A Dress. A Shoe. A Merci Beaucoup.

Au revoir, Octobre!  Summer has come and gone in flash, and now we’re barreling through fall.  The agenda was filled with trips to restaurants, exhibits, and merry excursions to suit our friendly francophile community.  I planned book reviews, stinky cheese demonstrations, and other cultural narratives to produce the perfect storm of posts, all of which would have pleasantly concluded the seasons.  Those, as you may have noticed, never happened.  I took a brief hiatus.  You see, shortly after a fun vacation to Las Vegas in early July, life over here at À La Prochaine took a drastic, but wonderful turn. Next April, the À La Prochaine family will welcome a tiny, new member because…drumroll… I am pregnant! Bébé à bord! Hooray! Personally, this surprise couldn’t fill me with more happiness if it tried. This was not easy to achieve. Babies- simple, right?  Turns out, not really.  Behind the musings on baguettes and joie de vivre was a difficult journey to get to this very point. We’re going slightly rogue today, but I promise this will ultimately meander back to À La Prochaine.  Promise.

In late-February, nearly the one-year mark of trying to get pregnant, I was sure someone, somehow, was playing a cruel prank on me.  I had ordered some athletic clothes through a website. No big deal. Upon opening the package, wedged discreetly between compression pants and a puffy vest was the tiniest denim infant dress. For a minute I stood holding the dress before me, directly under the light as if the luminescence were to offer some unspoken official confirmation.  Dumbfounded and frankly disturbed by the unfortunate timing, I ran a shaky finger against each teeny cuff stitch, then grazed along the hem of the waistline, and finished my incredulous inspection by gently pinching the perfect pockets on skirt. The fabric soothed my fingertips.  I can’t remember how many minutes passed before I could manage to blink again.  Total bewilderment.  This was the unforeseen collision between hope and despair, and in the moment, I was incapable of processing it.  All I could do was clutch the dress against the thud of my broken heart and sob.

Baby girl's dressSome say that a year is not a long time.  In fact, throughout this journey, I had heard that frequently.  I vehemently disagree.  12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. 8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes.  Your life can totally change within a second, never mind a full year.  Job promotions. Marriages. Divorces. New friendships. Deaths. Births.  A year is a damned long time.  Yet for some reason, when relating to the subject of fertility, a year is apparently nothing. “You’ve ONLY been trying for a year? That’s nothing,” said many.  Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Even now, that word is infuriating.  For me, it was something.  A year was 12 months filled with the repeated disappointment following each negative pregnancy test. It was 52 weeks filled with medical appointments, consultations, and blood tests. It was 365 days of logging my body’s every possible action- temperatures, cycles, symptoms, ailments, and any slight physical change that could possibly infer as to why I hadn’t been successful. It was 8,760 hours of wondering if this was happening because of poor lifestyle decisions.  Did I dye my hair too much?  Should I have consumed more organic food?  It was 525,600 minutes of burgeoning fear that the inability to become pregnant was possibly indicative of a larger, more terminal issue.  Was my body trying to send me a message?  Perhaps silly, but when my body failed for so long at something it is physiologically intended to do, I became wrought with worry.  Additionally, squashed between all of this was the barrage of opinions and judgements from both peers and strangers that, somehow, were supposed to solve the mystery and assuage my nerves.  I shouldn’t have waited SO long; I shouldn’t have gone to grad school; I shouldn’t have been so selfish to establish a career; I should lose more weight; I shouldn’t be so negative; I shouldn’t stress.  The ambush of shoulds and should-nots surrounding my situation never relented.  Despite the intent, it was painful.  I retreated inward into my own aloof space to avoid the unwanted conversation all together…mostly.

Once the initial shock faded, the dress actually became a hopeful symbol.  Its presence offered the subtle comfort and confirmation that, with or without children, my life would always have purpose, meaning, and fulfillment- a glaringly fundamental concept that somehow disappeared in the shuffle between doctor appointments, cycle-logging, and feeling completely defective as a human being. While children were always an intended part of my landscape, I am inevitably responsible for my own happiness. We are all responsible for our own happiness.  As such, the dress encouraged me to keep pursuing the things I love, because I simply couldn’t live my life mourning the absence of a child who would have been meant to wear it.

All the while, something incredible began to unfurl in the background of the narrative.  This.  À La Prochaine.  Writing about France and its culture, specifically thoughts of Paris- the talisman of my joy- kept my spirits afloat during the tough times.  Croissant experiments, pâtisserie visits, and searching for local joie de vivre offered a necessary respite. That will never change, even if I’m scraping pureed squash from my face while my kid’s waging a nuclear tantrum.  French culture reminds me that there is always a lush pleasure to be found in simplicity, wherever we are in life.

During a trip to Las Vegas in July- now following fourteen months of unsuccessful pregnancy attempts- I received another small token of final validation that life- whatever happened- would be alright. A shoe. A child’s shoe, to be specific.  Unpacking my suitcase in the hotel room, there it was- a tiny sneaker with the cartoon character, Thomas the Tank Engine, on the side.  Just one.  Like the dress, it was discreetly wedged between a cosmetic bag and a pile of maxi skirts. I imagined the teeny, pudgy foot of the owner, piggy-toed and all, whom the sneaker would never meet again.  Obviously, it was accidentally shoved into my bag by the flight crew. Yet, I didn’t care about such logic.  It meant something- quite the opposite of nothing.  I clutched the little shoe and marveled.  That’s all I needed. The dress.  The shoe. This blog.  I inexplicably felt at peace.

