Once, about a hundred years ago, Jon and I called off our wedding. There was a lot more to it than that, so it’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say, it was a hard time.
But no one knew. A few months after we’d canceled the venue, photographer, DJ, and more that we’d been so excited about, someone at work asked how the plans were coming. I took a huge swallow of Diet Coke to keep myself from tearing up and casually mentioned that the wedding had been canceled.
That coworker, an older woman who dealt with me more like a grandchild than a colleague, shook her head and said she couldn’t believe I hadn’t said anything and had been showing up to work with a smile on my face.
At the time, this was a point of pride for me. I thought it meant I was a tough cookie, that I could just keep moving seamlessly even when I felt like my heart had been torn apart at the seams, the threads that used to hold me together waving around in the wind.
My mother had a heart attack over winter recess one year in college. No one knew. I was the girl whose depression support group called her “the cheerleader” until they found out at the last meeting that I had only recently quit cutting myself to stay alive.
I’m not able to do this anymore – this smile while you bleed thing. And although I still sometimes feel like I am sacrificing pride, I am starting to see the value of owning up to having a hard time.
I have been frustrated, over the last two years of trying to make a baby, at people’s insensitivity. But if I keep smiling and saying I’m all right and changing the subject, whose fault is that insensitivity?
Maybe it’s time to let myself be a real mess, so we can all be on the same page.
When you ask if we are planning to have another child. When you ask if Ella is my first or second, as though a second is a given.
When you jokingly warn me not to have another child.
When you remind me to have patience and faith in God’s timing.
When you gently suggest I not plan my immediate future around something that may be an impossibility.
When you try to help me visualize the baby that must be on its way any moment now.
When you tell me it will all work out how it is supposed to, when it is supposed to.
When you say these things, or – ideally – when you are thinking about saying these things but haven’t said them yet, what I need you to remember is that I am not seamless. That the stitches that used to hold me together have come loose and are flapping around in the wind and I am left wide open.
Sometimes it is fine and I hear you and keep moving. Sometimes I am tired and don’t have the energy to fend off my own reaction. Sometimes you are the third person who has said this kind of thing today and I am out of patience. And sometimes you are the first person but I can already feel the other two in line behind you.
Do you know how many different people have said one of these things – in love, I know – to me in the very few weeks since I started telling people we want another baby? So. Many. People. I presume they all mean well, because they are people who love or at least like me.
And I’m not exempt here. I’ve said some of these things to women I love and like. I’ve commented on other people’s family planning with little to no context about where they’re at or what their hopes were or how they got here.
Now I know: I am an asshole. I didn’t mean to be an asshole, and I know most people are not trying to be assholes.
I would like to propose a deal:
If I can remember that you are not trying to be an asshole on purpose, maybe you could try to remember that I am having a very hard time.
Even if I am smiling, even if it seems like I am managing well.
I am having a very hard time.