I’m still thinking about my conflicted feelings about trying for a 2.0.
Marianne’s comment on my last post really hit home.
It’s the failure I’m worried about.
I remember when I read Conquering Infertility by Alice Domar back in June 2010, what really stood out for me was this:
The biggest one was where she was discussing the women who struggle so much with infertility because it’s the first time they fail at anything, and no matter how much they try and how much research they do, they just keep failing.
Giant lightbulb moment. She could have been writing about me. I’ve said just that sort of thing.
It was the failure that I couldn’t cope with when I was in the trenches the first time around. I was exactly the sort of woman Domar wrote about: someone who was accustomed to success, someone who expected success, someone who had never, ever before run up against a situation where working hard and doing all the right things didn’t automatically lead to success.
I took Calculus in high school (let’s all remember I was an English and Classical Studies major at university and I knew from very early on, well before high school even, that I wanted a degree in the Liberal Arts and not the Physical Sciences) not because I needed a high-level Math grade, but because I wanted one. And of course I chose Calculus- it was the hardest.
That was the first time I struggled with something academically. My brain just did not want to do Calculus. That semester was tough, but I persevered, and came out with an ‘A’ for my trouble.
I struggled again during my Master’s degree. Even while loving being overseas, at a prestigious university, on a full scholarship, even as I was falling in love with Q., even as I was getting fit for the first time in my life, I was miserable academically and sinking into a depression (my first and thus far only bout with it). I doubted myself. I was convinced I would fail my language exam. I spent a lot of time hating my research (and boy do I remember that feeling now that I’m revisiting it with the PhD dissertation). My supervisor was less than helpful. But I kept at it, I persevered, and I graduated. I did well enough that I would have achieved a degree with distinction except my faculty wasn’t awarding those that particular year- they’d moved to a pass/fail system.
I struggled again my first full year living with Q. in his home country. I was teaching high school part-time and running tutorials at university while also going to (a different) university full-time to get my teaching qualifications. And the school at which I was teaching was a private school which asked a lot of its staff, even the part-time ones. It was a tough year, but I put my head down, got on with it, and got through it. The high school offered me a full-time position and I won an award for being the top student in my class for my education degree.
Challenge + hard work + determination = success
That’s how my life had gone so far.
And then we started trying for a baby.
And I came up against the biggest, most unmoveable wall I had ever seen.
And for the first time in my life, nothing I did would help me get over it.
Reading all the books about infertility didn’t help (I did that).
Being a super patient, always remembering my medications, never complaining, doing what the doctors asked while still taking responsibility for my own care didn’t help (I did that too).
Getting fit didn’t help.
Getting unfit didn’t help.
Worst of all, it wasn’t just me stuck on that side of the wall. Q. was trapped there with me, his wish to become a father derailed by my body’s physical problems. Our parents weren’t yet grandparents. Our sisters not yet aunties. Our friends’ children were growing up more and more every day without our own child to be the playmate we’d envisioned. My infertility coloured our entire world.
In a large way, much of my journey to getting pregnant with E. was about me learning to let go of my abject need to control my own life and the universe. I had to learn how to accept failure. I had to learn how to accept that I couldn’t WILL myself into being pregnant. All I could do was give myself the best possible chance, and then hope we would get lucky.
I, you may remember if you’ve been reading for a while, wasn’t very good at this.
In the end, the best way I coped was to give up. I did that last IVF cycle for Q. I was done, sick of it all, ready to walk away.
I was sick of being a failure. I wanted to get on with something else, with succeeding at living child-free.
But I was going to be a good failure too, of course. I did one more IVF cycle for my husband, out of love, but without any hope for myself.
And that one worked.
So I didn’t fail, in the end.
And right there is the problem. Because even though I did learn a lot about myself and how my brain works and how I process my life, and even though I really did think I had made progress about recognizing my lack of control over whether or not my infertility would be resolved, when I did get pregnant, and when I did safely give birth to E., deep down, what I really thought about the situation was:
More than a little bit nuts, no?
But there we have it.
And so my reticence about going back to the clinic is not just about whether or not we are truly ready for a 2.0 (because I know we can’t ever really be ready in the same way one can never really be ready for a first baby- you just have to go ahead and have one and cope with what comes), or about how we will balance two children and two academic careers, or about how E. will adjust to being a big brother.
What it’s really about is I’m opening myself up to failure again, and, what’s worse, opening myself up to failing at something at which I’ve already passed.
It’s as though failing to have a 2.0 would not only be a failure in its own right, but it would also colour/darken the triumph that is E.
I wouldn’t have really passed infertility after all. I would have somehow squeaked through the first time without the gods noticing, but my greed at trying again would ultimately catch me out. As though the universe would take back my shiny certificate I earned with E.’s birth and rip it up, shaking its head. “You didn’t really pass, Turia,” the universe would say. “You bought yourself some time for a while. But in the end you’ve failed.”
For a long time after E. was born I felt whole. Healthy. I turned out to be good at being pregnant. I turned out to be good at giving birth and breastfeeding. My body knew what to do. My baby knew what to do. My birth experience- swift, unmedicated, without complications- helped enormously with healing the wounds my battle with infertility had caused.
Or that’s what I thought at the time.
Now I’m realizing that my positive experiences with pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding may have covered over the scars for a time, but they did not, could not, erase them.
I am who I am today partly because of my experience with infertility.
But I had mostly made my peace with that experience.
And it’s the fear of opening it all up again that is almost paralyzing.
I also know that there are no guarantees even if we do get pregnant again. Maybe I’ll have a much more difficult pregnancy. Maybe the birth will be traumatic. Maybe breastfeeding will be a fight right from the very beginning. Maybe I’ll struggle just as much with adjusting to the new baby as I did with E.
I don’t think, not for a moment, that women who have difficult pregnancies, or births, or trouble breastfeeding, or who struggle with their infants/toddlers/children, are failures. But I can see oh so clearly how easy it would be for me- someone who is so used to being examined, graded, assessed- to define my own experiences in that way.
And I know, I know, that this isn’t a competition, that no one is going to give me a rosette, or a gold star, or a certificate at the end of it all. I’m not in a race against anyone else, although sometimes it feels like I am. And I know, I know, that a lot of this boils down to my personality, to being a perfectionist, to being the gifted child who was always told over and over again how smart she was, to being the one who would prefer not to take a risk than potentially fail. I don’t like trying new things if I’m not going to be good at them immediately.
I know, I know, that the way I describe how I feel must sound crazy to those looking in from the outside. And I would never, not for a moment, not ever, think of E. as a consolation prize if we tried to add to our family but didn’t get lucky a second time. If he is destined to be our only, he’s enough. He is more than enough. We are so very blessed to have that little boy in our lives.
But there’s no getting around it.
If I want to add to my family, I have to be willing to open myself back up to failure, in my own eyes at least, even if not in anyone else’s.
And I’m having a bit of a hard time with that right now.