Our hip and urban, career-driven yet salt-of-the-earth, and fantastically childless friends–we’ll call them Jack and Kelly–came to visit us for this weekend to escape the grind of New York City life and overwork. They came out on Friday, and we made it a night of wine and laughs, homemade pizzas, Pandora, and some drinks with other friends at a local bar. Kelly was determined to swim, so we planned a day on Fire Island (Kismet, to be exact…hence, in part, the title) for Saturday. Some days just feel charmed. At breakfast, it seemed the strawberries and mango tasted a little sweeter, the coffee nuttier. The wind in my face on the ferry ride over, basking on the upper deck of the boat, seemed to blow the cobwebs out of my soul. The weather hovered around a mild 80 degrees with puffy clouds to offer shade here and there to extend our time on the beach for hours on end–a swim in the sea, a nap in the sun, a smattering of B’s sweet, idle kisses, bliss. Around 5:30 we started to pack up and head down to the Inn for dinner as my best friend caught the next ferry over to join us, arriving just in time to grab literally the last table outside before the rush flooded in. We wrapped up the check in time to find a spot along the bay for a spectacular sunset, those same clouds casting ribbons of pink and coral across the sky. Soon after the sun disappeared, we were lured to the bar by the distant sounds of a Rolling Stones tribute band, where we danced until we set out to find the psychedelic art compound of a local Kismet fixture. As we stood there marveling at the macabre doll sculptures and odd paintings mounted on the outer fence, the owners strolled by and invited us in to meet their exotic African birds and to tour the property, with its outdoor mannequin garden, whale vertebrae and alligator skulls, murals, and wall of painted horseshoe crab shells. This place had been such a source of mystery during prior visits to Kismet that it felt surreal to be standing within the confines of this strange and somewhat legendary bamboo fence. It seemed the perfect punctuation to the day, so after we said our thank-yous and goodbyes, we hopped on the 9:45 ferry home and ended the night around a crackling fire pit with an acoustic jam of guitar on ukelele: perfection, seeming serendipity, kismet.
But spending the day with our friends while surrounded by families with happy, sandy, sunburned munchkins–their scampering across the beach and trilling voices–left me marinating in the concept of kismet this weekend. It was only a few years ago that I realized “kismet” was actually a word, meaning fate, from the Arab qismah for one’s lot or portion in life. I used to believe in this idea. In fact, for the first 3 years of this journey, I leaned hard on spirituality to make sense of this. Was this placed in my path to teach me something? I considered that question tirelessly at all the various stages of loss and devastation in hopes that my pain meant something, wasn’t arbitrary and pointless. Where a traditional concept of faith seemed to fail me–rules and punishment, powerlessness, humility and guilt–I turned to Eastern philosophies. My physical practice of yoga, more than ever, transformed into introspection and spiritual inquiry. Meditation, which had formerly been a method to center myself and rein in my erratic emotions, wandered more in the direction of finding my intuition to guide me through the barrage of challenging and exhaustive decisions infertility requires us to make. I saw a medium and a medical intuitive, joined a reiki circle–anything, ANYTHING, to find answers, reasoning.
One day while meditating, my dead father came to me in a vision with two toddler boys, fraternal twins, the three of them blonde and angelic on a beach not unlike the Fire Island seashore. B appeared and my father receded into the background, and we were a family. We played with our children at the edge of the crashing waves until the four of us snuggled under a big blanket against a rock, one of my boys clinging to me like a monkey–small fingers pressing into the flesh of my neck and tangled in my hair, heartbeat against heartbeat, legs wrapped around my hips, head resting on collar bone, the physical sensation of a child’s need for mother. My knees get weak with a disorienting longing just thinking about it now. At some point my father signaled that it was time to go, and I remember feeling desperate, pleading, “Not yet!” He took them one in each hand and started walking away down the beach and I begged him, “When? When will I see them again?” But he just shook his head, knowing that I knew he couldn’t tell me that. I won’t speculate now on the question of the source of this vision, whether divine or imaginary, but I know it felt vivid and important and gave me staying power, which has only served to dish up more tragedy and pain to what seems like no justifiable end. At the time, I thought it was kismet.
