Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Late January 1998

I was looking at my datebook from 1998 again, and wow, the memories and the things you forget about...

Jan. 21st of that year, my grandmother's house was torn down by the town -- razed to the ground. We knew it was coming -- they had moved into an apartment years before and decided it wasn't worth paying the taxes on the property anymore -- but we still used to go over there & sit on the screened in side porch shaded by Virginia creeper. It was hard to believe that the place where both my grandmother & mother grew up and where I spent all my childhood summers & most of my Christmases was gone. I still have many dreams where I am back in that house.

Jan. 22nd, I went to my family dr for my annual Pap. I had recently been to the dentist & taken amoxicillin, because I have a very mild heart murmur. Don't know if that did the trick, but a few days later they called to tell me I had a yeast infection! Off to the drugstore to get Monistat. This was the cycle before I got pregnant, & while I vividly remember the period I had a few weeks earlier, I had totally forgotten about this little detail. Was THAT, in some strange way, the factor that made the difference in my getting pregnant a few weeks later??

The following week (the first week of February), I got my first-ever cold sore!! Dh has had them for years (so has my mother), so I suppose it was inevitable I would eventually get one myself. It was a doozy -- absolutely humungous -- a sure sign that my hormones were running amok. (And of course, a coworker I had spoken with many times on the telephone from London, England, happened to be visiting our Toronto offices & decided to stop by & say hello. I can never think of her or hear her name without thinking of that huge cold sore on my lip.) Was THAT what made the difference??

Friday, Jan. 23rd, was a bombshell of a day. Canada has five large banks -- I work for one of them in the corporate communications area (I would prefer not to say which one). That day, two of them, the Royal Bank and Bank of Montreal, announced plans to merge. A few months later, two of the other banks, CIBC and Toronto-Dominion, not wanting to be left behind while their already-gigantic rivals got even bigger, announced that they too wanted to merge. Both proposals required the consent of the Minister of Finance to proceed -- and this was ultimately NOT granted later that year. Needless to say, however, it created a huge flurry of activity for the PR & other communications people working at those banks -- not to mention a ton of STRESS, which coloured almost the entire year of 1998 for me -- not just the additional workload, but wondering whether I was going to have a job at the end of it all. I can remember the day the CIBC-TD proposal was announced, sitting at my desk, pregnant, typing furiously & feeling stressed, & looking at my pregnant belly thinking, "Oh baby, this is NOT good for you." :( Was this what made the difference in the eventual outcome of my pregnancy? I'm sure it certainly didn't help...

Saturday night, Jan. 23, we went for dinner at dh's cousin's house to mark his uncle's 75th birthday. This past week (talking present-day now), we were at a first birthday party, and this uncle's daughter mentioned, "My dad would have been 85 years old this week." He passed away just shy of his 80th birthday. He specifically requested no party, just dinner with his own immediate family, and dh & his brother (his sister's sons -- they were the oldest brother & sister among their siblings). There were five small children among us, and they opened all the presents and kept us all entertained.

The following week, our next-door neighbours moved out, and a few days later, the new neighbours moved in -- a (then) childless couple. We weren't sorry to see the old neighbours go. They had four (!) children in a small three-bedroom house. They were the type of neighbours who were always asking when we were going to have kids & pointing to their own four & saying, "Wouldn't you just love to have one of these?" Ugh.

Friday the 30th, BIL got the snip (I can't believe I actually marked that in my datebook!). They were done with their family after two -- & after almost 13 years of marriage & 2.5 years of ttc, we hadn't even managed one yet.

Sunday, Feb. 1st, we went to see "Good Will Hunting" at the movies. Our lives were about to change forever, although we didn't yet know it.

A birthday party, a phone call and a spot of bother

Last weekend just zoomed right by. Sunday afternoon, we went to a first birthday party for the baby boy of one of dh's cousins (who was 39 when he was born and, rumour has it, conceived via IVF). His big brother will be will be 10 in April & is six months older than Katie would have been. I had just found out I was pg when I went to this cousin's baby shower, & can remember everyone congratulating me & asking me questions and telling me, "You're next!" Another cousin's baby (also a boy, thankfully) was born six months later, in April 1999, so I look at the two of them & gauge how big Katie would be now & the kind of things she would be doing. I can never help but see the two of them at family gatherings without seeing a little girl in the middle between them.

The party was at an indoor sports centre that had indoor soccer & floor hockey courts, so the kids had a blast, running around playing hockey -- not to mention the big kids, i.e., dh & all the guys! He said the next morning, "I never ached all over like this after playing hockey when I was 15." lol I wound up sitting & talking with SIL & the girl cousins/wives, who talked nonstop about... (guess!)... their kids!! It actually wasn't bad, so far as these events go. I was, of course, the only woman there without kids. (Actually not -- the cousin's unmarried & childless aunt on the other side of the family was there too, but I really don't know her.) There was one other baby there who will be 1 in March (also rumoured to be an IVF baby -- the parents were both 43 when she was born, after 10+ years of marriage). Most of the kids are getting older now -- several teenagers in the bunch, even -- so I didn't feel quite so envious when I heard stories about broken curfews and lost cellphones and fretting about why they're not interested in going to university and what they should do instead, etc., lol. To be honest, I'm finding lately that I'm not feeling so much angst at these events as boredom. Of course I have nothing much to contribute to the conversation.

I talked to my parents later that night. Their neighbours (a couple in their late 50s/early 60s) just learned they are going to be grandparents for the first time in May. My dad said they didn't sound too excited about it, & the wife had made a crack about how it was a good thing the kids don't live too close so they won't expect free babysitting all the time. It's the kind of throwaway remark that unthinking fertiles make all the time, but I still felt bad that my parents -- who would have loved to have been grandparents, & would have been fabulous ones -- had to be subjected to that.

