Infertility: A State of Normalcy
I would give Ben the world if it was in my power. For his birthday in early February, I reached out to the people in his life asking them to describe Ben or relay a birthday message in one sentence. Turns out, one sentence cannot embody Ben's imprint. There were odd nicknames filled with love, Brown Trout and Road Dog. The allure of his beard was explored. His kindness highlighted. Quotes from John Wooden and Feodor Dostoyevsky were shared to shed a light on his passion for coaching and laughing. Laughter was one of the most talked about themes. A humorous nature is Ben's normal. Even in the toughest and telling of times, Ben's merriment sneaks to the surface offering smiles and lifted moments when they are needed most. His mother movingly topped off this gift with a construction paper heart with the words, "I didn't give you the gift of life. Life gave me the gift of you."
Writing out each message, a reoccurring thought sent me swirling, like being hit by an Ocean City wave in July: Ben will make a great father. This isn't the first time I've been hit by this idea. With all the messages printed in front of me, it was the most visual it's been. These pieces of paper were a quick guide on how to achieve the #1 Dad mug. I took a blank piece of paper and wrote, "I love you. I wish I could give you a baby."
This message didn't make the final cut. Of course, Ben will learn of it when he pre-reads this piece. He will hold me, tell me he loves me, and valiantly say "This is our year, Jessie!" His optimism once again stabilizing my wavering faith. (One message read: I think Ben sees life as a wondrous opportunity; and he infects those around him with that same feeling. Even when life seems unfair, this is true of Ben.)
The hardest aspect of infertility, for me, is Ben. I can be ferociously individualistic in my choices at times. Independence in my career direction and the way I dissect life is a point of pride. It co-exists with my willingness to give Ben whatever he needs to navigate his own path. They can be at odds. But like all good relationships, the provider and the independent only evolve by listening to one another and knowing when it's their time to take the lead (or back seat). It's been tough for the provider over the past two years. I can't seem to give Ben the gift of life.
Infertility first appeared in this space through a skin deep how-to. I described the rut courtesy of our first year of infertility and how I pulled myself from the stagnant muck. It took a long time to write because the sink hole, filled with shock and confusion, was deep. I read it now, and though I am proud of the piece and the outlet it provided, there is hesitancy in my voice. I did emerge from the paralyzing lethargy, but my uncertainty of the unknown is there if you look close enough. I couldn't help but wonder, what comes next?
Over the following year, infertility went from devastatingly affecting my mood to an ordinary, monthly occurrence. Infertility became normal. Informing Ben about my period became as commonplace as telling him (politely of course) to take out the garbage. Both events met with a brief moment of silence, a sigh and then life continued. Ben bent over the trash can removing its contents; me bent over, hands on knees, wishing I could remove my uterus (only for the day of course).
Infertility was easy to talk about. Every heartfelt approach from family, friends and creative colleagues was met with a candid, almost nonchalant, response. I would say Ben and I were fine (because, truthfully, we were, we are). I was passionate about thanking them for their concern. When sharing my feelings on the lack of children in our lives, I was matter-of-fact, lacking the energy I normally present information. I often wonder if that juxtaposition caused alarm. I am sure there were opinions I was brushing it off or suppressing sadness. Really, infertility and dealing with it found its way to the familiar. It wasn't a daily occurrence for most outside our household; but for Ben and I, it was in front of us, month after month, day after day.
This progress may not be forward, it could be categorized as a survival side step, but its movement. I went from drowning to wearing my infertility journey with the ease of my favorite t-shirt.
When I graduated college, Ben (we had been dating for a little over a year) gave me a piece of jewelry. It was a heart pendant necklace from Tiffany & Co. It was elegant and simple, and I wore it with boast. I rarely wear it now; my style is anything but elegant (most days), but its significance is eerie. There is an opening at the top of the heart where the chains attach. The opening invites more. It invites hope, love and Ben's level of optimism. It reminds me we have more love to give.
This normalcy, like any stage in life, is temporary. It will fade into the next. Hopefully, the next will be a child taking control over our lives, and we once again have to find our new normal. When that day comes, I will write a sloppy note to Ben on a used napkin (because when you have children, all neatness goes out the window), "I love you. We have a baby. Now what!?"
Photos by the lovely Sarah of Rose Colored Creative