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.