Friday, November 29, 2019

"Notes to Self" by Emilie Pine

I am not sure where I first heard about "Notes to Self" by Emilie Pine, but when I saw it on the bookstore shelf, I knew it was something I had to pick up. It's a slim volume of six personal essays from a definite female/feminist perspective. I enjoy books like this that I can dip in & out of without losing track of plot or characters.

In this case, I found the book hard to put down -- but I also appreciated the ability to read one essay & then take a break to absorb what I had just read. Pine's writing is amazing, simply stunning at times, and breathtaking in its honesty.

Here's one passage (of many) that I marked with a post-it note, from the "Author's Note."  Let's just say, I can relate...! : 
There are many valid reasons why people keep difficult experiences private. Talking about them can feel like exposing a raw nerve. It can make us afraid of others' judgments. It can make us feel more, not less, alone. And so we keep quiet. But it's not just the risk of public exposure that that silences us;  our self-censorship is so often due to that disapproving inner critic, whose voice tells us that our lives are too small, or too messy, or too painful to share. I didn't want to listen to that critical, belittling voice any longer...
This passage (also from the author's note) may strike a chord with bloggers: 
Though I have written solely about my personal experience, readers have seen their own lives reflected in these pages. The emotions I kept in the dark for so long, it turns out, are not mine alone. The things we are afraid to say, the things we are ashamed of, or embarrassed by, these are not, after all, the things that isolate us. These are the things that connect us. And this realization leads me to another: In writing my life, I thought I was writing about pain. But I have also, accidentally, written about love. 
If, like me, you are childless-not-by-choice, you might like to know that Pine is "one of us," and writes movingly about her journey through infertility, miscarriage and, finally, acceptance (as well as her sister's pregnancy loss) in an essay called "The Baby Years." There's also an essay titled "Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes" that covers menstruation, menopause and body image that had me nodding along as I turned the pages.

Other topics Pine covers in this book include her father's alcoholism, her parents' failed marriage, her wild teenage years (including eating disorders, drug abuse and rape), and workplace sexism and workaholism.

Read it. It's amazing.

Five stars.

*** *** ***

Pine also had an essay in British Vogue recently. The title alone makes me want to stand up & cheer:  "A Childless Woman Is Not A Tragic Figure."  Sample passage: 
For a long time, during what I think of as "the baby years", I felt as if I were on the sidelines, as if the centre of life were moving on without me. And all through those years, the feeling I struggled most with was failure. I felt that if I tried harder, or took more hormones, or did more tests, I could find the cure for my failure to conceive, or to hold onto a pregnancy... 
I am allergic to the idea that failure is something we have to go through in order to reach success. But I am also done with failure, with marking my body and my life as something that has failed. Because the problem with failure is not just the dead-end of it, but the shame it comes wrapped in. 
In 2017 I wrote an essay about infertility. The first draft ended with the word "barren". That word expressed how bereft I felt, and how angry, and how shamed. And it is a powerful thing to claim grief and pain as your own. But it was a terrible word, a terrible conclusion. Re-reading the essay, I decided the most feminist thing I could do would be to write myself a happy ending. And so I wrote about the great life I saw ahead for me and my partner. A life without children. It felt speculative. And it felt hopeful. And, most of all, it felt like a giant "f**k you" to the persistent expectation that a childless woman is a tragic figure.
This was book #45 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 188% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 21 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 18 books.  :)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"Mrs. Tim Flies Home" by D.E. Stevenson

My D.E. Stevenson online fan group will be reading and discussing "Mrs. Tim Flies Home" together shortly, and I got a head start on the book.  :)  We've been reading all the "Mrs. Tim" books over the past two years, alternating them with other World War 2-era DES books for variety. 

"Mrs. Tim Flies Home" is the fourth and final book in the "Mrs. Tim" series, which began with "Mrs. Tim of the Regiment" (pre-war), followed by "Mrs. Tim Carries On" (set during the war) and "Mrs. Tim Gets a Job" (the immediate post-war era).

This book was first published in 1952, and was recently reissued in a new edition for the first time in many years. Like the others, it takes the form of a diary kept by Hester (Mrs. Tim) Christie, while her husband (Major Tim Christie of the British Army) is posted abroad.  Hester and Tim have been living in Kenya for the past 18 months, but Hester is longing to see their children, Bryan and Betty (now teenagers/young adults, attending boarding school & college back in England), and arranges to rent a house in the village of Old Quinings for the summer. 

