Thursday, October 29, 2009

And this year's most popular Halloween costume is...

...Octomom! Put on a long dark wig (& maybe a big pair of sunglasses), & a snuggli filled with eight baby dolls, and voila!

Someone posted a photo they'd seen on a message board I frequent, & now at least two people on the board have picked up the idea & are making their own Octomom costumes for Halloween parties, or to wear when trick or treating with their kids.

Part of me thinks it's hilarious, & a brilliant idea.

Part of me cringes. I hate to see that woman get any more publicity than she already has. I hate to see infertility and multiple births treated as a joke.

(Last year, the costume du jour was Sarah Palin: put your hair up in a librarian's bun, add a pair of glasses & wear a business suit with an American flag pin. And lipstick. Very important.)

Last year, I posted about how unexpectedly painful Halloween was for me. I honestly don't know how I feel about it this year. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What do Iraq war veterans and bereaved moms have in common?

I've read so many great articles lately where I keep thinking, "I should blog about this." And then the paper gets thrown out & I can't remember which paper it was in, etc.

Fortunately, I did make note of this one. The New York Times has a great blog called Home Fires: American Veterans on the Post-War Life, which features personal stories from Iraq war veterans. A recent entry described the challenges faced by soldiers who are re-adjusting to the civilian world. After it was published, the blog received many comments from Vietnam war vets, describing their own returns to civilian life. Some of these were highlighted in a separate blog entry, titled Coming Home Again.

On the surface, these men have nothing or very little in common with me & my readers (infertility, pregnancy loss). But reading some of their comments, I was struck once again by the "transferrability of trauma," & how much we have in common with others who have been through a traumatic experience, even though the circumstances of those experiences may be very different.

Here are a few of the quotes I could most relate to from Coming Home Again. (You'll probably see why when you read them.):


To Brian Turner, all I can say is that four decades since the year that lanced through my life, I’ve never really talked about it to anyone. I don’t recommend that. What you are doing is good. It is not that we “get over” things like this or “find ourselves” again. It is more that out of the shards and bits and broken pieces — those museum uniforms isolated behind glass — something new is fused, grown. We become what we were but so much other and hopefully more, the more having the insight of the “sailor home from the sea.”

Yeah, it would have been nice if we’d have come back as a unit and someone had walked up and said, “Welcome home” and “Do you want some coffee?” Almost
makes me cry.

— Posted by Robert S

These days I work with trauma survivors who have P.T.S.D. If they are military veterans, Blackwater cast-offs, rape victims, or clergy abuse survivors, they all have the same P.T.S.D.... Rituals help us heal from our P.T.S.D. trauma, regardless of how we got it. Native American rituals and traditional rituals help nourish and heal the soul.

Best advice to help someone with P.T.S.D.: If they talk to you about their experiences, just shut up and listen without judgment. Don’t interrupt and tell them about your own sorrows or you know someone like that. It may be the one time they are able to talk about it and heal. Don’t shut it off. Second piece of advice: sustained prayer.

— Posted by John Zemler

I felt as if I had snuck back into the U.S. from Vietnam in ‘71. My family was proud of me, but they tiptoed around a lot of questions... in a casual conversation with an Air Force colonel, he asked if I had ever served in the armed forces. I said yes, and he did the mental math and asked if I had been to Vietnam. When I said “yes” he just said “thank you.” That was the first and only time anyone had ever said that to me. I cried...

I think the Bush-era ban on returning ceremonies for soldiers killed in action bordered on criminal neglect. The British publicly honor every fallen soldier returning home. I suspect they do a better job of honoring all of their soldiers. I wish America would too.

— Posted by Robert Easton


*** *** ***

I left in that last pargraph, even though it doesn't really relate to the rest of the post, because it reminded me of the repatriation ceremonies that take place at a Canadian air force base, about an hour down the road from where I live. Each time a Canadian soldier is killed in Afghanistan -- and there have been more than 130 since the Afghan mission began in 2002 -- his or her body is flown to this base, where there is a "repatriation ceremony." The body is then carried in a convoy down Highway 401 to the coroner's office in Toronto, after which it is released to the family for burial. (Initially, the Conservative government -- taking their cue from the Bush government, no doubt -- wanted to ban news media from the ceremonies. They backed down after a bereaved father voiced his objections.)

Canadians are not generally a flag-waving people. But something amazing began to happen. Members of the public began lining the fence at the base to show their support for the soldiers' families. And people from communities along the 401 began to gather on the highway overpasses, bearing Canadian flags, and paying their respects as the procession passed by. Parents with young children. Veterans in dress uniforms and firefighters standing atop fire trucks, saluting.

Nobody told these people they should do this. It was entirely a grassroots thing -- one group joined by another and then another. Eventually, a newspaper photographer noticed what was happening and took some photos. (Last year on Veteran's/Remembrance Day, NBC News even ran a piece on the phenomenon.) Today, hundreds of people might be standing on & around a single highway overpass; thousands along the route -- which, since 2007, has been officially renamed "The Highway of Heroes."

I'm usually at work when these ceremonies have taken place, so I have not personally witnessed a procession. But it does travel past my community en route into the city, and I have seen the photos and television footage.

Just thinking about it -- or writing about it, as I am now -- brings tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thank you x3


I've been tagged with not just one, not just two, but THREE awards over the past little while from kind readers.

First, one from Rebecca of Into the Light Again. I haven't done this meme before & it looked like fun, so here it is:

Here are the rules:
1. you can only use one word!
2. pass this along to 6 of your favorite bloggers
3. alert them that you have given them this award!
4. have fun!


