Thursday, March 27, 2008
Facts & Arguments: THE ESSAY
The comfort of condolences
They sent food and flowers, mailed cards, called and lined up at the visitation to offer words of support. Some of them didn't even know my father
March 27, 2008
The first dish to arrive was baked chicken, breaded and full of flavour.
Then came soup - hearty vegetable and beef. A variety of lasagnas followed, at least four. One neighbour even called to make sure we all liked mushrooms.
More chicken arrived, this time with rice and gravy, followed by homemade macaroni and cheese. (For the kids, she said.)
And of course there were desserts - cookies, butter tarts, Nanaimo bars and a wide variety of muffins. One neighbour even brought over fresh-baked bread, heavy and dense with whole grains - an entire meal in itself.
Fruit plates, vegetables with dip and rolls arrived. The freezers were full, the fridges overflowing.
One neighbour plowed the long driveway and parking area, even after only a few inches of snow had fallen. Others stopped by to offer condolences and tell my mother to call if she needed anything at all.
My father's fairly sudden death at only 67 prompted this outpouring of generosity. He had so much living left to do, so many memories left to create.
His oldest grandchild is not yet 4, too young for Grandpa to have left a lasting, clearly defined mark on this child's mind. He might be able to retain some memory of him if helped along with stories, but the two-year-old and the baby will only know their grandfather from photos.
My father was outside playing on his tractor, pushing snow around and having a whirl of a time only a few weeks before he died of cancer; he was singing songs with his grandsons only the day
Perhaps that is why so many neighbours, many of whom barely knew my father - he rarely stepped foot inside the tiny church, the centre of our rural community - brought food or offered assistance. I suppose we, the living, feel such helplessness in the face of death, so undiscriminating, that we want to do something, anything, to offer support. Few can offer plowing services, but many can offer food.
Those who live far away sent flowers - grand pink lilies, coral-coloured roses, potted daisies and shy African violets. People who didn't even know my father, who had never met him, sent cards and notes to tell me their thoughts were with my family and me.
Some drove long distances, more than two hours each way, simply to give me a hug and offer their condolences to my mother. Others who knew my father but who had never met me lined up for ages to tell me how he had affected their lives.
I have never placed much importance on sympathy cards. I always mean to send one but then it slips my mind. Once in a while I manage to write a note but find I am out of stamps, so the letter languishes for months in a pile of clutter or stuffed deep and forgotten in my purse. How could a few words from me, likely stock phrases anyway, lend any comfort to people who have lost someone close to them?
But I have discovered that words of condolence are important. They do provide comfort. All the phone calls, the notes and cards, the flowers, all those who came to the visitation simply to shake my hand and introduce themselves, or to offer a hug and a story about my father, somehow made me feel better. And although she is tired and emotionally drained, I know my mother feels the same way.
Perhaps their words and support help to normalize the concept of death. The idea of having life and all it entails and then, suddenly, not having it is difficult to wrap one's head around. Knowing that others understand this loss has helped me realize that I don't have to explain it, because it is inexplicable.
I don't have to make sense of his death, because death just is. It happens to all of us. The support and sympathy of friends and neighbours has let me focus instead on my father's life, which was the incredible thing, rather than the fact that he is gone.
My father was not religious, nor am I. I do not require words of eternal life, heaven or angels to make myself feel better. We did not have a funeral for Dad; he made it clear he did not want one. But knowing that he touched the lives of others, either directly or through me or my family, is enough to help me come to terms with his death.
If my father now exists only in the minds, the hearts and the memories of those who knew him, then the fact that others are affected by his death or simply by my loss must mean that in those thoughts he lives on.
I have learned a little bit about mourning, and I am thankful to all the people who offered their support, no matter how small. The next time someone I know loses a family member, I will be sure to send at least a note, if not a savoury chicken casserole.
Hayley Linfield lives in Toronto.
I'd like to say that dh & I decided to chuck our jobs & go to Africa to feed starving children, or some such noble gesture. Or that, without the expense of raising and educating children to worry about, we downsized our lifestyle so that we could retire extra early (maybe to a rustic cottage somewhere) to write novels. Or something.
The truth is, our lives really haven't changed that much in the almost 7 years since we decided to stop treatment. I mean, they have, & they haven't. You can't go through stillbirth & infertility without it touching your life, especially inwardly. There are scars that we bear, even if they're not visible to most people. And I like to think that some good has come out of Katie's brief existence. I like to think that, because of her, I'm a more compassionate person, more sensitive to others' pain & at least a little better at dealing with it. Perhaps we spend our time a little bit differently -- we volunteer for a pregnancy loss support group and I spend a lot of time on the Internet on pregnancy loss, infertility & childless living sites -- none of which we would have done, had we had children, I'm sure.
But in many, many respects, our lives have not really changed a great deal over the past decade. We still get up at 5 a.m, ride the commuter train into our same old jobs in the city, return home again around 5:30 p.m., and go to bed by 10. We can (usually) work late when the boss asks us to, because we don't have to worry about picking the kids up from daycare. We spend our weekends however we please (well, cleaning & laundry aside), instead of shepherding kids to hockey practice and ballet lessons. We spend Saturday nights browsing the shelves at Chapters, Starbucks in hand, and Sunday afternoons at the movies. We indulge in buying scads of books, because we don't have to buy school uniforms or diapers or Transformers (do kids still play with Transformers??). We sleep in late on weekends & holidays... because we can! Unlike most of our peers, we don’t have to worry about daycare arrangements, school matters, homework, soccer practice or playdates. Our life is not structured around the rhythms of the school day or calendar.
I suppose some people envy us for our freedom. Truthfully, I sometimes think our life could be a tad more exciting -- but both dh & I are very much homebodies & creatures of habit. Yes, we could chuck it all and run off to live on a beach in Polynesia -- or even decide on Friday at noon that we're going to fly to New York for the weekend -- but we don't & probably won't, because that's really not "us."
