Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Infertility, childlessness and mental health

The article from TIME magazine popped up on my Facebook feed tonight, bearing the provocative headline "Why Not Having Children Makes Some People Crazy."  (And of course we all know that "some people" = women, right?) (Gateway Women, which shared the article, helpfully added the hashtag #notcrazybutgrieving.)

The Daily Mail's headline was better, albeit still "duh" inducing:  "Infertility really does cause heartache."

Despite the groaners, these articles do highlight an interesting new study about infertility and childlessness that was published this week in the journal Human Reproduction. I'd encourage you to read the abstract and/or full text of the study itself (about 9 PDF pages), which followed up with 7,148 women who underwent fertility treatment 11-17 years earlier at one of 12 IVF hospitals in The Netherlands. Here are a few of the highlights: 
  • The study suggests that it's not so much how badly you wanted children that affects your mental health, but how successful you are at letting go of that dream (whether you have children or not).
  • Women who already had children but wanted more had worse mental health than women who wanted children, didn't have them, but were able to move on with their lives.   
  •  Infertility patients need to be better informed about all possible treatment outcomes -- including possibility of failure -- and better supported with non-treatment options, coping strategies and other resources when treatment ends. "An anthropological study focusing on daily practice in reproductive care suggests that currently this does not happen," the study says.  "...Indeed, childless couples coping with ending treatment express the need to find new role models who can help them realize how to live a life without children." 
  • "It is easier to let go of a child-wish if women find other things in life that are fulfilling, like a career,"  says Dr. Sofia Gameiro, one of the chief authors of the study.
The TIME article concludes (and I totally love this):   
The paper, which was published online on Sept. 10 in Human Reproduction, recommends sustained psychological counseling for people who did not conceive after fertility treatments and a lot of frank talk about the possibility of failure during the treatments. The author also throws some shade on those “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types (cough, Americans, cough). “There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being,” said Gameiro. “We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”
This fits entirely with the book I recently read & reviewed here, "Mastering the Art of Quitting."

I also liked some of the stuff in this article/video clip from the Today show about the study (even though -- spoiler alert & warning -- it ends with a stereotypical "miracle" pregnancy after adoption story).

Thoughts?

"Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings" by Mary Henley Rubio


Following our recent visit to Leaskdale, I finally dusted off & started reading the biography of L.M. Montgomery that I had bought & wrote about waaayyyyyy back in (gulp) the fall of 2008.  

I've read books about Montgomery before, as well as all but the last volume of her published journals (and, as you might guess, all of her novels -- except I think "A Tangled Web" which I just couldn't get into... I was a preteen at the time, perhaps I should try again). So I knew the basics of the story of her life.  

But there was still so much that I didn't know -- that so many people didn't know -- before reading this book. 

The journals, of course, are an important source for this definitive biography of one of Canada's best-known and best-loved authors -- and Rubio was one of the editors who worked, over a period of some 20 years, to bring them to publication. But as she points out in this book, the journals only show us one side of Maud (as she was known) -- and they were carefully written (and possibly rewritten) with a later audience firmly in mind.  There is always more than one side to any story, and Rubio does an excellent job of delving into the many facets of this very complex woman, her life and times, and the people around her.  

Before he died in 1982, Montgomery's youngest son, Dr. Stuart Macdonald, tasked Rubio with editing his mother's journals for publication. Besides Macdonald, Rubio spoke with many others who knew Montgomery and her family, including relatives, friends, neighbours, members of the parishes where Montgomery's husband, Ewan Macdonald, preached, and several of the family's maids. She sheds new light on a number of important people and events in Maud's life, including Ewan Macdonald and his mental illness, her relationship with her sons, her youthful passion for handsome young farmer Herman Leard, and her midlife friendship/rumoured extramarital romance with another minister from PEI, Edwin Smith.  She also writes about each of Montgomery's novels and how the characters and themes reflect what was happening in the author's life at the time the books were being written.

For all the joy that she brought (and continues to bring) to millions of readers, Montgomery's life was not a particularly happy one. Her mother died when she was very young;  her father left her in the care of her strict grandparents and headed west, where he remarried.  Like her heroines Anne & Emily, young Maud knew the sting of not being wanted or valued, particularly because she was a girl, and a longing for home and family is a theme that runs through most of her novels. 

