Initially I balked at the idea of grieving. Remember we’re talking about infertility here and RJ and I had apparently ordered up the complicated barren variety. Having witnessed the losses of beautiful lives, both before and after birth, it felt wrong to grieve something that was only an idea. Those losses that I’d seen were so painfully legitimate; there was someone there and then he/she was gone. It felt selfish to claim a nebulous feeling of loss in the face of such awful longing. My inclination was to say “Yes, I am hurting, but I’m not hurting that much.” Or, “Losing nothing isn’t even worth mentioning in the face of losing a life that had barely begun.” But loss there was and as I sat on that familiar therapist’s couch and set out to increase my self-awareness, a veritable cavern of intangible losses opened wide to greet me.
Perhaps the discriminating discomfort of grief relegates her to last-resort status on the emotional awareness menu, but because grief has found a permanent place in my soul, I’m learning to read her cues and speak her language. She has become a surprisingly valued ally in my journey through life. Grief’s teachings, far from welcomed, eventually forced a certain self-awareness that opened the door to light and insight. As I first made her acquaintance, I realized that my grief was different and unique to me, which is something that could be said of all of us. Once I claimed sadness as my own and made grief my companion, I realized there was ever so much relating that could be done. In terms of children, I was shedding tears about an unknown quantity alongside dear friends who missed their babes with a different kind of knowing. I think the most poignant tears were (and sometimes are) shed over a life turning out vastly different than what was expected. I grieved a loss of control, feeling helpless in a situation that affected so many facets of my life. There was relational loss, the inability to take on a role I’d always relished. Marital naivete was yanked out from under us and after only a few short years together, our abilities to relate and cope would be refined in intimidating fires. As I endured the pain of grief, I eventually developed a vocabulary to talk about it in ways that respectfully connected me to the grief of others and helped me realize how universal many of those aforementioned losses are.
As RJ and I slogged through the icy, isolating waters of our infertility, we met some specific losses that we learned to claim as our own; the possibility that we may never know each other as a father and mother, the loss of social connection as years went by and babies were born to others, but never to us. It is hard to know that you don’t understand how most of the world operates. It’s hard not to be able to relate to your sisters and brothers and friends and cousins as they plan families and immerse themselves in the business of creating and cultivating children. It’s hard to admit that opening a baby shower invitation is akin to getting the wind knocked out of you. It’s hard to feel jealous and angry and anxious when you want to feel excited and happy and peaceful. It can be a lonely, all-encompassing and very misunderstood place.
Cultivating emotional honesty has helped me set boundaries and learning to be authentic about both emotions and limits keeps me humble and helps me see my progress. Up until the aforementioned day, I had relied solely on prayer, fasting, and the covenants I have made with God to help me manage the growing emotional balance I was carrying. In effect, I was asking heaven to take the emotional debt I had racked up and pay it in full. Please don’t misunderstand, I had many, many beautiful, grace-filled moments where my balance was paid down in response to my faith-filled devotion. But I had long ago relinquished any valuable control of the situation (and consequently it’s outcome) and left the healing in the Savior’s hands, confident that I would be relieved of the burden I carried when He decided I was done. I had asked “Why, me?” and “Please take this” and finally I figured it was my job to wait patiently with faith until the answer, the time, the whatever came and my circumstances changed taking the emotional toll with them. As someone who has experienced the answer “Be still,” I know this is how the Savior works sometimes so this made sense to me. But in this instance, I had hit a fairly substantial wall and without His direct intervention, I was left to consider that He may work in other ways too. I began to wonder if I had fully utilized all of the resources that were available to me as a soul with the opportunity to make choices. I now wonder if He was compassionately and patiently waiting for me to see that He had given me the opportunity to have a say in the outcome this time, to take part in writing this story as opposed to just playing a role that was handed to me. Could it be that He was offering me the chance to work with Him to better understand my agency and mortality and to learn more about myself in the process?
