Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekend reading

Two great articles in this week's Sunday New York Times Magazine:

This week's cover story, "Childless Europe," takes a look at falling birth rates in Europe, the underlying reasons and implications. Some interesting stuff here. One would think that if you want to boost birth rates, helping infertile couples who want very much to have children would be one way to do it...!

And have a look at "Stress Test," an analysis by Peggy Orenstein, author of "Waiting for Daisy," about the supposed connection between stress & health (including stress & infertility). Some great statistics in here that you can use in rebuttal to the next person who tells you that (like Charlotte in "Sex & the City") you'll get pregnant if you adopt!

(This may have to count as my "show & tell" post for the week, since I had nothing prepared in advance and am feeling brain-dead after being at a baby shower all afternoon...!)

I survived ; )

The baby shower is over & I survived (as I knew I would). I did just fine, actually. There were a few "ouch" moments (but many more where my eyes glazed over with sheer "when is this going to end" boredom), and I am very tired now, but I came through with mascara intact.

It DID rain & it WAS crowded (& stuffy) inside the house... there were about 50 of us (!), ranging from the baby's 87-year-old great-grandfather to dh's cousin's three-week old baby boy (who slept through most of the commotion around him). But then it finally cleared up just in time for us to take our plates outside for lunch (whereupon we ate far, far too much). SIL & I left around 4:30 (after 3 & 1/2 hours)... we weren't the first or the last to leave, but by then I think we'd both had enough.

Thanks for all your good wishes.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Me, alone at home

I took today off in lieu of some overtime owing to me... it's not exactly policy, but it's something my office has always allowed us to do... the overtime money is so heavily taxed & I'd much rather have the time off anyway.

I didn't do much (I never do wind up doing half the things I think I'm going to do)... I slept in & read the papers leisurely over a cup of tea. I wasted some time on the Internet, did a few loads of laundry, did the cleaning (so I won't have to do it tomorrow, which is when it usually gets done). Watched Oprah at 4.

Some days like this, I will decide to scrapbook all day. Or I'll sit on the couch or out on the front porch with a good book or stack of magazines & a cup of tea, or glass of iced tea. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being "productive," but I figure I work hard five days a week, six if you count the cleaning & laundry I usually wind up doing on Saturday (dh mows the lawn & does the vacuuming while I do that). It's nice to give yourself permission to be "lazy" sometimes.

Much as I love dh & being with him, I also love my "me" time, & "me alone at home" time in particular. I try not to talk about this too much in front of my friends with children. I imagine that, in their eyes, ALL my time is "me" time, because I don't have children to be constantly monitoring or ushering off to soccer practice or Guides.

But as I wrote several months back, parents don't have a monopoly on being busy. And while I will agree that I have more discretionary time at my disposal than most parents, "me alone" & "me alone at home" time is rarer than you might think.

Dh & I, I think it is safe to say, spend a lot more time together than the average couple. (We actually get kidded about it sometimes.) We work in the same office tower, albeit several dozen floors apart. We get up at the same time, commute to work together & then meet up again at the end of the day for the return trip home. We generally don't see each other during the work day, but we call each other a couple of times a day. Once in awhile, if he's going to be working late & I'm going to head home by myself, we'll arrange to have an afternoon coffee together.

On a typical day, we're up at 5, leave the house by 6:30, in the office between 8 & 4:30, & don't return until around 5:30. By the time dinner gets cooked, eaten & cleaned up, it's mid-evening, & usually we're too tired to go out (although on the occasions when we do drag ourselves out, we find reserves of energy we didn't think we had!).

Most of our friends & family don't live very close to us anyway, & of course they're all busy themselves, so we don't get out much on weeknights. I have a couple of girlfriends I will meet for scrapbooking once a month or so, & during the winter, I take a weekly yogalates class. And we facilitate our pg loss support group together, two evenings a month. Dh doesn't have a lot of guy friends that he spends time with. He used to meet up with some of his cousins for golf now & then, but as everyone has gotten married & (yep) had kids, those golf games have fallen by the wayside. I used to travel a little for business, but with technology & budget cuts, etc., I haven't been asked to do that in 10 years.

So it's actually quite rare for me to have some time to myself alone, at home. Maybe not as rare as a mother with toddlers, but still not very often. And I enjoy it. I spent a lot of time by myself growing up & as a young adult at university. I'm not afraid to be alone (although the few times in our marriage when dh had to be away from me overnight, I didn't sleep very well...!). When there's two of us in the house, even if we're not in the same room, we're very much aware of what each other is doing. If the cleaning is done & we have an entire day to ourselves -- say, a Sunday afternoon or a statutory holiday (as we'll have on Tuesday -- Canada Day) -- dh gets bored quite easily, & doesn't like sitting around the house too long. So we usually find ourselves looking for some excuse to get out of the house for awhile, even if it's just for a coffee at Starbucks.

If I'm home by myself & I've decided that it's going to be a cleaning/organizing day, I do a much better job than when dh is looking over my shoulder & making comments about what I'm choosing to throw out (or, more likely, what I'm NOT throwing out, lol -- I'm the packrat of the family). I can go full speed ahead with whatever project I'm focused on, without having dh asking when we're going to have lunch. If I've decided to be a couch potato, I finally get to control the clicker!! (even though daytime television seems to be a total wasteland these days). Sometimes it's just nice to turn it off & enjoy the silence. (Hmmm, and parents think our lives are so different...)

And when you spend a little time apart, even for just a few hours, you have the fun of coming back together again, & talking about the different things you did that day, and appreciating the other person even more. ; )

Do you feel like you get enough "me time," & how do you like to spend it?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's a girl :(

My pg co-worker mass e-mailed everyone this morning. I barely glanced at the header before opening the message -- & then recoiled. The header read, "They say that I'm having a baby...." & inside were the words "...GIRL!!"

Immediately everyone started "replying all" with congratulations. I bowed my head & felt tears stinging my eyes. All I could think was "well, of COURSE she's having a girl." I KNEW it. But I was surprised how much it still hurt. Still. 10 years later.

I managed to compose myself & even fired off an e-mail of my own saying, "It's the pink influence." (Her favourite colour is pink, a source of many jokes around the office.)

Sigh.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Expecting showers (& other musings)

Last Sunday, dh & I braved the landmine field that is Toys R Us/Babies R Us to go shopping for a baby shower gift. StepBIL's wife is registered there, and her shower is this coming Sunday, at FIL & stepMIL's house. (She is due in late August.) There is no way that I can gracefully duck out, so I will go & smile until it hurts (while silently grinding my teeth).

Most of dh's aunts from that side of the family will be there, and perhaps even a few of his cousins, along with stepMIL's family and some of stepBIL's wife's family & friends. Dh's cousins don't know stepBIL or his wife, but stepMIL has been to all of their bridal & baby showers & kids' birthday parties, & I guess she figures it's payback time, because they've all been invited. In fact, I think they've invited about 60 people. And are praying desperately for sun (even though the latest weather forecast is calling for rain), since FIL & stepMIL have a fair-sized house, but not big enough to hold 60 people (& recently had stepBIL redo their patio with interlock brick, specifically with the idea of having the shower out there).

As we navigated through the aisles to the registry kiosk, dh muttered, "Wow… this is harder than I thought it would be." "Yeah, well, welcome to my world," I said unsympathetically. After all, all he had to do was walk through the store with me & carry the package out. He plans to spend Sunday afternoon at our place with his dad & brother & maybe one or both of the nephews, watching the EuroCup soccer finals. I'm the one who has to sit through the damn shower, watching everyone make a fuss over the mom-to-be (who is 41 years old & already the mother of a daughter who is in university)(!!), watching all the beautiful gifts being unwrapped to oohs & ahhs, playing all those incredibly stupid shower games, & listening to everyone comparing labour stories (hey, anyone want to hear MY labour story??).

