Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ten lost years?

This past week, there were stories in the newspapers noting that it's been 10 years since the death of our former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.

September 2000. In an instant I was transported back in time. Trudeau's death coincided with our first IUI cycle, using injectable drugs (Puregon)(Gonal-F for the subequent two cycles). We actually took some vacation time that week -- partly because we had the time to use, partly because we like to take time off in the fall (enjoy the fall colours) & partly to avoid having to cover at work for the the many appointments that come at the end of a cycle. I can remember feeling like I had rocks in my ovaries, & shuffling around the house in track pants with an elastic waistband as the trigger & insemination date drew near.

I grew up on the Prairies, where the word "Liberal" (in the political sense as well as the name of the political party) was a dirty word (although perhaps in a less vehement way than it's currently regarded in some areas of the United States -- the Progressive Conservative party back then was probably still well to the left of the current Democratic Party in the States). Trudeau, in particular, was disdained. He was French-Canadian from Quebec, an intellectual and a leftist, whose government enacted the National Energy Program. (Bumper stickers in the oil-rich province of Alberta at the time famously read, "Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark.") He once asked a group of Prairie farmers, "Why should I sell your wheat?" It was a rhetorical question, but reinforced the perception that he did not care about the west.

And yet, he was charismatic in a way that few of our leaders have been, before and definitely since then. He had strong beliefs, and he wasn't afraid to stick up for them.

As I wrote awhile back, I saw him speak once, when I was a first-year student at the University of Manitoba, during the election campaign in February 1980. I didn't particularly like the man -- in fact, I was a member of the campus Progressive Conservative club -- but when we heard that he would be making a stop on campus, my roommate & I decided we would go see him. After all, how often do you get to see a prime minister?

He was speaking in the student union building around 12:30 that day. Around 10:30, my roommate returned from a morning class. "We have to go NOW if we want to be able to see him -- there are already people there," she said. So we went to stake out a spot. By the time he finally arrived, it was wall to wall people, with kids lining the stairwells and looking down from the second floor.

It was a classic Trudeau performance. He stood in front of a microphone on the stage and spoke to us -- no lectern, no notes, certainly no teleprompter, his thumbs hooked in his belt loops in what the press called his "gunslinger" pose. I don't remember what he said that day, but I do remember laughing & admiring how deftly he handled the inevitable hecklers. I never did vote for him, but I came away with a grudging new respect for the man.

And my heart went out to him when his youngest son, Michel, was killed in an avalanche while skiing & hiking in the back country of British Columbia in November 1998. We had just lost Katie in August -- & in fact, Michel's death occurred right around my November due date. There was a photo of Trudeau, his ex-wife/Michel's flamboyant mother Margaret & their two surviving sons leaving the Montreal church where the memorial service was held (they never did find the body), grief etched on their faces. For the first time, I thought, the man looked his age. The life had gone out of him.

Dh & I watched the elder Trudeau's funeral coverage -- the casket lying in state on Parliament Hill; the train trip from Ottawa to Montreal, where the funeral was being held; his two surviving sons, Sacha & Justin, leaning out the window to wave to the crowds that lined the tracks, some throwing Trudeau's trademark red roses onto the rails in front of the train; the funeral mass at Notre Dame Basilica; Justin's famous, dramatic eulogy for his father. Hormones running amok, I was happy to sit on the sofa, watch the funeral, nurse my aching abdomen, & bawl my eyes out.

*** *** ***

Next year will mark 10 years since our last IUI. Hard to believe: it's been a whole decade since we made the painful decision to halt fertility treatments. A decade (plus a bit) whose events included a long-awaited pregnancy, followed by the devastation of stillbirth, the dawning realization that time was running out, and then frantic attempts to get pregnant through fertility treatments, as my biological clock ticked ominously in the background (I swore sometimes I really could hear the damn thing). It all came crashing down around me in June 2001, in a spectacular mess of failure, finality and awful anxiety attacks.

In July that year, we went to the west coast, to Cannon Beach, Oregon, on the Pacific Ocean, to lick our wounds. We took long walks on the beach, & contemplated our relationship and what a life without children would look like.

