Two days before Christmas, my son-in-law, Chris, got up before dawn, to get ready for one last day of work before the holiday weekend. Shalom was already up, and standing quietly before the bathroom mirror. But, she was not getting dressed.
Christmas would be at Grandma Jo-Jo’s, this year, and if their car didn’t have another close encounter with another idiot downtown Davenport driver before then, Shalom was looking forward to spending the weekend with her relatives. All the presents were bought, and brightly decorated with her typical artist’s flair. Her online Etsy business, as shalomscottagehome.com, was doing really well, this season, and she was truly enjoying her new day job in Early Childhood Development. But, this morning, she was just staring.
“Sha…Shalom?” he enquired, as he shook the grogginess from his head, wiped the crackle from his eyes, and looked at the sink. “Wh…what does this mean?”
SHALOM’S COTTAGE HOME BLOG
Hi, I’m Shalom. I create modern art and stationary for shalomscottagehome.com. Enjoy my blog!
SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010
We like to put people, situations, stages of life into neatly labeled “boxes” because as a society we are uncomfortable interacting with those who’s lives do not match up to our own ideals – giving them a “name” helps us to decide where they fit in (or don’t), what we should or should not do about them.
There are certain people I’ve learned to avoid because their view of the world consists of:
1) Women who have children: good
2) Women who don’t have children: bad
They’ve viewed the world for so long through such a divided filter that it is impossible to squeeze a thought into their brain that doesn’t fit neatly into one of these two categories. Attempting to try is like trying to block machine-gun fire with your own body. Not a good idea. Also, not worth your time.
Then there is another set of people who see the world through similar filters as above (though softened a little with something called “compassion”) which look like this:
1) Women who have children: good
2) Women who don’t have children: sad
Into this category, falls nearly everyone else you come in contact with. Doctors, family members, co-workers, acquaintances and even close friends. They are the ones who, when they find out that you don’t have children yet, are either “sorry” or offer to “pray for you” or want to give you advice on where you can get “help” to rectify this undesirable situation in your life. They are very well-meaning and you can’t fault them for feeling empathy toward you. But at the same time, it is comments like these from people you admire and trust that strengthen the walls around the box you have unwillingly and unwittingly found yourself in.
The word “infertility” (which means NOT-fertile, as in the complete absence and lack whatsoever of) is a medical term used to diagnose couples who have been trying unsuccessfully for over 1 year to become pregnant. This is based on statistical data which says that most couples (about 90%, depending on which site you read) who eliminate contraception will become pregnant within a year’s time. Everyone else is deemed to be “infertile”. Yet, the literary world abounds with stories of couples who tried for years before finally becoming pregnant – some after getting “help” and some by sheer luck. Also, there are many different biological factors which may affect either the woman’s or the man’s ability to contribute to the fertility equation. In most cases, it is simple a matter of decreased chances of becoming pregnant and not an actual fact that it will never, ever happen. But never mind all this. If it’s been a year and you aren’t knocked up, girls, you are INFERTILE! Happy?
Of course not. Who wants to walk around with that kind of label over their head? Especially if you are just starting out in your quest to have children and the topic is still very sensitive. Nothing like a prediction of failure to keep up your morale, while all around you people seem to be popping out babies left and right without giving it a second thought (never mind those who don’t even want the children they so effortlessly conceived).
But more importantly, since WHEN did your ability (or lack thereof) to have children become the most important defining element of your life? While, mothers are wonderful and necessary people, why are they automatically lifted onto a societal pedestal just because their bodies were able to perform the basic act of reproduction? Before, I start getting hate mail, let me explain that I am referring to the biological definition of a “mother”.
Unfortunately, because of this imbalance in human perception of “worth”, those who don’t fit the mold experience isolation and segregation which all-too-often leads to bitterness and depression. A silent “war” persists in the minds of the “haves” and the “have nots”. And it will rage on until you realize that the only person you can change is yourself.
