Friday, November 30, 2007
These are women who intimately know & share my life's deepest pain -- the loss of a baby. Some of them also have had infertility problems. I can say my daughter's name and talk about "when I was pregnant" freely with them and without fear of a negative reaction. I feel more comfortable with them than with many other people who have known me a lot longer. And overall, I had a really good time, being together, talking, laughing, celebrating the season and our friendship.
And yet -- there was, and is, a part of me that felt alone and outside the circle, and guarded in some respects about what I say and what I share with them. Because I'm the only one among them who does not have children. Some already had children before their loss, and decided not to try again. Some have adopted. Others have had subsequent babies that now preoccupy their days and their conversation.
As they talked about how busy they were, how tired they were, how they were juggling their kids' activities, their own activities, their jobs, their maternity leaves and their Christmas plans (plus, two of them are moving -- one of them across the ocean!) -- I had nothing to offer in the way of similar stories or advice -- about finicky eaters and toddler sleep problems and at what age it's appropriate to bring a toddler to his first movie. And I had to bite my tongue and resist the impulse to join in the conversation with my own laments about about how busy & tired I am these days (or at least, do so in a very careful way).
I AM busy and tired. It's year end at my office, and mid-November through Christmas is my peak season. I do a lot of work that crosses the desks of my company's top executives, and my days right now are very full and highly stressful. I don't work a lot of overtime, but my days are long, nevertheless. On a normal work day, I am up at 5 a.m., out of the house and commuting by 6:30, in the office from 7:45 until 4:30, and not home again until 5:30 at the earliest. We're usually in bed no later than 10 -- which doesn't give us a lot of free time in the evening after supper is made, eaten and cleaned up. This means our weekends are usually crammed with house cleaning, laundry, shopping, errands and seeing dh's family.
I had a bad cold a few weeks back & an apparently still-lingering throat infection -- still don't feel 100%. My dh has been stressed lately about a number of different things, and I've been stressed trying to deal with HIS stress. And, like everyone else, I'm trying to keep on top of Christmas preparations, get everything done that needs to get done -- for dh's family, in time for our nephew's birthday on Dec. 15th, and for mine before we leave to join them for the holidays on Dec. 22nd -- and trying to enjoy the spirit of the season, just a little. Our calendar is filling up with holiday-related events & activities, along with our usual classes, meetings and other obligations. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have a running to-do list that never seems to get any shorter.
But I couldn't share most of this with these women. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, projecting my own insecurities here, but I'm sure some of them would think -- even subconsciously -- that I don't know what busy is -- because, of course, I don't have any kids. I thought I detected a fleeting expression crossing their faces when I've made such comments in the past. Even though they, better than anyone else, know how much we wanted children and what we'd give to have our daughter with us today, there is still this automatic, ingrained assumption (which I've obviously absorbed as much as anybody else) that people with kids are busier than people without kids -- that if you don't have kids, you have oodles of free time on your hands to kill -- and that somehow, their tales of busy-ness are more "legitimate" than any story I could tell to try to match them.
It's not a competition (although sometimes it seems that way). Everyone is busy these days -- it seems to be the nature of life in the 21st century. We all have the same number of hours in a day -- we just use them differently. Somehow, they always fill up, whether you have children or not, whether you have one child or five, whether you work inside or outside the home, whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban setting.
I often wonder how I would have managed children on top of everything else I cram into my life right now. I think the answer is, you just do. You just organize and prioritize your time in a different way. I think of my mother and a co-worker of mine, who both retired within the past few years. Both like to joke about how they wonder how they ever had time to work. They're both keeping very busy, just with other things now.
I'll admit that not having children gives me more in the way of personal time, and greater flexibility in how I use it. But who's to say that one person's activities inherently "count" more than another's? Or that I'm not entitled to my leisure time just as much as someone with children is?
In one of the online grief groups I belong to, we have a saying -- there is no "grief-o-meter." Pain is pain, grief is grief, regardless of whether you lost your child via ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or medical termination.
And busy is busy, and tired is tired, no matter how you got there.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I had a bit of a scare/shock last night. I was on my computer & having problems with my e-mail (despite numerous reboots), and getting frustrated and stressed out. (Two years' worth of e-mails have decided to play hide & seek with me.) (Andie, if you're reading, this is why I haven't returned your message!) Eventually, I decided to turn the d@mn PC off & try again tomorrow. (Still not working -- I'm calling my sister's techie boyfriend tomorrow night for advice.) Went to the bathroom, wiped myself & gazed, stunned, at the toilet paper. It was covered in blood -- bright orangey-red, sticky blood, the colour & consistency that I often get when my period is first starting.
Except -- I am nowhwere near the start of my period. In fact, I am right about midcycle -- it was day 17. Thanks to years of infertility treatment, "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" & charting, I am familiar enough with my cycles & the twinges of my body to know that I traditionally ovulate somewhere between day 19 & 23, & AF usually arrives somewhere between day 33 & 37.
So I am thinking it could have been ovulation related. (Stress-induced??) I have had plenty of good old CM the last few days, it's right about that time, & I did have some cramping last night after my discovery. I often do have some cramping or at least vaguely uncomfortable feelings at this time of my cycle. I put on a pad, popped a few Motrin & went to bed. This morning, there was still some faint staining, and more CM, but generally back to normal. So it seems to have been just that one brief gush.
I called my ob-gyn's office, at one of the top hospitals in the city. He is an extremely busy man, so I wasn't surprised when his receptionist told me that if it was just one day one time midcycle, it was nothing to worry about & nothing they would see me for. If it happens again or if I'm bleeding unexpectedly for more than one day, I'm to call again. Okey-dokey...
Has anyone else had mid-cycle bleeding/spotting of this sort? Particularly those you who, like me, are in those perimenopausal years. I'm 46, almost 47 years old, and although my period are still pretty regular, I know things are bound to get wonky sooner or later….
I remember when I was pregnant and we were going to see the genetic counsellor (as I was over 35)… I had to fill out a questionnaire in advance about my family's medical & reproductive history, and I had to call my mom for help with a few points. "Early menopause?" I said. "Good God, no, I thought it would never end!" said my mother (lol). Both my aunts on my dad's side of the family have had a lot of gynecological problems, etc. -- one of them had a hysterectomy when she was still in her 30s (although she'd had three children by then). I do tend to take after them in body type, so I am hoping this is not an omen of things to come.
Inconvenient and stressful as it was when I was in treatment, to have to get up at a godawful hour of the morning & slog my way to the clinic, stand in line for a brief encounter with the u/s wand, hotfoot it up to the RE's office & then slink into work late, etc. etc.… at least I had the feeling that I knew what was going on in there, and that someone was watching over me. I liked that. Right now, it's all a mystery, and while I'll admit I do tend to have some hypochondriac tendencies, I don't get the feeling that anyone in the medical field much cares or takes my concerns seriously. My dh frets over every little test our dr sends him to. Me, I like to know. I just had my annual mammogram, & while nobody likes the feeling of pancaked boobs, I like the extra reassurance that all is well. (And it was.) Even if, knock wood, it's not, then hopefully we'll catch whatever is wrong in time to do something about it.
I discovered when I was about 10 weeks pregnant (& spotting, & went to emergency, & had my very first ultrasound) that I have a bicornuate uterus. Most uteruses are shaped like a triangle, or an upside-down pear. Mine looks more like a slingshot (I saw it when I had an HSG test during my fertility workup). The radiologist asked if I knew I had one and had to ask him what it was. They assured me it was nothing to worry about (famous last words), and all through the rest of my pregnancy and subsequent infertility treatment, I got hazy and sometimes conflicting opinions about it. From my later research, I learned it most definitely can be a problem, depending on where the egg implants in the uterus, and women with uterine problems (the medical term is Mullerian anomalies) have a much greater incidence of pregnancy loss than those who don’t. I also got conflicting opinions on whether corrective surgery would help or be worth my while (I never did have it done). From what I understand, during my pregnancy, the baby was growing in one horn of my uterus, the placenta was in another, and umbilical cord ran between the two. There was a small calcified clot in the placenta and evidence of internal bleeding (brown amniotic fluid, plus I did spot all through my first trimester), so that makes sense to me. My baby had severe intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR). She was growing, right until the end, but not fast enough, & at each ultrasound, she fell further & further behind the "norm." When she was stillborn, six months into my pregnancy, she only weighed 125 grams, or about 4 ounces.
There is a great Yahoo group devoted to this subject, Mullerian Anomalies. (A link is in my sidebar.) I learned there that a large number of women with Mullerian anomalies also have kidney problems and disorders. This absolutely stunned me when I first found this out, as I was on antibiotics for years and was in and out of the hospital umpteen times as a child to monitor a bladder/ureter problem. As an adult, my mother told me that my one kidney was slightly smaller than the other and that I should tell the doctors this if I was ever to get pregnant, as it might create some difficulties. (Naïve little me, I assumed difficulties for ME, as in having to go to the bathroom more often. Little did I know…!!)
I keep wondering -- did the doctors know about this co-relation back then? (Perhaps not. So little seems to be known about it, even now.) But even if they didn’t, I certainly had enough X-rays and ultrasounds and other such tests in the same general vicinity over the years. Did they not see that my uterus was abnormally shaped? Or would that not have been evident in a pre-teen?
I was never screened for endometriosis either, despite the fact that I have, occasionally, had extremely debilitating cramps. Also, while in treatment, the nurses often coplained about not being able to see my left ovary, that it was "in hiding." I keep thinking that perhaps it's adhered to one of my other organs in some strange way. One u/s tech whom I saw a few times while in treatment told me I had a small fibroid, which nobody else ever mentioned.I mentioned it to my RE & he didn't seem to think it was important.
I always (especially when I was younger) felt that I was a pretty healthy person. And while I know some people would give their eyeteeth to be as healthy as I am right now, there have been so many little things the doctors have discovered about me over the years that have chipped away at that piece of my identity & self-esteen -- my bladder problems as a child (which I eventually outgrew, or so I thought), the extra wisdom tooth that they weren't able to extract when they took the other four out (!), the minor mitral valve prolapse that sent me to a number of heart specialists when I was first married (apparently on a scale of 1 to 6, I'm a 0.5), optic nerve head drusen (little crystals in the back of my eyes which, thankfully, have never gone anywhere or threatened my vision), hypothyroidism, gallstones (not yet removed). I guess it's all part of growing old, but man, sometimes it can really suck…
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I spent 12 hours yesterday in one of the bastions of modern mommy-dom: a scrapbooking store. I have been scrapbooking for about five years now. As soon as I learned about it, I knew it was something I would like. I'm a writer by trade, & have kept journals on & off all through my life. I have a passion for genealogy and for preserving family stories for future generations (even if they are not my own direct descendants). I love taking photos -- my grandmother (whose favourite line was "Get the camera!") gave me a Kodak Instamatic for Christmas when I was 15 & I've been snapping away ever since. Up until the last few years, I've even been fairly meticulous about labelling the backs of all of my photos with who-what-where & when information. And I've long had a weakness for pretty paper & coloured pens. ; ) Scrapbooking brings all of those interests together in a really neat way. It's a creative outlet. (Some people paint. Some knit or crochet or cross-stitch. Some bake bread. I scrapbook.) It's a way of documenting my story and that of my family, which appeals to the genealogist in me. And it's fun!
Some people are surprised when they hear that I'm a scrapbooker. It's a hobby that's associated with &, admittedly, dominated by mommies. Layouts of adorable children doing cute things dominate the scrapbooking magazines. I have had people ask me what I scrapbook -- and WHY I scrapbook -- if I don't have children. (!)
Well, there's other people's kids, for starters. I am currently working on albums for both of our nephews (dh's brother's sons, 15 & almost 19). They've been my favourite photo subjects since they were born, long before we ever realized there would be no kids of our own for me to scrapbook. I have probably taken 95% of the photos of them that exist. BIL & SIL are great people, but they do not take photos as a matter of habit. It makes me sad sometimes, because while I've been there to document most of the boys' birthdays & events like baptisms, first communions & confirmations, there are no (or very few) photos of their first days of school, Christmas, Easter or Halloween. And that makes me sad.
Someday... someday... I will make a scrapbook for my stillborn daughter, about my pregnancy, her delivery, and the years since then. From the first time I heard about scrapbooking, I have thought about it, but I've put it off, "practicing" on other subjects. This, of all albums, of course, must be perfect!!
I always thought that when I was pregnant, I would keep a pregnancy diary & take lots of photos. I didn't, and I can't explain why. The whole "belly shots" thing was just taking off then, but even so, you would think I would have at least a few photos of myself pregnant. I don't. I have exactly two -- one taken a few days after we announced our pregnancy to the family & came home to find a balloon bouquet tied to our front deck railing (from dh's cousin, who lives nearby). I am pregnant in the photo (me holding the balloons), although I don't look it. And one taken two days before my fateful six-month checkup, when the doctor could not find a heartbeat. Our then-six-year-old nephew took it at his birthday party. I was taking photos (which is probably another reason -- I'm usually the one behind the camera, not in front of it!), & he said, "I want to take one of you!" So dh & I posed for him and thank God we did. We are facing the camera head on, so my pregnant belly is not totally visible, but I do look bigger than normal, and it's a nice photo of the two (three) of us. My mother was coming to visit and I was going to get her to take some photos of me in my maternity clothes that she could take home & show to my grandparents. Never put off until tomorrow....
I have exactly six photos of my stillborn daughter -- only three in which she is visible, and even then, just her wee face. They are Polaroids taken by the hospital -- horribly taken, not just in terms of quality, but set up -- and I think they make her look even worse than she really did.
But they are the only photos I have and for that reason, they are infinitely precious to me. In the brief space between the time I learned that my baby had died and the time I went to the hospital to deliver her, a hospital social worker called me at home to offer comfort, answer my questions, explain what was going to happen at the hospital, and ask about our wishes with respect to having a chaplain visit us, funeral arrangements, etc. She suggested bringing a camera.
I didn't. I couldn't even bring myself to put it in my bag, just so that we'd have it there. Me, the so-called "family photographer," missed the one and only opportunity to take a photo of my one & only child. It's the one major, major regret I have about the whole experience. The very idea of taking photos of a dead baby seemed so incredibly morbid at the time.
