My parents used to play a Christmas joke every year. We would open all of our gifts, letting the excitement build for the grande gift finale, and then it would come time and I would watch in horrified confusion as my sister opened the one thing I had been wanting more than anything. Then as I got older and my siblings moved out, my big gift always seemed to be inadvertently left somewhere else, and I would be left wondering why I only got shirts before they brought out my CD player, that keyboard I never used, or the ever-so-awesome Playstation hours later. I don’t think that my parents were striving to teach us some big lesson, but it does strike me as a lesson that we all learn at some point in life– you need to work with the gifts you’re given, and have a little grace in accepting that what you get is not always negotiable. Grace. Gratitude. Acceptance.
In spite of my parents’ yearly joke, I never really learned this lesson. I have always prided myself on being stubborn, doing whatever it takes to reach my goals. In some cases, this is a wonderful trait. In others, it is an excruciating exercise in futility. When you’re broke and infertile, it’s a really infuriating trait to have.
About a year ago, our life was completely unmanageable. That’s sort of the hallmark of an addict’s life, but we were taking it to a ridiculous level. I was finally getting some sober time under my belt, but I was back working an unmanageable job 60 hours a week or more to try to save money for IVF (the only way I would ever get pregnant, I was told), my husband was putting in 14+ hour days with his commute, we had 6 dogs, a litter of pups, 4 cats, and 2 rescued birds; and we were living in a horrendous rental house with no heat and battling the landlord from hell. It had been three years since we’d started to try to conceive, and the crying every month and seeing the money never add up was really taxing me. I was getting fed up, ragged, run down.
Slowly, I started to look at my life in a new way, striving for acceptance to free me from the constant anguish of fighting a battle I would never win. It was a struggle to let go of the one thing I wanted more than anything else in life. I am accustomed to fighting like a bulldog for the things I want, and I normally win. It was during this battle with myself that we decided to give up on the rat race of Toronto, stop trying to force a dream we could never have, and build a new plan around new dreams. I started working on my business, Mercy!, which was a grand plan to sell vegan soaps and bath products to fund animal rescues, and to employ people in recovery and women leaving the sex trade. Kind of a huge goal for soap, eh? Yeah, it’s a home-based business now with the hope of just breaking even. We’ll see about saving the world after we pay our bills.
But I started it, and we started this new plan– to move out east, where we could afford a small piece of land to build our house. I realized I already was a mumma– the dog mother of all dog mothers. We decided that less time stressed, less time trying to convince ourselves that someday we would be able to afford a house in Ontario and as many rounds of IVF as it would take, all the while trying to maintain a growing farm of animals in the suburbs, sounded pretty good. We realized that if animals and nature were our love, we ought to go after that.
Slowly, I released my death grip of non-acceptance and control. The new plan felt good. I hadn’t forgotten about always wanting children, but I was finally busy and excited with something else, so I was able to free myself from the obsession of trying to conceive, which deserves a blog all of its own. I forgot to obsess over ever twinge in my body and wonder what it meant, and I just let myself feel good. There was a buzz around the house as we worked toward a new goal. Things felt new and manageable for the first time in our marriage.
We pulled ourselves together and finally demanded heat from our landlord, who responded by serving us a (wrongful) eviction notice. We fought him in court but decided to take some free rent and leave a bit early instead. We had 5 months to save, find a property, and buy it. We were excited. We could DO this.
And then my husband was laid off. An ice storm stole our power for a week in the coldest days of winter. But do you know what? We laughed through most of it. We snuggled up on the floor of the nearest subway station and charged our phone during the blackout. We lived on ramen noodles and clearance food. We were okay; we had a new plan, and things were finally going to be okay. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel; we finally had a purpose, and a goal we could achieve. We had hope.
We had 5 months, and we had nothing in our savings. You would think that we lost all hope at that point, but we learned to work with what we had. We lived on next to nothing, we started doing focus groups and clinical trials to earn extra money, and I began working around the clock to save the money we needed to move. What can I say; we’ve always been dreamers.
March rolled around and we were exhausted, but focused and making progress. We had 30 days before we needed to leave our house, and we hadn’t found a property yet, nor saved everything we needed, but we knew we would make it, and we were happy. We were a solid team with a great playbook.
But we didn’t have the master playbook, and finally something came along that was out of our league. It was my birthday, in March, with less than a month before we were to leave, and I had found the property we were going to buy and had been in email negotiations with the owner. I had been feeling like a freight train hit me for months, exhausted from work and run ragged from our life, but all of a sudden I was a level of exhausted that I hadn’t been before. I was complaining to the Hub about how I could sleep all day and night and then sleep some more when he made the brilliant, but timid, realization that maybe, just maybe, I should take a pregnancy test. I dismissed him, quickly and sharply, but he didn’t listen and stealthily slipped out to the store to pick one up.
I was hesitant and slightly perturbed, just looking at the stupid thing. I am sick of these damn pee sticks ruining my life! It took a few minutes for a result to come up, and my reaction took even me by surprise. I stormed out of the bathroom, wordless, but angry. I couldn’t quite bring anything into focus. I threw myself down on the bed and ignored my husband’s confused questioning. After a moment, I looked up, yelled “This is a nasty, nasty trick!!” and started to bawl, throwing the test at him. It wouldn’t sink in. I could NOT let myself believe it. The end to all my pain was there, two little lines on a urine-coated stick, and I could not let it in, could not see it as anything but a taunting cliche that wasn’t true for me.
I paced. I fretted. I convinced myself it had to be ectopic, if it was even a real positive. I went slightly, more than slightly, insane. We went to the hospital; me, hell-bent on proving it was wrong, my husband ever so certain that it was both correct, but also a girl. We waited. I shook a little. He held me.
It was there. It was in the right place, and eventually, after a few weeks, it even had a heartbeat. It took me until at least the second trimester to begin to believe it was really happening, and even then there were times I was certain something would change, and the whole world would come falling down again. But it didn’t. It was there… She was there, though we didn’t know a thing about her at that point. Hell, we didn’t know a thing about what to do next.
But we persevered. We bought the land, and a few days later a truck, and then a trailer. We gathered up everything we owned and put not even a tenth of it in our trailer, loaded the truck full of dogs, and kept on with our crazy dream. Because we didn’t know what else to do. The few people who knew about her called us crazy, irresponsible even, but we had nothing in Toronto. No work, no home, no light, just tunnel. It wasn’t easy, but that’s my next blog post. Maybe the next two.
Either way, we were on our way to learning a hell of a lot more about grace. We’re still not where we set out to be, but we’re still working on it– hopeful and grateful as ever. How could I not be, with my little Grace Ann sleeping right next to me now, almost two months old, and entirely perfect. I won’t ever stop being grateful for this gift. It was hidden away from me for far too long. My life-sustaining Grace is now my life, sustaining Grace.