Prior to being diagnosed as infertile--which was my first major experience with failure--I was of the mindset that you should push on to see all attempts to their ends. If you start college, you should finish it. If you begin a project, you should see the final product. I had the mindset that if one tried hard enough, they could do anything.
And then I found out that my reproductive organs weren't in agreement.
As a teacher, I was constantly faced with students who wanted to quit. They would receive low grades on papers and they told me they wished they could drop out of English class. They sat on the bench all season and they told me they wanted to quit the team. They struggled with math and tried to convince me that learning algebra wasn't necessary for what they wanted to do in life.
And I didn't listen because I had this philosophy--this philosophy that you had to try. You had to keep going at it until you succeeded.
To keep busy while we tried to get a baby to stay and grow in my uterus, I started taking classes. Cake decorating, as you know, rocked. Leyning didn't. Leyning is the singing of the Torah. There are little marks that tell you whether your voice should go up or down or hold onto a note or keep it short. Our synagogue is community led, meaning that there is no rabbi who performs the service. Anyone who wants to participate can get up and participate. A friend talked me into taking this class so I could read the Torah portion on a Saturday for the congregation.
Except that I sucked. I sucked hard. I just couldn't get it. I had learned to play piano by ear, and trying to read marks from a sheet and translate them into a sound was very difficult for me. I was excited the first class. I was nervous the second class. I dreaded going by the third class. That's all it took--three classes for me to feel like a total failure while the rest of the class read and sang. And I muttered and fumbled over the words. Even my husband--my tone-deaf husband--was able to catch on to the method. But I was completely stuck.
At any other point in my life, I would have made an excuse and said I was too busy and dropped the class. Or I would have forced myself to practice and attend until I had mastered the skill. But failing at making a baby had made me overly sensitive to the fact that I couldn't succeed at this too. Instead, I went to my classroom and said, "now I know how you feel." And I explained to my students that I was quitting because I had assessed the situation.
It wasn't a base experience that I needed to have in order to go onto another experience. It was an entity unto itself. And it was making me miserable. And it was making me feel badly about myself. And it was taking up a huge spot in my worrying cache and I needed that space to worry about other things.
I told them that I would help them quit things in order to make room for other experiences as long as it wasn't a base experience that was necessary for a journey. Learning how to form a thesis statement? Sorry, you have to push on and learn it or you won't be able to construct a paper. And that will affect you through college and possibly beyond. Learning how to make a lay-up? What? You don't want to be a basketball player forever and you'd be happier playing soccer? Well, let's go down to the coach and I'll help you quit gracefully.
And in all my years of helping children quit, I never once had a child come back and say they had regrets. And I never once had a parent tell me that they were upset with the idea of quitting once they saw the transformation of their child. Replacing anxiety producing activities with enjoyable ones tended to make a happier, healthier child. It's not a popular stance in this country, but it's one that I now feel strongly about. It's okay to quit. It's okay to remove things that are stressful from your life. You don't need to feel badly about it. You can walk away and not look back except with a dull twinge of sadness from time to time. Which is much better than a daily dose of anxiety.
Do I wish I knew how to leyn? Sure, I do. And if I ever change my mind, leyning is still there to try again. But I also know that leyning is an important base experience if you want to become a rabbi or a cantor. But it's an entity unto itself in my life. Even though I didn't feel this way when I was considering quitting, in the end, I closed up shop and walked away without it affecting my quality of life.
I think too many times in the fertility process, that mantra of "winners never quit and quitters never win" comes into play and we feel like we can't walk away from a path until we have exhausted it. Until someone kicks us off the path. And while it's okay to let yourself take a path to its ends if that's what you need to do, it's also okay to step off the path before the end and say, "you know what? I'd be happier on a different path."
It all comes down to understanding what are your necessary base experiences. For some people, they want to become a parent no matter what. Therefore, trying all the paths to parenthood becomes the base experience necessary in order to achieve the end goal. For other people, parenthood isn't necessarily the only job they could see themselves doing in this lifetime. Therefore, all those paths aren't a base experience. They're entities unto themselves. Therefore, if they stop treatments/the adoption process/surrogacy, they could be just as happy in life living child-free. They replace one goal with another.
For people who do have the goal of parenthood, unfortunately, you don't have the ability to walk away because these experiences are necessary for achieving your goal. But I think we sometimes get focused on our current path and forget that we can quit and step over to another path. And it's not quitting in a negative sense. It's self-preservation. It's taking control. It's seeing that the paths are all parallel to one another and each leads to the same place--mommyhood or daddyhood.
It's so hard to quit for the first time. It goes against everything you're taught. The pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-mentality of a red-blooded American (are there other colours of blood?). But it can be so freeing and the flip side is that you create a space for a new experience.
I just wanted to say as people are making their New Year's resolutions that it's okay to have one of your goals be that you're going to quit your current path and try something new--either third party reproduction or adoption or IVF or living child-free. Because quitting takes a lot of courage and strength. And it can lead to the most wonderful achievements.