By Hannah McKay (I asked my daughter Hannah to write an essay about what she’s learned so far as a beginning crocheter; little did I know it has affected her so deeply and she’s learned something about life along the way.)
I’m a planner.
I always have been. I love calendars and I love lists and I love planning parties and vacations. It probably stems from anxiety–I tend to have an irrational need to constantly know the future. I hate not knowing what’s going to happen next. And I guess by always having a plan it makes the future seem a little less scary.
I never planned on being infertile. I met my husband in college and a year after we were married we decided we wanted to start our family. We were excited at the prospect of becoming parents, especially as several of our friends were starting to have kids. A year went by and nothing happened, but neither of us were too worried about it since we hadn’t been trying that hard and were in the process of moving across the country so my husband could start medical school. Right after we moved I got a job I wasn’t particularly excited about, but I thought it would keep me busy and help us earn money while we were waiting to get pregnant. I was sure I would only be working there a few months before I’d quit to stay home with my new baby.
But two more years went by and nothing happened. At this point, I started to worry a little more. Besides the fact that I was stuck in a job I didn’t love, I was frustrated because I had put off getting an advanced degree under the assumption I was going to get pregnant. I kept debating if I should go back to school, but there was a constant thought in my mind to wait one more month, one more month, one more month.
Eventually, we went to the doctor and were told there didn’t appear to be anything inherently wrong with either of us. We tried some fertility drugs for a few months, but still, nothing happened. At this point, I admitted I was feeling infertile. It was now a lot harder to see pregnancy announcements and pictures of newborns on social media. Baby showers became as dreadful as jury duty. I was constantly on a roller coaster of emotions, dreading Instagram posts that might send me into a downward spiral of emotions.
The worst part was that I didn’t want to be this way. I had always considered myself a fairly resilient person; I remember bragging to someone once that I was really good at being adaptable. But I was not adapting well to this situation. I didn’t want to be one of those people that hated people with kids and cried about my infertility. I loved all my friends who were moms. But the more time went by and the more babies they kept having, the harder it was to connect and confide in them, and for them to confide in me. I felt guilty that they never could talk about the stress of raising kids because they didn’t want to offend me, and I couldn’t complain about my infertility to them because they were drowning from the exhaustion of raising their kids.
It was around this time that we went home for Christmas and my mom taught me Tunisian crochet. I don’t remember being particularly interested in crochet, I just remember needing something to do. I learned the easiest stitch and I took a hook and some yarn for the trip home. Over the next few months, I crocheted while watching TV and attempted making a few scarves. At first, I thought they weren’t half bad, but as I finished one and showed my husband, I realized they were pretty crappy–my stitches were uneven and the tension was horribly inconsistent. I hated wasting yarn on scarves that no one was ever going to wear, so I quit and my crochet hook ended up buried in a closet.
Two more years went by and I kept working at my boring job and holding on to the notion of “one more month.” But it never came. To make myself feel better, I came up with a strategy of making lists of all the ways that kids were terrible and ruined your life and why I was way better off without them, but that would only last for so long, before I’d finally admit that kids were amazing and that I really wanted a family. I worried constantly about my future, about my purpose, about what I should be doing with my life. I’d always grown up knowing there was nothing more important in this life than family, so what was I supposed to do if I couldn’t make one?
Eventually, my husband graduated from medical school and we moved across the country so he could start his residency. On the way to our new home, we stopped by my parent’s house and I found myself picking up a crochet hook again. This time my mom taught me to crochet with a regular hook and I was surprised at how easily my hands remembered the motions from when I had first crocheted a couple of years before.
I wanted to jump in and make something amazing, but my mom encouraged me to take it slow, and just focus on practicing my stitches. I spent a lot of time frogging, (I’ve learned that’s crochet lingo for taking the whole thing out and starting over) but this time I was determined not to quit. Eventually, after a lot of practice and mistakes, I finally made my first blanket.
I’m still a beginner, so the blanket has a few flaws, but as I’ve kept learning and practicing crochet, I’ve noticed how much better I’m becoming. I’ve also realized I’m learning something else about life.
It’s been almost six years since my husband and I started trying to have a baby and if those six years were represented in a blanket there would be several sections that were neat, with the stitches all aligned–periods of time when I did a good job of living in the moment and appreciating my current blessings and having faith in the future. However, there are also sections that are uneven and full of mistakes–for the times when I succumbed to self-doubt, self-pity, frustration, and envy.
For a long time, I’ve felt guilty and resentful about those uneven sections, but crocheting has helped me realize that I need to keep working and striving to become better. For instance, I can beat back the feelings of envy when friends announce a pregnancy. Or, I can fight overly-sensitive feelings when people say something unintentionally offensive. I can pray and focus on gratitude, cling to positive thoughts and keep “feeling sorry for myself” at bay. I can do things outside of my comfort zone, like pursue more treatments that seem scary and think about adoption. I can stop being a planner over things I can’t control, and instead take things one day at a time and continue moving forward.
Sometimes it’s still tempting to give up like I did when I first learned to crochet, to throw the hook in the closet and succumb to self-doubt and hopelessness. But I know that crocheting helps me practice the craft of being patient and the end result is a completed blanket and a happier me.
And hopefully one day, I’ll get to wrap one of those blankets around a very sweet, long-awaited for, precious baby I can call my own.