Since then, I have seen many, many photos of many, many other dead babies. Very few of them bother me in the least anymore. They are heartbreaking, yes, but I don't find them morbid anymore. And I've envied other parents for the wonderful photos they have as precious keepsakes of their children. Thankfully, hospitals seem to be catching on to the need for better photos to give to bereaved parents. (It's something that our pregnancy loss support group stresses & provides training in when giving workshops to medical professionals, funeral home directors, etc.). One couple we know was so distressed by the poor quality Polaroid photos they received from the hospital that they donated a digital camera. Subsequently, another bereaved couple arrived at our group who had used the camera. & have some of the best keepsake photos I've seen. There is even a group of professional photographers, called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, who donate their time and talents to photographing stillborn and dying babies with their families. Some of the parents in our group have created beautiful scrapbooks in memory of their babies. I'm sure some people would find this morbid, as I once did, but experience definitely has a way of changing opinions.
But children (dead or alive) are not the only reason to scrapbook. With more than 30 years worth of photos in my albums, I have plenty of fodder to keep me scrapbooking for years & years. I'd like to think my life is interesting enough to scrapbook on its own, thank you very much. OK, so my albums won't be passed on to any children of mine. Maybe they will provide enlightenment to other relatives of the future about me & other members of my family. Maybe not. At any rate, it's my time, my money, my life and if it give me enjoyment, isn't that reason enough to do it?
Sometimes, surrounded by mothers talking about their children non-stop as they scrapbook them, I definitely feel like the odd woman out at these store gatherings, or "crops," as they are known in the industry. I usually go solo, which makes me an even odder duck still -- most women come with at least one friend. I do have a few friends who scrapbook. In fact, a group of bereaved moms whom I've met through our support group and stayed friends with over the years have been meeting one night a month to scrapbook together & catch up on each other's doings. I haven't been able to convince any of them to join me at a store crop yet, though. For one thing, most of them have had subsequent children and are busy dealing with toddler playgroups and swimming lessons, if not 2 a.m. feedings still. Maybe someday...
Thursday, November 22, 2007
However, it is a festive occasion of sorts in Canada this weekend. It's Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League (also fondly known as "the Grand National Drunk"). Kind of like the Super Bowl, but usually a much more exciting game, or so we like to think. ; ) It's also a much older game -- this is the 95th Grey Cup -- and deeply rooted in Canadian sports tradition.
This year, it's being played in Toronto, the city where dh & I commute to work every day. Torontonians tend to be rather blase about the whole thing, but elsewhere in the country, & most definitely on the Prairies, where I grew up, it is a huge, huge deal. Grey Cup almost always gets the biggest ratings of the year of any event broadcast on Canadian TV (Super Bowl included). It is the one football game I will watch every year, and most especially this year, since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Having grown up in both Manitoba & Saskatchewan, it's a tough call, but since I was born in Manitoba & spent more time there overall (& my family still lives there) I will be cheering for the Bombers.
The Grey Cup is played between the champions of the east & west divisions -- the Bombers were always in the west and Manitoba is generally considered a western province, but as several CFL teams folded, they became part of the eastern division. East versus West is a classic Canadian rivalry in more things than football, which is part of the whole appeal of Grey Cup. That, and all the parties. ; ) It's been said that the Super Bowl is about corporations, but Grey Cup is about the fans, the people who actually buy the tickets (with their own money). It's gotten glitzier & more corporat-ized over the years, but it's still very much a grassroots kind of event.
I've never been to the Grey Cup, but I've been to a couple of victory parades when the Toronto Argonauts have won in recent years. My sister & her boyfriend came to Toronto in 1989, and witnessed what is considered the greatest Grey Cup game ever played (Saskatchewan over Hamilton, with a last-minute field goal). I went with them to the parade on the Saturday before the game & enjoyed myself hugely. My aunt came to Toronto in the mid-1960s for the Grey Cup when she was in her late teens or early 20s -- boarded the Grey Cup train in Winnipeg (already full of fans from points further west), rode for well over 24 hours (my mother comes by train occasionally and it takes her 30-35 hours), got off, went to the game, got back on the train, arrived back in Winnipeg & went to work again! I can dimly remember my father pointing at the TV screen & telling us to watch and see if we could see her. Several of my cousins have been to various Grey Cups over the years too.
I got offered VIP tickets to a Grey Cup party/concert tonight, featuring classic Canadian rock acts Loverboy, Trooper, April Wine & David Wilcox. Those names probably don't mean much to those of you south of the 49th, but they were huge when I was growing up. This is the sort of thing that makes me think, "I could do this while people with kids couldn't, or would at least have a harder time accepting -- no kids at daycare to pickup, no babysitters to arrange...."
Nevertheless, I turned down the offer. I had a lousy day at work, the weather is horrible (freezing rain & snow), I only had a few hours' notice, and I would still have to get up at 5 a.m. and go in to work in the morning. I knew dh would be even less enthusiastic. Besides which, I saw just about all those guys in their prime 25+ years ago. Am I getting old or what???
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Dh & I spent Sunday morning raking the leaves in our backyard (& we both have the aches & pains to show for it!). The unusually mild weather (global warming?) has kept the leaves on the trees late this year, and even though some still have some leaves, we figured it was now or never -- only a few pickup days left, and who knows how many days of nice weather.
Our house is about 23 years old, a pie-shaped lot in the corner of a "square" that's very narrow at the front and wider at the back -- a spacious, fenced back yard with a large shed in the corner and a nice-sized deck. It's one of the largest lots on the street, and probably the whole subdivision, and while it's still nowhere near the size of the backyards I grew up with (in small Prairie towns), lots this large are generally hard to come by in suburban southern Ontario, and pretty much impossible to find in any new subdivision they're building today. It was one of the things that attracted us to buy this house -- a big yard for our kids to play in, with a swingset, sandbox, maybe even a swimming pool someday.
Well, the kids never materialized, and the yard has gone largely unused in the 17 years we've lived here. I'ts not just the ghosts of the children that never arrived that keeps us from going there. For one thing, our yard faces west & the afternoon sun means it's hard to sit on the deck in the afternoon or evening, even with a patio umbrella. (Something a young, inexperienced homebuyer, looking at a house in the middle of February, wouldn't think about!) For another, neither dh or I are big outdoors people -- both of us grew up with our noses in books and (I in particular) had to be booted outside to play by my mother when I was growing up. We're not really into gardening, either. I usually manage to plant a few petunias & impatiens to add a little colour, and I do get a lot of satisfaction from seeing them grow -- I even had a little vegetable garden for a few summers, in the corner by the shed -- but I really don't have the time (or the patience) to keep up with the weeding and watering, etc. From time to time, dh will grumble about all the mowing & raking that's required and make pointed comments about condos. The yard is big enough for a pool, but it's a big expense & not something dh & I think we'd use enough. The thought of neighbourhood kids getting in somehow -- & something happening to them -- also gives me pause.
