Friday, February 29, 2008

TGIF...

There are so many things I want to blog about... another 1998 memories post (coming up later, no doubt), the last crappy few days I've had at work (two intense workdays, including staying late both days -- while coming down with a horrible head cold), the winter storm that came out of nowhere tonight, Mel's request for a "Letter to My Body," Calliope's "Day to Remember," plus I need to get cracking on another book tour post... not to mention catching up on so many other people's blogs that I enjoy reading!! It's funny how little things will happen during the day that make me want to immediately open up my blog & post -- a careless comment from a mommy friend that had me wincing, the almost daily sight of a mother trying to shepherd her two pre-schoolers (including a feisty little blond toddler with mittens dangling on strings from her jacket, who insists on doing everything herself) to the daycare centre in our office tower (the woman has the patience of a saint!). Even tonight's storm had me thinking, "Thank goodness I don't have to worry about how we're going to get home in time to pick up the kids."

Which is a long roundabout way of saying it's been a busy week here & I haven't had a lot of time to spend in cyberspace, but I hope to do so this weekend. TGIF!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Did Juno I love the Oscars?

Dh & I went to see "Juno" today. I was a little apprehensive, given the subject matter, but I was reassured by the positive reviews I've read from other infertility bloggers. I know there's been controversy over the way adoption & abortion are presented in the movie. That didn't really bother me. I think what bothered me most was the fact that a smart, savvy girl like Juno got pregnant in the first place... not the fact that she had sex, but that they obviously didn't use birth control. But then I guess there wouldn't have been a movie, right?

Jennifer Garner had me in tears in just about every scene she was in. I could so relate. I also like how they started out with Jason Bateman as this cool guy, & gradually you (along with Juno) realize he really needs to grow up.

One reason we wanted to see this movie today is tonight is Oscar night, & we've only seen one of the nominated movies so far -- "Michael Clayton." I would be interested in seeing the other three, but I want to read "Atonement" before I see it, & dh isn't really interested in "No Country for Old Men" (which I hear is extremely violent) or "There Will be Blood." We both loved "Michael Clayton" & I thought George Clooney was fabulous in it (fabulous looking, we already know, lol), but it sounds like tonight's Best Actor Oscar will go to that other great piece of eye candy, Daniel Day-Lewis. ; )

We saw "Away From Her" awhile back -- about a long-married childless couple facing the wife's Alzheimer's disease -- & absolutely loved it. The fact that it's a Canadian production (written & directed by Sarah Polley, of "Road to Avonlea," all grown up, and based on an Alice Munro short story) is also a source of great pride. Julie Christie (who is nominated for Best Actress -- as is Ellen Page, who played Juno) is wonderful in it & looks fabulous, grey hair, facial lines & all -- 40+ years after winning her first Oscar for "Darling" in 1965. I only wish that Gordon Pinsent, who plays her husband, had been nominated too. He may not be very well known in the States (which I suspect is why he wasn't nominated), but he's something of a national treasure in Canada.

Dh & I both love going to the movies (our first date was to see "Altered States" with William Hurt, & for years afterwards, we would try to go to a movie with William Hurt in it on our "anniversary" date), & Oscar night is sacred in our house. My own love of the movies, & of Oscar night, comes from my mother, who started taking me to the movies at a very early age, & let me stay up to watch the Oscars with her when I was almost as young. The first Oscar show I can clearly remember watching was the year "Patton" won all the awards (spring 1971, I would guess, when I was about 10). We were at my grandmother's in Minnesota for spring/Easter break & went to a friend's house so we could watch the show in colour (colour TVs still being something of a novelty then).

About a year later, I found a paperback book that had profiles & photos and lists of all the award winners & nominees in Oscar's history. I absolutely gobbled it up. I was hooked. If you asked me back then who won Best Actress in 1937, I'm sure I could have told you, and even today, I'd probably still be able to hazard a fairly good guess (Luise Rainer? Bette Davis?). Funnily enough, I find it harder to remember the names of the winners from last year than those from 50 or 60 years ago.

I don't think I've missed one Oscar show since then... although there have been a few close calls. The year I was in Grade 12 (spring 1979), I was working part-time at Woolco (which was later bought out by Wal-Mart). (My very first part-time job, the summer I was 17, was working at the concession stand at the local drive-in theatre, making popcorn, serving drinks, etc... which I loved... but I digress...!) The broadcast started an hour before the store closed, & I can remember craning my neck to see if I could catch a glimpse of what was going on from the televisions in the electronics department, & rushing home to watch the rest of the show (no VCRs in those days). Another year, my mother came to visit & I inadvertently bought tickets to see "Phantom of the Opera" the same night as the Oscars. We set the VCR, arrived home in time to see the last few major awards handed out, & then watched the whole broadcast the next evening, fast-forwarding through all the commercials & the dreaded dance numbers -- not a bad way to watch, albeit knowing who all the winners were already.

