Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter blues & bubbles

We went to pay Katie a pre-Easter visit at the cemetery yesterday -- and I realized that I had forgotten to bring some spring flowers & Easter knick-knacks to replace the fading Christmas decorations adorning her niche marker. Bad, bad mommy.  :(  

As I ran my fingertips over the little bronze teddy bear on her marker, I muttered bitterly to dh, "I know life isn't fair. But this is REALLY unfair."  (I wasn't talking about the decorations.)

It's Easter today -- and I am feeling a little blue and weepy and at loose ends -- for all the same reasons that I've documented in previous Easter posts (2010, 2009 and 2008).  It's just another Sunday like any other for us, nothing special.  The only thing that makes it different from other Sundays is that nothing is open, there aren't any movies we really want to see (our usual preferred method of dealing with family-centric holidays), and there are dozens of photos of adorable, excited children in pastel finery colouring eggs, brandishing baskets full of chocolate rabbits and being cuddled by their adoring parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles, cluttering up my Facebook feed.

If I had my druthers, I would take off for a B&B getaway weekend -- or at least brunch at the local golf course. Something, anything, to make the weekend a little more special, and feel a little less disconnected from the rest of the world, a little less of an oddball. :p 

However, dh feels obligated to be "on call" if his dad wants us to come for Easter dinner. I  understand that. He's in his 80s;  he won't be here forever. The thing is, sometimes we get called and sometimes we don't. (And when we do get "the call," it's inevitably at the last minute.)  Dh also detests waiting in line for anything -- most especially food, lol -- which precludes going out for brunch at the last minute (especially without a reservation).

We did spend last evening with FIL BIL & SIL and one of our nephews, so we haven't been entirely apart from family this weekend. I sometimes think Easter and Thanksgiving are difficult holidays for me to get through (as opposed to Christmas), because I'm so far away from my family of origin. But even if we lived closer to them, my parents wouldn't be around to visit anyway -- they've been soaking up some southern U.S. sun for the past month and are still en route home.

A couple of things turned up in my Facebook feed today that made me feel just a little less isolated, though. Two blogging friends posted -- one speculating about what her dad was up to in Heaven today, and the other a photo of her two kids at the cemetery visiting their sister.  Seeing their posts made me feel a little less alone, reminding me that a lot of families are missing someone special today.

The other item was -- ironically -- from Lisa Belkin, parenting columnist at the Huffington Post. In  "Parenting Memories: The Bubbles That Unite and Divide Us," Belkin writes about how parenting is all-encompassing... until it's not.
Every stage (every day) of raising children is its own isolated bubble. You can see others, but you are on your own. Sleep training. Potty training. Toddler tantrums. Homework. Teen angst. Everything feels like no one has ever really done this before. And once one stage ends, you can’t reinhabit the obsessions that came with it. You can remember and share tales. And smile knowingly, even empathetically. But you can’t go back to the place when a parenting challenge was new, and insistent and yours.
This paragraph, in particular, gave me a shock of recognition -- perhaps because I once wrote about it myself:
I had an inkling of this before my children were born. I would drive past the school parking lot, filled to overflowing, and realize that, for some of my neighbors, it was parent-teacher night, or the science fair or graduation, while for me it was just Tuesday. We lived in the same town, but in parallel villages -- side-by-side yet invisible to each other. [emphasis mine]
I think Belkin's bubble theory relates to a lot more than parenting. It helps explain why it's so difficult for the bereaved to relate to the blissfully ignorant, for fertiles to relate to infertiles, for people parenting after infertility and loss to support those still in the trenches (and vice-versa) and for those of us living without children (for whatever reason) to relate to those who have them (and vice-versa). Does this not sound a bit like the experience of infertility? --
...It changes you, yes, and leaves traces and footprints. But it does not become the whole of you. You think it will -- you can’t imagine that there is anything beyond this point in time, this all encompassing feeling, or juggle, or uncertainty or joy, just as you don’t clearly remember what came before...
But what happens when our bubbles are like armor? Are the thin walls between us what all the so-called Mommy Wars are about? We see each other and we think we understand each other, but we are in spheres that do not touch. Are the bubbles also why parents never rise up as a movement and demand what they need -- better childcare, more generous parental leave, more flexible work environments -- because when we are in the moment we are too busy and exhausted, and when we are past it, the urgency is gone? It is definitely why so much remarkable change comes from parents who become advocates -- for gun control, for research into diseases that steal childhoods -- because theirs are bubbles that never set them free.
My bubble may never quite set me free -- but I am hoping that it's not so rigid that it keeps me apart from others. Even though sometimes it sure feels like it (like today). :p

Happy Easter.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Follow Your Bliss, Right Off the Cliff"

One of my favourite albums of all time is the self-titled debut album by the band Boston -- still one of the top-selling debut albums of all time. It came out when I was 15 in 1976 and I played it over and over and over again. I have it on vinyl, cassette and CD, and if & when I finally cave and get an iPod, I'm sure it will be one of the first pieces of music I buy. I still crank up the radio whenever a Boston song comes on the classic rock station dh & I like to listen to, and I love to sing along. The guitars! The clear, soaring vocals (RIP, Brad Delp)! The harmonies!

One of the lines I love, in one of the songs I love, "Long Time" (see video clip at the top of this post) goes: "I gotta keep on chasing that dream, though I may never find it... I'm always just behind it..." 

OK, back to the present, lol. There is a point to my rambling... the song just came to mind when I found a New York Times article last night about a couple of people who kept on chasing their dreams (careerwise) -- and lost their shirts in the process. The title (love it!): Follow Your Bliss, Right Off the Cliff.

As always, I saw some parallels to the ALI world that I think are worth reflecting on. Because, in infertility -- as in most aspects of life -- we are constantly urged to keep on chasing that dream -- to "go for it!"  Follow your passion! Don't give up!  Even when we're financially, physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted.

