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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When Plans are Screwed

Greetings, Synthesizers!

In this post, I'm going to try to do what I'm constantly imploring my students to do: synthesize. That is: take multiple sources -

1) Revolutionary Road, the film
2) yesterday's trip to see a mental health counselor

- think about what singular new pattern arises from them, and write about that pattern in a coherent way. Fueled on several gulps of coffee, the summer temperature having not yet soared into the gag-worthy 90s, I feel ready to attack this monstrous critical-thinking task.

Let's start with the film, Revolutionary Road. There were so many things about this movie that struck me as compelling and profoundly thought-provoking. One of those things - the thing I'm going to focus on here - was the PLANS element (there's a reason I'm bolding and capitalizing "PLANS" - wait for it). Kate Winslet is essentially your classic antsy, depressed, bored 1950s housewife, craving adventure and the life she used to have. So she and Leonardo Hottie DiCaprio they make a PLAN to ditch everything, sell the house, pack up their two kids and go to France - not for any particular reason - just for the sake of adventure (I'm sort of picturing Leonardo licking Nutella off of Kate's stomach - now THAT would be the ultimate aventure francaise).

But it turns out - uh oh - Kate is knocked up with PLAN-ruiner number three (er, um, excuse me - I mean child number three). And because Paris is oh-so-primitive, and people just don't HAVE babies in places like Europe, Leonardo decides they can't go. He's going to stay at his ho-hum sales job and Kate isn't going to get her aventure francaise, and they're going to continue living their boring suburban kid-filled lives. They argue about it (well, it's a bit more than "arguing" - think screwing other people and throwing shit at each other), and Kate feels trapped, panicked, all of that - to the point where she ends up creating a dramatic, tragic, last-ditch new PLAN to save her...well...self.

Plans, plans, plans. Making plans, those plans not working out. Making new plans to fill the space where the old plans were. This resonated with me because I am a goddess of plan-making. I also connected with Kate's feeling of trappedness, her need for that France plan, her frantic scramble to another plan to replace that one. Murgdan, everyone's favorite infertility blog-o-beeyatch, wrote a
recent post ending with a most insightful line: "That is what I hate about infertility. No planning is possible in the midst of the greatest planned event ever."

When the kid you had PLANNED for doesn't come, you can keep hoping and planning for that damned kid. But how long do you keep up that mode of thinking? At what point do you give up and switch PLANS?

* * *

This is a decent segue into the second item in part of my synthesizing effort this morning: my trip yesterday to see a shrink.

Some background: I have only seen a shrink one other time in the past decade. That was just after Zachary's dirth, and it only made me realize how little I enjoy sitting across from someone smarter than me and feeling dissected like a quivering, psychologically weak, naked little pearl onion on a cutting board. By the end of that meeting back in 2007, I filed "Seeing a Shrink" away into the "Never Do It Again" compartment inside my head, right alongside "Cooking Indian Food" (face it: making Indian food that actually tastes like real Indian food, as in the $8.99 chicken tikka marsala from the fluorescent-lit Indian take-out place up the street, is near impossible. Tried it, sucked, will never try it again. Same with seeing a shrink.)

Then a month ago, in the midst of my angst over whether or not to go on birth control, I reluctantly scheduled an appointment with a mental health counselor. That was yesterday's "trip to the shrink." I sauntered into the office waiting room breezily and feeling high on myself. Everyone else there looked like people who actually needed psychological help, eyes downcast, those poor sops. I, on the other hand, clearly have my shit together - thank you very much - and was only doing this because my insurance covered it (right? RIGHT?).

Really, I just needed to sort out three few chronic anxieties that have been weighing heavy on my mind lately, and that Kevin's grown tired of hearing about (for the record, he hasn't actually said that - I just can't imagine he can't possibly be already bored with the topic).

I laid these things out for my assigned trim blond counselor, sitting across from her in a large office with sweeping views of downtown:
  • Fear of having a baby.
  • Fear of not having a baby.
  • Recurring nightmare in which I'm lying in a darkened radiology room with an image of my own uterus on the screen, and the Grim Reaper appears with a curved knife and informs me that I'm about to die. 2-3 times a week, at least, and I wake up panting and choking on air.

