Friday, May 29, 2009

Multiple musings

Multiples have always fascinated me. I think it stems from three things: first, all the Bobbsey Twins books we read when we were kids (we inherited my mother's & uncle's old volumes -- complete with watermelon-eating black servants!!).

Second, my sister & I were close enough in age (21 months apart) & looked sufficiently alike (especially when were little, although we never really saw it -- and our personalities were certainly not the same) and, when we were younger, dressed alike, that many people would mistake us for each other & ask whether we were twins.

Third, being Canadian, I was brought up hearing stories about the Dionne Quintuplets of North Bay, Ontario. I read The Dionne Years by Pierre Berton (perhaps Canada's greatest popular historian), as well as the Quints' own memoir, We Were Five.

When I was in journalism school 25 years ago, and looking for story fodder, I spotted an ad in the newspaper for a meeting of the local Parents of Multiple Births organization. I called the number and wound up doing both a print and a radio feature on the challenges of raising multiples. I attended several meetings of the group (the kind-hearted women who ran it even gave the carless student rides to & from the meeting place), including one that featured a panel discussion. The panellists included (older/teenaged) identical boys, identical girls, fraternal boys, fraternal girls and fraternal boy-girl twins on hand to talk about what it was like growing up as a twin & what they wished their parents would have done differently. One of the women attending was pregnant at the time with triplets. She herself was one of quadruplet sisters, local celebrities when they were younger. It was fascinating stuff.

When I was doing infertility treatment, I knew that multiples were a distinct possibility. I felt that I could handle twins, but anything else, I wasn't so sure about. Like so many other people, I figured I would cross that bridge when we got there. Leading up to one IUI, I had four promising follicles. After the IUI was done, my excitement turned to horror as I realized that I could possibly wind up with quadruplets. I sobbed all the way home in the car. What had we done??

I'm not alone in my fascination with multiples. Case in point: the Gosselin family of Pennsylvania, i.e., Jon & Kate Plus 8. Dh & I have watched on & off for the last year or two. The kids are adorable & while I know many people can't stand Kate's bossiness, I keep thinking that you probably have to be that way in order to manage a household with 8 very young children and still retain some semblance of sanity.

Much has been said this past week about the show and the couple's marital problems, being played out on the TV screen for the world to see. Earlier this week, the Toronto Star ran an article about the stress that multiples place on marriages.

The Globe and Mail's acid-penned television critic, John Doyle, wrote about the show's season opener on Monday night, calling it "A sick freak show you must stop watching... reality TV of the vilest sort." I'm not sure I'd go quite that far... but I think he hit the nail on the head in several respects. For instance:
Jon, who looks like someone on the verge of a breakdown, said he never “cheated” on Kate. Then Kate said, “this is not where we're supposed to be,” and wept. And she described the couple as “two very different people.” Right now, she told the cameras, “life is just so hard.”

What both are talking about is the fame, and the attention. They're not talking about raising eight kids.
And also this astute observation (although I would say that public obsession with pregnancy & babies is certainly not limited to the United States):
In the U.S. popular culture there's an abiding, sick obsession with pregnancy, babies, families and the accumulation of as many cute tykes as possible.

The infamous Octomom understated this intuitively when she decided to become famous by having a whole passel of babies. Those tabloid magazines currently obsessed with Jon and Kate Gosselin usually spend their time telling readers – and there are tens of millions of readers – about some female celebrity having a “bump,” which suggests she's knocked-up. There is a continuing obsession with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and their large brood of kids.
(He noticed!! lol)

Coincidentally (or perhaps not?) the Dionne Quintuplets were born 75 years ago this week. No fertility treatments back then. The odds of giving birth to naturally conceived identical quintuplets is estimated at one in 57 million. The odds of their survival in northern Ontario in 1934 were astronomical. The babies were born two months premature and were kept alive by the midwives placing them in a wicker basket by the open woodstove to keep them warm.

A few months later, alarmed by their father's plans to exhibit then at the World's Fair for money, the Ontario government made the girls wards of the province -- and then, bowing to public demand to see the famous babies, put them on display in a playground that attracted three million visitors between 1936 and 1943. Eventually, the parents won custody of their daughters back -- but the long separation had caused irreparable damage to the girls' relationships with the rest of their family.

Only two of the sisters are alive today, & today's Globe & Mail had an interesting article about the Dionnes & our ongoing obsession with multiples -- albeit with some modern twists.

The article notes that, "While adoration for the Dionnes has spanned decades, that kind of easy approval has given way to condemnation for many modern-day multiples... Because modern-day multiples are increasingly viewed as a choice, parents of multiples are facing more criticism from a disapproving public who see their decision as selfish, even immoral." (Of course, if people decide not to have ANY children, for whatever reason, they are ALSO viewed as selfish & immoral... but, I digress....)

While they have not commented on the Jon & Kate situation, nor on the California "Octomom" whose octuplets made headlines earlier this year (& who apparently has expressed interest in a reality show of her own), a recent Canadian Press article noted the surviving sisters did offer some advice to the McCaughey family, whose septuplets were born in 1997.
"We hope your children receive more respect than we did. Their fate should be no different from that of other children," Annette, Cecile and Yvonne Dionne wrote in an open letter published in Time magazine. "Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products."
Another article from yesterday's National Post, titled "The danger of commodifying children," also quoted from the Dionnes' message:
"We were displayed as a curiosity three times a day for millions of tourists. ... We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience. If this letter changes the course of events for these newborns, then perhaps our lives will have served a higher purpose."
Sound advice from some people who have been there, done that, & know better than most of us that public fascination is not always worth feeding. Are you listening, Jon & Kate? Octomom?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant

Gather around, book lovers, for another session of the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community's virtual book club, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens. Participants read the same book and each submit a question to Melissa, who compiles & circulates the question list. We then answer at least three of them in our blog, and post at or around the same time on the same day. Melissa maintains the master list of participants on her blog.

Our selection this time was "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant -- based (somewhat loosely) on the Biblical story of Dinah in Genesis 34. I was not quite sure what to expect from this novel. But with its stories of mothers and daughters, sisters and grandmothers, aunts and cousins, grief and loss (including the losses of many, many babies), infertility and conception, friendship and rivalry, vengeance and forgiveness, this was definitely a novel worthy of the BB Book Brigade.

While I am not a Biblical scholar by any means, I'm probably more familiar with the Bible & its stories than a lot of younger people today. When I was in elementary school, we had Bible stories read to us every morning after singing O Canada & reciting the Lord's Prayer -- and this was in PUBLIC school, in 1960s & 70s westen Canada. (Definitely not done today, of course... not even O Canada in some schools, apparently.) And of course I attended Sunday school on Sundays, & Anglican Junior Auxiliary -- or, if there wasn't an Anglican church where we lived, United Church Explorers once a week after school.

Anyway, I remembered the stories of brothers/rivals Jacob & Esau (the twin sons of Isaac & Rebecca, grandsons of Abraham & Sarah), and Jacob's wives, the sisters Leah & Rachel, and, of course, Jacob's son Joseph & his many bretheren (as made famous in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat") -- but I drew a blank when it came to Dinah.

Dinah -- pronounced Dee-nah, not Dye-nah (as in "someone's in the kitchen with...") -- was Jacob's only daughter and a sister to Joseph (by different mothers). "The Red Tent" is Dinah's story -- as imagined/interpreted by the author. (If you read the scant few paragraphs in the Bible about Dinah in Genesis 34, you'll find quite a different tale.) Dinah grows up in rural Canaan, living in a tent community with her extended family, working the fields and tending the livestock.

