Recitation/Reminder

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-

That perches on the soul-

And sings the tune without the words-

And never stops- at all-

 

And sweetest- in the Gale- is heard-

And sore must be the storm-

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm-

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land-

And on the strangest sea-

But- never-in Extremity,

It asked a crumb- of me.

-Emily Dickinson

Right?  That’s a nice thing to recite on a sunny morning when you’re about to start your period.  Isn’t it?

Hey, p.s. I hate the automatic double-space WordPress does.  That poem is supposed to be single-spaced but I do not intend to waste my whole morning making that happen.  Blurg.

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Constant Reminder Syndrome

Yesterday I was in a birthday funk and so I went shopping at Big Lots (we don’t have a Target; Big Lots is the next best thing & it’s cheap).  As I shopped, I kept noticing pregnancy/motherhood-related paraphernalia.  It was everywhere, as it tends to be when you’re trying to avoid it.

I was like, “Aaaaahhhhh, God.  Not another reminder that I can’t get pregnant!  When will this torture end?!?”  And then, the light bulb.

It’s not going to end, unless it does.  But if it doesn’t, if we never manage to get me pregnant and I have to live the rest of my life with that being the case, then I also have to live the rest of my life feeling like I got stabbed every time I see a pregnant woman, or a stretch mark cream, or an ad for a class action lawsuit that’s looking for women who took antidepressants while they were pregnant.  Pregnant!  Pregnant!  Pregnantpregnantpregnant!

That’s no way to live.  And since I set out to find a way to live with this infertility, and live well with it, then I need to find a way to cope with what I am at this moment naming “Constant Reminder Syndrome,” of CRS*.  I need to get over it.

*It’s the thing that happens when you’re trying to conceive and everywhere you look, there’s a (constant) reminder that you aren’t having any luck.

But there’s a problem: I don’t think I’m faking it when I see that stuff and feel a little wind knocked out of me.  It’s a pretty visceral feeling, when you wake up on your 35th birthday and realize that your boobs have stopped hurting, which means the HCG shot is wearing off and that there isn’t more of it occurring naturally in your system, which probably means the IUI you underwent six days ago was a failure…Right.  That’s a visceral feeling, but the one I set out to talk about was the one that happens later that day, when you go shopping to distract yourself from your own aging reproductive system, only to stumble on several reminders of it.  So I can’t just say, “I’m not going to let it bother me anymore.”  I am looking for more of a pep talk here.

It starts with me realizing that… the visceral feeling?  It might never have occasion to go away.  Learning to imagine a life without children has been the thing that has most helped me since we first realized that conceiving wasn’t going to be easy. Accepting the possibility that we might not have kids, and realizing that Buble will still be Buble and I will still be me and all the joys and pleasures and beauty of our life will still exist even if we never have kids–it hasn’t been easy, but it’s taken so much weight off me.  And it’s an ongoing process–obviously, or else I wouldn’t have spiraled into Big Lots despair yesterday.

Anyway, I know we’re supposed to accept our feelings as they come, and if we feel like wallowing in bed all day when we get a Big Fucking Negative, then we should just let ourselves do that.  And I’ve had days and will have days where that is what I do.  But then, where do you draw the line?  Do you skip your niece’s first soccer game because the little kids make you sad?  Do you stay home on Thanksgiving because your cousin is pregnant and it’s just too hard to be reminded that you aren’t?

Well, pardon me if this sounds bossy, but the answer is No!  It’s Fuck no. You don’t stay home and lie in bed because you feel sad when you see pregnant things.  Yes, it’s hard, and it’s awful, and you never know when something’s going to remind you of what you can’t or don’t or won’t have.

But you guys, I’m not just describing infertility there.  I’m describing life, or life as seen through the eyes of a miserable sonofabitch, anyway.  We always say that infertility doesn’t make us less of a woman or less of a person–but what are we when we begin to avoid special occasions where our presence will be missed?  Or when we cringe every time a rounded belly enters our sight line?  What are we when seeing a stock photo of a mother and baby plunges us into self-pitying despair?  We, who have our blood drawn with the frequency of vampire fetishists, whose husbands and partners poke us with needles on the regular, whose feet have settled into more stirrups than John fucking Wayne’s–we are strong, resilient women.