The only saving grace about baby showers (& Italian showers in particular) is the food is bound to be pretty good. ; ) It's easier to play along with how many toilet paper squares it will take to wrap around the guest of honour's belly when your mouth is full of Zia's amaretti cookies. ; )

Even after so many years of living with loss & infertility, it's hard to go shower shopping. Some times are harder than others. I often opt for practical equipment as a gift over cute outfits or bedding (I bought a nursery monitor on this outing), & go somewhere like the Bay or WalMart to buy it. Here, however, you couldn't miss the display of cribs & nursery furniture, all decked out with adorable quilts, mobiles, stuffed animals, etc. I found myself saying, "Oh, isn't that cute?" but at the same time, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Still, after 10 years. We found the monitor we were looking for & got out of there as quickly as possible.

I can do this… I always have. I've been doing it for 10 years -- & nothing could be worse than those first few showers & first birthday parties that I attended after our daughter's stillbirth. Heck, I even went to a baby shower on my 40th birthday weekend, while in infertility treatment!! (I took the little square envelope out of the mailbox &, without opening it, said to dh, "This is an invitation for your cousin's baby shower -- & it's going to be on my 40th birthday weekend." I was right -- & I cried for two hours solid.) I find that the anticipation is usually worse than the actual event. To be honest, I probably find baby showers more boring than painful these days. (Or maybe that's just my self-protective shield kicking in.)

But I find it takes a lot out of me, & I'm totally exhausted afterwards from the effort.

*** *** ***

Also last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine had this article about the public's fascination with large families on television -- one "naturally" conceived (the Duggars of Arkansas) & one through fertility treatments (the Gosselins, aka Jon & Kate Plus 8).

I have to admit, I had never heard of the Duggars (do we even get their show in Canada?) until a few years ago, via the infertility boards I mostly lurk on. Their sheer numbers reminded me of the large Mennonite families in the small town I spent most of my elementary school years in. One family that lived on a farm outside of town had, I believe, 19 children. As each girl in the family reached high school, she would take a turn dropping out for a year, postponing graduation and any ambitions she may have had for herself, in order to stay at home & help the mother with the younger children.

Dh & I do watch Jon & Kate semi-regularly. Partly because the kids are just so darned cute, partly because (like many other people, I'm sure) we find it fascinating to watch how they manage to raise that many small children all at once. And partly because, while we wanted our fertility treatments to work, we didn't want them to work THAT well, and Jon & Kate remind us of the flip side of fertility treatments. You might wind up with the baby of your dreams, but you also might wind up with six of them, all at once. I like that Kate emphasizes how very blessed they are that all of their sextuplets turned out to be healthy. Liza Mundy's book, Everything Conceivable, which I wrote about awhile back covers the subject of multiples in great depth, including the greater risks involved (to both mother & babies), the touchy subject of selective reduction and the simple logistics of trying to bring up two or three or more babies at the same time.

I'll admit that I've always been fascinated with multiples, especially twins. My sister & I are only 21 months apart & looked sufficiently alike as children (& dressed alike too, at our own insistence) that people often thought we were twins. Our friends in high school dubbed us "the Bobbsey Twins" and, at university, we were often mistaken for each other. When I was in journalism school (25 years ago, in the very early days of modern fertility technology in North America) & looking for feature story material, I saw an ad in the local paper for a meeting of the local Parents of Multiple Births Association chapter. I attended several of their meetings & interviewed some of their members. One really interesting meeting featured a panel of teenaged & adult twins in all combinations -- fraternal male, identical male, fraternal female, identical female and fraternal male-female twins -- answering questions from the audience about what it was like to be a twin, what they wished their parents would have done differently, etc. One of the women attending that night was expecting triplets (!), & was herself a quadruplet (!!). She, of course, was born long before fertility treatments existed.

When we started doing clomid & then IUIs, I knew that multiples were a possibility (although my RE never said very much on the subject…!). I thought I could handle twins, & that twins might even be kind of cool. Anything more, I wasn't too sure about. I remember at one IUI being told there were four promising follicles. We drove away from the RE's office that day with me bawling my eyes out. All I could think was "quadruplets" & what the hell did we just do?? Of course it didn't work, and I knew that the chances of winding up with four (let alone one) were highly unlikely… but...

*** *** ***

Tomorrow is the last day of NaComLeavMo (National Comment Leaving Month), another of Mel's great ideas. I started out strong but the last week or two have fallen totally off the wagon. I'm not too bad at leaving five comments a day, since I generally do that most days anyway, but returning comments & visiting new blogs is where I fall down. So many blogs, so little time…! (sigh)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Article: "The baby kit"

Another great "Facts & Arguments" piece from the back page of today's Globe & Mail. It's not exactly IF-related, but it is, sort of, especially at the end... anyway, I got a kick out of it! (Oh Noah, if only it were so simple...!)

*** *** ***
Facts & Arguments: THE ESSAY
The baby kit
Noah wanted a sibling. So he came up with a plan - first buy the ingredients, then bake them up

IVY WIGMORE
June 23, 2008

Noah and I were strapping ourselves in, me into the driver's seat and he into his booster seat. It was a bright Friday morning and I was driving him to school.

I tilted the rearview mirror to split the view between the lane behind me and his corner of the back seat, and settled in for the usual 20 minutes of I Spy, Q and A and random conversation.

"So," my grandson started things off as I pulled out from the curb. "So. My mom's making a baby." I looked back at him, cut again to the street and then back again to him, in quick succession.

This was big news. My son and Noah's mom had been apart for longer than Noah's six years on the planet. Still, everyone is cordial and she and I remain fairly close. I was surprised Noah would have this information before I did. "Really," I said.

"Yes. And it's going to be a baby girl and I will be her big brother. And I will help take care of her and play wif her and cheach her stuff and share my toys."

"Wow," I said. "That's pretty exciting news." He went on, at some length, to explain what it would be like having a baby sister. How he would protect her from mean kids and read to her. Noah was so clearly happy about the prospect, he apparently had zero concerns about giving up the centre spot in his mother's universe.

A few days later, I was talking to Erin to arrange the next "shleepover." "So. Noah had some interesting news for me on Friday."

She laughed. "Was it the baby sister story?" "Story?" I asked "Yes," she said. "Total fabrication." Understanding dawned. Noah wanted a sibling. He had been campaigning tirelessly, asking Erin to make a baby. She had told him she hoped to, but now was just not the right time.

Noah is the sort of boy who sees obstacles as things to clamber over, one way or another, rather than as impassable barriers. So he didn't give up. He took the matter up with Kurt, Erin's boyfriend.

There was some confusion over the process involved, but Noah thought he might have to take things into his own hands. He told Kurt he'd really like to have a baby sister, even if she cried sometimes, even if she spit up, even if she pooped her pants. "My mom isn't gonna make a baby now. And I don't know how to make a baby, but naybe we could go to the store and get the stuff and you could tell me?"

This idea recalled an earlier preoccupation: Noah used to talk about what we would do if we lost him: "You'd have to go to the store and get a new me." He must have developed his own theories of where babies came from - the store, obviously, like everything else.

The specifics he envisioned were not entirely clear, although we were given to understand the oven was required for the baking part. He did know some details. "So," he said, "I was in my mom's belly."

