Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A blast from the past

I was at the local mega-bookstore earlier this week, browsing the women's health section, when a familiar title caught my eye.

It was a 20th anniversary edition of "Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health"  by Toni Weschler (first published in 1995; revised & expanded in 2015, and popularly known as "TCOYF").

I had first seen this book around the time it first came out -- which happened to be around the same time I'd stopped taking birth control pills.  I'd assumed I'd be pregnant within a few months -- but that wasn't what was happening. I'd taken surreptitious peeks at the book during bookstore visits, but I was too squeamish to show up at the cashier with such a title in my hand -- an admission that we might need some help.  ;)  I eventually did get pregnant in early 1998 without consulting it.  

Of course, you all know what happened next.  By the time our daughter was stillborn in August 1998, I was 37, fast approaching my 38th birthday, and hyper-aware that my biological clock was ticking louder and louder. My first question to Dr. Ob-gyn when he visited my hospital room, post-delivery, was "When can we try again?"  

I bought my copy not long afterward, while I was still on leave after Katie's stillbirth, along with the recommended basal thermometer. I ripped out the temperature charting template page at the back & took it a Kinkos across the street from the hospital, the day I had my six-week post-partum checkup with Dr. Ob-gyn, & had some copies made (since I wasn't yet back to work with easy access to a photocopier).  (These days, there's a TCOYF companion website, with downloadable charts and even an app, along with Weschler's blog and an online community.)

TCOYF was "the Bible" of the subsequent pregnancy after loss e-mail group I joined that fall, where everyone was either pregnant after a loss, or desperately trying to be. There were many conversations and questions among the list members about "ewcm" (egg-white-like cervical mucus -- an indicator of ovulation), cervical position (high? low? open? closed?), dips & peaks in basal thermometer temperature, and other such intricacies. 

I know several list members swore by TCOYF and credited their subsequent pregnancies to the knowledge they gained from it.  Needless to say, it didn't work for me. After a year of charting and trying to conceive on our own, I knew there was no further time to lose, and pressured dh into consulting Dr. Ob-gyn -- which sent us down the slippery slope of fertility testing, a referral to Dr. RE, several rounds of clomid and three IUI cycles with clomid plus injectable drugs (all unsuccessful). Even though I was told it was not necessary, I continued to chart through it all, and for some months (years??) after we abandoned fertility treatment, secretly still hoping for that elusive "miracle baby."

Eventually, I stopped doing that too. The book, which sat in the pile by my night table for so many years for easy consultation, went into a plastic bin full of (in)fertility books in my closet, along with the folder of pages and pages of carefully plotted monthly charts.  I think I still have the book (along with my keepsake copy of "What to Expect While You're Expecting"), although the charts went into the shredder some years ago.  

Even though it didn't result in a baby for me, I am still very glad I read the book, & I still recommend it. I learned so much from it about my body and how it works, and I still automatically recognize the signs of when I'm ovulating and when my period is coming. I think it should be required reading for all young women, fertility issues or not (& probably young men, too).  

Was TCOYF part of your (in)fertility journey too?  

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"How to Build a Life Without Kids"

I saw this article on the cover of "The Walrus" (a Canadian magazine) a while back while browsing the magazine racks at my local mega-bookstore... thought I would see if I could find it online... and (of course) completely forgot about it by the time I got home. :p  ;)  I found a link while browsing an online forum.  It's an intelligent & sympathetic look at how women without children -- both by choice & otherwise -- are coming forward, finding each other and working to challenge pronatalist perceptions about their lives. It refers to/quotes some well-known leaders within the childless/free community, including Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie,  Jody Day of Gateway Women, Laura Carroll (author of The Baby Matrix), Karen Malone Wright of The NotMom (last year's NotMom summit in Cleveland is a focal point of the article),  Catherine-Emmanuelle Delisle of Femme Sans Enfant, Lisa Manterfield of Life Without Baby, and others, as well as interviews with several (mostly Canadian) women without children who are building happy and meaningful lives.

Well worth a read!

