CW: violence and mentions of self-harm
This morning, at breakfast with my family, I asked my father if he had a sledgehammer I could borrow. He had two questions in response. The first was, “Is this going to be like the jumper cables, or are you going to give it back?”
“You’ve told me to keep the jumper cables, like, five times, because you’re going to buy new ones!” I replied.
“Right, but I keep forgetting to buy new ones.” His second question was, “What size sledgehammer do you want?”
“One that I can swing easily but will still do a lot of damage,” I said.
“I think I can manage that,” my dad told me.
My mother, sitting beside him, listened to this exchange with clearly mounting concern, mixed with unabashed curiosity, turned to my father. “Um. Maybe you should ask her why she wants it.”
My father looked at me. “Why do you want it?” he asked obediently.
“I need to smash something,” I replied.
This answer did not alleviate my mother’s concern or curiosity. “Is this something you should maybe run by your brother?”
My brother, the cop, snapped to attention. “Run what by me?”
I sighed. “It’s nothing illegal. There is an object that I own, in my house, that I need to get rid of. Violently.”
My brother nodded sagely. “You’re going to go Office Space on it.”
“Exactly. See? He gets it,” I said to my mother.
She looked unconvinced, but she said okay and dropped the subject.
I’ll go into a little more detail now, though.
Seven years and four months ago, I decided I was going to have a baby.
Two weeks later, that plan was put on indefinite hold when my immune system went haywire and coordinated an unprovoked assault on all of the connective tissue in my body, plus my skin. Within weeks, I was in constant, excruciating pain, unable to walk from my bed to the bathroom without weeping because every step felt like knives slashing into the soles of my feet.
I have a high pain tolerance. I once walked from an apartment building to my car after falling down two flights of stairs with my foot twisted beneath me, and then operated the gas and brake pedals with a broken foot through three towns without tears. I once went to a work meeting minutes after an elevator door closed on my hand, and did not even mention the incident until someone asked me a question and I had to admit that I hadn’t heard what they said because I was a little distracted by the pain. And then there was also the time I practically had to be forced to go to the hospital with the kidney infection that could have killed me this past summer.
But this pain was absolutely bewildering.
At first, I convinced myself that this pain was a temporary setback.
Even after I was finally diagnosed with a chronic, degenerative disease, I still convinced myself that my life would get back on track once it was treated, and I could get back to my plan of having a baby.
In retrospect, I don’t think I had a clear understanding of what “chronic” and “degenerative” meant. Or how fully they would disrupt my life.
Almost exactly seven years ago, I attended a fundraiser flea market for the Catholic school where my best friend taught. One of the items that had been donated for sale was a white Jenny Lind changing table, in reasonably good condition. It was marked $10. Brand new Jenny Lind changing tables sell for over a hundred dollars.
At the time, I thought it would be a year, tops, before I would be able to go back to my plan of getting pregnant.
I went back and forth about buying it. On one hand, it seemed like jumping the gun. On the other hand, it was a really good deal. My friend’s co-teacher, a sweet old nun, saw me waffling, and my friend explained, “She’s planning to have a baby, but she’s not pregnant yet.”
The nun smiled at me. “Well maybe buying it will be how you can let God know you’re ready.”
Seven years ago, I still believed in God.
I bought the changing table. I put it in the back bedroom. I didn’t rearrange the room to make space for it. I figured I would do that when I actually had to put together a full nursery. The only “open” space for it was against the closet door. It’s pretty lightweight. Easy enough to move it out of the way when I needed to.
A couple years ago, I moved my bed into the back bedroom, too, because it’s closer to the bathroom and the stairs. Anything that cut down on the number of steps I need to take makes life easier.
The changing table is still there.
In the last seven years, much has changed. Nothing has gotten easier. A lot has gotten harder. My back hurts pretty much constantly. I can only be on my feet for 10-20 minutes at a time before I need to sit down. Showering exhausts me. Going up the stairs to my bedroom is excruciating. I need to sit down and rest after I feed my dogs. And the medication I take to keep the pain tolerable leaves me vulnerable to serious infections.