That vacation marked the end of one phase of our life and the beginning of another. In July this year, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and, as a belated way of celebrating, we fulfilled a longtime dream a few weeks ago when we travelled to Nova Scotia & got to see the Atlantic Ocean. It's been a long time since dh & I went away somewhere, just the two of us, for more than a couple of days (usually somewhere within a 2-3 hours drive of where we live). I've been a "good" daughter -- spent the bulk of my vacation time these last 25 years going home to see my parents, or joining them on road trips to visit extended family members -- but I've built up enough seniority at work -- & hence, enough vacation time -- that I can take a few weeks to see my family AND a few more to do some of the things that dh & I want to do. We giggled about how, after 25 years, we were finally "grownups" -- going where we wanted to go, making our own arrangements -- just the two of us -- not having to consider anyone else's wishes or preferences but our own.

It felt good.

There's a famous Canadian book that was published when I was growing up in the 1970s (while Trudeau was prime minister), called "Ten Lost Years" by Barry Broadfoot (I actually found a copy on Google books). It's an oral history collection of first-hand stories about how Canadians lived and survived during the Great Depression.

The title, "Ten Lost Years," kept popping into my head as I thought about our two coastal vacations, & about the nine years/near decade in between that they bookend. In a way, that's what I feel the past decade has have been. The past 10-12 years, and most definitely the past five, have been a process of coming to terms with our loss, with our infertility, with the knowledge that we are not going to be parents and what that means for our life. Perhaps not quite "lost years," but at times, I've certainly felt like I've been fumbling my way uncertainly into a hazy future.

As I've written before, this has been a year of milestones and transitions for me: our 25th wedding anniversary, my parents' 50th and, coming up in January, my (gulp) 50th birthday. Dh & I decided to step down after 10 years of facilitating our pregnancy loss support group. I watched Parents' Neighbours Daughter, whom I've known since she was three months old, walk down the aisle to get married, and said goodbye within the past year to several longtime colleagues at work, including my boss of the past 16 years.

As that milestone birthday draws closer -- as my potential childbearing years come to a close (& retirement looms on the horizon) -- I find the picture of the future may be getting just a little clearer than it might have been 10 years ago. I can't say I'm wild about the aging process (the new grey hairs, age spots & wrinkles that I'm starting to notice almost daily...!) -- but on the other hand, I find myself looking forward to the eventual freedom it promises -- the freedom of not having to worry about dear AF's visits, of not having to get up & go to work every day, of having unlimited vacation time (if not funds...!) to travel, of using the gift of time to tackle some of the books and projects and interests and volunteer work that working full time just doesn't allow.

I'm finding myself excited about the possibilities of the future once again. Of finding myself again, after those 10 lost years. Our recent vacation seemed to mark the start of a new phase of our life together. I feel like I'm finally, truly, starting to look forward more than backward.

Now, nobody knows better than me about how "life is what happens while you're making other plans." But at the same time, we need to plan, we need to have something to look forward to. I haven't had that in awhile -- at least, not beyond an abstract sense that this phase of my life was on the distant horizon.

It's getting closer. And while I'm not necessarily looking forward to some things about it, I am looking forward to others.

And it feels good. : )


  1. I'm really grateful that you write this, I find it so helpful as I contemplate my own "Road". Your last section really gives me so hope that it will get better. thank you.

  2. So many things in this post... but I was left at the end smiling for you :)

  3. Hey Loribeth,

    "Trudeau" is still a swear word here in SK but poignantly written!!

    I am so glad that you are finding your way through the fog of the last 10 years. I am 20 years younger but I find great solace to read your blog as we undergo our DE cycle. 2011 will be a defining year for us as well...we've been at this babymakin' thing for 4 years and I can only sacrifice one more year of this. I don't know how this is all going to turn out but I just know that we'll make it whatever the outcome because people like you who have been through the trenches still lead happy lives - albeit with a heavy dose of greif from time to time - but you're a survivor. I am excited for your future too.

  4. There's something so powerful and redemptive in these words.

  5. That's the way to take what this crazy life throws at you and make it your own.

    And I am not surprised that it has taken a decade to get to this point. It's not only a road less traveled, it's also a difficult one.

  6. Hi Loribeth
    Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Yes, I'm from NZ. I think Canadians and NZers have a lot in common - big, pushy neighbours is one!

    It's only been 7 years since it all ended for me. But I'm glad you're looking forward. It is good isn't it? A friend on another site today said we're a bit like recovering addicts. Most days we're okay and can look foward, but some days we need a bit of help.

    Wishing you the very best!

  7. Oh, and PS - I meant to say that yours is one of the few (four) childless/childfree blogs I actually have bookmarked!

  8. epic post. the story of an era.

    my dad scoffs at the mention of Trudeau! :)