Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wedding bell blues

Dh & I will be attending a wedding in a couple of weekends' time. The bride is one of his cousin's three daughters, the middle one. We first met her in the hospital shortly after she was born, in the early years of our marriage. (You know you're getting old when...)

I have mixed feelings. On the one level, I love weddings -- remembering the excitement and hope of my own wedding day, seeing what everyone is wearing, getting dressed up (we do it so seldom these days!), having a nice dinner (albeit keeping my eyes open for lurking tomatos...), dancing with dh (also a rare event) & sometimes FIL or dh's uncle, catching up with the relatives that we only seem to see at these kinds of events (weddings, funerals...) these days.

On the other hand, weddings these days (beyond being damned expensive to attend -- if you're an Italian-Canadian living in the GTA, or married to one, you will know exactly what I mean...) are another sad reminder for me of the little girl who will never grow up to be a bride. :(   (Especially since so many of the weddings we are attending now are starting to be for the children of our peers.)(!!)

In the years immediately after we lost Katie, weddings were painful because I would see other people there with their babies & children and pregnant bellies, admiring each others' families, talking about their kids, making jokes about future pregnancies & babies in the wedding toasts. And of course, there's always an adorable and adorably dressed flower girl for everyone to oooh & ahhhh over. I could clearly picture Katie being there, wearing an adorable dress of her own, dancing and running around excitedly with her cousins (just as my cousins & I used to do at weddings when I was a kid).

(The first wedding I remember attending was my uncle's, when I was about 3. It was a traditional Ukrainian wedding, with a dinner/dance reception at a tiny country hall, packed with hundreds of people. "Country Hoedown!" my mother tells me I exclaimed in delight upon hearing the fiddle music, referring to a popular TV variety show of the time. I remember being in the kitchen with my grandmother,snitching sweets. And I remember the handsome groom picking me up in his arms & dancing with me. I was thrilled.)

Katie would be 13 years old right now -- way too young to get married, of course. But these days, whenever I go to weddings, I find myself thinking not so much of the flower girl but of the bride she might have been.

This new phase kicked in when we attended the wedding of the next bride's sister, almost exactly five years ago. She was the first cousin of her generation (dh's cousins' children) to get married -- Katie's generation, although she is 14 years older than Katie would have been. Even though Katie's stillbirth was 9 years before this wedding, it hit both dh & I like a ton of bricks that day, watching her beaming parents (who are younger than we are!!) escorting her down the aisle of the church & standing beside her in the receiving line at the reception, watching her dance with her father that night -- that this was yet another life experience that most people take for granted, & that we would never get to share with our daughter -- that we didn't just lose a baby -- that this loss was going to follow us, our family & friends, & their families, through the rest of our lives.

To make it worse, BIL & SIL were kidding each other at the reception that, because they had two boys, BIL would never get to dance with a daughter at her wedding -- but, as SIL triumphantly pointed out to him, she would get to dance with her sons at their weddings. Twice. All I could think was, "Oh, cry me a friggin' river!!" as dh squeezed my hand tightly under the table.  I adore both BIL & SIL, & I know they would rather die than hurt us -- but it obviously didn't occur to them that dh & I might be having a hard time that day.

So it's five years later -- the bride from that wedding is now pregnant with baby #2 -- baby #1 will be the flower girl at this wedding (of course).

One of my high school girlfriends just announced on Facebook this week that her daughter is engaged.  And my 30-year-old boss is getting married within a few weeks' time. (I'm not invited to that one.) I give her six months before she announces her pregnancy.  She is my third boss in as many years (after the same one for the better part of 16 years) -- I'm not looking forward to having to adjust to ANOTHER new boss when she's off on maternity leave (a year long here in Canada).

And, oh yes -- the day after the wedding (Sunday) is what I started calling Voldemort Day last year (The Day Which Shall Not Be Named). Having spent the previous day surrounded by family and reminders of youth and fertility, I think avoidance will (as always) be the best strategy.  We'll probably hide out at a movie or something.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Now... where were we? ; )

Thank you for all the lovely comments on my last post -- an explanation of my anxiety-induced, self-enforced, week-long hiatus from blogging. I missed you!  Which seems a little weird to say, because even though I wasn't posting, I was still in touch with many of you -- reading & commenting on other people's blogs (well, at least TRYING to catch up on my Google Reader... & not ever quite succeeding...!).

Even so, I felt... oddly invisible. I found myself clicking forlornly on the "comments" tab of my blog dashboard -- even though I knew I wasn't going to find anything there. I itched for the two-way contact, the feedback, the validation, the knowledge that someone out there was listening to me, was "getting" me. It wasn't a great feeling. I've always said that I blog first & foremost for myself, but hey, let's face it -- if I really just wanted to write for myself, I would have written in a paper journal & hid it in one of my drawers or under my mattress, like I did when I was a teenager.

I also felt like a bit of a hypocrite. Here it was, National Infertility Awareness Week... everyone was out there, posting up a storm (some REALLY great posts out there! -- including a few that have been picked up by Huffington Post)... Jjiraffe had just posted this lovely profile of me & my story... and here I was, hiding out from my own flesh & blood like a criminal on the lam -- when I had done absolutely NOTHING WRONG.  (What's wrong with this picture??)

