Thursday, February 28, 2013

End of February odds & ends

  • It's February 28th. The one saving grace of this month is that it's short. :p
  • Thank you for your kind comments on my recent post about my co-worker. So far as I know, she is doing about as well as can be expected. A collection was taken up to send flowers and some of her favourite treats, and a card circulated for everyone to sign. The usual platitudes, but thankfully, no real clangers, at least not at the point when I saw it.
  • Our VP, who made the announcement, later apologized to me for dropping the bombshell in the way she did, which was nice of her.
  • There have been a number of changes at work recently, stemming from my co-worker's impending maternity leave:  one colleague was appointed to cover her job during the year she was off, another colleague moved in to take that vacant slot, etc. etc. -- sort of a domino effect. I asked the VP what was going to happen now and was told the arrangements in place would still stand for the year -- even though my coworker will almost certainly not be off that long (I believe she is still entitled to 17 weeks on Employment Insurance maternity benefits) -- and that when she returned, we'd just have her as an additional resource. I said that was probably a wise thing, since (based on my own experience), she likely won't be entirely "here" for quite awhile to come.
  • Unfortunately, one of the dominos was my own manager, who has been "seconded" to another job for a year. (She called me and coworker into an unexpected meeting & I immediately figured she was either telling us she had a new job, or she was pregnant. My guess is she won't be returning to this job in a year from now because she'll have either found something else or... she'll be pregnant/on maternity leave.)  Her job has been posted, and when it is filled, I will be dealing with my third new manager in as many years. (The fourth retired in April 2010 after being my boss for most of the previous 16 years).  I know it's rare today for people to stay in one job/area as long as I have, and I certainly don't expect my next boss to hang around for 16 years. But SOME continuity would be nice... :p 
  • Did anyone watch the documentary "Makers" on PBS on Tuesday night -- a history of the women's movement? (If you didn't, you can still watch it online.) I missed the first half hour, but watched the rest. (Until 11 p.m. I also stayed up until 10 the previous night watching Dallas, 12 on Sunday watching the Oscars, & 11ish on Saturday & Friday because... well, it was the weekend!  So I am dang tired this week...!)  Nevertheless, I am glad I did. It was so inspiring seeing all those old clips -- a great history lesson, and a great reminder why "feminism" is not and should not be a dirty word. Brought back a lot of memories...! 
  • (But yikes -- what has Marlo Thomas done to her face?? I almost didn't recognize her...)  :(  
  • I have seen Gloria Steinem twice. I stood in line during my lunch hour to buy her book "Revolution from Within" when it came out in 1993, and had it autographed. And about a year later, my visiting mother & I went to see her speak at an HR professionals conference (a friend gave me the tickets). Afterwards, we saw her walking by us in the hall outside the auditorium. She was incredibly petite. And I think she is still beautiful in her 70s.
  • Speaking of "Dallas" (a few bullets back -- and I wrote about my longtime love for the show here), next week's episode will be the true end of an era:  the death of JR Ewing.  Rumour has it he is murdered ("who killed JR?"). The week after that, "Dallas" stars of the past & present will gather for his funeral, including Ray, Lucy, her parents (Gary & Valene of "Knots Landing"), JR's second wife Cally and his former mistress, Mandy Winger. Part of me can't wait, and part of me is dreading it, because it truly is the end of an era, and the series will never be quite the same without him.
  • I saw and flagged this article a few weeks ago & still wanted to share it with you, if you haven't already seen it. The New York Times Motherlode blog featured a beautifullly written guest post on breaking the silence about stillbirth. Some excellent (& almost entirely sympathetic) comments, too.
  • Also, re: my last post on women at work and flexible workplaces, I found this great article. The title reads "Single People Need Work-Life Balance Too" but it's actually more about all people without children (including empty nesters) than simply singles. First paragraph:  "Discussions of American work culture tend to focus primarily on the difficulties parents face balancing work and caring for their kids. But a new study points out that there's more to life than family, and conversations that focus solely on child rearing are leaving out the many ways that too much work can affect the childless."
  • Tracey at La Belette Rouge enlisted me and a couple of other childless/free bloggers to help her respond to a comment urging her to consider adoption. You can find our collective thoughts and perspectives (along with some great comments) here.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

"I'm more than just a uterus"

One thing I have always believed, both pre- and post-loss and infertility, is that "I am more than my uterus" -- something I have expressed in this blog, and on the recent Bitter Infertiles podcast. I strongly believe that my life -- and women's lives generally, whether you ultimately reproduce or not -- is, and should be, about so much more our children, and our ability to bear children. Children are wonderful -- but they are not the only thing that can (or even should) give a woman's life meaning and purpose -- and motherhood should certainly not be the measure by which a woman's value is determined (by others, and certainly most of all by ourselves).