The Fun Part:

1. Where is your cell phone? purse
2. Your hair? short
3. your mother? whirlwind
4. Your father? steady
5. Your favorite food? pasta
6. Your dream last night? unremembered
7. Your favorite drink? tea
8. Your dream/goal? retirement!
9. What room are you in? "office"
10. Your hobby? scrapbooking
11. Your fear? loss
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? near-retired : ) (do hyphenated words count as one?)
13. Where were you last night? home
14. Something that you aren't? assertive
15. Muffins? cornmeal
16. Wish list item? time
17. Where did you grow up? Manitoba
18. Last thing you did? TV
19. What are you wearing? sweats
20. Your TV? Sony
21. Your pets? none
22. Friends? loyal
23. Your life? good
24. Your mood? happy
25. Missing someone? always
26. Vehicle? Camry
27. Something you're not wearing? bra ; )
28. Your favorite store? Chapters
29. Your favorite color? blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? tonight
31. Last time you cried? a week ago?
32. Your best friend? dh
33. One place that I go to over and over? Starbucks ; )
34. One person who emails me regularly? Mom
35. Favorite place to eat? Montana's

*** *** ***

HC of May I Say Something nominated me for the "Kreativ Blogger Award" because she likes the articles, books & news that I highlight here. I'm not sure just how truly creative that makes me ; ) but I thank her for the honour!

The rules for the award:

1) Thank the person who nominated you for this award. (Done.)
2) Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (Done.)
3) Link to the person who nominated you for this award. (Done)
4) Name 7 things about yourself that people may not know.
5) Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6) Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7) Leave a comment on each.

Seven Things that People May Not Know About Me:

1. I'm a skincare/makeup junkie. My favourite brands include Clinique, Estee Lauder & Prescriptives -- which, sadly, is being discontinued as of January 31, 2010. (Needless to say, I have been stocking up...!) I am a complete sucker for gift-with-purchase promotions.

2. Oddly enough, although I have literally dozens of lipsticks, I tend to put some on in the morning & never remember to reapply it during the day.

3. I line up the milk cartons in the fridge with the plastic spouts facing the same way (right).

4. My LPs, cassette tapes & CDs are all filed alphabetically. (Yes, I still have all my LPs and cassettes).

5. The first album I ever got (along with a record player -- a joint Christmas gift to me & my sister) was the "Mary Poppins" soundtrack. (I can still sing all the songs.)

6. We did a stage version of "Mary Poppins" when I was in high school. I got to be Mrs. Banks (Jane & Michael's mother) & sing "Sister Suffragette."

7. The second album was a present for my 6th birthday, shortly after Christmas. It was "The Best of Herman's Hermits, Vol. II." My mother had taken me not long before that to see a Herman's Hermits movie & my best friend's older sister had one of their records. (I still have it.)

*** *** ***


And finally, Illanare of My Words Fly Up nominated me for the Honest Scrap award. I did receive this award from another blogger earlier this year, but I thank her just the same!

The rules are that you reveal 10 things not previously known about you, and pass along the award to others (number not specified).

So here are (another!) 10 things about me that you may or may not have already known (I'm starting to run out of things to list, lol):

1. Other stage roles in school productions (referring to Mrs. Banks, above) included Auntie Em and Gloria (a character not in the movie) in "The Wizard of Oz," and Josie Pye in a non-musical version of "Anne of Green Gables."

2. I played alto saxophone in our school band. And for a long time, I was the only girl saxophonist. (I was Lisa Simpson long before there was Lisa Simpson, lol.)

3. I learned to read when I was 4 (& haven't stopped since!).

4. When I was in Grade 1, they were still using Dick & Jane readers

5. I bought my first computer in 1996. (It was replace by the one I'm using right now in 2003. Almost time for a new one, I think....)

6. When I was in high school and a (gulp) Bay City Rollers fan, I had something like 100 penpals. All at once. Needless to say, most of those relationships didn't last very long (some just one exchange of letters.) This was pre-Internet, of course, so everything was written longhand & sent through the mail. My sister & our friends used to "compete" to see who had the most penpals & from where. Penpals from outside Canada & the U.S. were the most prestigious, and a penpal from Scotland was like gold.

7. I am still in touch with one penpal from those days, from New Zealand. We have been writing each other for more than 30 years, although these days, it's mostly just at Christmastime. At one time, we used to exchange letters that were 20, 40, 50 pages & longer. (Again, all written longhand, sometimes over a period of weeks....!)

8. I think I like blogging & message boards because it reminds me of those days...!

9. I tend to be a bit of a packrat. I find it very hard to throw things away. Once in awhile, though, I will get a burst of energy/inspiration, & two hours later you'll find me in the middle of a closet with piles of stuff in garbage bags around me.

10. Dh is the opposite, & it's probably one of the main sources of conflict in our marriage. (His mother threw out his high school yearbooks, for crying out loud.)

Thank you for your kindness. While I am breaking some of the rules, I'm not going to pass these on right now -- since that would mean coming up with well over a dozen names (!) & linking to them -- & I am just too darned tired right now. ; ) (Which is NOT to say I don't know a dozen awesome bloggers!) But feel free to use any of these memes in your own blogs if you like.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The dark side of positive thinking

M. at The Maybe Baby -- a cancer survivor as well as an IFer & loss mother to twin girls -- had a brilliant post earlier this week about "awareness" -- of cancer in particular, but applicable to other life situations too. In it, she mentioned a thought-provoking article by Barbara Ehrenreich, a breast cancer survivor, titled "Welcome to Cancerland," which I read some years ago.

Dh & I (at home on a "staycation" this week) were watching a repeat of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Thursday morning (Wednesday night's show?) -- and lo & behold, his guest was... Barbara Ehrenreich, promoting her new book, "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America." (You can find the interview clip on his website if you are in the States -- in Canada, clips are supposedly available on The Comedy Network site, but this one wasn't on there, at least not yet or not that I could find.)

She made some excellent points about how the flipside of our culture's relentless focus on the positive is that nobody really wants to hear about anything bad, and certainly not your problems. She called it an "empathy deficit."

