Monday, September 10, 2018

#Microblog Mondays:A Little Too Similar

Part of me has been delaying writing about this whole home-buying process because of a very real fear of jinxing, but here goes -- we put an offer on that house. The contemporary, out-in-the-woods, huge-landscaping-project, originally-built-for-childless-recluses house. 

It's all very exciting, but it's also causing me a great deal of anxiety because... the process is a little too similar, a little too close to others that had me waiting by the phone for news. This time it's primarily texts, not phone calls, but still. I'm watching my phone like a hawk, and it doesn't feel good. 

We put the offer in, and then it was countered (reasonably), and it took us a little bit to accept the counteroffer as Bryce was out of town on business. We went to see it again, just to make sure it felt right (and I may have brought a tape measure like a lunatic to check out room sizes against our furniture and whatnot) -- we went straight from picking Bryce up at the airport and then accepted the counteroffer after, at dinner. 

BUT. When we were at the house, we noticed an "OPEN HOUSE" sign for Sunday. 

So of course, I spent all weekend simultaneously planning all kinds of fun things for this new house, while also working myself up into tears over the possibility that someone could go to the open house and swipe this place right out from under us, and we'd be screwed AGAIN. 

Things are at the attorney stage, and the contract is signed by everyone (after agonizing Signature Watch on my phone and through the weird signing software), and hopefully there's no surprises from that open house I hope went dismally, so I'm almost to the point where I can stop being a crazy person...but it really feels awful to be back in that cycle of hope and fear, waiting and partial good news, uncertainty and not knowing. I feel like we have a positive pee stick -- encouraging, but ultimately it means nothing. 

I really want this house to be something that we searched for, and worked towards, and adjusted our vision for, and then HAVE IT WORK OUT. Cross all your crossables, please. Unlike the other process, if this doesn't work out there truly will be another house. But for once I would just like the original plan, the original desire, to come to fruition. 

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Monday, September 3, 2018

#Microblog Mondays: House Shifts

One of the things that we spent a lot of time on over the summer was trying to figure out our house situation -- do we stay and do an addition, one with a usable garage and a living area overlooking the ravine out back, solving some space issues and definitely solving the parking/swapping cars/neverending scraping of windshields? Or do we move and try to find a house that we love as much as our own, that we can see our furniture in, that we can make as cozy as this place, that has the privacy and proximity and character we love but solves the other issues?

Well, it would appear that as much as we love our home, adding on to it is not going to be the solution. We saw three different contractors, and while one was more than happy to relieve us of an insane amount of money to do it, the other two were much more realistic about the fact that no matter what we did, it wouldn't likely solve our issues and we would STILL have a low, unfinishable basement, STILL have ceilings that smash Bryce's tall head in, and STILL have a single driveway...and it wouldn't be financially logical.

So we started looking for homes, with the thought that we'd do a "Make Me Move" scenario and take it slow and be super thoughtful but not rushed about the process, because we do truly love our home.

We've looked at a couple of homes so far, both houses with a lot of character -- although at polar opposites from each other. One was a renovated farmhouse, the original part built in 1855, that had a location that was super close to everything but also super close to a busy road and the backyard that looked and was advertised as a "private oasis" was lovely...but had the constant thrum of passing traffic and the visible homes nearby ruining the secluded effect we apparently value.

The other one was super modern, not at all our typical style especially on the outside, further out (but close to the highway so easy to commute to things), situated on over an acre of wooded lot in an area that will never be further developed and backs to a pond and marsh, and is in impeccable renovated shape.

The funniest thing about that one is that when we stopped to talk to a neighbor, we were told that this particular group of houses on this dead end road was originally built in the 1980s as a community for "childless couples who wanted to live like recluses out in the woods," but then apparently they had to legally open it up to families (the legality of that idea is definitely interesting -- what happens if you get pregnant? They kick you out? Courts determined it was discrimination). IS THAT NOT HILARIOUS, THOUGH? Only we would find a house that's in a former commune for woodsy childless recluses.

Anyway, we were shocked at how much we loved that one, and are considering our options. Maybe it won't take so long after all, which brings up all kinds of other thoughts and feelings relating to how we got here, what we leave behind, and the enormity (and freedom) of starting a new life in a home that is definitely not meant to have children in it.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Thin Skin

I've been struggling a bit lately.

Getting ready to go back to school has felt super overwhelming for some reason, and I don't know if it's because I'm teaching something totally new, albeit for one period (12:1:1 social studies), or because it marks the passing of another year, or if I've procrastinated too long on getting everything but my room ready, or I'm nervous about meeting a new group of students and parents and facing the questions that that brings. My anxiety suffered a bit of an uptick in the last month.

I know it's normal for grief to be nonlinear, to go around and around like a crazy squiggle rather than in a straight line of healing, going from A to B, Mess to Well-Adjusted, without any bumps or setbacks along the way.

But a few things reminded me that it's only been a year since we made our decision to end our parenthood quest, and our lives took a turn that will impact us for the rest of our lives.

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Most recently, we were at our favorite Mexican restaurant when a friend was celebrating her 60th birthday. It was a huge family celebration -- 17 people -- filled with kids and grandkids and a lot of joyful noise. There was singing and talking and laughing, and we felt honored to be called over to say hello during such a family-oriented celebration. BUT. When the cake came out, when the singing happened, 15 voices of progeny in two generations... I found my eyes welling up against my will and tears spilling over down my face.

We'll never have that.

When we turn 60, we can throw ourselves a party, we can celebrate quietly via a weekend away, but we will never be surrounded by our kids and grandkids, wishing us well on another trip around the sun, reminding us that after we go there's people who will live on with a little piece of us inside them, remembering us, putting our pictures on their walls, talking about that time we celebrated Grandma with enchiladas and cake.