Before this gets too deep, I want to say that my point in writing this first blog post about my own experiences with the I-word is to open up a conversation about the “box” I found myself in, nearly 5 years ago and how I broke out of it. I will be honest and I will be frank. I may post snippets of journal entries and the memories I recall may be laced with bitterness from time to time, but I ask anyone who decides to read them to keep in mind that my experiences are my experiences and that my ultimate goal is freedom, acceptance and happiness.
You don’t find clusters of women chatting about the I-word around a cafe table . It’s not a popular or fun topic and those unfamiliar with it personally are also uncomfortable with it in reality. But it exists and so, for the silent sufferers around the world, I write to let you know that you are not alone. Life is beautiful and so are you!
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10, 2010
They used to cluster together at social gatherings and discuss husbands, work, shopping and everything else. Rarely a weekend went by that they weren’t mingling as couples at someone’s house or apartment, admiring new paint colors, swapping recipes and sharing the joys and trials of being newly married. It was the best time of their lives and as the next year and a half passed by, this group of friends grew very close. No topic was off limits. No secrets between them.
Then one day, A noticed B advancing across the foyer in a hurry.
“Hey, girl?” A smiled at B. “What are you doing this aft–”
“Guess what? We’re pregnant!” B announced with a flash of perfect white teeth and a little bounce.
“Oh…wow,” said A. “That’s wonderful! So…have you guys been trying for a while, then?” Wow, she never mentioned anything, thought A.
“Um, well, we just decided that we would go off the pill and see what happened. And something did!”
So soon? “Wow, so how far along are you?” A hoped, this was what she was supposed to ask next.
B glanced up at the ceiling behind A and squinted for a second. “I am 8 and a half weeks!”, she declared with a tiny nod of affirmation.
Wait, what? 8 divided by 4 equals 2. So, OK. About 2 months. Why didn’t she just say that? “Awww. That’s so great. I’m really happy for you,” A beamed and stepped forward to give her friend a quick hug.
“Thanks!!!” B squealed before moving on to work the rest of the room, skillfully eliciting exclamations of joy from every female in it.
A watched her friend go with mixed feelings of bewilderment and foreboding. She and her husband hadn’t even begun to discuss (or really even think about) the possibility of children yet and there was certainly no room for a “baby” category in the couple’s monthly budget at present. But, she had never seen B so happy…maybe they shouldtalk about it. Maybe the right time was sooner rather than later. Maybe all the little nagging details that told her they shouldn’t would just dissolve into nothing if she got pregnant too. Maybe nothing else in life really mattered as much as…having a baby!
FRIDAY, MARCH 12, 2010
Just over 6 months ago, while sitting at my desk in a relatively respectable job as a hotel receptionist, I found myself thinking, “I just don’t feel like I’m living up to my potential.” I didn’t have much to complain about – I had a decent boss, regular hours that worked around my schedule, I wore nice clothes to work and when the long nights got to be boring it was perfectly permissible for me to while away the evening on the internet. I told myself that it was a great job for someone like me who was trying to launch their own business and didn’t need extra work stress. But as night after night wore on, the sense of “guilt” grew heavier and heavier. I began to casually browse the “want ads” for openings. That was when I found the advertisement for an assistant teaching position in a Head Start pre-school. Based on my experience volunteering with the children in my church, I knew it was a job I would be good at and enjoy and that would also come with better hours and benefits. I applied and was hired.
Fast forward to today…shortly after becoming a government employee, I learned I would have to earn something called a CDA by summer 2013 in order to keep my position in early childhood education. It would involve gathering 480 hours of work experience plus 120 continuing education credit hours, masses of paper work and a final test and interview before being awarded the nationally recognized credential. Pause for breath. So, OK. Wow. Suddenly I found myself going back to school AND working part time AND running a business, but…absolutely LOVING it!
Looking back at my life (nearly 31 years of it), I see a pattern of decisions I thought I was making for completely different reasons than what they turned out to be and which have also led to vastly different outcomes than I had envisioned. Yet, strangely enough, I have found happiness in the midst of painful times and been moved by the waters of change when I thought I was planted for good in a place I didn’t care for. All evidence, I believe, of the love and faithfulness of God who cares about the smallest details of our lives.