"Yes, you were," I said. "Oh. And then was I in your belly?" I guess he thought he took a tour of the bellies of all his nearest and dearest. No, I told him, he was never in my belly. "Oh," he said, with a look of complete comprehension. "My dad's."

As far as I could work it out, the process was thought to be a trip to the store for the ingredients - maybe some kind of kit, like a gingerbread house? After that we would put it all together and bake him up and enjoy, fresh from the oven. So then he would be in our bellies, from whence he would emerge in good time. And that, then, must be how to make a baby sister, too.

Another Friday, another drive to school. Noah had received an explanation of how babies were made. He told me that people make babies with just their bodies, no ingredients required. He seemed to want corroboration to support such an outlandish claim. Yes, I told him, that was how it worked. Noah looked out the window, and then suddenly: "Hey! I got a idea - you should make a baby."

I said I would like to make a baby but I couldn't. Why not, he wanted to know, a little frustrated. Well, I said, when women became older they stopped being able to have babies. "Why?"

"Well," I told him, "that's just the way our bodies work." "But why?" Not wanting to introduce the spectre of mortality into an already complicated discussion, I told him babies are a lot of work and older people don't have as much energy.

"Oh." Noah wasn't pleased but didn't see any new avenues of approach. Now he knew how the process worked, but was beginning to understand he may not be able to make it happen.

I empathized with Noah's struggle. Even with knowledge of how babies are made, it still seems barely believable that with just our bodies we can mix up the ingredients and make a complete individual as original as, say, Noah. I don't know why his longing is so powerful, or how long it will last. But I hope the right time will arrive and the ingredients will come together for that baby girl. Because her big brother is ready and waiting.

Ivy Wigmore lives in Charlottetown.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Show & Tell: Stormy weather...

Last Friday night (the 13th), dh & I finally stopped off at a local garden centre & picked up some bedding plants for our yard, which I planted the next day while he mowed the lawn. I'm not much of a gardener -- I like the idea of a garden & how it looks, but don't have the time to be constantly weeding & watering. Every year, I plant a few impatiens & petunias just to add some colour to the yard.

Our weather lately has been a mixed bag -- mostly overcast, a little sun, temperatures in the low 20s (Celsius = high 60s/low 70s Fahrenheit). Monday was overcast & it rained a little downtown (which is about 20-25 miles from where we live). However, when we got off the train that night, back in suburbia, dh noticed a pile of white stuff by his tire. "I think we had some hail!" he said, inspecting the car (which was, thankfully, dent-free). There was a pile in the corner of the parking lot that looked like the remnants of a snowdrift, and leaves all over the road as we drove home.

Here's a few pictures of what we found at our house:





This was around 5:30... apparently the storm had gone through around 3:30-4, but there were still hailstones to be seen in certain spots. My flowers at the front of the house were fine, but in the backyard (& one spot in particular), they were pretty beaten up. :(

Today was mostly overcast & around 3 p.m., some thunder rumbled through & it rained briefly, but now the sun is shining again. Yet on the suppertime news, they had photos of more hail in a town about 12 miles further down the road from us. You never know what's going to hit you & what's going to miss.

I've always had a certain horrified fascination with thunderstorms & tornados in particular. I credit (?!) this to my maternal grandfather, who was afraid of bad weather. Apparently his mother was afraid as well, so whether it's genetic or learned behaviour, it's something our family has lived with for generations. The area of the Prairies where I grew up (& likewise the small town in NW Minnesota where my grandparents lived) is at the northern end of Tornado Alley, & tornados are not unheard of.

My sister & I spent a good chunk of every summer growing up with our grandparents. At least once or twice during that time -- & often, by some coincidence, the night we arrived -- we would be hauled out of bed by my grandfather because of bad weather approaching (it was always at night, of course...!). Early in our childhood, we'd be taken down into the dirt cellar, which lay beneath a trap door in the kitchen floor. In later years, when the cellar was deemed too unstable, we would hustle across the yard & down the alley, lightning flickering in the sky overhead, to the house of a neighbour who had a proper basement. A lot of times, we didn't even go into the basement -- just being somewhere where there was a basement would make my grandfather feel better.

Needless to say, all this made a huge impact on my childhood psyche. To this day, I still have "tornado dreams," where I watch funnel clouds advancing on me. Sometimes I escape into the old dirt cellar (the house was actually torn down more than 10 years ago), but instead of a hole in the ground, there is a whole underground city waiting for me there.

In July 1995 or 1996, I believe, a tornado actually did touch down on the outskirts of town. I have seen footage of it on those weather shows on TLC & Discovery. It was the last night of the county fair, & several hundred people were in the old wooden grandstand to watch the stock car races, the traditional wrap-up entertainment. (The grandstand was built in 1937, & my grandparents were actually married onstage at the grand opening ceremonies as a "stunt," which I think is totally cool, but my grandmother seemed embarrassed to admit & would never talk about.) When the warning siren went off, many of them took cover in the sheltered area under the bleachers. The beautiful old grandstand & several of the fairground buildings were completely flattened, but miraculously, nobody was killed. The grandstand was later replaced by a horrible modern tin structure that makes me shudder every time I look at it.

By this time, my grandparents had moved out of their old house & into a fourplex -- a basement suite. My grandfather slept through the whole thing & never even heard the sirens. Figures.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Update on an old post

Very early on in my blogging career, last November, I wrote this post about an Aboriginal woman who abducted a newborn baby from a hospital in Sudbury, in northern Ontario. When I first heard about the case, I found myself praying, not only for the baby's safety, but also that the kidnapper wasn't some crazed bereaved or infertile woman. After all, don't people think we're crazy enough as it is without worrying that we're going to take off with their child??

But I was right. She had recently lost a baby. :(

That was in November. I spotted this article in the National Post yesterday, saying that she'd been sentenced to five years in prison (the Crown was aiming for seven). Her lawyer is planning to file an appeal. Here's another article about the case from CTV News.)

I was particularly struck by two paragraphs in the story:

"In August, 2007, Batisse lost a pregnancy after being assaulted but pretended to be pregnant to preserve her relationship with the baby's father. She said she eventually felt pressured to produce a baby." (emphasis mine)


And this sentence:
"I want to apologize, especially to the mother," Batisse said. "My intention was never to hurt anyone. I know what I did was wrong. But in my head that day, I wasn't that person. I don't know who I was. I just wanted my baby back."

Of course, pregnancy loss is no excuse for snatching someone else's baby. Much as we are baby-obsessed &/or grief-stricken, 99.99% of bereaved &/or infertile women would never do such a thing.

But I still think that this story reflects (in part) the societal pressures women (still) face to procreate, the beating that our self-esteem takes when we're not able to do that, and the lack of support and understanding that surrounds the issues of pregnancy loss & infertility.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bye bye board :(

I'm very sad today. I just found out that the childless living message board I used to frequent is closing by the end of this month. (I don't want to name names, but it's one of the ones listed in my sidebar links.)

I found this board almost exactly 7 years ago, in June 2001, & started posting in July, after lurking for awhile. My dh & I had just made the painful decision to stop infertility treatments, & I was looking for other women in the same boat who could relate to the pain & confusion I was feeling, & tell me I was going to be OK. I had belonged to a private e-mail list for pregnancy loss & subsequent pregnancy, so I knew the power of the Internet to create healing communities, but this was the first public board that I had gathered up the courage to post on.

