The snow is now melting here in Brooklyn. But on the first day of the big storm a few weeks ago, Jeremy and I set off for a little cabin in The Catskills for a few days. It was super beautiful, a true winter wonderland. We went snowshoeing every day. On our first outing the trail was super steep, we had to blaze it ourselves because the snowfall was so fresh (and so deep!!!!), and after half an hour I was totally peeved with myself that I couldn’t keep up with Jeremy. I had to stop eventually, while Jeremy explored a bit. I took a break in a clearing where it looked like a family of deer made a home in the snow the night before. I felt like a failure. But a failure at what? Is there really such a thing as failure when it comes to a beautiful afternoon of snowshoeing in a winter wonderland? According to my negative thoughts, it’s totally possible.
We are so enamored of success stories. The overnight success. The late bloomer. The child prodigy. The hero who descends into the underworld and rises like a phoenix. I get it - these arcs satisfy the human thirst for a certain kind of storytelling. Which seems to be present in the myths of all cultures. Read anything by the brilliant Joseph Campbell.
But what about the hero who never returns from the underworld? The ‘I tried for a long time and failed’ folks? I bet there are some interesting stories in that category. Heartbreaking and challenging stories about some seriously vulnerable people.
I was reluctant to write this newsletter initially because of that vulnerability. Yuck, willingly putting out into the universe our failure with fertility? Actually volunteering to put failure out into the world? It felt terrifying. And, well, so right.
More than ever, we live in an era where we feel compelled to present an idealized version of ourselves; our private lives are woven into our self-promotion and livelihoods on social media. I still have my profiles up on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but around four years ago I just found it all to be so exhausting. And I’m about the gazillionth person to say this, but it’s true: I found myself taking pictures of things simply to post them. I found myself getting a rush when anyone liked a post. I didn’t like that rush. I wasn’t sharing the full scope of my life - I was sharing an idealized version of my experience on this blue marble; an actor who always worked, a woman who never had a bad hair day, a perfect hike in the woods where we never got lost. A snowshoeing outing where I never tired out. You get the drift…each Thai meal was perfect. Each audition was filled with confidence. Each ending was a happy one. And it was all so un-complex. And so untrue.
There are so many stories like, ‘We tried to have a baby for 10 years, but then one day, poof! I got pregnant.’ What about those of us without the ‘poof,’ without the ‘happy ending?’ Whose fertility journey was reaaaaaaally complex? Who have just experienced failure?
Because, unlike snowshoeing, fertility is either succeed or fail. There is no middle ground. And that’s the truth.
Failure is ok. I mean, it has to be, right? We are just so used to chasing it away, or putting a whitewash over it, pretending it doesn’t smart the way it does. But it is ok. It’s ok not to ‘learn’ anything huge from failure, at least initially. It’s ok to be pissed off when something doesn’t work out the way you expected or wanted it to. Not every experience has a lesson attached to it. Or at least one easily digestible lesson…I have loads of questions, curiosity, and a heartfelt desire not to LIVE in the feeling of failure, but the ‘lesson?’ I dunno…
Researchers in the field of marketing have coined two phrases: process failure and outcome failure. Process failure is when you get what you want, but the way you get it is unpleasant. And because of this, you don’t enjoy what you have received quite as much. For example...the Amazon order went to the wrong house, you need to deal with the USPS tracking service during a pandemic, and finally get the bed linen order three months later. Every time you put those sheets on the bed you have a little reminder of the crappy process failure you experienced. Outcome failure is when you simply don’t get what you want. For example, the Ikea coffee table you’ve been eyeing for three years is not only out of stock but discontinued. You’ll never get it. Ever.
For me, and for a lot of women who go without speaking about it, fertility is chock full of both process and outcome failures. When the final outcome is a failure it is kind of overwhelming to try and make sense of the time and resources spent.
In Buddhist meditation practice there is an exercise where you breathe in the smoke, the darkness, the negative emotions like fear, resentment, anger…Investigating the thoughts that spring up, and sharing those with others is my version of this practice right now - going into the pain, going into the stuff we humans (me included) wanna thrust aside, push down, forget about, and move on without. So here goes. I’m angry. I’m really, really angry that six years of time and money led to failure. I’m embarrassed. I’m sad. I’m disappointed. I’m angry. Oh, oops did I already say I’m angry?
Failure is not an option - NASA.
Well, maybe for an astronaut.
You only fail when you stop trying - Albert Einstein
Well, maybe for Einstein. Sometimes continuing trying is madness. Sometimes cutting our losses is the only path to sanity, to a new life. It has been so awfully difficult for me to accept defeat in our fertility journey. But once I did, I could envision the possibilities for the future.
If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style. - Quentin Crisp
I personally love the idea of leaning into failure. Which leads me to…
My kind of winning, from the window of the Brooklyn Public Library:
Sometimes the polish you choose looks horrible on your nails. Sometimes your ascent from the underworld takes a long, messy time. And sometimes the fertility doesn’t work out despite six years and a lot of spending - emotional and financial. Failure may not be an option we’d choose, but it certainly is thrust upon us at times.
So what to do? Maybe we all need to tell our stories a bit more, share our truth…and share our ‘lifestyles’ a bit less.
Well…maybe a little bit of lifestyle sharing is cool: