Monday, July 29, 2019

#Microblog Mondays: Seven Years Ago

I cannot believe that it's been seven years since I was pregnant. It was such a brief, lovely time, and it's crazy to me that it's so far in the past, that seven years ago today I was pregnant and hadn't started bleeding yet, hadn't had a crash in my numbers, didn't know that it would be the LAST day I would ever be pregnant and thinking we had a whole hopeful future ahead of us.

I don't think about it a lot, but I saw a post today that reminded me -- unfortunately there are events that happened around both my ill-fated pregnancies (the ectopic was sandwiched between two friends' weddings), and the seemingly-normal uterine one ended right at the same time a colleague at the school where I was teaching suffered a horrible death while biking thanks to reckless and impaired drivers. I was enjoying a lazy summer day, probably eating some ginger chews, and I saw the awful news and thought how suddenly everything could be ripped out from under you, and then I couldn't go to the calling hours or funeral because I was on bed rest starting the very next day, haplessly trying to keep the inevitable from occurring.

Today is the anniversary, and this teacher's best friend put up a post with her picture and disbelief that it's been seven years, and it sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole.

I feel a little irrationally guilty feeling so sad about my own smaller scale personal tragedy that happened at the same time, but it's crazy to me that seven years ago I was so happy, and had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA that everything would come crashing down in the course of a day. That I would never have that exact feeling of joy and anticipation like I did on July 29th, 2012... that I'd be looking back on the last day I was ever pregnant and optimistic about it from a life that would have been so foreign to the woman I was then. 

When we were actively striving (and failing and failing and failing) to bring a child into our lives, this realization would have devastated me. I would have probably spent some time on the floor, crying, or staring at the space between my glasses and the wall, and it would have ruined my day.

Now I go down the rabbit hole, feel an edge of sadness to the day like the haze on the horizon when it's humid, and then look at where I am now and the wonderful life that we achieved despite not having children, acknowledge that I am sitting in a moment of grief, and continue on with my lazy summer day.

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

Monday, July 22, 2019

#Microblog Mondays: A Bad Dream

The other morning I woke up with a feeling of oppressive sadness. I'd had a vivid dream that thankfully I've forgotten much of, but it was one of those that haunt you into your waking hours.

What I do remember is being at some celebration for me and Bryce, and people put up a slideshow of our life, and every single picture was from our baby shower or the dismantling of our nursery. I remember watching the photos go by and thinking, "hey, this isn't quite right," and then the tone of the room changed and became almost hostile. I was crying and felt like we were being unnecessarily tortured, and I couldn't figure out why.

Then I woke up, and had this grief hangover that lingered for hours.

I have no idea what triggered this dream nightmare, but it felt irrationally like the Universe decided I needed to be taken down a notch or something, that I was feeling too at peace and well-adjusted lately.

It was not a good feeling. Just goes to show how deep the roots of grief and loss run. Fortunately, the horrid reopening of fresh pain was transient and didn't linger past the day after. Which goes to show that the further into resolution I get, the less these moments have (lasting) power over me.

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

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Oh, There's a NAME for That: Toxic Positivity

I was tooling around on Facebook the other day, and a friend of mine put up an article that made me feel so understood, so heard. It was an article by Sara Schuster, on Toxic Positivity from The Mighty (go read it!).

The piece had three things that snagged me -- a useful chart that caught my eye; a short animated video on empathy in the words (and voice of Brene Brown, who is fast becoming one of my heroes, although I guess I'm late to this party); and content that echoed something I've been irritated with for a long time.