I have found, along the way, some answers to that question: why. As much as this strained my marriage, it strengthened it in the way bones get denser from lifting weights: they must respond to the task demanded of them or break. It cultivated in me a more mature and nuanced grasp on compassion that’s best stated by this. It forced a balance between work and life and a value on the hard-won time with my future children, which has dictated the plan for an extended maternity leave that I otherwise would have felt I couldn’t possibly take because it jeopardizes my career. It primed me for the mode of self-sacrificing love and vicarious joy essential to motherhood. But all this good stretching and growing reached its peak more than six months ago, and as this thing marches on, ugliness has begun to creep in. I feel myself turning calloused and cynical from the futility of loss. Why another failed IVF? Why another spontaneous pregnancy and loss? Why the pregnancy losses at all if I’m never going to have a biological child? The pregnancies stoke the embers of hope where it seems there is none and I should just surrender. Why rob me of the biological connection, the final blow? I know myself, my unique weaknesses, my needs, and the gaping, unhealed wound of infertility stands only to contaminate my parenting with insecurities, compromising the benefits of so much hard-earned emotional transformation. This is my lot, my meager portion, my kismet? I can’t rationalize that, so my decidedly agnostic belief system now more closely mirrors Don Draper’s characteristic nihilism: “There is no system. The universe is indifferent.” And this attempt at vacant atheism is a lonely place to inhabit. It is a war waged against the cosmos. God? I have a few choice words for him. Among them: please stop hurting me.
This is the raucous state of my soul, the cauterization of my faith, and evidence of the random distribution of cruelty and blessings swirls around me all the time. On the late ferry home, the rows of seats were filled with parents toting little sleeping monkeys sprawled across their chests. There it is again: fingers tangled in Mommy’s hair, heads on shoulders, open-mouthed sleep, wiped out from a summer day of family and sun and play. As the boat docked and everyone lined up to leave, I was growing envious and weepy over this one little boy with the most beautiful blonde curls who was just across the way with his mother in the aisle. I could see her struggling to keep the giant beach bag on one shoulder while balancing her (maybe four year-old) son. The one strap kept falling down, and after a while she gave up, but I could see she was growing impatient with waiting for other people to hurry up and get off the damn boat already. Her husband was behind her with an older child in one hand and the rest of their stuff in the other: chairs, umbrellas, and bags dangling from all sides. And I thought (for a split second) parenting is hard work, and a sweet wave of compassion rolled through me for these two, who were tired and uncomfortable but embarked on this day so they could make their children happy, the “clean” selflessness of parental love. This mother promptly shattered this romantic fantasy, however, when she violently thrust her toddler from a dead sleep into a standing position, at which point he stumbled, fell and started throwing a tantrum (shocking, I know) to which she responded by barking orders at him to stand up and put on his shoes “right now!”
This post by a fellow blogger immediately came to mind because she articulates who exactly garners the “ill will” of an infertile and why. On the list (and at the tippy top of mine) were “bad parents.” Bad parents like the junkies in the Bronx who sat next to me the day after my second IVF failure while I was waiting for the subway out of Yankee stadium, the both of them nodding off as their six month-old cooed anxiously and haplessly for their attention; bad parents like the workaholic husband and wife duo of a former 7th-grader of mine who ragged and nagged and degraded and punished their special-ed-classified son as their only response to abysmal performance because they just didn’t have the time to bother with, oh, overseeing homework or (more disturbingly) ensuring that he come home from roaming dangerous neighborhoods on his bicycle at a decent hour of the night; bad parents like my own drug-addicted, degenerate, abusive, selfish and self-destructive mother and father–was it kismet that they could reproduce and not me? Is that an act of “God” sprung from the wisdom of the divine? It certainly rattles the integrity of the minister who said at a christening I attended last year, “Children are God’s gifts to the righteous.”