Back in November, I wrote a post about having some midcycle spotting on day 17 of my cycle. I went on to have a normal period on schedule, and then another full, uneventful cycle. Yesterday was day 17 again and, voila! spotting again. Just a small amount of orange-red when I wiped myself that morning which, over the course of the day, tapered to a brownish stain and then into nothingness, just like the last time. I had been feeling some cramping on my left side the day before, & felt somewhat crampy all day yesterday -- I often have midcycle crampiness right around ovulation, but never spotting until now.

When it first happened back in November, I called my ob-gyn's office then & his secretary told me it was not unheard of (especially for 47-year-old women), but to call back if it happened again. So I called her yesterday on my cellphone during my break. She said she would talk to the dr & see whether he wanted me to come in for an ultrasound before my annual Pap/checkup in mid-March. No call today -- I will follow up tomorrow. I know it's very like perimenopause rearing its head (groan) -- at least, I hope that's what it is. Preferable to some of the alternatives.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "The Jane Austen Book Club"

This is the second time I've taken part in the Barren B*tches Book Brigade via the Stirrup Queen's blog. In a departure from the past, this tour's selection is a non-infertility related volume, The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. This was a nice read over Christmas vacation for me, being both an avid reader, someone who's always thought it would be fun to be part of a book club (so here I am...!), and a reader who's enjoyed three of Austen's five novels. I do wonder what readers who are not familiar with at least some of Jane Austen's books thought about it. Which is not to say you shouldn't read the novel if you haven't read Austen (it's a fun novel on its own merits, and there is even a synopsis of all of Austen's book plots at the back to help you out), but I imagine your perspective may be quite different.

I read those three Austen novels some years ago (so the synopsis at the back was helpful in refreshing my memory!), & have the other two in my perpetural "to read" pile. I first read Austen -- Emma -- in my first-year university English class on the the history of the novel. I loved the course, the book & the professor. I later read Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility on my own. Saw the film version of Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow & Toni Collette, and parts of Pride & Prejudice with Laurence Olivier & Greer Garson (but not (yet), alas, the infamous version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, nor the latest incarnation with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth). Also saw Sense & Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet as the sisters, and Hugh Grant & Alan Rickman as the men in their lives. (This movie is notable for being the one period movie/chick flick I ever dragged dh to that he did NOT wind up liking!) Oh yes, and Bride & Prejudice, the modern-day Indian/Bollywood take on the novel starring the beauteous Aishwarya Rai, which was a hoot.

The way the BBBB works is people sign up, read the book & submit a question. All the questions are distributed to all the participants, and we pick at least three to answer in our blog. After reading my take on the book, you can hp 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: Embryo Culture by Beth Kohl (with author participation!).

Okay, on to some of the questions! (Some of them were similar, in which case, I've grouped them together.)

In one part of the book, Jocelyn and Sylvia were discussing happiness. One of them said that "Happiness in marriage is mostly luck..." What are your thoughts on happiness? Do you think that our happiness in life is mostly luck? Do we have some control over how happy we are?

I looked back through my book and couldn't find this passage. At any rate, I think luck does play a role in our lives, but I think we create our own luck & our own happiness to some extent too. Life takes unexpected turns sometimes -- it's up to us what we do when that happens.

Which character in the Jane Austen Book Club did you most relate to? And what is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

I didn't recall any one character jumping out at me & thinking, "Oh my gosh, she's just like me!" Flipping back through the book, two characters reminded me of myself. First, Prudie, which surprised me to some extent, because I actually found her a little on the unlikeable side. In the scene where she & Jocelyn meet at the movie theatre & Jocelyne shushes the people talking -- I'm like Prudie. People talking in movie theatres (or on the commuter train!) drive me nuts, but I would never (or very rarely) speak up about it, and I would probably die of embarrassment if dh ever did. Like Prudie, I'm very organized, with to-do lists all over the place. Like Prudie, I have said things I have regretted (to my mother & others), and cringe at the memory now. Like Prudie, I have/had (especially as a child) a hugely rich fantasy life and sometimes found real life dull & disappointing by comparison.

I had to laugh when I read the sentence (Prudie, about her husband-to-be Dean): "Forget the fact that he would look so good walking in next to her at her high school reunions. Some people would be so surprised." I was always regarded as something of a geek in high school and never had a date. In grade 12, I got contact lenses, which boosted my confidence immensely, & then I went off to university, which was a whole new ball game. In the spring of my first year, I met J., who was drop-dead gorgeous and nice to boot. So nice, in fact, that he came to visit me during the summer & went with me to my high school's all-school 75th anniversary reunion. I actually saw jaws drop when I walked into the hall with this great-looking guy beside me -- one of the more satisfying moments of my life. ; ) (We broke up less than a year later, & I went on to meet dh.)

The other person I could relate to was Sylvia. I'm a genealogist & all her reflections on genealogy at the start of Chapter Six rang so true to me.

Daniel asks Sylvia whether she's happy & says "I can't always tell." Dh often says the same thing about me -- that he can't always tell what I'm thinking. "She was too subdued, too reticent" -- that's me too. I am not prone to spilling my guts, verbally, anyway. (I save it all for paper, or the keyboard!) I am sometimes too much the journalist, seeing both sides of every story. There are many things that I can't or won't express a strong opinion about, because I can see both sides of thing and am often inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt. It drives dh nuts sometimes.

