During the time when I was struggling with my infertility, I also had to come to terms with the fact that even if we adopted, this would be my only child. I remember feeling unleashed with anxious nagging thoughts like, “Doesn’t he need a sibling to play with?” “Will he feel lonely?” “What will happen when I die and he has to face the burden of caring for me alone?” I know that these thoughts are based entirely on my own fears and assumptions of what I expected my family would look like. Even though, I can’t seem to shake my periodic pangs of regret.
I think family planning can be a life changing decision. I envy the parents who have the luxury to decide how many children will be in their family. In my case, life’s circumstances chose for me. Maybe I’m still struggling with the loss that I will have only one child. Isn’t that enough? Why don’t I feel more grateful? Shouldn’t I feel overwhelmed with joy that at least I get to be a parent?
One of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, introduced me to the concept of holding on to the “stubborn gladness.” The idea was born from her favorite poem A Brief for the Defense written by Jack Gilbert. In one part of the poem he beautifully writes:
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight.
Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our
gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.
I love how this poem compels me to find a quiet space in the center of my disappointment and loss and to take hold of the wonder and the joy-the “stubborn gladness.”
“Good things come to those who wait,” “Slow and steady wins the race, “Haste makes waste,”“A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” We can all quote by memory these annoying platitudes about patience (okay, maybe not that last one). When I was younger, I sang regularly in my church choir where we did a number of performances. However, one performance has vividly stuck with me even thirty years later. I can still recall and sing the lyrics to one song sung by Herbert the singing snail: Have patience//have patience//don’t be in such a hurry// when you get impatient you only start to worry//Remember, remember, that God is patient, too//and think of all the the times when others have to wait for you//
I don’t think that I’m a particularly patient person. I’ve been known to walk quickly in front of the elderly and children in strollers in order to get to the door before them. I have a horribly low tolerance for drivers. If a driver doesn’t go within two seconds of the traffic light turning green, they will definitely get a honk. And on more than one occasion, I’ve said to my middle school students, “I can’t talk to you right now,” and quickly walked away. It seems like since the womb we’ve been instructed by our parents, teachers, and everyone around us that patience is an expected behavior. You often hear parents say, “Wait your turn, wait until we eat, wait until you are spoken to.” But what happens when you don’t want to wait? When patience is a virtue only sometimes.
Most recently, my patience has been exceedingly tested with our journey to become parents. My husband and I have been waiting to be parents since 2012. We knew that we wanted to have children and immediately started planning our family right after we were married. After four years of trying to get pregnant by completing fertility testing, two failed attempts of IUI and countless fertility acupuncture appointments; we made the decision to adopt. We are a year into the adoption process and now again we are waiting, but this time we are waiting to meet our toddler Korean son. We don’t have any other choice but to wait. But patiently wait? I’m not so sure. What does that look like anyway? Is patience lying in bed with tears welling up in your eyes quietly counting off the days and months until you finally get to meet him for the first time. Or maybe it’s giving yourself permission to walk through the toddler clothing section and letting the fabric run through your hands while imagining his tiny body in the I heart Minneapolis t-shirt. And even, maybe, patience is like the day when you silently surrender to the idea of writing a blog in order to keep your mind occupied and your heart from going wildly insane.
Do good things come to those who wait? Maybe. But I can say with certainty that within the next year, I’ll more than likely be repeating these same words to my two year old: “Please wait your turn, or wait until we eat.” And then if I’m lucky enough and if I’m listening closely; he’ll be the one teaching me how to be patient just like Herbert the singing snail.