The thing is -- the structure of our lives may not have changed very much. But the point is, we wanted it to change. We were ready for it to change. We had established our careers, bought a house in suburbia & gotten a start on paying down the mortgage. We did the "DINKs in the city" thing. We were ready to embrace 2 a.m. feedings & sippy cups. We were ready to turn the spotlight over to a new generation, to have the world revolve around someone else besides ourselves for a change.
And yet here we are, stuck back in the land of the eternally childless/free, while everyone around us is moving on, skipping happily off down the yellow brick road of family life, picking up one child after another along the way, sharing new kinds of experiences with other parents -- and not giving those of us left behind much thought. (I keep thinking of Monopoly: "Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200." Sitting in "jail" & waiting out a turn, while everyone else advances around the board & gets richer.)
The big question that anyone trying to live childfree after loss & infertility has to face is, "If I'm not going to be a parent, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?" We're still trying to figure that one out, & I have a feeling that it's going to be a lifelong process.
It's not like it's such a bad life, with just the two of us. We had a pretty good life together for the almost 13 years before I got pregnant and -- the lingering effects of dealing with infertility, loss & grief aside -- the almost 7 years since we stopped treatment haven't been that bad either. Things have pretty much continued on the same way they always have.
But it's a very different life than the one we had expected to be leading.
(Sorry, I don't know why I can't get any spacing between the paragraphs...??)
Monday, March 24, 2008
I could hardly focus on my work, wondering about the results of my blood test -- although I figured two bright lines on a home pregnancy test couldn't be wrong. Late on the morning of Tuesday, March 24th, I went to a payphone downstairs & dialled my doctor's office. "Lori?" his receptionist said. "He wants to talk to you." And then she added, "The news is good."
"It is??" I said.
He came on the line. "Lori, it's positive -- big time," he said. I can't remember what else he said, but I remember me sobbing, & him laughing. "Congratulations. Enjoy the moment," he said. At some point we made a followup appointment for another beta, to ensure the levels were rising, & he said he would refer me to a well-respected obstetrician at one of the city's best hospitals. "He delivered both of our sons -- I can't give you a higher recommendation than that," he said.
I got off the phone with him and dialled dh's number. "Hi, daddy," I said in a small voice. "Really??" he said, & started to laugh. I got a big hug when we met again that night.
That night I knew what I had to do: call my parents. I had always thought that, whenever I finally did get pregnant, I would keep it a secret until it became obvious, perhaps through the first trimester.
But my mother was arriving on Friday night for a week-long visit. She worked as a teaching assistant in an elementary school, and it was spring break for them -- for most of the past 13 years I'd been married and living here, she'd come to visit me then. My face is like an open book: I knew I could not be in the same house with her, look her in the eye and keep such a monumental secret from her.
So, taking a deep breath, I dialled my parents' number. My dad answered the phone. I made a little small talk with him & then asked to talk to Mom, but told him to stay on the line too. I figured after almost 13 years of waiting, he deserved to hear this news at the same time as her.
"Well, Mom, I've thought of something else we can do while you're here next week," I said and paused.
"Yes?" my mother said, uncertainly.
Another deep breath. "Would you like to go shopping with me for maternity clothes?" I squeaked out in a small voice.
Dead silence. And then a SHRIEK pierced my eardrum (I'm not sure my hearing has recovered yet).
"What? what's the matter?" my poor bewildered father asked as my mother & I sobbed together.
"WE'RE GOING TO BE GRANDPARENTS!!" she shrieked.
"Ohhh!" and my dad started chuckling.
(Cripes, I think I'm starting to hyperventilate, just writing this all out, 10 years after the fact.)
"When, honey, when?" my mother asked. I told her I wasn't quite sure yet, late November. "Oh, a baby for Christmas!!" she sighed rapturously -- a sentence that still haunts me today.
After talking to them, I called my sister & asked her how she liked the name "Auntie B." She too went "oooohhhhh" & started to laugh. My sister is not an outwardly emotional person. She does not show a lot of interest in children & is childfree by choice, but I knew that she was excited, and that she would be a really cool auntie.
OK, that took care of one side of the family -- now for the other. For some reason that I can't remember, dh had previously agreed to take his father up to his brother's house that night. FIL & stepMIL were leaving the next day for Florida, according to my datebook. BIL lives a good 45-60 minute drive away, & we rarely if ever go there on a weeknight. I knew it would be a late night going there -- especially with the news we had to give them -- and I was exhausted, physically & emotionally.
"You stay here & rest. I'LL tell them," dh exulted. Part of me felt like I should be there, but part of me was relieved that I didn't have to live through another emotional scene that night. I agreed & off he went. It was barely an hour later that the phone rang & I found myself accepting congratulations from my extremely excited in-laws. I went back to the couch & the phone rang again. The family grapevine was working fast -- I got calls from three of dh's aunts on his mom's side that night.
I figured I had better call cousin/neighbour's wife -- her mother-in-law was one of the people who called me, and I knew she would never forgive me if she heard the news from someone else. "So, guess who's pregnant?" I said, "Who's pregnant?" she said in bewilderment. "Me!" I said. "What??" she said. The next day (Wednesday), we came home from work to find a big balloon bouquet tied to the railing of our front porch, and I knew just who it was from. (Dh took a photo of me holding it -- one of just two photos of my pregnant self, although I don't look pregnant at that point.) I was so exhausted that night, I went to bed at 9 p.m.
Over the next several nights, the phone rang practically non-stop as dh's aunts & female cousins from both sides of the family (not all of them, but most of them) called to congratulate us. So much for keeping it a secret...
