Ghost Life

One of the things that's so hard about resolving without parenting is mourning a ghost life. Everyone's experience is different -- there are so many layers of loss that can take you from wanting children, striving for children in a variety of ways, losing that dream, and coming to the decision that it is just not going to happen for you. The cost of continuing down paths that pile up heartache becomes greater than the ever-shrinking possibility that It Could Happen. 

I can really only speak to my own personal haunting, but I would love to hear from others. Recognizing this loss and grief doesn't mean that I am not resolved, or that I regret my decisions. Resolution and grief are ongoing processes, they don't really have a defined endpoint where you can say, "Well, that's done! I am OVER that" and your losses never pop up to haunt you. For me, it's comforting to know that I can feel these feels and be introspective about them, but they don't utterly derail me anymore, because I'm at peace with the life I ACTUALLY live and don't long for the ones that I could have, not anymore. 

I do think about them, though, from time to time. 

The other day I was in the library with the English class I co-teach, and in two separate periods there were two separate books that featured a character named Edie, short for Edith. That was one of the names that we had chosen, not a top-tier one (it was one of my favorites but not one of Bryce's), but one that I could see in my head. A little girl named Edie, who I could see once upon a time running around our old house. It didn't make me sad, but it did make me remember. 

It's so hard, because how we pictured our children changed as our methods for growing our family changed. When we were using our own genetic material it was pretty easy -- curly haired towheaded children I could only see from behind, toddling away from me. Huh, that's an image that a psychotherapist could have a field day with...that I could only ever see my ghost children walking away from me. 

Even when we moved to donor gametes, the image got a little fuzzier but not by much, because of the way you can choose donors to mimic your own traits. 

Then with adoption, I lost the ability to see toddling children, even walking away from me, because there was really no way to predict what our child might look like. It shifted to me peering into a crib with a sleeping baby that was more of a shadow form than something concrete. I could visualize this baby when I peered into our actual crib in our actual nursery, faceless but not creepy. The sketch of a baby. 

I mourned this possibility in every cycle, every profile opportunity. I mourned the transfers that ended in a negative test. I mourned my little wayward baby that was only ever going to be a miracle against the odds due to crazy low numbers that rose just enough to make my hopes rise and then kept rising even after my uterus proved to be empty, indicating an ectopic that had to end in surgery. I mourned my miscarriage hard, because that pregnancy started out so promising, and ended so cruelly. Both of my losses were drawn out and brought out the miracle stories everyone told to reassure me but only left me feeling more bereft because there was no miracle for me. My ectopic was dramatic and resulted in an overnight hospital stay and a weeks-long recovery. My miscarriage started with a scary bleed and cramping, followed by a period of bed rest where I hung onto hope and the many stories of bleeds-turned-babies, but ended with a crash of my bloodwork numbers so severe that we reran them to make sure there wasn't a missing zero or two in the report. I had one ultrasound on the day of my bleed that showed me a sac, the only such picture I ever got (which is why pregnancy announcements with early ultrasound pictures like that make me insanely sad and catch me off guard every.single.time), and then a fancy ultrasound after bedrest and bad bloodwork that just showed detritus. I didn't get a picture of that one. 

As hard as those losses were, they were easiest for people to understand. They had tangible loss attached -- I had something, and then it was gone. It was a fast turnaround from joy to sorrow, but it was more understandable than mourning a negative test. Or a failure to even get to transfer, which came at the end of our treatment journey. But ALL of those were losses. A moment of hope, an investment of time and money and damage to my physical and mental health, that ended without even a smidge of what we'd hoped for. A death of a thousand cuts. 

Adoption ghosts are hard, too. The first time we were profiled and not chosen it was okay -- I wasn't super sad, I didn't cry. I hadn't let myself believe that it would actually happen on that one. I felt a little removed, and I was glad -- it was, to me, proof that I could handle this, that this kind of loss would be easier. I was so, so wrong. 

Not all profile opportunities hit hard, but the second one did. The expectant mom was very late in her pregnancy, whereas the first one was earlier. I got information that the baby was a boy. I spent time in the nursery holding my "boy" onesies, hoping they would magically puff out with a real live baby if I just believed and hoped enough. (In my mind I imagined the exorcism scene in Beetlejuice, which I thankfully kept to myself as that doesn't seem too terribly maternal now, does it?) We were being seriously considered, but another couple was chosen over us, and that hurt. I could see this one. I could imagine it. I could see a little boy. I could attach some of our boy names to this tiny human who might have become our son. 

The next ones to hit hard were late in our journey and were similarly late in the game and easier to imagine, the hardest being a baby that had just been born and if we were chosen by the birthparents, we would go to the hospital the next day -- we went to bed possible parents and woke up with so much hope that maybe this was the moment, this was our time -- and by 9:30 in the morning we got news that we weren't chosen and it was absolutely crushing. Bryce wondered if we should pack a bag, and I didn't want to pack something that had to be UN-packed. So we updated our names list for girls, since it was a girl. Funny to see looking in the old notebook that Edith had been relegated to a middle name at this point. 

