Saturday, April 9, 2016

What IS a Happy Ending, Anyway?

It's been an introspective week. I was written out of work due to asthmatic repercussions to the flu, and so had a LOT of time on my hands to read, and blog, and think, and read, and write, and think. (And sleep, although it really is something else when they want you to rest but have you hopped up on nebulizers and steroids and so you are EXHAUSTED but you absolutely cannot get your heart to slow and your mind to not being out of work was definitely a good thing.)

One of the concepts that has been mulling around in my mind has been this idea of a Happy Ending, of a Happily Ever After, and how many times I have used that phrase. It started as a seed of thought even before it germinated when reading the Flip The Script Anthology (I told you there would be a bunch of related posts), continued to grow when I read Mel's post Who Tells Your Story?, and then really started to bloom in my mind today, of all annual gynecological exam.

I'm realizing that the idea of a Happy Ending, a Happily Ever After, changes. For some people it's the same thing it always was, in terms of family building -- get married, have your 2.5 kids, live a comfortable and happy life. For some people kids aren't part of that happy ending and never have been. It may be having a fulfilling life, or finding a person to share that life with, or finding that thing that makes you excited to get up every day. The funny thing is, I don't actually know anyone who has a truly uncomplicated, comfortable, sitcom-perfect life, even if they have the marriage and/or the kids and/or whatever it was they envisioned their life to be.

When you think you know what your happy ending is, and then you realize that you're not quite sure anymore, it can throw you for a loop.

Especially when you realize, perhaps selfishly, that you've had so many different kinds of happy endings and maybe "endings" are overrated anyway.

For of the questions that they ask you in your annual well woman visit is, "Do you feel safe in your home?" The answer should be unequivocally yes, but that hasn't always been the case for me. In a past life, I never felt like I could answer anything but "yes" to this question but the sordid truth was that I most definitely did not feel safe. I desperately wanted someone to know but was too afraid to even acknowledge the truth and so would meekly say "yes" and hope the subtext was caught but it wasn't. Now, I can say "YES, absolutely" and know that I have a beautiful marriage with a home that is safe and a man who respects and cherishes me. My marriage is 100% a happy ending, a happily ever after.

But, that's not the ultimate happy ending, right? Because we want a family beyond the two of us...which pushes the happy ending out more. I've had a post bouncing around in my head about how I actually feel selfish sometimes because we want more than what we have. I know it's not rational. We're not greedy and gluttonous to want children. But we just have SO MUCH. We have this amazing relationship where we can talk through anything, big or small, where we can face outright tragedy and feel like that cliche that we came out stronger. We really do come out stronger. We complement each other and both love to research and learn and spend quiet time on the couch or at our respective desks, 20 feet away from each other. We don't watch a whole lot of TV. We have deep conversations over Thai food. We can laugh through our tears. I can get shouty and Bryce will just laugh at me and occasionally let me know that I am maybe taking things a bit too far...and things defuse, they don't escalate. We are financially secure. We live in a beautiful home that we curate together. Could it be bigger? Could the basement not give Bryce a traumatic brain injury every time he goes to feed the cats? Sure. But do we NEED more? No. We have great careers and are both intellectually fulfilled and feel that we are in our chosen professions. That piece took a long time for me, too -- I figured out love and career at that same point in my last decade. But it's there now, with all those other beautiful jigsaw pieces fit together, and I feel so damn lucky.

So isn't that a happy ending? Isn't that a happily ever after?

When we first got married (actually, before we got married, because I like to plan and we knew we had some obstacles ahead, we just weren't aware how absurdly high that wall really was), we knew we wanted to have a family and got started right away. That was to be our happily ever after. We were happy together, of course, but wanted the two kids. Well, I wanted two kids...Bryce has always been okay with one (a preference that's probably reality at this point). And so pregnancy became the new Happy Ending.

But then pregnancy turned out to not be easy, and when it did happen, it certainly wasn't a happily ever after. But we still fought for it. We shed genetics, bit by bit. And then we realized that that particular happy ending was not going to be for us.

So we rewrote our arc.

And now our Happy Ending is to have a family through adoption. It wasn't our original idea of the happy ending. Will that part of our story hurt our child? Will they feel that our five and a half year journey of hardcore fertility fighting makes them seem like a second choice? Like a last resort, instead of our best hope?

Adoption is our best hope. I want parenthood so badly. I want the joys and fears and tears of raising a tiny human. I do not feel like adoption was a last ditch effort, but I do worry that's not how our child will see it. That our long history with fertility treatment didn't have a "happy ending" and so we turned to an alternative, but not in a complimentary way, in a "you would have much rather wanted a child you gave birth to" way.

This is a hard thing to think about, a hard angry teenage conversation in the future to envision. I mean, I really did want to be pregnant. It's a human experience, so I was led to believe. I wanted it SO BADLY that it pretty much consumed us for years, resulting in loving people asking us when we were going to realize that the fight just wasn't going to be won. Which is so hard when you are beaten into this NEVER GIVE UP mentality and the whole power of positive thinking piece that can be really helpful if you realize that you are, in fact, not actually magical. And that positive thinking can help you not live in the pit of despair, but if people could actually think themselves pregnant there would be a lot of unemployed fertility specialists.

But what I really wanted when I thought it was pregnancy? What I want now? To be a mom. To have a child. To be responsible for a tiny human and help them to grow into their best self. That never really changed. The vehicle changed. The reality changed. I do see adoption as our absolute best choice for parenthood. To be fair, it is our only choice at this point. We did not pursue surrogacy (something my OB/GYN brought up today just rhetorically), but that was because New York laws are tricky and we did not feel comfortable asking someone to do that for us and after everything we went through and the distinct lack of answers we received on WHY everything was so damn hard and complicated, it just didn't seem worth all the risks. We can't go down the infertility treatment road any further, even if new technologies come up. I can't complete a transfer anymore. I don't WANT to complete a transfer anymore.

