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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hope is Food For the Heart and Other Profound Statements

Today is a fast day.

And I'm currently drinking coffee.

Not only am I not infertile enough, but I'm also not Jewish enough.

But I actually think drinking coffee today is a good thing. It shows a measure of growth. And I came to this decision last night after reading Serenity's post yesterday.

For those of you who aren't Jewish, today is a fast day, though it isn't one of the original four (yes, you guys thought we only stopped eating for Yom Kippur, but there are three more days where you can't eat) fast days. Therefore, you are not supposed to eat from sunrise to sundown.

The fast is called Taanit Esther or the Fast of Esther and it is the only day on the Jewish calendar commemorating the intelligence and power of a woman. I started fasting on this day when I got to college and was involved in feminist groups on campus. One year, the focus of Taanit Esther was to bring attention to violence against women and it included a Take Back the Night rally. On another year, it was a focus on the plight of Agunot (women who can't get a divorce) in Israel. Every year, I fasted because it felt like the right thing to do as a woman--to show solidarity with my fellow chickies.

Why do Jews fast? Well, fasting is supposed to turn one inward. To give a person a spiritual space where she can gain emotional strength rather than physical strength. Jews always fast before going into battle with the message being that physical strength doesn't win the race--it is your spiritual focus.

Infertility is a battle where emotional strength is needed over physical strength. The physical aspects of conception--that is entirely out of my hands. At one point in the month, it is hypothetically in the hands of my RE (at least I am paying him a shitload of money and believing that he has control over the situation) and at another point in the cycle, it is in the hands of my wonky hoohaahooterus. But at the end of the day, all I can do is sit back and wait to find out my beta results.

It seems more useful to focus on gaining emotional strength, which was the point of Serenity's post yesterday. For a while now, the Fast of Esther has been a remembrance day for me. One year, I miscarried the night before the fast. Therefore, the fast became a true cleansing. And it became my remembrance day for all the shit associated with infertility. The wiping of the emotional slate. I actually looked forward to the Fast of Esther because it was the private commemoration I created to honour my own journey. It felt right until I started thinking about fasting last night.

Serenity was concerned about the hope she feels at this point in the cycle--the Lupron days--and imagining the happy pregnancy after the positive beta. The nursery. And her future work schedule. And replacing leaky storm windows. All for the baby. And I started thinking about hunger. And how you can't talk your body out of feeling hungry. Either you feed it and you control that hunger or you try to ignore those pangs and still feel them. With hunger, you can feed your body healthy food and feel well afterwards. Or you can feed your body the brownies that you baked for the mishloach manot baskets and feel like crap afterwards. It's your choice.

But in the end, addressing that hunger is important to me. Ignoring it doesn't work. I've tried that. I've tried to tell myself on a fast day that I'm not hungry and I end up spending more time focusing on the fact that my stomach is rumbling rather than drawing spiritual strength. Fasting doesn't really work for me. It just makes me feel a bit ill. But years ago, I looked forward to using this day for remembrance, therefore, I barely paid attention to the fact that I felt hungry. I was simply happy that it was Taanit Esther and I could do something that felt proactive when it came to infertility.

This year, we already lit a candle to mark our journey. We didn't need to use Taanit Esther for this purpose. And if I was fasting in order to gain strength before heading into "battle," I had already determined that fasting doesn't work for me in that sense. I think hope, like food, comes into your life--into your mind or mouth--when you need it. Maybe hope is what you need to feel to balance out the gloomier aspects of your day. Maybe if you removed hope, all you would have facing you are injections and speculums and transvaginal ultrasounds. Maybe hope is the food that sustains you so you can enter battle. Because not everyone can enter battle with a grumbling stomach.

Thank you, Serenity, for making me think. For stopping me from going through motions without considering the meaning behind them. Taanit Esther has been through so many incarnations for me--from feminist holiday to spiritual powerhouse to infertility commemoration--that I have no doubt that a new meaning will slip over it by next year. I'm looking forward to discovering its new meaning.


decemberbaby said...