But tell me -- does any of this sound familiar?

One of the story subjects chucked aside her career as a fashion editor to open a high-end boutique with her sister in Los Angeles. It lasted just two years, and she's only just emerged from several years of financial struggle. 
...even when the future looked grim, Ms. Tyree hung on. [emphasis mine] In fact, she dug in. She bought more inventory for the racks and threw celebrity-fueled parties at the store to generate buzz.
“Your gut says this could be a problem, but your head overrides it because you have just put in this huge investment,” she said. “You are hanging on to not just the dream, but you are hanging on to the sweat equity and what you put into it financially.”
The article points out that it's human nature not to want to walk away, especially when you've invested so much.

Another story subject once owned five shoes stores in Los Angeles.
"I personalized the outcome to a degree that it was unhealthy,” he said. “I thought failure was total and permanent — and success stamped me as a worthwhile business person.”
That’s a normal reaction, says Dr. Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and managing director for the New York-based financial consultancy MarketPsych. “There is a part of the brain called the anterior insula, and that is where we process losses,” he said. “It creates a physical sensation of pain, and it also creates a sensation of disgust.” avoid the pain, Dr. Peterson said, we hope.
...“We overestimate our ability to control outcomes that have some element of chance” and we “tend to overestimate the extent to which good things are going to happen, especially to us.” 

For both Ms. Tyree and Mr. Dearing, hope — and money — finally ran out.
...“I thought I had one shot to be successful,” he said. “I had no idea that my career — or anybody’s career — is actually a multiround process and that you had many, many at-bats.”
I wouldn't interpret this to mean "keep batting till you hit that home run"... rather that there are many, many ways that you can build a great career, or lead a fulfilling life --which may or may not include children. There is no one right path or answer, and sometimes you have to hit a few strikes before you get that home run. (Or even a walk to first base.)(Or maybe switch to soccer or hockey.)(OK, enough with the sports metaphors, lol.)  
...“suffering comes from being attached to the outcomes.”
As paradoxical as it sounds, he said, “If you stop worrying about the outcomes, you will achieve a better outcome.”
(In ALI-speak, I don't think this means that if we "stop trying & relax" we'll get pregnant.)      
And if you asked either of them if they had any lingering pangs about those earlier, dashed dreams, the answer, even with all that money lost, would be no. So, pursue your life dream, whatever it is, but with caution. Or at least a cushion of savings.

And a plan B (or even C) in your back pocket. ; )

I'd encourage you to read the whole article... and then tell me what you think!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Marriage, equality and infertility

When I was in high school, I had a couple of boy friends (= friends who were boys) in addition to my girlfriends. They were smart, musical (band buddies), artistic (drama club) and extremely funny, with biting senses of humour. One of them regularly asked me to be his "date" on family outings, and we always had a good time together, even though there was never anything remotely romantic between us. 

I often got asked, "Is he gay?"

"I don't know," I answered, in all honesty, "and I don't care." And I didn't, on both counts. It was a time when these things just weren't talked about in a serious way, certainly not among teenagers and DEFINITELY not in the small Prairie town where I lived. I just knew that he was my friend, and that was all that mattered to me.

Sadly, I've lost touch with him and my guy friends over the years -- but I still think of them often and all the fun that we had together, all those years ago. Through conversations I've had with mutual friends over the years, I now know that a few of them were, in fact, gay (or at least, came out as adults). 

The only reason I found this at all problematic was that AIDS began ravaging the gay community just as we were all leaving university and heading out into the world. Back then, to be diagnosed with the AIDS virus was considered a death sentence. I often thought about my old friends as I read the news stories, and prayed that they would be careful and safe.  And -- even though, as Canadians, they have been free to marry whomever they wished (if they wished) for several years now -- I've been thinking about them again, as the United States Supreme Court hears two pivotal cases dealing with marriage equality. 

Being at work, I haven't been able to watch the hearings. But I was found this Salon article, and  Maureen Dowd's New York Times column.  I applauded Justice Elena Kagan's excellent points about marriage and fertility -- and was horrified by Justice Antonin Scalia's attempts at humour.  (“I suppose we could have a questionnaire at the marriage desk when people come in to get the marriage – you know, are you fertile or are you not fertile?")(Good grief...). 

I was sufficiently incensed that I actually shared the Salon article on Facebook with the comment:  "Justice Kagan rocks. :) Justice Scalia, you should be ashamed of yourself. :p Don't try to tell me my marriage is any less valid or valuable than yours because I am in my 50s & don't have children." 

(Which, for me, is pretty major, lol.)

Children are one reason why people get married, of course. (And, of course, a lot of people these days are having children without getting married.)  But there are many others. I wanted children and I expected that dh & I would have them, someday. But the chief reason we got married was that we loved each other and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. We promised to love each other for better or for worse, and when we were walloped by stillbirth and infertility, I realized that this must have been "the worse" they were referring to in the vows -- it doesn't get much worse than that, does it?

Before we got married, we went on an Engaged Encounter weekend. It was a Catholic church program, recommended by our (Anglican) minister.  Even though the Catholic church is a big fan of procreation ; ) I distinctly remember the couple leading the session advising us to put our marriage at the centre of our family, and make time for each other amid the chaos of family life.

A few years later, anticipating the family to come, I bought a book called "Childbirth and Marriage: The Transition to Parenthood" by Tracie Hotchner. It went into the Goodwill bin some years ago, but I remember it had a big impact on my thinking. From what I remember, it, too, advised couples to stay focused on their marriage and not let their new roles as mom & dad overwhelm their original roles as life partners. I came to believe (and still do) that the base, the core, of any strong family is a strong partnership between spouses. Children are the icing on the cake -- but the cake, the core of the family, is, or should be, the marriage. It's funny to think that a book about "the transition to parenthood" has helped me make the transition to a permanently childless future, but that's essentially what happened. 