As mentioned above, I've read three Austen novels. I'm fond of Emma because it was the first, & because I studied it so thoroughly in school. Emma herself, however, was somewhat unlikeable. I rather prefer the spirited Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters, and Pride & Prejudice. Out of the three Austen novels that I've read, it's the one that sticks with me the most.

Which character in the book could you most relate to, and why? (see my previous answer) Which one could you least relate to, and why?

I could least relate to Bernadette and all her husbands. What a bizarre life she had. But I probably found her the most entertaining!

Jocelyn and Sylvia are closer than most sisters. Their relationship has withstood many tests. Do you have a particular friend who has stood by you through thick and thin in ways that stand out from most friendships, and if so what brought you together and what keeps the relationship so special?

For five years, from the time I was 8 until I was 13, we lived in a small town, across the street from a family who had three daughters -- one was two grades ahead of me, one was in the same grade as me and the youngest was three years younger than me (two years younger than my sister). The five of us soon became inseparable. People used to ask whether we were related, because we even looked alike, and we used to all dress alike too.

Despite the fact that we moved away, our families remained close & we visited often. (And this was in an era when long distance calls were rare and expensive, and there was no Internet.) Spending New Year's Eve together became something of a tradition. At one point, the middle daughter & I calculated that we had spent something like 13 consecutive New Year's Eves together, including visiting each other while in university. When I got married, she was my bridesmaid, her older sister sang at the ceremony and the younger sister attended the guest book. I consider/ed their parents to be my second mom & dad.

The younger sister had a twin sister who died at birth, and when I lost my Katie, their mom was one of the first people to call me and tell me a little about how she got through that terrible time. The middle sister called me & sobbed with me on the phone, and told me about her own struggles to conceive. (Both she & the older sister have adopted.)

Funnily enough, perhaps because we never grew up talking to each other long distance very much (our mothers would enforce strict time limits), we don't call each other very often, or see each other very often now either. But whenever we are together, it's like time just melts away and we pick up where we last left off. We shared so much when we were growing up, & know each other so well. They are my other sisters.

Sylvia described her MIL as affectless, polite but distant until she lost her son when she watch her "crumple like paper." Are there those in your life who have been affectless or polite but distant and then surprised you with their emotional depth?

When I first read this passage, it made me think back to when my grandmother (my dad's mother) died, when I was 14. I had never seen or heard my father cry before & it was (and still is) the worst thing in the world to me. On one of the phone calls between me & my mother, after I learned my daughter was dead & I would have to deliver her, she said she would pass the phone to my father, then said, "No... Daddy can't talk right now." There was a catch in her voice and I started crying again, thinking about how this horrible news was affecting my father. I'm crying now again, just thinking about it.

I always thought of a woman I knew at work as pleasant but somewhat cerebral. After I lost my daughter, she asked me whether we'd been trying for a long time, and told me about her own struggles to conceive. We started going for coffee regularly. Eventually she had two miscarriages and then two successful pregnancies through IVF & FET (a girl & then a boy). Another friend & I took her for lunch before she headed off on her first maternity leave, & we all got very emotional when the time came to say goodbye. She hugged me and said, "You've been a good friend."

Allegra is described as "liking being an aunt. That it offered all the kid time she needed. Probably. All she wanted mostly." If you don't have your own children, but are an aunt how important is that role to you and, what special rewards does it offer?

I don't have children, but we do have two nephews -- the sons of dh's younger brother, who are currently 15 & 19. (My own younger sister is childfree by choice.) I love being an aunt, but I have to admit that dh is closer to the boys than I am. I felt much closer to them when they were little, but as they got older & more rough & tumble & into boy-type stuff, they could relate more to dh, I think. Dh's cousins & aunts say it's like watching dh & his brother all over again.

They live an hour away, so we don't get to see as much of them as we like. Still, we get together a couple of times a month, & have been there for all the important occasions in their life, like first communions & high school graduations, and spoil them with presents. I used to bring them special baggies of Halloween & Valentine's Day & Easter candy when they were smaller. I'm the one who has taken most of the photos of them that exist, and I'm making scrapbooks for them both now.

I must say, if I had known that they were going to be IT, I would have made even more of an effort to spoil them than we already have -- had them over for more sleepovers. They're too old for that now. Still, I think we've been a good aunt & uncle to them over the years, & they know we love them. I know they adore dh & I think they are fond of me. I just hope that, someday, when we're old & grey and in the nursing home, they'll remember the fun times we had together, & look in on us now & then.

BIL said to dh after we lost Katie, "You'll always have the boys." Well, thanks, and we adore them, but we are NOT their parents and they in no way make up for our loss. Sorry. Being an aunt & being a mother are two different roles entirely. It is a special thing to be an aunt, but it is NOT the same as having your own child.

Intrigued by the idea of a book tour and want to read more about The Jane Austen Book Club? Hop along to more stops on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade by visiting the master list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. Want to come along for the next tour? Sign up begins today for tour #10 (Embryo Culture by Beth Kohl with author participation!) and all are welcome to join along . All you need is a book and blog.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tag, you're it...

By virtue of merely reading Irish Girl's blog tonight, I was tagged!

The Rules:

1) Link to the person that tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog.
3) Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4) Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs.
5) Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6) Let the fun begin!

Here are six things about me:

1. I can't sleep or leave the bedroom unless the sliding doors to our closet are completely closed.

2. I have an unconscious habit of tucking my left thumb between my index & middle fingers. I never noticed it until dh pointed it out to me. He likes to joke that if they'd had ultrasounds 40-50 years ago, they probably would have seen me doing that in my mother's womb instead of sucking my thumb.

