I have meant to tell this story before because I thought others might be able to relate to what I experienced (words for which are still not easy to come by) this past new year’s eve. I thought it would be helpful to articulate something that, at least for me, has been and continues to be rather hard to verbalize (or write, as the case may be). Something about being surrounded by parents with two kids when you’ve been torturing your body, mind and soul to do the same. I think it probably applies to women without any childern, too, in that what I experienced this last December 31st was not unlike what I’d experienced while around parents with small children before we had the Miracle Baby.
I was in the throes of our December/January IVF cycle in another jurisdiction (the west coast of North America) on December 31st. The LP was back home and the MB was with me. I was staying with my best gal pal and her two kids and she invited me and the MB to join them at a party hosted by a doctor friend of hers. It was a party for parents with small child(ren) in which we would ring in the “new year” at EST (9 pm on the west coast). My pal was the only single mom. I was the only mom without spouse in tow and the only one with a single child.
I recall having what in hindsight might have been akin to an out-of-body experience. I was watching everyone and myself. Except I was invisible. And my heart was breaking, but I didn’t know because I was wholly dissociated. Until…. my pal asked me if I was okay. I just looked at her. What did she mean, was I okay? I tend to be shy despite my profession (which demands otherwise), and I wasn’t talking to anyone, but I thought I was doing a decent job passing off as just another professional mom, sans spouse.
Before my friend asked me if I was okay, before I could answer the question (it took a long time for me to understand the question – a long time), I had not even registered what was happening. I did not know I had dissociated. I did not know I was not present. I had left my body and was somewhere else. Where? I don’t know, but being there was too much. So I’d left.
My friend asked the question again – “Are you okay?” when I did not respond and just stared at her as though she were speaking a language I do not know. Finally I think I said “yes” or nodded or something to that effect and my friend said “Are you sure? We can leave.” Tears welled up in my eyes. I was not okay. I didn’t need to leave because I already wasn’t there. I did not belong there and I did not know how to be there. It hurt to much to be there, surrounded by reminders of what I’ve worked so hard to create – a second living child – and triggered beyond capacity.
My friend put her hand on my shoulder (she does this a lot – she’s very hands-on). “You just look so deperately sad. I’m so sorry I brought you here. Let’s go.”
We did not go. I brushed away the tears that had formed and I insisted I was alright, that the MB was having fun and people seemed very nice (a lie – I hadn’t noticed what people “seemed” like at all) and I would be okay. I don’t know why I did that, other than I wanted not to ruin my friend’s evening. I did not want to stay. I did not want to have ever been there. But I was there and some part of me said “this is life, you cannot run away from life.” And so I stayed.
When I tried to explain this to the LP later that night, I was at a loss. I think I said something along the lines of “I just felt so sad. I don’t know why.” Recalling it now, what I experienced was a vast, inexplicable emptyness, a deep dark chasm of sadness that defied language and conscious awareness. At the time, I had no words to express what was happening, the grief that was swallowing me whole, the deep pain and sadness and longing I was not feeling but removing myself from feeling because it was more than I could bear. Even now, I do not know how to describe what I felt/didn’t feel.
My body knows, but it is not talking. And I suspect many of you readers also know.
What I know is that I was not experiencing jealousy or envy. I did not envy or begrudge the other parents, those with two or more children, at the party. What I felt reminded me of loneliness – the kind you experience when you’re surrounded by other people but you feel more alone, more disconnected from everyone than you could have ever imagined feeling. When I used to travel, I experienced that kind of loneliness and I kind of liked it. I wrote the best poetry when I was lonely.
I am reminded as I write this of a line from one of my favourite Wililam Carlos Williams poems, Danse Russe: “‘I am lonely, lonely. I was born to be lonely, I am best so.” See here for the full poem: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175782
Yet I do not miss those days. Those lonely, feeling-like-an-alien/outsider days when I was trying to find or recover myself or whatever it is one does in those days. I love my little family of three (four if we count the dog). I could not be more content and grounded and me than I am with them, than I am with the LP and the MB in my life. I am so fortunate. I know.
Still, the aching longing to hold a child you know in your heart to be yours – for despite my recent serious contemplation of ending my trying-to-conceive journey without having another living child, I still believe I am meant to hold the spirit baby I keep connecting with though maybe not in this lifetime – is not unlike the farthest, darkest depths of loneliness. It is a sense of groundlessness, of alien, of not belonging in my own skin, for my body betrays who I believe myself to be: a mother to two living children. It is like watching the world’s events unfold around you from behind a glass wall, invisible. Others may see us but not the wall that separates us from them. And not the pain within our hearts, the storm behind our eyes, the ache and longing in every cell.
This does not do justice to what I experienced on new year’s eve 2013 and it does not do justice to what other women struggling with fertility challenges experience in similar moments. Yet, I have no better words to describe it. It is what it is. Lonely. Even when we are surrounded by kind, giving, compassionate, supportive friends and others who are going through what we go through. In the trenches, at the kid-friendly parties, in check-out lines at grocery stores, on the train or the bus or the shopping mall – wherever parents and children are present – we are lonely, lonely, we were born to be lonely. But we are not best so.