So there are two good reasons why I'm paying attention to what's happening in Washington this week.

As I mentioned marriage equality has been a reality here in Canada for several years now. The roof hasn't caved in. ; )  It's pretty much a non-issue these days.  I hope someday the United States will be able to say the same thing.

Mel and Kathy have written two other great blog posts on this subject. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dishing about "Dallas"


OK, has anyone else been watching "Dallas?" 

Did anyone else in the ALI world find it as excruciating as I did last night to watch at the very end of the episode, as not just one but both of Pamela's twins' fetal heartbeats flatlined on the monitors?? 

I KNEW that at least one if not both of the babies was a goner... that's just the way the soaps work. :p  (Especially when everyone else survived the bomb blast on the oil rig -- engineered by none other than Cliff Barnes, Pamela's father & the babies' grandfather -- who KNEW they were there, but gave the go-ahead to detonate anyway. Good grief...!!) 

But yikes -- even though the situation was absolutely nothing like my own personal loss experience, it was hard to watch. Dh was in the living room with me & he found it hard to stomach as well.

The entire episode leading up to that point was a roller coaster ride. We started off with Pamela being diagnosed with a stomach aneurysm and partial placental abruption that was threating both her life and that of the babies. The dr recommended terminating the 20-week pregnancy as the best chance of saving Pamela's life. Pamela immediately went hysterical, begging the dr and Christopher (the babies' father & Pamela's still-husband, albeit estranged) not to kill her babies. (Ouch.) 

Things were stabilized, but mid-episode, the aneurysm burst, & we got another round of hysteria as Pamela writhed in agony, clutching her stomach. Both Pamela & babies survived the surgery, but at the episode's end, a "code blue" sounded over the hospital intercom, and Christopher and John Ross raced to Pamela's room, standing by helplessly as first one and then the other fetal heartbeat flatlined. Bye-bye babies. :( 

On the one hand, by the end of the episode, I was a little exhausted from the up & down dramatics. But at the same time, I'll give the writers credit. Life is messy and grey, not clearcut shades of black & white, and that's how this pregnancy loss thing works sometimes, people. :p 

By the way, does anyone know what the laws regarding medical terminations are in Texas?  I thought they were pretty restrictive. When the dr first recommended terminating the pregnancies (albeit as the best chance to save Pamela's life), dh said, "Can they do that in Texas??" "Good point," I said.

I appreciate the symmetry the new series is keeping with the old. For example, the original Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal) -- aunt to this series' Pamela Rebecca Barnes -- had a miscarriage after falling from the barn hayloft during an argument with JR. The episode this season where the Venezuelan thugs held the family hostage at Southfork seemed like a nod to a long-ago hostage-taking incident in the very first season of the old series. And Ann's daughter Emma seems to be picking up where Lucy left off on the troubled teenager/young adult front, popping pills and going after both John Ross and Drew Ramos.

OK, just had to get that off my chest. ; )  Did you watch? What did you think? -- about last night's episode, and how things are going on the series generally?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book: "Into the Silence" by Wade Davis

I'm trying to remember when Mount Everest first cast its spell on me. Now, don't get me wrong -- I am someone who huffs & puffs when I go up the three flights of stairs to the walkway at our commuter train station every afternoon. :p  Climbing Everest is not in the cards, not even something I would wish to do in my wildest dreams.

Nevertheless, it's a subject I have found fascinating, even more so the more I learn about it.

It might have been back in the fall of 1982, when I was in university, and Laurie Skreslet became the first Canadian to reach the summit of the world's tallest mountain. The name Sir Edmund Hillary was familiar to me, I think, but climbing Everest was still a relatively rare accomplishment then, and of course, he was from my own country. The publicity, in Canada, at least, was huge. 

I think the first time I started thinking about Everest in any depth was in a Vanity Fair article about the 1996 Everest disaster, in which eight people died over two days (15 in all that season).  The article may have been an excerpt of Jon Krakaeur's amazing 1999 book "Into Thin Air," which I remember devouring over a few short days. 

"Into Thin Air" may have been where I was first introduced (in any detail, at any rate) to the story of George Mallory (who was once asked why he wanted to climb Everest and famously replied, "Because it's there") and Andrew Irvine, who vanished into the mists of Everest on a June day in 1924 and never returned from their attempt to be the first men to climb the world's highest mountain.

Then, in May 1999, came the news that Mallory's frozen corpse had been found on the slopes of Mount Everest. I remember watching at least one PBS NOVA episode about it, and there are plenty of YouTube clips from that time, if you are interested.  Subsequent expeditions have been mounted to try to locate Irvine's body, without success to date.

*** *** ***

So I was predisposed to pick up "Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest," by Wade Davis (who also happens to be a Canadian).

"Into the Silence" has been called an Everest of a book, in terms of scope as well as its sheer size (almost 700 pages long). (I wound up getting the e-version on top of the hardcover -- much nicer to haul around in my briefcase & hold while reading in bed at night...!)  It's a daunting prospect to take it on (which is probably why it sat for more than a year in my "to read" pile) -- but hugely absorbing, incredibly well researched and well written. Even though I knew how the story ended, there were nights when I stayed up reading well past my bedtime, cramming in "just one more page."  I even enjoyed reading the notes & bibliography in the appendix at the back of the book -- which include not only information about the source material used, but small gems of stories thrown in along the way -- such as how Davis came to possess the previously unknown diaries of 1921 expedition member Oliver Wheeler (subject of one of his next books).

