Time Doesn’t Heal ALL Wounds…Or Does It? A Personal Story
This may be the most deeply personal blog post I have ever written, and publishing it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. But lately, I’ve been feeling a pull to go a little deeper with you, in the hopes of helping through my more personal experiences as well as through my expertise, so today is the beginning of that journey.
Last November, on a Friday evening, my phone rang. It was my OB/GYN, calling with some test results. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said, “But you’re in menopause,” she said.
I was stunned. “Wait,” I said, “That can’t be right. I haven’t even gone through perimenopause yet.”
But the tests didn’t lie, and neither did my body. I spent that weekend crying; at times, I was practically comatose. My heart was broken. I always thought I’d have more time, and yet, I probably should have seen it coming.
I met my soulmate at 35 and married him at 36. We were never not trying to conceive. But we really never even had a “scare.” Eventually we saw a fertility doctor who said, “I’d rather you use someone else’s eggs,” thereby completely missing the point of my husband and me wanting to have a baby together. We saw a different fertility doctor who said the same thing, just four months before I found out I was menopausal. As I write these words, I still find myself thinking, “How can it even be true?”
The fertility specialists never understood that, for the first time in my life, I had met a man who somehow stirred all the maternal impulses in me, who changed me in ways that made me want to have his children, to see our combined features in the face of a child we made, to create a life and help that child grow and fulfill all of his or her potential. To them, it seemed one egg was the same as another. But they were wrong.
In my early 20s when I first discovered feminism, I told people I didn’t want children. “You’ll change your mind,” they said, “You’ll see.”
But I’m stubborn by nature. Until I actually did change my mind, a decade and a half later, when I met my husband, I lived somewhat of a double life, both saying out loud that I didn’t really want children and absentmindedly setting things aside for my someday children.
And by the time I met my husband, it was probably already too late.
I was unprepared for all of it. Unprepared for the changes in my body, unprepared for the mood swings that came, unprepared for the sense of loss, knowing I would never bear a child. I’ll never have a child. No matter how many times I write these words, I can’t quite believe it’s true. I will never feel a life growing inside me. I will never see my own eyes, or the eyes of the man I love staring back at me from the face of an infant.
The truth is, having children was always a part of my DNA. I was made to be a mother. I have the shape of a woman designed for childbearing. And despite my youthful rebellion, despite the words I said, I never truly thought I wouldn’t have children.
Until that day in November, when I couldn’t quite grasp the words my doctor was saying. I said, “Wait, but….what can I do about this? How do I stop it?” She laughed, somewhat sympathetically, and said, “Oh, honey, no…you can’t stop it. It’s happened.”
My friends were having perimenopause conversations, talking about gradual changes they were experiencing. It wasn’t gradual for me. It was abrupt, but mostly because neither my doctors nor I seemed to notice it coming. And yet, when I look back, I think I can see where some changes did happen. I can see when the hot flashes started, the ones I attributed to summer nights in the Midwest just being hot. I can see where losing weight started getting more difficult, which I cast off on poor eating habits and a mostly sedentary life. And I can see where other things began to change as well. Truth be told, I think I might have been in perimenopause for years without ever knowing it.
I didn’t have much time to grieve. Life, as you probably know, goes on. Family came to visit for Thanksgiving. Clients needed me. I had interviews scheduled for my new show. So I forged ahead, as if nothing had changed, because really, nothing had changed, except inside me. So as I worked to prepare turkey and sweet potatoes and rolls and all the other Thanksgiving fare, I tried to forget that I would never celebrate a single Thanksgiving with a child that was my very own.
Christmas passed by, and I couldn’t bear to put up our tree or any decorations. I couldn’t make the traditional persimmon pudding, a recipe passed down in my grandmother’s shaken handwriting to my mother, and passed from her in her own handwriting down to me. I have both recipes, carefully saved and preserved, now dusted with flour and stained here and there with an errant bit of persimmon. I couldn’t look at those recipes, knowing that I would never teach my son or daughter the secret family recipe.
