The Misadventures of Kai and Pixel »

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My Future Infertility

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For some reason, I was combing through my old computer files today and I found this piece that I had written in about 2000. It is a really interesting (and somewhat ironic) view of my life at that time, pre-Andreas, pre-Kai. This piece never saw the light of day back then, but those were pre-blogging days. In any case, I thought that it might be interesting to my family because it is about my grandmother and my visits to the Kensington.

I visited my grandmother last weekend. She lives in a seniors’ residence in Victoria. It is not a nursing home, and the residents are in fairly good health. My grandmother, recently widowed, eats dinner every night with 3 other women. They are nice women who have nothing much in common other than their need to use walkers and to avoid spicy foods. Still, conversation at that table is never trivial. There are collectively over 250 years of stories to be told, countless grandchildren to be praised, and a new meal to be commented upon. I am never bored eating with these four women.

Eating dinner at their table, it occurred to me that the art of living does not, as we are often told, involve eating the correct daily portions of the four food groups, exercising regularly, or avoiding the excesses of alcohol and drugs. Life is rarely so straight-forward. Eating well does not prevent the untimely death of a 6-month-old child to crib death. Exercise cannot alleviate the frustration of years of living in a small town where no one understands your desire to skinny-dip in the nearby river. A distaste for alcohol can never justify your husband’s reluctance to speak of the things that he cared about. The women at my grandmother’s table bear the scars of life’s irrationality, healed, in each of the four women, to varying degrees.

Living well, I realized hearing those four women tell their stories, has something to do with learning to resist the bitterness which threatens to overtake us with every disappointment that life offers us. Every unrealized dream, every dead lover or child, every sacrificed talent can lead us to the irreversible conclusion that life is incredibly unfair and that we — god damn it! — are one of those unlucky ones who got a raw deal.

In the presence of these four lives almost completely lived, I have begun making a list of the things that I have accomplished in my three decades of life. Let’s see: I have had 14 jobs. I have completed two university degrees and aborted a third. I’ve seen most of Europe, learned a couple of languages, had two serious relationships. But primarily I have just wallowed in a decades-long identity crisis, certain that I haven’t quite yet found the right way to live my life.

Most of my existential angst is symptomatic, I believe, of my times. Nothing too extraordinary about a Gen-Xer who can’t quite manage to make up her mind about where she wants to be. And to be honest, I suspect that my perennial dissatisfaction with the possibilities of my life are most likely the longings of a spoiled, middle-class kid who has had it pretty good. I try to convince myself that there is nothing much in all my suffering which would or could result in any long-term bitterness. I am just a little lost, right?

This is all part of my elaborate effort to “ignore” the one very real source of potential anguish in my life. When I was 25 years old, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a gynaecological disorder which, among other things, causes severe pain and dramatically increases infertility. Like most women with endo, I suffered through the years of misdiagnosis until the pain got so bad that I had to insist that its cause be uncovered. My mother cried when I was positively diagnosed. As a nurse, she knew that endo quite often ends in a hysterectomy. At that time, I didn’t really understand her distress. I was simply relieved that I wasn’t dying because, to be honest, given the amount of pain that I was in, I wasn’t sure that I would make it to my thirtieth birthday.

Among the tangles of my mostly-trivial angst, it is the possibility of my future infertility which threatens to disarm my insistence that I have it pretty good. “You’ll be making decisions about this disease for another 20 years.” “Best to start to think about having children as soon as possible.” These were harsh words for a 25 year-old who envisioned before her a decade and a half of childless success and achievement, punctuated ultimately with the establishment of nice, happy, socially-conscious family. They are a harsh memory for the thirty-one-year-old who still can’t make up her mind what exactly success and accomplishment entail, who is still single, who is stalling at the idea of getting a cat because you have to feed it at the same time every day, and who is honestly, truly, incredibly proud that she has made it this far without owning a car, a condo, or any mutual funds.

This is my life: my biological clock is connected to the monstrous bomb of infertility which may or may not be a dud. Maybe I will conceive a child without difficulty. Maybe I will be subjected to years of infertility treatments which result in no success. This predicament feels, I must say, very unjust because, despite my restlessness, I think that I would manage quite well as a mother. There are many much worse candidates for motherhood with abundantly fertile bodies, and they will never once understand or appreciate what a special gift they have been given.

There are times — like when the insistent tug of menstrual cramps drains my day or when I am awoken by the pain which reminds me that my body isn’t the way it is supposed to be — I am tempted to allow the bitterness to overtake me. Why am I the one who ended up the faulty reproductive system? Why am I the one who has to deal with the heart-break of a potential childless future at a point when I am not ready, financially or emotionally, to deal with the reality of a child?

My grandmother told me a lovely story this weekend. One day as she was walking home, overburdened with groceries and her two young children, a neighbour commented that she must be the most fulfilled woman in the neighbourhood. This is a bit of a starling thought for a woman of my generation. After all, we were raised in a climate when many women were exploring other choices and breaking down the sexist barriers which had legitimatized only very few life possibilities for women. Spending time with my grandmother, I realized that this comment was not, as I suspected, simply a product of the logic of those times. I have realized that my grandmother has a special talent for living well. Although raising four children was, without question, a difficult task, although living with my grandfather — at times a difficult man — must have been challenging, she has wasted very little time regretting the choices she made or despairing in the path which life has offered her.

Eating with my grandmother and her three companions and hearing their stories of life’s rewards and disappointments, I know that there is, in reality, only one wise path for me to choose as I begin my fourth decade. I could allow the frustration of my imperfect body to overwhelm me and the resulting bitterness to colour the rest of my life, or I could resolve to accept life’s inherent irrationality with grace. No, it won’t be easy if it does turn out that I will not be able to have my own children. No, it won’t be particularly fair, just or even logical. But it will be my life, and despite my generational angst and physical discomforts, I quite enjoy living. I hope that someday, as I walk down the street overburdened with squirming children and heavy groceries, someone will comment that I must be the most fulfilled woman in the neighborhood. But if this does not come to pass, I hope that one day I will eat among companions, the survivor of a long life, and know that I have vanquished the one thing that could have tainted my life with ugliness.

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