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Looking Into the Eye of the Witch

There is this movie that I saw once that I always forget the name to and then remember at the most inopportune times (such as in a kayak hanging upside down in the water without a pen in sight).  The last time this occurred it was 1 am, and I was trying to remember the name instead of sleeping. I rolled over in bed and whispered the question to Josh who whispered back Big Fish because he is patient like that.  And I took a moment to write the movie name on a post-it note so it would be accessible the next time 1 am struck and I was struggling to remember the name.  My gift to Josh for his patience.

The thing I remember most about this movie was sobbing.  Crying so hard as I left the theater that I couldn’t breathe as we crossed the lot, and I had to pause outside the car to try to calm down before I could sit in the front seat.  It was one of those cries where you have a headache the rest of the day, and your lower lids puff out.  To this day, I can’t remember what upset me about that film, but in the moment, it felt like the hardest thing I had ever watched.

What I do remember from the movie is a witch with an eye that you could look into and see how you would die.  Not just how you would die, but you would see yourself in the moment, so you would know your age, whether you were in pain, if you were alone.  For years after seeing this film, I would think about that witch eye and wonder what I would do if I were facing that witch.  Would I ask her to lift her eye patch? (As you can imagine, an eye like that must be kept under a patch lest the woman buying a cantaloupe next to you in the produce aisle would learn as she glances your way that she is going to drown in a boating accident about two years from now.)  Would I be able to walk away from that knowledge knowing the information is right there for the taking?

Because I fear that I’m the sort who can’t really walk away from information, even in knowing that being cognizant of your death date could bring more stress than comfort.  If I saw that I was going to die in my nineties with Josh by my side, and the twins and their children gathered at the end of the bed, I might go through life a tad more relaxed.  But if I saw that I looked about a year older when the witch lifted up her patch, and I was dying alone, bleeding to death in an alleyway, I might not really enjoy the last twelve months of my life, especially those moments when I start to walk down an alleyway and realize exactly where I am.

A few friends and I were musing this weekend about whether or not we’d want to know how our infertility journey turned out before we started trying to conceive.  The obvious answer is yes because you’d save yourself time and heartache.  Of course I would have gone through treatments differently if I had known that I would have the twins.  Such a large portion of the stress of infertility is the not knowing and facing down the possibility that despite all the money, time, physical discomfort you throw at the problem, you might still end up not holding your child.  If there had been an RE with an eye patch whose eye could have told me that everything would turn out fine if I could just endure the two years, I would have taken that spoiler in a heartbeat.

The other side of this is much heavier.  Would you believe what you saw if you didn’t get the happy ending you wanted?  I’m not sure I could just shrug and accept my fate if I saw in the RE’s eyeball that I was still childless at 50.  And that seems ridiculous — to believe it if it tells me what I want to see and to ignore the information if it tells me something I don’t want to be true.  But I don’t think I could blindly let go of the dream of parenthood, even if an RE witch showed me that it wasn’t going to happen.  And how maddening would that be?  To be holding that information and ignoring that information?  At least when you’re trying and have failed cycles, you can know that you made the choices you made in the cycle to the best of your ability with what you knew in the moment.  I wouldn’t feel that same peace with those failed cycles if I knew that the RE witch’s eye had told me pointblank that it wasn’t going to work.

I thought about how much I dislike spoilers when I’m watching a show, even though I can’t help looking at them.  I read a bunch of spoilers for House and immediately regretted it afterward.  I wanted to unknow the plotlines and obviously couldn’t.  And it did make watching the show a little less enjoyable.  For me, that is.  I know there are others out there who love spoilers and can’t imagine watching a show without trying to guess how everything will turn out.  Perhaps it’s also fitting that I am not one for reading mysteries.  I don’t really like to spend the book trying to suss out what will happen next.  I prefer to have my stories fed to me.

But knowing whether or not I’d become a parent (and a parent to how many, or to know how many would not make it to term) goes beyond television spoilers or something akin to receiving a list of your Christmas presents on December 20th.  Because while that one Christmas would be difficult if you knew five days beforehand that you’d be receiving a pair of socks and a dictionary instead of the bicycle you thought Santa would bring, you would also know that there were still Christmases down the road, even if they felt simultaneously very far away.