Saturday, March 22, 2008
I'd been very tired recently, lots of cramping & headaches. I just figured it was PMS. One thing made sense in retrospect -- climbing the stairs to the commuter train platform lately had me totally winded. "Geez, are you ever out of shape!" I remember dh observing helpfully as I huffed & puffed up the stairs after him.
Could I be pregnant? I'd had long cycles a couple of times since going off the pills almost three years previously. What would usually happen: I'd take a home pregnancy test. Negative. A few more days would go by. I'd call the dr, get a blood test, & my period would usually start before I even got the results back. The longest cycle I'd ever had to date lasted 56 days.
I honestly figured I was in for more of the same when I took the box into the bathroom & peed on the stick that afternoon.
Almost immediately, a bright blue second line popped into view.
"Whaaaa.... OH MY GOD!" I shrieked. Dh came running. I showed him the stick. I started to cry. We sat on the floor of our bedroom & held each other. Was this really happening? After so many years of waiting, planning, hoping?
The next day at work, I called my family doctor's office on my cellphone, took an "extended lunch break" & took the subway up to his office for a 1:15 appointment. He took my blood, asked me if my breasts were sore. (Not really.) "I really hope you're pregnant," he said.
"Me too," I said.
That night I stayed up until 12:45 to watch the Oscars ("Titanic" won all the big awards). I could barely keep my eyes open, but I found it hard to sleep too, wondering what the next day would bring.
(P.S. The stick went into the garbage. I wish I'd kept it, but I had no idea at the time that people even did such things...!)
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
*** *** ***
Looking for Juno
Canadian couples desperate to adopt are going directly to the source, setting up websites to sell themselves to pregnant women, Hayley Mick reports
FromTuesday's Globe and Mail
March 18, 2008 at 8:44 AM EDT
The competition seems so fierce that Marion Walsh can't bear to see who she's up against any more.
Six months ago, she and her husband, Gus Curtis, posted their profile online, describing why they would make great parents. The B.C. couple, both in their early 40s, then paid a consultant to tweak the letter and photos. Then they posted it on a second website to increase their exposure.
So far, they have received a half-dozen e-mails from scammers in Cameroon.
Nothing has come close to their dream scenario: contact from a pregnant woman who's chosen them - out of all the waiting couples in cyberspace - to adopt her baby. "I don't go to the websites because it bums me out," says Ms. Walsh, an ESL teacher who underwent failed fertility treatments before turning to private adoption. "You start comparing your picture to everyone else's picture, and your letter to everyone else's letter, and how long people have been waiting. It's just too agonizing."
It may be agonizing, but with adoption waiting lists spanning three years or more, couples like Ms. Walsh and Mr. Curtis are trying to improve their odds by marketing themselves straight to the source.
They're creating websites and blogs to promote their merits to pregnant Canadian women looking for adoptive parents. They're spending hundreds on designers to help them distinguish themselves from other couples. And they're advertising anywhere a young woman might stumble across their beaming faces.
"If Juno can find her adoptive couple in the Penny Saver," a Toronto couple recently wrote in an online notice, referring to the lead character in the recent movie Juno, "then why not on Craigslist?"
A small industry has sprung up to meet the demand. In the past year, two new Canadian websites have begun posting the profiles of couples, for a fee. Consultants now help couples shape their profiles to make them more attractive to pregnant women. Last summer, one adoption website, CanadaAdopts.com, began offering a $495 "parent profile writing service" to help couples "stand out from the crowd."
The trend has striking similarities to Internet dating, with couples distilling their lives into a few paragraphs, citing their love of eighties music and Thai food in hope of finding a match. But unlike online dating, the scales are one-sided, with waiting couples vastly outnumbering birth mothers, who have the power to choose.
It's the "job interview of your life," one consulting company, AdoptionProfiles.ca, says on its homepage. But without an interview with the mother, dreams of parenthood hinge on mere pictures and words. Couples are tormented by second guesses: Does this photo make us look old, or too generic? Am I turning a teenager off by listing Bono as my favourite singer?
"It's unfortunate, but it's all about marketing yourself," said Meagan Sweet, a 34-year-old flight attendant who is hoping to adopt privately with her husband, Paul.
As attractive, Caucasian professionals in their 30s, the Sweets have been told by adoption consultants that they're "shiny," meaning, in blunt terms, easily marketable. But that's no guarantee, Ms. Sweet says, because lots of people wanting to adopt fall into that category. So couples scan their lives for competitive advantages.
"Little things that set yourself apart from everyone else increase your odds," Ms. Sweet says. "Even if you're Mormon; a birth mom might be looking strictly for Mormons. You never know what they're looking for."
For Shelley Ibbotson, a single mother who, at age 32, became pregnant and did not want to raise a second child alone, criteria included non-smokers, a university education and no children of their own.
Ms. Ibbotson remembers weeping in a lawyer's office, trying to decide between two couples who, in print, seemed to fit the bill perfectly. At the time, in 2001, only CanadaAdopts.com listed hopeful Canadian parents, and there were only a dozen or so couples to choose from, she said. (Now it is the most popular website, with about 40 profiles posted at any given time).
Today there are two more online companies listing profiles, including AdoptionProfiles.ca and AdoptionConnections.ca, which Ms. Ibbotson started running last October.
There are strict adoption laws in Canada, which vary from province to province. Before a couple can adopt, they must be approved by a government ministry in their home province, a process that includes background checks, interviews, financial assessments and home visits.
Only some provinces allow a couple to advertise their search for a baby, including British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec. And even if a birth mother selects them, she has to notify an agency, or licensee, then go through the proper channels for the exchange to take place.
But for birth mothers, websites allow them to scan potential couples in the privacy of their homes, said Ms. Ibbotson. They can also e-mail couples to solicit more information before officials become involved.
"It's so competitive," she said. "There are so many more couples looking to adopt than there are babies available."
