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Expectations; or How a Shark in the Potomac River Changed My World

An ex-boyfriend, who shall remain nameless, once told me that my entire problem was that I had expectations.  If I could get rid of all expectations, I could lead a happy life because I would be able to simply accept all that came my way (a case in point in his favour: Dreaming of Quiet Places and the Case of the Raise).

Which isn’t true, you know, I mean, if I wasn’t expecting someone to smack me and then someone gut punched me, it wouldn’t hurt less.  “Accept” is the sticking point of his advice.

There was a story in the Washington Post last week about two sharks found in the Potomac River.  And after the nervous laughter subsided, after we had gazed at photographs of the eight-foot-long shark’s enormously sharp teeth, I felt completely out of sorts.  Sharks in a river?  Who would ever expect a shark in a river?  A shark in an ocean, yes.  I mean, I’d still be in shock if I ever saw a shark swimming by me in Chincoteague, but at least it would be within the frame of where I expected to see sharks.

Googling opened up a whole new world of fears.  We have long searched for Chessie as we cross the Bay Bridge, but had never realized that there were 12 species of shark in the waters below.  Or rays.  Rays that have “the ability to fly out of the water to a height of 30 feet and soar an additional 100 feet due to its areodynamic shape.”

I am imagining my blissful face, scanning the water as we boat out to Smith Island next summer, being thwacked unconscious by a cow-nosed ray sailing that 100 feet straight into my head.

See, it’s good to have expectations.  Now I won’t be surprised when I’m knocked unconscious by a sting ray.

On a more serious note, the events at the Discover Building were equally unsettling, both in light of the incident itself and its awful reminder.  We have certain expectations as we go to work, certain expectations as we go through our day.  And then something like this happens and we are terrified by how many strange dangers we never stopped to consider lurk in the most benign of places.  It is hard not to start looking at your day as a minefield; to keep statistics in mind and realize that you can’t control everything.

I think the reason the HSG hurt so badly was because I didn’t know how I ended up on that radiologist’s table.  I mean, yes, I rationally knew that I made the appointment and got myself to her office, but I didn’t know how life had strayed so far from my expectations.  My eighth grade sex ed teacher told us that all we had to do was consider for one second not putting on a condom (yes, the universe punishes kids for hesitation) and we would be PREGNANT!  A TEENAGER AND PREGNANT!  WITH A SCREAMING, CRYING BABY BECAUSE WE WERE PREGNANT!

So you can imagine how unsettling it is to use birth control for years and come to realize in adulthood that birth control was perhaps … unnecessary.  It’s just unexpected.  You put part A into slot B and you expect to end up with a live child in nine months or so.

When that doesn’t happen, you end up on the radiologist’s table, wondering how things could have strayed so far from expectations, and you are thrust into this world where you see numerous possibilities, numerous dangers, who had never stopped to consider prior to reading about them on the Web, hearing about them in the waiting room of the clinic.

It is a scary thing when that door creaks open, when you glimpse the other possibilities, the expectations you hadn’t … expected.


1 dana { 09.07.10 at 8:20 am }

Indeed. To ALL of it. The shark! The Discovery Channel (I couldn’t shake the images of the babies being rolled through the street in their cribs). Infertility.
This was beautifully conceived and written.

2 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 09.07.10 at 8:22 am }

Again, you articulate sentiments so beautifully Mel.
I can relate to your analogy on the HSG. I had my first HSG on Christmas Eve 2008 and I remember laying on that cold table, tears streaming down my face, asking HOW did it come to this? Conceiving a baby was supposed to be so easy …. why did someone have to violate me in such a way in order to figure out why I was broken with something that should have come so naturally.
That’s the thing about expectations – you are often let down in life ….

3 Christina { 09.07.10 at 8:59 am }

I too can relate to the “how the hell did I end up here” feeling! It’s funny looking back on things b/c I remember after ttc for 8 months, going to my ob/gyn and she said, “would you like me to refer you to a fertility specialist?” and I FLIPPED out and naively said, “umm….I don’t think I’m ready for IVF!!!!” to which she assured me there were many other steps before IVF. Now, 2 1/2 years later, IVF doesn’t seem so foreign of a concept. Yes…how the hell did this all happen?!

4 Kristin { 09.07.10 at 9:01 am }

Can I just start saying “Go read post X of Mel’s and you’ll understand how I feel”? Brilliantly written

5 Rachel { 09.07.10 at 9:07 am }

This is what I can definitely relate to – thinking my body would be ready should any desire to have children arise – and dealing with reality even if that desire never arose. A woman’s body does fail her from time to time.

6 April { 09.07.10 at 10:10 am }

I too can relate to the “How did I end up here” feeling. I realized exactly how odd life is when my cycle started yesterday and my husband asked in a shocked voice if I was sure and I replied “What, you thought sex made babies?”. When did I reach the point of thinking sex didn’t make babies when I see pregnant women everywhere and I’m pretty shure that most of them had sex to get pregnant. It just isn’t something I can relate to in my own life anymore.

