Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve 2007

The new year is obviously a time for looking back & looking forward. 2007 is a year I'll be glad to leave behind. Without going into intimate detail, it was a crappy year at work -- we were reorganized late in 2006 and short-staffed for most of the year, with yours truly taking up much of the slack. Because of this, I was unable to take much of the vacation time owing to me. I sorely missed my coworker & office best friend who retired in December 2006 and, with an invasion of 20-somethings whose mothers are the same age or not much older than me (!!), I began to feel decidedly old & cranky.

There were health concerns in our family: FIL may have had a small stroke this summer, dh (who is an extreme worrywart) survived his first colonoscopy, but had some abnormal bloodwork at his annual checkup that obsessed him (even though the dr said repeatedly that it was nothing to worry about), my sister had an alarming dizzy spell this fall, & I took a bang to the head in August & am still feeling it, on & off, four months plus later. I've always thought our marriage was strong (it had to be to survive stillbirth & infertility...!), but these & a few other matters put some stress on our relationship this year.

BIL & oldest nephew have been having some typical parent-child battles about his future (nephew has grand aspirations of becoming a horror movie director; BIL is pulling out what hair he has left trying to interest nephew in learning a trade), which have made family gatherings awkward from time to time -- especially for me & dh, who want so badly to help -- seeing BIL's perspective, but also wanting to encourage our nephew -- but not wanting to say too much, because what do we childless people know about raising kids, right??

I find myself seized with fatigue & inertia. I feel scattered. Our passport applications have been languishing on the coffee table for months & months, and it looks like another year is going to pass by without the February sunspot vacation I've long dreamed about. The house is in serious need of decluttering (another sore spot between dh & me). Some days I just feel overwhelmed with so much to do & so little time to do it all in. My to-do list never seems to get any shorter. (And people think we childless folk have soooo much free time on our hands...!!)

My favourite scrapbook store closed, leaving me adrift & "homeless" for several months.

On the plus side: nutty as it was at work this year, I still enjoy it overall, and am back working for a boss I like & work well with. Our health concerns have really been minor, in the grand scheme of things, and there is still much, much more in our marriage that is good than difficult. We are still facilitating our support group & finding fulfillment in doing that. We enjoy the friends we've made through the group -- although a few of them either have moved or are in the process of moving right now. :( A new scrapbooking store opened, frequented by many of the friends I made at the old store.

And I discovered blogging! ; )

I will admit I am approaching 2008 with some trepidation. Feb. 8, 1998, was my LMP (last menstrual period) date for my pregnancy with Katie. Each year, I can feel myself "counting down" and reliving the events of my pregnancy on through to Aug. 5th (the day I went for my checkup, only to learn there was no heartbeat) and Aug. 7th (the day I delivered my daughter & briefly held her wee, cold body in my arms). And on through Aug. 19th (funeral), Thanksgiving (return to work & then the death of my beloved grandfather), and into November (due dates). This year, being the 10 year "anniversary" (what a weird label for such a sad, traumatic event), I expect it will be even more so. I'm glad I have this blog as an outlet (and I suspect it's one reason I began blogging when I did). Expect a lot of "10 years ago" posts & reflections from me in the new year.

In a way, I feel sort of strange. Unlike most people in the infertility & loss communities online (boards, blogs, etc.), who are posting about the here & now, my loss & even my infertility treatments were so long ago -- & yet they continue to cast shadows over my life, and I continue to write about them & their after-effects. Does that make me pathetic? obsessive? You don't hear very much from or about women like me. What happens to them when they stop posting? Do they eventually regroup and try more fertility treatments, successfully? adopt? achieve that mythical "miracle" pregnancy? Or do they just get on with living and build a childless/free life for themselves (just less noisily than me, lol)? Certainly, childless/free living lacks the day-to-day drama of the infertility & ttc communities that provides endless fodder for posting-- cycle watches, 2wws, trips to the clinic, testing & results, etc. And most of the time, I am just living my life -- and it's a good life, overall. I have much to be thankful for.

But there really is not a day that goes by that is not coloured in some way by loss & infertility. Not a day goes by that I don't think about my daughter and about the very different life that might have been mine. Some days are just darker (or lighter) than others. And on the dark days, I turn to my friends in cyberspace who understand, better than just about anybody, what I'm thinking and feeling.

But, I digress (I do that a lot!). Back to New Year's Eve. I don't really make resolutions anymore -- mostly because they always stay more or less the same: declutter the house (& keep it that way!), read more books, write more in my journal, exercise more, lose weight, etc. etc. And dh & I don't have any plans for tonight (we rarely do). He's at work today, but we will head out for dinner when he gets home, then to our favourite megabookstore for a Starbucks & a browse, and then home to see if we can stay awake until the big ball drops in Times Square.

I hope the new year brings everyone what they're hoping for -- and if not that, then something else that's equally good!

Our Katie tree

Before the holiday season completely passes by, I wanted to write about our Christmas tree, also known around our house as our "Katie tree." You'll see why...

