I recently celebrated a dear friend’s 40th birthday. In the celebrating, she admitted to the complicated layers of emotion surrounding turning 40. My heart pushed forward to meet hers when she talked about the grief of letting go of the dream she had had in her younger years of what her life would be like today; the many emotions around seeing a very different life today and going forward. This was particularly poignant around having children.
I‘m divorcing Sweetheart. After 9 years, there were multiple, layered and complex reasons behind my deciding that we should no longer be coupled. What’s most shocking to many of the people I’ve told about our separation is that many of them knew we were trying to have a baby. Only a little more than 2 months ago, our idea—our almost tangible vision—of what our lives would be was very different from the reality we are living today. People thought we were idyllically happy. We thought we were idyllically happy.
To get to the point of committing to having children together had taken a lot of work, intention and preparation. Neither of us approached bringing a life into this world lightly. We asked ourselves if we were ready—in our checkbooks, in our home, in our habits, in our careers, in our hearts and in our bodies. And then we sealed our conviction by trying to conceive, tracking cycles, timing sex, waiting for a sign of something and then nursing a strong drink when my menses would come and our hearts would break just a little bit. And then we’d start over again.
I remember feeling deep in my bones that I was ready to be a mother.
Leaving my marriage has meant grieving the end of my love in that relationship (even if I hold out hope for a different kind of post-consciously uncoupling love with Sweetheart). And it has meant grieving the loss of the possibility of becoming a mother in the near future. It is a grief I hold as a mental fog, as well as a heavy weight in my heart, in my bones.
But now, I exert great effort to inhabit my body differently. I am pushing it to be strong, shaping and challenging it to show up differently, be tougher. Part of that is to be able to channel the wind I feel whipping the planet to spin faster and faster these days. Part of it is to learn to step into strength and leadership. Part of it is to make the pain outside match that within, and also find some joy in the endorphins and dopamine from cycling hills, lifting weights and running along the ocean.
The possibility of motherhood is not lost entirely. I likely still have a decade to conceive. But perhaps more importantly, I hold now the opportunity to understand motherhood differently. Mother to a child? Or mother to a community? I know there are ways I can inhabit that role that are my own to devise.
But with laying to rest any dream, there is grief. Sometimes it is slow and creeping, and sometimes it surprises me from around a blind corner. Sometimes it’s in a child’s sweet face. Sometimes in an emptiness in my belly. Sometimes in just looking up with a slight expectation to see a well-rehearsed dream begin to materialize, and seeing only the sun coming into any empty room where I am alone.