The change in the change

It has been weeks since I felt untethered. Weeks since I crumbled into emotional dust. Weeks since I hated what I was becoming but couldn’t stop becoming it. I don’t know if the worst is behind me or still to come, but for now, I feel great. I think I may even be better than I was before: calmer, happier, more stable, more focused. I care less what people around me think and more about what I truly want.

So then why does walking through my neighborhood at 5:30, when the mommies are out in full force, pulling their kids toward home, still shake me at my core? Yesterday I went from feeling great to feeling dark in the course of 30 minutes and 15 Brooklyn blocks. It makes me crazy to feel invisible – a woman not admitted into the club everyone else belongs to – but I don’t think that is the real story any more.  There is a deeper reason why I can’t let the crazy feelings go, why I can’t stop the stabs of envy and sadness. It’s because with parenting, like so many other things, I did what I do so well – I walked away.

Why do I have so few friends from childhood, college, my 20s? Walked away instead of hanging in. Why has my career been a pinball machine? Walked away instead of challenging myself to grow. The first marriage? Walked. And why am I not a mother? Because I repeatedly gave up when the process of getting pregnant got too tough. When charting wasn’t working, I stopped — didn’t even try Clomid or acupuncture or anything my infertile ladies who really wanted a baby did — and told myself I couldn’t do it without Jeff’s support. Honestly, I was scared of failing and feeling alone and guilty for the one time I was pregnant and had an abortion. And later, when I wanted to get pregnant with Tom and discovered a (completely benign) brain tumor was reeking havoc with my hormones, I walked away again because I was scared again. This time of truly wanting to make a life with the man I love and not being able to do it. The fear of disappointment stopped me cold.  And the adoption? Another post for another day, but suffice it to say that if I really wanted to be a mom, I would have a child today. No question.

Walking away has been my defense against getting hurt, being left out or left behind. Of being disappointed or realizing I really am the nothing I think I am: unworthy and uninteresting and unlovable. That might be it. I walk away from love (of friends, of a child, of partners, of my potentially best self) because I don’t think I am worth any love. And I want to make sure to be gone once people realize that. So what now?

What normal feels like

Today was a good day:

  • I didn’t cry
  • I didn’t get angry
  • I stayed focused at work
  • I sounded smart when I spoke in meetings
  • I felt smart when I spoke in meetings
  • I didn’t panic when the subway didn’t move for a few minutes
  • I wanted to exercise when I got home and actually did
  • I was nice to Tom
  • I didn’t compulsively shop
  • I didn’t feel paranoid
  • I felt generally calm and happy

I was me again. For the first time since my perimenopause symptoms started in earnest, I felt normal. I remember this person! I like this person and I WANT HER BACK!

My first instinct, as soon as I realized a whole day went by without feeling crazy, was to catalogue everything I did in the past 48 hours to see if some little thing could be the magic cure. Yes, yesterday was an exceptional day spent wandering the property, gathering dandelions and self-heal for medicinal oils, and I did discover a crazy dark blue beetle in the yard called the American Oil Beetle that I researched and then dragged Tom outside to teach about. Maybe the freedom to wander and learn new things was the thing that made today, today. Or maybe it was the angle of light when I took Rabito for a walk this morning. Or maybe it was a convergence of energy. Who knows and who can know? If I put my hopes in something as a cure, I will only be disappointed when it doesn’t work. Perimenopause doesn’t seem to be anything curable, only endurable. And perhaps treatable.

To have a day like today gives me hope that I will not disappear during this hormonal potato sack race. I am still me, I’m still in there. I can get through this!

Note: I wrote this on Tuesday. Today is Thursday and I am so pleased to report that I continue to feel strong and positive and calm. Three days without crying or rage or paranoia! Hurrah, huzzah.

Look up and smile

My friend Alexa was in town from South Africa a few weeks ago and tried looking up and smiling while here. It’s a brave thing to do, looking up and smiling, especially when in New York, where eye contact alone can be viewed as (1) an invitation or (2) a threat, but she wanted to see if it made a difference, so she did it.