But then, that's what infertility & loss can do to you -- to your self-confidence, to your sense of fairness and proportion and logic, to your relationships with the people who should, theoretically, be closest to you and your greatest source of support. :p 

I'm still a little nervous, heading into the next week. The blog post that got posted on Facebook and started this whole mess was one from almost exactly three years ago, about my grandparents. It was written as a tribute to them around their birthdays -- both in early May.  Those dates are coming up again.  In fact, my wonderful Grandpa would have been 100 years old this week. I would really like to make note of it on FB -- on my own wall, if not on the family group -- but now I am hesistant to do so, in case it reopens the whole can of worms all over again. Of course, someone else may mention it too.  (If I suddenly disappear again, you'll know why....)

But I was chomping at the bit to get my blog up and going again. ; ) One week was an awfully long time, from that perspective. Late Thursday night, I said to dh, "I think I'll bring my blog up again tomorrow." "Why wait??" he said. "Don't be silly!" : )

It's good to be back. : )

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Outed :(

(Loribeth taps the microphone.)  Hello... is anyone still out there??

It's been a LOOONNNGGGG week.

Last Friday night, I came home from a craptastic week at work -- including adjusting to a different morning routine after 21 years of more or less the same (I may post more on this later...), doing our income taxes (Canada's deadline is April 30th -- and we both owe money :p) -- and dental work for both me & dh -- mine involving a crown :p.

I turned on my computer... and found out that my blog & I had been inadvertently "outed" on Facebook by a well-meaning distant cousin.

We have a private family group on Facebook (so often the culprit in breaches of privacy, isn't it??) & had been exchanging stories about my grandparents’ unusual wedding. I shared an article about it that had been published in the local newspaper. This cousin did some Googling & came up with a link to a blog post I had written about them three years ago (!), in which I told the same story, quoting part of the same article. Not only did she find me -- she then posted the link to my blog post on the family FB group. I'm not sure she realized what the rest of the blog was about, or even that I was the author.

It was one of those really flukey things. I thought I had been careful to remove identifying details from the story before publishing -- but not quite enough, apparently, & she chose to search a very obscure reference that I had left in (since removed) -- obscure enough that my blog is the top result (and only word for word match) provided, if you search that particular term on Google.  

Talk about instant panic/adrenaline rush. She had only shared the link about 20 minutes before I read the e-mail notification -- but even as I sat there, breathing hard, heart pounding, trying to figure out what to do next -- one of my mother’s cousins added a comment below her post to the group, indicating that she too had read my blog post.

I guess I always knew, intellectually, there was a possibility that someone I know "in real life" (IRL) MIGHT find my blog someday. But it's another thing entirely to KNOW that someone HAS found & read it -- even just a post that was fairly innocuous & not even about infertility.

Actually, one person I know found my blog a few years ago, but agreed to be sworn to secrecy, & has kept her word. I've also received a couple of anonymous comments that had me going "hmmm..." One now-inactive blogger & I realized that, although we've never met, we come from the same part of the country & it's very likely we have family members who know each other. I also realized, reading another (also currently inactive) blogger awhile back that we have mutual friends -- although I never mentioned that to her. And a few years back, I found a (non-ALI) blog written by a male relative. I have no idea if the rest of his family knows about it -- but I'm not about to bring it up with them, just in case.

The world really is much smaller than we think... especially with the Internet!

Anyway -- even though I have been seeking and returning support (and venting, lol) on the Internet about infertility, pregnancy loss & involuntary childlessness (albeit mostly in private forums, pre-blogging) since 1998, I am actually a rather private person "in real life." It’s funny how I have few qualms about sharing such deeply personal experiences, thoughts & feelings with people I have never met (at least, those who have shared similar experiences themselves & understand what it is to go through something like this) -- but cringe at the thought of family members & IRL friends being able to read them. They all know that I lost a baby and that we have no children, of course, but not all the gory details. (To be frank, I always doubted -- and still do doubt -- that most of them really WANT to know all the gory details. As I said, there is "knowing" and KNOWING...)

While I knew that nothing on the Internet is truly private, I guess I felt fairly "safe," in that I was a lot more Internet-savvy than many of my relatives, & I didn't think many of them would have reason to be reading infertility or pregnancy loss blogs (the older generation in particular). But I do write about other stuff, including family stories -- and I guess that, in the end, that was my downfall (although I've always tried to be fairly circumspect when writing about other people). :(

And then, a couple of years ago, Facebook arrived -- and all sorts of my friends & relatives joined -- people who, in the past, I might have only seen or spoken with once every few years, or heard from with a card at Christmastime. In many ways, it's been so great to be in closer touch with them.

But I had qualms -- justified, as it turns out. My biggest concern about Facebook has always been: what would happen when I brought all the separate compartments of my life -- family members, high school friends, college friends, support group friends, blogging friends, scrapbooking friends (not work friends -- at least, not yet!) -- together in one spot?

I guess I found out.

(On the other hand -- what if I was NOT on Facebook, & the link had still been posted, without my knowledge?? What if I wasn't an administrator of the group? What if I hadn't been signed up for e-mail notifications from the group? -- I always check my e-mail before going to Facebook & the other sites I check regularly. It could have been much, much worse...)

Being "found" & "outed" like that, so unexpectedly, and at the end of a stressful week, threw me for a loop. I panicked. Hours later, I was still hot, redfaced, shaky & tense. I'm really glad nobody had a blood pressure cuff on my arm that night. It would not have been pretty. :p

Fortunately, I am an admin on the FB group. I immediately deleted both relatives' posts & sent them private messages, explaining that this was my infertility blog & while I knew that nothing was truly private on the Internet (case in point...!) I would prefer not to have my family members reading it. And then made my blog private, while I thought about what I wanted to do next.