Still -- it is nice to have the extra space around us -- a buffer zone against the neighbours (although we get along fine with most of them) and the already-too-close nature of suburban living. I suppose that, if & when we ever decide to sell, it could be a selling point, especially for families with young children. The trees have gotten bigger over the years & there is some shade now, where there wasn't any awhile ago (even if it's added to the fall raking!). And whenever I am out there --as we were on Sunday, raking leaves and looking around -- I'm glad we have it. Even if it's not being used in quite the way we planned.
Monday, November 19, 2007
My (childfree by choice) younger sister & her partner come out from the city and spend a few days while we are there. My maternal grandmother was Scandinavian, so Christmas Eve was always the focal point of our celebrations. Usually we arrive at least day or two ahead, and I get to decorate the tree. They know I love it so they save the job for me. It's a real, old-fashioned tree with big coloured lightbulbs and the same ornaments that have appeared on our Christmas tree for the last 40+ years. I dig out the box with my childhood letters to Santa and laugh & cry while reading them.
We have dinner (which has evolved over the years -- lutefisk when my mother was a kid -- yuck! -- ham when I was little and now it's usually pickerel), early evening church service & then we open our presents to & from each other. Christmas Day we have stockings from Santa (we all have them! -- my mom fills them for my sister & I, & we do them for our dhs & switch off on doing mom & dad from year to year), have a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and play lots of cards.
My parents are still relatively young (66 & 68), and the good Lord willing we will have many more Christmases all together -- but I can see it becoming more difficult as they age & pass on. It was hard enough adjusting to Christmas without my grandparents there. Right now, it's all about being together & carrying on tradition -- and so long as things stay relatively the same, it's easy to coast along from year to year. But as the people who have taken part in the traditions start passing on and there get to be fewer & fewer of us who remember what it was like, with no younger generation to carry on, I can see it getting more difficult. :(
Our celebrations have not entirely lacked children over the years. The year before my dh & I were married, my parents moved, and their neighbours had a new baby girl. From the time she was in a high chair, she has come to our house for Christmas, and that helped take the heat off me & dh as newlyweds ; ) & compensate for the lack of grandchildren. She even had/has her own stocking at my parents' house! However, even she has grown up -- is now 23 (!), going to university & living with her boyfriend. She still usually makes it over for dinner sometime during the holidays, if not right on Christmas, & we all still fuss over her. ; )
Deanna & Ellen, I know what you both mean in the comments you left on my last post -- on the one hand, why shouldn't we be able to celebrate, even if there's just the two of us? On the other hand, there are times when not having kids gives you permission not to have to "go to all that trouble" when you really don't feel like it, lol.
Not that Christmas is all about presents -- but it does bother me when people say, "Oh, lets not exchange gifts among the adults this year. After all, Christmas is for the kids!" Well, fine for them -- they can cross me & dh off their list then -- but we still have to buy for their kids! And it's not just Christmas -- it's birthday parties, baby showers, first communions & confirmations and high school graduations and then weddings -- and not always for people whose kids I feel very close to, either. It's hard sometimes when you feel like you just keep shelling out & shelling out for other people's kids & get absolutely nothing in return (not even a thank you, sometimes). But perhaps that's fodder for another post...!
Friday, November 16, 2007
"Christmas is for kids."
Sorry, maybe it's the childless curmudgeon in me talking, but I refuse to believe that Christmas is just for kids, or about kids. Strictly speaking, of course, Christmas IS about "A" kid -- "THE" kid -- the Christ Child, and what his birth meant to the world. But somehow, I don't believe He came into this world just so that kids could bug their parents for mountains of toys and stuff themselves silly with candycanes and turkey. ; ) Or so that magazine publishers could sell magazines!
I love Christmas -- it is my favourite time of year. And of course, my love of Christmas dates back to my childhood, is rooted there. But those feelings didn't fade or disappear when I got older . They just changed and took on a different form. The older I got, the less the toys and Santa Claus meant to me. What I loved (still love today) was being together with my family, and re-enacting our decades-old traditions and rituals. Some things have changed over the years, of course, for various reasons -- new rituals have gradually evolved over the years -- but much stays the same.
The spirit of Christmas was embodied by my maternal grandfather. I spent every Christmas of my life with him for 37 years straight. When I was very little, we lived hundreds of miles away from my grandparents. Sometimes, my grandmother would stay home or go to be with my my mother's brother and his family -- but wherever we were, my grandfather would drive or travel by train or bus to be with us for Christmas. I remember vividly how one year, when I was no more than 4, my dad went to get him at the train station in the next town down the road. I pulled a little chair up to the window and fell asleep there, waiting for them to come.
When I called to tell my parents I was pregnant, in March 1998, the first thing my mother asked me (after she stopped screaming!) was "when?" & when I told her "mid-November," she sighed rapturously, "A baby for Christmas!"
Well, by the time Christmas 1998 rolled around, not only was there no baby, there was no Grandpa. He died October 15th of that year at age 86. It was the saddest, most melancholy Christmas I have ever experienced. A year later, my grandmother was gone too.
A year or so after that, we were all sitting down to Christmas dinner, and my father went to get the camera to take a group shot of us seated around the table, as he often had in years past. He stood there looking through the viewfinder and as we all looked back at him, a strange thing happened. He set the camera down without taking the picture, turned and went down the stairs to the basement family room. Everyone looked blankly at each other. My mother got up and followed him down the stairs, and I bowed my head & struggled to hold back the tears. I knew exactly why he had to put down that camera & hide the emotions that had hit him unexpectedly. Instead of growing, our family was actually shrinking -- so many people we loved just weren't there anymore (or, like my daughter, never made it there to begin with) -- and I knew instinctively that he had realized that as he looked through the lens of that camera.
After a few minutes, he came upstairs & took the picture. I love looking at pictures, but this one gives me pain to see. None of us are smiling in it.
My mother is guilty of the "Christmas is for kids" & "kids are what make Christmas special" mindset (and it sometimes sets my teeth on edge). I will often hear her, at Christmastime, telling her friends that "we don't have any little kids at our house for Christmas." (Thanks, Mom.)(My sister is childless by choice, and she and I, at ages 45 & almost 47, are still "the kids" at our house.) She (my mom) loves it when my aunt invites us to her family Christmas shindig the Saturday before Christmas, where we get to watch her grandkids, saucer-eyed in the presence of Santa (yes, Santa) as he arrives at the door bearing gifts. (They lose most of their shyness very quickly as soon as they get handed their presents.)
Yes, it's fun to watch; yes, it's an element that our family Christmases lack these days. Is it better than our own family Christmases have evolved to become? I don't know. It's just different. Most certainly, our Christmases would be very, very different these days if our daughter were here -- but when all is said & done, it's still Christmas, it's still magical, and I still love and appreciate it.
I'm rambling here, but the point I want to make is that while children may add a certain element of fun to Christmas celebrations, it's not just "for kids." If it's about kids at all, it's about the child that lives within each of us. The magic & wonder & generosity of the season is something for ALL of us to enjoy and to share with each other.