Long before we ever actually started ttc, we knew we wanted a little girl, and that we wanted to call her Katie. Christmas 1986, the second one that we were married, I gave dh this Hallmark ornament of a little girl angel, swinging on a star (below) -- which was called "Katybeth" (!!) -- with a note saying, "I'm afraid this is the only Katie we can afford this year." He hangs it on the tree every year. How did I, could I know then that this would be the only Katie we'd have for Christmas, ever?



After Katie was stillborn in August 1998, I knew I wanted to find a special Christmas ornament for her. At a Christmas craft bazaar that November, I saw this Boyds Bears teddy bear angel & knew I had to have it for her:





That year, we also attended our pregnancy loss support group's memorial candlelighting evening, where I found this stained glass ornament & had her name written on it (I also bought ones for my mother & grandmother):






We were also invited to take home a pair of beautiful handknit baby booties from the Christmas tree at the event (made by bereaved grandmothers specially for the event). In the years since then, I've amassed quite a collection of booties, hand-crocheted snowflakes & other keepsakes from the annual candlelighting ceremony (we also take home the candles we've lit). I sometimes wonder what people might think if they visited our home to see a Christmas tree covered in baby booties (but I really don't care):





I have several of these red felt miniature stockings. One hangs on the tree; another decorates Katie's niche at the cemetery every year, along with a festive sprig:



Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of teddy bear angels (many of them Beanie Babies). A few of the smaller ones hang on the tree, along with the original Boyds Bear teddy angel. The others sit around the tree on the floor, like an honour guard. (There are usually very few presents actually under the tree, as we always go to my parents' for the holidays -- & I'm usually not organized enough to have anything wrapped in advance anyway, lol.)



These are just a few of the ornaments that make up Katie's tree. I also have a substantial collection of Classic Pooh ornaments, which are not shown here. They're meaningful because Katie's nursery theme was supposed to have been Classic Pooh.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It came, just the same...

Well, this has been an "interesting" Christmas. As I wrote in my last post, first my sister & then her boyfriend came down with the stomach flu, which meant they could not come from the city to my parents' for Christmas Eve -- the first time ever that we have not all been together as a family on Christmas Eve, and the first time that we haven't opened our presents on Christmas Eve either. Thankfully, the former neighbours' daughter & her boyfriend came over for dinner & stayed to play cards, so the evening didn't seem quite so empty & bizarre.

My sister said that so long as her boyfriend was feeling better enough to be left alone, she would come out the next day for Christmas dinner. That morning, the phone rang: her car wouldn't start!! (It's a beat up old thing & I'm amazed it still runs at all.) So my dad & dh wound up driving into the city to get her. Neighbours' daughter & her boyfriend came over again & we had one of my dad's famous brunches, then opened our stockings & then finally the rest of the presents (backwards from how it usually goes). And then had our turkey dinner. So, as I said to dh, thinking of the line from the Grinch, "Christmas came, just the same." Well, not exactly the same, but it came & it wound up being allright in the end, albeit definitely different!

Sis knows what a stickler I am for tradition, & on Christmas Eve she called me to say that she wanted to make it perfectly clear that just because we were doing this once did not mean that Christmas Eve had to be this way forever after. I cracked up & said that was just fine with me! lol She left on Boxing Day (took the one bus of the day back into the city) but will probably return tomorrow or Saturday (depending on the car status, etc.).

Thankfully, no sign of the stomach flu here yet (knocking wood & crossing fingers), but I do have a cold. The morning after we got here, I got a tickle/scratch in my throat, which yesterday turned into a stuffy head & drippy nose. I barely got any sleep last night. Went to the drugstore today to stock up on some cold pills, but they haven't helped much yet. Oh well, maybe this way it will have worked its way out of my system by the time we have to fly again. At any rate, it's definitely preferable to the stomach flu!

More later...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Home for Christmas

Greetings from my parents' house, which is in a little town in western Canada, about 1500 miles west of where dh & I live, and an hour from the closest major centre/airport, where my sister lives. For 20+ years, I've managed to dodge snowstorms, etc., to make it home for Christmas. While my grandparents are no longer with us :( my parents, sister & I have always been together.

Unfortunately, this year, the tradition is about to be broken, and not by me, but by my sister, who lives in the city, only about an hour away, but nonetheless is just getting over a bout of stomach flu -- which her boyfriend now has, making it pretty much impossible for them to travel. :( (Not that we really want their germs here anyway.) I guess we will muddle through without her, but it will be different. It's not that she's such a Christmas-y person, but she's always been here (plus, she's supposed to be bringing a lot of the presents, lol). I just find it hard to believe that I've managed to make it here 20+ consecutive years from 1,500 miles away, and it takes the flu to break tradition. :(

On the bright side, my parents' former neighbours' daughter will be here for dinner tonight with her boyfriend. She's rarely missed a Christmas with us since she was a toddler (& she's now almost 24, eek -- the same age I was when I got married!! double eek!), so that will help fill the gap.

We had a few tense moments pre-trip, because although the weather was fine on our end, there were predictions of bad weather moving in here. Thankfully, the situation turned out to be not bad at all, & we made it here just fine.

