Mom usually spends the bulk of a visit with my sister, F, because that’s where her one and only grandchild is located. She already had been at my sister’s house for almost a week. My husband J and I were going to F’s house for dinner, then taking Mom home with us for a couple of days before her flight home.
As soon as we walked through the door, J headed into the kitchen to keep F company while she cooked. I settled down on the couch to catch up with Mom. With no preamble, she immediately started in on her story. That week, while F was at work, Mom had been working on her next book (she writes upublishable novels in her spare time––mostly with a “cosmic” theme invoking new age concepts like numerology, crystals, self-hypnosis, spirit guides, and the like) on F’s computer.
At some point, while trying to save her work, she accidentally opened something F had been writing. “It just popped open,” she told me, “and there it was, on the screen.”
Turns out that what had “accidentally” “popped open” on the computer was my sister’s private journal. F’s writings about her own miscarriage, which had happened only three weeks before mine. Unlike mine, F’s was a public affair—she had been four months pregnant at the time. The journal described F’s innermost anguish, her private torment, her darkest secrets.
Of course, it never occurred to Mom, once this was open on the screen before her, to immediately close the fucking document and pretend she never saw it. So there I was, stuck on the couch next to a woman I’ve spent years trying to erect reasonable shields against, and she’s telling me about this hideous invasion of my sister’s privacy. My sister, who has just lost a child she spent two years trying to conceive. My sister, who has seen my through my darkest times, the only member of my family I have ever been able to count on. My sister, who I would do anything to protect.
Mom was still talking, unaware of my shock and disbelief, “…and that’s how I learned about your miscarriage,” she said. By then, my heart was pounding and my ears were roaring and I must have been white as a ghost. She patted my thigh, “Oh, honey, you must have been devastated.”
“Um … yeah. But it wasn’t as bad as what F went through. And I didn’t want to dwell on it so I didn’t tell anyone…. But I’m glad you know,” I lied lamely.
But apparently, this conversation wasn’t about F’s heartache or my loss. Nor was it about mine. It was about the things F had written about Mom. Apparently, it said some pretty ugly things (as does this blog). And Mom had decided that somehow she was the injured party. (Mom clearly had read this diary repeatedly.)
I escaped as soon as I could. F asked me what was wrong, and I had to make up some lame excuse about not feeling well. How could I tell my sister what Mom had done? I could only imagine how violated I would feel if it was me. Hell, I did feel violated—my miscarriage was my secret, my personal tragedy, and my right to tell or not to tell had been ripped from me.
Somehow I got through dinner. Afterward I pulled J aside and told him. “That bitch,” was all he could say. And then we were in the car, with Mom, taking her home for a weekend with us.
On the way home, she was talking, in very sweet and understanding terms, about my miscarriage. I really couldn’t figure out how to shut down the conversation once it started, so I told her that yes, we were planning on seeing a doctor soon about our apparent infertility.
Then this comment came out:
“It must come from your father’s side of the family.”
You heard right. She went on, “both you and your sister have had so much trouble getting pregnant. It must come from your father.”
Apparently my stunned silence was interpreted as a signal to expand on this theory:
Exhibit A: she herself had gotten pregnant three times (four, if you count the abortion at 18 years old, but she didn’t mention that one).
Exhibit B: my father had not had more children after he left Mom and remarried.
Exhibit C: my father’s sister had “only” had two children.
There was a lot of other badness that weekend––Mom telling me F was a horrible person for the things she had written, me telling Mom that she should never tell my sister what had happened, me having to explain to Mom that it was wrong of her to read my sister’s journal––but it was the conversation in the car that sticks with me the most.
Mom sees a woman’s value in terms of her fertility. Thinking back, she always has bragged about it. I can’t count the number of times she’s mentioned that she got pregnant the first time she had sex. I had thought this was a cautionary tale, but now I don’t think so. I can remember the pity with which she described a neighbor who had been TTC for six years. But it was a smug sort of pity. I can remember her telling me when I had bad cramps that it was “a sign of fertility.” (HA! What a load of shit! I think it was a sign of my reproductive problems.)
The bottom line is, my mother is so hung up the inherent value of fertility that she has officially disowned the part of me that is missing this “gene”. She has passed the blame on to my dad (who, although I have almost no contact with, did at least donate the sanity genes). Never mind that her reasoning makes no sense, that she had her children in her 20’s, that she was with a man with a strong sperm count, that my aunt may very well have decided not to have more than two kids, even that infertility isn’t even that much a hereditary trait.
Never mind all that. What matters is that my mom sees infertility as a black mark, an inherent personality defect, something that reduces my value as a person. She also sees it as another way in which she’s better than I am.
I agree with J: That bitch.
Epilogue: I told Mom I wasn't going to tell F, and she shouldn't either. She stayed quiet for maybe a day or two, then wrote F an 11-page single-spaced letter attacking, accusing, berating. F told me she only read the whole thing for some sign of an apology, which wasn't there. F and I now have a new pact: no secrets. No matter what Mom does or says to split us apart, no secrets. We are a united front.