(The distant cousin who initially posted the link messaged me back almost immediately, apologizing. The last time I saw her, we were both around 12 years old, & our families have had very little direct contact until just recently again -- I am sure she had no idea of my personal reproductive history.)

I also had to deal with my mother (erk) who (as I had suspected/feared) received an e-mail notification about the posted link. Sure enough, when I talked to her that Sunday night, she asked if I'd gotten one too: "It looks like a link to a blog! About Grandma & Grandpa! But I've tried & tried, and I can't open the link," she said.

I took a deep breath and told her yes, it was about Grandma & Grandpa, and I had written it -- but there was other stuff there that I would prefer not to have my family read -- so I had deleted the link & taken down the blog. She sounded surprised, but seemed to accept that. She knows I have sought support on the Internet since we lost Katie -- she met one of my message board friends, a few years back. She just didn't know I had a blog. (Until now. :p ) She did suggest that maybe I should put an explanatory note on the Facebook group for other people who got notifications & were wondering too. I said I would rather just let sleeping dogs lie, not raise people's curiosity any further. I am sure that if anyone asks her about it, she will tell them what I told her.

Anyway, immediately after privatizing my blog, I started to feel much better. : ) I e-mailed Mel and a few of my blogging friends in my address book to let them know what had happened, and seek their advice (and ask Mel to post something on the Lost & Found). Even before I heard from any of them, I decided to sit tight & private for a week or two and let the dust settle, while I considered my options:

a) stop blogging & taken down my blog altogether. Not an option, in my books. ; ) (If this past week has taught me anything -- besides reinforcing that nothing is private online -- it's how much I enjoy blogging and what a release it can be to write out my feelings & connect to others in similar situations in this way. And how much I miss my blog and the interaction it affords, when it's not there.)

b) go permanently private -- potentially lose a lot of readers in the transition, & deny other women facing a childless-not-by-choice future the benefit of learning from my experiences, as I have learned from others' blogs -- which was one of the main reasons why I started blogging in the first place.

c) move my blog to WordPress, where I have the option of making individual posts password protected -- better than complete privatization, but still a hassle I didn't want to think about.

d) make my blog public again & continue blogging -- with the knowledge that my readership just may have expanded beyond my original intended audience.

I heard from some of my blogger friends, & weighed their advice. I looked at some of my old posts -- in particular, "Why I Blog," "Facebook Friends & Raising Awareness," and, from several years ago, "A telling post." And thought about why I started blogging, why I've kept blogging, and what I would gain and what I would lose by choosing b) c) or d).

And I decided that -- while I'm still not about to invite people I know to read my blog, or encourage them to share it with others if they find it -- while I don't LIKE the idea of family members & non-IF/loss friends reading my blog -- it's not quite the end of the world if they find it either. (I'm sure the fact that I am 51 years old & 11 years out from ttc/14 years post-stillbirth makes this a whole lot easier. How painful it would be, to be younger, still ttc, and have someone stumble on my blog at that point in my life.) 

In the end, I decided on d) -- but after waiting a week or so, in the hopes that my relatives who found my blog would would forget about it/not try to access it again. Meantime, I went through some of my old posts, and made a few strategic edits where I thought they might be warranted. I've always tried to be careful when writing about my IRL family & friends, just in case something like this ever happened -- but these events made me want to go back & check, just to ease my mind. (Bonus: a few typos got corrected along the way. Although I am sure there are many more out there...!)

My dh (who reads my blog) was initially upset, seeing how upset I was. And then after he calmed down & gave me some hugs to calm ME down, he reminded me that it wasn't the end of the world, and said that he was proud of me and my blog. : ) "What's the worst that could happen?" he asked. "Maybe they SHOULD know about some of this stuff -- open their eyes."

Coincidentally -- this past week has been National Infertility Awareness Week (in the States -- it's in May in Canada). I guess this was my (inadvertent) & early contribution. ; )

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind. I may still go private in the future, if there is further, negative fallout from this incident. I am going to be keeping a much closer eye on my stats.

But for now -- I am back. : ) Thank you so much, everyone, who e-mailed me privately or e-mailed others or posted on their blogs, asking about me.  I am so grateful for your support.

This message is being added to the sidebar near the top of my blog:

If you are a friend or relative who has somehow found this blog... ummm... hi there! ; ) I realize that nothing on the Internet is truly private, and that, so long as this blog is public, I cannot stop you from reading it.

However -- I did not start writing this blog with with the idea that people I know "in real life" would be reading it -- and I would be grateful if you did not read any further. My blog is primarily about infertility and pregnancy loss, and how they have affected my life -- my experiences, thoughts and feelings. It has always (well, until now...) been a "safe" and invaluable outlet where I can deal with some deeply painful, personal stuff -- things are difficult for me to speak about openly -- and connect with others in a similar situation.

Whatever you do, I would very much appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone else that we both know about this blog. Thank you for respecting my wishes and my privacy.

Do your family members & friends know about your blog? Have you ever been inadvertently (or deliberately) "outed?" If so, how did you deal with it? Any advice for me?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Odds & ends & recent reading

  • Last week, one of the girls in my office gave birth to a baby girl -- prematurely, from the sounds of it (the baby was under 5 lbs). There were several rounds of e-mail "congratulations!" & "that's amazing!!" The mom is a newer member of our department, and works for a different part of the team in a different part of the office, so I don't see her very much or know her very well. The problem was -- I knew she left work early because of her pregnancy -- and I was almost certain I remember someone saying she was expecting twins. :( I pulled aside my boss, who confirmed that yes, she did lose one twin -- "but now she has the other baby, and she's doing well -- so everything turned out fine in the end!" Ummm, yeah. Sure. Maybe. That's what YOU all WANT to think, I'm sure...
  • I was thinking about one of my college friends today. AJ lived in the same dorm as I did for three of the four years I was at university. I can remember her telling me that she had had cysts on her ovaries. At barely 21, she had already had one ovary removed and (so she told me) part of another. (Is that possible?? -- I was just 21 & my knowledge of these things was definitely hazy at that point -- and I most certainly was not thinking about pregnancy or babies for myself then.) She said the doctors advised her if she wanted to have kids, she had better do so, pronto. She didn't even have a steady boyfriend at the time. I sadly lost touch with her after I left school, but I have thought about her over the years and have tried Googling her, without success. I wonder if she ever had the family she wanted?
  • Recent Globe & Mail sports headline: "Time fails to do its job and heal the Rypien family: Even advent of Stanley Cup playoffs holds little interest." I mean, really!! After all -- it's been almost eight whole months since the guy committed suicide. What the heck is wrong with that family?? They should be over it by now. It's the Stanley Cup playoffs, for crying out loud... sheesh, snap out of it. Time to move on, people...
  • (I was, of course, being sarcastic. And, happily, a few of the commenters took the paper to task over the headline.)
  • I read an XX Factor column in Slate about Ashley Judd (who recently responded in The Daily Beast to well-publicized comments about her suddenly much-fuller face). Judd sadly noted that “this conversation was initially promulgated largely by women.” "For girls, having to look their best 24/7 can create resentment towards those who fail to join the competition," writes columnist Juliana Jimenez. "It’s as if they are saying, “You are not getting a break: if I had to go through this, so should you.” I suddenly had a flashback to every exhausted mother of every misbehaving toddler who, bizarrely, almost immediately after screaming at her child, would turn to me and ask, "So, when are you having kids?" (This happened more than once, and only occasionally with a sense of irony or sarcasm.)
  • Saturday's Globe & Mail had a column in the Life section by Katrina Onstad musing "Why are we so obsessed with pregnant celebrities?" Hearteningly, she actually noted "the fertility fetish can weigh on non-famous women who aren’t mothers" and (even better) quoted from Pamela's award-winning book, Silent Sorority. (As always, beware the comments.)
  • The Toronto Star is starting a new series written by a (previously childfree by choice) dad-to-be -- of twins -- via IVF -- facing first-time parenthood at age 46. The first installment was in today's paper.

Happy reading! : )

Friday, April 13, 2012

Freedom 55

Dh's 55th birthday was this week. By many definitions, that makes him a senior citizen (!), or at least eligible for some seniors' discounts (although, with the huge numbers of baby boomers entering senior citizen territory, there are fewer & fewer of those being handed out these days).

Dh was born around the peak of the post-WWII baby boom, in 1957. The boom is generally defined to include those born between 1946-7 and 1964. By some definitions, I (born in 1961) am a late/tail-end boomer; by others, an early Gen-Xer. Douglas Coupland, the author of the book that spawned the term, is actually the same age I am (I was born in January 1961; he was born in December).

While we might be baby boomers, people at my end of the boomer spectrum haven't enjoyed the same benefits those at the leading edge of the boom have (and things have only gotten more difficult over time, of course). By the time I was in university, jobs were drying up and mortgage rates were sky high (over 20% at one point in the early 1980s). By the time dh & I were ready to buy a house in the early 1990s, the interest rates had fallen somewhat (our first five-year mortgage was 11.75%) -- but Toronto housing prices had more than doubled from just a few years earlier, fed by the buying frenzy created by the earlier boomers as they entered the market. (Then they almost immediately fell (of course!) & took several years to climb back up again -- at least, in the particular area where we live. Now they're approaching ridiculous. But that's another post...!)

Around the time dh & I were at university in the early 1980s, there was a (Canadian) insurance company that came out with an ad campaign based on the theme of "Freedom 55" & promoting the idea of early retirement at 55. It was hugely, hugely successful -- so successful, in fact, that the company changed its name to "Freedom 55." Here's an article that talks about the origins of "Freedom 55"... and here's one of the more memorable Freedom 55 TV ads:

These days, we are hearing that "Freedom 55" is dead -- that we are all going to have to work more years in order to claim fewer benefits from our governments. (Freedom 65, anyone? How about Freedom 75? Doesn't have quite the same ring, does it??) With so many people (the boomers, again) retiring or poised to retire over the next few years, combined with longer life expectancies than when the programs were originally set up, pension plans are being stretched.

Canada is in better shape than the U.S. in this regard, thankfully -- back in the early 1990s, everyone began paying more into our Canada Pension Plan to ensure it could continue to meet its obligations. The amount you collect is dependent on how much you contributed during your working years, to a maximum amount. The age to collect full CPP benefits is 65, but (for now, anyway) you can apply to begin collecting a reduced pension at age 60.

Recently, the government announced plans to raise the age at which we can collect Old Age Security, which everyone gets, regardless of your work history. Currently, it's 65. If you were 54 at the end of March 2012 (which dh was), you can still apply for OAS when you hit 65. The age the rest of us can collect will be gradually pushed back to 67. I will be at or near that age by the time I can collect.