Well, that certainly made me sit & take notice (if I hadn't been already). I haven't read her book (yet)(am looking forward to it), but her thesis certainly struck a chord with me, as an infertile/stillbirth mother -- the idea that people really don't want to hear about how you're REALLY feeling, urge you to "stay positive" and tell you they just KNOW this next cycle is going to be the one (etc., etc.).

I'm not saying that positive thinking is totally without merit -- but insisting that people going through a rough time MUST stay relentlessly positive, discouraging them from giving voice to the grief and fear that they rightly must be feeling -- is not helpful either.

Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Battle of the Blades"

I've never been a big reality TV watcher. I watched one episode of the original season of "Survivor" & thought it was the dumbest, most contrived thing I'd ever seen (but I still tuned in for the last 10 minutes of the finale to see if Richard won, lol). I watched the last few episodes of "American Idol," the season when Fantasia won, & was blown away by her rendition of "Summertime." And we watched the first season of Debbie Travis's "From the Ground Up" on Global TV (we started watching the second season, but it was a totally different concept -- we didn't like it as much & lost interest).

But I HAVE been a figure skating fan, almost my entire life. And while I wouldn't say I'm a huge hockey fan, you simply cannot be Canadian & not absorb some sort of knowledge &/or appreciation of the game & its history.

Two weeks ago, a new reality show started on the CBC that I found absolutely irresistable, & I suspect many of my fellow Canucks will as well. (Whoever came up with the concept is a marketing genius.) "Battle of the Blades," which started last Sunday night, paired up 8 of Canada's best & most famous professional female figure skaters (pairs & dancers) with 8 former NHL hockey players -- and is teaching them to figure skate. Each week, each couple performs a pairs number (in front of a live audience at the hockey Mecca of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto) & the audience votes. The next night, the results are revealed, the two couples with the least number of votes have a skate off, and the judges (Dick Button, Sandra Bezic, and a different guest judge each week)(this past week was Don Cherry!!) decide who gets to skate another week. The last couple left standing wins $100,000 for their favourite charity. (I believe the eliminated couples get a lesser amount.)

The first week, it was Kristina Lenko and NHL tough guy Bob Probert who got voted off. (For all my years of watching figure skating, I must admit Kristina was unfamiliar to me.) This week, it was Isabelle Brasseur & former Edmonton Oilers captain Glenn Anderson.

Anyone watching?? (Someone must be -- there were an estimated 2 million viewers for the first episode, which is huge in Canadian TV terms.) Who are you cheering for?

I'll admit I have a soft spot for Barb Underhill and Ron Duguay -- if only because they're probably the ones closest to my age (46 & 52 -- the other skaters have been referring to them as "Grandma & Grandpa"). When I heard Duguay was on, I thought, "Good Lord, he was playing hockey when I was in high school!" -- I checked, and he was!! But they are also proving to be a great pair to watch. Duguay still has some Studio 54 moves in his repetoire ; ) (he takes a lot of teasing about that), and even though it's been over 10 years since Barb last competed, she clearly still has what it takes to be a champion.

I was always a huge fan of Barb & her skating partner, Paul Martini, who won the world pairs championships in 1984 and went on to a stellar professional career before finally retiring. Also close to my heart: Barb is a bereaved mother who lost one of her twin daughters in a 1993 pool accident, but found some solace in her skating. In the years since then, she has campaigned for various causes related to children's safety. It is great to see her back on the ice again!!

Christine "Tuffy" Hough-Sweeney (paired with another NHL tough guy, Tie Domi) is the mother of twin boys, born prematurely some 13 years ago. She mentioned on the show this week that she just celebrated her 40th birthday. You'd never know it to look at her. How do these women keep such great figures???

I am finding this a lot of fun. The first week in particular, the novelty factor was huge, and I thought it was a total hoot. This week, though, I found myself amazed at just how much some of these guys had improved. I think they are surprising themselves, too!

You can find video clips, skater profiles, voting mechanisms and other stuff on the program's website. Jodeyne Higgins, one of the competitors, is keeping a blog, and there's another blog on the Toronto Star covering the competition.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "It Sucked and then I Cried" by Heather B. Armstrong (Dooce)


It's time once again for another session with the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community's virtual book club, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens. Participants read the same book and each submit a question to Melissa, who compiles & circulates a list of all the questions. We then answer at least three of them in our blog, and post at or around the same time on the same day. Melissa will be (or already has, by the time you read this!) publishing a master list of the participants on her blog, so you can go there & tour around to see what other people thought of the same book.

The selection this time around was "It Sucked and then I Cried," by Heather B. Armstrong, AKA the blogger known as Dooce. I think the first time I heard the name "Dooce" was around the time of the July 2008 BlogHer conference in San Francisco -- when Melissa, Pamela Jeanne, Lori and Monica appeared on a panel to discuss infertility blogging. I was continually searching Google Blog for "BlogHer infertility" that week to see what the lucky bloggers attending the conference had to say about the panel, & it seemed like every other person was writing about attending a session featuring Dooce, or meeting her -- & writing about it in the awestruck tones usually reserved for royalty.

"Who the heck is Dooce?" I thought & so I Googled the name to find out.

And found the blog.

And cracked up.

And added the blog to my reader.

Those who have followed Heather's blog from the beginning, or at least longer than me, might already have known some of the story told in "It Sucked and then I Cried." The cast of characters was familiar to me -- Heather, the wildly funny lapsed Mormon, prone to CAPITALIZING FOR EMPHASIS; Jon, her handsome & patient husband; Leta, her gorgeous & precocious daughter (who was named after Heather's aunt, who died when she was 5 months old); and Chuck the goofy dog, whose daily photo post is among the highlights of my day.

But the book goes back a few years before I started following Heather's story, starting when she met Jon, got pregnant, and then gave birth to Leta. And what happened next -- namely, Heather's struggle with post-partum depression (PPD).

