Another story for another day is that Ethan and I currently live with his parents, in their home, which we intend to buy from them next year. For today, what gets to be said is we’ve lived with them since April 2017, and we’re all a big happy family in a big happy house like, 7 days out of 10 (which is pretty good, if you ask me).
There are these two, striped, arm chairs that sit angled towards each other in the bay windows of the living room in our house. I’ve always thought of them as “coffee chairs” because it’s most common to find someone sitting in them, drinking coffee, during the first few hours of the day.
The morning after that first doctor appointment was the typical scene in our living room: my mother-in-law, Martha, seated in one of the coffee chairs, reading her current book. I don’t teach preschool on Fridays, and I had no other plans. So, I joined her in sipping coffee and reading in the barrel chair that sits across the room, facing the bay windows.
While trying to figure out how to start this conversation with her, mild panic coursed through my body. I knew I had to talk to her today and I knew it was going to hurt. I was more nervous to talk to her about this than anyone else. She’s been a second mother to me as well as one of my closest friends for most of my life. I knew this would pain her deeply, and it might even turn into a mourning process for her if she thought far ahead enough to feel the loss, or lack rather, of possible future grandchildren from us. I feared disappointing her so greatly I was out of breath before I’d even began speaking.
She broke the silence and started talking to me about… something. For the life of me, I have no idea what she was saying that morning. I was physically unable to listen.
I interrupted, “Martha, I had a doctor appointment yesterday, and I have to tell you about it.”
Due to the nature of our relationship, she already knew, to some degree, that I had baby fever and that I’d recently had some irregular cycles. I briefly reminded her of those details, then cut to the chase about my doctor describing what I was experiencing as infertility. I think that’s when I saw her first tear fall.
I avoided eye contact as I told her about the different tests they were going to do to rule out a few diagnoses. I told her that at the end of the appointment the doctor used the words “this” and “is” and “likely” and “endometriosis”.
“Oh, God” tears “Olivia, no” more tears. “That’s such a messy issue. Isn’t it painful?” She asked for more information about treatment options. She breathed long, grieving breaths and wiped her face several times with tissues. She told me about women she knew who’d had fertility issues as well as some who’d had endometriosis. She told me how they were all still, eventually, able to have kids and how their lives are now completely normal. I think she said those words out loud more as a comfort for herself than for me. She said I needed to find support in this time and I should try to talk to other people who have already lived through this struggle. Ironically, during the entire conversation, she fidgeted with the book in her hands, which was titled “Anxious for Nothing”.
I accepted everything she said and I valued her advice and I did my best to give her some smiles so she could see that I wasn’t lost within a great depression. She let three or four more tears fall before she wiped her face, one last time. She didn’t let anymore fall after that. She got strong immediately, as if by flipping a switch.
I shared with her some of the fears I was having. I was afraid I’d done something wrong in the past, and deserved this fate. I was afraid God didn’t think I was good enough to be a mother. I was afraid I’d hate every person I knew who turned up pregnant anytime soon. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to continue with normal life due to the powerful emotions I was feeling. I was afraid Ethan and I would be alone in this house forever. I was afraid this would, sooner or later, negatively affect my and Ethan’s marriage. I was afraid I’d never be a sideline-cheering, soccer mom.
She listened carefully and mulled over what I’d said. She responded, “You have to be prepared to let those thoughts pass through your brain without letting them stick anywhere. They can come and go, but you cannot hold onto to them.” She took a deep breath and continued, “God has given us a very full life, as a family. He has us go through struggles that other people never have the privilege of going through. He gives us hardships as opportunities to lean on Him and grow from each one of these painful experiences. We’re going to get through this, and it’s going to be ok.”
Nothing we ever go through as a family really scares Martha. When she says, “It’s going to be ok”, I absolutely believe her. God has instilled an intense pack mentality into the core of her being; she doesn’t let anyone in our family go through anything alone.
I thought I’d feel better than I did by the end of our conversation. My heart was racing and my brain was tired and I was scared of a hundred different things. I wasn’t ok.
I’m not someone who usually seeks out physical affection from anyone other than my husband. Don’t get me wrong; I love hugs from friends and family members. I love hugs when greeting or bidding farewell to someone. I even love hugs when comforting people in their pain. But there’s something about letting someone touch my body when I’m in pain, physical or emotional. It seems unbearably vulnerable. It causes me to turn to stone; I become rigid. Even as a child, I would usually hide while I comforted myself through scraped knees or hurt feelings.
But in this moment, I simply needed a hug. I stood up, and let out a dreadful groan as I drug my body across the room and dropped it onto hers, “Can you just tell me that I’m going to be ok?”, I pleaded, burying my face in her shoulder. She squeezed me, and confidently stated, “You are going to be ok.”
In the several seconds she squeezed me, I felt the fears I’d admitted out loud only minutes ago, dissolve from existence. In exposing these, and receiving support from my husband’s mother, I felt the permission I needed to get brave and be vulnerable. She was the person I’d feared to tell the most. Now that this conversation was over, I actually breathed lighter than I had in months. I let one small tear fall from my eye and roll onto Martha’s shoulder, as I thanked God for choosing me to be her daughter, by marriage.
She abruptly broke off the hug and excitedly said, “Hey! This means you and I get to have more adult time together before you have to focus on raising kids!” This was an extreme comfort to me; as I do, so much, enjoy the adult time we have together.
She blew her nose into a tissue, cleared her throat, and went back to her book. I stood up, and turned away from her. Before walking back to my chair, I spit out my one last fearful question that I had no chance of holding inside: “Will you love me less as a daughter-in-law if I’m not able to give you a grandchild?” She scoffed at me and, without looking up from her book, said, “You have to get that out of your mind right now.”
Just like that: I was ok. I sat back down to do my own reading, and I moved forward with the day. Fearlessly.
I admire the way Martha didn’t give way to my last question that day. She didn’t try to fill the room with flowery words of love for me or ask me to elaborate. She just shut it down and didn’t entertain the notion I was trying to bring to life. Since then, when I’ve felt the flicker of a fear rise in my mind, I’ve been able to follow her direction in letting the thoughts pass through my brain without letting them stick. It truly is preposterous to think that I would’ve never received her advice and support if I would’ve continued living in my fear of being vulnerable with others.
Liv – Authentically