Monday, May 17, 2010

Who knew?? Laura Bush is "one of us"

At the bookstore last week, I saw that former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush's memoir, Spoken From the Heart, was now on the shelves. I picked up a copy & started browsing through it. While I am no fan of her husband's, & especially his brand of politics, I have always rather liked her. She seemed to be a kinder, more common-sense counterweight to some of her husband's more radical words & actions, although it did seem like she held back a lot of her personal opinions, out of deference to her husband (& father-in-law's) position. (And we've been hearing some of those personal opinions on the talk show circuit over the past week or two.)

It seems like everyone is zeroing in on the details she has revealed about the car accident she had when she was 17, in which one of her schoolmates was killed. I was more interested in what, if anything, she would have to say about infertility.

I had read a long time ago about how she & George had started adoption proceedings when -- surprise!! -- she found herself pregnant with twins. It always seemed to me like there was more to that particular story than she was letting on.

And there was. She admits to "hormone treatments" prior to conceiving the twins, being on bedrest for much of her pregnancy, and having an emergency c-section when her blood pressure soared. She talks of her longing for more children.

Not only that, but Mrs. Bush is deeply familiar with the tragedy of pregnancy loss and the lingering impact it can have on the entire family: in the first few pages of the book, she writes in some detail about her mother's three lost pregnancies, which meant she grew up as an only child.

There are interviews & excerpts from the book in this month's Ladies Home Journal, as well as a lengthy book excerpt on (including sections about the twins' conception & birth).

Here's an excerpt that I've seen quoted on several blogs & message boards:

"The English language lacks the words 'to mourn an absence.' For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child or friend we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful, some not. Still, we are conditioned to say something, even if it is only 'I am sorry for your loss.' But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent, ephemeral shadows over their lives. Who can describe the feel of a tiny hand that is never held?"

I haven't actually bought the book yet. I hear that, once they get to the White House, it devolves into a boring recitation of dinner menus and dresses worn. I may just wait for the paperback.

But it's nice to know that, even though she's never put herself forward as a champion for pregnancy loss or infertility issues (and more's the pity...), there's a former First Lady who deeply understands what these issues mean to millions of women, in the United States and elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Better late than never...

Mother's Day is over now for another year (thank goodness!!) but, in case you haven't seen them already, I wanted to share some links with you for some really great articles I've found over the past few days:
  • Anne Lamott -- who is a mother -- expounds on "Why I hate Mother's Day" at Great subheading: "It celebrates the great lie about women: That those with children are more important than those without." (Thanks to Janis at Ferdinand's Gifts for pointing this one out!)
  • From Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary at Huffington Post: "Worst Expectations: Motherhood Lost." Sample quote: "...the strength of a community rests as much in its capacity to grieve as it does in its capacity to celebrate."
  • Actress, mother by adoption (& my fellow Manitoban) Nia Vardalos counsels (via Anderson Cooper's 360 blog on "If you don't have anything nice to say on Mother's Day..." Sample quote: "A small social guideline: don’t ask a woman if she is pregnant, unless her water breaks on your flip-flops, a baby arm dangles out of her vagina and she asks you to cut the cord. Then, and only then, may you ask if she is having a baby. Otherwise, shut up."
  • And finally, a blog post responding to the comments on Pamela Tsigdinos's New York Times guest post, "A Non-Mother's Day." Next time someone asks why you don't "just adopt," have them read this -- I think it says it all.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day 2010

That's me, my sister & my Mom, in our Sunday best, probably somewhere around 1964. Probably Easter. My sister & I are wearing coats made for us by a family friend, & our Barbie dolls had coats that matched ours.

My mom was in her early 20s then. I was born six days after her 20th birthday, & my sister was born 21 months later. When I was 2 & my sister was still a baby, my dad's employer transferred him to a small town in northern Saskatchewan, some 600 miles away from the area where both he & my mom had grown up. We lived in a tiny, rented two-bedroom house on the edge of town. We didn't have a lot of money, but not many people did in those days. Long distance was expensive, so people mostly wrote letters (which makes me laugh now -- my mother is a lousy letter writer). My mom said she did call her mother the night the mercury dipped to -50F to ask whether it was still possible to breathe when it was that cold outside.

I didn't realize until many years later, struggling with anxiety, that my mother too had struggled with anxiety & depression. In the first 25 years of her marriage, she lived in 11 different houses in 7 different towns, raising me & my sister while our dad worked long hours, giving up newly made friends & jobs and pulling up stakes to start all over again. My dad would often have to report to work in the new location on very short notice, leaving my mom to pack up the house and deal with the movers (& my sister & me, who found it harder and harder to move the older we got). She had what she called "an Irish temper," & would sometimes explode in frustration -- but we clashed no more or less than any other mother & daughter, I think. She still frustrates me at times, to this day. ; ) But the older I get, the more I appreciate how difficult it must have been for her, and how much she did for us.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. And thanks.

