Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dusting off a draft: Questions from Irish Girl

I seem to be going through a bit of a dry spell at the moment. Nothing much happening in my life that seems blogworthy, no interesting articles that I've read to give me inspiration for a post.

Then I remembered a partly written post, languishing in my drafts folder. About a year ago, several of us were "interviewing" each other in our blogs, & I asked whether anyone had any more questions for me. Irish Girl (whose blog is now private) promptly sent me five -- questions that really made me think. Every now & then, I'd go look at them, in my drafts folder, & add a little more to my answers. And I think I have enough now that I can post, lol. Here they are!

1) Describe your perfect vacation. When do you plan to take such trip?

Any vacation is pretty perfect in my books. : ) I do have a few destinations in mind, & I'm thinking our 25th anniversary later this year &/or my 50th birthday the year after that might be nice times to take them:
  • Every few years, I need a "mountain fix." Dh & I spent our honeymoon visiting Calgary, Banff & Jasper. Being broke newlyweds, barely a year out of school, we did it relatively on the cheap. (I'd been there before with my parents, in 1968 when I was 7, and again in 1975, when I was 14.) We passed through Banff again about nine years ago (while taking a break from IF -- which later became permanent!), en route to the west coast with my parents. I'd like to go back again, just me & dh again, & stay in the Banff Springs Hotel &/or Chateau Lake Louise. Lake Louise is one of my favourite spots on earth, but I've never actually stayed there -- just visited while staying in Banff. I'd love to stay in the Chateau in a room with a lake view. I could sit & look at that lake for hours.
  • Cannon Beach, Oregon: another of my favourite spots. We've been there three times, in 1993, 2001 & 2005. I feel overdue for another visit. We've always met up with relatives there but I would love to go with just dh. Or if there's a family meetup, go a few days ahead by ourselves before everyone else gets there. ; )
  • We've never had a sunspot vacation & I think we're LONG overdue. I keep looking at the brochures for Sandals in the Caribbean. It's horrendously expensive, but I think it might be worth a 25th anniversary/50th birthday splurge, don't you??
  • We also want to get out to the east coast -- Nova Scotia, PEI & Newfoundland! (I hear New Brunswick is an often overlooked gem as well.) And Boston/Cape Cod! -- so much history there!! I spent three days in Halifax in November 1997 on business, & enjoyed myself hugely. I figure it would probably be even more delightful in June or July with dh.
  • I've always wanted to go to San Francisco. I want to take my picture under the Haight-Ashbury corner sign!
Guess we'd better start planning if we want to go anywhere this year... starting with getting our PASSPORTS!!

2) Name one person who really made an impact in your life (besides family members). How so?

This was probably the question I was most stuck on. It was hard to come up with one person who made a huge impact on my life outside of my family. Lots of people have contributed to who I am today. The two names that kept popping into my head (& yes, I have to name them both) would be my high school English teachers. I had Mr. P for Grade 10 English, Mrs. Y for Grade 11 & they team-taught us for Grade 12 -- they really were a team. English/Language Arts was always my best subject, right from Grade 1, but they exposed us to some great literature. They made sure that we learned some grammar every year. And, probably most important, each year in the fall, they went over the basic formula for writing a proper essay with us. When I got to university, I had absolutely no problem with writing the many papers that were required in all my courses. My floormates often used to come to me for help with writing theirs, & frankly, I was shocked at how little most of them seemed to know about how an essay should be organized.

Mr. P is now the principal of the high school I attended (or at least he still was the last time I checked). It's also the high school both he & Mrs. Y. attended (they were classmates, way back when). Several years back, there was a big all-school reunion. I wasn't able to make it, but I wanted a copy of the school history book the organizers had put together. I looked up the school's website & e-mailed Mr. P about it. And while I was at it, I told him what I just told all of you -- and that I had gotten degrees in English and journalism, and pursued a career in communications. And I thanked him & Mrs. Y for giving me such a great foundation to build on. He sent me back a very nice response & said he would pass along my compliments to Mrs. Y -- and also to THEIR high school English teacher, who had given THEM such a great education (& was still around!!).

It was one of those e-mails/letters we always think about sending to people who meant something in our lives, but too seldom actually write. I'm glad I did it.

