Confessional Fridays: There is no cure-all

As you may have guessed my partner and I have been confronting some difficult financial realities of late. Our professional fulfillment and personal happiness are deeply entrenched in these financial uncertainties. Recently we have embarked on myriad troublesome and labyrinthine conversations and unlike in the past, we tend to walk away feeling more hopeless than when we began.

When were TTC and even the year before, when I was impatiently waiting for Mi.Vida to be “ready,” I was sure that once we had a baby everything would be different. I was convinced that this “different” meant better, infinitely so. I would feel whole. I would be “fully realized” (thank you for this Sarah) as the mother I was always meant to be.

When we suffered our loss I lingered in a very dark place. That summer was spent in great physical and emotional turmoil as my body contended with the havoc wreaked by methotrexate and my heart tried to grapple with a cavernous emptiness and complete absence of hope. There were times during those months when I thought we wouldn’t get through it, that even if I managed to survive our relationship wouldn’t.

Then I got pregnant and miraculously stayed that way. I thought that if my daughter were born healthy all would be right in the world. I would finally be fully realized and ultimately fulfilled. I would have arrived, happy and whole, at the doorstep of my life.

Well, she was born healthy and I was happy. In fact I was elated; my joy was immense and unencumbered. I had arrived at my life and it was wonderful. My daughter really was the cure-all I had assumed she would be.

Now, a year later, I realize it’s not that simple. While my daughter’s presence does bring me unbridled joy I recognize she’s not the cure-all I had once imagined. She did help me fully realize myself at the core of my being but her healing powers do not extend to all facets of my life. Her happy, healthy presence is not, in and of itself, enough to nurture my relationship. It can’t afford me, or my partner, professional fulfillment. She can’t deem obsolete the financial expectations or obligations that threatened to crush us. She cannot be the glue holding our lives, and our relationship, together.

Of course if she were sick or, God forbid no longer with us, I would feel differently. Of course then she would be the glue and her absence would cause everything to crumble. But she is not sick and we have no reason to believe she won’t be with us for a long time (and I refuse to live my life always assuming that she might suddenly be gone from it) and so I have to take stock in what I feel to be true in this time and place – that right now, we are not happy. Right now, her simple presence is not enough to make everything alright. That having had her, and being made the mother of a living child, did not infuse my life with simplistic perfection.

I don’t know if, for saying this, I should be demonized as the worst kind of mother or admonished for my naiveté. Are my readers thinking, of course she should be enough? If she were mine she’d be enough. Or are they shaking their heads with the hint of a smile on their lips wondering, how could she think a child would fix things? They sit atop relationship’s foundation, testing its stability. They don’t strengthen the infrastructure, making it more sound.

The truth is we thought it would be easier. We thought we could make it work. We didn’t anticipate these challenges. We didn’t foresee the financial realities. We failed to forecast the urgent current of our dreams or the devastating consequences of their apparent impossibility. We weren’t honest with ourselves about how much we would want and how little we’d be able to have. We miscalculated and now we’re paying dearly for it.

This didn’t happen because we had our daughter. This happened in spite of it. We thought, I thought, that once she was here all the rest of it would fall away. All the troublesome “other” would be rendered inconsequential by her mere existence. She was everything, any obstacle would whither in her awesome presence. But they don’t and they won’t and we’re left grasping for answers when none seem acceptable.

Does this paint me as ungrateful? It must. I don’t suppose my insistence that I’m not would convince you otherwise. I will however assure you that I’m not, in any way, ungrateful. Naive, possibly ignorant, but not ungrateful. My daughter is my heart beating outside of my body. She is the sunshine of my soul. I am only confessing that even in the presence of her sunshine there are shadows. Her light cannot render innocuous all hardship, though it’s attempts to do so are impressive.

We will get through this. I have faith in that. We will prevail but we may do so at great cost to ourselves and our relationship. While I think we will come out on the other side I don’t suspect we will do so unscathed or stronger. This journey will take its toll and I can only hope that the scarring is not so extensive as to deliver us unrecognizable to the next chapter of our lives.

27 responses

  1. I don’t think these thoughts paint you as ungrateful at all. We all focus so much on just getting pregnant, and then on just giving birth, and then on having a healthy baby, that everything else seems to be insignificant.

    And, in a way, it is so – if people planned and delayed pregnancies until they had everything in place and full financial security – well, no one would have any babies and that would be the end of humankind.

    I am also looking into money matters now, calculating our current spend, seeing where we will be able to cut down for the mat leave time, so I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    I am sure you guys will be able to figure this out and things will get better!

