Let’s try that again, coherent this time

I didn’t actually mean to write what I will now call the Whine Post yesterday.  I just sat down at the computer, thought to myself “gotta let people know I am still alive”, and before you know it it all came out.  Think of it as the emotional equivalent of the barfing that has been happening a lot around here.

I had some time to sit and think about things (I was going to say “digest things” but that is a pretty gross mixed metaphor when combined with the “emotional barf” idea) and I think I now actually have something coherent to say about why I am so doggone cranky.   And it won’t be as annoying to the in-hell portion of my target audience.  The topic of the day will be “control”.

Today I actually had a good day, surprisingly enough.  I managed to wake up at 7 instead of staying comatose until 9.  That meant I got up, had breakfast, went to the gym, exercised, ran some errands, had breakfast #2 (sad but true, right now exercise requires a meal both before and after and a snack during if I want to avoid the low-blood-sugar barfies), and was still ready to get to work by 10:00.   Not only that but I worked pretty much the whole day.  And got a bunch of stuff off the stinky painful todo list.  Ah, a day like today is a pleasure indeed for an overachiever like myself.

And that gets us back to the issue of “control.”  Or the lack thereof leading to crankiness.  Today I was happy because I could plan my day, and then do as I planned.  Other days have been not so happy because I have not even been able to get out of bed, let alone work my way down the optimistically constituted todo list.  And this is what I find really the most difficult thing about this pregnancy thing – the out-of-control-ness of things that were once at least seemingly under control, such as my sleep-wake cycle, what I choose to put in my mouth, or how many todo items I manage to check off in a day.

I am guessing that a lot of ladies get bit in a variety of ways by the lack-of-controlness that comes along with pregnancy.  For people with body image issues, there is the whole challenge of body gone wild, with unprecedented expansion not only in the belly area but often in many others as well.  For people with eating disorders, there is the whole tightrope to walk around nausea/vomiting/food aversions and cravings/needing to gain a particular amount of weight/not supposed to gain too much weight.  This stuff is not helped by the total obsession (in my not-so-humble opinion) placed in US pregnancy advice around You Must Gain Exactly This Amount of Weight,  With Every Bite Think of the Baby, Pregnant Women Gain Weight Because They Think It’s OK To Eat For Two,  and Pregnant Women Endanger Their Babies By Trying To Diet Inappropriately (here in Mr. Nishkanu’s home country, my OB just says “eat reasonably and you will gain the weight you are supposed to, there’s no point in targeting a particular weight”).   Now I am super ultra blessed that for some reason I managed to escape the whole dieting/hating-my-body thing which is so popular among Americans of my gender persuasion (note: this is not because I am super skinny either).  But no worries, the balance of disorders is still totally even, because my disorder is around work, which is where for me the conflicted issues of control raise their ugly heads.

I grew up in a household where control was the order of the day.  Point #1, we were Catholic, and we were reminded very frequently that there were strict rules which control one’s behavior and thoughts and that deviation from those rules would not be tolerated.  There was good, there was bad, there was nothing in between, there was a great deal of fear that one might accidentally end up on the bad side (because that is, of course, what people would naturally want to do if left alone) and a striving to be on the good (no-fun) side instead.  Point #2, my mom (who is a wonderful, creative, energetic person and a very loving parent) is extremely anxious, and the general atmosphere around the house was “we must always follow the proper rules of behavior or a horrific disaster will surely befall us.”  [Anecdote to illustrate: when  I was a sophomore in college I got mono.  Someone teased my mom that mono was “the kissing disease.”  My mom, horrified: “you kissed someone?”  When I said that as a matter of fact I had, I got a lecture about HIV… because after all kissing = sex = death, that was clear, one little deviation off the no-kissing route would surely end in AIDS.]  Point #3, my parents are hyperintellectual overachievers and aimed to instill the same hyperintellectual overachieving in all of us.  All moments of the day must be enriched and educational, no trivial activities allowed.  All the way through college – by my own choice – if I read a book or saw a film it was a Great Classic.  It took me a lot of time to thaw to the joys of Mrs. Pollifax, though in that department I have succumbed entirely now.

Although I have a great relationship with my parents now, when I look back upon my childhood as an adult I have always thought to myself, “good God, this is something I am going to spare my kids.”  In fact I think a good portion of my overpowering desire to have kids is the desire to retroactively fix what was a comfortable, middle-class, safe but extremely anxious, stressed and lonely childhood by raising a child who knows that it is loved and does not have to perform to have value (no worries, I am not going to be one of those super-permissive parents either, we’re just not going to be playing Mozart to my baby bump or scheduling wall-to-wall enriching afterschool activities).

And yet… yet I can’t give myself that same permission I would give my child.  I am not nearly as tightly wound as I was in college, but when it comes down to it I still must perform to feel I have value.   The result of my control-yourself-focused childhood along with the experience of control-yourself as soul-suckingly miserable is that I have a massive love-hate relationship with “ought”, or more precisely, with work and other ‘productive’ activities.  On the sane side, I normally have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and I like to do lots of stuff and have my nose in lots of things.  On the less sane side, I can easily fall into two conflicting extremes re work… the “see, I did lots, that must mean I am a good person, I am not being one of those bad people who just does whatever they want” pavlovian training accompanied simultaneously by the “why should I have to perform to have value?  I will show you, I won’t work!” reactionary bad attitude.  Needless to say, these two attitudes can easily get into rabid and painful fights in your head, not to mention across the stage of your actual life.  And that’s what this pregnancy with all its energy-sapping and productivity-killing side effects is forcing me, once again, to confront, ’cause I just can’t work like I feel I ‘ought’.

