A few years ago, I was reading a Reader’s Digest story about actor Michael J. Fox. Fox, as most people know, suffers from an early-onset form of Parkinson’s disease. It’s a cruel diagnosis, as Fox acknowledges. He’s written extensively about dealing with his disease and how he makes his life work.
In the story was this one quote:
“So let me make this suggestion. Don’t spend a lot of time imagining the worst-case scenario. It rarely goes down as you imagine it will, and if by some fluke it does, you will have lived it twice.”
Now, I’m not one for inspirational quotes or things engraved across little ceramic collectibles with hearts and flowers and birds and butterflies and angels. I have about zero patience with the stupid, dismissive things people say about there being a higher plan, this is just to get you ready for something better, it will all turn out, you’re going to be fine. I was recently reading Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix and she summed it up better than I ever could (strong language alert): “But when I’ve experienced loss and felt so much pain that it felt like nothing else ever existed, the last thing I need is a well-meaning but vapid person saying that when God closes a door he opens a window. It makes me want to ask where exactly that window is so I can push him the fuck out of it.”
That pretty much sums up my general emotion towards most “inspirational” quotes. If they work for you, that’s awesome, but they’ve never done much for me except to further infuriate me.
Michael J. Fox’s suggestion, however, stuck with me. It wasn’t inspirational so much as practical. It wasn’t a vapid, dismissive, trite reassurance. I could accept it from a guy who clearly knew what it meant to have disaster visited upon his doorstep and had struggled long and hard to learn this piece of wisdom.
This was all well before infertility ever entered the picture. Fox’s advice proved useful when I struggled in nursing school, worrying about if I’d ever manage to memorize all the steps for skills lab or if there would be snow that prevented me from getting to clinicals. It proved useful during the time period when Arthur’s job situation was unstable and when, ultimately, we were both jobless during the Great Recession with me frantically trying to finish school and pass boards.
This isn’t to say that thinking ahead is bad, or that understanding the potential ramifications of a decision should be avoided. It’s one thing to live in perpetual denial or refuse to consider that some decisions are risky and that you’ll have to live with the outcome, even if it’s not what you wanted. It’s a wholly different thing to do what I do, which is spend hours terrorizing myself by coming up with the worst case scenario I can imagine and then perfecting and tweaking the details to make it even more awful. This latter, I think, is what Fox is cautioning against.
It’s advice I’m trying to heed now. The scenarios in which my IVF goes horribly wrong keep creeping up in my mind. I imagine my RE telling me that none of my eggs fertilized. I imagine getting a positive pregnancy test then miscarrying. The scenario that has come to sit uninvited and refuses to leave, however, is this one: everything looks wonderful. Lots of eggs are retrieved, plenty fertilize, all of my day five blasts look fantastic. Dr. D transfers two gorgeous blasts into my uterus and tells Arthur and me not to worry, it’s certainly going to work. We wait the two weeks, giddy with anticipation. Then we get the phone call that the beta is negative. Now we have a loss, but there’s not even a name for that loss, because as far as the medical establishment is concerned, I was never even pregnant. Utter devastation.
The thing is, anticipating or imagining all these awful moments where everything crashes down around me isn’t particularly helpful. I have a pretty good idea what it will look like if this IVF cycle doesn’t go. I’ve lived through the cancellations and the disappointments when no pregnancy resulted even from the fantastic IUI cycle. I imagine that in all honesty, an IVF failure will look similar – maybe more painful, maybe not – but overall a familiar sort of aching brokenness. This isn’t a situation where I need to count the cost or understand better the ramifications of failure. I already have a fairly solid idea of how that looks.
Then I tried to justify the hours I’ve spent hostage to that awful scenario, saying that it’s just my head. It’s not real, it’s merely something I’m making up to prepare myself. But I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter series recently and as I got towards the end of the final book, I found this line from the ever-wise Albus Dumbledore: “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”.
There’s something very powerful about that line that hit me right where I live. Why was I spending so much time living in a very upsetting and painful situation by telling myself “it’s not really happening, it’s just something I’m imagining”? Simply because it isn’t taking place in physical reality doesn’t mean that it doesn’t inflict damage or cause real harm.
So I’m trying to live with the fact that this cycle may not work out. I’m trying to live with the knowledge that it will be very disappointing and difficult if we don’t get the response we want. But at the same time, I’m trying not to live and relive over and over how that pain might manifest. Because Fox is right: living it once is more than enough if it comes to that. It’s time to set myself free of the tyranny of living with what might come to pass and focus on making it through today.