3) What was your favorite birthday and what did you do that made it so special/memorable?

My 21st birthday pops into mind. I already wrote a little about it in my recent post about my birthday, but here goes again. I was at university, & went out for dinner with my girlfriend. We went to an ice-cream parlour (in the middle of January!) & had sundaes, & then walked downtown (a good way) through gently falling snow. We went to see "Reds" with Warren Beatty, which we both absolutely loved. It was playing in one of those grand old 1920s movie palaces which, sadly has long been shuttered and may yet be torn down. (We asked if we could sit in the balcony, but unfortunately, it was closed.) (I also saw Apocalypse Now, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom there.) After the movie, we went to the theatre manager and asked if he had any extra posters, & each got one. (I found mine last summer while going through the piles of stuff stored in my parents' basement.) Went back to my dorm, & my sister (who lived in a different dorm on campus) was there with a birthday cake that my mom had got her to buy for me, which I shared with my floormates (after they gave me the royal bumps!). And I was just in the process of falling in love with dh. Nothing huge, but a very nice evening out. Life was good. : )

My 40th birthday was also memorable. Two days afterward, I had to go to a baby shower -- the first one I had attended since my daughter's stillbirth -- but I took the actual day off work (a Friday, I believe) and went to a luxurious local spa, which I had never done before. I had a four-hour package that included a massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, lunch & makeup application. And afterward I went shopping!

4) If you had to eat the same meal for dinner every day for one year, what would you choose?

That would be hard. I am a creature of habit, but I do like a LITTLE variety now & then. Probably steak or a chicken breast with a baked potato & fresh steamed vegetables.

5) Never mind cost/availability/practicality, if you could give someone in your life "the perfect gift" what would you do and for whom?

I wish I COULD have given my grandmother a trip to Sweden while she was still alive. She always talked about going there, but never went.

I would probably buy my parents a vacation condo in the sunspot location of their choice, so they could get away from the frigid Canadian Prairie winter every year on the cheap.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blue (Mon)day?

When I woke up Monday, the DJs on the morning radio show I listen to were referring to it as "Blue Monday." According to a somewhat unscientific formula (concocted by a psychologist & used "to give academic weight to a press release put out by Sky Travel to encourage people to cheer themselves up with a holiday"), the third Monday of January is supposedly the most depressing day of the year -- taking into consideration factors that include the weather, the amount of time lapsed since the Christmas/New Year holidays, Christmas bills coming due and broken New Year's resolutions.

Actually, Monday was a pretty good day. My birthday last week helped carry the festive mood over for a little while longer. The Christmas bills have been paid off. And the weather hasn't really been that bad (knocking wood...!) -- grey & a tad chilly, but really not unbearably cold this week, & very little snow for the past while (knocking wood again).

As I've written before, generally, my seasonal blahs kick in around November, go into (semi) hibernation through Christmas & my birthday, & then resurface with a vengeance sometimes in February, when it seems like the winter is never going to end.

I must admit, though, that yesterday was perhaps a little bit tinged with blue:
  • I was fretting over some loose ends from work, hangovers from while my boss was on vacation. No doubt this anxiety was exacerbated because...
  • ...I got my period -- & it's been on the heavy side, leaving me feeling tired & drained. One of my online childless-not-by-choice friends, whose 50th birthday is coming up, remarked yesterday that the greatest gift would be "no more periods!" I responded, "I hear ya... I may eat my words later, but I'm actually looking forward to getting that transition over & done with. I'm not brave enough to have an ablation done -- but if AF went away for good tomorrow, I'd say goodbye & good riddance. If I'm not going to have children, what's the point? I never used to think this way, but the longer this drags on, the more I can't wait to be done with it."
  • I came home from work to find a large envelope from dh's cousin in the mail. I knew right away that it was a baby shower invitation for her daughter, who announced her pregnancy (actually, it was her mom who spilled the beans) at a family gathering last summer. And of course, that's what it was. She is due in late March & the shower is in a couple of weeks. I've already checked out the online registry & am planning to get the shopping over with this weekend, if possible.
  • (Sadly, we learned before Christmas that the hostess at that family gathering -- who inadvertently had her third pregnancy "outed" by her toddler son that same day! -- lost the baby. I enclosed a note in my Christmas card -- on notepaper in a separate sealed envelope -- saying how sorry we were & that we were always available to talk, if they felt like it. I didn't expect a response, & there hasn't been one. Nevertheless, I could be wrong, but I'm thinking that this shower may be difficult for her to attend, too.)
Today was a little better:
  • My boss is back, so we finally have someone looking out for us & our work again.
  • The work issues I was fretting over have (mostly) been resolved.
  • I had to go for a mammogram this afternoon (at the same hospital where I had Katie). (That's not the "better" part.) I could have gone back to the office again for awhile -- but I didn't. I could have gone shopping, but with AF tagging along, I didn't really feel like it. So instead, I sat in a cafe for a half hour, reading the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, sipping a cafe au lait & snacking on a divine bread pudding with vanilla sauce, until it was time to meet dh for an early (much less crowded) train home. Ahhhhh!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

