Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd" by Alan Bradley

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know I am a big fan of the Flavia de Luce mysteries by by Alan Bradley. Flavia is a pint-sized (age 12) chemistry buff who lives in a crumbling mansion called Buckshaw with her father and two older sisters, and uses science and her wits to solve a number of mysteries in and around her small English village of Bishop's Lacey in the early 1950s post-war England.

The long wait is finally over, and Flavia #8 is now in bookstores. I was fortunate enough to find a copy a few days before it was supposed to go on sale officially. (In fact, it's more than a week since the official release date and my local bookstore still doesn't have it. Grrrrr....) 

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd picks up immediately where its predecessor (As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, reviewed here) left off. It's just before Christmas, and Flavia arrives home from a brief stint at school in Canada, expecting her family there to welcome her back. Instead, the only person there to greet her is the family retainer, Dogger -- and he has bad news: her beloved father is sick and in the hospital. Left to her own devices (even more so than usual), it doesn't take long before Flavia stumbles onto a new mystery to solve.

It was good to have Flavia back home with the familiar cast of characters around her. The actual mystery never seems to matter too much in these books -- it's the characters and the wonderful writing that hold our attention. While each mystery is self-contained, there's a continuing storyline unfolding that gradually reveals more information about Flavia & her family -- and keeps us coming back for more.  For that reason, I would highly recommend starting with the first Flavia book, "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie," and working your way through the series in chronological order.

The mystery gets solved, but there's a cliffhanger at the end that had me gasping -- and reaching for the Kleenex box. I am not sure how long we have to wait for the next installment in the adventures of Flavia -- but it won't be soon enough to suit me!

This was book #17 that I've read to date in 2016.

Monday, September 26, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Ready or not...

The wedding is this coming weekend.

I've already dusted off my speechwriter's hat and helped BIL craft his father of the groom speech, and sniffled my way through reviewing a draft of Younger Nephew's best man speech. I've admired the groom's new suit and gulped as I imagined him in it, standing at the altar, waiting for his bride.

How did he grow up so quickly?

(I've been trying not to imagine what his cousin would have looked like in her bridesmaid dress, and how scarily grown up SHE would have been right now too.) 

I've had my dress & earrings since last March, and have assembled shoes, flipflops, an evening bag, waterproof mascara & other cosmetics to go with it. I've also bought five different bracelets (I'm not joking) and will decide at the last minute which one will be the perfect one to wear. I've satisfied myself that dh's suit doesn't need cleaning and that he has a clean dress shirt and suitable tie and shoes.

I'm taking my regular point-and-shoot camera along with my cellphone camera, but I still have to charge my camera batteries & make sure I have a backup memory card. I have taken thousands of photos of these two boys as they've grown up, and even though there will be professional photographers there, I'm not about to stop now, on this day of all days. ;)  And I need to put together a bag with all the essentials -- epi-pen, ibuprofen, Q-Tips, hairspray...

It's an outdoor ceremony, so please cross your fingers that the weather holds...!

I can't believe it's finally here.

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here   

Thursday, September 22, 2016


I read an interesting article from Slate's Double XX blog this afternoon (by parenting writer Elissa Strauss, who wrote that great critique of Rachel Cusk's review of Julia Leigh's book "Avalanche"), and it got me thinking.

Strauss had read an essay by actress Ashley Williams about her miscarriage and the silence surrounding it (an excellent read itself). She agrees with Williams that we need to end the silence that surrounds miscarriage -- that speaking out will help to normalize an experience that 25% of all women go through:
These were questions I asked myself after miscarrying an 8-week-old embryo last spring. I was aware of how common miscarriage was, but had heard little about what it would actually feel like. As such, I was not prepared for two weeks of bleeding, nor did I anticipate going into labor and giving birth to two softball-sized blood clots halfway through. Knowing this was possible beforehand would not have relieved the immediate discomfort, but it would have helped prevent much of the debilitating shock I felt for the following weeks.

(Hmmm, sounds a bit like something I wrote a few weeks ago. ;) )

However, she objects to Williams' use of the word "survivor" to describe herself.
I understand the instinct to frame women who have had miscarriages as survivors; it’s a way to find meaning, even redemption, in chaos. Still, it’s wrong, in both logical and emotional terms. 
When we call someone a survivor we are emphasizing the unacceptability, or unnaturalness, of the situation they were forced to endure. We don’t survive what is normal, we survive what is exceptional or repugnant. If the goal is to make miscarriage feel normal, then the survivor label is counterproductive.

She notes that others have objected to the survivor narrative, including Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon (who has dealt with stage 4 cancer) and Parul Sehgal in the New York Times Magazine, writing about women who have experienced sexual violence.  (Both are great articles too.) "It’s not enough for a woman to deal with something crappy, but we’ve got to make a hero narrative out of it, too," Strauss points out.