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Another moment was when we were showing Bryce's mom and stepfather, in for a visit, the display box that Bryce's dad built to house the WWII watches and other small paraphernalia from both his grandfathers. It goes perfectly in his fancypants office, all mission-y quarter-sawn oak. It's incredibly cool to have actual history in our home, these relics from a war I teach 8th graders about, that we have personal connections to. (My grandfather and one of his grandfathers were both at Guadal Canal, although at slightly different times.) I will admit that the whole watch thing always makes me giggle, thanks to Pulp Fiction and Christopher Walken, but the piece is absolutely beautiful and it's truly an heirloom.

Except. I made a joke that we had an heirloom with no heirs, and then it sort of stuck with me. We have this amazing hand-crafted display box for amazing personal war paraphernalia, and where will it go when we're gone? Do we see if there's a museum that wants it, with one of those plaques that says where it came from and whose it was so that there's a little piece of our family history living out there somewhere?

I know that having "heirs" (like we live in Windsor or something) doesn't guarantee that they will want your stuff or take any of it upon your demise. We were just visiting with a friend who was lamenting that she has all these amazing international dolls that she herself inherited, and her children don't want them, so who knows what will become of them? It was a little reassuring to see that "who will want my stuff" is more of a universal question, one that having children doesn't necessarily solve. But it still made me sad to think of the pile of things that meant something to us, that will just become "stuff" for lack of a place to leave them to.

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My hardest day, the one where I truly felt the thin membrane of healing rupture and ooze, was earlier in August. It started with an ill-advised trip to our local humane society. I do not enjoy going to check out cats and dogs up for adoption unless I am planning to bring one home. It's a weird thing where Bryce and I are at total opposite ends of the spectrum -- he can go and check out cats in the adoption area of the pet food store, or at the ASPCA location, and it doesn't fill him with sadness. I WANT TO TAKE THEM ALL HOME. I can't stop thinking about what will happen if no one chooses them, and I tend to get real sad thinking about the older cats in particular. And dogs... dogs look at you with those knowing eyes and just break your heart into tiny pieces. IT IS NOT FUN FOR ME.

But we went, as visitors wanted to check it out, and I felt my well-being start to crackle around the edges like ice on a spring pond. There was this one cat, either Lydia or Layla (I think I'd name her Lydia if that's not right anyway), and she was in a bigger room having some "quiet time" and her story typed up and taped to the glass read, "Lydia is very confused to be here -- she is 9 years old and her owner had to surrender her, so she is feeling lost and uncomfortable and wants to be back home." JUST STAB ME THROUGH THE HEART AND TWIST THE KNIFE. I know why those are written that way, but it still felt emotionally manipulative and all I wanted to do was to break Lydia out of her glass prison and introduce her to Lucky and Abner. She was super sweet. I failed miserably at not thinking about how this is NOT a no-kill shelter, and so decided that was the point where I'd leave the cat area and stand out in the main hall/reception area where maybe I wouldn't fall apart into tiny pieces.

I also tried to go to the dog area, but was definitely not feeling it, and I walked into one "suite" (they separate the dogs out in groups of 2-3 so it's not as stressful) and walked right the fuck back out. Their eyes just bore into you and beg you to take them home, and they look so dejected and so wanting out of their sterile cells. Of course, this shelter does a great job with volunteers who come to walk the dogs and they get a lot of love, but in the end they are still living in bare cells that echo, not curled up on a couch next to a person.

Understandably this put me in a big fat funk. I was not in a good place. And then a situation unfolded later that same day where I felt like I should be okay, where I felt like I could play along and see other people's babies, but what I could handle (seeing a picture or two of this particular other person's baby) became a barrage of pictures of a super sweet little baby whose story is not mine to tell but opened those spidery cracks into big fissures that just dropped me into dark icy water and left me to drown.

The baby had one of those hooded animal towels, a little frog, and is seriously one of the most photogenic babies ever, so at first it was like, "awww, look at that sweet little guy!" But then, it reminded me of the little crab towel we had for our own nonexistent baby, that has probably already aged out of the baby it was donated for and has either been passed on or tossed out. This was not a particularly pleasant thought. As the pictures just kept coming and they involved parents holding the baby and just a bum rush of gushing and oohing and ahhing, it sort of passed over "I can handle this" to "holy shit I CANNOT handle this but I don't want to be that sad sap person so I think I'll just stuff all these feelings deep down into my gut and smile my frozen smile and hmmmm, this is not a good feeling and doesn't bring me back to good times, but it's what I've got right now."

I got up and found a few board books that were appropriate for this baby's location and really, really wanted to give the baby these books, and get the books out of the house, and have them serve a better purpose than relics stuffed in a basket under my chaise lounge because I can't bear to look at them. I wanted them to be useful. I wanted to give some goodwill. I wanted to squash these feelings of emptiness and grief and what-will-never-be with a gesture of love and "see, I'm totally okay right now."

Except I wasn't.

Once we were alone in the house I fell spectacularly apart and sobbed like I haven't sobbed in months, and felt just how thin my skin of well-adjustedness is. I honestly thought it was thicker, more that thick, shiny scar tissue than translucent membrane.

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A friend at lunch recently told me not to give myself such a hard time. That these things will happen, that it's only been a year since a life-changing turn of events that separates our lives from every TV commercial ever. That I AM well-adjusted, because I didn't lay facedown on the floor as much as I may have wanted to. I let the feelings wash over me and some lingered longer than others, but I could still be a functioning human. Sometimes I feel more functioning than others, but that's okay.

I think what upset me most about the last two moments, the animal shelter and the photo blitz, was that I did not feel that I could really stand my ground and say "nope, I've had enough." I could have said "I'll meet you by the car, I'm going to go look at the horses outside/walk the nature trail/read the kindle that's always in my purse on a bench." I could have said, "You know what, I think this tiny human is adorable but I can handle maybe TWO photos and then I need you to stop, not because I can't appreciate this baby but because it makes me surprisingly desperately sad for what we've lost." I don't know why I couldn't just say those things and save myself some serious mental anguish.

