Friday, November 30, 2007
These are women who intimately know & share my life's deepest pain -- the loss of a baby. Some of them also have had infertility problems. I can say my daughter's name and talk about "when I was pregnant" freely with them and without fear of a negative reaction. I feel more comfortable with them than with many other people who have known me a lot longer. And overall, I had a really good time, being together, talking, laughing, celebrating the season and our friendship.
And yet -- there was, and is, a part of me that felt alone and outside the circle, and guarded in some respects about what I say and what I share with them. Because I'm the only one among them who does not have children. Some already had children before their loss, and decided not to try again. Some have adopted. Others have had subsequent babies that now preoccupy their days and their conversation.
As they talked about how busy they were, how tired they were, how they were juggling their kids' activities, their own activities, their jobs, their maternity leaves and their Christmas plans (plus, two of them are moving -- one of them across the ocean!) -- I had nothing to offer in the way of similar stories or advice -- about finicky eaters and toddler sleep problems and at what age it's appropriate to bring a toddler to his first movie. And I had to bite my tongue and resist the impulse to join in the conversation with my own laments about about how busy & tired I am these days (or at least, do so in a very careful way).
I AM busy and tired. It's year end at my office, and mid-November through Christmas is my peak season. I do a lot of work that crosses the desks of my company's top executives, and my days right now are very full and highly stressful. I don't work a lot of overtime, but my days are long, nevertheless. On a normal work day, I am up at 5 a.m., out of the house and commuting by 6:30, in the office from 7:45 until 4:30, and not home again until 5:30 at the earliest. We're usually in bed no later than 10 -- which doesn't give us a lot of free time in the evening after supper is made, eaten and cleaned up. This means our weekends are usually crammed with house cleaning, laundry, shopping, errands and seeing dh's family.
I had a bad cold a few weeks back & an apparently still-lingering throat infection -- still don't feel 100%. My dh has been stressed lately about a number of different things, and I've been stressed trying to deal with HIS stress. And, like everyone else, I'm trying to keep on top of Christmas preparations, get everything done that needs to get done -- for dh's family, in time for our nephew's birthday on Dec. 15th, and for mine before we leave to join them for the holidays on Dec. 22nd -- and trying to enjoy the spirit of the season, just a little. Our calendar is filling up with holiday-related events & activities, along with our usual classes, meetings and other obligations. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have a running to-do list that never seems to get any shorter.
But I couldn't share most of this with these women. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, projecting my own insecurities here, but I'm sure some of them would think -- even subconsciously -- that I don't know what busy is -- because, of course, I don't have any kids. I thought I detected a fleeting expression crossing their faces when I've made such comments in the past. Even though they, better than anyone else, know how much we wanted children and what we'd give to have our daughter with us today, there is still this automatic, ingrained assumption (which I've obviously absorbed as much as anybody else) that people with kids are busier than people without kids -- that if you don't have kids, you have oodles of free time on your hands to kill -- and that somehow, their tales of busy-ness are more "legitimate" than any story I could tell to try to match them.
It's not a competition (although sometimes it seems that way). Everyone is busy these days -- it seems to be the nature of life in the 21st century. We all have the same number of hours in a day -- we just use them differently. Somehow, they always fill up, whether you have children or not, whether you have one child or five, whether you work inside or outside the home, whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban setting.
I often wonder how I would have managed children on top of everything else I cram into my life right now. I think the answer is, you just do. You just organize and prioritize your time in a different way. I think of my mother and a co-worker of mine, who both retired within the past few years. Both like to joke about how they wonder how they ever had time to work. They're both keeping very busy, just with other things now.
I'll admit that not having children gives me more in the way of personal time, and greater flexibility in how I use it. But who's to say that one person's activities inherently "count" more than another's? Or that I'm not entitled to my leisure time just as much as someone with children is?
In one of the online grief groups I belong to, we have a saying -- there is no "grief-o-meter." Pain is pain, grief is grief, regardless of whether you lost your child via ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or medical termination.
And busy is busy, and tired is tired, no matter how you got there.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
However, it is a festive occasion of sorts in Canada this weekend. It's Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League (also fondly known as "the Grand National Drunk"). Kind of like the Super Bowl, but usually a much more exciting game, or so we like to think. ; ) It's also a much older game -- this is the 95th Grey Cup -- and deeply rooted in Canadian sports tradition.