1998, when I was pregnant with Katie, was the year "Titanic" won all the awards -- my mother had just been to visit, and she & I went to see it together. (The doomed Titanic -- another omen for the pregnancy, perhaps??) Much as I love the Oscars, it's always a struggle to stay awake until the end of the show, and being pregnant (& often in bed by 8 or 9 in those days), it was even worse... but I did it, & I will do it again tonight, lol. Even though I will pay dearly when the alarm rings at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning...!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A "telling" post

Over at the Stirrup Queens site, Mel has asked us to tell her about... telling:
"...the topic I'm posing today is telling people that you're infertile, doing treatments, using donor gametes, using surrogacy or adopting..

"Some people go through treatments privately, without revealing to any friends or family members what they are experiencing. Others choose to tell a select few and still others tell everyone about their E2 levels, including the random woman buying Doritos in line behind them at the supermarket.

"There are also people we weigh and decided to not tell and other people who are told despite the fact that we are trying to keep the journey private. Everyone has personal, unique reason for why they do or don't tell.

"If you have told anyone, how did you broach the conversation? Did you wait for an opening or create it yourself (and if you created it, how)? Do you tell more than one person at a time or do you like to find private moments where you can talk about it one-on-one? Do you prefer to tell people in a written medium--email, letter--or face-to-face? Why did you tell them and how did they react? Were you disappointed or grateful, and did the telling make a difference in your life the day after and the day after that (in other words, did the telling do anything to change your daily existence either positively or negatively)?"

** ** ** ** ** **

I've always been a very private person, especially when it comes to personal matters. When all the other little girls at school got together to talk about boys -- & who they liked -- I would keep my mouth resolutely shut. OK, my very best friend probably knew which guy I secretly fancied, but I would never take part in the general giggly, gossipy give & take of who-likes-whom. I knew (from experience, & watching others) that the minute I confessed, it would be all over the schoolyard, & my life would be hell for the next God-knows-how-long.

Likewise, dh & I knew we were getting married, long before we actually told people of our plans. We both still had to finish school & find jobs, etc., & I knew that the minute we started telling people we were engaged, a big white tulle cloud would descend upon us, and that would be all anyone would want to talk about.

After we got married, I braced myself for the inevitable questions, hints & jokes about pregnancy & babies. When dh & I returned from our honeymoon, one of his aunts had a "welcome home" party for us to celebrate our wedding (since most of his relatives did not travel to attend). I was absolutely stunned (& silently furious) when they brought out a cake with one blue, one pink and one small yellow candle on it, to much laughter & nudging -- it was starting already!

Then as now, I identified myself as a feminist. I knew that I was so much more than my ability to reproduce. I refused to be painted into a traditional corner so quickly, & resented people trying to do so. I believed (then and now) that when, how, why and even whether we decided to have children was a strictly private matter between dh & myself. Questions & hints about our family plans would be dismissed with an evasive, "Oh... someday... eventually... one of these days, maybe..."

As the years went by & there were no babies, the questions & hints began to dwindle. We finally decided to take the ttc plunge after being married for 10 years -- by which time I think most people had written us off in the babymaking department, perhaps assuming that we didn't want children. I've known some people who announce excitedly to all & sundry, "We're trying!" No way, not me.

So there was a lot of surprise & delight among our family members when we finally announced our pregnancy in the spring of 1998. FIL even confessed, "I didn't want to ask..."

After our daughter was stillborn, I got murmured comments along the lines of "You'll have another baby someday" & "You ARE trying again, aren't you?" Never mind that I was in my late 30s & this pregnancy took 2.5 years of trying (13, if you thought we started trying the night of the wedding). I would generally answer "I hope so," because I knew another pregnancy (let alone a successful one) was definitely not a sure thing.

So when we began infertility testing and then treatment, we kept it to ourselves. Why? Well, as I've already described, it's just not in my nature to blab about intensely personal matters to all & sundry. And there's certainly no subject more intensely personal than trying to conceive. And I was having enough trouble coping emotionally as it was. I felt I couldn't handle the weight of other people's excitement, expectations, disappointments & sympathy/pity on top of my own feelings of stress, hope, disappointment, failure...

And GUILT. Guilt for waiting as long as we did to ttc. Guilt for being so smugly confident that of course WE would never be one of those couples I read about in the women's magazines -- infertility was for women with irregular periods & sexually transmitted diseases (which of course they got from having multiple previous sexual partners, unlike moi...). Guilt, guilt, guilt for not providing my parents with a (living) grandchild to spoil long before this (particularly when I knew my only sister was childfree by choice and it was all up to me). Guilt for not making my own fabulous grandparents great-grandparents, even though they both hung around until I was 37 years old (how many 37-year-olds are lucky enough to still have a complete set of grandparents living?). Guilt that any children I ever did manage to have would never know personally just what wonderful people they were. Guilt that my dh would never get to be the fabulous daddy to a (living) child that I knew he would be.