The Red Tent is where the women of the community spend their menstrual period, their childbirth labours and a month or two after giving birth, bonding with the other women. (Diamant admits there is no historical evidence that women of the Bible used a menstrual tent, although they were common in the pre-modern world.) There is rivalry among Jacob's four sister-wives, but also support, and Dinah learns the craft of midwifery from her aunt Rachel, becoming a skilled midwife in her own right as an adult. While Jacob has vowed to follow the one God of his father and grandfather, the women of his tribe still carry out pagan rituals based on the lunar cycles. It's hard to know sometimes exactly what is fact & what is fiction, but it's a fascinating and richly drawn portrait of early Biblical-era life.

Shortly after Dinah's coming of age, she falls in love with a prince of the city -- unleashing a horrific chain of events that dramatically changes her life, and those of her family members, forever. Ultimately, however, despite the terrible losses she endures, Dinah eventually finds happiness and carves out a new life for herself in Egypt.

Here are the questions I've chosen to answer:

"The sight of the baby in Bilpah's arms, day after day, shattered Rachel's confidence again. She was only the aunt, the bystander, the barren one." Did you find the author sympathetic or disparaging of Rachel's barren state? Did she convincingly relate the experience of being barren?

There were a number of questions related to Rachel's infertility/recurrent pregnancy losses, & how it affected her relationships with her sisters. Perhaps someone who has never experienced infertility or loss might find Rachel's reactions somewhat hard to understand. But:
"Rachel could not smile at her sister while her own body remained fruitless... Rachel tried every remedy, every potion, every rumored cure... Rachel grew quiet. She stopped attending Inna and did not rise from her blanket until Leah shook her and insisted she help the rest of the women in their work. Only then would Rachel spin or weave or work the garden, but wordlessly and without a smile."

Sounds pretty accurate to me!

Which character did you relate to most in the story -- Rachel, Leah or Dinah? Why?

Hmmm. Truthfully, I could relate to all three of them, in different ways. I'm the oldest of two sisters, & I recognized myself in Leah, the responsible oldest sister. (I always felt sorry for the Biblical Leah, being passed off as her younger, prettier sister -- the one Jacob really wanted -- at the altar by her conniving father, knowing her husband was expecting to find someone else under the veil.)

While I hope I'm not quite as flighty as young Rachel sometimes seemed, I most certainly identified with her struggles with infertility and loss, and her feelings of inadequacy and jealousy and rivalry with her more fertile sisters.

But I think I probably identified with Dinah most, especially in the Egypt part of the book, toward the end. Dinah was not childless -- she had a son, but he was mostly raised by others, so she was virtually childless. Estranged from her birth family after the violent death of her husband, an onlooker in her son's life, she nevertheless (eventually) manages to create a new life for herself in Egypt, with new friends, a thriving career as a midwife and, eventually, finding new love and happiness with a master carpenter in the Valley of the Kings. When she dies, she is not alone, but with her husband and friends, people who love her.

I've written several times about my struggle with the fact that I won't have any children to remember me or leave my possessions to -- but Dinah's son tells his wife about his birth mother, and the niece she met only once, anonymously, names her own daughter Dinah after the aunt she had heard about. It's a message of hope that resonated deeply with me -- that one can rise above loss and tragedy and still lead a happy, meaningful life -- that people will remember you and that you will remain a part of them (even if they are not your own children).

The family trees shown at the beginning of the book don't include miscarriages, stillbirths, or children who died before weaning. Given the rate of infant mortality at the time, this was a logical method for "counting" children. Now that it's much more rare (but still too common) to lose children both before and after birth, at what point do you think children should be added to the official family tree? At what point should they be added to the parents' personal tally of children?

At whatever point they want to add them. : ) Of course, my personal belief is that all children should be included, whether they live or die -- although I will admit that when people ask me if I have children, my answer is almost always, "No." And I know my mother tells other people she has no grandchildren (which always hurts to hear, although I understand why she would say it -- for the same reason I do). But I would be terribly hurt if Katie were left out of any "official" family trees/counts.

I have seen many subsequent birth announcements in the newspaper, from previous clients of our support group. Some will mention the child they lost, among the relatives welcoming the new baby, which makes me smile. A few times, though, I've read "Husband and wife welcome their first child..." -- hmmmm. (Didn't they learn anything in group??) But it's really none of my business, is it?

In the book, women's relationships to higher power(s) are complicated. Jacob brings with him the one God, but that is not any of the gods of their childhoods. And it is to the gods of her family that Rachel calls with her simple and desperate ultimatum: "Give me children or I will die." In the context of your own relationship (or lack thereof) to a higher power, do you feel entitled to the same kind of an ultimatum?

I've never been one to issue ultimatums to God. I've never thought of him as an Old Testament type of wrathful God, mind you, but I've always been of the opinion that you catch more flies with sugar than vinegar. ; ) When it comes to conversations with God, I've always been more of the on-your-knees "please-please-please-please" beggar sort. And when my prayers weren't answered: "You & I are going to have a REALLY good talk about this someday...."

I've never believed that "everything happens for a reason" or that "God needed an angel," or any of the other religious platitudes that many bereaved mothers learn to love to hate. I do believe there is a God, and that he hears our prayers -- but sometimes, the answer is no.

After Katie's stillbirth, someone recommended "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner (a Jewish rabbi who lost his teenaged son to progeria) to me. I found it enormously comforting.

Dinah is awaited and welcomed by all of Jacob's wives. The one daughter, the one to carry all their stories, all their voices. In the context of the book it is a literary device that allows the author to tell us stories of Jacob's wives from their own perspectives. But what does it speak of to you? In your own life, have you felt, as Dinah does, a carrier of living memory? Do you feel your own voice to be better protected in the age of the blog, or do you see an enduring need for connection across generations?

Have you felt yourself to be a carrier of living memory? Oh, absolutely. Maybe because I am into genealogy & history (not to mention scrapbooking), but I have always loved hearing & preserving personal stories from the past. This story reminded me of how history has so often been told from the male perspective, and how many women's voices are missing throughout the ages. I feel so very fortunate to have copies of letters written by my great-great grandmother and her daughters, and I feel an obligation to ensure those stories are preserved and passed down to future generations -- if not for my own children, then my cousins' children and their descendants (someone is bound to find it of interest). It makes ancestors more real as a people to be able to read about their day to day lives in their own words.

Certainly, there is more awareness today that women's voices need to be heard and their stories told. As a childless woman, I feel a particular need to record aspects of my own story, since I won't have any sons or daughters to tell it for me when I'm gone. Blogging helps, but I have also kept my old paper journals & letters, etc. I just hope my nephews & my cousins' children will find my life, & what I had to say about the people & world around me, of some interest. Dinah's story gives me hope in that respect.

"The Red Tent" vividly describes the ritual Dinah's mother & aunts perform to celebrate her coming of age. Lately, I've been hearing about young girls being presented with cakes & gifts when they get their first periods. This was definitely NOT done when I was growing up! Describe your first period & your family's reaction (if any) -- how old were you, & how was the occasion marked (if at all)?

This was my question. I got my first period when I was 11. I can remember being excited, since this was a sign that I was growing up & soon to be a teenager (yahoo!)(if only I'd known, right??). But there were certainly no celebrations, or rituals, or cakes. I did mail away for a booklet from Kotex, & along with the booklet, they sent along some samples, as well as a free napkin belt. Back then, kiddies, (showing my age here), sanitary napkins had these long ends, & you had to hook them through the fasteners of an elastic belt -- kind of like a garter belt -- that you wore around your abdomen, to keep them secure. Thankfully, it wasn't too terribly long before adhesive pads were invented, & I was able to say goodbye (& good riddance) to belts.