*** *** ***

I'm glad this day is almost over. It's not been fun (never is), but no worse than any other Mother's Day over the past 12 years. We went to see "Iron Man 2" at the movies which was fun (the theatre was far less busy than it usually is on Sunday afternoons), then went to the cemetery. There's a small Peter Rabbit-ish stuffed toy that's been hanging from Katie's niche since Easter, & as we solemnly approached the columbarium, I realized it was hanging backwards -- i.e., Peter Rabbit was mooning us. For some reason, this struck me as funny & I cracked up. And then the laughter turned to tears & I wound up fumbling for my Kleenex anyway. Dang.

And then we came home & I turned on the computer and didn't feel quite so alone anymore. Thank you.

Grandmother's Day

My paternal grandparents, one of the last photos we have of them together in March 1975. We were celebrating my grandfather's 83rd birthday, & added candles for my grandmother's 68th, even though her birthday was months earlier.

Besides being Mother's Day, today marks 35 years since my paternal grandmother -- my Baba (the Ukrainian term) -- died at the far-too-young age of 68. Her name was Katy, & yes, our Katie was named (in part) after her.

I was just 14 when my grandmother died. I'm still not entirely sure whether she was killed by a heart attack or a stroke, but she had high blood pressure & struggled to control it. The last time we saw her, a few weeks earlier, she caught a ride with us from the farm into the city to for a dr's appointment.

Very early on the morning on May 9, 1975, the phone rang. I could hear my mother answer it as I lay in bed, just down the hallway from the telephone (I think we only had one in those days, attached to the kitchen wall). She gasped my aunt's name as she recognized the voice on the other end of the line -- & then paused & told my father the news that no one ever wants to hear, much less get rudely awakened by.

My dad called my uncle, choked out the words, hung up & then I heard a strange sound. It took me a horrified, frozen moment to realize that it was my father. Crying. I had never witnessed my father crying before & it was awful. Awful.

It was the first time that death & loss had touched my life so closely.

Baba married my much-older grandfather (Dido) in the 1920s, when he was a widower with three small children to raise. She raised them, as well as six of her own, and helped him run a farm that, in my childhood, included cows to milk, chickens to collect eggs from each day, hogs to feed, fields of sugar beets to hoe, and an absolutely enormous garden to tend. The shelves of the basement cold cellar were lined with jars of fruits & vegetables she'd raised & then canned or made into jams or pickles, & we rarely left the house without a couple of jars ourselves.

She had seven children, actually. My uncle had a twin sister who died as an infant -- scarlet fever, I think? My uncle also became sick, & the illness rendered him deaf & mute. Doctors recommended they institutionalize him, but she wouldn't hear of it, & kept him at home on the farm with the family. Her last child, my aunt, is 8 years younger than my father, born when Baba was 40.

I can never think of my Baba without some measure of guilt. I was always closer to my maternal grandparents, who lived just 20 miles away, & preferred to stay with them whenever we visited the area. I was one of more than 30 (!) grandchildren on my dad's side, & on most of our visits, the house was bursting with people, including hordes of noisy, chaotic cousins. On my mother's side, I was one of just four grandchildren, & it was a much calmer atmosphere where each of us got more individual attention.

There was also a language barrier that made communicating with my paternal grandparents difficult -- & they lived on a farm. It was a great place to explore & run around all day -- but staying there overnight without my parents -- as I did only a very few times -- was kind of scary. It was dark & eerily silent. Who knew what was lurking out there? -- or who? There was a native reservation nearby, & my cousins fed me (gullible me) tales of "wild Indians." Supplemented by Hollywood movies & TV shows, it was easy to let my imagination run wild. (I know, I know -- in my defense, it was the 1960s/early 1970s -- far less politically correct times -- & we were just kids.) The food she cooked -- borscht, perogies, holubtsi (cabbage rolls) -- smelled funny & I wouldn't eat it (and believe me, I could kick myself now, having come at last to appreciate all these dishes as an adult). (My dad now makes a mean borscht himself, using vegetables & dill that he grows in his own garden.)

But she was my grandmother, & I loved her. Even though she had many grandchildren -- & the house was rarely empty whenever we came to visit -- she had a knack of making me feel special. When I think of Baba, I see her first in the kitchen, cooking & washing dishes, the windows of the tiny little house running with steam. She gave us kids Tang to drink, Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, another kind of cookie called "ice cream wafers," and Neapolitan ice cream.