There was a time when almost all adoptions happened domestically, and most couples received a Canadian baby within a year or two. But by 1990, domestic private adoptions slowed dramatically. In 1997, there were 314 private adoptions in Ontario. Ten years later, that number has dropped to 111.
Similarly, international adoptions are taking longer, with Chinese restrictions increasing the wait time to about five years and other countries quickly filling up quotas.
The appeal of going online with their pitch, couples say, is they feel like they have some control over the process. They can put their best foot forward without relying on an adoption licensee to give it to a birth mother.
"We're not just sitting here passively waiting for someone to find us a child," said Lewis GrantSmith, a 41-year-old lawyer from Toronto. "We're going out there trying to find one ourselves."
Mr. GrantSmith and his 40-year-old wife, Denice, have a cheerful, colourful, professionally designed website. They describe Mr. GrantSmith's love of swing sets and the fact that Ms. GrantSmith was adopted as a child. They describe their front garden that's "an excellent place to hunt for worms."
Their next move, Mr. GrantSmith said, is to create a profile on MySpace.
But even great sites don't guarantee success. AdoptionConnections.ca has had no matches attributed to it so far, Ms. Ibbotson said. CanadaAdopts.com, which has had hundreds of profiles since 2001, has had 23 direct matches.
Still, some couples, including the GrantSmiths, report that they have been contacted by birth mothers who have seen their sites or profiles online. Mr. GrantSmith said a woman who contacted him and his wife hasn't decided how she wants to proceed with her pregnancy, but had some questions for them.
In the end, there's no way to predict or influence what birth mothers will want for their children, says Kim Gray, a social worker and adoption practitioner in London, Ont.
In 16 years of facilitating adoptions, Ms. Gray has met some birth mothers who want other siblings for their babies; others want to help a childless couple. Some want rural homes, others want city slickers.
Elaborate profiles don't necessarily have the advantage, Ms. Gray said.
"Adoptive parents don't have a lot of choice here," she said. "It's a birth-parent-driven process. ...We work very, very, very, very hard to get them what they want."
For example, Labour Day weekend still has that end of summer/back to school feeling for me -- but the actual matter of braving the back to school sales & getting kids off is something that has no impact on us whatsoever. At dh's family's annual Labour Day barbecue, the moms' chatter revolves around getting their kids back to school & into a routine -- not to mention the all-consuming important matter of which teacher their child will have this year & what strings they pulled to get him or her into the "right" class, etc. etc. -- leaving me with nothing to add to the conversation (and, honestly, more than a little bored).
We just came through spring break here in Ontario last week -- another event that has little to no impact on me as a childless person (aside from the fact that there are a lot more kids running around the underground concourse of our office tower, and their parents are a lot harder to get hold of at work…!). In a way, I'm thankful that I don't have to be hauling kids around at the exact same time to the exact same places as 2 million other people…! But again, there's that sense of "otherness" -- the feeling that life is passing you by, while everyone else is sharing a common experience (even if it is standing in line at the airport for a flight that's been delayed by a snowstorm, lol).
The chatter among the mommies on my scrapbooking boards this week -- about colouring eggs, picking up chocolate for the kids, and who is cooking what for Sunday dinner -- reminded me that this weekend is Easter -- a holiday where I have always feel at loose ends as an adult. Growing up, it was always a fun holiday for me & my sister, whether we spent it at my grandparents' or at home. We would colour eggs a day or two ahead, & hunt for chocolate eggs on Easter morning before heading off to church (wearing a new spring outfit), and then home to a great dinner, usually ham with scalloped potatoes, or sometimes turkey. And, at one time, I looked forward to recreating those days with my own children someday (and perhaps creating new traditions that were entirely our own).
Well, there are no kids & never will be, and I now live far away from my parents. If FIL & stepMIL are hosting her family, they will invite us over for lunch (usually lamb, which is something I did not eat growing up), but sometimes they go to one of her sisters' houses. BIL is usually with his own in-laws, leaving us to our own devices. We tried going for brunch a few times on Easter, but the crowds were daunting (especially for my dh, who has no patience whatsoever for standing in line for anything, and most especially food), and I found myself eyeing all the happy families with adorable pastel-clad babies through green-coloured glasses. So now, if we find ourselves at loose ends on Easter, we usually go to the cemetery with some spring flowers for our daughter's niche, & then to a Sunday afternoon movie. In other words, it's pretty much like any other Sunday, except the stores are all closed.
This loss of tradition, and of the dream of carrying family traditions on through the generations yet to come, is another of the many losses associated with infertility & living without children. I still manage to get excited about Christmas, perhaps because it's so firmly embedded in my individual psyche, not to mention the collective psyche of society -- also perhaps because I usually celebrate it with my own family, with many of my childhood traditions still intact -- but some of these other holidays & markers of the passage of time have lost some of their lustre for me.
When our nephews were younger, I used to bring them goodie bags full of chocolate & stuffed bunnies, etc. -- but at 15 & 19 now, they're a little too old for the Easter bunny. I haven't been on a candy hunt or coloured an Easter egg in more than 30 years. So far as I know, my nephews have never done either of these things -- not within the scope of Italian tradition, I guess? Had I known they would be my one & only chance at doing kid things, I would have had them over for an egg-colouring session when they were smaller, but that ship has long since sailed. I know there is absolutely nothing stopping me from reliving my childhood & doing it myself -- hey, who needs kids to colour eggs? -- but it wouldn't be the same as the picture I had created in my head (& besides, what on earth would dh & I do with all those eggs, once coloured?? -- we'd be eating them for weeks).