You would think the last thing a childless infertile deadbabymama would want to read would be a book about someone else's pregnancy and baby. And yes, there were a few moments in the book when I rolled my eyes & thought, "Oh, boo-frickin'-hoo" -- right at the start of the book, for example, when she writes:

"Without my pills I was wildly irrational, and when we did not get pregnant THE FIRST MONTH WE STARTED TRYING, I was convinced that it meant I was barren. I saw the single line on the pregnancy test and fell into a giant wad on the floor because all I could imagine was years and years of fertility treatments that would never work, and if they did work it wouldn't be until I was sixty. And then we'd have quadruplets. And they'd all have fourteen toes. Because I wasn't good enough." (pp. 4-5)
Yeah, right. Cry me a river, lady. (And welcome to my world.)

But I forgave her and read on. Because (a) she's damned funny (even the above passage, I'll admit, had the corners of my mouth twitching, even as my eyes were rolling), & (b) I was interested in her story.

Some questions & my answers:

Dooce talks about her postpartum depression in the book and what it took for her to fight it, what are your thoughts on that and your experiences, if any, with postpartum depression?

One of the main reasons why I was interested in this book was that she was going to address her issues of postpartum depression, which I struggled through with both my children. I found her frank style dealing with this issue very helpful and I could relate to her distress. Have you or some one you know dealt with PPD or depression? How did the author’s experience resonate with you?

I did not have PPD. I just experienced the typical postpartum grief that one would expect of a stillbirth mother (if there is such a thing). (Although it's entirely possible for deadbabymamas to have PPD.) But a few years after Katie's stillbirth, at the end of my infertility journey, I was stricken with anxiety.

Looking back, I can see that I've had anxious tendencies ever since I was a kid -- and the events of the past 11 years have only exacerbated them. Sometimes my mind will get stuck in a groove, like the stereo needle on a worn-out vinyl LP. I start to worry about something & it will gnaw at me for days & even weeks. Health issues, in particular. Over the past 10 years, with the help of Dr. Google, I have diagnosed myself with all sorts of maladies -- cancer in particular (colon, ovarian, brain, esophagal, melanoma...). It almost always turns out to be nothing, or something very common & treatable (skin tags, hemorrhoids, gallstones....!)

But going back to my first full-blown anxiety attack: It was late May/early June 2001. I was 40 years old & had just gotten a Big Fat Negative on my third and final IUI with injectables. Dh & I had agonized ever step of the way along our infertility journey, about just how far we were going to go with this thing. Predictably, perhaps, I was more gung-ho than he was to push ahead & take advantage of all that science had to offer. We wound up seeing an infertility counsellor who suggested setting a limit & then stopping (or at least re-evaluating). We agreed to three. And this was it. Done. No more pregnancies for us. Ever.

While wrapping my head around this, I started obsessing that I had OHSS. (Long story short: I did not.) A couple of weeks after AF crashed my party, I was having lunch with my college roommate who, conveniently, works in the office tower directly across the street from mine. It had been her birthday a few weeks earlier, & I was treating her at one of our favourite restaurants, in the concourse of the building where dh & I work.

I felt funny that morning. My chest felt constricted. My breathing was shallow and rapid. I thought it might be allergies -- it was that time of year for me. Before I went for lunch, I went into the bathroom, took off my bra & stuffed it into my purse, hoping that would make me feel more comfortable.

I tried to focus on the conversation, but it seemed to take a lot of effort. I was very aware of my back, straight against the upholstery in the booth. I started feeling like I was going to topple over onto the floor. When the bill came, I tried to reach for it & I couldn't move my hand. My girlfriend noticed. "Is something wrong? Are you OK?" she said. "I'm not feeling that well," I said shakily.

Somehow, we managed to pay the bill & walk out into the concourse. We sat on a bench & she lent me her cellphone. I tried calling my RE's office. Could this have anything to do with the drugs I had been taking? Could it be OHSS? Nope, couldn't be, not their problem. If you're feeling bad, go to the hospital. Gee, thanks.

I called dh, who worked in the same office building. He was downstairs in a flash. He loaded me into a taxi & told the driver to take us to my family doctor's office. The ride up Yonge Street seemed to take forever. I can remember breathing heavily & feeling terrified, hanging for dear life onto dh's hand. I was sure I was having a heart attack.

We stumbled into the dr's office. Thankfully, there were no other patients in the waiting room, & the dr was in. "I'm sorry, I don't have an appointment," I sobbed, "But I don't feel so good." In about 10 seconds flat, the nurse and the receptionist had me laying down in an examination room & clapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. I can remember the nurse reading off the numbers & while I don't remember what they were, the tone of her voice was urgent.

I laid there & sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. The doctor came in, took one look at me and said, "You're having an anxiety attack." He spoke to the receptionst, she left & returned with a pill in her hand. It was an Ativan from her own prescription bottle. I popped it into my mouth under my tongue, as they told me to, & gradually started to feel a fuzziness enveloping me.

Dh explained what we'd recently been through. "Well, no wonder," the doctor said. "That's a major life disappointment."

Dh told him about the fertility drugs I had been taking. The doctor flipped open his drug encyclopedia, checked them out & asked us about dosages. "That's pretty powerful stuff," he said, shaking his head.

As we talked, they kept taking my blood pressure, & it kept falling until it was back to normal levels. They ran an EKG and that was normal too. They even did a cardiac enzyme blood test to humour me. It eventually came back fine.

I left with a prescription for Ativan, which we immediately filled at the drugstore across the street. I had to use it several times over the next week or two. It was almost like I was having aftershocks.

This episode helped to convince me that, yes, we truly were done. If I got this wound up over a mere IUI with injectables, how was I going to handle IVF, with its much larger drug dosages, higher costs and greater emotional pressures?

Things settled down, until March 2002. There was a convergence of many stressors in my life, including several big projects at work. Perhaps worst of all, a woman I knew from work, whom I'd had lunch with and commiserated with over infertility and loss issues, lost her third consecutive pregnancy -- a little boy at 22 weeks. And my mother was coming. I was taking time off while she was here -- we had a trip planned to Montreal, just the two of us, on the train -- & felt like I was rushing to beat the clock, to get all my work projects finished and get my house into some sort of reasonable order. And, perhaps, I was thinking about her spring break visit four years earlier, when I had just learned I was pregnant. How happy we all were. How much had happened since then.

The night before my mother's arrival, I went to bed, but I couldn't sleep. I was all wound up. I started to cry & to shake, violently, like I had the chills & couldn't warm up, even though dh heaped tons of blankets on me. He finally suggested I take an Ativan, & that helped me to calm down and, eventually, go to sleep. The next morning, he stayed home from work (I already had the day off) and we went to a walk in clinic, but they weren't very helpful, beyond suggesting I get my family doctor to prescribe me some Prozac. (When I asked him about it, he said I didn't need Prozac. I didn't really think I needed it either.) When my mother finally arrived on the train that night, I couldn't hide what had happened to me. I told her about as I sat in the back seat with her & sobbed while she hugged me & spoke to me in that soothing voice that mothers use to make everything better (no matter how old you are).

To my amazement, my mother told me me that I probably came by my anxiety quite honestly. She told me there was a period when I was about 9 or 10 when she was having a rough time, emotionally, and took valium. She asked if I remembered how my grandparents had come to stay with us then. My grandparents came to visit at least two or three times a year then, so I honestly didn't remember this particular time. She told me they had given her some money & told her to order herself some new clothes from the Sears catalogue, trying to cheer her up.

She told me my grandmother took Ativan from time to time. I could see that -- my grandmother did tend to fret about things. And she said one of my cousins, a kind-hearted and sensitive soul, struggled with anxiety too.

Somehow I felt better knowing there might be a genetic component to this. (On my dad's side too, when I thought about it, my grandmother as well as my two aunts also tended to be worrywarts.) I still had a few "aftershocks" for the next few days while my mother was there, & we had to cancel our trip to Montreal -- I didn't want to be sick in a strange city. But after that, things slowly started to get better. I went to a therapist for awhile, and took up yoga. I rarely used my Ativan after that, but it was a comfort to me just knowing it was there in my purse if I needed it. I still struggle with anxiety from time to time, and I suspect that at least some if not all of the "food sensitivities/allergies" that gave me so many problems this past spring were anxiety attacks in a slightly different form.

*** *** ***

So that's a long way of saying that yes, Heather's experiences with anxiety, depression and PPD resonated deeply with me. I recognized a lot of myself in her as she lay awake, night after night, waiting for her baby to start crying, unable to turn off the thoughts flooding her brain.

PPD is not something I will discount, even if I've never had it myself. Several years ago, there was an incident in my city that was front-page news for weeks. One morning in August 2000 -- just days after Katie's two-year "anniversary" and in the midst of getting ready for my first IUI with injectables -- a 37-year-old doctor, a first-time mother, left her home in an upscale midtown neighbourhood with her six-month-old baby boy, drove to a nearby subway station, went down to the track level &, cradling her baby, leaped in front of an oncoming train. The baby died instantly; the mother died after nine days in the hospital. It's believed she had stopped taking anti-depressants because she was breast-feeding her son & was afraid they would harm him. They believe she had post-partum psychosis, the most severe form of PPD.

That story haunts me still. I can never hear a story about PPD without thinking of that mother & her baby. I am so glad that Heather sought, & got, the help she needed when she did.

Heather obviously has a very distinctive writing style that comes across in both her blog and her book. What do you think has made Heather such a famous blogger? Her writing style, honesty, or something else? Do you write with the same passion and honesty that Heather does?

I WISH I could write like Heather!! (And there, I used capitals -- so maybe that's a first step, lol.) I think it's a combination of things -- her writing style, her humour, her absolute honesty (especially about herself and her own shortcomings) & her willingness to share the ups and downs of her life with her readers. I keep reading the blog because I want to find out what happens next. She recently gave birth to her second daughter and was candid in talking about how she handled her PPD issues this time around. (And the Daily Chuck photos make my day. I am not much of a pet person, but that dog has personality.)

I was not familiar with this blogger before I read this book. I did like her sense of humor. However, I did not feel like this made me know her or her blog any better. Reading this book, do you find that you want to read her blog, or if you have read her blog, is this is a good representation of her?

Having read the blog before the book, I would say it is a good representation of her and how she writes. The book, obviously, tells more of a whole, coherent story, whereas the blog (like many of our blogs) talks about what's happening in her life from day to day.

What 2-3 specific situations, quotes or stories did you most relate to throughout the book? (I found myself laughing or becoming quite reflective at times because something Heather had written about struck a chord for me and I’m curious if the other readers related to her book in this way).

I think I was most touched by the part of the book set in the mental hospital where Heather had herself committed. I was particularly touched by her descriptions of, and gratitude towards, her doctor:

"He had read my chart -- imagine that! He had done some research! On me! His patient! And within five minutes of talking to me he determined why and how the meds I'd been taking weren't working... I could tell that he wanted to see me get better, and knowing that he cared, even just a little bit, made me feel SO MUCH BETTER." (p. 193)
And a little later:

"At one point in our conversation he set down his pen and paper, paused, and then looked at me and said, "You poor woman. I am so sorry for what you have been through." And I cried. I cried hard. My God, what I had been through." (p. 196)
In my pregnancy loss support group, on blogs & message boards, I hear so many horror stories about doctors and nurses, whose attitudes toward their vulnerable patients seem to range from clueless to indifferent to brusque to criminal. Doctors who have clearly not read the chart before walking into the examining room. Emergency room nurses who have handed buckets to miscarrying women & pointed them toward the bathroom.