Part of the fun of reading DES's books is how characters & settings from one book tend to pop up in another.  Old Quinings was the setting of our group's previous read, "Kate Hardy", and several characters from that book are present in this one too (plus there's a cameo appearance by Mr. Grace of "The Four Graces").  Several other characters we've come to know from previous Mrs. Tim books make an appearance -- including (surprise!)(NOT!)  Hester and Tim's friend Tony Morley (now a general).  That Tony carries a torch for Hester has been obvious to readers all through last three books (but not, however, to the completely oblivious Hester). Early in this volume, Tony meets up with Hester while she's on a stopover in Rome, which winds up becoming the subject of local gossip in Old Quinings -- and a potential wedge in Hester's marriage. 

This book very much reflects its time and setting.  Like most of DES's books, there's not a whole lot going on in the way of plot, but the writing is warm and wonderful, with memorable characters & witty dialogue. It's a pleasant way to spend a few hours (preferably with a cup of tea in hand).  :)  Some early passages where Hester describes life in Kenya are pretty cringeworthy from a modern, post-colonial perspective, but didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

Three stars on Goodreads (it would have been 3.5, if half-stars were possible!).

(Our next group read once this one is completed will be my personal DES favourite, "The Baker's Daughter." :)  )

This was book #44 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 183% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 20 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 17 books.  :)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Not the grandma

Back in the 1990s, there was a TV series called "Dinosaurs" about a family of... dinosaurs, of course. ;)  (Created by Jim Henson of the Muppets, I think.)  The baby of the family would never call his father "Daddy," simply referring to him as "Not the Mama." (I'm pretty sure I wrote a post once that used "not the mama" in either the title or body of the post, but I'll be darned if I can find it...!)

Well, I'm not the mama -- and I am not the grandma either.  The past few weeks have been a reminder of that in many ways.

I AM an auntie and now a great-auntie (and a very proud one at that!) -- which is pretty cool on its own merits. :)  But I know where I stand in the family pecking order, right?   Mom & Dad come first, then the grandparents. Then the aunts & uncles. And then the rest of us.

Dh & I are eager & willing to help, any way we can. (And, being retired, with a bit of extra money to spend these days, as well as time, we're ABLE to help in ways we couldn't 30 years ago, when our nephews were babies.) We LOVE any time we can spend with our nephews, and now our great-nephew. With few other obligations on our calendar, it would be very easy to be over there every day to spend time with the baby.

But we try to be careful not to intrude. (Too much.) Nobody has said anything to us about being a nuisance, mind you. (Quite the opposite:  BIL has made it clear that he expects us to show up, and often.)  It is, I will admit, self-imposed.

I remember showing up once at Cousin/Neighbour's house in our old community (a few blocks away from our house), shortly after their their first daughter arrived (more than 25 years ago now...!).  His wife's face sort of fell when she answered the door & saw us there. Clearly, she was exhausted by the demands of new parenthood, and not up to visitors, however good our intentions were. I tried not to take it personally, but the image has stuck in my memory all these years.

I recently read & reviewed the book "This Particular Happiness" by Jackie Shannon Hollis on this blog (here), and in my review, I highlighted a passage from the closing chapter that I'm still thinking about, weeks later:  
Leanne's girls turn to her for preparing advice. They'll turn to her for mothering advice. She's the one who's been through it.  
She buys baby gifts for her soon-to-be grandchildren and helps paint and set up the babies' rooms. I help some of the time. I buy gifts too. But I'm careful my gifts aren't too many, my offers to help aren't filled with my own needs... 
We first met the baby on Monday morning (as I wrote here on my blog) -- & I waited and waited to post something on social media (even though I was dying to, lol). (See my previous post on social media dilemmas!)  I was thinking, should I ask permission?  I was pretty sure the answer would be yes, but I really felt funny posting something before the parents & grandparents did.

The new mom & dad both posted about the baby's birth later on Monday -- and then Nephew's MIL (the baby's other grandmother). Then SIL finally posted something on Tuesday morning. Then SIL's niece/Nephew's cousin posted some photos from her hospital visit on Monday night -- & I thought "Screw waiting!"  lol And posted that photo of me holding him on Monday morning, and a couple of us putting up the Christmas lights outside BIL's  house on Sunday afternoon while we waited for the baby to be born.  (And then more last night & today.)

Tuesday night, we drove the new grandparents back to the hospital to see the baby again, and to bring a few things to the tired new parents. They mentioned needing some formula for when they got home -- the new mom is breastfeeding, but supplementing too. All the grandparents are still working (but we're not!) -- so BIL volunteered us to go get some, lol.  We had planned to go to the mall the next morning, but postponed the trip to the afternoon and made a morning trip to a nearby drugstore to pick up a case of formula. (Diapers were on sale, so we threw in a package of those too.)