    • My partner has been sending out hints, like maybe we had a baby before we were ready but I tell him the same thing, we would never have been ready. He had no plans to leave his job or look for something higher paying. My job only makes incrementally more every year. We are probably never going to be able to buy a house in this neighborhood. And had we waited, who knows what would have happened trying to build a family. My mom suffered from IF and his dad had some issues as well. We don’t have the greatest family history. So yeah, I have no regrets on when we started to build our family. I just wish we had been better prepared for the challenges, but I suppose you never can be until you’re actually faced with them.

      • I agree. Maybe when you’re planning a second child, you’re better aware of what lays ahead. With the first one – how on earth are you supposed to predict the challenges to be tackled?
        I looked in our money matters yesterday, and realized that when I will be on matleave, we will be spending all we earn – and maybe even more, for right now we spend his salary + an equivalent of my future maternity benefits, so we better start putting money on the side now.
        But then – I really have no idea how much we will be spending on the baby. Not a clue.
        But I am glad we didn’t wait longer. I am young (32) but I have PCOS. My hubby is healthy – excellent counts at 40 – but if we want to have more kids, we better be moving.
        Yeah, he wants to change a job, Yeah, this will lessen our security. But we cannot wait and put babies on hold forever… or you might end up never having them.

  2. I don’t think it makes you ungrateful at all. And it’s probably a good thing your daughter doesn’t make your happiness and life complete- that would be an awful lot of pressure on such a little person 🙂 Also, if children made our lives complete and blissfully happy, this world would be a whole lot happier than it is. Your words and pictures in every post about Isa make it obvious that she lights up your life and fills it with joy and love. But there’s other stuff too, stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with her. However, you are right- you will get through it.

    • You’re right, the world would be a blissfully happy place if kids were the solution to every woe. I don’t think most people put that kind of pressure on the act of having a child but I see suggestions of it in the IF/loss community. I know I felt it because of my struggles, loss and fear. But it wasn’t true.

      I hadn’t thought about how considering Isa the source of my only happiness might put pressure on her, but now that you suggest it I’ve seen the results of that in other families and it’s not pretty. That is a silver lining I hadn’t thought about here.

  3. In my experience parenting has served up heaps of difficulties to go along with the heaps of joy. I think it’s impossible to have the one without the other (forgot the 0.1% of the world that is extremely wealthy).

    This is actually what brought to blog, dealing with the incredibly difficult journey that I traveled to motherhood yes, but struggling with life on the other side even more – NOT that I want to go back, just that I want to make the best of this new gig and I find it pretty damn challenging.

    All this to say that you’re not alone and so hopefully we can help each other figure it out – one day at a time.

    • I suppose we can’t expect there to not be difficulties to accompany the amazing joy surrounding parenthood, otherwise EVERYONE would want to do it! For me I feel like we’re really struggling right now with the rest of life, and sure Isa’s presence and needing to provide for her creates some complications but really, we’d have these issues with or without her, they might have been smaller but they would be there. It’s frustrating too because life is so different from when our parents were doing this, what they were able to accomplish, financially, just doesn’t translate to our circumstances so we have to figure everything out by ourselves. It’s really hard and we both feel woefully unprepared. We are definitely learning things the hard way.

  4. I have nothing more eloquent to say apart from thank you for this post. It threw into great relief the decisions I’ve made in the last few days. I don’t think you’re ungrateful, and I think your honesty is amazing. And it certainly helped me today. xoxo

    • When I read your post yesterday I thought, man – she may really want to read this today, it may solidify some of the decisions she’s made recently. Mi.Vida and I were talking yesterday and we both realized that we assumed, no matter what we decided that we could make it work. Realizing that we just can’t, that the numbers don’t add up in any way, is shocking to us. I think it’s the first time we’ve ever been so wrong about something so important. Now we have to sacrifice really important parts of ourselves and our personal fulfillment to things work and it’s quite devastating. I hope your recent decisions will allow you to avoid this sort of thing when your rainbow baby joins you here.

  5. I don’t think you sound the SLIGHTEST bit ungrateful. I remember, after I was pregnant, feeling like I would never ever care about work stuff again. That all of my energy and happiness were tied up with my beautiful growing babies. And then, months passed, and the weirdest thing happened: I still got really fired up about work stuff. It’s strange, but also strangely reassuring that there are other ways to find happiness and sadness, you know? (I am saying this so inarticulately compared to you!) And I don’t mean to minimize what you are going through AT ALL. I am going through my own version of this (hubs is still in school, he extended for a year so I go back to work in a week even tho I was supposed to have the option of staying home if we ever had a baby, yada yada). It is a huge strain on a relationship, to put it mildly.

