when steve and i were first married, we planned to take three years to get established in our marriage before we had kids. but part-way into year two, we got the bug. we both love kids (i had been working in children's ministry and was around them all the time) and even though it seemed a little half-baked at the time, we decided to try for a few months while i was in grad school. and i told a handful of friends that we were trying. every month i'd excitedly get my hopes up, counting down the days until i could take the test ... and every month the test was negative. and each time i was not only let down, but also had all these people with questions and hopes and expectations to tell the bad news to. by the end of those few months, i still wasn't pregnant and had learned that i did not want to go through that again. the next time we would be ready to try, i was going to keep it to myself. it was hard enough managing my own excitement, and dealing with my own hopes and expectations. i didn't want to regularly relive it for other people each time it happened.
so we put it on hold. and i told myself that we would have kids soon enough. and when we moved to arizona, i thought "oh good! i'll get a job, we'll settle in, and we can try again, maybe as soon as i find a decent job!" but it took much longer than i expected for me to find a job. and we never did really "settle in." (it's hard to get settled when you don't know where you'll be living there, or whether you'll have a job, year to year.) and so we went from the luxury of feeling like "oh, we'll just wait until we're emotionally ready to have a child" to the emotional crisis of "dear God, our life is up-ended. if we got pregnant now, it would be awful." (if you've ever been in that place where you desperately want to have a child, but know that to have a child in your chaotic and unstable life would be foolish, irresponsible, and unfair to the child, then you know the deep sadness i felt when we lived in arizona.) and once again i had to tell myself that this just wasn't the time ... as i watched our third year of marriage--the original planned time to start our family--come and go ... and stood on the sidelines while friends got pregnant with their second and even third child.
i knew intellectually that it was ok that it wasn't the right time, that though it wasn't the plan, we still "had time" to have kid(s). and i could believe with my head that our life could eventually be normal again. but because my hopes felt like they had been let down and pushed aside and put on hold so often, i told myself to just let it go. to stop thinking about having children, because clearly this stage of life that we found ourselves in was not conducive to starting a family. after all, we had no idea where we would be living, one year to the next. no idea what i would be doing for work, or whether we would have health insurance. or money in the bank. or even a second bedroom. and in that economy, believing that everything would magically work out seemed beyond foolish. especially after experiencing how "hard" the "hard times" were, first-hand, and living so far from any kind of support system or family.
so i put having children aside. i locked up that hope in a strong box and hid it from my mind. i needed to create a little emotional distance for myself. every once in awhile a feeling would surface when another [freaking] person i knew would get pregnant, and my first reaction was anger and jealousy. and i would take a deep breath and set those feelings aside. sometimes i wept bitterly first, sometimes i just hardened myself and turned the emotions off with a steely click, adding a heavier lock to the strong box that held my hope.
there were a few times when i suffered a big emotional set back. for instance, there was one sunday when i was volunteering in our church nursery, and a friend's kid that i knew pretty well freaked out on me when i tried to change his diaper. it seems silly looking back, (i mean, kids freak out, this we know), but i took his one-year-old temper tantrum to mean that i no longer knew how to interact with kids. i'd lost my baby-whispering skills. as soon as the kid's mom came to get him and diaper him, i ran to the bathroom where i sobbed those big, abdomen quavering sobs until my face was splotchy and red. i mourned the apparent loss of the ability i once had to bond with babies and children. (back in the day, i had been the unofficial holder of babies with reflux in my circle of friends, giving tired moms a break from holding their newborns upright.) and for whatever reason, try as i might, that kid refused to like me, even after seeing him a couple of times a week, and pulling every punch i knew of. and in my sensitive state, i took it as a sign. a sign that i'd somehow missed my opportunity to realize my maternal nurturing. that like biological fertility, the sun was setting on my ability to nurture a child. this notion began to influence the way i saw myself in relation to children in general, and especially my idea of having children of my own. i pushed my hopes of having children further from my view of myself and my future, believing that i was protecting myself from some inevitable let down.