We started attending the group as clients about six weeks after we lost Katie... and we've never left. ; ) We started training as facilitators after the one-year "anniversary" mark had passed, and we're still there. It's become such a big part of our lives. It's a great feeling to be able to give something back to an organization that helped us so much... but it's also nice to feel that there's still a place I can go where I can say my daughter's name & talk about what happened to us and not have people look uncomfortably away -- although our role is now more to listen than to talk about our own experiences. Sometimes, late into a long week of work, it's a pain to haul ourselves out on a Thursday night (dh especially can grumble)... but we almost always come away invigorated & feeling that we did some good by being there.
A support group may not be for everyone -- some clients love it, some come once & we never see them again, and some never show up at all -- but I would highly recommend at least giving it a try. Even in 1998, I was able to find support online, and I was quickly hooked on my daily fix ; ) but there was nothing like meeting up with other bereaved parents in "real life." Even though the circumstances of our losses might be very different, we quickly come to realize that we are all hurting in the same ways. We like to joke about it and say it's the club that nobody wants to join. There is such a bond that is formed through listening to each other's stories, comparing notes, venting about the people who have hurt or annoyed us ; ) and offering each other our support. We have made some really good friends through the group, and the bond remains even with those people we only see now once or twice a year at the memorial events the group sponsors (a Christmastime candlelighting service, a summer picnic & butterfly release, a fall Walk to Remember).
Many, many of our clients have gone on to have successful subsequent pregnancies or adopt. Although many of them also have wrestled with infertility (surprise!), dh & I are among the few we know of who have opted to remain a family of two. Sometimes we talk about whether it's time to throw in the towel. We're getting older, and some of our clients are getting to be VERY young! And I wonder whether they'd rather hear from a facilitator whose loss was more recent, who went on to have subsequent children -- as an example of hope. We mentioned this once to someone, & she pointed out that, "Yes, but they see you there, and it's nine years later and you're still standing, even after everything you've been through. That's a great example for them too." I'd like to think so! We've decided we'll go until the 10-year mark, next fall, and then see how we feel.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Does anyone else in the world remember that, nine years ago, we were supposed to have a baby right about now?
Of course, one of my colleagues on parental leave picked today to bring the 22-month-old girl she & her dh have adopted to the office to show off. I know she has had her own problems building the family she has wanted, and the child is absolutely adorable... but why today?? And a dad also on parental leave came in for awhile (sans infant, thankfully), but of course, full of news about his own bundle of joy. ARGH...
Eight years ago, I would have fled to the bathroom in tears. I haven't cried (yet?)... but I have been very, very tired all day. I think next year (the big 10) is going to be a toughie. : (
Happy birthday, dear Katie. Mommy & Daddy love you.
Monday, November 12, 2007
My great-grandmother was 47 when her last child was born in 1923 -- my one remaining great-aunt, my grandmother's baby sister, who is now 84. Great-Grandma was and likely still is the oldest person ever to give birth in the hospital in that little town. (I'm not even sure they do deliveries there these days -- and certainly not high-risk pregnancies of older women, which is what it would be considered these days.) I used to joke hopefully and say that I had time on my side, maybe I had inherited Great-Grandma's genes. Great-Grandma, though, had a much better track record than me (five other children previously). No fertility drugs around back in 1923!! And to be honest, I wouldn't want to be pregnant now at my age. Even if I was guaranteed a healthy baby -- 3 a.m. feedings & diaper changes, chasing after a toddler when I'm 50 and dealing with a teenager in my 60s -- yikes!!
To put things in another perspective -- I'm the same age right now as my grandmother was when I was born. And I'm older now than my mother was when I got married (I was 24, she was 44). Both my sister & I were out of the house and off to university before she turned 40. That too gives me pause.
I think I started feeling old(er) right around the same time I got pregnant, when I was 37. That was when we had the first of a string of interns join us in the office for a year-long stint. Most of the interns were in their early 20s and fresh out of college, eager to get a foot in the door & some experience on their resume. To paraphrase the Matthew McConaghey character in "Dazed & Confused," I kept getting older, the interns all stayed around 22 or 24, or so it seemed.
I remember telling one of these interns, who joined us at the turn of the millennium, about how when I first joined the department (at age 25 myself), one of my colleagues had been an elite swimmer. Just before my arrival, he had brought Victor Davis, a gold medallist at the 1984 Olympics and one of Canada's all-time great swimmers (not to mention an extremely good looking guy), to one of the staff parties. (Months later, the girls were still drooling as they told me about it.) I told this to our new intern, and she looked at me blankly and said, "Who is Victor Davis?" I couldn't believe she didn't know who Victor Davis was. Then I realized that 1984 had been a good 16 years earlier and she was probably barely in grade school at the time.
I've worked in the same place for 21 years now, and these moments have gotten more and more frequent. Gradually, the under-30 set has come to dominate. They all cluster together, chatting & giggling, talking about their condos & the best place to buy shoes, and the bars they visited the night before, and go out drinking together after work. I like them, and I think they like me, but there is a generational gap there, for sure.
(Dh had his own moment several years back, when the Eagles first reunited for their "Hell Freezes Over" tour. When the tour came to town, several of his colleagues at work were going and asked if he had tickets. "No," he said, "but I saw them on their Hotel California tour in 1978." Whereupon one of the 20-somethings in his office looked at him, open-mouthed, and gasped, "How old ARE you??" lol)
A couple of weeks back, we had cake to celebrate one girl's birthday. She was turning 28. Her mother is one year older than me (!!). As we ate, the young girls all giggled and talked about the pressure they're under from their parents to start producing grandchildren (even though few of them have boyfriends), and all of their friends and cousins who are having babies right now. I winced as they chattered & giggled away (they think they're under pressure NOW??). I'm sure none of them know my history -- there are perhaps half a dozen people left in the office who were around at the time I lost my daughter and might remember what happened. If these younger officemates think about it at all, they probably assume I don't have children because I don't want them. They've never asked, and I don't tell.
I think I started feeling the generation gap at work even more keenly this past year. Last December (2006), my co-worker took early retirement at age 59, after 16 years of working together. This woman (also childless) was my best friend at the office, my coffee break companion & confidante. She was there for me in the dark days after the stillbirth of my daughter and through the years of infertility treatment that followed, and to say that I've missed her this past year is an understatement. Meanwhile, she is enjoying her well-deserved retirement hugely, keeping active with all sort of classes and projects and outings. I think I'm jealous!
I feel like my life is in a sort of in-between phase right now. I don't have kids, so I find it difficult to relate when I'm with friends & family members who talk non-stop about kid-related stuff. I enjoy my work, to a point, but I work to live, I've never lived to work, and it's been a tough year for many reasons (her absence being one of them). People in the infertile community sometimes ask me what there is in life to look forward to, if I don't have kids, and my answer is immediate: "Retirement!!" (lol) (And hopefully an early one!)
For now, I know we have to keep working, if only to ensure we save enough for a comfortable retirement -- no kids around to "take care" of us, so we'd better make sure we can do it ourselves. But work interferes so much with all the other things I'd like to be doing with my time. I just wish I could skip over the next 10-15 years or so and get to the good stuff right away. ; )
Saturday, November 10, 2007
As I wrote previously, we had agreed (in consultation with an infertility counsellor at the outset of our foray into treatment) that we would try three IUI cycles using injectables. In dh's mind, that would be it. In my mind, we would re-evaluate and perhaps move on to IVF. (But of course, it was going to work!!)
