What if my biggest infertility fear is not that I will never be a mother but that I will never be seen as a mother? By others?
What if the fears that keep me up at night in this gut-wrenching process are ultimately fears of what others will think in the coming months and years as we still haven't had children? Fears that as all our friends become parents, they will think themselves superior to us? In the same way that those who are...well, less innocent look upon the virgins in the world. As those without the privilege of a certain special knowledge. To be pitied.
I am afraid that I will always be a pregnancy virgin. Unwillingly excluded from that special knowledge.
Ever since I can remember, one of my biggest fears in life has been that I will be excluded. Excluded from the athletes because I am not athletic. Excluded from the popular crowd because I am not outgoing or witty enough. Excluded from the married group because I am still single. And now excluded from parenthood because my eggs don't know how to come out of their follicles in less than a month.
And so I've always been good at fitting in. At observing enough details of the group around me to seem like I belong. I honed my skills at fitting in when I was eleven years old and my family moved from a small town in the Philippines, where I was homeschooled and belonged to a safe, inclusive community of homeschooled expat kids, to a suburb of Philadelphia, where I began attending a large public school. I didn't know how to dress. I hadn't seen any of the movies that my fellow sixth-grade classmates had seen. I had no clue what music and bands were popular. I feared I was the ultimate girl-who-should-be-excluded.
But because I wanted to make friends and fit in so badly, I learned how to pretend. It's a survival skill for kids who live cross-culturally. I would nod my head and say, "Yeah, I've heard of that movie." Laugh along with the jokes that involved quoting a line from last night's episode of Friends. I was always aware, always attuned to the details of conversations around me, always putting puzzle pieces together to try to figure out the culture of American preteens. I learned to pretend I had the insider knowledge. And never, ever, to be the clueless one to whom other kids would pose the incredulous question, "How could you possibly never have seen an episode of ER?"
I nearly had a panic attack in seventh grade when my English teacher asked us to write down our favorite band. Was I supposed to have a favorite band? I wrote down the name of the only band I could think of at the time. Smashing Pumpkins or something like that. I had no clue what songs they sang, but I knew they were on the radio sometimes. And at least semi-cool. And I knew I did not want to be that girl who admitted that really, her favorite musician was Rachmaninoff.
Without realizing it, I had begun to live to be liked and included. I thought everyone lived that way. It was an anxiety-ridden way of living, but really, what else mattered if no one liked you? If the only kids who let you hang out with them were the kids who had been snubbed from every other coterie? If you were always labeled as the cluelessly nerdy, formerly homeschooled missionary kid?
Around my sophomore year of high school, I distinctly remember having a conversation with my mother that left my little fear-based world shaking on its foundations. She told me in no uncertain terms that it actually was not okay to live to please other people. That the approval of others was too small and restrictive of a purpose, and that it would leave me empty, even if I became the most popular person on earth. At some point, I needed to be willing to live the way God wanted me to live without worrying about what others would think, or whether they would include me in their groups. Exclusion--or perceived exclusion--was not the worst tragedy that could befall me.
I cried when she explained all this to me. I couldn't conceive of a world in which acceptance and inclusion weren't the end goal. I couldn't conceive of myself as someone who didn't live for others' approval.
I like to think I have grown since then. I like to think that I am more secure in who God made me to be. That I am better at loving and including people without caring as much if they really love or include me back.
But I find myself here, struggling with one of the biggest IFs of my life. Infertility. Feeling like the twelve-year-old girl who wasn't cool enough to sit in the back of the school bus. Excluded against my will. Clueless about what it would feel like to be pregnant, give birth, be a mother. These are not things I can simply pretend to understand, the way I pretended to know that JTT was Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
I'm unable to turn off the constant question in my head: what if I never get pregnant? The pain of living childlessly sounds unbearable to me right now. I long for a baby, a child, to be a mother. But as I delve more deeply into what I really fear, I realize that beneath the fear of childlessness is a deeper, darker fear that I will be forever excluded from the pregnant club.
And what if that's really my greatest infertility fear? Exclusion? Does that mean I long to belong to the pregnant club more than I long for children? That I long for others to admire and respect me more than I long to be a parent?
I believe that fear is a choice. That even though I can't turn off the scaredy-cat voice in my head, I can choose whether to dwell in the fear or to move forward in courage. I believe this in my head. I really do.
But so far, I have felt powerless to tell that voice to shut up. I vacillate between fear and courage not based on my decisions but based on the latest bloodwork, cycle, news, pregnancy announcement, physical symptom. What if I could believe in my heart that fear is a choice?
And what if I could really live for something greater than my fear of exclusion?
For more information on infertility, please visit Resolve. If you're curious about National Infertility Awareness Week, travel here. And, finally, to learn more about my inspiration for this post, visit Stirrup Queens.