3. I still have several fertility talismans/good luck charms on my night table & rub them every night before I go to sleep, including a Beanie Baby stork from an online friend/fellow bereaved mom, a Boyds Bears figurine of a pregnant Mama Bear (which dh gave me for Mother's Day when I was pregnant), a green stone etched with the word "Believe," given to me by another online friend/bereaved mom, & a small stuffed unicorn. At least, they were *supposed* to be fertility good luck charms, lol. At this point in my life, I'm not really looking to get pregnant, & I figure they've warded off pregnancy so far, so I might as well keep doing it until I hit menopause.

4. I am a news junkie. I read three newspapers every day (sometimes more) and subscribe to umpteen magazines.

5. I am also a makeup/skincare junkie, and am afraid/embarrassed to count how many lipsticks I have (most of them collected through "gift with purchase" days). Which is funny, because I generally put on lipstick in the morning before I head to work & then forget to reapply it during the day, unless I have an important meeting or lunch date to attend.

6. I have the piano from my parents' home that I grew up playing. My truck driver cousin arranged to ship it halfway across the country to his company's depot on the other side of the city where I live for $29 & change. It cost me $150 to hire movers to pick it up there and bring it to my house! (I rarely play these days, but I am still very glad I have it.)

If you've read this far, consider yourself tagged. Don't forget to post a comment & tell me that you've posted your six items so I can go read yours!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finding our childless/free voices

This post has been rumbling around in my head & in my drafts folder for quite awhile now. I was just thinking that it's been more than a week since I last posted, & that while there are times when my brain is overflowing with ideas that I want to write about, at other times, I simply draw a blank and feel like I have nothing notable to say.

And that got me thinking about the considerable absence of childless/free (after loss & infertility) voices on the Internet. There are plenty of people out there who are childfree by choice and proud to say so -- but people like me, you don't hear much from, or about.

Most books about infertility contain, at most, a short section about childless/free living as an option (but usually just a few paragraphs). In the mainstream media, newspaper & magazine stories will include a paragraph or a throwaway line on the topic, if we're lucky. Society at the moment is so fixated on pregnancy & parenthood that a baby is seen as the only outcome of fertility treatment that can be considered a success. Childfree living just doesn't provide the requisite happy, fairytale ending -- even though most of us (eventually) go on to lead happy & productive lives after we abandon treatment -- & our dreams of having a family.

But we don't always articulate that very well. The thing about childless/free living & blogging is that most of the time, you're really just, well, living. While you're actively ttc &/or in treatment, there is always something to write about -- signs, symptoms, protocols, cycle day numbers & follicle counts, etc. -- a bit of daily drama, if you will.

For me, my ttc days ended a while ago. Now, as I've said before, there's not a day that goes by that I'm not thinking about my stillborn daughter & how I reached this point in my life in some way, shape or form. And there are still many days -- like when birthday party & shower invitations arrive, or a baby visits the office, or an "anniversary" date draws near -- that I find my eyes filling up with tears & my stomach lurching, and I need to share how I feel with people who understand, exactly, how I feel and why.

But for the most part, I'm just getting up & going to work and coming home again like everyone else in the world. Nothing terribly unique or exciting to report (or to read) about that.

Sometimes, especially when you're new to childless/free living, you need to step back a bit, distance yourself from the world of infertility, and get your bearings in the brave new world you're entering. Sharah, one of the first infertility bloggers I think that I started reading, recently had a great post to this effect, explaining why she might not be around as much, now that she is not ttc.

Part of it, too, I think, is there has always been some stigma or discomfort around childless/free living after loss & infertility. At Miss E's Musings, Ellen recently wrote about telling a newly pregnant (& not entirely happy about it) friend that if her IVF fails, she is planning to live childfree.
"For all her distress about this pregnancy and parenting, she seemed shocked that childlessness was our plan B and that we are excited about that possibility too. "I just can't imagine," she said and quickly changed the subject back to IVF."

In the comments section of this post, Irish Girl chimed in:
"I too have found it scares and shocks people when I speak about the option of living childfree as a resolution to our infertility. Though I can't say I blame them as it even took me almost five years to consider it as an option for us. But the looks I get, it's as if I've said I am considering injecting myself with the AIDS virus or something."

This stigma also exists (especially?) within the infertility community. I'm not always entirely sure that fellow infertiles want to hear what we have to say about life beyond infertility treatment (and there IS one out there!!). I can remember, on one of the boards I post on, that someone once wryly referred to us as "the black sheep of the infertility community." Pamela Jeanne had a great post, awhile back that summed up the situation nicely in its title -- "What Does it Feel Like to be Someone's Worst Nightmare?"

One woman posted on a CF board I frequent that she had announced, on her ttc board, her intention to stop treatment, live childfree, & begin posting on our board. She said you could have heard a figurative pin drop. While her fellow ttc-ers were happy to offer "baby dust" & condolences while she was cycling, hardly anybody commented, for better or worse, on her very difficult decision, or wished her luck or happiness in her future.

Understandably -- even though we all know the numbers & the odds of success for our respective age groups -- there are few people going through treatment who are willing to even briefly entertain the notion that it might not work for them -- that not everybody who wants a baby is necessarily going to wind up with one -- despite everything we go through and sacrifice in pursuing our dream (a dream that comes so easily to -- and is taken for granted by -- so many).

But if even our fellow infertiles shy away from us, what hope in Hades do we have of getting the rest of society to understand the impact that infertility -- whether we eventually do give birth or adopt, or continue to live without children, despite our best efforts -- has had on our lives?