And the thing with the baby is that I DON'T WANT A BABY ANYMORE. That's not about jealousy, that's not about wanting what I can't have. I don't want it anymore. I have passed the point where that is reasonable, for a million reasons. But there is a huge difference between being sad because you want what someone else has and being sad because you feel that loss acutely, what you'll never have and don't want anymore, what could have been but is never, ever going to be reality. It's like peeking into an alternate universe without actually wanting that alternate reality anymore. And there's also a huge sense of unfairness, of having WANTED something so very much and having TRIED so hard to make it happen, and then having it happen elsewhere with no effort at all although surrounded with difficulties of other kinds.

It was so, so hard.

There are solutions to the other things -- we can do advance planning and figure out who we can gift our things to, who would appreciate our massive collection of books, our instruments, even our LeCreuset dutch oven. We can figure out if there's not a person, then maybe there's an organization that would put these things to use. A library. A museum (more for the historical stuff than say the dutch oven).

Or maybe an asteroid will hit us and everything will go up in a fiery explosion and we won't have to even think about that. Or, with the state of climate change, any number of apocalyptic events could make these worries obsolete and silly.

The 60th birthday one? We can decide how we want to celebrate milestone birthdays and not feel guilty if it's to celebrate in Iceland, or Tuscany, or Hawaii, just the two of us, reflecting on the lives we've lived so far. May we be that fortunate. We could have a party where we surround ourselves with friends and family, like we did for our 40th celebrations. I kind of like the first option though, for right now. We do have to turn 50 first, so this is way off, and asteroids could hit and whatnot, so there's really no point in perseverating too much on a birthday that's so far off.

But it doesn't hurt to think about contingencies. Especially if it helps my thin skin build another layer, heal up from this strange parade of assaults on my armor, It doesn't hurt to really think about how we can build up our life and our experiences to feel like those alternate realities aren't even as attractive as we once thought they were. And it really doesn't hurt to forgive myself for feeling so sad when really, we are so fresh in our loss. I think sometimes I try so hard to be well adjusted and to work on my healing that I forget just how recent everything is, just how fresh this transition is from maybe-parent to never-parent, just how different it makes our life from those who have children and perhaps future grandchildren, just how separate from the standard narrative we feel.

All I can do is my best to figure out how to do all this -- how to face down those moments of "oh god we've lost so much" and honor them, and then celebrate all that we do have, all the possibilities that are open to us because our trajectory shifted. And to know that as Bryce said when I was a sobbing mess on the couch, that that skin over the hurt isn't thin, it's like the Earth's crust -- super thick in some places but ready to rupture and erupt in others, but really it's strong all the way around.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Belief, Frustration, and Accomplishment

Belief

The other day Bryce, his mom, and me were in one of our favorite home-wares shops in Rochester, when we saw a farmhouse-style sign that said, printed in simple font on rustic linen: 
 
"Believe you can and you're halfway there" 
- Theodore Roosevelt. 

Sometimes it is exhausting seeing everything from the lens of infertility and loss. I read it aloud, and at the same time that Bryce's mom said, "Ooooh, I like that!" he said, "NOPE. Don't like it. Not at all." It seemed confusing that such an inspirational saying would rub us the wrong way, but I explained (and received a super hairy eyeball from a nice older lady who was walking through that part of the shop at that time) that it perpetuates the idea that you can BELIEVE yourself into any situation, that if you BELIEVE strong enough, you will always get what you seek. And that is NOT always the case. 

But I struggle when I explain these things, because don't I want to teach belief in yourself, perseverance, the value of hard work, etc. etc. etc.? Isn't that counter to what I want to do as a teacher of adolescent people? Nope, it's not.

You could look at that quote and say, "Believe you can and you're halfway there" -- that's not a guarantee that you'll get ALL the way there, that just puts you on the path to getting to the destination. And when I think about it that way it doesn't irk me half as much. If the quote is meant to get your ass off the couch and start doing something you want to do instead of thinking you can't and so never getting started, well then that's a positive message. But if it's saying that pure belief will get you to your goals, well then I do believe that's hooey. 

There's a lot of stuff out there about the Law Of Attraction, and putting out into the Universe what you want to get in, trusting that the Universe will reward your belief with what you seek. That you shouldn't put fears and doubt and negativity out there, because that is what will return to you. Someone once said that I should be careful talking about my fear of killers, because of the Law of Attraction. That is some serious balderdash, in my (non-slaughtered) opinion. It reminds me so much of the cult of infertility way of thinking, of the belief that you must be positive at all costs because even a smidge of negativity could impact your egg quality or transfer. I suppose that's great if you are Positive Polly and then you get pregnant, but if you (gasp!) have a negative thought during the process because you've been faced with nothing but disappointment and then it doesn't work, again, was it really because you thought briefly, "What if this doesn't work out this time?" Isn't that just a form of self-torture, designed to put the guilt and the blame solely on your already battered psyche? 

Don't get me wrong, I am all for putting positive vibes out into the Universe, and doing good for the sake of doing good, and trying to take a shit sandwich and make it a unique culinary treat. But I get really, really mad when people make it seem that simply putting an intent out there will make it more likely that you will get what you seek. If what you seek is something that you can truly attain with hard work and perseverance, well then that's fine -- you're never going to get work published that you never submit, you're never going to get more fit if you don't go work out, you're never going to meet your goal of reading so many books this summer if every time you go to read you pick up your phone instead. 

Conversely though, I could have never believed myself into a biological baby. I suppose I could have stayed in the adoption game longer and believed myself into a baby that way, but I would have also believed myself into a true nervous breakdown and might have made decisions based on wanting a baby that put us into a situation that perhaps we weren't prepared to handle. If I was terminally ill, I could use belief to fight for the treatment and the quality of life that I wanted, and I could decide that I was going to see myself as living with a terminal illness as opposed to dying from one, but it wouldn't likely change the eventual end result. 