Who wouldn't want to have a doctor like Heather's?? Competence combined with empathy -- someone who knows what we've been through and tells us that, no, we're not imagining things, it really does suck that much. That's quite a lethal combination.

Another part of the book that struck a chord in me was the saga of the kitchen renovation. We did a bathroom renovation last fall that was far less uneventful than Heather & Jon's kitchen reno. We had dh's stepbrother do the work for us -- and I wasn't eight months pregnant. But it was a big disruption in our lives nevertheless.

Our kitchen could stand a makeover too -- if not a full-scale renovation, then certainly a refresh (restain the cupboards, change the hardware, do a backsplash, etc.). But after the bathroom reno, I wasn't sure I was up to even that. I'm still not sure I am. Just reading about Heather's reno made me exhausted.

If you are in a relationship right now, do you relate to how Heather talks about her husband, Jon, and what a great father and life partner he is? From what she described about Jon, what qualities do you have or want in your life partner?

I do relate -- because I have a pretty great husband myself. : ) He has his faults, of course, & he has own struggles with anxiety, and sometimes we feed off each other, which is not a good situation. I like to think that I am a pretty strong person and that I can handle a lot of stuff on my own. But whenever I have needed him to take care of me, as in the case of my first major anxiety attack, he has always been there. I knew that childless/free living was an option I could live with, because we already had a pretty good life together before we ever started ttc, and we could still have a wonderful life together with just the two of us. He would have been (he is!) a wonderful father, and I sometimes get sad seeing him having fun with other people's children, knowing that. But we have each other, and that is a lot more than many people have already.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens (http://stirrup-queens.com). You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No kids? No problem!

The Wall Street Journal is not somewhere you'd expect to find articles on parenting, but they actually have a blog called "The Juggle" that brings up some interesting work and family-related issues.

Yesterday's column posed the question: "Has the workplace become so pro-family that if you don’t have a child, you have to make one up in order to get fair treatment?" For those who say "yes," there is, apparently, a solution of sorts: The Office Kid. "With one simple kit, you can do as your coworkers with children do -- make excuses, miss work and blame it all on your kid," the site says. The kit includes a framed snapshot of a child and a childish drawing to display in your cubicle. (!)

I've blogged about being childless/free in the workplace before. I guess I'm fortunate that I've never really felt taken advantage of at work because of my childless status. (Of course, until just a few years ago, few of my immediate coworkers had young children.) I'm willing to cut my co-workers some slack for whatever reason, so long as they don't abuse it, & I expect they would do the same for me, kids or not.

Also, I've never been one to hang around the office at the best of times. As a couple of the commenters said, you have to manage people's expectations. Maybe I'm foolish -- and I'm not particularly ambitious -- but I'm just not into accumulating face time to score brownie points with the boss. I'm already away from home 11 hours a day, including the commute -- and after a certain point in rush hour, the trains only run once an hour. That's a long enough day, in my opinion. I don't mind picking up slack for sick or overly busy coworkers occasionally, and I will stay late (or take work home) if it's necessary -- but most days, when the clock strikes 4:30, I'm outta there. I may not have kids, but I have a life too. (At least I think I do, lol.)

But I do know this is an issue for many childless/free people.

One anonymous commenter (who apparently can't spell) had this to say:
"Why do you fell this way, having kids DOES entitle one to flexibility, if you are jealous of you co workers having flexibilty because of kids, simple fix is to have your own kids, then you can actually contribute to soceity instead of wishing for what others have. Grow up"

I felt like cheering when, a few comments down, I read this:
"I most likely can’t–and many others can’t either. Thanks for providing such a “simple,” empathetic, and well-thought out solution, those struggling with fertility (and those, like me, who have come to terms with being childless) certainly thank you. Wow. I’m able to manage my situation quite well, but I am a manager. Others aren’t so fortunate. Since being a mom doesn’t appear to be in the cards for me, I’ve developed a full life outside of work that should command just as much respect as those who have children."

Whoever you are, thank you!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Contrast & perspective

I got on the elevator this morning with two of my colleagues. Both single, in their 20s, young enough to be my daughters (!), marriage, children and mortgages all still ahead of them. Dewy complexions, latest fashions, radiating the absolute confidence of youth. They gave me a glance & a perfunctory nod, but continued chattering about their BlackBerrys and data plans. It was like they were speaking a foreign language.

Once, I was like them. (OK, minus the BlackBerrys.) I know they would find it hard to believe, but some day, they too will be in their late 40s, tired, struggling with their weight and fine facial lines and grey hair, wondering how this happened.

I got off the elevator -- & almost ran into an elderly man, hobbling along slowly with the assistance of his cane.

Once, this man was young and handsome -- a varsity track star who became famous for dancing with a princess, went into politics and, briefly, was the prime minister of Canada. He recently celebrated his 80th birthday. (And he still goes to work.)

Some day, I, too may grow to be as old as he is.

And probably wish that I was in my 40s again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Aunt Lori panics

BIL called last night to invite us for Thanksgiving dinner (which here in Canada is this coming Monday) -- pre-empting my ambitions, outlined in my rant at Eastertime, to start making our own holiday plans & maybe go away somewhere for the weekend. At least he called us a week ahead & not at the last minute.

Besides, I really can't miss this one:

Our oldest nephew (who will be 21 in December) is bringing his girlfriend to meet us.

Gulp.

I am so not ready for this. How do parents do it??

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Here comes the bride...

My parents moved into a new home in a new town in the spring of 1984, shortly before I arrived home from grad school. I wound up living with them and working locally for the next 14 months while I planned my wedding to dh.

The neighbours across the street had two small boys -- AND a new baby girl -- a real cutie with strawberry blond hair, big, long-lashed blue eyes and a rosebud mouth. Little boys I couldn't quite relate to, but a little girl -- well, THAT, my family had experience with. We were all quite taken with her.

