As I was crossing the 4.3 miles of the Bay Bridge, doing my deep breathing exercises and trying to unclench my hands from time to time to keep them from becoming permanently gripped to the steering wheel (thank you, adrenaline-induced strength), I learned a little bit about myself. Something along the lines of an After School Special on understanding and overcoming fear. Making my trip from Rehoboth back to D.C. one to grow on.
I operate best with an escape route.
While I enjoy the idea of carpools, I'm not really into participating unless I am the driver. I like knowing that I could leave at any point--that it's firmly in my control. Back in graduate school, as I was sulking one night in my dorm room (why oh why did I agree to the graduate dorms that first year?), my friends talked me into going out to the usual Thursday night bar extravaganza at the local VFW. The promise was that the moment I wanted to go home, they would drive me back.
One drink and a game of pool later and I was ready to leave, but they continued their conversations and held me off with "just another minute, Mel" and "we just got here!" Being car-less and stuck in Northampton made me feel a bit like a wild animal. I ended up slipping out of the bar and walking several blocks to catch one of three buses that took me close enough to the dorms. An hour and a half later, I was back in my dorm room, only a few miles from the VFW, but finally breathing easily. I hate being stuck.
My fears of flying, my fears of bridges, my fears of tight-confined spaces, they're all fears shared by many other people. And the commonality between all of these fears is not only the relinquishment of control (wait...how do you relinquish control with a bridge? Or a tight-space? Can you just run with me and not look too closely at the argument?), but the lack of an easy escape.
Once that plane is in the air, a passenger can't really call out, "I've changed my mind. This is freaking me out. I really want to get off." I mean, I have called this out before, but it doesn't do anything. You're at the mercy of the flight time. Once you're on the bridge, you can't stop the car and get out of your vehicle until you're on the other side. And while people rarely think about this as they're passing over a wimpy span like the Delaware Memorial Bridge, you have a lot of time to think about the fact that you're stuck hundreds of feet above the water when you're on the Bay Bridge for five minutes minimum sans traffic. Being tied down, being held down, being confined--these are all things I avoid because they tie into that same base fear, the lack of an easy escape route. I am also not a fan of roller coasters (again, I can't stop the ride and get off). And not just for the drops, loops, and general queasiness-inducing motions of a roller coaster. I like control. And not just control. I like having my own personal stop button.
Sometimes, when people are talking about a next step with treatments or paths to parenthood, they feel the need to qualify it with "but this doesn't mean that I don't have hope for X working." You must have a smidgen of hope--if not, why would you put yourself through it? But I think it's sensible to have an escape plan. An escape plan is not just a stop button; it's a segue into the next step, the next path, the next action. It's stopping doing X and starting doing Y. Having an escape plan doesn't mean that you don't like where you are or what you're doing. You just need to know the location of the door so you could leave at any time, therefore making it more enticing to stay. Does that make any sense?
I don't think I would freak out so badly on the Bay Bridge if there was a button I could push and teleport off the bridge if the panic became unbearable. Just knowing there was something I could do would ensure that I felt comfortable.
Which brings us back to infertility and not just the idea of an escape plan for a current treatment (knowing which protocol you're trying next, for example. Or knowing you're doing another FET cycle immediately afterwards if this one doesn't work), but an escape from trying in general.
I don't currently have an escape plan.
I am meandering. I am trying things and thinking through possibilities and I have a general sketch of what will happen here or there. But Josh asked me a few weeks ago, "what will you do if we never have a third child?" and I didn't have an answer. I just cried. And on the Bay Bridge, I realized that my discomfort in general is the lack of an escape route. What if there isn't a third child? What if at the end of all of this, treatments don't work again? Do we walk towards donor egg or adoption? Or close the door on trying for a third at all?
There's a danger in setting up walls because those are meant to keep you in. Limits cause more panic--the internal promise, for example, that this is the final IVF attempt. But escape routes are small windows towards someplace better. Where limits bring about second-guessing, escape routes bring about relief. The relief may be mixed with other emotions--guilt, sadness, longing--but it is relief nonetheless.
And here is the difference. Walls have limits and negatives built into the phrasing: "I will never..." or "we will stop..." or "we can't do..." whereas escape routes follow an if/then formation. "If the RE thinks I have a low chance of conceiving with my eggs, then I will start with donor eggs." The only problem is setting up escape routes that seem unappealing. The other problem is that things sometimes don't look appealing until you've been forced to look at them from a different angle.
At this point, I haven't really put up walls--I mean, I have general limits for myself that are conducive to our financial situation or emotional capital--but I also haven't set up an escape route. And not knowing how I can get off this ride is like traveling over the Bay Bridge, the water lapping below and my hands fearfully gripping the wheel.
Do you have walls or escape routes? If you have an escape route, when did it occur to you and how did you plan it?