Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vacation, all I ever wanted...



(cue The Go-Gos, lol)

Even my boss said, "You've earned it" as I walked out the office door tonight & into two weeks of vacation. My feet have been pedicured, my hair has been cut, and I feel the burden of work lifting from my shoulders. Woohoo!! Soon I'll be flying home to the comforts of my parents' house. Even at age 47, I still like being spoiled by my mommy & daddy. ; )

At the same time, my feelings are mixed, because we're rapidly approaching the 10-year "anniversary" of Katie's stillbirth, next week. (Vacation?? Mmmm, not quite...) I don't feel prepared. (But are we ever prepared?) I've been working madly on a few "anniversary" posts to publish next week (which is one reason why my commenting activities have been sadly lacking lately). Most of the material is "repurposed" from some old postings to an e-mail support group I once belonged to, but I've still been finding it difficult, editing, embellishing, and digging up those memories all over again.

Perhaps it's appropriate that Stirrup Queen Mel's latest blogging venture is kicking off this week. Following up on the foundations laid at the BlogHer conference earlier this month, Mel has created a site called Bridges to help build greater awareness and understanding among various blogging communities -- not just infertility & loss-related, but also including topics such as cancer, parenting special needs children, addictions, allergies and mental health. She describes it as "a consortium of compassionate bloggers who are looking to use writing to educate, tell a story, bring awareness, and build community." Go over, have a look, and add your blog to the community blogroll.

The site will include a Living Childfree After Infertility & Loss section, and I'm thrilled that Mel has asked me to be a contributing editor, alongside of Pamela Jeanne. She & I will be contributing our own posts -- but we're also looking to share posts from others that lend some insight into childfree living -- so please let us know if you spot any that fit the bill!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Show & Tell: Grandma's kitchen treasures

Show and Tell

Earlier this week, I mused out loud in the blogosphere about who will inherit my stuff; specifically the stuff I inherited from my grandparents, and how I'd like to be able to pass these things on to someone else in the family -- presumably my cousins' kids -- for whom they might have meaning. So for today's Show & Tell, I thought I'd share some photos of a few of those things.


My grandparents lived in the house that my grandmother's parents built shortly after their marriage in the very early 1900s (pictured above). It was an old, old house with issues, even when I was a kid, but I loved it and spent a good chunk of all my childhood summers as well as other holidays there.

After my grandfather had a heart attack in July 1983 (while I was away at grad school), it became apparent that they needed to move. They eventually found an apartment in a fourplex in town. The old house was now empty of people, but (since the apartment was much smaller than the house) not of things. For several years after they moved, we would still go over to the old house in the summertime to sit on the screened-in back porch, overgrown with Virginia creeper. We even camped out there several times until things got just a little too rickety. There was no electricity but, for a time, we could turn on the water. Dh found it a little spooky, but I always slept just fine while I was there. ; )

The family decided that it was not worth paying the taxes on the house, so after several years of non-payment, we knew the town/county would soon be taking over. So in the summer of 1996, a final clearout of all the stuff that was left in the house began. Family members converged to help out & claim the things they wanted; whatever was leftover went up for auction.

Being 2,000 miles away, I missed out on most of this, although I did spend several days of my vacation at the very end, helping to clean up the last few things & load them up for the auction sale. My sister got Grandma's buffet & old treadle sewing machine; my cousin got the old kitchen table. The cost & logistics of shipping meant that most of the stuff I got tended to be on the smaller side. But that was OK with me, since it was those thing that probably meant the most to me anyway.

There was a similar scenario after my grandparents went into the seniors' home: we kept the apartment (with my parents subsidizing the costs -- for one thing, it gave us all a place to stay when we visited, motel rooms being at a premium in this small town, a good hour's drive from the nearest large centre). After my grandparents passed away -- Grandpa in October 1998 and Grandma in October 1999 -- there was a similar divvying up & cleaning out process.

The kitchen was always the heart of Grandma's home, small as it was. There was always a pot of coffee percolating on the stove, and always friends & relatives dropping by to share it and some good conversation. I remember the kitchen being full of people, good food, and laughter. I love that my own kitchen is filled with things from hers. People will sometimes tell me how "homey" my kitchen feels & I think Grandma deserves a lot of the credit for it.

Here are a few of those things:

Grandma was Swedish, but she had a lifelong fascination with Holland and Dutch things. She had several pictures of windmills around the house, & these ceramic figures of a little Dutch boy & girl hung on the dining room wall in the old house. She wrote on the back of them that they were a gift from my grandfather, bought at the drugstore in the Canadian border town where I was born, & the date. They're high up on the wall, so I didn't take them down to check, but I believe they're from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Grandma had specific thoughts about who should have certain items from the house. She always said that my one cousin should have the chest of drawers from one of the bedrooms, & that I was to have the cookie jar. Why, I have no idea (although I will admit to eating my fair share of its contents, lol). It moved to the apartment when Grandma & Grandpa did. She tried to give it to me a few times, but I always said it belonged in her kitchen & I would gladly take it "when the time came."

After her funeral, my mother told me that I might as well take it now, so I wrapped it carefully up in several thick towels & took it with me in my carryon bag on the airplane. I believe it's made of what's called "milk glass" -- "dotted Swiss" or "hobnail" style. I have seen other cookie jars like it in Martha Stewart magazine, etc., so I know that it's a collectible & would probably fetch a nice price, were I to sell it on eBay or whatever -- but I would far rather give it to the next generation of cookie-eaters in the family. I know Grandma would like that. ; )

This spice box, & the salt & pepper shakers on top of it, were on the kitchen wall at the old house. When I was little, I loved peeking inside the drawers (which generally housed a ragtag collection of coins, stamps, etc.). My mother brought the spice box for me on one of her visits, saying she thought I should have it. To say I was tickled is an understatement, "but where are the salt & pepper shakers??" I asked. To me, the three items went together like, well, salt & pepper! I got those on my next visit home, & felt a sense of completion when I was finally able to return the shakers to their proper place atop the spice box.


I actually gave my grandparents this cream & sugar set for Christmas one year when I was in university, & Mom felt I should have it. I bought it because it just said "Grandma's kitchen" to me. They now sit on top of my stove.


This breadboard was a fixture on the wall of Grandma's kitchen for as long as I could remember. My mother & her boyfriend at the time bought it for Grandma during a visit to the Minnesota State Fair in September 1958, & since she gave it to Grandma, she deemed that I should have it. The translation of the Swedish inscription, according to Grandma, is "Bread & butter make your cheeks red."

This little plate hung over the kitchen sink in the old house. It was headed for auction before I scooped it up on my last visit to the old house. My great-aunt (my great-uncle's wife) gave it to my grandmother.

I have other things from Grandma's house, but these are the most visible items from my kitchen!

For more Show & Tell, visit Mel's blog post here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Building bridges

Mel's BlogHer column this week dealt with issues arising from last weekend's BlogHer conference, including the matter of building bridges between mommybloggers & those of us in the infertility community. She posed five questions to us on this topic. Here are my answers:

We are all complex human beings with multiple interests. I could just as easily ended up with a vegetarian blog or a twin-parenting blog or a Jewish blog. Why did I end up with an infertility blog? What is the overriding theme of your blog and why? This question, of course, can be answered by any type of blogger in order to start this conversation.

My blog is about living childless/free after stillbirth and infertility.

Why did I wind up with this kind of blog (vs another topic)? Infertility & loss have cast a huge shadow over my life over the past 10 years and continue to be an issue. Even though my dh & I are no longer ttc, we still continue to deal with the fallout, & with the struggle to live without children in a pronatalist world.

What do you hope to achieve personally and externally with your blog?

My blog is first & foremost for me. I've always found writing to be cathartic, & I started blogging to help me work out some of the memories & feelings as I have as I approach the 10-year "anniversary" of my daughter's stillbirth, and the ongoing difficulty of living without children in a world gone mad for pregnant women & babies (at least, that's how it seems…!). I also wanted to take part in Mel's online book club! : )

I also noticed, when I went looking for blogs written by other women who are childless but not by choice, that there's not a lot of us out there (or resources of any kind for this group, for that matter). I'm happy to add my voice to strengthen the choir. : ) Cultivating an audience is not among my specific goals or priorities -- but if my blog happens to touch or speak to other women dealing with the same life issues as I have/am, & promote dialogue on the issues arising from childless/free living, that can only be a good thing.

Do you think a bridge needs to be built between communities in the larger blogosphere in order to foster understanding (in other words, between infertility blogger and mommy bloggers or two other groups)?

I do. But I wonder, if you asked a typical (non-infertile) parent this question, what their response would be. I doubt they have given the topic very much thought, unless someone close to them has been dealing with infertility (& perhaps not even then).

How do you go about building these bridges? If we build bridges, will people cross them?

I'm not sure. I guess that first (as above), we need to demonstrate that there is a chasm. Some people might have to be led there. : ) As I said before, I'm not sure it's occurred to some fertile people that a problem exists.

Then they need to hear the "what's in it for me?" angle -- why it's in their interest/how it will benefit them & their families to help build & cross the bridge. I do think that, once people become aware that there is an issue, most of them will give us a respectful hearing.

What do you think is gained and lost by opening up a community (making it more accessible, inviting outsiders to comment, explaining the shorthand abbreviations)? If you aren't a member of a community, would you feel comfortable crossing a bridge that was placed in front of you?

What is gained: hopefully a greater understanding and awareness of what our lives are like and the issues we face as infertile women, and greater sensitivity to our them.

What is lost: building bridges opens us up to the possibility of greater understanding & awareness -- but also to the greater possibility of being hurt, whether intentionally or unintentionally, from people who don't understand our perspective and judge our decisions without having walked a mile in our moccasins.

Article: "The great taboo"

There was so much in this article that had me nodding, "yes, yes & yes." The writer is angry -- but perhaps she has reason to be.

The usual comments you might expect to find follow the article -- the childfree by choice people who say she doesn't speak for them, parents telling her to get over herself & adopt, etc. I also found some comments about it on an infertility message board. Some people thought that she was being rather harsh about DE -- but I don't think that should detract from her central message she's trying to convey.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who will remember me... and care about my stuff?