This year, it's being played in Toronto, the city where dh & I commute to work every day. Torontonians tend to be rather blase about the whole thing, but elsewhere in the country, & most definitely on the Prairies, where I grew up, it is a huge, huge deal. Grey Cup almost always gets the biggest ratings of the year of any event broadcast on Canadian TV (Super Bowl included). It is the one football game I will watch every year, and most especially this year, since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Having grown up in both Manitoba & Saskatchewan, it's a tough call, but since I was born in Manitoba & spent more time there overall (& my family still lives there) I will be cheering for the Bombers.
The Grey Cup is played between the champions of the east & west divisions -- the Bombers were always in the west and Manitoba is generally considered a western province, but as several CFL teams folded, they became part of the eastern division. East versus West is a classic Canadian rivalry in more things than football, which is part of the whole appeal of Grey Cup. That, and all the parties. ; ) It's been said that the Super Bowl is about corporations, but Grey Cup is about the fans, the people who actually buy the tickets (with their own money). It's gotten glitzier & more corporat-ized over the years, but it's still very much a grassroots kind of event.
I've never been to the Grey Cup, but I've been to a couple of victory parades when the Toronto Argonauts have won in recent years. My sister & her boyfriend came to Toronto in 1989, and witnessed what is considered the greatest Grey Cup game ever played (Saskatchewan over Hamilton, with a last-minute field goal). I went with them to the parade on the Saturday before the game & enjoyed myself hugely. My aunt came to Toronto in the mid-1960s for the Grey Cup when she was in her late teens or early 20s -- boarded the Grey Cup train in Winnipeg (already full of fans from points further west), rode for well over 24 hours (my mother comes by train occasionally and it takes her 30-35 hours), got off, went to the game, got back on the train, arrived back in Winnipeg & went to work again! I can dimly remember my father pointing at the TV screen & telling us to watch and see if we could see her. Several of my cousins have been to various Grey Cups over the years too.
I got offered VIP tickets to a Grey Cup party/concert tonight, featuring classic Canadian rock acts Loverboy, Trooper, April Wine & David Wilcox. Those names probably don't mean much to those of you south of the 49th, but they were huge when I was growing up. This is the sort of thing that makes me think, "I could do this while people with kids couldn't, or would at least have a harder time accepting -- no kids at daycare to pickup, no babysitters to arrange...."
Nevertheless, I turned down the offer. I had a lousy day at work, the weather is horrible (freezing rain & snow), I only had a few hours' notice, and I would still have to get up at 5 a.m. and go in to work in the morning. I knew dh would be even less enthusiastic. Besides which, I saw just about all those guys in their prime 25+ years ago. Am I getting old or what???
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
My (childfree by choice) younger sister & her partner come out from the city and spend a few days while we are there. My maternal grandmother was Scandinavian, so Christmas Eve was always the focal point of our celebrations. Usually we arrive at least day or two ahead, and I get to decorate the tree. They know I love it so they save the job for me. It's a real, old-fashioned tree with big coloured lightbulbs and the same ornaments that have appeared on our Christmas tree for the last 40+ years. I dig out the box with my childhood letters to Santa and laugh & cry while reading them.
We have dinner (which has evolved over the years -- lutefisk when my mother was a kid -- yuck! -- ham when I was little and now it's usually pickerel), early evening church service & then we open our presents to & from each other. Christmas Day we have stockings from Santa (we all have them! -- my mom fills them for my sister & I, & we do them for our dhs & switch off on doing mom & dad from year to year), have a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and play lots of cards.
My parents are still relatively young (66 & 68), and the good Lord willing we will have many more Christmases all together -- but I can see it becoming more difficult as they age & pass on. It was hard enough adjusting to Christmas without my grandparents there. Right now, it's all about being together & carrying on tradition -- and so long as things stay relatively the same, it's easy to coast along from year to year. But as the people who have taken part in the traditions start passing on and there get to be fewer & fewer of us who remember what it was like, with no younger generation to carry on, I can see it getting more difficult. :(
Our celebrations have not entirely lacked children over the years. The year before my dh & I were married, my parents moved, and their neighbours had a new baby girl. From the time she was in a high chair, she has come to our house for Christmas, and that helped take the heat off me & dh as newlyweds ; ) & compensate for the lack of grandchildren. She even had/has her own stocking at my parents' house! However, even she has grown up -- is now 23 (!), going to university & living with her boyfriend. She still usually makes it over for dinner sometime during the holidays, if not right on Christmas, & we all still fuss over her. ; )
Deanna & Ellen, I know what you both mean in the comments you left on my last post -- on the one hand, why shouldn't we be able to celebrate, even if there's just the two of us? On the other hand, there are times when not having kids gives you permission not to have to "go to all that trouble" when you really don't feel like it, lol.