This baby that is coming to us through adoption is like the rest of our happy endings -- an evolution of our histories, melded together and reformed into our best hope. My career as a special education teacher doesn't mean less because I had four jobs before I found my true calling. I do not think that Bryce and I have a lesser marriage because we were each married before. We were not each other's first choices in life. Our first choices were disastrous for varying reasons, but we learned from those failures (for there was failure on all sides) and created our own happily ever after, a relationship that is everything our previous experiences weren't. We are more secure for the mistakes made and the toxicity survived. I don't exactly encourage divorce -- it's messy and painful and feels like a world ending, the exact opposite of a happy ending -- but at the same time it is incredibly enlightening. It is a rewriting of your arc, of your story...a new beginning with the benefit of lessons learned.

Adoption feels the same way. It's not how we started out, but it has the best chance of getting us to that sweet spot where our marriage is -- the opportunity to expand our relationship to parenting. I worry that my choice of the words "Happy Ending" could put that responsibility on a child to feel that they have to make us happy, but hopefully I make it abundantly clear that we don't need something else to make us happy. We want to expand our happiness. We aren't looking for a plug for baby-shaped hole, even though I've spoken of this baby-shaped hole many times in the past. That's been a shift, too.

Part of this is because we've been starting the discussion of what happens if adoption doesn't work out. I don't really think that this will be the case, but what if? There was a time when the thought of living without children terrified me, filled me with a horrible emptiness, sank me into a deep musty hole of desolation. But even though it's not fair to call trying for children for nearly 7 years living childfree, we have actually been living without children for a really long time. And since we haven't been in a constant cycle of needles and appointments and reminders that I am attempting to be The Great Incubator, it's been easier to just LIVE, just the two of us, to kind of see what that would be like. Even with the beautiful nursery upstairs and the giant pink binder of adoption paperwork that is already in need of updating.

It's not as scary anymore. I'm not gonna lie, it would not be the end to the story that I wrote in my head and have rewritten over and over. It would be a horrible disappointment. But then it would be okay, because we have each other. We have a Happily Ever After already. We have accepted the changes that have come to us. We have accepted that our lives weren't neat and tidy and there were lots of codas and epilogues and sequels to what we thought would be so simple in our 20s. I have accepted that when the nurse at my annual gynecological appointment asks me if I'm trying to get pregnant, I can say "No" and not feel even remotely sad about it. In fact, I feel a tiny bit of relief. That piece of things is over. It is disappointing. It is an experience I will ever only wonder and read about. But I can let it go, because it's not part of my story anymore.

There's so much still to be told in this crazy story of ours. Probably the best thing for me to do is to quit thinking in terms of happy endings, of happily ever after. That implies an end, and last I checked my last days of being 39 are not an end. It is the most beautiful beginning of the story that we can see unfold, with all its parts, all the beautiful mess and twists we never saw coming, and all the history that intertwines to make up the story of our family. Whatever that ends up looking like.


  1. What a great post. I enjoy how you take apart the concept of "a happy ending" (you have done this before with other expressions and assumptions and it's very thought provoking." Love this sentence which I think expresses the theme of your post: "We are more secure for the mistakes made and the toxicity survived." This is a great lesson to pass on to your future child (or any child that crosses your path).

    1. Thank you! So much is tied into all those parts of your story that lead to where you are, right? I so hope to pass this on to our future child.

  2. This is a really thought-provoking post. In thinking in terms of my own life, I don't really think of anything as a "happy ending" because my life is not ending...just because I have certain things and don't have others. My life is evolving and moving and a very fluid thing moment to moment, day to day. Happy endings are things in story books and movies. And it's naive to put a phrase like "happily ever after" onto a real life anything. Being happy with what you have, and also wanting something more are perfectly normal, human things. You shouldnt feel guilty for your feelings!!

    1. Thank you so much -- I think it's so much healthier to think of life as constantly evolving and for expectations to change as well. I blame the wedding industry and rom-coms... :) I feel like there's so much expectation wrapped up in what your life "should" look like and when it goes awry it can really be something. I am really working through acceptance issues lately, I guess! :) I definitely don't feel guilty for my feelings, but want to be sure that I don't put unfair expectations (or keep that cycle going of seeking that happily ever after through my words) on our future child. I agree with you -- there's no ending yet. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. I've been reading parts of this post over the past couple of days, reflecting on each theme within this overall theme.

    Like many, I was raised on happily ever after. This idea that if you can just complete a specific checklist, you'll reach happiness. Yet we know this never happens. We may be happy for a period, but it is passing.

    In addition, our definition of happiness can change. Things we didn't originally look for turn out to make us happier than what we originally wanted. This is complex too.

    For these reasons, I hate the "never give up" mentality. Instead of promoting a pursuit for happiness on a holistic level, it encourages obsessing over only one ending at all costs. A recipe for unhappiness.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post

  4. I guess I was never raised on the happily ever after. It was more of, try to be happy wherever you are in life and to make the best of whatever situation you are in because you never know what life will throw at you. This philosophy certainly has helped while going through infertility because while we kept moving towards the end goal (aka to have kids), we didn't stop the rest of our lives during the process. When I have kid #2 in July, I won't have reached my happily ever after but I will simply be done with my baby-making years.

  5. I really love this post, because I think it can be so easy to get caught up in a particular dream or version of a dream and miss that the elements of a different sort of happy ending are there. It's a great re-framing of the concept.