Mel at Stirrup Queens had another thought-provoking post today about remembrance and how writing about the people we knew and loved helps us to honour & preserve their memory. (And how we need to hear good things about ourselves from other people BEFORE we're gone.)

In one of the comments, Jill says, "I have this fear of being forgotten."

I think that's one of the things that bothers me about not having children. Even more than "Who will take care of me when I get old?" (I figure there will always be nursing homes, etc., that will make sure that at the very least I don't starve.)

But who will REMEMBER me when I'm gone?

I will have no children or grandchildren to perpetuate my memory.

My sister does not & will not have any children.

Dh's brother has two teenaged boys. I love them dearly, but (perhaps because they are boys) they are closer to dh than I am. My fear is that dh will die first & they will forget about me and leave me to languish in a nursing home without any visitors.

I have tried to reach out to the children of my two (only two)(both male) cousins on my mother's side… but it's been hard to establish a relationship with them. I spent lots of time with my cousins at our grandparents' when we were kids -- but we live far apart and, once we got into high school and then university, and then married & started families, we never seemed to be visiting our grandparents at the same time any more. There was a 10-year stretch, between 1988 and my grandparents' funerals in 1998 & 1999, when I did not see them, & I've seen them only three or four times since then, although I get Christmas cards from them and the occasional e-mail (from the one in particular).

My mother sees them more often, & calls them occasionally, as well as hearing about them via my uncle (her brother), & keeps me posted on what they're up to. But I really don't know their kids very well at all (although I feel like I do, by virtue of our relationship, & like I should). This makes me sad.

Beyond being remembered, I've long struggled with the idea of "who will inherit my things when I'm gone?" Most of it will go to our nephews -- but there are some things that came from my family and would mean absolutely nothing to them -- for example, the knickknacks from my grandmother's kitchen that now reside in mine, the ceramic topper from my grandparents' wedding cake, the pictures of my extended family members. The logical answer to me would be to give these things to my cousins' children. Each cousin has a girl & boy (most of them now teenagers); my younger cousin also has a stepdaughter from his wife's first marriage.

I've written previously about my older cousin's daughter, who bears an eerie resemblance to my sister & me, went from toddler to teenager. She got pregnant as she was finishing high school (!) and, now 21, has two little girls who also look very much like my sister & I did at the same age (and, perhaps, how my own daughter would have looked). She was my grandparents' first great-grandchild and spent a lot of time with them growing up. She was 12 when my grandfather died & 13 when my grandmother died, so she remembers them -- better, I'm sure, than the younger ones.

For my "golden" birthday, when I turned 12, my grandmother gave me her Class of 1934 high school ring. I treasured it, and wore it right up until I got married.

Three years ago, when my older cousin's daughter was graduating from high school (pregnant), I decided she should have it, as a high school graduation present. I knew I would see my uncle, her grandfather, on my vacation -- so I retrieved the ring from the safety deposit box, wore it for one more week, kissed it as I took it off my finger for the last time, & wrapped it up carefully with a card that contained my grandmother's high school graduation photo & a note saying that I wanted her to have this & I thought Grandma would too. I said that perhaps someday she could tell her soon-to-be-born daughter about Grandma & Grandpa, and how much they loved us all. And I gave it to my uncle to give to her.

I never received a thank-you note or any acknowledgement of the gift whatsoever. I'm wondering whether I should try something similar with my younger cousin's daughter when she graduates, & see whether I get a better response. If so, then I'll know who the rest of the stuff should go to. ; ) If not… well, I still think the stuff relating to that part of my family should go to them. But it would be nicer, knowing that someone else appreciates it in the same way that I do.

About the book list...

AMS at Our Own Creation did a little research into the book list that I posted earlier this week. It seems the list was actually created from a poll for World Book Day, in which the British public were asked what 10 books they couldn’t live without. Here's an article she found from February 2007 about it. This would explain why I couldn't find the list on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)'s website...!

The NEA does have an initiative underway called "The Big Read," designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Thanks, AMS, for having the curiosity to follow up on this. I guess it goes to show that you have to check your sources! Kind of reminds me of when we used to play "telephone" when I was in elementary school -- the first person whispers a sentence into the next person's ear, & the message gets passed along until the last person says what he or she heard aloud. It almost always bears no resemblance to the original message!

Wherever it came from, I still think it was a fun list to do. : )

"When friends become parents"

I found a recent Wall Street Journal blog entry asking the question, "Readers, have you had friends or colleagues who felt left behind when you had kids? How have you dealt with that?"

The blogger is a parent, as are most of the respondents (although there are a few brave voices in the mix offering the childless/free viewpoint). It's interesting to see the range of opinions expressed. Infertility is mentioned -- some parents are aware that being around children might be difficult for some of us.

Do I feel "left behind" sometimes? Absolutely. Even among the friends we've made through our pg loss support group, dh & I are among the few who remain childless. When we get together, our conversations naturally revolve around the kids. So even in the one group of parents where I feel most comfortable & actually do have something in common, I still feel left out at times.

I belong to a scrapbooking board with a small but loyal group of posters (mostly moms). Every morning, there's a "check in" post where everyone posts "good morning" & what their plans are for the day. All the moms, whether they work or not, post about their kids, their activities & their accomplishments. Most of the time, I don't have much to say except "Have a good day," because I really don't have much exciting happening in my life. I get up, I go to work, come home, have dinner, go for a walk, & get ready to do it all over again the next day. (Which, I suppose, is better than the alternative...!)

How about you?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer reading list??

OK, I've seen this on a couple of people's blogs recently & -- being an avid reader (with a lifetime iRewards membership at Chapters!) -- decided it would be fun to do myself. (That said, my book reading volume has sadly diminished with the advent of the Internet to occupy my time... thank goodness for Mel's Barren Bitches Book Tour...!)

Here's how it works:

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.

2) Italicize those you intend to read.

3) Underline (or mark in a different color) the books you LOVE - mine are in red

4) Reprint this list in your blog so we can try and track down these people who’ve read 6 and force books upon them ;-) (I copied the rules from Mrs. X -- not sure if this is actually part of the rules or her wonderful sense of humour, lol!). (And by the way, Mrs. X, I'm totally with you on Thomas Hardy...!)

The premise of this little exercise is that the National Endowment for the Arts apparently believes that the average American has only read 6 books from the list below. I've read 23, which is not bad, but not as many as I might have thought (especially being an English major in university...!). There are several on the list that I honestly can't remember -- did I actually read them? Am I just thinking I read them? Did I see the movie & thus think I actually the read book?? lol -- so the total could actually be higher. And a few, such as the Harry Potter series -- I have them all, have read two -- do you have to read all of them to count? I haven't read the complete works of Shakespeare but, being an English major, I have probably read more of them than the average citizen.

Anyway, here's my list:

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien -- I never could get into Tolkien. But the movies were good...!

3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling -- have them all, but have only read the first two so far...

5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (have never seen the movie all the way through either -- GASP!!!)

6 The Bible -- not entirely, no!
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger -- it's in my "to read" pile...!

20 Middlemarch - George Eliot -- I studied this twice while in university! I had my doubts... but it really is a good book. It was my prof's favourite & I guess his enthusiasm was catching!

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell -- read this when I was 11!
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy -- I tried to read this one summer when I was at university -- managed about 35 pages before giving up, lol.

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh -- I think I liked the mini-series (with Jeremy Irons) better than the book. There's a movie version coming out shortly!

27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck -- love the movie!!
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres -- I have this, just haven't read it!
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden -- ditto above!
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell -- read in high school
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery -- I have & love just about everything the woman ever wrote... my favourites are Rilla of Ingleside & The Blue Castle.

47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan -- also in the reading pile...!
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel

52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck -- another one from high school...!
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt -- amazing first novel written by a university student!

64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold -- did I ever tell you I have this big pile of books "to read"? lol

65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy -- read at university. Totally depressing!!

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding -- I read this one right after Katie was stillborn. It gave me some much-needed laughs!!

69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett -- but I did read & love "A Little Princess"
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reason #5,623 why I love this guy...

As I've probably written before, dh & I love to go to the movies, especially to a Sunday afternoon matinee. One of the big jokes of our marriage is that I'm forever dragging him to movies -- little arthouse gems, foreign films with subtitles, or -- of course -- "chick flicks" -- which he grumbles about going to, but inevitably winds up loving. The only movie to date that I dragged him to see that he absolutely, positively hated was "Sense & Sensibility," based on the Jane Austen novel, with Emma Thompson & Kate Winslet as the sisters, and Hugh Grant & Alan Rickman as the men in their life.

So, with eyes rolling, he accompanied me today to see "Mamma Mia!" -- the movie based on the hit stage play, based on the music of the 70s Swedish supergroup ABBA. I took my mom to see the Toronto stage production at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto a couple of years back, & thought it was a hoot. (The girl who played Sophie in that production, Marisa McIntyre, is up for the role of Maria in The Sound of Music, in the CBC-TV reality show contest "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" But, I digress....) The reviews I'd read have been decidedly mixed... but I figured if anything, the scenery (Pierce Brosnan & Colin Firth... oh yes, & the Greek islands too, lol!) would be worth the price of admission.

OK, the story is totally cheesy, to go along with the hammy acting. And Pierce Brosnan, bless his good looking heart (which I've loved since the days of "Remington Steele"), cannot sing. (Colin Firth actually has a very pleasant voice.)

But there is something totally infectuous about ABBA's music. Once one of the those songs gets into your head... (here I go again... my, my... how can I resist it??). (Watch for cameos by both the ABBA guys, one near the end of "Dancing Queen," & one at the very end of the movie before the very final credits roll.)

Anyway, dh walked out saying, "Was it good? No. Was it fun? I hate to say it, but I had a blast!" Hee hee.

Part of the fun was Julie Walters & Christine Baranski as Meryl Streep's friends. Baranski looks like she's had work (or was very well lit), but Walters & Streep look like the 50-something women they are (& damn fine looking ones too).