Almost as soon as she could walk, she was toddling over to our house to play. We'd watch her from the living room window as she tromped through snowdrifts & stomped on every frozen puddle along the way, lol. My mom dusted off the ancient high chair that had belonged to me & my sister, as well as our old toys & books. My dad would give her piggy back rides and build tents with her, as he had done with me & my sister and our cousins, and my mom would sit on the stairs with her & "play cards," helping her learn her numbers by reading the numbers on the cards & counting the number of aces or hearts on them. As she got older, she loved to join in our family's card & board games (still does!).

When dh & I arrived home for our first married Christmas, Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) was the guest of honour on Christmas Day, resplendent in purple velveteen, and was showered with gifts. Eventually, she got her own stocking under the tree at our house. She would come over for dinner on Christmas Eve and then back again the next morning to open presents with us, after opening gifts with her own family. Sometimes the other members of her family would come over too (we'd have small gifts for them too). She hasn't always been able to make it on one day or the other, but to this day, some time during Christmas week, she will stop by for dinner, open her gifts and play cards with us.

Christmas 1998 was a difficult one for my family, reeling from the loss of both my baby & my beloved grandfather, who had spent every single Christmas with us, no matter where we lived. PND, then 14, was a godsend, giving us something else to focus on and lending our family a much-needed dose of holiday spirit.

When I started scrapbooking in 2002, one of my first projects was to make a scrapbook as a high school graduation gift for PND (something only a clueless beginner would take on...! lol). I had so many cute photos of her from almost day one to share. It was a labour of love. The scrapbook eventually became a gargantuan project (I actually wound up giving her the first part for graduation & the rest of the pages as I finished them). A scrapbooker herself, she was flabbergasted when she opened the package. "I can't believe you did this for me," she said, giving me a big hug. Everyone -- her parents, my parents -- got misty-eyed looking through the pages.

She once called me her "role model." She forever endeared herself to me when my mother told me a story: in conversation with little PND, my mother once said, "We all know who's the REAL boss around here" (meaning herself, joking). PND nodded solemnly & said, "Lori." lol

When PND was little, she referred to my parents as her best friends. When she got older and went to school, she started making friends her own age, but she would still come over to watch TV, help my mother make cookies and wrap Christmas presents, etc., albeit with less frequency. When PND's parents & brothers moved away, after she was finished high school, she spent one summer living with my parents. She continued to live in the town where she'd grown up on her own, work part-time and commute into the city to go to school, an hour away. She started going out with Fiancé four years ago, & eventually moved in with him.

This week, she called dh & me (& tickled us both hugely by doing so) to tell us the big news -- she's engaged!! The community hall is already booked for the Victoria Day long weekend in May.

So -- on top of my 25th wedding anniversary, my parents 50th & a family reunion next summer, I've also got to set aside time to fly home in May for a few days for her wedding. (eek) Needless to say, wild horses wouldn't keep me away.

It is bittersweet to think of PND getting married. I keep thinking "She's too young!" -- but she will actually be 26 by the time of the wedding. I was 24. (yikes) She has one more year of school left -- she's going to be a teacher (& she will be a great one, too).

I remember when we had a big party to celebrate my dad's 50th birthday. PND was 6 years old then. My aunts wanted to take a family photo. "I'm part of the family too," PND piped up. "Yes, I guess you are!" my mom said, laughing, & welcomed her into the photo.

And she is. My parents have sometimes referred to her as "the honorary grandchild." She certainly helped fill my parents' empty nest after my sister & I had left home, & took (some of) the pressure off dh & me as newlyweds on the grandchild front.

My sister has referred to her as "our little sister" (and you can almost hear the air quotes as she says it). I don't know exactly how to label our relationship. I know I am old enough to be her mother, but it's hard to imagine myself having a daughter that old.

All I do know is that I feel so lucky & privileged to have had this girl in my family's life (and grateful to her own family for sharing her with us). I may never have had a living child of my own to parent… but I've played a part in PND's life and been able to watch her grow up into a beautiful & accomplished young woman. I will never see my own little girl dressed in bridal white, walking down the aisle, but I will be there when PND does. My parents may never have their own grandchildren, but they have watched PND grow up and have played a significant role in her life. The geographic distances between us being what they are, I know they have spent far more time with PND than they ever could have with any grandchildren I ever could have given them.

We are all so very proud of her.

And I know that I'm going to be a blubbering mess next May 22nd.

Coming soon: Blog Talk Radio: Deciding to Live Childfree

Pamela Tsigdinos, aka Pamela Jeanne, of Coming2Terms and Silent Sorority, among other places on the Internet, will be a guest on Creating a Family, an Internet radio show that deals with family building issues, on Oct .7, 2009, at 12 noon. Those able to listen in live can call in with questions. If you have to work (as I do)(boo, hiss), the broadcast is archived so you can listen in later at your leisure. Always great to hear from Pamela! : )

Friday, October 2, 2009

NYT article: "After a Death, the Pain That Doesn't Go Away"

The New York Times had a good article about complicated grieving last week. Grief is a complex emotion, of course -- no two people will grieve the same way, even when they're both grieving for the same person. One person may grieve the death of one person one way, and another person another way. We often don't know just how we're going to react until we are in the middle of the experience.

