Friday, May 09, 2008

The Duggars and the Mother's Day Ferris Wheel

To find a perfect example of disproportionalism in life, look no further than motherhood.

Motherhood: that state so many of us desire, and yet, despite 8th grade health lessons, is not so easily achieved.

Motherhood: that somehow oh-so-public state that drives people to ask intensely personal things

Motherhood: that state held up for public commentary---sometimes idolizing, sometimes demonizing

Michelle Duggar is quite the mom. We watch her and her family like ants in a habitat: how does she do it? 16 kids! We discuss and dissect her methods. 16 kids! Can it be fair to any of the kids! "Another Duggar on the way," said the Discovery Health email I received this morning, "Happy Mother's Day!"

Of course, I thought, she can have as many as she likes, healthy and lovely, whenever she wants. It was much more matter-of-fact than you might think. I have accepted---mostly---that life is not fair, is disproportionate, and this includes fertility and motherhood.

When---after a little over five years of marriage, and the end of our 20s---my husband and I decided to make the leap into parenthood we expected it would Just Happen. That seemed to be the way it went. So, expecting it to Just Happen, we started making plans and decisions based on the Expected Event. The trying part took a lot of years, pain, heartbreak, money, effort, indignity, strength, courage, procedures, people, science, art and more.

I can't think of too much that offers such a preparation for parenting. Infertility is the parenting trial by fire.

We had so much time to think about becoming parents, the sort of parents we'd like to be, why we wanted to be parents, life as parents and how open we were to different paths we could take to become parents.

The funny thing about a disease is that we all expect a cure, and, once allegedly cured, we expect to leave it behind us. Infertility is a disease. Like any disease, it doesn't have a perfect cure rate, and is not really something you leave behind.

We knew better the second time around, were better prepared, but it didn't make it sting any less.

To this day, fertility and fecundity initially hit me like a slap. I recover faster and brace myself less, but still, the immediate assumption that our family planning is normal and public can hurt.

Because we have two girls, we are often asked if we are trying for a boy.

No, we aren't, we just thank God every day that we got two beautiful children. I cry in my mind. We long ago lost the arrogant assumption that we could ask and receive. We are more like beggars who are not choosy.

I don't know if we would have been choosy about the baby's sex. I wanted a girl for me, I wanted a boy for my husband. But we let loose of that ages ago. When the doctors told me I was losing Patience, I did not ask God for anything other than to not let that happen. I was greedy: I begged him for a baby and then I begged him to let me keep her and when that prayer was answered, I begged him to let her be healthy and know a joyful life. I even offered myself in exchange.

That is motherhood, and it is the first moment I knew it.

I first knew motherhood in anxious hope, in joy, in fear, in greed for my child, in selfish dreams and selfless offering.

There is no better preparation or description of motherhood than that.

Five days ago I went shopping. In the checkout line the clerk deduced from my groceries that I had a family. This feels like an invasion of privacy. We all do it, that covert stare and quick speculation based on the contents of someone's shopping cart. But it's meant to be secret. We don't let others know we have them figured out, at least on this level. In the grocery checkout line I prefer to keep it impersonal---the weather, the local goings-on---while the items that tell who I am, who my family is, roll by on the conveyor belt.

But there is always one, and five days ago, I got her. She quizzed me as she scanned items. "You like organic, huh, is it worth all the extra money?" she said, whizzing my plain organic peanut butter and hormone free dairy across the scanner. "Oh, on a diet, huh, you look fine to me," she said, quickly swiping my Lean Cuisines. "How old are your kids?"

"6 and 3," I said, feeling a little put out, but unwilling to be anything other than friendly.

"What do you have?"

"Girls," I said, biting back the snarky children I half wanted to say. I knew where this was going. I have heard it enough times.

"Oh are you gonna try for a boy?"

"We're very happy with our girls," I said, definitely biting back the but my body won't work, and we wouldn't dare think to be so arrogant as to expect the exact sort of baby we want.

I suppose you might think I ought to be kinder, more generous in my understanding. I suppose you might think I ought to be over it by now. I'm cured, I have my girls.

It doesn't work that way, if for no other reason than nothing is that simple. Life isn't fair; fair is not a state of being, it's a place you go to ride a Ferris Wheel. Once you've been on a Ferris Wheel you don't forget the sensation or the motion, and after a while, you begin to realize that life is like one long Ferris Wheel: little jerky sometimes, starts and stops, ups and downs.