7 tash { 09.07.10 at 10:21 am }

Since the bad thing happened to me I’ve tried very hard not to expect anything, and to realize that just about everything is out of my control. Expect nothing, be pleasantly surprised. It sounds like an easy mantra, but it’s actually pretty difficult because as you said, sharks? Really? Let’s just say that there are now areas of life where I no longer expect things. Reproduction is one of them, and now I need to add River life to that list.

8 Battynurse { 09.07.10 at 10:30 am }

I can relate to this a lot. I’ve spent more time that I needed to lately wondering how I got here. To where I am. I never would have imagined that I would be 40, unmarried and childless. Yet I can step back and see where the advantages to “here” are, I still can’t quite figure out how I got here.

9 a { 09.07.10 at 10:52 am }

I think it was about 4 years ago when I realized that having expectations was what was making my family so crazy. My mom has expectations of her daughters, and when we don’t fulfill those expectations (um, always), she gets mad and sad. My sisters have expectations of my mother, and when they don’t get what they think they should from her, they are disappointed and angry. I expect a certain level of behavior from my mother based on the way she’s always been. She says things that are offensive and I either correct her view or ignore them, for the most part (sometimes she can still get my goat). My sisters can’t. They have an ideal mother and expect her to be it. She’s not. They’re disappointed.

As for my own life, my general response to adversity is not “Why me?” but “It figures – everything has been going too well.” I guess you could call that low expectations.

I would still be surprised by sharks and rays in a river or by gunmen in an office. I think there are some things that should not be expected.

10 Barb { 09.07.10 at 1:50 pm }

YES. And then flip that around when you DON’T expect to get pg after years of struggle and oh the confusion. I still struggle to remember gators in the water in fla. 🙂

11 Kristi { 09.07.10 at 3:04 pm }

Ok I am probably the only one laughing at loud. I am sitting at my desk reading “See. it’s good to have expectations. Now I won’t be surprised when I’m knocked unconscious by a sting ray” and laughing out loud. Sorry the rest of it was very cool as usual but the sting ray section was funny. I can’t wait for the book it’s going to be good.

12 Rebecca { 09.07.10 at 3:16 pm }

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Tab A into Slot B just WORKED that way?

13 HereWeGoAJen { 09.07.10 at 4:09 pm }

My first thought was that your ex-boyfriend is an idiot. Humans are built to have expectations. We need them for survival.

Spending so much time in Florida, I automatically assume that all natural bodies of water (including large puddles) have something in it that can eat me.

14 Melissa G. { 09.07.10 at 5:00 pm }

Damned if you do… Damned if you don’t. (have expectations)

Expect the Unexpected

There is no such thing as “A Given” …

All things our 8th grade teachers should have been preaching in addition to safe sex.

Great post Mel.

15 Guera! { 09.07.10 at 7:57 pm }

ahhh I remember so well being a teen-ager and scared shitless I was pregnant. Oh the relief that I wasn’t! Several years later in my mid twenties I was once again faced with a “pregnancy scare” and once again experienced the relief that I wasn’t. Just a little too ironic. Infertlity after years of hoping and praying that you’re not pregnant is just so cruel.

16 mash { 09.08.10 at 10:24 am }

I also recently found out that tiger sharks are way more aggressive than great whites (yes it’s possible) and they love to swim from the sea up rivers. A bit like me, I (used to) like to swim in rivers when we went camping or hiking. Hate that! Now I have an EXPECTATION that I’m not going to make it out again 😉

But seriously, we do need to have expectations, some kind of base set of beliefs on which to structure our world. Imagine if suddenly all the supermarkets were suddenly empty? You go there based on an expectation that they have food in them!

And I guess the way life works is that those expectations are just going to be challenged over and over again…

17 Grita { 09.08.10 at 2:59 pm }

Incredibly well written!
And speaking of expectations…when my husband (who was then my boyfriend) and I were a few months into dating we were careless about birth control one weekend and I actually got a prescription for the morning after pill, just in case. The last thing I wanted was to get “knocked-up” my some guy I only knew for a few months. Well, we’ve been together for 5 years and haven’t been able to have a baby. It’s almost funny when I think about how worried I was about that weekend years ago. Almost.

18 Bea { 09.09.10 at 6:06 pm }

Very well put. Although I feel like I am missing huge chunks of everything here, for some reason. There was a post about an accident that I initially missed because I was on holiday and then I read it later and now I can’t find it again (ahem… easily) to say, “Holy crap!” and that’s just one example. Moving on.

It’s really hard to retain perspective without ignorance.

Wait. That makes no sense. Ignorance is not perspective – it’s just a different way to lack it. It’s really hard to maintain perspective, full stop.

Either you’re ignorant of the possibilities – which is so protective, there’s definitely a level on which I’m thankful for a touch of ignorance because see above, re: perspective – but then when you learn of them it’s hard not to make way too much out of them, if only through the shock of realising you’ve been living in ignorance of this risk all the time. It can take a lot for the pendulum to swing back into its right place, and it’s nearly impossible to get it to stay there.


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