I found a home there. We had a wonderful, active, supportive group of women here for several years -- until some format/technical changes were made that made it difficult for many members (including me) to access the board for a long time (which sent me into a total panic!). Eventually, I was able to access the board again -- but by then, many of our former members had drifted away, and it's never been quite the same. I have stayed in touch with several past members (mostly through a private board that one of them set up for us, when we weren't able to access the old board where we'd all met), but often wonder about what's happened to some of the others.

Some, like me, were survivors of pregnancy loss & infertility, who had finally had enough of riding the rollercoaster. Some had husbands who promised them children -- then changed their minds. Some had husbands who had children from previous marriages and didn't want more -- or had had vasectomies, and later reversals did not work. Whatever the reasons, all of us had assumed we'd be mothers someday, and all of us were facing a much different reality. I know of one former member who is going through adoption right now, but the others I've stayed in touch with have remained childless.

The board hasn't been very active in recent years (I've found very few such boards that ARE active)(& I'm guilty of not posting there much lately), but a handful of oldtimers like me have stuck around to welcome any newcomers & answer their questions. Many of the threads have hundreds of views, which tells me someone is reading out there, even if they're not actively participating. Childlessness is such a painful topic -- it is very hard to put yourself out there & acknowledge that parenthood is not going to happen for you. (Just look at how the recent New York Times coverage featuring Pamela Jeanne had childless/free after infertility women coming out of the woodwork, on her blog & in the Times Well blog comments section, to share their stories.) There are so few resources out there for childless-not-by-choice women. I hate to see one of them disappear.

The thing that REALLY irked me was the suggestion from the powers-that-be that we could post on the childfree by choice board instead (!!!). I lurk on that board from time to time, and they're a pretty good bunch of women. We do have some things in common -- they have a lot to teach us about the good things about living without children, and I think both of our groups are often badly misunderstood & misjudged by parents.

But we are coming at living without children from very different places. They don't want to be called "childLESS" any more than some of us like being called "childFREE." This is a choice that most of them have embraced enthusiastically (some childfree people don't even like children very much), when most women in my shoes don't feel we really had much of a choice. At the very least, it was a choice we arrived at after a lot of heartache. And to have someone from outside our little community (& no doubt a parent) say that we can just go over to their house & play with them from now on tells me that our feelings & needs are not being heard or understood. :(

Someone once said that childless women were "the black sheep of the infertility community." That's certainly how I'm feeling today. :(

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Show & Tell: Cannon Beach


Show and Tell
Mel's recent posts about her seaside vacation in Maryland (including today's Show & Tell post) got me thinking about my own seaside vacations, albeit on the other (Pacific) coast. I first heard about Cannon Beach, Oregon, back in 1976, when my mother & grandmother travelled by train from our home on the Canadian Prairies to the Vancouver & then south to Seattle to visit my great-aunt, Grandma's youngest sister, who had recently moved to the Seattle area from Baltimore. They all drove down the coast to visit Grandma's & Great-Aunt's older brother, who lived in the Portland area, & then to Cannon Beach, so that Mom & Grandma could see the ocean -- not just Puget Sound or the Strait of Georgia, but the real Pacific Ocean, stretching out as far as the eye could sea.

In 1993, dh & I met up with my mother in Vancouver, & travelled together, first to Victoria & then by ferry through the San Juan Islands to Seattle to see the same great-aunt. The four of us made the trip to Cannon Beach for a couple of days, and dh & I fell in love with the place.

In the summer of 2001, dh & I had just finished the last of three agreed-upon IUI cycles. I got a BFN, & subsequently I felt myself teetering on the brink of a physical, mental and emotional abyss. As far as dh was concerned, we were done, finished. I wasn't so sure. I thought we should do IVF -- because it was there -- but I doubted my ability to withstand more of what I had already endured. If I couldn't hack an IUI, how was I going to handle IVF, with its much greater expenses, drugs dosages and stresses?

We went to see an infertility counsellor, who suggested we take the summer off & try to avoid anything related to fertility concerns for a couple of months before making a final decision with a fresh perspective. So we took a vacation -- flew out to see my parents & to travel with them by car, through the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver, south to Seattle & Cannon Beach ,and then back home through northern Idaho and then the flat plains of Montana & North Dakota. We took long walks along the beach, explored the quaint little shops in town, sat around bonfires on the beach, watching the sun set over the Pacifc, & enjoyed the company of my extended family. When we returned home, it was with the perspective and courage to say "enough" & farewell to further treatment.

Our most recent Cannon Beach trip was in August 2005. We flew to Seattle this time, meeting my parents, who drove, my sister, who flew in via Vancouver. In Cannon Beach, we had an impromptu family reunion of sorts: all but about four of my mother's cousins from that branch of the family wound up coming there, from as far away as Minnesota, California & New Mexico. I'm very glad we went, as it was the last time I saw my great-aunt: she passed away a few months ago at age 84 -- the last of her generation, & the last of my great-aunts & uncles.

All three times, we've stayed at this resort, just south of the town of Cannon Beach. My great-aunt liked it because it was one of the few places in town that would allow her to smoke on the property (albeit outside). Her two grandchildren loved it because it had a swimming pool (the ocean was OK for wading, but generally too cold for swimming) & was steps from the beach. There's a variety of accommodation for various budgets & needs, from small rooms to suites with kitchens, fireplaces and oceanview balconies. The town itself is a wonderful little place, full of artists' galleries & quaint little shops. There are no McDonalds, Starbucks or chain-type stores of any kind allowed. (Seaside, a few miles to the north, has all these things, if you're really craving them...!)

One of the main area attractions is Haystack Rock, which is visible for miles up & down the beach. At high tide, it's partly submerged, but at low tide, you can walk out to the rock & explore.



Here's a photo of some of the marine life left behind by the tides around Haystack Rock:





Just north of the town of Cannon Beach is Ecola State Park, which has some spectacular scenic views -- including the Haystack Rock, way off in the distance:



Dh & I hope to get back to Cannon Beach again soon, perhaps even just the two of us. for a change! ; ) We do want to get to the Atlantic someday too -- Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland & Cape Cod are on our lists... and now, having seen Mel's photos (particularly of that CAKE...!), I think I'll be adding Smith Island. ; )

To see what others have to show & tell this week, click here.

Father's Day 2008

It's Father's Day and, having paid homage to FIL last night, dh & I have been free to spend the day exactly as we (ummm, HE) pleases. I gave him a card this morning, as is our tradition. We watched Meet the Press's memorial tribute to Tim Russert this morning (as a communicator & former print reporter, I loved to watch him in action!), then went to the cemetery to visit our daughter's niche -- then to Tim Hortons for coffee & bagels, Chapters for a browse, grocery shopping & then home. He's happily settled on the couch for the afternoon, watching golf, & has requested lasagna for dinner. I am happy to oblige.

My own father actually called me last night to say he & my mom were heading out of town for a few days. My parents are still in their 60s & not long retired (my dad actually still works part-time). They married very young -- my mom was 19 & my dad was just two days past his 21st birthday & so able to sign all the paperwork legally for himself. In some ways, my dad was typical of his generation. He was a branch banker, eventually rising to the rank of branch manager, & spent long hours at the office. He wasn't as involved as dads today are with their kids. My mother was by far the more central figure in my daily life.

At the same time, he was not a remote figure. When we were toddlers, he would wrestle with me & my sister, & help us build tents on the living room floor out of sofa cushions, TV trays & blankets. He was everyone's favourite uncle, playing ball with my cousins & tossing them high in the air until they got too big to do that anymore (he would have made a fabulous doting grandfather). He'd make popcorn for us every Sunday night to eat while we watched Ed Sullivan as a family, & in later years, took on the roles of barbecuer in chief and Sunday brunch chef extraordinaire.

