When I imagined my family, I always had this image. I was standing at the head of a Thanksgiving table loaded with food, raising a glass to offer a toast of gratitude. I look around at every seat filled with someone I love, and I see the love they have for me reflected back. I’ve had plenty of dinner parties and events with full tables, but the image was distinct because of the depth of feeling. These were not guests, they were family. They were connected to me forever. And every failed procedure or adoption pushed that dream of mine further and further away.
Having Atticus made that dream complicated, because I had to admit, from very early on, that his future was unscripted. The fact is that every person’s future is unscripted – there are no guarantees of marriage or children or health or even good relationships – but most parents don’t have to admit that until their children become independent. I had to face it from the very beginning. So, while there is still every possibility that Atticus will grow up and get married and have children, I knew from early on that I couldn’t count on it. And I was not willing to let go of counting on it.
When I’m honest with myself, that’s a huge part of the pain behind infertility to me. I want the illusion of planning a future. I want to be able to believe that I could have a child that would meet every milestone, that would happily and uncomplicatedly grow up, fall in love, have more children, and surround me with my dream. Intellectually I know that is not only impossible to guarantee, but inappropriate to put on a kid whose only obligation should be to walk their own path and not mine. But that is a wicked hard cultural norm to fight against. Not only do most people expect no less, they feel entitled to no less. If you’re a real glutton for punishment, go into some parenting group and suggest that some of those precious snowflakes will end up a disappointment. You’ll be lucky if you leave with your eyeballs in tact.
Even during our pre-Atti infertile years, I wanted to love the concept of Family Is What You Make It, but I usually just found it disappointing. We moved so much that any friendships we assembled would fail under long distance pressure, differences in life phases would take their toll, and people would usually have different expectations out of the relationship than I did. Most people don’t go through life family shopping after all. So my heart would just break, over and over again.
Last July I met up with my niece Holly for the first time in years and years. We went to lunch and told each other our life stories and laughed and laughed and when things stopped going her way where she was living we invited her to come live with us. She moved in back in November, just in time for my abdominal surgery, and then the whole rest of the shitstorm we’ve been living through.
In February my friend Jenn had a similar situation. Things stopped going her way where she was. She’s working on a startup that will result in refugees and immigrants getting access to legal aid and I believe in her and I believe in her project so I invited her to come and stay with us too. Just in time for Atti’s surgery and the whole rest of the shitstorm we’ve been living through.
In one sense it seems like the timing couldn’t have been worse. There were times that were really challenging to manage. Holly moved in not having a drivers license and needing a job and for a while there it was complicated getting her everywhere she needed to get. Jenn now works alongside me every day, her on her laptop working on her projects and me at my desk working on mine, and some days we spend all our time talking when we each had deadlines we were supposed to be meeting. There’s two more adults eating and sleeping and hanging out and that has changed the dynamic of our simple little threesome right when everything was so so so hard.
But I don’t know that I could’ve gotten through it all otherwise. For all the complications and negotiations, I also have so much more support and so much more love. When I’m having a pain day I have people who will tuck me in and bring me platters of snacks. I have more people that will talk with me through all the big decisions I have to make, who will love Atti ferociously, who will validate hard things in my past, who will make me appreciate who I am and where I’ve been, who will let me love them.
When we’ve gone through hard things before, Bear and I will tackle them like partners. One of us on house stuff, one of us on Atti stuff. Or one of us on work stuff and one of us on family stuff. We’ve had to divide and conquer. But now, we’re a squad. And when we’re all together hanging out and watching a movie together, I just want to explode with happiness, even in the midst of the hardness. I just love my team so much.
I think I’ll get my dream. Maybe just not in the timeframe I imagined for myself, but that seems to track with how my life works. All the things I have tried to claim for myself have blown up spectacularly, but the things that are brought to me are the things that last. It’s so unsatisfying that I can’t just make what I what happen when I want it and how I think I want it, but I think God likes surprises. And likes the struggle.