Our children are not our children because we have given them our genes, our children are our children because we have had the audacity to envision them.
For some of us, life “after all else fails” may still include children, if we’re willing to let go of a too-narrow definition of motherhood. I see many women who are pursuing genetic parenthood at all costs. Even when medical science offers them little or no hope, they refuse to consider surrogacy, donor eggs, even adoption. While I understand the visceral desire to carry life within oneself, in some cases women are creating even more pain because their sense of being a mother is so limited. Letting go does not have to mean letting go of motherhood–simply our TV sitcom vision of it.
RESOLVE, the national infertility association, suggests that couples take the following steps in reaching decisions about alternative forms of parenthood. Begin by having each partner:
• Write a list of your options: to continue with infertility treatments, to stop and remain childless, to seek other means like surrogacy, donor eggs or sperm, adoption, etc.
• List what appeals to you and does not appeal to you for each option. Note any options that are completely unacceptable, and write a brief explanation of why.
• Prioritize your options in order of their importance to you.
• Itemize what you would have to do, and by when, to make your top choice a reality. Do the same for the remaining options, even if they do not appeal to you at the moment.
• Discuss your options together and create a plan to make your choices become reality.
If you choose to make children a part of your life, either through adoption, carrying a baby conceived from donor egg or sperm, or using a surrogate mother, then you must be comfortable with the fact that this child is not related to you genetically or biologically. I believe when we choose to accept a child into our family, we are related to him or her on a far deeper level than genetics or biology. First, we are related by choice. One of my patients once said to me, “Our children will always know they were wanted because we worked so hard to bring them into the world.” This is equally true of the children we choose to make part of our families through adoption, surrogacy, donor egg or sperm and so on. But in a spiritual sense, I believe the connection is even deeper. These children are ours because they want us as their parents.
When I was studying Chinese medicine, for a short while I felt a sense of a “presence” with me all the time. I noticed it especially in those moments between sleeping and waking. I had this sense of life wanting to express itself when the time was right. This feeling stayed with me until I had my son, Lars. While I can’t say for sure whether this feeling and the birth of my son were related, on a deep level I believe that the presence I felt had something to do with his soul wanting to be part of my life. And, if it’s possible that our children choose us as parents, then I wonder if it matters to them whether they’re born of our bodies or someone else’s.
However these children come to us, be it by our own eggs or assisted reproductive technologies or adoption, matters less than our tenacity — what we have gone through to make these children part of our lives. I believe the most important aspect of parenthood is letting our children know where they fit in the world, giving them a sense of belonging, no matter how they come to us. If they come from us, if they come through us, or if they come to us, being a parent means holding them and letting them know, “This is where you belong.”
When I work with women who are reaching the end of their pursuit of natural conception, I counsel them and support them with treatments designed to help them handle their emotions. I also ask them questions like, “Do you think if a child wants to be part of your life that he or she will care where its genetics come from? What do you think is more important in terms of your expressing your motherhood: creating a child who has the genes of your ancestors or giving a child all the love a mother can give?” And, “Are there other ways you can use your maternal energy? Can you give your time to children who are needy? How can you mother in a totally different sense, without it having to be a baby?”
In Chinese medicine, menopause is described as the transition from our reproductive years into the “time of wisdom.” At this point, the energy that has been pouring into our uterus through the Penetrating Meridian is redirected. And since the Pnetrating Meridian connects the Uterus to the Heart, that is where our reproductive energy moves. We change from being mothers of the body to being mothers of the heart, where wisdom resides. Whether we are biological mothers or not, all women have the ability to be mothers of the heart. We can choose to offer our love and maternal energies by creating a family with children, or we can choose to mother children, adults, groups or organizations. Louisa May Alcott once wrote, “…fatherly and motherly hearts often beat warm and wise in the breasts of bachelor uncles and maiden aunts, and it is my private opinion that these worthy creatures are a beautiful provision of nature for the cherishing of other people’s children.” You never know what place you will fill within the universal plan, but I do believe with all my heart that the love that makes us want to be parents was not meant to go to waste. The Tao Te Ching says,
The Tao is called the Great Mother: empty yet inexhaustible,
It gives birth to infinite worlds.
It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.
When you become a mother of the heart, you tap into the “Great Mother” that lies within you. That love is always there. And when you offer it to the world in any form, it will never go to waste.
If there is a divine plan and we are placed on this earth to learn and grow, then perhaps the our souls’ lessons are taught through those that are put–and are not put–in our lives. Those we love come and, yes, they go. Some, even those we want most desperately, never come at all. Ultimately, however, we must recognize that the children we want so much and have done so much to bear are not really ours to begin with. As Khalil Gibran wrote:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with his might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
The pursuit of a child is borne of a deep longing of universal life to evolve—and isn’t it rather grandiose of us to believe that we have any control over the requirements of universal evolution? We can only manipulate our physiology; we can’t control the expression of life itself. I believe that for God to breathe life into the developing cells which become fetuses and babies and human beings, harmony must be created in our physical environment, our physiologic condition, our mental, emotional and spiritual state. When these conditions have been met, then we must accept that if we are to become parents, we will.
I am reminded of the prayer, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The things we must accept are our genetic constitution: there are certain aspects of our physical state that are not amenable to change. We cannot change the past and we cannot change anybody else. We can, however, change our health and our environment in the present—what we put into our bodies, how we experience stress, and our mental and emotional states.
We at The Fertile Soul endeavor to help you take control of everything that might possibly help you to have a child. But, after you have done all that you have control over, you must remember to breathe, to recall that you still have this present moment where you can allow life to express itself through you, however it may. This is a courageous stand and not an undertaking for the weak of spirit.
Perhaps the final lesson from our struggle to bear children is to find peace inside ourselves no matter what. I do know that finding that place of peace is the greatest gift we can receive. Those that we love come and go. Some don’t come at all. But no matter what, we are whole and at peace. May you find that place of peace within yourself. May you find happiness. And may that happiness be unconditional.