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.
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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