"I'm pregnant," friends cry, and sometimes, you cry too, especially for how it happens for some people just like they want it too. Even though you want that for them. You don't wish your journey on anyone.

Even though you don't really unwish your own journey. I don't, not really, because that is how I got Patience and Persistence.

When the last doctor told me it was over, there would be no more trying, I grieved. Lost hopes and dreams are as real a loss as anything else. With time, though, I have adjusted and am happy with just two, just girls, just the four of us plus the dog. I am happy baby times are behind, although sometimes I can't resist a round baby cheek. I am happy for sleeping through the night and independence, although sometimes I see a certain sort of little toddling girl and I get a bit wistful. I am filled with joy to have two girls, that my girls have sisters, but now and again someone says, "My son..." and shares a story of boys, and a little corner of me remembers the dream.

But.

That part of my journey is behind me, and I'm at peace with that. Mothering my girls is ahead.

So when Mother's Day comes around, I try not to think about how hard it can be and has been: how hard it is for me to mother, personal challenges I have to overcome to mother as well as I'd like to, and the difficulties I had becoming a mother.

But it's impossible.

I do think of it. I think of how many days I wondered if I'd ever get to celebrate being a mother, and how ecstatic I was on my first mother's day...until I saw the lady at the nearby table staring at my baby, and my heart broke. I knew that look, the one from the broken aching wishing heart. Her eyes teared up and the couple quickly left, food barely eaten. I felt equally glad I was beyond that and equally sad someone else was suffering. Overjoyed and guilty, as only a survivor can be.

Each mother's day is a little bittersweet. I think I am a little more grateful than the average, and a little more aware. I thank God that I get to experience the complex and beautiful state of motherhood, and I say a little extra prayer of hope, strength and mourning for the women who ache to be mothers but still have empty arms.

So..this Mother's Day...happy day to all the mothers, fathers and children who make up the many combinations of families there are, the many beautiful families.

And to the people who are still wishing...hopes and wishes to you, too.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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35 comments:

Sunshine said...

And, indeed, your girls are beautiful.

I always wondered why people do that? 1 - they ask childless people when they're going to have children
2 - they ask someone with one child when they're trying for the next one
3 - they ask people who have all one gender of children when they want the other gender

I had two boys and when I was pregnant with my third child, I can't believe how many people felt my life would be INCOMPLETE if I finally didn't have a girl, as if to say my boys were second class citizens. I almost wanted to have another boy just to irritate them! I did have a girl, then another girl and they are all wonderful great people that I love to pieces.

Your family is wonderful because you make it that way, and not taking it for granted is the best way to remind about it, isn't it?

PS - your girls are cute, did I already say that a couple times?? :)

Jenny said...

I'm most amazed when it is a parent asking questions like those. People who do not have children I am more willing to forgive for their ignorance. But, someone who has children should be better able to understand the absurdity.

the dragonfly said...

Very well said. My husband and I tried for about three years before I got pregnant with our son. We hope that someday we'll be able to give him a brother or a sister...but I don't dare assume.

thordora said...

I've been blessed with unwanted fertility that I've always wished to give away. My first mother's day, pregnant and motherless was such a wash of emotion-I didn't know if I wanted that baby, and dammit if it wasn't unfair that all the people I knew who couldn't get pregnant would take my baby in a heartbeat.

I still don't think it's fair, not at all. Why should I have them so easily (conception at least) and yet those who desperately want them just can't?

I wish I could surrogate-that would alleviate some of the guilt of having an ability I never wanted. But alas, I can't.

Happy mother's day.

thailandchani said...

I really like your exceptionally balanced view of this. If only more people understood...

SciFi Dad said...

Happy Mother's Day, Julie.

This was a beautiful post. I think everyone who plans to be a parent someday should read this. It just covers so many topics so well.

Great job.

Jeff said...

What a beautiful and sweet reflection of what motherhood means to you. Thank you for sharing something that is obviously deeply personal.

Happy Mother's Day Julie!

Karen said...

sigh, and no girls for me - I hear you. I can't keep risking miscarriages on the off chance I met have that longed for girl. My body and heart won't take it - but there is no way to have that conversation at the grocery store.

liv said...

boggles my mind. both of mine were via fertility treatments, i'm divorced, and for all practical purposes, alone. none of this scars me. my point is that i STILL get asked if i want more, will i have more, what do i think? as if it matters at this moment.

yes, i suppose that if i met a man who really wanted a child or if the bug bit me, i might play the kid lottery again. that said, i do have fears about pushing the outer edges of the envelope.

perfect post, doll. happy mother's day.