It's the same reason why I don't cook a turkey for just the two of us on Thanksgiving (a lot of work for just two people, & the leftovers would go on forever…)(and our house is too small to have more than two people over to share it), or go to great lengths to decorate the house for Halloween. With children around, you make the effort, even when you're dead tired, because you want them to grow up with the same great experiences & memories & traditions that you yourself have. (Mel at Stirrup Queens has a really great post right now about Purim & why she makes such a big deal out of it.) If I still had hope there would someday be children around, I might make the effort, just for the practice, in anticipation of holidays yet to come. But when it's just for your own amusement, and you know there are never going to be any kids, it just doesn't seem like as much of a priority. (I do decorate a tree for Christmas -- there are some traditions that must be upheld, children or not…! -- although the marathon baking sessions have fallen by the wayside. Who has the time, & who needs the calories?)
On a positive note, Easter generally heralds the onset of spring. Even when it comes extra-early, as it does this year, & there are still huge snowdrifts on my lawn (a hangover from one of the snowiest winters on record here), you know that winter can't last too much longer! (Can it??) I am soooo ready for spring!! Bring it on!
Friday, March 14, 2008
She emerged & told the rest of us -- yep, she's pregnant, due the first week of October. I guess she really did have fun on that Caribbean vacation in January. ; ) One of the new dads in the office kept saying to her, "It's the best thing ever." Ouch. Of the 10 or so people in my particular area, only two (my immediate boss & the next boss up the line) were around when I was pregnant 10 years ago, so nobody has a clue that I might be finding this a little painful (of course, even if they did know, they probably still wouldn't have a clue...!). And it's been almost that long since we've had a pregnant woman in our area of the department.
Of course, not only do I get to go through the whole pregnancy with her (almost in lockstep with the timing of my own pregnancy, 10 years ago -- I was due in November), I will get to pick up a lot of the slack when she heads off on her year's maternity leave... which will be right in time for all the fun (not) of year end. Hopefully they will get someone on contract to cover her leave and to help us, and not expect us to soldier on without her.
I really like this girl. I just get tired of always being the bridesmaid & never the bride, know what I mean?
Sunday, March 9, 2008
A doppelgänger (pronunciation (help·info)) or fetch is the ghostly double of a living person, a sinister form of bilocation. In the vernacular, "Doppelgänger" has come to refer (as in German) to any double or look-alike of a person—most commonly an "evil twin". The literal translation of the German word is "doublewalker", meaning someone who is acting (e.g. walking) the same way as another person. The word is also used to describe the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection. They are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one's own doppelgänger is an omen of death. In Norse mythology, a vardøger is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance.
I don't think Mel meant the term in the evil twin/bad luck sense, & that certainly wasn't my vision either... more of a person who is so like you, in looks, personality, pathway in life, etc., that it's eerie sometimes.
I've met a few women on the Internet who have wound up living childless/free after infertility & loss, but none whose stories & personalities were so like mine that I felt like they were a long lost twin. However, I've known JuliaS of Life After Infertility & Loss in a previous Internet life (lol), & we have often joked that we must have been separated at birth, or cousins, or something, because so many of the same things have happened to us at the same time, and we share many of the same interests. I hadn't been in touch with her for quite awhile (my bad..!) & recently stumbled onto her blog while perusing someone else's blogroll. Turns out we both started blogs at roughly the same time, unbeknown to each other. And although we didn't "know" each other then, her Carena & my Katie share an angel date of August 7, 1998.
In "real life," I've encountered two couples that I always sort of thought of as "doppelgangers" for dh & me. Our paths have diverged in recent years, but I found it immensely comforting for awhile, knowing we were not alone, and immensely happy for them when their dreams finally came true, even when ours did not. And, coincidentally, we saw both couples today.
The first couple is one of dh's cousins & his wife (he has lots of cousins!). This cousin was an usher at our wedding, & is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He reminds/ed me so much of dh in the way that he loves kids & they love him. He met a very nice girl & they were married in 1996. A few years went by and then more years and still there were no kids. For many years, she & I were the only two childless adult women at family gatherings, & while our mutual situation was never discussed, she & I would chat about work, about travel, about home projects, etc., while everyone else around us talked non-stop about their kids. It was a relief for me and I suspect for her as well.
Several times over the years, dh's cousin would arrive at some of these family gatherings alone, saying his wife "wasn't feeling well." I can remember being at one of these events & some of the other women sniping, "Well, what's with her?? I guess she doesn't like us very much... she never comes to any of our parties any more." I didn't speak up (to my everlasting shame), but I wondered how they could be so clueless (not to mention unsympathetic). Perhaps she was legitimately ill (at least some of the time). But to me, it was so obvious that coming to these family gatherings, full of pregnant women and babies & women with kids, where the conversation revolved non-stop around kids, kids, kids, was likely very painful for someone who (like me) did not have children but wanted them, was likely trying desperately to have them, and not succeeding.
About a year & a half ago, we got the news that -- at age 42 -- she was pregnant! (Through IVF, we later found out through the family grapevine.) She & her husband were both 43 when she gave birth to their daughter. She did not want a baby shower (but eventually consented to having a small one with the family). Again, dh's cousins were incredulous: why on earth wouldn't she want a baby shower?? What was with this woman?? And again, to me, it was so obvious as to why she might be reluctant, particularly before the baby was safely here... What a divisive thing infertility can be. I can see so clearly what others cannot... and yet I don't wish this clarity of vision on anyone, knowing the price that one generally pays to gain it.
The baby did arrive safely, and we attended her first birthday party this afternoon. I tried to keep busy taking photos whenever the mommy talk got a little too stifling. Apparently the daddy talk can sometimes be just as bad. Dh told me that a bunch of the guys were talking -- many of them with teenaged daughters, & teasing the birthday girl's proud dad about all the trouble she will be causing him in about 12 years. The cousin/neighbour that I've written about previously then piped up & said, "Yeah, [dh] is smart..." and you know what he was going to say next -- i.e., smart because we don't have any kids (!) -- & dh said it was like he suddenly remembered, & realized what he had said as soon as he said it, & his voice trailed off & he shut up. He's not sure anyone else noticed, but he sure did.
