People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished. That's not the idea at all. The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart. To the degree that you didn't understand in the past how to stop protecting your soft spot, how to stop armoring your heart, you're given this gift of teachings in the form of your life, to give you everything you need to open further.
--Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty
Right on time, life has delivered another one of those lessons that rips the shield right off.
This past summer, on the cusp of turning 39, I was honest with myself and my partner: if I didn't at least try to have a baby while I still could, I would feel deep regret. Being the loving, supportive person he is, he jumped on board, and we began what some would call a fertility journey. I would call it another fucking growth opportunity (AFGO for short).
For anyone out there with ovaries who has struggled through this process of trying to generate a living being in your body, I first want to say, "I'm sorry." I'm sorry we live in a society that still treats women's bodies like objects for sale or hire and happily assigns blame and shame when the baby-making process goes awry. So many U.S. blogs, books, and medical sources focus solely on what individual women need to do to make their bodies a cozy sanctuary for a new life. You have stress? Lower it! Never mind if you work in a soul-sucking institution or have a boss breathing down your throat. Just put on that cape and make it go away. And if you choose not to lower your stress and experience a miscarriage or complications? Well, that's your own doing.
For those of us who struggle not to blame ourselves when life takes an unexpected, difficult turn (and most women I know fit this bill), these messages of individual responsibility are at best not helpful. At worst, they enter our psyche and wreak havoc on our ability to protect and nurture the one life that is truly our own. Of course we need to take responsibility for our actions and choices. But we do not live in a vacuum. We shape and are shaped by our environment and the people in it. Interdependence and imperfection are the rule, not the exception, for our fumbling human selves.
I recently had my second early miscarriage. The day before it happened, I had an exceedingly stressful day at work. The self-criticism alarms started blaring and quickly rose in volume and intensity. Not only should I have handled the previous day differently, but I also should have treated my body better all the years leading up to this moment.
Thankfully, I have some really good feedback systems in place, which gave me some much needed perspective. First and foremost, I have a partner who witnessed my sadness without trying to fix it. Instead, he gently stroked my hair, listened, and was present. His only suggestion was that I not be so mean to myself. I am very lucky. I also have a wonderful doctor who immediately told me this kind of thing happens frequently and was not my fault. I reached out to some friends who have been through this process, too, and they offered loving words of support.
In addition to drawing on these and other external resources, I have gone inward and used the self-compassion and mindfulness skills I recommend to my clients. When I've asked the inner critic to step back, I've discovered several important things. For example, I see that the chronic stress and fatigue associated with years of climbing an unending achievement ladder were not consciously and freely chosen. I was doing the best I could with what I had in some pretty unforgiving environments. While I continue to acknowledge and seek to transform the numerous privileges I've received in this lifetime for no good reason (e.g. my skin color), I have stopped denying that I also suffer. So I can say and actually mean that this most recent loss was real, as is my grief about the years I spent trying to be somebody other than who I am. I thus have begun to believe for real that my ways of coping with that inauthenticity--such as working too hard and drinking too often for too long--were attempts to get through this life in one piece. Even if I did irreparable damage to my body, I can forgive my younger self for not being able to find a way to take better care of myself then and feel grateful that I am able do that for myself now.
Regardless of how this AFGO turns out, it has already opened me. And that is a gift, despite the heartache included in the wrapping. For all you wannabe parents out there, I wish you ease and enough space for all parts of this experience. To borrow again from Pema Chodron, “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."