Fortunately, dh & I are not entirely dependent on government benefits to keep a roof over our head & food in our mouth during our retirement years (although they will certainly help, of course). (And, most fortunately, we live in Canada, where we don't have to keep working simply to keep enough medical insurance to ensure our basic health care needs are met.) We heard the rumblings that CPP & OAS might not be around by the time we were ready to retire. Both of us came from families who had to work hard and save for what they had, and those lessons were well instilled in us.

Right from the very beginning of our marriage, we had a savings account (although we dipped into it an awful lot in those early days...), and fairly early on, we set up a pre-authorized contribution plan to regularly divert money from our chequing account into that savings account. We started off saving quarters for the washers & dryers in our building -- and then dumping our pockets at the end of the day & saving all of our change. Every now & then we would (& still do) roll up the coins & take them to the bank -- we paid for dinner out on our first anniversary, our first microwave and I think even our first computer this way.

We started RRSPs (the Canadian equivalent of 401K plans, I think) with pre-authorized monthly contributions when were in our late 20s or early 30s. We both belong to our company's pension plan (defined benefit & well funded, thankfully) and employee share ownership plan (although I wish to heck that we had enrolled much earlier than we did).

After five years of marriage and living in a small (but very nice) one-bedroom apartment, we were pulling in enough money to afford the mortgage payments on a house. We needed some help from my generous FIL to afford the down payment -- but from then on in, it was all us.

By making bi-weekly payments, using our year-end bonuses and income tax refunds to make occasional lump sum payments (instead of buying new cars & "toys" or funding sunspot & ski vacations, as many of our peers did), and keeping our mortgage payments the same even when we renewed at lower rates, we were able to pay off a 25-year mortgage in 11 years. After that, we continued to put the same amount of money we'd been paying on the mortgage into savings. It does add up. : )

And so, even though the pundits are proclaiming that "Freedom 55" is dead, and dh has decided he will (probably) continue working for another few years, at least until I turn 55, early retirement remains a distinct possibility for us both.

Of course, the fact that we didn't have children -- and decided to stop infertility treatments before the cumulative cost escalated into high five-figure territory -- has had a big impact on our ability to even think about doing this.

But a lot of it has been the way we've lived and the choices we've made with how to spend (and not spend) or money. (And some luck, too.) Here's hoping that luck continues to hold and that Freedom 55 (or retirement at some slightly-earlier-than-the-traditional-65 date) is more than just a pipe dream for us.

There's a part of me that finds it hard to believe that I could really be retired in less than four years. (I'm not that old, am I??!) And a part of me that worries whether we can really do it financially -- even though dh has run the numbers over and over (and over and over...) and assures me that we can. We won't be buying a yacht or spending our winters on a tropical island, mind you -- but he assures me we will be able to maintain our current lifestyle & afford a nice vacation now & then. Sounds good to me. : )

I've worked long and hard at the same job (more or less) in the same department for the same company for almost 26 years straight. (If I do manage to retire when I'm 55, I'll have been there almost 30 years.) It's a very good job -- but it has its stresses, and I am starting to feel my age there. The 11-hour days (including commutes) with 5 a.m. wakeups are starting to wear on me.

I've been a good employee. I've been careful with my money. I've done all the things you're supposed to do. (Just like I did in my pregnancy... hmmm, wrong comparison to make, I think...! Maybe that's why I sometimes find it hard to believe that we could really do this?)

Would it really be asking too much to be able to retire earlier -- enjoy some time with my dh, sleeping in for a change, do a bit of travelling, some volunteer work, maybe a little part-time job or freelance work (if we feel like it -- and that's the key, I think -- working when & as much as you want to, not necessarily because you HAVE to...) and some of the other things we want to do?

My life has been pretty good with one exception: I didn't get the family I hoped for. In some ways, I feel like early retirement is my tradeoff -- my reward for enduring the years and tears of infertility & loss -- the dangling carrot, the implicit promise luring me toward the future.

Of course, if it's a tradeoff, I would have preferred the alternative. If we'd had kids -- if Katie were here today -- I would almost certainly have been working to 65. Certainly not thinking of early retirement at 55.

But we don't -- so I'm not. At least, I don't want to, if I don't have to. (Do I??)

I think I've earned it, haven't I?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Faces of ALI: Me!

Jjiraffe at Too Many Fish to Fry has been running an excellent series called Faces of ALI, telling detailed personal stories of ALI bloggers that capture the complexity of our world and the many difficult decisions we are faced with on this journey to build the families we dreamed about. So far, she has featured the stories of bloggers who have dealt with the double whammy of infertility & pregnancy loss, and adoption.

And today, she is featuring... ME. (erk!)

As I told Jjiraffe in one of our e-mail exchanges about this piece, it's kind of surreal (and emotional) to see yourself written about in the third person (especially in such kind and sympathetic terms). For one thing, I'm usually the one telling my own story (although my own words from my blog are featured throughout her article); for another, as a journalist/communicator, I'm used to being in the other chair, doing the interviewing and writing. ; )

As with the previous two articles, she has done a great job (although I may, of course, be slightly prejudiced). ; ) I was amazed that she took the time to read my entire blog -- and at how precisely she zeroed right in on the essence of my/our story, and who dh & I are as people.

I agreed to be profiled because Jjiraffe felt -- as do I -- that the childless/free option is not well communicated nor understood, even within our own ALI community, let alone by those around us. We both hope that telling my story to a broader audience will lead to a better understanding of why some of us might wind up taking this road less travelled, and the implications of that choice, both positive and not so positive.