I did have two friends at work that I confided in (one of them with her own fertility issues), an e-mail list for ttc & subsequent pregnancy after a loss (then, as now, I somehow find it easier to spill my guts to total strangers on the Internet...!), and people in our "real-life" pregnancy loss support group, many of whom were also struggling with infertility issues.

Admitting failure -- at something that just about everyone else took for granted (heck, at something that far too many people in my family had happen "to" them, as an "accident") -- to myself was one thing. Admitting such failure to others... well, you can imagine. I'd always succeeded in just about everything else in my life that I had done (well, outside of phys ed class & organized recess sports, where I was a total, utter failure). For the most part, school came easily to me. I landed jobs fairly easily. I just took it for granted that if I applied myself & worked hard, success would be mine. Infertility was a huge blow to my self-esteem & the capable, accomplished image of myself that I liked to project to others.

My dh encouraged me to tell my mother about our difficulties in getting pregnant again -- especially after she called one night (a few years after we'd stopped treatments, when I was in my early 40s), her voice full of excitement, to tell me about a neighbour's daughter who had just adopted the cutest baby through an agency in the city... "and I just thought I'd mention it to you..."

I got off the phone & cried for two hours. My mother was never one to hint too openly about her desire for grandchildren, especially after our loss (although I knew it was there), and her previous comments about adoption had always been tinged with ambivalence -- which probably contributed to my own ambivalence about it as an option for us.

"Well, you know, she's adopted," she would say, sotto voce, when an acquaintance was having problems with her teenaged daughter (something I heard her say more than once about more than one adopted child). "And she's mixed race. That's a lot of baggage to be carrying around." When a friend's marriage broke up, Mom wondered whether the stress of adopting twin boys -- who turned out to have behavioural issues, possibly related to fetal alcohol syndrome -- on top of the mixed-race girl they had previously adopted -- had contributed to the breakup of their marriage. If I adopted, would she be saying the same things to me, about me, about our adopted child (even though I knew she'd love that child to death)?

And now here she was, blatantly hinting that *I* should consider adoption!! I felt the weight of my mother's desire for a(nother) grandchild in that moment, & it nearly crushed me.

Several years after we finally abandoned treatment, I finally did tell my mother what we'd been through. We were home during the summer for a visit, and she & I went for a walk at dusk. We ran into someone she knew, with a cute little girl who was hopping with excitement about starting junior kindergarten in the fall. As we continued on our way, I found myself remarking that Katie would have been starting junior kindergarten that fall too. My mom said she knew, & we both got choked up. Then, hesitantly, my mother said, "Have you ever thought about adopting?"

"Oh Mom," I said, "I just don't think I have it in me. Not at this point in my life." She conceded that adoption was not for everyone.

But then I found myself adding, "But we did try, Mom, we really tried!" I told her everything. (Well, not everything. But a lot.) I said we hadn't tried IVF, but we had tried other things. I told her about the drugs & how they'd made me feel. About being poked & prodded and getting up at 4 a.m. to get to the clinic by 7, and then heading to the office for a full day of work.

I told her about the failures. I told her about the anxiety attacks I'd had, how I just couldn't continue living with the stress. I reminded her of the time she came to visit us in the spring of 2002. I had another major anxiety attack the night before she arrived, & had told her about that when she arrived (but not the whole story behind it all). She & I had planned a trip to explore Montreal together for a few days while she was here, & we'd had to cancel because I was just too unwell & afraid of being sick in a strange city.

She said, "I wish you'd told us. You shouldn't have had to go through all that by yourself," & I explained to her that I found it hard enough living with my own disappointment, let alone hers & Dad's -- knowing they would be waiting anxiously to hear the results of the latest cycle.

By then, we'd reached the corner of our street & were just standing there, talking & crying. We knew my dad & dh would be waiting inside the house to play cards. She told me she had to water the flowers in the garden, & to go on ahead & clean myself up. I managed to get past dh & dad (already dealing the cards) & upstairs to the bathroom to splash my swollen red eyes with cold water & compose myself before facing them, and she followed a few minutes later.

I still don't regret keeping my mouth shut while we were in treatment. But I'll admit that I felt an immense sense of relief at having finally come clean with my mother, after the fact.

Monday, February 18, 2008

More thoughts (not mine) on Family Day...

Judith Timson is one of my favourite columnists. And today's column in today's Globe & Mail, about Family Day, will show you why (boldfaced emphasis mine)(check out some of the comments on the website too):

** ** ** ** **

Statutory Holidays: A day off that's all relative
To celebrate Family Day, start with low expectations

JUDITH TIMSON
From Monday's Globe and Mail
February 18, 2008 at 3:59 AM EST

Happy Family Day?

Surely this can't be the correct greeting on this statutory holiday, newly minted in Ontario, and already existing in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

What about unhappy families, financially fragile families, severely dysfunctional families? Won't it be a slap in the face to those trying unsuccessfully to conceive? Aren't the sadly single going to mope on a day called Family Day? Aren't those satisfied singles going to be bored? The childless by choice a little cranky?

