Life is filled with disappointments. My father often commented on this and the importance of making one’s way through life’s trials with equanimity and good humor. I find that more and more I’m able to challenge my long-held belief that I deserve to be disappointed, that life’s obstacles and misfortunes are punishment for my being, that I don’t deserve to have things go my way. There is not some cosmic conjurer in the sky smiting me and intentionally inflicting impediments in my life. I get that. Still, as my dad would tell me, life is fraught with misfortunes, setbacks and even outright failures. What he didn’t tell me was what to do with the residual feelings left by those difficulties.
Emily and I have just sustained one such defeat and I’m finding I just don’t know how to “sit with it”, as the Buddhists would say. I’m all jumbled up with negative, lousy, painful feelings. And I don’t know what to do with them. I’m angry and sad and frustrated and disappointed. But maybe I should back up a bit. Because honestly, even some of my very besties have no idea what I’m talking about.
So, a few years ago Emily and I were getting ready to have another child. It was during this time that Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer and, of course, the baby thing was put on the back-ish burner. At least for me it was. For Emily it was the carrot dangling in front of her, getting her through the difficult surgeries and the lengthy arduous treatment. Having another baby was the pot of gold at the end of an execrable journey through cancer. Instead of lamenting her situation or giving in to self-pity, Emily charted a course to a new life. Quite literally. Because she couldn’t carry a baby herself (a result of the chemotherapy et al), she went in search of a surrogate. She had her eggs harvested and fertilized before she began chemo with just this intention. I thought her chances of finding a surrogate in our price-range was, like our price-range, slim to none. But she was determined. And, with hope and faith and doggedness in her research, she found someone. Someone whose easy pregnancies and deliveries and altruistic nature emboldened her to consider being a gestational carrier for someone less fortunate. But Emily’s embryos were not hale enough or some such thing and they did not implant in this generous being. Emily was disappointed, but determined. Undaunted, and with this gracious womb at her disposal for a little longer, Emily went in search of embryos. Again, I assumed her chances were exiguous. But again, my resourceful, persevering wife, found a couple on an online moms’ group who had embryos they weren’t going to advance themselves, as they had the number of children they’d been counting on. Generosity, humanity and serendipity all coming together. The gestational carrier (and her husband) were still on board. The cast of characters was growing daily. I participated in a happy blessed fog of disbelief. How amazing was this?! What felt like thousands of meetings and appointments followed. Rules and regulations had to be established as there is no history of anything quite like this scenario. Literally, this all took years. But finally, the embryos were thawed and one was inseminated. And she was pregnant.
And in the blink of an eye, our lives changed. Our hopes and dreams and budget altered to embrace and enfold a new entity in our lives. Perhaps Emily would let me name her Hatshepsut?
At a little over 7 weeks, just a few weeks ago, Emily went to an appointment with the woman carrying our baby and through ultrasound saw images and heard the strong sure heartbeat. We were elated. We. I was right there. Even though I’d gone into this whole adventure with dubious conviction. With that tiny grayscale photo, my heart was full-throttle in it. We talked of little else in the ensuing days and weeks: diapers, bedding, childcare, who and how and when to tell, and plans and hopes and dreams. And names. Emily said no to Hatshepsut. But I didn’t really care. It was all so exciting. There was so much to do.
Emily and Nina went to Chicago this past Friday to visit a friend whose father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I’d dropped them at the airport at an ungodly hour. So when, a few hours later, I saw that Emily was calling, I assumed she was calling to let me know that they’d arrived safely for their weekend adventure. In a dull, dry, husky voice Emily simply said, “She’s having a miscarriage.” I almost had to ask who. I fired sharp, abrasive, accusatory questions at her. I tormentingly forced her to repeat over and over that the baby was dead, that the surrogate was miscarrying. She’d begun to bleed the night before and when she went to the doctor in the morning there was no heartbeat. Just like that, the alternate blink of the very same eye. And our lives were changed again. And we’d never even gotten the chance to meet her. And we’d never even gotten the chance to share the love that was so bubbling up and over and all the joy and gratitude that this tiny being, this microscopic heartbeat, had engendered in us. And we didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.
I was stunned by the fury of my emotions. After all that, after all the machinations, after the outpouring of generosity, all the lives intertwined, after overcoming so many obstacles, after letting ourselves dare to hope. Dangled right in front of us and then taken away. After Emily endured so much without complaint or even a whimper. Unfair bordering on cruel.
So I am sad. And angry. And I feel ripped off. I feel duped. I dared to hope and those hopes got dashed. I feel taunted. Look what you might have. But you can’t. So malicious. So like the message my mother taught. I’m disappointed as hell. And my heart literally feels broken with pain for Emily. And I don’t know what to do with all these feelings. What am I to make of all this? I’ve tried Tonglen. And while it doesn’t seem to be helping, at least it isn’t hurting.
Farewell Hatshepsut, perhaps I will make your acquaintance some day.