While my mother would often rant & rave over various things my sister & I had done, my father would remain largely silent. But whenever he did mad about something, boy, you paid attention. I never saw him cry until I was 14 & his mother, my grandmother, died suddenly at the far too young age of 68. It was, & still is, the worst thing in the world for me to witness.

There's been some good reading over the last few days on Father's Day & fatherhood and, a la Mel's Friday blog roundup, I wanted to share a few of them with you. I've read several bloggers in the last few days who mentioned their dhs & wondered why Father's Day wasn't receiving the same amount of hype as Mother's Day typically gets. Today's Toronto Star had an interesting article on this topic, the online version of which is titled "Why doesn't Father's Day matter more?"

In yesterday's Saturday Star, there was a piece on fatherhood after infertility, focusing on a local fertility doctor (not mine) who has helped make some family's dreams come true. Nice to see infertility being profiled through male eyes for once.

I enjoyed Nicholas Kristoff's piece in today's Sunday New York Times about his troubled relationship with his father, titled, The Man Who Wasn't There. I was especially struck by this paragraph, & of course immediately thought of all the bereaved dads out there who have their own brand of "paternal shadows" hanging over them:
"Most of my friends who grew up happily with their dads think of Father’s Day as a contrived holiday. It’s the people with paternal shadows for whom the third Sunday in June takes hold. So it’s not surprising, I guess, that those who are missing out on culturally signified occasions — the loveless on Valentine’s Day; the lonely on Thanksgiving — are the ones who are most affected."

I normally don't spend much time in the sports section, & have zero interest in the NFL, but I was taken with this story about DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys & his wife, & their struggle to have a family. I'm sure you'll find yourself nodding your head throughout the story, as I did.

Whether your children are here on earth, on their way, in heaven, or just a proverbial gleam in your eye, happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The little girl next door

Another blogger (and I can't for the life of me remember who -- my apologies!) recently wrote a post not too long ago about "shadow children" -- the babies born close in age to the children we should have had, the measuring sticks & constant reminders of how big our kids would be & what they would be doing right now.

My shadow child or measuring stick lives next door. Her parents moved beside us in the spring of 1998, right around the same time that I got pregnant. (They replaced -- much to my infinite relief -- an incredibly fertile family with four kids, who plied us with not-so-subtle hints, comments & outright questions about when we were going to follow suit & pop out a few -- didn't we think kids were great? Didn't we want a few of our own? We should really get on that, you know. Ugh!!).

We didn't know the new neighbours very well (we still don't -- we're friendly but not overly so), but dh & the husband often chatted while tending to yard work. Dh mentioned we were expecting, and that we had been trying to have a family for awhile, & the husband said they had too. When I lost Katie in August, I was incredibly touched when they sent over a bouquet. I saw the wife in the yard one day & thanked her. She seemed a little nervous but said they were thinking of us and hoped we'd have another baby soon.

I chalked up her nervousness to the subject matter & the general awkwardness most people generally feel around the bereaved (especially bereaved parents of dead babies), but several months later, I began to suspect she might have had another reason. We both leave the house around the same time every morning, & I often see them coming & going from the vantage point of my kitchen window, which faces onto both of our front yards & driveways.

"Does she look like she's gaining weight?" I asked my dh one day. "Or do you think she might be pregnant?" Underneath the heavy winter clothes, it was kind of hard to tell. One night in March, coming home, we could see them through the front bedroom window, painting the walls a lavender colour. Shortly afterward, we saw people carrying gift-wrapped boxes into the house, and soon after that, the box for a crib was set out for collection on garbage day. Shovelling snow one day at the same time as the husband, dh asked him if they were expecting. "Yes, next week!" the husband said nervously. (!!!)

Their little girl was born in April 1999. Had our own little girl been born in November, as scheduled, they would have been six months apart in age. I envisioned them, two little girls living side by side, natural playmates.

I knew I would have to face this baby some day. I had not held another baby since my stillborn daughter. It was important to me that I be able to choose the time, the place, the baby. I did NOT want my first experience holding a baby, post-loss, to be at a family gathering, with all eyes upon me, watching my reaction. I didn't want an audience to my pain.

So one spring day, I steeled myself & took a small gift & card to their door. The wife answered, holding the baby. We sat on a bench on their front porch as she opened the gift, and she said, "Would you like to hold her?" I said yes and she plopped the baby in my arms. I looked at the wee bundle & took a deep breath. It was hard -- but not as hard as I had thought it might be. She was a little girl, a little younger and smaller than my daughter would have been -- but she was not my baby. And it had been my choice to visit. I knew I had made a good decision.

She is nine years old now. Dh & I have watched her grow up, always thinking of the little girl who would have been growing up alongside of her. She looks nothing like our daughter would have (which helps), and is a grade behind where Katie would have been. Still, she is a yardstick, giving us an idea of where our daughter might have been, more or less -- how tall she would be, what kinds of clothes she would be wearing, what sorts of toys she would be playing with and activities she'd be involved in.

When she was a toddler, we'd often see her playing or riding her tricycle outside, by herself. "She looks so lonely," dh said once. "She should have a friend." We both knew who he was thinking of.

Once she started school, though, friends began coming out of the woodwork. We arrived home one day to find her outside with another little girl, about the same age. When we got out of the car, she called dh's name & announced importantly, "I have a best friend! Her name is Jessica!"

"Her name was supposed to be Katie," I muttered to dh.

Today, she has half a dozen friends in the neighbourhood (would they have been our daughter's playmates too?), running up & down the street to and from each others' houses, piling onto the trampoline in the back yard next door, giggling & shrieking. (Two years ago, one humourless older neighbour actually called the police to register a noise complaint!!) She waves to dh & I whenever she sees us (she especially adores dh -- children always do), tells us about her trip to Disney World, sells us Girl Guide cookies and asks us to sponsor her in the school's Jump Rope for Heart event.

"You & Lori are so good to me," she told dh once, out of the blue.

One time, when she was a pre-schooler, I was in the kitchen & saw the car pull into their driveway. I saw her getting out & stomping up the sidewalk. "You're a MEAN mommy!" I heard her grumble. "Yes, I know, I'm horrible," the mother replied wearily. I tried not to laugh. At least that was one thing I'd never have to hear my daughter say to me (as I'm sure she would have)!

I had been dreading what would have been Katie's first day of Grade 1. Another milestone in my daughter's life, in all parents' lives, that we were not going to experience. Somehow, I got through that day, & I was standing at the kitchen sink, thinking it hadn't been such a bad day after all. Then I saw her. It had been her first day of senior kindergarten, & she came happily skipping down the driveway, her blond hair freshly cut in a shoulder-length bob, wearing a smart little plaid skirt and sweater. Sweet and carefree, yet looking oddly grownup at the same time.

I crumpled into sobs.

Another time, I saw her getting into the car on a Saturday morning, dressed in a fluffy pink tutu, obviously attending a ballet class or recital. That was a hard day, too. Someday, if we stay in this house & they stay in theirs, we will no doubt watch her heading off to her high school prom, graduation, and maybe even her wedding.

I wonder if her parents remember the little girl who was supposed to have lived next door and been her playmate. I wonder if someday they will tell their daughter about her.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Me Meme

I was tagged with this meme today by Ya-Chun at She Almost Made It!

1. What were you doing 10 years ago?

I was pregnant! (with my daughter Katie, who was stillborn later that summer) I checked my old datebook for what was happening on this exact date, but it was nothing special. The day before (June 9), I had just been to see Dr. Ob-gyn for my triple screen blood test.

