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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Promises (Children Mentioned)

For the past several nights, I have been curled up on the sofa, listening to Erin McKeown's Sing You Sinners on continual play (pausing sometimes to look up lyrics to songs like "If You a Viper" to figure out if she's actually saying, "if you a viper.") while hand-sewing Purim costumes. My mother asked me why I wasn't using a sewing machine. Because. Because I don't own one. Because I have more control over the stitches by hand-sewing the dress. Because this is the way I have to do it because of my messed up hoohaahooterus.

At least it's what I feel I need to do to appease the infertility gods.

I think many people parenting after infertility know what I'm talking about--maybe you breastfed even though you wouldn't have made that choice if you hadn't gone through infertility. Maybe you made all your baby food from scratch, but you would have bought jarred food if you hadn't gone through infertility. Maybe you stopped working out of the house once your child arrived, but you would have stayed in your career if you hadn't gone through infertility. Maybe you've enrolled your child in dozens of classes or slept a night on your child's floor or had an anxiety-attack during a childhood illness. All things you may not have done if you had conceived your child during that first month or two of trying.

It's the changes we make when we have a lot of time to think. It's the changes we make due to promises we've made to whoever is in charge of making babies stick in-utero. Or it's the changes we make when we realize how high the stakes are in our own personal journey.

I hand-make costumes.

It's a promise I made to the Almighty Keeper of the Uterus one day when we were standing in a fabric store. Just let me get pregnant and keep the pregnancy and I will be the best mother. I will hand-make all costumes for Halloween and Purim. Even if I have to build my own rubber factory, I will also hand-create the masks. Just give me a baby and I'll show you how worthy I am of becoming a mother.

It's not the only promise I made and it's not the only thing I do differently because I waited to hold my children. But it's the thing I'm currently doing now so it's on my mind. And it feels like those promises are even more important now that we're trying again. I need to show I'm good on my word.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to make these changes. I think it shows a level of reflection. A maturity of age. I think many people go through changes after they hold their child for the first time. They thought they'd go back to work, but now that they're holding the child, they can't imagine spending the day in the office. Or they thought they wanted to stay home, but then discovered that they needed a different balance. I think what is unique about infertility is that we form some of those changes before we've met the child. Just from waiting and thinking about the future.

We write and then rewrite our definition of the "good" mother.

Are weddings different for brides who have had a long wait? A long time to consider that walk down the aisle and what the commitment means and what goes into a marriage? Is life lived differently by those who have experienced a life-threatening illness? Are the choices different?

Infertility changes you. Those who claim that they've stepped away from the experience; that infertility is behind them and never affects them--I'm not impressed. I'm more awed by the woman who has walked through a situation and exited out the other side changed by what she experienced. Used that struggle to become more self-aware. Or used that struggle to change her view of the world. If you've gone through a struggle (and not all women undergoing fertility treatments are struggling--I read a blog yesterday of a woman who was completely matter-of-fact about the whole experience and didn't seem upset in the least to be using IVF to become pregnant with female factor infertility. If you can do that, more power to you), why not reap the reward of a change in point-of-view? Of course there's the goal--a child--but there's also the tangental side effects: the patience that emerges simply because you've learned about waiting; the sensitivity to others; the thoughtfulness.

I don't think it's weak to look back at an experience and say it remains with you. On the contrary, I think it takes a strong woman to keep on the heavy weight of infertility after the fact and allow the positive lessons to influence her definition of motherhood.

Before I started trying to conceive, I thought I would keep working and my husband would stay at home with the kids. I was going to serve them Earth's Best organic baby food. They were going to be vegetarians like me. Then the waiting began and I started to rethink my vision of motherhood. If you just give me children, I'll feed them chicken. I'll even touch the raw chicken! If we finally get children, I'm going to want to be the one who stays home with them. This is what the waiting taught me (and this is personal to me--not a lesson for everyone): it didn't matter if my children were like me at all. It didn't matter if they wanted to be carnivorous or omnivorous or vegetarians. It didn't matter if they wanted to be a writer or a teacher or a lion tamer. All the things I thought would matter suddenly didn't; and all the things I hadn't really spent time considering--what would be their personal path to happiness and how will I support them on it even if it conflicts with my own personal beliefs--suddenly did.

