Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year (...not!)



I know don't have to tell any of you that Mother's Day is coming up -- or why it hurts so much. It's a reminder of everything that I am not, the one thing my life lacks (the most important thing, or so the message goes that's drummed into my head). I do not have (living) children; ergo (in the eyes of the world, at least), I am not a mother. Therefore, none of the adulation and adoration given to mothers & motherhood on this day (& the infinite weeks leading up to it) applies to me. (I envision the Seinfeld Soup Nazi: timidly approaching the counter, only to be told, "No soup for you!!") I am an adult woman who is not a mother -- meaning that, in this baby and pregnancy-crazed society, despite all the other things I am and have accomplished in my life, I don't count for very much in the grand scheme of things. And most certainly not on Mother's Day.

Of course, the industry behind MDay as a holiday ( = excuse/pressure to spend money on the perfect gift for Mom) has been in full swing since, oh, about two minutes after the Easter promotional stuff got packed away (as I noted in a previous post). With less than two weeks to go before The Big Day, the scrapbooking message boards that I frequent are starting to buzz with posts about what to make/give for moms & grandmothers, what they are doing and, of course, what they are hoping their kids/husbands will give them.

I've been on (non-IF) boards in the past where any posters who dared to bring forward the idea that Mother's Day could be a source of pain for for women who aren't mothers were quickly dismissed -- even attacked. (How dare we infertile women try to make mommies feel guilty about enjoying their precious children on a day that's supposed to be celebrating them??) I can remember one woman (a mother, of course) saying that really, we shouldn't fret so much, because isn't Mother's Day really a celebration of ALL women? Ummm, yeah, right, sure... (that's why they named it Mother's Day instead of Women's Day).

Interestingly, Wikipedia says that Mother's Day was originally conceived after the American Civil War as a way to unite women -- bereaved mothers -- against war, and for peace and disarmament. The first national Mother's Day was declared in 1914 by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in the First World War. Within a few years, commercialization of the U.S. holiday became so rampant that Anna Jarvis, the woman who had pressed for recognition of such a holiday, became a major opponent of what the holiday had become.)

Before I got pregnant 10 years ago, I don't remember having a lot of angst over Mother's Day, even as we ttc-d unsuccessfully for a few years. Dh's mom died in 1982 before I ever met her; we've generally left it to stepMIL's kids to celebrate her on MDay; and my mom lives a two-hour plane ride & one-hour drive away. I send a card & make a phone call & she's happy. So we've been "fortunate" in that we've never had any family obligations to endure on that day -- we've always been free to do our own thing. Perhaps we felt a little at loose ends, as we sometimes do on other family-focused holidays, but there was always the unspoken promise that someday, we would be able to create our own celebrations with our own little family.

I'm getting ahead of myself in the 1998 memories posts here, and I don't remember all the details that vividly anymore, but I do remember MDay 1998 was full of happy anticipation. I was about three months pregnant & just newly out of the closet about my pregnancy, so to speak. (After some pointed hints from me) Dh gave me a card & a Boyd's Bears figurine of a pregnant mama bear, called Momma McBear (photo at the top of this post). We'd started giving each other Boyd's Bears figurines as gifts & I absolutely loved this one. I put it on the night table on my side of the bed. After we lost Katie & started ttc again, & then turned to fertility treatments, the pregnant teddy bear became a sort of fertility totem for me. Every night, before turning out the lights, I would rub her pregnant belly. I still do (force of habit), even though I no longer expect results. I figure it hasn't worked so far, so now I rub as a sort of birth control, lol. Maybe once I finally hit menopause, I'll stop.

Anyway, I can remember dh & I talking about how next year there would be THREE of us, and how great would that be?? I envisioned the three of us attending church (with baby in the stroller, dressed to the nines in Baby Gap, of course) & then going for brunch together. As a family. OUR family.

Of course, the reality of Mother's Day 1999, post-stillbirth, was much, much different than I could have imagined or planned for. We skipped church that day, went to the cemetery & then went to a movie.

Over the years, we did try to attend church on Mother's Day. We'd joined a local Anglican (Episcopalian) congregation around the time we began ttc. I was brought up Anglican, and although I'd rarely attended church since I was a teenager (more out of sheer laziness than any disbelief), whenever I did attend church, I still found a certain comfort in the familiar rituals & hymns from my childhood, some of which I could still recite or sing from memory without consulting the prayer or hymn book. We knew we wanted our children to be baptized and learn something about God and the Bible -- & we knew, from our experience in planning our wedding, that many congregations will not perform these rituals unless you have been attending their church regularly for some time. In the days following Katie's stillbirth, the church was a source of comfort & support to us.

Any spiritual comfort I normally felt in church, however, was vastly outweighed by pain on Mother's Day. Invariably, the minister would ask all the mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers to stand & be acknowledged. What a dilemma. Do I sit? And act as though my child never existed, deny my motherhood? Do I stand? And invite questions about where my child(ren) is/are?

Midway through the service, the Sunday school children would be brought upstairs to share in the communion with their families. They would troop in, beaming with excitement, breaking into a run when they spotted their parents in the pews, as the congregation sang a hymn I knew by heart from childhood. The combination of the familiar words (tinged with a new poignancy, post-loss) & their little faces would always reduce me to tears:

When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

He will gather, He will gather
The gems for His kingdom:
All the pure ones, all the bright ones,
His loved and His own.

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

Little children, little children,
Who love their Redeemer,
Are the jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

("And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." -- Malachi 3:17)

One year, I was startled when the parishoner leading the intercessory prayers asked the congregation to pray for those who had lost their mothers… or mothers who had lost children… or those who wished to be mothers, but were not. "Let us remember that we are called to be a healing community," he said. Well, that was very nice. But two lines out of an hour-plus service? Still not quite enough to make me want to stay.

Likewise, at the time, our habit was to go out for Sunday brunch after church... but that too became a rather painful exercise on Mother's Day, being surrounded by happy families & excited children, often multiple generations. I remember one particular Mother's Day brunch (probably the last time we attempted it), being acutely aware of the family at the table next to ours. When we sat down, it was just an older couple sitting at a large table with several empty places, but they were soon joined by a younger couple, with a little girl, about the same age Katie would have been, who ran up to the older woman (obviously Grandma) excitedly waving a gift bag. Ouch.

So, over time, our Mday strategy has evolved. In a word, it's "avoidance." We go out for dinner as usual on Saturday night, but I get to pick. Sunday morning, dh gives me a card (usually "from" Katie). We go the cemetery, & then to a movie (preferably something more adult-oriented), or maybe just home to laze around. And sometimes he will take me to a couple of scrapbook stores where I can indulge in some retail therapy. ; ) Scrapbooking, of course, is about as mommy-related as you can get, but the stores are usually relatively empty that day, since everyone is at home celebrating with their families.

And I breathe a sigh of relief when it's over & done with for another year.

I wish all of you at least some measure of peace & comfort, on MDay & always.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monday, April 27th, 1998: The secret is out

On Monday, April 27th, I donned my new maternity clothes to wear to work for the first time: my new navy floral palazzo pants, & the ivory Shirley K blouse I had bought when my mother visited the previous month.