Here is the chart:

Toxic Positivity
Graphic from the above article, created by Whitney Hawkins Goodman, LMFT of the Collaborative Counseling Center

As I neared the end of our fertility journey, I became ever more aware and bothered by what I felt was "The Cult of Positivity." These are the (somewhat) well-meaning things said by people who typically have found success themselves, eventually, and who want to cheer you on in your quest. However. Nothing makes you feel lonelier than when you are honestly wondering what you did to warrant such utter horrible luck in every aspect of family building, if you can keep going, if people will understand if you CAN'T keep going... and you are faced with the following: 

  • None of that negative talk! What you put out comes back to you! Keep it positive! 
  • Just stay in the game and IT WILL HAPPEN! 
  • Been there, done's all worth it in the end! 
  • Did you go dairy free/go sugar free/spend your every last dollar on whatever vile herbal concoctions are purported to work/make yourself an acupuncture pincushion several times per week/get massaged in just the right way/wear the right color underwear/keep the right kind of crystals about you? 
  • If only you would pray more/go to church/put your trust in the Lord, it would all work out (if it's meant to)!

It doesn't feel helpful. It doesn't feel like you are being listened to. It definitely doesn't feel like empathy. And it often comes from people who have been successful their way, who feel they have the answer, who have the joy you are seeking and don't want you to miss out on the best experience of their life, who feel like if only you think or do as they did that you will have the same result. 

And if you don't? If you are feeling sad, or hopeless, or god forbid you are considering the possibility of resolving childfree, of leaving the merry-go-round from hell that is slamming your body into a wall hoping you'll make it through to "the other side," which is terrifying for them, but also for you because you've been conditioned to believe it's the worst possible alternative because it meant YOU GAVE UP HOPE? Then you feel like a failure. You feel like you let people down. You feel like if only you could have been POSITIVE enough, then maybe it would have worked out. If only you could have been more patient, or tried harder, or kept the faith, or, my favorite, opened your heart just a little more, you could have had the prize. But you went down the dark path, and so maybe it's even a little your fault that you didn't end up a parent. 

This is all total hogwash. I am a huge detractor of the idea of "thinking it true" (something at one point I was told to do), of this theory that you put thoughts out into the universe and that is what bounces back to you. I'm rubber, you're glue, that sort of thing. WHAT AMAZING POWER that assumes human beings have. Imagine, if all you had to do was put a highly focused thought out there into the Universe and it would come back to you, all shiny and gift-wrapped! Imagine, if all your worst fears, all the thoughts that EVERYONE HAS, could come true just by thinking them, by letting them out of the Pandora's Box of your mind? I would have been brutally murdered or in a terrible car accident probably about 1,000 times. At least.

Which brings me to the "at least" part of the discussion in the article, the bit by Brene Brown -- "at least" is one of the worst ways to start a sentence, maybe seconded by "You just have to..." It is something that says, "I am uncomfortable with your feelings, you aren't being positive, you're sitting in the muck and it makes me feel odd, so I'm going to remind you that THERE IS MORE BAD CRAP THAT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, and you should be GRATEFUL for whatever it is you're dealing with, because it could ALWAYS BE WORSE." 

Yeah, no. 

I love the ideas presented in the article, that just acknowledging feelings and sitting with someone in pain, that THAT is what is most helpful. Not judging, not "but what if you" if you are talking about a decision you're making related to your difficulty (stepping off the striving machine, stopping treatment, leaving your marriage, NOT leaving your marriage), but just being there and listening to the pain. Sitting with the pain. Validating the pain without opinions or fix-it suggestions. 

It's hard. I'm trying to be better about this myself, to stop the impulse to offer suggestions and rather just listen, just say, "This sounds so hard. I'm sorry you're going through this. I'm here for you. Tell me all about it," or variations thereof. I love that Brene Brown says that human nature is to judge, to even take delight in judging someone else's choices or decisions. It makes it easier to acknowledge that you are only human if those thoughts come into your head. They just have to be stopped before they come out of your mouth. 