I knew it was opening weekend so there might be some people there. The new Batman movie was also on at the same cineplex (with an earlier starting time), so I was not surprised that the parking lot was nearly full when we got there for the 1 p.m. show. I WAS surprised to see the lineups at the popcorn counter. Full of people with grey hair. I told dh I'd go on ahead to get some seats, & I'm glad I did, because the place was PACKED. I haven't been to a Sunday matinee that was that packed, let alone with grey-haired people, since we went to see "Calendar Girls" a few years back -- which was also a story about older women (& also starred Julie Walters). I guess it just goes to show that there is a market out there for movies aimed at an adult audience!

*** *** ***

Of course, no movie experience would be complete without at least a glancing reminder of loss & infertility... "Mamma Mia" is, after all, the story of a mother & her daughter. There is a lovely, wistful song as the mom is helping her daughter get ready for her wedding -- obviously an experience I will never have. It's an ABBA song I'd never heard prior to seeing the play, & I got teary-eyed all over again watching that scene in the movie. I may not know the feeling of watching a daughter growing up, but I am achingly aware of the feeling of time slipping through my fingers...

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that Im losing her forever
And without really entering her world
Im glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see whats in her mind
Each time I think Im close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

Sleep in our eyes, her and me at the breakfast table
Barely awake, I let precious time go by
Then when shes gone theres that odd melancholy feeling
And a sense of guilt I cant deny
What happened to the wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
(slipping through my fingers all the time)
Well, some of that we did but most we didnt
And why I just dont know

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see whats in her mind
Each time I think Im close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time
Slipping through my fingers...
Slipping through my fingers all the time

Friday, July 18, 2008

A few for Friday night...

Emily at Apron Strings for Emily recently posted about her high blood pressure. My mother has high bp & has long warned me of the dangers of the salt shaker. I don't remember when she started taking medication, but certainly since she was in her 40s.

She has often referred to "having a hard time" when I was born, & it wasn't until my own pregnancy that I realized she had had pre-ecclampsia, & that both of us very nearly didn't make it.

On the other side of the family, my dad's mother had very high bp & died suddenly of a stroke at the far-too-young age of 68 when I was 14. So this was something always lurking in the background, but in the classic way of the young, healthy & optimistic, with each checkup & textbook 120/80 reading, I assumed it didn't apply to me.

A couple of years back, I started getting high readings when visiting Dr. Ob-gyn's office. His nurse would frown at me & tell me to follow up with my family dr. I'd go there, get 120/80, & that would be the end of it. I chalked it up to white coat syndrome & stress. After all, I reasoned, while Dr. Ob-gyn himself is a perfectly charming man, his office is not exactly my favourite place in the world...!

Same scenario, spring 2007 -- only this time, when I went to see my family dr, I got a high reading. He had me come back a month later, same thing. He encouraged me to lose some weight & cut back on sodium. I put away the salt shaker, started reading labels & checking restaurant nutrition guides online (holy cow, have you ever looked at sodium counts for a typical restaurant meal??). And I did manage to lose a few pounds -- I'm currently a good 25 lbs above the top of my Weight Watchers goal range (& about 40 lbs above my previous lifetime goal weight, achieved when I was 31, & which I know I will never see again in my lifetime...!!)... but of course, weight loss (especially in your late 40s) is easier said than done.

So he's been monitoring me like this for over a year now... I'd get the odd 120/80, but more often 130/85, 140/90. Sometimes higher. :(

When I went to see him Monday morning, it was 145/95. I knew what was coming. He told me he couldn't let me walk around indefinitely with unchecked high bp. And so I walked out of his office with medication (he gave me samples -- the lowest dose available -- & presumably if they agree with me, he'll write me a prescription). He told me he takes the same stuff himself (!), which made me feel a little better. Also that it's not necessarily a lifetime thing, that it's possible that if I lose the weight & continue to cut back on sodium that I might eventually be able to go off the pills.

There's this Alice in Wonderland feeling of putting a strange new pill in your mouth for the first time & wondering what the heck it's going to do to you. Kind of reminded me of taking Clomid for the first time. This time, I'm hoping for a miracle of a different sort.

So I took the first pill this morning, and so far, so good (i.e., no side effects that I've noticed, other than fatigue, which isn't unusual for me at the end of a long week anyway...!). I guess time & the cuff will tell the tale. I'm going back in 10 days, although his receptionist (who is also on the same meds!) warned me it generally takes 3-4 weeks to kick in.

I also have dh watching every mouthful of food I eat & dragging me out for after-dinner walks before my rear can hit the loveseat (or computer chair) after dinner. Which can be annoying as heck, but also kind of cute at times. ; )

Anyone else dealing with high blood pressure out there?

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Kristen at Certainly Not Cool Enough to Blog had a post this week that excited me. She wrote about a documentary that will be shown on CBC Newsworld later this fall, called "Capturing a Short Life," about families dealing with infant loss, and the work of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. I can't wait to see this -- not only because it's so wonderful to see this subject getting some airtime, but also because, reading over the babies' stories, I realized that know one of the moms featured, as well as one of the nurses referred to by several of the parents. Will let you know if/when I hear more about it...

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Three of my favourite bloggers -- Mel of Stirrup Queens, Pamela Jeanne of Coming2Terms and Lori of Weebles Wobblog -- will be providing the adoption, loss & infertility perspective among hordes of mommybloggers at the BlogHer conference in San Francisco tomorrow. I have been continually refreshing my blog reader all day, looking for updates. ; )

I told dh about the conference, & he said, "Why didn't you go?" (??!!!) Then we both remembered one good reason why: neither of us have passports, which are now needed to fly from Canada into the States (& we don't have time or stamina to make a road trip all the way to SF). By this time next year, I will likely need one to drive 20 miles across the border into NW Minnesota to visit the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. Such is the world we now live in. :( We've had passport applications sitting out for well over a year now. We even had photos taken last fall (which will expire this fall if we don't hurry up & use them). Getting those applications filled out & submitted to the passport office is at the top of my vacation to-do list!!

Have a good weekend...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are you a "Savvy Auntie?"

I found this story from The Huffington Post a few days ago, which led me to a new site, Savvy Auntie -- a parenting community for non-parents. I just signed up but will admit I haven't haven't yet explored everything the site has to offer. As a proud auntie to two teenaged nephews, however, I have to admit it sounded interesting.

And, needless to say, when I read the following excerpt from the Huffington Post article, my ears pricked up (well, I was reading, not listening, but you know what I mean...):
It's estimated that today, childless women represent about 50% of the adult female population. There are at least just as many non-moms are there are moms in America! And whether or not these women are childless by choice, they do not live a so-called "barren" lifestyle. Children are often front-and-center in their lives, as they play devoted Auntie to relatives' and friends' children. These relationships are a fundamental part of their lives. But we've been myopic on the traditional role of women as Mom.
Well, hear, hear!!

At the same time, however, I wonder whether she is truly responding to a market need out there, or trying to create one. Probably a little of both. The emphasis on the "Gifts" section in particular had me a little suspicious.

Thoughts?

"Infertility and the state"

On Monday, the Toronto Star ran an editorial about the new expert panel on infertility & adoption that was announced last week (& which I blogged about).

I'm copying the editorial here, but go online & read some of the comments that have been left… why oh why must anything to do with infertility, pregnancy loss or adoption always turn into a debate about the A word??

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Infertility and the state

Jul 14, 2008

For Ontarians who want to have a child, finding out they are infertile is an agonizing experience that can lead to years of futility and expensive treatment bills.

If in the end if they are still unable to conceive, they can run into a new wall of red tape and bureaucracy when they try to adopt.

So it is welcome news that the province has set up a 12-member expert panel to advise the government on how to make infertility treatments and adoption more accessible and affordable. Its members include adoptive parents and those with infertility problems as well as representatives from both the medical and adoption communities.

Infertility affects one in six women over the age of 30, which makes it a growing problem in an era when many people are postponing children until later in life.

The panel will have to deal with some thorny questions around who should pay for new fertility treatments, a great many of which are not currently covered by OHIP.

Between 1985 and 1994, the province paid all the costs of in-vitro fertilization. Before that time, most couples undergoing IVF were upper-middle-class professionals who could afford to pay. In the years when it was publicly funded, there was a sharp increase in the number of lower-income couples using IVF, Ontario data showed.

But troubling questions remain, including: Is infertility treatment "medically necessary," which means it must be covered by OHIP? Or is it unrealistic to expect our increasingly overburdened health-care system to pick up the costs for treatments that have a relatively low success rate?

The panel will have to weigh these questions carefully.

Friday, July 11, 2008

One more fun news item...

I also found this article about baby showers from a childfree-by-choice perspective while Google News-ing "childless" or "childfree," & it made me laugh. Excerpt:

I'M OK with babies. I mean, I don't want to possess one or anything, but they're nice for other people to have. (Except maybe for teens in Gloucester, Mass., but what are ya gonna do.)

Unfortunately, though, when people have babies, a baby shower is inevitably on the horizon.

Now I'm not OK with baby showers, and the feeling is mutual. One even tried to kill me. More on that later.

My main problem with baby showers, aside from the aforementioned murder attempt, is the use of baby-shower games. They should be outlawed. They are annoying and infuriating. They are the entertainment version of waterboarding, and whoever thought of them should be held down and forced to listen to five hours of a Farmer Says See 'n Say, stuck on "cow."
A woman after my own heart! ; ) Read the rest!

In the "it's about time" category...

The government of Ontario (the province where I live) announced today that it is appointing an expert panel to advise the government on how to make infertility treatments and adoption easier and more affordable.

Here's an excerpt from an article in today's Toronto Star (click on the link for the full story):
The 12-member panel, chaired by University of Waterloo president David Johnston, has one year to make its recommendations in a public report.

The panel, which meets for the first time next week, has a broad mandate, but recommendations will likely include how to increase access to infertility treatments, which ones should be covered by OHIP (a great many are not right now) and how to make fertility screening more routine so women get it earlier in their lives and know what their options are.

Here's the government's press release announcing the initiative.

And here's a press release with the response from the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada (IAAC).

