Saturday, May 27, 2017

What helped? What didn't?

Mali recently wrote about the personality traits that helped her heal after infertility -- and those that didn't help. She invited us to make own lists (Infertile Phoenix did too). Here's mine:  ;)

What helped me heal:
  • (As I told Mali in the comments section of her post:) I certainly believe that being a feminist helped me, in that I strongly believed, long before I had to deal with stillbirth & infertility, that I was more than my uterus, and that I did not NEED to be a mother to have a fulfilling life. I certainly wanted and expected to be a mother & I was devastated when that didn't work out -- but it was not the only thing that I based my identity or self-worth on, or the only thing I knew I wanted to do with my life.
  • Like Mali & Phoenix, I am pragmatic/practical. I'm also a bit of a skeptic/contrarian. Mali & I grew up in a similar timeframe ;)  (the 1960s/70s), when many of society's messages and structures were being questioned -- especially for women. While I'm very traditional in some ways, and I did want (& expect) marriage & a family for myself, I chafed at the expectation/assumption that I would conform to a traditional woman's life path. The more certain adults questioned why my father would "waste money" sending me to university (because I was just going to get married & have babies, right?), dropped huge hints about pregnancy before the ink on my marriage license was barely dry, etc. -- the more I dug in my heels & resisted conforming to their expectations...!  
  • Like Mali, I was older when I began ttc and went through pregnancy, stillbirth and infertility. When you reach your late 30s/early 40s, you begin to learn about (& begin to learn to accept) life's limitations (if you haven't already). At that age, I knew (at least on one level) that, statistics being what they are, getting pregnant might not be an easy thing. (Realizing that I WAS a statistic, though, was a lot harder to accept...!)
  • We were pretty realistic about the obstacles we faced when we began infertility treatments -- our ages (the statistics were definitely not on our side), our track record to date (not good), our finite financial resources -- and we set a limit before we began infertility treatments (although we gave ourselves permission to re-evaluate). In the end, we decided we'd had enough.  We didn't do IVF -- but we did enough, and learned enough about the further obstacles we faced (low sperm counts, wonky ovulation, a bicornuate uterus) to feel that, all things considered, we gave it a good shot, but the odds just weren't on our side. We cut our losses before the financial, physical, mental and emotional costs became even higher than they already were. 
  • Like Mali & Phoenix, I found/find it difficult to believe that "everything happens for a reason" -- although I know that's something that others find comforting.  I have a well-developed sense of cynicism and black humour (although I suppose some people might not think that was a good thing...!). 
  • I moved around a lot growing up, which meant that (a) I was often the outsider & (b) I learned to navigate through and adapt to unfamiliar places and situations. I came to believe I was capable of handling whatever life threw at me (even if I didn't always like it...!). I always wound up surviving in the end (and sometimes even thriving).  I also developed a strong internal life that sustained me. 
  • While I found/find it difficult to let family members & friends know the truth about what we were going through, I was able to seek & find support outside those circles, both from professionals and from others who were going through similar situations, both "in real life" and online. 
  • When I'm facing a new situation or problem or interest, I tend to research the hell out of it -- obsessively. I read books, magazine articles, websites & online forums, and ask questions. I did this during my pregnancy and in its sad aftermath, before & during infertility treatment, and in making the transition to involuntary childlessness. I think it helped me feel more in control and (on the flipside) better able to cope when things didn't go well. (I expected others to be similarly well informed on these subjects -- and I was sometimes shocked by how little some of the couples we met in the clinic waiting rooms & at our pregnancy loss support group meetings seemed to know.)   
  • My dh & I have a close relationship and I think that ultimately carried us through. Loss & infertility can certainly drive some couples apart, but I think it only brought us closer together. As I have often said before, we knew we could have a good life together, just the two of us -- because we already did!  I like to believe that, even if we'd had kids, we would have made time for each other & put our marriage at the centre of our family. I have seen several marriages around me crumble because the kids always dominated everything, and the marriage itself was neglected. 
  • When we finally accepted that parenthood was not in the cards for us, we were able to embrace some of the positives of a childless/free life and envision what that future could look like: early retirement (although it happened a little earlier than we had planned...!); closer relationships with our nephews, including financial support for their educations; indulging our love of books, eating out on weekends, etc.;  buying that bigger and fancier car, even though we didn't really need one;  and travel (although we haven't done as much of it yet as we'd like). 
What didn't help: 
  • Like Mali, I don’t like failing.  I was not/am not used to failure. With very few exceptions, I succeeded with the other life goals that I set for myself.  Academic success at school came relatively easy for me, I did well at my job, I found a good man to share my life with. I knew that if I applied myself & did the "right" things, I would be rewarded -- and for the most part, I was. Pregnancy loss & infertility were a huge blow in that respect. 
  • Like Mali & Phoenix, I don't like the feeling that I'm missing out -- particularly when it's an experience that comes to so many others so easily (and that's often taken for granted). 
  • I have a strong sense of guilt. The feeling that I've let others down by failing to reproduce -- particularly my parents, who would have been fabulous grandparents (and since my sister is childfree by choice, I was their one shot at it)-- is (still) hard to cope with. 
  • I am an introvert, and I tend to be very private -- I find it difficult to tell most people what I am really thinking and feeling (obviously not on this blog!! lol). I was tight-lipped about our plans for ttc right from the start of our marriage, and few people outside of our immediate family (and my bosses at work) knew when things started to go wrong with our pregnancy. We did not tell anyone when we began infertility treatment. (It was difficult enough hanging on the results of every cycle and dealing withe disappointment, let alone dealing with the curiosity and disappointment of others.)  Not telling people about what we were going through had its advantages (e.g., spared us a lot of dumb questions & assvice from people who really had no clue about what we were going through) -- but it was a heavy burden to carry alone, and without support. It also sheltered those around us from the pain of what we were going through, Blissfully unaware, they sometimes said & did things that wounded us both (although -- as many of you know...! --  it's certainly possible that knowing the truth might not have made a difference there anyway...!).   
  • I tend to soldier on through difficult, stressful and painful situations, to downplay my own feelings of sadness and discomfort, far more and far longer than I probably need to. Far too often, I have said yes when I probably should have said (and definitely wanted to say) no. (I went to a baby shower on the weekend of my milestone 40th birthday while going through infertility treatment, for crying out loud...!) 
  • I like to THINK that I don't care what other people think -- but I do. :(  
  • Moving around a lot when I was growing up may have had its advantages (see above), but it also had its drawbacks. I learned from a fairly early age that being a perpetual outsider sucks. I tend to be introverted, and the older I got, the harder it got to make friends & break into established social circles -- and develop support networks. Most of us women grow up expecting, ASSUMING that we will join the mommy club, I am human;  I want to be liked, and accepted, and to blend in, to be like everyone else. I want to be "normal." I crave approval and affirmation from others. (I think of the time in elementary school when, chafing against my image among my classmates as a goody-two-shoes and teacher's pet, I deliberately didn't turn in an assignment. My teacher was shocked, but grimly gave me detention, along with several other laggards. I was secretly gleeful at first -- but detention was boring, I was no more popular than before, and my strong sense of guilt kicked in.  I quickly realized it had been a dumb idea and abandoned that strategy -- thank goodness, lol.)  