That's why I was so touched to see so many blog posts earlier this month that discussed childfree living with sensitivity & respect. It sort of kicked off with an interesting post from Nancy at The New Life of Nancy, about how the mere category of childfree blogs on the Stirrup Queen's enormous blogroll scared her -- how she wanted to help & support childfree women, but wasn't sure how to do it, because the mere thought made her feel helpless. Nancy's post set off a round of comments & related posts by a number of thoughtful other bloggers, including Pamela Jeanne and Ellen.

Posts like these give me hope that people in the infertility community are willing to at least listen and learn more about childfree living -- what it took for us to get here, and what a childfree life can be like (i.e., not all bad) -- even if they ultimately decide that it's not for them. And that gives me hope that someday, fertile people might follow too. Eventually...!

Now we just need more women who are living childfree to speak up about it!

"When we have kids..."

I was supposed to be at a friend's house tonight, scrapbooking. But I'm not. Both of my other friends who live nearby & usually give me a lift couldn't go tonight. And dh is too tired to drive me. It's about 25 miles or a 40-minute drive on the highway, in good traffic.

Why don't I just drive myself, you ask? Well, believe it or not, I don't drive.

It's a long story. I do actually have my driver's license. When I was 16, I took driver's ed and sailed into my driving test, supremely confident.

I flunked. Twice. The examiner was like a military drill sergeant, barking out orders at me. I lost my nerve, and after two failures, my confidence was completely shattered.

I always intended to try again... someday. Then my learner's permit expired. (I didn't realize they had an expiry date.) When I was in university, I took the written test again & got another learner's permit. More time passed. I got engaged and realized I would soon be moving to Toronto. Did I really want to take my test in the traffic of the big city?

So I called up the local driver's ed instructor in the small, one-stoplight town my parents now lived in, & asked him for a few private lessons. At age 24, a month before my wedding, I finally got my driver's license. When I got to Toronto, I traded it in for an Ontario license. No testing required. (It may be different now.)

For the first seven years we were married, we had a Volkswagen Rabbit with manual transmission. I had only ever driven an automatic. For five of those years, we lived in the city, two blocks from the subway station, and only ever used our car on weekends. Even if we had an automatic, the city traffic scared me.

Then we moved to the suburbs, & traded the Volkswagen for a car with an automatic transmission. I practiced driving around the neighbourhood now & then, even to the local mall a few times (taking the long way through the back roads). (I haven't even done that in awhile.) Dh & I both work downtown & commute together -- he drives us to & from the commuter train station (there is bus service to the train, but we'd have to get up even earlier than we do...!). There is a plaza with a supermarket, drugstore, video store & other amenities just a brief walk away (or a quick swing by en route home at night), and most nights, we're both too tired to go out anywhere anyway. Of course, part of it is, I've just always lived without the freedom of having a car (and thankfully, in places with good public transit or within walking distance of places I need to go), & adapted accordingly. I do a lot of errands on my lunch hour at work, & get dh to take me the other places I need to go.

When I got pregnant, I knew I was NOT going to be stuck in a house in suburbia with a baby & no car. My plan was to practice my driving more & perhaps even take a few lessons from a local driving school to brush up my skills & boost my confidence. Then, when I lost the baby, it suddenly didn't seem so important anymore. And I have rarely tried to drive since then.

My grandmother never drove & made me promise that I would get my license & not be like her. I feel guilty when I think about it. I really do need to get driving again, perhaps take some refresher lessons. I may never venture out onto Highway 401 (the main highway which runs through the Greater Toronto Area & beyond), but I'd be happy if I gained enough confidence to get myself to the local mall or Wal-Mart without having to ask dh to take me.

It struck me tonight, thinking of this, that there are so many things we plan to do "when we have kids." And then the kids don't materialize -- then what??

I always thought I would buy a video camera "when we have kids." We still don't have one. The spare bedroom still has the cheap particleboard furniture from dh's student apartment in it, because, of course, it was supposed to be the nursery. Someday, I want to buy some nicer furniture & linens and do it up right.

What things have you been putting off doing or getting "until we have kids?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ethel Smalls' suitcase

Riding home on the commuter train tonight, an article in today's Globe & Mail captured my attention. In the Review section, Simon Houpt's "New York Diary" focused on a new exhibit at the Science, Business and Industry Library in New York. Unfortunately, it is "premium content" & not available to the casual reader :( (and in any case, links on this site are generally only active for about a week) but there were a few passages in it that I found so riveting, I copied them here to share with you.

The article opens by saying:
"One morning in the summer of 1930, a 40-year-old woman by the name of Ethel Smalls took to her bed in the upstate New York village of Freeville and refused to get up. Her landlady, with whom she had been locked in a minor dispute, called the authorities."
The doctor found Ethel to be "generally run down but not psychologically impaired." Nevertheless, citing her use of vulgar language toward the landlady, a judge had Ethel committed to the nearby Willard State Hospital on Seneca Lake near Rochester. In a medical note in her file, someone observed that Ethel "is a manic of rather sarcastic type, who is inclined to pout and grumble and find fault" -- "(That is to say, a typical New Yorker)," writes Houpt.

"What was her illness?" writes Houpt.
"Today, we might call it common trauma: She had suffered through 22 years of an abusive marriage, two miscarriages and the premature deaths of two of her infants. She probably just needed a good long rest and time with a sensitive therapist."
Instead, she spent the next 40 years (40 years!!) at Willard, until her death in 1973 at age 83.