I understand that. It's why so many of us tell people that we're fine, just fine, even when we (still) feel like crap sometimes. It's why so many women living without children after infertility & loss feel like they can't just live an ordinary life -- if their life is going to be so different from other women's because they're not having children, then they need to do something REALLY different, and grand and bold and adventurous and fabulous -- because they can!! Right??  

I understand the point that Strauss and the others are making, and it's a valid one. But there's no getting around the fact that, right now, at least, miscarriage and stillbirth and infertility are NOT normal experiences. OK, miscarriage might be a normal experience from a biological perspective -- but it doesn't feel that way. The silence and shame and stigma that surround it are not normal, and certainly not acceptable. Until we do normalize miscarriage and other kinds of pregnancy loss, and until those of us who have been through these traumatic experiences begin to feel supported and heard and not so "other," I would not deny those who feel like they have survived something and want to call themselves "survivors" the right to do so.

What do you think? Do you consider yourself a survivor of pregnancy loss &/or infertility? Is there a term that you would prefer instead? (Or do we need to label ourselves in this way at all?)

(Do I feel like a survivor? Sometimes, yes.)

*** *** ***

And now, just because the earworm has been planted ;) and because it's one of dh's all-time favourite songs: 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Avalanche: A Love Story" by Julia Leigh

I am always up for a good "repro-lit" read -- especially when it reflects my own story (i.e., it doesn't end with a baby) -- and earlier this year, when Pamela first wrote about "Avalanche: A Love Story" by Australian writer and film maker Julia Leigh, I put it on my wish list. Unfortunately, it took some time before the book became available in Canada;  I was finally able to download an e-copy to my Kobo in August, after Pamela announced she'd be hosting a book tour with author participation. (I also love discussing books with other people!)

"Avalanche" is not a long book -- 133 pages -- but it packs a powerful punch. Reading it brought back a flood of memories from my own days in treatment (which you can read about under the label "The Treatment Diaries") -- not all of them good. It could be a difficult read, depending on where you are in your own infertility journey.

Leigh was 38 when she met, fell in love with and married Paul (they had actually met years earlier, then reconnected). The vision of Our Child (in capitals and italics) took hold in Leigh's mind, and quickly became all-consuming. Right from the start, however, there were challenges: besides Leigh's advancing age, there was also the obstacle of Paul's vasectomy. When a reversal was unsuccessful, he underwent a surgical procedure to retrieve and freeze his sperm. Before they got to use it, though, the marriage fell apart.

Leigh decided to try for motherhood on her own. Her ex refused to let her use his frozen sperm, so (while mourning the loss of Our Child, the child she had envisioned) she began the search for another donor. She finally found one, a willing male friend, when she was 42, and over the next two years, embarked on a series of ARTs, including egg retrieval and freezing, fresh and frozen embryo transfers, ICSI, IUIs and various "add ons" that Leigh's doctor suggested might (might! -- or might not... "It's up to you...") improve her odds of success ("embryo glue," anyone??).  She toyed with -- and rejected -- the idea of using a donor egg. Her sister offered to carry a baby for her. The treatments took a rising toll on her physical, emotional and financial well-being, until she finally reached the point where she knew she could not continue.

Reading "Avalanche" brought back a flood of memories for me, from the endless number of carrots offered that keep fertility patients coming back for more, right down to noticing the doctor's expensive car parked outside the clinic. From an emotional perspective, it's not an easy read (although it's beautifully written), but based on my own (far more limited) ART experiences, I think it's a pretty accurate one. It's something of a cautionary tale -- but it would be worthwhile reading for anyone thinking of embarking on ARTs, as well as anyone (including family & friends) who wants to know what women go through when they attempt ARTs. People -- and I include my pre-ART self among them -- often assume that "oh well, you/we can always do fertility treatments" without realizing exactly what that is going to involve -- that it's a slippery slope, that you'll find yourself crossing lines and doing things that you never imagined existed in the first place -- and (especially) that all your time, money, pain and effort will not necessarily result in a take-home baby. The mind-numbing litany of details contained in "Avalanche" might be shocking to the uninitiated -- but they also confirm to those of us who went through it (or something like it) that yes, this IS a Very Big Deal and not something that should be entered into lightly. 

My main issue with the book, if I can call it that, is it left me wanting more. Leigh wrote the book shortly after she abandoned fertility treatments (which might account, in part, for its raw tone and vivid descriptions).  I am hoping for a sequel, or an epilogue to any future editions, because I would like to know how she is doing and how her life has unfolded since then.  (Of course, she is answering readers' questions as part of Pamela's book tour, so perhaps we'll hear something there about her life today!) 

This review is part of a book tour organized by Pamela at Silent Sorority. Here's her post with all the details and a linked list of others who are participating! 

ETA: Updated link with live reviews: http://blog.silentsorority.com/not-going-sugar-coat-failed-ivf-grief-real/

This was book #16 that I've read so far in 2016.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Right now...

Right now... (an occasional meme): 

Reading:  "Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd" by Alan Bradley -- the latest Flavia de Luce mystery. Review to come shortly!

