The Things we’ve handed down
I wonder who you’ll look like. Will your hair fall down in curls?
Will you be a momma’s boy? Or daddy’s little girl?
Are you a poet or a dancer, a devil or a clown?
Or some strange new combination of the things we’ve handed down?
– Marc Cohn, The Things We’ve Handed Down
Hello dear readers – Eric here, and boy has it been a week of big thoughts. I wrote in an early post that during your journey through infertility, a comment, a song or some other random bit of life can hit you right in the heart when you least expect it. That came home to me in more ways than one this past week, and it made me realize something in a way I hadn’t before.
There’s an old Marc Cohn song called “The Things We’ve Handed Down” that’s been going through my mind almost non-stop for the past five days, and I realized there’s something important that I wanted to share. (It is by the way, exactly the type of song I alluded to punching you in the gut in that earlier post, a song that will bring you to tears of frustration and loss if you haven’t been able to conceive, but it is also one which will bring you to tears of joy if you’re pregnant and waiting for a little one to arrive. Consider yourself forewarned. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqyc7lWi9xc )
So, what does this have to do with the thought of the week? This might seem weirdly personal, but this whole blog is about laying it out there, so what the heck… I had a bit of a health scare last Friday. I’m ok, all seems to be fine, but I REALLY didn’t feel well and I had to check myself into an emergency room in the middle of New York City (250 miles from home) where I had travelled for a business meeting. (It was ALSO the birthday of my late father-in-law, a kind, gentle and amazing man without whom I wouldn’t have my beautiful wife and incredible sister-in-law.)
Thankfully, my parents, both still alive and working (at 76 and 81 if you can believe that) live nearby, and were able to come see me in the hospital. Let me tell you, lying on a gurney in the ER wondering what’s going to happen, a lot of diplomacy and “sensitive topics” fall away and things get direct and honest pretty quick. I told them about a congenital heart defect I’d learned about years ago, but hadn’t wanted to worry them. When the doctor asked about family medical history, I learned all kinds of things about them I’d never known.
And one of the things I realized in that moment is that having a family is about passing on EVERYTHING. Sure it means your hopes and dreams, grandma’s laugh or grandpa’s walk, mommy’s nose and daddy’s eyes. But it also means the family history of cancer, or heart problems, or a tendency toward alcoholism or mental illness. When we pass on our genes, we pass on all that we are. ALL that we are. That is a wondrous, but also a terrifying, thing.
As I looked at my parents looking back at me, worry and love etched in their faces, I reflected on our own attempts to have a family and realized that even now, several years later, I am filled with conflicted and contradictory thoughts. Is it better we couldn’t have children? Perhaps this was meant to be? What if I passed on some terrible condition? What if we outlived them? How would we survive that, emotionally and psychologically? If we adopted, we might never know our children’s complete medical history. Would that put them at greater risk? Is this even all worth it?
In the end I think all of these feelings and conflicts are a natural part of the process, something that every prospective parent probably wrestles with, regardless of their fertility. Know that these thoughts, questions and concerns are normal. For myself, in the end I netted out like so many have before me – OF COURSE IT IS WORTH IT.
The risks, the fears, the potential loss, all are outweighed by the simple, primordial and absolute love that IS being a family. Wherever they are, and however you have come together – via IVF or adoption, marriage or blood – I hope your family, past, present and future, is a source of strength, support, joy and hope. My own journey took a strange and scary turn this week, and I was reminded that FAMILY, in all its forms, is quite literally the most important and best thing in the whole world. I hope that thought may provide some comfort or strength as you travel what is often a very difficult path.