At that time, I had been with my department for almost 12 years. I was sharing a cubbyhole in the back corner of our office with my office best friend & confidante -- an older, childless woman I'd worked with for the past 7 years. She was already at the office when I arrived (we actually took the subway one stop up from the commuter train station all that week as a precautionary measure), & I took off my coat & gave her a little "ta da!" flourish. "Ah ha," she said with a smile. (I rather think she suspected, since I had recently switched from my usual tea to drinking herbal tea or juice during our daily morning coffee break together.)

Next, I presented myself with the same "ta-da" flourish to my boss (another slightly older childless woman), & explained that this was why I had called in "sick" on Friday morning. She grinned, asked me when I was due, & shepherded me into the office of our senior manager. "Look at Lori!" she said with abig grin. I did my little "ta-da" flourish, the senior manager did a double take, then burst out laughing & congratulated me. Our assistant (yet another older, childless woman) arrived & I said, "Guess what?" She gave me a sharp look & said, "No, I want to hear you say it!" "I'm PREGNANT!" I sang out & she threw her arms around me & hugged me & said how wonderful it was to finally hear that from me.

I've saved my datebook from the office for 1998, & recently pulled it out to look at it again. I only remember directly telling those four women -- the people I worked with the closest, and had for several years now -- but I had forgotten until now about how quickly the news spread: on the page for that date, I jotted down the names of 11 (!) people from other areas of the department who dropped by my office that day to congratulate me -- plus another four the next day, & several more in the days after that. At that time, I belonged to a lunch hour Toastmasters club, & I managed to turn my one-minute Table Topic of the day into a pregnancy announcement there too.

So my secret was finally out!

My delightful weekend: Pregnancy news (not mine) & potential root canals

It's been an up & down weekend. On the bright side, the weather has been quite nice, the house is clean, we had a nice dinner out last night.

On the other hand -- I spent all day yesterday cleaning & doing laundry. Dh is doing his taxes (our deadline in Canada is April 30th. He did mine last week, & I'm getting a big fat $17.75 back, woohoo!!).

And I'm getting that "everyone in the world is pregnant except me" feeling again & it's not nice. We spent last evening at FIL's with BIL & family. FIL & stepMIL are redoing & expanding their back patio with interlock brickwork -- stepMIL's youngest son (the dad to be) is doing it for them. StepMIL said they are planning to have the baby shower for his wife out there in late July. "All these years and all the baby showers I've been to for other people's grandchildren -- now it's my turn!" she said triumphantly. I had to bite my tongue to restrain myself from saying something sarcastic like "Really?? Tell me what that feels like, I can't imagine."

Really, as I've written before, I honestly can't begrudge her this. She has four children between the ages of 40 & 50 -- I'm sure she thought she would have been a grandmother long before this. Instead, this will likely be her one & only grandchild (it's a boy). Dh reminded me, too, that she has mentioned our daughter occasionally over the years when most other people have not, & once gave me a Christmas ornament for her at the same time she gave one to each of our nephews, which touched us both immensely.

Then she dropped the bombshell that they had seen one of dh's aunts (on dh's mom's side), & dh's cousin & his wife are pregnant again. This is the doppleganger couple I wrote about awhile back, whose daughter just had her first birthday party in March. I just assumed that would be their only child, but I guess I was wrong. After more than a decade of marriage, & both in their 40s, they've somehow found the magic formula. (At least, I hope they have, & that everything continues to go well for them.) This baby is due in late summer/early fall. The parents are both 44, going on 45.

"I'm sure she was pregnant at that birthday party -- they could have told us," SIL said peevishly. "Well, sometimes people don't like to tell when it's early on," was all I said. Plus, I imagine they didn't want to draw the spotlight away from their daughter on her first birthday.

They also mentioned another cousin (on dh's dad's side, in her early 30s) is expecting her second child this summer too. "I didn't know that," I said. "I did -- you told me!" dh said. "I did?" Once I started thinking, I vaguely remembered. We don't see dh's paternal cousins very often. I guess I was having a bad day & shoved that piece of family news into the recesses of my mind. On the bright side, since both these cousins' pregnancies are second babies, there likely won't be baby showers for them. Whew!

To top the evening off, I had a toothache (lower left jaw) that kept me awake part of the night. I broke this tooth about four years ago & had it filled -- it's more filling than tooth now -- and was told at the time that a crown/root canal might be necessary in the future. It's been bothering me on & off for the last while. I've also been having sore throats/earaches/sinus infections on & off all winter -- but I never put two & two together until last week. My left ear felt all plugged up & the glands on the left side of my throat began to both look & feel swollen. And my jaw under that particular tooth was aching. Uh oh. I recalled one particular winter when dh kept having earaches & sinus infections -- until finally, the one side of his face swelled up like a chipmunk's cheeks. He got diagnosed with an abcessed tooth & had to have a root canal & take antibiotics. (On the bright side, he hasn't had an earache since then.)

I decided to start with my family dr & went to see him on Thursday morning. He could feel the swollen glands right away & wrote me a prescription for amoxicillin, but told me I should get the tooth checked out by the dentist. Dh had a medical appointment on Friday afternoon that I wanted to attend with him, so I decided to wait until Monday. The penicillin is helping, I think -- my glands aren't quite so swollen -- but it's still not 100%, & my tooth still aches from time to time.

So I guess I'll be calling the dentist on Monday. I'm not looking forward to a root canal, but if that's what it takes to get things back to normal, bring on the novocaine...!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Toronto Life followup

If you were interested in the cover of Toronto Life magazine that I posted recently, you might be interested to know that you can now read the cover story, "Baby Wars," online by clicking here. Happy reading!

Friday, April 24, 1998 (day 76): A big scare

Getting ready for work the morning of Friday, April 24th, I noticed I was spotting again -- a combination pink-brown-red. I felt a wave of fear wash over me, but I decided to go in to the office anyway. I figured my family dr was in the city & I would be closer to him that way if I needed him.

Said goodbye to dh in the concourse of our office tower & headed up to my floor. Got off the elevator. Decided to stop in the washroom before heading to my desk. It was shortly before 8 a.m. I'm usually one of the first people to arrive at the office in the morning (then & now).

There was bright red blood on the toilet paper.

I headed back downstairs again, found a payphone & called my family dr's office. He told me I should stay home & rest. "But I'm already at work," I said, "Then go home & take it easy," he said.

I called dh & told him I was going home and why. I caught the next train out of the city -- went into the washroom on the train to check my pantiliner (the washrooms on the train are generally filthy, so you know how worried I was...!). I was back home in bed by 9:30, three hours after I'd left, without even setting foot in the office. I curled up in a ball & prayed hard. I was terrified.

I called dh to tell him I was home, & he said he was worried about me & would be on the next available train. He arrived home shortly after 11. "Come on, let's go to emergency," he said. Even though there is a local hospital just a few miles down the road, we decided to make the drive into the city (through Friday afternoon rush hour traffic! albeit mostly going the other way) to the downtown hospital where our family dr has privileges -- where the ob-gyn he'd referred me to practices -- & where our baby would likely be born. It is one of the largest hospitals in the city with one of the country's largest & best high-risk practices & NICUs. I guess we figured we would get good care there.

