Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crying in Hallmark

Brett and I found ourselves in a wonderful place this weekend – home at the same time!

It’s a rare occurrence in our first-meets-second-shift worlds, and when we learned Brett would get the full four-day weekend off, we almost fell to the floor in happy disbelief!

We celebrated Thanksgiving with Brett’s family (and Mom and Gary) in Geneva. We spent most of the day Friday reading and sleeping. We called up Brett’s dad in the evening, and he invited us to a MASSIVE all-you-can-eat buffet at the Grand Victoria in Geneva. It was delicious.

I had my Saturday all planned out. Brett and I would go out to eat at Chili’s, using the generous gift certificate from unnamed sources, and then I’d go put some hours in at the office and try to get caught up. My plans were unceremoniously changed when I developed a head-splitting migraine halfway through our meal.

Brett drove me home where I reveled in Excedrin and my bed for almost four hours. I felt like a new woman upon waking, and Brett and I decided to do a little window shopping.

One of Brett’s favorite places to visit/shop/live is Border’s. I, myself, am not a big book store fan.

My long standing policy is to only buy books if a.) they are a gift for someone or b.) I’ve already checked the book out from the library and loved it so much that I know I will read it over and over again and want my own permission to get the pages dog-eared, read guiltless in a steamy bathtub, and get cream cheese smudged in every 20 pages or so.

I would never, never do that to a borrowed library book, for those of you now terrified you’re reading a rouge paperback I managed to get my grubby hands on.

I agreed to subject myself to the snobby bookstore crowd, only because Border’s is lodged precariously close to my greatest weakness. Hallmark.

Oh, I love Hallmark. I love the style. I love the trinkets, candles, cards, and the imaginatorium that virtually swirls in the clouds above my head every time I visit.

Brett agreed to drop me at Hallmark and proceed on to Border’s where he could read brand-new materials to his little heart’s content.

I practically danced into Hallmark. I took a sweep through the new ornament display, disappointed at the lack of cute rabbit ornaments this year.

I perused the Christmas card case, where I was delighted to find two boxes of Marjolein Bastin’s “rabbit in the snow in front of a watering can” series. It was buy 1, get 1 half off, and a very British salesperson handed me a coupon for $5 off at that VERY moment, which I considered an encouragement from heaven to buy those cards.

Who am I to pooh-pooh signs from heaven?

As I continued my minuet around the store, I found the perfect gift for my co-worker, Nancy. It was an $8 trinket, but it spoke volumes to her kind-hearted personality and the way she mixes a good deal of love and compassion into our business environment.

I was waltzing past the frame section – offering tiny prayers that I will have a frame-free Christmas this year – when something brought me to a solid stop.

It was a simple white and brown tin frame. Around the scalloped edges was a saying written in impressive calligraphy. “This face makes me smile.” Inside, a photograph of a child with wide-eyes and a mischievous grin.

I was embarrassed to find my eyes misting over. I felt two fat tears roll down my cheek, and I furiously wiped my eyes. Determined to avoid a spectacle, I soldiered on to the next section, where I found myself awash in pink butterflies and blue elephants.

The children’s section.

The tears came anew, as I stared at little boxes designed to hold money from the tooth fairy. Tiny stuffed princess dolls, and plush choo-choo trains that whistled when hugged tight. Bright, happy walrus’ grinned at me, and a 3-foot-tall giraffe leaned against my leg. I couldn’t help the tears that were now flowing freely.

Most of the time, I think I’ve got this infertility thing licked.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I’m out and hear a baby screeching. At Wal-Mart, I crack a little smile when I see a parent driven to distraction and toss a coloring book in the basket just to avoid a meltdown. When I was at Olive Garden with Alice and a toddler tried to crawl under our table, I found myself thanking God for His blessing of a quiet car ride home.

So, when people inquire about how I’m doing, I’m honest. I speak the truth.

“We’re content with what God has given us.”
“We trust God to do His will when His timing is right, not ours.”
“Things are tough right now. Kids would compound everything.”

But, right there in Hallmark, with tears running free-range down my face, I succumbed to the quiet moment of despair, helplessness, and - much to my chagrin – envy and bitterness.

On days like this, in moments like this, I’m surprised to find myself NOT angry at God. Instead, I’m angry at myself.

To me, fertility is like a test I can’t pass. I study, and study, and study, and watch as kids who’ve never even BEEN in class, hand their papers in for an +A every time. While, I sit and stare at my paper, angry red X’s, and a giant F marked at the top.

It takes me back to the familiar embarrassment of being last. Of being the last to learn, to do, everything.

I was a miserable eight-year-old when I learned that the bunny went around the tree and in the hole. I wore Velcro shoes until that very moment. My other friends learned to tie their shoes years earlier, and I felt the hot shame of falling behind.

I was eleven before I could ride a bike. The neighborhood kids, five and six years my junior, raced by on their ten speeds, as I played in the yard and waved bravely. I still remember my unfettered joy when Dad raced down the sidewalk behind me, suddenly disappearing, and I braked to a hard, unflappable stop in front of my friend Shannon’s house like I’d been born riding a bike.