    I also want to apologize for never commenting on your work/stay-home mom posts. I read them carefully and really really really appreciated your honesty and thoughts. They came at a really hectic time for me and I have a bad habit of putting off commenting on posts that I want to really think about and respond appropriately to, and, sadly, instead I never said anything. I have so much angst about the topic and it really seems to be a huge deal in your life, too. So thank you for posting honestly and openly about your experience.

    xoxo

    • It’s amazing how when you’re in the midst of it (TTC, loss, pregnancy) you think that once you get there everything else will lose significance. I guess, as you said, you don’t really want that to happen but when you’re investing so much there is almost a need for a positive result to be the cure-all. Of course if our children were our only joy the rest of our lives would be pretty dreary and it would be a lot to lay on a tiny person. I understand what you mean that it can be a relief to feel passion for other things again. I want so badly to feel passion for the professional aspect of my life but there I just feel stifled and unhappy and it’s horrible. I didn’t expect to have to make these kind of sacrifices and have so few choices. But that is how things are now and how they will be for the foreseeable future. Perhaps some day it will change, but not for a long time.

  6. The SAHM post and the Pro-Choice post, though important pieces of writing, pale into insignificance against this post.
    Thank you for writing so openly and honestly. I think it is incredibly brave to acknowledge that even when we get the one thing we want most we can still feel somewhat unfulfilled.
    I do not think you sound ungrateful. And when I read your words it seems so clear to me that OF COURSE a child cannot be the salve to all our wounds and that we shouldn’t feel bad about that fact – even though somehow it is hard to accept that in one’s own life. I would not have been brave enough (or eloquent enough, or for that matter insightful enough) to write this post.

    There will always be challenges in life – some small and some seemingly insurmountable. Of course a child cannot change this fact. But somehow we seem to think it should.

    You are a great mother – how do I know this without ever having met you? Because you refuse to be blind to your problems. You could bury your head in the sand like so many people before you but instead you are acknowledging, addressing, and doing your utmost to accept these issues. What a fantastic role model! You say that your daughter cannot be the glue holding your lives together – what a wonderful gift you have given Isa – the gift of freedom from that expectation. It may not be something she is ever consciously aware of but that freedom will colour her whole life.

    I admire you, and so will Isa, I have no doubt of that.

    • Wow, thank you for validating the importance of this post. It was one of those things that just happened very organically. I was actually in the middle of a post about the future of my blog and then Mi.Vida and I had yet another horrible conversation and I sat down again at my desk and opened up a new post and this came out and it felt so raw and so true that I had to put it out there. I don’t think I’d even admitted any of this to myself until I wrote it.

      I hope that some day Isa can see that I try to face my challenges head on, instead of avoiding or ignoring them. I hope I find a way to teach her these things that are so important to me. The fact that she will always have this blog to explore if she is so inclined makes me very, very happy. I wish I had some kind of record of what my mom when through in the early days of motherhood. It’s such a strange and wonderful and terrifying time.

      Thank you for your support. It’s very much appreciated.

  7. In addition to what I said last night about our children making us realize, in a raw (and not always entirely pleasant) way what really matters to us, your post made me think about the ways in which my goals and desires have changed over the years, having children. It didn’t happen overnight, and there were times when I resenting having to give up some of the things that were important to me. But different things have become important to me. So it’s not that my children “solved” the problem, and made me completely fulfilled, but that my perspective has changed … and continues to change, every day.

    Kate over at Still Living the Dream has an interesting post on “me” time and mommyhood that is relevant here … it’s a matter of how we look at what we’ve sacrificed and lost. (http://stillivingthedream.blogspot.com/2011/07/mommyhood-me-time.html)

    • Thanks for the link. I really liked that post. I totally know what that blogger is talking about, about how hard it is redefine “me” time when you’re a mom, that it looks so different from how it looked before. I wish my only issue was figuring out me time. Right now B and I are needing to sacrifice our professional happiness and that is a much more bitter pill to swallow. But it is good to remember that sometimes it’s not about giving something up but redefining it. I’ll have to remember that.

  8. You are not ungrateful at all, and are in fact, very honest. You can see that with me, my baby has not caused me to have complete bliss, and I still struggle with the depression that has plagued me my entire life.

    My mom had one child-me-and she is only happy when I am happy. She is a wonderful, wonderful mom and raised me with a huge amount of love, but even as an adult I am afraid to tell her when I am struggling. It kills her inside and makes her depressed as well. I think that it is unhealthy to expect our children to be the reason for our happiness. In fact, one of the reasons why I want to have another one is so that I don’t put all of that pressure on my baby to make me happy. In fact, that is my biggest reason for wanting another. (maybe not the best reason, huh?)

    When we are TTC and we succeed, I think we expect that the baby will make everything right. It fulfills a huge part of me and right now I am living for her, but things still go wrong and we are still in a very rough place.

    Thank you for your honesty.

    • I think you’re right, it is unhappy to expect our children to be the reason for our happiness, and yet when we are so unhappy waiting for them, it’s hard not to believe they will bring us the happiness we seek.