When we made our decision to end our parenting quest, there was so much mourning. All the things we would no longer have or do. A whole life unlived. A future legacy uncertain. It was the biggest of ghost lives -- this feeling that out there, there was an alternate universe where we did have a child. When people said things like, "you can't give up!" it was insanely painful. When friends who had struggled as well were finally chosen we celebrated for them, but it hurt so much to see comments like, "dreams do come true" and "See what happens when you open your heart up to possibility?" because even though that wasn't said to me and there was no direct comparison, my heart heard it like "YOU GAVE UP." "IF YOU'D HELD ON A LITTLE LONGER...WHO KNOWS WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED." I felt like a loser. It helped to think about how friends of ours were chosen, but there was another couple who was not, and in all likelihood we would have been the couple to have been told, "I'm sorry, this isn't your time," which honestly would have probably killed me at that point. I could not handle any more loss. By the end of our journey, we had mourned 35 embryos, 6 profile opportunities that could have possibly made us parents, and the process of placing our remaining frozen embryos for adoption that resulted in negative tests for another couple (no horrible guilt there...). SO MUCH LOSS. 

So many ghosts. Even the embryo adoption came with the ghost of a fantasy where they would get pregnant where I had not, and we would get letters and pictures of this child, and go on a road trip someday and have a weird family picnic together, and so have a sort of vicarious alternate parenthood experience. Denied.

What has helped immensely, that I do realize is a privilege, is that we moved. I had no problem moving into a house that Bryce had shared with his ex-wife, but staying in a house where our ghost family lived was untenable. I didn't realize just how important this was until we moved into our new home, which has never seen an injection or a nursery or a homestudy social worker. It is not a child-friendly house. It is a perfect childless couple house. Our new life really started when we moved here. There have been sad moments, for sure, that happen when we're caught off guard, or there's an anniversary. But this house represents our future as is, and not the future from our past that could have been. We don't miss the old house and we thought we would. I miss the gardens, but that's not the same. One reason may be that the family who moved in had two kids that, no joke, are pretty much the kids we imagined we'd have. One sits out on the roof outside the second floor bathroom and reads his books, and the other is a curly-haired, towheaded boy who engineers things in the backyard. That was so painful at first, and it felt like a cosmic practical joke. The house could have those kids as long as we weren't there. They are sort of like living ghosts of the life we wanted but did not get. 

But this house, this house is all reality. Beautiful, book-filled, garden-rich, woodsy, cozy, light-filled reality. Everything we are and nothing we're not. No ghosts here unless I invite them. 

Looking Forward

One of my favorite things to do, when it is cold and snowy and it feels like winter is in for the long haul, is to order plants. There is a special joy that comes when you open the mailbox and it's full of stacks of colorful flower catalogs. I bring them in, stack them up, and then go through and flag the things I really really want. Multiple times. And then, because I know they won't ship them until they are ready to be planted, I like to take a crappy day and order a whole bunch of shiny new plants for  my gardens. 

Because I am weird and like things organized and in binders, I then cut out the plants and their descriptions and tape them to cardstock, so I know what I bought through the mail when and from which catalog. It is insanely satisfying. 

Here's this year's crop so far: 

Grossersorten geraniums, night-blooming phlox, heirloom scented old-fashioned and climbing petunias

Three kinds of nicotiana, more narrowleaf mountain mint

Two kinds of helenium (sneezeweed), feverfew, and a campanula that looks like lilacs

Japanese anemones (two tall and one short that blooms May and Fall), and 3 kinds of rudbeckia

This flower catalog joy reminds me of a book I read, Rules for Visiting, by Jessica Francis Kane. It's about a horticulturist who gets four weeks of vacation for having a famous tree she's planted, and she uses it to visit four different friends from different points in her life, while she's choosing a tree that can be planted in her honor that can sufficiently stand for who she is. It's a delightful book: 

The character in the book has two quotes in particular that make me smile when the gardening catalogs come out: 

"Why do I like gardening? Because I worry I've inherited a certain hopelessness, a potentially fatal lack of interest, that I'm diseased with reserve. Making a garden runs counter to all that. You can't garden without thinking about the future." 


"...she...loved gardening catalogs, too. She said it was like no other reading experience because you read for pleasure and knowledge, while at the same time planning the future." 

Gardening gives me the chance to create, to cultivate and nurture, and to watch something living grow and evolve over time. It is a way of celebrating the future and something that I give to it, and maybe even leave behind. It's an insanely hopeful thing to do, especially in the dead of winter, and during a global pandemic that is just not letting go. The thought of all that color exploding around my gardens, inviting butterflies and hummingbirds and bees to get what they need from my pretty makes my heart so happy. 

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Oh Hello, Welcome to My New Space!

Hey you! Welcome to my new space, the next evolution of My Path to Mommyhood -- I'm so glad you've come to see me here while I'm sort of under construction.