Please have a read & let us both know what you think!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Grief's timetable

If there is one things I've learned in almost 14 years as a bereaved mother, it's that grief has its own timetable -- and mine may be quite different than yours (or yours, or yours, or yours).

Last Saturday, on impulse, I started going through my overflowing closets & armoire, weeding out some stuff to take to Goodwill. I was in a rare purging mood (normally I'm a bit of a packrat -- much to dh's despair), & I decided to strike while the iron was hot. : )

I paused when I opened one of the drawers where I keep my nightgowns. (It was almost hard to open, because it was so overstuffed.)

After Katie was stillborn, I snapped up anything & everything related to Classic Pooh (which was to have been the theme for her nursery). Classic Pooh was quite popular at the time (less so these days, it seems), and one place where I could indulge myself was the lingerie store. A couple of the lingerie chains were selling nightwear with Classic Pooh motifs, & I would buy them whenever I saw them, sometimes the same design in different colours. Over time, I amassed quite a collection.

I prefer nightgowns to PJs, and short to long. Some of the nightgowns were longsleeved, more for winter & fall; some shortsleeved or with spaghetti straps, for summer. Some were cotton T-shirt style; others cozy flannel.

I took great comfort in my Classic Pooh nighties, those first few years, their warmth enveloping me. I felt like it was a way of keeping Katie close to me.

I still wear some of them (I have a lot! & I rotate them, so they don't wear out as fast. I have other non-Pooh nightwear too).

But lately, some of them -- especially the longsleeved winter ones -- seem to be almost TOO cozy. Sweltering, even, in a way that they weren't 14 years ago. Global warming, maybe?? (Umm, yeah, that's it -- it couldn't possibly be -- cough, cough -- perimenopausal hormones, now, could it??)

Others just plain didn't fit any more. Some have shrunk. My shape has changed. I've grown out of them.

I felt a brief moment of sadness as I stroked the soft flannel one more time and fingered the Pooh motifs on them.

And then I folded them up and put them in the bag to take to Goodwill.

*** *** ***

(Just to be clear -- I still have enough Classic Pooh nightgowns to keep me cozy for many, many nights to come. And there are one or two of my favourites that I won't be parting with any time soon, even if they are getting pretty worn.)

(And also to be clear -- my maternity clothes are still in my closet. I still don't see myself giving those away anytime soon.)

A couple of noteworthy articles this weekend...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Wanting to have a baby is not a crime"

In yesterday's Globe & Mail, award-winning health reporter & columnist Andre Picard published a column in which he called for the Assisted Human Reproduction Act of 1994 -- the law which governs ARTs in Canada -- to be scrapped. The federal government did recently scrap Assisted Human Reproductive Canada, the regulatory agency created by the act.

While the puns near the beginning of the article are truly cringeworthy, I wanted to stand up & cheer when I read this line, mid-article:
"Wanting to have a baby is not a crime."
And also at Picard's concluding paragraph:
"The government likes to paint itself as pro-family. It should be helping people build their families – all kinds of families – not putting up ridiculous legal hurdles. And it should be spending money on assisting women and men with fertility challenges, not criminalizing the desire for children."
Alas, I fear the current government (some members in particular, anyway), while talking a good line about getting government out of people's lives, would like nothing more than to follow the example of its right-wing compatriots south of the border and make anything to do with women's bodies, health care and reproductive freedom the exception to that general rule.

So we will see what happens next. But in the meantime, it's heartening to read Picard's words. (If not the comments that follow. Beware.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Just call me Dinosaur :p

Dh & I recently got a notice from our cable television provider that they were "upgrading" our service, at no cost to us. (Coincidentally, this was right around the same time they sent us another notice announcing price increases for all their packages. Hmmmm....)

Since we moved into this house 22 years ago, we've always had a fairly basic cable package. All the basic channels plus a few others (CNN, A&E, Bravo, Comedy, TSN, etc.), but none of the premium movie channels or anything like that. Well, apparently, basic cable (like the rotary antenna that used to sit on top of my parents' house when I was a teenager) is going the way of the dodo bird. Everything is going digital -- and, as a result, to continue to receive service, we were told we needed to get a digital converter box. We could pick up as many as we needed from our service provider at one of their retail outlets, or have them couriered to us.

I wanted to pick it up personally, so that I could ask questions about the setup, if necessary. Of course, it took several weeks of nagging (& several reminders from the provider via snail & voice mail) before we actually got the job done, about two weekends ago. Brought home two boxes, pulled the TV stand out from the wall, went through the instructions, plugged everything in and... black screen. Nada. Went through everything again, same result.

Big sigh. Picked up the phone & called the service provider's number, as listed on the notification about the new changes. Went through automated menu hell. Several times. Could not for the life of me find an option that would put me in touch with a real live person who could answer my questions. Had to deal with dh's cursing in the background. (Dh is probably slightly more enthralled with the allure of new toys than I am -- but has little to no patience for trying to figure out how to set them up & make them work. Hence, that has become my department.)

Finally went upstairs, fished out my last bill from the provider & called the (different) number listed on that. Went through yet another long menu of options, but eventually did get a real live person on the line (without being on hold for too long).

"Try unplugging and replugging the cord," he suggested. I did. And it worked. Duh. I felt like an idiot, but at least we had TV again.

Except now we have to use two remote controls -- the one that came with the TV and the one that came with the new digital box. We have to turn the TV on & off with the TV remote, but can only change the channels with the digital box remote. (We also have remotes for the VCR, DVD player, and stereo.)

