June 11, 2008


Unhappy, Unhappy...
You have no complaint
You are what you are and you ain't what you ain't
So listen up, Buster, and listen up good
Stop wishing for bad luck and knocking on wood
   ---John Prine

This has been such a huge part of my emotional well-being for a very long time, but I couldn't say anything out of respect for my friend's privacy. But now that CaliValleyGirl has given birth, I can write about it.

Back in January 2007, I told her that we'd decided to start a family. She said, "Hey, maybe we can be pregnant together!" I laughed appreciatively, but in my head I was thinking, "What on earth is she talking about? She doesn't get married for another eight months; I'll practically be finished by then!"

Little did I know that she would beat me to every single punch.

When she told me that she had gotten pregnant on her wedding night -- on her very first day of ever trying, when I'd been trying for nine months -- she destroyed my heart. Destroyed it. It took a lot of self-convincing to let go of my bitterness and to decide to be happy for her. It took every last drop of my might to even talk to her.

About a week later, I found out I was pregnant too.

We spent three months having so much fun: comparing notes, discussing morning sickness, and being pregnant together. So when I had the miscarriage, I lost more than just the baby; I lost my battle buddy. My world stopped but hers kept going. The day they took my dead baby out of me, she had her first ultrasound and found out the sex. Every additional day of her pregnancy was a reminder of where I would've been if my baby had lived.

And for a long time, I hated her again.

Eventally I learned to be apathetic about her pregnancy. I could listen to her stories of the baby kicking and the ultrasounds and how her clothes didn't fit, but always with detachment. I had to shut my heart off in order to do the normal things that friends do, like be excited for a pregnancy.

But apathy is not the same thing as happiness. It took me a long time to be genuinely happy for her. Until I ended up pregnant again, with a thankfully-still-alive baby, I still had a very hard time with it.

And don't freak out: she knows all of this. She's been wonderful in letting me be honest.

I'm glad they had a baby; if a baby has to be born in this world and it can't be mine, hers is an excellent household to join. But it's also a horrifying reminder that I would be giving birth right now too. And I can't help but be jealous that something I worked so hard for, for so long, came so easily to her. I've tried hard to stamp out that jealousy, but it never quite extinguishes.

I tried hard to choose to be happy for her. I knitted for her baby and tried to trick myself into being happy. But the trick didn't seem to be working very well.

Then one day, I had this revelation about myself. I recognized what I wanted to feel when I was listening to a lecture on the history of ethics, in a discussion of the Socratic revolution. (Yes, I'm a dork; I listen to lectures on ethics for fun. Stick with me here.)

Socrates answer to Apollo's question "know thyself" is that the self is the soul, the inner self, the personality, the character. That's why no evil can ever happen to you, why bad people can't harm good people. Evil that happens to you comes from outside and can harm only your body. The only evil that can harm your very self comes from you: folly and vice. No one else can make you foolish or vicious, and no one else can make you wise or virtuous. Not society but you are the master of your fate; you are the captain of your soul.
So "know thyself" is the key that explains the paradox of evil. Evil cannot just happen to the true self; it can only be freely chosen by the self. And if happiness comes from goodness, from having a good self, then happiness cannot just happen either. It is chosen. We are responsible for our own happiness. And that's why no evil, or good for that matter, can just happen to a good man. Because the man equals the soul.

And to this day, I just have to keep reminding myself that I am what I am and I ain't what I ain't. Happiness is a conscious choice. But it's a hard thing to choose every day when you feel like your happiness is so fragile and other people's happiness is coming more easily to them than it comes to you.

But I just need to keep remembering another part of the lecture:

The first line of the most popular book in Buddhism, The Dhammapata, goes something like this: All that we are is determined by our thoughts. It begins where our thoughts begin, it moves where our thoughts move, it ends where our thoughts end. If we think thoughts like he hurt me, he stole from me, he is my enemy, our life and our destiny will follow that thought as the wheel follows the axle. And if we think thoughts like he cannot hurt me, only I can hurt myself, he cannot steal from me, he cannot be my enemy, only I can be my enemy, then our life and our destiny will follow those thoughts.

It's hard not to envy others' happiness. I have to work on it every day. It's gotten easier since I got pregnant, but that's not entirely satisfying. I don't want to be happy for her only because I now too am happy. That's crap.

Frankly, I'd say that the worst thing about it taking me a year and a half to get pregnant was that I had to confront all these horrible parts of my personality that had been hidden. I had to see how ugly I could get. I hate that, I hate that I had to see it. And I hate that I couldn't ever 100% make it go away. I worked hard on it, but I don't think I ever conquered it. I just got pregnant in the meantime and the thoughts went away. That's not satisfying.