NYT Motherlode: "Why have kids?"

The New York Times's Motherlode blog recently featured a post from a 24-year-old woman who was contemplating her future and posed the question, "Why does anyone have children?" Those of us who don’t have children (for whatever reason) get asked all the time whether we have kids, and if not, why not. So it was sort of nice to see the tables turned for a change, & parents being asked to justify THEIR decision to have children (if, in fact, it was truly a decision, & not an "oops" or "because that's just what you DO" reasoning). Most of the comments were (surprisingly) thoughtful, detailed & well-reasoned, both pro and con. There were even a few (very few) that mentioned fertility & loss issues.
I found myself nodding in agreement with commenters #14, 30, 58, 79 & 345, whose comments were some variation on this one, from #235:
  • "I wish that people who choose to have kids give it half as much thought as the people who choose not too." [spelling theirs]
But comments like these did make me go "ouch!":
  • "I feel that those that do not have children are missing a big part of what it is to be alive."
  • "I never knew joy before I knew [my baby]."
  • "Having children is the only thing in my life that really matters."
  • "I don't know what else I'd live for now."
  • "My life really began when my sons were born."
  • "I do not want to be the sad looking 45 year old still hanging out at the bars while all my friends grow adoring families and begin to shift focus." [I don't hang out in bars, & I'm over 45, and yes, my friends have adoring families & have shifted focus -- but I sure hope I'm not sad looking...]
And, my favourite (NOT):
  • "At the risk of being flamed alive [she wasn't], I will tell you, both my husband and I… secretly feel sorry for people who don't have kids. Having our kids is, quite simply, and by far, the best thing we've ever done."
Ugh. There's nothing worse than knowing that you're being pitied. I do think those of us who go through infertility probably find ourselves thinking about these questions & our motivations more than your average clueless fertile person on the street. You have to really want to be a parent to jump through all the hoops that we do in trying to reach that goal. And those of us who opt to remain childless after navigating all those hoops (& still not being able to grasp the brass ring)(sorry, mixing metaphors here...) probably do the most 'splaining of all. (Or at least, we try.) (I initially typed our "hopes" in the paragraph above, when I meant "hoops." Freudian slip?) Not that (thoughtful, philosophical enquiries aside) it's really anyone else's business anyway. *** *** *** In the "yay me" category: I finally wrestled my Google Reader back down to zero this week -- a level it probably last saw sometime in early December. At one point, during the week between Christmas & New Year, despite my best efforts, it almost reached 1,000 posts, a new record for me. I did read or at least skim through every ALI-related blog post, although I didn't always comment. Some in other categories (politics, scrapbooking...) did get the "mark all read" treatment.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You say it's my birthday...

It is! (I had the Beatles song running through my head, & that was the best title I could come up with.) ; )

Birthdays were special when I was a kid. They weren't the elaborate extravaganzas that I see & hear today's kids having -- but I always got to have a party with all of my friends. Months of elaborate planning would go into the details & guest lists -- but at the time & place that I grew up in, birthday parties for my friends & me boiled down to essentially the same ingredients: hot dogs &/or sloppy joes, potato chips & pickles to eat with kool-aid to drink; a confetti angel food cake baked by my mom -- iced with icing sugar frosting, decorated with Smarties & stuffed with money (nickels, dimes & quarters, wrapped in waxed paper) hidden inside; games to play and presents to open in a living room or basement rec room decorated with balloons & crepe paper streamers.

