Have you ever received a gift but it came in a form you never expected (or thought you wanted) and you had trouble accepting it? Just me?
Well, I did recently receive a gift. I’ve come to understand the gift was what I wanted but it came in an unusual form that I thought I didn’t want. I was initially quick to complain that I couldn’t have what I wanted. It took me some time to see the gift for what it is: a gift.
Whatever its form, wherever its origin, it remains a gift. Merriam Webster defines gift as something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation. A transfer is a conveyance of right, title, or interest. It amounts to this: once conveyed, the gift was mine to do with as I will.
After first receiving the gift, it was so different in form from what my mind had cast forward that I didn’t recognize it as the thing I wanted. I couldn’t accept that it was the thing I had hoped for and longed for. Its shape was all wrong, I thought. The dimensions were entirely off. It didn’t even look like I thought it would. It couldn’t possibly be the thing I had carefully crafted in my mind.
The thing is, I could pretty easily discard the gift. I could pretty easily renounce it as useless. I could pretty easily let it go. Forget it.
Or I could not. I could embrace the gift. I could assign its purpose. I could hold on tight and let the gift just be. And remember it.
I could learn how new dimensions fit the grander vision the gift fits into. I could cast a new vision incorporating this new shape.
Like so many things in life, it’s a matter of perspective. And perspective is at least as much a matter of choice as it is a matter of circumstance.
What was the gift? It only really matters to me. No answer I write here would be truly satisfying to anyone else. But you probably have received a gift like this at some point, or will. A gift you thought might be pointless. A gift that you were quick to write off. A gift that, to be utilized, required you to recast your vision.
It’s a matter of perspective. A matter of choice. What will you do with the gift?
To my very many possible children never conceived,
I love you. I love the idea of you. Had you been conceived, I would have loved you no more than I do now. Part of you has been forged within me and stamped upon my mind, deep within the ancient code yet undefined, those neurons that would jump into excited preparations should you become.
At times I have longed for you, willed you, pleaded for you, dreamed for you. Before my firstborn and after – I craved motherhood. The ache I have experienced my whole adult life – this unassailable need for you all – abates today by my own choice, and you should know why.
Many friends and strangers may think this letter, these feelings, are silly.
I do not set this sense of absence on the same level as the loss of a conceived child, a born child, or anyone else. I do not pretend that I have suffered or suffer now.
The truth is, I don’t know when the soul is formed. I don’t know where it is formed. I do believe your soul is not taken from me in remnants. It may exist, waiting for a human to become. It may be formed alongside its human. This is a great mystery.
Your life was or is or will be potential energy. Your soul, I believe, bears a similar potentiality.
Go with me back to 2008, when Third was born. He was healthy and whole. I was a wreck. My body and hormones were wrecked from babies and breastfeeding for four straight years. Then my mind was wrecked from the hormones and depression and anxiety. Several months later, I sat for this picture, fully intending it to be my last.
And then my plan was preempted. What followed was a steady stream of depression, culminating in a diagnosis of conversion disorder in 2011. Our broader family changed much during this time due to growth and loss and trials. My connection with everything eroded.
Fast forward to January, 2016. I clawed my way out of some huge hole in which I had left myself. My first foothold had me transfer my boys from virtual to physical school. I cried to my mother and my doctor about my love for my boys and about my nagging fear that I had doomed them to a less-than sort of life with me, their anxiety-riddled, depressed mother. I love them and I want them still, as much as ever, and yet I could not release this overwhelming thought that I should not have been allowed children, that it would have been kinder to let their potential remain without my interference.
If that makes no amount of sense to you, you may be thinking any number of things now.
But if you have been or are there in that thought place right now, it is depression. Depression has colored my life. It has infected my thought process. It has required things of me that a healthy mind would never demand. That acknowledgement is step one.
My process of reinvention underway, I allowed myself (with some help) to think I might be fearless. I allowed myself to imagine a world in which nothing made my decisions except for me, a world in which my life was sufficient, a world in which I not only needed to be healthy and whole but wanted to be so. I wondered if I could let go of the depression and anxiety that had become my personality, if I could find a person buried beneath time and illness. I considered what my life today could be like if I let anxiety and depression make no more choices for me.
So I forgave myself, the me-army that held me to what-ifs and if-onlys. Now, I must let go the tether holding me to potentialities that depression told me could complete my life. That is, I must let go of you, my potential progeny.
Had you come to be (or if you come in the future), it would not have been (will not be) to complete me. My life and love would expand and become right along with you, but not toward my self-completion.
Depression lied when it said I was empty.
Depression lied to convince me more of anything would make me other than I am.
Depression lied when it told me to yearn for you and lied when it told me I was not good enough for my children fully formed and present.
Depression continually deceived me into believing that any risk was worth your existence, including the risk to my mental health and its impact on my family now here with me.
You would not have it so. You would have me full, as I am, in this moment.
So must I.
Not sadly. Not resentfully.
Peacefully. Present. Self-directed. Contained. Contented. Sufficient. Looking in the rooms of my heart already occupied.
If you come, you will be a surprise. And I will love you as I have always loved you. And you will join with us. And we will, to the very limits of our capabilities, be as healthy as you deserve us to be.
Another foothold that gets me closer to good health is this one: you all are released from my expectation, my longing, my great and terrible need.