Frustration

While recouping from this nasty stomach nonsense I have going on, I decided to do a puzzle. Not just any puzzle, a mini-puzzle, 100 pieces, 6" x 9" when completed, from Acadia National Park. I chose the lighthouse one first (it's a set of two), and it was PERFECT. 



I know I've said before that I can't stand puzzles, that I want to like them but my compulsiveness makes it so that I have to finish it all in one sitting if at all possible and it's incredibly hard to leave it, so I spend HOURS and I am largely frustrated most of the time and wishing I had just picked up a book instead. That is all true. But I discovered something recently...

I love SMALL puzzles. Maybe mini ones that are 100 pieces, maybe a big one that's 300, but ones that are JUST CHALLENGING ENOUGH. 

I feel like so much in my life is frustrating, and has filled me with frustration, why on EARTH would I do that to myself on purpose? It's also why I hate watching intense movies -- life is intense and stressful enough, why would I purposely want to put my nerves on edge? For FUN? 

After I did the lighthouse one, I went on to the next one in the box -- a far more challenging stream-with-rocks scene. It was way more difficult. But, I also knew it was finite. There were only 100 pieces. It was only going to be 6" x 9" when completed. It was JUST THE RIGHT amount of frustration. And I did it, although I finished it this morning since I ran out of time last night: 


I was sort of high on this success, and so I decided maybe I would try my 300 piece puzzle that I bought last time I went down to visit my best friend -- this one is a full size puzzle, but the pieces are bigger, and it makes me so happy because the picture is 36 reptiles and amphibians.


I think maybe that was too much puzzling at once though, because I ran into a different kind of frustration -- the coffee table I was doing it on was not quite big enough to hold the whole edge. Also, there was this: 


Still, I managed to get the edges done despite certain constraints: 


But then it was just all too much.



All of the pieces crashed to the ground and I decided perhaps that was Lucky's way of telling me that I should perhaps try to do something a little more productive since two weeks from today I'll be back at school. 

Accomplishment

The thing is, frustration is necessary in order to feel accomplished. I like the feeling when you find the right piece and slide it into that spot -- sometimes more if I had to try it in a few different orientations first. If it was TOO easy, it wouldn't feel worthwhile. 

These puzzles are perfect though -- hard enough to not be completed in 5 minutes, but not so hard that I'm swearing and wasting half a day but don't feel that I can give it up and go read on the couch because it's not done yet. 

It's an enjoyable frustration. Just enough. 

In order to accomplish things in life, you need belief and you need frustration. Belief that you can get started in the first place, that this accomplishment is yours to chase. Frustration to make it worth the pursuit, to remind you that the hard work will be worth it. I am all for these things. 

But, some accomplishments require more than just belief and the ability to push through frustration. And sometimes, all the belief and perseverance in the world will not get you to the accomplishment you desired, and so you have to do the hard work of rearranging your pursuits. Of saying, "okay, this particular goal isn't going to work out for me, so I need to find a new one." You are still believing that you deserve to push yourself towards a goal. You are still fighting through frustration, but not to a point that doesn't make sense or is unhealthy. And I could argue that the sense of accomplishment is amplified by the fact that you didn't get what you originally sought. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

#Microblog Mondays: Ah, I Misunderstood

I have been fighting stomach bug/food poisoning issues for around 5 days now, which is extraordinarily aggravating, especially since it coincided with a lovely visit from Bryce's parents (mom and stepdad, we both say "parents" and mean either set/entity of our divorced parents). Thursday was the kickoff with some spectacular violent vomiting after bone-in chicken bbq that PERHAPS wasn't quite done in the middle, followed by 24 hours of chills, full-body aches, malaise, and a general feeling that I was both going to die and could be a real-world pandemic Patient Zero. But then I was fine Saturday, went about things like normal, and Sunday morning was good too...but Sunday afternoon's pizza dinner didn't sit well and I felt nauseous again and unsettled, but this time the violent purging was southerly, accompanied by pain, and it just keeps on plaguing me.

I went to the doctor today, because a) I wanted to make sure I didn't have a pandemic, b) a friend suggested maybe if I thought I had food poisoning I should get checked out because it could have issues needing addressing, and c) I had started running through the lists of Things That Could Kill Me (but probably won't): Appendicitis, ovarian cancer, burst organ of some kind, bleeding ulcer, new pandemic not quite yet identified by the CDC... a doctor's visit will usually stop the endless spiral of maladies I can imagine.

He found me tender in the lower right (scary, appendix area) but also not super sharp and I've been having what I thought was ovary pain for a little while, so that doesn't match, but he sent me for bloodwork and said that if I felt AT ALL like the pain was getting worse or I was getting a fever to hightail it to an ER for a CT Scan with contrast to make sure my appendix wasn't trying to kill me.

Believe it or not, that was actually very comforting, because I doubt that's it and now I have a clear If This, Then That scenario to deal with.

However, when I went to get bloodwork, I had to give a urine sample, and I got called back while still dealing with that clean-catch awkwardness, and then waited patiently with my paper-towel-wrapped pee sample until they called me back again (thank you, other lady waiting, for that trick to not have to look at or otherwise display your nitrogenous waste before others in the waiting area).

The lady who took my blood was super nice, and said, "Oh, only two vials today, all these stickers for two vials!" to which I said, "ugh, so glad it's not more, sometimes it seems endless," and she replied, "Well just you wait missy, looks like you'll be coming back for more here depending on results." I just sat there, thinking to myself, when they check your white blood cell count do they typically tell you you'll be back? What the eff? Why is this lady looking forward to me coming back to follow up on appendicitis, or maybe cancer? I am SO CONFUSED.

I was still confused when I got up to leave and she said, "Well you have a good day, and I'm just positive I'll be seeing you real soon here!"