I fell victim to this a while ago, with a friend who had gone through a crisis in her marriage and worked through it, and was commenting on another friend who was gathering the courage to go through a divorce that started with the husband dropping a bomb and leaving in a pretty horrific way. The first friend was like, "Maybe she can fix it, maybe it will work out," and that probably stemmed a lot from her own experience. Someone else in the room and I were like, "Oh hell no, that sort of thing happens and there is no coming back from that, she deserves better, how could you stay in that situation? She needs to get out!" And both of us were speaking from our own experiences, for me, leaving someone who was not treating me with respect in any way and a result of leaving was the best marriage I could possibly ever how could you do something different? This situation was different because the person in question wasn't in the room and we weren't offering this advice directly, but it was interesting to look back on it and think, all we were doing was offering up solutions that were based on our own experiences, things that had worked for us, and if someone disagreed, well then they had to be judging our own choices, no matter what side of the issue we were on.

What would have been more helpful, probably, would have been to listen to the person who was hurting, to resist the urge to put in gems from our own experiences, and just be a sounding board as she made her own decision, based on her own thoughts and experiences. I feel like if you're listened to and you can weigh out all options, and you've received support in a way that doesn't feel like being swayed into one option or another, then you typically will make a decision that works for you. 

It may sound weird to be so against the Cult of Positivity, to hate those "inspirational" farmhouse signs and trite soundbites that make you believe that you have far more control over outcomes than you truly do. Acceptance and empathy are far more valuable to me than the hollow positivity of the toxic kind. It's one of many reasons why I'm so, so grateful to have childfree resolution mentors in this space, people who made these decisions and choices earlier than me, and who can give the perspective of one for whom this resolution worked out. There are so many more voices out there urging you to keep going, to never ever ever give up, to keep the faith -- because they themselves "made it happen." Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don't, and it would be awesome if there could be acceptance not just from me, but from others, that the choices I made and the path I traveled may not have gone how I'd hoped, but it was a perfectly fine way to take a corner. I know I am way happier now than I was a few years ago, at the end of the striving.

Or I could just try not to care what others think about my choices, which is far, far more easily said than done. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

#Microblog Mondays: Other People's Kids

We've had a great couple of weeks for getting to enjoy other people's kids.

It's funny, this falls under "things that used to make me unbearably sad after" -- I would go to a house full of kids and all I could see and feel was what I didn't have. I felt the contrast of other people's chaos and noise and sticky hands with the complete absence of all that in our home. When that was everything I wanted and I still felt it was possible, maybe, for us to have a little of that life for ourselves, it sent me into a spiral of sadness to return to our quiet.

But now, I love visiting the chaos, playing racecars and chasing and soaking in all the silliness and the giggles and sticky hugs. Sometimes parents are like, "oh you don't have to get on the floor or keep playing with her/him," because this is their reality all the time and frankly it is exhausting. For them. For us, it's a window into the life we once strove for, a way to get a glimpse of the chaos... And then go home to our quiet, peaceful life, snuggling with the cats and reading a book and having a glass of wine and going for two hour walks without having to worry about keeping to a bedtime or dinner schedule.

Which doesn't seem so empty and WITHOUT anymore, just different.  I guess that's one of the gifts of resolution.

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

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Use the Rocks

It's weird how much of a contrast there is between my old gardens and these new "gardens" that I am having to start from scratch -- my old house had lovely, loamy soil, in part because I'd amended it with composted goodies for years and mulched it into richness, and in part because it was shady and had thick tree coverage in the back. The new house? It's sandy (like Dust Bowl sandy) and where it's not sandy it's clay, and in between that is a thick layer of rocks. Big rocks, little rocks, most of them around cobble size.

In short, it's real shitty soil for planting things.

On top of that, we have voracious deer who have discerning palates -- tons of black raspberry and weedy things EVERYWHERE, but nooooooo, they have to eat flowers. Mostly ones that are on the "deer don't eat" lists. So I have to plant things and cross my fingers that they will actually take.

Oh yeah, and we have black walnut trees, which make the soil toxic. The roots, bark, dripline, nut hulls...they all give off this compound called juglone, and it basically asphyxiates plants that are intolerant.