2. What 5 things are on your to-do list for today?

Since it's evening, I'll make up my to-do list for tomorrow:

1. Finish proofreading 80+-page document at work. (At least it's not due until Thursday... sometimes we get asked to turn these things around same day, or even same morning!)

2. Attend a farewell luncheon for one of my colleagues, whose last day is Friday.

3. Go for a walk, either on my lunch hour, after dinner, or both. (I've been neglecting this lately.)

4. Remind my boss that she agreed to let me have Friday afternoon off (in lieu of overtime worked).

5. Do some banking.

3. List some snacks you enjoy.

Anything chocolate, of course! Dh & I both love popcorn (used to live on it as students). I also love potato chips (but am trying to watch the salt these days…).

4. What would you do with a billion dollars?

Retire immediately!!
Start travelling to all the places I've wanted to see.
Buy a (somewhat) bigger house & hire a decorator.
Give some money to family members.
Set up a trust fund for our two nephews.
Establish a memorial foundation in our daughter's name, & give generous grants to our pregnancy loss support group, and local hospitals for infertility & pregnancy loss research & patient services.
Treat all my girlfriends to a spa weekend.

5. List the places you have lived.

(This will be a long list…!)

Emerson, Manitoba
Kinistino, Saskatchewan
Tisdale, Saskatchewan
Winnipegosis, Manitoba
Portage La Prairie, Manitoba
Deloraine, Manitoba
Carman, Manitoba
Winnipeg, Manitoba
London, Ontario
Toronto, Ontario & vicinity

6. List the jobs you have had.

Babysitter
Drive-in movie theatre concession stand clerk
Antique shop clerk
Waitress (several incarnations)
Home fire safety inspector
Retail sales clerk (also several incarnations)
Credit union teller
Weekend receptionist at a private men's dining & racquet club
Temping as a clerk-typist at a discount brokerage during RRSP season (!!)
Smalltown weekly newspaper reporter & editor
Corporate writer/editor

Not sure who hasn't done this one yet! Mmmm... how about Deathstar, Mrs. X, and Dianne? Take it away, girls....!

Great reading today!

This article (which I've cut & pasted below) was in today's Globe & Mail. I've never been subsequently pregnant myself, but the essay rings very true from what I understand from friends & support group clients who have been through it, & I thought I'd share it with a broader audience.

Today is a great day for reading about infertility in the media: head on over to the New York Times' website, where Pamela Jeanne of Coming2Terms is featured in an article about childless living after infertility (at one point, she was front & centre on the home page!). PJ is also featured in a multimedia presentation (photos & voice clips) about infertility, highlighted in an entry on Tara Parker-Pope's Well blog. Go over there & read some of the comments, & maybe add one of your own. You may have to register on the Times website to access some of this content.

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Facts & Arguments: THE ESSAY

Hope in textile form I was growing by the day and needed maternity clothes. But after five miscarriages, how could I believe?

CATHERINE STAFFORD

June 10, 2008

This was no ordinary trip to the mall. I was pregnant, yet again, and there was no way around it - I needed to buy stretchable, "I'm clearly pregnant," clothes.

What terrified me, though, was that I needed "I'm clearly pregnant but I might not be tomorrow" clothes.

Maternity clothes are all about celebrating; hope in a textile form. But what do you wear when you can't allow yourself to believe?

I suffered through five miscarriages and had a son in between losses. This was my seventh pregnancy and I was physically and emotionally exhausted. After so many false starts, how could I trust in what was happening this time?

I sat paralyzed in front of a cheerful maternity-wear display. I wanted nothing more than to escape from this moment of reckoning. The depth of my fear and doubt kept me rooted to a curved wooden bench, unable to move.

Stuck there, being warmed by the winter sunlight filtering through the large glass windows, I tried to summon the courage to stand up and walk into the store.

When I first found out I was pregnant against all odds, I blocked out my grief and allowed myself to feel hopeful. I held my breath, said a silent prayer of thanks (To whom, exactly? And for what, exactly? These were murky issues) and settled in to dealing with a hazy, sick first trimester.

I worked hard to keep my anxiety in check. I didn't mind the 24-hour a day "morning" sickness. My violent vomiting served as a bizarrely comforting reminder that I was still pregnant. Every day marked one step closer to making it safely through to the other side of my pregnancy, for me and my child.

People asked how I could keep trying for another baby, after all I had already lost. The answer was a complicated one. There were many reasons - I desperately wanted a sibling for my son; some part of me needed to believe that it could still happen - but mostly it boiled down to the fact that halting the process was too painful to reconcile.

Some deep, aching part of me needed to keep going. Faith? Maybe it was somewhere in there, in a convoluted way. But after so much pain and so many traumatic losses, I could make no sense of any of it.

I had thought I was already investing in this pregnancy, and to some extent that was true. I loved this baby fiercely, desperately. It wasn't this baby's fault things had gone so horribly wrong in my other pregnancies, and he or she deserved my full attention and positive, hopeful energy.

It was incredibly difficult, though, to invest completely. I'd grieved for so many losses that I often still felt raw and vulnerable.

I sat on the bench some more and watched shoppers coming and going in an easy flow through the doors. It was early in the day and the crowds hadn't yet taken over the space. I wondered what it would take to get me into the store.

Then, as I noticed a customer exchanging an item at the cash register, I realized that any clothes I bought would be returnable. A ridiculously petty insight, but it worked. Somehow, it helped push me out of my frozen fear into a mindset that allowed me to move forward.

I couldn't wait any longer for impossible guarantees of a safe pregnancy before investing - either in this baby or in the clothes I needed. Right there, right then, I was pregnant and getting bigger by the minute. Maybe I could learn to believe a bit at a time, inch by growing inch. And if my fragile faith was misplaced, well, at least I could be reimbursed.

With a deep breath I made it up off the bench, into the store and down the aisles to the maternity-wear section to browse through the possibilities hanging in neat rows. As I fingered the soft, blue corduroy pants with the requisite expandable elastic waist, I trembled.
"Well, baby," I thought, "here's my vote of pseudo-confidence." I piled items into my cart to try on in the dressing room.

I was willing to step up and focus on being pregnant. But I also needed to be gentle with myself. Surely, even the baby would understand that part of me still needed the comfort of an anticipatory coping plan (even if that plan was illusory in its perceived comfort). For now, the receipt for my purchases, folded neatly away in my wallet once I'd bought a few things, was the best I could do.

I left the store feeling mildly euphoric. My new maternity clothes were tangible proof of my determined hope. Maybe looking the part could help me see what I needed so badly to believe was possible. I wouldn't wait until Monday to wear my expandable cords to work, I decided. I would change into them as soon as I got home.

Catherine Stafford lives in Ottawa. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl six months later

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mel's Show & Tell: Remembering more than my baby today...


The park on the Toronto waterfront where our pregnancy loss support group's annual picnic & memorial butterfly release was held today is also the home of a new memorial, unveiled last year, honouring the victims of Air India Flight #182. The memorial was still under construction at last year's picnic, and was unveiled later that month by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The story of Flight 182 is well known in Canada, but may be less familiar to Americans. On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight #182 left Vancouver, then Montreal, en route to London and then New Delhi. A terrorist bomb, planted in Vancouver by Sikh extremists, exploded as the plane flew over the Irish Sea, killing all 329 people on board, including 136 children. Canada's Prime Minister at the time, Brian Mulroney, called Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India to express his condolences. Perhaps Gandhi should have been the one calling Mulroney: the vast majority (280) of the 329 people on board were Canadian citizens (albeit many of them with roots in India). It has been said that if the people aboard had had fair skins, public perception & reaction would have been quite different, and the struggle to bring the perpetrators to justice would not have dragged on for more than 20 years.