Then we found out the kids were on their way home from the hospital! -- so we waited in the car outside the house until they arrived. We helped them unload the car and bring their stuff in (including the baby, lol -- and the formula & diapers we'd bought). The dog was in the basement & dh brought him upstairs to meet his new little brother. I grabbed my cellphone and started taking photos. It was the cutest thing to watch. We'd all been worried about his reaction -- but it was love at first sight, lol.  He greeted Older Nephew -- totally ignored poor Niece-in-Law (screw you, Mom!  lol) -- and then was all over the car seat with the baby sitting inside, or would have been, if we'd let him.  They had sent one of the baby's swaddling blankets home from the hospital with BIL & SIL on Monday night, to try to acquaint the dog with the baby's scent -- and I guess it worked!

I will admit, I was feeling guilty:  if anyone had the right to share this moment, it should be the grandparents, right?  But the grandparents couldn't be there -- so I am very glad we were able to help, and that I was there to take some photos of that moment.

We didn't stay too long. BIL told us to come over again later that night. We said no. Dh thought (& I agreed) that we should let the grandparents enjoy that first night with the baby themselves. (Also let the poor parents, & especially Niece-in-Law, get some rest...! -- WE were pretty exhausted ourselves, lol.)  We did visit on Thursday night, and again for a while last night.

*** *** ***

Of course, maybe I'm worrying about a whole lot of nothing, lol.

BIL played hooky from work briefly on Wednesday morning, dropping by the house to see his new grandson shortly after we left. He called dh & I as we were pulling into the parking lot at the mall to report that Nephew & Niece-in-Law were extremely grateful to us for the formula and other help.  Apparently Niece-in-Law said to him something along the lines of "Uncle Dh & Aunt Loribeth are the BEST!!  They're like little church mice (!), hanging around quietly in the background -- but they're always there when you need them."

Really, could we ask for a better compliment? That's exactly how we want it to be. We don't want to be pests, but we do want to be involved, and helpful.

Also: Thursday night, BIL reported to us that Niece-in-Law was musing about how most of her friends don't have kids yet (and are working during the day)... so maybe she & the baby could hang out with Uncle Dh & Aunt Loribeth and go to the mega-bookstore with them sometime?  Of course you can!!  lol  (Introduce Great-Nephew to books?  What else are great-aunties for, right?? lol)

Being closer to family -- and hoping to bond with the next generations -- was a big reason why we moved here 3+ years ago.  Moving & adjusting to a new community hasn't been a painless process -- but right now, I'm feeling like we made the right decision. :)  

Friday, November 22, 2019

Odds & ends from the childless/free community

Lots of things going on lately to share with you!
  • (Possibly a little late to be posting this one, but just in case...!) The folks at The Full Stop podcast (Michael, Sarah & Berenice) are getting ready for their next/December/Christmas/holiday season-themed episode (#8 -- already!), and they're inviting all of us to participate!  They're calling it "The Alternative ‘King and Queen’s Speech’" and inviting listeners to record a holiday message to the community THIS SUNDAY, November 24th, via a scheduled session on Zoom, or by sending them a voice recording in MP3 format.  Details on how to do this are available here. The episode will be released on or around December 15th. 
    • (If you haven't listened to The Full Stop yet, you should! The hosts are great, and they've had some wonderful guests and discussions about different aspects of childless-not-by-choice living!) 
  • Fertility Network UK recently sponsored a "More to Life" webinar for CNBCers on the subject of  "Coping with Holiday Expectations" by Jody Day of Gateway Women. The video is available for viewing on YouTube here
  • Sarah at Infertility Honesty recently spoke publicly about her CNBC experiences for the camera -- for a PBS Independent Lens video series, no less! (called "Should We Kid or Not?") -- with delightful results. See for yourself! She wrote about her experience in a recent blog post, which also includes the video & some related links. 
  • Lesley Pyne has updated her last year's Christmas survival guide in this recent post. She will be updating the post with additional resources as they become available, so check back from time to time, and feel free to let her know in the comments if you find anything helpful! 
  • Suzan Muir, an Australian CNBCer, is planning two long weekend retreats for CNBC women in Australia in early 2020:  
  • Interesting article in the New York Times last week about "The End of Babies." The title sounds a bit too alarmist (a la "Children of Men/Handmaid's Tale") for my liking, but it's a fairly thoughtful & thorough examination of declining fertility rates in the developed world, and the underlying reasons why a mismatch has developed between the number of children people SAY they want and the number they wind up having. Worth a read!  (But -- beware the comments!)
  • "To Kid or Not to Kid," a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Maxine Trump, has already premiered in New York and Los Angeles, and will be premiering later this month in Toronto. It's also going to be shown on CBC television on Nov. 30th, and I am hoping to catch it then!  According to the website, the film "aims to dispel the myth that living childfree is weird, selfish or somehow wrong. In a world where you’re threatened for speaking openly about living childfree, two women, from different decades, search for ways to support each other in making the decision to live without kids." 

