In ‘Notes To Self‘ by Emilie Pine, the author describes her efforts to conceive a child in her late thirties. As usual I flick to the end of the chapter to see if she is successful. I simply can’t engage if the story ends with a mother gazing at her baby in awe, as if she’s avoided a fate worse than death. It doesn’t.
But it does end with Pine counting her blessings, in a way that I found relevant and touching.
In her essay ‘From the Baby Years‘, Pine talks about craving the seemingly unique kind of love that flows between parent and child. Of new parents she says:
I saw the shock on their faces, the tiredness in their eyes, the extraordinary range of emotions provoked by the new person they had made. And I saw the love.
She values the lack of chaos in her life, having the time and space to devote to reading and writing. However, when she observes the pure rush of emotional connection that children seem to inspire, all ambivalence is removed and she has an epiphany:
The love undoes me and all my protests about peace and quiet and calm. I want this love.
Personally I never felt this way when I looked at children, but I was certainly informed of the phenomenon often enough: “You don’t know love until you become a parent”; “Everything else just pales in comparison”; “Partners come and go but your children will always be there” … When I found out I’d never have kids, these statements started to give me the heebie-jeebies when older parents casually dropped them into conversation.
There’s always someone eager to tell non-parents that they don’t know what they’re missing.
Honestly, I’ve seen so many dysfunctional parent-child relationships that I take it all with a pinch of sea salt. I often get a rush of love and protectiveness when I look at my husband, although I don’t go around telling people about it.
Emilie Pine is wrung through the infertility mangle, suffers loss, and feels the usual raw and shameful emotions. She writes very well about the rabbit hole of misinformation and agony that is trying and failing to conceive. Eventually, she realises that if things continue the way they are, “there may be no baby, and there may be no relationship either“.
… I can no longer avoid the fear that I will lose what I have in the pursuit of what I may never have.
The decision to stop trying is as empowering for her as it was for me. Everything immediately feels better when the pressure is off. Although, at the same time, it can seem that the universe is conspiring to rattle your composure: all the articles about advances in IVF; all the super-successful acquaintances who manage to raise children on the side; the fact that everyone around you has kids. Insensitive remarks can still lacerate.
I am never going to have a baby. I am anxious about this fact. And I am grieving.
And I am happy.
The note that she ends on is joyful and life-affirming. She spends time with her nephew and discovers that fabled emotion that she was looking for. Her heart explodes when he waves back at her for the first time. There it is, that love. Because parents don’t have the monopoly on oxytocin and dopamine, whatever they might say.
The last two paragraphs of this essay, about her partner and their shared life, are magical. She observes him raking the garden:
And it hit me. We are growing old together.
This is what it will be like as we watch each other age, as our partnership ages.
She looks ahead to their life together and she finds it: the joy.
I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been present when a parent has chosen to say something like “It’s the only thing in life that matters!“, or “It’s the most important thing you can ever do!” to a pregnant colleague or the new dad in my office.
For you, maybe. (Also, what’s wrong with a simple ‘Congratulations!’?)
Daily companionship, obligation-free, that’s the most important thing in my life now. It will protect me from loneliness and empty days as I age, if I’m lucky. It’s partners that do that, offspring aren’t generally the best at it.
I think that, but I don’t say it.
Notes To Self by Emilie Pine: