Monday, May 17, 2010

coming to terms with child-less ness

In an earlier post about women in history i mentioned that writing about Jane Sherar (A Sweetness to the Soul) helped me come to terms with my own childless-ness.  Someone commented and asked me to talk about that more.  So here I am, better late than never.
        First, I didn't know that the book would take me there.  Jane Sherar had no children of her own but she'd adopted a girl and taken in another and eventually took in a niece as well.  In the first draft, I remember not being sure whether to write her character as someone who wanted children but couldn't have them; or was she a woman unique for the period of the 1860s and someone who didn't want children in her life.  She'd had a strained relationship with her own mother and three of her siblings had died within a week of each other and she'd seen the grief that a child dying can bring.  My editor said to me at one point "You haven't really decided about the child less issue and I think you need to."  So I went back and in the rewriting, she became a woman who wanted children and couldn't have them.  And suddenly I knew that was true for me too.
   I'd been fearful of being a poor mother; wasn't certain I was self-less enough to give in that way, to put a child's needs above my own which is the absolute requirement for being a good parent i always thought.  When my body presented serious problems and my husband, who had been married before, wanted no more children (he'd had a vasectomy years before) I made the decision to have a hysterectomy at the age of 30.
   But it wasn't until I was nearly 50 before I really dealt with that loss and writing the book helped me go there.
    What I discovered is that we do not always get what we want in life; and that I could still have children in my life if I chose.  They would just be there in a very different way.  For me, it was working in an early childhood center on the reservation, helping families with their kids, letting them open me up as I walked beside them as parents that helped bring children into my life.  I still have some of those kids in my life.  The families too.  Jane Sherar had a relationship with the children of the same tribe I worked for so we walked together in that way.
    Then when the need arose, we took a grandchild in to live with us first when she was seven and then when she was 15.  I discovered that one didn't have to have given birth to a child to fall in love with them, to ache with the smell of their hair after a bath, to hold them in their sorrow.  Jane Sherar adopted a child when she was 13 or so and had to fight her mother over it to do it.  There were custody issues in the care of our grandchild too, all this while I worked on that book.  But Jane's willingness to be happy rather than being right; her willingness to accept what God had given her even though it wasn't all she thought she needed, both those pieces of wisdom entered my blood stream through the writing of that book.  Getting clear about what mattered, identifying what I had control over and what I didn't, that all came through in the writing of that story, too.
    To receive letters from couples and from individual women telling me that reading that book brought them to new places of understanding about their own infertility has been one of the greatest gifts a story can give.  I understand that some have been given the book by their doctors and by their therapists. That the story gives peace where there had been none is a great joy to me.
     That's how writing about Jane Sherar helped me come to terms with my child-less ness.  I'll be forever grateful.  I hope that helps!  Thanks for asking.

Taking Time

Today I never even walked outside.  I opened and closed the door fifty times to let the dogs in and out and each time I inhaled the air, looked at the river deck with the flowers I'd planted, admired the newly mowed lawn and how the green took my eyes to the rose bushes and beyond to the river running through the ranch.  It's high from recent rains.  It's looking bluer than brown though.  And I'm reminded that this is still an amazing place to have put down those "luminous fibers" that Barry Lopez speaks of in Arctic Dreams where he says some of us are not finished at the skin and send out fibers to a soil we've allowed to become a part of us.  I don't have to walk outside to feel the dirt beneath my feet to know I'm connected here.  And yet, all things change.  Even the river.  And our relationships to place.  In the months ahead, there may be new changes to our relationship to this land.  But no matter what happens, we will take with us a few of those luminous fibers with us.  For today, I will let the fibers be my eyes taking in the blessing of a place.