Monday, November 18, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Introducing...

I am very, very proud to introduce you to our first great-nephew, E., first child for Older Nephew & his wife. :)

He was born last night (two days past his due date) around 9:30 p.m. by Caesarean section, weighing 7.5 lbs. Dh & I dog-sat :)  while BIL & SIL (the grandparents) went to the hospital for the delivery. We went to see him ourselves this morning. He is, of course, absolutely gorgeous, and looks just like his daddy & his uncle (our two nephews) did when they were born. I will admit that I started sobbing when the other proud grandmother (Nephew's MIL) came out of the room into the hallway with him and placed him in my arms. He was just so beautiful. :)  And of course, there was a lot of pent-up anxiety and emotion, waiting for his arrival.

I'll never be a grandma myself, and yes, that makes me sad sometimes -- but being a great-aunt sure is pretty special too. :)

His hand looks outsized in this photo, particularly in those mitts. :)  He does have lovely long fingers & toes. :)

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

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Odds & ends

  • No baby yet... :(  
  • We were at BIL's house tonight... the mom & dad-in-waiting (who also live there) were out, but their hospital bags were packed and waiting in the living room near the door. One bag for baby, one for mom, one for dad, and two for snacks, water, etc.  I laughed and told BIL they have almost as much luggage for a day or two in the hospital as we take for a two-week vacation to see my parents. (Okay, I was joking. Kind of.) 
  • Last week -- at 39 weeks pregnant! -- niece-in-law -- a talented artist who has a fine arts degree -- decided the baby's room needed a mural. She painted a cartoon version of their miniature dachshund to stand guard over the baby's crib. It's priceless. She posted a photo of it on social media & I crack up every time I look at it. 
  • I am SOOOOOOOO tired of the barrage of constant outrage on social media -- and I'm not even thinking about all the Trump-related stuff coming from south of the border. (I have a cousin in Scotland who posts all kinds of stuff about Scottish independence & Brexit, just to add an international flavour...!) What's been going on here in Canada has been MORE than enough, thank you (not). I thought things would calm down after our federal election in mid-October -- but that just segued into "Wexit" talk. Then last week Don Cherry got fired -- and then a talk show host on "The Social" (think "The View," "The Talk," etc.) shot off her mouth about hockey players, thus enraging the not insignificant number of people in this country who have either played hockey or been a hockey parent (not very smart...!)(she later apologized).  Someone speculated on Twitter that this is all being fuelled by bots with a vested interest in keeping things stirred up. I think there might be something to that. (I get outraged about certain things too, but I (usually) don't post about it. :p )
  • New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about Britain's efforts to tackle loneliness & social isolation -- something those of us without children are particularly susceptible to, especially as we age. "When I met [Baroness Barran, Britain's current minister for loneliness] I suspected that the minister of loneliness portfolio was a bit of a gimmick. In fact, I’m now persuaded that it’s a model for other countries," he says. 
  • Y'all know that November is not my favourite month ;) (albeit the last few Novembers, since I retired, have not been quite so bad).  I found myself nodding as I read Margaret Renkl's  beautiful, meditative "Ode to a Dark Season" in the New York Times recently. "At 58, I feel the throb of time more acutely with every passing autumn," she writes. (Being 58 myself, that line in particular really resonated...!)
  • Y'all also know that I love me anything that Dr. Jen Gunter writes (my review of "The Vagina Bible" here), and she has a fabulous piece in the New York Times on "The Ongoing Trauma of Prematurity," where she not only lends her professional perspective, but also her personal perspective as the mother of triplets -- one born & died at 22.5 weeks and the other two at 26 weeks, now 16 years old with ongoing medical issues and disabilities. Sample quotes: 
When we focus only on prematurity survivors, we erase that experience, for the parent and the child. Even 16 years later, at some point almost every day I think of Aidan. What I remember most vividly about his brief life is the volume of paperwork required to document three or four minutes of existence, and the pain of calling around for a mortuary... 
Unless we start taking about the realities of prematurity and stop sanitizing the experience with tidy summaries like most babies do “well,” nothing will change.