Watching:  The new television season has begun... and not a moment too soon, lol. ;) Looking forward to the return of "Poldark" on PBS this Sunday night! :) :) :) 

Listening: I recently listened to a podcast I'd bookmarked a few weeks ago from Dawn Davenport at "Creating a Family" that talked about the childless/free option and how you make that decision. The podcast is actually a rebroadcast from 2014, and one of the speakers is Australian broadcaster & author Sheridan Voysey, who wrote a book ("Resurrection Year") about the decision he and his wife made to live childfree after infertility. I thought it was a great conversation with some really good points made -- and including that elusive male perspective, to boot! ;)

Drinking:  Tea -- my preferred caffeine fix. :)   

Eating: Baked pork chops for dinner tonight.   And cookies that I baked last weekend on a rainy Saturday.

Wearing:  Still wearing capris & sandals outside, and shorts inside -- the weather has been beautiful! (and I hope it continues for a while longer..!)  -- but I know those days are numbered... 

Loving:  Being able to sit on the sofa with the balcony doors open, with light flooding in and a bit of a breeze.

Anticipating: Older Nephew's wedding. I know I've been saying this for a while now (lol!!), but it's coming up very soon!!

Hoping: The weather holds until then (outdoor ceremony, eeek). (They do have an indoor space available, just in case!)

Following: The weather forecasts for the next two weeks. Closely. (lol)

Wondering:  When work on the townhouse site behind us is going to resume. It's been pretty quiet back there lately. (Not that I'm complaining about that...!)

Trying:  To keep my inbox weeded out on a more regular basis.

Planning: To have BIL & SIL over for dinner on Saturday night, and to invite some of our friends over once this wedding is over with. :)  We used to have people over a lot when we were first married, and then I got out of the habit. Plus the kitchen/eating area at our house was pretty small and not especially conducive to entertaining. Just having a couple of people over for coffee would put me in a tizzy! Our condo is small, but the space is more open and flexible. I find a lot (not all, but a lot, lol) of my anxiety over entertaining has dissipated, and I'm actually looking forward to having people come to visit. :)

Contemplating: Whether we can squeeze in a quick trip somewhere after the wedding (but before Christmas). We were thinking about an Atlantic Canada road trip with BIL & SIL after the wedding, but the timing is not good and so we've postponed that idea until next year.

Monday, September 19, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: It's in the bag... ;)

SIL & I, along with our dhs (brothers to each other),  spent Saturday night at the mall, shopping for the so-far elusive perfect evening bag/clutch to go with her mother-of-the-groom dress. This was our second such trip in about a week, and probably the half-dozenth since we went dress shopping last spring.  On our previous excursion, we didn't find the bags we were looking for -- but we did both find new shoes to go with our dresses. We'd actually both bought new shoes earlier this summer, but the new shoes we found matched our dresses better, fit better and were cheaper too. How could we resist?? ;)  (And note to Mali: I also found a great pair of dressy silver flip-flops to change into later for dancing, should the shoes start to chafe. Thanks for the tip!)

SIL was out of luck in the evening bag department -- but I scored. Nevermind that I already have two silver evening bags in my closet that probably would have done the job perfectly well. ;)  This one perfectly matched my new shoes. Even better, it was marked down from $34.99 to $27.99. And even better still, when I got to the cash register, it scanned in at $22.99. I also found a fabulous bling-y bracelet.

Dh & BIL watched with bemusement as we looked at and nixed one evening bag after another in store after store after store. We wanted something champagne-y, to match the underlay on SIL's lacey dress, as well as her shoes. Most of the bags we found were too gold or too silver.

"Who's going to care??" dh finally asked me, half perplexed, half exasperated. I tried to explain to him that yes, in the end, a plain black evening bag could probably suffice. But there's a certain thrill in finding the perfect accessories and perfect makeup and nail polish colours to go with the perfect dress, especially for an occasion that's as special as this one. I can't speak for SIL, but for me, knowing that I look my absolute best gives me a big boost of confidence and frees me to enjoy the evening more.

Do you agree?

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.   

Friday, September 16, 2016

An avalanche of opinions

You would think a cover review of not just one but two infertility-related books in the Sunday New York Times's Books section would be a good thing, right? Who wouldn't want to see their book featured in the NYT?? and at the same time, shed a spotlight in a well-read and respected publication on an often-ignored and misunderstood issue.

It's not a good thing, however, when the reviewer is as seemingly clueless about the subject and lacking in empathy as Rachel Cusk appears to be.

The Sunday New York Times Book Review of Sept. 4 featured Cusk's review of two infertility-related books. The second was a new book by Belle Boggs, "The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine and Motherhood." The bulk of the review, however, focused on "Avalanche: A Love Story" by Australian novelist/filmmaker Julia Leigh. 