The other couple we met through our pregnancy loss support group about five years ago. She is just a few years younger than me, he is just a few years younger than dh, & they have been together almost as long as we have. Her ethnic background is similar to mine, so we have similar cultural touchstones (we even look a little bit alike in some ways), & we share many similar interests (reading, scrapbooking). She's from the same town where I did my graduate degree, and in fact, we figured out that she, her dh & I were all attending school there at the same time. He works in the same industry as dh & me. Like us, they put off having a family for many years and when they finally decided it was time, she had two losses. They were exploring both adoption & childfree living before her third, final (successful) pregnancy when she was in her early 40s. She has always been very careful, especially when she's around me, not to talk too much about mommy stuff & to qualify many of her remarks by saying how very lucky she feels. I appreciated that enormously. And we both enjoyed their company tremendously.
They are moving this week, in order to be closer to her extended family -- something they felt was important for their son, given that he is going to be an only child. En route from the birthday party, we dropped by with a small gift & to say how much we're going to miss them. And we will. :(
Friday, March 7, 2008
Day 21 was Saturday, Feb. 28th, & we attended a 65th birthday party for dh's aunt at her daughter's that night. He has several aunts, but this one is particularly special to us because she took special care of dh, his dad & brother after their mom died -- cleaned house & did laundry for them, had them over for dinner just about every night. Even though I wasn't Italian ; ) she welcomed me with open arms to the family, the soul of generosity.
I was looking at the photos from that party recently as we prepared to attend her 75th birthday party, which was last weekend. Dh's family are not big drinkers, but I remember her son-in-law pressing a glass of butterscotch schnapps on me & some of the other women. Of course, forever afterward I felt guilty, wondering if that one minuscule liqueur glass of schnapps at the point of conception somehow contributed to my daughter's subsequent stillbirth. When we first started ttc, of course, I was extra cautious about things like drinking & even taking asprin for a headache, especially if I felt I was ovulating or on the 2-week wait. But when you've been ttc 2.5 years without success, you tend to let some of these things slide after awhile.
The following week, the first week of March, my cousin & his wife (now ex), who were married the same year as dh & me, had their third & last child, a baby girl.
I noted on several dates in my book that I felt tired and crampy or had a headache. I went to bed early several times, & popped a few ibuprofen to alleviate the aches & pains. At work, I met with a vice-president -- I was working on something for her around the time of my loss, and was blown away when she sent me a note saying how very sorry she was to hear the sad news about my baby.
The week of March 16th that year was spring break (this year, it's this coming week). Then as now, I was not affected, except in the sense that parking spots & seats on the commuter train were easier to find, and people I called at work were harder to get hold of. I had lunch with my college roommate that week (who had recently loaned me a book on "how to get pregnant" that she said had helped her conceive her only son at age 37).
Saturday the 21st, there was a a big snowstorm. We hunkered down at home and I did some laundry.
Our lives were about to change forever.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
It's time for another selection from the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, brought to you by Stirrup Queens & Sperm Palace Jesters. The way the this online book club works is people sign up, read the book (usually, but not always, related to infertility and pregnancy loss), & submit a question. Lists of questions are distributed among the participants, and we pick at least three to answer in our blog, then visit each other's blogs to comment.
This month's selection was "Embryo Culture" by Beth Kohl, which intertwines the author's own infertility journey with an investigation of various aspects of infertility, ARTs and the ethical dilemmas she encountered along the way. This book had been in my "to read" pile for awhile, so I was happy to be prodded into digging it out & finally reading it! There was a lot that Beth & her husband encountered that was familiar to me, and a lot that was thought-provoking.
On to some of the questions...
The author describes her journey through infertility both in terms of a faith journey and a process of scientific discovery. How has infertility impacted your faith journey and your views of science/technology?
Re: my faith journey... my dh & I had already started attending church again, in anticipation of starting a family, when I finally got pregnant. Although we were & are not overly "religious," we wanted our children to be baptized, go to Sunday school, and learn something about God and the Bible. Our faith, our church and especially the assistant curate at our parish, who handled the funeral service for us, were of great comfort to us in the days after our daughter's stillbirth.
Gradually, however, it became harder & harder for us to attend services. Our church has a large number of young families attending, and the children often participate in the services. Singing the hymns I remembered singing from my own childhood, while watching other people's children filing up the aisle from Sunday school, often had me choking back tears. Baptism days never seemed to be announced in advance, & we actually left by the back door one day when it seemed just too hard to stay. Seeing women who had been pregnant at the same time I was bring their new babies to church -- and then get pregnant again, and again, while my arms remained empty -- was particularly painful, as were the many references to "barren" women in the Bible (Elizabeth, Hannah, etc.) who were eventually "blessed" with children. Mother's Day services, when the minister would ask all the mothers & grandmothers to stand up, were excruciating. Should I stand (even though we had no children that anyone could see)? Should I sit (and deny my daughter's brief existence)? One year, I was surprised when the prayers included a request for healing for mothers who had lost children, and women who wanted children but were unable to have them. It was a nice gesture, but overall, it was still a hard day, and we gradually stopped attending services regularly. My faith in God remains, but my faith in organized religion has diminished considerably.
Re: science... it's true, science can do amazing things these days. At the same time, my own journey through loss & infertility has left me realizing that science has its limits. I naively believed that science could resolve the problems that emerged during my pregnancy. As we progressed further and further along, I came to realize just how little doctors really know about how women get & stay pregnant, and how much is really just a guessing game. It was a real wake up call for both my husband & me.
From early in the book, it is clear that the author ends up with a take-home baby. How do you think this affects her perspective on infertility and how did affect your perception of the book?