To illustrate my point, I want to share the “autobiography” I wrote today in class as part of my CDA paperwork. I have to admit that the final message of it both surprised and thrilled me:
Hi, my name is Shalom Schultz and I am an artist. Growing up, I was always creating in some way, whether sewing Barbie clothes, drawing pictures of my best friends in ball gowns or helping my mom paint and redecorate the living room. When I went to college, naturally I pursued an art degree and have since worked as a graphic designer as well as started my own art and stationary business. Soon after marriage, my husband and I purchased a lovely little yellow house, surrounded by trees and flowers, and lived a quiet, happy life there together with our dogs for the next several years. To the casual observer, I was living my dream and yet I still felt as if something was missing.
Then, one day, in response to a need in my church, I volunteered to lead a class of 4 and 5 year olds for a couple hours each week while their moms met for coffee. Within minutes I fell in love with teaching and the opportunities it allowed me to share my creative skills by investing in young lives. Children possess an exuberance for life and an eagerness to learn that is absolutely contagious. The more time I spent with them the more I realized that my calling in life hadn’t culminated with the earning of my art degree and I began to see a whole new world of learning opening up for me.
After gaining several years of volunteer experience, I decided to apply for a position as a Head Start Education Assistant, both for the chance to work more closely with children and for the personal education opportunities. Since then, I have enjoyed the challenge of reaching toward my CDA and after obtaining it plan to pursue a teaching degree – the ultimate goal being to head my own classroom where I can continue with even greater skill to to help children discover the world around them.
Of course, everyone always wants to know where “children” fit into my life plan and while it used to bother me (both because I wanted them and couldn’t as well as because I hated being made to feel inferior), I can now with total honesty say that I have faith in God’s plan for mywhole life. He has shown me in so many ways that while my own sandcastles may be washed away, it is He who created the entire earth and I need not fret over my ability to form my own future. All He asks is that I diligently use the tools he has given me.
Am I giving up on the dream of expanding my business? Certainly not! Don’t I realize that you can’t juggle children plus 2 careers plus a home and husband at one time? Absolutely, which is why I am at peace with the opportunities I have been given now and have faith that when the time is right for my husband and I to start the adoption process, God will give us the green light on that too.
It’s a wonderful relief to to realize that while my hands may be on the steering while, I don’t have to be the navigator as well.
Until next time,
Chris and Shalom had stopped attending church on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Every year, people without a clue would make the same clueless comments regarding children, and when were they going to have some. Shalom had grown up with three brothers and two sisters. Chris’ brother had five girls. Shalom’s brother had one of each. And now, a month ago, at Thanksgiving, her younger sister, married less than a year, announced that she was pregnant.
They are strong individuals, uniquely in love. Their rapid-fire form of bantering and taunting, which some interpret as chauvinistic acrimony, is really just a love song of persiflage between two people who are totally comfortable with each other. Chris cares deeply about whatever wounds Shalom, and she cares deeply about him.
Our capacity to love is limited only by our concept of love. Adoption is a joy that breaks the mold of our prejudices. While it takes awhile for a childless couple to embrace this concept of love, Shalom and Chris were there. Shalom’s business would eventually allow her to work entirely from home, and her Head Start work would continue to nurture her mothering instincts. Chris, they had mutually decided, would return to school to work on his computer science degree. The high-end computer he had built from scratch last year, had so motivated him, as he had researched all the component hardware, that he had been inspired to start researching the other side of the keyboard: software development. It would take a few years, but they would make themselves ready. And then, they would adopt.
“Sha…Shalom?” Chris enquired, as he shook the grogginess from his head, and held the pregnancy test strip, two days before Christmas. “Wh…what does this mean?…..It’s……..blue.”
For a long, lingering moment, they were speechless, unable to believe. They had been disappointed so many dozens of times before. The test was routine; the result so unexpected, each was trying to fathom the other’s response first: are you happy, can I be happy, what about our new…..plans?
And then, they melted. Tears flowed. They embraced. They cried. They kissed. They cried. And, they thanked God. And, they had no more questions about “plans”.
In the shower, Chris bawled.
All these things they kept to themselves.