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.