I had not yet read Leigh's book when I read Cusk's review, so I was not in a place to comment on its merits or shortcomings, as a work of literature or as a representation of the infertility experience. But Cusk's review nevertheless left me -- an infertile, childless woman reader -- slack-jawed. Gob-smacked, as the Brits sometimes say. I decided that regardless of not having read the book, I needed to write about this, now. (I've since read the book -- I'll be posting about that next week -- and I got sidetracked by life over the past few days -- but I'm still sufficiently hot under the collar about the review that I decided to publish this post now anyway.)

Cusk opens her review with a rambling comparison between her creative writing students -- students wanting to be writers -- and women embarking on IVF. 
Some of them [her writing students] had been longer in pursuit of that goal than others, and for these more thwarted individuals I sometimes felt fear — that they would spend all their money and time on what would in the end prove a fruitless ambition, and more, that they had started to idealize “being a writer,” to detach it from what writing really was or ever could be.

Then I read this:
“It never occurred to me that I couldn’t have children” is a statement that crops up frequently in the literature of I.V.F. A definition of subjectivity might be the failure to see what was given, and to understand thereby the meaning of what was not. The wisdom of experience is perhaps a wisdom of givens; but how can a parent — for whom the business of having children represents an accumulation of experience so colossal that it’s almost impossible to imagine what her world would have looked like without it — understand someone locked in the moment where the original impulse to have a child occurred, a moment that to them has become almost irrelevant? All parents know is that in that moment, they knew nothing at all.  [emphasis added]
Ouch. This is the ultimate sort of Smug Mommy remark, the kind of throwaway comment ("Oh, I can't IMAGINE my life without my kids...!")  that cuts infertile women to the quick and still has the power to smart, years after treatment has been abandoned. The condescension practically drips off the page. Poor deluded crazy infertiles, obsessing over something that clearly was not Meant to Be. Thinking they know what parenthood is going to be like, when they clearly understand nothing of the sort.

When conception & pregnancy come easily, I suppose it's easy to dismiss that initial impulse/desire to have a child as "irrelevant." And I am sure all parents, in retrospect, realize how little they knew when they first set out to have a child. As I wrote recently, there's a big difference between thinking you're knowledgeable and prepared and then finding out, in the thick of things, how very little you actually know about any given situation. I was writing about infertility treatment and pregnancy loss, but it's also completely applicable to parenthood. I can understand that parents might find the naivete of prospective parents-to-be amusing.  Most of them, though, have the good grace to keep their mouths shut about it.

Leigh's assumption that she will be able to combine motherhood and a creative life also seems to raise Cusk's hackles:
...it is surprising to hear her dismiss in a couple of lines — replete, what’s more, with clichés — the honorable testimony of female literary history regarding what very much is the rocket science of combining artistic endeavor with family life. Her tone reminds me of the recent blitheness of the Brex­iteers, assuring they would “find a way” to make British independence work, despite the evidence to the contrary supplied by people who knew what they were talking about.
How dare she!! Right?

"Who is to blame?" Cusk concludes (!):
If one were not interested in the question of accountability, it would be simple merely to say that I.V.F. didn’t work for Leigh and her husband. But what is most distressing about “Avalanche” is also what makes it important: It is the work of a palpably weakened author, a testimony of personal suffering whose legitimacy — on this telling — seems to have gone outrageously ­unquestioned. [emphasis added]
Wow. Just... wow.
I was not alone in my reaction to Cusk's review. "What On Earth Was The New York Times Book Review Editor Thinking?" asked fellow childless-not-by-choice blogger Pamela Tsigdinos in Medium: 
...readers and reviewers may agree or disagree on the merits of the book. Does it engage? Illuminate? In my estimation it does both. Those, however, were not the questions answered or explored in The New York Times Book Review. Rather, Ms. Cusk’s review oozed with personal judgment.
Parenting writer Elissa Strauss offered a deft critique of Cusk's review on Slate's Double X blog, calling it "a lesson in how not to write about infertility:"
Cusk’s sideways dismissal of the experience of women going through infertility treatment, the sharpest corner in a largely amorphous piece, is a great illustration of why we need more writing on the subject. The review may not be an endorsement of the books themselves, but it stands as proof as to why they are necessary. Our collective understanding of reproductive challenges is so limited, so lacking in nuance, that even the most perceptive thinkers land in hackneyed, and insensitive, terrain when exploring the subject.... 
Infertility treatment  can be physically, emotionally, financially and, sometimes, ethically trying. It can be hard to know when to start, and even harder to know when to stop. To take something this complex and reduce it to an act of myopia or selfishness is really to miss the point.
(Thank you, Ms Strauss!)  

Interestingly, Cusk's was actually the second review of Belle Boggs' book published by the Times in less than a week. The first, printed a few days earlier, was written by Jennifer Senior, author of "All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood," which I reviewed here. Senior's review was much more sympathetic, albeit not entirely positive. She made a few well-considered points about how Boggs' book could have been better -- a lack of diversity, a rote rehash of certain topics. Fair enough. I would have liked to read HER review of Leigh's book.

