Chatting with J about this infertility blog series, I started talking about how it hurts to feel like an outsider when others start swapping pregnancy stories. I feel like I’m watching a scene from behind a glass: eagerly gazing out, nose smushed up on the window, and longing to get outside. But, the door is locked to me.
Looking at J, I blurted, “Not being able to have biological children, not having any of the pregnancies work out, makes me feel like I’m somehow less human or less of a woman. Like I’m not quite whole.”
J, in his abundant wisdom, looks at me, hesitates, and slowly asks, “So…. Do you think less of your single friends?”
I glared. Huffed. “But. But. But.” Long pause. “I don’t like you right now.”
I hate when he has a logical point.
Heaven help the person who tries to tell my single friends they need to get married or implies that somehow their singleness makes them less. Being married is not somehow inherently better than singleness. Check out Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, for instance. Both paths have drawbacks and benefits. I don’t think less of my single friends for their singleness. Their humanness is not diminished by their marital status or parental status.
Likewise, I don’t think less of my friends who choose not to have children. Additionally, I take comfort with these friends since I feel less like the last unicorn when I’m with them.
So, what’s with the double standard? I have different expectations for my story than I do for everyone else. I’ve conflated the story that I wanted for my life with what it means to be a woman. And that’s not fair to myself.
I won’t know what it is like to feel my body swell with a pregnancy, to feel the flutters and kicks, or even the weird and miserable parts of carrying a child. It feels like my body doesn’t do something that it was biologically intended to do, and that’s frustrating.
But, maybe, while beautiful and awesome, that experience is overrated. I am trying out that phrase. It’s an experiment on my part. Please don’t tell me it’s overrated, though. I might die a little inside because I’m not the type to respond with a scathing retort. Well, not 99% of the time. It’s a phrase I get to tell myself, but not one that I’d appreciate anyone else throwing at me right now.
The beginnings of the “maybe it’s overrated” began a few weeks ago. I got a call from a friend needing help watching her toddler and getting him ready for school the next day.
While my assistance may have helped her, her son in his glorious, didn’t-sleep-well, grumpy toddler state, helped save my sanity the last few weeks. Due to the massive volume of newborns and pregnancy announcements in my Facebook feed the last two weeks, had I not hung out with him that morning, I might be in a serious state of depression. (To be clear, I am happy for other people! It’s just the sheer volume of the blissful baby parade that can be heart shattering for me. And it’s a dilemma because I do want to know what’s going on in other people’s lives and to celebrate their joys.)
Here’s how her son helped. One, I have a temptation to see parenting through the lens of snuggles, affection and warmth — surveying all the greeting card moments, but overlooking the trade-offs. Seeing the cute social media photos or soaking up some baby snuggles as I hang out with other people’s kids while oblivious to the bleary eyed backstories or illogical, embarrassing moments of parenting.
Two, even when I get that parenting is a mixed bag, it’s one thing to intellectually know parenting is hard. It’s quite another thing to experience getting a sleep-deprived toddler ready for school while running on about two hours of sleep after preaching two services the previous day in conjunction with a social events marathon.
Preparing breakfast, I heard, “No! I don’t want cereal! I need MORE cereal!”
“What? You don’t want to eat your Cheerios because there’s not more Cheerios? Buddy, if you eat your Cheerios, I’d be happy to give you more.” Meanwhile, thinking to myself, I already accidentally gave you too many Cheerios while you were watching me get your breakfast. And there was no way I’d be able to put them back while you’re watching me wide-eyed. There’s no way you’re going to eat all the Cheerios.
Tears. “No! I don’t want to eat. I NEED MORE cereal!”
Internally, my brain is baffled. I don’t understand this logic in my sleep-deprived state: I’m hungry, but there will be no eating of what I already have unless there is more of it.
“Okay, buddy. More cereal isn’t happening right now, but you can choose not to eat.”
Surprisingly, the tears stop, and he starts to eat. Happily. I have no idea what just happened, but I’ll take it. Gratefully. It’s like the previous conversation never happened. Also, as predicted, he does not finish the cereal.
As we finish breakfast and start getting stuff together for school, he decides he no longer wants to go to school that day. I cajole and talk about his friends and the stories he’ll get to tell his teachers. And start talking about getting boots and coat on so we can get in the car.
No avail. Not interested. I began to despair of getting him to want to go to school.
After about 20 minutes of trying to get him to put on his coat, I pick up the coat and start to help him into it. “Okay, buddy, I’m going to help you with your coat. We’ve got to go to school. Your friends want to play with you today.”
“NO! I can do it MYSELF!” Throws coat to ground. Stomps. Both feet. Multiple times.
Unsure whether to laugh at or be stressed by the ridiculousness, but fairly certain either is a bad decision. Breathe, I tell myself.
“Okay, buddy. Let’s see you do it yourself.”
He quickly shoves his arms in and flings the coat over his head. It’s a miracle! The coat is on. Progress.
And, an earnest and exuberant “Good job! Thank you!” from me.
Meanwhile, like I’m guessing his mom wonders regularly, I’m thinking “Why couldn’t you do it the first or even the second time or even the third time I asked?”
These are normal toddler things, and this kiddo is delightful! He also had some extenuating circumstances that made him a little stressed out in addition to lack of sleep. I love him, and I’d watch him again in a heartbeat.
As I dropped him off at school, I found myself thinking of the difficult parts of parenting — not just the rewards of having babies. The parts where kids are upset beyond comprehension because they can’t eat the cereal they already have unless you give them more. It’s not enough to give them more after they eat what they have.
Or where you feel like a crazy person when the child dramatically insists they can put on the coat themselves, but you’re sure you just nicely asked her to do it for 20 minutes while she pretended it was the most difficult task ever dreamed up in the history of the world.
All this when you haven’t slept due to various interruptions.
Somehow, for the first time, part of me said, while I still want kids, maybe it’s okay if babies aren’t my story. Maybe it’s okay to skip the baby and toddler phase. Perhaps I’m getting too old for this. And part of me grieved at that realization, even while I know I need this to move forward.