We are fighters, and we need to remember that the next time we spot an off-brand tube of stretch mark cream at Big Lots.  We need to remember that that tube has a long, long shelf-life, and that probably no one in her right mind is going to buy it.  So it’s going to be there every time we go to Big Lots, and since the closest Target is ninety miles away, we need to learn to deal with the stretch mark cream instead of letting it bring us down.  Because that stretch mark cream?  That stretch mark cream may as well be our pregnant cousin or our insensitive mother, or our stupid depleted ovarian reserve: it’s not going anywhere and it is not strong enough to ruin our life, or even our day.  Because we have seen worse, and we are built for something better.  And we are going to walk away from the stretch mark cream and go home to our loving husband and our overjoyed dog, so that they can remind us of exactly what that “something better” is.

Constant Reminder Syndrome is never going to go away.  That is just the tiniest bit devastating to me–I’m strong, but I’m not impervious.  I will never deny the pain it causes, the pain any of it causes.  But neither will I let it dictate my ability to live a full and happy life, or to provide one for Buble and Mary Todd and my friends and my family.  I think that would be giving up, and I’m not interested in doing that.

Buble

Tomorrow’s my birthday.  It’s the big three-five, which is…you know, kind of a waah-waaw, sad-trombone kind of affair when you’re trying to get pregnant.  But I hold firm to my last post: I’m not going to wallow or muck about in regrets and melancholy here.  That will not help me and it will not help the (currently nonexistent) people who read this.

Instead, I’m going to post a link to this meditation website I sometimes visit, and remark upon the fact that it was just what I needed to hear today.  Even though it’s a quote from that old crank, Andy Rooney (may he rest in peace).

If you don’t feel like clicking, let me sum up: if your happiness depends on the big stuff like events and new jobs and things that cost or earn you money, then you will probably find happiness to be elusive at best.  If, on the other hand, you derive happiness from small things like, as Andy says, “a drink or a nap” (which will probably be the name of the blog I start the day my first Social Security check arrives), you’ve got a pretty good shot at happiness, kid.

I’m happy.  I’m happier than I ever thought I’d be.  This last day of my 34th year on earth is as good a time as any to remind myself why that is.*

*I started out writing a list of all the things that make me happy, but I got stuck on Buble so I’m just going to remove the bullet-point thing altogether and soldier on.

Buble, who tells me every day that he loves me; who tells me he gets into bed at night and thinks, “I must be the happiest man on the planet”; who is a competent, endlessly diplomatic man but still manages to find a child’s delight in our old brown dog; who wakes me each morning with the same gentle sing-song call of my name; who is determined to make me dinner tomorrow night even though he’s not exactly an adept in the kitchen; who eats breakfast with me each morning; who makes the coffee; who does the laundry; who spends a great deal of time devising ways to make me laugh; who tells me I’m his girl; who is very tall; who doesn’t get mad when I throw a fit about dish towels or the Brita lid; who looks like a little boy when he’s sleeping; who loves sloppy joes and spaghetti with meatballs; who always, always gets the joke; who loves Guided by Voices and the Wu-Tang Clan and Pavement and the Beastie Boys and Neutral Milk Hotel and the Hold Steady; who gets a little teary-eyed when he hears “Dirty Old Town”; who likes the smell of cooking cabbage because it reminds him of his granddad’s apartment building; who treats everyone with simple, straightforward respect; who indulges my love of flashbacks and taste tests and basically everything except coconut (which he hates)…

The truth is, I always thought marriage would be harder than this.  You know?  Everyone says that marriage is work and there’s no such thing as happily ever after…and I know that we have years and years left to figure out what they’re talking about, but it’s not like we haven’t faced some hard times of our own.  We don’t have a lot of money and we’re seeing a fucking fertility specialist after a year and a half of heartbreaking inability to get pregnant; I’m basically unemployed, and have been for almost four years.  I know I sound defensive, which is stupid, but I want to emphasize that I’m not starry-eyed.  The success of our relationship isn’t due to newlywed bliss or having it easy.

I always thought maybe married couples must be different behind closed doors.  I thought they did that thing where they just got up in the morning and got dressed and bolted some coffee, all the while barely grunting at each other in acknowledgment.  That’s kind of the standard Hollywood shorthand for marriage, you know?  But Buble and I talk all the time.  We ask each other how we slept, how the day was, what we want for breakfast/lunch/dinner.  We talk about the news, make jokes about politicians, tease each other.  He listens to me agonize about substitute teaching or volunteering for a campaign and he makes me feel better.  I listen to his stories about the people he works with and tell him what I think.  We talk about people we know, places we want to go, things that happened to us before we met.

