Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Marriage is for life

I never gave divorce much thought.  In all honesty, I saw it as an American phenomenon.  No one in my family was divorced.  That’s not to say all marriages were blissfully content, but divorce was just not an option.  Without a doubt, the strong Catholic foundation of most Polish families plays a role in my attitude.  The Church treats Marriage as one of seven sacraments; it’s a covenant between the spouses and God.  But the teaching against divorce is not a Church mandate; it comes straight from God, as found in Holy Scripture.

Jesus clearly states His views of divorce: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife […] and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9) and “if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery” (Mark 10:12).  There’s sufficient other Scriptures to support that lifetime marital fidelity is important to Jesus:  Mark 10:12, Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:31-32. 

Even the Old Testament already expresses God’s dislike of divorce in Malachi 2:16: “’I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel.”  Jesus explains in Matthew 19:8 that Moses only allowed divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.  Clearly, divorce is seen as a sin in the eyes of God, for He reminds us of this when we take our marriage vows: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

According to statistics, 40-50% of married couples divorce.  Of those who identify themselves as Christian (but rarely go to church), 60% divorce. Regular church attendance stabilizes marriages somewhat, but of these Christians, 38% still divorce.  Though about 47% of the US population “is Christian”,  there’s an important distinction between religious affiliation (or church attendance) and whether or not one takes one's faith seriously.  

Religious values and statistics aside, divorce is nothing more than the willful separation of oneself from a person originally taken in as a family member.  If we do not take marriage seriously, we cannot hope to stay in marriage when things get tough, as they inevitably do.  If marriage is nothing more than an “official” boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, a way to get conservative relatives off our backs for living together, an opportunity for sexual relations to be sanctioned by parents or religion, then we cannot expect to avoid high divorce rates.

Why is it OK to legally separate oneself from a spouse, but not from other family members?  But, wait! This is not the case!  Children can be emancipated from their parents before they turn 18.  Parents disown their children for various reasons.  And sadly, even little children are not guaranteed to stay with the families they’re born into: parents legally relinquish their parental rights to their children when they place them for adoption with other families, and some parents have their rights taken away from them for neglect or abuse.  In these cases, not all families have relatives willing to step in to take in a niece or nephew, cousin, or grandchild to prevent splitting families. Is family no longer sacred?  

Marriage is meant to be the beginning of the next generation within a family, the joining of two families, an establishment of a new family.  If we don’t take that relationship seriously, how can we take any family relationship seriously?

People tend to have similar objections to arguments against divorce as they do those against premarital sex:  What if I don’t like the person I marry?  If we stop doing things the moment we stop liking them, we prevent ourselves from the opportunity to grow, mature, and learn from life.  But growth, maturity, and learning is “hard”, and there is no good reason to do things that are difficult, things we don’t like, right?

If we enter into marriage without taking seriously the vows “for better or for worse”, how can we actually get through those tough times?  Likewise, if we don’t remain open to life when making love, we can’t be surprised at the number of abortions, newborns placed for adoption, and children born out of wedlock to single parents.  

I stand by what I said as a high school freshman to a senior who tried to convince me otherwise.  Upon being questioned as to why I was a virgin (at 14 years old!), I said, “sex is for making babies”, to which she replied, “you’ll change your mind once you do it.”  I have not changed my mind.  Sex belongs in marriage, as do babies.  The three go together. 

Easy access to divorce means that marriage is not forever; it’s only until one of the spouses gets tired of the other one. We live in a society where one’s word means nothing.  You stand in front of your family and friends and God Himself (usually captured on video or by photography as proof of our intentions), and promise to spend the rest of your life with the man or woman before you.  Then, when the honeymoon period passes and you realize that a real relationship is real hard work, you bail.  Don't make promises you can't keep!

Alex and I want our marriage to be a beacon of hope in a dull, muddy cesspool of rotten relationships.  Marriage for life is still possible, and it is still the best option around.  God knew what He was doing when He established marriage.  It’s worth the preparation, and it’s worth the wait!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Married With(out) Children

You shouldn’t let children define who you are.  In fact, you shouldn’t let any other person define who you are.  People change, move away, die.  If your identity is so intrinsically tied to another person that, when they are no longer there, you do not know what to do with yourself, then you know you have put too much weight on that other person’s importance in your life.

An emptynester stay-at-home mom unable to figure out how to fill her time once all of her children are grown and move away is an example that comes to mind.  Suddenly, she realizes just how much of her time and effort went towards caring for her children, and the void left by their absence is uncomfortable at best. Perhaps she will go back to school, maybe pursue a career. If she isn’t able to break into a new career, she may devote her time to volunteering, or pursuing hobbies she never had time for before.  Maybe this will be sufficient for her self-identity, maybe not.

I know there are other examples of people having to redefine themselves after they lose the intensity of the bond they held for years to someone close to their heart.  I lost my best friend of 17 years this year.  She will not be replaced.  I have other close friends whom I love dearly, but Rachel was there for me in a unique way, in a critical part of my life, and for that reason, she was in a league of her own.  I now carry a little void in my heart where her presence used to be.

I say all of this to get to a singular point:  those of us struggling with long-term primary infertility are at risk for falling into this trap of linking our identity with the ever-elusive future child. In a way, this may be worse. There’s not the usual sense of accomplishment that an emptynester can rest in, having raised an independent, well-adjusted individual.  There’s usually not even the ability to find comfort in the sentiment that “it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” if what you've loved has been the hope, perception, idea of a person that never actually existed. 

