At some point in the last year, I realized the overwhelming sadness I felt with every failed attempt at conception was grief. After receiving a diagnosis of idiopathic infertility and undergoing unsuccessful rounds of fertility treatments, more grief followed. It was then that I announced to my wonderfully supportive husband, I was also grieving the loss of my identity.
In the height of my sadness, I would hear, on haunting repeat in my mind, the spoken confidence of those who believed I would do something meaningful: when someone I admired named me as “an artist to watch” while being interviewed as an important artist himself; the way my thesis advisor introduced me to a visiting scholar by bragging about how I tackled a particularly difficult text; the parting words of a classmate who expressed her eagerness to see what I would accomplish over time. I would also imagine myself as the young woman my husband fell in love with, fearless and unstoppable in pursuing her dreams, wanting with all of her heart to do good for the world.
Now, I was doing nothing remarkable. The brief pause I planned to take to make time for pregnancy turned into a full stop. I hadn’t completed new work in years, and I could no longer think clearly about anything. Instead of feeling proud of what I’d done, I felt paralyzed by what I hadn’t, unable to assemble the shattered pieces of myself into the person I had once known myself to be.
In a way, that paralysis turned my sadness into a mantra of self-criticism—Not only am I failing to conceive a child, I am failing to live up to the person I convinced everyone I was. I felt like a farce. Sometimes I considered writing letters to explain my withdrawal. I wasn’t looking for sympathy or advice, I just wanted those I cared for to know my absence was not an abandonment of friendship or compassion. I simply wanted to say, “I’m still here! I will not disappoint you, I’ve just been gravely disappointed myself.”
For too long, I believed that once I was pregnant I would be able to move on with my life, with making art, with thinking, and that in conceiving a child, I’d receive some sort of clarity on how to effect positive change in the world. This year I realized I was mistaken. I wasn’t just lost or paralyzed. I was grieving, and grief, as slow as it may be, is movement.
Through grief, I learned how blindly insensitive we can be to ourselves and to one another as women. Through grief, I realized motherhood was my true desire, not pregnancy. I learned that by no means is one’s inability to conceive a denial of womanhood or motherhood. I have recognized compassion for women who choose abortion and for those who choose to place a child for adoption. I learned I am forever grateful to have my husband as my partner. Through grief, I learned I have immeasurable love for someone I have yet to meet. The year 2017 will be defined by that love, and our decision to become parents through adoption.
Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images.