I think some of us go through an extremely personal parenting journey prior to becoming parents when we start making the hard choices of fertility treatments or other paths to parenthood. When parenthood doesn't come easily. I think these promises we make--of the things we'll do if we just get to reach parenthood--are extremely personal to our own unique vision of the "good" mother. Of what we believe makes a good mother who is worthy of parenthood.

What I mean is that I think I have two levels of goodness. The first is a common plateau that everyone needs to reach in order for me to view them as a good parent. It's a pretty low bar to clear: don't abuse your child either emotionally or physically. Don't neglect your child. Comfort your child.

The second level is my own personal level, and they are the things I feel like I need to do in order to call myself a good mother. They are challenges for me: sewing is a challenge for me--I have no sewing skills. But I need to be the kind of mother who makes all costumes from scratch in order to view myself as a good mother. I need to bake my own bread. I need to plant a garden with my kids.

It does bother me that I stop to consider my own personal worthiness of parenthood. I don't know if people who concieve easily ever question if they're worthy to become a parent. But it's something I can't deny--I've made promises. Promises about what I'd do if I became a parent. And even if I have to start planning Purim costumes months in advance in order to get them completed on-time, it's something I need to do in order to feel as if I am doing a good job. As a mother. I want to be a "good" mother and I want to keep the promises I made to the Almighty Keeper of the Uterus. Even if I know that those promises are not what makes one able to conceive or keeps one from conceiving. It's all just magical thinking.

What is your own list of your personal "good mother"? How has infertility changed how you believe you'll be as a parent? Or if you are now parenting, what are you doing now that you decided to do during the journey--before you met your child?

I am halfway through sewing this costume and it seems to be becoming more and more complicated. Last night, I decided to add a layer of beads to the hemline. What the hell am I doing?
Added at 10:44 a.m.: I just thought of another one after I posted this; one where the reason behind the action changed. Before trying to conceive, I wanted to breastfeed for financial reasons. I couldn't imagine spend hundreds on formula. But once we started treatments, I realized I wanted to breastfeed because it would be a way of reclaiming my status as a woman. It would erase some of the things I lost via infertility. Well...we all know how breastfeeding turned out for me. But it was still a change that came from the long wait.


DD said...

Actually I have a twist to this (don't I always?). I wonder sometimes if my parenting in those early years isn't the reason I am now struggling with infertility. I feel like I have to prove (and promise) that I will be better the next time around because my initiation into motherhood was subpar (and one I didn't have to "work" for).

So now I make all the promises, plus I have to accept that humility that comes with thinking maybe I didn't do enough the first time.

Jess said...

This is really thought really is.

Because I spent all my life (laugh all you want, I know I started ttc at 20 and a lot of you would argue that...well, maybe from ages 4-19 don't COUNT as thinking seriously about motherhood, but I was!) wanting to be a mother and thinking about having kids and how I would parent, I feel like most of the changes in me from going through infertility are more about ME than about how I will be as a parent. Though, that, of COURSE, affects who I will be as a mother.

I always wanted to breastfeed. I HAVE decided to try cloth diapering, but to be honest, that had less to do about IF and more to do with the fact that once I started babysitting our godson, I was a little apalled at the amount of money and waste that diapers were. I was already a SAHW, in order to BE a SAHM eventually. We had built our home close to family and next dorr to my parents, in the country, for our future children. Heck, we'd already been planning on how best to invest for their car and college funds.

I haven't really made promises. Other than, you know, the standard, "God, if only You will give me a baby/let my baby live, I promise to do my best to raise them to be strong Christians and good people." And that was sort of the goal before, anyway. :)

More than my views of motherhood, my views of LIFE have changed. It's hard to say what's from maturity (as I WAS, to be fair, only 20, though a mature 20 with a marriage, business, and house)...but I feel as if I've grown by leaps and bounds because of IF. In my faith and relationship with God. In my relationship with my husband. In my personal strength. In being patient and understanding. In being sympathetic to others. In realizing that sometimes things just do not go as planned. That nothing should be taken for granted.

I guess, my hope...and I believe it to be that the changes that have happened in my husband and I through IF will make us able to be better parents. Because we're better people.