Of course, more often than not, reports from government panels, royal commissions, etc., just wind up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. : ( Even so, it's a step in the right direction & will likely bring some much-needed publicity & awareness to the subject. I'll be following this with interest over the next year!

Excuse me while I gag...

I was doing some Googling & found this clanger of an article from an Australian newspaper:

Sunday Rose will change Nicole Kidman's hard image

Excerpt:

"...while the poor single, childless types continue to cop the bitchy, slutty image with headlines like "Show me the ring!", motherhood is doing wonders for even the most notorious celebrity bitches such as Posh Spice and Julia Roberts.

"But will it soften our rigid Nicole? Is this her chance to finally prove she's a real person, a nuturing mum who can handle a bit of vomit on the shoulder like the rest of us?...

Is this for real??? (Childless = bitchy & slutty?!?! Who knew??)

Not to mention that Nicole already HAS two children from her marriage to Tom Cruise (whom I lost all respect for when he &/or his lawyer implied that the baby she miscarried around the same time that he dumped her without explanation might not be his). I'm sure she's well acquainted with vomit by now.

Speaking of vomit, please pass the bucket... :p

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

WALL-E, me & infertility

Thank you for all your good wishes on our anniversary last weekend. Dh & I celebrated by doing two of our favourite things: we went to a Sunday afternoon matinee, followed by dinner at a nearby steakhouse.

The movie we saw was WALL-E & we absolutely loved it. I think it is one of the best movies I've seen so far this year. It made me laugh, it made me cry. It made me THINK. About the environment, about rampant, mindless consumerism. About our willingness to take the easy way out & let someone else do the thinking & make hard decisions for us. About how technology (while admittedly bringing people like us bloggers together) has isolated us so much from each other that we can sit side by side, communicating to each other via screens without looking at each other & realizing what we have right within our grasp.

Let me say, however, that it is NOT a movie for kids, even though it is an animated Pixar feature & marketed to children. Older children, maybe, but I'm not sure younger children will get much out of it. The little guy behind us kept asking his mother in bewilderment, "When's it going to be funny?" & finally declared, "This isn't very funny." It WAS funny -- and sad -- and extremely touching -- but not in an obvious "ha-ha" way that a 4-year-old would grasp. There were echoes of Short Circuit, Star Wars (R2-D2), ET and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not to mention Gilligan's Island & The Love Boat, lol.

Leave it to me to find reminders of (in)fertility & loss, even in a movie about robots. WALL-E meets up with (and falls in love with) a female robot, EVE, who has been sent to Earth to probe for signs of sustainable life that would allow humans to return to the devastated planet. She is, appropriately, shaped like an egg. Trying to impress her, WALL-E offers her a single, small green plant sprout that he discovered, as a gift. She recognizes it as the sign of life she's been programmed to find, snatches it up, opens up her belly, pops it inside & returns to her mothership, with WALL-E in hot pursuit.

When she returns to the mothership & her belly is opened up, nothing is found inside of her. Needless to say, I was in tears over this part.

But that's just a small part of the movie. Go!

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "The Empty Picture Frame" by Jenna Currier Nadeau

For those of you who don't know about the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, it's an online book club, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens & Sperm Palace Jesters, where bloggers sign up, read the book (usually, but not always, related to infertility and pregnancy loss), & submit a question. The 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.

This month's selection was "The Empty Picture Frame" by fellow blogger Jenna Currier Nadeu (with contributions from her husband Mike) who writes in the password-protected blog The Epi-Blog. Like many of us, Jenna & Mike fell in love, got married, worked hard, saved their money, bought a beautiful house in the suburbs & decided the time was finally right to start their family. During the four years covered by the book, they head down that slippery slope of infertility testing & treatment, including (as the back cover details) two IUIs, four IVFs, two FETs and one miscarriage (not to mention one appearance on the Oprah show, which was just rerun last week). It's a story that those of us who have trod similar paths will find totally validating -- but Jenna explains at the outset that she wrote the story with another audience in mind too -- fertile people (perhaps the family & friends of an infertile), to help them better understand what the rest of us are experiencing, feeling and thinking.

I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying the ending is left open. The story doesn't wrap up with the Hollywood ending of a baby in Jenna's arms, nor does it have her & Mike deciding firmly on what they are going to do next -- just her firm resolve that someday, her empty picture frames will be filled.

Jenna's story was not entirely new to me (although there were many things in the book I did not know about). I first encountered Jenna while lurking on an IVF "vets" board where she was a regular poster. I wasn't sure whether I met the members' definition of a vet, since I had never done IVF myself, so I rarely posted. However, having moved beyond treatment, yet still smarting from the after effects, I related much more to their cynical, worldweary view and humour than the naively optimistic "babydusting" on so many general infertility boards. Eventually, I found her blog, & when she went password protected, she graciously allowed me to become a regular reader. (So I know what's happened since the book ended!)

On to some of the questions:

Depending on where you are on your IF journey, how did this book affect you? For example, if you have a child/ren after IF was it easier or harder to read? If you are in the middle of your IF struggle did the book help or hinder? Give me your thoughts on how you were affected reading the book no matter where your IF journey has taken you so far.

I stopped infertility treatments seven years ago, & have been living childless/free ever since. This book brought back a LOT of memories about what it's like to be going through treatment (& of course some of it -- the emotional aspects -- continue to be valid to me today).

Even though I know what's happened since the book ended, & the book makes it clear that Jenna would not consider travelling down the same path I have, I found the ambiguity of the ending comforting, and I'm glad Jenna wrote it that way. I think that much as we all love happy endings, we also secretly wish for at least a few books or movies about infertility that don't end with a baby, yet make it clear that, whatever happens & whatever the couple decides to do next, they're going to be OK. Jenna's book gives me that feeling.

On p. 141, Jenna describes hiding out in the bathroom during her nephew's third birthday party but then realizes, "I couldn't even come close to having fun. I hate myself for that... I don't want to turn every moment into a moment about me and my sadness. It is never my intention, but it is always my impact." She describes how she doesn't like the person looking back at her in the mirror. Have you had a similar "mirror moment"? If so, describe it. Did this realization result in a lasting change in your outlook or relationships with others? How much of the responsibility for "impact" lies on the infertile person's shoulders?

This quote reminds me of how I've always said that I hate feeling that I'm being pitied, that people are talking about me & feeling sorry for me behind my back. I'm uncomfortable being the centre of attention, even behind my back, lol.

At the same time, though, I admit that I sometimes get pissed off when they talk about their pregnancies & kids and are obviously NOT thinking about how I might be feeling. Yes, I know we infertiles must learn to suck it up and realize it's not all about us. But at the same time, I do think that because we're usually in the minority, the onus more often than not falls on us, while everyone else goes blithely on their merry way without giving our feelings a second thought (if there was ever even a first thought). It would be nice to see our fertile friends & family make an effort to ensure we're included -- REALLY included -- whenever they're around us.

I'll admit there have been times when I've been sorely jealous of fertile/easily pregnant women & thought some nasty thoughts about them. I don't like being that person in the mirror when I do. It's not a nice way to feel. But it's hard not to have those thoughts sometimes.

At several points in the book, Jenna describes how she felt that motherhood was a "calling" for her -- the conviction that she was "called" to be a mother and that she would achieve that goal someday, somehow. Do you feel the same sense of "calling" in your pursuit of parenthood?

I have to admit, I never felt that sense of motherhood as "calling" or as something that was I would not rest until I had achieved. It was always something that I thought would be mine, & that I looked forward to (eventually!)... it was very high up on the list of things I wanted to do with my life. And not being able to fulfill that was crushing.

But motherhood was not the only thing I wanted to do with my life. (Secretly, I think I sometimes wondered whether I would really be any good at it.) I saw it as part of a bigger picture that included extended my husband, extended family, friends, an interesting job, travel & hobbies.

I have most of those other things -- just not the baby. Even so, the absence of a child leaves a pretty big hole in the life I had planned. I'm still trying to figure out how that hole should be filled.

What one line from The Empty Picture Frame did you identify with and why?

I have yellow post-it notes throughout the book, marking several passages that I felt "spoke" to me (although there isn't one single sentence I can point to in answer to this question). One part of the book that resonated with me (that nobody has asked a question about) & that I truly appreciated Jenna writing about so candidly in the book was her frank discussion about finances, and how hard it was for her & Mike to watch their hard-earned money disappear -- & then to have to ask their families for help. For example, on page 43, she writes:

"But there were still decisions to make. We had to consider the financial aspect first. It had taken us eight years to get to where we were. We were young, but ahead of the game. We had a dog, two cats, two cars, and a beautiful home in an upper middle-class neighborhood. Mike, being the financial guy, had started us on retirement plans through our first employment situations out of college. Now, slowly, aspects of that life were being compromised for a marginal chance at parenthood.

"...As we talked with the people closest to us, looking for some objective feedback, we would hear things like, "I would sell my house if I had to," or "There's nothing I wouldn't give and no price that I wouldn't pay for my child." [Editor's note: So easy for others to say in theory, of course...] So, how could we not try? It felt like the obvious answer. How materialistic were we being to even suggest that there wasn't money for the necessary procedures?"

I found this passage extremely compelling, because although dh & I ultimately did not do IVF, it reflected our own position (well, minus one of the cars, the dog & both the cats, but you know what I mean...). By the time we had decided to start a family, lost our daughter after several years of ttc, & moved on to fertility testing, we had worked hard to be "responsible" -- to establish our careers, pay off the student loan, find a nice house in a nice neighbourhood (at the peak of a ridiculously heated market) & then pay down the mortgage a little, and save a little in our RRSPs on the side.

We knew what it was like not to have money when we were first married, & we're generally pretty careful with what we've managed to accumulate in the years since then. We don't have a lot of "toys." We generally don't gamble, & the odd time we accompany my parents to a casino, I generally limit myself to two rolls of quarters for the poker slot machines & then I'm done for the night. It was hard enough to convince ourselves to lay down $3,000 an IUI cycle (at odds that would probably get us laughed away from the table in Vegas), let alone $8-12,000 a cycle for IVF. Finances weren't the only reason why we eventually decided to walk away from treatment, but they were certainly a factor that we took into consideration when making our decision. How much of our hard-earned money were we willing to gamble in pursuit of a dream, at very poor odds, especially at our ages, with retirement looming on the not-too-very-distant horizon?