Finding a list of plants that are both deer-resistant and walnut-friendly is a little challenging, and then you add in the rocks, and the crap soil, and the vigorously growing poison ivy... it's not exactly super hospitable. More like a Garden Of Poisonous Things than the amazing opportunity for planting my own personal botanical gardens that I'd thought it would be.

But, I am slowly trying to work with this difficult canvas and make things pretty.

This week, my project was creating a garden out of this incredibly weedy, very steep hill along our driveway.

Oddly, I don't have any pictures of it as a weedfest. This was after it was (mostly) weeded and de-poison-ivy'd by the gardener lady I hire to do the highly unpleasant work I don't want to do...
After I dug everything for soil conditioner amendment, roots, and rocks. 
SOOOOOO many rocks. 

It was unbelievable how many rocks were in there. My shovel is all scratched up as evidence. I was so frustrated -- WHY SO MANY ROCKS? They slowed me down. They jarred my shoulders when I hit them and they didn't budge. They interfered with my hole digging for all the plants I wanted to get in the ground. It pissed me off. 

But then, I realized... I can be mad at these rocks for existing, or I could USE them for something and give them a purpose. They didn't have to just be pains in my ass. They could serve a purpose, help me retain soil on the slope. 

I am no mason, but I made little rock walls to try to mini-terrace things where I planted the plants that supposedly can handle deer and walnuts.

There it is, planted up so far with shady plants on the left and sunny plants on the right, and tiny rock walls in between.

Rocks! (and porcupine grass, yarrow, echinacea, and wild bee balm)

Sunny side with rocks! (and strawberries & cream ribbon grass, astilbes, and coral bells)
I hope when I mulch it all that I can retain the rock "walls" as I really like them. I like them because they are functional, and decorative, but also because they were something frustrating and unpleasant that I was fighting, and I figured out how to use them in a way that gave them purpose and even made me appreciate them in a weird sort of way.

I'm better at doing this since the whole infertility experience -- having things be not the way you expected, and then using the unpleasant things to build something beautiful. In our life, we took our sorrow and our loss at not having children (which is still there, just like the rocks), and then found a way to build a new life where we look at how we can enjoy the things that are the flip side to having children. We are fortunate, and have our lovely house, and our jobs that we love (but that take up much of our time), and the ability to have a pretty peaceful, low-key existence that I did not think was possible when we were striving for a different sort of life. I felt like it would be a barren field of rocks, horrible and craggy. When the rocks just kept coming and I realized I was not going to have exactly the garden I'd hoped for, I found a way to coexist with them. And plant pretty flowers around them that I can enjoy.

I guess what I'm saying here is, I could let the rocks piss me off and put them in a pile somewhere like a weird burial ground and have it ruin my day and my gardening plans, or I could take the rocks and try to use them for good. I was still ticked to have to dig them all out, but once I figured out the border idea I actually looked forward to finding more for my "wall."

Now that I'm further out from the rawness of our experiences, I can appreciate the power of this perspective even more. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

#Microblog Mondays: An Unfamiliar Funeral

Saturday we went to a funeral, the first of its kind I'd been to.

It was the funeral of a former student, who died of an inoperable brain tumor at just 21.

That alone was heartrending. He was diagnosed last year, and tried so many things to fight the tumor, but it killed him in the end, before he'd had much chance to do so many of the things that make up a life.

The funeral was a Laotian Buddhist ceremony, which was another first. We've been to a Laotian wedding, same family (I taught this young man my first year teaching 8th grade, and when we were having the "what did you do over the summer" conversation, he described a family wedding and I realized that we were at the same one -- we're friends with his aunt), so we've seen and participated in a happy occasion, but this was very different.

I am (somewhat) used to Protestant funerals where there is a program, there is a finite order to things, and you know what to expect -- there is something beautiful though about being thrust into the middle of a culture where you are a complete outsider, where you just sit in the grief with the family and try to absorb as much as possible.