Christmas has always been the most precious of holidays to me. Like my mother, I collect special ornaments that I assumed I would one day leave to my children. Decorating the tree is always like welcoming back old friends – I lovingly unwrap and hang each ornament, remembering the places where we found them and the stories of adventure that they carry. This year, I simply couldn’t bear to look at any of them.
It’s now February, and I still sit in my bedroom and cry sometimes, grieving the baby I’ll never have, thinking of all the “nevers” my life now encompasses. I’ll never show him how to blow the biggest bubble gum bubbles in the world. I’ll never help her open her first lemonade stand. I’ll never show him how to build a fort out of sofa cushions. I’ll never show her the world. I’ll never teach them the brilliance, the magic, the wonder of reading. No one will hear my stories of my childhood. The stories of my experiences, my life, the lessons I’ve learned, they’ll be lost when I die. And I’ll never get to see who my child becomes, how he or she exists in a complex world, whether he or she becomes a world changer. I’ll never get to meet the people with whom they would have fallen in love, or the children they would have brought into the world.
And the things to be passed down will never be passed down in the way they were intended to be. It’s not just the family heirlooms from many generations back that have nowhere to go now. It’s my existence. It’s my stories.
No one will carry on my stories.
So where do my stories go? I thought to write them in a book, then realized that my stories are locked inside my memory. They would only have been unsealed at the proper time, when triggered by some occurrence, some event with my child that necessitated their sharing, a lesson to be taught, a giggle to be sought.
Where will my stories go?
I’ve tried, in these last few months, to find a philosophical way of looking at things. It’s the way of things. Nothing is meant to live forever. You plant a seed, it grows, and then it dies. It’s the circle of life, right?
Wrong. Most plants “go to seed,” which means that the plant creates life. So that it can go on. So that those seeds can go on to be more plants. So…circle of life? Yes, but not exactly. Not for me.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone can possibly understand this kind of grief. It’s an abstract thing, that I can’t identify THE life I lost, but that I lost the possibility to create life in the first place. It’s not the same as losing a specific person, but it’s not nothing. Not at all.
So now I search for purpose and meaning in my life. I ask myself what I’ll do with the things that I saved for my children and the things that have been in my family for generations, passed down from one woman to the next.
Somehow I know that finding the answers will likely come from finding a way forward for me. I just still have to figure out what that means.
And in the midst of all of this, I fight the same battle that women have been fighting for millennia. I vacillate between shivering with cold, and breaking out in a sweat, as if I’m about to spontaneously combust. My emotions are everywhere, bringing rage, despair, and joy, sometimes all within the span of a minute, crowding out my ability to think clearly. I don’t remember the last time I got a full night’s rest. And I barely recognize my own body.
Menopause. I’ve never felt old before. I often even forget how old I am, having to ask my husband or calculate from the year I was born. But menopause is a word that somehow just makes me feel my age. And that’s something else I’m coming to terms with.
I know that one day, I’ll be all right again and I’ll feel more like myself. I know I’ll find the way forward. I have all the tools and resources to find my way through this. And I’m not pushing away the grief or trying to pretend it’s not there. I know, deep down, that the most destructive thing I could do would be to pretend this isn’t happening or to try to shove down the sadness. Instead, I’m letting it flow freely, slowly walking through it like I’m walking through water. I know I’ll get to the other side, but I can’t go around. I have to go through. To heal that which is broken inside me, I can’t numb myself to the grief. I have to let it happen.
When I lost my mother fourteen years ago, I learned an important thing about grief: you can feel deep, soul-wrenching despair in one moment, yet in the next, find yourself doubled over in laughter, the kind that makes it hard to breathe and that feels like you’ve just done crunches. It’s possible to feel joy inside of sadness, and it’s the pockets of joy that make grief bearable.
So I’ll survive. I know that I will. I know that Leo and Gus will see me through this, and that we’ll continue to have a life of great adventure. But right now, even as I know this to be true, it still feels like time doesn’t heal all wounds.