We never got to the nightmare part. We never even got to the second item: fear of not having a baby. Everything seemed to boil down to that first one: fear of having one. I'm talking intense, borderline irrational terror at the mere thought of a loud, poopy, attention-sucking creature bumping into my feet, tying me down, crushing my soul.

I actually liked this woman right away, even though she was blond and skinny with a great big diamond on her ring finger and all sorts of prestigious plaques on the wall. She gave off a good vibe, and her office walls were a soothing color. I told her the full deal: for the past three years, the PLAN had been to create a child. Not create a child and enter into boring, stay-at-home suburban life, but create a child to drag into my and Kevin's globetrotting, happy-hour loving, rustic-vacationing lifestyle. We felt we could do it, defy all conventions that having a child means you never get to do fun, adult things anymore.

But after February's third pregnancy mishap, I starting undergoing some sweeping mental shift. Suddenly, I saw myself as having a new life PLAN, and that PLAN was to be forever childless, embracing that life instead of the old life with kids that had been the earlier PLAN. Kevin and I both started getting into this concept of being forever childfree. During our road trip to Idaho, we started noticing out at restaurants that anytime you saw a table with two parents and kids, the parents looked like these unhappy husks of human beings, not talking to each other, not smiling, just focusing wearily on "getting through the meal" without some major kid-induced catastrophe. Why would we ever want that? We were enjoying our drinking when we felt like it, screwing when we felt like it, packing up and hitting the road when we felt like it, cussing when we felt like it. And as for this seemlingly prevailing current culture of NEVER hiring a babysitter, NEVER separating from your toddler? All seemed like bullshit to me and Kevin.

So we started excitedly making new PLANS - plans that didn't involve kids. Plans like renting out the main floor of our house to vacationers to make some money. Buying a farm. Getting a second dog. Going to Spain for the summer. And other stuff too. The fear of having a baby came from just that: fear of having our new PLANS interruped, similiarly to how my earlier PLANS - the plans to actually have a baby - were interrupted three times in the past. Thrice, as we say. In short, I was tired of having my PLANS ruined.

So this shrink looked at me and said: "What are 'PLANS' anyway?"

Fucking rhetorical question. For a minute I was worried that this was going to be the type of thing where I have to conjure up some muddled answer on my own, where she doesn't actually tell me anything useful and concrete, and I've wasted my $15 co-pay. But fortunately, she went on, and put this out there:

"You're making plans because you're afraid. PLANS are nothing but a psychological coping mechanism for dealing with trauma. They're a made up concept in our imaginations. There's been a lot of research done on the remarkable ability of the human brain to shut down all feeling, and let analytical, logical, plan-making take over. It's a way to distract yourself. You make plans because they seem like something you can control, and they give you something to focus on besides grief and pain. You got burned on your plans to have kids, so you're making new plans to fill that space in your heart. You resent the idea of a baby shattering these new plans. That's why you're afraid of having a baby."

Obviously, I'm paraphrasing here. That's the basic gist of what she said, over the course of the hour. There were other things that came out too, WAAAAYYY too much to bore you with in one post. Things like: I never properly dealt with that first miscarriage. I'm apparently a queen of dissociation - letting my analytical, PLANNING, computer-sciencey brain-half totally trump my emotional-feeling-hippy-English-teacher brain half because I'm afraid to really feel anything, yada yada.

But it was the making PLANS thing that really stuck with me the most, because it made sense: THAT'S why I'm suddenly so afraid of a baby coming into my life. That would ruin my PLANS, again - these carefully laid-out, childfree PLANS which happily don't involve the risk of losing a child, and which mercifully take my mind off the deeper sludge of unresolved grief still lurking around inside my soul.

A Cliff-Notes version of what's happening inside my head - not bad for a $15 co-pay. I'd say it was worth it this time. Not that I have a clue as to what it all means; I still have the plans, the fears. But it at least gives me clue as to what's happening.

Anyway, see? It's all related: Revolutionary Road, Murgdan's post, and my trip to the shrink. Now I'm off to implement today's PLAN of shaving my armpits and maybe even give those meditation exercises my shrink recommended another try. She told me to repeat the mantra: "I will not be afraid to feel -" which, she claims - is the root cause of my frantic plan-making and fear-of-plan-breaking. I attempted it briefly this morning, sitting on the living rooms floor with my coffee mug balanced on one knee for focus, but all I could think about was bacon double cheeseburgers.

