The moment my eyes zeroed in on “This Is Not the Life I Ordered” during a rummage sale at Third Place Books, I knew I would buy it. My heart responded with an immediate and emphatic damn straight!
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover (or title), but in this case, I needn’t have worried. “This Is Not the Life I Ordered” is written by four middle-aged women who, over the course of their lives, have experienced all manner of heartache – death, divorce, personal illness, unemployment – yet managed to maintain both their grit and sense humor. I read it in a single sitting and promptly recommended it to friends.
I’ve often wished I could return my uterus to the dealership, like a lemon car, and get a better model. The question “Why me?!” has been a common refrain throughout my attempts at motherhood – along with a belligerent belief that life should be fairer, and an occasionally tragic attitude. I’m not saying I don’t have plenty be upset about. I’ve worked (and continue to work) hard to process my grief, which I feel entitled to do. However, there also came a point when rather than asking, “How did I get here?” I wanted to instead ask, “Now what?”
All of us at some point (or many points) in our life will be faced with circumstances we didn’t plan for or didn’t want. These situations are disappointing, and frustrating, and often miserable; but they also afford us an opportunity to imagine a different future.
The book includes a quote by Ayn Rand, from “Atlas Shrugged:”
Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach.
Admittedly, I have never read Ayn Rand, and I know little about objectivism as a philosophy, so I cannot speak to the true meaning of this quote or it’s context. To me, it is a reminder not to buckle under the weight of life’s unrealized dreams – to challenge inflexibility and perfectionism. Life will never look as we expect it to, but we can’t let that fact dull our spirit.
In “Atlas Shrugged” the passage continues:
Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.
But I don’t think this means we can have whatever we want. Rather, I find the operative part to be “check the nature of our battle.” The world we desire can be won, but only if we are clear what world we’re fighting for.
I ALWAYS wanted kids; I simply couldn’t envision a life without them. The life I constructed as an adult was built with children in mind. Without them, it felt purposeless. But my husband was cut from a different cloth. He thinks kids will be fun and a wonderful way for us to grow together, but he has also always been able to picture a beautiful, full life for us without them. Family for him is a choice, not a necessity.
At first his perspective was not easy for me to accept. I felt like I had to be the driving force behind our family planning. Fertility treatments were exhausting and emotional; many times, I wanted to quit, but I worried he wouldn’t have talked me out of it. Paradoxically, his permission to quit was exactly what I needed to move forward.
I felt ashamed of wanting to get off the baby-making treadmill. I thought it meant I didn’t want kids badly enough and didn’t deserve to be a mother. Core values about determination and work ethic conflated with my aspirations to be a mother and caused me to believe that if I wasn’t willing to do anything or try everything to have a baby, it meant parenthood wasn’t important enough to me.
Several people (including my mother and my therapist) tried to untangle my knotted emotions. Others tried to solve the problem by reminding me I could “always adopt.” Many offered words of encouragement or prayers. But my husband held my hand while I left dreams behind and considered terrifying possibilities. Instead of telling me we had to try again, he helped me imagine all the other things we could do with our life – travel adventures we could take, places we could live, relationships we could have with our nieces and nephews. He made a life without kids seem okay.
I thought about people like my aunt Missy – my dad’s younger sister, the “cool aunt” of my childhood who lived in the city, traveled the world for work, and had a personal shopper. But more than her “coolness” I thought about the role she played in my life growing up, as a trusted adult who I knew would always be there for me and who often felt more approachable than my parents. Though she married later and never have kids of her own, I only admired her life; I never thought it was empty or purposeless.
I talked to my friend from grad school who chose with her husband not to have kids. She told me that the people she considered her grandparents had been a childless couple who were her neighbors growing up and she challenged me to broaden my definition of family.
I imagined the wanderlust I could indulge without having to consider school schedules and the jobs I could pursue if I stopped worrying about insurance coverage for fertility treatments or paid parental leave.
Slowly, my future stopped feeling empty and started feeling full of potential. I accepted a possible reality where I don’t have kids. And now, when we are actively moving forward with surrogacy, I’m a little sad to give it up. I liked that possible life too. It’s still not the one I’d choose, but then again, neither is surrogacy or a one-child family. This might not be the life I ordered, but I no longer feel stuck in it.
“This Is Not the Life I Ordered” says that in order to become the author of your own life you need the four P’s: purpose, passion, possibilities, and power. When having kids was the only way I could define my purpose, it limited my possibilities and diminished my sense of autonomy and personal power. By opening myself up to childless possibilities instead of resisting them, I was able to spark new passions and broadened my definition of purpose.
Sometimes when we’re down, we don’t need people to tell us it will all work out. Sometimes, we need people to help us hold the alternative: That things might not work out; and even if they do, it probably won’t look the way we imagine it. But no matter what, we will be just fine