For all the horror stories you hear about waiting time in hospital emergency rooms, I was triaged immediately & I think we only waited about an hour before we were seen. Dh remained amazingly calm (he is usually a bundle of nerves in instances like this), held my hand & smiled encouragingly at me. The (young, female, Asian) doctor examined me thoroughly (including my first-ever simultaneous vaginal-rectal probe, yikes!) & said my cervix was closed & she could find no evidence that I was miscarrying. She said my uterus appeared to be the size of a small lemon.

Just to be sure that everything was all right, though, she wanted to send us for an ultrasound. THAT took awhile to arrange, but late in the afternoon, I got taken (in a wheelchair) from emergency up to the ultrasound area on the 5th floor. They tried getting an image through my stomach but the baby wasn't large enough yet to get a good enough view, so they did a transvaginal ultrasound instead (my first date with the infamous dildocam!). The technician pointed out the sac & a small area where she said the baby was. It sure didn't look like a baby yet to me, but then she flipped a switch, & I heard a sound. "That's the heartbeat," she said.

They gave me a towel to wipe the gel off of me, & called in dh, leaving the two of us alone together. "There's a heartbeat!" I said, & he practically doubled over in joy.

The radiologist came in to talk to us. "Did you know you have a bicornuate uterus?" he said. "A what??" I said (obviously I didn't know). He explained to me, drawing a picture, that most uteruses are shaped like an upside down triangle. Mine was shaped more like a heart. (During my later infertility workup, I had an HSG done, where the my uterus, illuminated with blue dye, was clearly visible. I thought it looked more like a slingshot.)

Was this going to be a problem? I asked. He assured me it wouldn't. I think he told me (someone did, somewhere along the way) about a pregnancy in which twins were delivered by C-section -- one growing in one horn of the uterus, one growing in another.

He gave me a piece of paper to give to my family dr or ob-gyn the next time I saw them, with a description of what they'd seen. (Of course I kept a copy for myself.) Here's what it said:

4/4/98 1645
Pelvic/transvag u/s
LMP 8/2/98 = 10w4d
Bicornuate uterus
Gestational sac L horn superiorly
Crown-rump = 2.4 cm = 9.1 wks
FH+. No bleed seen.
Myometrium very thin superior to gest. sac in L. horn.
L. ov = N
R. ov = not seen

It was mostly Greek to me then (& even somewhat now). From what I've learned in the years since then, the baby was already measuring a week behind & the uterine lining was "very thin" where the gestational sac was. The shape of things to come, perhaps?

Anyway, the bicornuate uterus thing was a new development, but the radiologist's matter-of-fact, not-to-worry attitude was reassuring, so I tried not to let it bother me too much. My cervix was closed, there was a heartbeat. There wasn't anything more to do except go home & rest. We arrived, much relieved and hungry, around 7 p.m.

The next day, I had brown particles in my morning urine, but my spotting had turned brownish pink again. We were scheduled for a dinner/movie date that evening with one of my friends from high school & her husband, who lived north of the city, but I called to cancel & stayed on the couch all day. Sunday, our family dr called to check on how I was. I told him about our trip to the emergency room after I'd talked to him Friday morning, but said things were looking better now.

At one point that day, I went to the washroom, & as I stood & flushed, I gasped & jumped as I spotted a clump of something white-ish swirling down the toilet. Dh insisted it was toilet paper, or maybe some cervical mucus. I wasn't so sure, but the spotting continued to decrease (and never did return), so I gradually started feeling more confident again.

I wasn't sure at that point if there were going to be more trips to the emergency room, but I decided it was time to come clean with my officemates. (Besides which, those tight pants were getting pretty darned uncomfortable...!) It was time to let the rest of the world know that I was pregnant.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Recent reading: "Everything Conceivable"

One unexpected side effect of blogging is that even though I seem to be spending just as much time if not more so on the computer (!), I am also reading more books (albeit most of them related to to infertility & pregnancy loss).

Part of that, of course, is due to the Barren B*tches Book Brigade. Earlier this month, prompted by a recommendation from Pamela Jeanne, I dug "Everything Conceivable" by Liza Mundy out of my gargantuan "to read" pile.

Mundy is a Washington Post reporter, and this is very much a work of journalism, as opposed to a "how to" guide. She has put her investigative skills to excellent use on behalf of not just infertile people but those seeking to understand the impact that ARTs are having on all of us -- not just the families created through ARTs, but society as a whole. She talks to infertile couples, children born from ARTs, doctors and embryologists, people who run sperm banks, pioneers in the field. She delves into the history of ARTs, and it's startling to realize just how new this technology really is, and how very little we know about so much of it.

The book examines some interesting -- and sometimes very tough -- questions to which there are no obvious or easy answers -- the implications of using donor gametes, the rights of children to know their biological parents, the rights of the donor to remain anonymous, the impact of multiple births, the question of selective reduction, the dilemma of what to do with leftover frozen embryos, whether the fertility industry should be regulated, should donors and surrogates be compensated, gay & lesbian parents, single mothers by choice, and the impact ARTs are having on traditional feminism.

As Pamela Jeanne noted, throughout the book, infertile people are treated with respect and sympathy. I was moved by so many of the the stories told here.

Because the book is focused specifically on ARTs & how they are changing our world, there is little mention of adoption as an option (most of what there is in comparison to the similar issues raised by use of donor gametes) and none (that I could find) regarding the option of living childfree after treatment. That would probably be my biggest quibble about the book -- I would love to see what Mundy could do with that topic! But it's not enough of a quibble to keep me from recommending this great book. Future BBBB selection, perhaps??

Sunday, April 20, 2008

April 6-23, 1998: I've got a secret...

The Monday after my Mom returned home from her week-long visit, I returned to work, harbouring my little secret. While everyone on both sides of the family now knew I was pregnant, I was still hoping to get through the first trimester before telling people at the office -- although it was hard, since my clothes were already feeling tight. I remember wearing lots of sweaters overtop of skirts & pants (including my new navy floral drawstring palazzo pants) -- in order to hide the undone top button.

Wednesday, April 8th, I attended an all-day workshop at a downtown hotel. I don't remember a lot about the workshop, but I do remember frequent trips to the washroom (still some spotting) & loading up on fruit from the coffee break buffet. Also that week, I fielded phone calls from roofers (the few who deigned to return my messages) with quotes on repairing a leak around the chimney stack. (The job eventually got done, for $128.) By the end of the week (much to my relief), the spotting finally tapered off to a yellowish discharge. I could live with that!

April 10th was Good Friday. With FIL & stepMIL in Florida, & BIL at his MIL's, we were invited to spend Easter with dh's aunt & her family.

April was a month full of babies -- babies who are now turning 10 years old. An older friend from work (different department) became a first-time grandmother when her daughter gave birth to a baby girl on April 13th, and SIL's cousin had a baby girl the same day. The cousin whose shower I attended earlier in the month delivered a boy on April 20th.