God, I suck at meditating. I think I might be screwed.


Ya Chun said...

Hm, what are we supposed to do if not planning something? I think I would settle into the lowest energy orbital and never leave my floor (the couch requiring too much energy).

I guess you have to go back for that answer...

Bluebird said...

Very interesting. Thank you for sharing - I definitely think you came away with at least one good little nugget to chew on for a while. I've always been terrified of having an experience similar to your first with a shrink, but it sounds like this visit was definitely more worthwhile.

Megan said...

Love this post. It really resonated with me, but I'm at work now and feel guilty about commenting further!!!

Off to not get fired!

Mandi said...

Ohmigod, I am the queen of plan makers AND the queen of disassociation. Hmm, your shrink may be onto something. So applause for attempting to meditate, I fail every single time, because my brain is too busy making plans.

Logical Libby said...

Brilliant post.

My husband and I just adopted a beautiful girl after three years of infertility hell. Me first thought upon her birth? That I wanted to run away back to my old life. The expectations I had put on getting a child were too much.

Now, we're just taking it one day at a time.

Michelle said...

I can't meditate either. I really suck at it! She sounds like a good shrink. I have been to a couple and they have all really sucked. You know the ones that like to blame your mother or father for everything you are going through. I hate those types.

What she said is very interesting and something I am going to chew on for a while too. I am a huge plan maker. If something does not go according to plan it throws me all out of whack. HMM I will have to think about that. thanks for sharing this.

Amy said...

Your post really struck me. Although, I have to say, I absolutely hated Revolutionary Road. Seeing it only 2 months out of having a stillborn baby angered me beyond belief that someone would chose to kill their own child. Moving on, I really liked the part about plans. Part of what hurts me so much is that I feel my plan for a perfect family has been shattered and there's nothing I can do to get it back. I'll have to contemplate on the answer to what is a plan.

The Unproductive One said...

You could have been right that post about me Mon and my fear....I desperately want a child but I'm afraid of losing the life that I have now....

KuKd Chick said...

YA CHUN: Damn you for asking that, you astute reader! I was kinda hoping everyone would overlook the fact that this post really doesn't offer any solutions to anything. Yeah, that's on my list of questions to ask my shrink on visit #2. If there is a visit #2.

MEGAN: Yeah, not getting fired. That's a good PLAN.

LOGICAL LIBBY: Fascinating! I'm curious to know how your parenthood journey goes from here.

AMY: Yeah, the abortion bit would probably not be pleasant to see so soon after your baby's death. I think I could handle it better now, nearly two years after the fact. Plus, I just like any movie that shows different sides to an issue - like the human desperation and fallacy that drives us to do things that don't make sense to others. I don't know if you saw American Beauty, but that one ended in some killings driven by pure human desperateness - and still I felt a bit of sympathy toward the killer (and the killees) just because of how the movie was done. But yeah, not necessarily a good flick for sensitive times. I still haven't seen Juno for that very reason.

gwinne said...

Oh, I like plans. My plans certainly did not include having another miscarriage or doing IVF. But I did. And I am. And now I need a new plan.

Loved this post.

Being Me said...

I am an ex-PLAN maker. There should be a PLANaholics Anonymous, I swear.

I'm 3 years clean now. Sometimes I itch to make a plan. My "plan-wrecker" (lines on the HPT #10 baby) just turned 3. I remember bringing her home and in that first 24 hours, even with the realisation that we had finally, after 6 years and the death of our first child (plus all the m/c's in between), brought home a living, breathing baby.

What was my response???


I really loved this post.

wifey said...

Thanks for posting this - it was really thought provoking and made me realize I need to 1) synthesize more! 2)plan my life around hypothetical baby making less.

kari said...

I'm with Being Me. Me and plans don't get along. My only living kid was unplanned, unlike all the planned kids that ended up as miscarriages and the stillbirth. Of course, I didn't ever plan getting some birth control to prevent getting knocked up either, so what did I expect.

'Murgdan' said...

