Let me count the ways.
First, as I stare down the barrel of assisted reproduction, I feel no ambivalence. Granted, this is not strictly from blogging, more from reading infertility blogs for these many years now. ART in all its many forms has become the most natural thing to me, the point brought home again by HBO's new show Tell Me You Love Me where one of the couples is dealing with inability to conceive for over a year. They talk about getting tested and getting treatment as of pathologizing the process, and I feel as if I am watching them through the wrong end of the telescope. While having insurance coverage for ART, of course, also helps, I almost feel like I cheated on this particular exam-- I got to acceptance and even welcoming by sneaking a peak at everyone else's final papers and all of their rough drafts-- but I don't care. There's been so much I've had to wrap my mind around in the last seven and a half months that I am glad I don't have to work on this, at least on this. I don't want to present myself here as a fearless leader of a roving band of IVF avengers, seeking out treatment wherever it may hide-- it's not that my hands didn't suddenly tremble when I started reading the packet that arrived from my future clinic this weekend, but it was, I am fairly certain of it, from the reality of this new hope right there in my hot little hands. And I do mean little-- you should see how small my hands are.
Second, well... second. It's taken me over a week to process this sufficiently to write of it at all, and I am still not sure I have fully processed it. I changed someone's mind. And her ways. And I did that because all of you gave me the courage to believe that my reactions to the dumb things people say are not unusual, that it's not my problem, and that nobody gets to tell me how I should feel. See, there is this woman, let's call her T, who lives in my city. She is a former student and a friend of a musician friend of my parents, who lives in the same city as them. When T and her family first moved to my City from the Old Country, the friend of my parents asked us to help them a bit. Which we did-- had them over for dinner, went to their place, told them about some resources, etc. No problem. That was seven or eight years ago. A few months back, this friend of the family asks my sister who was visiting my parents at the time to take with her some books for T. My sister does, promptly dumps them in my house and we both forget about it. Well, I saw them once or twice since then, but had no desire to do anything about it. Why? Because I had a feeling this very nice woman was going to say a lot of stupid stuff to me. With the best of intentions, of course.
Long story short, the friend talks to T a few weeks back, finds out she doesn't have the books yet, and the whole thing ensues where our mom is after my sister and me for not delivering the books, and then T starts calling and leaving messages too. Finally, I decide to take a deep breath and take the books to her. Which I do Friday before last. My mom likes to tell me that not everyone is after me, and that I shouldn't be afraid to see people because they may say stupid things. But at least in this case my feeling was right on the money-- T said just about every well-meaning stupid thing there is, and because I was sure I was not insane (or at least insane in the exact same way a lot of you are), I replied calmly, but honestly to every one of them. From implying that seeing A was "done to me" (excuse me? that was my choice, I made it, and I do not regret it in the least), to asking whether we are thinking of having another baby (and how does that change the reality of my son being dead?), to saying that it's no way to live (and how do you know how I live? and what gives you the right to judge how I live?), and I few more that I can't ever reconstruct anymore.
The key part of the conversation, although it weaved through and around the above gems, was the one that started with T asking whether I have heard of X, and getting up to go get the book by X because she "would like me to read it." I replied "Please don't," and had to say it several times before she understood that I meant it. From there, she got to tell me that I don't understand that she just wants to help me, and I got to tell her that I understand perfectly that she is trying to make herself feel better by making herself feel that she helped me. Is it so bad that people feel bad about what happened to you and want to help you, she asked.
The answer, although I am sure you all know it by heart, took me a good long while to get through to her. Of course it's not bad that people want to help. It is bad when people confuse genuine altruistic help with egotistical need to feel like they helped, to make themselves feel better about the unjust world by feeling like they helped to fix it. Even when in reality they haven't. Even when in reality they made it worse. T tried to defend by attacking, by implying that it's uncool of me to make people feel bad for wanting to help. No, it isn't. People who really want to help don't care what form it takes. They do what we, the people who are hurting, need them to do for us. Sometimes it's listening, sometimes it's food, sometimes it's booze, and sometimes it's kindness of delivering sensitive news in a sensitive way, or of understanding that we can't share in their joy right now. This is altruistic help, it's help for our sake. Egotistical help is where the person offering it knows exactly what we need, even when we disagree, and is going to push it on us come hell or high water, or will be righteously pissed when we refuse. This is wanting to be seen helping, to rescue us, to be single-handedly responsible for us "making it." And it only compounds our grief and pain to also make us responsible for not hurting the feelings of the egotistical helpers, because you know, they wanted to help. Therefore, I refuse this burden. I refuse to assume the mantle of having to be the model of grace and comfort for those seeking to make their world feel right again even if it means messing mine up some more. I refuse it not just because it is unfair, although it is grossly unfair, to ask us to also take care of everyone else's tender feelings, but because it helps nobody, not a single person except for the egotistical helper. But even that isn't the kicker. The kicker is that having received the confirmation of their bestest most kind and generous helper in the world status, the egotistical helper in question is only going to go on to do this again. Maybe to one of you, and maybe to someone who will come after us. Because as sure as the world goes on turning, rhythmically, evenly, without fail, even as our individual worlds stop, and then start on again, uneven, screaching, through the haze and the pain of our stories, there will be those who come after us. And so it stops with me, if I can help it. I hand out no medals, and I speak the truth.
This is why, I said, bereaved parents don't tend to tell others what to do. We say "I am here if you want to talk," or "this is what helped me," or, simply, "I hear you." We understand that there is nothing to do. This pain will not be put in a box, it won't be caged, it won't be willed away. This is the pain each of us has to learn to live with, and there is no cheat sheet for this exam. And so we abide with each other-- we offer the kindness of understanding, of encouragement, but never judgement, never solutions. Because we know that there are no solutions.
The miracle is, I got through. She understood, or, as she said, started to understand, and apologized. It took an hour and a half and left me wrung out and unable to think it all through for a while. But worth it, I think.
As long as the second part turned out, I still owe you a third. And the third has been most directly beneficial to my household. See, a little while ago, Niobe wrote of grocery shopping and writing. While I didn't comment on that post, I have been mulling it over, and I realized not only that I do feel very similarly about writing, but that I do not, to any degree of approximation, keep a fridge remotely as organized as Niobe's. So what did I do about it? Although the thought of recruiting Niobe to do my shopping did occur to me, fleetingly, I decided instead to stand up to my own deadly sin (sloth) and cleaned my fridge. Took everything out, threw away things that were going bad, or haven't been used, washed the shelves and the drawers, and arranged everything that remained with a certain degree of organization. I am still very proud of that accomplishment, and even hope to tackle some long-brewing writing projects (read: serious posts that need a great deal of thought to come out right) in the near future. Although this one took much longer and required much more concentration than I originally expected, so maybe I already started.