Has this ever happened to you:
You are out with a friend, someone who knows you decently well and whom you met through infertility, and she says something that is prefaced with "I don't mean this to be judgmental or anything" and you really do believe her, but then the thing that was said sort of eats away at you for over a week until you find yourself all tied up in sad little knots about it?
I can't be the only one, right?
The thing that was said in this instance was twofold.
We were talking about my life now, and I said that I was happy -- that I really do love my life and I am (now) happy.
She said, "I just don't get it. I say it to my husband all the time, I just don't understand how you can be happy. You didn't end up with what you were fighting for for so long, how can you be happy?"
It took me a little off guard, and I was quick to explain that yeah, I'm happy NOW, but that doesn't mean that I don't get sad and it didn't take me time and work and serious healing to get to where I am satisfied with my life and don't want to examine alternatives. I was a HOT MESS when everything went down the tubes. My health, physical and mental, was on the line. Which she acknowledged.
This is where the "I'm not being judgmental" thing came into play.
"I just don't get it, you went through so much with infertility, and it really didn't seem like adoption was that bad for you."
Oh. Oh dear.
This is a friend who went through her own horrific infertility experience, and who pursued adoption, and who never got a profile call from the agency, but after THREE MONTHS of being homestudy approved was matched privately through a friend's son's birthmother who knew someone, and was looking for someone willing to do private, and BOOM, match. The end.
I am not saying that it wasn't difficult, the waiting, the being matched and having the scary uncertainty of not knowing how it's all going to turn out, the not-real feeling of it all... but it was different. There was no getting a profile call and going through all the information under a time deadline to decide if you wanted to be in the mix, and then waiting and finding out you weren't picked. Or finding out after the fact that you were picked in a last minute situation but that things changed before you even knew about it. Not getting a call for over 6 months at a time. Doing this dance for two years.
I may have said something along those lines, like, "It may have seemed like it wasn't 'that bad,' but we did get profiled 6 times, and we did have to make tough decisions, and we did find ourselves facing situations where it was down to very few people and we weren't picked. Infertility was physically hard and emotionally hard, but with adoption, it's your LIFE that is being deemed a good fit or not, and to not get picked over and over was incredibly difficult."
I may have had flashbacks to a baby shower for this friend that I was happy to attend because I was glad, SO glad that her incredibly shitty infertility journey had led to a relatively swift adoption experience, and she and the woman whose son's birthmom was the connection for this joyous occasion kept telling me what a mistake it was to not do private. Which was incredibly insightful and eye-opening, and super helpful. OH WAIT. No it wasn't, and I left early and cried the entire way home, and vowed I would never go to another baby shower again. Also, I felt righteously angry, because how could someone pressure me to do private who never, ever had to answer any phone calls or actively advertise? Not everyone has the coveted "friend of a friend" situation.
How This Made Me Feel
All of this rattled around in my (slightly stressed, second-half-of-August) head, until it got tied in with the fact that we are actually going to surrender Maebe back to the shelter where she came from, and I felt like everything was just making me feel like a loser/failure/person-who-gives up.
Do you want to throw things at me? My therapist said as much when I dissolved into a puddle in her office for the first time in a long time, but she got it when I put everything together for her.
I know, I KNOW that in both of these situations I did everything that I could do to pursue things, and despite my efforts it is just not working. The lady at the shelter agreed when I talked to her about our heartbreaking decision to surrender Maebe, when she was clearly in disbelief that we'd done as much as we had for a cat who takes any opportunity given to leave an insane amount of shit in our laundry baskets. "In all my experience, I've never had someone do this much medically and behaviorally for a cat with these issues, so you can rest assured that you've done everything you could and more and this is not because of you."
I so appreciated that. What a beautiful release, to hear those words and feel like okay, you're NOT a horrible monster who "can't handle" the older cat you adopted on purpose.
And then I thought how nice it would have been to have someone say that to us when we left the adoption process and decided to resolve childfree -- to have someone from the agency or whatever say, "you did everything you could and more, given that you landed in the emergency room and had to take medical leave from your job because stress and anxiety was literally trying to kill you. You can rest assured that you are not a quitter."
You can hear that from your loved ones, and from people who are empathetic who've been in the trenches, but it is incredibly painful to get the opposite message from people who've "been there."
Because, NO ONE HAS "BEEN THERE." Just you. People may have been in general proximity to your "there," but your situation has its very own GPS coordinate.