Mad said...

When my sister went through her years of infertile hell, I was sympathetic but I didn't understand. I was young and brazen. To some degree I still can't understand b/c even with knowing the joys of motherhood I would have been content to remain childless if that's what the cards held for me. 'Cause I never would have known this joy, you know, and I would have found others. After my miscarriage, my 48-yr-old sister who had suffered infertility said to me that she wished she could be a surrogate for me. Coming from her, that remark left me flattened and humbled.

Magpie said...

Lovely post, J. Thanks.

I get asked if I want another, and I just laugh at them. And sometimes I tell them that I'm 47 and it took 8 years to have the one I've got.

Sarah said...

Actually, they have 17 kids now. The new one will make 18 (plus the one they lost).

Kyla said...

I know those sort of thoughts pretty well, and I usually have them about things I am more or less over. The crux of it is that being over it doesn't provide immunity from the wounds it initially caused.

And yes, Happy Mother's Day, friend.

anniegirl1138 said...

My daughter was the result of the second IVF. She even had a twin in the earliest weeks, but he/she didn't make it. There were three embies frozen with that cycle. For someday. But her father was diagnosed with a terminal illness shortly after her first birthday and the month the month before he died, the clinic sent me a letter telling me they were getting out of the storage business. If I couldn't use them by June or move them by the end of January (he died the 23rd of that month), then they would be disposed of.

Disposed of. What an impersonal term for the killing of one's dreams. Of children that would not be.

I think of them on Mother's Day. And my daughter's twin. The two I miscarried before that. A brood of children that would earn me disapproving looks were they all alive and well.

I remarried almost a year ago. Before we even set a date, we talked about having a baby. It was possible. I can get pregnant though I don't always stay that way and the crux of the infertility issue was my late husband's illness - though we didn't know it at the time. My current husband is 46 and I am 44. We have between us three girls - 5, 23 and 25. I assured him I had no desire to have a baby and though I sometimes wonder what kind of child we might have had, I am find with our decision not to go down that road. I have been on it. There was a child at the end of it and that isn't a given. I am blessed.

This was a wonderful piece by the way.

painted maypole said...

i am always shocked at how rude people are about the whole kids/getting pregnant thing. with only one we get lots of questions, too, and i'm just flabbergasted.

happy mother's day!

Jennifer H said...

Thank you for sharing the story of your journey into and through motherhood. This was a beautiful post.

Happy Mother's Day!

Blogversary said...

Happy Mother's Day to you too.

I can somewhat relate to your story. It took us three years to get pregnant and that was after being told I could not get pregnant. From that experience, I have learned to never look beyond the children that are present and with us or you or any mother now.

flutter said...

And to you, beautiful mama.

Melissa said...

That was a really nice post. I wish people could be more sensitive, but alas some things are not possible. I get the same thing as you, just in reverse. :)

Have a great day!

Suki said...

Happy Mother's Day, Julie. To you and your beautiful family.

Doesn't it happen, so so often, that the most joyous of moments are streaked through by heartbreak, and the joy is even greater - bigger - because we know what it's like not to have it?

jeanie said...

It took until I was a mother, and even until I was the support of a good friend who had a nasty mother and later even had an empty nest and a nearly adult daughter die that I truly understood how harsh and cruel and different some people find mother's day.

Happy mother's day to all those who have mothers who deserve their love, who have children who love their mothers - conceptual, foster, adoptive or spiritual - and to those who have hopes and dreams.

Bon said...

happy mother's day, Julie. this moved me.

Rose said...

I know it is hard not to take it personally. People are just nuts though. I was married for 8 years before we adopted 2 great kids--and found out we were pregnant. During those 8 years, many asked if I knew what it took to get pregnant. As if I somehow missed health class and the millions of clues on TV.

Then we adopted 2 more great kids and got pregnant again. And again. And again and again.

For a few years now, people have started asking (again) if I have a clue what causes pregnancy. I just tell them yes, and it appears we're good at it. Sometimes they have the sense to blush, other times they think I'm the one who is being rude.

Angela said...