It was years later that I would learn my left-handedness, which was responsible for my creative streak and my straight A’s, was also a culprit in my learning common motor skills at a slower pace.

Still, I was always last. I got my period last, my training bra last, and my driver’s license months before I went to college. Infertility swells the familiar feeling of failure. Those dreaded red X’s translate into one dull pink line.

I clutched a furry frog to my heaving chest and couldn’t even draw on the familiar Midwestern tradition of being proper to stop making a scene. As people walked around me, intent on Christmas shopping, they probably just saw a fat woman crying over a stupid stuffed frog.

I tried to hold back the bitterness as it throttled through my chest. Bitterness is the foul odor that permeates my infertile soul.

People jump into my mind, and I try to fight the ire that crawls up my backbone.

I try, I really do, to be happy for pregnant people. I express the joy I feel I should express, although so often the thoughts shooting through my head are hateful and vile.

I once knew a pair of barely-marrieds that announced they were “surprised” by pregnancy. As I shook hands with one and hugged the other, my thoughts were jumbled. Of course, I was happy for them. I’d have to be a little inhuman not to be happy for them, right?


And yet, all I wanted to say was, “That’s not fair! You have no experience in this. You’ve not been on your knees, faithful as a prayer warrior, begging, pleading, promising to be like Hannah. You need more years of hoping and praying and waiting. It’s not right. It’s not fair.”

I hated her for her fancy, pretty, efficient reproductive system while mine sits unused and broken like a rusted, out-dated iron lung. I wanted to shake her little perfect Barbie head till it snapped off with the urgency of my message. I’m not proud of this, you understand, but it’s undeniably true.

Another acquaintance recently confided she and her husband have decided to have another baby. It will make five for their family. She said, “I thought we were done, but we prayed about it and just feel God is leading us to have another baby.”

I stood, mouth agape, at the news. She spoke casually, as if having another baby was as easy as picking up the phone and adding a second pizza to her Domino’s order. I clamped my lips shut and smiled in broad, fake congratulations.

The thing is - I really do try to feel happy. And sometimes I do. And then I get sucker punched.

Another friend and I were talking recently. She told me that a shared friend of ours was hoping to have another baby to add to their current only child.

“She really wants to have the baby pretty soon,” my friend said.

“Why the rush? She’s still so young,” I asked, thinking of our lovely 26-year-old friend.

“Well, she wants to have the baby before she’s thirty. You know how if you have babies after thirty, there’s more of a chance of….” Her voice trailed off as the devastated look on my face registered in her brain. She fell to silence, not sure how to offer comfort against cold, hard medical facts.

I find myself fighting fury and praying like a torrent against bitterness in my infertility.

By this time, I’d put the stuffed frog back on the shelf and returned to stare at the white and brown tin frame which seemed to hold me in its mesmerizing grasp.

I thought of my sweet niece Brielle and of a snippet I’d read in a book only hours before, “Aunt and uncles have one of the best jobs on the planet and a great responsibility to their young charges.”

I found myself imagining a future where Candice would ask me to take Brielle to tumbling, or pick her up from volleyball practice, and even arrange the occasional sleepover.

I remember, very well, my own sleepovers as a five year old at my then-childless Aunt Judi and Uncle Tim’s. I slept on the fold-out couch, ate the world’s best homemade spaghetti, and got a Barbie on a surprise Toys R Us shopping trip. I never wanted to leave their little house.

I tried to imagine my own life without the laughter and love that flowed from my Aunt Kathy, or the humor and heart for others of my Aunt Louise, or the special spiritual truths spoken in love from Aunt Jan.

I dreamed in that moment of Brielle. I prayed and hoped that when she reaches thirty, she’ll remember me with a measure of the warmth and regard I have for these amazing women who shaped me into the person I am.

I consoled myself with Brielle’s brown eyes and a sappy minds-eye rendition of an eight-year-old Brie, Candice, and I singing Mama Said complete with hairbrush microphones, jumping up and down on a king-size bed.

As I circled back to the ornaments, I found myself in a sad, lingering moment. I find these often in the day, when I dream of my life with a child.

I’ll be driving in the car and glance in my rear view mirror. I envision a car seat and her sweet face. On the return trip, I see a young child in the passenger seat beside me, swinging his legs and singing to the radio, note for warbled note.

I make chocolate chip cookies and see someone leaning against the counter wanting to help. I browse through the library and resist the urge to smuggle Green Eggs and Ham out under my coat.

I imagine setting up the Christmas tree and explaining each ornament, breathing life into the stories I fear will die untold. Truth, honesty, and love that will turn to dust, not given the air to breathe or the child to treasure.

I think sometimes I want a child just so I can stop being afraid of children.

I sat beside my second cousin, Zachary, as he slept in his coma. I watched as his aunts and other, random people from his church stroked his arms, tousled his hair, or simply held his hand. I found myself unable to move.

I was afraid at my touch he would sit up, disgruntled, look me straight in the eye, and say, “Hey, look, lady, I only see you at Christmas. Don’t be touching me.”

Watching other people doing it with such ease left me befuddled. They might well as been covered in butterflies and dancing a highland jig. Something else I can’t do.