There were, of course, innumerable babies & toddlers at the airport & on our plane, many of them dressed to the nines for the proud grandma & grandpa who would be greeting them at the airport. I vaccilated between enjoying them for the cuties that they were, and feeling sad that I've never been able to give my own parents that pleasure. One blond curly-headed little miss, about 18 months old, caught my eye in the airport lounge -- all dressed in a pink sweatsuit & dragging a stuffed cat along with her. She wound up sitting across the aisle & one row up from us on our plane, with her mom, dad & slightly older sister. She was very good for most of the 2 hour+ flight, watching kiddie shows on the screen in front of her, giggling, and even playing peekaboo with me for a few minutes. I wonder where they were headed.

At any rate -- Christmas Eve is upon us & there is lots to do (yes, even without kids around!). Just wanted to send out some Merry Christmas greetings & wish anyone who's reading a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Counting preggos

Karen at Upon Awakening recently had a post titled "Pregnant Women are Stalking Me!" I had to chuckle at the title, because I'm sure all of us have felt that way at some point.

I can't remember how I felt about other pregnant women through the 2.5 years I tried to get pregnant... but after Katie was stillborn, & we began our struggle with infertility treatments, suddenly, they were EVERYWHERE. Dh & I work in downtown Toronto, where all the big office towers are connected via underground concourse, called the PATH. The PATH runs 27 km or 16 miles, & we walk through it every day to & from work (not to mention coffee breaks & lunch hours). Thousands & thousands of people travel through the PATH every day. And some days, it seemed/seems like dozens & dozens of them were/are pregnant women. I started counting how many pregnant women I encountered in a day (giving the benefit of the doubt to those who might have just been on the plump side). I would count, "1...2...3..." under my breath as we walked past them. I would often lose track & abandon the project before the day's end, but I think my record was 30 in one day. One day I practically walked into THREE of them, walking & giggling together, abreast. That just about finished me off for the day.

Dh would gently tell me that they had a right to be pregnant, it wasn't a personal thing against me. ; ) And I tried very hard to remember that, statistics being what they are, a good number of those women had probably dealt with infertility & loss too. Maybe some bereaved mother or infertile woman had once enviously gazed at me & my pregnant belly in the same way. Somehow, though, those thoughts still didn't make it any easier.

I don't count pregnant women anymore, but there are still some days when I seem to notice them more. Summers in particular -- perhaps because that's when I was pregnant myself (or maybe because there aren't as many winter coats hiding big bellies). The maternity fashions these days seem to be much more form-fitting & revealing, much more so than even just 9 years ago when I was pregnant.

I sat beside a pregnant woman on the train on the way home tonight (or should I say she sat down beside me), which is probably what prompted this post. It was warm on the train & she had her coat off & I kept casting sidelong glances at her belly the whole way home. I honestly would not want to be pregnant now at my "advanced maternal age," but I feel sad thinking back to when I looked like that myself (& how happy I was), knowing I will never look like that again.

Santa stuff

OK, call me crazy, but today at lunchtime, I walked the few blocks from the office tower where I work in downtown Toronto up to the Eaton Centre, one of Canada's largest & best-known malls. Call me even crazier, but one of the reasons I braved the absolutely insane crowds was that I hadn't yet made my annual pilgrimage to see Santa. Now I wasn't actually going to line up & sit on his knee, of course -- I haven't done that in a good 40 years. But one of the little pleasures of Christmas for me -- a respite at a horribly busy time of the work year -- has always been to hang around Santa's castle for awhile & watch the jolly old guy visit with the kids. I get a real kick out of watching their varied reactions.

For many years after the loss of our daughter, I avoided Santa like the plague -- waaaayyyy too painful. I remember being at our local mall with dh in November 1998, right around my due date, & rounding the corner to see Santa's castle already set up & Santa himself already enthroned & receiving visitors. Of course, at that very instant, he was holding a newborn baby wearing a tiny red sleeper & Santa cap. Dh hissed at me, "DON'T LOOK!!" & dragged me past.

Gradually, after several years, I was able to return to Santa watching, although some years have been harder/easier than others. One of those first years back, I leaned over the rail to look down on Santa's castle, & Santa immediately looked straight up at me & waved, as if he'd been expecting me. Freaky.

So today, I watched & chuckled as I watched a little girl toddler wearing a red velvet dress, her hair in pigtails, howl as her mother placed her on Santa's lap, just long enough to snap the precious picture & then be whisked swiftly away. And I grinned as I watched a dad herd his two kids into Santa's presence. The boy was about six, raced forward & plunked himself without hesitation onto Santa's lap & started chatting away. His younger sister kicked at the ground self-consciously & didn't even want to look at Santa. She sat on her dad's lap beside her brother & Santa. I found myself mentally framing the photo in my head & thinking what a great, funny picture this would make for a scrapbook page.

And then, out of the blue, I felt a wave of pain wash over me, and my eyes began swelling with tears, and I had to turn and walk away.