Cycle #3 came & went and no BFP. Devastating. This was in early June 2001. I was 40 years old. What now??
About two weeks later, I was having lunch with a girlfriend at a restaurant in the office tower where both dh & I work. I was treating her for her birthday. Before I met her for lunch, I had taken off my bra & stuffed it into my purse, as it was feeling unusually tight. As we talked, I was finding it harder & harder to focus on the conversation. We were in a booth & I was sitting with my back flat against the upholstery. I had a strange tingling feeling in my arm & shoulder. The waiter came with the bill and I tried to reach for it. I couldn't move my arm. My girlfriend noticed something was wrong & asked me if I was OK. "I don't know," I said. I managed to pay the bill and we left the restaurant & sat on a nearby bench. I was breathing heavily. I wondered whether I was experiencing some side effects from the huge amounts of drugs I had been taking for my cycle.
She gave me her cellphone & I called my RE's office. Nope, they said breezily, I shouldn't be having problems two weeks after the end of my cycle. But if it continued to bother me, I should see my family doctor. Gee, thanks.
So I called dh. He was downstairs in about two minutes flat. My girlfriend hailed us a taxi and he gave them the address of our family dr of 16 years. Not sure why we didn't go to emergency at the local hospital, but I'm glad in retrospect we went to the dr. I was breathing heavily all the way in the taxi. Dh squeezed my hand reassuringly, but I honestly thought I was having a heart attack -- maybe even dying.
Walked into the dr's office. It was empty (thank God) except for the receptionist and nurse (the dr's wife). I said, "I'm sorry, I don't have an appointment, but I'm not feeling very well," and burst into huge wracking sobs. They had me laying on a table with a blood pressure cuff on my arm in about 30 seconds flat. The dr came in, took one look at me and said, "You're having an anxiety attack." The receptionist handed me a pill (from her own Ativan prescription, it turned out!!) & that helped me to start calming down. They took an EKG & continued to monitor my bp while I talked about all the stress I'd been under, at work and with treatments, and the failure of our final cycle.
"Well, no wonder," my dr said. "You've just had a major life disappointment." Dh told him about some of the drugs I had been taking & he shook his head and said, "That's pretty powerful stuff." He wrote me a prescription for Ativan & told me to take it when I felt I needed it.
The next few days I had to take the Ativan several times. I would be feeling fine & then I would get this tingling feeling running up my arm & scalp, and start to panic again. I didn't like how the Ativan made me feel, but I liked the anxiety attacks even less. Was this how my life was going to be from now on??
I wanted to talk to the infertility counsellor again, & dh agreed to come again with me. She listened sympathetically as we brought her up to date on our story.
Dh said this was the end of the road as far as he was concerned -- he wanted a baby, but not at the expense of my physical & mental health.
I told her I felt like we should try IVF -- because it was there -- but I was terrified. If this was how I reacted to the failure of an IUI, what would an IVF do to me, with its much greater stresses (not to mention higher drug dosages)?
She recommended I read one of Alice Domar's books, and that I try yoga to help me relax. She asked us how we felt about donor egg or surrogacy. Too far out on the fringe, we felt (although it has become much more common as an option since then). Adoption? We had discussed adoption, but neither of us was able to muster up much enthusiasm for it -- and I felt that going into it half-heartedly would not be fair to the child. Perhaps if we had been 35 instead of already in our 40s, we might have felt differently. I know several couples who have adopted, and knew it wasn't just a matter of deciding to adopt and having a baby fall into our laps. I knew adoption might take another few years and perhaps more heartbreak along the way, and we were already in our 40s. (I imagined pregnant teenagers scrutinizing our profile and, seeing that we were about the same age as their parents (!!), choosing younger, more hip couples to parent their babies.) It would mean getting off one rollercoaster and getting onto another. I was tired of riding rollercoasters. But we'd been doing it for so long now -- the thought of actually getting off & walking away was a scary, scary thought. Still, I knew that dh & I could have a good life together, just the two of us -- because we'd already been doing it for the past 16 years.
Then the counsellor made a really great suggestion. "Why don't you take the summer off?" she said. "Take a vacation. Focus on your relationship as a couple. Find some fun things to do together. Set up a regular night to go on a real date, like you used to, and take turns deciding what you do for the evening. Put away the thermometer and try to avoid anything to do with infertility. And at the end of the summer, take another look at the situation and make a decision."
And that's what we did. We tried the date night thing (didn't last too long, but it was fun while it did). We went on vacation with my family to the Oregon coast, where we took long walks on the beach. I couldn't stay away from the world of infertility entirely, but I started visiting childless living boards and sites and doing some reading. By the end of the summer, I knew that, much as I wanted a baby, I couldn't go back to infertility treatment.
We were done.
It's not like we decided that we were done & everything immediately fell into place. It's been an ongoing journey. It was probably a couple of years before I could say I really felt we had done the right thing. It's been six years now, and time truly is a great healer. I like to say that our lives are not necessarily any better or worse than parents' -- just different. I do NOT miss infertility treatment at all!!
But there are still days when something will happen to remind me about our stillborn daughter -- about the life that might have been, the road not taken -- and man, it can still hurt. :(
Friday, November 9, 2007
My story (Reader's Digest version): my parents were 20 & 21 years old when I was born. Although I was never told in so many words (and although I knew they wanted grandchildren… someday…!), I knew the early years of their marriage were tough, especially financially, and that they hoped that my life would be different. With their encouragement, I went to university, where I met my husband, and both of us went on to graduate school. When we got married in 1985, at ages 24 and 28, we knew we wanted children -- someday. We were fresh out of university, starting entry-level jobs that didn't pay very much, with student loans to pay off, and a bare apartment in an "adults only" building to furnish. I felt a responsibility to make use of the expensive education my parents had paid for, and find a decent paying job in my field. I was far away from my own family, and my mother in law was dead, so I knew I would have little in the way of practical and emotional support in taking care of an infant.
And so we postponed starting a family, until we became better established, financially and careerwise. We felt it was the responsible thing to do. In a heated real estate market, it was five years before we were able to afford a house -- and then there were those mortgage payments to think about (then at 11.75% and, unlike in the States, the interest is not tax-deductible)… The years passed by quickly, and at age 34, after 10 years of marriage, we decided the moment had finally arrived. Naively, I did not anticipate any problems getting pregnant. There were lots and lots of women getting pregnant for the first time in their 30s now. Everyone I had ever heard of who had infertility problems either had irregular periods or, as I had read in the women's magazines, sexually transmitted diseases -- neither of which applied to me.
We tried for 2.5 years. My family doctor would ask me, "Still trying to get pregnant?" and then add encouragingly, "Don't worry, it will happen." Finally, it did: in March 1998, just turned 37, I discovered I was pregnant. I was shocked, and our families were delirious with joy. Sadly, it was a complicated pregnancy, and our daughter was stillborn in August 1998 when I was six months along. Despite our grief and shock, we picked up the pieces and started trying again almost immediately -- this time, with the clock ticking ominously in the background, in a flurry of basal thermometers, daily charting & inspection of bodily fluids, doses of cough syrup to promote mucus production (!!), and a small fortune spent on ovulation predictor sticks. After another year had gone by, with my 39th birthday fast approaching, I finally sought help from the kind and well-respected ob-gyn who had cared for me during my pregnancy and its aftermath.