I'm not sure about her perspective, but I can tell you about mine. First of all, I acknowledge the total futility of what Melissa at Stirrup Queens calls "the Pain Olympics." It's something we stress at our support group meetings: "everyone's loss is significant, regardless of gestation or circumstances." Whether you had a 7-week miscarriage or lost a baby in the NICU, it hurts, and your pain deserves to be acknowledged. Likewise, everyone who's lived with infertility has been through the wringer, whether you did a couple rounds of Clomid or seven IVFs, whether you had losses along the way or not, whether you brought home a real live baby or not, whether you chose to adopt or not... no matter how you slice it, we've all been dealt crappy hands to play with.
And yet... looking at the photo on the book jacket of a blond woman with three beautiful, smiling little girls, I didn't even have to read a word before I knew the author had succeeded in her quest to start a family. The green-eyed monster within me stirred. And when I started reading, I'll admit, the breezy tone put me off a little. She spent so much time describing her first IVF, and seemed so sure it was going to work, she had me convinced too. And when it didn't, I was surprised and a little ashamed of myself. And then when I read the parts about her daughter's illness, and about being on hospital bedrest with her twins, I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. The woman did earn her infertility stripes. (Beth, if you are reading this, my apologies.) But is it really rotten of me to say that knowing that she struggled beyond her initial diagnosis, and experienced failure along the way, made her a more credible and sympathetic narrator in my eyes?
The author talks about whether there should be an age limit on who should be able to go through IVF. Should there be an age limit?
On the one hand, I get POd when I hear about clinics that impose age limits of 42 or 40 (or even younger). Some say it's because the chances of success when you're older are so rare anyway -- but I'm more inclined to think it's so as not to mess with their precious success statistics.
But when I hear about women in their 50s and 60s getting pregnant, it does give me pause. My mother had me when she was barely 20 (my younger sister & I had both left home for university before she even turned 40) -- and while I'm not sure that's an ideal situation either, there has to be a happy medium. My great-grandmother was the same age I am now -- 47 -- when she had her sixth and last child (six years after #5). (This was in the 1920s -- obviously, no fertility treatments then!) My grandmother was the same age I am now when I was born.
While I don't feel old enough to be a grandmother (!), I'm not sure I'm young enough to be a mother anymore either. I don't necessarily feel ancient, but I realize I am not young anymore either (especially after a day at the office where I seem to be surrounded by 20-somethings). I can't imagine being up nights with a crying baby or chasing after a toddler at this stage of my life -- which is one reason why we called it quits when I was 40 & dh was 44. I also can't imagine that even the most healthy 60 year old would be in the same shape to withstand a pregnancy that an equally healthy 30 year old would be. I hate to say I am "for" limits, but I do think there's a reason why our bodies are designed with a natural time limit for pregnancy -- and while there is some flexibility & room for pushing the boundaries with ARTs, we do need to use a little common sense.
We also have to think about the children of older parents. How long will their parents be around for them? Will they be helping pick out nursing homes at the same time they're finishing college? I remember my schoolmates always loved my mother, because she was so much younger & "hipper" than their own parents. On the flip side, my great-aunt -- the baby born to my great-grandmother when she was 47 (and my great-grandfather was 56) -- was always a little embarrassed about her birth story. Being a small town, she once said she always felt like that's all anyone ever remembered about her. Her father died when he was 71 and she was only 14.
The author also talks about how many embryos should be transferred at any given cycle. Should there be a limit?
I can remember, at one of my IUIs, the doctor said there were four good follicles in there. He had mentioned the possibility of multiples when we first started seeing him, but not in any great detail. Driving away from his office after the IUI, it hit me that I could quite possibly become pregnant with QUADRUPLETS if all four eggs fertilized. And I started to cry, because it scared the crap out of me. I always thought I could cope with twins, & that they might even be kind of fun (my sister & I, although 21 months apart, were often mistaken for twins when we were growing up, and they've always fascinated me) -- but triplets or more? eeek
Of course, we wound up with nothing out of that cycle, but it was a possibility, and I was a nervous wreck during the 2ww. Dh's cousin's pregnancy (rumoured to be from IVF, or perhaps IUI) actually started out with four sacs. One sac disappeared, and then she lost one of the babies at Christmastime before delivering two boys in mid-February, slightly premature, who spent two weeks in the NICU before coming home. (They are now healthy six-year-olds.)
I understand people want to maximize their chances of success, particularly as they get older and the clock is ticking. And, as Beth said in the book, when you are spending so much money and going through so much rigamorole to get pregnant, the idea of multiples -- "instant family" -- is tempting.
But I have also read enough about the risks of being pregnant with multiples -- for both mom & babies -- and heard enough stories from clients of our pregnancy loss support group -- that I do support limits. Maybe not one egg only, but two or maybe three, tops. You might think you could cope (mentally, physically, emotionally) with a triplet or quadruplet pregnancy or more (not to mention three or more real live babies to take care of afterwards, assuming the pregnancy is a success) -- and perhaps you could -- but it's an awful thing to find out otherwise.
The author mentions that going through infertility and IVF made her think differently with abortion? Has this changed anyone's position on abortion or did IVF change the way you thought about it?
I was, and am still, very much pro-choice. I would never presume to tell another woman what she should do with her body, and I wouldn't want anyone trying to control mine either. I believe abortion will always be with us, and so it should be legal and safe. I don't like the idea of using abortion as the solution to an "inconvenient" pregnancy, but at the same time, I have met many couples (online & in real life) who terminated pregnancies where the babies had problems that were incompatible with life, or at least life of any sort of quality. I know the struggle they went through to reach that decision, and the guilt they carry afterward. I can't imagine telling a woman in this situation that she must carry that child to term or until it dies in-utero.