Thursday, April 16th, rumours began to fly hot & heavy that the Toronto-Dominion Bank and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce were planning a merger -- following in the footsteps of the Royal Bank and Bank of Montreal, who had announced plans to merge in January. The next day, the proposed merger was announced, causing a huge sensation on Bay Street (Canada's equivalent of Wall Street, where I work), & creating a huge flurry of work (and high stress levels) for me & my colleagues. I can remember pounding the keyboard frantically & looking down at my expanding belly & thinking, "Oh baby, this can't be good for you." In my datebook that week & the next, I note that I was constantly YAWNING & heading off to bed extra-early, totally exhausted.

Thursday, April 23rd, I had lunch with my first-year roommate from university, now a high-powered corporate lawyer who worked (and still works) in the office tower across the street from mine. We still get together every month or two for lunch dates. Two years previously, she had given birth to a boy at age 37, & a few months earlier, she had loaned me a book on "getting pregnant" that she said had been helpful when she was trying to conceive. Much to her delight, I handed the book across the table to her & told her I wouldn't be needing it anymore. Ah, such confidence...!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to the stirrups I go...

Another year, another visit to Dr. Ob-gyn for my annual checkup/Pap this past Monday. Dr. Ob-gyn & I are well acquainted... after my failed pregnancy, he shepherded us through the initial stages of infertility testing and referred us to an RE. I continued to see him for my annual Pap, which turned into colposcopies every few months when one Pap came back showing abnormal cells. He calmed my fears, emphasized that it was NOT cancer, just some cellular changes that we'd keep an eye on, & they'd likely reverse themselves... which they eventually did, thank God.

Anyway, although I like & respect Dr. Ob-gyn hugely & appreciate what he did for us (he has a very calming manner about him -- I guess 30+ years in the business will do that), it's never easy going back to see him, for obvious reasons. On the bright side, he has moved from the office I visited him in during my pregnancy, so I don't have to return to the exact scene of the crime anymore, so to speak.

On the other hand -- he is now on a floor of the hospital that is entirely devoted to maternal-fetal medicine. I have to walk down two very LOOONNNGGGG corridors to get to his office area, which are lined wall-to-wall with pregnant women & babies. In his own waiting area were several pregnant women, a woman with a toddler & a two-month old baby (whom the nurses were cooing over), an old lady who looked to be in her 70s... and me, lol.

Every year for the last several years, Dr. Ob-gyn's nurse would take my blood pressure, frown at me & say, "Your blood pressure is high. Do you have high blood pressure?" "No." (And hey, no offense, but some of the happiest times of my life have NOT been spent in this office -- do you think that might have something to do with it??) "Well, you'd better follow up with your family doctor." I'd go to my family dr -- 120/80. And that would be that until the next year, when the scenario would play itself out again.

Last year, however, when I followed up with my family dr, I got 140/90, which is borderline hypertensive. Hmmm. High blood pressure is something I never thought applied to me, but I do have to be aware of, since my mother takes medication for it, and my paternal grandmother had it -- died suddenly of stroke when she was only 68.

Well, suddenly I was very much aware. Family Dr said he didn't want to put me on medication just yet. I said I didn't WANT to be on medication. I promised him I would try to cut down on sodium, exercise more and lose some weight, & have been mildly successful in both cases -- lost 10 lbs since last year through both diet & walking (although I could stand to lose at least 25 more) -- & have cut way back on the salt shaker & tried to make better choices re: sodium content (although have you ever read food labels or restaurant nutrition guides for sodium content?? YIKES. It's tough!! SCARY stuff.). And I've been back every month or two to check with him again. It's been up & down & back up again. I tried using one of those drugstore machines between visits, but the way it clamps onto my arm scares the crap out of me. The reading I usually get from it also scares the crap out of me ; ) but I chalked up the one to the other. I tend to do much better at the family dr's office!

Anyway, having run the gauntlet through the halls & sat in the waiting room with all the pregnant women & babies, I then had to endure Dr. Ob-gyn's nurse asking me how many kids I had. (Hello, I've been coming here for 10 years -- and she's been there that long, if not longer -- & shouldn't this stuff be in my file anyway?) "None living, one stillbirth," I said. No reaction.

I held out my arm for the cuff & braced myself for the inevitable lecture. "Good," she said. "Good? What was it?" I asked. "120/70." I nearly fell off the bed. Go figure?? I don't think it's been that low ever. Here's hoping it continues...

Although I will have to wait on the Pap results, the rest of the checkup was normal. He said the few episodes of spotting I have had lately are probably due to fluctuating perimenopausal hormones, & the way I've described them, he's not concerned.

Yay me. Over & done with for another year.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "The Mistress's Daughter"

It's time once more for the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, brought to you by Stirrup Queens & Sperm Palace Jesters. It’s an online book club where people sign up, read the book (usually, but not always, related to infertility and pregnancy loss), & submit a question. Lists of questions are distributed among the participants, and we pick at least three to answer in our blog, then visit each other's blogs to comment.

I had been eyeing “The Mistress’s Daughter” by A.M. Homes in bookstores for months. I thought I’d maybe wait for the paperback (which was just released this month), & was glad to have the excuse to buy it when Mel announced that it would be an upcoming book club selection.

After riding the rollercoaster of stillbirth and infertility, dh & I chose not to climb aboard the adoption rollercoaster -- for a myriad of reasons. But the longing for a biological child, who would be part of me and all the generations that had gone before me, and of dh and his family – and wondering about how much an adopted child would feel part of my broader biological family, and how much he or she would identify with and wonder about his/her birth parents – was certainly among the issues we wrestled with when making our decision.

This book confirmed some of my own feelings and thoughts about adoption and the role of genetics/biology. There were also parts of it that surprised me.

*** *** ***

How did having a daughter change her thoughts on her interactions with her biological mother?

This isn’t something that’s spelled out in the book… but I got the sense that having her own daughter helped her make her peace with both her biological & adopted families, & with some of the unanswered questions left by her birth mother's death & her birth father's rejection. I did find it interesting that she was so set on having a biological child. I was reminded of a former colleague (a few years younger than me, born in the early 1960s), who was adopted. After having her first child – the spitting image of his mother – I remember her remarking about how totally cool it was to finally have someone else in the world who looked just like her. She’d never had that before. I’d never thought of that particular aspect of adoption before, & her words have stuck with me.

A feeling of the "subtlety of biology," a lovely aphorism, is not something that Homes necessarily welcomes. I sometimes feel that biology raps me over the head when I look at biologically-related family members. How has infertility affected our feelings about the "subtlety of biology"?

I can’t remember where this quote came from in the book. I guess what the question is getting it is that biology can be a blessing but it can also be a curse -- & we don’t get to choose.

Like most families, I suppose, my relatives are always debating who looks like who, what characteristics seem to repeat themselves through the generations, etc. Genealogy has always fascinated me, as I wrote in a recent post. Two summers ago, I walked into a banquet hall in eastern Iowa filled with about 60 of my relatives – a family reunion. It was the first time I had ever been to Iowa (although I'd heard about it all my life), and I had never met many of these people before, but I felt instantly at home, and could immediately pick out which were my mother’s cousins, who must be who’s son or daughter, and so on.