The story puts the Everest explorers and expeditions into the context of their times, and covers topics as diverse as colonialism and the British Raj, the history of Tibet, Buddhist beliefs, the role of Everest in Tibetan faith and culture, the homoerotic culture of British boys' boarding schools in the Edwardian era (!), and (especially) the lasting impact of the first World War (the Great War) on a generation.

I've read books about WWI before -- one of the most memorable being The Danger Tree by David MacFarlane, which deals (in part) with the slaughter of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.  July 1, Canada Day, is a a day of national celebration in Canada -- everywhere except Newfoundland, where it is still known as Memorial Day, commemorating the day in 1916 when the regiment of nearly 800 men was almost completely wiped out.

But I don't think I've ever read another book that brought home so clearly and vividly the absolute horrors that these boys -- and most of them were just that, boys -- endured.

Almost all of the members of the 1920s Everest expeditions had served in the war. Davis suggests that climbing Everest, which began as another quest to exert British domination over one of the last uncharted territories on the planet, morphed into a sort of post-war quest for redemption.  For many of the former soldiers who were feeling decidedly out of place back in post-war Britain, it was also, quite literally, a chance to get away from it all  You didn't get much more "away from it all" than Tibet in the 1920s.  As Davis points out, the first (1921) expedition had to basically walk 400 miles off the map into completely uncharted territory, just to get to the mountain, before they could start to figure out how they could climb the thing. Often, they were the first Europeans the locals had seen.

The war did little to dampen some Brits' sense of imperial arrogance.  Many chosen for the Everest expeditions of the 1920s had never climbed anything higher than a desk, and many were suffering from war wounds and not in the best of health -- but they knew the right people. George Finch and Oliver Wheeler, both fine climbers who ultimately made important contributions, were looked down on because they were "colonials." (Finch was Australian, and helped pioneer the use of oxygen in mountain climbing -- felt by some to be "unsporting."  Wheeler a talented Canadian surveyor, was actually the first to figure out the route to the mountain.) (So you can imagine how the Tibetans were regarded -- even though they hauled huge loads of the expedition's supplies (including cases of champagne and foie gras!!) across hundreds of miles and up the slopes of Everest alongside the white men.)

There is a lot in this book about the history of the British in Tibet, Tibetan culture and the Buddhist faith, and the role the mountains (and particularly Everest) played in that culture. There are some fascinating descriptions of the Buddhist monasteries and rituals the expeditions encountered that put in mind of my favourite Buddhist, Deathstar. ; ) It also left the strains of "Shambala" by Three Dog Night playing over & over in my brain for days on end... ; )

Did Mallory & Irvine make it to the top of the world? Unless and until Irvine's body is found with his camera intact (and a telltale photo inside of it), we may never know for sure.

These days, climbers on Everest are well equipped with layers of protective clothing and oxygen,  a well-known route to the summit, and fixed ropes and ladders along the way to ease their journey.  In the 1920s, there was no known route to the top. Nobody had ever climbed so high before, and nobody knew quite what to expect. Their clothing and equipment were primitive by modern standards, and their food and drink supplies were woefully inadequate to fuel their bodies. It's really quite amazing to think of what they were able to accomplish with what they had.

Just search YouTube for "George Mallory" or even just "Everest" and you'll find some amazing videos that give you a real sense of what it's like on Everest -- how steep (vertical) the rock walls can be and how strong the winds are. (This video of climber Jake Norton at the site of the 1938 expedition high camp, practically gave me vertigo.)

At any rate, Davis is less interested in the outcome than in the motivation and spirit that drove these men. Having seen so much of death in the war, it had little power over them. They believed that life was meant to be lived, and they accomplished some amazing things.

Also in my to-read pile at the moment: the novel "Above All Things" by Tanis Rideout (also a Canadian), which juxtaposes the story of George Mallory with that of his wife, Ruth.  I will let you know if/when I read it, and how it compares to this book!

*** *** ***

And now for the ALI angle (you knew there had to be one, right?).

Pamela at Silent Sorority: A Fresh Start recently posted about successful corporate women currently in the news, such as Sheryl Sandberg and Erin Callan, and the price we pay when we put all our eggs in one basket (be it career success, IVF attempts or parenthood) and focus on the pursuit one goal to the exclusion of others.

I commented that "I like how you pointed out the parallels between climbing the corporate ladder & climbing Infertility Mountain. ;) "

And then it was like that cartoon moment where the lightbulb went off ovr my head. It suddenly occurred to me that there were parallels I could draw to this book (which I was then still reading), too. As I said to Pamela:
"Reaching the summit became a kind of obsession for him -- sound familiar? -- and he paid for it with his life (fortunately, fertility treatments are, for the most part, less risky than climbing Mount Everest -- particularly back then, when nobody else had done it and the conditions were so primitive). As you said, sometimes the cost is too high -- but it’s hard to realize until you take a step back & gain some perspective." 
Of course, without risktakers and sacrifice, there would never be any progress, would there?  It took another 29 years after Mallory & Irvine before Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay finally reached the summit.  IVF is a given for infertile couples today, and while success rates are not 100%, they have certainly improved, and protocols have come a long way, since Lesley Brown gave birth to her daughter, Louise, in 1978. Her drive to have a child, and her willingness to serve as a science experiment of sorts, have made so much possible for so many.

There's another aspect of the book that rang a bell for me personally. In this interview with George Stromboulopoulos of CBC TV, author Wade Davis speaks about the chasm the Great War created between those who lived through it at the front and those who had stayed at home.

That made me think of the chasm that exists between those of us whose lives have been touched by infertility and loss, and those for whom having children is something taken for granted. It's not something we would wish on anyone... but there is a comfort level that exists whenever we encounter someone else who has been "in the trenches," isn't there?