A few years after Willard closed in 1995, a New York State Museum cutator pried open the door to an abandoned attic and found 427 (!!) suitcases that once belonged to the hospital's residents -- including Ethel's. Ethel's belongings, along with those of several other residents, are now displayed in an exhibit derived from that discovery, called "The Lives They Left Behind." The suitcase that Ethel brought with her to the hospital
"held a half-dozen pieces of silver flatware, a Bible and some delicate examples of her work as a seamstress: a baby's white dress, a baby's cotton flannel nightgown, a knitted baby's cap trimmed with pink ribbon and a pair of booties."
Many of Willard's patients, of course, were truly ill, but some, like Ethel, were simply people that society didn't know how else to handle. Need I tell you how deeply I was affected by reading about Ethel -- with her many lost babies, abusive husband, and suitcase full of lovingly stitched baby clothes? It was all I could do not to cry then & there on the train. And I've been thinking about her ever since. There but for the grace of God and about 70 years difference in attitudes toward mental health go I.

I know that just about all of us, from time to time, feel misunderstood by the people around us, and yes, there are days when I feel like I'm going out of my mind. I've even consulted a therapist from time to time. But so far, nobody's tried to commit me to an insane asylum. At least, not yet...

Edited to add: I did a little Googling today & came up with a site about the exhibit -- including photos of Ethel & the contents of her suitcase. Also a Newsday article about it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Happy birthday to me : )

Tomorrow is my birthday -- and Aunt Flo has decided to crash my party, argh. She is banging on the door & will be here by tomorrow morning. Oh well. On the bright side, a post I wrote earlier this week about how fertiles have managed to co-opt the term "childless" wound up on Mel's regular Friday Blog Roundup. Could an infertile blogger ask for a nicer present than that??

AF & the sheer numbers that are staring me in the face aside ; ) I can't help but get a little excited about my birthday -- it's that childhood feeling of anticipation and knowing that for this one special day a year, you're at the centre of the universe -- well, at least in the eyes of the people who love you. Not that dh & I usually do anything wildly special for our birthdays these days. We give each other cards & kisses in the morning, & the birthday boy or girl sets the agenda for the day, especially when the birthday falls on a weekend & we don't have to work. As I don't drive, dh has agreed to chauffeur me to do some shopping at my favourite scrapbooking stores tomorrow afternoon (he is not the world's most patient man, but he brings a book & sits in the car and reads while I shop -- how cool is that??), then whisk me away to one of our favourite restaurants for steaks, followed by a browse at our local megabookstore & coffee at Starbucks. And maybe a movie on Sunday afternoon (another favourite thing to do). Not too different from our usual weekend routine, but having a birthday gives me license to abandon the usual Saturday housecleaning, order dessert & maybe even have a drink (which we don't normally do) and give the credit card a workout. ; ) I view such indulgences as some of the perqs of growing older, not to mention being childless.

As I wrote in a post about getting older awhile back, I will be 47 (eek) tomorrow. Everyone says you're only as old as you feel. There are days I feel every second of those 47 years, & days when I really have to remind myself that I'm old enough to be the mother of many of the 20-somethings who work in my office, and not their peer. I don't think I look 47, and I'm usually told I look younger than my age. At our office Christmas party, one of the 20-somethings asked me how long I'd been with the company. I said, "21 years," and her eyes got huge & she said, "Oh my crap." She's probably only about 24 herself. I wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or amused by her reaction. (Someday, you too will be 47, dear.)

Anyway, birthdays only come once a year & I'm determined to make the most of mine! ; ) Even if I am one step further from my prime childbearing years, and one step closer to (eek) 50...!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

One of THOSE calls...

FIL called tonight. First, some explanation -- my MIL passed away long before I ever met her, & FIL remarried almost 20 years ago. StepMIL has four children, three boys and a girl, who are all more or less the same age as dh & me. The relationships we have with them are not close -- we were all adults at the time of the wedding -- but are cordial. They have three marriages, two divorces and no children among them -- until now.

Tonight's call was to tell us that youngest stepBIL's wife is expecting in August. They are both 40, going on 41 -- married for a couple of years & together for about the last 10. They've known each other since they were in school, although both were married to other people in the interim. BIL's wife has a daughter from her first marriage, who is in her first year of university (!!).

Dh talked to stepMIL & congratulated her (he didn't call me over to the phone, thankfully!). Of course she is (understandably) absolutely over the moon, as this will be her first and likely only grandchild. I can't begrudge her that, but of course, this will be the primary topic of conversation whenever we go to visit there for the next seven months (& thereafter).

I don't know the exact due date, but wanna take bets that it will be right on or around Katie's 10th anniversary date? :(

Who knew??

Who knew it was so great to be childless?

Every now & then (like today, lol), in search of undiscovered new blog treasures, I will Google Blog terms such as "childfree infertility" and "childless." The latter term invariably turns up posts by parents who, giddily, gleefully, announce themselves as "childless." As in "MIL took the kids, so we're childless for the weekend, woohoo!" (I made that line up, but it's pretty close to some of the ones I've seen.)

Good grief -- we're already sharing the "childfree" label with the childfree (by choice) crowd (and being lumped together with them by fertiles who don't know there's a difference) -- now we have to share "childless" with people who actually do have kids, but think that not having them (once in awhile, anyway) is a peachy-keen thing.

OK, I can understand the desire to escape from the responsibilities of parenthood for a little while now & then. And yes, parents deserve a break now & then.

But think, people, THINK, before tossing out a term like "childless" as you're celebrating. Your so-called "childlessness" can only be considered a good thing because it is temporary. Your brief escape is my permanent reality. Would any/many of these parents willingly give up their children & trade places with my dh & me? (I don't think so.)

This reminds me of an incident that took place five or six years ago, after dh & I had made the decision not to continue treatment & pursue a childless/free future. I had joined several Internet boards, including one for women like me who found themselves childless, although not by original choice. Another, for scrapbookers, reflected my interest in scrapbooking (despite the hobby's close association with all things mommy-related).