Really, they could have come up with a more imaginative name for this midwinter break. Manitoba's day off was supposed to be called Family Day, but they decided, hang that, and renamed it Louis Riel Day.

I thought we might have called it Humanity Day, and allowed ourselves to get in touch with something beyond our nuclear family boundaries. But maybe that would have been even more morally demanding than Family Day.

As it is, this is a day that could end up doing the opposite of what was intended - evoke envy and bewilderment or even political discontent. Economic analysts have already predicted the holiday will cost Ontario between $500-million to $2-billion. If governments really wanted thriving families, they could spend that arranging a tax rebate and more daycare spaces.

No matter what their family status, people I know are grappling with how to observe it.

On Labour Day, after all, while the media highlights work and union issues, we celebrate the end
of summer at a blowout barbecue or nervously get the kids ready to go back to school. On Thanksgiving, we dutifully give thanks. On Christmas we resolve to a) not drink or eat too much and b) get along with difficult relatives. Which usually renders that first resolution futile.

In anticipation of this day, however, a preschool teacher tells me even little kids are confused: "But why can't we go to school?" a determined child asked her mother. "Because it's Family Day," said the mother with an equally determined brightness, "and we're going to spend it together!"

Then there are the workaholics who dread having to explain to their spouses and kids that, yes, even on this pointedly named day, they still intend to march into that office.

True, every day is Family Day if you have a family. But this clearly takes it to a new level. Those with families now have to do something exciting, no arguments allowed -"We can't fight on Family Day," will be the plaintive cry, or "You should have seen the meltdown we had on Family Day," the regretful postmortem.

There's the inevitable commercial tie-in. One "Family Day" commercial beckons consumers to buy yet more stuff to renovate the family room. Enough stuff already. (Although Family Project Day - that has team-building potential.)

And inevitably CBC Radio invited listeners to call in to "discuss the changing meaning of the word family."

But here's my modest proposal.

Perhaps in honour of Family Day, those of us who have made it through 20 or so years of family life should invite one young couple on the verge of it over to discuss what family life really entails: from wistfully eyeing the stroller brigade to joining it, to marvelling through fatigue and fear at both the miracles and mind-numbingly repetitive daily tasks that make up family life.

"It's beyond hard," I would say with a slightly self-satisfied sigh, but of course there on display would be all those gorgeous framed pictures, glossy evidence of the fact that while there are no perfect families, there are perfect family moments. Like the one with the kids bundled into candy-coloured snowsuits, looking so cute next to that huge snowbank; or the carriage ride through Central Park with them as adolescents (the picture so winsome I conveniently forget the searing teenage battle we had right out in the open on Fifth Avenue).

Family life expands and contracts in thrilling and painful ways. It nearly buckles under stress and inevitable disappointment and loss. How do you honour that on a statutory holiday?

My perfect Family Day would begin with coffee - and lowered expectations. A conversation with either - or hitting the jackpot, both - of my grown kids in which they seemed even relatively content with their lives would be fine with me.

Today I picture those of you with young ones out skating or skiing, cheeks rosy, and then enjoying the creamy warmth of a hot chocolate. And later, with maybe a few fireplaces ablaze, a nice casual dinner with friends or family. No special menu, no special toasts.

But if even that's putting too much pressure on you, no worries. Maybe Family Day is just a day in the life, after all - a time to simply kick back, take a deep breath and say - thinking more of the long run than this one short precious day off - this isn't half bad, after all.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Family Day: A rose by any other name...

Dh & I (& a couple of million other people) are currently in the middle of enjoying our first-ever government-mandated February long weekend. "Family Day" is the first new holiday instituted by our provincial government since Labour Day became a holiday in 1894, more than 100 years ago. (No work tomorrow, woohoo!!) That long, bleak, long-weekendless stretch between Christmas and Easter is no more.

My American cousins have long celebrated "Presidents' Day" on this weekend. When I was in university, there was "Study Week" (also known in some circles as "Ski Week") during February, and March/spring break during my childhood school days -- but most adult Canadians have long gone without a statutory break during the frigid grey winter months between Christmas/New Year's Day and Easter (which could fall anywhere between mid-March and mid-April).

About 20 years ago, the province of Alberta declared the third Monday in February to be a provincial holiday & called it "Family Day" -- inspired, supposedly, by then-Premier Don Getty's family troubles with his son & his regrets at having not spent more time with his children. Saskatchewan got into the act a few years ago, then Manitoba, & now Ontario. The new holiday was the brainchild of our Premier, Dalton McGuinty, during last fall's provincial election (how convenient!).

Typically, the implementation of the new holiday has left much to be desired -- because the new holiday was announced so hastily last fall, and because of labour laws & union agreements, etc., not everybody will get tomorrow off, & there has been much grumbling about that. There has also been much musing in the press over what exactly one should do and eat on Family Day -- as the Toronto Star put it today, "How to invest an invented holiday with meaning."