At the same time, pregnancy, loss and infertility have given me a new perspective on these matters. I can completely understand someone being possessive about their frozen embryos, as Beth was in the book. I can understand feeling attached to an embryo in a petri dish. Too many people will dismiss pregnancy loss as "just a miscarriage" or "just a blob of tissue." Some women can dust themselves off after a miscarriage & continue on without it affecting them too deeply (at least, to look at them on the surface). But if you feel that you lost a baby, even if you just peed on the stick two days ago and your period started today, people should respect your feelings, even if that's not what they themselves believe.
Our pregnancy loss group has another saying -- it's not the gestation, or length of time you carried the baby, it's the attachment you feel to it that counts. Little girls have always dreamed of being mothers -- but these days, thanks to science, we don't have to wait nine months to "meet" our babies, or to have the baby placed in our arms before we begin to "bond" with him or her. We can look at follicles or a fetus in an ultrasound, embryos in a petri dish, find out if it's a boy or girl in advance and give the baby a name. Add to that the huge investment -- financial, emotional, physical, timewise -- that people with infertility have made in each attempt at pregnancy. All these things play a part in the "bonding" process, long before a child is actually born. Assuming he or she IS born. Which is why I believe there is no such thing as "just" a miscarriage.
I know many people think of abortion in black and white terms -- but if anything, infertility & pregnancy loss, our work with our pregnancy loss support group, and all the reading I've done over the past 10 years, in books and online, has only reinforced to me that every situation is different, and there are many, many shades of grey.
Beth Kohl discusses her fears about how IVF may lead to increased health problems for her children, and she thinks about this in the context of her daughter's surgeries for cysts on her bladder. Do you ever worry that IVF or other ART could compromise the health of your children created through the process? How has that affected your decision to pursue treatment?
This was not something that I knew or thought much about while we were in treatment -- but I have read a little about it since then, and it is something that I wonder about. These are still relatively new technologies, and there is still so much we do not know about them and how they are going to affect our children, 10, 20, 50 years down the road.
At one point, Beth fixates on a typo on a RE clinic's website and decides, "one picayune omission but enough to confirm I'll have to seek my progeny elsewhere. When dealing with things microscopic - egg nuclei and isolated sperm - there can be no margin for error." Has there ever been something "picayune" that has swayed your decision or direction on your path to parenthood? What was it that made that something seem significant?
I can't think of a "picayune" example from my own story at the moment. However, I remember reading that sentence & laughing out loud. As an English major with a subsequent journalism degree who works with words for a living, typos drive me up the wall. I'm willing to overlook the odd one in blogs & online posts, since you're pounding things out on a keyboard quickly & not really paying attention to proofreading (there are probably half a dozen in this post alone), but I think they're inexcusable in advertisements and the like, from writers who are paid to be professionals. I have often seen an ad with a glaring typo and said, "Well, I'm never shopping there!" (The thing that REALLY drives me up the wall is that most of these are not really "typos" -- inadvertent errors made in haste as you stumble over the keyboard -- it's that too many people these days don't even realize they've made an error -- mixing up "their" and "there," for example. But that's another rant for another day...!)
Throughout the book, Beth references different ways of how religion plays into her thoughts and some people's beliefs on infertility. I, for one, did not think of religion and God too much as far as my decisions of how far to take ART but I know people understandable do. However, as I do believe in God though not very religious, I often thought my infertility was a punishment handed to me by the higher powers. Even though the issue is MFIF, I felt as though I was the one being punished because of some things I had done in my earlier years. Beth talks of the possibly of this punishment in the last paragraph on page 49: "Or is He a puritanical smiter, my infertility a pox upon me . . ." My question is: have you thought in terms of your infertility as a punishment, some divine destiny that you should maybe not try to change, or not? And why or why not? And how did/does it affect your decisions? As I would probably not give specifics, I am not meaning for you to, but I felt much comfort knowing I was not the only one who questioned if it was a punishment and am curious as to how other people have related religion and punishment to their IF journey.
I think it's very common to feel this way, and I know I certainly had some of the same feelings and questions. One book that I found hugely helpful in resolving my feelings on this issue (which I have recommended to a lot of people) is "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner. After reading it, I decided that the God I believed in was a loving God who wept along with me & embraced me when our baby girl was stillborn -- not one who was "punishing" me through my innocent child for some undetermined "sin" in my past.
Beth makes certain that she tracks how she and her husband respond to infertility in different ways - through diagnosis, debates about treatment, and how infertility is perceived in the "normal" world. Do you find such differences between yourself and your significant other(s)? Was it difficult to determine upon a course of treatment due to those differences?
I was always the one pushing forward with treatment, which I don't think is unusual, from what I've heard and read. I was the one who thought we should look into some testing (in case the problem was something simple that could be easily "fixed"). I was the one who wanted to see the RE our ob-gyn referred us to. I was the one who wanted to proceed with injectable drugs when it became apparent the clomid wasn't doing anything for me. I was the one who suggested counselling & booked our appointments, when we couldn't seem to get on the same page as to how far we were going to pursue this thing and, later, whether it was time to call it quits. For most of the time, my dh took the stance that I was the one who was going to have to go through this, physically, so it was mostly up to me. But he certainly had a stake in it too -- financially, emotionally, plus he accompanied me to the clinic just about every morning.
With the infertility counsellor's help, we agreed to try three IUI cycles with injectable drugs, and then re-evaluate. In his mind, that would be the end of it. In my mind, perhaps we would move on to try IVF... because it was the next logical step and -- as George Mallory famously said, when asked why he wanted to try climbing Mount Everest in the 1920s -- "because it is there."
In the end, we never did try IVF (and Mallory disappeared into the mists of Everest -- his body was discovered years later). All factors considered, we knew the odds were good it would not work. The financial considerations, while not a deal-breaker, were nevertheless a factor. Most of all, dh could see the physical, emotional and mental toll it was taking on me. And so, this time, his opinion prevailed, and we have remained a family of two.Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Mistress's Daughter by A.M. Homes (with author participation!)