Monday, May 22, 2017

MPM: An appreciation

My sister recently emailed me a link, with the only commentary being "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  :) "

She'd just learned that one more book from one of our favourite authors will be available in bookstores in July.  :)

Both of us discovered the mystery/thriller novels of Barbara Michaels when we were teenagers in the 1970s (still in junior high school, I think) -- most of them gothic mysteries/thrillers, with a tinge of the occult or supernatural. I don't remember the very first one I read, but my favourite was released around the time of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, and clearly written with that event in mind -- "Patriot's Dream," which takes place in Williamsburg, Virginia, and features time travel back to the days of the American Revolution.

Around the same time, we also discovered the novels of another mystery writer, Elizabeth Peters. Eventually, we came to realize that Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels were one and the same person.  The author's real name was Barbara Mertz, a PhD graduate from the Oriental Institute in Chicago, who published two non-fiction books on ancient Egypt in the 1960s. Fans often refer to her as "MPM," and her official website is http://mpmbooks.com/.

The novels she published as Elizabeth Peters differ from the Michaels novels with their focus on art, archaeology & history, as well as their irreverent sense of humour (which often had me chuckling out loud).  Some Peters novels were standalones -- such as my favourite, "Legend in Green Velvet," a caper set in the Scottish highlands.  But she also developed several series that all featured memorable heroines. There was Jacqueline Kirby, librarian turned romance novelist (one Kirby novel has the memorable title "Naked Once More," lol).  There was Vicky Bliss, an American art history professor, working at a museum in Berlin.