Back at the office, several people came by to tell me that one of our former co-workers was at the reception desk, showing off his baby daughter, and how cute she was. We've had quite a few such "visitors" lately, & I've been doing pretty well with them. But even before I remembered that her name was Katie -- the same as my own daughter's -- I knew I just couldn't do it today. I stayed in my cubicle until I was sure they were gone.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Echoes from yesteryear

Dh & I spent the afternoon at his brother's house, celebrating our oldest nephew (V.)'s 19th -- 19th!!! -- birthday. The years have passed so swiftly. Two things especially brought this home today. First, I gave V. the scrapbook I've been labouring over for the past two years, containing photos of his first year. And second, BIL recently had all their home videos transferred to DVD -- so we spent most of the afternoon transported back in time, watching our two nephews as sweet, adorable babies & toddlers, growing up all over again right before our eyes. It was hard to believe those cute little boys were now the tall (both 6-feet-plus), lanky young men sprawled on the couch across the living room from me.

There was a moment, as the tape started, when I realized that it was one of our younger nephew (A.)'s birthday parties. And my heart leaped into my throat, because I thought it might have been the year that I was pregnant. His 6th birthday & party fell two days before I headed to my ob-byn's for my 6-month checkup -- only to receive the news that my baby had no heartbeat. That day, as I snapped photos, A. begged me to let him take a photo, so I handed over the camera & he snapped the only photo I have of myself visibly pregnant.

The birthday party on the video was not that particular party -- I think it may have been the year before that one. I am not sure whether BIL videoed the 6th birthday party or not. As the boys got older, the video camera came out less and less often. I am not sure how I would feel if such a tape does exist -- whether I'd be hungry to see it (visible proof that I was, indeed, pregnant once), or just too painful to see how happy & blissfully unaware I was of the sharp turn my life was about to take?

I was reminded of the time we were at dh's aunt's house once for a cousin's birthday, and someone brought out the old film projector & showed old Super 8 home movies. There, briefly, was a 13-year-old dh, and even more poignantly, brief flashes of his mother, who passed away before I ever got to meet her. Even photos of my mother-in-law are scarce, so I found myself trying to absorb as much of her flickering image as I could, this woman who loomed so large in my husband's early life.

Coincidentally, my mom recently called me and opened the conversation with, "Well, we were at your wedding last night!" She & my dad somehow got watching the video from my wedding back in 1985. "And there was Grandma... and Grandpa... and Dido... and Uncle L.... and Great-Aunt A... and B..." she said. All people who aren't here anymore. Which is precisely why I've been avoiding watching the video for awhile now. I'm afraid of the floodgates of emotion that it might open up, seeing all those dear dead people again.

At the same time, though, I'm very, very glad to know that I have that tape -- that if I do want to see those people again, all I have to do is pop it in my VCR. When the people we love suddenly aren't with us anymore -- be they grandparents, parents or babies -- we cling to whatever things we have that show that they were indeed real and once with us, and this is what they meant to us.

As SIL said as she flipped through the pages of the scrapbook I had made for V., "These are the best presents of all."

The loss of a daughter

In my last post about "The Handmaid's Tale, I wrote:


"Whenever I hear the stories of female babies being aborted, murdered or abandoned, or girls in third-world countries being denied food and education, married off and bearing children while still children themselves, and killed in the name of "family honour" for not showing sufficient deference to male authority -- all simply because they are girls -- I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to the Powers That Be that, as a woman, I was born & grew up Canadian in the latter part of the 20th century."
I wrote those words before I heard the story, earlier this week, of the 16-year-old Muslim girl from Mississauga who was murdered -- strangled -- by her own father. Friends say she recently moved out of the family home after fighting with her strict parents over her desire to abandon wearing the hijab, wear fashionable clothes & fit in with the other kids at school.

Media commentators are arguing over whether this is about radical Islam, the barbaric practice of so-called "honour killings," the clash of old world vs new world values/"immigrant shock," patriarchy, domestic violence, teenage rebellion against parents, or some lethal combination thereof.

Certainly, most parents, regardless of religion or country of origin, battle at least occasionally with their teenagers, whether the subject is drugs, boys, school grades, hairstyle, body piercings, music, dress... My own mother cheerfully admits that my sister & I were both so obnoxious between the ages of about 14 and 18 that she would have happily disowned us. Dh is Italian, and his female cousins -- whose parents came to Canada during the 1950s & 60s -- have told me about how protective their parents were of them, growing up -- particularly as compared to their brothers & male cousins, who were allowed much more freedom to come & go as they pleased. They were sent to Catholic schools where they had to wear uniforms and makeup was forbidden, and they were not allowed to take part in extracurricular activities, or go to friends' houses after schools or for sleepovers. One cousin recalled how she sneaked out to go skating with her friends, and when her mother found out, she hacked the skates into pieces and threw them in the garbage.

But most parents, no matter how frustrated they are, don't murder their children.

We won't know all the details until the case is heard in court. All I could think was that I lost a daughter before I ever really had her. This man HAD a daughter -- a beautiful, spirited young girl, from the looks of her photos -- and (intentionally or accidentally) he threw her life away. As if she was a piece of garbage that was no longer of value or useful to him.

