Sometimes no matter how hard you try, or wish, or work, and pray, dreams don’t come true. So what do you do then? You pick yourself back up. You fix your lipstick, you put a comb through your hair and you move on to something new... a new dream, a new project, a new task. You keep walking and climbing and falling and standing back up and trooping on. It doesn’t mean you don’t cry, or that your heart didn’t break, or that you aren’t angry or frustrated, it doesn’t mean that you don’t hurt…it just means that you pick up and you keep trying…sometimes leaving what was behind, and looking for what may be instead.
This is what it feels like with my 18 year dream for a family full of children. It is compounded by the well meaning and the nosy who have been asking…all…these…long…years…”Sooooo…do you have kids?”, “Are you going to have kids?”, “Are you sure you tried everything?”, “That must be so hard for you?”, “I couldn’t do that, I would want to die if I didn’t have my kids.”, “You’re not really a whole woman if you’ve never had children.”, “Oh, that’s so sad for you. I don’t know what I’d do if I hadn’t had my children.”, “Are you sure you’ve done everything you can?”, “Are you pregnant yet?” And any number of other things. What they don’t understand is that from the kindest questions to the rudest statements, it’s still probing an open wound and it still stings and throbs every time they want you to talk about it and give the vaginal-uterine update. There’s so much they don’t know and so much they don’t understand.
They don’t know about the crate that sits in the space under the house full of little clothes that you have bought and saved over the years as you wished and hoped and dreamed. They don’t know about the little dresses, and feetie pajamas, and hair ribbons, and basketball shorts that sit unused and with their tags still on them. They don’t know about the little blankets and quilts covered in baby animals and tiny flowers, washed and waiting for a little body that never came.
They don’t know that sometimes you open the crate and you take those little things out, and that in the beginning you imagined a little person of your own in them and that you could picture their sweet little face with their tiny nose and rosebud lips and kissing them and singing to them and loving them, or that in the middle of this journey that you hoped so hard for a little person for them, and that most recently, now towards the end of this time, of this dream, you wonder if you should just get rid of them all…but even though you almost do, you can’t quite bear to part with them because there still is the tiniest chance. And so you put them back in, and you close the crate and you tell yourself that you have other things to do like cleaning the bathroom and making dinner and that you don’t need to be looking through the trappings of dreams that have almost vanished.
They don’t know about the crafting nights with other women and friends when you made file folder quiet games for church for when you hoped you would sit together in a pew as a family, with quiet books and cheerios to help shush and pass the time. They don’t know about the family activity board for chores and assignments, or the flannel board you made and all of the Bible stories to go with it. They don’t see the cheap little photo albums that you turned into books with pictures of Jesus and animals and children to teach them about God’s love for them and the importance of family and love and obedience.
They don’t know about the little toys and the teething rings or the few little stuffed animals that you just couldn’t pass by. They don’t know about the children’s book collection that you started with thoughts of reading out loud to a lapful of little warm children that were yours, or that you disguise it as something that is just for the nieces and nephews…because that is what it slowly turned into.
They don’t know that you saw an advertisement for a series of porcelain plates with little children painted on them as angels…and that thinking you would have angels of your own…you bought the series and that they came to you in foam and light and are signed by the artist and have certificates of authenticity. They don’t know that when you looked at the one with twins, a boy and a girl, that you thought that could be you, you wished it would be you, and that you knew it would be you and you smiled every time you took out that plate and looked at it…excited to hang it, with the rest of them, in a nursery someday soon. The box sits quiet now, closed, dusty and you don’t look at those plates anymore. You’ve thought about giving them away but can’t think of anyone who would dream with them the way you did and so you leave them be in the quiet of the garage. They are remainders of you from the past.
They don’t know about all of the research and reading and studying you did about breastfeeding, healthy eating, disciplining and training children. They don’t know that you thought about public school vs. private school vs. homeschooling and that you went to conferences to learn more. They don’t know how you thought about education and enrichment and college and grandchildren and growing old with little children hugging your legs while you made a giant Thanksgiving dinner, or watched their faces as they opened Christmas presents, or ran in sprinklers.
They don’t know about the name books and the lists you made to the point that you thought “I love all of these names!! I’m going to need to have 25 kids just to use them all.” And that you laughed at yourself and that you were having fun in the dreaming and the learning and the growing. They don’t know that you sometimes still look at those names in old journals and notebooks and that when friends and family talk about not knowing what to name a baby or that they are stuck for names for a newbie that has already arrive, that you quietly suggest some of your second tier favorites…but never the first tier because maybe…maybe.