And there's been a lot of rumination about the nature of families themselves, and the labelling of the holiday. As columnist Jim Coyle noted in an article in the Toronto Star this week:
"For a quarter-century or more, the idea of family values has been hijacked for political ends, trumpeted by a self-appointed moral majority, reeking of the kind of stifling, pious, hypocritical patriarchy that sent legions to therapists' couches. There was suspicion, in an age when families come in more shapes than that ice-cream chain has flavours, that what was being celebrated was an outdated Norman Rockwell image."

Beyond the political, of course, there is the personal. Even though dh & I like to think of ourselves as a "family of two," we are not a family, in the eyes of some people. Many people still consider "family" to be a (married, heterosexual) couple with the requisite two kids (preferably one of each gender). Anything that falls outside that definition... well....

Even those you might think would be most sensitive to our pain can sometimes be so wrapped up in their own struggles they don't realize the hurt they can cause. I can remember wincing as a client of our pregnancy loss support group, crying over her loss and her subsequent struggles to have another child, insisted that she & her husband were not a family, not a "real" family. To her, a family equalled husband, wife and baby, and anything less than that was lacking. Who was I to argue with her, particularly in that setting and in my role as facilitator and listener?

For anyone for whom family -- of origin, or creation -- has been a source of pain and not comfort -- for the thousands (millions?) of Ontarians who, like dh & me, have experienced the pain of infertility & pregnancy loss -- "Family Day" is invested with an entirely different meaning than the rosy picture the government has tried to create. I'm sure when Dalton got the bright idea for this holiday & encouraged families to "spend more time together," he wasn't thinking about dh & me standing in the pouring, freezing rain at the cemetery in front of our daughter's niche this afternoon.

I would have much preferred a name that smacked less of political pandering to the "family values" crowd & something tied more to our history and heritage. In 1996, Prime Minister Jean Chretien declared Feb. 15th as National Flag of Canada Day, or Flag Day, marking Canada's adoption of the red & white maple leaf flag in 1965 -- but he neglected to give us the day off to celebrate. Manitoba is calling this holiday "Riel Day." Even though Louis Riel is still a controversial figure in Canadian history, more than 120 years after he was hanged for treason, at least it's a nod to our history and something to get people talking about it.

But then, a rose by any other name... etc. etc. A holiday is a holiday, no matter how you label it. And Lord knows we need a break at this time of year, in this country. So if you are lucky enough to have a long weekend, whatever it's called, I hope you're enjoying it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day

Aurelia and Deathstar have both recently written frank posts about their marriages, & the difficulties involved in trying to hang on to your relationship through the rollercoaster ride that is infertility. I've been thinking about their words as we approach that day devoted to all things romantic (not to mention chocolate!!), Valentine's Day. And although my dh (a) is a private guy who doesn't like it when I write about him on the Internet & (b) reads this blog sometimes, I felt the day called for some musings about him, romance, loss & infertility.

My dh & I have been married 22+ years, together 26. We were probably apart longer than we were together before we got married -- he was from Toronto, I was from small-town western Canada. We met at university, but spent the next three years conducting a long-distance romance (on a student budget for telephone calls, postage & travel -- e-mail still being a good 10 years away!) as we finished our studies at different schools & then worked for a year while planning our wedding.

I thought that was probably as challenging as life would get for us, and that if our relationship could survive those long months of separation, it could survive anything. I'm sure neither of us ever dreamed that infertility & stillbirth would be part of the equation when we finally made those vows "for better or for worse."

I've always liked to think that losing Katie brought us closer together, that we survived because we held on tight to each other. And, several years later, when faced with the decision, I knew that we could make a go of childless/free living -- because we'd had a pretty good 16 years of doing it already. I figured that, as long as we had each other, we'd be all right. (Ironically, the first song we danced to at our wedding was "You & I" by Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbitt... with the repeated words, "We'll be all right... Just you & I." )

For the most part, I still believe that. And for many, many years, we've been the couple that everyone else rolled their eyes at -- the inseparable lovebirds who held hands & sometimes got caught sneaking a kiss at a family gathering (while everybody else was chasing after their kids, lol).

But it hasn't been all sunshine & roses, the last several years in particular. At 47 & 51, I suppose we're both prime candidates for midlife crises, and we both exhibit some of the classic signs. While loss & infertility has brought us closer together in some ways, I can see that it's also taken its toll on us both. Part of the problem is our very different ways of coping with the things that frustrate us. I seldom get truly angry, & when I do, I cry. I tend to bottle things up & pour out my feelings to my support network of friends, both real & in cyberspace. Dh tends to explode verbally when he's angry or frustrated, & I often have a hard time dealing with that. Think repressed Scandinavian (me) & emotional Italian (him). (Stereotypical, but in many ways, true.) I will be honest and say there have been days when he's been in a bad mood & I've thought, "Is THIS all I have to look forward to?? Is it always going to be this way??"

