Life is a feeling experience.
That’s what my husband heard as a boy from his Uncle John. My better half gently repeats that sage sentiment to me when I am feeling life just a bit too much.
On the days when my heart isn't overwhelmed with conflicting emotions , my mind picks up the slack. I’m equally good living in my heart or in my head -- wondering, analyzing, questioning, imagining.
In the months and years following futile attempts to conceive naturally and then facing fertility treatment losses, a series of questions occupied my gray matter: what would my life be like ten, twenty, thirty or more years from now as a woman without children? How would I relate to other women, their children and grandchildren? Would I be well adjusted or still angry at the universe for my "barren-ness," my flawed womb that couldn’t manage the conception and delivery of a child? Could I be fulfilled? At peace? Happy? And more mportantly, how could I ensure a good outcome rather than the alternative?
I’m not the only one, it seems, who asks these questions. One of my fellow “barren-esses” stated it more plainly in a blog post titled, “What the Hell Do I Do Now?”
My answers took shape on paper when I first started writing as a way to make sense of our defiant and unexplained infertility. Eager to convey the weirdness of being barren in the modern age, I set out to write a novel. It involved two couples, Clare and Paul in Detroit, and Valerie and Greg in the Bay area. They were distantly related through a very fertile sister-in-law. In alternating chapters each couple battled differing biological reasons preventing conception. Distraught and isolated in her experience (my alter ego and one of my lead characters) Clare became acquainted with another character, Audrey, an older childless woman. In time, they became confidants.
In poignant conversations of discovery Clare learned that Audrey once suffered at the hands of friends and family who badgered her at every visit about when she would finally start a family. They bragged and complained about their children. They insulted her intelligence or questioned her childcare abilities when looking after a niece or nephew. They looked upon her barren state with a mixture of pity and disdain.
Audrey, though, was stronger than her peers. Where they wilted under the weight of ordinary setbacks, Audrey easily managed through them. While her friends lost their identities and sense of purpose when their children moved out of the nest, Audrey was busy volunteering in the community and befriending and looking after young women like Clare.
Audrey was funny, insightful and young at heart.
I created Audrey's character initially because I wanted intensely to believe someone like Audrey truly existed. I craved a role model who could show me that my life wouldn’t be less than or empty without the experience of conceiving life and becoming a mother.
In time, I realized the difficulty of novel writing. My plot, scene construction, dialogue, character development and sensory imagery felt flat. I was in way over my head.
Instead, I realized I’d have a more compelling story if I relied on what I knew best, my own life. And that’s how Silent Sorority was born.
But I never forgot Audrey.
Now a few years after I began imagining her, seeing her take shape on the page, I’ve decided that I could keep her alive off the page. Why not try to become her.
She’s quite a bit more patient, zen-like and less judgmental than I am, so I know I have some work to do but it’s comforting, nonetheless, to have an archetype to model.
One of the many lessons I took away from my writing is this one: When no obvious role model exists, why not create one?