I went to visit my friend who was recently placed with the very last minute baby yesterday. I brought over two bags of gifts, one that was not wrapped in tissue paper that was stuff I had from before that I hadn't earmarked for someone else's eventual success, and one that was adorable books and a monster/alien onesie set for later, definitely wrapped in tissue paper and in the cuter bag. I also brought lunch over, because I figured they couldn't get out much since bringing their son home just over a week ago.
I knew that it was going to be hard, but I was also determined to not cry or need to leave. My friend was super sensitive, texting me every day to let me know that it was okay if I couldn't come, if it was too much, that even if I needed to cancel last minute it was okay, she got it.
I came in and immediately washed my hands. I got lots of kudos for that, because people don't always do that and he spent some time in the NICU and is really tiny, so that was lovely. I do all the right things, apparently. Lot of good it does me, but I'm glad it works well for everyone else's babies.
I ate my salad while I heard the story of how this tiny bean became theirs to parent, I focused a lot on that salad while that evil bitch in my head tried to push me into my dark pit by saying things like, "That could have been you" and "See? Wait long enough and it WILL happen." A part of the story is that it was between my friend and her husband and another couple, and both met the birth parents in person before the decision was made. How stressful that was, and how glorious it was when they were chosen, how unbelievable, how amazing.
As I held her baby, that tiny mini human who curled up in a little fetal ball on my chest and rested his tiny hedgehog-snuffling-noise-making head on my right boob, I felt so peaceful. I mean, I felt sad, too, because holding him as he slept and realizing I was making little rocking motions with my arms without even thinking about it, it just felt so freaking instinctual and also so very unfair that this is never, ever, going to be for me. That I will always be holding someone else's baby, never my own. But I don't ever want to stop holding babies. There was a part of me that when she said "do you want to hold him?" questioned whether it was a good idea, what with the timing of things and me being in a bit of a funk lately, but apparently my face said "HELL YEAH I want to hold that baby!" and honestly I really, really wanted that bundle of sweetness in my arms.
What helped me so much in not feeling bitter, in not beating myself up (too much) was imagining that other couple.
It might seem weird, because my friend is the one who was chosen, they are the ones who finally have this amazing happy moment. All the years of striving for this parenthood genesis have FINALLY come to blissful fruition in a surreal moment of "We choose you." It is easy to be like, "Wow, amazing, I can't imagine the crazy emotions of that moment when you realized you'd be a parent, for real!"
However, I can actually more easily imagine what it felt like to be the other couple, the runners up who did not get in their car wondering how they could install a car seat in it properly by the next day to pick up the baby. Who weren't driving home chatting a mile a minute about all the things they had to do to prepare, all the things they needed to assemble, how and when they were going to tell people this news. Maybe the ride to the agency was filled with those things, the What If dreams of those things, but only one couple got to leave full of the actual amazing anticipation of a tomorrow that would end the quest for parenthood. And it wasn't them. Their dreams died. I can imagine so clearly the trying not to cry as a social worker broke the news that someone else was chosen, that hopefully there'd be another profile opportunity soon. I can see the slow walk to the car, the sitting in a stunned silence until gasping, animal sobs escape and two people in the front become this many-armed figure of grief and comfort where there isn't much to be had. The drive back to a house that may or may not have had a nursery set up or things hastily gathered in a corner of a room, just in case...but that won't be used, not this time. The feeling of "What's wrong with US? Is this EVER going to happen?" and the devastation of a close call, so close that you can sort of imagine the child that could have been yours from the feature of his biological parents you just met but didn't click with enough to be chosen.
I can imagine what a situation like that would do to me, personally, and know that I didn't make a bad choice. I am not a "quitter." My situation is different from everyone else's, and so many factors go into all the ways things can go. As Bryce said later, that sort of situation would have undone me completely.
So I held that baby and tried so hard to be kind to myself.