She finally got a home and family of her own when she married Macdonald -- but she struggled to deal with his mental illness, her wayward older son, her unscrupulous American publisher, an overly zealous female fan, and a male-dominated Canadian literary community and critics who dismissed her work in the modernist years after the war (even as she worked tirelessly with the Canadian Authors Association to promote Canadian books, authors & themes) -- among other issues. (And, as previously noted, she knew the tragedy of stillbirth with the loss of her second son, Hugh, in 1914.) 

The constant struggle to keep up appearances in the face of these mounting problems took their toll (although she did an excellent job -- when her journals began being published in the 1980s, many who had known Montgomery as a cheerful, jovial minister's wife were shocked by some of the revelations -- about her husband's mental health and her own inner turmoil --  as well as her sometimes nasty opinions about family members, friends & neighbours). Throughout her life and especially toward the end, both Montgomery and her husband took copious amounts of barbituates and other prescription drugs (as did many people at the time) to help them cope with their various ailments, not realizing their addictive properties and damaging side effects. Montgomery was found dead in her bed in April 1942 with several bottles of pills on her night table, along with what may very well have been a suicide note. The story wraps up with an epilogue in which we find out what happened to Ewan, Chester, Stuart, and some of the other characters mentioned throughout the story.

The title, "The Gift of Wings," refers to a 1920 passage from her journals, which Rubio feels serves as a good epitaph for Maud's life: 

"One cannot have imagination and the gift of wings, along with the placidity and contentment of those who creep on the earth's solid surface and never open their eyes on aught but material things. But the gift of wings is better than placidity and contentment after all."

This was not a particularly happy book to read, and it still leaves us with a number of questions (many of which may never be answered fully).  But it is extremely well researched and written, and a "must" for any Montgomery fan who wants to learn more about the author. (And hefty -- 700+ pages!!)  Montgomery and her novels have been touchstones in my life ever since I read "Anne of Green Gables" at age 8, and reading this book made me realize all over again the profound impact they have had on me.

This is book #12 that I've read so far this year.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Clothes make the (wo)man

There are many women (& perhaps a few men) who are far more obsessed with clothes and their appearance than I am.  I've never been overly obsessed with following trends, and when my office adopted "everyday business casual" back in the late 1990s, I eagerly embraced it. 

That said, while I gleefully abandoned wearing skirts & jackets (and -- especially -- pantyhose!) every day -- I care about my appearance. I like to look good, because when I think I look good (or at the very least, presentable), I feel better about myself, more confident and capable of facing the challenges of the day. I drive dh nuts sometimes, standing in front of my closet, debating what I should wear today: What would be appropriate for the occasion (even if it's just a brief run to the store to get milk)? This outfit or that one?  Do I feel more like purple today, or black?  V-neck or crew? Should I wear a cardigan? (Check the weather.) Which earrings to go with it?  Would adding a bracelet be "too much"?  Can I get away with wearing my comfortable (albeit beat up) shoes? 

Packing for a trip of any sort is an exercise in anxiety, because I feel like I should be prepared for any eventuality -- and how do I know what I'll feel like wearing on any given day? (Yes, you make do with what you have, and six days out of seven, it's usually just fine, but there are days when I put on my grey sweater while thinking longingly of the much more appropriate red one sitting in my armoire back home.)  And for a special occasion -- our nephew's recent engagement party, for example -- I will obsess over finding the perfect outfit to wear, weeks in advance. Once I have the key pieces, I turn to jewelry & shoe choices, as well as nails & makeup.  (As I was applying my eyeshadow that day, I realized that the blue I pulled out of my collection, to match the navy blue of my top, was actually more of a violet. Horrors!! And it was getting too late to remove it all and start again with a more appropriate shade.)(Needless to say, I survived.) 

(Whereas dh happily throws on the first thing his hand touches in the closet, and will wear (& re-wear) the same thing over & over -- not to mention committing fashion faux pas such as wearing a red T-shirt with green shorts. "You can't wear that for Christmas Eve -- you wore it five years ago," I will say as I search his closet for a more appropriate outfit. "How do you remember these things??"  he says, no doubt privately thinking "and why should I care?")