Thomas the Tank Engine Sneaker ChildShortly after, I’d discover that I was, in fact, finally pregnant. Voila.  Here we are. So what happens now?

Posts have been scant over the past few months, as I have been trying to acclimate to my body’s rapid changes.  As one might imagine, growing a human is actually complicated and physically demanding.  Who knew?  At any rate, my energy is slowly returning, and I’ll be planning more adventures soon.  While this blog will not become a shrine to my child, I will start sporadically incorporating les enfants into the post repertoire.  With this newfound pass into parenthood, never existed a better occasion to begin thinking about introducing children into different cultures- a fun challenge I wholeheartedly accept.  More importantly, I do want to take this opportunity to extend a colossal ‘thank you’ to all for continuing to support À La Prochaine.  This blog and its expanding community- whether it be devoted friends who like every single post across social media, or all of the new friends who drop me a line to chat about French culture- has been the greatest of pleasures.  Unbeknownst to you, you have all kept me from the trenches.  You are all wonderful.  I didn’t need a dress or a shoe to tell me that.  This community is my favorite retreat, period.

For anyone out there struggling with infertility, I am here for you.  It’s terrible. I understand.  During the entirety of my experience, any discussion of infertility seemed taboo.  That is very wrong.  I’m not sure why in the United States there is such a stigma attached to this subject, but in 2016 the shame of this disease feels as present as ever.  I certainly felt it.  I am curious to know how this topic is treated in other cultures.  Are people elsewhere also so apprehensive to broach the conversation?  If you have any insight, I welcome a respectful discussion in the comments.  Regardless, infertility is a physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing disease.  While it is indeed incredibly personal and uncomfortable, we need to start talking.  As the Center for Disease Control and Prevent reports, 11.3% of women in the United States seek intervention for infertility- proof that this is, in fact, growing increasingly common.  In the meantime, the only advice I can reasonably offer is to force yourself to keep pursuing the things you love.  Don’t lose yourself, and most importantly please, please, please remember that ‘nothing’ is utter garbage. You, your feelings, and your passions are always something.

Eiffel Tower Small and LargeÇa suffit. Now, we return you to our regularly-scheduled francophile adventures.

Merci beaucoup.  À La Prochaine.

  1. Andrea

    October 25, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Ahhhh! I love the last picture!!! Mama tower and baby tower!

    1. Jessica

      October 26, 2016 at 9:20 am

      🙂 🙂 🙂 I’m so glad you caught that! That’s pretty much the theme over here right now!

  2. Denise

    October 25, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    This is beautiful. I love the description/concept of nothing and how wrong that is. Your journey into motherhood is something that bring me great joy as your friend. I look forward to reading more! ❤️

    1. Jessica

      October 26, 2016 at 9:19 am

      So glad to hear that, Denise! Thank you so much for the support!!<3

  3. Katie W. Long

    October 26, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Your mom was sending you little messages that everything was going to be OK 🙂 Congrats Jess! I had a miscarriage before Hazel was born and that too feels like something you’re just not supposed to talk about and feels very lonely. So glad this has a happy ending for you 🙂

    1. Jessica

      October 26, 2016 at 3:31 pm

      Katie, first and most importantly, I am so sorry. Lonely is truly the most accurate description. Sending you hugs, and please do give Hazel a squeeze for me. She is so sweet!

      Thank you- you are very kind to say so! I’d like to think she was sending those little signs too. 🙂 <3

  4. Lisa

    October 26, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Inam so very happy for you and Josh. Infetility is and always will be one of the hardest things I ever went through. Much like you though I so badly wanted to be called Mommy. After 4 long years and 2 infertility centers later I was gifted with the opportunity to carry a child. Little did I know she would be just as excited to meet me as I her she came flying into this world 2 months early with honestly very few complications. God, Nana and Gram all watched over her.
    Today, I have a bubbly, happy and loving little 21 month old who I love with all my heart and more. Motherhood isn’t easy but it’s so amazing and so rewarding. YOUR going to be one amazing mommy.
    I hope that your feeling well and that pregnancy is treating you well. HUGS and huge congrats. Cant wait for Nora to have a playmate. 🙂

    1. Jessica

      October 28, 2016 at 11:51 am

      Thank you so much for your support, Lisa! Nora is such a love! I am so happy for you! Sending hugs! 🙂

  5. French Girl in Seattle

    October 28, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Félicitations, Jessica! I am very happy for you and your husband. This was a very personal post, (the best ones usually are,) and a great read. As the mom of a now 16-year old boy (he was 10 when I started blogging with French Girl in Seattle,) I can guarantee you will figure out a way of managing your new life – and A la Prochaine. You will also continue to find much comfort in your online community. I know I have, and still do. I will be looking forward to reading your upcoming stories as you embark on this exciting new journey. Again, félicitations. A spring baby: How perfect! Take care, Véronique (French Girl in Seattle.)

    1. Jessica

      October 28, 2016 at 11:46 am

      Merci beaucoup, Véronique! I am so happy to hear your encouragement, and I love being part of the FGIS community as well. Thank you so much again! We are very excited. 🙂

  6. Diane

    November 10, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Congrats to you! And shame on anyone who made judgmental comments about waiting too long, etc. Wishing you all the best!

    1. Jessica

      November 10, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Thank you very much, Diane! I hope all is well! 🙂

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