Parenthood isn’t something transient, something that comes around yearly or a gift that will be consumed or used and set aside with the arrival of next shiny thing.  I would come into that vision that I saw in the RE witch’s eye knowing how I wanted to see myself in relation to the world; to the larger community of people around me.  And if I didn’t see what I wanted to see, I would need to reconcile that without having any time to process it, to see the information coming at me.  It’s not that the transformation would be any easier.  In the end, it wouldn’t be.  Changing course with how I thought life would unfold would be impossibly difficult regardless of whether I had years to come to that knowledge or seconds.  But if given the choice — and this is personal to me — I would take the slow creep over the hard slap.

As I’ve always said, infertility isn’t life threatening, but it is lifestyle threatening.  And I think I would drive myself mad knowing the information was right underneath that RE’s eye patch, and also know that seeing what was under there could either be the salvation or the undoing of me, with the undoing of me perhaps weighing heavier in the choice.

Which leads us to you.  If you were facing the witch RE, would you allow her to lift up her eye patch and show you your parenting future?  Would you believe what you saw or would the knowledge just drive you mad, making not peeking into the eye the better option?


1 Mud Hut Mama { 09.04.12 at 9:00 am }

I’ve just been thinking about this because of Jjiraffe’s post. In regards to the infertility journey I would have definitely lifted that patch but I’m glad I didn’t have that choice because while I know I would have done it, I don’t think it would have been a wise thing to do.

I would have also had a hard time believing what I didn’t want to hear and if I’d given up trying because of that knowledge I would always wonder and that would gnaw away at me but if I kept sinking money and energy into something that I had seen wasn’t going to work it would have destroyed me. Even seeing the happy ending would have stressed me out because I would start wondering if I was too relaxed with that knowledge and if it was affecting my decisions. Then I would worry that if by making decisions based on that knowledge I was making different decisions and therefore negating that story. I still wouldn’t trust it and I probably would have driven myself insane.

2 Bea { 09.04.12 at 9:46 am }

I think a lot of people are going to say they’d want to know, either way. It’s true a lot of people would probably still do treatments afterwards – just to show that witch she was wrong, after all! – but it would actually be more about the process of closure and acceptance than a rollercoaster of actual hope, followed by failure and confusion.

But the real trouble with these things is the old self-fulfilling prophecy. And I see it being harsher on those who heard what they did want to hear. If you know you’ll eventually have children, wouldn’t you torture yourself far in excess of the treatments you might otherwise have gone through? Would you reach a point where you gained the goal, but lost so much else along the way as to make it a hollow victory?

This is not actually a magical question because every day in the world doctors are trying to figure out how to crystal-ball a couple’s chances of success with fertility treatments. Of course, the keyword there is “chances” which is not entirely the same thing… which makes it more diabolical again.


3 loribeth { 09.04.12 at 10:45 am }

It’s hard for me to say, because I’ve basically reached the end of my fertile years without a living child.

What if you saw yourself childless at 50… and yet still happy (as happy as any of us are, anyway) and living a good life? Would that make a difference?

I used to sometimes debate whether dh & I should step down from our support group facilitating gig, in part because we didn’t have any other children. I knew that we were/are some people’s worst nightmare come true, & wondered whether they’d prefer facilitators who had children, to give them some hope.

One of the group’s executives said she thought the contrary — that people could see we suffered the worst loss imaginable (the loss of a baby), never had another child, and yet here we were, still functioning, not just surviving but doing well, and giving back. Hope of a different sort, I guess.

4 a { 09.04.12 at 11:06 am }

That’s the thing, I think – if it’s not the information we want to hear, we think it’s false. So, while it would be nice to see that future, most people who saw the 50 with no children would be unlikely to throw in the towel and get on with their lives if they were 25 at the time (40, probably. 35, maybe. 30, possibly.).