It's so weird to realize (I'm just starting to, actually) that the worst things in your life have also been the things that might be the biggest blessings. And that even though things might not happen the way you thought they HAD TO (pregnancy vs adoption, being a young mother vs being a "normal" age, having a pool vs having IVF's), they can still be beautiful.

serenity said...

Well timed, Mel! Because I was literally talking with my MIL last night about my SIL's pregnancy, and I said "you know, it'll be interesting to see how having a baby affects K. Because she has always done what SHE wanted when SHE wanted to, and a baby doesn't work that way." My MIL agreed with me. :)

The funny thing is that, in the beginning... I was exactly like K. I wanted things on my timeline. To plan our family, have my career, and make it all work. And now that we're struggling (and yes, we ARE struggling), I am realizing that there are things that are MUCH more important than planning ahead.

And I've also learned that I can't control things as much as I want. KEY for me, as I'm a pretty strong personality and was also raised by a controlling mother. I like to think the lessons I've learned from infertility - patience, the fact I can't control everything - will make me a better parent.

I haven't made any promises yet, though. Probably because I am tired of drawing lines in the sand when I know that it might shift.

Anyway. I'm rambling now. Long way of saying that I agree. Well said.

mandolyn said...

I hadn't thought about things from this angle, but I definitely agree. I've noticed the obvious changes in myself as a result of infertility, but I hadn't realized the changes that aren't as blatant. I've decided that I don't want to work at this office once my little one is here, want to try breastfeeding, making baby food, using a sling, etc...all things that I've had time to really consider. (And I'd be a huge liar if I didn't come about some of them from bargaining attempts with God.)

I am instantly annoyed with those who can just shed their infertility like an out-of-style coat. I'm never over it, never done with it...I can't just pretend that it never happened. It's made me who I am, and as you've pointed out, given me time to really consider the kind of parent I want to be. I'm sure my friends think I'm the most boring person on the planet, but what really matters to them is mostly insignificant to me. And I'm completely okay with that. I just want to be a good mommy, and for me, that means thinking about pureed steamed vegetables and taking things home from my desk at work a little each day. Who knows what I'll decide to add to the pot tomorrow...

The Town Criers said...

The first month we started trying, I went out and bought around 8 parenting books. Because, you know, I was going to need them instantly. And the worst is that one of them had this attitude of "if you don't do X, you're not a good mother." When I bought the book, I agreed with doing X. By the time I had kids, I realized that X wasn't going to fit the children and situation we had. But I still had this book that made me feel like shit. I had had enough of feeling like I wasn't a real woman for not being able to conceive without assistance and now I had a book telling me that I wasn't a good mother because I wasn't following a single philosophy. I'm now drawn to books that say, "this may work" or ones that leave room for the possibility that another path or choice is equally good--just different.

Cannot even tell you how many of those books I purchased before the journey (which all came out with new editions by the time I actually had kids, so the info was old) that I refuse to touch now.

Gil said...

The changes are there for me, absolutely. The bargaining -- "Just give me a child and I'll make sure my kitchen floor is clean ALL the time so the baby won't be eating cat fur!" -- has entered the equation. But for me, one of the things that comes into the picture is the passing on of Traditions. I wrote about that in my blog yesterday, on the eve of Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day). I lament that the wonderful traditions that my family have so carefully and lovingly given to me will die with me unless I have a child to pass them to. It hurts every time I follow through with a family tradition. And then I feel like I've let my whole family down.

j said...

1- Erin. You should definitely see her live show if you can. She's fantabulous.

2- Yay for Purim. Me and the "other" Jew in town are thinking of having a queer Purim party. It should be fantabulous, mostly because I just remember a whole lot of cross dressing happened at my shul Purim parties -I don't know what to even expect with this queer twist. (Though all will be invited;)

3-Incredibly thought provoking post. What struck me most is the part about being "worthy enough" to become a monther. I've often had this feeling. Heck, I grew my hair out so I looked like I was responsible enough to become a mother. Irrational, but true. There are all sorts of bargains, thoughts, and ideas I have about how I can be such a good mother, and worthy of that title.

I'm trying to let go a little. I'm glad I might not be the only one struggling.

SusanG said...