Not that Christmas is all about presents -- but it does bother me when people say, "Oh, lets not exchange gifts among the adults this year. After all, Christmas is for the kids!" Well, fine for them -- they can cross me & dh off their list then -- but we still have to buy for their kids! And it's not just Christmas -- it's birthday parties, baby showers, first communions & confirmations and high school graduations and then weddings -- and not always for people whose kids I feel very close to, either. It's hard sometimes when you feel like you just keep shelling out & shelling out for other people's kids & get absolutely nothing in return (not even a thank you, sometimes). But perhaps that's fodder for another post...!
Friday, November 16, 2007
"Christmas is for kids."
Sorry, maybe it's the childless curmudgeon in me talking, but I refuse to believe that Christmas is just for kids, or about kids. Strictly speaking, of course, Christmas IS about "A" kid -- "THE" kid -- the Christ Child, and what his birth meant to the world. But somehow, I don't believe He came into this world just so that kids could bug their parents for mountains of toys and stuff themselves silly with candycanes and turkey. ; ) Or so that magazine publishers could sell magazines!
I love Christmas -- it is my favourite time of year. And of course, my love of Christmas dates back to my childhood, is rooted there. But those feelings didn't fade or disappear when I got older . They just changed and took on a different form. The older I got, the less the toys and Santa Claus meant to me. What I loved (still love today) was being together with my family, and re-enacting our decades-old traditions and rituals. Some things have changed over the years, of course, for various reasons -- new rituals have gradually evolved over the years -- but much stays the same.
The spirit of Christmas was embodied by my maternal grandfather. I spent every Christmas of my life with him for 37 years straight. When I was very little, we lived hundreds of miles away from my grandparents. Sometimes, my grandmother would stay home or go to be with my my mother's brother and his family -- but wherever we were, my grandfather would drive or travel by train or bus to be with us for Christmas. I remember vividly how one year, when I was no more than 4, my dad went to get him at the train station in the next town down the road. I pulled a little chair up to the window and fell asleep there, waiting for them to come.
When I called to tell my parents I was pregnant, in March 1998, the first thing my mother asked me (after she stopped screaming!) was "when?" & when I told her "mid-November," she sighed rapturously, "A baby for Christmas!"
Well, by the time Christmas 1998 rolled around, not only was there no baby, there was no Grandpa. He died October 15th of that year at age 86. It was the saddest, most melancholy Christmas I have ever experienced. A year later, my grandmother was gone too.
A year or so after that, we were all sitting down to Christmas dinner, and my father went to get the camera to take a group shot of us seated around the table, as he often had in years past. He stood there looking through the viewfinder and as we all looked back at him, a strange thing happened. He set the camera down without taking the picture, turned and went down the stairs to the basement family room. Everyone looked blankly at each other. My mother got up and followed him down the stairs, and I bowed my head & struggled to hold back the tears. I knew exactly why he had to put down that camera & hide the emotions that had hit him unexpectedly. Instead of growing, our family was actually shrinking -- so many people we loved just weren't there anymore (or, like my daughter, never made it there to begin with) -- and I knew instinctively that he had realized that as he looked through the lens of that camera.
After a few minutes, he came upstairs & took the picture. I love looking at pictures, but this one gives me pain to see. None of us are smiling in it.
My mother is guilty of the "Christmas is for kids" & "kids are what make Christmas special" mindset (and it sometimes sets my teeth on edge). I will often hear her, at Christmastime, telling her friends that "we don't have any little kids at our house for Christmas." (Thanks, Mom.)(My sister is childless by choice, and she and I, at ages 45 & almost 47, are still "the kids" at our house.) She (my mom) loves it when my aunt invites us to her family Christmas shindig the Saturday before Christmas, where we get to watch her grandkids, saucer-eyed in the presence of Santa (yes, Santa) as he arrives at the door bearing gifts. (They lose most of their shyness very quickly as soon as they get handed their presents.)
Yes, it's fun to watch; yes, it's an element that our family Christmases lack these days. Is it better than our own family Christmases have evolved to become? I don't know. It's just different. Most certainly, our Christmases would be very, very different these days if our daughter were here -- but when all is said & done, it's still Christmas, it's still magical, and I still love and appreciate it.
