Sunday, May 13, 2018

Great Expectations

Several years ago I sat in circle with six other women, all at different stages of pregnancy. I was a few ungraceful years into infertility, a dozen months into divorce, and at least a handful into the secret life of enabling, protecting, and manipulating an addict.

My resilience was rather low.

These burgeoning women each moved through the yoga class, chirping and chatting along, checking in and sharing their joys and challenges. It's a humbling circle at times, with great strife and tragedy like deployment, death, and loss of identity, and great humor, like the impulsive alterations of maternity pants with office scissors and staples, and the impossible logistics of sex at 41 weeks of gestation.

On this particular day, these women described their Great Sadness and Loss of being pregnant with healthy baby boys, each having secretly wished for girl babies.

I stopped moving, because the emotional eruption felt imminent.

Normally, typically - or at least up until that moment - I had always been able to hold it in, and later explode or weep in private, mortally wounded by the impressive selfishness of the first world problems. I think this is the commonest experience – we hear someone complain about how no one wants to date them because they're so pretty, or how tricky it is to manage their thriving business and we get jaded and grumpy – envious of their windfall, insulted and shocked by their ungratefulness.

(Until we do it later, but I'm making a point).

The anthropologist in me often steps forwards in moments like this, to guide and academic-ify the culturally acceptable paradox, the linguistic anomaly that sets up the speakers of English for tragedy later on.


We describe a pregnant woman as “expecting,” rather than pregnant, and it was in this moment that I used the shield of the anthropologist to Teach from the Seat of the Volcano, to mitigate the damage from the emotional fallout.

“I have to stop for a minute," I said.

"Do you realize you are all complaining about being pregnant with healthy baby boys? Surely, your grief for your imagined daughter is valid, and yet, what are the things you hoped you could do with a girl baby that you will not be able to do with a boy baby?”

Even here, ten weeks before viability and still indistinguishable from a dolphin, the fetus within you has already failed.

There were mentions of secret family cookie recipes, a love for the ballet, a desire to bond with a daughter through her pregnancy. And as a group, we deconstructed the devastation of the Y chromosome that might equally love baking, dancing, and may once impregnate a woman with whom one might bond through pregnancy. Or, mayhaps science will develop sufficiently in 20 years that men can choose to bear children... who even knows?

Later, over tears and coffee, I spoke with a friend whose second pregnancy was ruled incompatible with life at 18 weeks of gestation because of a malformed brain. She calmly explained to me that she would not terminate, that she would gratefully birth this baby whenever it was ready to come, directly into hospice care.

“I hope my baby breathes,” she said.

Great expectations.

There is a lesson in this. If you are gifted and entrusted with any aspect of raising a tiny human into an adult human, may I offer this lesson to you now? With it comes the incredible power to bury the burdens and resentments you carry, the expectations – spoken and un - you left unlived.

This child did not grace your life so you could shape them into your dreams unfulfilled, dress them up to your liking, tailor their resume to prepare them for the life that you wanted. The yogis say children come here for their own wild purpose, a fraction of which was to teach you something. So learn it now, early on, before you force them off of their path and onto one you've cleverly carved and designed for them.


Do not sit on, squish, squander or negate your child's dreams even if, and most especially when, they feel impossible.

They may want to join the circus, wear something frilly, live among gorillas, write The Great American Novel.



Help them establish a solid backup plan, should their dreams not land them on a Wheaties box or in the Oval Office. The gorillas they dream of studying may very well be on Wall Street, but the adolescent years of obsession on primate behavior will still serve them greatly.

(they both seem to employ a harem mating strategy).

Parent with this mantra: The world may fail you, my darling, but you can never fail me.

Friday, May 11, 2018


I recently reflected on the gift and gauntlet of the cotillion – the weekly country club soiree that my parents love-forced me to attend, in the hopes that I might marry well, or at least, not be an embarrassment to the family should I be invited to the weddings of others.

This sort of thing is a cultural rite for the upper crust and the upper class, and includes the yet untapped lessons about how to foxtrot and to pass the salt and pepper together – always to the right, unless the person requesting is two or fewer to your left – lest they float adrift in the world of extra plates and extraneous silverware. They travel as a pair.

