Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back on 2017 -- A Lot of Awful, But Beautiful Gifts, Too

We just got back from our (incredibly cold) vacation in Vermont where we visited with family and had a little respite in our favorite little inn in Grafton. It was a bit too cold for all the outdoor activities (without windchill we woke up to -8 degrees Fahrenheit temps...brrrr) but it was lovely to read and play ping pong and have yummy dinners and just relax. Especially since we are fighting yet another holiday cold...

One of the things that we did over the vacation bit of the trip was to write down our accomplishments for 2017, and then all the shitty things that happened. Although there were some really lovely things this year, the balance leaned clearly towards the shit side.

We'll start with the crap side.

I'm more than happy to wave goodbye to 2017 because it held an incredible amount of pain. This was the year I lost my uncle to lung cancer and my grandfather to Alzheimer's. This was the year I developed a lovely case of scleritis (a fun autoimmune attack on my left eye), that was triggered by stress and then started a domino effect that had begun years earlier and just cumulated until a long, high dose regimen of prednisone led to a fairly spectacular mental breakdown following a spike in blood pressure and side effects that mimicked a cardiac event and landed me in the ER. It was, frankly, the year of Emergency Room/Urgent Care. It was the year where we decided that after 8 years of striving fruitlessly, if my health was going to decline then we'd go with the life we have and let go of the one we wanted but for some inexplicable reason was always just out of reach. It was the year we ended our journey to parenthood with a call to the agency saying that we were done. It was the year that we spent Memorial Day weekend packing up our nursery to donate  to someone who actually could use it for a real live baby. It was the year none of our embryos survived to help the couple we donated them to/placed them with conceive, and ended our parenting journey even by proxy -- we tried so hard through all these different avenues and even gave away our embryos to give them a chance we couldn't give them...only to be left with nothing, and to have shared our nothing with another grieving couple.

It was quite possibly the most difficult year I can remember. (Also, the formatting on this post is a bit odd because I'm using my work computer...a parting gift of 2017 is that my laptop fried itself right before we left. Grrr.)

Posts that I think capture the incredible awfulness of this period:

Good Riddance, March
When Everything Falls Apart: or So THIS Is What It Looks Like to Lose It
The Finality of Making the Call
Packing Up the Nursery
So It Goes

However, there were good things, too. Really good things.

Number one is that we ended limbo. It's weird, we lived in this in between space for so long and when it finally ended, although not the way we'd hoped, the relief was palpable. An almost physical weight was lifted, and it was noticed by people all around us. I am so sad about the loss of our embryos, for us and the other couple, but I am so very happy that it happened in 2017. That 2018 can be a completely fresh start in our life, that there is no lingering possibility of some kind of fertility-related trauma. Because that's what all of that was and is -- a boatload of trauma. Having an end to the limbo has been a tremendous gift.

Oddly, once we reframed our life and our home to be just for us and not preparing for a phantom child, the space took on a life of its own and we bought grownup furniture that matched and a house that seemed too small and cramped and possibly cursed suddenly felt cozy and full of character and new life. I got a beautiful office where the nursery once was. We have new living room furniture and dining room furniture and it's such a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it meant that we truly were out of limbo -- there wasn't anymore "what if" or feeling like any expenditure would be silly because what if we needed that for adoption or we moved and the furniture wasn't right anymore or whatever else.

We took our honeymoon, a real long vacation involving flying and seeing things that neither of us had before.

I got my beautiful tattoo, to encapsulate my transformation and the strength and power I have gained from having so much pain and loss.

I achieved my National Board certification, which is particularly sweet for me because I did the lion's share of the writing during a time where I felt I was barely surviving, and it was not ideal at all -- I was supposed to get a lot of writing done over April Break but I was busy scooping up all my goo and putting myself back into humanlike substance form, so I did most of it in May, actually during Mother's Day weekend. There was a shitload of adversity happening all around those pages, and so to have passed with good standing? It makes me feel worthy of my phoenix tattoo.

Bryce continued working through the courses that he needs to complete in order to earn his PhD, and 2018 will see him battling his Qualification Exam, hopefully becoming a bona fide PhD candidate. I have utter faith in his abilities here -- he is always worried about the quality of his work or doing poorly, and he always kills it. He is so smart and so dedicated and I can't wait to see where all this brings us as a family.

Some posts that remind me that there was good this year, too:

...Because I Don't Have Kids
Easter Fun Without Kids
Oh, Okay...So NOW It's Final
Reclaiming the Butterflies
Enter the Phoenix
The Christmas Tree Story

It's a lot of good. Our life took a definite turn, a swerve of dizzying proportions, over this past year. But now it leads down a road we might not have gotten to see otherwise, a road with beauty and joy and fulfillment all its own. For as much as 2017 took away, it also gave us so much.

I look forward to 2018, and all the possibilities that lie ahead of us, now that I hope most of our darkest days lie behind us in the shitstorm that was 2017.

Monday, December 25, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: My Favorite Things

Ahhh, Christmas -- our very first Christmas together as a defined family of two. It felt more sweet than bitter as we really enjoyed every second (and I have yet to enjoy the delicious roast duck, wild rice, and sauteed red chard that's to come tonight), and really celebrated each other.

Here are some pictures of my favorite presents from Bryce and our (decorated) tree. It is lovely to be with someone for so long and to still be surprised and also feel just so...known by the gift giver. I don't have pictures of the presents I gave Bryce, but some of my favorites are half finger gloves from Mr. Reynaud (ha ha ha, because he has Reynaud's), gorgeously glazed and agave-plant-stamped mexcal sipping cups from Agave Oaxca, a National Parks & Monuments map poster for chronicling and planning our adventures and then a National Geographic guide to the parks for the same reasons, and this thing called a Love Book that I made through that allowed me to write our story and why I love him through stick figures and illustrations and text that I could customize. It was highly personal, highly emotional, and a huge hit, and I could NOT wait for him to open it!

Merry Christmas and Joyous Yuletide and Happy New Year way in advance to all of you, may the close of this year bring peace, joy and happiness to you and yours!

Christmas Eve present...dark chocolate vanilla buttercreams from Fannie May. Mmmm. There might be a couple missing.
First present -- standing spoon rest. Insanely clever invention!
A set of two polar bear pillows like this that I saw and admired at a local shop but was told "ENOUGH with the pillows!" sneaky sneaky...
So, I gave Bryce the moose in the middle and thought I was SO SNEAKY because we admired all three of these (the bottom being my favorite) and I went back to get the moose without Bryce, only to find that there was a tag that said, "I knew what you were up to all along!" But now they look lovely as a little collection on our wall. :)
I could not photograph this without my phone showing up, but this is a gorgeous print that now lives in my office. I am in the process of naming him...I'm thinking Hector? Horace? Help me give him a suitable name! 
I got the first book by this guy, "Tales from the Loop," last year from Bryce...this looks gloriously creepy. And the tag is hilarious.
A Danforth Pewter PUFFIN! Love this! 

Even more so because it has an inscription. Made me SO happy. 

A wick trimmer! I am such a weirdo for dying for one of these, but I love it! 
He totally cheated and put these individually wrapped in a giant box to look like one present, but HOW AWESOME are these books? He always curates a collection for me at Christmas and my birthday. That cookbook is one we saw in an Italian pottery shop in Santa Barbara. SO THOUGHTFUL. 

So very fortunate. Such a good little tree! 

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

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Christmas Tree Story

We debated whether or not we should get a tree this year. We're traveling after Christmas (and have a housesitter, all you stealers out there!) and don't like to leave a tree for someone else to care for. Bryce was super busy with the end of his course, and the last couple of weeks just seemed so busy for some reason. Before we knew it it was the last week before break and we didn't have a tree, and when we looked for a small one while out together it seemed that most of the places were out of the size we wanted. We even thought about a tabletop tree, a prelit one, but couldn't find one we liked for the price (why are those so freaking expensive???).

