Today is Ely’s “inside-out day.” She’s been on the outside as long as she was on the inside, not counting her time in the deep freeze before that (that is, it’s 40 weeks and three days since she was born. I understand that pregnancy is technically counted with a two-week bonus, and so I should have written this two weeks ago, but it’s a symbolic date anyway, and I have that 40-week idea so firmly in my mind that it’s my symbol and I’m sticking to it).
I’ve read that the body takes fully nine months to heal from pregnancy and birth, and that we all should give ourselves the grace of that, so I guess I’m at the end of that grace period. But I’m not really healed up, quite yet.
For one thing, IVF is different from regular pregnancy, and no one tells you that (I asked the doctor. I found out later that there is a lot of research to say that IVF is vastly different from a spontaneous pregnancy. But that is not what the doctor told me at the time). My hormones are still a bit of a trainwreck. I don’t feel normal yet. With my own babies, I remember feeling like a fog was lifting around the time they turned two. But the way I feel now is very different from how I felt when I was caring for an infant. Not foggy. Maybe the opposite, but with equal intensity?
I have a lot of complicated feelings about all of it, really. I’m happy I did it, but I’m not as done processing it as I keep thinking I should be by now. That’s not good or bad, it just is.
I keep forgetting how recent it is. I sat by a family with an 11-month-old at church last week and thought how tiny that baby is, how great her mom is doing for only having had a baby less than a year ago. And then I remembered–Oh, right, Ely is even younger. I also had a baby less than a year ago.
We recently had our annual meeting at church. Since I’m council chair, I organized the meeting, including the slideshow, which had pictures of all our congregation’s new babies (14 of them!). As I was watching the part where we showed pictures of all the little babies, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t included Ely. She’s not part of our church; her little squeals don’t join the chorus of our worship. But I’m part of our congregation, and in part, this slideshow is a marker to mothers that we see the work they do to bring these lives into the world. I didn’t even think of whether I should have included Ely. It wasn’t a decision. But I feel strange about it, when it struck me in the middle of that meeting. I would have felt strange including her, too–I’m sure most of the congregation would have wondered who that baby with the unfamiliar name was. But I was one of the fifteen women who gave birth this year, and I didn’t acknowledge myself. Most days I don’t think about it at all, I’m just living my life–my life that does not include diapers and nursing and screamy all-nighters. And then something happens–I notice how I’m still not as stable as I’d like to be in dance class, or someone asks me to tell them about being a surrogate and it slams into my brain and I think, Oh, right. I did that. It’s not bad, exactly. But I’m not okay yet either. I thought I would be more healed by now.
I am so happy to know that she is growing and healthy and that Natalie and Logan are enjoying being parents. I had such a hard first year of motherhood, it’s easy to forget that it can be enjoyable. I remember feeling bad for people when they announced pregnancies, back when Silas was a toddler. I thought, “Oh, they are in for it!” But everyone’s life is different, and most of them did better than I did. I remember at certain points in this whole process thinking, “I like Natalie and Logan–how can I do this to them?!” but they are managing much better than I did.
I’m still very much in mourning for the relationships that have changed because of this unusual pregnancy. Only a very few relationships in my life weren’t changed by this experience. Those are the ones that I continue to value the most, because those are people whose love for me is deeper than circumstance, unshakeable. Those are the people who know my core self, and their worth in my life is incalculable.
There are some people I became closer to through this experience, and I treasure that. People who were kind in my vulnerable moments, who were present for me when I needed a presence. People who would send an email or a text to check in, and not necessarily talk about the pregnancy, but also not not talk about it.
There are far more who distanced themselves throughout it. I don’t exactly know why, but I think they thought they knew me, and knew me to be the kind of person who would reject this whole concept as insane (which, I will grant, it is, but I ended up not rejecting it for such a sensible reason). Those folks are warming back up to me again, now that my odd life choices aren’t written on my body, a constant reminder that I’m different from what they thought. But I think it will take a long time for those relationships to be fully restored. And some of them probably never will be. If 2018 had any lesson for all of us, it was, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Katherine said, over two years ago now, “This is the ultimate act of creation for an artist. I can’t wait to see how your work will change after this.” Now, I can say that my work is still changing; the change wrought by this whole adventure hasn’t settled yet. But my voice is clearer. I trust the senses that have grown far more finely tuned than I would have ever imagined. I’m connecting with people more. My work is better, because it is braver. I feel every moment in the text, in the people, in the room, and I am not backing away from those feelings.
I keep thinking of those Catholic candles that show a saint with their robe peeled away and their anatomical, beating heart exposed. That’s how I feel, now, nearly all the time. I’ve always been emotionally open, but this is a different extreme. Like I have no shielding at all. I’m overflowing, not able to be cool or careful or normal with my heart.
I’m more of a porous empath than I can ever remember being, too, absorbing the emotional energies around me with more intensity than I used to, but also more awareness of what is happening. I don’t get swamped by it anymore, although I feel it more deeply.
It’s Ely’s inside-out day. I guess I thought I would have regrown my breastbone by now. Maybe I never will.