So my interest was piqued by this headline in the business section of Saturday's Globe & Mail:  "Ask about my job, but not my uterus." It was an article by Leah Eichler, who often writes about women's issues in a business context.

"It’s surprising how much we, as a community, think about what’s happening in a woman’s uterus," she writes. (Aside from me:  Or NOT happening.)

Eichler expresses her disappointment at recent comments by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, encouraging women to be open with their employers about their plans to have a family. She (Eichler) points out that women are still taken less seriously by male decision makers because of their ability to have children, and that forthright declarations about their intentions to have a family aren't likely to change this.   

"We need to stop seeing women as either baby factories that generate our future work force, or as primary caregivers. Both images work to keep women out of the C-suite. For the record, I love my children more than anything but I’m more than just a uterus and the sooner that more people understand that, the quicker we can all get down to business." (Emphasis mine. Guess I didn't invent the phrase, lol.)

Eichler is somewhat kinder to Ann-Marie Slaughter, whose article in the Atlantic titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" created a huge buzz last year. More recently, she wrote "Don't Rule Out Having Children Because You Want a Career."  Slaughter suggests that society needs to redefine success. "I tend to agree, so long as “redefining success” is not code that mothers should be content with an average job," Eichler writes.

There is so much going on here, and I have mixed feelings. Let me try to express a few of them.

Some mothers (and non-mothers) are perfectly happy with "average jobs." Not everyone is cut out for the C-suite. Not everyone WANTS a C-suite job. (Me, for instance. While I wouldn't call my job "average," it's still a loooonnnnnggggg way from the C-suite.  I've never been particularly interested in taking on responsibility for managing other people, or budgets.) (By the same token, not everyone is cut out for motherhood, or want to take that on either.)

But at the moment (as the title of Slaughter's latest essay implies), women who do want those C-suite jobs -- and a family -- too often find that it's an either-or situation. How many men have to make those choices?  Women shouldn't have to either, just because they're the ones who get pregnant.

I applaud companies that recognize that their employees have lives outside of work, and are willing to be flexible.  (It was highly disappointing to read today that Marissa Mayer -- the new CEO of Yahoo, who famously got the job when pregnant and took just two weeks off work after the birth of her son -- has ordered all Yahoo employees who currently work from home and other remote locations to head back to the office.  That includes those who only work from home a day or two a week. I can see mandating a certain number of days a week for meetings, etc., when all employees must be present, but this certainly seems like a step backwards -- not to mention a slap in the face to employees who joined Yahoo because of its flexibility.)

But when most people talk about flexible workplaces, they're usually talking about women who are mothers. I strongly believe that workplaces needs to be flexible for *everyone* -- not just moms (or dads). Non-parents have lives and obligations that are important to them, too. 

When my company first introduced a policy on flexible work options, some 15 years ago, I wrote about it for the staff magazine. And, as I may have written here before, one of the people I interviewed was a woman who worked a longer day, four days a week, and then took a fifth day off. When I probed into her reasons for wanting such an arrangement and what she did with the extra time, I fully expected to hear about her children.

Instead, she told me she had no children, and used her days off to run errands, attend theatre matinees with friends and work on her novel. "My time is just as valuable to me as a parent's," she said. And while I had not yet begun my struggle with infertility, and fully expected to be a parent someday myself at that point, I thought that her logic made perfect sense.  In fact, the policy does not ask why the flexible arrangement is being requested, and the reason(s) are not considered by the requester's manager in deciding whether to approve the arrangement. What matters is the work and how it will get done. (Such arrangements are, sadly, still relatively rare at my company... but that's another story...)