The booklet I got had a calendar at the back where you could track your periods. I've being keeping track ever since then. 37 years. Yikes!!

*** *** ***

If you're curious to learn more about the book, visit Anita Diamant's website. She has a list of FAQs for The Red Tent that add further perspective to the story.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Navigating the Land of If by the Stirrup Queen herself, Melissa Ford. Starts on May 27. Questions due June 24th. Posts go up on June 29th/30th.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A decision

I did something today that I had been putting off for awhile now.

I sent a letter (e-mail) to our support group, tendering my & dh's resignation as volunteer facilitators. Our last day facilitating won't be until mid-December -- that's six months for them to find a replacement(s). But the date has been set. The new year will truly be a new beginning in this respect for dh & me.

Dh & I have been mulling over our future with the group for some time. Dh has been quite adamant for awhile now that he didn't want to facilitate anymore, past the end of this year. Ironically, he was initially even more keen than I was to become a facilitator -- and, as one of the few male volunteers with the organization, I can tell you they have loved having him. Our particular group has always had a higher number of dads attending than the other groups, and we know it's because they know another guy (i.e., dh) will be there too.

I could tell he'd lost interest awhile ago (although he's always perfectly charming to our clients). He's been saying he feels he's being "held back" & wants to "move on." What can I say? If that's how he feels, then he probably shouldn't be there anymore. We're giving the organization six months to find a replacement(s) -- I think that's fair.

I could probably keep doing it for awhile. Probably. Why don't I? For one thing, I have tranportation issues: I don't drive (that far, anyway), & if I were to ask dh to drive me there & then come back two hours later to pick me up, he might as well just keep doing it himself, know what I mean?

For another, group night is Thursday -- which, where I work, is the night most office social functions are held. My department doesn't go out together that often -- and group is only held two Thursday nights during the month -- but inevitably, office social events seem to fall on a group night. Of course, sometimes, both dh & I are grateful for the excuse of a "prior commitment," but there have been times we really would have liked to go. I have missed many office Christmas parties over the past 10 years, & just last night, dh missed out on joining his colleagues for an expensive steak dinner, paid for by one of their suppliers. There have been other times (in the winter) when the weather has suddenly turned ugly on a Thursday afternoon, & we've had to scramble to consult our managers about whether to cancel the meeting, & then contact all of our clients. Or drive on icy roads through pelting snow to get there on time (only to have nobody show up). I won't miss that kind of stress.

For another thing, while I love having a (real-life) place to go where I can talk freely about my daughter, & be among "my own kind" (other bereaved moms & dads), the clients keep getting younger & younger -- & I'm starting to feel decidedly old. And while I know my stories are new to them, I do sometimes feel like a broken record, reciting the same old tales over & over again. I knew it might be time to leave when I found myself grinding my teeth, listening to two moms in their early 30s moaning about how LONG it was taking them to get pregnant again (they'd both gotten pregnant before right away, but had now been trying about four months)(!!).

While I find it difficult to contemplate making the break, I do feel like I could use "a" break. It's not a huge time commitment, but it does require an investment of time, and most certainly emotion. I've heard dozens & dozens of sad stories, & it does sometimes leave you feeling a little limp at the end of a particularly emotional session. We've been part of this group for almost 11 years, if you count our time as clients, & have been facilitating for 10. I can only think of one other facilitator in the organization who has been around as long as we have. Sometimes, it's just time for someone else to take on the responsibility.

I'm reminded of my 8-year membership in a lunchtime workplace Toastmasters Club, back in the early 1990s. Toastmasters was a fabulous experience (I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to develop or polish their public speaking and presentation skills). Eventually, I held several different positions on the executive, including club president. When I got pregnant with Katie, I announced it to the club via a Table Topic, & everyone was thrilled for me. When Katie was stillborn, two of my Toastmasters friends sent me sympathy cards.

When I returned to work, I did not return to Toastmasters. One day I ran into one of my former clubmates, an older woman. We got talking about why I hadn't returned & she said, "I think I know why... it's because of your baby, isn't it? It must be so hard to see people again after something like that." I was touched by her perceptiveness. I said that yes, that was part of it.

But there was more to it that that. I had enjoyed my experience with Toastmasters & was grateful for what I had learned & the people I had met there... but as membership in the club dwindled, it was the same handful of longtime active members who got stuck with doing everything -- including me. I was tired of always being the go-to person, the person people could count on to drop everything & fill in at a moment's notice. I needed a break, & I felt like my time away from work had given me that opportunity.

We have had co-facilitators for most of the time we've been volunteering, which helps. At the moment, the woman we co-facilitate the group with is taking a break of her own for a couple of months -- she'll be back this summer, but I know that she too is contemplating moving on soon, which was another reason for dh & I to think about our own plans . She's a great facilitator, and she's also become a great friend. Not seeing her regularly will be one of the hardest parts about leaving -- although I know we will continue to see her, and other friends, at special events like the organization's annual picnic & butterfly release (which is coming up in June).

I'll always be immensely grateful for everything this organization has given dh & me. It's a little scary to think of not attending group for the first time in 11 (!!) years. But it will continue to be part of our life. Just in a different way. Just like Katie herself.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Book review: "Silent Sorority" by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

There aren't many resources out there for those of us who opt to leave the infertility treatment path and live without children (as opposed to those who are childfree by choice in the first place).

There are a few (very few, mostly underutilized) Internet sites and message boards (some listed in the sidebar on this blog). And also a few (very few) books devoted specifically to this subject -- most of them written in the 1980s & early 1990s. (Most comprehensive infertility guides that I've read dismiss childfree living with a few measly paragraphs; perhaps a page or two at most.)

A lot has changed since those books were written. (What did once-hopeful mothers facing an childless future do before the Internet?? -- I shudder to think...) Whereas once upon a time, the choice for infertile couples was stark & clear -- adopt or remain childless/free -- the options available to them have multiplied almost exponentially -- even in the 8 years since I called a halt to treatment. Thanks to birth control, it's now easier for women who don't want to have children to remain childfree -- and an increasing number of them are doing so -- sometimes quite vocally. At the same time, the public's seemingly endless cult-like fascination with the pregnant bellies and all things mommy, pregnancy and baby-related has, if anything, only intensified -- as has the growing outspokeness of those who are childfree by choice. No wonder it sometimes feels as though the voices of women living in my particular situation are getting lost in the cacaphony, struggling to be heard above the din.

That's why I was so happy to recently receive -- & dive into -- my copy of Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost & Found by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos -- better known to those of us in the ALI blogging community as Pamela Jeanne of Coming2Terms.

For me, finding Pamela's blog on the Internet was like stumbling into an oasis in the middle of a desert. I knew, from my time spent on Internet bulletin boards, that even though there weren't many of us posting about this painful subject, there were plenty more lurking in silence, reading what we had to say. When I first started exploring the world of infertility blogs, I found plenty of blogs out there by & for childfree by choice women... and plenty of infertility blogs... but Coming2Terms was the first I found for women like me, who had made the difficult decision to move on from infertility treatment, without children, but were still haunted by the shadow infertility had cast over our lives.

In Pamela, I felt that I had found a "kindred spirit." Silent Sorority describes Pamela's personal journey, from girlhood to the present, the influences that shaped her life choices, her valiant 11-year struggle to have a family, her painful decision to remain childfree, her resolve to create a new kind of meaningful life for herself and her husband as a family of two, and her sharp-eyed, sometimes hilarious observations -- some of them familiar to readers of her blog -- about what it's like to be infertile in a world gone mad for babies & pregnant women.