Saying Goodbye

You may have heard of the wonderful initiative in Britain, "Saying Goodbye," which is organizing memorial services in locations across the United Kingdom for bereaved parents who have lost a baby.

I know I found the annual rituals put on by our support group -- a candlelighting at Christmastime, a summer picnic and butterfly release, and an autumn Walk to Remember and dove release -- so very therapeutic and comforting. I love the idea of memorial services in some of England's beautiful old cathedrals, bringing bereaved parents together to mourn their babies. 

They have produced a sweet little video that has been making the rounds on Facebook: 

Here is an absolutely lovely news item from a recent BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour broadcast about "Saying Goodbye."

I don't often cry over Katie these days (well, not as often as I once did...), but listening to this lovely story had me reaching for the kleenex.

I hope this is an idea that spreads.

Friday, March 22, 2013

More March odds & ends

It is exactly 15 years ago today that, late with my period and frustrated with several days of now-you-see-it, now-you-don't spotting, I bought a home pregnancy test, used it -- and stared, slack-jawed, as two brilliant blue lines immediately popped into view.

I've been irritable and emotional all week. Guess this explains it. :p 

*** *** ***

I am way, way behind on my blog reading & commenting (again... :p)  but I couldn't resist sharing this post that I just read today, from the ever-hilarious Julie at A Little Pregnant, about the infamous iPhone mom.

I will admit, I've been that judgmental observer. People and their love affair with their cellphones bug me in general :p and as someone who, at one time, would have cheerfully chopped off her left arm in exchange for a baby, it bothers me when I see parents ignoring or neglecting their kids.

But -- Julie has a good point. A couple of them, actually. "I reject the notion that I should always be available as an audience, that my kids should be entitled to endless applause, and that they should get positive reinforcement for expecting it," she says.
...during interludes of benign neglect we're simultaneously teaching our children something valuable: that other people's desires are important, too; that you're not always the focus of every eye, and you mustn't expect to be; that when you need us we'll be present, but not every second you merely want; that if Momma — shudder — looks away for a minute, you'll still be fine. You'll thrive.

As many of the commenters pointed out, our own mothers generally did not spend a lot of time "playing" with us. They shooed us into the backyard (or even -- gasp! -- out into the street and into the neighbourhood), away from the television set, and reminded us to be home in time for supper. (Even as a pre-schooler -- albeit in a very small town in the early 1960s -- I was roaming around the neighbourhood with my buddies. My boyfriend Brucie M. & I even attempted to ride our tricycles downtown once before someone noticed we weren't in the general vicinity. Once.) We learned to entertain ourselves and get along with each other without an adult constantly hovering over us. And despite perhaps a few bruises and bumps, most of us survived and turned out just fine.

What I really loved, though, when I started thinking about it, was when she continued:
The responses that disappointed me all boiled down to this premise: What if the trope on the bench with the phone were doing something important? She could be answering e-mail from work, so as to keep the job that puts food on the table. She could be scheduling therapy appointments for her child, who has, I don't remember, scrimshaw or something. She could be organizing a fundraiser to benefit cancer research. She could be reaching out for emotional support from her 60,000 Twitter followers. Don't judge her: she's righteously busy...

The thing is, I'm usually not busy with something important when I'm ignoring my kids. I'm generally dicking around, and why is that not okay? Why do I need to justify doing something just because it's fun with phrases like "self-care" and "recharging my batteries"? Oh, wait. Huh: I don't! It is okay to just screw around, to put my own desires in front of my kids' now and again, and I wish more people would thrust a fist into the air and declare it. I'm fucking off and I don't care.
As I mentioned in my comment, I can relate to this too. I've written about this before here, and I will say it again:  why is it that the only way it is (kindasorta) OK with other people that I don't have kids -- is if I am doing something noble like working in the slums with Mother Teresa... or exciting like jetting off to Paris for the weekend (because I can!! -- no babysitters involved...)... or awesome like climbing the corporate ladder and sitting alongside Sheryl Sandberg in the boardroom.

Why can't I just be an ordinary middle aged woman who goes to work every day at a normal job, bickers with her husband over folding socks, and spends too much time on the computer -- who also just doesn't happen to have kids?  What is so wrong, or bad, about that?

*** *** ***

Jodi Day of the wonderful site Gateway Women recently gave a brief talk at a women's event on creating a meaningful and fulfilling life without children (in which she touches on the Mother Teresa thing I mentioned above). Watch the video here.

There was also a podcast of a panel discussion at the same event on the topic of "So You Don't Have Kids --Now What??" including Jodi among the panellists. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but if you're interested, here's the link.

*** *** ***

I saw several articles in the past week about actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who came "out of the closet," so to speak, about the miscarriage of her third child (it's not clear exactly when it happened), including the fact that she nearly died (I assume perhaps she was hemorrhaging?), and is uncertain about trying to have another baby.  

Most of the stories were a straight reporting job. However, Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon wrote an extremely thoughtful opinion piece on the subject that, I thought, put Paltrow's loss in context.

Sample (edited) passage:
Celebrity culture is obsessed with motherhood and babies. Every supermarket tabloid, every entertainment show, devotes lavish attention to any female between the age of 16 and 50 who might be “Finally!” knocked up, who’s showing off her baby bump, who’s rocking a post-baby hot bod, and of course, what an amaaaaaazing and fulfiiiiiilllling and perrrrrrfect experience motherhood is. The harder, darker aspects of bringing people into the world are kept quieter...
It’s not always easy to acknowledge miscarriage, and the complex feelings it stirs up. The world is too full of well-meaning friends who shrug that you should just try again, as well as callous individuals like the Daily Mail commenters who noted, “You are NOT a special martyr for having had a miscarriage” and “It happens to hundreds of thousands of women every day.” It’s true that it does. Up to a quarter of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage – and the figure is even higher for very early pregnancies.

