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.
Some 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.
Shortly 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.
Ça suffit. Now, we return you to our regularly-scheduled francophile adventures.
Merci beaucoup. À La Prochaine.