Managing (Life Without) Expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations and how they affect the various parts of my life. First of all, how do we conceive of our expectations? Where do they come from?

I suppose that most of the time they arise from what we see around us. If other people easily get pregnant we expect to easily fall pregnant too. They also come from what we’re taught; the popular American teaching that if you work hard you will be successful definitely helped form many expectations I’ve held–and continue to hold–for myself. I’m sure expectations are also born of past experiences. If we’ve lived one cause and effect scenario we’ll probably expect it will be repeated in the future. And finally I would guess that some expectations are born of what we hope, even if there is no reason to believe it might ever be so.

Our expectations are important because, in many ways, they determine our actions. If we expect that going to college will help us procure a better job we are more likely to go. If we expect that eating healthy foods and exercising will make us live longer, healthier lives, we’re more likely to eat well and exercise.

But what happens when are expectations are not met? What happens when we see someone who is the epitome of healthful living fall dead of a heart attack at a young age? What happens if our own health is compromised despite taking good care of ourselves? What happens when we graduate with a college degree and still can’t find a job?

When our expectations are not met, we must adjust them. This process can be very difficult and require a significant mourning period, especially if those expectations were about something very dear to our hearts.

Even when less important expectations are not met, it can significantly change the way we do things. To wit: blogging. I started blogging with a different set of expectations than I have now. Back when I started I wrote for me, and almost no one read what I wrote. Over the years more people starting reading and some even started commenting and over time, without me even realizing, my blogging expectations changed. Over time I began writing with the expectation of fostering community and inspiring thoughtful conversation. I wrote with the hopes of receiving comments and I read for the purpose of leaving them. Blogging was about being a part of something bigger, and more meaningful, than myself.

This past year–with its debilitating depression and steady march towards secondary infertility–my expectations have sadly changed. I can no longer expect to foster community and I rarely inspire thoughtfulness in this space. And it seems that people have noticed that subtle, but significant, change, because the way others respond here has changed as well. And with those changes, I alter my expectations. And here, like in other areas of my life, I’m not sure what my new expectations should be or how those new expectations will change what I write about here or how often I write.

The result of all these shifting expectations?

I have no idea why I’m doing anything anymore.

Buddhism teaches that expectations are the root of all sorrow, so perhaps this shifting, or in some cases, disappearing, of expectations is for the best. The problem is, it leaves me feeling unmoored, without any solid ground to stand upon. And without a solid foundation, I’m just not sure how to procede.

This holiday season was difficult for a number of reasons, but I realized one of the biggest struggles was saying goodbye to my final TTC#2 expectations. When I started trying at the beginning of 2012 I was sure that I’d be pregnant by the holidays and in my dark, hopeless moments, I assured myself that I’d have a second child to celebrate by Christmas and the New Year, even if it was only the seed, the promise, of another baby. And yet here I sit, hours after taking my second birth control pill in preparation for my HSG, the car still warm from dropping off MiVida’s specimen at the lab, waiting for my CD3 blood work to come in, wondering what we’ll be compelled to decide when we have all the results.

For the first time since I started building my family I have no idea what to expect. For the first time, I don’t have any expectation of getting pregnant. I haven’t counted out when I’d be due if I got pregnant during the next cycle. I haven’t wondered what I’ll do about maternity leave or taking a year off of my job. I haven’t made any possible plans in my head, I haven’t laid out any probable futures in my mind’s eye. In that place where all those dreams used live, there is only emptiness.

And yet, I still hope to get pregnant. I still want another child. I’m taking all these tests with the hope that they will show me the way. But I’m realizing, more and more, that most likely they will not show me anything. And if they aren’t going to draw a map, making it clear where we should turn, how do we decide? That’s the thing, how do we make these decisions when we have no expectations of the outcome? How do we choose what we should do when we’ve lost sight of what to expect will happen? I really don’t know.

I understand the idea behind letting go of expectation; I get that suffering stems from the disappointment of things not going the way you expected them to go. I just don’t know how to make decisions about my future without my expectations guiding the way. I don’t know how to choose the right path for treatment without an expectation of how they will turn out, of what my future will look like. I can’t fathom how we’ll make these choices without a solid foundation from which to embark.

I just feel so lost, so unmoored, so unsure, so… I’m not even sure what to say.

6 responses

  1. I’m here from Mel’s Friday Blog Round Up.

    This is such a thought provoking post and I think of all the expectations in my life and the disappointments and devastation when falling short.

    I think of the times I’ve held no expectations….

    And I think the problem with having no expectations is that hope sneaks in taking its place still letting you down…

  2. Here from Mel’s Friday Round-Up. . . .

    I completely agree with the Buddhist concept that suffering stems from the disappointment of unmet expectations. . . but I’ll be darned if I was ever able to let go of mine either. Hoping for peace and clarity for you.

  3. I wish I could help you feel more anchored.

    The thing about expectations and Buddhism, though …. I never quite got that. You have to expect SOMETHING, or else you cease to exist. We have to look forward, even if looking forward is as simple as looking both ways before we step off a curb into the street. Maybe it’s the attachment to our expectations that is the problem … the unwillingness to accept when things don’t work out as we think they might? It’s something I’m trying to wrap my brain around, too … and I’m sure someone, somewhere, has written something about this conundrum that will help me figure it out …

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