Today I got an email from a friend, apologizing for her part in the gradual disintegration of our friendship. I won’t detail what she said here, but I want to post my response, because it’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, about realizations I’ve had about myself and how I acted during our “era of family building.” Here is what I said:
(This got SUPER long, and I apologize for that. I suppose you know me well enough to not be surprised that it took me three times as many words to say this as it would a normal person. If verbose doesn’t describe me, I’m not sure what does.)
Thank you so much for your email. It meant more to me than I can ever say. I also appreciate that it spurs me to try to put into words something that I’ve been wanting to express for the last few months but haven’t figured out how to say. Maybe now I can now? I hope so.
I can really relate to what you wrote about in your email–that feeling of coming out of a fog and being able to look at relationships, and the events defining those relationships, with renewed perspective. I can relate because I’ve been feeling very similarly myself.
I’m not quite sure when exactly it happened, but at some point in the months after Teo was born, I felt a veil lift, a shroud of pain, and anger, and grief, and uncertainty and fear just fell away from my eyes, and for the first time I saw huge portions of my life more clearly.
For my entire adult life, I had been afraid I might not be able to build my family. I don’t think I really understood the extent of that fear until I was dealing with my ectopic pregnancy and then our fertility issues, but it was there, under the surface, always. I’m assuming that fear was the result of watching my parents lose their daughter at three months old, and then watching my mother lose her three sons in what would now be considered stillbirths. I don’t have many distinct memories of those events (though we did visit Stephanie’s grave frequently when I was a child, and I have vivid memories of that), but I assume I was aware of them, or at the very least, aware of my mom’s changing body and then her abject sadness and despair.
I believe that is what caused me to have such crippling anxiety surrounding trying to conceive, pregnancy and childbirth. Not getting my period for a decade definitely heightened the fear that I’d have issues similar to my mother’s (which of course were never explained). I only mention all that to try to put into perspective why I was such a complete wreck during that time. Unfortunately I didn’t have that perspective myself when it was happening, at least not fully. Perhaps if I had, I’d have been better able to handle the whole situation with more grace.
Anyway, to say I didn’t handle those months (years?) well would be an understatement. And the truth is, I had no idea what I needed at that time–especially not after the ectopic–not from Ben, not from my family and certainly not from my friends. In my confusion and grief, I mostly pulled away, because that was one of the few ways I knew how to protect myself. Protect myself from what? I can’t really say. I supposed I was afraid of being hurt further, of people misunderstanding me. Being close to people made me vulnerable–the closer I was the more they could potentially hurt me. Maybe I just needed control, and in my search for it, I just kept retreating into myself.
When Isa was born, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders–I was a mom! I had achieved that thing I so desperately wanted! And for a while I was so happy. I was also a new mom who didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, and the insanity of new motherhood kind of overwhelmed that elated feeling. By the time I started feeling more confident as a mother, we were trying to have another baby, and the fears of what might happen were there again, although not with the same intensity.
I like to think that I handled our second round of fertility struggles–and especially our diagnoses, and the months we spent truly believing we wouldn’t have another child–a lot better than I handled shit the first time. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. All I know is that when we got pregnant with Teo I felt I was given the most precious gift, and in receiving that gift, my soul was, in most ways, healed.
I know that sounds a bit heavy handed, but it’s true. And now, on the other side of the crippling fear I felt about what horrible tragedies I might have to endure on my path to have a family, I feel like a different person. Still scattered, and sometimes overly emotional, living with ADD and a penchant for depression and anxiety, but a different person none the less. I feel like the biggest weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Walking away from our family building years (and with an incredible family to show for it) has been the most freeing experience of my entire life. And I have never been more grateful as I am now (though lord knows my whole life should inspire gratitude–I recognize how exceedingly lucky I’ve been).
I write this long winded diatribe to let you know that it wasn’t just you: That I was dealing (very poorly) with shit I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to express; that I was unable, and sometimes unwilling, to reach out for help; that I most certainly said the wrong things, or reacting inappropriately, more often than not; that I didn’t make it very easy, or rewarding, to be my friend.
I distinctly remember–in the months after my ectopic, and then again in the months after we’d learn that we mostly likely wouldn’t have another child–feeling like nobody was saying the right things. Then, right before Teo was born, some friends were dealing with difficult times and I showed up and tried to provide support and I could tell that I was fucking it all up, and saying the wrong things, and I felt myself panicking mid-sentence, now knowing what to say, paralyzed by my fear that I would make it worse instead of better, sure that the fact that I hadn’t been through what they were going through meant I couldn’t be there for them. And I definitely fucked a few of those conversations up, but luckily it wasn’t irrevocably, because those friends were understanding enough, even during their hardship, to forgive me for saying the wrong thing. I didn’t always extend my friends (or family) the same courtesy when I was having a hard time. And what’s really messed up, is I didn’t even know what I wanted them to say, so they had very little chance of getting it right.
So this is where (ten pages later) I give my own apologies, because I contributed as much to whatever happened to our friendship in the last years as you did. And I’m so sorry for that. I’m so sorry for handling it all so poorly, for not knowing what to do or say, for not knowing that I could participate in friendships without feeling vulnerable, to not knowing how messed up I was about it all.
It’s incredible, looking back on it, how much clearly it all seems now. In the thick of it, I could barely see two feet in from of my face, but now I can see the entire landscape, and myself, in the middle of it, flailing around like a person possessed. And I suppose I was, by my own fear and grief and uncertainty.
I write all this (good god, I write SO MUCH) because I appreciated hearing where you were coming from during that time, and I want to give you the chance to to know where I was then myself. I didn’t reach out and explain any of it when it was happening, but I hope I can rectify that now. I know I’m not an easy person to be friends with, at least I never have been. I hope that has changed now. It feels like it has, I want that to be the case. Now that I’m not spending so much emotional energy on family building, I finally feel the capacity to be there for other people in the ways I wasn’t able to before. I’m ready to show up for our friendship now. I hope it’s not too little, too late.
Thanks again for reaching out and apologizing. I really, really appreciate it. It’s so much easier to say, “water under the bridge” and just live with things they way they are. I think this way will be so much better than that, and I don’t know if I would have had the courage to initiate this conversation myself, to apologize to you. Thanks for doing that–I am so, so grateful.
It was great seeing you last month. I hope we can do so again soon.
Does moving forward in your infertility journey give you a different perspective on yourself or your relationships during that time?