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 09.04.12 at 3:56 pm }

I, for one, am staying away from kayaks from now on 😉

Yes, this: ” To be holding that information and ignoring that information?” If the RE eye were to tell me I’d end up not as a parent, I would not have believed. I HAVE to have room for synergy and grace. I cannot bear to think of certain predestiny.

And, like you, I would prefer the slow creep to the hard slap.

6 jjiraffe { 09.04.12 at 5:46 pm }

I think in “Cold Mountain” there was a similar scene: Nicole Kidman looks down a well to see her future…and it was not good. We hosted a Halloween party once and hired a fortune teller. She told me that she saw “neither me nor my husband living without the other.” That scared me and honestly I don’t like taking planes with him. She also said she saw us having one kid, which I said to my friend who was there trying to debunk her fortune. Then my friend reminded me that the fortune teller actually said that she saw me “giving birth once.” Doh.

7 Stupid Stork { 09.04.12 at 6:15 pm }

Ha! I was just talking about this movie – it was my husband & I’s first date.

I would want to know… I knew that getting pregnant was going to be a problem before I even wanted to get pregnant – and I feel like that didn’t make it easy, but it made it easier.

Somehow I think that knowing if this isn’t going to work out would be horrendously awful and put me into a tailspin of depression for awhile, but I would have time to get used to it and figure out what my childless life would look like, rather than have it sprung on me.

8 luna { 09.04.12 at 6:36 pm }

like you and lori, I don’t like the idea of a pre-destined outcome. but I’m trying to reconcile that with my need to know there was a way out, an ending. yet I think the larger point is that we wouldn’t necessarily end up in the same place, as knowing might affect decisions along with way.

I don’t think I needed to know HOW, but in my darkest days I did want to know that it would end, that I’d be a mama eventually, or maybe I could have tried to ‘give up’ much sooner.

I think it’s interesting that both times I actually conceived were within months of being told by a medical professional that I would NOT get pregnant. in the first case, my well respected RE said I’d need comprehensive surgery before trying again, and the second time I was diagnosed as peri-menopausal at 41. now obviously, neither had a crystal ball (or witch eye), but I believed them.

9 Mali { 09.04.12 at 11:01 pm }

Great question, Mel! Would I want to know? Well, I’m like you. I hate not knowing, but sometimes I enjoy the journey. I mean, here in NZ we get a lot of TV shows a bit later than they originally screen in the US, UK or Australia (depending on their origin). So it is very easy to Google the shows and find out what happens, who one the competition, etc. But I have only once done that (by accident I saw the winner of Project Runway) and it ruined the whole season for me. So I guess I know some of the dangers of trying to cheat time.

With infertility, yes, at certain stages I would definitely have lifted the old woman’s eye patch to find out my destiny. But with the benefit of hindsight (which is just as valuable as foresight sometimes), would I tell my younger self to look or not to look? On the one hand, as Loribeth points out, it might have comforted myself to see that I would be okay, that new doors would open, that I would like myself more and be more content than every before, that my relationship would go from strength to strength, that I’d make amazing internet friends etc. On the other hand though, I think when we’re in the midst of infertility, of treatments or losses or both, we are blinkered. We’re the ones wearing the eye patch, and no matter what we saw, we wouldn’t believe how happy we could be in the end, regardless of the outcome. I think I was like that, and I certainly see a lot of women here in the ALI community who refuse to allow themselves to imagine another possibility. So if I’d seen a happy, childless Mali at 50, would I even have understood what I was seeing? No, I don’t think so.

And then there’s the journey. Again, the benefit of hindsight is that I would not have been without that journey. With all the grief, the losses, the disappointment, I have come through stronger (in ways), different, but i think better. And – this probably sounds nuts to many of you – I’m glad I’ve been through that. So if lifting the eye patch would have denied me of that, then I would say “don’t do it!”

10 Mali { 09.04.12 at 11:09 pm }

I can’t believe I typed “who one the competition.” I don’t believe it. I think the secret spell-checker-changer thingy on my iPad (that always changes my spelling to US spelling) is to blame.I’m going to go sit in the dunce’s corner now.

