The War on Negativity

I’ve decided to issue a moratorium on bitterness, resentment and fear.

I know I’m far from alone in having been subjected to these terrorizing emotions for so long, it seems they’ve taken over every waking second of our lives. I know we’ve been struggling, grappling, trying to make sense of it all and desperate to regain some sense of our former, happier, selves. Like a wounded animal, we retreat to solitary confinement as it feels like our hearts become blacker and shrink with every month, every year, that goes by without our most fervent dream becoming reality: motherhood.

I feel like I keep slipping and sliding around in the muck that my emotional, mental and physical “well-being” has become – a misnomer, at this point, because I obviously DON’T feel well. I haven’t felt well in a really long time. I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat well, I’m angry all the time. I’m jealous, bitter, resentful, sad, scared – all the time. I don’t do anything I used to enjoy doing. I don’t go anywhere. I avoid people. I avoid leaving the confines of my little cocoon of self-imposed isolation because it’s too scary “out there”. I feel trapped in a prison of my own making.

And I’m so sick and tired of feeling this way.

It’s easy for me to blame it on my circumstances, on infertility, on my ensuing isolation, on the words and actions (or lack thereof) of others. I’ve been stewing in a sense of failure, of self-loathing, for so long that I apparently stopped fighting back. At some point, it felt like everything got to be too much; my world caved in and I got buried under all the rubble. I lost my sense of self, I lost the belief that I have skills, talents, and that I’m a good person. I let the actions and words of others define who I was, who I became, because I felt like I was fighting a war on so many fronts that I just got too damn tired to swim against the stream. We have no support, no one to turn to – so I convinced myself that it was all our fault: our fault that we couldn’t get pregnant; our fault that people we put our trust in deceived us; our fault that we’re hurting, angry, sad and alone.

The truth is that I’m at a crossroads, and I have a choice to make. I can keep feeling like crap, I can keep beating myself up, I can let my inner critic convince me that it’s my fault we don’t have any children yet, it’s my fault that we might not be able to, it’s my fault this, that and the other. I can get angry at the world, angry at everyone else’s fecundity, IVF coverage, supportive relationships. I can throw in the towel and just exist in a vacuum of misery that will become a never-ending pity party. I can wait for my marriage to disintegrate because I can’t snap out of it, I can drag my husband down with me as every ounce of love is drained from my heart because everything is dark, angry and bitter – and watch him blame himself for not being able to help me, to make me feel better. I can keep beating myself up about my shortcomings and comparing myself to others with the end result that I feel bad. I can let things I have no control over make me feel like I’m weak. I can despair to the point where I stop getting out of bed altogether.

OR…

I can stop fighting with myself. I can stop pretending. I can stop lying to myself. I can stop comparing myself to others, berating myself for the choices I’ve made. I can stop thinking, and feeling, like not being perfect or not having the same way of doing something as someone else makes me worthless. I can stop hating myself for the fact that my life isn’t exactly the way I thought it would turn out. I can stop judging others just because they’re not having to walk a mile or three million in my shoes, because they haven’t had the same experiences, because they don’t care, because they don’t get it, because they’re doing/saying things that hurt me.  I can stop blaming myself for the things others say and do because, really, it’s not my fault and it’s not something I can change. At the end of the day:

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”

Some days, I feel like I’m dying – both emotionally and physically. I feel raw, I feel beaten down to the point that I don’t even want to try to get up anymore. I just want to tap out. I know those feelings won’t just go away. I know I’m not suddenly going to wake up tomorrow, a reformed pessimist suddenly chipper like I’ve had a lobotomy or a Walt Disney makeover. But I realized, with strange clarity, that I’ve been playing the victim – instead of actually remembering that I’m not weak; I’m not pathetic; I’m not hopeless, hapless, stupid, or a failure.

I’m human.

A few days ago, I got really worked up about a site that I felt had a bunch of posts by women who’ve clearly never had their reproductive abilities called into question. I was so angry at what I felt was a set of completely insensitive, selfish posts that showed absolutely ZERO consideration for women who struggle to conceive. But then I thought – hold on a minute. Why am I getting so angry? This site is clearly run by women who don’t have these problems. Why should they think about infertility when it obviously hasn’t touched their lives? I mean, you don’t see me writing posts about Asperger’s, to throw out some random medical condition. It’s my choice whether or not I read these types of things – so getting angry about something that, technically, I’m not the target audience for is just plain ridiculous. It’s also pointless, because the end result is inevitably detrimental to ME.