The hard truth is, not all infertility stories end with a baby. But that doesn't mean there isn't a happy ending. Maybe it's just a different kind of happy ending than we've all been programmed to expect. While this book will bring great hope & comfort to women like Pamela & me, who have found themselves involuntarily childless at the end of their infertility journey (however long or short it may have been), or those contemplating such a future for themselves, it deserves a much broader audience. Anyone who has ever struggled with infertility, past or present, will recognize themselves in the pages of this book, no matter how they choose to resolve their situation. Fertile people also have a great deal to learn from Pamela's story.

You can order your copy of "Silent Sorority" through, or through the book's website.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Today's mail : )

My eagerly-awaited copy of Melissa's Navigating the Land of IF arrived in the mail today. : ) I have already had fun browsing through it.

Unfortunately, a thorough read will have to wait until I'm finished reading The Red Tent, our next Barren B*tches Book Brigade selection, due for discussion on May 25th. :(

Fortunately, this is our Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, so I will have more time than usual to do some reading. : )

On an ironic, "would you believe" note -- here is a scan of the flyer that came tucked inside Melissa's book.

Not quite as funny as what Baby Making Journey got in her book order (as Melissa alerted us in today's Friday Roundup post on her blog) -- but funny nevertheless, if only in an eye-rolling way. Sadly, my nephews are beyond the kiddie stage & (perhaps not so sadly...) I have no children's birthday parties to attend in the near future. So I'm afraid this flyer is wasted on me, dear Chapters!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Recent reading

The weekend newspapers had the usual plethora of tributes to Mom... but also a few articles that trod slightly off the beaten path. 

Front page news (at least in Toronto): the first-ever successful in-utero repair of a baby's hypoplastic left heart done in Canada. When dh & I were attending support group as clients, both one of of the facilitators and one of the other couples in the group had lost baby boys to hypoplastic left heart syndrome. It's described as a "rare congenital heart defect," but we have since met quite a few other couples who have lost babies to HLHS. I am glad that more of these babies may have a better chance at a longer & healthier life with this new procedure. 

The Toronto Star had an article, but I especially liked the story in The Globe & Mail, which started off with a description of how the pregnant mother was afraid to take the clothes she'd bought out of the shopping bag for fear she'd have to return them. It summed up what so many women feel when going through a high-risk pregnancy, or pregnancy after infertility or loss. Caution: there is the usual quota of idiotic comments on the Globe article. 

I haven't been able to find much coverage about the Mother's Day Pram Push at Queen's Park, but there was an article in the Toronto Star on Saturday referencing the event, featuring a young couple who held bake sales and other fundraisers to do IVF. She's now expecting twins in July. 

The article debates whether people have the "right" to be parents. I'm reminded of my Grade 10 American history teacher, who pointed out to us that the Declaration of Independence only speaks of the inalienable rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Note the qualifier: "the PURSUIT of happiness" -- not the right to BE happy. (The British North America Act of 1867, which formed Canada's first constitution, on the other hand, speaks much less excitingly of "peace, order and good government." Which just about summarizes the differences between our two countries in a nutshell, lol.) 

I'm not sure any of us have the "right" to be parents -- it makes parenthood sound like it's ours for the asking, & some of us know it's not that simple. But we should certainly have the right to be treated for a medical condition, which is what infertility is. I like what the sidebar to the article points out:
Some people already have the right to be parents – those able to have children without medical help. 
Medical ethicist Udo Schuklenk of Queen's University says a couple's right or fitness to be parents tends to only be raised for those such as infertile or gay couples who can't bear children on their own. 
No one, he says, tells a couple that is capable of bearing children that they have no right to do so.
Another Saturday article in The Globe & Mail points out that many couples are postponing plans for parenthood because of the current economy. Infertility is given a mention. 

I loved this New York Times Room for Debate blog entry about celebrity adoptions and the real world. A few choice quotes from the experts who contributed:

"Westerners have been sold the idea that “millions” of healthy infants and toddlers in underdeveloped and war-torn countries are waiting to be rescued from poverty, abandonment and abuse. It’s not so." -- E.J. Graff

"The adoption myth is that the world is full of orphans who need families; celebrity adoptions remind us that the world is really full of poor families who need assistance." -- David Smolin

"Why should anyone be judged about their motivation to create a family whether through adoption or the old-fashioned way — who cares? If you are a responsible parent, then it shouldn’t matter why you want to have a child… Everyone should stop whining and judging and instead help provide better lives for orphaned children. That doesn’t mean you have to adopt, let’s be innovative and creative in finding ways to end the dreadful inequities in the lives of women and children around the world." -- Jane Aronson

And finally, today's Globe and Mail poses the question "Are pregnant women smug?" The article refers to a satirical YouTube musical video that gave me a few chuckles. What do you think?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I survived.

I survived Mother's Day.

I survived the baptism.

I survived the food afterward (although I do have two itchy red patches on my neck -- it feels more like sun/heat rash/irritation than anything I ate, though).

I even survived AF showing up just in time to crash the party. : p Always impeccable timing, that AF...

Before we headed to the baptism, we went to the cemetery to visit our little girl, thinking (correctly) that we'd be too tired to do so later. I had to will the tears not to come, so as not to ruin my mascara.

When we got to the church, everyone was wishing all the women "Happy Mother's Day." It was just a constant babbling chorus of "Happy Mother's Day... Happy Mother's Day... Happy Mother's Day." Argh. One of stepMIL's nephews (university student aged) actually wished me a "Happy Mother's Day" when we said hello to him. He was the only one. I don't think he know about our daughter. Probably an automatic/politeness thing. I just said thank you.

The sound system was lousy & the priest mumbled so I could barely make out a word of the service. I did hear that the Gospel reading was the passage from Mark, where Jesus tells the crowd "Let the children come unto me." That's also the passage the hospital chaplain read at Katie's naming ceremony. It was the one point during the day when I thought I might lose it. I just squeezed dh's hand very tightly & closed my eyes.

At the restaurant later, we sat at a table with BIL & SIL & all of dh's aunts & uncles. Everyone was talking in Italian, so I kind of zoned out, as I often do at these things.

First there was an antipasto plate (with tomato, of course -- which is one of my red flag foods -- & grilled vegetables drizzled with balsamic vinegar). I avoided those, but had the cantaloupe & proscuitto.

Next was penne with tomato sauce. (I KNEW I should have called in advance & asked about the menu!) I waved away the plate offered to me, but BIL noticed & asked them to bring me a plate of plain pasta (with butter). Everyone else was finished by the time I got mine, but they took so long between courses it didn't matter.

Main course was veal with tomato sauce topped with a chicken cutlet with gravy. Again, I had to ask for a plain cutlet, which arrived later than everyone else's. I ate the chicken & a little veal, but it was way too much food. Also some potatos & green beans.

I had a bun with butter, & I did have some white wine, which I thought was brave of me. ; )

And I had some more cantaloupe & grapes before the cake arrived. That's about when I started noticing my neck felt itchy. We were facing the window, although I didn't notice a lot of direct sun coming in. But my neck has often been like this before when I've had too much sun/heat -- & I was turning my neck a lot to talk to people, & the redness (especially on the one side) is right in the fold of my neck. So I'm assuming it was that & not the food. It's not much better (yet), despite some aloe vera lotion... but it's not any worse either, thankfully.

Towards the end of the meal, the baby's mom came around handing out bunches of three red roses, tied in blue ribbon, to all the moms.

She passed me by. :(

Dh noticed & squeezed my hand under the table.

I noticed there was one bunch of roses left in the bucket afterward, & wondered whether it was supposed to have been for me.

