Borrowing from the Future

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.


29 thoughts on “Borrowing from the Future

  1. this is a really excellent post, sharah, aching with insight and candor. I think you’re on to something pretty significant here. thanks for sharing this.

  2. I read this a few days ago & keep coming back to it, trying to think of something pithy to say in response. I think I’ll just echo what everyone else has said. It IS a seriously awesome post!! ; )

  3. Hello, I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and have decided to come out of my lurky cave to tell you that this post is brilliant. By the end I was a sobbing mess. My husband and I were handed grim news 7 months ago and I guess you can say we’re living an “involuntarily childfree” life as well. I have submerged myself in hobbies and home improvements, telling myself that I should be ecstatic that I have the time and resources to do what I do. I lie to myself saying how much I love a good night’s sleep or a quiet evening with my husband or just recently, how thankful I am that I could stay in bed for 2 days sick as a dog and not have to worry about taking care of child. It’s all a big fat lie and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.
    I know the feelings you have shared here and I am so thankful I found your blog. You are not alone today because as I sit here and write this, I too think about that fulfilled life; the one I can’t have and the one I’m trying to live.
    Your faithful reader, Alison

  4. Wow. You’ve captured so much here with such insight and feeling. This is exactly where my head and heart were in my earliest days reconciling the treatments that left me longing and counting backwards and trying to imagine what would have been…all amid the silence. It does get better I promise…

  5. This is one of the most amazing posts I’ve ever read. It is completely brilliant and I have returned to read it several times and I can still only say that I am moved beyond words.

  6. I understand, I am listening, this post was well wow. I am right there with you this is barren Christmas number 5. One day I hope and pray you and I will get there to the baby filled Christmas.

  7. Wow…what a brilliant, totally heartfelt post. I hope there is a day when you don’t have to borrow or create happiness anymore, you just get to experience it.

  8. I have thinking this very same thing lately. Thank you for putting it down to words. The man made celebration period is getting tedious. We spent so much money on stuff and drinks and going out in an attempt to make our life full that I am sick of it all. It is exhausting both financially and emotionally to buy happiness. And what happens when their is nothing left to buy?, nothing left to fix? nothing left to taste or try? Then what? Do you start over?

  9. Wow, oh wow…. I’m over from the Roundup and incredibly moved by this post. I realized, just the other day, that, after 7 IVF attempts, I can no longer see that future. I try to picture that baby in my house, or my parents with my newborn, and the image doesn’t come to me, when, it used to come so easily. Perhaps this is why. Perhaps I’ve borrowed to the point where I’m so in debt that nobody will lend to me anymore. Wow, you’ve certainly given me something to think about…

  10. This post is so insightful, accurate, and moving. I think you’re correct in your “dropping off the map” explanation. I like the idea of the happiness debt. People don’t know quite to say when concepts and definitions of happiness change, by plan or by fate.

  11. Wow. So well said and what an amazing post. I feel somewhat like this is exactly what I’m struggling with right now. With another failed IVF that I had felt so sure would work I’m left feeling adrift and not sure how to move forward. Fantastic post. Thank you.

  12. Very insightful. I was recently thinking along similar lines–we have been trying since our son was 4 years old, and I know that sometimes I did not appreciate what I had versus what I imagined.

  13. This is an incredible post on so many levels. You have articulated so clearly what my life is like with 3 failed IVFs under my belt. I am so here with you – 4 years, trying to buy happiness and distractions, the infertilty math…all of it. This post moved me to tears. I too keeping coming back to it over and over today. I am so glad Mel posted it in the Roundup. The debt of happiness theory makes so much sense…thank you for sharing!

  14. Mel’s Roundup brought me here, and I’m very glad that she shared your post with us.

    This is an absolutely beautiful post. Thank you for so perfectly putting into words what so many of us feel.

  15. I just have to echo what others have said – Spot on!
    It’s been about four years since we started trying to. I threw in the towel after failed IVF #2 this past summer. When I think about it in the terms in which you put it – I decided I refused to continue borrowing happiness. I want to experience it as it comes today and not continue to pull it from a future that I’m not even sure anymore if I truly wanted it or if I thought I wanted it because society conditioned me to believe that’s how it’s supposed to be therefore that’s what I should want…
    I’ve pulled myself out of the f’ing cage and refuse to sit there pushing that goddamned lever another minute! I choose to LIVE and enjoy what I have. I guess you could say that’s my get-out-of-debt plan. 🙂

  16. Brilliant. Amazing.

    And now I’m wondering about the reverse of the concept — the idea that all the sorrow I’ve borrowed, imagining my life of grief will come due one day as well.

  17. I felt all those same things in our four year journey to become pregnant. It is amazing how so many different people have so many of the same feelings when it comes to infertility. And, there are still people out there who just have no idea what a struggle infertility really is.

    My husband and I decided to adopt. And, we are thrilled to have our son. But, I still mourn the loss of a pregnancy and still hope upon hope that someday it will happen for me (us).
    I recently started a not for profit,

    Our mission is to provide financial and emotional support to those starting families through adoption and medical intervention.
    Please visit my website and pass the link on to your circle.
    I appreciate the help.
    Erica Walther Schlaefer

  18. This absolutely hit the nail on the head for me, I remember this very well. I’m not sure the answer is not to do it, though, isn’t it part of the human condition to hope?

    Thinking of you.

  19. A bit belated, this comment, but this is so well written. Christmas is especially hard for me, seeing everyone else living the future that was supposed to be mine. And we haven’t even exhausted all the options yet, but it’s still a painful wishing.

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