It’s cool to look at my grandmother’s high school graduation photo & see my own eyes staring back at me. My mother told me she was watching an old video & wondered “Why is Lori in this video?” (because we didn’t have videos when I was a kid) – & then realized with a shock that it wasn’t me, it was my cousin’s daughter who (everyone agrees) bears an eerie resemblance to both me & my sister at that age.

This girl is now in her early 20s, with a toddler daughter (& another on the way). I look at the toddler, who bears an uncanny resemblance to my sister as a toddler, & wonder if that’s what Katie would have looked like.

Another cousin tells me his teenaged daughter reminds him of me at the same age -- not so much in looks, but in her love for books & her extreme sensitivity and seriousness. (This cousin used to tease me to death when we were his daughter’s age. I consider it genetic vengeance that he wound up with a daughter who is temperamentally just like I was then, lol.) I looked forward to seeing what characteristics and features our child would inherit from whom, and how he or she would be different.

I suppose if I had a traumatic childhood with a highly dysfunctional family, I might feel more like biology is rapping me over the head. There are certainly some family traits that I dislike (in myself or others in my family), or am not comfortable with. For example, like my dad, I sometimes find it difficult to be direct and express an opinion (& that can drive dh batty sometimes).

Most of my ancestors lived well into their 80s & 90s… but when my dr told me last spring that my blood pressure was up, I remembered my paternal grandmother, who battled with high blood pressure and died suddenly of a stroke at the far-too-young age of 68 (when I was 14), and it terrified me.

When I confessed to my mother about the anxiety attacks I’d been having (post IF treatment, although I didn't tell her about that part of it until later) and the Ativan I’d been taking for them, she told me she, my grandmother and one of my cousins had all had bouts of anxiety and taken various drugs for it. I had absolutely no idea & no remembrance of the period of her depression that she described to me, which happened when I was about 10.

Like all families, there are some relatives I like and feel closer to than others. On the whole, though, they’re a pretty decent bunch of people. I like knowing about my family, and the feeling that we all have something in common, even if we’re very different people in many ways. I guess that makes me pretty lucky. I even like knowing about the genetic pitfalls, like the high bp & anxiety. It makes me feel better to know that someone else has been through the same thing (it’s not just me), & it’s not something I’ve necessarily done myself, it’s partly genetic & while there’s not much I can do about that, I can be aware & take action where I can. (Which is why so many adoptions these days are open, or at least more open than they have been in the past, so that adopted children can have at least some knowledge of their birth family's medical history.)

And I guess that having a generally happy family experience & taking pleasure in our shared heritage & relationships is partly why I value(d) having a biological child. (There were other reasons why we didn’t adopt, but valuing the genetic tie was certainly part of it.) Most of the world just takes it for granted and never has to consider what you give up when you give up on the idea of genetic offspring. I’ve become very attuned to just how much people talk about family ties & resemblances, & it’s more frequent than you might think.

The other day, I overhead a pregnant coworker talking about seeing her baby on the ultrasound screen. The technician wanted to measure the back of the baby's neck, but the baby wasn’t cooperating – was laying on its back with its legs crossed and hands behind its head, like it was reclining on a couch. “Already just like my husband!” my coworker giggled.

It takes a special person to adopt -- to be able to give up on that idea, to know that you will never have that kind of built-in connection with your own child. You will still be connected to the child, of course, & love that child to death, but not that particular part of being a parent, of being part of an extended genetic chain.

Notwithstanding what happens in the book, most adoptions from the 1950s' and 60s' are closed, with birth records sealed except upon a courts' finding "good cause" to open them. In light of Homes's experiences, does this seem to be the appropriate method for handling adoption records?

I have very mixed feelings on this subject. Homes (like me) was born in 1961, & adoptions were handled much differently then. In general, I believe openness is a positive thing, and I sympathize with adoptees who want to find their birthparents, and birthparents who want to find out what happened to the babies they gave up for adoption. The knowledge of my genetic heritage is important to me; how could I deny that knowledge to anyone else?

Yet I’m also sympathetic to those who wish to remain unfound, for whatever reason. There is a move in Ontario right now to open past adoption files, but critics say it’s lacking a mechanism where either party can request to remain anonymous. I’ve heard stories of women who gave up babies years ago, in that era of silence, and have never told anyone, not even their spouse. They are terrified that someone will come looking for them & reveal their secret. It seems unfair to retroactively change the rules for people who went into an adoption arrangement thinking their identity would remain forever unknown.

I must admit that I’ve always been a huge sucker for reunion stories (of any kind, not just adoption-related) – whether it’s the birthmother & the daughter she gave up for adoption who found out they were coworkers and friends, the brother & sister reunited after being divided by the post-war Iron Curtain for 50 years, the old flames who meet again years later & wind up getting married, or some other such heartwarming tale that you read about or see on the TV news.

One of the really interesting things about this book for me is how it shows that not all reunions turn out to be the fairy tale “they lived happily ever” variety – they can be very complex situations. No doubt many adoption reunions are happy events, & there are positives to Homes’s reunion story. In the end, she says, “I couldn’t not know.”

However, as I read about Ellen (the birth mother)’s neediness and Homes’s withdrawal from her, her uncovering of Ellen’s criminal record, and her birth father’s callous behaviour toward her, I scribbled on a sticky note in the book, “Be careful what you wish for.” (Although, to be fair, Homes never sought her birth parents; her mother came looking for her.)

I remember reading a biography of Ayn Rand (yes, I devoured “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” when I was in university…!), who left her family in Russia in the 1920s to come to America. Years later, in the 1970s, as travel restrictions to & from the Soviet Union eased, she learned that her favourite younger sister was still alive behind the Iron Curtain. Rand was overjoyed & brought her sister & her husband to the United States for a “visit,” with the intention that they would stay in America with her and never return. However, 50 years of living apart in two very different societies had taken its toll -- there was friction between the sisters, & the Russian sister & her husband eventually returned to the certainty of their life in the Soviet Union. I think it was the first inkling I had that not all family reunions turn out happily.

The author talks about searching for information on her ancestors and realized that many of the people searching were not adopted. She realized from that the question of "who am I" is not unique to adoptees. At what point in your life, have you felt the same way?

I absolutely believe that everyone wrestles with that question in some way at some point in their life. For many of us, it’s when we’re teenagers; for some of us, it’s an ongoing process of self-discovery. I know that when my dh & I set off down the childfree road, I had to begin rethinking all over again just who I was and what I wanted to do with my life, if I wasn't going to be a mother after all. In some ways, I'm still trying to figure that one out...!

I do think that for adoptees – particularly those of my/Homes’s generation, who never had much information about their birth families – there is an additional layer of self to discover, if they so choose.

