The Joy Robber

Mama & Toots just after delivery

A few weeks before Christmas, I made a rare solo trip to the local mall to finish my holiday shopping before we jetted off to sunny California.  Filled with festive cheer, I chatted with the woman standing next to me in line as we waited to pay for our gifts.  I first complimented her on her stylish attire: she was dressed from head-to-toe in Michael Kors and looked much more fashionable than the average Alaskan woman.  In turn, she complimented me on my black Coach messenger-style handbag.  I thanked her and explained that I really liked the cross-body strap as it kept my hands free when chasing after my 2 year old son.  She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face, and asked, “Is he yours?”  (awkward pause)  “I mean, did you give birth to him?” Now the puzzled expression was on my face… of course he is MINE!!!  I felt a tightening in my chest as I replied, “Yes, I gave birth to him.”  Then she proceeded to ask me if he was my first, how old I was when I gave birth to him, and if I wanted to have any more children.  I felt a sudden downpour of shame from this series of rapidly-fired, judgmental questions, instantly drowning my holiday cheer and confidence.  In shock, I froze and mumbled a brief yet truthful reply, leaving our future “in God’s Hands.”  I figured this would end our discussion, but alas she left me with these parting words:  “Well, I’m 47, and I already have grandchildren. My doctor put me on birth control pill because he says I’m too old to have anymore.”   (Apparently she hasn’t heard of TMI…)

As I paid for my gift and headed towards the parking garage, I found myself in an all-too-familiar state of numbness: the feeling of swallowing an ice cube, which then lodges itself at the back of my throat and numbs my brain as it slowly melts.  The brain-freeze sensation allows me to temporarily escape from the shame I feel when asked such probing questions about my age, fertility, and shortcomings as a mother.   I wish I could chalk this incidence up to a “one-off” and let it go along with all of the other junk I’ve recently burned, flushed, or otherwise released.  However, since moving to Alaska in early 2014, I’m asked almost daily why I have “just one” and if I want to have more children.  I’ve become so adept at numbing myself when I reply to these questions that I no longer notice the ice cube permanently lodged at the back of my throat.  In zombie-mode, I politely reply, divert the conversation, and then I stoically shuffle away…. Only to cry in the bathroom, in my car, or into my pillow at night from overwhelming, heart-wrenching shame.

Ohhhhhhh Shame…. that cunning thief, sucking every ounce of joy juice from my soul and leaving me dehydrated and deflated in a ditch.  Shame is quite a smooth operator: an abuser who injures me with his razor-sharp words, punctures my joyful spirit and tender heart, and then professes his “love” for me.  Shame claims he needs me, can’t live without me… apologizes and promises it won’t happen again. He wants to lurk in the dark corners of my mind and thrive on secrecy, silence, and smallness. Shame hates being labeled, being identified, or being seen for what he is.  Shame is my Voldemort, and the only way to release myself from his grip is to shine light and love on the parts of me which feel so shameful.

I spent most of my life in repetitive shame cycles: experiencing moments of sheer joy followed by a shame beating and then numbness. This pattern felt strangely comfortable—after all, I had yet to experience a life without shame and felt that I deserved such scathing words to keep me “in check.”  Yet a little voice inside me told me that I deserved better and I could live differently.  As I committed to living joyfully in 2015, I realized that shame was such a JOY-robber… the ultimate buzz-kill, a real Debbie-Downer.  If I truly want to experience “joie de vivre,” then I need to be aware of what triggers my shame, counter every cruel word with love, and then let it go…. get back down on my knees and surrender my shame to God.  I need to regularly talk and write about my shame so that it doesn’t fester in the recesses of mind. I need to connect with other women who share the same shame associated with their bodies and want to free themselves from it.

And I need to respond courageously when I encounter people like Ms. Michael Kors…

“Yes, I gave birth to my son.  He is my child, just as he would be if I had adopted him or used a donor or a surrogate to bring him into this world.  Yes, he’s my first, but he’s not my only.  He’s our miracle baby after a long wait, much heartache, and ceaseless prayers.  He chose to arrive a week after my 39th birthday and he thinks I’m the perfect age to be his mother.  We are always open for more miracles regardless of age… our lives are in God’s Hands.”

There’s no shame or sadness in my statement… just honesty, gratitude, and whole lotta love.  Another step towards living joyfully and authentically in 2015, the year without shame!

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We all have shame. No need to deny it or be embarrassed about it. I’ve been inspired by Brene Brown’s Ted Talks, books, and column in O Magazine where she speaks and writes about shame resiliency, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness. Check out her website:  http://brenebrown.com/

For connecting with your fertile heart and losing the shame associated with infertility, I highly recommend Julia Indichova’s books, resources, and classes: http://www.fertileheart.com/

Lastly, I’m also very grateful and inspired by my friends, Ali K and Jen B, who share their journeys to motherhood so courageously.  Their honesty and openness has encouraged me to do the same.