Why not read the book(s), judge for yourself and let the rest of us know what you think? Pamela is hosting a book tour on Wednesday, Sept. 21st, where different bloggers who have read "Avalanche" will offer up their opinions -- and their questions for the author. I will be one of them :) and I hope you'll consider joining us! It's not a long book, so there is still time to participate. Check out the details on how to participate on Pamela's blog.

Pamela has already written about "Avalanche" for Huffington Post

Mali also reviewed "Avalanche" on her blog earlier this summer.

Monday, September 12, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Are you ready for some football?

Dh is over at his brother's right now, watching their favourite NFL football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Being close enough to be able to do these kinds of things is one of the reasons why we moved here, so I was happy to send him on his way. Not to mention that now *I* can watch what *I* want on TV tonight. (Hint: it won't be football, lol.)

My grandfather would watch all kinds of sports with equal ferocity -- football, baseball, basketball, hockey. I knew the Minnesota Vikings were the team to cheer for when I was growing up, lol, but that was about the extent of my awareness of the NFL for many, many years. I was far more familiar with our Canadian Football League, and its championship game, the Grey Cup, long before I'd ever heard of the Super Bowl. (Which is not surprising, since we only had ONE (count 'em) TV channel -- the CBC -- until I was 14 & we moved closer to a major city and to the U.S. border.)  Dh & his brother, and many people here in southern Ontario, who grew up watching American TV from Buffalo, prefer NFL football -- but if I have to watch football, I still prefer the CFL variety. (Someone has to cheer for the poor Toronto Argonauts, lol.) (Although the Winnipeg Blue Bombers remain "my" team -- and I still have a soft spot for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, dating back to childhood.) Which doesn't mean I watch games with any regularity. I usually watch the Grey Cup in late November, but that's the only game I will sit through in its entirety. I kind of consider it my patriotic duty, lol. 

I got my love of the CFL (such as it is) from my dad and his side of the family, all of them Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans. My first Grey Cup memory was of my dad pointing to our TV screen (black & white) & telling us to watch and see if we could see our aunt, his younger sister, in the crowd. My sister & I dutifully peered at the TV, but sadly could not see our aunt. This was in the late 1960s. We lived in Saskatchewan at the time, and my aunt was then a young single woman in her early 20s, living and working in Winnipeg. Back in those days, the cross-Canada passenger rail service was much more robust than it is now, and there would be a train designated "the Grey Cup special" that would start in Vancouver on the west coast & pick up fans in cities and towns all along the way to the game city. (A similar train would start from Halifax in the east and work its way west.)  In this case, the game was being played in Toronto. My auntie's trip has become the stuff of family legend. I asked her about it once, years later and her eyes lit up with enthusiasm as she described how much fun she'd had over that one very hectic weekend. She left work, caught the train with her girlfriend, partied all the way to Toronto, got off the train, went to the game, and then then basically got back on the train & partied all the way home again -- and then went to work, lol. Didn't even book a hotel (probably couldn't afford it). She still watches football regularly. (My mother has taken the train from Winnipeg to Toronto several times over the years. The route may have changed since the 1960s, but it takes her something like 30-35 hours -- one way -- depending on whether the train is running on time. Driving the same general route this past summer took us between 25 & 30 hours total. I can't imagine making that round trip over a weekend!!)

College football is a non-entity in Canada. Perhaps it's a little more popular at some schools than others, but by that, I mean the games will attract a few thousand people. I see the U.S. college football games on TV where the stadiums can -- and regularly do -- hold something like 100,000 people, all going crazy and wearing school colours, and I just can't relate. The football team at the university where I did my undergrad regularly gave away tickets to their games to the students in the dorms. I took the free tickets and went a couple of times with some of the girls from my floor, and the crowds were, at best, a few hundred people. Most university stadiums hold between 5-10,000 people at the most. The biggest crowd in Canadian college football history was at the 2012 Vanier Cup championship game at the SkyDome in Toronto -- 37,000 people. The game was held the day before that year's Grey Cup in the same stadium -- and the attendance was probably as large as it was only because people who bought Grey Cup packages and were in town for the weekend anyway would get Vanier Cup tickets thrown in for free or at a hefty discount. Different countries, different cultures, I guess...!

Are you a football fan? NFL, CFL, college or otherwise?