A little while later, stepSIL brought it over to me & said, "Here you are, sweetie" & gave my shoulder a squeeze.

I just said thank you & put the flowers by my plate. There were only two roses in my bouquet, while everyone else's had three, but I appreciated the gesture. I later asked dh if he had said anything to anyone & he swears up & down that he didn't. StepSIL is a very bighearted, generous person, so she may have noticed herself. Anyway, you can imagine how I felt being passed over, so it did help heal the wound a little.

The baby was very, very good. He was getting awfully tired by the end of the day, but hardly a peep from him, even when the water was poured over him.

I tried calling my mom when I got home, but there was no answer. Right now, even though it's not even 7:30, I feel like I just want to crawl into bed.

And how was YOUR day?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Odds & ends...

The dreaded M-Day (this year featuring a new form of torment & indignity -- a baptism to attend!!) is fast approaching. This will be my 10th M-Day as a babylost mama. Most of the time I do pretty well, I think... but M-Day still has the power to make me want to hide under the covers (not possible this year). I can't wait to get the hype over with.

I told dh last night that I had discussed my feelings about M-Day & the baptism with the employee assistance program counsellor I've been seeing. (Infertility & babyloss issues aside, I'm also a little nervous about the post-ceremony luncheon, at a local Italian restaurant, because of the food reaction issues I've been having lately (no tomato sauce for me!) -- and especially since I will likely already be in an emotional/anxious state.) .

Normally, he is sympathetic & says exactly the right thing -- but this time, he suggested that it maybe it was time to try to move on & let go of some of these feelings (!) & try to enjoy the baptism (!!).

Dear, deluded dh -- HOW long have you known me?? And how long have we been living with the loss of our daughter, and infertility??

I told him I think I'm doing pretty well overall, thank you very much -- and I'm sure I will cope with the baptism nicely when the time comes -- but I reserve the right to be sad/pissed off on (& before, & after…) Mother's Day. I think I'm entitled. End of story. :p

As I wrote last year, my usual M-Day strategy is… avoidance, lol. However, this year, there's another alternative activity for any of you living in the Greater Toronto Area. An organization called Conceivable Dreams: The OHIP for IVF Coalition is sponsoring a Mother's Day "Pram Push." They're asking Ontario's infertile families and their friends to join in a march to promote infertility awareness (and the restoration of OHIP funding for IVF), beginning at 10 a.m. at Nathan Phillips Square, up University Avenue to Queen's Park.

I'm hoping this will generate some good press coverage. Hoping…

*** *** ***

Speaking of my food allergies… as per Dr. Allergist's suggestion, I have been taking a daily (non-drowsy, thank Gawd!) antihistamine for the past two weeks, to see if that helps "break the cycle" I was in. I'm to continuing taking it until I go back to see her in July. So far, so good. Mind you, I am still being careful -- we have yet to try going out to a restaurant for supper, & I am still avoiding all tomatoes & tomato products like the plague -- but I have been taking baby steps to expand my diet again, even venturing back to the company cafeteria for lunch now & then, when they're serving something I regard as relatively "safe" I've still noticed a wee bit of red or pink spots on my chin & throat from time to time after eating (sometimes before eating too, which I chalk up to stress/anxiety) -- but it's been very minimal/mild compared to what I had been experiencing. Yay!

*** *** ***

As I alluded in my post for Tertia's book shower, I am never at a loss for something to read (case in point: the piles (yes, plural) of unread books stacked by my bedroom night table, and more in the basement, where our IKEA bookshelves have overflowed onto the floor) -- and with several bloggers putting out books recently, my to-read piles just keep on growing. : )

Just as I was finishing Tertia's book, Silent Sorority by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos (better known to ALI bloggers as Pamela Jeanne of Coming2Terms) arrived in the mail. I'm reading that one right now.

I'm (im)patiently waiting for Navigating the Land of IF by Melissa Ford (Stirrup Queen extraordinaire) to arrive -- I'm betting the copy I won from Julie at A Little Pregnant (yay!) will beat the copy I ordered through

I also picked up It Sucked and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong, better known on the Internet as Dooce. I had never heard of Dooce until several bloggers mentioned meeting her at last year's BlogHer conference in San Francisco. I checked out her blog & while she definitely falls into the category of mommyblogger (albeit one who's had her own struggles, with PPD), she is also hilarious & worth a read. (But be forewarned -- she is in the last few weeks of her second pregnancy at the moment.)

I have yet to start reading the next Barren B*tches Book Club selection, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which we'll be discussing towards the end of this month.

I'm also trying to get to Angels & Demons by Dan Brown before seeing the movie (which opens next Friday, May 15th. And My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, and The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which have also been adapted into movies, coming out this summer. Too many great books, too little time… (Of course, I'd probably have more time for more books if I could just tear myself away from the damned computer once in awhile…).

*** *** ***

Now that spring is here, kids are popping up like dandelions all over the neighbourhood, running up & down the street to & from each other's houses. Little Girl Next Door's trampoline is up, and almost every night, we arrive home to see a cluster of leggy little girls (there never seem to be less than three), all around the same age our daughter would have been (10), gleefully bouncing, shrieking and giggling.

One day I answered a knock on the door, & LGND was there with two of her friends. They were all dressed up, wearing crinolines and tiaras and smudgy gloss on their lips. They had dropped something over the side of the fence & were asking permission to go into our backyard to retrieve it.

I gave them a bemused smile & waved them on back, saying they didn't need to ask, to go ahead. And I shook my head as I closed the door.

She is getting so big.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

NYT blog article: "Grieving a Miscarriage"

Motherlode seems to be on a roll this week...!

Most of the comments to date have been personal stories of miscarriage & "what not to do."

Facebook follies: To FB or not to FB...

To date, I have resisted the siren call of Facebook. Part of the reason being that, between my blog, my boards, e-mails, & just general surfing around, I think I waste -- ummm, spend??! -- enough time on the Internet as it is. ; ) Not to mention the odd game of Spider Solitaire, time spent scanning & editing photos, adding to my Family Tree Maker files, etc. etc....

However... while my company discourages employees from logging onto Facebook at work (at one point so many people were logging on at work -- & posting inappropriate content about the company (!) -- that access was blocked for awhile), they have been pilot testing an internal Facebook-type tool for employees. The trial went so well they are going to begin rolling it out company-wide. I will soon be granted access and, since I work in the communications department, I think it behooves me to get with the program. ; )

Our department director, in talking about the new program, was asking how many of us already used Facebook, & quite a few hands went up -- mostly the younger employees, of course, but apparently he does, as well as one of the senior managers. (Both of them, of course, are parents of teenagers...!) So I am thinking that maybe I should give it a whirl, so as not to appear completely ancient (or at least, more ancient than I already seem...), & perhaps to get some experience before getting access to the company version.

Those of you on Facebook -- what are the pros? the cons? What privacy controls are available that you would recommend to a newbie?

Time considerations aside, my reservations about Facebook also have to do with putting myself "out there" -- and having worlds collide. While I've shared some personal information through this blog, I've tried to keep it relatively non-specific. My family & friends IRL do not know I blog -- & I'd like to keep it that way. : ) On the Internet, my main communities revolve around pregnancy loss, infertility and scrapbooking. You all know about my scrapbooking interests, but I have not said much on my scrapbooking forums about my loss & infertility-related activities online.

Even beyond the IRL/Internet divide -- my life has been pretty compartmentalized. Having lived in so many places, I have sets of friends from the different places I've lived & gone to school, friends from our pg loss support group, friends & acquaintances from different places I've worked (including my present co-workers), my extended family members, dh's relatives.... possibly even fellow bloggers/IF/loss board people & scrapbookers -- all people who could theoretically converge on my Facebook page & learn about parts of my life they may not have known about me before this.