The worst of it is… it’s obvious.  It is so fricking obvious, it doesn’t take any genius to look at my childhood and look at me now and figure out where things went wrong and why this is a problem for me and why it shouldn’t be a problem for me because really all I should have to do is chant to myself “I have value, yes I do, I have value, and so do you!”.  And believe it.  That is the tricky part.

I should note that one might think that my drive for relentless control should already have been extinguished during our seemingly never-ending infertility period.  After all, infertility is a great big giant laugh in the face from the idea that we can control our own lives.  Sure, we kinda thought that when we started, and then we thought that at least we could control it by getting fertility treatments, and then we tried to control it by paranoically reading Fertility & Sterility, eating pineapple, stopping exercise, and doing whatever other crazy things someone found once caused an increase of 0.1% in IVF success…. and still major nothing. You would think a person might learn from that not to try to control the uncontrollable.  But not me.  I think for me the whole experience of infertility is one of thinking more and more as my mom does/did, that one cannot trust the universe, that one must control everything, as much as possible, if one ever wants to avert the horrible disaster that is unwanted childlessness.

But this is the thing, I have decided, that I now have to do.  It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the road to sanity out of the “I ought to”/”I don’t wanna”, “I am a bad person because I am so f*cking behind on everything I want to do” is that maybe I have to trust the universe.  Maybe I have to trust the universe that things will turn out OK at work even if I am not on top of everything.  That maybe even some non-optimal results can happen without the entire world falling apart.  That somehow things will work out, even if I can’t do all the things that I think I should do.  That maybe things will turn out OK anyway.  And maybe that trust has to come despite knowing that in the world we live in, sometimes really, really bad things do happen, even when we try to exercise all the control we can.

I took a fantastic course in college where we read Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling,” a book that had no relationship to my actual area of study but made a huge impression on me, not least because it is so sensitively and beautifully written.  One of the things Kierkegaard tries to work through in this book is what it means to have faith.  He wonders if a man of faith is someone who has some kind of special certainty that God exists, who somehow really knows more than the rest of us about the existence of God.  But he concludes that that would not be faith, but certainty – if someone has positive proof of something, that is not faith anymore, that is just knowledge.  He decides that to have true faith is to not know for sure, but to be willing to stake one’s life on something anyway.  That is the kind of faith in life I am trying to develop now. And maybe that kind of faith would help me to give up the desire to always be in control.



  1. Rachel said

    Yep. It’s the not knowing and the utter inability of someone to tell me ‘you’re going to be fine and everything with this pregnancy is going to be okay, and the rest of our life will work out too.’ And I think the only sane way out of not having that is a leap of faith.

    I mean, in the end, is not having a child one huge leap of faith anyway? Faith that they will grow up without getting too hurt or scared so that they too can have a happy life? Faith that you can handle that? Faith that you have what it takes to actually raise a human being to be a decent person?

    That’s my plan, anyway. Doesn’t mean I still don’t get scared and the lack of control doesn’t get to me. But anything else will certainly drive me insane in the next 6 months or so.

    Hang in there. I will if you will… 😛

  2. Whoa. What a beautiful pondering of the need for control and validation through accomplishment. I hope that you are able to find faith that everything will indeed be okay. When you find it, any chance you can share with the rest of us? Sort of a Mel’s Show & Tell, if you will?

    Great post. Great, great post.

  3. Ana said

    Wonderful post, you really expressed it well (as usual). I’ve just started to have good & bad days (as opposed to invariably terrible), which is, don’t get me wrong…fantastic…but the good parts of the good days, when I actually am accomplishing something, really raise my expectations for the rest of the time. My to-do lists are getting long again (when I was really feeling terrible, I just let everything slide, I was too fuzzy-headed to care), but the energy isn’t there. Now i’m stuck with GUILT. As an overachiever who derives insane pleasure from crossing things off a list, this is torture. I admire your resolve to let go & have faith. Let us know how you do it!

  4. peeveme said

    I came to thank you for your comment on my post (which you made some really great points) but this post has me enthralled.

    We are so similar. Achievement is 100% of my self esteem. Anything less that 100% effort and 98% achievement of my goal will send me into an anxiety spiral. Being pregnant and not being able to do even the minimum some days has been hard emotionally. Being hard on oneself is just how I was raised.

    Infertile was a HUGE lessen in “no matter how hard you try sometimes you can’t MAKE somethign happen.” Pregnancy is also a lesson in that.

    Somedays I try to exert more control, others I try to enjoy the ride. Enjoying the ride is not something that comes naturally to me so I can appreciate you attempt at achieving a new mindset.

    • nishkanu said

      Ah, it is so nice to hear I am not the only one!

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