Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Battling the Cinderella Complex

I was suppressing tears when I left Dr. M's office. His simple solution, try to have a baby now, was the furthest thing from simple for me. Obviously, he could not know or fully understand that. He doesn't have a front row seat to my imperfect life.
He initially didn't fathom my reluctance to try to get pregnant right away. If I want a baby, his thinking goes, just do it.
Noticing my distress, however, he paused and said sympathetically, “I guess it would be easier if you were married.”
Then he said what many well-meaning people say when they hear about my situation: “What about your boyfriend. You've been dating for three years, what's he waiting for.”
That question always stabs me in the heart. I've worked hard to make peace with the fact that D already has too much on his plate trying to manage his existing family to feel willing to add more to his brood. It's a reasonable, legitimate and responsible position for him. No one should be pressured into having children they don't really want. I get that. I fully understand it and respect it. Plus, I'm not even sure if creating a new blended family for us at this point is the right thing to do for all of the people who would be affected anyway. The timing is just not right.
But sometimes, when that “why doesn't he want to?” question is put to me, my rational, measured, patient perspective crumbles.

The question hits me at the vulnerable spot in my psyche shaped by decades of romance stories and fairy tales. Suddenly, Cinderella awakens and whispers insistently in my ear, “If he really loved you, he'd slay dragons to breed with you.” Or her evil step-sister hisses, “Clearly, he's planning to dump you when he finds someone he loves more. And you watch, he'll have a baby right away with her.”
Possessed by these voices in my head, I shrugged at Dr. M's question as if I didn't care (the best defense against inner emotional turmoil), and tossed out, “I don't know. Maybe he doesn't love me.” I was trying to be irreverent, tough, anything to swat back the army of tears Cinderella had summoned.
It didn't work. Her powers were too strong. Before I got the last words out, I cracked. My hands shot up to my face to cover the sniveling mess I was about to become. Shit. I'm crying like a little girl in the goddamn hallway of the fertility clinic. Can I be more cliched? But these attacks come on suddenly and strong. I have little defense against the initial onslaught.
Dr. M put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. “Well, it might be the time to figure that out,” he said. I nodded, unable to form syllables at the moment. And he continued, perhaps encouraged by my nod. “Don't you think you deserve to be loved?”
Jesus Christ. He is good at twisting that knife. He was taking tough love to a whole new stratosphere.
“Yes,” I tried to say confidently, although it came out small and feeble. Yes, I do.
The thing is, I know my boyfriend loves me. And I love him. But when it comes to making a baby, the world puts that love on trial.
I've already gone through all the reasons why he and I are not at the place where a young couple would be when their lives are yet to be written, or where an older couple would be if they were both still trying to create the family they never had.
Yet I often encounter (in myself as well) a belief that we should apply the mindset of those types of couples onto the lives of people in a much different place. The assumption is that love means wanting to make a family and a lifelong commitment to that family. And we judge the quality of love by testing the equation in reverse... If he does NOT want to have a baby, than he must not love you.

Perhaps that simple equation works better in our 20s and 30s when the big decision is who to create a family with and not if you want to create a family. But using that same equation on people in their 40s often fails to compute. There are just too many new factors involved that complicate the math.
I can't blame anyone for making these assumptions. It's the common human experience of love, marriage and family. My experience puts me in a super small minority, and very few people can imagine how the circumstances of my life change the rules for me.

Of course, if I didn't love D and his kids as much, I could more easily go out and try to find a partner willing to create a family with me. But I've already explained the lottery winning odds of finding that person in the short time I have left to get pregnant. Leaving behind the love and relationships I have and deeply value for the unlikely chance I'll meet a fantasy idea of a my more perfect Prince Charming in three months does not feel like a wise trade off. I must embrace the good things I have.
Even writing this, I cringe. I hate the calculating aspect of this decision. Every outcome is imperfect. Fairy tales princesses didn't have to face these kinds of choices. If she did, she was swept up in glowing sparkly magic dust and *poof* her prince appeared right in front of her – ready to impregnate her. All the difficult, complicated, disappointing stuff in her life was washed away and the story ends in the land of dreams. Everything becomes easy, simple and perfect. Happily Ever After.
But even fairy tales admit their happy endings require magic. And while I like to believe in magic and luck, I also know reality is just as powerful. I wish I could solve all my problems with the wave of my Fairy Godmother's magic wand, but alas, I musta stayed out past midnight too many times to warrant her attention anymore.
So like it or not, I must face I do not live in a fairy tale world. A perfect Prince Charming has not poofed up at my side. My life is complicated and imperfect and difficult. It's real life. And I really hope Cinderella's ghost will stop haunting it someday, cuz she definitely succeeds in terrorizing me on occasion.
I know I am not alone in this battle. The only thing that Dr. M said during his seminar that actually made me feel better, in a misery loves company sort of way, was that regularly in IVF treatment for older women, partners (usually men who already have children) are less than enthusiastic about having a child.

“Ah-ha!” I thought when hearing it. “I am not alone. Other women face this issue, too! Thank fucking God!”
None of us should feel like the only unloved woman in the world because our partner is reluctant to have a child. We should not feel shame or embarrassment if our men say no because they already have too many family responsibilities or other reasonable objections. Someday, if we talk about it enough, and help the rest of the world see love does not always equal baby, maybe we won't feel the pitying eyes of others when they hear our stories. We won't hear them say, “Honey, open your eyes. He doesn't love you. Find someone else. You deserve better.”
Sure, yeah, I deserve better. I also deserve to drive a Porsche and own a private island.

This is an increasingly modern problem for couples to have. With more women delaying motherhood into their 30s and 40s, we are also increasing the likelihood we will fall in love with men who already have children. That means more and more women will face the same issues I now face. Some might make decisions to leave their boyfriends who don't want children, others might chose to stay like me. Regardless, we should not judge our boyfriend's reluctance to have a child as a singular red flag that he does not love us and destroy the relationship because of that. It's unfair to him. And it's unfair to us. True, his lack of love might be the reason he doesn't want to have a child, but it also might not be the reason. Bottom line, though, it is not the litmus test Cinderella and her evil step-sisters would have us believe.

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