They don’t know that you’ve imagined yourself in the hospital going through the end game experience with your husband and that in this dream you are both so happy and can’t believe that the miracle actually happened and that everything finally came true. They don’t see what you see as you hold your new baby together as a new little family, laughing and weeping at the same time in disbelief. They don’t know the life that you know you’ve missed, and that you don’t know how to make it right because it is beyond your control. They don’t see it turn to mist and fade to black. They don’t know that you have woken up weeping. They don’t know that you have dreamt of countless babies and small children through the years that you found and saved and thought were yours but ultimately realized in the dream that they were not yours to keep but just to care for and that you woke up and got ready for work and went on with a day because what else can you do?
They don’t know about all of the exams and the probing and the medicine and the calendaring and tracking and timing and the science of trying everything you can to create a human being. They don’t know about the naked humiliation of having person after person after person looking and probing and shining giant lights and injecting fluids and taking x-rays and ultrasounds of your most intimate parts. They don’t know that you come away some days feeling like a test rat from all of the touching and probing, with needle marks in your arms from all of the blood drawing, or feeling sick because of months and months of medicinal treatment that try to trick your body into all kinds of performance. There is no magic to it because it becomes formulas and routines and schedules but you don’t care because you have become a maniac. You are a crazy woman. You know every nuance of your body and you track every difference, every change, and every twinge because maybe it means something.
You find in the end that maybe it did mean something…but it also meant nothing because here you are…changed but the same childless woman that you started out as with an empty uterus and no warmth or wiggling in your arms from a little creature that is yours and ours and pink and alive. You have not propagated the species. You have given your husband no children to love and to carry on his name. There is no one to teach or to train, to love and to make you laugh, to make you scold and put in time out, or to be proud of as they grow into fine human beings. You remain two where you wished for so much more.
You learn to tolerate it, to smile, to be thoughtful and kind, and to not snap back at people because they don’t know, and they won’t ever know…because this is your cross that you carry. It’s your cross with the heartache, with the pain, with the regret, with the frustration, with the sadness, with the loneliness, with the personal blame of a broken body that should work but doesn’t. You carry all of it, and you cry in your closet so that no one else will see your sorrow and your sobbing despair…because there is nothing to be done about it.
And so you step up from the dark at the back and the bottom of your closet and out of your shoes you knocked off of their rack when you fell to your knees in crying despair calling out to God to provide a balm to your broken and battered heart, and out from under your dresses and blouses and pants and coats that are in your hair and on your face where you rocked against them in your heartbroken weeping, out from the comforting embrace of the smell of your own perfume all around you, and back into the light of the room.
You unfold yourself and stand back up. You wipe your tears and blow your nose, and fix your makeup, cooling off the pinked eyelids and brows, fix your mascara streaks, powder your face, brushing your birds nest out of your hair. You look at yourself in the mirror, at the sad, sad face that looks back at you, and you choke back your last sobbing at the broken heart that you see in your own eyes, and you tell yourself to get a grip, to get a handle on it, to be glad that you are alive, to be glad that you can breathe, that you have love, that you are healthy and that you have opportunity. You tell yourself that you are grateful for flowers, and trees, and birds. You’re thankful for oranges, and limes, and strawberries and bananas. You tell yourself that you are thankful that your butt is chunky because it means that you have food in your home and in your belly. You tell yourself that you are grateful for a husband that is your best and dearest friend, and that he loves you and wants you and appreciates you and doesn’t care that you can’t have babies because this thing doesn’t define who you are, because you are bigger and more than the things your body can or cannot do, and that this thing has never changed his love for you.
And then you realize that even though your dreams of being a mother of many children…or at this point…even of just one little human…didn’t come true…and that the window is closing…that you are happy, and loved, and warm and that you’re going to be o.k. even if your plans didn’t work out the way you thought they would.
You realize that you have a bigger love in your heart than you did because of your own suffering and struggling, and that it helps you to love the other humans on the planet all the more. It helps you to understand heartbreak and sadness in all of its guises more poignantly, which in turn helps you understand how to be a greater comfort to others, how to love them more, how to give and embrace with greater sincerity and light. It teaches you that even with regret and unrealized dreams, even with tragedy and surprise, life marches on, that it is spectacular, and glorious and full of color and light.
Sometimes dreams don’t come true, but without the bitter there can be no sweet, and so you walk on embracing the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the ups and the downs of this human life, of this human experience and you learn to love yourself for all the things you are, and for all the things that you aren’t, and that you are a good woman and that this is enough even though you wanted so much more not realizing or knowing that you already are so much more.