And that makes me mad.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "The Handmaid's Tale"

The "Barren B*tches Book Brigade," as sponsored by the Stirrup Queens site, is one of the reasons why I decided to start a blog. I love books -- but I have a hard time finding time to read these days, & figured this would give me an added incentive. Plus, it just seemed like too much fun to pass up! ; )

The way the tour works (as explained by Stirrup Queen Mel):
"This book club is entirely online and open to anyone (male or female) in the infertility/pregnancy loss/assisted conception/adoption/parenting-after-infertility world (as well as any other related category I inadvertently left off the list). It is called a book tour because everyone reads the same book and then poses a question to the group. Participants choose a few questions to answer and then post their response on their blog. Readers can jump from blog to blog, commenting along the way."

This month's selection is "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. And, at the risk of having my Canadian citizenship revoked, I must confess that it's the first Atwood novel I've ever read -- although I have several of her books on my shelf that I've been meaning to get around to reading... someday. Somehow, I managed to graduate with an honours degree in English from a Canadian university without having to take one Can-Lit course, which would undoubtedly have included an Atwood novel.

There's something about Margaret Atwood that seems kind of highbrow and daunting to the average reader -- although I must admit that, once I got into this book, I could hardly put it down! I can remember someone at university (in the early 1980s) telling me they had read "Surfacing" and that it was "really weird," so perhaps that's where my Atwood ambivalence comes from. I saw her once about 20 years ago, walking through an office tower across the street from the one where I work in downtown Toronto, looking every inch the "artiste" with her untamed, dark curly hair and wearing a dramatic, flowing black cape. The more I read about her & see her interviewed on television, the more I've come to appreciate her intellect -- and very dry sense of humour. You will never be able to think of Margaret Atwood in quite the same way once you've watched her demonstrate her prowess as a hockey goalie in a "Celebrity Tip" segment on the Rick Mercer show (Rick Mercer = Canadian/Newfie Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert)! (Click on the show link, scroll down & find the link to the video clip under "For the week of January 31, 2005.")

Briefly -- The Handmaid's Tale, for those of you who haven't read it, takes place sometime in the future United States, now known as the Republic of Gilead. Radiation and other environmental disasters have rendered much of the population infertile. Those who remain fertile have been commandeered into service as Handmaids, bearing children for the Commanders who rule the Republic and their infertile Wives. We see this society through the eyes of one of the Handmaids, Offred.

On to some of the questions!

What is the role of infertility in creating the world of the Handmaid's Tale? Is the question of infertility or totalitarianism more central to the story, and does Gilead represent the logical outcome of the fate of women in a religiously dominated society affected by mass infertility, or something else entirely?

In the novel, widespread infertility has created a situation where humankind's survival is at stake, so women's fertility is valued. The religious-minded government -- which already sees women's role as primarily that of mother & caregiver -- restructures society in a way to maximize their fertility and the chances for life to continue. The rights of individuals and particularly individual women are sacrificed to this "higher purpose." So in this sense, infertility is central to the story.

Overall, though, when I think of this book, the themes of totalitarianism and the repression of women spring to mind more than infertility. The environmental devastation created the infertility; infertility provided the raison d'etre for structuring the society in a certain way. But the wars that created the environmental devastation, the political murders that created the chaos & provided the excuse for the totalitarian regime's takeover -- those things had nothing to do with infertility. So I'm not sure Gilead is a "logical outcome."

The structure of the civilization in the book seemed really eerie to me (and quite difficult to figure out). Even though the copyright in my book was 1985 and set in the 21st century, it seems to reflect some of the fears we have today. I found myself wondering if our country could really be in for a drastic "take-over" as represented in the book. What are your feelings about the society described in the book and do you think it is possible to have something like that happen in our country?

I'm glad to see some of the participants who posted earlier have addressed this topic in similar questions -- and very eloquently & knowledgeably, too. I live in Canada, and things are slightly (though not entirely) different here than they are in the States.

In many ways, I was reminded of Nazi Germany when I was reading the book. How many people who lived through that era ever thought things would turn out the way did? Even though there were warning signs all along... Somebody, in one of the other, earlier posts, mentioned the "frog in boiling water" analogy. Along the same lines, I was reminded of the old poem:

When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

At any rate -- yes, I was struck by certain parallels to current events in the United States. I believe that when Atwood wrote this in the early/mid-80s, she was thinking about the situation at the time in Iran (the hostage crisis, the rise of the Ayatollah & Islamic fundamentalism) -- not to mention the rise of the religious right (Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority, etc.) in the U.S. But the parallels to current world events and U.S. politics (including 9-11 & its aftermath, the war in Iraq, the increasing influence of religion in American politics, the centralization of power in the hands of the executive branch of government and the military, and growing concern over the environment) are just too eerie to be ignored.

There is a passage on page 217 of the edition I was reading, in Chapter 28, where Offred says, "It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time." That sentence absolutely gave me the chills.