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, September 11, 2016

More odds & ends

  • It's September 11th, again, 15 years later. The retrospectives on TV still have the power to make me cry. I wrote my own personal 9/11 story here back in 2008.
    • The Toronto Star told, again, my favourite 9/11 story today.  It seems weird to have a "favourite 9/11 story," but from the day I heard it (reported on CBC), not long after September 11, 2001, it has been my favourite. Maybe because there's a Canadian angle, maybe because it's a heartwarming, feel-good story from what was generally an awful, awful day -- about enduring bonds and people in horrible circumstances risking their lives to help each other, and beating the odds to survive. 
  • As Mali suggested in the comments a few posts back, I tested my waterproof mascara this weekend by applying a double coat just before I jumped in the shower. Worked like a charm. :)  (Thanks, Mali!)
  • Some of you (Mel, lol!) were asking about Oldest Nephew's new puppy and whether (as I speculated) dh & I would be puppy-sitting while he & his bride are on their honeymoon in a few weeks' time. Funny, but that was the first thing I thought of when I heard they were getting a puppy -- couldn't/shouldn't they have waited until AFTER the wedding??  I guess the same thought (finally) dawned on Nephew, because a week or so ago, he approached his dad. "Ummm, dad, do you have any holiday time left this year?"  (In fact, BIL & SIL are taking some time off after the wedding to recuperate.)  So they will be looking after the puppy, and we're off the hook (whew!).  Nephew & Fiancee are also looking into doggie daycare &/or a kennel for the actual wedding day. Kids, right??! 
  • I had an abdominal ultrasound done on the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend re: my gallbladder (because of my apparent gallbladder attack back in early July), and the dr's office called me with the results on Tuesday. Yes, I (still) have gallstones (I was originally diagnosed with them back around 2002-03), and the gallbladder IS slightly inflamed. Removal (surgery) is an option -- but he suggested a wait-and-see approach (as did my previous dr and the surgeon he sent me to back then for a consultation) and advised me to try to avoid high-fat foods. (Erk!!) Aside from having all four wisdom teeth out at once when I was in my early 30s (and I'm not even sure that exactly counts?), I've never had surgery and I'm not anxious to start at this stage of my life...!
    • I may have blogged about this before, but when I was initially diagnosed with gallstones, I did a lot of reading about them online -- and I learned that there is a link between high levels of estrogen and gallstone formation. Many women first experience gallstones during or just after pregnancy, when their estrogen levels are elevated.  My estrogen levels during some of my fertility treatment cycles (2000-01) were sky-high at times. Makes you wonder, doesn't it...?  
  • I haven't had a lot of time to sort out my thoughts about Scottish politician Nicola Sturgeon's announcement about the miscarriage she had when she was 40 (she is now 46, and remains childless), which is why I haven't blogged about it before now. In a nutshell -- part of me is glad she spoke out because, as she said, every woman who speaks out about pregnancy loss &/or infertility helps to enlighten others and normalize the conversation about what has been a highly taboo topic. But part of me (and a few other childless/free women I know) winced to see yet another female politician of a certain age (hello, Theresa May!)  confessing to a lost pregnancy &/or infertility issues. See, they seem to be saying, I DID want to have children, really!  -- I'm not quite the cold heartless scheming ambitious bitch you think I am!  I realize this could be my own insecurities talking, of course. ;)  But, as this opinion piece points out, why should childless female politicians (or any of us without kids, by choice or otherwise) have to explain our choices to others?  (Different Shores also had a great blog post expressing this viewpoint: "Explain yourself, childless woman.") 
    • Scanning the headlines on Google for this story, words like "sorrow" "tragedy" "heartache" and "painful" leap out -- e.g., "Sturgeon reveals heartache over miscarriage."  Interestingly, I read the Sunday Times article in which the miscarriage was announced by Sturgeon's biographer, and there is nowhere Sturgeon is directly quoted where she refers to her miscarriage in those terms.

Friday, September 9, 2016

"The Bridge Ladies" by Betsy Lerner

When her 83-year-old mother needed surgery in January 2013, writer and literary agent Betsy Lerner moved in to help her recover. And every day, at least one of her mother's friends from her bridge club arrived, bearing a meal or baking. Lerner had known these women all her life -- the ladies had been playing bridge together for more than 50 years (!) -- but found herself pondering the differences between their generation and hers, and the enduring bond her mother shared with them.

"I knew that if I were to get sick, there wouldn't be such a steady stream of friends visiting," Lerner writes. "I'd be lucky to get a few texts with smiley face emojis and some messages on my wall.  Facebook may connect us across the world and through eternity, but it won't deliver a pot roast."

Lerner started spending time with the Bridge Ladies, observing the game, and interviewing them separately about their lives. Eventually, she started learning to play bridge herself.

"The Bridge Ladies" is about mothers and daughters. It's about a generation of women who grew up in a much more restrictive time -- and the much different generation that came after them, and the inevitable conflicts that resulted. It's about friendship. It's about aging. And, of course, it's about bridge.

And (surprise!! -- slight spoiler alert)  it's also about death, and grief and loss, including a couple of ALI stories, including one that's a key part of the book. Obviously, I found these parts of the book among the most touching and thought-provoking to read.

Overall, I enjoyed "The Bridge Ladies." It was not the kind of story that propels you along, full of action, etc. -- but the further you read, the more you come to enjoy and appreciate these women and how they have played the hand that life has dealt to them.  Lerner (whom I estimate is a year or two older than I am...!) has a keen eye for detail and includes some great descriptions of the people and places in her story.