The financial sacrifices that infertile couples make in pursuit of that elusive baby, whether through IVF or other ARTs, or adoption, is is an aspect of fertility treatment that is not well covered in the popular media &, I think, not well understood by non-infertile people. I mean, yes, every article usually notes that each round of IVF can cost X number of dollars -- but they never really talk about it in terms of draining your savings, racking up credit card bills, going cap in hand to your parents for (more) money after they just finished paying off your college bills & perhaps helped you with a down payment for the house too.

All for a good cause, of course -- totally worth it in the end if you do wind up with a baby -- but not everyone's odds are that good, and the reality is that pockets only run so deep. Money shouldn't matter as much as it does when you're trying to do something that most people do for free without a second thought -- but it does, and that's the cold, hard truth.

On page 134, the author talks about the failures bringing repeated pain to their families. In what ways did your treatment affect your extended family?

We did not tell anyone in our families about what we were doing, trying to have a baby (although I'm sure some suspected it). I know a lot of people feel sorry for us because we were never able to have a(nother) child. In the receiving line at the conclusion of dh's uncle's funeral a couple of years ago, his aunt (the widow) threw herself into dh's arms & sobbed some words in Italian. He got the weirdest expression on his face. As we left, I asked him what she had said. "She said, 'Your uncle kept saying, 'Oh, poor [dh] & Lori... they have no children,'" he said. Oh great... and of course, everyone standing there had heard & understood. I go to a funeral to comfort the widow, & instead become an object of pity myself.

I see the pain in my parents' eyes when their friends & relatives babble on about their grandchildren & how wonderful it is to be a grandparent (or, worse, when a casual acquaintance asks them about grandchildren), which, in turn, causes me immeasurable pain, because I wasn't able to give that to them).

On page 147, the author talks about being more aware of the pain of others. How do you feel your infertility has affected your relationship with others?

I absolutely feel this is true for me too. I like to think I was an empathetic person before, but having experienced loss & infertility has made me much, much more aware of the pain that others might be feeling. I don't like going to funerals, but I go, or I make sure I send flowes, a donation, a card with a note in it. I call up friends that i know are having a hard time & take them for coffee to listen to them talk. If someone I know has a miscarriage, I call or send a card, & offer to listen if they want to talk. Sometimes this reaching out is rebuffed -- which hurts a little -- but at least I feel like I tried. I made the effort.

Did your clinic have a Baby Day like Jenna described? Even if not, did you ever have a moment like that in the clinic, with newborn babies being brought in, or a woman cycling who brought her child with her? How did you deal with it?

I remember being at the clinic one day & seeing a woman waiting for an ultrasound with her toddler daughter. "The NERVE of her, bringing a baby with her," I thought. When I came out, I heard her talking to the little girl, who was getting restless. Something about her voice made me look at her again, & I suddenly realized that I knew her -- we worked for the same company & had once belonged to the same lunchtime group. I said hi to her & my name, & she remembered me too, & we talked a little. Between her husband leaving for work & her daughter's daycare, she had no way to bridge the gap in between when she had to be at the clinic, so she wound up bringing the baby with her. She had been doing this for years & had lost twins, & was now trying to get a brother or sister for her little girl. I asked if she wanted to have coffee sometime & she said she took no coffee breaks & had lunch at her desk, in order to shorten her work day to be with her daughter. All she did was clinic, work & child.

Running into her humanized the woman in the waiting room with the child for me. I realized that some people don't have any or many alternatives. At the same time, I think clinics, staff & former patients who are now parents need to be aware of the feelings of patients who are still trying, and just how difficult it is for them to see babies, particularly in the one place where their infertility is totally out in the open & impossible to avoid. Unfortunately, I know that the nurse who told Jenna that she shouldn't be jealous, she should be hopeful, is not alone in her way of thinking.

Jenna discusses how difficult it became for her to go to family events which centered on children while she remained childless. Have you had this experience too? How have you managed to cope with family gatherings?

With great difficulty. ; ) Dh has a large extended family, & we are the only married couple without children. Annual family picnics, showers, birthday parties & weddings are all reminders of what everyone else has that we don't.

Last year, a cousin's 23-year-old daughter got married. She's the oldest cousin of the next generation on that side of the family -- the generation that our daughter would have belonged to -- & it hit dh & I like a ton of bricks that day, watching her beaming parents (who are younger than we are!!) escorting her down the aisle of the church & standing beside her in the receiving line, watching her dance with her father at the reception that night, that this was yet another life experience that most people take for granted, & that we would never get to share with our daughter -- that this wasn't something that just applied to babies, but was going to follow us, our family & friends, & their families, through the rest of our lives.

(To make it worse, BIL & SIL were kidding each other at the reception that, because they had two boys, BIL would never get to dance with a daughter at her wedding -- but SIL would get to dance with her sons at their weddings, twice. All I could think was, "CRY ME A RIVER!!" I adore both BIL & SIL, & I know they would rather die than hurt us, but it obviously didn't occur to them in the least that dh & I might be having a hard time that day.)

As I've written in the past, I did used to have one other childless adult woman, the wife of dh's cousin, that I could chat with at family gatherings about non-kid-related stuff. About a year & a half ago, at age 43 & after 11 years of marriage, she had a baby girl (from IVF, or so it's rumoured). She's currently 44 & on pregnancy #2. I guess they somehow found the magic formula. I'm happy for them (they're a great couple) -- just a little sad for me.

I rarely bow out of these things... just grin & bear them. But I always find I'm incredibly exhausted from the effort after they're over.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens (http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/). You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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An afternote: Shortly after I finished reading the book, I was off work & at home one day, puttering around doing a little of this & a little of that. Every now & then, I will get the decluttering urge & find myself rummaging through the nearest closet, sorting & tossing its contents. It sometimes sidetracks what I had originally planned to do, but nevertheless feels good when done. : )

On this day, I found myself in our spare bedroom/office closet, where I'd amassed a substantial collection of (wait for it) picture frames over the years. Empty picture frames, never used. Some I'd bought, some I'd been given as gifts, some I'd received as bonbonniere (party favours) at various weddings & showers for dh's cousins.

I realized that many of these frames (e.g., the cutesy ceramic teddy bear baby frame from the dollar store, received as a favour at a baby shower seven years ago) were something that I'd never use in a million years (even if I had a baby, which I don't & know I won't). Others might have looked great back when I bought them on sale in 1987, but didn't suit the decor of the house I had now or my current tastes in frames. I'd changed. I'd moved on to a different view of the way my home should look & how I wanted to display photos of dh, me & our extended family (if not the children we had once hoped for). I kept a few of the ones I like best & may yet use, but I've found some new frames that better suit me and the way I live now.

I put the old frames (& some other such knicknacks) in bags, and dh & I took them to Goodwill on the weekend. I didn't think about the parallels to the book, & to living childless/free after infertility until later. ; )

Monday, July 7, 2008

The unspoken question about childless/free living

Ahem. This is venturing into highly personal territory (& I'm not sure how dh will feel about me writing about this, so I may eventually have to pull it...!), but I've noticed a few questions & comments on this topic in other people's blogs, so I thought I would take a shot at addressing it in mine (recognizing that mine is only one perspective & experience, & other people living childless/free after infertility may handle the situation differently... & may not care to talk about it themselves).

The question is whether, when you decide to stop treatment, not pursue adoption -- in short, when you "decide" to live childless/free -- to use birth control.

The infertility counsellor dh & I went to see -- when our last agreed-upon IUI had failed & I was in the throes of panic attacks (really), contemplating a childless future -- mentioned birth control as something we should consider, if we really were going to live childfree. "I know this sounds totally NUTS, after everything you have just been through to try to have a baby," she said, "but unless you do something, you will always have that nagging little voice in the back of your mind, wondering whether this will be the month."

She was right. It did sound totally nuts. (I believe the book "Sweet Grapes" advocates the same thing, & I had the same reaction when I read it.) And so I ignored her advice. For the first year or two, or maybe even three, after we abandoned treatment, I continued to hope for that miracle baby, unlikely as the prospect seemed as I headed into my mid-40s. I still took my temperatures & charted. I even had someone give me a Clearplan Fertility Monitor, which I used for awhile.

Gradually, though, I stopped using the monitor... & then the thermometer (it was sooooo nice not to have to stick a thermometer in my mouth first thing every morning!!). (I knew I was making progress the day I finally shredded those damned temp charts.) I still tracked the days of my cycles (& still do, because AF is still a regular visitor & I like to know when to expect her, more or less -- plus, of course, they always ask, every time I go for a Pap), and perhaps I still vaguely hoped for a pregnancy, but the reality was slowly beginning to sink in that I really was not going to get pregnant. Ever. That feeling grew stronger as time went on.

However, as my comfort level grew, I noticed dh's anxiety levels were rising. Finally, one day, he confessed to me that he was terrified that I might get pregnant again (not to mention the likelihood that another pregnancy would probably mean another loss). He was in his late 40s by then. He wished we had been able to have a child, but at this age, he felt he was getting too old to be a dad now. He didn't want to be collecting his pension and paying for university tuition at the same time.

I was stunned. I had no idea he felt this way. I was hurt (would having a "surprise" baby with me, even at this late stage of our lives, really be so terrible??). I felt a little rejected. And honestly, I thought he was being ridiculous. Even though I'd kind of been hoping for a miracle pregnancy, deep down, I knew I had much better odds of winning a couple of million dollars in the weekend lottery. Did he really, truly think a pregnancy was going to materialize at this late date in our lives, after all we'd been through, with our lousy track record, with all we knew about his male factor, my bicornuate uterus, my wonky ovulation patterns, etc. etc.??

But if this was really how he felt, I realized we had to deal with it (especially if I ever wanted him to touch me again, lol). I don't remember him offering to have a vasectomy (lol) -- & I really didn't want him to have one either. But, having spent 13 years on the pill before pumping myself full of clomid, Gonal-F & other assorted synthetic hormones that were doing God-knows-what to my body, I didn't want to go back on the pill again either.