I'm rambling here, but the point I want to make is that while children may add a certain element of fun to Christmas celebrations, it's not just "for kids." If it's about kids at all, it's about the child that lives within each of us. The magic & wonder & generosity of the season is something for ALL of us to enjoy and to share with each other.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
These days, motherhood is Hollywood's hottest accoutrement: look at Katie Holmes, Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie. When an actress hits her thirties without children, it somehow becomes a public obsession, a la Jennifer Aniston. Why are we so fixated on the reproductive lives of our celebrities -- or, rather, our female celebrities?
"Oh God, the definition of 'feminine' without children definitely needs to be explored. What is that? As soon as you don't have a child, there are certain stereotypes, whether it's spinster or lesbian, that always fall on you," says Oh. "I have to constantly clear that noise: 'That's not me, that's not me.' I don't necessarily know what is me, but I know what's not. That's the challenge of every artist, maybe every human being. Who are you? What are people putting on you? You've got to peel it away." ...
"I would be very willing to explore that idea of women without children within the context of our show. I mean, what I hope our show continues to explore is feminine power. I really think that's why people love it so much."
The other item I enjoyed was a column by Katrina Onstad (who also did the interview with Sandra Oh) -- this month about egg freezing and titled Great Egg-spectations. A couple of choice quotes:
"Generally, I'm in favour of measures that increase women's reproductive options, but all these uncooked eggs make me queasy."
"For more than 30 years, men have donated sperm, and nobody blinked. But this is motherhood, always publicly debated and held up for judgment, in all shapes, in all forms. Some things, at least, never change."
- This is one of those days when I'm grateful that I don't children. I can wallow in my own misery, take a nap & pretty well do what I please, without having to worry about taking care of anyone else.
- Daytime television is a wasteland. I've spent most of the day on the computer, and am counting the minutes until "Oprah" is on -- & praying she has a good guest.
- Daytime television is full of pregnant women, babies & mommy talk, and it's very difficult to escape it. For example: on days when I'm home from work, I like to watch NBC's Today show. Yesterday morning, one of the regulars announced her pregnancy on air. I had to flip the channel. This morning, they had a maternity wear fashion show, with sultry models sporting baby bumps. Click! I need something to help me feel BETTER, not worse!!
- This may partly be a function of the weather, but nobody seems to be at home during the day anymore.
- Looking out the window & seeing the teenagers from the local Catholic high school meandering along in their hiked up kilts & blouses unbuttoned down to eye-popping depths is another of those moments when I'm glad I don't have kids (those adorable babies eventually turn into teenagers!!). Eeeekk!!
I will add these thoughts from my original draft:
When I first heard about the baby who had disappeared from a hospital in Sudbury this past week, I started praying. Not only for the baby's safe return to its parents, but also: "Please, please, don't let it be a bereaved or infertile woman." Call it a hunch. And I was right. :(
Initially, I felt sorry for myself, and the other bereaved parents/infertile couples that I know. There is so much stigma attached to grief & infertility as it is. People go out of their way to avoid us as it is (if only because they simply don't know what to say to us). The last thing on earth bereaved parents need is having people think that we're so unhinged by our grief that we're out to steal their babies. (The Globe article emphasized that baby abductions are a very, very rare occurrence.)
I most certainly cannot condone or excuse abducting babies from hospitals -- how many hundreds of women lose pregnancies every single day who would never dream of doing something like that? -- but at the same time, I can't help but feel at least a little sorry for the abductor. As a bereaved parent myself, I know how the loss of a baby can sometimes leave you teetering on the bridge of sanity. And not only did she lose a baby, the Globe & Mail also reported that she looked after her father until he died of cancer last year, and that she was diagnosed with cancer herself after his death. Dh & I had the benefit of attending a support group (as well as the Internet ) -- I can't imagine there are a lot of support groups for bereaved parents or cancer patients or caregivers in Kirkland Lake. And Lord knows, a woman is nothing without a baby in her arms or in her belly -- at least, that's what the popular culture right now is telling us, isn't it?
I imagine there is more to this story than is known or can be told right now. I'll be following the case with interest.
