Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Post in Which Mrs. X Puts the 'X' in Existential

Even before our historical soujourn in Paris (did I mention that we saw a pirogue that plied the Seine 3,000 years before the Romans turned up?!), I had been giving a great deal of thought as to what it means to live a full life. How is a full life defined? Who says what is full? Who judges?

For a while now, my definition of a full life required that I have children - preferably my own biological children. I've been clinging to this notion that my one purpose in life is to have children, not because I want them (which I do), but because I'm a woman and therefore it is my purpose. Very Biblical, I know.

I didn't use to think this way. It has only really taken root as our slog through the mire of infertility has gotten longer and harder. In other words, with every passing month, disappointment or loss, it just gets entrenched even further because it is the most fundamental biological function that I haven't been able to fulfill which I must fulfill to prove that I was a woman. Pretty screwed up, eh?

The first clue that this is what is nicely called 'fuzzy logic' is that I don't ascribe it to anyone else. I think other women are a success in their lives if they are happy - no matter what happens to their uterus. My second clue is that I didn't start thinking this way until my first miscarriage, which threw very cold water on my euphoria at finally being able to do that one thing that I was supposed to be able to do. And, more recently, the perspective that I gained in Paris showed me first hand that very few other people truly care whether I give birth to a child and I will probably be more well known if I have an interesting life than if I propogate the species.

Each of these points is slowly chipping away at the wall of expectations that I have built for myself (again nobody else!) but the foundations are still there. Foundations last a long time. We saw the foundations for the medieval Louvre that dated back to the 12th century (personally, I found this way more interesting than the Mona Lisa) and the foundations for the Bastille. Foundations that were laid before my ancestors even got on a boat, and in at least one case, before there even was a New World. Foundations are dug deep and meant to last. They get buried and forgotten.

I need to excavate my foundation, bring into the light, study it and then dismantle it because it is only making me suffer. So far, though, despite all of my rational thought on the subject, I can't shake this idea.

So, I've turned to a radical new place for affirmation that my idea is frankly bull: obituaries. I have always adored reading obituaries. They are truly a person's life resume. They are the record of who you were, what you did and where you went to the rest of the world. Of course your family knows what you did and has special stories about you, but isn't everyone most interested in getting their story out to as many people as possible? For most people, that doesn't happen until they are dead.

What has struck me in recent years reading obituaries is that more often than not, the discussion of the person's life only mentions their children at the very end, usually in the list of survivors. The narrative of their life focuses on them, what they accomplished (other than having children) and what they enjoyed. In short, the focus is on the person's interests, history and accomplishments, but not necessarily that they had children. For most people, you wouldn't think that they had children at all!

You probably wouldn't believe how helpful I have found this, morbid as it may seem, because it provides a great lesson: in the end, it doesn't really matter. When they write my obituary, they will discuss how I met my husband on-line back when it still was not very well known (back in my day, there were no pictures!), I had many interests ranging from history to interior design, I played the flute and the piano and loved classical music, I painted in watercolors and oils, I was passionate about animals and the environment (yes, I am a tree hugger), I took pride in my work and my relationships with those I worked with, I enjoyed traveling and reading.

All of these things are true and absolutely none of them have to do with the fact that (so far) the largest my belly ever got was after an orgy of barbeque. In the end, it doesn't really matter what happens, as long as I can look back and claim (genuinely) that I was happy. And, right now, despite everything, I can say that.
left image: ::: Billie / PartsnPieces :::; right image: caribb

20 comments:

JellyBelly said...

i totally and completely agree mrs. x.

i love you the perspective that you gained while you were away visiting the most beautiful city in the entire world.

i really hope that i find the same gift while we're there in july!

loribeth said...

Fabulous post. I too am an obituary reader. And even though this is a huge city & I was not born & raised here, it's funny how often I will see a name & find a personal connection, whether it's the uncle of someone I know, or the relative of a public figure. I particularly seek obituaries of infants (perhaps looking for evidence that I am not the only person in the world that stillbirth/infant death has happened to), but feel overwhelmingly sad whenever I do see one. I also find myself looking at the names of the survivors, & imagining what the person's life was like if no children are listed. There are still usually names of brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and friends, which makes me feel somewhat better about my own future. Having children is one way to lead a full & interesting life, but it's definitely not the only way.