Friday, November 15, 2019

"Me" by Elton John

I posted this book cover on Facebook
with the caption: "Saw the movie... Went to
the concert.. Now reading the book.  Did NOT buy
the T-shirt... Those suckers were $65 each!!" 
When I think about the music that forms the soundtrack of my life, Elton John makes up a big part of it.  He was the biggest rock star in the world when I was growing up in the 1970s, and he & his music have continued to be part of my life in the almost 50 (!) years since then. I was 9 when "Your Song" became a huge hit (albeit my first exposure to it was a 14-year-old Donny Osmond singing it to an audience of screaming girls on the "Osmonds Live" LP, lol). "Daniel" was on a K-Tel record of hits that was played endlessly at the skating rink I frequented (also another Elton song, "Bad Side of the Moon," as sung by Canadian band April Wine). My Grade 8 classmates acted out "Crocodile Rock" as a Language Arts project.  And oh, the angst of watching the boys I liked slow dancing with other girls at our junior high dances to "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" or "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"...!

Later, as an adult, I was thrilled (after years of listening to Van Morrison warbling about his "Brown-Eyed Girl") that Elton wrote a song called "Blue Eyes." ;)  (Apparently it was written for his boyfriend of the time, lol.)  And I challenge anyone going through infertility to listen to "Blessed" and not feel like it was written just for us. 

(I could go on & on, but you get the drift.)

Having seen "Rocketman" earlier this year and attended one of his farewell tour concerts last month, I was happy to snap up a copy of Elton's memoir, "Me," the day it came out (but had to postpone reading it in order to get my various book club selections read first).

The movie was billed as a "musical fantasy" and it was interesting to read the book & figure out what was fact & what was cinematic embellishment. (No, he didn't stalk offstage at Madison Square Gardens & head straight to rehab in costume... although he did go to rehab & kicked drugs and alcohol after 16 years of abuse. Yes, his parents really were that awful.)

This book was frank, moving, insightful, witty, gossipy, occasionally catty -- and frequently hilarious. (I was reading it in bed & woke up dh -- I was trying not to laugh out loud, but I was shaking so much with suppressed laughter, I woke him up anyway, lol.) As one of my girlfriends (who also read the book) commented, "What a life he has had!" 

(ALI note: Elton's sons Zachary & Elijah were conceived using donor eggs and sperm from both him and his husband David -- they don't know which one of them is the biological parent -- and carried by a surrogate.).

If you're not an Elton John fan, or a fan of celebrity memoirs generally, you might not be quite as enthralled with this book as I was... but I absolutely loved it. It was SUCH a great read. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

This was book #43 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 179% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 19 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 16 books.  :)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Found it! :)

I haven't posted a photo of my Christmas card choice on this blog for several years now... mainly because (a) I've used photo cards the past several years (there were some good ones taken of me & dh at the nephews' weddings, all dressed up) and (b) I've had trouble finding one that says "Katie" (to me, anyway). 

But I didn't have a photo I wanted to use this year, so I had to start looking for an actual card. And I finally found one that fits the bill...!

May I present... Christmas Card 2019:

(Note the three little birds in the Christmas tree -- i.e., one for me, one for dh and one for Katie.)

Now for our great-nephew to FINALLY arrive (official due date tomorrow!)(Katie's was today, 21 years ago...), and I can fill in the details on the accompanying letter, and start getting them ready to send...!

Monday, November 11, 2019

#MicroblogMonday: Waiting

Still no baby (great-nephew)... 

(And that's about as "micro" a post as you're ever likely to get from me!  lol) 

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

Friday, November 8, 2019

"The Home for Unwanted Girls" by Joanna Goodman

"Another tragic one??" one of the women at the last meeting of my library book club commented, as we flipped through our copies of the next month's selection.


Most of our book club's picks over the past year have dealt with some pretty heavy (even depressing) material.  "The Home for Unwanted Girls" by Joanna Goodman fits this description. It could be categorized as an ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) read, in part -- adoption, grief and loss (including pregnancy loss) are among its themes. It is also based on a true and shameful chapter in Quebecois/Canadian history -- one I knew nothing about before reading this book.

The title of Hugh MacLennan's 1945 novel, "Two Solitudes,"  has become a metaphor for the historically troubled relationship between English and French Canadians, and their social and cultural isolation from each other.  This tension forms the backdrop for "The Home for Unwanted Girls." The story is set in 1950s Quebec, which was ruled, iron hand in iron hand, by longtime Premier Maurice Duplessis and the Catholic church.

Our heroine, Maggie Hughes, is the oldest daughter of a mixed marriage between her French-Catholic mother and Anglo-Protestant father. As a teenager, she raises the ire of her parents when she falls in love with Gabriel Phenix -- a poor French boy who lives and works on the neighbouring farm -- and then becomes pregnant.  Maggie is ordered to never see Gabriel again.  When their daughter Elodie is born, the baby is whisked away to be adopted, and Maggie is told to forget about her.