I feel like having a family should be considered an inalienable, constitutional right – and that, consequently, all 50 states should be required to carry mandatory IVF insurance. However, the fact that this isn’t actually the case and that the current state of affairs makes me angry does absolutely nothing to change MY situation. I don’t live in a state that has IVF insurance, nor is IVF covered by our medical insurance – not even a portion of it, no cap, nada. But this doesn’t make my situation unique at all – I know there are many others who are in exactly the same boat. It also doesn’t mean that I should get angry at other IFers who do have IVF coverage – it’s not their fault that, apparently, our society considers it more important for a guy to be able to have a boner than for a woman to be able to get pregnant. 

I realized, these past couple of days, that I am so incredibly lucky to have had some wonderful experiences in my life, to have choices and freedoms, to have a roof over my head. I have a husband who loves me to the end of the earth. My life is far from perfect, and I myself am definitely a work in progress. But I know I’m not alone – even if it feels like it. I know that there’s hope, somewhere, out there, for all of us. We can’t know which bend in the road will lead to the next chapter in our lives, but I’m tired of feeling consumed with negativity. I’m tired of getting worked up, seething silently and letting all this crap fester as it chips away at my very soul.

So I’m just going to keep working on ME and try to change my perception of the world around me. I’m going to try to remind myself that I have a choice of how I’m going to receive information and how I’m going to deal with it. Instead of focusing on all the things that make me unhappy, I’m going to focus on the things that make me happy – and work on finding more positive ways to deal with the things I struggle with. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t want to end up being a mother who can’t find the good in small things, the sunshine in spite of the rain, the proverbial silver lining.

Carpe Diem, my friends!!

PS: It goes without saying that reserve the right to occasionally think that someone is a total a$$hat and deserves to be poked in the eye with a really hot french fry rolled in ghost peppers. I’m not bucking for sainthood.

Gratitude

In light of today’s date, I thought this was an appropriate topic. I know that I will never forget where I was when I first found out about the events of 9/11 – shocked to the core, silent in disbelief as images unfolded on the screen before my eyes and I took them in as though it was a movie. Because it couldn’t be reality, could it?

So before I got any further, I just want to say how grateful I am, every single day and night, that I can go about my days – hard as they may be for me sometimes – because of the people who selflessly serve in our Armed Forces, leaving behind their loved ones when it is deemed necessary. Thank you for doing a difficult job that not all of us could do because we don’t have the resilience, the strength or the courage they require – and thank you for doing it despite the fact that we don’t always show you enough appreciation.

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
John Milton

But the subject of gratitude has been on my mind for a few days now. During the weekend, I kept trying to zero in on a subject for a new blog post. I wrote, saved drafts, started from scratch, saved more drafts – but nothing really felt right. In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m definitely a right-brain kind of person. I was beginning to get frustrated when I came across something on one of the infertility sites I frequent (wow…did I just have a flash of just how much my life has changed compared to 15 years ago), which was essentially a call for contributions to a virtual gratitude journal. It wasn’t a big to-do, nothing formal, not involving a competition, prizes, deadlines or anything crazy like that – just a simple question and reminder to, perhaps, put things into perspective.

And boy did THAT come at the perfect time for me.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I lose sight of my many blessings – mainly, of course, because sometimes I wallow in self-pity because I haven’t (yet) been blessed with our little miracle and sometimes get a little too wound up about the fact that it seems everyone else in the world is able to pop out babies like there’s a race to be won. Which is really kind of unfair since I was never good at running anyway, and how do you compete with the baby-making equivalent of a popcorn machine? Pop! Look there’s another one. Pop! Pop! POP! What do you know – in the last half hour, 228 babies have been born in the continental US.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
William Arthur Ward

Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the heartache. The longing to have a child with my husband becomes such searing pain that, sometimes, crying actually seems to relieve it – if only temporarily – because there’s just so much build-up. And because I’m not, say, 22 anymore, I also spend a lot of time thinking about everything that could go wrong even if (when!) I do eventually accomplish the seemingly impossible (pregnancy); all the things I have to then worry about even if (when! when!) the impossible has led to the desired miracle outcome (healthy baby); and before you know it I’m reading an article about cyber-bullying or sexting, and I start freaking out about what, oh what, are you supposed to do to keep your tween/teen safe?? (Ok so “a lot of time” may have been an understatement. But as I’ve told my husband a million times whenever he tells me to “relaaaax“: I come from a long line of overreactors – and the way I see it, if I freak out ahead of time then maybe it won’t be so scary when I’m actually in the situation. Or something less crazy-sounding. Ahem. Moving along swiftly…)

In all seriousness: sometimes it’s hard not to be sad all the time. I wake up sad because, you guessed it, I obviously can’t fail to realize or remember that the pooch I wish would disappear has nothing to do with the joy of impending motherhood. I shuffle through the day with yet more pockets of sadness as I either (a) leave my house to run errands or go about my day and try desperately not to fall apart every time I see a pregnant woman or someone cradling a teeny tiny swaddled baby in the crook of their arm, or (b) avoid leaving the house altogether for fear of the afore-mentioned and realize, once again, how ridiculously different my life is not just in comparison to what it used to be what feels like light years ago but also how I thought it would turn out.Yes, MY life is just a bowl of cherries!

But then, I’ll read about someone else’s IF journey or just a comment/response to something a third person may have posted on a community board. And some of those stories make everything I’ve been through and am going through sound like child’s play – even though I can honestly say that I wouldn’t want anyone to have to walk in my shoes, either. Both DH and I come from small families, scattered all over the place – and at this point we’ve basically lost most of them either to death or estrangement. Consequently, our “support system” is the equivalent of a ratty no-wire bra with a worn-out elastic.

When I saw this simple reminder the other day and found myself reflecting on what happened on this very day 12 years ago, I felt like a bit of a heel (surprisingly common these days). I thought to myself – wow. I really need to stop being so self-absorbed and whiny (especially considering how much that annoys me in other people) and get back to eating the humble pie I was in the middle of. Because, you know, sometimes? I may forget that being reproductively challenged isn’t actually the worst thing in the world – not nearly.

So, let me start out by saying that I’m grateful for a necessary reminder to be grateful – all the more so since it’s so very apropos at the beginning of fall and heading into the holiday season. More specifically and off the top of my head, I’m grateful for:

(1) My husband. Always, first and foremost, my husband. Don’t get me wrong – we have our ups and downs like any other normal married couple. But I still adore him, he still loves me in spite of moments that involve verbal diarrhea, reliving teen angst, and a whole new can of forms full of anxiety and panic when someone mentions the terms “egg donor” or “child free”. He’s hard-working, honest, loyal and the kind of stand-up guy who will turn down a free offer when a service call gets totally botched up because he’s not looking for a handout. The man deserves an award – although on most days, his wife is a pretty good runner-up.

(2) Our pups. They are so amazing, loving, loyal and patient. They come running to the door, they wag their tails eagerly in the morning – and they forgive bad days filled with balled-up tissues, going so far as to cuddle up with you even if you ignored them for hours because you were so busy crying your eyes out that the best you could do for them was remember to change their water and let them out occasionally. They love you even when you’re having a bad hair day, or just a bad day, full stop. We spoil them not just because we want to but because they deserve it.

(3) Freedom. This one I DO actually think about every day – and I’m grateful, every day, not just that I live in a country that still believes in the freedom of speech (despite some people’s apparent desire to limit the applicability of the First Amendment for their own purposes and “philosophy”) but also for the brave men and women who risk their lives even as I write, and while I sleep, to do what their leaders deem necessary to keep the rest of us safe. I mean, how can you not be grateful for that? How can you not be humbled when the closest you’ve ever been to a combat zone is through the pages of a book or the screen of your tv? They all deserve a lot more appreciation than we can ever show them…

(4) The infertility community. While there are always people you’re not going to agree with or who make statements, comments, posts etc. that will either make you want to gouge out your eyes or slap them for various infractions ranging from bad spelling through repetitiveness, right to insolence and idiocy – the vast majority of women you find there are heroines in my book. They are women who are not afraid to, you know, do the proverbial gross thing into the wind – because they’ve already endured so, so much worse. They’ve been poked, prodded, examined and excavated from here to eternity and back again. Many have had multiple miscarriages; some have experienced the worst possible trauma for a mother-to-be: stillbirth. I am always in awe at the resilience, the refusal to give up, the endurance and willingness to trudge on against seemingly insurmountable odds or financial nightmares that keep these women going. And you know what’s even more amazing? That despite all the crap they’ve already been through themselves, they’re still willing to give support, sympathy and a virtual shoulder to cry on to perfect strangers they’ve never come face to face with. That? Is AMAZING – and to be part of a community like that is both humbling and a privilege despite the fact that none of us chose to have to struggle with IF.

