Someone close to me declared that I have no faith.
I plunge the thin white line into the cold black water like the bright streak of a meteor across a night sky.
I’ve lost it, she said.
I clutch the handle of the rod hard with an unnecessary urgency, like I’m trying to reel in all the possibilities of the universe, as if somehow, they all live at the bottom of that lake, just within reach of my bait.
Because I left Catholicism, the religion I was raised in, she said.
I peer into the slushy ice hole. A school of shallow perch swim around my line as I sink into my seat.
I ponder her words, wondering how someone could possibly qualify another person’s faith; something so personal, unquantifiable, indecipherable.
I rip my glove off with my teeth and pick up a cold glazed donut with my bare fingers. The freezing air deadens the succulent scent of hot sugared dough. I inhale through my nose as I chew, ice crystals form inside my nostrils and prick me like tiny pop rock explosions.
It perplexes me, because her verdict seems amiss. It doesn’t feel like I’ve lost anything. It feels like I’ve found something vital I didn’t know was there. Something I didn’t know was allowed to be there.
My line wriggles. I launch out of my chair, pole gripped with both hands. I’m new to this, and my enthusiasm for the thrill of any catch cannot be diminished. I want a result. I clutch hard. I’d been taught to clutch hard. “Ha!” I shout as I reel in a greenish perch. It’s the length of a teaspoon as it squirms on my line. I cup it in my hand tightly and lay it on my lap as I attempt to remove the hook from its slippery mouth. I’ve got it now; I say to myself. The metal slides out of its lip, but the fish jerks so hard it jumps out of my clutches, thrashing around the ice. I leap after it, chasing it one, two, three feet from the hole, my hands bracing above it to catch the plucky perch in its next bounce for freedom. My right foot hits a smooth patch of frozen lake and I skate off my feet onto my back. The puffy thud of my snowsuit-laden frame hits the ice like a woolen rock. I snort laugh, the hilarity and unpredictability of chasing a fish on land overwhelms me. My desperate grip only created distance from my catch.
I watch the fish flop into the hole as I recline on my elbows, breathless, and look out at the undulating snow-capped peaks dotted with forests of evergreens and barren maples. The blue tinge of the wide Vermont winter sky peeks through thick striations of cloud and my chapped face is fresh with the bitter chill of morning. The cold enters my body through my mouth and jolts my insides awake. I clamber to my feet and run, the swish of my snow pants echoes off the lake as my feet pound on the ice, thud, thud, thud, one in front of the other. I stop my strides just before a slick patch opens before me and glide atop it like a snowflake on a breeze. The arctic air passes over my outstretched arms and sneaks into the collar of my coat, sending a tingle down my spine.
I glide for what feels like hours, skating over the snow and rain and melt and crack and freeze that’s been suspended inside of the ice like weather fossils. This is not the experience I came to the lake for, or was told I should have, but it’s the one I am having, and I sense there’s a profound reason for it if I can stay open enough to find out.
This is faith, I think; a discovery, a positive state of awareness, a lightly held reel in a lake of uncatchable perches. It’s the ability to stay open to untaught experiences and truths that only a higher power can reveal for us, in forms we don’t expect. My faith isn’t about hand-me-down instructions and doctrines and certainties and hope for a definitive catch, it’s about softly yielding to what doesn’t yet exist, knowing the spirit only arrives when I show up in my life in a way that ice skating was the only possible thing I could ever have wanted to do today.
I didn’t respond to a failed early attempt at motherhood in the way people, and society, expected me to.
I was supposed to be tense, anxious, resistant, sad. Like the way a Chihuahua looks. But I detected, early on in that first unsuccessful year attempting to reproduce, that I was in the process of becoming someone, and not the someone that I had first set out to be, but someone else entirely, someone I couldn’t have fathomed, the someone, the me, that was just on the other side of what I thought I knew.
I had fallen into a murky yet fertile immersion pool that teemed with opportunities for radical self-knowledge. Opportunities that typically only arise from not having gotten what you asked for. And because I chose to keep my eyes open underwater, searching the depths of that pool for lessons, I started to receive them. I felt a transformation in my bones. A growing pain. Uncomfortable and creaky at first, but strengthening. I liked it, the expansiveness that was the uncertainty, the limitless academia that was the interrogation of inherited beliefs. I was becoming. And it got so that I wanted to be so fully in the process of becoming more than I even wanted a result. In the ungravity of infertility, and in the profound and underutilized tutorage of nonreaction and conscious inaction, I learned that I had wanted the idea of children, but not the reality. I had wanted the promise, but not the truth.