I have to admit, though, that my eyes often glazed over when it came to the bridge games described in the book.  Much as my family enjoys playing cards together, I have never played bridge. I don't think my parents have either. (Rummy and canasta, yes. Bridge, no.) (My godmother, on the other hand, who never worked after she got married, once belonged to three different afternoon bridge clubs. At the same time.) Lerner does explain the game as she herself learns about it (and agonizes over it), but I have to admit, these sections of the book could have been Greek for all I understood. I wonder whether someone who had at least a rudimentary grasp of the game would get more out of this book, in that respect, than I did.

This was book #15 that I've read to date in 2016.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Odds & ends

  • Thank you for lending a sympathetic ear (eye?) to my back-to-school rant earlier this week. I always feel better after hammering out a good vent on the keyboard. ;)
  • Ranting aside, I have to admit, it felt a little odd Tuesday morning, when I realized for the first time in 26 years, I was not going to be looking out the kitchen window of our house & seeing the neighbourhood kids heading off with their backpacks. (There are a few children living in our condo building, but I haven't seen any in back to school mode this morning.)  LGND (six months younger than Katie would have been) will be entering Grade 12, her last year of high school. Even though it was sometimes hard having her as a yardstick for Katie, we knew her from the day her parents brought her home from the hospital, and it seems a bit strange that we won't be there to see how it all turns out & what she does with her life as an adult.  
  • I also have to admit that (as usual) it was the anticipation & buildup to the big day that was the hardest... I did get a bit weary of one back to school photo after another by the end of the day, but that's kind of par for the course, I think. Relatively speaking, I think I did OK!
  • Thanks also for weighing in on the merits of waterproof mascara & your favourite brands. I picked up a tube of Maybelline Great Lash to try before the big day. Not sure how I will test the waterproof aspect -- maybe look up some sad clips on YouTube?? ;) 
  • Peter Mansbridge announced earlier this week that he is stepping down as the anchor of CBC TV's nightly flagship news broadcast, "The National," after almost 30 years in the role. Those of you Stateside, think Walter Cronkite, in terms of his longevity and impact. It's hard to envision the news without him. Appropriately, he will be stepping down after hosting the Canada Day broadcast from Parliament Hill next year on July 1, 2017 -- while will celebrate our amazing country's milestone 150th anniversary.
  • I met him once, in the mid-1990s, when he agreed to take part in a silly stunt thing to promote & fundraise for my journalism school's upcoming 50th anniversary (I was an alumni rep on the steering committee). Afterward, he was heading out the door & seemed almost a little surprised when we started crowding around to shake his hand and thank him for coming. The thing that surprised ME most -- something you don't see when he's sitting behind the desk on TV -- is that he is a very tall man, well over six feet, with very broad shoulders. As part of the agenda, we'd had him type out a bit of doggerel on a manual typewriter -- it was still sitting in the typewriter and I took it before I left. I wonder if I still have it somewhere??

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The power of awareness and education

On that summer day 31 years ago, when I stood at the front of the church filled with friends and relatives in a fluffy white gown & said my marriage vows, I knew -- intellectually, at least -- that not all days going forward would be as happy as this one. "For better, for worse, in sickness and in health," we said to each other.

But few starry-eyed couples have more than a hazy idea of exactly how bad "worse" can get, and what forms it can take. I am sure that (unless, MAYBE, they have a close friend or family member's experience to draw upon) infertility and pregnancy loss rarely (if ever) make it onto their list of "things we're afraid might go wrong."  This is partly because most happy young newlyweds have difficulty imagining that anything could go wrong, period -- but also because infertility and pregnancy loss are so rarely discussed openly in our culture that when they do happen to you, it comes as a huge shock and incredibly isolating experience. Nobody's ever mentioned it, therefore, it hasn't happened to anyone else in your circle -- right?

Would it have helped these couples if someone had sat down with them, pre-marriage &/or pre-conception and, along with the usual list of Things That Might Go Wrong That You Will Have to Deal With (job loss, money problems, health issues...), stated bluntly that some parents who want babies don't get them, and that some of those much-wanted babies die before or shortly after their parents get to take them home (along with some sobering statistics) -- and here's what you need to watch out for?

Maybe.  I was probably more aware than some women of what might go wrong during a pregnancy, because I read a lot. And I carry around a nagging voice inside my head. If something is going to go wrong for somebody, OF COURSE, it's going to happen to ME. (My teenaged experimentation with drugs, alcohol and other illegal or semi-legal mischief, was pretty minimal, because I KNEW, beyond a doubt, that if anyone was going to get caught doing anything wrong, naturally, it would be me...!) 

Even so, reading will only take you so far, particularly when most women's health books & pregnancy manuals contain very little information about what might go wrong, and what to expect when it does. I was truly perplexed when I realized I was dealing with infertility. All the magazine articles I'd ever read on the subject talked about irregular periods and sexually transmitted diseases being the main culprits, neither of which were issues for me.