Elizabeth said...

OMG, I have that same picture from the Louvre from our trip!

Your post is spot-on. The longing for a baby to make us a family (when we already are a family even though it's just the two of us and our cats) has often overwhelmed and obscured everything else in my life, skewing my perspective. I have a good job. I have a beautiful home. I am in grad school. I try to find time to take baking classes and participate in book clubs. In other words, there is more to me than my (in)ability to reproduce, and I don't want to be known or remembered for only that.

Melanie said...

I love, love, love your post, Mrs. X. You've succinctly defined the struggle. Or at least for me the struggle is, who am I in light of infertility. I feel very alone in this fertile world and can't help but wonder is that because I believe the expectations of me (as a woman)is to have a child or is it because I want one. I simply don't know. But the message of a life well lived is so appropriate. Thanks.

jp said...

That was beautifully said-

I have thought about what my life will be like if I stop TTC and I have found many scenarios that seem really wonderful, that I would for sure consider a life well lived.

soapchick said...

I'm glad that I am not the only one who likes to read obituaries. I also like to walk through cemetaries - I find it interesting to ponder the lives that others have lived.

Excellent post, I really enjoyed reading it and I agree - life is all about what you make of it. Happiness comes from within, not from having children. Children are icing on the cake, but they aren't the cake.

FarmWife said...

Wow. You really hit on some things at the heart of most women (mothers or not). There are times I forget who I am outside of my children. It's hard to stand away from how you see yourself & see yourself in a different light.

I also read obits. Not sure why...it seems to center me in the here & now so I can stop trying to live in the yet to come.

beautycourage said...

Mrs. X, you are such an eloquent writer. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, and I love the way you found a way to connect the medieval Louvre with infertility. That was my favorite part of the Louvre, as well. And obituaries are all about perspective- I have found myself doing the same thing.

Heidi said...

I fully understand everything you wrote. And you wrote it much more wonderfully than I have ever been able to spell out to other people.

Jen said...

You wrote this just beautifully. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

BethH6703 said...

Beautiful post. It genuinely resonates with me... makes me want to work harder at living today, in what my life is NOW, and to try to stop focusing on what I think it "should be".

Thank you.

Kate said...

I think you are right. Whatever it is, you can't let any one thing define you. Here from NCLM.

VA Blondie said...

Thank you for this post. It made me realize that I have a successful life, even though I am not a mother. I have been able to do things that mothers are unable to do because of family commitments.

Thanks for the perspective.

Katt said...

What a beautiful post! I love the way you are looking at life!

From someone else who met their husband online many years ago.

Jendeis said...

Came over from NaComLeavMo. What a beautiful post. It's so important to remember that IF is only a part of our lives and not the most important one at that.

Amanda said...

I'm here via NaComLeavMo.

This was a lovely post and really very positive. It's very true that your life is all that you do, not just one part. I think a lot of your sentiments hold true for everyone and not just IF. Thank you for posting.

C said...

Visiting from NaComLeavMo. I also think it's a beautiful post. Certainly we are more than the sum of our uterus (and sperm). I think the struggle for personal fulfillness and happiness exists even when the infertility does eventually bring a baby. I am certainly happier now than during the trauma of treatments. But I have to learn to balance the dreams and expectations I have for myself with the reality of days spent disheveled in pajamas, my entire existence seeming to revolve around what goes in and comes out of this tiny creature. Good luck in your journey!

E_Sharp said...

Sometimes I do wonder why it is so important to me. Why it matters so much. I can't figure it out. I don't think that it has anything to do with what I was built to do "as a woman". All I know is I have always wanted a big family.
I jokingly tell people its so that I won't be alone in my old age, so that I have someone to take care of me.

I think its because its really the only way you can achieve any kind of immortality.

Thanks for making me think.

InfertileMadWoman said...

That was an amazing post, and so true!!! I think I may write my obit so that people can know what I thought of my life, and what was most important about it to me.....

Here from NCLM and the Blog roundup

Rebeccah said...

Very nice post. I've often had many of the same thoughts -- since long before I even realized I wanted kids. It's so hard to find the intrinsic value in ourselves ... and yet so important that we do so.

(And I too met my husband online, played piano and flute! Haven't been to Paris yet. Can't wait to go.)