(5) My brain. I don’t give my brain nearly enough props because there’s a cantankerous little nay-sayer somewhere in the recesses that keeps arguing with any praise I may direct at my cerebrum. I constantly lament my seeming inability to overcome procrastination and actually do something more constructive with my brain before it gets totally fed up with being under-utilized and under-stimulated, packs its valise and has me committed to a vegetative state without so much as a “GOOD LUCK performing basic bodily functions without me!!”. (In case it wasn’t obvious here: brain activity is very important to me. Not just for the obvious necessity of full-functioning body commands but because lower brain function scares me intensely. More than being childless. YES it’s that scary to me. Please don’t leave me, brain!!) But beyond that, there are moments where I am just in awe at the vast amount of multi-tasking my brain is responsible for – and the tasks it’s able to accomplish when given the chance. 

(6) The fact that my body hasn’t divorced me yet – despite years of both physical and verbal abuse. I’d like to think that my brain – which is clearly the boss of the whole meshugganah operation – would’ve jumped ship if I had ever been in a relationship with another human being that was as unsupportive. And despite the fact that I’ve definitely had some scary warning signs of my comeuppance in the last 3 years – proof that even intelligent people can be extremely obtuse – my body is definitely something I should be grateful for (despite the whole, you know, failure to reproduce and all) and treat better. A LOT better.

(7) Modern conveniences. It seems like a doozie, but how lucky am I to be living a life where I don’t have to worry about electricity and running water – or choose between them? How lucky am I that air conditioning is something I can take for granted – because, honestly? You don’t want to see or talk to me if I have to deal with a summer in any part of the entire nation without air conditioning. It’ll give a whole new meaning to “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” – because, seriously, hell hath no fury like a woman parched, scorched and without air conditioning.

But there are other, less obvious things I’m also grateful for. I’m grateful for forgiveness – and the fact that my husband and I are both willing and able to practice it frequently. I’m grateful for laughter, which I used to take for granted because it was such a predominant part of my life that it never occurred to me that a life without laughter – or a very tiny amount of it – was possible or worth living. Yet, here I am – living a life where laughter, far from the previously ubiquitous commodity, has become a rare and welcome treat. I realized this the other day when we shared a good laugh that was almost followed by tears as it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed so freely and heartily.

To some extent, I’m also grateful that this journey is having an unexpected byproduct: perspective. I’m kind of obstinate. Ok, sometimes not just kind of but very obstinate. It’s on my list of things I’m not especially proud of because, even though it can pay off when I’m trying to get something done, it can also be a hindrance.Sometimes I think that being too obstinate borders on stupidity because if you’re not the least bit flexible, you can’t learn – and that’s just dumb. So while I’m definitely a slow learner when it comes to putting things in perspective, I’m learning – and, more importantly, I’m not giving up. Because in a world where there are so many people who are dealing with much greater adversity than I am, I have absolutely no right to complain – and to give up on myself, my husband, and my dream of motherhood would be like saying that struggling with IF is harder than struggling with the obstacles and hardship that others have overcome or are working hard, every day, to overcome. And that’s just not ok.

I know that I’m always going to have dark days – days when the sadness, frustration, resentment and anger threaten to swallow me whole. But lately, I feel like I’m finally starting to get more perspective, and reflecting more on the good rather than the bad. As I think about how lucky I am to have a husband who loves me and to live at a time and in a place where I can express all my feelings anytime, I realize not only that I have much to be grateful for, but also that I alone am responsible for making the changes in my life, my thoughts, my day-to-day routine, that will make me happy. Because no matter what happens, I am grateful to be here.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

John F. Kennedy