I stood at the check-out counter as the British salesperson rung up my rabbit cards and co-worker’s Christmas gift.

“You might want to let that frog dry out,” I said with a smile, trying to keep my voice light, knowing my recent crying jag was visible in my red-rimmed eyes.

She smiled back at me and reached across the counter to pat my hand. “It’ll be all right, dear,” she said, her voice drenched in tea, crumpets, and caring.

I walked to the door holding my bag and took a deep breath before immersing myself in the vibrant cold outside.

Praying that she was right.

Praying that, someday, it really will be all right.


karyn said...

Ahh, Ann-marie. Your post hurts my heart, but I am glad that you shared. As a thirty-something single woman, I can empathize with some, but not all, of your pain. When I finally started to get a handle on trying to be content with singleness, I began to struggle with the fact that I will be childless. The older I get, the more difficult that is. Sometimes I can walk in the reality of God's "enoughness" for me, but often the emotions of my perceived needs are so overwhelming. I love you.

Vanessa said...

Yours is the only blog that I ever read an entire entry of. Thank you. Thank you for being real.

Valorie said...

You are in my prayers, dear one. I have been right where you are and I know some of what you are feeling. We went through 5 yrs of infertility. I know that seems like nothing to what you are going through. Keep looking to The One who gives us our strength. If you ever want to talk, let me know.

Laura Brown said...

I know just how you feel. Although most of the time I think I've resigned myself to not having children, every now and again something happens to bring all the pain back again. I got to the point where I could say "no" to the question "Do you have children?" (and its more annoying variant, "Do you have children yet?") without even a twinge. Then one day someone asked me, "Are you a mother?" It means the same thing, and yet ... it felt like a very different question.

I know, too, the feeling of being a failure, and the resentment -- however hard I try to suppress it -- towards those who seem to get pregnant without any effort. And I think you've hit the nail on the head when you say, "I think sometimes I want a child just so I can stop being afraid of children." Except sometimes I fear that if I do have a child, I'll end up being afraid of it as well!

I know none of this really helps but I wanted you to know that you are definitely not alone. Thanks for expressing the feelings of many infertile women so honestly and eloquently.

Alice said...

Such a real, honest post. Infertility is a hurt like nothing else, that is for sure. It touches the most raw emotions like none other.

There's a cool little bit in the book of Genesis. It says that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah. Rebekah was barren, and Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife. The Lord heard and answered, and she conceived twins. Neat, huh? Like, Isaac prayed and the Lord answered. You know, I might be more prayerful if it worked out for me like it did for people in the Bible.

Then it says, "And Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob and Esau were born."

So...he prayed for...20 years. 20 years to have children.

I prayed for 8.

And our same God says, "Nothing is impossible for me."

We'll just keep on praying, girl.

Jennittia said...

My heart aches for you, my long-time friend! Thank you for sharing your soul with us. But how blessed Brielle is to have the coolest Aunt in the world!!!

On a totally different note-- you wrote the word "befuddled"!!!!! I thought I was the only one who used that word! Must have got it from you!!!

Cindy Swanson said...

Wow...Ann-Marie, you have such a gift. In that one blog post, you perfectly encapsulated all the raw pain and bittersweetness of infertility.

I know you've heard probably heard every encouraging cliche out there, but I will say this: I personally know a few people--one of whom you even mentioned in that post--who were at one time in your very position, but who now have at least one child. Maybe even three or four.

I can remember being afraid to tell them that I was pregnant, AGAIN, for fear of the very real pain it would cause them. I can remember not seeing them at baby showers because it just hurt too much for them to attend. I can remember feeling their palpable longing on Mother's Day, and their frustation at hearing the thoughtless "So when are YOU going to have a baby?"

But now each of the women I'm thinking of, as I said earlier,are mothers of children...children that they carried in their own wombs and gave birth to. And I don't think any of them has ever gotten over it or stopped feeling the wonder of it--even when they were climbing the walls with toddlers.

Thank you for a post that was exquisitely beautiful and sad at the same time. Really gifted writers make us feel things, and you are a really gifted writer.

Juliet said...

As your wonderful mother, (YES, YOU CAN LAUGH AT THAT.) I do know the pain of waiting, waiting and then waiting.

As we both know, we don't know what plan God has for us.. But you know I will continue to pray for a grandchild. If He grants me one, we will both be over joyed. You a mother and me a grandmother. That's my continue prayer.

Love you more than words can express. MOM

Deb said...

I won't even begin to pretend to know how you feel, Ann-Marie, but I will say that I will pray for you.

CANDICE said...

I Love you Ann-Marie. Brielle loves you too! She will know how much you love her and she will grow up and appreciate everything you do for her and all the ways you show her you love her. You will always be welcome to come to everything she does growing up!! You have a great heart. Love you so much.

Anouk said...

I hadn't read your blog in a while, and came back and read this. My heart goes out to you. I pray that God would continue to sustain you and give you grace. I'm reminded every day that God's timing is definitely not mine, but as my dear hubby "devoted" about last night, His plan is always better. I have to remind myself of that ALL THE TIME.

Praying for you: Consider yourself hugged!