The decision not to correct what stood between us and parenthood was an organic one, because the “problem” to fix, when given the room to unripen without interference, didn’t feel like a problem at all. At first, I had imagined the suspected overgrowth of endometrial tissue inside of me as a demonic and metastatic weed in my organs. Sticking to my pelvic walls and onto my insides like a pesky fungus, I had believed it was taking my fertility hostage. I was told it would need to be tamed, corrected, surgically extracted. But, in that moment, instead of scrambling for the exit door out of uncertainty and whizzing down the closest possible path to a result, we rejected any prescribed intervention and instead welcomed the unfamiliar transactionlessness of space and time as something even more sacred and potentially illuminating for us. As the days and weeks and months progressed and we sunk back into the rhythms of our life, things began to change. A dimension had opened up where there hadn’t been before. A new picture emerged entirely. The image of that demonic weed in my bowels softened, losing its grip on me as something to resist. It started to feel less like an invasion, and more like a protection. It hadn’t been bodily malfunction, or something malicious and problematic, it had been collaboration. The universe’s intelligence working in unison with my body to keep me, us, on our most destined paths, to teach us what we were most meant to learn.
Even as the mist cleared and the becoming continued, it took years of comprehensive unlearning and intentional silence to unravel even fractions of the social conditioning that had me believe that childrearing was what I wanted, what I needed to want in order to be seen as worthy, of value. For a married woman in her thirties, challenging these heteronormative gender roles is not something most people are going to support you with. It’s still a lonely game when you choose to be childfree. But time and space and the wisdom that silence offers have become my closest friend. And admittedly, I’ve found it unbelievably educating, at times thrilling, living in the space between what people think I should be doing and what I am doing. It is another immersive pool from which an abundance of fortitudinous riches can be gleaned. Aging, surprisingly, has helped. Parts of me that were still covered in expectation and comparison and doubt have been unearthed, set free. Like sculpting. Year upon year doing away with the inessential, chiseling it off until what’s left feel like the truest things. They’re less comprehensible, less tangible, but they’re also more vast, more inexhaustible, more empowering.
One of these truest things that I have come to believe is that motherhood, mothering, cannot be limited only to its most temporal and accessible definition; the role that we describe as a result of the act of childbearing. It is more expansive than this. The natural world knows it. That it is boundless in its entirety, vital in its largeness. Because it is also a divine state of nurturing presence, a propagation, a bringing forth. Motherhood is, in its most profound and most necessary state, an act of bringing something to life, an act of sustaining life, a creation of energy and light where there wasn’t before. Motherhood is growth. It is community. It is love. It is within all of us. It is not one thing, but all things. The only thing.
I did not choose not to become a mother. Because, I have always been one. I will always be one. As long as I choose to create, to love, to inspire, to believe, to bring forth out of the shadows that which are the most life-giving and authentic and hopeful parts of myself as offerings to the world. As long as I shine my light into the darkness. As long as I breathe new life into the air. As long as I stay open, always, to becoming.
Finding it odd how life’s most profound milestones don’t elicit the same mass congratulatory mobilization as more traditional events. We’re not as publicly joyful for people about their passion as we are their progeny, as celebratory about their hard-fought independence as we are their nuptials, as full of pride and praise about their healing as we are their graduation. What’s often seen worthy of reward and recognition is some external progression, some outwardly evolution, as opposed to an internal advancement; someone discovering their talent for teaching after years of searching for purpose, someone deciding to go to therapy for the first time, someone coming out to their family, someone finishing that book they’ve been working on for a decade, someone persisting in the pursuit of their dream against unfavorable odds, someone bravely going back to rehab. But there aren’t showers, registries or formal parties for these things. Perhaps because they’re not as visible, harder to define, difficult for culture to profit from. I’ve never seen bunting for having broken bad behavioral patterns.
And isn’t that what makes these things so in need of celebration? The harder-to-package moments are often the most intensely fought for, the quietest of victories, the most imperceptible of braveries. The things we often find the most difficult are also the least applauded. And we sense no one cares. Not by mainstream standards. I’ve never bought a gift on a registry for someone who heroically moved to a new city alone after quitting a job that broke them. I’ve never been to a shower in support of a person who otherwise couldn’t afford the silent retreat they were in desperate need of after escaping an abusive relationship.
Sometimes the most profound of occasions go unsupported, uncelebrated. The most courageous of achievements pass unnoticed. But the most important thing that will happen in a person’s life won’t typically be the shiniest. It’ll be the thing you forgot to notice about them. Forgot to ask. Forgot to celebrate. What we’ve been duped into thinking is unworthy of mention might be the thing that defines their whole damn life. Acknowledge it. Celebrate it.