We pretty much decided that we'd be tree-less, but we could put presents around the fireplace. We have garlands on the windows and mantle, and glass icicles hanging from the windows and sliding glass door, so it's not like it wasn't Christmassy, it was tree.

Cozy hearth, just no tree.


The shed with lights and the tree that has doubled in size in 5 years...

I won't lie, it made me feel a bit down. Last Sunday I was real sad. Sobby, mopey, lie-facedown-on-the-floor sad. I can't remember what triggered it exactly, but I'm sure it has something to do with our first Christmas knowing absolutely that we will be living without children for the rest of our lives, and so there's a certain extra sting in that. Then not having a tree, it made me sad because I don't want to be like, "oh, we're busy, we don't have time" and then lose all our traditions. That would suck.

My mom and stepfather came over for Christmas on Thursday evening since they are traveling up to my sister's for the holiday and then making rounds in Canada, then a whole bunch of other family stops on their way to Florida. Because we are also traveling, we'll miss each other, so we did the holiday thing early. I came home from school and picked up the house, vacuuming and lighting yummy holiday candles and setting the table and trying to get my grading in before they got there. Bryce said he had an errand to run if I didn't mind, if things were in good shape, so he didn't get home until 6:10 when we had to swap cars. Oh, single driveway, what fun you are.

But then he opened his trunk, and said, "TA-DAAAAA!"

In the trunk was the most adorable little 4-foot tree ever. I was so silent at first that he thought I was mad at him for bringing a tree right before my parents were coming over, but I was just shocked, in a good way.

And then he told me this story:

Today, at work, a coworker was saying how they didn't have a tree until now because her husband was working on Christmas and wouldn't be there, and it was all so depressing, but that she had to get the tree for her kids, that if it was just her and her husband she wouldn't have cared but Christmas is all about the kids, you know? It's not for adults. It's the magic in children that makes Christmas a thing. And I got SO MAD, because it's NOT just for children, or people with children, it's for EVERYONE who celebrates it. And I told her that, and then I realized she didn't know that we weren't adopting anymore (because Bryce is not nearly as verbal-vomitty about that as I am), but I guess now it's clear. Then I said, "I have to leave and go get my wife a tree! Dammit, we deserve a freaking tree!"

I love this man, so much.

And that is how we managed to get a Christmas tree, perfectly sized for our hobbit house, four days before Christmas. We are decorating it tonight, and then when we leave for our trip we'll take down the ornaments and put it outside with birdseed ornaments on it and hope the squirrels don't get it all.

I wish for you these little moments of holiday cheer, of warm glows where it seems a bit dark.

Monday, December 18, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: The Upside

December 17th is a day that I'd just as soon forget, but it's important in the terms of remembering upsides.

See, on this day in 2005 I went volunteering for Camp Good Days at the mall, selling candy cane pens and kazoos, then went to a friend's house for cookie baking, and that is the point where my entire world was set on its end.

I was told the unpleasant truth that my husband of 5 years had been cheating on me for 3 1/2 years of our 5 year marriage, with not one but two people, and the sordid details were just horrific and I felt the relative safety of my denial shatter around me in tiny shards of HOLY SHIT MY LIFE IS OVER.

Except it wasn't.

That day was horrific at the time, and so painful, and I was afraid and relieved (he wasn't nice to me, which is an incredible understatement, and it makes me sad to this day that I felt I deserved the treatment I got and that cheating was my out, not just "I deserve more") all at the same time, but mostly devastated that my existence was suddenly turned upside down.


Looking back now, that was the turning point where I was set free to seek the life that I deserved, to find true happiness and love and respect and friendship and passion without contempt and little violences.

What was easily the worst day of my life at that time became the beginning of the best days of my life. Looking back, I thank my lucky stars for that day.