Codependency deep among the savory.

And for me, it was a hellish immersion into yet another place where I did not belong. I was never supposed to, just to observe and try not to draw attention. A young anthropologist, thrust into the arms of sweaty boys and the presence of mediocre foods with fancy French names, I observed and quietly ridiculed those who tried to color within the lines, Let Him Lead, and dutifully swallow what they were served.

Etiquette fascinates me.

Yesterday, someone posted a helpful e-zine regarding Facebook etiquette, as though Mark Zukerberg were in cahoots with The Queen and finds the population of the billion or so souls he moderates to be a bit unwieldy and in need of Rules of Engagement.

I find the language of war to be more romantic than the language of the cotillion – the idea that you treat captives differently depending on their role in the conflict, their skill in combat. These romantic notions are gone in the light of Syria and Certain Presidents, and so now the brave souls at Country Living magazine have compiled guidance from their immersion in the culture of social media of international proportions.

They recommend such helpful ideas as “avoid the humble brag,” “don't post unflattering pictures of people,” “don't post photos of children without the permission of their parents,” and, (strangely), “Our thoughts are with Ottawa,” which are well-meaning and completely misguided, equally as absurd as the foxtrot and as ill-informed as the salt-and-pepper-scenario. What they really mean is: don't be proud, share only highlights, and for goodness sake, keep your grief to yourself. Unless you're selling Tupperware, and then please add me to your sales groups so I can appropriately store iceberg lettuce and avocados. Form and function.

The Internet is the final frontier – our outer space is cyber, and we've gone there without even thinking about it. It lacks both gravity and oxygen, and resembles reality as much as Farmville: similar rules, light on reality. I wish Spock were here, that intercultural ambassador with the sage advice: live long and prosper.


Mother's Day is full of ghosts for me, and in truth, so is this town. As much as I'd like to tell you that I escape to avoid the stalking, it's also to escape the reminders of all the babies I never had. I used to play a game with myself, and at first, it was romantic. I used to daydream what I would name my baby, if I just so happened to get pregnant that month.

The first was Sofia, who would have been eight this year.

There are 85 other names, as some names were androgynous and others separated by gender. There is a list, with strikethroughs. Relics, like the hashmarks etched into the concrete as someone manages the time held captive the only way possible – one line at a time.

My scorecard of grief.

In all of my travels, in the deep ends of spiritual texts, in the mouths of sages and wise toddlers, no one has been able to express to me how to stop wanting the thing that you want, or how to cultivate a want for something you don't.

These are the deep grooves of motherhood and infertility. We are sisters in the prison of self-imposed lack and frustration (and fatherhood too, but I'm trying to make a point here). I see this in the videos of “what I gave up to be a mother.”

My grief is real – and so is yours – as we stare across the fence, you into my manicured and pristine yard with exotic and tailored sections, and me into yours, filled with toys and dandelions, a dead circle from the kiddy pool that stayed too long.

We are both Victims, you and I.

(And neither of us has to be.)

You didn't choose the colic, the awkward and uncharted horrors of adolescence, the despair of pain you cannot resolve. It's real. It's impossible.

Prosper anyway.

Post unflattering pictures, share the full spectrum of your life and your experience. Take charge when the victim mentality takes hold, and reframe it for yourself, whether or not you decide to share it. You are only a victim if you decide to be. This is the terrible curse of your affluence and mine – offsetting the gifts we've received with the grief and the shame we hide. The cotillion held an important lesson here – pass the salt and pepper together.

Unfriend anyone who finds your vulnerability unseemly. For real, not just for Zuckerberg.

Do this in service of the new civilizations, whether or not they exist, who I imagine are monitoring our Facebook feeds from outer space wondering whether or not to keep a safe distance. And also, do this in service of you, who we both know exists. Who has worth and is worthy, even with the sadness, shame, and grief.

And remember:

Unless you are in prison, you are not.

So when you find yourself there, as I often do, let yourself out.

Live long, prosper, pass to the right.