I've read that people who have children often focus so much on the kids that they neglect the relationship -- only realizing it, perhaps, when they become empty nesters & refocus on each other again after many years. For those of us who don't have children & have been empty nesters all along, the relationship is all we've got to focus on -- so perhaps we expect too much and depend on each other too much and obsess too much about it. Somewhere, there must be a happy balance between the two models.

It's not easy. But then, who said marriage would be? And we're still hanging in there. Because at the end of the day, we still love each other madly, even when we're driving each other nuts. Because he's still the one who makes my heart go flip-flop when I see him walking across the concourse of our office tower at the end of a long, hard day at work. And because no matter what else happens, we will always be Katie's mommy & daddy. He would have been -- he is -- a wonderful daddy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

One of the ones that got away

Mel's recent post on "the friend who got away," and my own recent post about the early days of my pregnancy made me think about dh's cousin (who was an usher at our wedding), his wife, & their two daughters. They live in the same subdivision we do -- they moved here first, shortly after their wedding, & we used to come out to visit them from the city, where we lived in a midtown apartment for the first five years of our marriage. The wife told us about a house that was for sale on their street, and while we didn't wind up buying that one, our house-hunting began in earnest & we eventually did wind up as neighbours, a couple of streets over. Dh's family lived with this cousin's family for the first several years after they came to Canada, and they grew up only a few blocks away from each other. How wonderful it would be, we thought, for our own children to do the same!

The first of their two girls was born in 1991 & the second in 1993. We visited each other often, we socialized & went places together. We exchanged house keys & picked up the mail for each other when we went on vacation. The girls came to our house for trick-or-treats on Halloween, and we occasionally babysat for them. We treated them like nieces, and although I adore(d) our own two nephews, I revelled in being able to buy pink & play Barbie dolls & board games, which I could relate to much more than the wrestling and violent video games our nephews preferred.

The wife was a daycare worker before she got married, and a stay-at-home mom afterward, who only just went back to school this year, now that both girls are in high school. She's one of those people who adores babies & is always swooping in & picking them up & cooing rapturously over them. Like everyone else in the family, they were ecstatic when we got pregnant. The day after our news spread, we arrived home from work to find a big balloon bouquet tied to the railing -- we knew just who it was from! The youngest daughter drew a picture for us that is one of my favourite pregnancy keepsakes: it shows me & dh (complete with glasses) -- & a tiny baby visible inside my tummy, labelled "BABY." lol

The wife offered to lend me her bassinet, & host my baby shower. "I just can't WAIT to have a new baby in the neighbourhood!" she exulted. "I'll be over every day to help you out!" I considered asking her if she would like to take care of the baby when I returned to work (for pay, of course) or, if not, to at least help me pick a good daycare provider.

When we found out that Katie was stillborn, they were just preparing to travel to be with the wife's sister, who was due to give birth any day to her first baby -- a boy, who arrived on Aug. 8. The wife came right over when I called her on the morning of Aug. 6, the day in between when we found out & when I was scheduled for induction. She sat with us for awhile, and offered to call all the relatives on that side of the family before they left to let them know what had happened.

When they got back home several weeks later, they came over to visit, bringing us a card & a little angel figurine. About two weekends later, we went to a waterpark with them & a few other family members. "You ARE going to try again?" she asked me. Another time, doing dishes together in her kitchen, she asked me what my baby had looked like -- one of the few people who ever asked questions about our experience.

My parents returned home, & dh returned to work... and I was left by myself at home. It was mid-October before I returned to work -- I was off for a total of 10 weeks. I would go for days on end without seeing another adult besides dh. Part of me enjoyed the solitude -- time to read and surf the Internet and absorb what had happened to me -- but sometimes I think I might have enjoyed some company -- a sympathetic ear over a cup of tea. I knew that the wife was busy getting her girls off to school and Brownies and so on... & they went back to visit her new nephew, and had several weddings to attend... but....

I took her over some plums from my tree one afternoon (unlike me, it was bearing copious amounts of fruit that year). In mid-September, she invited me over to have lunch & spend the day. And we had dinner there on (Canadian) Thanksgiving in October, just before I returned to work.

And that's how many times I saw them. Which is not to say we were being totally ignored. But I couldn't help but remember her words about "coming over every day to help with the baby," & wonder what happened. I didn't doubt that she would have been over -- if not every day, most certainly more often than half a dozen times in 10 weeks.

Gradually -- very gradually -- we began to drift apart. The girls got older & busier. We'd drop by their place on a Friday or Saturday night, like old times, only to find them on their way out, or not at home at all. We'd call & leave messages that were never returned. Once in awhile, dh's brother would tell us they had gotten together & taken their kids somewhere that we hadn't been invited to.