But she can't. She and Gabriel marry other people, but Maggie never gives up hope that she will find her daughter someday. Meanwhile, Elodie grows up in a church-run orphanage, hoping that someday her mother will come to find her. The story shifts back & forth between Maggie & Elodie's stories.

I knew about some of the abuses that have been uncovered in church-run institutions, but I'd never heard of the particular brand of horror that little Elodie endures. Because of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages, Quebec's orphanages are converted into psychiatric hospitals -- a move that enriches both the provincial government and the Catholic church. Elodie and thousands of other young "orphans" are declared mentally ill. Their education abruptly ends, and they are forced to help the nuns care for the other residents.

This is one of those books I'm not sure I would have picked up without the book club.  It was sad and sometimes downright grim, detailing the abuse these children suffered. There were a couple of subplots (one involving Maggie's father and Gabriel's sister, and another involving Maggie's uncle) that felt superfluous & didn't really contribute much to the book overall.  But it did keep me turning the pages (particularly once Elodie's story started unfolding) to find out what happened next and how it would all turn out. I shed tears in the final few chapters.

Three (3) stars on Goodreads -- 3.5, if I could assign half-stars.

*** *** ***

Sample ALI-related passage (marked with a post-it note):  Maggie -- who recently had her third miscarriage, post-Elodie -- is having coffee with her old school friend, Audrey, currently pregnant with her third child.
"Listen," [Audrey] says, "Before we get into things, how are you coping, Mags?"  
Maggie tips her head. "Coping?"  
"I know you're having a hell of a time getting pregnant," Audrey says, her voice turning sympathetic. She lowers her voice and whispers, "The miscarriages."  
Maggie flicks her ashes into the ashtray. "Where did you hear that?" she asks.  
"Oh, you know Dunham," she says. "Violet, I think."  
"I've had a tubal washing," Maggie tells her. "The prognosis is good."  
Audrey is obviously rooting for Maggie to get on the baby bandwagon. People seem to have so much invested in a married woman getting pregnant within the accepted timeline. It troubles them when it doesn't happen, as though some universally agreed upon contract has been tampered with or disturbed. Maggie can actually feel the unspoken championing of her success at fertility, the simultaneous panic if she were to fail. (pp. 163-164) 
This was book #42 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 175% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 18 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 15 books.  :)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

"This Particular Happiness" by Jackie Shannon Hollis

As Gateway Women founder Jody Day has said, "the room called childlessness has many doors." Some (like me) are childless because of infertility &/or pregnancy loss.  Some women never find the right man to have babies with before their fertile years are over.

And some are what blogger Sue Fagalde Lick calls "Childless by Marriage." They marry a man who doesn't want children. Perhaps their husband initially said yes to kids, but changed his mind after the marriage. Perhaps he already has children from another relationship(s), and doesn't want any more. Perhaps the woman didn't think she wanted wanted children either, but changed her mind. In these cases, a decision must be made: whether to stay in the marriage (which is often otherwise good), or leave and try to find another partner to try to have a child with while still fertile.

"This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story" by Jackie Shannon Hollis is a memoir that falls into the "childless by marriage" category.  Jackie's husband Bill was clear from the beginning of their relationship that he did not want children. Jackie didn't think she wanted children either -- until the day she held her newborn niece and was suddenly overcome with a raging case of baby fever.

The book spans Jackie's life, from childhood to the present, going back & forth in time to tell her story. It's about coming to terms with childlessness. It's about relationships -- with friends and family members, as well as partners -- and about building a satisfying and fulfilling life -- even when that life doesn't go exactly the way we had hoped or planned. 

My own route/door to that room called childlessness was very different from Jackie's, but there were many things in this book I could relate to. Jackie is just a few years older than me -- we grew up in the same era, and absorbed similar attitudes about what women's lives could be like. While I never lived on a farm, I could relate to Jackie's upbringing in a small, rural community. |We are both very proud aunties -- albeit dh & I have just two nephews, versus Bill & Jackie's 40+!! nieces & nephews together (including inlaws & "greats").

I could relate to this passage (which I marked with a sticky note), in which Jackie hosts a baby shower for Bill's unmarried 20-year-old niece:
"I can't wait to hold her," Christy said when she announced the baby would be a girl. "I love babies. I've always loved babies."  
"So have I," I thought. But her strong desire to have a child overpowered any worries that might stop her. Worries about not being with the father, or what she would need to care for a baby, or how she could afford it. This stunned me. How different we were. I'd always had reasons and worries to balance my wanting. 
I could also relate to Jackie's struggles with trying to win and keep her family's approval (particularly her mother's). I did not have as many boyfriends as Jackie did in her youth ;) but I recognized something of myself in her yearning for love and acceptance. I winced when I read about how she hung around her ex-boyfriend's apartment, begging him to explain why he didn't want to be with her anymore. (I'm embarrassed to recall that when my pre-dh college boyfriend broke up with me, I went through a period when I would just show up at his apartment -- "I just happened to be in the neighbourhood..." (often he wasn't home and his bemused roommates had to deal with me) -- and lurk around the building on campus where he had classes, hoping to run into him.) 