It's not that I have anything top secret to hide... but at the same time, I'm just not sure how much I want my co-workers (or my inlaws!!) to learn how I got the nickname "Moody Blue" at university. That kind of stuff.

Is this something that concerns any of you as well? How do you deal with this? Do you have to use your real name on Facebook? Is it possible to have two accounts, one with your real name & one with your Internet ID?


*** *** ***

Proof that I am a technical dinosaur:
  • I can remember when we had to use a rotary antenna to tune in the few TV stations we got.
  • I was in high school when we got cable TV (which included about a half-dozen TV stations, as opposed to the three we got before that, and the one I lived with for the first 14 years of my life).
  • I remember getting a cassette tape recorder & how much fun we had with it, taping "shows" where we sang, chatted & told jokes. (I still have some of those tapes. They are roll-on-the-floor-laughing-until-you-cry hilarious.)
  • As I mentioned in my post about the Osmonds recently, I remember using the cassette recorder to tape TV shows, pre-VCRs (you'd just set up the microphone by the TV speaker & hope nobody talked too loud in the background).
  • My journalism school class (1984) was the first to use computers (a very primitive program... we also had to share a printer, which involved disconnecting & connecting cables on the wall).
  • When I first started work at my company (in 1986), I had an IBM Selectric typewriter on my desk. The department shared two Xerox PCs in a common area (besides the two used by the secretaries). We used a program called WordStar & saved our drafts on 5.25" floppy diskettes.
  • Eventually we "graduated" to IBM PS/2 computers & WordPerfect. (We now use Word.)
  • There was one fax machine in the entire 10-storey building I was in. If we needed to fax something, we would go upstairs & sweet-talk the secretaries there into letting us send it. If somebody needed to fax something to us, we would give them that number, and ask the secretaries there to call us when it arrived, so we could come pick it up.
  • When we had to send a document out for approval, we would pop it into the interoffice mail and then sit back & wait a few days for it to be returned. If it was really urgent & the person was close by, we would walk it over.
  • I can remember when music videos were a novelty. About the only time you could watch them was once a week, late on Friday nights after Johnny Carson & the Tonight show ended. (I also remember seeing MTV for the first time. They played Madonna's "Borderline" & "Like a Virgin" endlessly.)
  • I still have all my vinyl albums & 45s.
  • We only got a CD player about five years ago, and a DVD player about 3 years ago.
  • I have never had a Sony Walkman, let alone an iPod.
  • I did have a really cool looking Panasonic transistor radio that my uncle gave me for Christmas when I was 12. I would turn it on when I was supposed to be asleep & listen to it with the earphone, twisting the dials. On a clear night, from my bedroom in southwestern Manitoba, I could sometimes tune in WSTP Minneapolis and WLS Chicago.
  • I have never sent a text message on my cellphone.
  • I do not understand why people think it is necessary to talk on their cellphones in public places as if they were sitting in their living rooms.
  • I have never been "into" video/PC games (unless you count Tetris -- I once stayed up until 2 a.m. playing that...!).
  • I may be considering Facebook, but I can't see myself signing up for Twitter (but never say never, I guess...!).
Proof that I am not THAT bad:
  • This blog. : )
  • I have been posting on bulletin boards for a number of years now.
  • I can scan & edit photos on my PC.
  • I am transferring over my genealogical research into a family tree program.
  • I am fairly competent in Word, although I still miss WordPerfect sometimes. : )
  • I took a course in Excel (although I rarely use it & consequently have forgotten almost everything I learned...!).
  • I can do simple PowerPoint slides (with text bullets).
  • I do almost all of my banking online these days.
  • I am generally not afraid to try new things on the computer or online... I just like to gather a lot of information before venturing into new territory.
  • I do have a cellphone and although it is rarely turned on, it does come in handy.
  • I know how to input numbers into its directory & how to change the ringtone. : )
  • Consolation: I may never know as much as my nephews do... but I will always know more than my mother. : )

Monday, May 4, 2009

Book Shower: "So Close" by Tertia Albertyn

It's an infertile booklover's paradise out there right now, with new books from our very own ALI blogging Den Mother/Stirrup Queen Melissa, as well as Pamela Jeanne, hitting the shelves this month. A little earlier this year, however, another blogger's book finally became available to us in North America -- "So Close" by Tertia Albertyn of South Africa. Mel is hosting a "book shower" for Tertia today on her blog -- and this was one shower that I was happy to attend!

I first encountered Tertia some years ago on an Internet message board for IVF "vets." I mostly lurked there, as (having never done even one IVF), I did not think I met their qualifications to post as a "vet." However, having struggled to become pregnant (naturally), lost a baby to stillbirth, suffered through the indignities of the infertility workup, and endured several rounds of Clomid, followed by three IUIs with injectable drugs before almost cracking under the strain and finally making the difficult decision to live childless/free, I most certainly could relate to their anti-baby-dust mindset and their need to vent at the world from time to time -- particularly their often jaw-dropping tales of mistreatment by the oblivious fertile world.

Tertia was among the most vivid personalities on the board. Her posts -- like her book -- crackled with irreverent humour, blunt honesty, justifiable rage and colourful language. When I first began exploring the world of infertility blogs a couple of year ago, hers was one of the first blogs I discovered & bookmarked. Her descriptions of the ups and downs of fertility treatment are bang on.

I knew that Tertia eventually succeeded in her quest to have a family -- but there was much that I didn't know about how she got there. Suffice to say that Tertia most definitely qualifies for the title of "veteran." You name it, she's probably been through it (& then some) -- including 9 (!!) IVFs & several lost babies before the birth of her twins, Adam & Kate. (If you follow her blog, you'll know that she is currently due any day now with her third baby.) It's an amazing story that deserves to be read, not only by infertiles but by anyone wanting to know why we put ourselves through this, and where the strength to keep on trying comes from.

Mel has asked each of us attending Tertia's shower to answer one question from a list that she circulated. Here's the one I picked:

The title for the book as well as the title of Tertia's blog comes up on page 97 when she explains that she can't give up because she's so close. Um...I actually just wanted to throw this out there in case someone wants to run with the idea of being "so close."

I'll run with it! ; )

Unlike Tertia, I did eventually "give up"... and while my infertility & loss resume is far shorter than hers (the closest I came to parenthood was my one & only, naturally achieved pregnancy, which ended in stillbirth at six months) -- I too had the lingering feeling that I had come so close, so very close, to having the baby I so desperately wanted.

Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I was a member of an e-mail forum for women who had lost pregnancies & were contemplating or actively trying for a subsequent pregnancy. That's where I met Julia S., as well as another author (and now blogger), Ann Douglas.

When Ann began writing her book "Trying Again," published in 2000, she asked the members of our forum to be part of her "parent panel" -- which involved answering a series of detailed questionnaires about our experiences with pregnancy loss and trying again. I was happy to participate, & thrilled to recognize myself in the pages of her book. This is one of the quotes Ann selected for her book that came from me (on page 144, in a section dealing with feelings of inadequacy and that your body has betrayed you)(I hadn't looked at it for a long time, & wow, talk about (a) topical for this post & (b) prophetic...!):

"My body betrayed me when it failed to sustain my baby. Now it's failing me again by not giving me another chance at pregnancy. I am very afraid that Katie was my one shot at motherhood and I blew it. What an awful feeling to be so close [emphasis mine here] to something you've wanted for so long, only to have it snatched away, with no reassurances that you'll ever have anything like it again. With every passing month, I feel my hope of having a baby slip further and further from my grasp."

