February 11, 2011

What I learned at the aquarium.

While I was in Atlanta I had a day with some downtime, so I stopped by The World of Coca Cola and the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world. I really thought my weekend would be an IF-free zone but the aquarium had different plans for me.

Of course I'm already setting myself up for failure by heading to an aquarium on a Saturday afternoon: I was surrounded by squealing children and their weary parents everywhere I turned. But I'm just as big of a nerd to tune out a lot of that out, fighting my way past small children to press my nose up against the glass, oohing and aahing at the spectacular array of sea life. I'm a total dork for museums.
The ever curious looking sea dragon.
It was at the sea dragon exhibit that I suddenly felt my breath catch, that lump in my throat. A young father was kneeling in front of the tank, pointing out the creature to his daughter, as she turned her wispy head of ghost-white blonde hair toward the glass. "Can you point to the sea dragon?" he said, and the daughter obliged, pointing. "Yay!" he and his wife cooed, and the girl smiled and giggled, pressing her tiny chubby hands against the glass, mesmerized by the creature.

I want to take my kid to the aquarium with Larry. The thought was as clear as day in my head, followed by that pulling feeling in my chest. I felt corners of my eyes moisten. I quickly stood up (I had been kneeling to get a better view) and made my way over to the next exhibit. Suddenly, all the kids I'd been able to tune out for the last hour seemed as though they had multiplied in number and volume.

I made my way to the main tank viewing area and took a seat, my mouth slightly agape at the sheer size of it. I could have spent hours here, watching the three whale sharks- these beautiful, epic beasts each as big as a bus, the manta rays eerily soaring through the water as if in slow motion, the massive groupers with their slackjawed expressions. I was transfixed - humbled - by this ocean of wonder in front of me. In a lot of ways, it felt like an underwater chapel.

Sitting there, I connected with my infertility in a way I hadn't previously. Seeing that father and daughter, I finally understood a part of this ache within me. I work in education, so it's only natural that I long to teach my children one day. Not homeschooling, rather, how to tie their shoelaces. What to do if they break up with their boyfriend. Why they should read a book- good books. I want to teach them about sea dragons, and Henrietta Lacks and constellations and baking soda volcanoes and all the joys and wonders of science. I want to teach them about truth and integrity and trust and love and responsibility. And everything else.

I only just realized, sitting in front of this massive underwater window, that the grief and pain with infertility isn't just about wanting a baby. It isn't just about baby bumps and showers and revealing your news to your friends and family. It isn't just about nurseries and matching outfits and dolls and mementos emblazoned with "Baby's First."

This ache is about leaving a legacy, leaving a mark on the next generation. Parenting isn't just about answering the alarm on the biological clock: it's about sending a part of yourself into the unknown future ahead of us all. Death and taxes, right? Being able to parent is hoping that one day, one day very long after we're all gone - someone might hear an echo of wisdom, of something we once said and we are remembered.

It's as though infertility robs us of our voice cast ahead into time.

This is what I sat and thought about next to the fishes and the sharks and the rays, creatures with no concept of time, always swimming in this endless ocean. For the half hour or so I sat there, deep in thought, it was as though I was in slow-motion with the fish, the world moving around me at an accelerated pace. Those thoughts, even after only being away for just 24 hours, made me long for home, to be close to my husband.

And yet despite how deeply introspective I became, I sat there wide-eyed, in wonder at the beauty of it all.


Gil said...

Yep. That's exactly it. Like you said, it's not about showers or announcements or feeling a life grow or any of that stuff. It's about making your mark, teaching YOUR little one to enjoy life, experience things and in turn, make his or her own mark. That's exactly how I felt so many years ago, when I wrote my Pancake Day post (http://thehardestquest.blogspot.com/2007/02/pancake-day-traditions.html). It really affected me. And I hate to see that it affects you, and so many others too Keiko. Sending you much love and many hugs. And please keep the faith that you WILL get to take your child to the Aquarium with Larry. I'm not giving up; I have tons of faith and hope for you! *hugs*

Julie Anita said...

Oh man, that's so it. I definitely have that ache for a baby (especially after starting the day with a text messaged photo of a baby born to one of my coworkers yesterday, then babysitting a 1-month-old, and then babysitting a 7-month-old), but I also have an ache for a 2-year-old, and a 5-year-old, and a 10-year-old. I can't wait for ALL the stages of childhood.

Carli said...

Kieko, your posts frequently touch me deeply. This one is no different.

You are so right - it isn't just the desire to carry a baby - to feel it move or to have a stranger rub your belly. It is the desire to experience life with your child - to watch your husband play baseball with your son, to have a tea party with your daughter. To see the look in their eyes when they see the ocean for the first time. To hold their hand and answer their questions when they ask about the buluga whales or the whale sharks at the ATL aquarium. It is so much more than just wanting a baby.

You will get there some day. I have no doubt. And when you do, you will enjoy every one of those little moments!