According to Wikipedia, until September 11, 2001, the Air India bombing was the single deadliest terrorist attack involving aircraft. It remains the largest mass murder in Canadian history.

Dh & I knew one of the victims of Air India Flight 182. Rahul was from a town in northern Manitoba, my home province. He lived on the same residence floor as dh during the post-graduate year (1981-82) dh spent at the University of Manitoba (the year he met me!). Theirs was an all-guys floor in a co-ed residence; I lived in the girls' dorm next door, & our two floors frequently partied together. He & dh also shared a class. Dh went to grad school elsewhere next year while I finished my BA degree. Both Rahul & I continued to live in residence, & I would see him in the dining hall and at residence events. I remember him introducing me to his younger sister, who also lived in residence.

I was living with my parents & getting ready for my wedding on July 6, 1985, when the Air India tragedy occurred. I was shocked when the TV announcer said that there were two Manitobans on board, and then read Rahul's name. At first, I thought there must be some mistake; Rahul's last name was not uncommon among South Asians. But it was true. We had lost touch since leaving school, but it hadn't been that long ago that I had last seen him, and having someone I knew become the victim of a terrorist act, dying so tragically at such a young age, seemed unbelievable, especially in those pre-9/11 days. Every now & then, looking through the photo albums from my university days, I will pause on the photos of Rahul, smiling and happy. He was 23 years old.

Before we headed home today from this year's picnic, dh & I hiked over to have a look at the memorial. Like the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C. (albeit on a much smaller scale), the memorial includes the names of all the victims engraved in black granite. Rahul's wasn't very hard to find -- it's the very first one on the list. We both traced the letters of his name & (not for the first time today) thought about the fragility of life, the strange directions it can lead us in and all the "what ifs."

Director Sturla Gunnarson has made a documentary about Flight 182 that premiered at a documentary film festival in Toronto this spring, and will be shown on CBC television on June 22, 23 years after the plane went down.
To see what other bloggers had to show & tell today, hop over to Mel's Show & Tell.

Fly away, butterfly


Today was our pregnancy loss support group's annual picnic & memorial butterfly release, in a park on the Toronto waterfront. Desite the heat & humidity, and the threat of thunderstorms, there were several hundred people there, including many friends & former clients of our group. I overheard someone saying that we released almost 300 monarch butterflies.

This was the group's 8th butterfly release (the picnic has been around several years longer), & dh & I have been to all of them. It's a very emotional ceremony. I haven't cried in recent years, but this time I did. As we opened our little box & watched our monarch spread its wings & fly out of sight, I thought about our Katie. I thought about the 10 years that have gone by. I thought about the friends who couldn't be there & the babies they'd lost, and the cyberfriends I've made, including one whose sister-in-law is currently in the hospital, fighting to keep her 24-weeks twins inside for a few more precious days or weeks.

This is the poem that was read prior to the release (copies were handed out). It's attibuted to Jill Haley:

As you release this butterfly in honour of me,
Know that I'm with you and will always be.
Hold a hand, say a prayer,
Close your eyes and see me there.
Although you may feel a bit torn apart,
Please know that I'll be forever in your heart.
Now fly away butterfly as high as you can go,
I'm right there with you more than you know.

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 1998: Dark clouds on the horizon (long post)



Wednesday, June 3rd, having gotten the OK from Dr. Ob-gyn at my initial checkup, I called my travel agent to book flights "home" to visit my parents & grandparents. We planned to leave Saturday, July 11th. Dh could only stay a week, but I planned to hang around for another week & return home on July 26th. The flights cost us $945 (including taxes & fees).

Thursday, June 4th I took my first-year university roommate out for a belated birthday lunch. One of her other friends came along too -- I had met her many times previously at Roommate's house & didn't mind. She was pregnant too, although further along than me, & we compared notes.

Friday, June 5th, instead of going for amniocentisis (which I had cancelled), I got a manicure & pedicure. The next day, Saturday, June 6th, we attended an engagement party for dh's cousin at his fiancee's parents' home, not too far from where we live. The wedding was scheduled for July 3 of the following year (1999). I already had it planned in my head that we'd take the baby (who would then be 7+ months old) with us to the church ceremony, & ask cousin/neighbour from the other side of dh's family to babysit while we attended the reception in the evening. I even had my eye on a white eyelet dress at Baby Gap, should the baby turn out to be a girl.

(With these sorts of "should have been" visions fresh in my memory, the actual wedding was on the painful side. After the service, dh & I silently drove a few miles up the road to the cemetery where our daughter was buried & stayed there for awhile, contemplating the twists & turns of life. We arrived late at the bride's parents' home nearby, where they were serving lunch in between the service & reception (!). "What took you so long??" one of dh's louder-mouthed cousins yelled at us. We ignored him.)

For the engagement party, I had planned to wear one of the cute maternity sundresses I had bought, but it was actually quite chilly, so instead, I wore my navy floral palazzo pants, a sleeveless taupe blouse & my black blazer (which wouldn't button up, of course, but was warm on my shoulders). I was one of four pregnant women at the party. One was the bride-to-be's sister, another was her cousin, & the third was another cousin's wife, who was due in late September/early October. We briefly compared notes & she said she was having a lot of nausea & morning sickness.

(The engaged/now long married couple loves to entertain, & we've attended many events at their house, often with dozens of children running around their yard. Including, of course, three children who are now approaching 10 years old.

(At one such gathering, some months after losing our daughter, I found myself alone at the buffet table with the cousin's wife who was pregnant at the same time as me. She asked me how I was doing, & I said, "Fine." There was a pause, & then quietly, her gaze downcast, she whispered, "It must be so hard." I was stunned & paused, trying to think of what I should say -- and then other people entered the room, & the spell was broken. She never made an overture like that to me again.)

Tuesday, June 9th, day 122 of my pregnancy, I was back at the ob-gyn's for a checkup & the triple screen blood test. I don't remember much about that visit, except that the receptionist told me they would only call if the test results were abnormal (in other words, no news is good news). That afternoon, I called my travel agent & arranged payment for our flights home to visit my parents.

Friday, June 12th, I ran into the secretary for the chairman of the bank I work for. She had previously worked for another executive in an office adjacent to ours, so I knew her fairly well, & she congratulated me on my pregnancy. (After Katie was stillborn, she sent me a condolence note -- the very first one I received from anyone. I was incredibly touched that she would do that. She is the same age as me, if not a little older, had recently remarried, & has no children.)

Monday, June 15th, I picked up our plane tickets from the travel agent.

Wednesday, June 17th, we arrived home from work. There was a message on our voice mail.

I went cold all over when I heard the ob-gyn's receptionist's voice asking me to please call the office. I knew it could mean only one thing. The test results were indicating some sort of abnormality. There was something wrong with my baby.

I frantically dialled the number of the office -- and got THEIR voice mail. It was already after 6 o'clock. Why, why, WHY hadn't they called me at the office?? They had that number! They must have known I was at work during the day!!

The message on the office voice mail gave an emergency number. I called it. I was told sorry, they didn't have access to the doctor's files, & I would have to wait until after 9 the next morning to speak to him. I called back to the office & left a message on the voice mail.

Dh & I both spent a very sleepless night.