Monday, December 10, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Small pleasures

  • Spending time with family this past weekend:  with Older Nephew's dog on Friday afternoon :)  with BIL & SIL at the mall later that day;  and with Younger Nephew & his wife (as well as BIL & SIL again) on Saturday. 
  • Mailing my Christmas cards last Tuesday, and getting our first Christmas card in the mail on Thursday. 
  • The pretty lights on our decorated Christmas tree, and on all the houses in the nearby neighbourhood. 
  • Feeling like I actually have a good handle on my Christmas shopping this year! 
  • Getting absorbed in Michelle Obama's great new memoir
  • Seeing dh absorbed in reading "Killers of the Flower Moon, which was one of the best books I read last year (review here).  
  • Looking forward to lunch with friends downtown next week. 
  • Counting down a dwindling number of days until we head west to see my family (and until Christmas!).  :) 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Early December odds & ends

  • After several days of spotting & cramping... she's back to haunt me. :p  Yes, it's Day #206 (!) & Aunt Flo has returned.  It was fun while it lasted...!  Back to square one (sigh...). :p  (Did I mention my 58th (!!) birthday is 38 days away??) 
  • Perhaps it's the hormones, perhaps Christmas is getting to me, perhaps it was watching former President Bush (#41)'s funeral (Sully the companion dog!!) earlier today on TV...but I've been teary on & off all day. 
  • The coup de grace: a Facebook post from a high school friend: photos of a Christmas cookie baking session with both her mom AND her little granddaughter. A photo I will never get to take. :(  
  • A little over two weeks until we head west to see my family... and I'm starting to feel a little stressed when I look at the calendar & see all the things I need to get done between now & then (although I'm actually quite pleased at how much Christmas shopping I've already done!). Items on the agenda:  more Christmas shopping, dental appointments (cleaning & checkups), a possible trip to the Toronto Christmas Market with BIL, SIL & one or both nephews & their wives (depending on who can get off work);  a pre-Christmas visit to stepMIL, pre-Christmas haircuts, a visit with Katie at the cemetery (& change to Christmas decorations for her niche), flu shots, Older Nephew's 30th (!!) birthday, annual Christmas lunch downtown with a couple of friends/former coworkers.  I may also try to cram in: a mani-pedi,  a visit to the art gallery where I have a membership (exhibit closing this weekend that I wanted to see -- may not get there in time...), and some cookie baking. We'll see...
  • Savvy Auntie has released a fascinating new study on the growing social & economic influence of what founder Melanie Notkin calls "Generation PANK"-- "Professional Aunts, No Kids." (This includes women who are childless by circumstance, choice or challenge.)  PANKs are a sizeable group -- 28% (more than 1/4) of all women in the United States between the ages of 20 & 50.  "While PANKs represent huge opportunity, this hidden demographic often remains overlooked, misunderstood and unappreciated by marketers and society-at-large," the report observes.
  • Looking for a Christmas present for yourself (or a childless-not-by-choice person in your life)?  ;)  Mali has put together a book of No Kidding wisdom -- selected quotes from her blog, along with some of her lovely photos. Find out more & how to order here

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Thinking about Christmas

I was comparing notes about Christmas (and how to survive it) with several other childless bloggers/activists recently. And that got me thinking.

I love Christmas. It's always been my favourite holiday.  But I'll admit Christmas has not always been very joyful, these past 20 years. Those first couple of years after we lost our baby -- and gradually came to the realization there would be no others -- were very hard.

But I've never had the desire to run away from it. I've spent every Christmas of my life with my family, and I'm not about to try to make drastic changes now (especially now that FIL is gone, and my parents are close to 80). I always reasoned that dh's family could (& can) easily see us any other time of the year;  I want to be with MY family at Christmas -- and I'm grateful that's how things have always worked out. (I did secretly think that, perhaps, once dh & I had kids of our own, my parents & sister might come to be with US for a change. We all know how THAT worked out...!)

But even so, our Christmas celebrations have evolved and changed over the years as our family changed. Change is difficult for me -- but I've come to realize that it's inevitable (and not always bad, or as bad as I had feared).

Twenty years ago, I thought my family of origin was expanding. What actually happened: it began to shrink. I lost the baby I was expecting that November, and then my grandparents, one after another, within a year of each other, and eventually I had to face the harsh reality that there would be no new babies joining us, ever.

But at the same time, our chosen family has grown, and enriched our Christmases immeasurably. We've been incredibly fortunate to have Parents' Neighbours' Daughter (PND) spend at least part of every Christmas of her life with our family.  When she was an adorable baby & toddler (and dh & I were newlyweds), she relieved some of the pressure on us to produce a grandchild ASAP. As a young teenager, her cheerful presence helped alleviate some of the sadness of that first Christmas in 1998, when not only was there no baby for Christmas (as my mother rapturously exclaimed when I told her I was pregnant) but also no Grandpa, for the first time in my 37 years (and then the next year, no Grandma either). These days, now in her mid-30s, she's mom to the two Little Princesses, who continue to distract & entertain us and partly fill that grandchild gap.

