“Do you have any children?” The old man’s eyes are barely visible underneath the wrinkly creases of skin drooping where his youthful eyelids once framed his blue eyes.
“No, not yet,” averting my gaze to the table separating us, my polite reply is honest, yet not. It implies children are expected. It implies being childless is my chosen reality. It implies I have never lost three angels. It implies that I never will.
Like a soft, uncooked wonton wrapper, the fleshy folds surrounding the reddened veiny whites of his 87-year-old eyeballs fall impossibly upward, exposing more yellowed whites around the piercing blue into his soul. Despite his ears failing him, the cilia refusing entrance to the faintest of sounds, the old man’s ears grasped at my words, unearthing the fear that I tempered into the furthest cavity of my consciousness.
“Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old? Like me?”
No one will be there. I will grow old and rely on strangers to provide for my needs, keep me nourished, furnish a safe place to live, ensure my body isn’t ravaged by disease and illness.
In quietly mumbled words, I say the mantra I have adapted my life around, “I don’t know. We’ll figure that out when we get to it.”
A diagnosis of Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL) is permeated with grief, sadness, failed hopes, dying dreams. One-day-at-a-time becomes a way of life. Not planning for the future is the coping mechanism of choice. Conservation of decaying positivity from anticipated loss–the acceptance that a future without kids will be okay, will be just fine, will be possibly preferable–cushions me from the maniacal desire of the universe to give and to take, to break our hearts, to leave us empty. Children’s laughter may never fill our living rooms, school events may never congest our calendars, life-defining milestones may never make our hearts swell with pride.
A tenuous strength builds with each loss. It carries us through each moment, it allows us to earn the RPL label (as without such strength we would stop after the first loss, avoiding this branding.) It is this strength that will carry us through our fruitless childbearing years. It is this also strength that must carry us through our elderly years.
The old man’s crinkles realign into the snug, collapsing ovals on either side of his nose. With a shrug, a heavy hot sigh, and a groan, he leans back in the soft cushioned chair, leaning to the right on the wooden armrest. It holds his hefty body up. It supports his frail bones beneath the weight.
“It doesn’t matter anyway.” His mouth turns down into a melancholy scowl. “I have three kids, and they don’t care. They have their own lives. They don’t take care of me anyway.”
He lives day-by-day too. He worries about who will take care of him too. He feels a dark, sad hole too.
Adjusting in his chair, his eyes look up through the folds, meeting my own blue eyes. With a slight grin on his face, all evidence of his shock and concern for my older version’s well-being disappear. Finding the corners of my own mouth turning upward, we take it one moment at a time. Conversation becomes benign. We talk about the weather. He jokes about his bad hearing, “I’m not a lip-reader, you know!”
I forgive his questioning my childless state.
I release the sad stain his loneliness left in my heart.
We laugh as I ponder his selective hearing.
We make it through.