#129: The trouble with “trying”
What's been going on with me
Hope your holiday was less cursed with travel issues and various surprise viruses than mine.
The trouble with “trying”
I knew I wanted to write something personal for this newsletter, partly because it’s a famously reflective time (happy new year), and partly because I haven’t written directly about my life in a while, which was not an accident but a months-long act of avoidance. At first the avoidance was tactical—I didn’t want strangers to know what was going on with me, even though I desperately wanted to write about it. Then it became a matter of necessity, because I stopped knowing what to say. The second part was more depressing than the first; it was easier to feel muzzled than mute. My mounting inability to put my experience to words felt like a direct reflection of my mental state. Too illegible and tender for proper translation.
If this is sounding juicy, let me temper expectations. What happened is that, after about a year of deliberation, I decided to try to get pregnant and it didn’t work. And the process of that—the trying and then the failing—was far more emotionally fraught than I expected it to be. When Avi and I decided to start in the summer, I didn’t feel particularly desperate for a baby, or in a rush to transition into a more complicated and sleep-deprived era of my life. I assumed those conditions would lower the stakes significantly. I would be patient and accepting of the process. I would be, above all else, “casual,” a word I repeated like a mantra those first months. Unfortunately, there is no version of trying to grow a person in your body that is low-stakes and casual. At least not for a person like me. I would find that out pretty quickly.
People love to joke about how disgusting the expression “trying to have a baby” is. Posts lamenting it have regularly popped up on my feeds since social media was invented. There’s a prudeness to this view; people don’t want to hear about how you’re having “raw sex.” If those people actually knew what it was like to try for a baby they’d probably not want you to talk about it for completely different reasons, like the fact that you have to pee in cups constantly and it makes you go insane. I’m not using that word facetiously, either. At one point my friend (also trying) said she believed the brain of a person trying to get pregnant should be studied.
So far, the worst part of trying and failing to get pregnant isn’t that I don’t have a baby, which is honestly fine, at times a relief, but that I’ve been waiting for the biggest news of my life—sweating about it, preparing for it—that never comes. In case you’re unfamiliar with this particular feeling, imagine if someone said you’d be receiving a life-changing phone call some time in the next year, but as soon as tomorrow, and that you may notice signs in your body when the call is imminent, although not necessarily. And if you eat poorly or drink too much or work out the wrong way or not enough, it may alter the quality of the news. Now tell me you wouldn’t lose your mind just a little bit. Tell me you wouldn’t google “sneezing a lot sign of phone call coming?” (Turns out I had a cold.)
I didn’t plan to write about this part until it was over—the “trying”: a repellent pursuit, as unreasonably humiliating as standing in line for a treat. It seemed much more civilized to simply announce one day that I was pregnant. To be the kind of woman for whom having a kid was a mere bullet point alongside everything else. To never be thought of as the type to reorganize her life around fulfilling her sacred duty, to pay thousands to make it happen, or cry at her perceived worthlessness when it didn’t. Surely I’d lose credibility if my interest in parenting was anything but supplemental to my intellectual pursuits. I tiptoed fearfully around these sexist caricatures, making them real through my own belief.
Last summer, I intensely considered the difficulties of being a parent and thought almost nothing of the difficulty of trying to become one. I joked for years about being infertile, but only the way I joke about being pushed onto the subway tracks. I didn’t really think it would pan out that way. If anything, I was terrified of getting pregnant too fast. Of being thrust into parenthood before I’d thought of all the reasons it was the right choice and finished my budget and gotten drunk enough times in dark bars (luckily, I’m 15 years in). And so I waited until I was resolute. Not without fear—I’m not delusional—but with my other ducks reasonably lined up: practical, financial, emotional. The joke is that the brain-addling process of trying to get pregnant saw those ducks and kicked them straight into the sun. The punchline is there’s probably no better preparation for parenting, if I ever get to that part.
Looking back on 2022, I notice a mirroring—the first half defined by a quasi-ascendance of self, including a newfound confidence in my ability to weather challenges and a galaxy-brained appreciation for the ebbs and flows of life; the latter half defined by a seeming unraveling of all of that. It wasn’t that I was wrong about the soundness of my existing tools, only that I was short a few. This kind of pursuit was unfamiliar: unfazed by my preparation, hard work, and self-knowledge. Its success out of my control, an existential taunt! I’ve actually felt lucky, at times, to realize I’ve never experienced this kind of challenge until now. It’s made me feel young and naive again, too.
Recently, I’ve taken some time off from all of it, and it’s granted me a new perspective. Now I see another kind of mirroring—the first half of the year holding a key to the second. As you probably remember, my cat’s been terminally ill for a year and a half, requiring meds three times a day. One of my most arresting realizations of last year was that I’d grown used to it: the needles and liquid syringes, the finger cots and anti-bacterial shampoo, the constant refilling of five rotating prescriptions, the living on the brink of a creature’s death, waiting for the scary thing to finally happen. When he was first diagnosed, I assumed relief would only come after he’d died and I’d mourned him. I didn’t imagine the healing could happen inside the experience, before it was over. My own adaptability presented itself like a coded message about resilience.
It’s easier to associate change with hard lines: bad things ending, good things starting, hard choices being made. This time of year there’s a particular appeal to this view; goals laid out in legible steps. But illegibility doesn’t have to be a threat. I like to remind myself of this piece by Venkatesh Rao, in which he explores the wisdom of apparent chaos and unpredictability. Our obsession with order, he writes, leads us to “the mistaken assumption that thriving, successful, and functional realities must necessarily be legible.” As tidy as the beginnings and endings we construct often are, most of life finds us somewhere messier. Middling around what we’ve already started and not yet completed, if we ever do. There’s more opportunity there—to change, adapt, manage, ascend—than we give it credit for.
I haven’t been trying to get pregnant long enough to even qualify, medically, as struggling. The only money I’ve spent is on prenatal vitamins my body doesn’t need and boxes of ovulation and pregnancy tests I hide under my sink like a secret. It’s still early, in the grand scheme of things. Still, it’s been hard. Lonely, exhausting, almost impressive in its ability to carry me swiftly from the sense of joy and stability that compelled me to try in the first place. And so I’m starting this new year a little out to sea. Treading water among multiple swirling currents. Trying to remember what it feels like to make peace on the brink of a drawn-out death, trusting I can do the same on the brink of possible life, too.
On my podcast this week I’ll be talking in more detail about my experience “trying.” If you have particular questions you’d like me to answer on the topic, feel free to send them by replying to this email! The episode will be out on Tuesday morning @ 9 a.m. for paying subscribers.
Thanks for reading and happy new year everyone,