I was standing in the bathroom the Saturday evening before Christmas, getting ready for work, when Arthur appeared in the doorway.
“So, L called this afternoon,” he said slowly. I inhaled sharply. I knew the next words that would come out of his mouth.
I stared at him miserably. “How far?”
“Oh,” I said.
It’s true that I would never wish the messiness I’ve been through on that quest on another person, and I stand by that sentiment. I’m glad she’s not going through those things and I do hope all this works out well for her.
This happened to be the third pregnancy announcement of that week and I’d actually been pretty proud of myself for handling the others well. I’d congratulated and been genuinely happy for them, even if there was a little achiness. But the announcement of someone in the family (sister-in-law), someone I also happen to not get along with at all and have a whole ugly history concerning, felt like entirely too much.
The immediate effect was the utter destruction of the fragile détente Arthur and I had formed to get through the holidays and give ourselves a little bit more space about fertility and being done – or not. It was one of the worst fights we’ve had in nearly 15 years of marriage, a conflict that encompassed weeks of silences, retreats, open clashes, sullen glares, smoldering irritation, and plenty of times when everything seemed fine on the surface as we worked together on the house, shuttled the kids around, or sat around together. About the time we both figured we had to have exhausted the conflict, we found it hiding in the undone dishes, the mess in the bathroom, the recycling left on the kitchen counter. Both of us wanted it to stop and neither of us could find a way to leave the trench we’d each dug.
My OB/GYN finally helped bring it to a more manageable level when I splattered infertility and failed IVF and jealousy all over the table by gently telling me that yes, with me at 37 and my history, we did not have time to wait forever. “But you’re not doing more fertility treatments and three months is most likely not going to change your ability – or not – to get pregnant,” she said. “Give it three months, breathe, then revisit how you and Arthur feel about this.”
None of this, of course, was truly about trying again. With the permission to take that off the table and breathe, I could see that this was (again) about coming to terms with our fertility issues and the other things we’d put largely on hold in the thick of it.
I’ve wondered, for a while now, why I seemed to be stuck in the anger stage of grief. L wounded me a couple of years ago and I just…haven’t been able to let it go. Even though at some level, I’ve felt ready to do so for a long time now. I was angry at Arthur for deciding he was done when it came to family building. I was angry when the beta came back negative.
Ah, but grief is a tricky, slippery thing. Because it turns out, I’m more in the bargaining stage of things. It just doesn’t look like the examples I’ve seen given about bargaining, where people say things like “take me instead of my (fill in the blank)” or offer money or power.
For me, it looks much more like the famous myth of Sisyphus, rolling the rock up the hill every day, having it come tantalizingly near the top, only to have it roll back down.
If I can untangle the relationship with L, I can overcome the grief at being rejected by her as a sibling and also (not coincidentally) somehow cosmically make right the grief and loss of my brother’s death. I will refuse to let this point of connection go – even if it takes the form of a horrible resentment that is incredibly unhealthy – because I can prove that I am worthy of this connection. G-d knows I’m working hard enough at it.
Roll, roll, roll…and it all comes crashing back down.
If I can persuade Arthur to try again, that is somehow going to make up for the miscarriages, the infertility, the disappointments, the bitterness.
Up the hill goes the rock. Down, down, down it comes again.
That’s bargaining. The certainty that if I can succeed at these Sisyphean tasks, if I can get that d*mn rock to just stay put at the top, it will all be okay.
It is bitterly untrue. Because a relationship with L, even if I theoretically could magically restore it to being BFFs and true sisters and all that (unlikely even under the best circumstances, we’re just very different people and there’s simply too much between us at this point), would never take the place of my brother. Because trying on our own for a third child and/or the very real gratitude for my wonderful living children does not erase the miscarriages, add years back to my life/fertility, or put around $50,000 (preferably with interest) in my bank account. Theoretically trying to have another child does not insulate us from the potential for loss in the future either.
I’m about a million years behind the times, but I was recently reading a Dear Sugar column by writer Cheryl Strayed, written in response to a woman who had experienced a devastating stillbirth. “Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody can take it back with silence or push it away with words. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away,” Strayed wrote. Her words hit me straight in the heart.
Nothing and nobody can bring Eric back. Nothing and nobody can change the myriad number of small and large losses that encompass infertility/miscarriage.
It’s really easy at this point to start talking about how lucky I am (true) or how much privilege I have (a lot, also true). It’s really tempting to slip back into the comfortable place that is denial, put up a nice wall in front of the rocks that are still sitting at the bottom of the hill. While acknowledging and examining privilege is absolutely a worthy pursuit and feeling true gratitude is a marvelous thing, denial is neither of those. It’s pretending that because other things have gone right, the grief isn’t there for the stuff that hasn’t. Also tempting is kicking the rock in fury because, well, the thing should stay put at the top.
Whether it’s fair or not, those rocks aren’t staying at the top.
Recognizing that, and not forever taking fruitless runs at pushing them up – and ignoring people who tell me that surely one more run will do it or to please hide these unsightly boulders – is the challenge now.