      I also believe in having at least two children to put some of the pressure off one. I think it’s a lot to be an only child. I hope I can have another child, not just to give my daughter a sibling but so I can take some pressure off all of us.

  9. I don not think you are ungrateful at all. Thank you so much for this honest post. Reading through it brought tears to my eyes because I so recognized my current situation and feelings.

  10. How is it possible that I haven’t commented on this post? I’ll just say that I agree with your sentiments here completely. Big old bucket of ” word”. I know you think the world of Isa. But she shouldn’t be your whole world. That would be unhealthy for you, and her.

  11. An enormously powerful post and I neither saw you as ungrateful nor did I shake my head at naivete. I think it is impossible to know what comes next, even if we think we can predict — with small things, but even more so with huge life changing events like motherhood. It shakes our world and yet some things seemingly remain unchanged and there’s no rhyme or reason to it.

    Beyond that, I think children have the ability to multiply stress in various areas. They take away time you would have spent on the problem. And while it’s good time and time well spent, it is also time you would have dealt with other things.

    • It is impossible to know what comes next. Even if you’ve seen dozens of friends make the transition you can never know how it affected them, not really. We always assumed everything would just “work out” and we’re kind of astonished that it’s not. I mean, it does for everyone else! But of course we have no idea the sacrifices they make either.

      Children do multiply stress because they require so much and want to give them even more. We feel such immense responsibility for them and yet we don’t always have control over what we can provide. And they also make it harder for us to take care of ourselves and our relationships because they are so needy themselves (at least initially).

      But it will all be worth it when they are taking care of us in our old age, right? That will be pay day. 😉

  12. It certainly doesn’t paint you as ungrateful, or even naive. If anything, it helps put much-needed perspective on things for me. As a result of my last loss, I’ve finally realized that I need to start focusing on other things that give me happiness, and not put all the pressure on a baby. I’ve been focused solely on my desire to have a baby and the grief that has come with it, that I forgot to keep trying for happiness outside of that. I’m so thankful that it’s had that effect on me because I think we all too easily think once we have the baby we’ve been trying so hard to have, that everything will be okay. But even though we may realize how hard it will be or is, that desire doesn’t go away. Your comment about Isa being your heart beating outside of your body made me melt. That right there is why we work so hard to get these little beings into our lives, and even though the problems won’t disappear, they’re still worth every bit of it — the good and the bad.

    • They are worth every bit. It’s true. Having a child is such hard work but obviously it has immense rewards. What is surprising to me is how they don’t make all the other problems go away. At work I still face all the same problems I faced before. I am kind of astonished by that. I wish I had worked harder to find happiness at my job before I had a child, so that now that piece would be ready and waiting for me. Because now that she’s hear I have less flexibility and more responsibility and it’s hard to make those changes. I always thought everything would work out, but that isn’t always the case. Sacrifices have to be made, even when you have what you thought was most important.

  13. I think you’re doing a tremendous favor to yourself, your husband, and especially your child by realizing that the child is not the cure-all. Like Natalie said, above, there is a lot of pressure on a child to be their parents’ sole source of joy, especially as they grow up (my parents were not like this, but my MIL, oooh boy…i’ll leave it at that). For us that have dealt with infertility and loss, we repeat over and over that having a healthy baby to take home is all we ask. It sustains us through the treatments and the waiting and the pregnancy; and then the child is here, and then we realize that the rest of life still MATTERS…it still matters a LOT. Yes, my son is a tremendous source of joy, but he doesn’t provide the kind of joy I seek from a healthy marriage, close friendships, a fulfilling career, financial stability, and my own physical well-being. That doesn’t make me, you, or anyone “ungrateful”; its just healthy to work on all aspects of your life so that you can be the best person (including mother) all around.

  14. When I find my child tiresome or irritating, I feel ungrateful. But she’s a little person, and I often find people irritating – especially when they make demands on me. I love her completely. I miss her when I’m not with her. And her endless rules and competitive nature make me crazy. She is a wonderful addition to my life, but she doesn’t make my coworkers less annoying. She’s hilarious, but she doesn’t make my husband take my advice. She’s sweet but she can’t make other people drive properly.

    All this is to say that you’re absolutely right. A child is a wonderful gift. But that child does not make a difference towards the rest of your life. She might make your attitude better or more determined, but she can’t change the circumstances.

  15. I came across this post from others who linked you… And I have to say, it is amazing to have this type of self-awareness, to be able to take a realistic look at what’s going on and evaluate it, learn from it, move forward. I hope that you also still allow yourself time to NOT focus on the challenges you’re faced with, to find joy in other parts of your life in addition to your daughter, and to feel like a whole person.

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