« Truth in advertising | Main | Vocalizer Bunny »

06/10/2005

Imperfectly normal at last

This is not an original idea, but I am reiterating it to help myself believe it: women who are mothers after infertility are just as entitled as anyone else to find it all a big motherfucking drag sometimes.

I spend a lot of time in self-flagellation (and not the fun kind, either). I feel like I should be better equipped to handle it when Charlie is difficult to please. I feel that infertility should have magically endowed me with an incorruptible shield of patience, a constant mindfulness of our good fortune, an unwavering gratitude — in short, an inexhaustible wellspring of goodwill toward the child I worked so hard to have.

But it hasn't, and it kills me. When I have to leave the room lest I speak harshly to Charlie, it's not anger at him that propels me. After all, he's a baby; it's his job to get on my nerves when his needs have gone unmet. No, it's bitter disappointment in myself, sometimes verging on disgust, for not always knowing his needs, for not always being able to meet them, and, I'll say it, not always wanting to meet them.

I'm not always the parent he deserves. The guilt of knowing that is punishing. Is it no more than the same guilt every mother feels? I don't know, but I do believe infertile mothers put enormous pressure on ourselves not only to be exemplary parents, but to love or at least appreciate every minute of it.

We do it because we know how difficult it was to become mothers at all, and we do it because of every unthinking acquaintance who reminds us, "Well, you asked for it," and we do it because we know that there are millions of women who would give anything to have what we do, relentless screaming and all. I am always aware that if I complain, even here, where I feel more comfortable than anywhere else, I'm surely hurting someone.

That's not normal. But then in most ways, infertile mothers aren't. We couldn't enjoy — could barely endure — conception. For many of us, pregnancy was a time of white-knuckled fear instead of pastel-tinted joy. And a lot of us were blindsided by complications, bed rest, hospitalization, traumatic births, and an unusually difficult newborn phase.

And that's why we should try to liberate ourselves from that special kind of guilt we carry around. We couldn't be normal before, but now, as we feel frustrated or exhausted, as we find ourselves only half as competent as we fantasized we'd be, as we realize we're loving only every other minute of parenthood, we are finally perfectly normal.

I wish I could say that being infertile, losing pregnancies, and having such an eventful pregnancy and birth prepared me in any special way for the everyday challenges of being a parent. No such luck. In the end, the struggle doesn't make us perfect and it doesn't make us saints. It doesn't make us anything but mothers.

Comments