Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. That’s become one of my favorite expressions.
I appreciate it all the more because until very recently I was a “planner.” I mistakenly thought I was in control of my life. I subscribed to the notion that when you play by the rules, do the right things (study hard, apply yourself, vote, eat nutritious food, exercise, etc.), that when you show compassion and help those less fortunate, life rewards you with goodness.
I was reminded when infertility raised its ugly head more than a decade ago that life can also deliver badness, and lots of it. That’s when I lost what was left of my innocence. I still find it hard to believe that after we conscientiously followed all the rules that we didn’t achieve what we planned — first naturally and then with a team of experts — the pregnancy and delivery of our very own child. We each had contributing “factors” but the doctors put us in the “unexplained” category of infertility. No amount of planning was going to make a difference for us. It was futile to assume otherwise.
Two and half years ago, while I was stomping around and cursing the gods that left me barren while all around me babies were conceived easily and delivered joyfully, more badness arrived.
My sister-in-law was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Coincidentally she and Dana Reeve, both the same age, were diagnosed within weeks of each other. Neither had the conventional characteristics of a lung cancer patient. The doctors could offer no explanation. They were just unlucky. Both fought valiantly with all available treatments. They died just days and an ocean apart. They each left children behind. In Ireland, a six-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy lost their mother.
When we arrived at their house from the airport I did my best to try to keep a stiff upper lip. I wanted to demonstrate to my niece and nephew that they were far from alone. We and many others would be there to help them through their nightmare. At the funeral home my niece held my hand tightly. When we disappeared for a few minutes into the bathroom she caught me wiping my eyes and asked if I was sad. I nodded yes and stooped down to her level to give her a hug. She whispered in my ear, “when I’m sad, I try to think about other things to make me feel better.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had flown more than 4000 miles to comfort her and there she was comforting me.
Later that year she and her brother and father came to California to spend five weeks with us over their summer break. When we asked her if she liked flying 14 hours to visit us, she said with gusto, “Yes! You get to sleep whenever you want. They feed you food, and it’s an adventure!”
Their visit was a big adjustment for all involved. It was the first time we’d had that much time with children under our small roof. I came away with a new appreciation for the patience required of parents. I was at the office one day when my spunky niece was coloring at the table with her uncle. She stopped what she was doing to ask him a question. “Why don’t you and Auntie Pam have any kids?”
Without missing a beat, my dear husband responded, “Well, we tried but we couldn’t.”
My niece puzzled over the response for a minute, started coloring again and said, “well, that’s okay, because we all have each other.”
Again. My niece cut to the chase and sized up the situation in the best way she knew how. We often say that she was born without a rear view mirror. She only sees and experiences life unfolding in front of her.
We’re going to Dublin on Wednesday to celebrate Christmas. It will be bittersweet. We get to spoil our now eight-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew. But we’ll miss hearing my sister-in-law singing in the kitchen and playfully teasing her husband.
Life, as we know, is full of surprises — some good, some bad. That’s why I don’t obsess with planning anymore.
When I finally accepted this year that children were not in the cards for us, infertility tried to conquer me once and for all. I fought back. And as I did, I grew stronger in realizing that infertility’s greatest allies are ignorance, shame and hopelessness. That’s quite a force to reckon with. I’ve taken down shame and I’ll continue to battle ignorance because there’s plenty to be gained by enlightening those in the dark.
As for hopelessness, well, in 2008 I’m taking a page out of my niece’s playbook. I’m going to look ahead to new adventures because, as she said best, “we all have each other.”
P.S. I won’t be posting from Ireland as my brother-in-law has already warned me that my niece has planned every minute of our visit. Wishing you all the happiest of holidays. See you next year….