Then there's the passage on page 387, near the end of the historical notes, where "the Canada of that time did not wish to antagonize its powerful neighbour, and there were roundups and extraditions of such refugees." While Canada provided a safe haven for draft dodgers during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the current government is much more pro-U.S. in its policies, and American army deserters who seek refuge in Canada must fight for the right to stay here.

I think that all of us who live in supposedly free and democratic societies ignore the lessons in this book at our peril.

Even though the rampant infertility is acknowledged to be largely due to environmental pollution, Gilead refuses to acknowledge the possibility of male infertility; if a Handmaid is unable to conceive with three Commanders, it is assumed that she is at fault and she is reassigned to the Colonies. How did this double standard resonate with you, if at all?

I certainly noticed the double standard, & it raised my feminist hackles. ; ) Throughout history, women have been blamed for failing to provide men with babies (& male babies in particular). Case in point, Britain's King Henry VIII & his six wives, many of whom were divorced, beheaded or died in childbirth, all in their quest to give Henry the male heir he craved. (CBC Television is running the British mini-series "The Tudors" right now, which is why that example sprang into mind!)

Although today, we know about the possibility & frequency of male factor issues (not to mention "unexplained infertility"), in many societies, women are still blamed for fertility problems or for bearing children of the "wrong" (i.e., female) gender. Even in our supposedly more enlightened North American society, the attitude still prevails that infertility is a "women's issue," and many people automatically assume that it's the woman's "fault." I know from my own conversations with infertile women, both personally and online, that many husbands are still extremely reluctant to be tested or to provide the sperm needed for IUI or IVF -- and, worse still, many clinics don't even ask to test the male partner until after the woman has endured umpteen uncomfortable tests.

For all that the Handmaids are supposed to be serving the society's greater good and should be honored for that, they are looked down upon by just about everyone. Wives resent that the Handmaids do what they cannot, Marthas resent the time spent caring for them, Econowives resent them for the ease of existence they feel the Handmaids must enjoy. And the reverse is true as well, Handmaids resent the other women for having little freedoms they do not enjoy, whether it's control over a household, the ability to hold a knife and make radish roses, or to simply not be a possession without a name. Does this mutual resentment exist in the world of infertility? Do "fertiles" resent "infertiles" and vice versa? If so, in what way?
I really can't think of a way in which fertiles might resent infertiles -- unless perhaps they think that we and our problems consume too much time and attention within the family or social group (if we've chosen to talk about it). I'd be interested in hearing others' perspectives on this one!

Within the infertility & loss communities, I sense, if not resentment, envy of each other, at times. My husband sometimes says that he envies couples we meet in our support whose babies lived for a brief time, because they got to experience a living child, if only for a short time. I've met women who had miscarriages who say they envy me because I got to hold my baby & have photos taken. And of course, those who eventually achieve pregnancy (and especially a healthy baby at the end of it) are envied by the rest of us who do not, even though we are really very happy for them.

Do infertile women resent fertiles? Absolutely! -- maybe not all infertile women resent all fertile women, but I know I have felt resentment on at least some occasions. It's hard not to resent someone who not only has what you so badly want for yourself, but has (seemingly, at least) achieved it so easily -- and doesn't seem to appreciate that fact, or the great gift that they have been given.

The Handmaid's Tale is set against the backdrop of a dystopian society wherein religion and feminism has combined to lay down a strict set of roles for women. In what ways are your reproductive choices shaped by religion and/or feminism? In what way do you think religion and/or feminism shapes the way society views infertility? Is it plausible to you that religion and feminism could ever produce the type of society described in The Handmaid's Tale? Why/why not?

Unlike some women who have backed away from the term, I've always considered myself a feminist, and been glad to say so. I grew up in the 1970s, at a time when the battle for equality was still heated. While the tactics and language of some of the movement's more radical offshoots can be off-putting, I have never doubted the feminist movement's fundamental, central message: that every woman should have the right to control her own body, her own money, her own destiny. Whenever I hear the stories of female babies being aborted, murdered or abandoned, or girls in third-world countries being denied food and education, married off and bearing children while still children themselves, and killed in the name of "family honour" for not showing sufficient deference to male authority -- all simply because they are girls -- I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to the Powers That Be that, as a woman, I was born & grew up Canadian in the latter part of the 20th century.

Were my own reproductive choices shaped by feminism? Absolutely. While children were always part of the plan, they were not the whole plan. Feminism gave me a strong sense of my own worth and possibilities as a woman, beyond my ability to have children. I wanted to be a mother -- but it was not the only thing I wanted for myself, or the one thing that my identity and self-worth hinged upon. I strongly believe that I am more than my uterus, more than my ability to reproduce -- and while it hurt like hell not to be able to have the family I wanted -- the family I, like so many women, took for granted would be mine someday -- I think that, whatever success I have had in carving out a childless/free life for myself, post-loss & post-infertility treatment, is because of the sense of other possibilities for my life that feminism gave to me.

