Confession: I’m a NPR junkie. So I was listening to this story Friday morning on the way to work. Go ahead, read (or listen), it’s a cool little snippet in and of itself. But what really struck me was the very last line:
“It was borrowed from some rosy future that never came. And now we have to pay it back.”
And it hit me, hard, that this is the exact same thing that happened to me (and, I imagine, to many of us) when I ran headfirst into infertility. When I met Manly, when I got married, when we started planning to have a family, I started borrowing happiness from the rosy future I envisioned. I could see us with a blond, chubby cheeked little boy — I imagined him in his father’s arms, playing baseball, sharing excited Christmas mornings, getting married. I could see myself pregnant, big belly waddling through family events, sharing the joy of an upcoming grandchild with my parents and cousins. I expected a future full of the happiness that comes from giving birth and bringing your child up in your family.
It didn’t happen. It may never happen. Here I am, four Christmases into our struggle to have a child, still catching myself thinking, “Maybe next year …” And all this time, my future has been steadily turning into the present. Each day, each sunrise, brings another day that I’ve already borrowed happiness from. If I had actually gotten pregnant within the first 3 months that we tried, I would have a 2 1/2 year old right now. If I had gotten pregnant within the first year of trying, I would be thinking about what to buy for our second Christmas with a toddler. Instead, I’m sitting here contemplating having a glass of wine before we go out to dinner and the house is absolutely silent save for the sound of Manly upstairs taking a shower.
I’m going to propose a rather broad generalization here: I think the reason that involuntarily childfree infertiles seem to drop off the map is because we are forced to start paying back the happiness debt that we incur while we are pursuing treatment or adoption. We believe so deeply and so fervently that those experiences are going to eventually bring us happiness. We have to visualize the payoff in the end in such detail and to such an extent that when it doesn’t work, we are forced to realign our expectations for what the future will hold. And for years after treatment ends, we are still sitting here, faced with our dreams of what life would have been versus what it actually is. Every day that passes is a reminder of what we had hoped for and that all our hopes and hard work were for naught.
Faced with a debt of happiness, I know I have spent hours and hours trying to create enough happiness in real time, so to speak, to fill the gap between what I expected and what I actually got. We (and I mean the very specific we of Manly and myself) have made a fantastic attempt at buying happiness. I have spent so much money in the last year that I am a little disgusted with myself. All the toys, all the home improvement, all the distractions are as much an effort to create the level of joy I expected to have already as anything else. The stuff is just … stuff. And after enough of them, the parties start to ring a little hollow. Hobbies grow a little tedious, and the walking route around our neighborhood is so ingrained in my mind that I don’t even see it sometimes. The days of work and school eventually wind down into darkness, and I’m still left lying in bed, trying to convince myself that this is enough, that this life we have is as fulfilling as the one I imagined.