Well, I am discovering a few things about myself in creating a new space for myself on the blogosphere:

1) I really, REALLY hate change. I feel legitimately, physically nauseous doing this. 

2) I suck at blog design. I just want tabs! Why are tabs so hard to figure out? I had a photo I wanted for my header, and it was too big. the other one I had that was mine came out all pixelated and blotchy. I don't remember how I set up My Path to Mommyhood. It seems like maybe I did it in a fugue state? I think this is part of why I've waited so long to do this -- I wanted it to be perfect right off the bat. Which is an impossible high bar and en excellent way to procrastinate making the change.

3) I feel like I'm jumping off a very scary cliff. See #1. I feel like vomiting but also kind of like singing "Into the Unknooooooooooown" at the top of my lungs in a fit of bravery, and then hiding under my desk in a ball while I let these very sad and un-confident thoughts spiral: What if no one follows me here? What if no one cares about my life after the search for mommyhood ended? What if no one new wants to read me? 

All of that is why it's taken me so long to do this. It's the last weekday of my February break from school, and NOW IS THE TIME. Suck it up, spirally voice of doom. You lose.

I've been blogging under My Path to Mommyhood since September 2010. That is a LOOONG time. I have 805 posts under my belt. I felt very comfortable in that space. 

However, since we made the decision to end our quest for parenthood in 2017, it felt like it was time to move forward in this very scary way. I cannot authentically say that I am "on the path to mommyhood" because I stepped off that path (or slither-crawled on my belly while clutching at the path for far too long).  Mali once told me, "Some day you won't even want the word "mommy" in your blog title." She was right. She has been supportively nudging me to make this move for a while now, and the time has come. 

If I can plunge into the icy waters of the Irondequoit Creek in February when it's 16 degrees out, I can make this plunge, right? Right.

The last three (oh wow, almost four) years have been about rebuilding. About standing in the rubble of a dream denied, and figuring out how to pick the pieces up and create a life that is meaningful, that is beautiful, and that is its own path, not a detour. 

Thanks to Mel for suggesting that I keep some homage of "My Path to Mommyhood" in the new title... she wanted me to title it "My Path to Asskickary," which was awfully tempting, but in the end I chose something subtler. Safer. More like a puddle jump than a polar plunge, ha. 

I had many discussions with Bryce about how to make this change. I thought about the title, "Finding My Path," but he nixed that one -- "It sounds like you're lost. Where is my path? I can't find it! I don't think that's you." Fair point. 

A different path spoke to me (and was available as the straight-up url, no extra letters necessary). Living a life without parenting when you built so much of your life around the possibility of children is not the path you hear about most. The path that gets all the press and attention is the miracle, the success story after loss and pain, the success after heartbreak that is beloved by magazines and the internet. There is an unspoken (or sometimes loudly whispered) insinuation that THAT is the only true outcome worth anything -- that if you don't persevere through infertility treatments at any cost, if you don't then adopt at any cost, then you are a sad sack and a failure. LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SUCCEEDED! THAT COULD HAVE BEEN YOU! is shoved in your face, by the media, by well-meaning friends, by people you barely know. But this path, the one not spoken of as a viable option, is a form of success as well. 

It takes a great deal of strength to walk away from a dream you so desperately wanted but is threatening to destroy you from the inside out, and to rebuild your life into something that is decidedly NOT sad sack. 

Does that mean that once you resolve, everything is awesome and the specter of grief and loss have POOF! disappeared? 

Absolutely not. It becomes a part of you, just not all of you, as Mali has said before. 

You have scars, but it takes a LOT to make them ache or rupture again. Or it takes just a little, at just the right time, but it is not an all the time sort of thing. 

I want this space, though -- a space to write about what it is like to go down this different path, to be on the other side but not the face of brochures handed out at fertility clinics when you are clearly not going to be a success statistic. To make a life that is often misunderstood, but to live it with joy. And also to acknowledge the significance of those years spent toiling towards something that was never going to happen in the end. The trauma associated with the physical and mental pain. The moments that bring that to the surface. But also the hope -- the hope that all that pain and the arms empty of baby can result in a happy, fulfilling life. That the rawness of feeling that treasured dream slip away won't last forever. 

I want to be a light in the darkness, illuminating a way out of the pit that isn't often touted as a viable, successful option. I had that in Mali, and Loribeth when I was first exploring the possibility of resolving childfree, and then in tandem with Infertile Phoenix. I had it with the books and blogs by public powerhouses like Lisa Manterfield of Life Without Baby, Jodi Day of Living the Life Unexpected and Gateway Women, of Pamela Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority. There are more out there, but these are the ones that helped me through my transition from striving for parenthood to accepting that that was not going to be a part of my life. 

I am excited to share this new adventure with you, thank you for following me in this new space! (And thank you for having patience while I figure out how the heck to design it and make it look the way it does in my head). Welcome!