Even pre-loss & infertility, it used to bother me when people would bug us about when we were going to have kids -- partly because I'm a private person, & felt that how, when, why and whether dh & I decided to have children was strictly a matter between the two of us -- but also because that's ALL some people ever seemed interested in -- like that was my only value/interest to them & to society. I work, I keep house, I volunteer, I stay in touch with my extended family, I belong to several online communities. I'm a wife, a bereaved mother, a daughter, sister, niece & cousin, friend, facilitator, writer, employee/co-worker... You can talk to me about my job, my volunteer work, the books I've read lately, current events, my hobbies, the latest movies, my last vacation. But at family gatherings & other social events, it seems like all anyone wants to talk about is kids -- and because I have no kids, I am often shut out of the conversation.

There is "feminism" in the book, after a fact -- but the "classic" feminists, such as Offred's mother (whom I imagined marching & waving signs with Gloria Steinem in the 1960s), with their vision of choice and freedom for women -- are too much of a threat to survive in the new regime. They are deported to the colonies, slave labour and certain death. The "feminism" of the Aunts & the Marthas, a hierarchical society of women ruling other women (with men ruling over all of them in the end), is not the feminism I grew up with and still believe in. Its most convenient aspects have been adopted, twisted and perverted to support the ruling regime.

Were my choices shaped by religion? Not in a dogmatic sense, although I did wonder at times, during all the testing when I was pregnant, and making decisions on just how far we wanted to go with our infertility treatment, just how much I really wanted to be messing with Mother Nature, and whether I was being "punished" in some way for some sin or indiscretion in my past. Ultimately, I decided that the God I believed in was a loving God who would not "test" me by making me or my baby suffer. Reading "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner after the stillbirth of our daughter was a great comfort to me.

How do religion & feminism shape the way our society views infertility? I know of very few religions that condone ARTs. The prevailing view seems to be that infertility is "God's will," and any attempt to alter that by using ARTs is tampering with God's intentions. At the same time, if someone does get pregnant, then "God answered our prayers." So is it a matter of God's will, or just praying long & hard enough??

I have read very little about the feminist view on infertility & reproductive technology, beyond concern for the effect fertility drugs have on women's bodies. This is one area in which I think feminism needs to step up to the plate. Linda L. Layne has written a very interesting (albeit somewhat academic) book, Motherhood Lost, on what happens when feminism meets reproductive loss, which touches on some of these issues. (Future book club selection, perhaps?) She writes:

"By and large, in the realm of feminist scholarship the topic of pregnancy loss remains an orphan... In retaining a studied silence on pregnancy loss, feminists have not only abandoned their sisters in hours of need, they have contributed to the shame and isolation that attends these events, and have, de facto, surrendered the discourse of pregnancy loss to anti-choice activists. Feminists must frankly acknowledge the frequency and import of such events in women's
lives and create a woman-centred discourse of pregnancy loss." (p.
239)

Is it possible that religion and/or feminism could produce a society such as Gilead? I think the answer is yes. We already live in a society in which religion has played a role in -- to name a few examples -- outlawing the teaching of evolution (or mandating equal time for teaching creationism), banning certain books from school libraries, and placing restrictions on certain types of reproductive activity (abortions, egg donation & surrogacy) in many jurisdictions. While John F. Kennedy, running for president, spoke out against using a religious test to determine a person's suitability to be President, all of today's U.S. presidential candidates (from both parties) seem to be competing to seem the most sincere in professing their religious beliefs. What a difference!

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Fowler (with author participation!)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Worst. Christmas Party. Ever.

Wow -- I was flattered to be mentioned by the Stirrup Queen herself in her Friday blog roundup for my recent post about being busy.

In the same post, Mel mentioned Julie's blog at Redbook, and her recent post about coping with pregnancy announcements. It was fun (well, maybe more like horrifying in some cases) to read some of the comments that followed, with people chiming in with their own Worst Pregnancy Announcement Story.

My absolute Worst Pregnancy Announcement Story forms part of the story of my Worst. Christmas Party. Ever. Not this year's party (which will be next week). This was almost exactly nine years ago, just before Christmas 1998.

As background, earlier that year, I was pregnant for the first and only time in my life (pre-infertility treatments, but after 2.5 years of ttc ourselves), at the same time as another woman from a different area of my department. She was due in mid-October, I was due in mid-November. We did not know each other well, but bonded by comparing notes whenever we ran into each other in the hallway or the photocopy room, and went to lunch and shopped for maternity clothes together a few times. My daughter was stillborn in August when I was six months along, and I returned to work a week before she departed on maternity leave in October. She had a girl (of course).

I slogged my way through the madness of year end (at a time when I kept thinking I should have been on leave myself, enjoying my new baby), and found myself really looking forward to kicking back with my colleagues & enjoying myself at the office Christmas party, which was being held at a downtown bar. I had barely been there a half hour when who walks in but the new mom -- AND her baby! Of course, all the women immediately flocked around the little pink bundle in her arms.

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. (Infertility & loss considerations totally aside, I was amazed that anyone would want to haul a two-month-old baby all the way downtown to a noisy, smoky (non-smoking laws not yet enacted for bars) in the dead of winter. All I could think was that she really must have been dying to get out of the house.) I felt like I had just been sucker punched in the gut. Somehow I managed to squeak out a few words of congratulations to the new mom. She could barely look me in the face. It was a horribly awkward moment for both of us.