one of the toughest things to deal with was mother's day, when every church in america decides to make a big fuss over female parents. [a strained relationship with my own mother has always made this a fairly difficult day for me, to begin with.] so in order to keep myself from hurting, i stopped going to church on that sunday each year. the last year that i got up the courage to go, our church had the little kids walk through the congregation and hand out flowers to all the moms. i had to choke back tears and tell the sweet child, "no thank you, i'm not a mother." to re-establish the emotional distance i needed, i began avoiding mother's day all together. but i realized how impossible this was when last year, steve and i did the dunkin donuts drive thru--our only interaction with people all day--and the girl leaned out her freaking window to asked me (who was in the passenger seat), "are you a mother?" i wanted to give her the dirtiest eyebrow raise i could summon and answer her question with a sarcastic, mean-girl question, "do you see a child in our car??" but i didn't. but i kinda wish i had, though. it would've taught her a lesson. it seemed nowhere was safe on mother's day.
and as i went on like this, riding the emotional roller-coaster of hurt and emotional distance, time passed. and then steve got into hopkins ... and suddenly all the questions had answers. we knew where we would be for the next five to ten years. and we knew that we would at least have his little income and his access to health insurance. and then on top of that, and even better yet, my boss asked me to take my job with me! so not only would i not have to go through the terror of looking for a job, and waiting an appropriate amount of time to get pregnant--i wouldn't have a gap in health insurance, and we could keep our benefits! with all the answers to all the details that had seemed so unsettled and so up in the air for so long, steve decided that we had put off trying to have kids for long enough, for him to pursue his journey to a phd program. (he'd watched me suffer through the previous few years and even though i'd repeatedly told him not to, felt guilt that we'd put my hopes of having children on hold for him to pursue this career change.) and now that we were finally in a place where we knew that we would stay, at least for more than a year or two, we would open up our lives to let God decide whether we should have kids or not, and allow our goal to start a family to be a priority right along with the goal of his earning a phd.
steve and i had a long discussion and decided that we might not try forever, but we would be open to it at least for now. my poor bruised hope was still in the strongbox with multiple locks and i still viewed myself as a childless woman, afraid that if i hoped too hard to get pregnant, i would only get hurt again. a big part of me wondered if it wasn't just easier to resign to my seeming fate as childless and begin to accept that instead of fight against it. i even told a few close friends that i wasn't really sure i wanted to have kids anymore. i'd put so much emotional distance between myself and that hope, and our lives had changed so much in the interim, i wasn't sure i could even picture myself as a mother anymore.
...and then we got pregnant. and i was in shock. i'd pretty much given up hope that we'd have kids. i'd always pictured it a certain way ... i'd be a young, energetic, stay at home mom, raising my kids alongside my close friends in new york, done with being pregnant by 30 and out running around in the park instead of watching from the bench. and let's be honest, that ship had sailed with our current situation. i didn't know what to think, how to react, because this was what i'd wanted for what seemed like so long, so long in fact, that i thought i wouldn't get it. and now that it was on the way, but in a slightly different form, i still wasn't quite sure how to picture it, how to prepare.
and you would think that that was the end, right? that with the positive pregnancy test, i began my long journey back. but the fear still had a grip on me. for the first trimester, i continued to keep my hope locked far from my mind, because i'd watched friends and family have miscarriage after miscarriage. within the span of the previous 18 months, i knew of 6 women who had 9 miscarriages among them. (literally, the same week we found out we were pregnant, one of my closest and dearest friends found out she'd miscarried ... and found out at 14 weeks!! that was my nightmare!!) and i admit it--i was still deathly afraid to let the reality of my pregnancy into my consciousness. i was afraid to see this as a baby that we could still so easily lose. i held my breath at my first ultrasound, until i saw that little flapping heart. and i held my breath again at my 14 weeks appointment, until i could hear the wooshing of that little heart. and even then, the reassuring sound wasn't nearly long enough. it seemed i'd barely heard it when my doctor took the dopler wand off my belly and we heard silence again.
and slowly, over the past few weeks, i've let my steel hold on my hopes unclench. i've let myself relax. and let go of the fear that i had replaced hope with. and i've slowly begun to let myself construct what our life might look like, with me still working and traveling, and steve being a full time grad student, in a city that's still pretty far from our good friends and family. i'm still mostly in shock, but i think that now, the shock that i feel is the same incredulity that most first-time women feel ... the same shock i'll still feel a month into having a baby when i still can't believe it's real. it's no longer the shock of self-preservation, fear, and emotional distance.