Like Tertia, coming "so close" to holding my baby in my arms drove me onward (as my biological clock ticked ever-louder), first to charting my temperatures, then to infertility testing and treatment. But (as I said in the book) as time went on, I began to realize that I wasn't getting any closer to grabbing the brass ring. Instead, I could feel it slowly slipping from my desperate grasp -- drifting further and further away -- as my eggs aged, my bank account dwindled and, frighteningly, my sanity began slipping away too.

Yes, I was so close -- close, but no cigar, as the old saying goes (and how ironic -- given the old tradition of passing out cigars on the birth of a new baby...!)(Laura Secord actually has (or at least, they used to have) milk chocolate cigars, wrapped in pretty pink or blue foil & sold by the box, that you can distribute in lieu of tobacco. I can't tell you how often I used to eye those cigars in the store, thinking, "Some day... some day...")

I've moved on in a different direction with my life these past eight years -- down a road less travelled. I'm not always sure of where I'm going or how I'm going to get there... although the journey to date has been interesting, to say the least! I've found new interests and new adventures to fill my days.

But that tantalizing feeling of coming "so close" to fulfilling that other dream will probably haunt me for the rest of my time here on this earth.

How close do you/did you feel to achieving your family goals? Do you think there will ever come a time when you decide to stop treatment? If that time has already come, how did you know & what has happened since then?

Now, hop on over to Melissa's blog to find out who else is attending the party -- & then visit their blogs to find out what gifts/insights they've brought!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Show & Tell: Happy birthday, Grandpa & Grandma

I've been thinking a lot about my maternal grandparents lately. Both of them had birthdays in early May -- Grandpa on May 3 (he'd be 97) & Grandma on May 11 (she's be 95). Theoretically, they could both still be here.

But although I was lucky to have them for many, many years, I'm not lucky enough to still have them here. Grandpa died in October 1998, at age 86 -- three months after we lost our Katie -- and Grandma died almost a year to the day later in October 1999, at age 85.

Christmas 1998 was doubly hard, not only because of the loss of the baby we had hoped to bring home to my family, but also because, for the first time ever, my Grandpa wasn't there.

I was the oldest of four grandchildren and, being first, I suppose, I had a special relationship with them (or at least, I like to think so!). We lived only 20 miles away from them for the first two years of my life, so I saw them often, and lived with them for awhile, when my father was transferred to a small town in northern Saskatchewan.

When I was 14, we moved closer -- about two hours away from the small town where they lived in northwestern Min.neso.ta-- & the visits became more frequent again. My sister & I spent a good chunk of our childhood summers with our grandparents, and many holidays. Especially Christmas.

Some Christmases, we would make the long car trip back to Min.neso.ta to be with my grandparents. For Christmas 1976, the year my great-uncle passed away, we all spent Christmas with my uncle & his family. Once my sister & I were in university, Grandma & Grandpa always came to spend Christmas with us.

There were a few Christmases, when we lived in northern Saskatchewan, when Grandma stayed at home with my great-uncle (who lived with them), or travelled to be with my uncle and his family. Sometimes, Grandma & Grandpa would make the trip together to be with us. (After my sister & I started university, they always spent Christmas with us and, in later years, as they became increasingly frail, we would drive down to pick them up.)

But Grandpa always, always was there -- every single Christmas of my life. I can remember the year when I was 3 or 4 and my father drove to a nearby town to pick him up from the train station. I pulled my little chair up to the window & sat there for what seemed like hours, watching & waiting. It was dark & cold, with frost on the windows (houses not being quite so energy efficient back in the early 1960s), and I think I fell asleep, or at any rate was half-asleep by the time the car pulled up in the house & my Grandpa finally came in, giving me a big, cold hug and bearing suitcases full of presents, like Santa Claus.

Grandma & Grandpa met when they were barely teenagers -- Grandma was in Grade 8, I think -- &, aside from a few months when they had a spat & my grandfather went down to Iowa, where several of his siblings had found work, they were rarely apart from that time on. (This adorable photo was taken in 1929, when Grandpa was 17 & Grandma was 15.)

Since this was during the Depression, they didn't have much money, and didn't get married until June 30, 1937, when Grandma was 23 & Grandpa 25. A new grandstand had been built at the county fairgrounds, & the fair board came up with a "gimmick" to draw people to the fair: they advertised for a local couple to get married as the closing act of the grandstand show on the final night of the fair. My grandparents applied & got the gig, figuring it was the only way they would ever be able to afford to get married. They had to keep it a secret from all but a few close family members.

Sadly, no wedding photos were taken (that I have ever seen, anyway)... but there was a priceless item published in local newspaper. A family member went to the local museum, found this article in the archives, & read the following item aloud at my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary party:
"The closing and probably one of the most interesting events of the fair was the public wedding solemnized on the evening of the last day of the fair... "I Love You Truly" with orchestral accompaniment was sung as the bridal party entered. The bride was attended by eight young ladies of [the revue]. They were appropriately attired for the occasion and each carried a bouquet of roses which was afterward showered upon the bride while the groom was almost smothered with kisses and hugs from the group."

I've always thought this was the coolest thing… but I think my grandmother was embarrassed. Whenever I asked her for details about that day, she would claim she didn't really remember much. Her youngest sister, my great-aunt, who passed away last year, was not quite 14 at the time. She once told us she remembered walking around the fairgrounds after the wedding, crying, because now that her sister was married, who was going to do all the housework?? (lol) (But then she met her older brother, who gave her some money for a treat, and that cheered her up, lol.)

(In the mid-1990s, that beautiful old wooden grandstand was destroyed by a tornado, which skirted the edges of town. A monstrous tin structure arose to take its place, just in time for my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary in 1997, which we celebrated by serving cake & coffee at the seniors' home where they now lived. Everyone teased that there was a crowd out at the grandstand, waiting for them to come and renew their vows.)

They took the train to Winnipeg for a honeymoon, and briefly set up house on their own (although many of the promised gifts from local merchants, as part of their fairground wedding, never did materialize), but soon moved in with Grandma's family in a little house across the street from the railroad tracks in the north end of town. As my sister once said, it's kind of a miracle we're all here today, because there can't have been much privacy in that tiny old house, with at least four other people living there, including my great-grandparents as well as at least two of my grandmother's siblings. They stayed in that house until the early 1980s, when a weak foundation & escalating upkeep issues persuaded them to move into an apartment in a fourplex in town. They spent the last few years of their lives sharing a room at the seniors' home in town.

My grandparents were salt-of-the-earth people. Grandma worked in her younger years, but became a homemaker after she started her family. When I think of Grandma, I see her in the kitchen at the old house, wearing an Edith Bunker-style bib apron. There was always a pot of coffee percolating on the gas stove, cookies in the cookie jar (which now sits on the countertop in my kitchen), and there were always people dropping by to share a cup & some conversation -- and laughs, lots of laughs -- around the kitchen table, or on the little screened-in porch off the kitchen on the side of the house, covered in Virginia creeper.

Grandpa worked at the farm implement shop when I was little, then at an auto body shop as a partsman, and retired after several years as a custodian at the high school. He also drove a school bus for several years. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He loved kids, & kids loved him. The class of 1972 dedicated their yearbook to him, much to his immense pride.

When my sister & I were little, he would tell -- tell, not read -- us fairy tales at bedtime, taking on different voices for the different characters. After dinner, he would often take us and our cousins out for a drive in the country to look for deer & wildflowers by the side of the road, winding up with a treat at the local Dairy Whirl drive-in.

