I want only to get through my one hearing this morning in the fastest, easiest way, but when the District Attorney shows up and wants to flip through photos of her newborn while we wait for the Judge to appear, I am forced to accept that it is going to be one of those days where things do not work out.
“He was my huge tax break,” she says, as she flips through photo after photo of a chubby dark-haired baby intent on figuring out what the plastic ball on the front of his play chair is all about. I am forced to do the non-committal “Oh, really,” as I nod in tandem to the flip-flip of the photo album, and attempt to hide all emotion from my face, least I appear rude. I am not particularly friends with this person as is, and yet, perhaps because I am a woman or perhaps because she simply does not care, it is presumed that I will enjoy this discussion, the evidence of her fertility and the “life of a parent” talk that follows it. I check the large clock on the conference room wall and will the Judge to arrive on time.
I did not have any huge tax breaks this year. I did instead have a mental breakdown over the weekend while doing my taxes. It had been a difficult year, no one would deny that. I went through two surgeries, and numerous procedures that meant days and days of being out ill from work and then full blown FMLA leave. Even now I continue to miss work days. Even now I continue to not feel well. This is no surprise, least of all to me, and yet when I opened that W-2 and saw the tangible impact of illness, something in me broke. The actual cost of being sick: about $12,000 less in pay.
MJ listened patiently to my crying, printed tax forms in hand, my W-2 tragically not water resistant. I cried while declaring that I was worthless, literally. I did not make enough money to get by without his help. I did not contribute anything to the household this past year. And it is not very far for my mind to turn focus and fall into sadness over all the other things I do not contribute to, the other things I do not make. I can’t make money, and I can’t make babies, and some days I can’t even make it period.
Sometimes it seems like at the heart of everything that upsets me is the infertility. It can be unrelated, like finances, or a difficult work day, and in the end the crying and sadness will come back to: why can’t I get pregnant? Why is this happening to us? I don’t know if it is really that infertility has washed a pallor of sadness of me that then taints everything else, or if, more likely, that when a door to sadness opens for whatever reason, the longer I stay in the room, the further I venture in and look around, the more inevitable it will be that I remember the sadness of infertility and that sadness then trumps whatever brought me there in the first place.
Back in my office, hearing done, I find a thank you card on my desk from the last baby shower I did not attend, but did, perhaps out of guilt, overspend on, sending multiple gifts in my absence. I happen to really like cards, as they fit into my love of old etiquette. I hope for something touching as I open it, maybe recognition of how hard things are for me and a thank you for how generous I was. My delusions are nothing if not grand and self-important. The card has a single thank you and one line about how the future child (already named and with feelings as if it has come into the world on the sly and is informing her mother of her views on each present) loves the gifts. I remember that the world does not revolve around me and my issues, only I do; only me, the one who can’t seem to move on or even beyond. I am instantly embarrassed.
I have one of those work days in which you seem to be constantly busy but getting nothing done, and the stress starts to pile up until I am both irritated and on the verge of tears each time some new obstacle develops. I feel short on the phone with clients, and petty about not wanting to cover a co-worker’s case, despite having relied on their largess in covering me for my many illnesses. I continually open my weekly calendar and look at each day with frustration, the same hearings back to back, the same meetings, the same obligations. I am hoping somehow that it will change, that the next time I open it; the days will be clearer and easier, and less stressful. It does not happen.
I am trying to find a way to look at life differently. I am trying to find ways to snap out of it, to not think about infertility all of the time, to not be sad so much or upset so often. But today feels like I’m stuck in quicksand, unable to do much of anything but shuffle my feet and count down the hours. I think about the old cartoon version of The Phantom Tollbooth my brother and I would watch over and over as kids, and the scene where Milo gets stuck in the doldrums – a literal doldrums with muddy earth and dark, dank scenery and blobs that sing you slowly into a laconic daze. I am in a doldrums of sadness. Mine is mostly blue and has lots of pillows, and there is no singing, because for some reason silence has become a great comfort to me of late.
I sit in my office in the afternoon and work on a motion hearing, some letters, and preparing a sentencing. I also look out the window a lot as snow falls. The street outside my window is now mostly filled with the dirty half-melting piles of slush that used to be fluffy snow before the many cars came along. The cars parked on the side have dirty streaks of brown liquid dried on their windshields and nearly black chunks of snow hanging from behind their tires. Winter is always beautiful for a moment, always magical and full of promise until we start to go out and move around in it.
As I watch the snow fall, no longer so much pretty as it is adding to the dirt and inconvenience of living through winter, I wonder if I ended up in the doldrums because of my day, because the second that photo album opened I lost my will to endure, or the second my infertility showed up in my mind, the sadness was too much to reign in. I wonder if the day brought on the doldrums or if I just woke up there. If I would feel this lost regardless of whether that hearing had gone on time, or that thank you card had been long and meaningful. I wonder too if I am just always there, always in the doldrums and it is only that some days I manage to visit the world of emotional maturity for a daycation. But mostly, I wonder if tomorrow will be better. I wonder if tomorrow I will get out of bed in a good mood, and if my hearings will go well enough, and if I will leave the doldrums for something approaching peace of mind, be it for a day or a month.
I wonder a lot how other people learn to live with this, and if it’s the infertility that has made me this way, or if this is just who I am. I hope the later is not true. I hope there is a path out of the doldrums, like there was for Milo, and that it leads to wondrous places, where fertility doesn’t matter and snow never becomes slush. Where illnesses heal and thank you cards are works of literary genius. Where music is beautiful and where I am not the person I am today.