It makes me crazy when people ask if we'll be trying for a boy. It actually makes me angry, in so many ways, that people would assume our family--or anyone's--isn't complete without a boy. That said, I've just spent an entire year celebrating the pregnancies and births of two dear friends and colleagues who announced their condition on the heels of my hysterectomy, which was much more difficult for me than I ever let on...because there's nothing that can be done about that. As you know.... : ) Lovely post, Julie. So many will appreciate.

Angela said...

It makes me crazy when people ask if we'll be trying for a boy. It actually makes me angry, in so many ways, that people would assume our family--or anyone's--isn't complete without a boy. That said, I've just spent an entire year celebrating the pregnancies and births of two dear friends and colleagues who announced their condition on the heels of my hysterectomy, which was much more difficult for me than I ever let on...because there's nothing that can be done about that. As you know.... : ) Lovely post, Julie. So many will appreciate.

Stephanie said...

I feel guilty, too, for having babies by birth and for my two healthy pregnancies. I also feel guilty that I don't love being pregnant (although I absolutely adore the result). You're right; it's survivor's guilt. After two miscarriages and my own years of heartache, my doctor says that I deserve a healthy pregnancy and I think, it isn't something you earn. I know plenty of "deserving" women whose wombs will not cooperate. Where does that leave them?

You're a little farther down this path than I am. If I am done, if my two baby boys are it for us, I will grieve that just as you have. But it's tempered by utter thankfulness that I have them, that I get to be their mom.

By the way, people ask me if I'm going to try for a girl. They also assumed that if we had a girl this time, we would be finished. As if the value of human life rests on one of each.

Stephanie said...

I feel guilty, too, for having babies by birth and for my two healthy pregnancies. I also feel guilty that I don't love being pregnant (although I absolutely adore the result). You're right; it's survivor's guilt. After two miscarriages and my own years of heartache, my doctor says that I deserve a healthy pregnancy and I think, it isn't something you earn. I know plenty of "deserving" women whose wombs will not cooperate. Where does that leave them?

You're a little farther down this path than I am. If I am done, if my two baby boys are it for us, I will grieve that just as you have. But it's tempered by utter thankfulness that I have them, that I get to be their mom.

By the way, people ask me if I'm going to try for a girl. They also assumed that if we had a girl this time, we would be finished. As if the value of human life rests on one of each.

Family Adventure said...

Julie, that was a lovely post. I am very happy that you got your girls, no less now that I know how much trouble you went through to get them.

People have asked me if we are trying for a girl - but we did, and we failed. Every time. That's the way the cookie crumbled for us.

I have my boys, you have your girls - we are the lucky ones, despite the pain endured along the way.

A very happy Mother's Day to you.

Heiddi

toddlerplanet said...

Beautiful -- your girls, your words, your love for them.

This is important. Nicely done.

Aliki2006 said...

Happy Mother's Day, friend.

Beautiful post.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

What a lovely post!


I can't even imagine what that must have been like for you!

I have watched many a friend suffer through infertility and it was even painful to watch...so I can only IMAGINE how hard it was to go through!

Happy Mother's Day!

Cathy said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you for being so candid.

wheelsonthebus said...

I get "is this one a girl?" almost every day, but it doesn't bother me. I tell them to ask my son, who seems quite sure it is.

I think that infertility has made us grateful for every gift (but not for 4:30 this morning). But, 16 kids? Don't you think that might be just a bit unfair to the rest of us whose medical resources, food, and energy they use up?

Emily said...

I've been away and missed this one when you posted it.

Clearly, this post struck a chord.

People ask me ALL THE TIME if we'll be trying for a boy, since our last one was another girl.

I would like to come up with something very clever and snarky to say in response. I don't feel the least bit incomplete with my 3 girls.

Maybe I'll do an open post over at my place and ask for suggestions as to what to say when someone asks that stupid question.

Hope you had a lovely Mother's Day.

we_be_toys said...

However, whatever it took to get those beautiful little girls, you are blessed indeed.
I didn't have trouble getting pregnant, but I did have trouble having a girl! After two boys, I really, really didn't want to try again and have yet another boy. Does that sound bad? I know it does, but I also know what I can take, and three boys AND a husband is too many men for this girl!
If its any consolation, I envy you your beautiful little girls, especially Prudence - I love that kid's style!
Beautiful post - I'm all verklempt now!