11 Natalie { 09.04.12 at 11:53 pm }

That’s funny because when watching shows and movies my hubby is always pointing things out and guessing the ending and it always pisses me off. I guess I like having my stories spoon fed to me, too.

I would wanf to know about having a live child in the end, and to know that I was happy. There is no way I would want to know that my first child dies. I would have never experienced his pregnancy the same… and the abounding joy was what I will always treasure.

12 persnickety { 09.04.12 at 11:55 pm }

I couldn’t. At this point I am halfway through (having set a finite number) my ivf options, and have had little success. One of the current hated phrases is “it will happen for you”; it leaves no space for the alternative. I don’t know what i would do, given either answer.
And I am one of those people who likes spoilers, who skips to the back of the mystery first and who needs to have security around the end.

13 Battynurse { 09.05.12 at 12:50 am }

I know that at this point in my life being told children wouldn’t happen I’d totally be able to walk away from it. Then again I’m kinda walking away from it without being told. I’d like to think though that if someone had told me it wasn’t going to happen before all the cycles I’d have walked away then. That right now is the part that is hardest for me. All the money I’m paying back and things I gave up financially to try and I have nothing to show for it now.

14 Justine { 09.05.12 at 2:56 am }

My son and I have been reading a lot of mysteries this summer. I think both of us like to guess the ending … to look at the clues and think that we know what’s going to happen. But there’s a lot lost in the knowing … we don’t appreciate the middle so much, the interesting twists and turns … because we’re so focused on the last chapter.

I still think that it’s like teaching to the test. If you know what the end is going to be, you live your life that way. And while it may not be self-fulfilling prophecy (because you know how it will turn out … you’re not MAKING it turn out), you still miss the development of self that happens with the knowing. Which, I guess, is what you’re saying about the gradual learning vs. the “hard slap.”

What would be great, though, in situations where we feel hopeless, is some better way to feel hopeful … without knowing the ending, at least having some reassurance that we are not alone, and that where we are isn’t the worst place to be.

15 Gail { 09.05.12 at 9:16 am }

I read this yesterday morning and have been trying to think of what my answer would be for the last 24 hours. After trying (unsuccessfully) to conceive for 2 1/2 years and now that it’s been a year since we stopped trying, I don’t know if I would have wanted to know. It was gut-wrenching enough to go through all the infertility tests and treatments, but to find out that they were all in vain would have been even worse. While it may have prevented some physical pain in regards to less needle sticks and invasive tests, I think slowly coming to the realization that it was not working was better for my mental pain than having the band-aid ripped off all at once exposing me to all the mental anguish at once. However, since my diagnosis is “unexplained infertility”, there is still a small part of me that hopes that something could happen to make me pregnant one day. But there is also part of me that would like to know with 100% accuracy if I’m ever going to be pregnant so that I can stop thinking about it, once and for all, and get on with my life.

16 Shelli { 09.05.12 at 1:36 pm }

No, I wouldn’t want to know.

If I had turned back time, and known, I would likely have avoided 6 miscarriages because I would have chosen purposefully to avoid the pain.

Even though my journey wasn’t successful, today I have an unexpected bonus I wouldn’t have acquired if I hadn’t gone through so much… compassion and empathy. These were things missing from my life prior to IF, and having them now is a consolation prize I don’t want to give back.

17 Silya { 09.05.12 at 3:11 pm }

Two things about this wonderful post. First, I would absolutely, 100% want to know. If I knew, then I could move on, one way or the other. I could choose to spend thousands of dollars on something other than fertility treatments or, alternatively, know that it was money well spent. I could fully embrace my life as a childless woman, or I could continue to read parenting articles and prepare myself to be a mom, knowing that those efforts weren’t a waste of time. But because I can’t know, there remains that damned hope that it’s going to happen, and I stay in this state of limbo, waiting for my life to begin while the years go by. It’s been five years, and I’m terrified to think that in another five years, or ten, I will look back thinking that all I have to show for it is years of sadness over being childless.