As my parents have aged, we've continued to gather at their house, but my sister & I have taken on more of the responsibilities for shopping, decorating, and food prep (my sister has learned to make gravy as well as my mom, and I'm told she made the pastry for the butter tarts this year too!) & cleanup. We tend to be sticklers for tradition -- and yet, over the years, some traditions have evolved or been set aside, and new ones adopted. For example, there's a huge mugo pine tree in my parents' front yard that my dad used to decorate with strings and strings of coloured lights. Over the years, he had to start asking his neighbour, my sister's partner and PND's husband to help (teetering precariously on a tall ladder & using a contraption -- a hook on the end of a broom handle -- to maneuver the lights into place). It just got to be too much of a chore, so these days, the lights just frame the doors of the house and cover the shrubs.

As another example, my mother decided she's not decorating two trees this year. Over the past 25-30 years, she's had one upstairs in the living room, with our family's treasured old, traditional ornaments, and one in the family room downstairs that's more of a "designer" tree with mostly silver ornaments, supplemented by others that she received from her students while working at the local school as an aide. She & Dad recently got a big screen TV that takes up a lot of room in the basement;  also, the basement tends to be where the two Little Princesses like to run around.  I told her that while it's nice to have two trees, I'm not sentimentally attached to the downstairs one in the same way that I am with the upstairs one.

Our own tree at home has evolved over the years, too. In the years after we lost our Katie, we bought one ornament for her -- and then another -- and another. We attended the memorial candlelighting service run by our pregnancy loss support group ever year for about 12 years straight, I think, and at each one, we took home a pair of baby booties, handknit by volunteers. Our tree was covered in teddy bear angels, Classic Pooh ornaments from Hallmark, and little white baby booties, lol.  Then, three Christmases ago, we moved to a condo, and bought a slightly smaller tree to fit our smaller space. Not all the ornaments I used to put up fit on the new tree -- so now there's just one representative pair of baby booties instead of the full dozen. I'm not sure I'd have handled that very well 20 years ago, but I'm (mostly) OK with it today.

Once my parents are gone, I don't know what's going to happen to our Christmas celebrations. Will we still head west to be with my sister (assuming she gets a bigger house, because right now, her 600-square-foot house does not accommodate guests very readily)?  Will she come here? Will we try to nose our way into dh's family's celebrations, with BIL & SIL & the nephews and their family?  Will we run away to spend Christmas at a nice ski chalet somewhere (minus the skiing, lol), or try something completely different like a beach? (I absolutely cannot imagine Christmas without snow, but there's always a first time for everything...!)

We'll cross those bridges when we get there (hopefully not for a while yet). Meanwhile, I try to just appreciate what we have right now and help out my parents & sister as much as I can.

I guess if I had one piece of advice to offer, it would be to do whatever you feel inclined to do -- no more, no less. Some years can be better/worse/easier to handle/more difficult than others, when you're grieving your children (whether or not they were ever conceived) -- so don't feel you have to do everything you think you're supposed to be doing, or that others are telling you to do.  And don't feel you have to do the same things you did last year -- whether you did anything last year, or not. Losing Katie (with a November due date) -- plus the fact that November/December was always our busiest time of year at work (fiscal year end reporting) -- meant I had neither the time, nor the energy, nor (quite often, especially those first few years) the inclination to take part in many of the Christmas activities I wanted to immerse myself in -- or felt I *should* be doing. I had to take a good hard look at what was most important to me, and plan my Christmas season accordingly.  I've always enjoyed putting up a Christmas tree, sending cards (staying in touch with far-flung friends & relatives) and going home to see my family -- so I focus on that. Anything else that I have time or energy or inclination or money to do -- more elaborate decorations, baking, Christmas-related outings, parties, etc. -- is gravy. I have more time to do more now that I'm retired -- and the grief is not as intense as it was, 20 years ago -- but that still tends to be my philosophy today, lol.

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If you're looking for further reading on the subject of holiday survival, here are a few posts by some other bloggers/activists to get you started: 

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My own past Christmas-related posts are now tagged "Christmas" -- but here are some of the main ones you might want to explore (from the most recent working back):

Monday, December 3, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: Close encounters of the Instagram kind :)

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I am a fan of the TV show "Designated Survivor," with Kiefer Sutherland as the Housing Secretary who winds up becoming President of the United States. The show was cancelled by ABC after two seasons, but has been picked up by Netflix. (I'll admit, the second season was not as gripping as the first, but I like Kiefer and Maggie Q, so I've been hanging in there!)

Turns out that Donny Osmond is a "Designated Survivor" fan too!  :)  Friday night, he posted on social media:
I normally don't binge watch TV shows, but Designated Survivor is an exception. Funny thing is, now I've got everyone on the #DMHolidayTour hooked! We can’t wait for the 3rd season. Anyone else a fan? 
Kiefer Sutherland, you are my new hero. Is there anything you can't do?
I first saw Donny's post on Instagram -- so I "liked" it & responded: "Love that show;  happy that Netflix has picked it up!"