Even after I turned 13 -- too old for a traditional party -- I was allowed to have my best friends over for dinner. For my 18th birthday, my parents drove me, my sister & two of our best friends into the city (in bitterly cold weather), where we had dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory & I had my first "legal" bottle of wine (Mateus). (I kept the bottle for years afterwards. My mom found it recently in a box of stuff from my university dorm room. I told her she could throw it out.)

For my 21st birthday, my girlfriend & I went to see "Reds" with Warren Beatty & Diane Keaton, and when I got back to my dorm room, my sister had brought over a cake for my floormates to share (paid for by Mom)(they gave me the Royal Bumps first before digging in). For my 23rd birthday, my sister came to visit me in the city where I was attending grad school. Dh (although not dh then) came for the weekend, & we went for dinner at a nice restaurant & then to see "Arsenic & Old Lace" at the beautifully restored theatre across the street (with the roles of the two dotty old sister-murderers played to perfection by legendary actors John Neville & William Hutt in drag).

Today is my 49th birthday. Not one of the ones that's divisible by 5 (yet!). I went to my dr this morning for a blood pressure check & it was 120/80. I suppose that's as good as it gets these days. ; ) Dh had a card & kisses waiting for me when I woke up, & will take me out for dinner after work to our favourite restaurant. An e-card from my thoughtful SIL (who never forgets) was waiting when I arrived at the office.

My parents & sister will call sometime today, & my mom will send a card. My office is hit & miss when it comes to celebrating birthdays. We have a lot of newer staff, & the one person who might remember, my boss, is away on vacation right now. So I don't expect much fanfare to be coming my way.

Not that I am comfortable being the centre of attention, especially in large groups. I'm not sure I'd want to have a party, maybe not even next year. I would be horrified to be serenaded by a group of waiters with an entire restaurant looking on (dh & I have a pact: I'll never do it to him if he never does it to me).

Still, it's nice to have a little fuss made, to know that someone is happy that you made it here. : ) I guess it's part of growing older, that birthdays aren't quite as special as they used to be. I don't think it's necessarily a function of not having kids -- I'm sure parents are just as thrilled (or not) about their own birthdays as I am. Mixed feelings about the passage of time, the roads not taken.

But I'll bet their kids find it exciting that Mom or Dad is having a birthday (probably more than Mom or Dad do themselves, lol), and they get to relive their own childhood birthday excitement through their children's birthdays & parties.

At any rate, growing older sure beats the alternative. : ) Thanks for the birthday wishes to date!

Previous birthday posts:

My 48th birthday

My 47th birthday

Friday, January 8, 2010

Childlessness, choices and resilience at midlife

ETA: This is post #350!

As I alluded in my New Year's Eve post, my birthday is next week. My (gulp) 49th. At this time next year, I will be face to face with the big 5-0.

If it hadn't sunk in before, that I will never have children, there's no denying it now. (Which doesn't mean that it doesn't still hurt.) Even with all the assistance that's now available for infertile couples, the fact remains that if you haven't had children by the time you're in your late 40s, it's highly doubtful that you ever will.

I'm sure the majority of people who stop infertility treatment & resolve to live childfree, at whatever age, actually do wind up living the rest of their lives without children, although I have no statistics to back me up on that. Although, while I'm not trying to extend false hope to anyone, judging from my own reading & real-life relationships, I know that things can & sometimes do change.

I know of couples who said "no more" but eventually wound up going back into treatment -- & meeting with success (sometimes months later, sometimes years later). Sometimes, after a break, they find new reserves of physical, mental & emotional stamina to draw upon and decide to try again. Sometimes, new financial resources become available -- a savings account that builds up nicely, a sudden gift from a parent, a bequest from a dead relative, an extra-nice bonus at work, a lottery win (…!). Sometimes, partners who once said "no" to treatments or adoption suddenly say "Let's talk about it again." Sometimes, hearts change, & couples that previously ruled out options such as adoption or donor gametes suddenly start thinking about them. And sometimes (sometimes, but probably not as often as mythology would have you believe), a miracle happens & a previously infertile couple can find themselves unexpectedly pregnant (particularly if they haven't taken any steps to actually prevent a pregnancy from happening, other than assuming their babymaking parts are permanently broken).