The genealogy part of the book was fascinating to me, & probably the part I wound up enjoying the most. Fascinating because it had not occurred to me that an adoptee’s interest in her birth family would extend into the past beyond her parents, and fascinating because of the information she was able to dig up & the family stories she was able to piece together, even with just the barest of details about her birth family to go on. I am hugely interested in genealogy myself (see my previous post on the topic). I found myself nodding & adding sticky notes to mark many of Homes’s observations on the thrill of the hunt, the ongoing mystery (I have always said that genealogy appeals to my inner Nancy Drew, lol), the need to construct a family narrative and how “every life lived is of interest.”

The story about Ellen's boxes and the fact that the author was unable to go through them for several years struck a cord with me as I have my own boxes that are hiding in the house waiting for unpacking. Have you experienced something similar with a project, book, or other item that plagued you with emotions that prevented you from tackling it? What was the situation? How did it resolve-- did you become zealous about something you discovered during the resolution (like the author's quest for her genealogy) or did it just all fade away?

I can think of several examples of "unopened boxes" (some of them literal) from my own life:

1) Shortly before I made that fateful trip to the doctor’s office for my six-month pregnancy checkup, dh & I went to Sears & bought a Classic Pooh bedding set (on sale) for Katie’s nursery, and ordered a wallpaper border from the Sears catalogue. The border arrived just after the funeral. I tossed the box from Sears, unopened, into the closet with the bedding set. After awhile, I started thinking, “What if they screwed up the order & sent me the wrong border??” But I didn’t have the heart to open the box to find out. Until finally, on August 5, 2003, the fifth anniversary of that dr’s visit, I sat on the bedroom floor & decided today would be the day. I opened the box. It was the right border. (It’s all still sitting in the closet. I can't give it away.)

2) The day I made that fateful dr’s visit, I brought a book along with me to read in the waiting room – a thriller called “A Dry Spell” by Susie Maloney. It’s not the kind of book I usually read, but it was getting a lot of press (Tom Cruise supposedly bought the movie rights), & it took place in the Dakotas, familiar territory to me. I can remember sitting in the ultrasound waiting room, with the knowledge that my dr hadn’t been able to find a heartbeat with the Doppler (but still hopeful the technician would be able to do what he hadn’t), and reading about malevolent spirits & possession & such, and just having this uneasy feeling.

I took the book with me to the hospital & tried to finish reading it in the weeks after my daughter’s stillbirth – once I start a book, I very rarely leave it unfinished. I think I eventually ended up just sort of skimming over the last few chapters to find out what happened & then putting it away, relieved to be able to move onto something else, something not quite so dark. (I think the next book I read was “Bridget Jones’s Diary” – much better, made me laugh, even in the midst of my grief & shock.)

3) I started scrapbooking in 2002, partly because it intrigued me, partly because it brought together so many of the things that interested me (family stories & photos, writing, pretty paper and pens…!) in a creative way – but also partly because I thought a scrapbook might be a good way to commemorate Katie’s brief existence, preserve our memories & showcase some of the few mementos I’d collected. I started collecting supplies -- Classic Pooh & butterfly themed papers & embellishments. I put off starting the project, because I was only just beginning to learn about this hobby, & I didn’t want to screw anything up. I wanted to “practice” on other photos first & hone my craft. This, of all album projects, would have to be perfect!!

I have a great collection of stuff – but I still haven’t done a single page in the album. I’ve been preoccupied scrapbooking for our nephews the past few years. Perhaps, in this 10th “anniversary” year, it’s time for me to get started….!

*** *** ***

After reading this book, I picked up another with a similar theme, after seeing a story about it on “CBS Sunday Morning.” “Identical Strangers” is the story of adoptees Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, who went looking for some information about their birth parents and found… each other! – identical twins, separated shortly after birth. Not only that, they come to learn they were deliberately separated as part of a secret study on separated twins. They join forces to try to force the release of the confidential study records, and learn the identity of their birth parents. It’s an amazing story, with lots of insights on the whole "nature vs nurture" debate, & I’d recommend it, perhaps as a future book tour selection?

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (with author participation!)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Odds & ends

Today is dh's 51st birthday. Birthdays have never been a big deal in his family (probably more so since his mother passed away), unless it's a biggie like 40 or 50 (& sometimes not even then). He & I generally exchange cards, go out for dinner & visit the local megabookstore for a browse & a Starbucks. We went to a local western-style steakhouse chain tonight for dinner & it was really almost perfect -- food was hot, didn't take long to come, steak was done just the way I like it & not too much fat on it. Yum!

We thought we'd go see FIL tomorrow night, since it is dh's birthday & we haven't been over there in a couple of weekends. But when dh called over there earlier this week, stepMIL told him they'd be at her youngest son's tomorrow, celebrating HIS birthday (which is exactly 10 years later & one day earlier than dh's). StepBIL, of course, besides being stepMIL's son, is also the daddy-to-be I mentioned a few weeks back. StepMIL was raving on about how well the latest ultrasound went, how big the baby is getting, it's a boy!! etc. etc. (due in late August/early September) I really can't blame the woman -- she has four kids in their 40s & this will be her one & only grandchild -- she's waited a loooonnnggg time for this. But I couldn't help but feel bad for dh, being overshadowed like that. :( (So of course I'm sitting up here on the computer while he's downstairs watching TV...! But then, it's a Discovery Channel show on rocket science, which he loves (seriously), so I don't feel so bad...!)

There's a scrapbooking convention this weekend in a city about 1.5-2 hours away -- about 20 girls from a board I belong to are going to be getting together there -- one girl even flew in from the west coast & two from the east coast!! I decided not to go, for several reasons -- but dh's birthday was a big one, & I'm glad now that I stayed home to spoil him a little.

*** *** ***

After reading how Mel at Stirrup Queens rhapsodized over her Google Reader a few weeks ago, I set one up for myself. It took a little figuring out, but I now have (gulp) 120 blogs on my reader (& haven't finished adding all of them, either). About 45% related to infertility & pregnancy loss, 45% related to scrapbooking and 10% assorted others. My Google Reader blog list is actually larger than the blog list here -- I need to add a few from here. Also, there are a few listed here that don't seem to have a readable feed? -- Google Reader just doesn't want to pick them up, for some reason. I just have to try to remember which ones they are & click in on them more often. Anyway, great invention, & I'm glad I took the plunge!

*** *** ***

Speaking of Mel -- two of my posts this week -- this one here and this one here -- were mentioned in her weekly Friday blog roundup today, which I think is just about the ultimate compliment that any infertility blogger can get. I'm tickled!

Two great causes Mel is promoting through her blog: March of Dimes and UTERUS, an initiative to raise funds to help women within our IF community. I have yet to figure out the payment intricacies to donate to either cause (insert red-faced icon here) but thought the least I could do was give them a plug.

And Monday we'll be posting about the latest book in the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, "The Mistress's Daughter" by A.M. Homes. I really enjoyed this book & will be working on the questions this weekend -- looking forward to seeing what everyone else thought!

I'm sure there was some other stuff I've been meaning to blog about, little bits & pieces that don't quite warrant a post in themselves, but that's all I can think of for now. Off to spend some time with the birthday boy!

U.T.E.R.U.S.
Take Back the U.T.E.R.U.S.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Even Toronto Life Magazine can't resist...

...putting cute babies on their cover to sell issues.