But just because you’ve got a lot of company doesn’t automatically negate the loss of one unique pregnancy, one hoped-for child...

It’s a leap of faith to decide to have a child, and it’s one that’s inevitably influenced by past experience. So if the 40-year-old Paltrow, who has everything else in life – including an Oscar and a 33-room home in London — isn’t jumping on the whole women’s magazine script of “40, Fabulous, and Pregnant!” who can blame her? In that regard, she doesn’t fit neatly into the smiling, sunny image we have of what motherhood – especially celebrity motherhood – is supposed to be. Instead she acknowledges the truth — that sometimes experience is punctuated with grief and disappointment, and ultimately, a whole lot of ambivalence about whether it’s worth the risk.
Read more here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Some recent reading

Today's dilemma at the New York Times' Motherlode blog: "I Want More Children, He Doesn't." Ahh, the luxury, the good fortune of having easily produced two children -- and knowing (or at least, believing) that only that your husband's wishes stand in the way of having the two more you have your heart set on.  

Of course, I know family size is also a point of contention for some couples in the ALI community. In most of our cases, though, our dream of having a family of any size, let alone the size we once might have though ideal, is tempered by the harsh reality of what's physically possible. On top of all the questions the author & her husband are struggling with, infertile couples must add these:  how long should we chase this dream? When is enough enough? Is it time to stop? Should we try again? Do we have the time, the money, the physical, mental and emotional reserves of strength to go through this again?  Not all couples find themselves agreeing on the answers. 

I can sympathize to some extent with the author's desire to realize the family of her dreams. The gap between the family we always wanted and the family we wind up having is something that I think we all struggle with, although perhaps it's harder for some of us to accept than others. I think what bothered me most about this article, though, was the author's assurance that:
"It’s one thing if a higher power – call it God, biology or nature – determined that two children was the right number for us. We would feel as blessed as we are today. Absent that intervening force, this battle between husband and wife ends with a “winner” and “loser.” We stand our posts on opposite ends of the spectrum, waiting for the other to cave."

It's very easy to say -- secure in your fertility (or assumption thereof) -- having already produced two children -- that if God, biology or nature decided two was enough, and conceiving a third proved difficult/impossible, you'd accept it and stop, end of story. I'm willing to bet there are more than a few people out there in the ALI community who thought that too -- until they couldn't conceive that second or third (or even first) child they wanted so very much.  

It's a difficult question and I wish the author & her husband luck in resolving it.

It's early going in the comments section, but one reader has already cautioned the writer that "things don't always go like you think they will."  Amen to that. (And of course, someone has already advised her to "get a clue, get a grip -- and if you really HAVE to have another child -- in your own household or elsewhere -- ADOPT.")(!)

*** *** ***

An article in the Sunday New York Times -- titled Mother of all Comedy Topics -- explored the recent preponderance of fertility & pregnancy topics in the movies. "For a while Hollywood was into bromance," the article begins.  "Now there’s momance." Hardy-har-har-har. :p

*** *** ***

Yes, I wanted children. (And I like holidays.) But when I read stuff like this plea from Rage Against the Minivan -- "Let's Bring the Holidays Down a Notch" -- I sometimes think that maybe it's for the best that I didn't. I don't think I could handle the pressure or measure up to the Martha Stewart model of competitive parenting that seesm to be in vogue today. :p  Thanks to Msfitzita and Ellen K for bringing this one to my attention!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mid-March/St. Patrick's Day odds & ends

  • It is St. Patrick's Day... and I am thinking about my all-time favourite Irishman, my maternal grandfather (who was born in Minnesota, but whose paternal grandparents came from the Old Country). For years I used to send him a St. Pat's card. After he died, I continued sending cards to my mom & her brother. She's spending the month of March down south, though, so I decided there wasn't much point in sending her one this year. Feels a little strange. And sad. :(
  • I am not sure what my Irish ancestors would think of us celebrating St. Patrick's Day, since they were all Protestants, and some of them staunch members of the Orange Lodge, lol. My mother has my great-great grandfather's Orange Lodge songbook and yikes, talk about politically incorrect. Happily, times change. I think most of us these days think of St. Patrick's as a celebration of all things Irish.
  • Still bummed out about the impending loss of Google Reader (although I guess I have some time to find an alternative).  I was checking into Feedly, since many people have been recommending it... however, it doesn't work on Internet Explorer, which I have always used as a browser -- you have to use Firefox or your smartphone (I do not have one). :p  (A techie I am not.) The search continues. I am still extremely pissed off at Google. :p  
  • It was spring break last week in Ontario... quiet in some respects, busy in others.  Dh, who works a very busy, stressful job at the best of times, was doing the work of three people, covering for fathers who were off vacationing with their families. Perhaps those of us without kids should find a week where we too can leave the office en masse and let the parents worry about how to get everything done in OUR absence. ; )
  • The thought flitted through my head one morning last week that maybe I should head up to the Eaton Centre mall on my lunch hour. Then I remembered it was spring break. Needless to say, I spent my lunch hour close to my desk. ; )
  • It wouldn't be spring break without at least one ride on the commuter train (generally homeward bound, in the late afternoon after a long day of work) with a group of shrieking children.  (For the record, I had two.)  
  • I have seen Facebook posts from mothers who are chomping at the bit, waiting till their kids head back to school tomorrow (because they've been driving them NUTS...) ...and others from mothers who ADORE having their children with them ALL THE TIME and are mourning the arrival of Monday. Needless to say, I cannot relate, either way. I think I probably would have fallen somewhere in the middle. ; )
  • Spring break aside, I was incredibly tired and listless all last week. I think it was the time change, kicking my butt. :p  I didn't sleep very well. I made up for it somewhat by sleeping 10 hours last night!
  • I can't seem to shake the February blahs yet (and it's already mid-March...!). The weather has been up and down, work has been "meh." I think I need a holiday...
  • Maybe it's because there has been sad news all around me. :(  About three weeks ago, a high school classmate, M.,  contacted me via Facebook. Another classmate of ours, D.,  was engaged in yet another round of a long battle against breast cancer and needed some cheering up... so M. was contacting everyone she could who might have known D., asking if they would send her a card.  I hadn't seen D. since high school, but I remembered her as a warm and friendly person, and gladly sent along a card (and M. told me she was surprised and touched to hear from me).  I am so glad I did it, as she passed away late last week. :(   (If you ever get the opportunity to do something like that, do it. You will never regret it.) (I am imagining how I would have felt if I hadn't gotten a card off to her in time...)
  • Two FB friends -- one I knew in university, another a longtime online friend -- also lost their mothers within the last week or so. 
  • Really, aren't we too young for this to be happening?  :( 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Just got a notice when I tried to open my Google Reader that it will no longer be available after July 1st. :(  I have been using Google Reader almost since I started blogging. I have more than 500 (!!) subscriptions -- albeit not all of them active any more (and not all ALI-related).