That's why Heather Mallick's column in last Saturday's Toronto Star resonated with me so strongly.  "For every dress and shirt, there is a reason," the headline reads. Mallick was promoting a new book by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, called "Women in Clothes." The authors surveyed more than 600 women (famous & not, including Mallick) with a detailed questionnaire (which you can also fill out) about what they wear and why. Questions such as: “With whom do you talk about clothes? What is your cultural background, and how has that influenced how you dress? Do you notice women on the street? What sort do you tend to admire?... Can you recall some times when you have dressed a particular way to calm yourself or gain a sense of control over a situation that scared you?” And on and on. The responses make up the book. 

"I now realize," Mallick writes, "that I had been subjected to either a skilled police interrogation or the therapy session of a lifetime." (My own reaction, reading the list of questions -- now more than 80 (!) -- was that each one could provide fuel for an entire blog post.) 

I found and bought the book later that night. :)  I will let you know what I think when I finally get around to reading it -- although I suspect this is the kind of book you can dip in & out of at leisure. 

Does this book sound like something that might interest you? What sort of a relationship do you have with your clothes?

#MicroblogMondays: Rolling the dice

Dh thinks I spend too much time on the computer (now whatever gave him that idea??).  He recently pointed out that, now that we're both basically retired, we need to get into some good habits right from the start, and find some new ways to spend our time -- i.e., not sit on our respective sofas all day with our heads in our laptops.

I realized he was right. 

So I challenged him. To a game.

Of Yahtzee. :) 

I hadn't played Yahtzee in years, let alone just the two of us.  We spent Saturday night playing six rounds -- and in the sixth & final round, I rolled Yahtzee not once, not twice, not THRICE, but FOUR TIMES.  In all my years playing Yahtzee, going way back to my childhood, I have never seen that done before. Once or twice, maybe, but FOUR TIMES in one game??! 

Needless to say, I won. ;) 

It was fun. :) 

Sometimes you just need to roll the dice and shake things up a little. :) 

You can find this week's other #MicroblogMondays posts here. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back to school

It started in mid-August (!!) -- back-to-school photos & posts from Stateside friends, popping up like springtime dandelions on my Facebook feed. And it's continued all through this past week.  

On Labour Day weekend, the local newspaper was full of back-to-school stories -- including a full two-page spread on the burning question of how old kids should be before they're allowed to walk to school by themselves. The general consensus seemed to be 9. (!)

(Back in the Dark Ages (cough cough), unless the weather was really rotten, I walked to school. By myself at first;  later, usually with my sister. In kindergarten, that was six blocks, by myself. Across a highway.)(Granted, this was a small rural town in the 1960s, and there wasn't much traffic -- and everyone else walked too.)(But, I digress....)

On Labour Day, a FB friend (albeit a fellow loss mom) posted her annual moan about how she did not want to send her kids back to school the following day. (Or set an alarm clock -- which may have been the true issue, lol.)  Next year, her oldest will be off to university. I can just imagine her posts then...! 

Actually, I've already had a taste of what's to come.  A (non-ALI) blogger I don't really "know" but follow just sent her oldest child off to university and has been writing about it (albeit writing beautifully).

And a non-ALI online friend just installed her oldest child in her first apartment this weekend.  The family lives less than an hour away -- a heck of a lot closer to home than I was for most of my university career -- and that was long before Internet, email, Skype, texting and cheap long distance phone calls. (I called my parents once a week, usually on Sunday nights.)  Later on moving day, the mom posted on FB that she was bawling her eyes out over a restaurant dinner.   

Even then, I was doing OK -- until one of her friends commented, "You can do hard things -- you are a MOM!"

Like moms have the market cornered on "doing hard things"??!  (I'm sure that wasn't the intended meaning -- but that was my first reaction.)

Yes, I'm sure it's hard to watch your children leave the nest.  But of course, I wouldn't know that -- would I?

But I do know something about saying goodbye to your child -- your only child -- forever.  And never seeing her grow up and go off to school at all.  And be reminded of it every single September.

That's hard.

(For the record, Katie would have started Grade 11 this fall.)(That's a junior, for those of you south of the border.)         

Monday, September 1, 2014

Microblog Mondays: Sunshine

(Why "Microblog Mondays"?  Mel explains.) 

(This actually evolved from a Facebook update.) 

I love seeing the sunshine flooding into my living room in the late afternoon/early evening... something I didn't get to see as much when I was working. It makes me happy! :)  (I believe there SAD is real)  & it makes the house look like a completely different place.

