Imagine you could never have children.
I'm not saying imagine you never CHOSE to have children.
I'm saying: Imagine that choice has been taken from you. No matter what you want, you can never have children of your own.
You can't imagine this.
You can't understand it.
I wrote that opening sentence, and you read it, and you felt pity. You tried for empathy. But your head couldn't quite grasp it, not unless you're in the same boat as me.
So you give me a hug, and you say it's fine, and you move on in your world where this isn't your reality.
Your every. Single. Day. Reality.
It doesn't matter what other things you occupy your time with, either, because it's everywhere. You go on Facebook, and everyone posts about their kids. That's good. Parents are supposed to be involved in their kids' lives, and they're supposed to show their support, and they're supposed to be excited about such an amazing blessing in their lives, so how can you possibly ask them to stop?
You can't. So you scroll quickly past and try to ignore the fact that your stomach is churning and your eyes are burning with tears that you don't want to shed just because your friend posted a picture of Johnny's First Steps.
You turn on the TV, and there's no women like you on the screen. They can have kids at the drop of a dime, as the plot demands it, and it usually only takes them one try. Or one accident. The women that ARE like you are played for drama. For angst. And the ones that are played too well drive you to tears, but those are the ones done by indie shows who take the time to care. The women like you whose condition makes them "monsters" or somehow incapable of being kind or caring are the ones in the summer blockbusters.
You listen to the news, and everywhere there are stories of children being taken from parents who are abusive, awful, neglectful. And you want to scream at the injustice of it all.
You visit with family, and well-meaning relatives ask when you'll provide them with grandkids or grand-nieces and -nephews. They push you harder, practically begging for an exact countdown when you tell them you're trying to adopt. They don't believe you when you say it's more difficult than they realize, because how can it be? You're getting a child, aren't you? So what makes this way so emotionally difficult for you?
They don't believe you when you dare to open up about your terror that you'll never be able to forget the fact that this child isn't yours, even though it's clearly and very definitely yours. They don't believe you when you say you're scared you'll treat your baby differently than "real" parents do. They tell you those fears are irrational.
Of course they are. They're irrational fears. But knowing they're irrational does nothing to silence them.
And then, you go to church.
That's the worst part.
You skip church on Mother's Day, because how can you possibly listen to three hours of people talking about the importance of motherhood and how it's the highest calling you can ever have?
Of course it is. It's the highest calling you can be called to, because you are creating and caring for a human being.
Please stop reminding me of that. I know it's true. That makes it worse.
Even when it's not Mother's Day, though, there are church lessons that leave you in tears.
You go to Relief Society, and all the women there have come to give lessons about how to raise kids. How to teach kids the Gospel. How to be a better mother.
You listen to the talks given by church leaders about the importance of family, how God called us to this noble pursuit, how there is nothing more important (not jobs, not church service, not anything) than emulating God the Father in the supreme act of creating life and nurturing that spirit.
That's beautiful. I truly believe that's beautiful.
It also hurts.
And it's everywhere.
Not a single day goes by when you don't see something that triggers that sense of emptiness inside you. Magazines obsessed with celebrity pregnancies. Families obsessed with the next grandchild. Friends who are on Child Number You've Lost Count and whose response to your situation is "Oh, just you wait. It's amazing!"
Yeah, thanks for that.
And now that I've described what it's like to be like me, to be unable to ever have kids and yet to be surrounded by a culture that worships parenthood and calls sterile women "monsters," you still don't get it.
You don't notice the water, because you've grown gills.
So let me put it another way.
Imagine that you believe that the most important thing in the world is creating an ice cream sundae.
Your whole life, you've been dreaming of the time when you will meet that special someone who has the ice cream ingredients, and you have the ice cream maker. You just can't wait to taste that amazing, homemade ice cream, because all your life, adults have been telling you how great it tastes, how much fun it is. And yeah, sometimes the ice cream is sticky or a little lumpy, but every ice cream sundae is different, unique, and worth it.
So you meet your special someone, and you are ready. You're gonna have some ice cream, and it's going to be amazing.
Then you find our your ice cream maker is broken.
And while the world crumbles around you as you struggle to find your new place in a world that keeps telling you that the greatest happiness you can possibly achieve is out of your reach, everyone else is eating their ice cream.
They're posting pictures of ice cream. They're even posting pictures of the sugar cones and the toppings as they prepare for the finished ice cream sundae.
Everyone's always asking "Oh, have you tried the ice cream yet?"
"When are you gonna eat ice cream?"
"Have you seen a mechanic about your ice cream maker?"
(Yes. Yes, you have. And not only did the mechanic's attempts to help not work but anything beyond that would mean a complete overhaul that you can't afford.)
"Well, what about the store-bought stuff?"
That one catches your attention. There's ice cream that someone else made that you can eat! It's so exciting!
Only there's a catch. You have to be able to afford it, and even then, you have to wait in line.
So you save up your pennies to go to the ice cream parlor. And the line is out the door. And all the time you're waiting in line, your friends are still calling you to talk to you about ice cream. Your church meetings are still about ice cream. Your movies and television and books are still about ice cream.
You finally get to the counter and order your ice cream and wait while they make your order. Only sometimes the person behind the counter decides that they want to keep the ice cream for themselves. Or they might give you the ice cream, let you take a lick, and then take it back.
And then you finally have the ice cream in your hands, and it's delicious (I'm assuming that's the case; I haven't yet gotten to this part of my own ice cream story).
Only now you've got people criticizing you. Because what if you get pistachio ice cream? Or, heaven forbid, strawberry? Your ice cream looks nothing like the ice cream on the ice cream machine box you got!
And you can't afford to do much with other people when they go out with their ice cream, because you have to save up for the next ice cream sundae, the one that's several orders of magnitude more expensive than the homemade kind, while other people are home with their homemade ice cream, sometimes making more than they can eat, sometimes destroying their ice creams without even eating them.
And the whole thing starts all over again.
"When are you going to have your second sundae?"
"You should get cookies and cream next time!"
"Have you thought about when you're going to tell your ice cream that you got it from an ice cream parlor?"
It never ends.
Now that you've read this, you probably want ice cream.
Now, imagine that you can never have any.
Ah, you can imagine that feeling, can't you?
Now, multiply that feeling times a thousand.
And you're close to understanding me.