And there was Amelia Peabody, Victorian Egyptologist, perhaps the best-known Mertz/Peters/Michaels creation of all. I've always thought the Amelia books would make a delightful movie or television series, if properly scripted and cast :) and the Amelia section of the MPM site includes readers' votes for casting a hypothetical Peabody movie. (Although more than one MPM fan has noted the similarities between the Amelia books and "The Mummy" movies with Brendan Fraser...!) 

I don't remember discovering Amelia until after I was married (late 1980s/early 1990s) -- but once I read the first novel in the series, "Crocodile on the Sandbank," I was hooked, and devoured the subsequent entries, one after another.  I must admit I've fallen behind -- I have not yet read the last few books in the series, although I have an unofficial goal to finish them before the new one comes out...!

Sadly, Barbara Mertz/Barbara Michaels/Elizbeth Peters passed away in August 2013 at her home in Frederick, Maryland. But happily for her fans, she left behind an unfinished Amelia Peabody novel, "The Painted Queen." We started hearing rumours about it shortly after she died, but it wasn't until last fall that publication was confirmed.  MPM's friend and fellow mystery writer, Joan Hess (another author we've both read, whose heroines include Arly Hanks & Claire Malloy), took on the daunting task of finishing it, and the result will be released in July.

*** *** ***

One more reason why I think of Michaels/Peters (and the Amelia books in particular) so fondly.

When we lost learned that Katie's heart had stopped beating inside me on August 5, 1998, my mother flew immediately to be with me in the hospital. My father followed several days later, bearing a gift from my sister -- a hardcover copy of the newest Elizabeth Peters novel -- an "Amelia," called "The Ape Who Guards the Balance," There was a handwritten note inside which read (in part), "I thought Amelia chaining herself to #10 Downing Street would be more entertaining than flowers."  (She was right. :) )

Fast-forward a few months later to later October/early November, with my Nov. 14th due date rapidly approaching. While browsing the books section in the Saturday Globe and Mail, I saw an ad that made my jaw drop: an all-day event on "Crime and Punishment in Ancient Egypt" on Saturday, Nov. 7th -- the 24th annual symposium on Egyptology put on by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities (SSEA) at the Royal Ontario Museum -- featuring a keynote address by famous author Elizabeth Peters. The public was welcome to attend.

Faster than you can say "Tutankhamun," I was on the phone to the ROM and bought a ticket for $15.

Then I called my sister. :)  I very seldom manage to get the better of her in terms of ruffling her feathers ;) -- so it was beyond satisfying to be able to pose the question, "Guess what I'm going to be doing on November 7th?"  -- and then tell her & hear her pause -- and then shriek "Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!"  And then ask, in a very small voice, "Can you get me an autograph??"

I remember the day was dark & rainy, but (for perhaps the first time in months), my spirits were buoyant as I took a train into the city and then rode the subway to the museum. I was uninterested in attending the full day's program (I find the history in the Amelia books interesting, but not THAT interesting...!), but I arrived in plenty of time for Peters' scheduled lecture on "Murder, Mystery and Mayhem in Ancient Egypt" at 4 p.m. -- the final event of the day.

The theatre was packed. (I think I was one of the youngest people there...!) The "lecture" turned out to be a wide-ranging informal interview/conversation with fellow mystery writer Aaron Elkins, including questions from the audience.  I don't remember a lot of what was said, unfortunately, but I do remember that MPM was just as funny and charming and delightful as I'd imagined her to be. The hour flew by far too quickly.

Afterward, MPM signed copies of her books in the foyer outside the theatre, many of which were stacked on tables nearby, available for sale. I had brought the copy my sister sent me of "The Ape Who Guards the Balance" as well as a second copy for her to sign for my sister, and she graciously personalized and signed both books (with hieroglyphics, as well as her signature). I said something stupid about how we had both been reading her books for years, trying hard not to gush too much. (I didn't think to bring my camera with me, & of course, there were no cellphones with handy cameras included back then.)  I left the museum with a broad smile on my face. :)

I (very) reluctantly let go of my complete collection of hardcover & paperback Peters/Michaels books before our move last year, since I also have them all in e-reader format. But I did keep my paperbacks of "Patriot's Dream" and "Legend in Green Velvet, " and a hardcover companion/coffee table book, "Amelia Peabody's Egypt."

And, of course, my prized signed copy of "The Ape Who Guards the Balance." :) (The ticket receipt, day's agenda, and note from my sister are all tucked inside the front cover.)

Are you a fellow Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters fan? Do you like reading mysteries? Any favourite authors to recommend? 