Eventually, we came to a kind of an agreement. As I said, I keep track of my cycle days. I've memorized enough of "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" and know my cycle & body signs well enough to tell, most months, when my most fertile days are (assuming that, at age 47, I have any left). On those, days we either don't come near each other, or we use protection when we do. It's not fun, and yes, I still think it's really kind of silly & pointless, but it's only for a few days a month. It's certainly not as effective as the pill, but given our track record, I really don't think it has to be, & if it makes him feel better, & that we're doing something, then it's worth it.

That was several years ago, and this "system" has worked pretty well for us. We did have one notable pregnancy "scare" a few years back, when AF decided to tease us by prolonging her arrival. It happened to be Christmastime 2003 (of course!), & we were visiting my parents. AF was late -- very late -- & I felt like crap (not to mention totally stressed out). I was also furious. I felt like I had just gotten used to the idea that I was never going to be a mother, thanks to my non-cooperative body -- & here was my body, jerking me around, yet AGAIN. ARGH.

We wound up sneaking -- like teenagers, instead of the almost-43 & 47-year-olds we were -- into a drugstore in the next town over (where I didn't think anyone would know who I was), with dh keeping lookout for my mom (who was shopping elsewhere in the same mall) while I bought a pregnancy test, trying not to look guilty & blush furiously in front of the sales clerk. I hid the bag with the test in my purse, and took it when both my parents were out of the house at one point. Negative. I stashed the used test in our suitcase & threw it out once we got back home. AF finally showed up a few days later, on something like day 58 of my cycle. It was & still is my longest cycle ever.

That episode taught me something, though: that I really was living more as a true childless/free person than I had realized. It was a revelation of sorts. Had I really been pregnant, I would have been thrilled (eventually)(& terrified, immediately) -- but the fact that I actually felt dismay & even a little anger at the prospect of pregnancy at this late stage of my reproductive life told me I really had moved on, more than I had realized.

Eventually, I shredded all of my temperature charts (although I have kept the journal I maintained of my infertility treatments, including daily follicle measurements, drug dosages, etc.). I even gave away a huge stack (not all, but a lot) of my "how to get pregnant" & pregnancy books.

I'm not looking forward to all the baggage that comes along with menopause -- totally uncharted territory -- but being free at last, of the need to be "careful," of AF's visits, & of that last little vestige of uncertainty, will (in some ways) be a huge relief, I think.

*** *** ***

Note: I wrote this post awhile back & decided to sit on it for awhile in my drafts folder. Wouldn't you know, AF decided to play hide & seek this month too? I sort of half expected it & wasn't overly worried, as it's been a stressful month or so, & I'm often "late" when that happens. I looked at my calendar notes about my cycle, & figured AF would probably arrive this weekend. If not, then I'd go to the drugstore or to the dr.

Dh, however, barely slept all week. I was starting to get a little ticked off with him (& thinking that maybe a vasectomy might not be such a bad idea...! -- after all, he's the one with the problem, right??). After all (as I complained in a whinging comment to Mrs. Spit) (a) I am 47 friggin' years old (b) my track record in these matters is not that great (c) AF was late, but not hugely so (I've never been a 28-day girl in my life) (d) she's often late if I've been sick or under some sort of stress, which I have been (two rounds of antibiotics, two rounds of Monistat, an allergic reaction, & a partridge in a pear tree...)(e) let's just say it really would be a miracle pregnancy, since the opportunities have been on the limited side lately (because of (d) above); (f) all signs pointed to AF's arrival this weekend and (g) I knew it would be just like AF to show up just in time for (1) the weekend & (2) our anniversary on Sunday.

And of course, she showed up just as expected, spotting & cramping on Friday & making a grand entrance Saturday morning. I felt so crappy I slept until almost 11! Haven't done that in quite awhile...!

*** Disclaimer: I would in no way endorse this method of birth control for anyone other than infertile couples in their late 40s/early 50s with male factor, uterine abnormalities, wonky ovulation and a lousy track record in all matters related to conception & pregnancy (and maybe not even then...!). Caveat emptor!! ***

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Show & Tell: 23 years?? Yikes!!



It was a blazing hot, sunny day, 23 years ago. Almost four years after we'd met, 3.5 years together in spirit (though often thousands of miles apart at school), July 6, 1985, was the day my dh & I finally got married and began our life together.

Appropriately, the entire wedding took place on the campus of the university where we first met in the fall of 1981. My family had moved every 3-6 years during my lifetime & my parents had recently moved to a new town where we knew few people & hotel/motel rooms were scarce. We did approach the minister of the Anglican congregation where my mother attended but he was lukewarm on marrying us since dh & I weren't members of his parish & not likely to be.

So we moved to Plan B, which was to approach the chaplain at the Anglican college on the campus where we had met, in a city about an hour from where my parents now lived, with a Ramada Inn close by that was willing to offer us a group discount. "I'd be happy to marry you," the chaplain, a lovely, British-born woman said without hesitation. At one of our meetings, she asked us whether she should include the part in the blessing asking to be blessed with the gift of children, and the grace to bring them up to know & love the Lord. We looked at each other & smiled and said yes.

The reception was held in one of the multipurpose rooms in the student union building on campus, with floor to ceiling windows that opened in the evening onto a patio filled with shrubbery. It was almost like having an outdoor wedding. We took our photos in front of the beautiful, pillared administration building (built in 1912). The sun was hot & bright (we're squinting in many of the photos), but there was, thankfully, a breeze, as you can see in the top photo. I have the train of my dress gathered up over my arm, with my veil flapping in the breeze, so it's not a perfect shot, but I love that photo. Somehow, it reminds me of the scene in "Gone With the Wind" just before the intermission, with Scarlett standing beneath a tree & silhouetted against the sunset sky, vowing she'll never be hungry again.

We had 120 guests, all but four of them from my side. The four were dh's dad, brother & two cousins, who all flew in from Toronto to make up the male half of the wedding party. My bridesmaids wore short dresses in "dusty pink," which was all the rage back in 1985, and we carried pink & white roses in our bouquets. We dined on chicken cordon bleu and fresh local strawberries for dessert.

We spent the night in the city's swankiest downtown hotel, drove out to my parents' the next day to open gifts & spend more time with family who had come a long way to celebrate with us and, the next morning, flew to Calgary for a week-long honeymoon that took us to Banff & Jasper (as well as the infamous Stampede!). I remember dh was exhausted from all the driving and slept for 12 hours while I watched the end of the Live Aid concert in our Calgary hotel room.

Our first dance was to "You & I" by Crystal Gayle & Eddie Rabbitt, with a refrain that seems strangely prophetic, given the way things have turned out: "We'll be allright... just you & I."

It's 23 years later. For better or for worse it IS just you & I, and yes, the kids are allright. Happy anniversary, sweetie. xoxo
(For more of this week's Show & Tell from other bloggers, visit here.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's about time...

I was thrilled to read on Janis's blog (Ferdinand's Gifts) that Barack Obama has proposed legislation that would improve the way sudden infant deaths & stillbirths are investigated & accounted for in the U.S.

"Every year, too many American families experience the heartbreak of stillbirth and sudden unexpected infant death and we must do everything we can to work to prevent these tragedies,'' Obama said in a statement introducing the bill.

In addition to aiding research into the causes of the deaths, the bill "will also provide every American family with access to information about ways to prevent them,'' added Obama, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.
Yet another reason why I like the guy. ; ) Too bad I can't vote for him, being Canadian. But maybe if such a bill comes to pass in the States, it will influence policy here in Canada. We can only hope…

Glow in the Woods 6x6 (July 2008)

For more 6x6 memes, visit Glow in the Woods.

1 How would you describe your relationship to fear before and after the loss of your baby?

When I think about it, I've always lived with anxiety in my life. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, & it was hard for me to face new situations & new people, especially as I got older. I also spent some time in hospitals (having various tests run) when I was a grade schooler, which was a highly traumatic experience that gave me nightmares for years afterwards. But fear? Fear that something would happen to me or my loved ones? Those kinds of things always happened to someone else.

I try to live my life optimistically. My dh has a lot of anxiety issues, and I feel like I have to stay positive & upbeat as a counterbalance. But fear is always lurking menacingly in the background. I know that bad things do happen to good people, randomly & without warning. The innocence is gone.

2 Is your lost baby/are your babies present in your life? In what way?
Even after 10 years, there is not a day (& often not an hour) that goes by that I am not thinking about my daughter & what happened to us in some way, shape or form. She continues to be present & influence my life. We still visit her niche at the cemetery just about every weekend. It's often just a very brief visit (one particularly blustery day last winter, we didn't even get out of the car), but it's a ritual that gives us comfort.

We also have various physical reminders of her around the house… our most personal keepsakes are not openly on display (except maybe in our bedroom), but there are things like angel figurines on the piano & on my desk at work, a tree in the backyard & magnets on the refrigerator that hold special meaning for us, even if the rest of the world doesn't realize it.

3 Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling nurtured or supported.

A few examples:

Arriving at the cemetery for our first visit after the funeral -- only to find that FIL had already been there, leaving a bouquet scotch taped (!) to the then-plaqueless niche wall. We knew it was him because there was a card tucked inside that read (in Italian) "Your Grandparents."

Getting cards & notes from totally unexpected people -- the secretary to the CEO of the bank I work for (the very first note that I received from anyone), the vice-president from another area that I had been working with on a project with, a member of my lunchtime Toastmasters club, the travel agent who shared office space with my dad's real estate company & worked the phones tirelessly to get my mother to Toronto to be with me in time for delivery.

The (older, childless) coworker, my best friend from work, who came to visit me at home while I was on leave, listened to me tell my story, & wiped her eyes as I did.

The (older, childless) admin officer from my office who, in calling me to discuss the details of my leave, said emphatically, "It's a tragedy, Lori." Yes, it was! Thank you!!

The angel figurine that my childhood best friends, three sisters (one of whom was the twin to a stillborn sister), sent me at Christmastime to let me know they were thinking of me.