It isn’t lost on me that she tried this while on vacation, not in her hometown. Tourists look up anyway, showing excited, expectant faces to the locals hurrying past them. They are taking pictures, figuring out street signs and searching the eyes of the people walking by for some bit of recognition. I am no different. When I used to go to Paris, I watched everyone, hoping to see a flash of outfit approval from a real, live French person. On a recent trip to Mexico, I was much brighter, much more curious and friendly than normal (but not too curious and friendly because all-inclusive resorts still have a whiff of “I never thought this would happen to me…” about them). With nothing to lose, it is simpler to put yourself out there, but no less scary. No less brave.

Alexa had a great story to tell from day 1 of her experiment. She was walking down a street in SoHo, consciously looking up with a smile on her face. Halfway down the block, she heard her name called. “Alexa?” She turned around and saw a man she’d known in New York more than 30 years ago. After a squeal-filled reunion, they went to a cafe to catch up, where she asked him how she recognized her from across the street, so many years later. He told her that he didn’t recognize her at first, but instead noticed a confident woman who was radiating lightness. It was only after he saw her that he realized he knew her.

Confidence and lightness were beacons, preceding her down the street and drawing people to her. How amazing is that and what a great lesson for all of us! When you look down, or furrow your face into your own head, the universe gets nothing and no one sees you, simple as that. And sometimes that is what’s needed to survive . I’ll admit to weeks where I focus downward and inward, even though I know I shouldn’t. I know it’s bad for my soul, bad for my posture, bad for my life, but you can’t shine outward always.

But when you can muster the bravery, give it a try. Even if it’s just when you walk down the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s, look up and smile at the air around you. It does no harm and may be the first step in a long-overdue reunion.

Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day and I am rising above my sadness. Two years ago, I was sure that I would be well into being a mom by now. Last year, I thought it was still a possibility. This year, I am at peace with not being a mother, but I dreaded the day. There are no greeting cards or brunches for the “almost” mothers.

There are moments where I feel the absence of a child acutely. The other morning, while walking Rabito, a little boy was in the park with his mom. “Mommy…mommy…mommy,” he said. His mother said, “Yes, love?”, and I felt the loss deep in my belly. You could hear that she was his universe  – that she was the sun and moon to him – in the way he called to her. To know that I am not going to be on the other end of that love is sometimes painful. Not always, not usually, but sometimes.

It has been less than a year since Tom and I decided not to pursue adoption, and it has been a journey of acceptance that continues to unfold. I am so grateful that we went through the process and tried to become parents because, though it didn’t end up the way we thought, we bared our hearts to the Universe. To want something so much, to love a phantom, to dive into the unknown — these were gifts from Spirit. And to not break down or break up when the phantom didn’t become a reality and the dive was into dark, thick helplessness made us better partners and nicer human beings in the long(er) run.

There were a few months where I couldn’t look at parents walking down the street with their children, and in my baby-filled neighborhood, that was a problem. It seemed so unfair – so arbitrary – when I passed a heavily pregnant woman pushing a stroller holding a sleepy toddler, strolling next to her husband who was holding the hand of an adorable four year old going to dance class. Why her? Meanwhile, Tom and I had our little girl waiting for us in an orphanage in Moscow, but Putin had made it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children, so we couldn’t go get her. And later attempts to adopt domestically felt forced and fake and not right. We had our daughter and she was taken from us before we got to love her. I was filled with resentment and envy and didn’t think to ask Spirit for help.

The good news is that Spirit doesn’t particularly care. Help is there. I didn’t get over my resentment, but I accepted it. It was unfair. It was arbitrary. It was also the path I was walking, and after a while, wanted to stop fighting. I had every reason to be resentful, but no business holding onto it. What good does envy do, out in the world? What good does bitterness do for a marriage? A friendship? Unbeknownst to me, Spirit planted the seeds of change inside my furrowed head. Lately, instead of wishing I was the mom, I try to be more supportive of the moms around me. I let myself laugh when I overhear a funny thing a kid says on the subway. I ask, “Do you have kids?” at cocktail parties — something I never did before because I didn’t want to have to answer the inevitable, “Do you?”

And that brings me to today. Mother’s Day. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I want to celebrate the women who rise as moms every day, those who continue the struggle to try and become moms and those who have found peace in childlessness. We can all shine by showing compassion for the others, whose journeys are different than our own and live the lives we may not have seen coming but have been gifted.