I feel fortunate that, as a Canadian with "universal" health care, I have never had to pay or worry about coverage for visits to my family dr and ob-gyn, nor for any of the basic infertility testing that my ob-gyn did for us. This included, over the space of several months, a post-coital examination, endometrial biopsy (ouch!) and HSG (dye through the tubes). We heard that waiting lists for local infertility clinics were months long (and at 39, I didn't feel I had much more time to waste), but my ob-gyn was able to refer us to a young RE who was just setting up his practice. We did several cycles with clomid & TI, then made the decision to try three cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI), using injectable drugs, then re-evaluate. I did not have to pay for cycle monitoring or bloodwork, and (strangely enough) the IUI was covered by our provincial health plan -- although we had to pay ($350, I think) for the sperm washing procedure (!). As for the drugs, none of these are covered by our provincial healthcare plan. I investigated with my supplemental workplace medical & drug plan, and was told there was a $1,500 lifetime maximum on most infertility drugs. The Clomid was cheap, about $65 a cycle, but once we started with injectables, I think I blew through that $1,500 of coverage in less than a week. Each cycle got progressively more expensive as my RE increased the drug dosage. I think the first cycle cost about $2,300 and the third almost $3,000, including drugs & sperm washing.
So within a little more than a year, we had blown through $10,000, and we hadn't even tried IVF. By the time we had finished our three IUI cycles, I was 40 years old, and a physical & emotional wreck, worried about the physical impact the drugs were having on my health and popping Ativan for anxiety attacks. I knew the stresses of IVF, should we decide to attempt it, would be much, much greater. As for the financial stresses, we knew that what we had just spent in a little more than one year would (maybe) cover one cycle of IVF. Ontario, where I live, is the only province, in Canada that provides any IVF coverage at all – and only in cases where both fallopian tubes are blocked (i.e., we did not qualify). Doing IVF would mean dipping into (& perhaps depleting) the savings that we had worked so long and hard to build, and/or piling on debt, at a point when we were just starting to work our way free from it (with the prospect of retirement looming on the not-too-very distant horizon, especially for my dh). We looked at our chances of success -- the statistical success rates for women my age were not good – and that wasn't factoring in my husband's low sperm count, my wonky hormones or my bicornuate uterus. Even in the unlikely event that I was able to get pregnant AND carry a healthy baby to term, we'd have all the costs associated with bringing up and educating a child on top of what we had spent to get pregnant in the first place.
Taking all of these factors into account – physical, emotional, practical and financial -- we reluctantly made the painful decision not to continue treatment and remain childless. Had we been younger -- had IVF been covered, fully or partially -- we may have made a different decision. We might have decided to go directly to IVF and skip the IUIs in the first place, since it afforded us the best chance of success, albeit at a much higher cost.
I suppose some people might say it is our fault for waiting as long as we did to start a family. I do not regret waiting; we did what we felt was right for us & for our future family at that time. Hardly anyone ever starts out trying to conceive, thinking they will have problems -- it's always the other guy, isn't it? I do regret not seeking help earlier than we did and not pressing the point with my family doctor. Perhaps that would have given us more time to explore more options. And I regret that money had to be a factor in making our decisions related to treatment and how long to continue. In some ways, we were fortunate that we could even consider financing IVF on our own -- there are many, many people out there for whom that would not be an option. The cost is just too prohibitive.
Perhaps we thought too long & hard about the responsibility of parenthood. Yet there is plenty of assistance available from the public purse for parents who wind up pregnant easily with little or no thought given to the matter. Our governments pay lip service to “family values” and fret about plunging birth rates, yet do very little to help couples who would love to help remedy the situation!
Towards the end of the recent Ontario provincial election, Premier Dalton McGuinty promised that, if re-elected (which he was), his party would create an expert panel on fertility, and hinted at the possibility of providing financial assistance to couples trying to expand their families. It is too late for my husband & I (now almost 47 and 50), but for the sake of the many other couples in this province who are struggling with infertility, I hope this is not an election promise that winds up forgotten or broken.
(OK, maybe this wasn't the Reader's Digest version after all...!)
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
These days, motherhood is Hollywood's hottest accoutrement: look at Katie Holmes, Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie. When an actress hits her thirties without children, it somehow becomes a public obsession, a la Jennifer Aniston. Why are we so fixated on the reproductive lives of our celebrities -- or, rather, our female celebrities?
"Oh God, the definition of 'feminine' without children definitely needs to be explored. What is that? As soon as you don't have a child, there are certain stereotypes, whether it's spinster or lesbian, that always fall on you," says Oh. "I have to constantly clear that noise: 'That's not me, that's not me.' I don't necessarily know what is me, but I know what's not. That's the challenge of every artist, maybe every human being. Who are you? What are people putting on you? You've got to peel it away." ...
"I would be very willing to explore that idea of women without children within the context of our show. I mean, what I hope our show continues to explore is feminine power. I really think that's why people love it so much."
The other item I enjoyed was a column by Katrina Onstad (who also did the interview with Sandra Oh) -- this month about egg freezing and titled Great Egg-spectations. A couple of choice quotes:
"Generally, I'm in favour of measures that increase women's reproductive options, but all these uncooked eggs make me queasy."
"For more than 30 years, men have donated sperm, and nobody blinked. But this is motherhood, always publicly debated and held up for judgment, in all shapes, in all forms. Some things, at least, never change."
- This is one of those days when I'm grateful that I don't children. I can wallow in my own misery, take a nap & pretty well do what I please, without having to worry about taking care of anyone else.
- Daytime television is a wasteland. I've spent most of the day on the computer, and am counting the minutes until "Oprah" is on -- & praying she has a good guest.
- Daytime television is full of pregnant women, babies & mommy talk, and it's very difficult to escape it. For example: on days when I'm home from work, I like to watch NBC's Today show. Yesterday morning, one of the regulars announced her pregnancy on air. I had to flip the channel. This morning, they had a maternity wear fashion show, with sultry models sporting baby bumps. Click! I need something to help me feel BETTER, not worse!!
- This may partly be a function of the weather, but nobody seems to be at home during the day anymore.
- Looking out the window & seeing the teenagers from the local Catholic high school meandering along in their hiked up kilts & blouses unbuttoned down to eye-popping depths is another of those moments when I'm glad I don't have kids (those adorable babies eventually turn into teenagers!!). Eeeekk!!
I will add these thoughts from my original draft:
When I first heard about the baby who had disappeared from a hospital in Sudbury this past week, I started praying. Not only for the baby's safe return to its parents, but also: "Please, please, don't let it be a bereaved or infertile woman." Call it a hunch. And I was right. :(
Initially, I felt sorry for myself, and the other bereaved parents/infertile couples that I know. There is so much stigma attached to grief & infertility as it is. People go out of their way to avoid us as it is (if only because they simply don't know what to say to us). The last thing on earth bereaved parents need is having people think that we're so unhinged by our grief that we're out to steal their babies. (The Globe article emphasized that baby abductions are a very, very rare occurrence.)