Once I surmised that there was a more creative role available for me to play, my thinking changed and I began to see different ways to navigate this physical and emotional burden with Him. And now, instead of waiting to to know Him when He eventually rescues me from my accumulated debt, I learn about Him as I see the way He shares the journey to solvency with me. There are times when He feels so close and the weight of my struggle is small and I catch a glimpse of us working side by side towards the same ideals. Sometimes I can only faintly grasp the principles He teaches and see them employed in my behalf. Then there are other times when I am left to work alone for a while and my soul recognizes His absence. I can move forward based on what He’s taught me, relying on my ability to choose resources to help me on my way coupled with the Spirit, which helps me discern between viable options. And then there are other times when I distractedly wander off and I have to pick my way back to Him and make myself familiar with our work again. Ultimately, I knew then and I know now, that the emotional and physical aspects of this struggle are things He can heal. The beauty is coming to me as I witness His hand and personality and see my own soul with more clarity as He helps me play a conscious part in creating something from these ashes.
One afternoon almost six years ago to the day, RJ and I sat side by side on a tweed loveseat in our reproductive endocrinologist’s office. We had just completed (another) battery of tests to shore up our diagnosis in an effort to help us chart a course through infertility. With the sun blazing in through the slanted shades, we sat together with anger, despair and disillusionment between us as our compassionate doctor reviewed our options. Towards the end of the conversation, having observed the tears sliding down my once-hopeful face, our good doctor made the following observation, “Mrs. Miller, I’m sensing that your emotional credit card is about at it’s limit right now. I think it might be helpful for you to talk to someone. Before we begin, I’m going to need it to be at zero balance because we’re going to max it out with these procedures we’re talking about.” Beyond all semblance of composure, I took in his kind smile through blurred eyes, nodded and with feelings of both defeat and relief, took the psychologist’s card he offered me. That moment, filled with so much sadness and hope, would initiate some of the most profound healing I have ever known.
This ties into boundaries next time. I promise.
I was really nervous when I first mentioned the idea of staying home to my beloved RJ. I was talking to him on the phone as I drove home from my job as an administrative assistant when I threw caution into the wind and brought it up. We’d only been married for 3 years and it was still just the two of us and I knew the idea of unnecessarily living off of one income sounded ridiculous. I still consider it a blessing and a mark of his character, that he responded with thoughtfulness as opposed to disbelief. As we contemplated plans for our upcoming move and his first “real” job we knew we’d be strapped with a house payment and probably a car payment (unless I walked everywhere-which ended up being something of a reality for a while) and who knows what else. But we had high hopes that our sweet blonde child would be on her way to us soon so we decided we didn’t have much to lose and I would test the homemaking waters. We both liked the idea of one member of our household being “available” and as I filled my days with caring for our home and for RJ, I was grateful for the opportunities I had to offer time to other people as well.
As the months and then years wore on and there was no change in our family situation, I began to think that perhaps I needed to do more helping and maybe that would somehow heal the cavernous and deepening void in my soul. I threw myself into service with a storied zeal and decided to try the Savior’s invitation to lose myself in His service. I wondered if perhaps there was something I needed to learn or do or become that would somehow qualify me for this blessing I was so desperately seeking.
There was joy in the opportunity to bring relief to others and I realized that mothering takes many forms. But like many mothers, I began to slide my needs further and further from my consciousness as I sought to respond to the beck and call of everyone else. Eventually this started to wear on me, but because I am stubborn and have always been a big believer in faith, I determined that I simply needed to cultivate more faith in order to manage the increasing demands on my time, strength and emotions. Eventually (and fortunately) this approach landed me in the aforementioned psychologist’s office, tired, disillusioned, resentful and really sad. As I worked through the mountain of hard things I’d accumulated, the idea of personal boundaries kept resurfacing. Apparently I didn’t have any. Not even one to speak of. I could do pretty well keeping boundaries other people set for me (religious, familial) but my boundary-setting skill-set was still sitting unopened, perfectly shrink-wrapped in a distant and forgotten corner of my brain. Fortunately this wise woman seemed adept at assisting lost souls like mine and she began to help me see a few places where I could get to know and then reclaim myself so that I might more fully offer myself to others. At this point, anxiety abounded and I was desperate for any help so I wasn’t about to turn up my nose at her counter-intuitive advice. And I felt like there was truth in her words so I had hope that somewhere along the way the ideas would align themselves with the promise the Savior offered. During the years that have followed, as I’ve gotten more comfortable with the idea of saying no sometimes, I can see the beginnings of a beautiful and different fulfillment of His promise.