As always, the comments are at least as interesting as the article. (Unfortunately, new comments are no longer being accepted.) I braced myself for the "get it over it" jerks, & yes, there were a few of them -- but I was pleasantly surprised by how few -- perhaps because the discussion was about complicated grief generally, & not grief over a miscarriage or stillbirth ("but you never got to know them...")?? There were some heartfelt stories about the effect that grief has had on their families, and sympathetic words of comfort & advice. Here are some of my favourites:
  • Comment #11 (from a woman whose husband committed suicide): "I received no professional assistance, but I was expected to wipe the slate clean and move on (by well-meaning and supportive family members), but I never recovered from that loss. It colors my every waking hour."
  • Comment #14 (from a hospice nurse): "Death is not something our society embraces. It is really odd that we pretend that it could never happen to us. But it does and it will. I think that much of the problem lies in the fact that people, including family members, simply do not know what to say. So they are silent or try to change the subject. Here is some advice. Talk about the deceased. Don't worry that bringing them up will cause the bereaved more pain. The pain is always simmering. Talking about a loved one is a comfort many times. It proves they were important, that they have not been forgotten. Call a friend or family member on the anniversary of a death. Send flowers. Take them to a movie. Don't let them be alone. That is a tough day, even 10 years later. Hug them a lot. Try to understand that many times letting go of the grief feels like you are abandoning the deceased. Do not advise them to "move on". That is simply cruel... Grief is not that complicated. It hurts a lot, and it does goes on and on, some just simply cope better than others and some have learned how to hide it very well. Allowing people to grieve is the most important thing we can do. For however longs it takes."
  • Comment #26: "For me cyberspace has become the collective unconscious. After starting a blog I connected with other elder bloggers and could suggest that since writing is considered good therapy for grief doing it as a blog could be even more therapeutic."
  • Comment #28 (a widow): "While on the surface all appears well, underneath the public mask is great sadness and doubt. I don't like the term "moving on", to me it means leaving behind. I prefer "moving forward", taking the best of what memories I have with me."
  • Comment #29: "It took many years of therapy and support by a few steadfast and wonderful friends before I finally came to the realization that bad things happen to good people. It was as simple as that."
  • Comment #40: "as grieving and "closure" -- for get that - you will always at some level grieve for someone you loved.... it's just that way... at the best you can grieve and remember happy times concurrently."
  • Comment #49: "Western culture tries so very hard to control the uncontrollable in life, but grieving is hands-off. And grief needs to be encouraged. The only way out of grief is through it. With or without the help of others. I believe more damage is done by hiding or 'stuffing' grief because our society doesnt want to have to share in the really painful emotions of others, and so it is frowned upon to wail or weep incessantly where others are present... The person(s) suffering from deepest loss find themselves with a load of pain and nowhere to vent it. So yes, it turns into depression. Yes it turns into addiction. We are trying to kill this pain!"
  • Comment #51: "Of the many hideous and stupid things people said to me during that period, the most thoughtless one was something I saw in this article: "You've got to get on with your life."As every widow and widower knows, I couldn't "get on with" my life. My life -- the life my husband and I had planned together, the names of the children we wanted to have, the work we wanted to do, etc. -- had ended. So I couldn't get on with something that was over. I had to find a new one... I just hope people don’t feel there is something wrong with them because it’s taking longer than their non-grieving friends think it should. Grieving is normal and natural. Most people don't need professional help. They just need time and friends. There aren't enough good listeners in the world. Just listen."
  • Comment #56: "If death were treated as part of life, which it is, then these conversations would be a natural topic of discussion with our doctors or healthcare providers always, not when we're suddenly faced with grace illness. It wouldn't strike as much panic in our hearts if we dealt with this sooner and more completely."
  • Comment #77: "The death of a spouse renders us no longer a couple; the death of a child deprives us of being a parent; the death of our parents makes us no longer anyone’s child. We cannot “recover” from this; our task is to create a new identity."
  • Comment #90: "I can't help but think part of the problem with bereavement in general is that our whole culture is structured around the denial of death. I have often seen situations where those grieving are almost treated like pariahs, specially if they don't quickly "get over" their loss. We should look at other cultures where there are extensive rituals around death and mourning, where friends and relatives gather around to allow one to grieve and to grieve with them, where it is OK to grieve deeply and for much longer than a few days, weeks, and even months. I wonder of "complicated grief" exists to the same extent in those societies."
  • Comment #126: "Eventually I arrived at the realization that you never "get over" a major loss like this. Rather, you incorporate the loss into the totality of your person, you eventually grow around the void, but the void remains an integral part of who you are. In time -- sometimes a very LONG time -- that void ceases to define you or dominate your life the way it once did, and you do begin living once again. But it is always, always with you."
Many people found the article interesting, but weren't sure whether complicated grief needed to be classified as a psychiatric disorder. They debated whether psychiatrists can help. A few people took exception to the idea that "grief, like the tape, can be picked up or put away." I didn't particularly like that idea myself. Eleven years after the loss of my daughter, I don't walk around crying all day. I carry my grief with me, as part of me. It's not put away on a shelf, to be brought out & dusted off on special occasions.

Still, from what I've been told in training seminars for my pregnancy loss support group, and from what I've witnessed in my own experience, there is a certain value to telling one's story, over & over again. That's why we ask everyone at every meeting to tell their story, or at least some version of it -- even if we've all attended meetings together for a long time & could practically recite each other's personal histories.

We had a guest speaker at one of our training sessions once, who spoke about about complicated grief. She likened it to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a comparison the article also makes. If I remember correctly, she said we need to tell our stories something like 50 times over before it can get "unstuck" in our minds & we can really begin to process what has happened to us. And each time we tell our story, we process another piece of it in our minds and absorb it, until it becomes not just something awful that has happened to us, but part of who we are now. And as we tell the story, it changes -- new bits & pieces may emerge that we hadn't thought about or discussed before, or new insights. I've known our co-facilitator since she started coming to group as a client 7 years ago, and every now & then, even today, she will come up with some new little detail about the awful night she lost her daughter that I've never heard before. She's said the same thing about me!

Of course, the problem is that far too many of our family members & friends -- even the most patient & sympathetic among them -- don't want to listen to us recount the details of our losses, over & over again. That's where support groups play such a valuable role in helping bereaved parents integrate their losses into their new lives, by allowing them to talk (& talk, & talk, & talk...) about their losses, and providing a listening ear.

Have a read & let me know what you think!