Most people say that life's challenges made them a better person, that if they had to do it all over again, they would. I wouldn't. I have honestly hated the last year and a half of my life and would never choose to do it again. I think it made me a worse person. I was already judgmental about pregnancy and motherhood; this has made me ten times worse. I had strong opinions about who was fit to be parents two years ago, but now...watch out. You got pregnant accidentally? Get out of my face. You don't want to be pregnant? Shut up. You can't provide for your child? You're a disgrace.

And yes, even You got pregnant on your first night of marriage, after I'd been trying everything I could think of for nine months? And you get to keep your easy-as-pie baby while mine has to die? Go away for a while, please.

I'm a bitter, judgmental jerk. I had to learn this because I couldn't get pregnant.

I am my own worst enemy.

Conversely, I must sing the praises of my dear friend CaliValleyGirl. She missed out on a good part of pregnancy: sharing it with your friend. She was protective of my feelings and guarded with her stories because she didn't want to put any salt on my wounds. And she let me bitch and moan and say that I deserved to have a baby more than she did.

She was perfect, and if she's half as patient and understanding with this kid as she was with me, she's going to be an awesome mother.

So that's my 9-month learning experience. I would be giving birth this week if our original baby had stuck around, and CaliValleyGirl and I would be embarking on a new journey together. But now, instead, she goes before me.

I had to learn the pregnancy lessons the hard way. But at least CaliValleyGirl can learn the parenting lessons the hard way and then have good advice for me once I finally get to motherhood too.

Congrats to my friends, the new parents.

Posted by Sarah at June 11, 2008 08:10 AM | TrackBack

Sigh. I just wanted to say that I know those feelings. I know them, like I know my own face. The best thing I can think of to say is that in my experience of life, things that did not come easily were more precious, more of a treasure to be thankful for. I most certainly feel that way about my daughter. It has made me a better parent, of that I have no doubt.

Posted by: dutchgirl at June 11, 2008 09:58 AM

OK, you may not like what I'm going to say, and everyone will understand that.. but... you found out you are NOT perfect, you are human, and that's not an easy thing to face. I'm sorry it happened in such a lousy, horrible, painful way. BUT - it needs to happen to each of us. We need to look in that proverbial mirror and really see who we are. NONE of us is perfect. NONE of us doesn't feel envy, hate, prejudice, pain. Even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said he feels them, but he acknowledges FEELING them, it's what you DO with those feelings that shows what kind of person you are.

Your anger and pain are logical, are understandable, are HUMAN!! don't beat yourself up with this. Understand why you felt it, understand how you dealt with it. Learn, appreciate CaliValleyGirl's patience and beautiful friendship for what it is. and be kind to yourself. You came through a long journey and are starting another. I hope that it will be a beautiful one.


Posted by: LAW at June 11, 2008 10:30 AM

But if you had a baby this week, your husband would miss the birth.

Posted by: Gina at June 11, 2008 11:50 AM

Thanks, LAW. That actually did make me feel better. It's not the feelings, it's what you do with them.

It's funny because for me, blogging is like going to confession! I need to let it all out, so I am accountable for both my feelings and also what I choose to learn from them.

CaliValleyGirl once said that she didn't think that she could keep knitting for all her friends if she had been the one to lose her baby. But that thought never really crossed my mind. You just keep on knitting, and someday it will be your turn.

Keep on knitting...

Posted by: Sarah at June 11, 2008 12:48 PM

Have you considered therapy? I can recommend it highly from personal experience.

Posted by: Anwyn at June 11, 2008 01:37 PM

Isn't LAW wonderful? She's also very right.

Here's another secret to motherhood (which is how I know you've already started the journey and that you're going to be extraordinary at it): you learn horrible things about yourself all the time. Especially when you're doing it right.

You find the ugliest parts of yourself, but at the same time, you'll discover incredible strength and beauty that you didn't know about, either. Motherhood is a gigantic leap into "knowing thyself". And with every new development--whatever "success" or "failure" it might be--you learn more about your own mettle. So far, the process hasn't stopped (and I don't expect it to). My oldest child is 5, my stepdaughter is 7.

In time, you may be able to look back and appreciate the road that you've had to take. That time will probably be when you are holding your new baby, and you realize that you wouldn't have him or her without the experiences leading up to that moment.

You're doing a fine job, and your willingness to see your "ugly parts" just proves your strength.

I know you'll want to slap me, but for some reason this makes me smile... I see how far you've come and how much you've grown in this time, and even though it was horrible and difficult, you're still going. I'm not smiling about your struggle, but about your ability to press on. Besides, you have a few more months to laugh at Cali when she's not getting any sleep and is learning all those early motherhood lessons from hell.