One day, I stumbled on a post by a scrapbooker who, much like the example above, was celebrating the fact that she was "childless" for the weekend. This was the first time I had ever heard the term being used in this way, & to say it stung was an understatement. I fretted & fumed about it for a day or two, and then did something that I didn't realize at the time was a no-no. I vented about it -- not on the scrapbooking board, but on my childless living board. I figured I was safe among friends who would understand how I was feeling.

Maybe a little too well, as it turned out. One of the other women on the childless board was also a scrapbooker who frequented the same scrapbooking board. She took it upon herself to head over to the scrapbooking board & tell them I had read this post & was very hurt by it, and to please use some consideration in the future.

To say all hell broke loose would be an understatement. Both the other woman & myself were pilloried. Oh, they felt soooo sorry for us and our childlessness -- they took great pains to point that out -- but how dare we suggest they didn't have the right to talk about their children, etc. etc. etc. Some of their members even came over to our childless living board to leave nasty comments. I remember feeling almost literally sick to my stomach as I watched the "conversation" unfold, hour by hour. Basically, the two of us were treated like trolls and made to feel totally unwelcome (although there were one or two brave souls who had also experienced loss & infertility and spoke up in our defense, about how difficult it was to deal with infertility in an unthinking, child-obsessed world). I don't think either of us posted there again.

Then, of course, there are those women who have been ttc for, oh, maybe three months without success and declare themselves "infertile"... but perhaps that's fodder for another post!

Monday, January 7, 2008

"The Blank Space in Our Family Album"

There was a great first-person article in the Sunday New York Times about infertility, called "The Blank Space in Our Family Album." I could relate to soooo much the author had to say -- everything from the collection of pregnancy books and the names chosen long in advance to the photos nobody else wants to, or gets to see. These lines in particular resonated with me:

Most of our friends and family don’t know we have all of these books, photos, names and parenting philosophies. I doubt it occurs to people with real babies that we have prepared exactly as they have, if not more.

I doubt that most of our friends & family know there is a box full of pregnancy & infertility books that still sits in my closet. They don't know about the photos that were taken, or the beautifully crocheted baby outfit that is among my most prized possessions, because my daughter was wearing it the first & only time I got to see and hold her. Many of them probably don't even know that we named her, or what her name is, or that, nearly 10 years later, we still visit her niche at the cemetery just about every weekend. They have no idea how long we tried or what we went through before deciding we had to stop. They have no idea how much effort it takes sometimes for us to attend their baby showers & the birthday parties for their own children.

They think they know us. But there is so much they don't know.

P.S. I do object to the author's use of the term "people with real babies." I think a better term would have been "living babies" or something similar. My baby was as real to me as anyone's who ever drew breath. I can remember the founder of our pregnancy loss group telling us about how she inquired about attending a grief group after the stillbirth of her daughter some 20 years ago. The response she got was, "Oh, we only deal with the deaths of real babies." That was the impetus for the birth of our group!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Ten years ago: The one before

(Warning: possible TMI included)

I recently dug out my datebook for 1998. Looking at those first few days of January brought back so many memories of the time before loss & infertility took over our lives.

We'd been ttc for a little over two years by then, and despite my family doctor's assurances that "It will happen," I was getting nervous/sad. I had been so sure that I'd get pregnant, if not immediately, then surely within a few cycles after going off the birth control pill just before I turned 35. The first few cycles -- off the pill but using backup contraception while my body readjusted -- were almost textbook (although my cycles have never been 28 days, usually more like 32-35). And then, once we started ttc, my cycles went completely wonky. 44 days, 56 days at one point! I did hpts & even went in for a blood test at one point (after which my period promptly started). I was diagnosed hypothyroid & started taking eltroxin (the dr assured me it would help).

But during the first full week of January, the week before my 37th birthday, what was front & centre in my life was the Canadian national figure skating championships. I've never been athletic, but like many small town Canadian girls of my time, I took figure skating lessons, & I'd been a big figure skating fan for years (my first memories of watching the sport were of Karen Magnussen & Janet Lynn at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo).

The 1998 nationals were at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario, about 1.5 hours from where I live. I'd attended a Stars on Ice show there once with a former coworker, who was just as big a fan as me, if not bigger, and whose daughter (then about 12) skated. I'd been to nationals once before, in Brandon, Manitoba, in 1982, had a wonderful time then, and always wanted to go again. So after some discussion with my friend, we booked off work for a few days, bought all-event tickets & booked a hotel near the arena.

Figure skating tickets were & probably still are a huge bargain. Our all-events tickets cost the grand sum of $125. That's $125 for the entire event -- Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday; novice, junior and senior competitions; men's, women's, pairs & dance events in each category; compulsories, short programs & long programs in each event, plus practices, and the Parade of Champions on Sunday afternoon. Dh could easily spend that much for just one good but not great seat at a Toronto Raptors game. We split the cost of the hotel room for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights. All told, including food & souvenirs, the whole thing cost me about $500. Not bad at all!! Our seats were great -- just above the kiss & cry area, & several rows up from the CTV broadcast booth, where Barbara Underhill & Rod Black were doing commentary. If I used my binoculars, I could see the results flash onto their monitors up to half a minute before they were posted to the arena audience!

Anyway, the day we left was day 34 of my cycle, so I was expecting dear Aunt Flo to show up and (fortunately) came prepared with lots of pads -- and she didn't disappoint. Day 1 of that cycle was Thursday, Jan. 8. The first day, from what I can remember & from the notes in my datebook, was OK, but Friday, day 2, was extremely heavy & crampy.