OMG, I'm the first! hooray for me!

I totally forgot we were fasting today. And I already ate three chocolate hamentaschen. I'm so bad.

I hear what you're saying about fasting. The only truly meaningful fast I ever had was on Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. It was really hot and sunny all day and we walked from the Kings hotel to the western wall (and back) twice... that's a total of about 75 minutes walking in the sun, having had no food or drink all day. By midday I felt like there was no scientific reason for my body to be holding up the way it was... so it must be divine support that was keeping me upright despite my thirst. I really felt God's hand giving me the strength to get through the day.

Come to think of it, that's a nice infertility analogy right there.

Anyhow, I think your reasoning is superb. I love people who actively look for new meanings every time a holiday rolls around.

Piccinigirl said...

it's so true, that feeling that finding a new meaning for an old ritual really gives it new life, a new purpose. I loved Serenity's post too, because it was hopeful and excited and I know for me, I am happy that she is feeling that way.
I personally need a little HOPE lately. I have been feeling so hopeless that it does help to know that it still exists and maybe a tiny smidge is on it's way to me.
That fasting can also take many shapes, it can be the fasting you do between cycles or the fasting you do in the 2WW , the waiting , the hurting , the hoping (the dreaming of donuts when it's over) but yes I hear what you are saying. Sometimes the stopping of something is just a rest before you move forward again.

Adrienne said...

Speaking of not being Jewish enough...I had no idea today was a fast day (and my Conservative temple didn't clue me in either! and I so rely on them to tell this barely-Reform Jewess what I need to know...) Now that I know about it, I will be marking it on my calendar for next year (too late this year, since I still have crumbs on my lips from this morning's poppy-seed Hamentaschen).

I love the idea of finding something to help you focus inward, to bulk up your emotional and spiritual strength. I haven't found that yet, am still searching. But it's become a holy quest now, not just an occasional desultory look. And I'll keep searching until I find it. Or it finds me.

serenity said...

Wow I'm happy to hear that my post stirred such thoughts - thanks for the call out. And it's not even Friday! :)

I liked your metaphor very much. Today's post was really about the distinction between hope and expectation. Using your allegory, hope is like having a handful of fresh vegetables. Versus expectation, which is like eating an entire pan of brownies.

I think you are very right - as infertiles, if we try to ignore hope completely and force it away, we run the risk of going into battle depleted before we've even started.

But at the same time, infertility is a marathon. At the risk of totally beating your food metaphor to the ground... If I devour all of my hope right now (i.e eating the entire pan of brownies), I expect a certain outcome. One which I have no control over.

And if the worst happens, I won't have enough reserves to make it to the finish line - the resolution of our infertility.

So I think it's important to find the fine line between hope and expectation. It's just like eating a balanced diet.

Bea said...

I like this post - the way events change their meaning over the years. And also Serenity's over-extension of the metaphor, above.


Reproductive Jeans said...

That is a great post--thanks for sharing. Putting your meaning into a ritual, whether its spiritual or not, gives it a personal feel, and means more!

SmarshyBoy said...

Hey! I'm fasting too - but only because I had my picture taken for work I and quickly realized I need to lose about 20 pounds.

I'm so sorry I never added you to my blogroll! Please don't be offended, I actuallyr ead you all the time, I just kind of have a system where I read certain blogs in order and I jump to the next blog through the blog roll of the blog I am currently reading. Anyway, I've added you. I think you are the best!

mandolyn said...

Mel, this is really beautiful. Whenever I realized that you are about to go into metaphor-gear, I make sure that I'm really paying always do it so well.

SusanG said...

Hope is a tricky thing. We might hate it (maybe fear is a better word), but we do need it. I think that if we didn't have the hope, we wouldn't be doing what we do. If we had no hope that all the things that we put ourselves through were going to give us that baby in the end of it all, then why in hell would we bother with it.

So, while I do everything I can to minimize the feelings of hope, I believe it would be a very sad day in my life if I didn't have it anymore.