Dr. Walt once asked me if I had specific goals, hopes, or dreams for the child I conceived but didn’t bear, or any of the other children I had wanted but have been unable to conceive — like, did I think my child was going to grow up and become a researcher and cure cancer? Without hesitation, I answered no. Children come to this plane their own little people, with their own goals, hopes, and dreams. That’s something I’ve known for a long time, and it’s fairly obvious to anyone who has children, no matter how those children got here.
I assume that he was planning to help me see that there are other ways that I could fulfill those goals, hopes, and dreams that I held for my children, regardless of whether or not they ever came to exist on this earth — not a bad aim on his part. I would only want for my own children the same things that Stacy and I want for La-la and Bubs: to be healthy; to be happy, whatever that looks like for them; and to be a productive, contributing member of society.
I’ve just read a book by Anne Lamott, called, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” As the title suggests, most of her messages in this book are written with writers in mind. If you’ve ever read anything else by Anne, you know that she’s got a cockeyed sense of humor that often shines through her prose, which is perfect, because you’ve got to look at this world cockeyed in order to make it through sometimes. Most of the time.
“Bird by Bird” walks through the stages of writing, alternating between macro and micro perspectives. Anne shares tips from her own bag of tricks about how to tackle characters, plot development, publishing (and not getting published when it seems like everyoneyouknow is getting published), and some craft elements. One of the technique suggestions is to use epistolary form: writing a letter or series of letters. That reminded me of this past March, when my friend, author Molly Krause, launched a letter-writing campaign. And, also, the apostle Paul. Can’t forget him.
I’m not launching a letter-writing campaign, and I sincerely doubt anything I have to say will be printed or read as often as Paul’s works. However, when thinking about the book that I’m writing detailing different facets of my experiences with infertility, something that’s missing so far are my children — the child I had wanted but wasn’t able to carry, and the ones I haven’t had since. So I decided to take Anne’s suggestion and write a letter to my unborn children. The one who would be fifteen next month, and the two others who haven’t come since.
Yes: WOW. Not a task for the feint of heart. I am not feint of heart, but I am human. Writing about difficult subjects is difficult. Writing about the most difficult thing you’ve ever experienced is one of the most difficult things you can do. About halfway through my first writing class with Molly, when one of my memoirs began taking shape, I started using antidepressant medication. I knew that if I were going to not only expose the most tender parts of me, but do some serious poking around on them, I would need serious back-up. I am now several essays deep into the process, and I know that choosing medicinal support was the right thing to do for me.
I began the letters to each of my three children at the same time, just a few days ago. They are varying lengths, and have a ways to go until they are finished. How do you fit a life time of laughter, tears, hopes, dreams, wishes, and advice into a finite container? How do you define word count or page length for a life that has never been lived? I haven’t found the answers to these questions yet.
In writing the letters, I am getting something invaluable — a holistic view of who each of these children might have been… which is something that, until now, I’ve never allowed myself to imagine, because it’s simply too painful. Part of the problem of infertility or pregnancy or infant loss is that you don’t have a full accounting of who that little person might have become. Often, there’s no burial ritual, which deprives the aggrieved of a socially acceptable grieving process. I am sure that many people who share my experience share the sense of being stuck in an on-going grief loop, because there is no apparent way to lay someone to rest when they were mostly an idea, a potential. That fact, though, does not make them any less missed and mourned than someone who had a corporeal existence.
A large part of who my children would have been is influenced by my age at the time I would have had them, and who the other important people in their lives would have been. In my mind, my fifteen-year-old would be as self-assured and stubborn as I was at that age, only not as shy as I. My eight-year-old would be athletic and musical, and generally obedient, but with an ornery streak. My toddler, with a halo of golden curls, would be all sunshine and smiles (hey, I’m imagining this — I get to forego what I know from practical toddler experience could never, ever happen).
It both helps and hurts to have a sense of them — that duality that seems to be omnipresent in nearly every aspect of life. It’s odd to think that doing something that causes pain could also be a gift to yourself. But maybe it’s a part of what needs to happen in order for me to heal. Like when a broken bone isn’t set right, and so it mends wrong, and continues to cause you pain. The best remedy is to re-break the bone, perhaps intensifying the fracture, debriding anything that needs removed, and setting it properly, so that it can finally heal.
As always, your thoughtful questions or comments are welcome.