Envy is a word that carries so many connotations. It has been known as a deadly sin, a green eyed monster, and more recently something our culture tells us we should create in others. In the past, I never really gave envy any thought. I mean, it’s that emotion where you really like what someone else has, right? You like it and then you move on. It wasn’t any deeper than that.
It sounds so simple to say, “be content with what you have”. But in reality, it’s much more difficult.
Then I started thinking about envy a little more after a night out with some girl friends a few months ago. There were three of us in the car. One was a single woman with a fantastic job who desperately wanted to be married. I was there, married and with a good job and darling stepson, but I desperately wanted a baby. We had been having trouble with fertility for years. The other friend was a stay-at-home mom with two precious kids, but she really wanted to go back to work.
I was stunned. We all had something the other wanted so badly. Why couldn’t we be happy with what we had?
It sounds so simple to say, “be content with what you have”. But in reality, it’s much more difficult. We live in a society where envy is touted as desirable by magazines, commercials, cosmetics and fashion industries. Of course the goal is to make money by convincing women that they need to become perfect. However, the result is a whole culture of women (definitely myself included) who feel like we never have enough. We want fantastic jobs, and hot husbands, and well behaved children, and shiny cars, and Pinterest-perfect houses, and a wardrobe worthy of Anthrolpologie, and abs like Jillian Michaels, and the wrinkleless skin of a 20 year old, and a butt like Beyonce’s.
Or maybe that’s just me.
But what if we’re not meant to have that?
As I mentioned before, I’ve been struggling with infertility for years. Ever since I got married in 2009, really. About a year ago my baby bump envy grew from a tiny nagging voice in the back of my head to a full-grown tempest of anxiety, depression, and despair. I started having nightmares, anxiety attacks, and full on depressive meltdowns. Being around pregnant people made me nauseous. I avoided baby showers like the plague. It got bad enough that I sought professional help.
Then in December 2012, I said “Enough! I will not let this baby envy take over my life!”
I started to let it go. So what if I never have a baby? I have a great life. I started taking stock of what I did have: a great job that I loved, a sweet husband, a great stepson, a loving family, and many other great blessings. I didn’t have a baby, but I had opportunities! I started writing and finding other ways to create. I spent time reading books like crazy, and began researching my family history. I started traveling, visiting places that I love but would not have been able to travel to with an infant. I used this time to draw deeper on my religion, and poured myself into strengthening my spirituality. I am so glad I did, because all of that prepared me for what was going to happen next.
In April, I was coming home from a trip to Texas. I was in the car and I couldn’t sit comfortably because of a pain in my side. I’ve always had ovarian cysts and I just assumed it was another one. A few weeks later, I was in the hospital for a laparoscopy to remove the cyst. My GYN walked out of the surgery with some news that changed my life: I needed a hysterectomy. I was 30 years old. The doctor showed me pictures of severe stage endometriosis, of my internal organs fused together, and multiple different types of tumors (none cancerous, thank goodness) including a softball sized one that I nicknamed “the Hulk”. I had been infertile for years, and even with extreme medical measures, would likely never get pregnant. I took a deep breath, and let the baby envy go. I had a hysterectomy.
I had a choice. I could retreat back into my storm cloud of envy and depression or I could move on.
In the middle of all of this craziness, I got a phone call from my little sister. She told me she realized that it was the worst possible timing, but that she needed to tell me something: she was pregnant with her first child. In the days that followed I thought about her a lot. It really was rotten timing – but not just for me. Here she was, terrified to share some of the most exciting news of her life because of my drama. And yes, having a hysterectomy is hard, and I was grieving. But I had a choice. I could retreat back into my storm cloud of envy and depression or I could move on. And I love my sister enough that I refused to let my pain and envy ruin this amazing experience for her.
I took three days to grieve after my surgery. I wore sad clothes, I ate sad food, I watched sad movies, I cried, and I mourned. I grieved for the children I would never give birth to. And then I got up and moved on with my life.
Today, I’m excited to become an Aunt. Do I still cringe a little inside when I see babies or pregnant people? Sure, and I think I always will. But I’m not entirely eaten up with envy anymore. It’s not destroying who I am. I’m looking towards the future with hope.
And hope, I’ve found, is a much better co-pilot than envy.
Lexie Robinson Austin is one of the few born and raised Huntsville natives. She is a stepmom to one, a librarian to many, a reader of books, and baker of cookies. She likes ridiculously impractical shoes and the color pink.