Tuesday, February 26, 2019

End of an era

In those first few awful weeks after I lost Katie, and especially once my parents left and dh went back to work, I spent a lot of time on the computer, searching endlessly for answers -- why had this happened to me? -- and reassurance that I wasn't the only one out there to have experienced this tragedy.  I found some message boards, but being relatively new online, I was a little leery about putting myself out there in such a public way (even under a pseudonym). (Blogs had yet to be invented, or at least popularized, and Facebook was still 7 years away from being launched.)

And then I found a website connected to a private email list for women (& men, although the vast majority of members were women) who had lost babies and were either trying again, or experiencing a subsequent pregnancy. It was called Subsequent Pregnancy After a Loss Support, SPALS for short.  I was accepted as a member, opted to receive digests instead of individual emails, and wrote my first post, introducing myself and telling my story.

And then watched as my inbox filled up with messages of welcome and sympathy.

I had found my tribe.

We started attending an in-person support group, once or twice a month, around the same time -- but that was a LONG time between meetings for a newly bereaved mom. SPALS filled the gaping hole in between "real life" meetings, and became my daily lifeline, especially in those early weeks & months. When I went back to work in October, fellow SPALSers were there with advice & support. They were there when we started trying to conceive again, and when we sought help, first from Dr. Ob-gyn and then Dr. RE.

It was customary for members to include their TM (Trying Mom -- pregnant moms signed themselves as PM, or Pregnant Mom) status as part of their signature... mine looked something like this:

(email address)
Mom to Kathleen Maria (Katie), s/b @ 26 wks LMP, Aug. 7/98.
TM cycle #xx

Below my signature, I added:

"Life is what happens while you're making other plans." -- John Lennon

eventually joined by

"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." -- Joseph Campbell

(Both quotes now appear in the sidebar of this blog.)

My final failed IUI (in June 2001, when I was 40) marked the end of cycle #27 since we started trying again after Katie's stillbirth. Skimming through my old emails to the list (I have saved almost every one of them! -- hundreds and hundreds of them, over the years), I found this one from September 8, 2001 (just a few days before the tragedies of September 11th):
Hi everyone, 
A SPALS friend recently commented to me that I'd been rather silent lately & asked whether I was still staying with the list, given that I've stopped infertility treatment.  So I thought it was time for a bit of an update on where my life is at. 
I guess one reason I've been quieter (though not completely silent -- I counted & I did post nine times in August!) is that I have not returned to the RE, so I don't have any day-by-day updates on treatment to report on anymore!  While I reserve the right to change my mind, I don't think I will be going back anytime soon, if ever. 
This doesn't mean we have given up ttc altogether -- but I know our chances are pretty slim.  I got one of the Clearplan Easy Fertility Monitors & started using it this cycle (now cycle #30!), but I have no great faith that it will work where 300 IUs (4 amps) nightly of GonalF & IUI didn't.  I'm just trying to looking at it as neat gadget I can have some fun with!  : ) & not obsess too much... 
While part of me feels guilty for "giving up" when I could have tried IVF, donor egg, a surrogate or what have you, I have reached the point where the physical, emotional & mental strain of treatment just got to be too much. I've come to realize that just because the option is there doesn't mean that you have to try it, or that it's personally right for you.  In a way, I think it was simpler 30 or 40 years ago, when you either had kids or you didn't, and didn't have all these choices to make  & dilemmas to weigh! 
Everyone has their own limit, & I think I reached mine, as evidenced by the anxiety attacks I had in June. I have not had any since then, thankfully, & while I sometimes get depressed knowing that, by giving up on treatment, we likely won't ever have a living child of our own, it feels good to be free of that particular source of stress in my life.  I have been hanging out on several "childfree living" forums on the Web & trying to focus on dh, projects around our home & the good things we have in our life together, instead of what I don't have & may never have. 
I still plan to stay with the group.  Regardless of whether I ever have a living child, I do have a daughter, even though she is not on this Earth, and this is one of the few places where I AM recognized as a mother.  What I have been through these past 3-4 years has shaped who I am today, & will always be a part of me.  SPALS has been a big part of my life.  Next week it will be three years since I joined, & I honestly don't know how I would have survived without all of you to lean on! 
So even though the "subsequent pregnancy" part of the equation has continued to elude me (& may never come to pass), I hope I can still be of some support to the rest of you. 
Besides, I can't leave now -- I still have to see all the oldtimers, like [names], through their SPALS pregnancies!  : )
Much love & hugs to all...
Despite what I wrote, I gradually (perhaps inevitably) drifted away from the list. I still kept updating the cycle number in my signature for another year or so, but once I hit cycle #40 (sometime in 2002), something in me broke, and I changed it to "too many cycles to count anymore!"  By mid-2004 (when I was 43), I stopped referring to my cycles completely.  

For a while, I continued to respond to posts when I thought I could offer my experience or advice. But my words felt less and less relevant as time went on, I got older, the newly arrived grieving members seemed to get younger, and the remaining oldtimers I knew delivered their subsequent "rainbow" baby... and then a second, and sometimes a third, or more.  

I only posted twice in 2005, once in 2006 (on Katie's birthday) & once in 2007.  I haven't posted there since then. And gradually, the digests landed in my inbox less and less frequently, until I was receiving just a few digests per year. Apparently most of the action eventually moved over to a Facebook group. I have remained in touch with a handful of former SPALSers over the years, mostly as Facebook friends. One of them (Julia, who lost a daughter the very same day as I lost mine) later became a blogger (although she's no longer active there).  

Still, I couldn't bring myself to unsubscribe. 

I got a new digest this morning, the first in several months, I think. As I scanned over its contents, I felt a pang of sadness -- and then a warm wave of nostalgia &  profound gratitude.

After 24 years, the longtime list administrator -- a bereaved dad who was one of the early members of the list himself -- is shutting the list down.  For many years, the listserv has been run from a private server donated by a(nother) bereaved dad who benefited from the list. He can no longer offer us the server, and while it would be theoretically possible to move the list elsewhere, it has been effectively dormant for several years now, and new members have not been admitted for some time.

And so the list where I first found solace online as a newly bereaved mom, 20+ years ago -- and where thousands of other bereaved parents from all over the world have found a safe haven over the years -- is ceasing operations. Several members have responded to the admin's post announcing the end of the list with final posts of thanks. I sent one of my own this afternoon. I also removed the site from my list of resources on this blog.

Thank you, SPALS. I will always treasure the years I was a member, and be grateful for the support I found there.


  1. Wow, did I feel a whole bunch of emotions reading your post. We were going through our family building efforts at the same time, but because I was living in a second world country at that time, I didn't find online communities until a few years after you did. And when I did, it was just SO GOOD to felt gotten. And then I drifted away...and then FB changed things...and there have been so many parts to the life-cycle of on trying to create life and my online life.

    Thank you for filling in for me pieces I hadn't known about your journey. ❤ I'm glad SPALS was there for you. And I'm glad you were there for all those you served with your wise posts.

  2. I can relate to all these different emotions. Finding places where people get you is I think integral to healing. I'm so glad you had this place, or rather, these people - because none of these "sites" mean anything without the people - to help you though. And I know you helped many there too. And that's important, a tribute to what you have both been through, and honours your Katie too.