Eventually, after several years, we gave up trying to make casual contact. These days, we generally see them at the same weddings & funerals & showers & birthday parties that we see all the other relatives at. Once in awhile we might run into them at the local supermarket, and we chide each other for not calling or coming over. Our next door neighbours pick up our mail now when we go on vacation. I imagine they have a similar arrangement, because they haven't asked us to pick up theirs in eons. I honestly can't remember the last time they came to our house, even on an errand.

I just can't help but wonder how different things might have been, had Katie been born. I don't think there was anything malicious on their part, although sometimes it seems to me as though they lost total interest in us once it became evident that we weren't going to have any more children. I can understand they probably felt uncomfortable being around us -- a common experience for parents who have lost a child. Or maybe what happened between us was just the usual drifting apart that eventually seems to happen between people with & without children. Who knows? Maybe we'll never know. But it makes me sad. Another loss on top of the many others we've had over the last 10 years.

Friday, February 8, 2008

February 8, 1998: And so it began...

...and so the "anniversary" cycle begins again, for the tenth time. Today is the day it all started 10 years ago (even though I had no idea at the time). Sunday, February 8, 1998, was my LMP date -- the first day of my last period before I got pregnant. The date that I recited at just about every doctor's appointment & ultrasound (& there were many...).

Again I've been looking through my datebook/diary for the week. I've gotten into the habit over the years of jotting down not just appointments and birthdays that are going to happen, but what actually did happen, and thank goodness. I've always thought I had a good memory, but there are so many details I have not remembered.

By Feb. 8th, my humungous cold sore was finally starting to heal. The Winter Olympics were underway in Nagano, Japan, and I got up at 6 a.m. (!!) to watch live coverage of the pairs short program in figure skating (the sport I follow passionately).

And my period started.

My jottings tell me that I was feeling crampy and took a two-hour nap that afternoon -- something I rarely do. We had brunch and went to the local mall, Costco & Chapters megabookstore where, as I noted, I slipped on the ice in the parking lot & fell on my butt with a thud. I do remember that (ow) -- I later liked to joke that the jolt to my system must have made the difference by shaking an egg loose from my tenacious ovaries.

What I hadn't remembered, until I looked at my datebook just now, was what a miserable period that was, even when compared to the heavy one that preceded it, 33 days earlier. I went into the office Monday morning, Feb. 9th, but I felt so crampy & nauseous & generally ill (not to mention stiff & sore from my fall)(the note in my book says "BLAH!"), I basically turned around & took the next available train home again. I didn't bother to wait for a bus but took a taxi home from the train station. I must have been feeling pretty lousy, because I stayed home the next day too, and both days, I took two-hour naps. I only get 8 sick days a year (three of which can be used as "personal obligation days") so I must have been feeling pretty crappy to use up two sick days right off the bat so early in the year.

That Thursday night, we babysat dh's cousin's two little girls, who were almost 7 & 4 at the time, while their parents attended a parent-teacher interview. They live only a few blocks away from us, and we used to be so much closer... (I feel a future blog post coming on!).

Friday was a Friday the 13th. Was this an omen?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fashion file

I ducked into a few stores on my lunch hour, and all the spring clothes are coming in.

First of all -- whose bright idea was/is it to start filling the stores with capri pants when there are still 3-foot snowdrifts in my driveway??

Second: has anyone else noticed how, during the last year or so, the fashion for women has been tops & dresses with empire waists & the like? Now is it just me, or does this reflect (a) our society's obsession with stick-thin young girls and/or (b) pregnant women? You most certainly have to be very skinny to wear these styles & look good -- or at least, not look like you're pregnant -- unless you actually are pregnant, & then they show off your cute little belly very nicely.

They most certainly do not look good on 47-year-old, definitely not skinny but definitely not pregnant me. :(

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fairytales, happy endings, loss & childless living

Writing and thinking about meaningful songs made me think of a recent song, although it's not really related to loss or infertility (in an obvious way, anyway... I suppose you can interpret just about anything the way you want it to...!).

I don't really like rap or hiphop at all (showing my age here), & Fergie & the Black-Eyed Peas are really not my style. But I do find myself humming one of Fergie's recent songs these days -- "Big Girls Don't Cry" (not to be confused by the song of the same name by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, which is more within my frame of reference...!") It has a beautiful melody & a lovely, wistful quality to it, and there's a line in it that goes: "Fairy tales don't always have a happy ending, do they?"

Maybe not. My fairy tale/dream come true pregnancy with Katie certainly didn't have a happy ending. To say dh & I are living happily ever after our loss & infertility is stretching it. But I can't say that we're living UNhappily either -- not all the time. Maybe fairy tales sometimes just end differently than you'd expect -- without the conventional expected happy ending.

Have you ever read the children's book "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch? It starts out very much like a traditional fairy tale, with Princess Elizabeth slated to marry her Prince Ronald. A fiery dragon destroys Elizabeth's castle, kidnaps Ronald, & burns her dress, forcing her to innovate and wear a paper bag. Elizabeth sets out to find the dragon & rescue Ronald -- who is less than appreciative when she finally finds him, and criticizes her dishevelled appearance. She tells him he's "a bum." The last line of the book is: "They didn't get married after all," and the final illustration shows Elizabeth skipping off happily ever after into the sunset by herself. Needless to say, the feminist in me absolutely loved this twist on the traditional fairy tale (I have given this book as a present to countless little girls).