Any suggestions for an alternative?? :( 

What a pain. :p

Friday, March 8, 2013

More on women and work (including me)

It's International Women's Day... and I've been doing some more thinking about my previous post on women and work, and about Sheryl Sandberg's new book, Lean In. I haven't read it yet... but neither have a lot of people who have been writing about it, lol. And from what I hear, the people who have actually read it are being much kinder to Sandberg than those who haven't. 

In my previous post I said, "Some mothers (and non-mothers) are perfectly happy with "average jobs." Not everyone is cut out for the C-suite. Not everyone WANTS a C-suite job."  (Also, there are only so many C-suite jobs to go around. Someone has to do the actual work, after all. ;)  )

And I don't want to let men, and corporations, off the hook. They have a responsibility to level the playing field in the office, and to step up their own game at home.  It's just plain common sense. (I recently saw a hockey analogy about women's equality that went something like: "A team isn't going to be playing its best if half the players are sitting on the bench.")

Apparently Sandberg does acknowledge this in her book. But her focus is on what women themselves can do to advance in the workplace. And I get what Sandberg is saying, or at least, what I think she is trying to say. Too many women sell themselves short. We don't ask... and so, often, we don't get.  We close off our options, sometimes without realizing the long-term consequences of what we're doing. As Sandbery put it in her infamous commencement address to Barnard College graduates, women too often "leave before they leave." 

I will admit it: I'm one of those women who leaned back (probably prematurely), instead of leaning in. If I had put a little more thought and effort into my career and what I wanted out of it, I probably could have advanced further than I have. I'm not genuis-smart (although I was known as a "brain" in school) -- but I think I am fairly bright. I just never had a huge ambition to manage people and budgets.


Partly, I think, because my interests lie in the work itself -- in the content, in writing. And right now (more than ever, it seems), it's all about the process. Meetings upon meetings, project plans, background briefs and (of course) round after round of  approvals. (But that's not something that's entirely within my control.)

Lack of self-confidence?  Yep, that's definitely me. ... I have never been one to shout "Look at me!" and increasingly, the people who get ahead are the ones who are good at self-promotion (if nothing else...!).

Laziness? Well, yes. ; ) I'll admit it, lol... Don't get me wrong, I do my job and there are plenty of days (particularly at certain times of the year) when I am run off my feet.  There have certainly been times when I have stayed late &/or taken work home with me.  But (thankfully) it's not a regular thing -- and that's just fine with me. I find that a standard work day -- which stretches to 11 or 12 hours most days, when commuting is factored in -- is definitely enough.

I have a friend who is a high-powered corporate lawyer for a big law firm. She routinely puts in incredibly long hours and works weekends. Yes, she gets the big bucks, but... I like being able to leave at a decent hour, and leave my work behind me. I am just lowly enough at work that I don't have a work-issued BlackBerry. I remember when my former boss got promoted to a level where they gave her a BlackBerry... I told her, "I'm not sure whether to congratulate you or offer my condolences," lol.

Part of it, I think, is that I am a product of my times. Yes, I am a proud feminist and I grew up in the age of Ms Magazine, Gloria Steinem, the fight to ratify the ERA in the U.S. (defeated) and the successful battle to ensure that women's rights were included in Canada's new constitution in 1982. 

But -- I did get my start in the 1960s. Mindsets and roles were still pretty traditional when I was growing up. I was told -- and I (mostly) believed -- that I could be anything I set my mind to be. And one of the things that I wanted to be, assumed I would be (besides being a writer) was a mom. I knew that I was going to school, and that I would have a career. But I thought (for awhile, anyway) that I would stop working when I had children. As time went on and the economy floundered, I came to realize that I would likely have to keep working once I had a family. But in the back of my mind, marriage and family still loomed large. I still saw my future primarily in terms of the family I would have.

I hoped that I might be able to afford to work part-time while my children were small. (Whether I could have actually afforded to do so is another story...) In fact, around the time that I got pregnant, I had some tentative discussions with my office best friend/coworker about job sharing -- she may have even brought the subject up. I saw part-time work as an ideal way to spend some extra time with my long-awaited baby and still keep one foot in the workforce and in the company where I had already established myself. She was in her 50s, hoping to retire at 55, and thought she could ease her way gradually into retirement with such an arrangement. Job sharing was relatively new to our company, but I had done some stories for the staff magazine about several such arrangements that were working well.  I think we could have made it work. We worked well together. We figured we could each work on our own projects, for the most part, and each put in two full days a week, and figure out how to split the fifth day. We would keep each other updated, and would be accessible at home if there were problems.