Which brings me to the second point: I love Big Fish, even though I do the ugly cry during the last twenty minutes of it. The final scene of that movie encapsulates for me the grief we all can feel over the life we’ve lived along with the hope and love we have for those around us who have made our less-than-perfect lives more wonderful than we could have dreamed. If I can get myself back to blogging, I may have to blog about that movie.

Thanks for this post, Mel.

18 S.I.F. { 09.05.12 at 3:59 pm }

I absolutely would have hunted down that RE witch and forced her to give me a peak had she existed at the start of all of this. Would I have believed her though? That is another question… Sometimes I think you NEED that hope. At least until you experience the heartache first time. I NEEDED to believe it was going to work. Finding out it wouldn’t, without the actual life experience to lend to the healing, probabaly would have been disastrous. And I’m not sure that I could have convinced myself even then not to try.

Still… I wouldn’t hate to meet that witch now. Just to find out what happens next. There have to be babies in my future. I can’t believe there won’t be. But how nice would it be to know when and how, just so that the what-if’s can stop?

19 deathstar { 09.05.12 at 10:52 pm }

I’d want to know, cause I really could have put my energy elsewhere. I would have attempted adoption earlier on or maybe I wouldn’t, but either way, I would have shortened my anxiety and grieving. And saved a ton of cash.

20 Kathy { 09.08.12 at 11:43 pm }

This has been such an interesting discussion here, on Jjraffe’s blog and some of the other places and people that it led me to.

If could have known that we would finally get to bring home another healthy living child six years after we had our first (Sean) who was healthy and came home with us, I might have wanted that information.

BUT, to know everything that happened in between to get to that point, especially Molly’s diagnosis and prognosis at 15 weeks gestation after three early pregnancy loses and three failed IVF cycles, I don’t know if I would have been able to go on with it all. Hope definitely kept me going throughout our journey through secondary infertility and loss — from Sean to Molly and eventually Abby.

But more often than not as painful is the uncertainty and waiting can be, I can also see the danger in having that kind of knowledge .

I loved this post (related to this topic) from Dawn’s blog, which Lori from Write Mind Open Heart directed me to: http://www.creatingafamily.org/blog/infertility-fertility-trying-to-conceive-ivf-donor-egg/problem-knew/

I especially appreciated this part of her conclusion:

“But, the truth is, that we each have to make the best decision we can given where we are right then at that specific time in our lives. As we grow and change, so will our decisions. It’s tempting to look back and think that we should have taken a more direct path to where we ended up, but where we end up, and our satisfaction at being there, is dependent on the circuitous route we took to get there.”

Knowing that my journey through secondary infertility and loss is resolved now, reading Dawn’s post helped me to further the peace that I feel with the choices we made along the way.

21 TasIVFer { 09.17.12 at 3:04 am }

It would be better if I hadn’t looked. I would have seen the end result – my gorgeous son – but I would have seen my dead bub, the cliffs of insanity I spent a lot of my time perched on, the almost-destruction of my marriage, etc. And I don’t know if a rational person would have gone through all that, even if the end result was this gorgeous child I now have. I know most people would think I immediately would say it was all worth it. And having BEEN through it, it obviously is. However the road I took is not one I recommend to myself or anyone else. How much is too much, even when it ‘works out’ in the end? I am scarred by all of it. It’s well and good to say what kills you makes you stronger, but scar tissue isn’t pretty. It pulls, it doesn’t stretch, it doesn’t feel comfortable.

22 Elizabeth { 09.17.12 at 11:24 am }

I’ve wondered about this. I have a friend who swears by a therapist she sees who does “readings,” and is supposedly never wrong. Whether there’s any validity to her claims or not, I’ve wondered whether or not to accept my friend’s invitation to share one of her sessions so I can get a reading. I have decided not to, because if I were told that I would never have my own biological child, I wouldn’t be able to stop treatments – I have to see this thing through to the end – but I would go into each one with that much more dread and sadness. I need to safeguard what slender hope I have.

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