This past weekend, I wanted to tape a program on the VCR while we were out. Guess what -- since adding the new box into the mix -- even though I didn't touch the VCR wiring -- it doesn't work anymore. I figure one of the nephews will know what to do with it -- we just have to get them to come over (not as easy to do as it once was). Or I suppose I could call the service provider again -- but just thinking about dragging the TV stand away from the wall, going through menu hell (again), etc., made me tired. We were on our way out, I didn't have a lot of time to muck around.

I missed the program instead.

I haven't tried the DVD player yet. I expect it probably doesn't work anymore with the new setup either.

*** *** ***

Speaking of the DVD player -- dh & I were late adapters (are you surprised?). We finally got one about five years ago (just before Blu-Ray became the Next Big Thing, of course). Our VCR (bought in 1999, replacing the original that we bought in 1989) had served us perfectly well (& continues to do so) -- but fewer & fewer (& these days, next to none) of the movies & TV shows we wanted to purchase or watch came in VCR format. (Not that we watch a lot of movies on DVD -- we still like to go to the theatre.)

So, one day during a vacation week, we went to Best Buy and bought a DVD player. Brought it home. Dragged the TV set out from the wall. Read the instructions & figured out what plug went where. Turned it on. Nothing happened. Went over the instructions again -- & again. Could not for the life of me figure out what we were doing wrong.

Realized it was 4 p.m. "The nephews should be home from school -- give them a call," I told dh. Within five minutes, we had a working DVD player (one button on the TV remote that the instructions neglected to mention should be pressed made the difference).

Teenagers may be a pain in the butt -- but they do come in handy sometimes. ; )

*** *** ***

I still have my stereo with turntable & cassette deck (which my parents bought for me for Christmas 1981). We didn't get a stereo with a CD player until the mid/late 1990s, when it had become nearly impossible to buy the latest music from our favourite bands on cassette. (I have many of the same albums on vinyl, cassette AND CD. )(Not to mention movies on both VHS and DVD.)

I do not have an iPod. I may eventually have to cave & get one, since it is becoming harder & harder to find anything beyond either the very latest release or "greatest hits" package for any given artist at my local HMV, where the percentage of the store actually devoted to music has shrunk down to two aisles at the front with the latest releases and promotions and a teeny-tiny section at the back of the store. Fortunately, my sister (an early devotee of Napster) has a massive collection of mp3s & is willing to share. : )

*** *** ***

I was complaining about all the rigamorole involved with getting & setting up the new digital TV box when we got together with BIL & his family recently. "It's about time you joined the 21st century," BIL said scornfully.

BIL is the father of our two nephews, now ages 19 & 23 (the ones we called for DVD setup assistance), who both grew up surrounded by & comfortable with technological wizardry of all sorts. One of my favourite memories of our younger nephew from when he was a toddler is of watching him play the original Nintendo Duck Hunt game, gun pressed directly to the TV screen, soother in his mouth. ; )

BIL has a satellite dish with all the premium digital channels, flat-screen TV, Blu-Ray player, surround sound & enough video game systems & games to last three lifetimes (well, those are actually the nephews').

He can't understand why we still hang on to our 9-year-old Sony 32" set, and haven't bought a flat-screen LCD or plasma yet. Why? Because it's "only" 9 years old, works perfectly fine & I can't bring myself to do away with something that's still working perfectly well. Someone suggested we try to sell it -- or give it away. Apparently they are a dime a dozen these days -- everybody is trying to get rid of theirs, nobody wants to take them. (And if nobody wants our 9-year-old 32" Sony, I have little hope for the 15-year-old Panasonic 10" that sits on top of the armoire in our bedroom. Or the 25-year-old 19" Sony sitting in our basement -- the remote doesn't work very well anymore, and it takes a while to warm up these days, but the picture is still perfectly fine.)

It also drives BIL nuts that both dh & I have cellphones but rarely turn them on when we leave the house. Neither of us text messages, & we don't have data plans. I like the security of having a cellphone with me (have you tried finding a payphone these days?? & even if you can, do you have the appropriate change for it??) -- but I am not at all interested in hearing other people's conversations (although it doesn't seem I have much of a choice these days :p). I don't like having to dodge around people who are too busy staring at their screens to watch where they are going... and I find it more than slightly rude when I'm out for lunch or dinner with people who check their phones for messages every 10 minutes -- so I can't imagine subjecting others to the same behaviour.

I don't have a cellphone for work -- in my company, you only get one when you get promoted to a certain level, & I'm not there. I remember telling my boss the day she got her work BlackBerry, "I don't know whether to congratulate you or send you my condolences," lol.

*** **** ***

Maybe it's a function of aging. Perhaps I was not made for these times.

I grew up in a world where colour TV was a novelty, where you saw a TV show once, maybe twice in reruns, MAYBE years later, in syndication, and it was gone. You saw movies at the movie theatre, & then they were gone, maybe to turn up on TV years later.

We had one TV channel until I was about 14 & we moved closer to the city and to the U.S. border, where our housetop rotary antenna could pick up five channels, sometimes 6 or 7 depending on the weather.

Phones were tethered to the wall (although you could get longer cords -- my best friend's mom had the longest I think I have ever seen to this day), and there was no such thing as voice mail, answering machines, or call waiting.

You sent a (handwritten) letter in the mail and, weeks later, you might receive a reply. (The arrival of the mailman was a daily highlight.)