But then I lost my baby. :(  And the stock market tanked with the dot-com crash of the late 1990s/early 2000s, and the investments she was counting on to help fund her retirement lost value, and she wound up working until she was 59. And that was the end of our job sharing discussions.

And while I haven't got a family as my "excuse" for not climbing the corporate ladder, I can't discount the impact that pregnancy loss and infertility have had on any ambitions I might have once had. I don't think I was hugely ambitious, pre-Katie.... but I think it's safe to say that I have never felt quite the same way about work and my job in the years since then. There's nothing like death, like stillbirth, to drive home what's really important in life -- and believe me, it's ain't work. I am a firm believer that nobody lays on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office.

But... we all have mortgages or rent to pay, and food to put on the table. And so we work. At least I had a good job to go back to after my loss. I heard numerous stories, as a pregnancy loss support group facilitator, and as a longtime frequenter of pregnancy loss & infertility forums, from women who made career choices based on what was best for the hypothetical family they hoped one day to have. They "left before they left." Some of them actually quit their jobs when they became pregnant. And wound up with neither job nor baby. :(  And, sadly, sometimes without the partner they had hoped to build their family with, too. So I think we need to think carefully about the choices we make at work, and why we're making them, and keep as many options open for as long as we can.

As for me -- right now, I feel like I've painted myself into a bit of a corner at work. I've been in the same department doing much the same kind of work at more or less the same level for almost 27 years now. For a long time, 15+ years, I worked with the same core group of people. There wasn't much in the way of specific job descriptions or established procedures (that has since changed), but we all knew each other well, and what we could do together. They knew me, knew what I had done, knew my capabilities. I remember one of the senior managers once told me he had such tremendous confidence in my writing, that he knew he could throw anything at me and I could quickly turn it around into something lucid.

And then, one by one, they all left. :(  

(Retired, fired, moved to another department or another company altogether.)  I can remember when I went in for a "getting to know you" chat with our new senior VP (who has since left herself) and she told me that of all the people in our department she was having the hardest time figuring out exactly what it was that I did. "I do anything and everything that anyone asks me to do," I told her, which was basically the truth. I thought I was being flexible, and I thought that was good.

But so much has changed in the past 3-5 years. The department was restructured, and many of the projects that I used to work on or assist others with are now the responsibilities of others. People keep coming and going.  I'm having to prove (and re-prove -- I will soon be on my fourth direct manager in three years!) myself over & over again. While there are still a core group of us 40 & 50-somethings, the department has gradually been overrun with bright-eyed, ambitious, energetic 20 and 30-somethings -- kids, young enough to be my own children. 

Sometimes it's hard to keep up. It's hard not to feel old and tired, and sometimes overlooked and unappreciated. It's hard not to look at the calendar and start counting the days until I might be able to retire. 

But that's still at least three years away. What to do between now & then?

I don't particularly want to take on more responsibility at this point in my career. But at the same time,  I'm not entirely sure my my talents are being well or fully used, either. :p

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?" Sandberg asks. I'm not entirely sure. It's something I need to think about.

But I'm glad she is asking these questions, and making me think about them.

I'm hoping to pick up the book soon... if/when I read it, I'll definitely let you know what I think about that!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Daring to build families differently

Carson Rennick, welcome to our world.

Last week, the Toronto Star featured an article about Rennick, a 35-year-old man who wants to be a dad.  He feels ready, at this point in his life, to be a father. He hasn't met Ms Right yet -- but he's decided not to let fact that get in the way, and take matters into his own hands. 

Rennick is seeking a partner to bear and help raise his child. He's not looking for a romantic relationship, but a co-parenting arrangement -- facilitated by a website called The woman would agree (via legal contract) to conceive a baby with him through IUI or IVF, and then share the responsibility of raising the child.

I'll admit, when I first read the story, I thought it sounded a little... clinical.  And I still think that the proposed arrangement might not be as cut & dried as it sounds. This is still a pretty new way to parent, and there will likely be consequences that nobody has yet realized or complicating factors that haven't been taken into consideration. When you're dealing with human beings, you have to factor in emotion. We don't always act in rational ways.

But I also found myself thinking: how much different is this from some of the other relatively new ways that we are building families today with the help of reproductive technology? I've read about parenting arrangements in the gay community where a lesbian gets pregnant using sperm from a gay friend to get pregnant, and involves him in the child's life. Is it any different (or any worse) than couples who get married, have a child, then divorce and share custody?

We all like to think that every child will be conceived and born the old-fashioned way, to a set of parents who love each other. But things aren't always that simple. And, as those of us in the ALI community know all too well, sometimes the desire to have a child leads us to places we never in a million years thought we'd go.

Rennick is back in the Star today. The reaction to the first story will sound somewhat familar to any of us who have dared to try to become a parent by anything other than the conventional way:
"...he received a torrent of feedback from Star readers, suggesting he get everything from a puppy to a life. In comments posted on, almost 200 of them, he was labelled frequently as selfish, told his quest was “creepy” and lambasted as an “emotionally immature knucklehead.”

(Of course, if he stayed childless (and especially unmarried and childless), he'd probably be labelled "selfish" & "emotionally immature" too, right?)

"In all honesty, I thought there’d be a stronger response in my favour,” Rennick told the Star, sounding somewhat bewildered. “There was a huge uproar. I thought it would be more accepted.” (I felt a bit sorry for him and his naievity (sp?). As I said, welcome to our world, Carson...!)
"A lot of people seem to think I’m selfish,” Rennick says. “But I’m as selfish, I guess, as the readers’ parents, your parents or my parents for having us.

“This isn’t the death of our society. Oh my God, guys, c’mon, I just want to have a child.”

The Star plans to check in with Rennick on his quest to become a (co)parent. Should be interesting...!