And (potential spoiler alert) I had to put the book down for a while after reading about the death of Bill's cousin's 19-year-old daughter in a car accident -- just a few days after one of my best friends from high school lost her 28-year-old daughter in a very similar accident. Wow. That one hit a little too close to home.

As I await the arrival of our first great-nephew, this struck a chord with me (from the closing chapter):
Leanne's girls turn to her for preparing advice. They'll turn to her for mothering advice. She's the one who's been through it.  
She buys baby gifts for her soon-to-be grandchildren and helps paint and set up the babies' rooms. I help some of the time. I buy gifts too. But I'm careful my gifts aren't too many, my offers to help aren't filled with my own needs... 
Wanting something deeply leaves traces, grooves for regret to grab hold of, even when the wanting is gone. 
I loved the closing chapter, and Jackie's reflections on being childless in her 50s.  Excerpt:
Women who are grandmothers say, "It's the best. You have no idea." I don't think they mean it literally. They forget that I truly have no idea what it's like to be a grandmother, and I never will. They're caught up in their own joy. I try to stay caught up in mine. 
They say, "I get all the fun of having the grandkids and none of the drudgery." This part I know. It's the joy I've had all along...
This book was beautifully and honestly written.  It's a moving portrait of coming to terms with a childless life. Overall, it's a great read.

Five stars on Goodreads.

We will be discussing this book later this month -- with the author participating -- in Gateway Women's private online community. (GW founder Jody Day wrote the book's foreword.)

This was book #41 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 171% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 17 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 14 books.  :)

Monday, November 4, 2019

#MicroblogMondays: Odds & ends

  • No baby (great-nephew) yet. (Official due date: Nov. 15th.) Dh & I are already fielding calls & texts from extended family members about him, along with requests to be kept in the loop about his arrival...!  Trying to stay calm & positive and not let my Dead Baby Mama nerves get the best of me... 
  • Still feeling gutted for my high school friend over the death of her 28-year-old daughter after a car accident last week.  The funeral/celebration of life will be later this week. It's a little too far for me to attend, but I'm comforted knowing she will be surrounded by many members of her large extended family as well as friends. I will be there in spirit. 
  • I am waaayyyy behind on my blog reading & commenting, but wanted to share this piece about Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month... soooooooo true!! 
  • The sky is clearing and the sun is shining right now. November is sooooooo much easier to endure when the sun shines!  :)  
  • I wish I could think of something more original than an odds & ends post for #MM...! (But it's better than nothing, lol.) 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Saturday, November 2, 2019

"The Brink of Being" by Julia Bueno

I have read a lot of books & memoirs about pregnancy loss since my daughter was stillborn 21 years ago. "The Brink of Being: Talking about Miscarriage" by Julia Bueno ranks among the very best. It deserves to be widely read, not only by those who have experienced loss, but those around them, including family members & friends as well as medical professionals, human resources experts and others. 

Bueno uses the experience of her own miscarriages (including twin girls), as well as those of composite patients from her psychotherapy practice (specializing in infertility & loss issues), to explore various aspects of this often misunderstood loss.  (I tend to be slightly leery of the use of "composite" figures in books, but these were so well drawn with such compelling and believable stories that after a while I forgot they were composites.) 

"I then stepped back out into the world as a woman who had just had a miscarriage," Bueno writes in the introduction. "This was a world that would struggle to understand both the physical process that I had been through and the agonizing nature of my everlasting grief. A world that didn't want to know the details of what had happened, let alone remember them;  a world that didn't know if I was a mother or David a father or whether my two babies had been born or whether they had actually died. This world was poorly equipped to support me -- and the countless other women and couples I soon discovered who were also reeling in their own versions of such pain."

The book explores "the potentially profound relationship that can come into being with a barely conceived or even unconceived baby, which lays the foundations for profound grief when a pregnancy ends."  It examines the differences -- and similarities -- between early and later losses, and "the gruelling nature of repeated miscarriage." Bueno also addresses the impact miscarriage has on partners and other family members, and how we choose to dispose of (cremate/bury/etc.), and remember, these tiny beings (in a chapter titled "Efforts to Remember, Pressure to Forget").