I had a transistor radio & I played my (vinyl) albums & 45s on my parents' big walnut console stereo. Sony Walkmans became all the rage around the time I was in university but I never had one. I love music, but I never developed the habit of taking it with me everywhere I went.

We read books. Lots & lots of books. We went to the library. We played board games, and cards. My cousins had a newfangled game that you played on the TV set, called Pong -- the harbinger of things to come.

*** *** ***

Here's one story that illustrates when I knew I was getting old -- and dealing with an entirely different generation:

Last summer, I went down to the food court for lunch with Young Coworker, age 25 (half my age, & young enough to be my daughter), and Summer Student (even younger). We all went to different places to get our lunch. I found Young Coworker relatively easily, and together, we grabbed a table.

Then we spotted Summer Student, looking around for us and not seeing us in the crowded food court. We waved, "Over here!" but she wasn't looking our way.

"I'll go get her," I said, getting up from my chair.

"I'll get her," said Young Coworker -- but she just SAT there, pecking away at her BlackBerry -- so I shrugged, got up, & headed over towards Summer Student -- who was suddenly looking at HER BlackBerry.

Then it dawned on me: Young Coworker was TEXTING her with our location.

Needless to say, I felt like an idiot. And incredibly old. (Silly me. Why get off your butt when you can text??)

*** *** ***

Sometimes I can't help but feel that my lack of technology (&, moreover, my lack of desire to keep up with the latest & greatest) is not just a function of my age & my roots in a different time and place, but also a function of my childlessness.

After all, kids these days seem to be born with a computer in their hands. They want the latest & greatest stuff -- and nag their parents until they get it for them. (Dh told me about an interview he saw with a young man, waiting in line outside the Eaton Centre Apple store for the new iPad 3. "I don't care if it's exactly the same as the iPad 2, I HAVE to have one!!" he exulted. Needless to say, that kind of thinking -- the need to have the latest & greatest, simply because it IS the latest & greatest, even if you don't REALLY need it -- is completely foreign to dh & me.)

As a result, parents often wind up learning how to use this stuff too (although never quite as well as the kids). Many of my peers never texted a word until they got cellphones for their kids. They find the kids prefer texting to actual voice conversations, so they've had to learn to text in order to communicate with their offspring.

Now, I am not a complete dinosaur. I spend time every night on my laptop, after all. ; ) I e-mail, I blog, I post on message boards, I am on Facebook (I don't Twitter). I do research for my family tree on and have a Family Tree Maker program to store all of my stuff.

I Skype with my parents (they actually had Skype before I did!!) and with PND & The Princess. I have a Kobo e-reader (although I mostly use it when I'm on vacation & don't want to lug 20 extra pounds of books with me). I do have a cellphone, even if I don't use it very often.

But I just don't feel the urge to keep up with the latest & greatest. Most of the time, when I upgrade or adopt new technology, it's because I have to (as with the digital cable box).

Technology has enriched my life in many, many ways. But it sure has complicated it, too.

Sometimes I feel lucky that I'm free of the obligation to keep up with the latest & greatest, for my kids' sake if not for my own.

But sometimes, it's just another reminder of what's lacking in my life -- and old and how out of place & irrelevant I sometimes feel. :(

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"If you like families so much, why don't you have children?"

I don't live in the province of Alberta. (Mrs. Spit may be more qualified to write this post, from that perspective.) I don't know much about the politics there or the current election campaign, except that both major parties, the Conservatives (currently in power) and the Wildrose Party, are led by women, meaning it is almost certain that the next premier will be a woman. But as a childless-not-by-choice woman, I was appalled to hear that a Conservative Party staff member issued a snarky tweet asking why, if Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, 41 years old, likes families so much (referring to certain policy promises), she has no children of her own." Smith responded with this statement:
“In the last day the question has been raised about why I don’t have children of my own. When David and I married in 2006 we intended to have children together. After a few years we sought help from the Calgary Regional Fertility Clinic. I appreciated the support and assistance of the caring staff as we went through tests and treatments, but in the end we were not successful. “I consider myself very fortunate to have a terrific stepson, Jonathan, David’s son from a previous marriage. I am also blessed to have grown up in a large family with four siblings who have given me the opportunity to be the auntie of 5 terrific nieces and nephews: Emily, Sam, Chloe, Seyenna and Logan. “Family is very important to me and I consider this to be a very personal matter. I will not be commenting on it further.”
Current premier & Conservative leader Alison Redford, 49 years old and the mother of a young daughter, issued a statement calling the tweet "entirely inappropriate... hurtful and does not reflect my values nor those of my campaign in any way." She also called Smith personally. The staffer who made the tweet has resigned. This is not the first time that childless (for whatever reason) female politicians have had to endure inappropriate comments related to their lack of children. In my own blog here, I've highlighted several cases, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, and, in Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Childless male politicians tend to get off easier -- although in Britain awhile back, William Hague responded to rumours that he was gay by issuing a statement that he & his wife had tried for years to have children and had suffered multiple miscarriages. I'm curious about the staffer who made the Tweet. Does SHE have children herself? One comment I read suggested she was young and childless, and that perhaps time and life experience would give her a different perspective. I hope so (but reading other comments, I'm not entirely hopeful). Do people who make these kinds of comments not stop to think about just WHY someone might not have children (not that it's really any of their business anyway)? If it's because of fertility issues, such questions are a painful reminder; if it's because the person does not want children, it can be highly annoying. Story about the incident in Huffington Post Canada Commetary by Hina P. Ansari: Being Childless: Why Don't Our Opinions Count?