Much of the ceremony was not in English. There were three monks, who chanted and sang in harmony, and there was a row of male family members who were novice monks for the ceremony -- wearing the orange cloth and with shaved heads and eyebrows. The women in the family sat on the floor in front of the (open) casket, wearing all white, a white sash, and white ribbon in their hair -- they were the white nuns (I looked it up afterwards, it seemed in poor taste to ask the mourners what they were doing and why). There was a ceremony where a long white cloth rope was tied to the young man, and then the monks and the novice monks held the rope and there were a series of prayers that repeated and had a cadence. There were tributes of orange cloth laid in the casket. There was a gold bowl of white rose flowerheads with scent sticks to put into the casket before the cremation, as the closing part of the ceremony (we did not go to the crematorium and cemetery, that felt too personal, but then in my online research I found that that is considered part of the funeral itself, and so I felt bad about ducking out early).

It was beautiful, and incredibly sad, and I felt so honored to be a part of it, even though it was so massively unfair that everyone came together to mourn the death and celebrate the life of someone so, so young.

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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Not Our House Anymore

We weren't really sure what we were doing this July 4th, because we don't do the big community fireworks shows, and our new neighborhood isn't quite the community we had at our old house -- and then we got a call from our old neighbors, an invite to their backyard-and-street fireworks show! We were so excited -- this happened almost every year we were there, and neighbors mosey on over when the fireworks start going off in the street (smaller ones, sprays and aliens and stuff like that, no mortars), and then we move back to the backyard, where our neighbor has an insane lineup of multiple-mortar boxes from Phantom Fireworks. It's all the good stuff from a fireworks show without the crowds, parking issues, or traffic.

Except in years past, we just came out the door and POOF, there we were...and then at the end we helped clean up and POOF, we were back at home.

So it was real weird to drive 20 minutes or so to get there, and to have to find a place to park that wasn't likely to be hit with pyrotechnics gone astray, and to know that when it was over we had to drive home instead of walk across the street.

We showed up and waved, and our neighbors were excited to see us. "The new people don't wave from their car" one of our neighbors whispered, "so I thought that was you!" We apparently drive the same car. Weird.

I am happy to report that my gardens that are not my gardens anymore look lovely -- I had real plant envy. The neighbors said that the new people aren't gardeners, but from what I could see it looked like they were at least maintaining things well. I had to keep repeating to myself, "It took 13 years to get this looking this good. This is THIRTEEN YEARS of garden development" because my new garden spaces are so sparse and first-year anemic.

We were total creepers, looking in the windows (from across the street, we're not creepy!), trying to get a glimpse of what our house looks like when a family of four (and a cat and a dog) live in it.

We heard the familiar sound of the screen door opening and shutting, and a child came out of our house. Sorry, the house that's not ours anymore.

That was surreal.

The parents didn't come out, or rather they briefly came out to sit on the front steps and then went back in, and the younger son was in bed already, but their oldest hung out and watched the fireworks in the street for a good half hour. I guess it's good the parents didn't come out, because I'd think it'd be awkward to be like, "oh, we used to live here" and we couldn't really pretend otherwise since we were with all the neighbors, and we were worried they'd be like, "um, there's some issues with the basement/garage/any number of things that could be wrong with a house built in 1934."

It still felt very Twilight Zone -- here we were, watching evidence of someone else's life in our house, and it was a life we'd wanted but didn't have.

Something made very clear when another neighbor said, obliviously, "Ah, it's so great to finally have some life in the neighborhood, so wonderful to have a family and kids right across the street!"


I have to remind myself that even if people knew that we'd had issues (to put it mildly) with family building, we've moved away and people don't retain that information if they aren't in a closer circle. I don't think it was meant to be hurtful but it was not a good feeling. So sorry we couldn't oblige on that front, so sorry we were the lifeless neighbors across the street.