At my grandfather's funeral (two months after the loss of my daughter), my cousins' other grandmother (a tiny, frail lady in her late 80s, a woman of great faith & a neighbour to my own grandparents), gave me a huge hug & said how sorry she was to hear about my baby. She said to me, "I love you & your sister like you were my own grandchildren." I hugged her back & said, "I love you too, Grandma R." (She is still with us, now in her late 90s!)

4 Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling marginalized or misunderstood.

A few examples:

The people (well meaning, I'm sure) who would say something like, "Well, you can try again," or "I'm sure you'll have another baby." I would just reply, "I hope so." Completely setting aside the fact that babies are not interchangeable & I wanted THAT baby, not a new one, it showed me they knew or understood nothing of how long we'd been trying to have this baby. Having another was by no means a sure thing (as time has borne out).

The friend (whom I supported through a divorce & problems with her strongwilled daughter) who called me at home when she couldn't reach me at the office &, upon hearing what had happened (granted, she was caught off guard, BUT…!!) started babbling on & came up with this gem: "Well, you know, Lori, you've had a pretty easy life so far." Oh really?? Like it was my "turn" to have something bad happen to me??

The people who said nothing at all, or perhaps a very perfunctory expression of condolence, & nothing since then.

The hints & outright comments that we must be rolling in dough (i.e., because we don't have kids). One of dh's cousins actually started to say this to him at a family gathering this winter, & then sort of caught himself, like he suddenly remembered WHY we don't have kids, & shut up. Duh.

5 What's taken you a long time to do again? How did it feel, if you have?

It took me a long, long time before I could walk into a Baby Gap store again. Even now, if I go in there, it's usually to buy a gift, & I'm in & out as fast as I can. Still way too painful. And I still can't/won't watch "A Baby Story" on TLC. No way, no how.

6 How would you describe yourself as a partner before, and after?

I've always felt dh & I had a strong relationship. Loss & infertility have tested it (sorely at times), but I think that overall, the things we've been through have brought us closer together. As for me in particular as a partner -- I think that loss has made me a little more vulnerable & needy than I once was. (I must ask dh what he thinks, lol.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Oh Canada...

Today is Canada Day, our national holiday -- once known as Dominion Day, which I actually think is a much more poetic & historically based name. (One of the things that drives me nuts about this otherwise great country of ours is that we complain that we have no institutions, no sense of history, no clear identity -- & then go about dismantling or ignoring the few institutions that we have.) Michael Valpy of the Globe & Mail used to lead an annual crusade, "Give us back our Dominion Day" (I even have a T-shirt from that) & the Globe used to reprint an annual editorial on the subject, but I've noticed they have been silent on the issue & seem to have given up that fight over the last few years. Pity.

Anyway, whatever you want to call it, & however you want to celebrate it, it's a day to reflect & give thanks for a wonderful country. I have said it before, & I'll say it again -- when I think about the historical lot of women, and even how some women still live (if you can call it living) in some places in the world today, I am so, so thankful to the Powers That Be that I was born a woman in the latter half of the 20th century in Canada. I think that makes me one of the luckiest creatures on earth.

Happy birthday, Canada!

*** *** ***

I was just over at Ann Douglas's Mother of All Blogs, & she had this fabulous You Tube video posted -- a glorious photo montage set to Gordon Lightfoot's Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Very moving. I have no idea how to embed a video in my blog, but here's the link (& I've linked to Ann's post above as well). I can't imagine any Canadian hearing that music & seeing those images without getting at least a couple of goosebumps. ; )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zjoO170XFI

July 1998: Riding the rollercoaster (long)

On the morning of Friday, July 3rd, I had another ultrasound (my third) at the hospital where Dr. Geneticist practiced. Dh came along but was told he couldn't come into the room with me. "He can come in at the end," the u/s tech said. At the end of the examination, he told me to clean up & wait outside. What? What about my husband? (What about my picture??) I joined dh in the waiting room with a "I dunno either" roll of my eyes.

After the ultrasound, we went to Dr. Geneticist's office. The baby was still small -- measuring at 15.6 weeks (I was then on day 146 of my pregnancy) -- and had not grown much since my last ultrasound 10 days earlier. But the baby was active & kicking (although I couldn't always feel it). We were told there was really nothing we could do at this point except wait for the amnio results.

Dh's family came over on Sunday, July 5th. The previous day, they had been at SIL's company picnic. Our nephews, then aged 9 & not quite 6, had received small stuffed toys -- which they handed to me with shining faces, saying they were for the baby. No doubt this gesture was prompted by their parents ; ) but they took obvious pleasure in giving something to their little cousin-to-be, & to say I was touched is an understatement. They are in Katie's keepsake box, along with our other few treasures.

Monday, July 6th: our 13th wedding anniversary. Yep, lucky 13. Right. I went shopping that day at lunchtime with the other pg woman in the office (due a month before me in October) at an upscale maternity wear shop near our office (I came away with a pretty dress and one of my favourite maternity blouses). I remember it as a fun outing, & I enjoyed having another pregnant woman to compare notes with.

But I was not feeling at all well that day, and worse as the day progressed. I had an upset stomach, made several trips to the bathroom, & noted a touch of diarrhea in the afternoon. I had a headache for most of the day, & my left eye was twitching on & off.

Dh & I had planned to go out for Chinese food for supper that night to celebrate our anniversary. He met me downstairs as usual around 4:30 with a big smile, but his expression changed when he saw me. I asked whether he'd mind waiting to go out for dinner another night, as I really wasn't feeling well.

By the time we got home, my headache had developed into a full-blown, pounding migraine. I've only ever had a few in my lifetime, thank God. For me, getting a migraine means I have to lay down in our bedroom, very still, in complete darkness. Normally I would take some Tylenol, but being pregnant, didn't want to do that.

Dh called Dr. Ob-gyn's number & got the number for the dr on call, who turned out to be a member of the high-risk pregnancy team. He described my migraine symptoms & added that we were having a difficult pregnancy. I believe the dr said I could take a Tylenol, but I don't remember if I did. My notes say I eventually threw up twice (the only time I vomited during the entire pregnancy), after which I finally started feeling better.

I called in sick the next morning (cancelled a meeting I had with a VP in HR) & so did dh, determined not to leave me alone. I also called Dr. Ob-gyn's office, & went to see him the next morning for my scheduled five-month checkup (Wednesday, July 8). He had a little trouble finding the baby's heartbeat at first, but eventually found it. He was off on vacation the following week, & said that Dr. Geneticist would be our contact while he was gone. My next appointment with him would be for my regular six-month checkup on Wednesday, August 5th.

Friday, July 10th, I called our travel agent to cancel our flights. We were supposed to have left on vacation to see my family the following day. Dh went golfing with some of his cousins instead. What a weird feeling to spend the whole day thinking "We should be going to the airport right now... we should be on the plane right now... right now, we'd be home and having one of Dad's delicious steak dinners." (We went to the Chinese restaurant on Saturday night for a belated anniversary dinner instead.)

My parents decided that if we couldn't come to them, they would come to see us. Monday, July 13th, I asked my boss about taking two weeks of my holidays during the weeks of Aug. 10th & 17th, & she agreed. I was looking forward to having my parents come. My mom had come to visit us just about every year during her spring break, but my dad hadn't come since we moved into our house 8 years earlier. I had only one photo of myself pregnant (taken just after we found out, so no tummy visible), & I planned to ask my mom to take some photos of me modelling my maternity clothes. She could then take the photos home with her to show my grandparents.

Later that day, we were back at the hospital across the street where Dr. Geneticist had his office, having another ultrasound (#4, 10 days after the last one). Once again, dh came along; once again, they never called him into the room, and once again, no pictures. I realized this was serious business & not a photo shoot, but how much more effort would it have taken to freeze one frame & print it off for me??

The baby was still measuring small, although there had been some growth (now measuring 17 weeks). The head was measuring larger than the body. As in previous ultrasounds, the amniotic fluid was still on the low side, there was particulate matter in it, and there was still an echogenic bowel. The technician noted that the baby was growing in the left horn of my bicornuate uterus, the placenta was in the right, and the umbilical cord was running in between.

The tech kept saying she thought the heart looked "large in the chest" & had "thick walls." She called in a radiologist to have a look. This sounded frightening. I emerged from the room without dh being called in & without pictures, but with a sheet of notes for Dr. Geneticist. Of course I read what it said, & while I didn't understand all the medical terminology, the words "suspected trisomy 13" and "anencephaly" leaped off the page & burned themselves into my brain.

Dr. Geneticist was reassuring as always. Our bloodwork was back, & ruled out infections & cystic fibrosis. The amnio results might be back as soon as the next day. He explained that head/brain always developed faster than the rest of the body -- it was the body's way of protecting the brain. Although the clot on the placenta might be obstructing the baby's growth, any nutrients the baby was getting would be directed to the brain first. That made sense.

As for the heart, he arranged for us to get a fetal echocardiogram done the following day at the world-famous Hospital for Sick Children, just down the street (yet another hospital, yet another hospital card to add to my collection...!). We had left the office at noon for a 12:45 ultrasound; by the time we left Dr. Geneticist's office, it was 4 p.m., & we headed straight for the train station.

The next morning, Tuesday, July 14th, I had my rescheduled meeting the the VP from HR -- a very lovely woman who asked me how I was feeling & congratulated me on my pregnancy and asked when I was due, etc.

That afternoon was our fetal echocardiogram at "Sick Kids," as it's known locally. The appointment was for 12:30; we left the office at noon, went to Dr. Geneticist's office again after our appointment, & left at 5 (another long day). The echocardiogram was in an older part of the hospital that was a rabbit warren of dark, dingy hallways, with some very sick-looking young patients in the waiting areas. Dh said it broke his heart to see them.