This may be off the point, but I think that if you used a sewing machine, 99% of us would still considered your costumes to be hand-made. ;)fd

Ellen K. said...

Ah... the bargaining part of the infertility grief cycle. You know, oddly, I've slacked a lot on my definitions of what I would need to do in order to be a good mom. Many of my ideas when we first started TTC -- breastfeeding for at least a year, making my own baby food, and most importantly, having an unmedicated birth -- all of those are out the window. I even had a freaking birthing plan. (Wow, that was a waste of an hour.) In the case of unmedicated birth, I can name the very moment I dropped that idea: when I recovered from my HSG-induced faint and called D. with a litany of expletives.

Now that I look at this list, I realize how I assumed that I would actually be the one giving birth, that I would be able to control absolutely everything. Now I look wistfully at grocery shelves of overpriced sweet potato puffs and YoBaby cups. I'm impatient with a friend who is traumatized by the fact that she needed a c-section. My standards have lowered. The "shortcuts" are appealing. This road has been hard enough.

And also, like Town Criers said, I've realized that a lot of those old ideas are not likely to fit our situation, if I do become a mother. My pregnancy would probably be somewhat high-risk, or I will be parenting an adopted child whose gestational exposures, birth, and earliest attachments will likely not be within my control. Many of the pregnancy books I favored in my early TTC days seem completely irrelevant.

reichmann said...

Mel, I have an article coming out in a future issue of the RE.SOLVE newsletter about this issue. While I'm not hand-sewing costumes for my kids (speaking of which, I have an old but barely used sewing machine if you want it!), like you, I am staying home with them when I always swore DH could stay home with the kids because I "needed" to be out in the workforce. I won't leave my kids with any babysitters other than immediate family. I like to bring my kids everywhere with me- meetings for volunteer organizations, lunches with friends, to the doctor's office, whatever. I think it's because I don't ever want them out of my sight.
On a related note, because of a lot of these feelings, I find it very difficult to relate to mothers who conceived easily. While many of my best friends fall into this category, I feel like an outsider when I'm with them, listening to them complain about their kids or talk about how they're "dying" to get a break from them or how they "have" to work only because they can't imagine spending all day at home with their kids. I feel like only other mothers who went through IF "get it."
It's interesting to see how much has changed from what I thought parenting would be like before we TTC to reality after IF.
Great post (and I can't wait to see the costumes!)

Starfish said...

Oddly enough I don't recall making any promises to God, maybe because I spent most of those 3 terrible years not speaking to Him. We've reconciled now - I can hardly stay mad at him with the gorgeous little boy he's put in our path.

Anyway, I don't see how anyone could shrug off infertility and pretend not to be changed by it. Unless of course they weren't that into it to begin with? I am a profoundly different person than I was before, and only with the adoption of our son have I stopped being defined by infertility entirely. I do firmly believe the journey has made me a better parent. The biggest thing it has taught me is to always keep things in perspective and not to stress or get angry over stupid little things. When he spits out his peas or won't stop crying, I take a minute and tell myself to smile. This is the greatest job in the world, and something I've worked very hard for the privelage to do.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful, affirming post to all of us who are on this transformitive journey. I know I've changed and I can only imagine that WHEN the universe blesses me with my child (trying SO hard to stay in the positive here) that my parenting will definitely be a reflection of who I am - and who I am is someone different than who I was a year and half ago before this journey began. I think TTC for a year and a half, the pain of watching it happen so easily for some, and all the research I've done have certainly made me more humble, reflective, and provided some peace amidst the pain. Thanks so much for putting into words (so eloquently)how infertility affects our whole lives.

Anam_Kihaku said...

wow.. yeah i made all those deals - i even bought the cloth nappies but was so exhuasted i couldnt cope with thema nd disposables it has been... i dont know - the whole ifnertiltiy first time rounf made me angry and determined to change the worls, i made all sorts of deals and promises - everything and anything... then we got our little girl and infertility changed mine and my hubbies lifes. we take nothing for granted but we also dont put plans in sotne cos we know that isnt how it works. we are fairly relaxed parents becuase i cant cope with the stress of being osme sort of super mum. this set of infertility ( 22 months now) has changed me in other ways, i am resigned and have a sort of forboding doom :( this time round i kinda have given up hope beforwe it have even got a chance to take hold.