#MicroblogMondays: Let's break the silence on another taboo subject

When I first started working as a 25-year-old staff writer on my company's monthly employee newsmagazine, one of my duties was to coordinate the monthly listings of executive appointments, service anniversaries, retirements and "in memoriams" -- the deaths of both pensioners and active employees. Sometimes the necessary details -- spellings of names, locations, job titles (those pesky acronyms...), etc. -- needed clarification, and I would have to make some phone calls.

I wasn't always prepared for the stories & additional information I'd hear -- never more so than the day, early in my career, when I was breezily informed that the 35-year-old supervisor I was calling about had died in childbirth. Childbirth??!  Who, in 1980-something Canada/North America, with all the benefits and miracles offered by modern medicine (not to mention universal healthcare), died in CHILDBIRTH??

Unfortunately, more women than we might think -- and even more unfortunately, 30 years later, it's still happening with alarming frequency.  Those of us who have endured miscarriage, stillbirth and other forms of pregnancy or infant loss know the silence, the taboos that surround our losses -- not only among family & friends, but in the medical community itself -- the lack of established protocols, reliable statistics and research.

But maternal death (or near-death) remains, it seems, is also an unspeakable subject -- despite the fact that some 700 to 900 American women die every year from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes -- and a further 65,000 come far too close to dying for comfort.  This is a far higher rate than any other developed country -- and almost 60 per cent of these deaths are preventable.

So I was happy to see that NPR & ProPublica have recently joined forces to shed some light on this important-but-overlooked loss-related health issue. They kicked things off with a devastating story, "The Last Person You'd Expect to Die in Childbirth," which focuses on the death of Lauren Bloomstein, a 33-year-old woman whose doctor failed to recognize the warning signs of pre-eclampsia & HELLP syndrome. (Ironically, Bloomstein was, of all things, a neonatal intensive care nurse.)  That was followed by "What We've Learned So Far About Maternal Mortality From You, Our Readers." Item #1:  "We realized that it's part of a pattern:  Treating the death of a mother due to pregnancy or childbirth as a private tragedy rather than as part of a public health crisis," says writer Adriana Gallardo. (Hmmm, this sounds familiar...)

"We're just getting started," Gallardo promises. Want to help them?  Through my 10 years of pregnancy loss support group facilitation, almost 20 years in loss & infertility online forums and almost 10 years of blogging, I know that that many of the loss moms I've encountered were near-casualties themselves. (In fact, I discovered that my own mother had had pre-eclampsia and, in her own words, "We're both lucky we're here.")

If you know someone who died or nearly died in pregnancy, childbirth or within a year after delivery -- or if you ARE that person (whether your baby lived or died) -- consider telling ProPublica your story.  Further information on how to contact them can be found here.

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

It's baaaaccckkkkk!! :)

I can scarcely believe I am writing this.

A couple of months ago, I was mourning the accidental deletion of one of my all-time favourite posts, as I was trying to edit it to add a new label & correct a few typos It was a post near & dear to my heart, so much so that I chose it as my pick for Mel's "Creme de la Creme" list for 2012. "I am childless, hear me roar" was written at what I sensed to be a turning point in the life of our ALI community and the childless-not-by-choice segment in particular, summarizing the progress we had made to date, a rising tide of voices saying "I am childless. My life did not turn out as planned. But it's a good life anyway."  

And then I hit the wrong button, and my post was gone. I was depressed about it for days, & resolved to be better at backing up my blog content. (Which reminds me, I need to get back at that project again. 2007 to 2012 have been backed up so far;  2013 to the present need to be done...!)

This morning, I delved into my drafts folder to look at something and wound up scrolling idly all the way through it.

And there it was, at the very bottom of my drafts folder: "I am childless, hear me roar."

I could scarcely believe my eyes. I held my breath & clicked on the title. It opened. I scrolled through the content;  it looked complete (aside from the video link, which no longer works). I noticed the "scheduled" publication date -- May 2012. I tentatively hit "publish" and went to May 2012 in my archive list, and checked.

And there it was. Not only that, it looks as thought all the comments are there intact too. And even the label "Creme de la Creme picks" that I was trying to add when I hit the wrong button and sent my cherished post into oblivion -- or so I thought -- is there.