Even though it turned out that parenthood wasn't in the cards for me, I would far rather take my beautiful life with Bryce than what I had in the Before times, even if it came with a child. I am so fortunate, and that day is like an Independence Day of sorts.

Also, in related news, I found out on Saturday that I achieved my National Board Certification, which is a huge milestone in my teaching career and something I wasn't sure I'd manage.

The reason why is that the majority of my writing time was supposed to take place over April Break, and instead of buckling down to that intellectual, reflective work I found myself in a bit of a mental crisis and needing to take time to pull my ooey gooey pieces back together again. The timing was HORRIFIC. I wrote the majority of my papers for the last two components over Mother's Day weekend of all days, highly ironic since by then I knew that that was a holiday that would never be for me.

But I PASSED, and I passed not by a small margin. I killed it. I am proud, and feel like despite that being another worst time ever in my life, it made an achievement possible for me, one that is incredibly fulfilling and brings me joy.

I am not saying to be Pollyanna about pain, not at all. But just know that when it seems like the world is ending and your life won't ever be the same...maybe it's not the worst thing. Maybe it just means that something way better is heading your way.

Unfortunately I've had way too many opportunities to be the phoenix rising from the ashes in my life, but at the same time -- how much do I appreciate these accomplishments? My amazing marriage, my fulfilling life, my National Board certification as a special education teacher (only 3% of teachers nationwide hold this distinction in the U.S.) -- the upside is so, so good, and the pain I went through to get here only makes it sweeter.

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Representation Matters

Ah, holiday cards. I am way behind on ours. I think they may be New Year's cards at this rate. I don't know how life got so busy, but I am in complete shock that this coming weekend is the weekend before Christmas (I mean, the following weekend is Christmas Eve, but still!). How did that happen?

I think others are in the same boat, as we've gotten maybe 6 cards so far, so I don't feel horribly behind. I'm happy to say that all of the cards I've gotten so far with kids in them also feature the adult members of the family -- something that loribeth at The Road Less Traveled writes extensively about here. Everyone deserves to be on the card!

As for us, I think we are going to do the thing that is all the things we love to do (and can do) now that we're a family of two, definitely. If people see it as sad that says more about them than it does about us...and we are going for a bit of the snark here. I envision that chaise lounge shot with the cocktail dress and champagne glass, stylized "whoops, we slept in until 11???" shot with a giant old fashioned alarm clock if I can find one, stacks of books, Bryce doing crazy math without numbers in his office, tasting a really nice bottle of wine, etc. with some sort of "life is good" message...Bryce said we should make a tombstone that says "Mystery Baby" but I felt that was a little TOO morbid, so, um, NO. Fairly sure he was kidding but you just never know with that lunatic. I think we can put a little note on the back thanking everyone for their support but that the quest for mystery baby is over. There are people who I keep in touch with via holiday cards who are not on Facebook and who don't know, not because they don't care enough but because they were in a sphere that didn't get the blast (which was also fairly vague on Facebook, only if you read up here in April-May-June did you get the whole story).

Anyway. Not everyone cares about/for the photo cards, but I love them -- they can be so creative, they can give a snapshot of a year (I keep them all, and it's fun to look back), and they streamline the whole sending-cards thing (I still address my envelopes by hand, but I love the options to put a message on the back that comes already done...maybe a bit less personal but SO MUCH EASIER).

The problem is, when I actually looked through my options for card designs, I was WOEFULLY disappointed to find that the catalog for TinyPrints contained ZERO childfree couples or single people, and Shutterfly had ONE out of the myriad adorable kids and sleeping babies that was a young couple and their dog. WTF, card companies? I mean, I get that "Look at my adorable baby/bevy of adorable kids" is sort of your target demographic, but BRANCH OUT for those of us who don't have an engagement/wedding to announce or a baby or child (or four) to parade at the holidays. It felt like an unspoken message -- "You are only worthy of this kind of card if you have all those things -- these aren't meant for you childless/single folks."

