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Fire and Ice

Someone wrote me a few weeks ago about how difficult it was for her to attend church and hear the baby blessings.  I answered back that those baby blessings are salt, and you can’t change the nature of salt just because you need to rub it against your wounded body (er, why in this analogy do we need to rub salt on our bodies?).  It will burn every time it touches raw skin.

Essentially, she has two choices: she can attend church and hear the baby blessings and know that it is going to hurt and allow it to burn anyway.  Or she can stay away from church, shut herself off from pregnant or parenting friends, and freeze out those human relationships.  Of course, reality is that we weigh out whether we want the burn or the cold on a case-by-case basis.  We attend that event and not that one.  We go to that woman’s shower, but not that woman’s shower.

There’s a Robert Frost poem that I think speaks volumes about making that decision about doing the thing that is emotionally painful, one that perhaps is speaking about something else entirely, but I think applies quite nicely to infertility and loss.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice

Personally, most of the time, I would rather subject myself to the emotional pain — the burn — of being in that uncomfortable place of coveting.  I would rather attend the shower, attend the bris, hold the baby, and then slip away by myself to cry and take care of my emotional needs — at least for the relationships where it’s important (friends, for instance, vs. coworkers that I know I’ll never see again if they changed jobs).  It definitely sucks, but I’d rather be burned by desire than experience the other side.

Because I think for me that ice becomes self-hate — anger turned inward because I feel anger outwardly towards the universe (or sometimes it’s directed at people who poke me where it hurts).  And it’s freezing to cut yourself off from human contact, to avoid and miss out on those moments.  The destruction of relationships.

Lest you think Robert Frost had no clue, he buried four children, including Elinor Bettina who died three days after birth.

Would you rather take the burning ache of desire or the frozen heart that comes from hate?


1 C { 12.01.10 at 8:03 am }

thank you so much for this post…I have been struggling with this for a while now and I love your view…its hard to be part of that world but hard going through this without any friends to make good times too.

2 C { 12.01.10 at 8:04 am }

and I am now aiming for ache of desire…

3 Tara { 12.01.10 at 8:23 am }

There seems to be a theme lately…I’ll take the burning ache of desire…it’s better than feeling nothing at all.

4 Shelli { 12.01.10 at 8:24 am }

oh wow. I guess we were on the same wave-length with this idea (I posted a spin-off of this topic yesterday).

I WANT to be able to “be ok” with the fleeting pains (or burns as it were), but I am slowly drifting towards cutting myself off from things/people/experiences.

I had made so much progress this year, and these days I feel like I reverted back to the raw pain and sadness. Which seems pretty odd considering my family building project that is pending.

Thank you, for this post. It’s needed today.

5 Elizabeth { 12.01.10 at 8:31 am }

Beautifully put, Mel. Always loved that poem. My personality gravitates towards the icy side so I have to move towards fire to stay liquid.

6 loribeth { 12.01.10 at 8:39 am }

I wish I could ice over or numb my feelings sometimes. But I’m inevitably drawn to the flame.

7 Circus Princess { 12.01.10 at 9:57 am }

You just have a way with words… thank you for expressing this struggle so well. Love the poem too.
Personally I’m a fire type of person, but I sometimes have to force myself to choose ice when a burn just isn’t worth it.

8 sharah { 12.01.10 at 10:17 am }

This has been the tagline on my blog header for years. Fire, all-consuming and purifying has always been my choice over slowly freezing to death.

9 Katie { 12.01.10 at 10:52 am }

Burning. Most definitely burning. This was beautiful.

10 Frenchie { 12.01.10 at 11:41 am }

I spent a long, long time in the cold. In retrospect, I wish I would have walked into the fire a few more times than I did. But that is a lesson learned. We can only do what we can do with each situation we face–weighing our own emotional reserves at that moment in time.

But freezing to death is a much longer and painful process than just walking into the fire, I suppose? Gorgeous, gorgeous post. Thank you.

11 Quiet Dreams { 12.01.10 at 11:46 am }


12 serenity { 12.01.10 at 11:48 am }

Being in the midst of grief myself, though not really IF related, I am really struggling with this. I am really torn. I so very much want to disengage; then it won’t hurt so much.