Here's the link! :)  :)  :)

Lesson learned! And you can learn from my mistake too. Back up your blog!! :)  (And, when in doubt, check the drafts folder, lol.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Killers of the Flower Moon" by David Grann

Around the same time that I finished David Grann's "The Lost City of Z" a few months ago (my review here), I heard the author had a new book coming out soon. I made a mental note to watch for it and bought it on sale shortly after its release last month. :)

I'm glad I did.  Entertainment Weekly has called it "the best book of the year so far," (and apparently a movie is already in the works). It's a gripping read, one that kept me up late several nights in a row, promising myself that I would read "just one more chapter..." before turning out the lights... ;)

"Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI" tackles a forgotten -- and extraordinarily shameful -- chapter in American history and the (mis)treatment of American Indians. After being driven off their home territory in Kansas (an event depicted in Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie") in the 1870s, the Osage Indians eventually settled on a reservation in a rocky area of northern Oklahoma. A few decades later, oil was discovered there, and by the early 1920s, the Osage were among the richest people in the world, living in mansions with white servants and sending their children to the finest private schools. The federal government, however, declared the Osage were not capable of handling their own affairs; white guardians were appointed to look after their fortunes and monitor their spending.

And then, one by one, the Osage began dying.

"This is a story that has real evil in it -- evil like I've never covered or ever experienced,"  Grann told "CBS Sunday Morning," which did a story about the Osage murders and the book a few weeks ago.  

"When I began researching this story, I thought of it as a traditional mystery, a whodunnit," he said. "And by the end, I realized this wasn't a whodunnit, this was who-didn't-do-it, meaning so many people were part of this." 

The book focuses on the story of one Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, whose mother, three sisters and brother-in-law were all murdered or died under suspicious circumstances.  It also tells the story of the fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the agent -- Tom White, from a prominent family of Texas lawmen -- assigned by the bureau's young director, J. Edgar Hoover, to lead the investigation and track down the killer(s) -- many of them the very guardians who were assigned to protect Osage interests -- or others who stood to benefit.

The last part of the book jumps to present day, and Grann's own research for this book. The FBI estimated there were 24 Osage murders between 1921 and 1925 -- but Grann came to realize there were dozens and possibly hundreds more, beginning as early as 1918 and continuing into the 1930s, involving far more people than those who were tried & convicted.  He investigates some of these lesser-known cases and manages to pinpoint at least one likely murderer who was never publicly linked to the crimes.

Unfortunately, the exact number of Osage killed during the "Reign of Terror" (as they call it) will never be known, and most of these cases will never be solved. "The blood cries out from the ground," a current tribe member tells Grann, quoting the Bible in the last line of the book. Chilling.

I will be thinking about this book for a long time.

This was book #8 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 33% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Voldemort Day/weekend recap

*  Voldemort Day is over. TGIM! ;)
* Thankfully, it was not as bad as some years. My usual strategy is to hide out at the movies, and my choice this year was "Snatched" with Amy Schumer & Goldie Hawn -- admittedly, a mother-daughter movie, but what a pairing!! It won't win any Oscars but it was mindless fun. (Bonus!:  It was also far less busy at the theatre than it sometimes is -- lots of parking & minimal lineups for tickets & popcorn.)
* I am back to eating popcorn (yay!!), after avoiding it while my endless dental work was underway. :p
* Yes, I wore my new necklace. :)
* Unfortunately, I was in a lot of discomfort all day with midcycle cramping & bloating/mittelschmerz. (It's better today, though still not 100%.)  When oh when will Aunt Flo finally give up the ghost??!!
*  We washed the patio door/windows, which hadn't been done all winter. It wasn't a professional job by any means, but it looks so much better than it did!
*  It's 19C right now and supposed to be 29C by Wednesday!!  Looking forward to (finally!) dusting off my capris & sandals! ;)  (Just in time for the Victoria Day long weekend, too!)  

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Retail therapy :)

I have always subscribed to the philosophy that "when the going gets tough... the tough go shopping,"  lol. A new lipstick or book has often lifted my spirits after a crappy day at work.

And what could be tougher for a bereaved childless mother to face than Mother's Day (aka Voldemort Day -- That Which Shall Not Be Named) weekend??

Fortunately, some shiny new bling arrived in my mailbox this afternoon to distract me. :)


I have wanted one of these for eons, and I decided recently that I'd waited long enough. I ordered it a few weeks ago from a local Etsy dealer (here's the website, in case you're interested), and happily, it arrived just in time for the weekend.

I don't know whether the post-purchase high will last me through Sunday night... but it won't hurt, lol.

(I guess I could have saved this post for #MicroblogMondays... but I couldn't wait to share it with people who would appreciate it!! lol)