I mean, I know someone who searched for "photo cards for singles" and then decided to send "normal" paper cards because the options weren't great. Shouldn't we be at the point where there's just PHOTO CARDS and you don't have to label yourself? That you can send out a photo card of you on vacation or doing something fun and it doesn't have to be "me and my cats, har de har har har;" it doesn't have to make your life into a punchline?

But alas, if you look at the actual card design catalogs, I can see how you would think you need to look up something specifically for single, or childless, or that the photo card is just not for you and your life.

Well SCREW THAT. I know lots of people (especially outside the U.S.) don't get the photo card thing, it's sort of like a visual Christmas letter (and can be just as narcissistic and awful), and is maybe getting to be passe since social media like Facebook allows people to put a curated version of their life out to the masses. I can probably guess what the card photo(s) will be for some of my friends. It's real fun though when what I get is novel and I've never seen those photos in quite that way before, or ever.

Why should the people with kids have all the fun? There are SO MANY people who send out great cards, and who have lovely photos to share. Maybe not the intricate scenarios that ours have turned into (but that sure do give me a kick), but can't the advertising include ALL of us? Out of all the cards shown there was also only one same-sex couple, and they had a baby, too. Include those without kids, for whatever reason! Include those who are single! Include older people without the grandchild parade!

I plan to send an email or a letter to the folks at Shutterfly/TinyPrints. I think they ought to know that their ad campaigns are sorely missing what could be a key demographic. Harrumph.

Monday, December 11, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Whomp Whomp Update

Today was a weird day. I went for my yearly uterus check, which is crazy because that means it's been a whole year since I've had my melonballer procedure (more accurately known as endomyometrial resection), and almost a year since I've had any form of period. A trend I hope continues indefinitely.

At my check, I asked if the doctor could also check out my ovaries, you know, because I have a (somewhat) irrational fear that all the hormones I subjected myself to to no avail are going to try to kill me via ovarian or breast cancer. Ovarian cancer is particularly scary to me because it can be asymptomatic for a while and then BAM, bad news.

Good news -- I don't have ovarian cancer.

Also good news -- I can take care of all my gynecological exam needs at my specialist's office, which means that next year I can get my uterus (and ovaries) checked AND get a pap smear/chat about impending menopause. And there won't be any pregnant people milling about (sorry pregnant people but that's a plus for me), AND no one will EVER ask me if I could be pregnant. Everyone there knows that's impossible.

Then I went and had a lovely facial -- I decided to start doing fancy things for my skin in October, and this is my second facial at the same place where I get massages. The first time was lovely, and even though the aesthetician (never know if I spell that right) was pregnant, it wasn't awkward. Well, she's way more pregnant now and it came up EVERY FIVE MINUTES of the hour, no joke. I look forward to when she is no longer pregnant. I think the low part of the chatting was when she told me that she specifically timed this pregnancy to fall around the holidays so that she wouldn't have to do too much and would get out of hanging lights and whatnot, which was funny but also HOW NICE TO BE ABLE TO PLAN THAT KIND OF THING...she's in her early 20s though so maybe it's easier then for most people. Yeesh. My skin is very soft though, and she is actually very nice despite being all about the belly right now.

Anyway. I am feeling less brutally sad about the demise of our final embryos (and I wasn't in tune with the universe, the thaw date was 11/29, because I had to ask, but I can pretend that the news traveled to me early or something, right?), and steeling myself to write the card to the couple to respond to the incredibly heartfelt words of sorrow that they sent to us through Snowflakes. Words that made me cry, as we'll never share an odd sort of family together, but I loved how they said that we'd always be part of their story. How do you write a card that is both condolence and encouraging, I'm sorry for your loss and our loss and all the loss, period? I guess I'll find out. It's definitely still weird to think that this whole chapter of our life is totally over.