Munsch is also the author of "Love You Forever" -- a book which adults apparently either love or hate (some find the image of a mother sneaking into her grown-up son's house at night to rock him a tad creepy). Personally, it never fails to bring me to tears. You see, what many people don't know is that Munsch wrote the book as a tribute to his two stillborn babies -- the Sam & Gilly the book is dedicated to. (I learned this in a wonderful segment about him on CBC Television's "Life & Times" series -- sort of a Canadian version of A&E's Biography.) The lullaby the mother sings in the book is one he made up for them, and he sings it when he tells the story on the program, and in live performances.

Dh & I saw him perform "Love You Forever" (and several of his other stories) at the annual Word on the Street literacy festival in Toronto several years ago (a few years after Katie was stillborn). The children in the audience were giggling. Dh & I were blowing our noses & wiping our eyes. I felt a little silly until I looked around & realized most of the adults in the audience were doing the same thing. Not sure whether their reasons were the same as ours, but it's obviously a story that strikes a chord.

They're playing our song

Msfitzita on Certainly Not Cool Enough to Blog had a recent post about hearing her dh learning to play Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" on the guitar & realizing the lyrics fit their personal situation perfectly. Coincidentally, my dh also took up guitar in the past few years (part of his midlife crisis, lol) & has also been learning to play "Wish You Were Here." It is a beautiful song -- I understand it was written about the group's founding member, Syd Barrett, who developed mental health problems & became a recluse. He died just last year, I believe.

The lyrics:

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue skys from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

And did they get you to trade
Your heros for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

Music can be so evocative... I hear a certain song & I am instantly transported back to a specific time & place & situation. One of my earliest musical memories was watching The Beatles cartoon show as a pre-schooler (yes, I am dating myself here...), & then jumping up & down on the bed with my cousin Catherine, singing "She loves you, YEAH YEAH YEAH" at the top of our lungs (lol).

Martha & the Muffins, a Toronto band from the late 70s/early 80s, had a monster hit (in Canada, anyway...) with a song called "Echo Beach" that brings back memories of driving out to the lake (18 miles away) with my high school friends & building bonfires on the beach. The refrains repeats the line "Echo Beach, far away in time" and today, those days seem far away indeed.

The Beach Boys' "Fun Fun Fun" reminds me of my high school friend Diane. Her father didn't have a T-Bird & he didn't take the car away, but he did have a hot yellow Camaro (even better than a T-bird for a couple of young girls in the late 70s/early 80s). There was a summer between terms at university when she & I would drive it up & down the main street of our town, night after night. I can never hear that song without thinking of her.

Another Beach Boys song, "Wouldn't it Be Nice," reminds me of dh & the long-distance romance we carried on between the summer of 1982, when he went off to grad school, far from the university where we'd met and where I was still finishing my degree, and our marriage in July 1985.

The song that I most think of as Katie's is "Blessed" by Elton John. I was pregnant with her when I first heard it & it seemed so appropriate, this long-awaited & longed for baby. After her stillbirth, and as we tried (& tried... & failed...) to conceive another baby, the lyrics took on added poignancy (the line about "before I'm too old" just killed me...):

Hey you, you're a child in my head
You haven't walked yet
Your first words have yet to be said
But I swear you'll be blessed

I know you're still just a dream
your eyes might be green
Or the bluest that I've ever seen
Anyway you'll be blessed

And you, you'll be blessed
You'll have the best I promise you that
I'll pick a star from the sky
Pull your name from a hat
I promise you that, promise you that, promise you that
You'll be blessed

I need you before I'm too old
To have and to hold
To walk with you and watch you grow
And know that you're blessed

The movie "City of Angels" was released right around the time of our loss. We didn't go to see it & although dh has seen it on TV & loves it, I've never been able to bring myself to watch. The soundtrack was full of songs that had meaning for us and the other bereaved parents attending our support group -- in particular, "Angel" by Sarah McLaughlin:

Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There’s always one reason
To feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day

I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memory seeps from my veins
Let me be empty
And weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there

So tired of the straight line
And everywhere you turn
There’s vultures and thieves at your back
And the storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lie
That you make up for all that you lack
It don’t make no difference
Escaping one last time
It’s easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
This glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

In the arms of an angel
Fly away from here
From this dark cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort there
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

And also "Iris" by the Goo-Goo Dolls:

And I'd give up forever to touch you
Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't want to go home right now

And all I can taste is this moment
And all I can breathe is your life
Cause sooner or later it's over
I just don't want to miss you tonight

And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything seems like the movies
Yeah you bleed just to know your alive

And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am

More musical musings later...