But I have regrets, too. That I didn’t tell my aunt how much she meant to me, how much I wished she was my own mother. Which means putting myself out there, linking myself to other people. Which is messy, and painful, and makes me vulnerable to more pain.

Ice is easier, I’m finding. It echoes the Simon & Garfunkel song. “And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”

But yes. I worry that closing myself off of relationships will not only damage my ability to connect with people, but also leave me unable to help teach my son how to cope with hurt and pain.

Emotionally disfunctional, I am.


13 TexasRed { 12.01.10 at 12:07 pm }

I love how you point out that we can decide on a case-by-case basis. I generally want to choose fire, but knew for example that I couldn’t handle going to my cousin’s baby shower the week we found out if the IVF cycle worked or not. Either way, it would have been too much for me to sit in a room and have everyone ask me when we were going to have kids.

14 a { 12.01.10 at 12:25 pm }

I choose fire every time – even though I know I could choose ice and it would be OK. I guess I’m just a sucker for punishment. Or, maybe I just know that sometimes it will burn but other times it will be like basking in the sun on a cold day. And I like that feeling, so I’ll keep seeking it out.

15 manymanymoons { 12.01.10 at 1:19 pm }

I love this. Thank you.

16 Eve { 12.01.10 at 1:20 pm }

They are both necessary for me. There are times in the past where I have too fragile to withstand the heat…as if I might burn quickly like parchment and crumble into a million flecks of ash with even the slightlest reminder of my loss. And there are other times where the ice and isolation are so cold and so numbing that I practically forget the depth of my feelings. The further I get from my loss and my infertility, the stronger I feel to withstand the fire. But I still find times where I am burnt to the ground, unexpectedly. A little ice to numb the wounds is called for.

17 Ceejay { 12.01.10 at 5:02 pm }

I just posted on my blog about the complex emotions I was going through when I was asked to be one of the pregnant women who lit the Hope candle for the first Sunday of Advent this past week at my church (because pregnant women apparently have a special insight into hope). So many infertiles, or others in pain, don’t have the perspective you just described. I know it’s something I really struggled with when trying to conceive. I know of a few infertiles in our congregation, and I’m sure there are more that I don’t know about, and I hated the thought that this one service element could make them crawl away and never want to come to church again. But you’re right, that they are choosing a perhaps more painful way if they do that, or if they withdraw from me now that I’m pregnant. I just *hope* all of them are able to arrive at a similar perspective, where they value the community and relationships and realize how much they need those things to make it through!

18 Marymac { 12.02.10 at 12:08 am }

Isn’t it saltwater that helps heal sores?…..interesting!

19 reba { 12.02.10 at 1:01 pm }

i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately…how we would have been if our third baby hadn’t come along after we lost the first two.

i think i would have become water. ice that can’t help getting too close to the fire.

really excellent post.

20 Kristin { 12.02.10 at 2:41 pm }

I would take the burning ache of desire any day.

Truly an incredible post Mel and I love that Frost poem.

21 Mad Hatter { 12.02.10 at 10:59 pm }

This is a really great question…I tend to alternate between the two, in a hot-then-cold-pack-sort-of method: freeze then melt, freeze then melt….I guess I’m afraid if I stay too long in the fire or in the ice, I am sure to perish completely.
Thank you for the insight and for posting the poem – it’s beautiful.

22 Bea { 12.06.10 at 4:16 pm }

In the short term, I’d be tempted to go with ice. But in the long run, and especially when it’s all over and looking back, fire is the better option. A hard choice to make, when you’re faced with destruction either way.


23 Kir { 12.07.10 at 12:54 pm }

desire, every single time (although I did stay away from baby showers etc for a while) I covet well…I don’t hate well. I don’t do well with “I wonder what happened” …I need to know. SO I would rather know…be jealous or sad or emotionally spent but LIVE in those feelings in order to move past them, instead of being in the dark..not knowing…just encased in ice.

24 Battynurse { 12.26.10 at 2:36 pm }

This is a fabulous post. I know I have spent many years with the ice side of things. Staying home and choosing the ice and cold as opposed to taking a chance with the fire. It feels like just within the last year I’ve been taking more of a chance with things and it truly does feel so much better.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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