Infertility makes us think so much about the future, that we project the idea of a child into our lives to the point that we may actually think the child is really in our life.  I managed to compile hundreds of baby clothes, tons of children’s books, multiple items of baby equipment, a list of baby names, and preemptive parenting decisions on such topics as cloth diapering and homeschooling, all before we ever adopted and lost our four fantastic embryos.  I grieved parting with many of these items as if I were letting go of a real person.

So I sit here a childless married woman, uncertain if I will ever get to raise a child to adulthood as their mom, faced with the realization that I cannot let my life pass me by as I wait to find out if my imagined identity will ever reach fruition. 

I recently read an article where I couldn’t help but be struck by a quote from a counselor, Barbara Fisher, who said: "For many people, being child-free has to do with their destiny. They may not be here to parent."

Alas, that is precisely my point!  God did not create everyone to parent.  He may not have created me for this task, either.  Single people are valuable members of society, are they not?  Celibate priests and nuns and monks have their unique contributions as well.  And who doesn’t look forward to the leisure of retirement, in spite of this generally not coming until after the proverbial nest has been emptied? Yet it is very hard to get past the idea that a young or middle-aged married woman could have any other role to play in society other than that of mother.  

Society is more than simply women and men reproducing themselves for the sake of their children growing up to do the same.  Parenting is a contribution, not the only contribution, needed by the world at large. The road to happiness for infertile childless couples is to find one of these other, numerous, worthwhile contributions that the world needs, latch onto them with the same fervor and dedication that so many of us pursue parenting, and find our identity there.  The Lord calls each of us by name for different tasks.  

1 Corinthians  12:14-18

For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12th anniversary on 12/12/12

Twelve years ago today, Alex and I got engaged.  We were visiting Poland together, and we went to the mountainous city of Zakopane with my babcia, Musti.  

We went up a mountain in a cable cart to catch a great view of the city.  My grandmother was working the camera while Alex and I posed with the mountains in the background.  When I saw the photo later, I noticed Alex holding my left hand and cupping his fingers to make it look like he was about to put a ring on my finger.  A wonderful engagement photo … it would’ve been, had he proposed at that time, but he didn’t.  He said later that he meant to, but he chickened out!  He had my grandmother running the video because I had said I wanted the moment captured on film, but when it came time to do it, he didn’t have the nerve.  I imagine having my grandmother there didn’t help.

But at the time, I knew nothing of his scheme, so we went back to the hotel, which was a cozy wooden log cabin, and after dinner, Musti turned in while Alex and I went for a stroll down the street.  It was dark, and only one street really had anything going on.  In one of the windows we noticed what at first looked like tortillas, which was great because Alex had tried to explain to my family the traditional food of his country.  So I’m thinking, I’ll just go in and ask the lady behind the counter what she calls them in Polish, and we’ll have the mystery clarified in not time.

We enter the delicatessen, and I ask the lady in Polish what she calls “those things”, pointing to the foodstuff in the window.  She looks at me as if I had just introduced myself as an alien from outer space, waiting for the catch to the joke.  When she sees that there’s no catch and that I’m genuinely waiting for a response, she slowly says “nalesniki”.  Now, nalesniki are crepes, not tortillas.  But the thing is that if I’m Polish enough to talk to her in Polish, I am Polish enough to know what nalesniki look like, since they are a classic staple of the Polish kitchen.

To give you a comparison, imagine being in the United States, and asking with a nice southern draw or New York accent (or some other clearly native American accent) “what’s that?” as you point to a hamburger on a McDonald’s menu.  You’re either wondering where the person learned such good English, or you’re wondering where they’ve been sheltered all of their lives.  This is how I felt in that deli.

So, mortified, I smiled and thanked her, turned on my heel, grabbed Alex by the elbow and whispered that we were out of there!  Of course I knew what nalesniki were!  How did I not make the connection for myself?  How did I not compare tortillas with nalesniki on my own?  The main difference is that nalesniki tend to be sweet.

So we are walking down the street, the embarrassment slowly fading away, as a huge pine tree comes into view.  Now, I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the decorations on this tree were butt-ugly.  There were two different types of lights strung on it, one set with huge color lightbulbs, the other with small lights.  And they weren’t evenly distributed either.  It all looked like an afterthought.  And I commented on the tree to Alex, who took that to mean, “let’s get closer to it”.  

I think I was still commenting on how ugly the tree looked when Alex picked me up and lifted me to stand on the bench surrounding the tree.  As I’m standing there looking down at him, he pulls a little box from his jacket and asks me to be his wife.  I laughed, I cried, I said yes! 

The next day, we returned with Musti to recreate the moment.  She took a photo of us under the ugly tree, me with my engagement ring already on.  

When I had shown the ring to my grandmother, expecting the usual reactions of excitement that I’ve gotten used to seeing on American TV, I was disappointed.  My grandmother glanced at the ring on my finger and said that it was a nice looking ring.  


I thought maybe she misunderstood its significance, so I said that Alex and I were now engaged.  Apparently, I had failed to remember one very important cultural detail…. “the proposal” is not a “thing” in Poland like it is in the U.S.  Couples get engaged when they mutually come to the decision to stay together, and this is usually announced and celebrated via an engagement party.  As it turns out, Alex had shown Musti the ring on the train ride to Zakopane, making it even less surprising for her.  And since she was not aware of the American significance of the proposal, she didn’t think to even act happily surprised for me.

Luckily, my mom knew better, and I remember a general sense of joy from the other end of the phone when I called to tell her about our engagement.

This was December 12, 2000…. Twelve years ago today!  Two and a half years later, we were married. 

Happy Engagement Anniversary, Baby!  I love you!