It wasn't until after I left the lab and was walking down the hall that it clicked for me. OHHHHHHH. One of the pee tests was an HCG, and she wasn't talking about me coming back to check white blood cells, she was thinking I WAS PREGNANT. Oh man. I laughed, and LAUGHED, and LAUGHED (and then wondered if the tummy troubles had me suspiciously bloated).

Oh, no, nice lady. And she WAS a nice lady, not one gleefully awaiting my return to check for anemia or infection. I took Mali's advice and when I saw the HCG Beta on my lab slip I remembered that she said ALWAYS keep it in case it's ectopic, which is an even less likely event in my mind than an apocalyptic bird flu, but with my body? You just never know.

I had to laugh, because it didn't even cross my mind that she might think I was a hopeful maybe-pregnant person...and I had to feel proud, because it didn't make me feel sad.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Surviving Failure, Redefining Success

One of the things that frustrated me most about my infertility struggles was the insistence that it WOULD work out, that it COULD work out (insert all the many examples of improbable pregnancies and births here, followed by miracle adoption stories), that if I just HUNG IN THERE that all would be revealed and I'd get to be the mother I was clearly meant to be.

These encouragements are lovely in theory, usually given by practitioners and people who have succeeded ahead of you. They've seen it happen! Don't give up! You just need to stay in the game! But are they lovely, REALLY? Are they as helpful as they seem initially?

I was reminded of this by Risa's post on Moving Forward After Failure, and rather than tell my own story of surviving loss of many kinds in her comments, I decided to write my own post on the topic.

Because my story is filled with failure. After failure. After failure. Exponential failure. Loss after loss. But I survived it, and while my outcome wasn't what I dreamed of initially and by all accounts I failed MISERABLY throughout the whole process of trying to become a parent, I did succeed in other ways. I succeeded by not succumbing to my failure, by learning how not to internalize it, by redefining what "success" means for myself. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events
From the beginning we were told that we should just start with IVF, but that just seemed so DRASTIC, like starting swimming lessons with a cliff dive.  So we eased in with clomid, and then injectible IUIs, and I learned that yeah -- IVF was our best option. My PCOS revealed itself in all its glory -- I was capable of making a LOT of follicles, given a higher dose. Our sperm counts were pretty dismal for IUI, but perfectly reasonable for IVF. So we plunged. 

Given all the encouragement for IVF, given all the stories on TTC chatboards and forums, I fully expected that I would get pregnant from my first cycle and have some frozen embryos left over for a sibling. So it was shocking when I didn't have any frozen embryos, when only a couple survived to day three, and then the two that were transferred weren't amazing. And it failed. I was stunned. Each phone call was another whittling of my hope -- first not a lot of eggs were mature, then not a lot fertilized, then none were going to be frozen, then the ones that were left were okay. And then, of course, the "I'm sorry, it's negative" call that immediately schedules your next cycle. 

That was when I started going to a support group, that was when I started this blog, that was when I realized, hmmm. This is going to be harder than I thought

The next cycle had the whittling too, despite all the yoga and the acupuncture and the visualizing. It didn't work, either. 

So we switched doctors at the clinic, and switched protocols from PCOS-based to an egg quality focus, with much better results -- we had frozens! And I got a call, although not quite the one I'd wanted -- "I'm sorry, it's positive but it's very low." Ah, a caveat. I spent two and a half weeks hoping against hope that this was just a rough-and-tumble beginning to our family story, and then it all ended when the fancy 3D ultrasound machine showed that my baby was more like a tumor that was trying to end me. That was hard to move forward from, because the physical pain was so great in recovery and the craziness of it all just enveloped everything. BUT, I had hope for the next cycle, because my doctor had said that this showed I could actually get pregnant. It was possible. 

Except when we did our next cycle in December, with frozen blasts, it didn't work. I examined everything I could have possibly done to cause this -- had I microwaved things in plastic? Had I microwaved food at all? Was it the nonorganic spinach in the chickpea stew? Was it the gut-wrenching crying during the wait because I'd had to put my cat to sleep? I was in a terrible state of grief. What if that was all I got, just a weird surgical end to a brief pregnancy that could never be a baby? I threw myself into another cycle right away, and upped all the supplements and acupuncture and meditation and yoga and wheatgrass and candle lighting and onesie-buying. 

The next fresh cycle didn't work. But it did make frozens. Which made it easier to take the horrible disappointment of another failure, because a new opportunity could be had faster, cheaper, easier on my body. Maybe THIS would be our chance. 

And it was -- we got a personal call from my doctor (the first one, as the second one had left for another practice) on a Saturday morning to tell me that I was PREGNANT, and the numbers were good (although later I realized they still weren't super robust), and it was CELEBRATION TIME! Celebrate we did, because I was going to milk this pregnancy for every single nanosecond. I was thrilled, for two whole weeks. 

But then I began cramping in the parking lot of my grandmother's assisted living apartment complex, and I ignored it because it was just expansion, it HAD to be, because this was IT, this was the moment we'd been waiting for, and NOTHING bad could happen because I'd done everything so very right this time. Except a trip to the bathroom revealed that I was actually bleeding, and the cramping was harder to ignore, and I had to tell my grandmother that I was both pregnant and likely miscarrying all in one hysterical, apologetic breath as I rushed to the clinic without an appointment, after their phone system was done for the day but before everyone had left, and begged for help. I saw a tiny sac, which gave everyone hope, and I was put on bed rest and kept my hips above my nose as much as I could until I got the call that my bloodwork had gone down 2000 points (so abrupt that we repeated it, because maybe it was an error! Maybe a rushed tech had left a zero off!). It was over. 

I didn't know how to recover from that one. It was the worst pain I'd felt at that point in things. I'd been so close, and now it was gone. What if this wasn't going to happen? What if I was irreparably broken? A friend stopped by to drop off orchid food and heard me keening on the couch. I went back and forth between animal sobbing/gulping and complete numbness, staring at the air between me and other objects and trying to figure out how I would ever get past this. I was a mess, but that was expected. I was shocked that we could get so close and then lose it so quickly. 