Huh. This is somewhat of a WHOMP WHOMP downer update, but some of them are just like that. I hope that the holiday season is kind to you!

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

Friday, December 8, 2017


My phone rang just minutes ago, and it was an 800 number. I don't usually pick up unless I know who will be on the other end, but for some reason I thought maybe I should pick this call up.

Maybe it was because I just placed a whole boatload of Christmas shopping orders and I worried something was wrong.

Well, something WAS wrong, it just had nothing to do with the holiday purchases.

It was my contact at Snowflakes, who was calling with an unexpected update.

At first when she said that I thought that maybe the woman in the couple was unexpectedly, spontaneously pregnant, and I braced myself for this news, because that would be wonderful for them but I didn't know how I would feel about it.

I never in a million years expected that they decided to do a transfer and didn't call with an update until all was said and done (which I totally understand, my goodness the pressure of updating people on your cycle doings). And that when they went to thaw the 2PN embryos that were Bryce's sperm and donor eggs... NOT ONE OF THEM SURVIVED THAW.


And just like that, the last dream of hope has died.

The hope that we held that our embryos could survive and become children to be raised by another family.

The hope that another uterus was the answer to our fertility woes.

The hope of any answer at all.

The hope for this couple, who was beyond sweet and we felt a strange long-distance kinship with and exchanged words of hope and condolences with over the past two years.

I feel like all my hard-won scar tissue has been ripped open and I'm raw and bleeding all over again.

I am devastated. I am devastated first for this couple, who took a chance on embryos that came from a couple who were unsuccessful at EVERYTHING related to family-building, who believed in our embryos and wanted to give them the chance we couldn't. I am devastated that NONE of our embryos worked for them. I can't imagine how it must feel (well, maybe I can, actually) to thaw 6 one-day embryos in hopes of maybe 2-3 survivors and be left with NONE, right before Christmas. To have fought for a transfer day over a period of years, and have it end with a fizzle.

I know what it's like to have an anticlimactic end to an era of cycles. I don't know what their plans are, but if they continue on they'll need to match up with another family looking to place their embryos and go through all this all over again, or start a brand new process, or make peace with a life without children. But to have things end with this loss of all hope instilled in those 6 tiny cells... how awful.

And of course I am heartbroken for us. There were no second chances. There won't be a strange, grafted family tree. We won't get to see any of our genetics play out in other children raised halfway across the country. That dream is dead. The hope that some part of us could live on and we could have some kind of relationship in the future is dead. And for the love of all that's holy, we couldn't catch a break with ANYTHING?

I am also heartbroken because I feel somehow responsible for this couple's misfortune, for their grief. I know it's not logical. I know that they chose us knowing that our material was "unproven." But we still feel like we set them up for failure somehow. That anything related to us and our journey was somehow tainted by whatever dark and noxious cloud sat on everything reproductive for us.

The odd thing is that yesterday I was unbearably sad. I can't explain it. I literally just felt like curling up in a ball and pretending to hibernate. I told Bryce I felt like a pillbug (or a roly-poly, or an armadilla bug, depends on where you're from). I just sat in my chair downstairs and cried silent tears. I sincerely wonder if the thaw failed yesterday. If somehow I knew that something was not quite right in the universe, that there was something to cry for, something big to mourn. I chalked it up to the holiday blues, but now I wonder if it was some sort of in-tune-with-the-cosmos mourning.

There's just so many layers to this loss.

Monday, December 4, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Walking Away

I found this at the teacher's union craft sale a couple weeks ago, and finally put it in a frame that was originally going to house one of our photos from our California trip (but woefully I have yet to have prints made).

I think it's quite something, don't you?

Especially since it just appeared, at a very mainstream, very family-friendly event, and spoke right to the heart of me.

It's in my beautiful office now, a reminder that sometimes walking away is the hardest choice, but it's also the best choice so you can keep on walking forward.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! Also I am so proud of myself for playing by the rules this time -- FOUR sentences! WOO!