Even though I know the American dream is bullshit, as a woman who has worked for the past twenty years in the entertainment industry, I have developed a really intense work ethic. Somehow working twice as hard as the men around me while taking ten times more crap led me to think that in all situations, if I just keep pushing, it’ll all work out. And while my workaholic tendancies helped me survive my job, they didn’t help much when I woke up at age thirty-eight and realized I wanted a kid.
No matter how many times I took my temperature, penciled sex in on my day planner, or visited the fertility specialist, I still couldn’t get pregnant. So after a year or so I began looking not just at what I was doing, but at how I was doing it. Treating getting pregnant as just another project didn’t account for things like my age or the fact that I had no balance in my life. So I decided to go the extra mile and began to radically change my eating habits, quit caffeine, take up yoga, and even do accupuncture, all while questioning if being a workaholic for the rest of my life was really what I wanted.
Doing all this was thrown into super slow-mo by what self-help books might call “my family of origin issues.” My dad is a high-functioning alcoholic who weighs 400 pounds and my mom, who has never eaten a scrap of food before two p.m., smokes a pack of Benson and Hedges every day and refers to the never-ending box of wine in her fridge as her “therapist.” I grew up thinking Chef Boyardee was really healthy, because it in some way involved tomatoes, and I can’t remember a time when my family ever took a walk or a hike or otherwise did any physical activity together. Quite simply, when I finally came around to the idea of self-care, I had no idea how to do it.
The first time I went to a yoga class I started crying, because the feeling of “being in my body,” doing something good for myself, was so foreign and confusing to me. As I was sneaking out the back door of the gym, another realization hit me: taking care of myself made me feel like I was in a car driving away from my family while flipping them off in the rearview mirror. Sure, they kinda suck, but sometimes staying on a sinking ship with people you know is a better proposition than floating solo on a life boat in the open ocean.
One of the first things to go in my quest for healthy living ended up being non-stop multitasking. Typically my nights and weekends were filled with what I call faux-relaxing. Always on guard in case some crazy work emergency might come up, I spent most of my down time catching up on emails while watching bad pay-per-view movies with my husband. Basically I had no boundaries between work and my life, something I knew I’d need not just to be less stressed out and therefore more able to get pregnant, but also to be presen as a mom.
You know those people who are texting all the time? It’s like they are not really in the room with you and they are not really with the person they are texting either? They are nowhere. Well that’s what I was like, even though I don’t text that much; I was nowhere. Not really at work and not really relaxing.
Yoga helped. Having a place where all I did was one thing helped me see the value of being focused. At first, taking the two hours out of my day to get there and back and attend the class made me completely insane. I was giving up two whole hours of scatterbrained productivity! But when I came back to work, I chose more enjoyable projects to work on and finished them faster because I wasn’t reading a fertility book with one hand, working the project with the other and writing emails with my toes. I focused, stayed present and the most amazing thing happened: I started to leave work at work and slowly began to take my weekends back.
But even after I mastered the exercise thing and was able to do yoga sans tears, even after I figured out what quinoa was and added it into my diet, even after I learned to be more focused and present, I still couldn’t get pregnant. It was time to admit some other stuff I’d spent a long time denying.
I came of age as a feminist in the ’90s. Back then, my friends and I talked about language and the body, queerness and sex, while simultaneously living total “neck up” realities. We ignored our biologically female selves in favor of a “we can do anything” ideal that made sense to us at the time.
If you even mentioned actual biological differences between men and women back then, you were labeled an “essentialist” and immediately dismissed as an old fashioned fuddy-duddy. I remember seeing a bunch of stuff about women’s biological clocks at the grocery store in my thirties and writing it off as anti-feminist, if-you-don’t-get-married-by-thirty-you-never-will, Ally-McBeal-type garbage.
And now, at age forty, here I am undergoing IVF, an intensive fertility treatment meant to get me pregnant, and realizing that some crappy magazine headlines actually do end up being true. While it’s not the case for everyone, at forty my eggs are just old and have too many chromosomal problems for me to get pregnant without medical intervention.
And while not having healthy role models played into it, as did my workaholism and the extreme idea of equality I adopted in college, another thing held me up perhaps longer than any other. It is this element that really was the petri dish in which all my body denial truly thrived: I was taught as a kid not to trust myself.
I listen to myself now. When things were really crazy in our house (“Oh no! Dad is outside with a gun again and may start shooting in the windows!”), my mom simply had us lay on the floor until the situation subsided (or Dad passed out) and then we all went on as if nothing had happened.
I remember times when my insides were screaming, “Oh my god, Dad is so drunk he is about to drive us all off a cliff! Nooooo!,” but instead of saying anything I just stared into the distance and told myself it would all be okay. Is it any wonder that as an adult I didn’t eat when I was hungry or take the day off when I was sick? Is it any wonder that I ignored my longing to get pregnant for so long, or was taken in by the myth that I could magically triumph over my own biology?
Look, IVF is no joke. It involves a lot of shots, drugs that make you feel awful, going to a clinic almost every day at seven a.m., and of course having surgery to remove your eggs. It is also crazy expensive and most people’s insurance doesn’t cover it. Quite often, it doesn’t work. And when it does, you can still have a miscarriage.
I know this sounds depressing, and it is. But it’s also forced me to take time and figure out a lot of things I might never have gotten around to figuring out. In doing so, I’ve become even more aware of how much I not only want to be a parent, but how much I want to be a good parent.
And even though I don’t have a baby yet, trying to have one has changed my life for the better. I am not a crazy multitasking workaholic anymore. Sure it’s been hard for me to maintain a great meal plan and exercise consistently while doing IVF, but I am taking walks when I get stressed out, taking my vitamins every day, and listening to my body when it says “you need a break.” And among all the pain and heartbreak of this process it’s been nice to receive a gift: I listen to myself now.
Sure, I wish I had started this all sooner, listened to my body earlier, but I’m grateful in a way that it hasn’t been easy. Because now when I do have kids, whether by birth or adoption, I know I am going to listen to them. I am also going to cook them real food and take them on hikes and thank them every day, because just by taking their time getting here, they’ve already taught me so much that I want to teach them.