But, I dealt with it by pushing myself forward. Something had to change. I was NOT going to give in so easily. The NEXT one would work, particularly because I was going to pursue egg donor. It couldn't go wrong, my mid-thirties eggs would be out of the picture and we'd be sure to see success. I threw myself into all the preparations, and I asked people who'd been successful with egg donor what their protocols were, and I took all the advice and I even did progesterone in oil shots twice per day, resulting in permanent nerve damage and having to take the shots in my thigh, and still... a fresh and a frozen cycle failed. FAILED. I felt like a failure. I felt like there was no way this could be happening. Family and close friends began to ask us, "when do you decide to stop? Maybe it's time." But the fertility world was all about KEEP GOING AND DON'T GIVE UP! YOU'RE SO CLOSE! And I listened to that siren song, I listened to tales of people getting pregnant on their 11th cycle with their last frozen embryo or finally getting pregnant after 8 years of trying because of washing out their uterus with a chemotherapy drug, or sperm donor being the trick, or donated embryos being the trick... there was always a trick. And I WANTED there to be a trick. I NEEDED to throw myself into all possible options. I HAD to have a baby, and was willing to do nearly anything to have one. 

So we reevaluated. We had already gone to an adoption seminar at an agency that made it sound impossible and listed all the things that counted as red flags (and we had a zillion of them), and we felt that we would never be placed with a baby given that doom and gloom presentation, so assisted reproduction was going to have to be our path. Egg donor hadn't done it. So we got a bunch of second opinions, and everyone said that it was likely then the sperm, or maybe even my uterus. Clearly it wasn't my eggs, because egg donor hadn't fixed it. 

We went to the clinic our second doctor left for, and did all kinds of crazy things. I had more hysteroscopies. I had biopsies. I had the horrible Beta 3 Integrin test, that was like having someone run a vegetable peeler down my uterus while I was FULLY AWAKE AND UNSEDATED, and it revealed...nothing. Apparently my endometrium was perfectly receptive. My first cycle ended up cancelled -- my estrogen went way too high and when they tried to dial it back it crashed. But the second cycle was great and we ended up with blasts from our own material -- but it didn't work. Which was very sad and awful, but we had frozens with donor sperm so that was something to look forward to. And then THAT didn't work (or maybe it did briefly, as I did a home pee stick and it showed a faint line that then disappeared -- was it evaporation, or was it a brief chemical? I don't know but the result was the same). 

This is when the failure really hit me hard. Clearly SOMETHING was wrong, and we couldn't figure it out, and I was tired, so so so tired of making this the central thing in my life. I had experienced ten transfers, 27 embryos had come and gone, and I just felt like a physical embodiment of failure. I tried so many things, and here I was, at the end of the options, with no one giving me a straight answer about WHY, and my heart just wasn't in it anymore. I couldn't bear to keep doing this. I knew the end was nigh. 

So we decided to transfer our frozens, 2PNs from the egg donor cycle first, then the two blasts from sperm donor. Then we could be done. And then my cycles were canceled, TWICE, and I lay crying on the table, after white-knuckling a drive through a freaking blizzard to get to Buffalo for an ultrasound, and I just kept saying "I...can't...DO THIS...ANYMOOOOOOORE" through my sobs. I felt abused. I felt brutally emptied from the inside out, physically and spiritually. I just couldn't give it any more. 

Moving Forward, Away from Infertility Treatment
So we moved forward to adoption, with so much hope in our hearts that it would be different. We joked that we'd slowly shed ties to genetic material throughout our journey, so we were utterly prepared to decide to raise a child who had zero genetic ties to us, and who we did not gestate. We researched. We completed all the homestudy requirements. We soul searched. We gave ourselves fully to this process, which took my body completely out of the equation and instead took up space in a binder, in a somewhat unhealthy relationship with the phone, and in our emotional well-being. 

I had talked to other people who were successful before us, and they received profile calls within a couple months, and then received them regularly. 

We received none in six months. None? How could we receive none? We'd made a book that we were insanely proud of. We'd been told it was great. How could NO ONE find us appealing? It was a terrible feeling. Instead of examining what I'd eaten, what I'd done to nurture my body, what physical activity might have been too strenuous, I examined OUR LIFE. Did we not have enough friends with young children? I felt funny about asking people for photos of me with their kids, like I was using them as marketing material (I was), and so I didn't pursue that as much as I could have. Were we too old? We didn't look old, but we were in our 40s, having spent the bulk of our 30s trying to get pregnant and failing. Had we waited too long? Were we too boring? Not religious enough at all? Was our house not child-friendly enough? Were our families too devoid of small children, of future cousins to play with? What WAS it that made us get passed over? 

Then we had our first profile call, and it was exciting to be in a position to actually, possibly, be matched and off on our way to a placement. She was due in May, and they wanted the couple chosen to attend appointments, and the situation sounded pretty good -- it wasn't financially driven, which was something that made us feel very, very icky. They were getting their lives together after personal hardship and it wasn't the right time, but they wanted an open adoption, and it sounded like a great situation. But we weren't picked. Which was okay, because now I felt like we'd had an opportunity, of course the first one wouldn't work out, we were realistic, and this was SO MUCH BETTER than infertility treatment! 

But then the next profile opportunity threw me for an utter loop. It was a somewhat last-minute situation, she was due in just a couple weeks, and it had been a blind profile where she was deciding between just a couple books, and ours was one of them. It was a boy, they said. I spent a lot of time in the nursery, holding the blue onesies in my hands, staring down into the empty crib (that sometimes held a cat) and imagining this little boy asleep in that space. I could almost see the indent in the mattress. I visualized it, I meditated on it, and I was like, THIS IS IT. We are going to be parents.