I most certainly cannot condone or excuse abducting babies from hospitals -- how many hundreds of women lose pregnancies every single day who would never dream of doing something like that? -- but at the same time, I can't help but feel at least a little sorry for the abductor. As a bereaved parent myself, I know how the loss of a baby can sometimes leave you teetering on the bridge of sanity. And not only did she lose a baby, the Globe & Mail also reported that she looked after her father until he died of cancer last year, and that she was diagnosed with cancer herself after his death. Dh & I had the benefit of attending a support group (as well as the Internet ) -- I can't imagine there are a lot of support groups for bereaved parents or cancer patients or caregivers in Kirkland Lake. And Lord knows, a woman is nothing without a baby in her arms or in her belly -- at least, that's what the popular culture right now is telling us, isn't it?
I imagine there is more to this story than is known or can be told right now. I'll be following the case with interest.
Monday, November 5, 2007
So I couldn't resist snatching up Pattie Boyd's new book "Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me" a few weeks back. Pattie, for those of you not familiar with her, was a top British model during the Swinging 60s who met George during the filming of "A Hard Day's Night." (She plays one of the schoolgirls who are thrilled to find the Beatles aboard their train to London.) George wrote the beautiful ballad "Something" about her. George's best friend, Eric Clapton, also fell for Pattie & wooed her with the passionate song "Layla." In the end, Pattie left George for Eric.
My love for all things Beatle (& my weakness for celebrity memoirs!) aside, Pattie's story intrigued me for another reason -- because I had heard that she left Clapton when she learned that another woman was pregnant with his child, after years of trying to have a baby herself. (Sadly, the child was the little boy, Conor, who died after tumbling out of the window of a 53rd-floor apartment in New York. Clapton wrote "Tears in Heaven" about him.)
"I had been trying to have a baby for twenty-one years, and this woman had slept with my husband once or twice and was carrying his child," she writes on page 246. "I thought my heart was about to disintegrate."
On the next page, she writes of hearing about the baby's birth while staying with friends in France -- two of whom were pregnant at the time. "Everyone seemed to be pregnant except me. I was thrilled for them of course, but I found it hard. I was forty-two and my marriage was on its last legs, so I had to face the unpalatable fact that I might never have a child." Later, on page 255, she writes, "I met friends for lunch and felt as though i was in a bubble, watching us eating and chatting: I had nothing in common with their world of husbands and children."
What infertile woman could not relate??
Pattie does not mention any of the many miscarriages she is rumoured to have had, and her struggles with infertility are only a small part of the book -- yet I found myself marking those few pages & going back to them over & over again. Infertility is so seldom written about, particularly as part of a person's broader life story, so it's nice to see someone being frank & open about such as sensitive topic and the impact that infertility has had on their life.
On page 166, she writes "Cooking was my thing. Having given up modeling full-time, and with no children, I needed to find some role for myself, some raison d'etre. Preparing wonderful meals for George and all the people who came to Friar Park became a passion." She later writes of the emptiness she felt when she realized her marriage was over & her chances of having children had run out. Eventually, she finds a new passion behind the lens as a photographer.
Finding a role or "raison d'etre" in life is something that all women struggle with, I think, and infertile women in particular. If I'm not going to be a mommy, then who am I and what am I going to do with our life?
Running into an old acquaintance near the end of the book, Pattie introduces herself, saying, "I used to be Pattie Boyd," and the friend responds, "You still are!" It is so easy to become defined by labels -- "George's wife" -- "Katie's mommy" -- "Senior Manager of Widget Production" -- and lose touch with the essence of who we are. For many women, the role of mother is all-consuming -- but once the children are grown up and have left home or carved out their independence, they find themselves struggling with questions of who they are and what they want to do with their lives now. Those of us who thought we were going to be mothers but never did just have to answer those same questions at an earlier stage in our lives.
Personally, I am still fumbling my way toward the answers -- but I've always believed -- had to believe -- that a meaningful life without children is possible -- and that my life has value, regardless of whether I can procreate.
Clapton has written his own autobiography, which I also just purchased, but haven't read yet. It will be interesting to see how his version of events stacks up against hers.
Friday, November 2, 2007
I understand the power of words and desire to put a positive spin on things. Perhaps childLESS does sound a little pathetic or forlorn (and if there's one thing I hate, it's being the object of pity). I may be "less" or lacking a child, but I don't believe that means my life is any less interesting or valuable or valid than a parent's. It's just different.
But to me, childFREE isn't quite right either, because it implies that we are happy to be "free" of children, as though we consider them a burden, when nothing could be further from the truth. It does not reflect the battle we went through to try to have a very much wanted child, or our struggle in trying to decide when enough was enough and when we should stop treatment, or the struggle we've had to find new meaning in our life since then. If I am FREE of anything, it is the burden of infertility treatment!!
The term childFREE is also widely used by people who do not want to have children, & I think it creates a lot of confusion in the eyes of the fertile community. Some childfree by choice sites can be extremely anti-child. Nevertheless, I do enjoy visiting some of them. We have a lot in common, in the way we are viewed by society & the situations we find ourselves in (including having to explain and sometimes defend ourselves) -- and the women (& men) on these sites are extremely clear about the advantages of not having children. Sometimes, that's a message we need to hear!
One of the best such sites/blogs I've found is Purple Women -- lots of thoughtful, reasoned commentary on living without children (albeit by choice) in a world geared to parents & kids. I'm not sure I can call myself a "Purple Woman" by their definition. Lavender, perhaps?? Anyway, my solution, until something better comes along, is usually to use the term "childless/(slash) free" in my writing.
And of course, I am actually not childless/free at all. I am a mother -- Katie's mother -- but that's another post for another day...
But when I think of "the cruellest month," for me, it has to be November. November was always my second-least-favourite month -- cold and grey and dead -- redeemed somewhat by the Remembrance Day bank holiday and the promise of Christmas to look forward to -- although tempered by the mad year-end rush at my workplace (fiscal year end October 31st, year end results released late November/early December, followed by annual report, annual meeting in March, etc. -- all of which involve me.).
Back in 1998, I had something to look forward to in November. I was 37 years old, married 13 years and, after some 2.5 years of trying to conceive, finally pregnant! & due November 14th (later revised to November 20th, & then 25th). I fantasized about being able to watch the Toronto Santa Claus Parade from the window of my hospital room with my baby in my arms. But when November finally came around, there was no baby. Our daughter, Katie, was stillborn in August when I was 26 weeks along. I went back to work in October (even though I could have stayed off until December -- long story) and so, instead of enjoying the first few days of motherhood & maternity leave (thus escaping the year-end hell at the office), I found myself back at my desk, trying to focus on my work instead of what had just happened to me, & resenting every minute of it.
Now, nine years later, I still feel twinges of sadness instead of joy when the Santa Claus Parade is on TV -- and as I run around at work & try to squeeze in some Christmas planning, I keep thinking that I should be planning a little girl's birthday party too. Life is unfair. :( And November is a month that I am glad to see go by quickly.