(I'm not one for cutesy baby T-shirts, but I have to admit, the AB/CD made me laugh.)

The cover story doesn't seem to be available online, at least not yet. Too bad. It's a good read. I can just imagine the stir it's going to create among mommy bloggers (who are part of the story!).


Toronto Life website

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

(Another) article: "Giving birth to a lie"

Another article that caught my eye (how can you tell I'm one of these people who's always saying "Listen to this" & reading aloud from my newspaper, book or magazine to whoever is in the room?? -- lol -- drives dh nuts...). It's from this morning's Globe & Mail (available online for about a week):

*** *** ***

Facts & Arguments: THE ESSAY
Giving birth to a lie
I have many children, all toddlers, all imaginary. It's what strangers want to hear

CHRISTINE FADER
April 9, 2008

I gave birth to another child in the dentist's waiting room. Ella is perfectly formed, with light brown hair that curls around her face. I am already dreaming about dressing her in red corduroy jumpers and candy-striped leotards when the woman beside me interrupts my reverie to continue our conversation.

"How old is your little girl?" I snap back from my daydream and bite my lip in what I hope looks like a mother holding in her pride, but which is really concentration as I try to think quickly.

"She turned 3 last Sunday." My make-believe children are always toddlers. They seem more appealing to the people in waiting rooms/airplanes/hair salons who ask about the children I don't have.

The woman beside me leans in, smiling, to ask enthusiastic questions about my little girl. I don't know why I can't just make up one fictitious child and stick with that story when asked. Perhaps I feel that I have to give all the variations of my non-existent children a chance in the spotlight.
I answer her modestly, my eyelashes lowering as my tongue circles around the words to describe this miraculous experience that has bonded us together in a rite of womanhood.

I am grateful to have the imagination to spontaneously create material with which to ease her discomfort at meeting a stranger. After all, you can only talk about the weather for so long - even as a Canadian.

When I finally stand up from my waiting room chair, I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror framed with dusty, fake flowers. I notice that my face is flushed with the effort of bringing Ella to life. She is, however, a joy to behold, complete with perfectly straight, white baby teeth and an adorable habit of flushing household items down the toilet.

"Good luck with the potty training," the woman calls out to me as I disappear into the rabbit warren of the clinic. As I lean back into the sterile quiet of the dental chair, I think, "Why do I do this?" When the inevitable question comes up in stranger-to-stranger conversations, I could simply confess that I don't have any children. But revealing this secret always results in an awkward pause, and the question "Why?" hangs in the air like an unexploded water balloon.

I yearn to relay a tragic story about infertility, a dying husband or a series of miscarriages, but knowing women and couples who have struggled with these issues, I have at least enough self-restraint to avoid misrepresenting their pain.

No, I cannot play the sympathy card. But the "I chose not to" card seems much harder for people to support. No one ever asks a woman with children, "Why did you choose to have children?" Yet I find myself often defending my choice not to be a mother.

Somehow the "I chose not to" card seems to guarantee that I am labelled as cold-hearted and calculating. The "I chose not to" card provokes, at best, pity and, at worst, indignation accompanied by statements about denying nature, God and our reason for being.

To some extent, the decision not to have children is giving up a child that exists in my heart. It was the right decision but it was not the impetuous or cold-hearted one that "I chose not to" seems to imply.

There are days and weeks when the absence of that child is ever present. But I have no right to mourn, do I? I am not someone who cannot have a child through no fault of my own. My husband and I chose not to have a child, but it was a thoughtful and difficult decision based on personal factors including our differences in age, chronic health issues, career demands and finances.

It was not a decision that we came to easily or without much soul searching. And many people seem to overlook that it is hard to make such a choice without occasionally missing and wondering about what we have not experienced.

But in those moments in the dentist's waiting room, I find myself giving birth to fictitious children for another reason.

I want to be part of the secret club of women with children. This club is filled with shared hardships, joys and sleepless nights worrying about junior's inability to work well with other children. It smells of spit-up and peanut butter sandwiches and teenagers' size 11 sneakers.

Even my closest girlfriends have this "mother place" they go to with each other. They share a visceral human accomplishment and I am jealous. I feel I have denied myself an essential experience that will forever separate me from the rest of my gender.

Whether or not I could have, in reality, conceived or adopted a child is another question. I chose not to pursue the answer and for that, I shall always sit outside the club, my nose pressed against the glass.

I gave birth in the dentist's waiting room and I will again. My Ella, like all the children before her and still to come, is a masterpiece born out of shame, curiosity and a need to be welcomed by others as a contributing member of the human race.

And for those few moments of conversation, I loved her with all my heart.

Christine Fader lives near Kingston, Ont.

*** *** ***

I suppose some people might think this woman is a little off her rocker. I've never invented a child myself -- but I know women who have done it. Infertile women who don't have kids yet. Bereaved moms who, in conversation with taxi drivers and the like, will respond to a question about kids by talking about their dead child as though he or she were alive. It's a little bit of occasional, self-indulgent fantasy that makes them feel, for a few precious moments, like their child is still here with them.

I totally understand her motivation -- that "outside the club, nose pressed against the glass" feeling. But it's kind of sad, isn't it, when it's easier to fake being a mommy than admit you don't have children (-- & then explain why, and then justify your choices, and deal with all the awkwardness… even with total strangers).

She's wrong, though, if she thinks that admitting to pregnancy loss or infertility offers some sort of shield from prying or insensitive comments. Those of us in this camp perhaps get a little more sympathy than people who admit to being childfree by choice -- but we too find ourselves justifying the choices we've made and being subjected to all sorts of lectures and well-meaning advice ("Have you tried IVF?" "Have you thought about adoption? Why not?" "It's been three years, you really need to move on with your life." "Don’t give up, it will probably happen when you least expect it." "My cousin tried for six years and they took a vacation to Mexico and boom! She was pregnant! You see, if you just relax...").

Her story shows that the choice to live childless/free (whether you wanted children or not) is a complex one -- and there are many different reasons why people wind up taking this less-travelled road.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Holding it together, falling apart

One beautiful spring Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s, when I was in high school, my sister, two girlfriends & I were walking on a street near our home when some guys we knew pulled up in a car to talk. My sister & her friend P. sat on the trunk of the car. I'm not sure the driver was even aware they were there when he took off. Not fast, but fast enough that they were thrown to the pavement. (I can still see the stricken look on his face as he got out of the car.) My sister's girlfriend hit her head on the pavement & when she sat up, she was oozing blood from the forehead.

Our other girlfriend, E., normally never at a loss for words or confidence, was frozen. I was concerned, but felt oddly calm. I whipped a wad of Kleenex out of my purse & pressed it firmly to P's forehead. A neighbour -- who happened to be an off-duty nurse -- came out of her house & took charge. Someone drove us all to the hospital, where it was quickly determined that my sister was fine, just a little bruised & shaken up, & P would be fine too, but would require stitches to her forehead.

Somehow, I got elected to call P's parents from the payphone in the waiting room. I calmly explained there had been an accident & could they please come.