I thought there was a famous quote about marriage being a lifelong conversation, but when I tried to Google it I just turned up a bunch of marriage workshops and Christian inspirational sites.  And neither of those things captures the depth and…and pressure of the wonder I feel when I think of my husband.

He will come home tonight and I will come home tonight and we will kiss.  We will talk a little bit and maybe make some food and watch TV.  We will go to bed and pass his iPhone back and forth to play the games we play on it.  I will press my cold feet against his warm legs and he’ll growl and speak sternly to me about just keeping them still until they warm up.  He’ll try to convince Mary Todd to jump on the bed with us, and she might just do so.  If she does, we’ll pet her while she gazes placidly into our eyes.  He will roll onto his side to fall asleep while reading his book, and I will curl in behind him and kiss his back.  He’ll fall asleep before I do, and I’ll have to rouse him to turn off the light and put his book away.  He’ll do it, and we’ll lie there together, our eyes closed, our hearts beating.  We’ll fall asleep and wake up in the morning when the alarm sounds.

I love him, and he loves me, and the multitudes contained in that simple fact are miraculous enough for one lifetime.

An Intention, Set

A GIANT disclaimer: If you’re reading this, you might come across some sticky passages that sound a little derisive or judgmental.  Please keep reading…I know we all deal with this stuff in our own way, and my intention is not to criticize those who deal differently than I do, but rather to define the differences–for myself as well as for you, the reader.  As I wrote, this turned into something very different than I set out to write, and as a result it’s kind of all over the place, at times threatening to become a manifesto.  I mean to share it because I think it might help people who are just starting out on this journey (like I am), but I don’t necessarily think it’s going to resonate the same way with all people.  In short, please don’t get your back up.  I don’t blame anyone for the way they cope with this nightmare, and I don’t for a second believe that I’m the first or only person who’s ever noticed these things.

Listen, we can’t all be experts on every element of our infertility, right?  I mean, when you go to the dentist and he or she tells your hygienist that your lower right second bicuspid is showing signs of abfraction (thank you, online dentist glossary), you trust that this is so.  Right?  You don’t do hours of research before your dental appointment to be sure you’ll know as much terminology as a first-year hygienist-in-training.  You don’t refuse to let them treat your tooth until you’ve found at least ten blogs written by people who are living with abfraction.  You don’t join the community of people living with abfraction.  Sometimes you just trust your dentist.

I know that infertility is different from dental hygiene.  It’s acutely specialized; it’s a newer kind of medicine; the stakes are much, much higher; to be examined, you have to open your legs instead of your mouth.  Also, the dentist doesn’t have stirrups, and he or she rarely has the power to break your ever-lovin’ heart.

I’m not really trying to equate a toothache with infertility.  I really don’t mean to belittle the latter–I’ve been dealing with it for too long to do that.  It’s just that I noticed this peculiar thing when I went into see my specialist on Monday for the pre-insemination ultrasound, and I’m taking a long way around to get to my point about it.

My doctor said they had received the results of my bloodwork, and that everything looked normal; he asked if I’d gotten the medication I needed for the procedure.  In the course of this conversation, I got confused between HSG (the X-ray test used to see if my tubes were open and my uterus clear of scar tissue) and HCG (the shot of pregnancy hormone I ordered in the mail from a specialty pharmacy).  Now, I would expect this confusion to be common and totally expected (they’re almost the same effing letters, you guys!), but the doctor was kind of impatient with me when I mixed them up.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s an incredibly nice guy–fervently cheerful, but in the way you’d want your infertility doctor to be.  I think he’s just accustomed to his patients being extremely familiar with all the tests and abbreviations associated with their treatment.

I know it’s supposed to be empowering to feel like an expert on all aspects of your infertility, and for some people that sense of empowerment must go a long way in alleviating the stress that comes with this confounded slog.  But it just doesn’t work like that for me, and I expect there are other women out there who feel the same way.

I would like this blog, if it turns into anything at all (I have a habit of not finishing what I start), to be a place for beginners and dabblers.  Towards the end of my “About” page, I briefly discuss my determination to keep infertility from becoming the central aspect of our lives, and I hope to stick to that resolution even as I write an infertility blog.