It was interesting to see how people had already showered them with gifts, even just a week and a half in. People from the yoga class where we met had come to visit and brought handmade toys (a crocheted owl one stabbed me a bit) and every last one of them was successful. This friend was the last one still at it with me who I'd known throughout the journey, and now I am alone in leaving adoption, in ending this journey with a beautiful study instead of a nursery. Obviously these are two very different things, but I couldn't help but think about how lonely it was to have my breakdown, to hit my ENOUGH with such spectacular velocity that I was shattered goo on the floor, and how no one makes welcoming signs for that or showers you with prizes or says "Welcome to the club!" I mean, part of it is that having a baby is such a celebration, and finding yourself dangling from threads at the end of your rope is...uncomfortable, and messy, and very, very sad. It was lonely because I kept it that way, to some extent -- I was open here and had so much support from you lovely people, but I kept it super quiet otherwise while I was going through everything. There are lots of people who don't even know why we stopped, who might (maybe) wonder, "What HAPPENED?" I isolated myself in my grief and my loss and my anxiety and brokenness, and slowly let people in. Probably out of self-preservation to some extent. Almost in a parallel to expecting a baby and keeping your names a secret -- if you tell people before its final they have opinions, better to tell when the decision's been made. Which is why I didn't rip my bandaids off until our nursery was gone. It was irrevocable. Final. We had thought through everything clearly, and then acted so that it was decisive. No wavering here.
Apparently the yoga group has a facebook page for "Graduates." Apparently the person who runs it added my friend to the group and sort of announced her adoption on the Graduates page (which would have driven me crazy, because she didn't think she was going to do that and so didn't give express permission).
Let me tell you how I feel about this idea of "Yay, Graduates!" This was actually one of the parts of my unraveling in April. I eventually hid the facebook profile of the woman who runs the yoga because there was a photo shoot of a group of women who were the "recent graduates from fertility yoga" -- with something like, "They fought through hell together and so are uniquely prepared to be amazing mamas together!" This idea of "graduates" makes it seem like the logical next step in all this is a baby. And if you happen to not be successful, well, then I guess then you'd have to be a dropout. And that's what cycled in my head, my troubled Prednisone-marinated April head, over and over -- "DROPOUT DROPOUT FAILURE FAILURE!" I didn't make it to graduation. And it made me so mad, because I AM NOT ALONE HERE, and while this tactic may be great if you are successful, or if you are looking for a reason to do your 4th or 7th or 10th IVF cycle and just keep going and NEVER NEVER GIVE UP, I guess it would be inspirational, but for those of us who didn't make it to parenthood? It feels really awful. It feels like, "See? They did all the right things and they MADE IT and they're going to be GREAT MOMS because of it, because they STUCK WITH IT." It's like an avatar for the nasty voice in my head. So this idea that my friend has become a graduate at around the same time I flunked out, and that all these success stories just rally around and bask in the amazingness of it all...it got to me. Not in a way that makes me upset whatsoever with my friend, but in a way that makes me feel like I took a wrong turn somehow and I am being silently judged, or am a tragic yet slightly shameful sob story told in hushed tones while everyone is admiring each other's baby pictures. It reminded me so much of Mali's amazing "Infertility's Waiting Room" post, in the flesh...the surface parts. We all went through one of those doors, but I'm the only one who went through the door no one wants to speak of.
I know it's irrational, to a point. But it was painful. And I spent so much time making myself look okay, for them and myself. I did flinch when the whole Graduate thing was mentioned, because that bothers me so much, but otherwise it
So I went to my go-to "Make the rock cry" trigger -- I brought up the montage from UP on youtube and watched that super realistic portrayal of depression and grief after loss and then a readjustment, although one that didn't quite turn out the way they'd hoped. And then I started to cry when she stumbles up the hill and gets sick, because in my head I went in this dark spiral of "oh no, that's going to be me -- I did too many IVF cycles and I'm going to die of some related cancer before we get the chance to fulfill all our dreams and Bryce will be left alone and crabby and not wanting to deal with life anymore." WHAT. THE. HELL. So, the UP montage was probably ill-conceived. But I did cry a little bit, so it did its job.
Then I read and organized up in my study and I read a little bit of Living the Life Unexpected and I made a killer white chicken chili for dinner. So I occupied my thoughts with what I can do, rather than what is lost to me.
I think this is the balance I have to find...honoring the pain of the losses, the cumulative ball of grief yarn that has wound its way through our journey, but then finding a way to continue on, to pick myself up after I have a good cry and focus on something productive. To sit with my sadness, and then move towards something a little more positive than an oppressive pile of "could have beens." It's not. It won't ever be. And that's sad, but the "what ifs" can whirl until I'm hardly recognizable in the flurry of guilt and self-doubt...which isn't healthy.
I'm glad I visited my friend and her new family. I'm glad I held that sweet tiny baby. I'm glad I could be sad but not fall down the pit again. I'm so glad that I have this beautiful space to retreat to, to surround myself with beautiful things and cozy nooks to heal my bruised soul. And I'm so, so glad that I have you with me on this journey, that I'm not actually as alone as I feel sometimes.