I don’t like rollercoasters. I remember one time at the Stampede as a kid, my mom wanted to ride a rollercoaster but my brother wasn’t tall enough. My dad had to stay with him and somehow my mom talked me into coming with her. My heart was pounding out of my chest while we waited in line. That ride was not my cup of tea at all. I mean, I know I was perfectly safe but I spent that whole time thinking I was going to die.
This February marked one year of trying to conceive a baby, and what a bracing rollercoaster it has been. I know that a year-long (or more) struggle to conceive is difficult and different for everyone. For me, I was not expecting this to be such a heavily spiritual experience. The rollercoaster has so many more ups and downs than the monthly excitement of possibly being pregnant followed by the disappointment of a negative test. At its extremes, this year-long journey has led to thoughts questioning the purpose of my existence.
One thing that has just always been in me is a propensity for analyzing events and data, mining endlessly for hidden meanings. If one question has dominated my entire thought life, it’s “what does it mean?” Unsurprisingly, I’ve gone into overdrive this past year trying to answer, “Why? Why am I not a mother yet?” To me it’s a given, for some reason, that the meaning is much more than a physical condition— I have PCOS and getting pregnant will take longer for me. But of course there’s a deeper meaning. I can’t rest until I’ve solved it and it won’t be over until I’m pregnant. What does this one year of trying to conceive mean?
The combination of my analytical leaning and my Bible-believing outlook has admittedly led to instances of overthinking the situation (to a point where even I get the sense I’m overthinking it, which means it would probably sound borderline insane to anyone else.) Just, everything I hear these days leads back to our conception struggle somehow. I heard a sermon on the radio about how the Christian life should be sacrificial— so what’s the biggest thing you might be asked to sacrifice? Well of course I immediately thought, “being a mother” and was sad, as anyone is sad when thinking of giving up the thing most important to them. Because really, it is within the realm of possibility that I won’t have children of my own. It happens. It’s possible that I won’t be a mother.
But thinking about what my own future with no children would look like actually feels foreign, like looking into an alternate universe. It seems wrong, as if the road of my entire life and identity has led to a hairpin turn. If I’m not supposed to be a mother, what am I supposed to be? I have spent so little of my life thinking about it. It’s the only long-term job I have ever been interested in.
Spending my whole life in church has only steeled my natural proclivity to believe that suffering has meaning, even if that meaning is deeply unsatisfying, or not comforting, or straight-up shrouded at the time. My head has been filled to the brim of stories and first-hand accounts of people who went through something that was hard for them but came out the other side saying, “it was horrible at the time and I wouldn’t have chosen it but now I have made peace that it happened to me because of who it has made me.”
I would not have chosen this long wait for myself, but I have to admit that this year of searching and questioning has brought to light some things I wouldn’t ever have considered if we’d just conceived no problem in month two or three. Whatever the outcome of it all, I did need this time to realize a few things.
The biggest thing is that I don’t think I previously knew just how important this was to my identity, or at least, how I view my identity. It’s always been my “thing”. I knew I wanted kids even when I was a kid myself. I’ve had baby name lists saved on my computer since my early teens. In high school it was the joke among my friends that I would one day have at least twelve kids in addition to taking on everyone’s unwanted cast-offs after scandalous trysts with Orlando Bloom. I remember flipping through academic calendars in grade twelve and feeling a terrible sense of panic and drifting because nothing appealed to me. And nothing’s changed. I still don’t want to do any job as much as I want to be a mother. One year trying and no baby, it leaves me in such a strange place philosophically. And yet regardless of whether I wind up mothering children or not, I think it’s worth asking: is this really all I am? Has this desire eclipsed too much of anything else I could become? But the thought that I could have to search elsewhere for my purpose in life fills me with fear and sadness. Nothing else would come as easily or naturally to me. I remember starting work at Blessings two summers ago, dealing with the first-week learning curve that comes with any new position. I told my co-workers that I was also a nanny to two children and they said that must be a hard job and they couldn’t do it— and no wonder I wanted something simpler for my second job. I couldn’t believe my ears. For me, learning the bookstore syntax for special ordering various product and remembering the steps for purchasing curriculum was much harder than just dealing with the kids. I said, “No, the other job is my easy job!”
The other logical question was to try to get to the bottom of it all: Why do I want kids so bad? I like kids; I’ve always wanted my own. I had a beautiful childhood and wonderful parents. It’s natural to want to replicate something you loved. But is that all it was? Finding the actual answer to that question pretty much did take a year, and several roundabout experiences and thinking to even connect it all.
It’s probably partly this journey to be a mother and partly the result of being married for a few years now, but I would say that now, broadly, my identity and the legacy I’d like to leave have never been clearer to me. When I first moved to Edmonton, I tried to get a graphic design job, but realized that my skills had fallen woefully behind the times after seven years at Gemini. With out-of-date skills and no university degree, I felt like a failure. It felt terrible to me that I have no special talents. I’m just “kind of good” at a handful of things. I felt jealous of how Tom was just so, so irreplaceably good at his work. It burned my soul to think of just how not special I was.
Well, the introspection required to bust out of that fog was some of the best I’ve ever done, and Tom gave me some heaves out of that pit that still make me cry with love for him when I think of them. I changed my thinking.
My generation has grown up hearing about how desperately special and unique everyone is and how we’re all, like, the protagonist of our own story and stuff. It’s weird to say, but that kind of thinking was really putting the wrong kind of pressure on me. It’s very self-focused, and the definition of success feels narrow and empty if lived up to for show (which is what it would be for me).
At Time for Ladies I heard The Message’s paraphrase of Philippians 2:4.
“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourself long enough to lend a helping hand.”
It didn’t hit me right away. In fact it took a long time to realize what that verse could mean for me. At first it sounded too lofty— saintlike levels of self-sacrifice for absolutely everyone. But then I thought about it just in terms of my own little sphere. Making Tom’s life easier gives me actual joy. Helping my friends gives me actual joy. And if I do have children, bolstering them, guiding them, could be the crown of my life.
I married Tom Rhodes, so of course he made me take the Enneagram test (on our first date, actually!) It wasn’t super definitive but perhaps I’m a 2, a Helper or a 1, a Reformer (but it fits better for me if I think of it as “fixer”) or maybe a 4, the beauty-appreciating Individualist. In other words… let me help you fix your life and make it beautiful.
It was only when I embraced my not-specialness that I truly felt free. It took the pressure of appearance and achievement off my plate to do what I really wanted to do in the first place: support other people in achieving their goals. If I’m special at all, it’s in soft skills that aren’t primary in the workplace. Valued sure, but not primary, like emotional control; creating (and recreating) systems; communication; breakneck organizational efficiency, high tolerance for monotony. Without actual specific skills, I’m not that marketable. But I should be a mother. At the end of it all, I am more sure than ever that having kids is still in the cards for me. I just have to be patient.
And I married Tom Rhodes, so of course he gave me a G.K. Chesterton quote as comfort:
“How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity her for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”
Very well written Colette!