It's been three weeks now since the surgery that ended my doomed pregnancy. That seems like not that long ago at all and a lifetime ago, all at the same time. On Monday I had to buck up and go back to school, go back to work, go back to at least appearing like a normal human being and not a walking sad sack of a tragic story. It's been four days of Teacher Me--which actually feels like a lifetime. Every day takes so much out of me in every respect, and I am ridiculously hard on myself. Tuesday I had a difficult day and felt very ineffective and like I didn't know what I'm doing (because I'm new and...I don't, not really)--and I went home and cried on the couch to my husband. He was like, "You're right. You've been at this what, two days? You should totally be an expert by now." Sometimes perspective from someone else is really helpful when you have apparently lost all of yours. Because I have to put so much energy into learning all of my kids; learning two different buildings in terms of staff, curriculum, politics, etc.; and setting up plans for a program I have never done before, I have zero energy to put into my own baggage from this past experience. So I have to compartmentalize.
I have found that the best way to make it through my days at work without being the weird new teacher who runs to the bathroom to cry, or is constantly quiver-lipped, is to leave the traumatized part of me at home. I don't talk about it at school. I really don't have time to think about it at school. And if I find myself thinking about it, I have to shut that down quick because I can't afford to be messy at school. I know no one there, not really. Everyone has been great and supportive, but these are people that I met for the first time in June and have spent only hours with when it comes down to it. So I don't have to talk about it, even though it does linger in the ether a bit simply by the fact that I missed the first week of school and so missed being introduced at faculty meetings--so there are a lot of people who I meet in hallways or who stop by and who innocently ask why I was out (or just matter-of-factly comment on it, "Ah yes, I didn't meet you last week because you were out."). Not that many people have asked, and when they do I simply say "I had emergency surgery." Because I'm pretty sure going in for ultrasound at 2:00 and going under the knife 9 hours later after phone finagling by your doctor to get an OR the same day counts as an emergency. If I'm asked what kind of surgery, I say "the emergency kind." People who simply comment and don't ask just get a confirmation--Yes, I was out, but I'm back now and excited to be teaching in the building.
It's weird, because I have always been so open. Although sometimes I question that decision, like when I have so many people to update when things go horribly wrong. If I didn't tell quite so many people, I wouldn't have to go through the torture of explaining my story, over and over and over again. This year I think I can be a little sneaky--my morning building is super supportive. Most of my appointments are in the morning, so if I miss there, they will know why and it won't travel to my afternoon building. (I say "afternoon" but it's really 10:20 that I move buildings...my sense of time is skewed. That tends to happen when you eat lunch at 10:30 in the morning!) So I can compartmentalize myself that way, too--I can have a building where I have fewer students and a shorter timeframe for being there where people know (because they'll sort of have to if I need coverage for monitoring appointments), and my more challenging afternoon building where I am at full capacity and teaching straight through the last three periods of the day, where I am responsible for reviewing everything from Algebra to German to Earth Science and my head is spinning by the end of the day, where almost no one knows. There is no room for infertility at that building whatsoever. There is room for infertility in my car, crying as I drive home. There is room for infertility when I walk the dog. I think I may be the crazy lady on the street--I was the shuffling post-op walker in my pjs, and now I'm the sad-looking teary-eyed dog walker after school. But at least I'm not the sad-looking, teary-eyed new teacher.
My compartmentalizing plan occasionally has hiccups--like when I ran into a teacher from the high school who also moved to the 9th grade academy. It was a fire drill, with my most challenging group of students. She had known about what I was going through and knew what had happened in the summer, and she gave me a wonderful hug and expressed her sympathy. And I was rendered a near puddle. I couldn't even talk because had I opened my mouth I probably would have been wracked with sobs or outright bawling, and that would not be good in front of my students. This woman knew all of my hopes for this cycle and how devastating the loss was. And her knowing that opened me up to knowing that at school, which was not so great. She understood and didn't say more, but I felt badly--here was someone who was offering me condolences and support, but I just couldn't accept it in that setting. It was putting major cracks in the box I had put all that sadness into for the school day. I couldn't handle it. It's like my tears have welled up to about my nose-level, and if I see someone who knows to offer sympathy it starts the waterworks going. I'm not quite at the verge of tears but as close to the verge as I can get. I'm on the verge of the verge of tears.
Overall, this compartmentalizing strategy is working out pretty well for me, despite the occasional near-misses. I have yet to cry in school. I have come close, but I haven't spilled over.
I discovered that I also compartmentalize in a different way. Today we had our follow-up appointment with our doctor to discuss both the surgery (while I am not doped up and likely to forget everything) and our plan to move on to our frozen cycle. We talked at length about what actually happened during my surgery, and I saw the entire series of pictures of my innards. I have one set, and I was going to post them here, but I thought it's possible they may be a bit traumatizing for those who aren't insanely interested in the inner workings of the body and who don't think it's cool to see what a uterus looks like from the inside. But I saw all of the pictures today. And I found out that I compartmentalize differently in my doctor's office. I feel almost a responsibility to be positive and good-natured and humorous about the whole thing there. I feel badly because we are STILL there, working towards our goal. My clinic is awesome and everyone is very caring and friendly and genuinely enjoys seeing us come in, although they'd rather see us leave pregnant. It's another case where kindness and sympathy can open up the floodgates and leave me a puddle, and if I'm a puddle then I can't focus on all the information I need to have about what happened to me and what is going to happen to me with the frozen. I need to turn off the sad, traumatized part of me so that I can be as informed as possible. So I am overly gregarious, instead. It's not like I'm not normally an animated, enthusiastic, silly person. (I actually had a company that I no longer work for tell me in a warning that I was "excessively goofy," which is hilarious since I went on to work for one of the most conservative workplaces in my area with no personality issues. I can be goofy, yes, but I'm always professional in the right context.) I would say that today I bordered on "excessively goofy" at my clinic, making lots of silly references and jokes and trying desperately to keep the mood light. Which took a hell of a lot of effort when seeing the photos of my surgery that I didn't see before. The ones of my tube and pregnancy excised from my body and on a surgical tray, specifically. My tear factory was threatening to go into overdrive. Because seeing it like that was incredibly sad to me. It was neat to see exactly how they removed my tube and the pregnancy, and all of the endometriosis that was removed (thankfully Stage One, so not extensive, but still another piece in our infertile puzzle), and how the surgery was performed with little instruments. But it was completely and totally devastating to see the blue-purple bulge of tissue that was what could have been my baby, trapped in a thin membrane of tube, looking like a tumor. Seeing that made it real again. So immediately I went right into a barrage of questions and jokes about how I can't focus on anything. Because at that moment, I really couldn't focus on what was in front of me. Because it made me so incredibly sad and I was in danger of completely and totally losing my shit in front of my doctor and the student that was sitting in. Poor student, witnessing our complete silliness and odd sense of humor about the whole thing (I wasn't alone...Bryce was also a total goofball at today's appointment). Part of it is real--if you can't laugh about this stuff, you really have no choice other than to lock yourself in a dark room and cry for days. But part of it was a diversionary tactic. A compartmentalizing away my sad self and displaying my happy-go-lucky self.
I'm not burying my feelings, which would be unhealthy. I'm just squirreling them away to another place so that I can safely feel all the sadness and anger and loss in the privacy of my home, or my car. And so that I can put it all here in writing, instead of verbally vomiting it onto unsuspecting coworkers. So that I can be the well-adjusted (if wacky) patient, and not the hot mess I really am on the inside, within my sad, angry little box.