In addition to personal stories, there is a blend of research and statistics, as well as examples of how different cultures deal with the subject of miscarriage and other pregnancy losses, and advances in developing medical protocols and support structures to help those affected. (Bueno is British, and most of her information is U.K.-centric, but she also includes information from the U.S., Australia and other countries.)  "Although I acknowledge how far we have come, I also want to show you how much further we can, and must, go," she writes in the introduction. 

This was a lovely, warm, compassionate book about a rather un-lovely subject.  Five stars on Goodreads.

This was book #40 that I have read in 2019 to date, bringing me to 167% (!) of my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I have completed my challenge for the year -- currently 16 books beyond my  goal -- and I have surpassed my reading total for 2018 by 13 books.  :)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Right now

Right now... (an occasional meme, alternating from time to time with "The Current")

Reading:  6 (!) books in October (including 4 while visiting my parents)(all but one reviewed during October on this blog):
Current read(s):
Coming up:
  • The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman (which seems to have an ALI-related plot -- to be discussed at my November library book club meeting).  
My Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge YTD total now stands at 40 books -- 16 more than my goal of 24 (167%).  :)

(Some) recent purchases/additions to the TBR pile (that I haven't read yet):  (Ahhh, fall book release season...!  ;)  ) 
Watching:  We saw one movie in-theatre in October:  "Western Stars," a sort of a companion piece to Bruce Springsteen's album of the same name. Bruce performs the entire album (with a bonus track at the end: Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy"!), backed up by a 30-piece band/orchestra in the loft of a 100-year-old barn on his property in New Jersey. The songs are interspersed with scenes from the American West with voice-overs by Bruce explaining the stories and inspiration behind each song. Dh leaned over to me at one point and whispered, "He makes you fall in love with him all over again."  ;)  Bruce never disappoints!

On television:  
  • I'm continuing to watch the final season (#5) of Poldark on PBS (slightly annoyed at the deviations from the books this season -- but I do love the characters & actors...). 
  • The Battle of the Blades finale was on CBC TV last night (a uniquely Canadian reality competition, which pairs hockey players -- both male & female -- with figure skaters, skating for their favourite charities). The final result was voted on by Canadian viewers... and as I suspected, Sheldon Kennedy & Kaitlyn Weaver won over my favourites, Ekaterina Gordeeva & Bruno Gervais. I liked Sheldon & Kaitlyn too -- they had great chemistry, skated some great routines, and I loved how Sheldon was clearly game to try anything. (The guy is 50 years old!)  He's a national hero, not only because of hockey but because of how he went public with the story of how he (& others) were abused by his junior hockey coach, and became an advocate for victims of abuse & bullying (check out the barebones story on his Wikipedia profile). I just felt Ekaterina & Bruno were the clearly superior team, technically. Oh well! It was fun watching! 
Listening:  Not enough lately... I have a huge backlog of podcasts on my Google Play & Spotify apps! 

Following:  Continuing to follow the unfolding impeachment drama in the U.S.

Drinking/Eating: Leftover Halloween candy, lol.  This was the fourth Halloween that we've lived here, and we've never had any trick or treaters visit us -- although dh insists on buying some Halloween candy anyway, "just in case"... ;)  Maybe next year our little great-nephew will come??

Buying (besides books, lol):  Restocked some of my Sephora staples recently -- which include Benefit Browvo! eyebrow primer/conditionerL'Occitane foot cream, and Fresh Sugar Advanced Therapy Lip Treatment. Expensive, but sooooo good...! 

Wearing: Back to long jeans, socks & shoes, and (around the house) long yoga pants, long-sleeved T-shirts & sweatshirts, socks and even slippers on some days when the floors are particularly cold.  (I was very glad I brought my winter jacket with me to Manitoba when I was there for Thanksgiving to visit my parents!)  

Trying:  Not to let the gloom of November envelop me this year, as it sometimes does (albeit not to the same extent it once did). 

Wanting:  Some magic answers to appear to my genealogy questions, lol.

CelebratingI got tickets to "Hamilton"!!

Loving: My family. So much.

Waiting impatiently: For the arrival of our first great-nephew, very soon!  Feeling: Excited -- but also very anxious (given my own reproductive history & the parallel timelines between this pregnancy & my own, 21 years ago..).... 

Also feeling:  Devastated by the precariousness of life. :(   I posted a few days ago about the 28-year-old daughter of a high school friend who was in serious condition in the hospital following a car accident.  Sadly, she took a turn for the worse, and her parents and husband made the difficult decision to remove life support. She died just before noon today. I am devastated for my friend, who has endured several other sad losses in her family over the past few years too (albeit none quite like  this). I never met her daughter, but from the photos I've seen, she looked so much like her mother. She says "Hug your kids. Tell them you love them every time you say goodbye."