory difficulties have increased, and her walking (and awareness of surroundings) has become troubling. She used to be a professional writer, and now she can barely sign her name. Watching her struggle with things she used to do with ease, while trying to maintain a nonchalant attitude and provide assistance in a “it’s no big deal” way, has been some of the best acting I’ve ever done. It’s been hard, to say the least.
I spent a few months struggling to get out of bed, and struggling even harder to do whatever I had to to avoid truly accepting this as my life. I didn’t want my reality and believe me, I didn’t go down without a fight. When I finally surrendered, I had to get busy picking up pieces – or more accurately- building pieces from scratch.
Under instruction from my Psychologist, I had to get rid of everything that I was holding onto for the life I longed for (but didn’t have); i.e. the parenting binder I created, the Pinterest boards about babies and kids, the clothes, and so on. I literally threw out (or in some cases donate) my denial.
Without my Psychologist’s help I may never have been able to get out of the “victim to my circumstances” hole I was hiding in, and move to taking ownership over my life and future happiness. Among many things, she helped me realize how much I really didn’t know myself, and opened my eyes to how much self work I had to do.
I worked my way through books about moving on after infertility, tried different ways to find small amounts of happiness and peace, focused on self-care, and processing emotions. I discovered/rediscovered that I had a real passion for being out in nature, writing, and dancing.
Since then I have continued my journey of transformation with guidance from my Psychiatrist (I will never be able to thank my friend enough for this recommendation), the ACT program, ISTDP, as well as many books and other inspirations (see Inspirations page if interested).
My recent circumstances not only highlighted the importance of living while you can, but through this process I have been enlightened to what “living” actually means.
Living my values has become my focus- and the difference it has made in my life is astounding. The importance of TRIBE and AUTHENTICITY, in particular, has made such a difference to me I can’t believe I went so long without.
I’m still a work in progress, and it’s not like life is any easier now, but I feel much more alive than I ever have – and that’s not just something worth celebrating- it’s something worth living for.