She didn't choose us. It was close, which actually hurt more to hear, but we didn't make the cut. I was gutted. We cried as if we had lost a baby ourselves, which it felt as though we had -- we could envision how our lives would change in such a short time, and we were ready to bring that baby into our home and could SEE that alternate future, and then POOF, it was gone. It echoed every loss we'd sustained up to that point, but in a way it was harder because I DIDN'T do anything that resulted in my two pregnancy losses, it was totally inexplicable and a mystery of nature, but this was someone actively NOT choosing us to parent her child. (In the end it turned out that the situation became fraught and involved the courts and was very sad for everyone involved, so we were glad it didn't work out in retrospect, but still.)

I think that was the first time when we realized that perhaps all of the grief and loss of the infertility treatment leg of our journey was going to make this leg even harder, and maybe it wouldn't work out as we'd hoped.

That profile opportunity was followed by one that was so not right for us on so many levels, again highlighting the complexity of just the DECISIONS related to the adoption process, and we said no, which was hard but necessary. Then summer came and we had to renew our homestudy, and it felt not nearly as hopeful as the first time when we were so filled with hope that THIS WAS OUR PATHWAY to parenthood and it would all be great. Our social worker asked us what we would do if it didn't work out for us, and instead of answering in a way that was purely positive but not at all believing that that could happen, we had a realistic answer and realized that we had a GOOD answer, that our life really was good as is and maybe if it didn't work out it would be okay. More than okay.

Then the second year of being active for adoption was just awful. We were actually picked in a blind profile but the opportunity vanished as quickly as it had become a possibility, and we were notified a month or so later so it wasn't quite the disembowelment it could have been. But then... SILENCE. Nothing again, not a single call or opportunity until January.

I'm not sure which was worse, the complete silence and feeling that we were either a) not on the radar or b) so undesirable that we just would never get picked. It does a number on your self-worth to be in this space. We looked into private adoption, and quickly nixed it as it seemed even more emotionally draining, possibly opening us up to scammers or horrible people who would call just to tell us we were baby stealers, and it just seemed...predatory. I was not comfortable with it at all. But then, January came with a situation where the baby was born yesterday and we were one of a handful of books in play where we'd need to go pick the baby up tomorrow if chosen, and it seemed SO PROMISING. But the quick turnoround between "tomorrow we could be parents!" and "you weren't chosen" broke me. I had to go home from school to sob in private, because I just could not hold myself together anymore at my job. And then February saw a blind profile where the expectant mom was in labor, and we were again not chosen, and I wouldn't have even known about it had I not called with a question about adoption attorneys, and I felt like my soul had just been chipped away to the point of being a broken splinter of a thing.

And then I had my autoimmune eye issue, the prednisone megadose, the side effects mimicking a heart attack, and my breakdown at school.

The End
That is when we ended our parenting journey, that string of failures and disappointments and losses that had finally passed the tipping point of Shit We Could Handle. We ended before our homestudy end date, because we just couldn't handle another call that would NOT be for us, and I was not in a place where I felt my mental health was robust enough to say yes to an opportunity if it came in those last two months, because even a yes is fraught with complexity, and ethical quagmires, and uncertainty, and stress, and the possibility of loss. We just couldn't do it anymore. We'd been so steeped in "It's not IF, it's WHEN!" and all the adoption-related encouragements of "The Waiting is the Hardest Part!" and "Just hang in there, you can't get chosen if you're not in the game!"

But the game was not-so-slowly killing us, me in ways that were clearly manifested and noticeable, and Bryce in ways that he felt he had to hide for my sake, and we were risking the life we KNEW we could have, the life we DID have, for one that may well never have truly materialized.

We were spent, and it was time to wave the white flag and say, "You know, we had a good run."

Recovering from Failure, Rediscovering Hope
It was hard, so hard to feel like I'd given up. Like I'd quit, like I wasn't strong enough, like I didn't have enough chutzpah to be worthy of the motherhood I'd so wanted.

But those are lies.

I was STRONG, because I was walking away from something that I'd wanted so badly, but that had turned downright abusive and was just slamming me into the ground and kicking me in the head.

I was CHOOSING a different life, instead of letting things happen passively. Bryce made this point when the choice was to let our homestudy run out, or end it two months early. He argued that ending it early was empowering, was saying WE ARE DONE WITH LETTING THE UNIVERSE BEAT US UP ON ITS OWN TIME, WE ARE GOING TO TAKE CONTROL AND SAY NO MORE TO THIS BULLSHIT! Bryce is very wise. It WAS empowering.

I was REDEFINING my life -- motherhood had taken up such a large space and had proven unattainable, and I had to figure out who I was if I wasn't going to be a mother. And I was NOT going to be a sad sap. I was going to live the bejeezus out of the life we had, as is, without all the striving and pushing and wheedling something to come that after 8 years just wasn't going to.

I was LETTING GO of the idea that if we'd just hung on, we'd have our child. That IF we'd stayed in the game, we would have "won" and had the living, breathing baby in our nursery, had the floor strewn with board books and play mats, had the holiday card we'd been hoping for, had the tearful shots of us with the baby, holding him or her for the first time, incredulous at our amazing fortune. WHAT IF is destructive. You can go down a whole slew of rabbit holes searching for the alternate pathways that MIGHT have happened IF you made a different choice, IF you waited longer, IF you went with a different agency or type of adoption, IF you'd gone to a different clinic sooner, IF you'd gotten second opinions sooner, IF you'd met your husband earlier in life, IF you'd known that you were infertile when you were younger... NONE OF THAT is helpful. None. For the same reason that hanging on to IVF well past when it was useful because someone got pregnant with their last embryo on their 13th cycle or whatnot was not healthy, so was staying in adoption when it was absolutely clear that we had gone into it already battered, that we were pushing ourselves down a path that at times made us uncomfortable, and that we were simply spent.

