Monday, April 26, 2010

The Scaredy-Cat's Meow

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.


Anonymous said...

It is a great fear of mine that I will be "the weird one" who is middle-aged and childless. I can relate to a lot of what you write about looking around you for how to fit in.
I never realized how much we follow in each others' footsteps as we go through life, and even when we don't, we are making a conscious statement by living an alternate lifestyle. When we go through infertility we are forced to live that alternate lifestyle, which we are not always comfortable with. I was never comfortable drawing attention to myself for being different. All this is a lot of what I hate so much about infertility.

Kakunaa said...

It's a huge fear of mine that I want to be pregnant just to be pregnant,, thank you for sharing that....

Alex said...

What a great post. Thanks for sharing! I have had a lot of these same fears in my life. At this point, I try not to think about my fear of never having children, because that is absolutely incomprehensible to me. I cannot imagine a life where this quest is not successful.

And it's so hard to be on the outside looking in. I was at lunch at work the other day - the only woman with five men. You would think that this would be a safe situation - we wouldn't talk about kids, or anything, right? They spent 30 minutes sharing stories about their kids, and raising them, and I looked around and discovered I was the only non-parent. That was my first time being jealous of men...

You are not alone. Although you don't want to be in this group, the members of this infertile clique love and treasure you.

Crossed Fingers said...

I love this post on many levels - you sound just like me back in middle school. We moved around a lot too and I was always the "new girl" and trying my best to fit in even if it meant not being myself.

I totally understand where you're coming from when you say you want to be part of the "pregnancy club" - I do too! I want to feel the baby move, I want to see my belly grow, I want to know what contractions feel like and what labor is all about. I want that as much as I want a baby. Does that make me bad? I don't think so - I think it means I want to experience that part of life!

Josey said...

@Crossed Fingers - great point! I think it's just part of life that we want the experience of being pregnant & that camraderie nearly as much as the child itself sometimes.

@Ceejay - amazing post. I think it touches on a fear that a lot of us have. I was never the new kid - I knew my peers since basically birth, but I was still on the edge, always trying to fit in...and sometimes I wonder if even the "cool kids" were feeling the same they could lose their status at any point. I think so.

Your Mother sounds like a very intelligent woman. :)

Leslie said...

Wow what a powerful post! It makes me think of my own situation. My mother was an immigrant (of the poor, searching-for-a-better-life variety) at the age of 9. She always struggled and struggled to fit in, and never felt that she succeeded. So, in many ways she instilled her attitude about this into me-- I was raised with expectations to be smart, popular, successful-- all those awful immigrant hopes and ideals that she and her parents sacrificed their roots for.

So even though I was born here, I had these issues too. I even have that SAME memory of having to pick a band-- except in my case, we had to write down the WORDS to our favorite song. My dad and I spent hours by the radio, trying desperately to transcribe the words to SOME popular song... It was a moment of utter panic for me, who had not a clue about popular music and didn't want to face my peers with nothing...

Right now I am reading Lost in Translation by Eva H....(?) (Can't remember the last name.) It is her memoirs of immigrating to Canada from Poland at the age of 13. REALLY REALLY GOOD BOOK. I am only a little under half-way through it, but I don't think that she has kids (she is divorced), so I am anxious to see how she deals with that phase of life.

I super super recommend it, as it deals so so so well with these precise issues.


Stickles McQueen said...

Wow. I could have written a lot of those words myself. I really have to commend your mother for instilling her wisdom in you.

It hurts so much that I spent years trying to learn not to feel like an outsider, and that right when I felt like I had made my peace with the world, infertility brings it all back. 3 steps forward, 2 steps back - but we're still moving forward, right?

Katie said...

My email signature on my personal email has been the same quote for years now:

"The worst loneliness is not being comfortable with yourself" - Mark Twain

Everytime I see that I remember what it means to me. I was shunned as young girl, black-balled to the point of tears and depression. I had no friends for two years...and I was a suburban-raised, blonde haired, skinny kid that blended in to the crowd better than anyone.

Everyone has their stories of fitting in. But with infertility, I've never felt like such an outsider. I've never been so uncomfortable with myself.

Thanks for your post.

Stefanie said...

What a powerful post. Thank you for sharing.

~Stopping by for ICLW #126

Quiet Dreams said...

Beautiful post. I really relate to the things you wrote here. I have had the same fears about infertility...that not being able to have children meant I would be always on the outside. I'm having those same fears now after my divorce (no kids, not even a husband). Thank you for writing this. (And thank you for stopping by my blog).

Krissi said...

I remember feeling excluded when I was younger (like a nerdy, geeky totally uncool tween) and while TTC (like it was happening to everyone else but me) and then one day I blossomed and fell into my own and both times, it was a life changing experience. Be yourself...amd never make excuses for who you are. Accept all the stages of your life because they all will take you on a journey to a better you.

Niki said...

Its a great moment when you can start being the real you. You learn that if someone doesn't love you the way you are, they aren't worth having in your life. This is a great post and I think a lot of women have these fears. I think some men out there think this way too.

Terry Elisabeth said...

This is a great post. It took a lot of honesty.

AnxiousMummyto3 said...

This is an amazing, raw, honest and, incredibly self-accepting post. I am so honoured you chose to share this with us. Thankyou

Sonja said...

I too have a great fear of not fitting in, even tho I've never really wanted to. But being a mom, yeah, something I want to fit into. Great post.

~Project IF

Mr. Thompson and Me said...

I think that we've all been that girl at the back of the bus.

Thanks for writing such a beautiful, thought-provoking post.

I loved it (and now a follower!)