The echocardiogram was more or less like a regular ultrasound. The nurse said the baby was turned in such a way that she wasn't able to get a clear picture of everything she needed, so after awhile, I was sent out to walk the hallways, jiggling my tummy in an effort to get the baby to change position. After she was done, the head cardiologist arrived to have a look. The two of them gazed at the screen intensely & kept watching one segment of tape over & over again. I tried to figure out what they were looking at & what they were talking about, but it was over my head. Eventually, the dr spoke briefly with us. All I remember him saying was that the structure of the heart looked fine, but the circulation was "very poor," likely because of the placental problems. (I seized on the part about the structure of the heart looking fine.)

The next day, I called Dr. Geneticist's office again & spoke to his secretary. It was now 19 days -- 19 days!! -- since I'd had the amniocentisis, & the stress of not knowing was killing me. Sorry, she told me, nothing yet. Dr. Geneticist himself called me the following day (Thursday, July 16th). He said the lab technicians were having trouble cultivating the necessary cells, and said there wouldn't be anything to report until at least Monday now (!). He was going to be away next week, until the 29th; however, I could call his office to see if the results had come in, and Dr. Ob-gyn would be back Monday to oversee my care again.

It had been a horribly hot, hazy & smoggy week. That afternoon, we had a torrential downpour downtown, with black skies, violent thunder & lightning, & reports of tornado sightings north of the city. When we arrived home that night, there were leaves & branches strewn all over the roads.

We walked into the house. I'm not sure exactly what caught my eye, but I found myself looking down the stairs in the entryway that led into the basement. There was a landing partway down, & a side door to a sunken entrance to the outside. The mat in front of the door was dark. With water. There were pools of water. Everywhere.

"Oh my gosh!" I said. I headed down the stairs & into our partially finished basement. We'd had minor leaks in the walls & around the windows before, little trickles of water after a particularly heavy rain -- but there was water, EVERYWHERE. Not deep water (thank God for that!), but puddles & rivers of it all over the place. From the path the water seemed to have taken, I figured that it had rained so hard in such a short period of time (a mini-tornado, or microburst, we later heard) that the water had overflowed the door jamb to the sunken side entrance & cascaded down the basement stairs. The usual leaky spots in the walls were also leaking. Some of the boxes sitting on the floor were soaked.

Dh totally lost it & started yelling (his usual response to stress). I started crying (my usual response to stress). Then he started crying too. A perfect end to a perfect day. :( He forbade me to touch anything. I don't think he'd ever touched a mop in his life before, but he started trying to mop up all the water, while I pointed out the spots he'd missed. It was just too, too much stress to handle, all of it. (Not counting the very end of it) this was the absolute low spot of my rollercoaster pregnancy. We went to bed, totally exhausted.

Sunday, July 19th, we went to see "The Mask of Zorro" with Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, & a stunningly beautiful young woman in one of her first major film roles, named Catherine Zeta-Jones. I remember having to go to the washroom in the middle of the movie. That hadn't happened since I was a little kid. Every time I see that movie now on TV (and I do love it!), I think about being pregnant.

Monday, July 20th, I called & left a message at Dr. Geneticist's office -- any news from the amnio yet? I could not focus on my work. I jumped every time the phone rang that day. I kept checking my voice mail at home every hour too, to see if they'd left a message there instead. It was now 24 days -- 3.5 weeks -- since I'd had the test done. I decided to call back around 4 p.m. & left another message, saying they could reach me at the office until 4:30 p.m.

Shortly afterward, I got a call from a woman in his office. "The chromosomes are normal," she said.

What? Normal?? Normal??? "Oh my God," I said, starting to cry. I remember saying to her, "Not that it matters... but can you tell me if it's a boy or a girl?"

"It's a girl," she said. A girl!! Dh & I had always wanted a little girl. Of course, the official line was "anything so long as it's healthy," but we had secretly wanted a little girl for as long as we had talked about having a family.

She added that they would still want to follow me closely, and that there would be more ultrasounds to come, but since Dr. Ob-gyn was back in his office next week, he'd take things from here.

I sobbed. I thanked her tearfully. I got off the phone. My officemate/best friend was there, witness to the whole scene in our shared office space. She gave me a huge hug & wiped her own eyes. "Call your dh & tell him the good news," she whispered. I did. He was ecstatic. When we got home that night, he called his dad & brother. Then I called cousin/neighbour's wife, my mom, & my sister. When I told my cynical, childless-by-choice & not easily excited sister that she was going to have a niece, she started chanting exuberantly: "Pink! Pink! Pink!" I got a huge kick out of that.

Everything was going to be all right. My baby was normal, normal!! And she was the little GIRL I'd always dreamed about. Oh sure, she was on the small side. From what I had been reading about IUGR, I might have to be delivered early. But that was OK -- wasn't that what NICUs were for? The doctors would take care of her -- they were performing miracles with preemies these days, & I was at one of the best (perhaps the very best) high-risk maternity hospitals in the country. I had such faith that all was going to be well after all.

We had had her name picked out for almost as long as we'd been married: Katie. For some reason, even though we'd postponed pregnancy for the first 10 years of our marriage, dh & I always knew we wanted a little girl, and her name had always been Katie. We'd talked about "Katie" & "when Katie is here" for so long. She was a real person to us, long before we ever actually started trying to conceive.

We picked Katie because we just liked the name for a little girl (it had also been my paternal grandmother's name). Dh had wanted Kaitlyn, with Katie for short, but I said no way -- Kaitlyn (in all its various spellings) was a hugely popular name and I didn't want her to be one of 20 in the schoolyard. Katherine seemed a little severe for a little girl. I suggested Kathleen, which was a little less common, as well as a family name on my maternal grandfather's side of the family (I knew he'd get a kick out of that).

I actually told dh that if he really wanted, we could call her Maria, after his mother. That would have been within Italian tradition. It certainly would have tickled his father to no end. And I liked the name (albeit not as much as Katie). Dh said no, she had always been Katie, & Katie she would stay. We agreed that Maria would be her middle name. So Kathleen Maria it was. (For awhile, she was actually Kathleen Maria Amanda, another family name I liked, but after she was born, we decided to "save" Amanda for a possible future daughter.) (Had she been a boy, her name would have been Michael Vincent Neill -- Michael because I liked the name, Vincent for FIL & Neill for my beloved grandfather.)

I figured (optimistic me) that was probably the last we'd be seeing of Dr. Geneticist, so I sent him a card, thanking him for everything he'd done for us. He was a fabulous dr & a huge comfort to us during an enormously stressful time. (I've since met other women who consulted with him during their own turbulent pregnancies, & they agree!)

Saturday, July 25th, dh went golfing with a few of his cousins early in the morning. In the afternoon, we went out shopping. Specifically, we went to look at stuff for the baby. It felt like such a monumental step but, having gotten the all-clear with the amnio, we now felt more confident about tackling such matters. It was hard to believe that the baby was going to be here in just three months, and we'd done very little in the way of preparations. I made a mental note to ask Dr. Ob-gyn about prenatal classes at my next visit.

I believe this was the day we went to Sears at the local mall. I had been mulling over nursery theme choices in my mind -- thought about Beatrix Potter, but it was hard to find. Classic Pooh (NOT the cartoony Disney Pooh) was also high on the list. When we went to Sears & found the Classic Pooh bedding set on sale, that clinched it -- we bought the whole thing, & ordered the matching wallpaper border (which did not arrive until after the funeral).

We drove to an area of the city which had several baby furniture outlets within several blocks, & checked them all out. We weren't intending to buy anything that day, just get a feel for costs & what we liked, etc. We planned to return in another week or two with BIL & SIL. FIL had announced he was going to pay for the crib, & BIL & SIL wanted to buy the matching chest of drawers/change table of whatever set of furniture we picked out. It was fun to finally be doing some of these things that we'd waited so long to do, just like every other expectant couple.

Later that evening, we went over to cousin/neighbour's house, where another cousin & her husband were visiting. We all sat on the deck, enjoying the summer weather. I remember I was wearing white maternity shorts & a simple red maternity T-shirt, very summery. She hadn't seen me in months, & exclaimed about how good I looked & how big I was.

At some point around this time, cousin/neighbour's wife told me that she & her sister-in-law (dh's cousin) wanted to give me a baby shower -- just the aunts & cousins on dh's mom's side of the family. Was I going to register somewhere? Did I have a nursery theme in mind? Yikes! I hadn't given any of these matters much thought (being otherwise preoccupied). Once the amnio came back clear, I gave the go-ahead for the shower. I decided not to register, but told her that night that we'd selected the Classic Pooh theme & told her what we'd already bought. She showed me the new, colourful plastic patio plates & glassware she'd bought & planned to use for the shower, which was scheduled for Saturday, September 5th, on the Labour Day long weekend. She asked me for my mother & sister's addresses -- even though they wouldn't be able to come, she thought they should get invitations, & I told her they would appreciate that. A copy of the invitation arrived in the mail for me on Monday, July 27th. On the back, she'd attached a sticky note with a message that read, "We love you, Baby Katie! We can't wait to meet you!" signed with a smiley face.

I have notes in my datebook that indicate I was feeling very tired & crampy that day, but feeling the baby move, especially after meals. I hadn't noted movement too much in my notes before this, but I have lots of jottings that week about "baby very active after dinner," etc. I never felt anything resembling a kick, and nothing that dh could feel, but delicate little flutters. I reasoned that because she was smaller than most babies her gestational age, she couldn't kick as hard, & was not too concerned.

I remember this as a happy time in the pregnancy -- the calm after the storm (& before the next storm). I had heard that you should read aloud to your baby in utero, that they could recognize the sound of your voice & the cadence of the story. I started sitting on the couch or propped up with pillows in bed, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods" aloud. (I had the entire boxed set of the series, which I had loved as a child & purchased with my own children in mind. I got about 1/3 of the way into the book. I recently checked to see if the bookmark was still there, but it wasn't.) One night, dh heard my voice & came upstairs & stood in the bedroom doorway. I smiled up at him but continued reading, with my hand on my belly, & he smiled back at me. He generally describes my pregnancy as "six months of hell," but says that's one of his favourite memories of that time.

Friday, July 31st, I noted that we were very busy at work, & I was very tired. The baby was somewhat active, & my stomach was feeling sore for some reason. I said goodbye to my officemate/coworker, who was off on vacation for the next week. The next time I saw her would not be at the office.