I was never sure I wanted to be a mom. In fact, for most of my life, I was incredibly ambivalent about the whole idea. I was not a particularly nurturing child, wasn't that into dolls and playing house. My heroes were the protagonists of Madeleine L'Engle novels, young women who learned foreign languages, traveled the world, asserted their independence. It was hard for me to imagine how to reconcile having kids with a career as an international jet-setter.
I lived overseas twice in college. Then I lived in Africa for three years in the Peace Corps. Then I got a Masters degree in Interpretation and Translation, setting myself up for more travel. I lived and worked in Paris for a summer. I took and passed the Foreign Service exam and waited to be summoned for my career in international diplomacy. I had arrived.
Then the letter came in the mail inviting me to join a Foreign Service training group. This happened right around the time that George W. Bush was elected to office. Foreign Service officers are mouthpieces of US foreign policy. I had been told when I passed the Foreign Service exam that it would be my duty and obligation to always support US foreign policy when working, when out in public in my host country, and, depending on where I was posted, even in my own home as my house could be bugged. The thought that I would be out in the world promoting the sure-to-be-unpalatable policies of Dubya was more than I could bear.
By that time, I was also at an age (28) when many of my friends were getting married and starting families. My social circle was shrinking as people coupled off. I dated quite a bit, usually nice, smart people who were in retrospect clearly not right for me, but it was more fun to be coupled up than to be alone. I thought about life as a single woman overseas, life much confined to the expat community. Life very far away from my family. I started to think about my priorities in that regard. I realized that a Foreign Service career appealed to me because I love to live overseas, but that I'd rather do that on my own terms, not supporting untenable US policies and with a partner.
I declined to join the training group.
Time warp. I join Al-Anon and sort out some issues I had regarding intimate relationships. I find a job that I love. I meet and marry GH in August of 2004. I cannot believe my good fortune. I almost feel undeserving of such happiness.
GH and I talked about kids when we were dating, in that abstract way. By this point, I had come to feel that having kids is for me was linked to having the right partner. I was in no way interested in being a single mom. A devoted partner willing to share the job of parenting was key for me. And I found that person in GH.
Let's be clear: I was still not super-excited about being a parent. I was deeply fearful of how kids could get in the way of things I love to do: eat out, go to the movies, travel. I was selfish. But I figured we had some time to think about all this--we'd just gotten married.
Three weeks later: cancer diagnosis. We decide to bank sperm just in case, although GH's diagnosis was so dire that it almost seemed like a waste of time. Many people with his diagnosis are dead within months. We weren't willing to accept that, so off to the bank he went.
Those early days of GH's diagnosis were the first days I recall ever really wanting to have kids. The thought that GH could be ripped away from me, gone, poof, was too much for me to bear. "If we have kids," I thought, "I'll still have him here even when he's gone." Shortly before we got married, I'd read a blog written by someone who had lost her husband and after his death was using his banked sperm to have their child. I thought it was the saddest thing I'd ever read. I've long since lost the link. Suddenly, that could be come my life.
Luckily, GH responded well to treatment. I had to have surgery to remove fibroids before we could think of having kids. So, in I did, in March of 2005. And as soon as I got to the six-month-past-surgery mark, off to the RE we went to get on the fertility train.
My motivation for having kids was still at that point based on wanting to hang on to GH. Selfish me! What pressure to put on the kids! And yet, it was my coping mechanism. Faced with losing GH, I kept going by finding a way to keep him here with me. I think that's why the whole roller-coaster of IVF was relatively easy for me to handle emotionally. I could not save GH from cancer, but I had another way to save him. That was highly motivating for me.
It's probably a good thing that during all of this, I didn't give much thought to the fact that I was setting myself up to be a single mom. If I'd thought about that very much, I don't know if I could have gone through with the IVF. Not that it was my decision alone; GH was sure he wanted to have kids and I'm glad he is getting to experience fatherhood. But there would have been a lot more to talk about if I hadn't been so blindered by my desire to keep my husband here with me no matter what happened with the cancer.
I love my children more than I ever thought I could. Just today, I was thinking about Riley and about how I used to rock him to sleep every night, and I thought about how his little warm body would feel relaxed against me and the love I had for him made me cry. But at the same time, like most first-time parents, I'm totally overwhelmed by how hard it is to be a mom. The time it takes. The decisions you have to make. The second-guessing. The anger. Yes, all that is balanced out by the smiles, the hugs, the cuteness. But parenting is harder than anything I've done in my life until now by a long shot.
And I just can't imagine doing it alone. I know that a lot of people do. They have my utmost admiration and respect. And I will if I have to. But I still don't want to. Tonight, for example, I'm going to a moms of twins meeting after the babies go to bed. GH will be home with them. If I were alone, I'd have to find a babysitter, pay a babysitter. Would I bother? Maybe. Maybe not.
I've realized lately that a lot of my angry lashing out at GH comes from my fear of him dying. I get so mad that he might leave me! Not mad at him, mad at the horrible situation we're in. I don't want to be without him, not only because I love him so very much, but also because I do not want to be a single mom. At all. Especially not a single mom consumed with grief.
I'm glad we have the twins, but I'm so scared of what's to come. In the past, I've found that what I imagine is usually much worse than what actually happens. I'm one of those people who thinks that if someone is five minutes late arriving for a dinner date, they must have been in a fatal car accident or something. What I'm trying to say is that things have a way of working out. It's hard for me to imagine how this will all work out for me. It's hard for me to trust that what's happening in my life right now is what's supposed to happen, because it feel so, so awful sometimes. I constantly have to remind myself of what I can control and what I can't, what I need to let go of and what I can work on.
I may have said this in a post before, can't remember, but it seems a good way to end this one. I have three prayers: the Serenity Prayer, "Please," and "Thank you." I find that's all I need. Keep it simple, right? I need to keep the Serenity Prayer in mind a lot lately, but I'm not often good at remembering it when I need it. Maybe writing it out will bring it closer to my thoughts:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.