I was ACCEPTING that it is okay to say NO. To quit, to give up, to accept the failure we experienced in becoming parents, so that we could thrive, move forward, and start a new life that is decidedly less self-destructive. This acceptance is hard. This acceptance takes work. It means cutting up your "Never Never Never Give Up" fridge magnet into the fangs it is, because that trope is HARMFUL. It is excellent to have perseverance. It is excellent to go for your dreams. It is not excellent to let your dream be a freight train that you are chained to so that you are dragged behind it, a bloody pulpy mess. There is a time when letting go is the best thing. And you have to do it in the face of people who will mourn your inability to stay in the game, who will judge you for "giving up," who will throw a million other methods you might try (but have zero endurance left for) because it is just TOO SAD that you will never be parents.

I was ADVOCATING for the fact that only YOU can make the choice that is right for you, and frankly, no one else's opinions matter. That may sound harsh, but it is incredibly difficult to face the onslaught of people who cannot accept that you are not going to parent, who cannot accept this new reality as something POSITIVE and EMPOWERING. People wanted me to know that I was still young, that I could get pregnant accidentally, they knew people that happened to. I feel a compulsion to retort that I actually don't have a uterine lining anymore, but also only had one tube and our sperm count was super low, so that was likely never going to happen, and besides -- we'd let that possibility go. At this point, we do not WANT some "miracle baby" to arrive because we are resolved, we are happy, we have done so much work to love where we are. I want people to know that resolving childfree is not a tragedy. The path to get there can be, but when you are resolved, in my opinion at least, you have reached a point where you accept where you are and vow to live it to your best ability. As is. And it is difficult when others don't understand this because they can't imagine life without their children, and so see your life as less-than. My life is not less worthy because I don't parent. My life is not worse or better because I don't have kids, it's just different. For the things I lose out on, I gain in other opportunities I wouldn't have if I did have kids.

I'm not saying that I consider myself "recovered." I'm not. I think it's an ongoing process, one that will last in some way for all of my days. I am in a much better place now than a year ago, when I was grappling with the fact that my vision of my future life had forever changed. It's a balance between the sadness of what was lost, and the joys of what is gained by no longer living in limbo, by finding a new purpose in the days ahead. We truly appreciate the moments we have together, after surviving so much grief and loss and turmoil. It can be a fancy dinner out on a Thursday, or a quiet night in reading on our new living room chairs in the quiet with cats on our laps and classical music playing in the background. It can be a two week vacation to the coast of California, or a day with an impromptu 11 mile hike. We have been through so much, and surviving it all with a marriage stronger than we started with is an accomplishment we're proud of.

Failure is difficult but it teaches you of what you're capable of, and makes you reevaluate your priorities. I feel that a true failure would have been continuing to chase down motherhood at personal risk to my health, relationship, overall well-being, sense of self... that would have been awful. I will never understand why NONE of the avenues we tried worked for us. I will never understand HOW we got here, but I am so grateful to be here, on the other side of infertility. I am glad to be done with the struggle, to know that it can work out even if it's not how I'd hoped, that I can live a fulfilling life despite all the difficulties we faced and possibly BECAUSE of surviving all that loss. I am different person now than I was in 2009 when this all started.

I survived failure, I redefined what success meant for me, and it took work and reflection and a lot of support, but IT IS POSSIBLE. It is a work in progress. I am proud of what I've accomplished. I'm proud of letting go in a society that values hanging on at personal cost.

I hope that telling this story gives hope to those who are in the thick of it, who are struggling with choices and losses and a sense of overwhelming failure and batterment. It is not permanent. There are many ways to resolve. You can survive failure and consider yourself a resounding success even if you do not end up with a child. Sometimes letting go and moving forward with life as it is is the best possible option for your sanity, your health, your overall quality of life.


Monday, August 13, 2018

#Microblog Mondays: How We Take Pictures

I was shocked by the sudden death of a friend from school last Thursday -- it was totally unexpected, and he was only 42. It prompted me to go through my photo albums and the very un-archival hiking boot box that houses a host of prints from the 1990s and 2000s.

I found pictures from the prom (he was my date), from our senior class trip, and that was about it. There's more in our yearbook, but in going through all of the photos I realized how much how we take pictures has changed with the advent of the smartphone.

The box is filled with pictures with fingers, fuzzy pictures, over- or under-exposed shots...there's a lot of crap photos in there, because you didn't see them until they were developed. You could totally prank someone with this delayed gratification aspect of film development (the Mister Rogers movie includes a great story of such a prank). Most of the pictures are also of events, of trips or milestones or visits. There were a couple exceptions, pictures of my dorm rooms in college and pictures of my best friend's first apartment, but otherwise the photos all chronicled something concrete, like a graduation, or a trip to the shore.

It's so different now.

Now we are able to chronicle everyday aspects of our lives, because there IS NO LIMIT to the pictures we can take and distribute digitally. I don't have any pictures with fingers in them, or fuzzy pictures, or accidental foot-or-lap pictures that survive, because when I see them on my Google Photos app, I delete them. And usually I see them right after I've taken them, so I get to have a do-over. And that's lovely but also kind of depressing, that we can so carefully curate our paparazzi'd lives with this technology. Don't like the chins? Take another picture and delete that hideous beast. I guess the only exception to this is other people's pictures of you -- the ones that you're tagged in and would never have made your camera roll on your own phone but show up awkwardly on social media.

Initially it made me sad, because I have all these memories of my friend and goofiness in the halls at school and in choir, and bell choir, and behind the stage at musicals...and there is very little photographic evidence of those candid moments. At the same time, it makes the handful of pictures I DO have that much more precious.

It fills me with the urge to print out more of my zillions of pictures of my everyday life, like a yearbook each year of our (entirely fingerless) moments, for us to look back on and hold in our laps and have in our possession before someone passes away.

Rest in peace, my friend. 

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!