I see her watering her many houseplants. I remember helping her do it on one of the few nights I stayed there by myself with her & Dido, & counting almost 60 (!). And I see her tending to her garden. Whenever I actually manage to keep a plant alive or coax roses from the bush in my backyard, I find myself saying, "I guess I inherited some of Baba's genes after all."

There aren't a lot of photos of Baba, & this is the only one that I have here with me. I've always been told, & thought, that I looked like my mother's brother. But the older I get, the more I think I look like my Dad's older sister -- & a little like Baba too. I only have two things that were hers (& both are back at my parents' house) -- one being a statue of the Virgin Mary that I found on a shelf in the cold cellar & asked her if I could have it; the other being a brooch from her pink jewelry box. After her death, my aunts went through her pink jewelry box & picked out a piece for each of the girl cousins as a keepsake. Costume jewelry, all of it, but precious because it was hers. My youngest aunt has the actual box -- I recognized it in an instant when I stayed at her house one time as a teenager.

I had never been to a funeral before. I didn't want to go to this one. It was held at a little country Ukrainian church and it was packed to overflowing. My other grandparents agreed to stay outside with my sister & me. As the pallbearers carried my grandmother's casket from the church, my other grandmother wrapped her arms around me & held me tight, and we both sobbed together. "She was such a nice lady," I remember Grandma saying.

At 83, my grandfather had never expected to outlive my grandmother. For the second time in his long life, he buried his wife. And for at least two years afterward, every time we visited the curiously empty & silent house, he would be sitting in his easy chair, crying, his eyes red & puffy. It was a lesson in grief for me. My aunts tried to get him to buy a new suit for a cousin's wedding. "I'll be buried in this suit," he said.

Gradually, he started to perk up & even to smile again. As he got older, he didn't get around as well as he once did, but he got up & cooked himself porridge for breakfast every morning. He rolled his own cigarettes & always had a glass of rye whiskey with his dinner. He loved watching "General Hospital."

In his 90s, my aunts arranged for him to be brought to the local retirement home for activities (sort of a daycare program for seniors), thinking he might be persuaded to move there. "They're all OLD people there," he grumbled.

Eventually, he did get a new suit. He needed it, because he had lots of grandchildren's weddings to attend (including mine). He lived another 13 years, & died shortly after his 96th birthday.

I've written about my maternal grandparents before. Last week would have been Grandpa's 98th birthday; this week, Grandma would have been 96.

I miss them all.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Article: "A Non-Mother's Day"

As some of you probably know, I enjoy the discussion of parenting issues in Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog on the New York Times website. She's also covered topics related to infertility, pregnancy loss & adoption.

Two of her posts today were of special interest to me & likely to others in the ALI community -- one on micropreemies, & another -- by Pamela Tsigdinos, aka Pamela Jeanne, about being a non-mother on Mother's Day (while wishing that you were).

Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Yummy Mummies" need to get a clue

Did you know last Sunday was International Babylost Mother's Day? (Me either -- I found out after the fact.) It's a project started by Carly, who is well known among bereaved parents for her blog To Write Their Names in the Sand.

Of course, that "other" holiday is fast approaching. The drumbeat of advertising & media hype is growing louder. It's inescapable, it seems.

You can imagine my feelings, then, when reading the paper this morning on the commuter train, I came across this article: Top 10 Reasons Why Mother's Day Sucks . And no, I didn't write it (lol), nor did anyone in the ALI community.

Believe it or not, it's a list compiled from a survey of 300 MOTHERS by the Yummy Mummy Club (which is run by Erica Ehm, a former MuchMusic VJ renowned for her ditziness). And no, it makes no reference to the sucky-ness of infertility or pregnancy/infant loss (although, to be fair, #3 does nod to the fact that "Many mothers are missing special women in their life").

No, according to these MOMS, Mother's Day sucks because moms still have to do all the work, husbands use the line "You're not my mother" to get out of buying them a gift, the gifts they do get suck, and so on.

Yes, I get that mothers are unheard & underappreciated. But YOU STILL GET TO BE A MOTHER. (And a Yummy Mummy, at that, or so it seems...) Your CHILDREN are your gift.

Do you know how many of us would give anything to spend even just one more day with the children we have lost?

Do you know how many thousands & thousands of dollars some of us have spent, how much financial and physical and mental and emotional stress some of us have been through, trying to have families of our own, through medical treatments &/or adoption?

Do you know how much it hurts for us to read a list like this?

Let me tell you, chickies: you have NO FRIGGIN' IDEA just HOW MUCH Mother's Day CAN suck...

(Boy, that felt good to write out, lol...)