I hung up -- and promptly burst into tears. I headed for the washroom -- & walked into the men's washroom by mistake. This made me cry even harder. ; )

E. snapped out of her stupor & took over, putting her arm around me & speaking to me soothingly, guiding me into the women's washroom & helping me clean myself up before my own parents arrived. For years afterward, I marvelled at how I'd managed to stay so calm in a bad situation -- only to fall apart once it was all over & I knew everything was going to be OK.

I thought of that incident, some 30 years ago now (!), when I read this article in today's New York Times. The author writes about how she managed to hold it all together during both her daughters' serious illnesses -- but although they are both fine now, "grief averted," this "brush with the unimaginable" continues to haunt her. She suffers insomnia, palpitations and panic attacks -- post-traumatic stress disorder. Friends don't understand, and impatiently tell her to stop worrying -- after all, everything is fine now. She needs to move on.

I think it was the friends' impatient, "get over it" reaction, more than anything, that resonated with me, and got me thinking about the parallels to my personal situation, & that of people I know who have also suffered through pregnancy loss and infertility. Granted, both of her children survived. There is a part of me that, like her friends, is a little annoyed with her. She still has her two kids, for Pete's sake. She's only had a "BRUSH with the unimaginable." What about those of us for whom the unimaginable has become the reality we live with, day in and out?

Still, I can relate to her feelings of being misunderstood, of being forever scarred by a traumatic experience, even if it did turn out all right in the end. Katie was stillborn almost 10 years ago. The wounds are not raw & gaping anymore, but the scars are there, & from time to time, they'll still ache & ooze a little bit.

Over the past 10 years, both dh & I have had struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. We constantly ask each other, "Are you OK?" He can be extremely overprotective of me. It can get annoying at times (I probably have to check in with him when we're apart more than I did with my mother when I was a teenager…!), but I fully understand why he needs the reassurance. For dh, Katie's loss compounded by the loss of his mother to cancer in 1982 at the far-too-young age of 53, when dh was 25 -- followed by the cancer-related deaths of four of her siblings, three of whom died before reaching 60. I see how this has marked him.

I think about friends who have lost a child, but went on to have subsequent children, & how all their friends and family assume everything is fine now (it's not). I think of friends whose babies were born prematurely & spent weeks in the NICU. Yes, their babies are fine now, but the parents bear the scars of that time. I think about the bereaved parents we've met who were told to "get over it" and obligingly tried to suppress their grief -- only to have their feelings resurface, years later & in ways they could not have foreseen.

I've always felt slightly annoyed when people tell me, "Oh, I can't imagine what you've been through." I get the feeling they don't even want to try -- don't want to go NEAR there. I can't blame them for shying away, but in their words, I sense a certain smugness, the belief that such things will surely never happen to them.

No, they can't imagine, and I hope they never have to face my reality. This writer didn't experience the unimaginable -- but she stared at it in the face and was shaken by what she saw. In that way, I feel more kinship with her than with other people who seem more oblivious to the fragility of life. I am glad she wrote this story about her feelings.

Friday, April 4, 2008

This "pushes" me right over the edge...

This post falls into the "read about it awhile ago, bookmarked the article, found it again & it still steamed me up so I thought I'd blog about it" category. Although, in Googling the subject for fodder, I found out that there's a recent JLo/Marc Anthony connection that makes it sort of a timely subject again. ; )

I think most of us who have struggled with loss & infertility would agree that there is no greater gift we'd rather receive than a baby.

However, apparently a baby is not enough for some women these days. They are hinting/demanding/expecting that their husbands present them with a gift after the delivery of the child. Usually/preferably an expensive piece of jewelry. It's called -- get this -- a "push present" or "push prize" (ugh ugh ugh) or "baby bauble."

Here are some of the articles I had bookmarked on the subject:

The New York Times: A Bundle of Joy Isn't Enough?

The Globe & Mail: Push, push (and I'll buy you a pendant)

An earlier Globe article on the same subject that I found on a separate website.

What next??

When dh's cousin's wife had their first baby back in 1991, I remember her showing me a beautiful watch that she said her hubby had brought to her in the hospital as a gift. I thought it was a nice gesture, but I had never heard of buying presents for the mother before that. I wondered if maybe it was an Italian cultural thing. Or maybe a Toronto thing. ; )

Apparently, JLo's "push present" from Marc Anthony, following the birth of their twins, was a pair of diamond earrings, worth a cool $2.6 million. Or an 8 carat diamond canary ring worth a mere $300,000, depending on which account you believe. Apparently "Marc wanted to give her something to remember the day by." Like the twins aren't enough to prod her memory??

I mean, I will never turn down diamonds (or any other present that dh wants to give me...!). ; ) But to demand/expect a "gift" as your "right/reward" for "presenting" your husband with a baby? What marketing genius thought this one up?

Spring is busting out all over...

...and so are all the pregnant women. I've written in a previous post about how many pregnant women I see in the course of an average workday. Sometimes I seem to notice them more than others -- and right now, with the heightened emotions around the beginning of the "countdown" to the 10th "anniversary" of Katie's stillbirth (plus being at our support group meeting last night), it seemed like they were everywhere I turned today.

I have not counted in a long time, but I swear I saw at least 30 -- and not just girls with modest little baby bumps (who was the wise guy who invented that horrible term??). It seemed like every one of them was sporting a huge, ripe belly -- the kind that sticks way out to there and makes it look like the mom is about to deliver at any second. There was one sitting beside us on the commuter train en route home tonight, & I saw two more as we exited the train. I know that, the odds being what they are, 1 in 5 of them has likely experienced infertility problems, and 1 in 3 or even 1 in 2 has likely lost a pregnancy... but it's hard to focus on that. Pregnant bellies can be distracting. ; ) It's funny, but when someone I know has had difficulty getting or staying pregnant gets pregnant (someone from our support group, for example), I am almost always totally happy for them, & seeing them pregnant doesn't bother me in the same way as seeing total strangers does.

In the car driving home from the train station, I asked dh, "Was it just me, or was every other woman on the train pregnant tonight?" He glared & started lecturing me about being "obsessed" & how "this has to stop" and that after 10 years I should be over this (!! -- him, of all people, the pregnancy loss support group facilitator, telling me to "get over it"!!).

Oh -- and as if I don't encounter enough pregnant bellies or babies in real life, or on the cover of every single women's magazine, tabloid & issue of People -- check out the cover of this week's issue of Newsweek , and the inside stories on surrogacy.

Deathstar had a recent post about obsession (someone else said they prefer to call it "focus," lol).

So, what do you think? Am I obsessed? Is it unhealthy for me to still be hyper-aware of pregnant bellies & sometimes have problems seeing them, 10 years after my loss and almost 7 years after stopping treatment?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Fool's (I wish...)

It's April Fool's Day, but I kid you not -- I walked into a card shop on my break today, and all the Mother's Day stuff was out. (Same scenario in the bookstore I visited at lunch.) Even almost 10 years after Katie's stillbirth, it still feels like a slap in the face. Five weeks more to endure until it's all over (at least until next year….!).

I'm sure I (like many of you) will have much more to say about The Day as it draws closer...