Researching infertility can lead a girl down something of a rabbit hole…you should see the glut of blogs I bookmarked over the course of the voracious afternoon I spent searching in vain for evidence that one’s first IUI can actually be successful.  In my (admittedly limited, and totally unscientific) experience, reading other people’s stories is only helpful about 15% of the time.  It’s like any other Internet search: some sites have the answers you’re looking for, but many are defunct, or only tangentially related to your experience, or they’re run by someone whose outlook is so different from your own that you’re constantly distracted by it.

I tried to keep my obsessive search from Buble, but when I refused to go to bed with him that night, I finally had to come clean with my reason for staying up.  He said he would allow me to go down this rabbit hole on one condition: as long as the search was making me feel better and not worse, he would not intervene.  I told him it was making me feel better, but that was kind of a lie.  Yeah, there is something to be said for reading up on the minutiae of other people’s experience with something you’re about to go through. But at the end of the day, you still have to unglue your bleary gaze from another marathon Internet search and ask yourself, “Why the fuck did I do that?”

I hadn’t found what I was looking for and I still didn’t know what all those abbreviations were on people’s timelines (CD43dp18.5frg.wtf??), and I still didn’t know what it would feel like to get an IUI.

I see a lot of talk about the infertility community and how much it helps to know that other people are going through the same thing you’re going through.  But then we go and make it kind of a closed club by using jargon so thick and indecipherable that beginner “infertiles” have no way of understanding what the hell we’re talking about.  And, honestly?  I see a lot of empathy out there, a lot of “I know how hard and horrible and unbearable and tragic it is to be infertile,” but not a lot of acknowledgment that everyone on this planet struggles.

Please understand that I get how infertility is unique–I get that we’re always surrounded by effortlessly pregnant people, I know how a question about your own family planning can feel like a head-butt.  I just wonder if it wouldn’t be wise to move past that a little bit?

There is just so much anxiety to be found out there, and I’m not sure how helpful I think it is to read 20 blogs a day when so many of them are overflowing with exactly the kind of obsessive fretting I’m trying–usually without much success–to avoid.  We curse the two week wait; we agonize over baby showers; we meticulously examine our friends’ comments and find unforgivable insensitivity in the most well-meaning words.  Or…at least I do.  But those behaviors only bring me more unhappiness, more anxiety, more bitterness.  I don’t need more of those things!  I need to have more perspective, more gratitude, more compassion.

In the real world, the three-dimensional one of tauntingly sore boobs and glacial two-week waits, the anxiety is unavoidable–always at the back of my mind, waiting for its next closeup.  In that world, I will go about my days and lie in bed at night beneath a giant, hovering question mark.  And I will do my best to keep the exclamation point at bay (you know the one–it’s at the end of this sentence: “Am I fucking pregnant or not?!?!?!”).

But on this blog, things will be different. Writing has always been therapeutic for me.  I know that writing allows me to sort through all those fears and feelings that tag along with me every day.  I know that wrestling with a phrase, even when it’s a phrase about those very anxieties, helps me to pin down exactly what I’m worried about.  And when I know that, I usually also know that it’s something I can handle. Not to mention that on a computer screen, I have the power to banish the exclamation point altogether.

What I’m trying to say is that writing is my way of prevailing on the better angels of my nature.  They tell me to forgive the fertile women who might say something insensitive.  They tell me to be grateful for Buble and the blossoms of spring and a rich life that sustains me and will always sustain me, just as it is.  My better angels say Be generous and Remember that others have their troubles, too.  They say Go do some yoga, girlfriend.

So this is my intention.  I will be honest about the pain, but I will not dwell on it here.  I will give an account of procedures and my reactions to them, but I will not empower my anxiety by constantly unleashing it on my blog.  The fact is, if you’re reading this you know how bad it feels to live with an inability to conceive.  You don’t need me to tell you about it.  But it might help you if I tell you about a time when I dealt successfully with an unexpected moment of panic.  It might help you if I share an insight, or words of encouragement that brought me back from the brink.

We need to breathe, you guys.  We all need to find a way to live meaningful lives even as we grieve for our empty wombs.  We owe that to ourselves and to our partners and to the babies we dream about.