(Hmmm, wasn't this a John Denver song?)


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Month One

It's been just a little over one month since I lost my job (on July 22nd) and had early retirement unexpectedly thrust upon me at age 53. 

Time has flown. As a couple of my now-retired coworkers told me, you think you're going to get all this stuff done, and...!

When I went to bed that first night after getting my walking papers, I can remember thinking, "At least I can sleep in now!! No more 4:45 alarm clock!"  Naturally, my eyes flew open at 3 a.m., and I tossed & turned for the next few hours before finally getting up at 6:30 (!). Maddeningly, on most days over the next few weeks, I would wake up just before or just after my alarm clock would have gone off at 4:45 a.m... and then toss & turn, trying to go back to sleep again for a few more hours. I might still wake up early to answer nature's call ;)  but thankfully, I'm getting better at falling back asleep again ;) and then waking up at a much more sane hour of 7:30 or 8 a.m.  

Once or twice a week, though, I've been getting up at around 6-6:30 and heading into the city.  I have use of a "transition consultant" for the next while and, although I have no desire or plans to re-enter the working world immediately (if ever -- perhaps something part time or a few freelancing jobs, eventually...?), I've decided I might as well take full advantage of their services. It's been a long, LONG time since I dusted off my resume, applied for a job or been on a job interview. And it's a completely different world out there since the last time I did any of those things. (LinkedIn? What's that?) 

Getting an updated resume together was one thing;  interview prep (which is what I'm doing right now) is quite another. I'm finding it nerve wracking and stressful, even if it is just practice. I think dh thinks I'm nuts for putting myself through this when I don't really have to. But I know it's for my own good. Maybe it's my inner bag lady talking, but I feel better knowing that, if or when I ever need or want to return to work, I will be better prepared than I was before I lost my job. 

I ran into one of my former colleagues there this week. He and some of the others who also lost their jobs that day have been taking some time off before starting their job searches. Even though he is close to me in age, he has a young daughter to support;  he needs to keep working.

I wondered if maybe I should have taken a break too. But I only have use of the consultant's services for a finite amount of time, and it's only one or two mornings a week. I don't have to do any more than I really want to -- they are working for me, not the other way around. And once I polish up my interviewing & networking skills, and set up my LinkedIn profile, I think I will feel better about slacking off more and taking things easier.  

For the past 28 years -- 28 years!! -- my life each fall through Christmas has revolved around -- and been restricted by -- year-end reporting and related activities. I thought I'd get a reprieve in 1998 because my long-awaited baby was due in November;  she was stillborn in August, and I had to return to work in October -- and I bitterly resented it.  I found I was usually too busy during the week and too exhausted on weekends to do so many of the things I wanted to do -- take a trip to enjoy the fall colours, mourn my little girl properly on her November due date (if that's how I was feeling), have a leisurely pre-holiday lunch with friends, attend a Christmas craft show, check out the European-style Christmas market in the downtown Distillery District. I fully intend to do all those things and more this year.

On the mornings that I'm not heading into the city, dh & I linger over our tea/coffee and morning papers, then (if the weather permits) head out for a walk.  Getting into better shape and staying healthy as we age is definitely one of my post-work goals. (I have not lost any weight -- yet!! lol -- but I feel SO much less stressed. The maddening twitch in my eye has disappeared;  my heartburn is much less frequent, and I haven't checked but I am thinking my blood pressure has probably improved.)  Dh goes to see his dad one afternoon a week and, depending on the weather, might return another day to mow his lawn. Another day is spent cleaning the house and doing laundry, and I've started tackling some of the piles of clutter that seemed to have become permanent fixtures in the spare bedrooms. Tuesdays, we trek over to the local farmers' market & come home with fresh produce to enjoy, especially berries. :)  Other days, we might head over to the local mall to shop or just to get out of the house. A former coworker who lives in the area treated me to afternoon tea, with little sandwiches and scones and other treats.  Dh & I are already planning some day trips to enjoy the fall colours, once they arrive, and maybe a slightly longer getaway, further afield.

This is what we've been working and saving for all these years. This is the goal we set for ourselves, once it became evident that we were not going to be parents. It came a little earlier than we both expected, and not quite the way either of us had imagined -- but now that it's here, we intend to enjoy it.

Life is good. :)