Monday, November 5, 2007
So I couldn't resist snatching up Pattie Boyd's new book "Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me" a few weeks back. Pattie, for those of you not familiar with her, was a top British model during the Swinging 60s who met George during the filming of "A Hard Day's Night." (She plays one of the schoolgirls who are thrilled to find the Beatles aboard their train to London.) George wrote the beautiful ballad "Something" about her. George's best friend, Eric Clapton, also fell for Pattie & wooed her with the passionate song "Layla." In the end, Pattie left George for Eric.
My love for all things Beatle (& my weakness for celebrity memoirs!) aside, Pattie's story intrigued me for another reason -- because I had heard that she left Clapton when she learned that another woman was pregnant with his child, after years of trying to have a baby herself. (Sadly, the child was the little boy, Conor, who died after tumbling out of the window of a 53rd-floor apartment in New York. Clapton wrote "Tears in Heaven" about him.)
"I had been trying to have a baby for twenty-one years, and this woman had slept with my husband once or twice and was carrying his child," she writes on page 246. "I thought my heart was about to disintegrate."
On the next page, she writes of hearing about the baby's birth while staying with friends in France -- two of whom were pregnant at the time. "Everyone seemed to be pregnant except me. I was thrilled for them of course, but I found it hard. I was forty-two and my marriage was on its last legs, so I had to face the unpalatable fact that I might never have a child." Later, on page 255, she writes, "I met friends for lunch and felt as though i was in a bubble, watching us eating and chatting: I had nothing in common with their world of husbands and children."
What infertile woman could not relate??
Pattie does not mention any of the many miscarriages she is rumoured to have had, and her struggles with infertility are only a small part of the book -- yet I found myself marking those few pages & going back to them over & over again. Infertility is so seldom written about, particularly as part of a person's broader life story, so it's nice to see someone being frank & open about such as sensitive topic and the impact that infertility has had on their life.
On page 166, she writes "Cooking was my thing. Having given up modeling full-time, and with no children, I needed to find some role for myself, some raison d'etre. Preparing wonderful meals for George and all the people who came to Friar Park became a passion." She later writes of the emptiness she felt when she realized her marriage was over & her chances of having children had run out. Eventually, she finds a new passion behind the lens as a photographer.
Finding a role or "raison d'etre" in life is something that all women struggle with, I think, and infertile women in particular. If I'm not going to be a mommy, then who am I and what am I going to do with our life?
Running into an old acquaintance near the end of the book, Pattie introduces herself, saying, "I used to be Pattie Boyd," and the friend responds, "You still are!" It is so easy to become defined by labels -- "George's wife" -- "Katie's mommy" -- "Senior Manager of Widget Production" -- and lose touch with the essence of who we are. For many women, the role of mother is all-consuming -- but once the children are grown up and have left home or carved out their independence, they find themselves struggling with questions of who they are and what they want to do with their lives now. Those of us who thought we were going to be mothers but never did just have to answer those same questions at an earlier stage in our lives.
Personally, I am still fumbling my way toward the answers -- but I've always believed -- had to believe -- that a meaningful life without children is possible -- and that my life has value, regardless of whether I can procreate.
Clapton has written his own autobiography, which I also just purchased, but haven't read yet. It will be interesting to see how his version of events stacks up against hers.
Friday, November 2, 2007
But when I think of "the cruellest month," for me, it has to be November. November was always my second-least-favourite month -- cold and grey and dead -- redeemed somewhat by the Remembrance Day bank holiday and the promise of Christmas to look forward to -- although tempered by the mad year-end rush at my workplace (fiscal year end October 31st, year end results released late November/early December, followed by annual report, annual meeting in March, etc. -- all of which involve me.).
Back in 1998, I had something to look forward to in November. I was 37 years old, married 13 years and, after some 2.5 years of trying to conceive, finally pregnant! & due November 14th (later revised to November 20th, & then 25th). I fantasized about being able to watch the Toronto Santa Claus Parade from the window of my hospital room with my baby in my arms. But when November finally came around, there was no baby. Our daughter, Katie, was stillborn in August when I was 26 weeks along. I went back to work in October (even though I could have stayed off until December -- long story) and so, instead of enjoying the first few days of motherhood & maternity leave (thus escaping the year-end hell at the office), I found myself back at my desk, trying to focus on my work instead of what had just happened to me, & resenting every minute of it.
Now, nine years later, I still feel twinges of sadness instead of joy when the Santa Claus Parade is on TV -- and as I run around at work & try to squeeze in some Christmas planning, I keep thinking that I should be planning a little girl's birthday party too. Life is unfair. :( And November is a month that I am glad to see go by quickly.