In the past month, I lost my job because of absenteeism related to my health, was diagnosed with diabetes, and had a pretty serious scare with a spot on my liver. I started several new medications, on top of all the heavy duty medications I was already taking. I am probably going to be filing for disability.
Throughout the last seven years, that changing table has sat in the back bedroom, a tangible symbol of the dream I kept clinging to, as I creep ever closer to my 40th birthday. It’s just over 4 months away now. The changing table is still there, taking up space, gathering dust, and accumulating junk, as unused furniture tends to do.
That dream has kept me anchored. It is everything I wanted for my entire life. At the end of the day, the one thing that mattered to me; the one thing I have ever really wanted, was to be a mother. Everything else – career, family, hobbies, whatever – was just details.
Three weeks ago, I realized that it was time to let that dream go. Even if I could still get pregnant, the risks have increased with every new diagnosis and new medication. I don’t have enough energy to take care of myself and my pets and my house on my own. How could I possibly add a child to that mix? I don’t know if I would even be able to carry a baby up and down the stairs – sometimes I literally have to pull myself up the stairs with both hands on the bannister to keep my knees and back from giving out.
And in any case, at this point, I think it’s pretty much a given that my genes need to die out with me for the sake of humanity.
So I will never carry a child inside my body. I will never have a second blue line on a home pregnancy test. I will never feel those first fluttering movements inside of me. No sonogram pictures, or first time hearing a heartbeat, or first cry. No feeding a tiny human that I created from my breast.
I am anchorless now. The only things holding me here right now are my nieces, my animals, and wanting to know what’s going to happen next season on Santa Clarita Diet. I can’t really think too hard about the future right now, because the idea of another 30 or 40 years feels pointless to me. I don’t want to give up on living, but the future that is available to me is not a future that I want. People say that when things don’t work out the way you want, it’s because there’s something better out there for you. I don’t buy it. I think sometimes things just suck. Sometimes the best you can hope for is the outcome that will suck the least.
I mostly manage to hide my grief and rage over being denied this simple desire that most people take for granted. I only cry and scream and bang on the walls when I’m alone.
And sometimes journaling and meditating and lighting candles are insufficient for dealing with emotions this huge. Sometimes violence is the answer. Very few times, granted. But this hurt and anger needs to be expressed.
If I could separate my self from the body I inhabit, I would take a sledgehammer to its bones. I would rip apart the joints that don’t function properly. I would stab and slice through the worthless uterus and ovaries and misfiring glands. I would exact revenge on this defective vessel for every way it has failed me. But I am inextricably bound to this corroded, rusted POS, and any pain I inflict on it, I will feel.
Meanwhile, that damned changing table is still there. There is not enough space for it in my house. It is too close to my bed; I have to squeeze past it to get to the bathroom, or go down the stairs.
It literally blocks me from going where I need to go.
I’ve thought really hard about what to do with this last symbol of the hope I once had for a future that is lost to me. And maybe I should give it away or sell it. But that’s not what I’m going to do.
I’m going to smash it with a hammer.
(PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Any comments asking if I have considered adoption will be deleted. I PROMISE YOU THAT LITERALLY EVERY PERSON WHO HAS EVER EXPERIENCED INFERTILITY HAS CONSIDERED ADOPTION. There are many reasons why it may not be a feasible option for them, or they might not be ready to move in that direction, and no one owes you any explanation for that. And for fuck’s sake, do not ever, ever tell someone who has opened up to you about their struggles with infertility that they could “just adopt.” In the best possible case scenario, adoption is a lengthy, invasive, complicated, and sometimes expensive process, and it does not fix or erase the grief that comes with not being able to have a biological child, and they are allowed to feel that grief. If someone who is experiencing infertility wants to talk about adoption, they will bring it up.)