We spent most of our days at the arena, living on Pizza Hut pizza, Mr. Sub sandwiches and hot dogs from the concession stands there. Friday's schedule of events began at 12:45 with the junior dance original program, followed by the junior ladies free program, junior pairs free, senior dance original program and senior ladies short program.

Mid-afternoon, my friend came to find me. She had run into her daughter's coach, who sid, "Did you bring her skates with you? [She had not.] They're having open partner tryouts on Sunday morning for anyone who wants to skate pairs or dance." Several high-level judges and scouts would also be there. My friend's daughter wanted to dance, & this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. She told me she & her daughter were going to leave immediately and drive home to get her skates. They would return the next day, attend the tryouts on Sunday morning, meet me back at the arena for the final events, & then we'd head home. I did NOT want to leave with them -- the hotel room was paid for anyway -- so I said I would hold down the fort at the hotel & see them when they got back.

So they left, & I was on my own in a totally strange city. It felt a little strange, but I really didn't mind, because I wasn't THAT far from home -- I could have taken a bus or a train home, if I absolutely had to -- & I was having such a good time. I called dh to tell him what was going on. I wasn't prepared for his reaction. He was upset that my friend would leave me on my own like that, & we had a tense conversation (on a payphone, with a dozen other people lined up behind me waiting for their turn, no less!).

I'm not sure whether it was sitting all day long & then standing up, stress hormones from my conversation with dh, just a plain old heavy period, or a combination of factors -- but as we talked on the phone, I could feel all hell breaking loose in my nether regions -- gushing & gushing & gushing. My periods are normally on the heavy side the first few days, but this was ridiculous. I'd tried to take advantage of all the breaks I could to go to the bathroom & change pads (& you can just imagine the lineups for the women's washrooms at an event like this...!) & I headed there immediately after I got off the phone. My heavy-duty pad and my underwear were soaked & the blood had seeped through to the crotch of my pants.

The senior events (the big attractions) were about to get underway, & I did not want to trudge all the way to the hotel to change & back (it was already dark, for one thing). I blotted my underwear & pants with toilet paper as best I could, changed my pad, thanked God that I was wearing a long sweater that hid my butt (!) & returned to my seat. Later, I took a section of newspaper from my tote bag & sat on it (!). I decided to leave just before the last couple of skaters, in order to get out before the rest of the crowd & be able to hail a cab back to the hotel quickly. I stood up quickly, folded the paper & tossed it in a garbage can on my way out. I used another section of newspaper in the cab, so as not to ruin the seat.

When I got back to the hotel room, I immediately stripped down & surveyed the damage. Ugh. I was glad I was the only one there. I rinsed my pants out in the bathtub & hung them up on the shower curtain to dry. (Thankfully, I had brought more than one pair of pants with me...!) And then I collapsed, exhausted, in bed.

Why am I reliving all this? Well, this was the beginning of the last cycle before I got pregnant. The first day of my last menstrual period -- the all-important, oft-recited LMP date -- was February 8, 1998. Like many women who have struggled with loss & infertility, I have analyzed all the details of my pregnancy endlessly to try to figure out what I did (& didn't do) that might have contributed to me getting pregnant when I did. Contending with an overly heavy period & ruining my clothes in the company of 15,000 people in a strange city is not my idea of fun (although the skating was great & I'm glad I got to see it...!) --but if that was part of what it took to finally get me pregnant, then hey, bring it on. For years afterward, whenever I had a particularly heavy period, I would hope against hope that somehow, history was about to repeat itself. The things we latch onto...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The nightmare & the dream

Happy new year! Dh & I went to bed at 11 last night (!) & went to the movies today to see "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." Totally far-fetched to the point of eye rolling in some spots, but lots of fun just the same.

Then we went to our favourite mega-bookstore for a browse & a Starbucks. We're usually there on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, & by comparison, it was practically deserted today -- blissfully uncrowded & peacefully quiet.

Until the Toddler From Hell decided to throw the Mother of All Tantrums. You could hear him shrieking at the top of his lungs all over the store -- and it went on, and on, and on. Both dh & I, browsing in different sections, could hear him, loud & clear. Dh was close enough to hear his mother say calmly, "No, you can't have it. I'm going to wait until you're finished crying & then we're going home."

Umm, hello, how about taking him OUTSIDE or to the car & waiting for him to finish his tantrum out there?? OK, I can hear all the parents out there thinking, "What does SHE know about toddlers & their tantrums?? Cut the woman some slack!" Yes, I have never been a mother of a toddler, and overall, I think her tone & approach was the right one (I hate hearing parents screaming at their kids, almost as much as I hate hearing the kids screaming) -- but I think common sense & good manners dictates that if they are making that much of a fuss & disrupting the whole store, TAKE THEM OUTSIDE!!

(I can clearly remember throwing a tantrum at a local store when I was about 3, probably because of what happened next. My mother whisked me outside to the car, spanked me soundly & told me to never, ever do that in public again. And I never did. Of course, today, she would probably have to explain her actions to both the police & the Children's Aid Society...)

(In a similar vein, I can remember a child fussing for far too long in church once, before one of the parents finally carried him down to the nursery. The bishop was visiting at the time & remarked, "Crying children, like new year's resolutions, should be quickly carried out." lol!)

On the opposite end of the spectrum -- I then got to watch a daddy & his cute little girl, about 18 months old & dressed in pink, wandering around & exploring the store. Picking books off the shelves & examining them, picking up a shopping basket & flipping the handle back & forth. Dad was close enough to keep her from doing anything she really shouldn't, but letting her explore & set the pace & course. I found myself tearing up a little, just watching her in all her adorable innocence. The nightmare & the dream of parenthood, all in one visit.