Jane said...

I know when we first started thinking about children I had heard of "atatchment parenting" and thought it was crazy to hold your child all the time. Noble maybe but impossible. Now, God willing, I want to hold my child All. The. Time. I promise to become a human kangaroo!

Lindsey said...

First off, I just want to tell you I've been lurking a while and always enjoy your posts.
In response to your promises post, I'd like to say that I, too, have walked an evolving path to motherhood, and I'm not even there yet. The things that seem to matter to my fertile friends (where to go for the 3D ultrasound, what brand nipples they use on their bottles, & who does the drapes in the baby's nursery) are not the kind of concerns I have, though they might have been, had I conceived once upon a time. I keep my eye on the bigger picture now. Though infertility may make me occassionally bitter, it has also instilled in me greater insight than most potential parents could ever imagine. It has given me more time than I ever wanted to let my opinions on child rearing brew. As much as I hate to pat infertility on the back, I must admit that despite the fact I don't have a child, it has made me a better parent,a better nurturer, even if only to four legged friends and houseplants. But someday my prince (or princess) will come... Then, I'll really be set.

Sunny said...

WOW is really all I can say. This post is ME! I have so changed through it all. Sometimes I wish I hadn't. I wish I could be so innocent and fresh. I wish my hope was out there and not jaded.

Right now I am at a place where I can't even think about being a mother. It sounds awful but I can't think about it. I used to think about it all the time. You know, I would rub my belly and pray. Now I rub and quickly remove my hand. SO I truly try not to think about it.

BUT I loved this post! I am so not the same person I was when I first started on this journey. Sometimes I wish I was but I know that I am a much better and stronger woman. If nothing more than I can be there for others because I have walked in their shoes.

I hope you will post pictures of your finished costume!

bleu said...

I always wanted a child. I think this resonated with me so much for another different twist as well, which I always enjoy.

I got pregnant easily the first
time, the second try. When I lost that baby it changed me, definitely, and when I was pregnant again, first try back, I still made bargains, and pleaded with the powers that be. But along with that because of the first loss there was something more, because I was a single woman having a child, and a gay one at that, it made ttc different from the get go. It made it have to be so well thought out from the get go. As a result I began thinking about questions I doubt I ever would have had I not had to use such scientific methods to negin with.

I had to find a sperm bank, register with them, get a doctors signature, fill our paperwork. I had to pick a donor, chart my cycle to a T, pinpoint ovulation, order sperm, pick up sperm, inseminate etc. It was an effort from the start, and because of that i began questioning so much more than I had ever thought of.

I had always wanted a round crib, I had seen one when I was toung and always said I would have one when I had a kid. Well, 2 months pregnant and I realized I would never need a crib. I found AP and knew, for me, it was right. I had never heard of it before, but I knew because I was questioning everything because of how much effort it had taken in some ways, and because of the m/c in others.

Now facing secondary if this past year so many more things come up, am I enough of a mom to Bliss, can I be a good mama with 2? Now that I have had another m/c even more comes up.

All of what you said rings so true, but I wish it weren't, I wish we were gentler on ourselves. I wish we, all of us, all women and mothers, knew innately we were enough just by being human beings, just by our mere existence, because the bargaining, to me, diminishes our sense of worth somehow.

Bea said...

This rings very true. I would have been a different parent if it had been easy.


Sarah said...

Very interesting...

I think I have been changing some of my plans for motherhood... I had been convincd that my husband would stay home after I took an extended maternity leave. Now... I'm less sure. And the idea of not going back to work for a few years sounds very appealing.

We'll see... (I hope!)

littleangelkisses said...

I've been thinking long and hard about this. Did I change the way I parent or plan to? Well, sort of, BUT most people do. No matter how your child comes about, you change your original ideas when you realize something does or doesn't work for you. I'm not sure that it's IF that does it.

When Boo was born (early 9 weeks) I realized that I wanted him on BM for as long as possible. To that end, I pumped for 10 months and he was not totally on formula until he was 14 months old. I had originally wanted to BF for 3 months. I actually BF for about 1 month and pumped the others.