Another co-worker/friend, whom I'd become close to post-loss after she approached me with her sympathy & told me about her own ttc struggles (& who had seen the look on my face), came over to me and said, "Oh my gosh, we should have told you she was coming." I said, "Oh, you think??" -- excused myself & headed for the washroom, where I spent the next half hour locked in a cubicle, sobbing. I know several people saw me go, & the emotional state I was in. Nobody came to comfort me or find out if I was OK. What an absolute nightmare.

After awhile, I pulled myself together, splashed some cold water on my face, repaired my makeup and returned to the party -- staying on the opposite side of the room from the new mom and baby! -- and tried to think about what to do next. I did NOT want to stay -- the party had totally lost any appeal for me -- but my husband was at his own Christmas party, and (pre-cellphone days) we had agreed to meet at the train station and head home together around 9 o'clock. It was still only about 6:30. How to make a graceful exit? And what to do until 9 p.m.?

Just then, my boss announced she was leaving. I said, "I'll walk with you to the train station" & got my coat. As we left and trudged along the snowy sidewalk, I said to her, "Well, that was awkward." She said, "What?" and I said, "(New mom coworker) showing up with the baby." She said, "Oh Lori, there's going to be a lot more babies." And proceeded to tell me that not just one, not just two, but THREE other women in the department had just announced their pregnancies earlier that day!

I don't remember much more about that evening. I just couldn't believe that I was going to have to spend the next seven months or so working alongside THREE happily pregnant women. I still had two hours to kill before meeting dh. I bought a bottle of water & the latest issue of People magazine, & sat numbly reading the same two paragraphs over and over while train after train rumbled in and out of the station.

In the year that followed (1999), seven MORE women in my office got pregnant, for a grand total of 10 pregnancies in 12 months. Of course, all 10 had healthy babies (which they then proceeded to parade in & out of the office). And of course, there have been many more in the years since then. In the 21 years that I've been with this department, mine is still one of the very few loss stories (at least, that I know about).

Needless to say, I have never felt quite the same about the Christmas party (or office parties in general) since then.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Just not my day...

Here are the highlights (not) of my work day yesterday:

1. Proud new dad on parental leave drops by the office with his baby daughter, age 5 months, resplendent in pink. And I got to share the elevator with them as they were leaving, those big innocent blue eyes fixed on me the whole trip down.

2. 20-something co-worker (who knows nothing of my reproductive history) tells me her 20-something friend, 8 months pregnant, is upset -- because she can't go to a BAR tonight!! Says my co-worker, "she says she feels like she can't do anything anymore" because of the pregnancy.

I (barely) keep my jaw from dropping to the floor and (barely) restrain myself from saying what I REALLY think (i.e., how many people do I know -- in real life & online -- myself included -- who would do anything to be in her shoes & be 8 months pregnant with a healthy baby??) and mutter, "Tell her she'd better get used to it!" (At least my co-worker seemed to feel this woman was being ridiculous too.) I feel sorry for the baby already...

3. Escape to the food court for tea -- and encounter a dozen toddlers from the office tower's daycare centre out with their caregivers for their afternoon stroll, admiring the Christmas tree in the atrium. So cute. So heartbreaking.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Not invited :(

Looks like dh & I will have another weekend of together time coming up, without family obligations. (Which is fine with me, especially at this busy time of year.) We haven't been over to visit FIL & stepMIL in a couple of weeks, and normally would have tried to go on Saturday, but they will be out. At a birthday party. A first birthday party. For dh's cousin's little boy.

We haven't been invited. Apparently BIL & family were not invited either. The explanation stepMIL got from the baby's grandmother (dh's aunt) was that only the cousins with small children were invited, as well as the aunts & uncles. Which effectively means just about everybody on dh's dad's side of the family, except us & BIL (whose sons, our nephews, are 15 & almost 19). Possibly one other cousin falls into this category -- not sure whether they were invited or not.

Both dh & BIL say they could care less. We are not close to this particular cousin at all. He & his wife are both nice people, but they are much younger than dh, by 15-20 years, so he really hasn't had much to do with them growing up (is much closer, both in age & emotionally, to the cousins on his mom's side of the family), & dh feels he has very little in common with them. We basically see them at weddings, funerals and other birthday parties. We really don't need one more social event to attend at this time of year (not to mention one more present to buy -- and in dh's family, it's expected that the present would be fairly substantial), particularly for a baby we have seen exactly once before. (Make that "I" -- dh has never seen him; I saw him at a bridal shower this past spring.)

But still, it irks me that they couldn't extend the invitation to the few people in the family who fell outside the lines they drew for inclusion. It's just another painful reminder that we lack what every other married couple in the family has -- a child.

Which is worse -- having to endure birthday party after boring birthday party for the children of family members & friends (knowing they will never be asked to reciprocate in kind), or knowing that you haven't been invited -- and your childlessness/infertility is the reason why??