We saw the amazing fireworks display in the back (oddly many of the people had left to go home by then, which wasn't the case in years past), and it was truly experiential -- they exploded above us and rained down ash and bits of cardboard and even partial tubes from the boxes, and I felt gritty and covered in chemicals until I showered at home. But it was AWESOME. Bryce joked that next year he's bringing goggles.

The thing that was interesting was that we didn't feel sad that that wasn't our house anymore. There was no lingering sadness over losing that stage of our life. We loved that house, but it's funny how this new house feels just perfect for us, tailored for what we love to enjoy, and so the other house seems...less now. It served its purpose. It saw a lot of joy, but also a lot, a LOT of pain and loss and disappointment. It's fitting that a family lives there now, that we moved on to the house we were meant to have and it got the family it wanted. (Which sounds all weird and personified, but it makes sense to me.) It's like that house represented the life that we wanted to have but couldn't manifest, and now the life we wanted but don't have is there, and we live our new life, free from the expectations that were shattered, in our new house that fits the life we have just right.

It will be interesting to go back, since we do have friends on the street, and see how the house changes over time. I will try very, very hard not to be tempted to go dig up a bunch of my plants if it starts to look like the garden is meeting its gradual demise.

I'm glad that it feels like closure, like a closing of a door on a part of our life that was very difficult and filled with discomfort and fruitless striving. I'm glad that we came home to our home and felt that satisfied feeling of, "Ahhhh, we're HOME, really and truly home."

Monday, July 1, 2019

Microblog Monday: Me and My Boooooooody

(Please sing the title like "Me, and my shaaaaaaaadowwww...")

It is summertime (can I stop reminding you? NO), and it is time to get back in the swing of things with being healthy. Which is SO much easier to do when you have work lifted off your shoulders.

I was doing SO WELL with my weight loss/healthy living initiative until about January, when my uterus started being a rat bitch again. I had lost over 15 pounds, I was strong, I was doing the gym, and tap dancing, and pilates... and then a health crisis derailed me. AGAIN.

Let me tell you what is not conducive to losing weight (or keeping it off) -- six weeks of surgery recovery where you cannot work out but you can sit on the couch and eat delicious gluten free feasts and pastries that your husband makes for you. That is a formula that DOES NOT WORK.

So here I am, desperately trying to shed the pounds put on while I was basically veal.

My tap studio closed and is reopening in August, so that's a bust.

I am loving the Pilates studio where I'm going twice a week again, finally -- that makes me feel strong and stretched and as lithe as my body can get (can you really ever be lithe when you have giant boobs?), and to me STRONG is more important than SLIM. (Also, I love all the springs and bars and things; it makes me feel like a circus performer!)

I am walking in our neighborhood, which is freaking amazing and beautiful (pictures at the bottom), and walking fast can be just as good as running, so I hear, it just takes longer.

I am eating all the fruits that come with early summer, and trying to eat more protein and fiber and less carbs. I sort of returned to my carbmonster ways. I need to work out more and eat just a little less, but I refuse to totally restrict my diet because food isn't just fuel, it's a way of life and a special pleasure in our household.

I have NO IDEA how I'm doing other than how my clothes fit and how I feel, because I lost the scale in our move. Just kidding, I know exactly where it is, it's hiding under some stuff in the garage and just hasn't made its way inside, but I freaking hate that thing and so I pretend it's lost and gone forever.

It is so hard having this complex relationship with my body, especially because it failed to do what I so desperately wanted it to, and then fell apart thanks to stress during adoption... but now, with the freedom of having lost the organ that just HATED me, and much of the stress alleviated, and our new home and new life, and the freedom of summer... I hope to make buddies with my body again.

On a rail trail near the house

View from same trail, seriously right near our house

How is this walking distance from my house???

Secret special bridge on the rail trail! 

A street near our house, or I guess road is more accurate...

Magical swamp off the road near our house... it's gray/white here thanks to the evils of cottonwood trees

My buddies, the horses around the corner. This is from earlier in spring, I need a new picture for summer.

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