Posted by: Sis B at June 11, 2008 02:23 PM

Ok, love the Socrates lecture... its one of my favorites.

You are too near what happened to see it differently. You may not appreciate the growth experience until WAY past it. (I call them AFGO's - another f&^king growth opportunity)

I am happy that you are a big enough person to admit ugly feelings. Own it girlfriend!! I've done it (admitting to friends who were happily married shortly after my marriage failed) and my friends were cool enough to understand. They actually tell me now that they respected me more for admitting to the ugly green monster.

She goes before you for a reason. You will still learn together. A year difference in children's ages seems like a lot at first. Then, later, you'll have similar stories to share and laugh (and cry) about!

You rock. I love your blog.

Posted by: Tonya at June 11, 2008 04:02 PM

I loved this post. It's one of those posts I wish I could bookmark like my college textbooks to go back and look at later when I'm in need of it.

My husband and I had our own experience with the green monster when I found out my college roommate was pregnant this last winter. At that point, over Christmas, we had been "trying" for 6 months with no luck, and I got an email from her, recently come back from her post-college trip around the world; miss adventurer, who didn't know if she wanted marriage or kids ever, yet let herself get pregnant by a native guy she fell for on Vanuatu while she was playing pirate and helping deliver medical supplies to the islanders.

When I got that email from her, I was shocked. I didn't know what to think. By the time she told us and all of her friends back home, she was 5 or 6 months along, and had obviously dealt with her own insecurities and decided to be happy about it. I wanted to be able to support her, as she is my friend and I knew she would need it, but a part of me just hated her for being irresponsible and for getting pregnant accidentally when we had done everything "right" and were having no success. My husband's reaction was even worse than my own. He had never met her (as she had been off globe-trotting by the time I met him), and his opinion of her character dropped to nil instantly. The fact of her accidental pregnancy when we wanted a baby so badly sparked the biggest fight that he and I have ever had, and probably ever will have, mostly because I didn't want my husband to believe my friend (and by extension, me, for being friends with her) was as immature as her actions proclaimed (somewhat illogical, perhaps, but both of our emotions were going haywire).

All of this happened less than a month after I found out that the first of my cousins on my Dad's side to have a baby also got pregnant out of wedlock. We had been hoping to have the first great-grandchild on either side, as my only other married cousin had said they were waiting a few more years. One of my other friends from college had also just given birth to a well-deserved and beautiful baby girl.

I remember how hard it hurt, and still does when I think about it too much. I didn't respond to my globetrotter friend's email to wish her luck until after she gave birth in April; I couldn't. Every time I saw her name I thought of both my evil feelings over her baby and about the huge fight I had with my husband. It took a lot out of me to think of even trying to pretend to be genuinely happy for her.

It's easy enough to get over it when you don't know the person, but it's ever so much harder when it is a friend that you're jealous of.

So yeah, I just wanted to say that I, too, know those feelings, and hate them. I guess it's something we just have to learn from.

Posted by: Emily at June 11, 2008 05:54 PM

Sarah, LAW is so right: feelings are just feelings; it's what you do with them that matters. And what you have done with them is extraordinary. Bravo for how you have conducted yourself these last nine months! While our circumstances are different, you know how much I understand some of those feelings, and I wish I had dealt with my situation as well as you have yours. You are amazing.

Posted by: FbL at June 12, 2008 12:35 AM

Hey, not to steal your thunder with The Dhammapata, etc., but one of the players on Gossip Girl told her daughter "The choices you make now make you the person you are. So choose wisely." Wow, who knew Gossip Girls could be so deep! See, you could have stayed home from the lecture and enjoyed a nice TV show with a moral message! Hah!

Posted by: Oda Mae at June 12, 2008 01:47 AM

honey - I don't knit, I crochet! you need to teach me HOW to knit.


Posted by: LAW at June 12, 2008 08:32 AM

Wow, this post is making me cry my eyes out. Learning to recognize and acknowledge the worst in ourselves is the biggest and most important step in personal growth. It is also the HARDEST thing to do. Sometimes these lessons can take years to understand. Sometimes we never understand them at all.

I'm a firm believer that all things happen for a reason, or as Tonya put it, those darned AFGOs (I am SO adding that to my lexicon!). As horrible as losing your baby was, it has definately been a huge opportunity for you to learn, and to appreciate where you are now all the more.

I think you are an awesome person. Your level of maturity, insightfulness, and understanding just blows me away, which is why I come here every single day.

Thank you so much for the big ol' 2x4 cluebat upside my head this morning. I really needed it. You rock!

Posted by: MargeinMI at June 12, 2008 11:27 AM