Somehow, somewhere, there has to be a way to balance companies' needs to serve their customers and employees' (equally legitimate) needs for a satisifying personal life (which may or may not include children). 

Some people may want to put more emphasis on climbing the corporate ladder than having a family (and vice versa). There may be certain time(s) in your life when you want to focus on your career and others where your priorities may be elsewhere. Some people might require more flexibility at certain times of their lives, when their children are small or parents are aging, or for other reasons (like going through infertility treatments). That doesn't mean they can't or don't want to contribute, or that their past contributions to the company (or potential to contribute in the future) should be discounted. 

Put the mechanisms and supports in place that allow everyone to succeed -- however they define success -- and then let's get on with working and living.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My worst nightmare :(

One of my worst nightmares came true today. :( 

I was at a meeting late this afternoon with about 25 coworkers, and at the very end, our senior officer said she had some very sad news: one of colleagues has lost the baby she was expecting (in April, I think). Her office baby shower was going to be in a couple of weeks. :( 

Everyone gasped. I clapped my hands to my face, dropped my head & promptly started hyperventilating. :(  I kept thinking, "Don't make a scene, it's not about you," but I couldn't stop gasping. Someone handed me a Kleenex, I think?  My mascara was coming off in it. I couldn't move. I could hear people around me leaving, and then I felt someone hugging me.

When I finally looked up, there was just me and two longtime coworkers, both women also in their 50s. They remembered. Bless them both.

They stayed with me until I could collect myself enough to leave & we walked back to the office together. I hugged them both again before we went our separate ways. My mouth was dry, I was hot & red & shaky. (I wondered what my blood pressure reading would be.)  Another longtime coworker came to my cubicle with more hugs. She said she'd had to leave & go to the bathroom to collect herself, because she immediately thought of me & could see how distraught I was.

Well, if people didn't know before that I lost a baby, I guess they know now. :p  I'ts not like I've tried to keep it a secret -- but at the same time, it's not something I've talked about openly, either -- especially in an office filled with idealistic young singles, newlyweds and expectant parents. It kind of seems like bad taste to bring up around them -- and even if I did talk about it, nobody ever thinks it's going to happen to them, right?

My boss kindly asked if I'd like to stay home tomorrow. I don't think I will -- it's not about me -- but I'm not sure how productive I'll be. :p   I am still feeling a tad shaky. And exhausted. 

I've crossed my fingers & toes & other body parts through many, many office pregnancies these past 15 years. This is not the first coworker who's lost a baby since Katie -- but they have (thankfully) been very far & few between. As I said, this is one of my worst nightmares come true. I am devastated for her.

I'm going to talk to her boss tomorrow & pass along my contact info. What else is there to do? :( 

Katie's LMP date was this past week. February 8, 1998. The cycle begins anew.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Recent reading

When something piques my interest, I tend to immerse myself in it -- even when the subject matter is not exactly mainstream. This includes infertility, pregnancy loss and... true crime cases. I read at least four books on the infamous Bernardo/Homolka murders & trials (the Chinese restaurant in Scarborough where Bernardo liked to hang out is just up the street from FIL's house -- although it's now an Islamic mosque)(!), and I just finished reading two books about the Shafia murders, back to back, both written by reporters who covered the trial.

I wrote about this case right at this time last year, just after a verdict was reached in the trial of Mohammed Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya, and their son Hamed, originally from Afghanistan. The victims were the couple's three (mildly) rebellious teenaged daughters and Shafia's first (polygamous) wife, Rona Amir -- who was infertile, prompting Shafia to take a second wife, Tooba (who treated her childless sister-wife like a servant). Rona nevertheless stuck around and helped to raise the seven Shafia children, whom she loved dearly. (Needless to say, Rona's story, in particular, resonated deeply with me.)  Their bodies were found in a car that was submerged in a few feet of water at the bottom of the locks on the Rideau Canal near Kingston (where dh & I spent our anniversary last summer).

The book by local Kingston reporter Paul Schliesmann, Honour on Trial, is a quick read -- just 207 widely spaced pages, set in large type, with each "chapter" just a few pages long.  Nevertheless, it lays out the basic elements of the case well, and also focuses on the practice of honour killings and some other recent examples of honour crimes in Canada. It would be a good choice for someone looking for a quick overview of the story.