...and now I find myself wanting to make new plans.

Planning to return to school for my phd. Planning a trip to London.

And I can't...because I made other plans...and I don't know how they'll turn out.


sharonvw said...

What a brilliant post! I must say, I've also started making the plans around living childfree and I so relate to what your shrink said!

Molly said...

Hmmm. I've been meaning to go to a shrink for weeks because I've been completely unable to PLAN. I think about options (try for another baby, pick up and move to denver...), but I can never move to deciding anything because I feel paralyzed. I also think about remaining childless a lot but can't even get to planning anything. But I don't think it's because I'm so good at feeling instead. I'm probably even worse than you at meditating.

BTW, I vote that you try a second visit with the shrink since the first wasn't too bad. You can always quit going later.

Anonymous said...

I think my mantra would have to be "I'm not afraid to feel pain". I went to a shrink to learn how to feel pain. I just stuffed it and put walls up. I did learn to feel pain which had a downside that I didn't even think about which was "yeah, pain hurts". When I found out I was infertile I really wasn't upset. I know the pain will come if I decide to undergo treatments to try to conceive and they don't work. I have to get to a place where I don't fear that pain. It is human nature to avoid pain. You don't touch a hot stove on purpose. I don't know what decision I will make.

Anonymous said...

I am also a plan-aholic.
Thanks for a great post. It gave me a lot to think about.
Molly C

Rebecca said...

Very very insightful. Maybe it explains why I haven't been planning lately.

By the way, meditating gets easier with practice. Just like breathing, actually...

Pundelina said...

Hey, insight is a good thing. Thanks counsellor. Mine said something remarkably similar yesterday. And I do think it's good when you leave both movies and counsellors with a stack of thinking to do. But then, I would like that.

I suck at meditating too - always wondering if I'm concentrating enough.

And I'm there with the plans too - both the ruined ones (a lifetime's worth) and the future ones. And for a while I was anti-plans altogether but that resulted in some terrible forks in my life path in my 20's so I returned to plans like a long-lost lover. I'm now big on having a Plan B ready to enact. Cause I learnt early that you can't rely on Plan A.

Oh God. Too many plans and not enough feeling? Totally.

Raylene said...

Thank you, this is one of the best posts I think I have ever read. Sums up everything I am feeling to a T.

the misfit said... maybe this is why I'm trying to buy a house that would be hard to afford if I weren't working full time, and making career decisions for several years out, and wear a lot of clothes that have to be dry-cleaned, and have breakable stuff all over my house, and am so impatient at the idea of being stuck somewhere with kids? I mean, I knew (and assume you did) that I was making plans in order to try to make the most of the life I *have*. But grief? Wow. Sounds like your shrink gal is really something.

dauthi said...

The juxtaposition between being afraid of having a baby and being afraid of not having a baby is an interesting one, and one that seems bizarre and almost nonsensical, until one has a miscarriage. Then it makes perfect sense. I think everyone's fears regarding having/not having a baby after a miscarriage are different, but that doesn't invalidate them.

I know that part of my fear of having a baby is feeling - I fear that any pregnancy I'll have will be taken from me, and I fear feeling that pain again.

Thank you for being candid :-)

Me said...

fucking rhetorical questions.

loribeth said...

Great post. I can so totally relate. Around the time my daughter was stillborn, I found a fridge magnet with a quote from John Lennon on it that has become my personal motto: "Life is what happens when you're making other plans."

I remember being several years into our decision to life childfree, & my period was late (at Christmastime, no less!). More than anything, I remember being totally ticked off that, after all we'd been through, & just when I was finally starting to gain some measure of acceptance about this childfree thing, that my body would screw me over AGAIN with a surprise pregnancy in my mid-40s. (AF finally did arrive, after a 56 day cycle!)

Penny (PennyFull O' Thoughts) said...

This post has been a very touching one for me. Thank you, sincerely, for sharing.

I, like pundelina, hit some major forks in the road in my 20's and now that I'm in my 30's, I'm PLANning with a vengeance.

dauthi .. So true, so true. Although I've never had a miscarriage, I did have several false-pregnancies before I finally got CJ. I know others may think it's "not as bad" but the emotional rollercoaster is horribly painful.