Of course, when I finally did get pregnant -- and "something" actually did happen to me -- it hit me like a ton of bricks, despite all my reading. I distinctly remember wailing in the ultrasound suite, after the technician left me alone (!) to clean myself up and return to my dr's office for further instructions: "WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME???" (When I got home, I pored over my pregnancy books again, grasping at straws, searching for reasons, and for any bit of information about what I could expect after this sudden twist of events, how my life was supposed to go on from this day forward. I was sadly unsatisfied on both counts.) 

I thought about this again after reading two recent blog posts about the desperate need for better awareness and education on these issues. 

Sarah at Infertility Honesty had a great post today about overhearing a group of eight young people celebrating an engagement, and their enthusiastic discussion about how many children each of them were going to have. Statistically speaking, at least one of those eight young people will experience fertility issues in the future.
"There was no acknowledgement whatsoever that babies might not come right away or at all.  No mention that many who want three kids can only have one, or maybe none, never mind what they have to go through to get there.  And the utter lack of control we humans have over human reproduction?  Nary a whisper of this truth.  Or this one: That you can’t always have what you want in the kid department, never mind the process of things not working can violently shove you through a transformation that makes the transition into parenthood look like kindergarten circle time."

Sarah resisted the impulse to head over to their table and deliver a lecture ;) but instead, poured out what she wishes she could have said in the form of a list: "Nine Things You Need To Know About Human Reproduction People Should Have Told You But Probably Didn't."  It's a great list -- go over & read it.

Of course, even if/when pregnancy occurs, a take-home baby is not guaranteed. So often, grieving parents of stillborn babies are told "Sometimes these things just happen" -- when in fact there are some simple things they can do to help improve the odds of their baby's survival, says Lindsey Wimmer, RN, in a recent post titled "The power of awareness" on her blog Stillbirth Matters. Several countries, including Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand and Scotland, have seen significant decreases in the numbers of stillbirths recently, simply by encouraging & teaching mothers to monitor their babies' movements and to come in immediately if they notice any changes or have any concerns, together with an increase in screening for fetal growth restriction.  Wimmer even provides a script for doctors to use for an honest discussion with their pregnant patients about the possibility of problems and what they can do to help -- which I absolutely love and wish would become standard practice throughout North America. Much as I adored (and still adore) my ob-gyn, I do not recall having any such conversation with him. It might not have made a difference in the outcome of my pregnancy, but it might have made a difference in how I felt about things afterward.

Knowledge is power. It does have its limits. Being aware of declining fertility isn't going to save you when your ovaries are shot at age 22. Likewise, despite the best efforts of parents & medical staff, not all babies can be saved.  And I am not sure that knowing more about infertility & pregnancy loss and how common they are is going to reduce the shock and pain you feel when it actually happens to you.

But knowing that you're not alone will go a long way toward reducing that awful feeling of isolation and stigma so many of us feel when "worse" happens.

Monday, September 5, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Back to school/empty nest rant

It's THAT time of year again.

I am bracing myself for tomorrow's flood of back-to-school photos & posts & "OMG they're growing up so fast" posts.

Yesterday, dh's cousin's wife -- pregnant at the same time I was -- chronicled in words & photos on Facebook how they took their oldest son to university, a few hours away, and helped him set up his dorm room -- and then left him there. Reminisced about watching him take his first steps, mourned that she couldn't believe he was all grown up and leaving home. Comments along the lines of "you done good, Mom," and "be strong!" had me wincing.

Once more, I'm left with the thoughts, the pain, the (yes) downright envy:

At least you got to watch him grow up.


I've missed an entire lifetime of moments with my daughter that other parents get to take for granted,.

(It might not be easy -- but they knew this day was coming, right?)

I'm sure it takes strength to raise a child to adulthood and then watch them spread their wings and fly away to live their own, independent life. To face that empty nest, after years of building your entire life around your kids and their activities.

But it also takes strength to give birth to a much-wanted child that will never take a breath -- and then live with all the woulda/shoulda/coulda beens for the rest of your life. Or to live without the children you wanted so very much and once assumed would be yours (just like so many other parents do), and try to find other ways to give your life purpose and meaning.  To realize that your own carefully constructed nest will never be full, will always be empty. 

I just wish more people understood that, recognized that, empathized with that. I am sure nobody, outside the ALI community, realizes what an emotional minefield this time of year is for me and women like me. I would rank it not far below Mother's Day in terms of emotional impact, for me at least.

I remember my own first days at university so well. It was the moment I'd waited for all through my teenaged years, and it was everything I'd hoped it would be, and more. I still think of university as the best time of my life.

I wish I knew what university my daughter would have been attending. What she'd be studying, where she'd be living. I wish I could be sharing in her excitement.

I know I write this same post at this time every year, and I must sound like a broken record sometimes.

But it sucks. It absolutely, completely sucks. :( 

Rant over. (For now. ;)  )

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.