These things can & sometimes do happen when you are in your 20s & 30s. Once you enter your 40s, though, and particularly once you get past 45, it's a whole different ball game. When you're 40+ and make that decision to end treatment & live childfree, or even just take a break, you can't help but know that time is running out, & there may not be any second chances. The odds of conceiving (let alone bringing home a living, healthy baby), whether naturally or through treatment, which slide all through your 30s, go into freefall. Some adoption programs won't accept couples beyond a certain age cutoff. One reason (among many) why we didn't pursue adoption was I wondered how desirable we'd seem as parents when our profile was placed against that of a younger couple.

You do hear, occasionally, of women in their late 40s or early 50s giving birth. What you usually don't hear, especially in the case of celebrity pregnancies, is that most of those pregnancies resulted from fertility treatments and, specifically, donor eggs. Most of those who actually manage to conceive without assistance have already established some sort of track record. (I think of my own great-grandmother, who gave birth at 47 -- albeit after having five other children. She is still, 85+ years later, the oldest woman in town to have given birth.) There's a reason they are called "MIRACLE babies."

Yes, if you are REALLY determined, you can probably be a parent at any age. Somehow, some way. But the question becomes, at what cost? The fact is that, at (almost) 49, I'm not as young or energetic as I was in my 20s or even my mid-30s. The 35+ extra pounds that I managed to shed in my early 30s (& then regained during my pregnancy & the years afterward) are now stubbornly refusing to budge, even though I'm back at the same Weight Watchers program & exercising more than I did then. Over the last dozen years, I've developed a sluggish thyroid, low blood iron, high blood pressure & some puzzling symptoms that could be allergies, or could be hot flashes. (!) My knees sometimes creak when I get up from my desk at work. I haven't been sleeping soundly at the best of times, & I'm not even menopausal yet. (But I know it's coming. Sooner rather than later.) I'm up at 5 a.m. most days for work, & collapse into bed by 10 -- sometimes earlier.

Even assuming that I could successfully carry a healthy pregnancy to term, at my age & with all my health quirks, I try to imagine myself, now, changing diapers & doing feedings at 3 a.m. Chasing after a pre-schooler while going through menopause. Dealing with a teenager & then funding college at the same time I'm dealing with retirement.

Maybe some brave folks can do it. I know my limits: I can't. It's something I very much wanted for myself & dh, & we went through a lot to try to realize that dream -- but it just ain't gonna happen, folks. That ship sailed long ago.

*** *** ***

I've been writing this post over a period of days, and I was trying to think of a good way to end it, some tidy moral or conclusion that I could draw. ; ) I kept thinking about my New Year's Eve post, and Pamela's new blog, and a sense of new beginnings and new possibilities alongside that sense of regret and time running out.

Over a few nights this past week, dh & I have been watching parts of a special series on PBS called "This Emotional Life." It's hosted by Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist whose books include "Stumbling on Happiness." One night it was exploring fear; Wednesday night the topic was happiness. I found it all fascinating (& was sorry that I had to head off to bed in the middle of each episode -- although you can watch them online until around Jan. 20th, as well as shorter clips of the people interviewed) but my ears really pricked up about 25 minutes into the happiness episode & I grabbed for a pen & paper & started taking notes.

They talked about the studies (which I've heard about before) that show that people without children are actually happier than parents. Then they moved on to talk about happiness & choices, including an experiment in which students were shown works of art. Students in one group were told they could pick any poster they wanted, but they couldn't change their mind later. Students in another group were told they could each choose a poster too, but they were allowed to exchange their posters at any time during the session. The people who were told they couldn't exchange their posters were more satisfied with their choices than those who had more options. The conclusion was that people will find ways to like/make the best of things when they know they're stuck with them. We adapt. We learn how to make lemonade when life hands us lemons.

They talked to a paraplegic who lost the use of his limbs after a swimming accident (he did eventually regain use of his arms & hands, but is still in a wheelchair). He said something along the lines of, "I didn't want to just wither away... I wanted to live. What do I want to do with my life?" (Sound familiar?) He started a highly successful business making botanical skin care products. They talked to a cancer patient & how "illness can tear a hole in our identity and leave us wondering who we really are." (Also sound familiar?)

