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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Quitters Can Win

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.


Jenn said...

Great post! I had to quit taking my temperature because it made me so nuts and was getting in the way of sleeping in. Right now we are on a break from trying because it was so damn annoying to fail every month. Sometimes pretending to quit helps too!

Anonymous said...

I wish that I could write as you do! As someone who quit and therefore was successful, your post really hit home. Continuing to attempt IVF with my eggs was "anxiety producing" and I just knew in my gut that it would fail time and time again. Moving on to DE was the best decision we could have made. Quitting was a manner of self-preservation. And look where we are now! Parents to 2 beautiful and energentic "twoddlers". Thanks for your once again thought provoking post.

Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT post. Spot on.

I have spent the better part of this year investing all of my emotional energy into getting pregnant - all under the mantra that if I worked at it hard enough, I could do anything.

Well, it didn't work that way for us. And as I look back on this year, all I see: so much emotional energy wasted. All that sadness and despair. It was exhausting!

I'm not saying that I don't feel sad that we're infertile. I feel the sadness a lot. But I also know that we are going to be parents someday. We're just not sure how.

So I have quit trying to control the outcome. I have quit the obsessive researching, the second-guessing, the questioning. All of it.

And you're right- it is so freeing.

I really do feel as if I am gaining my life back - albeit slowly. But I haven't been in this good a place in a long time.

Thank you for this post. :)

baggage said...

Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to read today.

GLouise said...

With all of the medical options available to me, it feels like I am giving up too easily by not pursuing every avenue that is open.

Thanks for this post, and the "permission" to quit.

Dianne/Flutter said...

Mel....I read your blog everyday. And everyday I think you are living in my head.

Thank you for so eloquently putting this, it is OK to quit.

My latest contemplation has been to put a limit on the types of ART we try. To set boundaries, to make it that their is another finishing line, to make myself see an end.

Right now, I just see the failed cycles, but having an end point, well it is some how comforting.

If you aren't pregnant after 3 IUIs and a GIFT, you can quit. You have done enough. I guess, I needed someone else to say it.

Thank you.

Kristin said...

This post is also very timely for me. I had an epiphany yesterday. I realized that the next time someone asks me when we're going to start trying, I'm going to be honest with them:

"START trying?! We're 6 months away from ceasing to try."

Because you know what? This is the first time I'm in that place where I feel like I'm preparing, psychologically, to ditch all visions of pregnancy and bio children and embrace adoption with my whole heart. I wasn't here, in this place, before and I resented people who mentioned adoption to me before I did. I felt like they were giving up on me before I'd really gotten a chance to try. But now I've tried. And failed. And that door is closing. And I'm going to be okay.

Ellen K. said...

*standing ovation*

Elizabeth said...

Wow! What a great, thought provoking post.

Manuela said...

Siiigggh... this is indeed a wonderful post.

For me though... quitting IF treatments isn't an option. I won't let myself go that route... I'd rather continue to slug it out, to the point of self-abuse... because I would never be able to let go of, "What if I gave up too soon!" For me... since I'm nearly 40... I feel like I can just keep trying until my body's biological clock just stops to make it possible. Not really an overly healthy approach, I know... don't give up... just keep going until it KILLS you...

But at least I know what my neurosis is, right?

the_road_less_travelled said...

After 6 IUIs it will be time to quit. Number 5 is coming up fairly soon, and I'm terrified that I might have to make that choice. I've had to give up on many things in my life, but never did I think this would be one of them. In my head I know this decision will have to be made, but my heart wants to keep going till, well, my pocket book gives out.

lunarmagic said...

You know, I was heavily involved in music back in school. For many years. And by the end I HATED it. I dreaded it. I'd beg to not go and come home crying. I wanted to quit so badly. My mom insisted I would regret quitting, that quitting is just not something you do.

I finally did back out of that music group, and I have never once regretted it. There is a point with some things where it hurts you more to stay than to leave.

TeamWinks said...

This could be the best post I've read from you yet. You find a way of taking what is inside of us, and making it eloquent. Thank you. It's always nice to be reminded of things like this.

the waiting line said...

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this. I agree whole-heartedly with you, but I really benefited so much from hearing you so articulately put it into words.

Muchisimas gracias.

Anonymous said...

I admit it -- I am one of those that thinks if I just keep pushing forward and try hard enough it will eventually work -- even if it means a lot of suffering in the meantime. How do I cure this horrible mentality?

If only there was even a small chance without IVF -- but there is NO chance without IVF. It is all or nothing... and it makes the failure of quitting seem all the more real.

Anonymous said...

I think we are on the same wavelength. H and I were in a McD's the other day and there was a quote on the wall from the founder- essentially that if you try hard and want something badly enough, nothing is impossible. Which is a nice thought. But if my body isn't going to make a baby, it doesn't matter how much I want it. It might be impossible. But hearing or reading things like that makes you feel like a quitter if you don't keep pursuing. And how does that help?

Anonymous said...

there are no wrong ways - just different ways to have a happy life - to quit something is only to take a different road or path inyour life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. A friend just told me about your blog, and I am so glad that I read it this morning.

While, in the grand scheme of things, I am only beginning my fertility treatment journey, I needed to read this today. There are some things that cannot be achieved through my tenacity. That is a lesson that I am just now learning.