I couldn't believe my eyes awhile later when I got a notification: "Donny Osmond liked your comment."  WHAT??!!!  (I had no clue how to take & save a screen shot on my phone -- but believe me, this sent me scrambling for my "device help" app to figure out how to do it, lol.)

If only my 12-year-old self could see this...!!  I could never have imagined such a thing happening back then (45 years ago!! -- gulp...), when posters of Donny & his brothers graced my bedroom walls, and "Puppy Love" and "Yo-Yo" were permanent fixtures on my record player turntable. (Kids today have NO idea...!)  Ah, the power of the Internet to connect us -- even, sometimes, to the teen idols of our youth!

(To make things even more fun, I notice that Kiefer Sutherland liked Donny's post on Facebook. I wonder if Donny was as thrilled by that as I was by his??  lol)

Have you ever connected with a favourite celebrity online?

(Past post wherein I reviewed one of Marie's books and confessed my enduring affection for all things Osmond, lol:  here.)

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

Sunday, December 2, 2018

"Fed Up" by Gemma Hartley

My latest reading has continued on the theme of women and anger. :)  While "Rage Becomes Her" by Soraya Chemaly provided a broad sociological look at the topic and Rebecca Traister's "Good and Mad" examined women's anger from a political perspective, "Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward" by Gemma Hartley looks at women and emotional labour (and why we're justified in feeling sick and tired of doing it).  And, like those other books, it is an excellent exploration of this particular topic. :)

The book expands on Hartley's September 2017 article for Harper's Bazaar -- "Women Aren't Nags—We're Just Fed Up" -- which went viral.  The article began with an anecdote from Hartley's personal experience:  all she wanted for Mother's Day was for her husband to find a housecleaning service. It wasn't just a clean house she wanted, but (for once) not to have to do research, make phone calls, vet each service, get quotes and recommendations, make a decision, arrange payment and schedule appointments. Perhaps predictably, her husband made one call, blanched at the price, bought her a necklace and told her he would deep clean the bathroom
In his mind, he was doing the thing I had most wanted—giving me sparkling bathrooms without me having to do it myself. Which is why he was frustrated when I ungratefully passed by, not looking at his handiwork as I put away his shoes, shirt and socks that had been left on the floor. I stumbled over the large Rubbermaid storage tub of sitting in the middle of our closet. My husband had taken it down from a high shelf days before... To put it back, I had to drag a kitchen chair and drag it into our closet so I could reach the shelf where it belonged. 
“All you have to do is ask me to put it back,” he said, watching me struggle. 
It was obvious that the box was in the way and needed to be put back. It would have been easy for him to just reach up and put it away, but instead he had stepped around it, willfully ignoring it for two days. It was up to me to tell him that he should put away something he had taken out in the first place. 
“That’s the point,” I said, now in tears, “I don’t want to have to ask.” (pp. 2-3) 
Hartley's definition of emotional labour is fairly broad (much broader than Arlie Russell Hoschild, who coined the term in 1983, originally meant, as she explains in a recent article in The Atlantic)(thank you to Ellen at Miss E's Musings/South City Sadie for pointing it out to me!). Says Hartley:
Emotional labor, as I define it, is emotion management and life management combined. It is the unpaid, invisible work we do to keep those around us comfortable and happy. It envelops many other terms associated with the type of care-based labor I described in my article: emotion work, the mental load, mental burden, domestic management, clerical labor, invisible labor.  
Whether it all falls under the umbrella of "emotional labour," it's clearly labour of some kind that's primarily done by women -- and often under-recognized and under-valued.

The book is divided into three sections: emotional labour at home, emotional labour at large, and the way forward. Some of the subjects covered include societal programming and expectations; "the mother load" (how having children increases the amount of emotional labour women do, and exacerbates the divide between men & women); gatekeeping/control and perfectionism (Hartley points out that having to discuss emotional labour with our spouses is, in fact, emotional labour itself); emotional labour in the working world;  emotional labour in politics and government (including the 2016 U.S. election);  emotional labour, rape culture, abusive relationships and #MeToo; are women really better at "this stuff"? (nature vs nurture); how to talk about emotional labour with spouses;  creating awareness and finding balance.

This was a thoughtful, very readable exploration of a complex and timely topic, citing both both research and personal experience, and offering some guidance on a path forward to truly shared responsibilities, and more fulfilling, connected lives for both women and men. I gave it five stars on Goodreads.

(I previously wrote this post about emotional labour from an ALI/childless perspective.)

This was book #25 that I've read so far in 2018 -- meaning I have surpassed my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books by 1 book, or 104%!  :)