The next morning I left another message on the voice mail as soon as I got into my office. When the receptionist finally returned my call, she said she HAD tried to call me at work. I asked at what number. She read it to me. It was one digit off. Figures.

She told me the results were back. The good news was that my risk for a baby with Down's syndrome was that of a 34.2 year old -- in other words, less than normal for my age.

However, according to this test, my risk of having a baby with spina bifida was higher than normal for my age. The norm was a 1/125 chance; the results indicated the likelihood was 1/85.

She told me the doctor was in surgery that morning so I couldn't talk to him right away. She asked me to come into the office for a second test, since there was a high likelihood of a false positive (I went in later that afternoon). She said they would likely send me for genetic counselling (again?) & watch the results of my upcoming ultrasound closely.

That night, I noticed brownish-yellow discharge again, for the first time in three weeks.

Sunday, the 21st, was Father's Day. I don't remember much about it, but I'm sure I gave dh a card, & my calendar notes indicate we went to church & then to the movies to see "The Horse Whisperer."

Tuesday, June 23rd was my ultrasound (the second one of my pregnancy, if you count the early one I had in April). She took a long time, doing measurements, & switched on the sound so that I could hear the heartbeat. She also gave me a photo (the one at the top of this post). I treasure it, because it turned out to be the one & only photo from five ultrasounds during my pregnancy. Whenever pregnant women had shown me their ultrasounds before, I'd never been able to make out the body parts, but I could see the baby's profile clearly here. (I made a photocopy & stuck it in an anniversary card for my parents, writing, "Hi Grandma & Grandpa!!" underneath. My mother called to say thanks, but she couldn't make anything out either, lol.) I asked the u/s tech whether she could tell the gender, & she said that she couldn't be 100% certain, but she didn't see any parts that would indicate a boy.

Back downstairs to Dr. Ob-gyn -- who proceeded to burst our bubble. (I made notes from our conversation when we got back home.)
He said he couldn't tell us for sure that the baby was OK -- but he also couldn't tell us for sure what, if anything, was wrong. On the one hand, the ultrasound did not show any signs of spina bifida. On the other hand, the baby was smaller than normal & so the technician was not able to see as many details. I was about 18 weeks along, but the baby was measuring behind schedule, at 15 weeks. The amniotic fluid was low. There was something -- a spot or a mass on or beside the placenta. It could be a tumour (oh, lovely), it could be a clot. (There was a small calcified clot on the placenta after delivery.)

The baby also had an "echogenic bowel." It showed up bright on the ultrasound. In 90% of cases, this turns out to be nothing -- but it could mean one of five things. Our baby could have cystic fibrosis. It could be an infection of some kind. It could be a blockage of some kind. It could be a marker for Down's syndrome. Or it could be ingested blood. (This made sense to me, since I had spotted all through my first trimester.)

He was sending us back to the hospital across the street to the Prenatal Diagnosis Unit, where we'd had our genetic counselling session in May, for a consultation with Dr. Geneticist tomorrow.

As we left the hospital, it was raining. We ducked back inside to buy an umbrella at the gift shop. I can remember huddling under the umbrella outside the hospital & clinging to dh, near tears. "I just wanted a healthy baby," I whispered. "I know," he said, just as miserably.

Later, I pulled the ultrasound photo out of the envelope to look at it. The u/s tech had typed in a caption: "Hi Mom & Dad!" How, I wondered, could there be anything wrong with something so cute??

Back at the office, my boss greeted me, beaming. "Well?" I tried to smile, weakly. "There's a couple of things they want to check out, I'm going in for more tests, " I said. A look of shock spread over her face. "Oh no," she whispered.

Later that night, our carbon monoxide alarm went off. We wound up calling the fire department & waiting for them out on the porch, while curious neighbours peered out their window. They found no trace of CO. Our nerves were already shot, & this wasn't helping in the least.

The next morning, I called Dr. Ob-gyn again to clarify a few points & ask some more questions. Late that afternoon, dh & I left work early to meet with Dr. Geneticist, the unit head, a very kind and reassuring man, who sent us for more bloodwork (which ultimately ruled out cystic fibrosis or infection). We learned that the results of my second triple screen test were back & they were better than the first one. Nevertheless, Dr. Geneticist recommended an amniocentisis, to rule out any genetic problems. Reluctantly, I agreed. We made an appointment for that Friday, June 26th -- day 139 of my pregnancy.

Thursday morning, June 25th, I called Dr. Ob-gyn's office again. I thanked the receptionist for the referral & said Dr. Geneticist was able to answer most of our questions. I told that we were supposed to be heading out on vacation in a couple of weeks. Should we cancel? Play it by ear?

She consulted with the dr & told us we should think about rescheduling, because we needed to be available "in case of adverse results." I didn't want to think about what that might mean. I called our travel agent & asked: what if we had to cancel?

Well, our tickets were non-refundable -- and we had not purchased cancellation insurance (uh oh!). She said we could cancel now or the day of the flight. However, we could rebook for the face value of the tickets for up to one year later, plus pay a penalty of $107 per ticket -- and a $25 service fee. Well, it was better than totally throwing away $945. I told my boss that I would be taking the next day off for the amnio, & that there was a change in my vacation plans.

Coincidentally, I ran into the only other pregnant woman in the office that day -- due a month before me -- and she asked me that day how I was doing. I confided to her that my ultrasound had found some anomalies & that I was having an amnio the next day. She told me (almost as if she was trying to make me feel better) that she was also very nervous because she thought she might be leaking amniotic fluid. (Her daughter was born healthy in mid-October.)

Dh & I both took the day off work for the amnio on Friday, June 26th (pregnancy day 139) at the hospital where Dr. Geneticist practiced, across the street from Dr. Ob-gyn. We drove into the city, & it was a stifling hot, hazy, humid day, with both air quality & humidex advisories issued by Environment Canada. The hospital was a patchwork of buildings, some of them very old, & we had to wind our way through a rabbit warren of hallways to find the amnio clinic.

I don't remember a lot about that day. I remember they did an ultrasound to see where the baby was positioned, & I saw the baby wave its arm, as if it was waving at us to say hello. I tried not to look as the doctor got the needle ready, & then plunged it into my stomach.

I gasped, & then burst into huge, wracking sobs. "Oh baby, I'm so sorry. Mommy is so sorry," I sobbed, over & over again.

Dh squeezed my hand tightly & whispered in my ear. "You're doing great! Everything's going to be OK." I felt an overwhelming wave of love & gratitude toward him at that moment.

The doctor withdrew the needle & held up the vial full of amniotic fluid for us to see. It was amber coloured, with brown flecks in it.

I was escorted into a recovery area equipped with several lazyboy style armchairs, & sat there with my feet up. People came & went like it was no big deal, but I was there for more than an hour. The nurse was kind & told me to take my time. I I felt totally drained.

We left with an instruction sheet (no baths, etc.). Back at home, my mother called twice. The first time, she was crying, asking me if I was OK. She hadn't wanted me to have an amnio. (I didn't want it either, Mom.) My sister-in-law also called to see how I was. I spent the entire weekend on the couch watching TV (I vaguely recall watching an old Abbott & Costello movie -- something light!). I remember that my stomach muscles felt sore, just like your arm would feel sore after having had an innoculation.
There was nothing we could do now but wait for the results.

When I came back to work on Monday, June 29th my office best friend/cubiclemate had left for a week's vacation, but not before leaving me a note (which I still have): "Hi Lori -- Hope all went well on Friday. See you in a week." She signed it with her initial & a smiley face. An omen? I could only hope.