The comment was that people who suffer trauma & tragedies are often more resilient than anyone would expect -- resilience isn't rare; in fact, it's common. They then investigated why some people manage better than others, & talked about how social support is a key factor in gaining resilience -- you can't do it alone. (They used Alcoholics Anonymous as an example.) I thought about our ALI community, and the Stirrup Queen & all she does to invoke a state of kumbayaness among us : ), and the pregnancy loss support group dh & I have been involved with for the past 11 years.

So what (in a very long-winded way) am I concluding? I guess what I'm driving at is that as you age, your choices become more limited, especially when it comes to family building. I have the sad sensation that certain doors are closing on me forever, and even though I've been living childless/free for more than eight years now, I'm still a little sad about that.

But (given that we are resilient creatures), while I'll always be sad that a part of life that most people take for granted isn't going to happen for me & dh, I believe (& the TV show affirmed) it's still possible to be happy and have a good life -- even though (as I've said many times before), to some extent, I'm still trying to figure out what that life is going to look like.

Doors may be closing -- but there are others just waiting for me to turn the knob & peek at what's behind them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's the first Thursday night of the month...

...and we're not at our support group meeting -- for the first time in 11+ years (give or take a few meetings when we were on vacation, etc.). (OK, technically, we wouldn't be there yet anyway, since it's suppertime right now & we rarely left the house to head over there until around 7. But you know what I mean.)

As I wrote back in May, dh & I spent a year after Katie's stillbirth as clients of our group, and the next 10 facilitating it, two Thursday nights a month. We gave notice that we were stepping down then -- eight months' notice. It seemed like a long way off then. And suddenly, amid the rush of Christmas & year end at work, the date of our depature was upon us.

Our last meeting was Dec. 17th. I hadn't wanted to make a big deal out of it -- we didn't even tell most of the clients that we were leaving until that meeting -- but a couple of our old friends/past clients knew, and decided to show up for old time's sake, & others who couldn't make it sent greetings. One friend brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers (pictured above), & our wonderful co-facilitator gave us a special ornament for our Christmas tree. I was in tears. Attendance has been sparse lately, so to have 13 people in attendance for our last meeting, sharing experiences both recent & long past, was a real treat.

"So what will you do with your Thursday nights now?" one of our friends asked me. Since I am here on the computer, I guess the answer would be "not much that we aren't already doing Friday through Wednesday," lol.

I already miss the many wonderful people that we met. I miss being able to talk about Katie, openly & on a regular basis, with "real life" people who have had similar experiences & "get it." I (already) miss being "in the loop" with what's going on in the organization & what's happened to our clients since we last saw them.

I don't miss the very (very) few clients who were difficult to deal with. I don't miss slogging our way through snowstorms on icy roads to fulfill our commitment (only to have nobody show up). I don't miss the burden of responsibility. I don't miss arguing with dh about why we should bring along the Rubbermaid tote full of library books to each & every meeting. (To be fair, dh was the one who always wound up carrying it, so it's understandable that his enthusiasm would be less than mine on that point.) I don't miss having to give vague excuses about "other commitments" to my colleagues at work about why I can't attend the latest department social function (which almost always is on a Thursday night, & almost always on one of the two Thursdays a month that group is scheduled). I don't miss being the second-oldest person in the room (next to dh) & realizing that I'm old enough to be the mother of some of our younger clients -- & the GRANDMOTHER of their babies.

Maybe someday we'll go back to facilitating. (Maybe.) I've already been invited to attend the next volunteer training day -- I think that's a hint. ; ) Haven't decided yet whether I'll attend. I don't think dh is interested.

Maybe we'll volunteer in a different role at some future point. Or maybe we'll just enjoy attending regular events such as the autumn Walk to Remember, Christmastime candlelighting memorials and summertime picnic.
For now, I think we'll just take a nice LONG break & enjoy our newfound Thursday night freedom.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Come out, come out, wherever you are...

Who knew? It's International Blog Delurking Week! All over the ALI community, bloggers are asking their readers to show themselves, and I'm jumping on the bandwagon. : )

So whether you really are a lurker or a regular reader/commenter here, please de-lurk & say hi! How did you find this blog? & how long have you been reading?