Without Honour by Rob Tripp is a longer and more detailed account -- almost too detailed in some parts. I could have done without the word for word retelling of the police and courtroom interrogations.

But Tripp's eye for detail adds much to our knowledge of the family and the case. He brings each of the victims to life, with help from the neighbours, teachers, relatives, girlfriends -- and boyfriends -- who knew them. He also tells us more about the police officers involved and the techniques they used to investigate and crack the case. The book includes photos, not just of the Shafia family members but of the Kingston Mills site where the car was pulled out of the Rideau Canal, which also add to our understanding of what happened.

Timothy Appleby reviewed both books in The Globe and Mail in December. You can read his take on them here.

*** *** ***

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley is the fifth in his series of novels about Flavia de Luce, precocious pre-teen chemist/detective, and her family. Flavia, as one reviewer put it, is "Harriet the Spy by way of Agatha Christie, with a dash of Lemony Snicket and the Addams Family. Who could resist?" Because each book builds on the one(s) before, however, I would recommend you start with the first Flavia novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and work your way through the series.

It's coming up to Easter, as well as the 500th anniversary of the local parish's patron saint, St. Tancred. Flavia is present when the saint's tomb is opened -- and the excavators find a little more than they had bargained for. On the home front, Flavia is also facing significant changes afoot at Buckshaw, the de Luce family's crumbling ancestral mansion.

Beyond the murder that drives the plot, Flavia learns of the tragic death of a child. The absence of her adventure-seeking mother, Harriet, who died when Flavia was a baby, also continues to haunt the family. 

The book wraps up the mystery at hand... but nevertheless ends with a cliffhanger!! -- and it's a doozy, too. Exhilarating & frustrating at the same time. Unfortunately, I will have to wait until early 2014 for the next installment in the story -- tentatively titled The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches -- to find out what happens next. (Arrrrrggghhhhhh....!!)

But there's more than just another book to look forward to (Bradley actually has another five planned).  I remember writing in a review of a previous Flavia book that I thought they would make great episodes of PBS's Masterpiece Mysteries. Looks like the goddesses were listening: I recently stumbled onto a news item announcing that director Sam Mendes (whose latest movie was the critically and popularly acclaimed James Bond flick, Skyfall), has optioned the Flavia books to be adapted for television.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pamela & I meet the "Bitter Infertiles"

I was honoured to be asked by the Bitter Infertiles to chat with them this past weekend (via the magic of Skype) about childless/free living. Even better, I got to share the discussion with the premiere spokeswoman for our little (but growing!) corner of the ALI blogosphere, the thoughtful and articulate Pamela of Silent Sorority. Mo & Cristy asked us some excellent questions and had some great observations, and the hour flew by. The podcast of our conversation is now available for your listening pleasure here. (The podcast & other resources are also on the Bitter Infertiles blog.)  Please let us know what you think!

The sound quality at the beginning isn't that great... but it does improve somewhat after the introductions -- so hang in there ; ) (although for whatever reason, it's continues to be less than perfect on my end -- my apologies).

(And please excuse the coughing in the background -- ummmmm, that was me and my cold. :p  I had a big mug of tea, a roll of lozenges and a box of tissues sitting beside my laptop ; ) but it still wasn't quite enough to maintain total background silence.)

Appropriately, the show was taped (yes, I'm old-fashioned, but you know what I mean...) on Pamela's six-year blogoversary. Pop on over to offer your congratulations!

And if, after you've listened to us, you're still craving more food for thought about the childless/free life, you can watch this hour-long videotaped session from the recent Fertility Planit show in California -- which dares to address the unpopular subject of "Letting Go of Having Genetic Offspring." The panel includes bloggers Lisa Manterfield of Life Without Baby and Tracey Cleantis of La Belette Rouge, and is moderated by Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie. Check it out!

And finally, Tracey wrote a great post after participating on the panel, expanding on her remarks & laying out her personal five-step recipe for moving on and letting go. Your own mileage may vary, but I agree with every one of her steps, which mostly reflect my own journey too.