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.

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