When we were planning Grandpa's memorial service, the regular organist at the little Episcopal church he faithfully attended was not in town. Someone suggested a local woman who might be able to fill in. "Did you know my dad?" my mother asked her. "Oh sure -- he drove the school bus," she responded, then added, "I would be honoured."

A few years ago, we held a family reunion in my mother's hometown. Several of her cousins attended from Iowa & Michigan, and wanted to see the farm where my great-aunt, one of my grandfather's sisters, had lived. A whole procession of cars drove out to the farm & parked in the yard, much to the bemusement of the current owner, a farmer who was just coming in from the fields on his tractor. My mother got out of the car & went over to introduce herself. Through the window, I could hear her say, "I'm (Grandpa's)'s daughter." A grin broke out on his face; he nodded and said, "Oh, sure." I turned to my sister with a broad grin. "She said the magic words!" I giggled.

A woman who worked at the nursing home took this photo of my grandparents in December 1997 -- the last Christmas we had both of them with us. They were dancing to an orchestra that was visiting the home. 60 years married, still always together and devoted to each other.

My grandmother, already suffering from mild dementia, was a lost soul after my grandfather died. In bewilderment, she would ask where he had gone & when he was coming back.

That first Christmas without both Katie & Grandpa, I told my mother that I could not go with her to Christmas Eve church services. Normally, I love the Christmas Eve service, but singing "Silent Night" chokes me up at the best of times, and I knew that "Away in a Manger" would send me into hysterical sobs. While my parents & dh went to church and my sister & her boyfriend (not churchgoers) smoked in the garage, I sat on the floor beside my grandmother's chair in the living room. She asked me where Grandpa was, of course, and I remember telling her that he was in Heaven -- adding that I liked to think he was with my baby girl. "Oh, I forgot, you were going to have a baby," she said, & I put my head in her lap & sobbed while she stroked my hair, like I was a little girl again.

The photo at the very top of this post was taken by a cousin in the summer of 1984. She brought an enlargement to their 60th wedding anniversary party, & we put it in a plexiglass frame & displayed it at both their funerals. After Grandma's funeral, we brought it back to my grandparents' apartment (which my mother had mantained while they lived in the seniors home) & propped it up on the low brick-&-board bookshelf, behind a couple of stacks of small photo albums. Grandma loved to sit in the easy chair beside the shelf & flip through the albums looking at photos.

The next morning when we got up, the framed photo was lying face up on the floor in front of the easy chair. A few of the small albums were scattered around its edges, but they did not cover my grandparents' faces. We figured it must have slipped off the shelf during the night, & picked everything up & put it back.

Then we started thinking... how did the photo fall off the shelf, flip over, land face up, & take some but not all of the little photo albums off the shelf with it? It couldn't have slid off the shelf, because it would have taken all the little photo albums with it, & there were still some sitting on the shelf.

My sister had been sleeping on the couch & said she hadn't heard anything. (Of course, a freight train could be running through the living room & my sister would sleep right through it.)

(As we puzzled how this might have happened, I recreated the scene we had found & took this photo of it.)

My mother firmly believes this was a sign from my grandmother -- that she had found Grandpa, & they were together again and everything was OK.

I had them for 37 & 38 years of my life, which I know makes me incredibly fortunate. They've been gone 10-11 years now. I still think about them every day.

I miss you, Grandma & Grandpa.

Here's a link to the main Show & Tell thread -- drop by & see what others are showing & telling this week.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Glow in the Woods 7x7 (April 2009): The Body Shop

It's May 1st -- and the April 7x7 from Glow in the Woods has been on my to-do list all month.

The 7x7 -- as well as most of the posts in April -- fell under the theme of "The Body Shop" -- "a month of themed reflections and memes that explore what we do in an effort to occupy these physical selves with grace after babyloss."

Here (finally!) are my answers:

1 Give us a few words you would have used to describe your body, your health or your sense of physical vitality before the experience of babyloss—and a few that you’d use to describe it now.

You have to realize that I'm trying to remember how I felt more than 11 years ago now... and I was a lot younger then than I am now. ; ) I was certainly lighter in both mind & body. I gained a fair amount of weight in the first few years of my marriage. Once I turned 30, I resolved to lose some -- and I did drop about 35 lbs, with the help of Weight Watchers -- but by the time I was 37, about 15 had crept back on, & I gained 20 more during the pregnancy (plus some more afterward).

Am trying to lose it again -- I'm already down about 10 pounds from my highest weight ever -- but it's much harder to do at this age (nudging 50) than it was back then. I don't think I'll ever be able to return to my original WW goal, but I think that getting back within my approved range would be a realistic new goal. Unfortunately, that's still a good 30 lbs away.

I think I have always been a bit of a hypochondriac, but the experiences of loss & infertility have left me feeling hyperaware of what my body is doing -- & all the reasons why it might be doing it. I get a little obsessive about my health at times at times.

2 What do you do to take care of yourself? Has this changed?

I go to bed earlier. ; )

I discovered yoga while attempting to de-stress from my infertility treatments, & have taken classes on & off.

When the weather is nice, dh & I try to make a point of taking a walk after dinner, which we both enjoy.

And a day at the spa being pampered -- even a lunch-hour pedicure once in awhile -- can work wonders on both body & spirit! ; )

Sometimes I will take a day off work for no particular reason, just to give myself a break. I might go shopping, I might stay home & read or scrapbook, I might clean out a closet and then watch Oprah with a nice cup of tea. The point is to forget about work & relax.

3 Give us one or two words to describe sex or physical intimacy before, and then after the loss of your baby.

Before: fun.

After: tinged with sadness. For a long time afterward.

4 Has loss and/or grief left a physical mark on you (a scar, a chronic condition, insomnia, a tattoo)?

For the longest time after Katie's stillbirth, I had a little scar on my left wrist, where the nurses had inserted an IV at the hospital. I could still see it, years later. I was sad when it eventually faded from sight.

And I'm still carrying around a belly, albeit not as pregnant looking as it was. :p

5 Do you medicate or control your emotions with food, wine, altered states, prescriptions? Without judgement, what have you gravitated towards in an effort to heal, and how do you feel about it?

I've never been much for drinking or drugs, even in my wilder student days. Food (chocolate!), perhaps. When I started having panic attacks after we stopped treatment, my dr prescribed me I didn't like the idea of having to take a pill, & was afraid I would become dependent on it -- but the few times I did take one, I was grateful that it was there.

I also subscribe to the theory that "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping." : ) Retail therapy has always been an outlet for me, & while I am trying to curb my impulses (particularly in the current economy), my tastes are not overly expensive (fortunately for dh!). My favourite indulgences include books & magazines, scrapbooking supplies, pretty coloured T-shirts from the Gap, & skin care/cosmetics (Estee Lauder, Clinique & Prescriptives).

6 Was physical healing important for you in the first year after your loss? What did/does physical healing entail and how did/do you work towards it? If physicality hasn't been a priority for you, what do you do that makes you feel stronger or more able to cope?

I don't remember having a very difficult time with the physical aspects of healing from my delivery. The waiting period before trying again was probably the hardest part. Going for walks helped me to feel like I was doing something to get back into shape, & was also good for me mentally. Finding support, both in a real-life group and online, was also a very important part of my healing.

7 If you could change anything about your body and/or health, what would it be? What would it feel like to be either at peace with your body, or at peace with this babylost state?

I really would like to lose weight. I am back at Weight Watchers (again), but it's a long, slow process. I've developed high blood pressure and gallstones in recent years, & my doctor tells me that if I lose some weight, both problems should lessen considerably. I don't have to worry about being around for my children, but I want to stay around for my husband & enjoy life for as long as I can.

Check out Glow in the Woods to see how other bloggers answered the same questions.