Why This Drives Me Crazy
People love to tell you that they've been where you are and it could have turned out differently. Or WILL turn out like theirs did, if you're still in it. It's like the lady who wanted to meet me out for coffee to talk about our journeys, but really wanted to assure me that if she could adopt a 4-year old internationally at 46, my journey didn't HAVE to be over. That clearly I wasn't all that happy and settled into my decision. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? First off, I didn't know this person hardly at all. And second, who are you to tell me how happy I am in my decision? Because you see maybe a tenth of my posts on Facebook? Because I write about grief?
It's that whole thing, where HOW CAN YOU BE HAPPY seems to have the unsaid "because I can't imagine my life without my child, and I can't imagine being happy without what what I have, and there's no way that I could make the choice you made and be actually happy."
I can be happy because I'm also sometimes sad. I can be happy because there's more to me than the desire to be a mother. That was never going to be the only thing that defined me, and the further into our quest that we got the more that I realized that I wasn't actually willing to sacrifice everything just to be mom, NOT BECAUSE I DIDN'T WANT TO BE A MOM, but because I wanted there to be more about me than parenting. I wanted my marriage, my teaching, my writing, my reading, my gardening, my cooking, my cats -- I wanted all of it to be a part of my parenting experience. I've seen people do it. But the further in I got the more I felt like I had become singular in focus, that I was losing sight of who I was and what my life could be, and in the end the cost was too great. Getting sent to the ER from Urgent Care because they're just not sure if you're having a cardiac event or not and having it be a stellar combo of heartburn from the prednisone for the autoimmune eye disease you've developed and crippling anxiety... that tends to speed up a serious discussion about priorities.
This is my fear, though -- that comments like "how can you be happy" or "it didn't seem that bad" (again, WTF?) or "there's still hope for you, I can tell you want it!" are really saying, "I think you gave up." They're saying that my choice is unfathomable. And even though it was a choice to step off the ride, I hate to say "choice" because an awful lot of things outside my control led to that decision, and it wasn't one we would have made earlier.
Maybe it's scary to think that you could be fulfilled in a life without children. Maybe it's somehow offensive that my husband and my home and my job and my interests could be enough to make me feel like a worthy human whose life is full and satisfying even without having someone to raise.
My therapist (and Bryce, separately, when I told him about my sadness) said, "comments like that say more about the person's perspective who said them than about you." Logically, I get it. But it still has echoes of being judged on my life, and having it come up wanting somehow, and of feeling massively misunderstood.
It brought back another memory from earlier, of talking with someone who had been successful with the adoption agency and had a complicated story, but who talked to me about the process when we were first starting out on the adoption path. She said she'd had profile calls every 2-6 weeks until they had their situation that came through, albeit after a heartpounding time where the birthmother decided to parent and then found she had no support and ultimately placed with them. She said that she'd bonded with people in her homestudy class group, that she'd kept in touch with a bunch of people (we did not have that same experience). And that a couple from New York City decided not to renew their homestudy after a year, because they'd received absolutely no profile calls and it was just too brutal of a process, that they were going to resolve childfree. She was incredulous -- HOW COULD ANYONE GIVE UP SO EASILY? Stay in the game and it WILL happen! I was super uncomfortable. It seemed super judgy to me, because, um, they had ZERO profile calls. She didn't know what that felt like. They didn't have a child from infertility treatments, like the woman I was talking to. This was their last shot at parenthood, and it hadn't gone how they'd thought it would and it was hard and we didn't KNOW what came before that informed their decision and we SHOULDN'T HAVE TO KNOW in order to simply be empathetic. To be like, "wow, that's rough -- I'm thinking of you. I'm sure you're making the decision that is right for you, and it will be okay eventually."
HOW FUCKING HARD IS THAT?
Instead, they were met with judgment that probably didn't always come straight to their faces but I bet surrounded them like a stinky cloud. They quit. They didn't try hard enough. They didn't "seem to have it hard enough."
Why do we do this to each other? Why do human beings want to put their own decisions and timelines on others, and feel so sure that they know the answers to everything? And that any alternative that isn't like theirs is not acceptable, lesser, a shame?
I don't want to feel like I need to justify my decisions. I shouldn't have to. But situations like these make me feel like I need to make it clear that I did all I could, when really what I'd love to do is just hand people a gift-wrapped box filled with empathy and the capacity to see that you don't actually know what someone else has been through. Even if you don't mean to be judgmental, maybe the right thing is to say, "I'm glad you made the decision that's right for you."