Empty “Next” Syndrome

Happy Mother’s Day to those who are mothers or have the kind of relationship with theirs where they can celebrate them. Happy Mother’s Day also to the newly pregnant. Two of my friends delivered that other form of joyous news today. It’s kind of an auspicious day to announce that, I guess. I wish them the best for the next stage of their lives, but I have to admit it makes me kind of sad for reasons that I keep telling myself make no real sense.

I look at a baby announcement or a Mother’s Day card and feel a kind of wistful, painful longing. I’m not the classic type of woman you’d expect to feel conflicted about anything to do with babies. I’m not single. I have a Partner who would make a great dad. I’m not infertile – or at least if I am I don’t know it yet. So, effectively, I’m Schrodinger’s fertile, and that’s good enough. I could stop my birth control tomorrow if I wanted to. And yet…

PTSD has as one of its many frustrating symptoms something called a sense of foreshortened future. Sometimes it expresses as a feeling that a person’s life will inexplicably be cut short. For me, though, it expresses solidly in the alternate type wherein I just never meet the same life milestones as others. For me, it means a kind of empty “next” syndrome. I could choose to start a family with my Partner at any time. And yet…

And yet how can I contemplate a child in the midst of continuous trauma? How can I think about dealing with the 9th Circle of Hell on a Tuesday, going to work on Wednesday – and caring for a child 24/7 to boot? How can I think about what would happen if somehow the underlying situation that caused this ongoing trauma somehow happened again in the next generation?

Can a person who still hasn’t been able to leave trauma safely in the past really be said to have a sense of foreshortened future? Or at what point is her future actually and legitimately foreshortened? At what point are certain things in life no longer viable options for her? Folks with ADHD are known to be time blind. Did I, as a result, maybe just miss the moment wherein my chance for a normal life passed me by? Did I miss that I really don’t have a future at all because the future is also the present is also the past? The trauma has never sequestered itself neatly in the past, so why shouldn’t it infect the future?

Maybe being a mom would be wonderful. Maybe it would be the greatest joy of my life – or maybe it would only break my heart and mind in the same way it broke my mom. Maybe the day I become a mom would be the first day in which I started a life that was truly my own – not the sum of the thousand choices made for me by others – or maybe it would finally be the nail in the coffin of the delusion that my future won’t just follow the same heartbreaking trajectory as my own mom’s. I’m Schrodinger’s fertile, and I have Schrodinger’s future. I don’t want my future to be foreshortened, but to allow it to be fully present would be to take the ultimate risk.

For a girl who’s nervous system is all or none, I truly hate all-or-none choices. I hate “one-shot” scenarios – exams that are 50% of a grade, signing on the dotted line of the mortgage or all those nebulous financial calamities could destroy my credit for years. I hate committing to anything without the possibility of take-backs. I hate not having a plan – with the odds fully assessed – that includes a dozen backup plans.

I take risks often, but they are educated risks. I’ll bungee jump, sure, but I’ll also vet the company and make sure they are reputable. I’ll sit on a Midwestern porch watching the majesty of the lighting during a tornadic thunderstorm instead of hanging out in the basement when the sirens blow, but only because I have the live Doppler radar up. I will know exactly where the funnel cloud is and how fast it is moving. I will know how to tell if the funnel cloud is shifting, and if there is a real and immediate danger to my specific block, I’ll head inside. I’ll jump on stage and perform at Improv because if I bomb one week, there is always a brand new audience the next week. I minimize the odds of disasters and try to always leave myself a fallback position. Yet, for the most important decision of my life – the decision that could launch my future or doom it – I am somehow supposed to just jump off a cliff and hope I fly?

What happens when there are no second chances, and, try as I might, I really don’t know if having a child will recreate the Hell of the past? Will I simply have a child with ADHD and EDS who I will ensure gets diagnosed early – a luxury I never had – who then goes on to accomplish things like earning her PhD without first having to endure the years of bullying, being called stupid and social isolation? Will I have a child whose mom knows Hell well enough to know how to break the cycle for him? Will I have a child very like me, but shielded from trauma in her formative years?

Or will I have a child like someone else I care about? Will I have a child who can’t speak up for herself in the world and thus endures the abuse that society heaps on its most vulnerable? Will trying and failing to protect against that abuse for my own child finally shatter my own mind and my own relationship as it did for the generation before? Will I be able to survive failing to keep my family together and safe twice over? I’ll never know until the die is cast. I can’t just be “a little bit pregnant,” after all.

I’ve learned to stare nightmares in the face and smile, but I do it by seeing them coming and preparing long before anyone else realizes there is even a threat. I trust people because I’ve made it my business to know exactly how far their interests align with mine, and I don’t make the mistake of exceeding those conditions. I’ll trust fall into the arms of a stranger, but I’ve also learned to pick myself up after I faint. I can trust because I know what it’s like to not be caught.

I’ll enter into a strong enough relationship to last forever, and yet I’ll wonder every day whether my Partner deserves better. I’ll tell myself that I deserve someone who sticks by me, and yet I’ll wonder whether it would be kinder to break up with my Partner so that he can find someone who isn’t “broken with bad genes” – as I’ve heard before – instead of being shackled to my Schrodinger’s future.

I’m paid to calculate the odds, and I’m generally pretty decent at it. I’m not good enough at it to take the gamble of motherhood. I can’t calculate the odds of the things I fear well enough to cease fearing them. I can’t predict that one ominous fork in my future, and that engenders as strong a feeling of separation between me and any possible positive outcome as if I did have the sense of foreshortened future in which I just thought I was going to die young. I feel the pain of the empty “next” acutely on days like Mother’s Day, but that pain is never enough to surmount the fear of what could come next because it has already come before…

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5 thoughts on “Empty “Next” Syndrome

  1. Oh, so many thoughts. I have cptsd, among a million other things. I think a lot about the quandary of having children now. I didn’t 32 years ago. I struggle with how horrible my life is and that I feel like the worst mother ever. But then I think about their amazing lives and that they wouldn’t be here and do all the things they are doing. Yes, I passed on many things through my dna. Both mentally and physically. Would I do it again? Ask me tomorrow. You’ll have to remind me because I cannot remember anything. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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