Fertility Privilege, Part 2

Ok, here’s where the academics come in. Most folks have heard something about the dynamics of power and privilege, but not everyone, so please forgive the review if you’re ahead. Here is a quick and dirty outline of privilege and what it does/fails to do:

Privilege is any societal advantage you hold because your skin color, your gender, your sexual identity, your able-bodiedness, your age, your class, your education, your language, or your religion are accepted and prioritized by dominant culture. Privilege means that there are benefits you enjoy – whether consciously or unconsciously, and that part’s really important – because of something about you that society values more than something else. Frequently these are things you were born with, or into. People get very upset when it is pointed out to them that something that is not their “fault” carries implicit potential to harm and dehumanize others. This is usually the place that most folks shut down and say, “I didn’t own slaves, so I don’t know why Black people are so angry at ME”, or “Hey, things are hard for me too!” or “Some of my best friends are (fill in the disenfranchised identity blank).” It is uncomfortable to confront the ways in which we unintentionally contribute to suffering. I don’t like it; you don’t like it. I’d say tough titties, but titties are kind of a privilege battleground with so many different possible interpretations that it’s probably best to leave them out of it for now.

Here are some examples of privileges I inhabit.

  • I am white – dominant culture values white people above people of color. Yes, I know that we have a Black president. We also have the Tea Party, which arose in terrified and enraged response to a Black president. You do the math. I promise, racism still exists in America.
  • I am educated – yes, it’s true that I fought and clawed and persevered my way to that degree, but it’s something about me that makes available to me many things that are unavailable to others.
  • I am middle-class – again, haven’t always been, mostly been dirt-ass poor my whole life, but here I am with a three bedroom rented house and a steady job with health care, frantically banging away on my touch-screen laptop while the central heating takes the edge off the winter chill. That’s about as middle-class as it gets.
  •  I am straight, or (more accurately and, in the eyes of society, more importantly) in a heterosexual partnership that is recognized by the state we live in. Can you fucking imagine what it would feel like if your partnership – your love, who takes out the garbage and does the taxes and holds you when you’re broken and laughs with you when you’re joyful, and all the mundane and exquisitely miraculous things we do for and with each other when we make a promise – were condemned by the government? Just sit with that for a moment. No, seriously. Just sit with it.
  • I am cisgender – this means that my assigned sex reflects the gender I perceive myself to be. I have girl parts, I feel like a girl. No one questions what bathroom I should use, no one reacts with ignorant fear and disgust when I walk down the street dressed like I feel like I should be dressed. I bet you take that for granted.

There are more, many more, I’m sure. Unexamined privilege is just that – we don’t know it’s there. I am stating my privileges first off here to show you how easy it is to not notice that you occupy privilege. I embody all sorts of ways in which patriarchy, racism, capitalism and hegemony inflict harm upon those it deems valueless. We all do.

So, that’s privilege. Now let’s talk about fertility privilege.

Maybe it wants another name, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I made it up, considering that when I googled “fertility privilege” mostly what I got was welcome letters from fertility doctors saying what a privilege it is to serve their clientele. Breeder privilege? I-can-get-knocked-up-and-carry-a-baby-to-term-and-successfully-push-it-out-of-my-vagina privilege? Or possibly I-can-knock-up-others-so-that-they-carry-and-successfully-deliever privilege? Or how about My-relationship-and-physical-appearance-is-sanctioned-by-society-and-therefore-no-one-looks-at-me-funny-when-I-say-I-want-a-baby privilege? I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

I can only tell you what it feels like to not have it.

Multiple times over the course of my week I find myself in a room full of people who have given birth or sired children. I am often the only childless person, and since people talk about their children constantly and with the easy, flippant cadences of “Oh, you know how it goes!”, I frequently feel ostracized and alienated.

Many times a day I am confronted by a constant stream of information – from social media to commercials to the fucking baby food samples they’re STILL sending me from Similac – representing pregnancy, childbirth and parenting as the norm. It’s so normal people don’t think about it. Unless they can’t do it. And not just the norm, the standard. The end-all-be-all of hope and joy and love and meaning and value. Watch some commercials with this thought in mind, and think about what it might feel like to be on the outside looking in. Think heteronormativity: media, language, public signs, greeting cards, literature, music, just about every bit of cultural production that isn’t specifically geared toward an LGBTQI population just assumes a basic normative state of heterosexuality. That leaves anyone who falls outside of a cisgender male/female partnering feeling utterly invisible and invalid. I’ll have to come up with a new word – fertilinormativity! – to describe what it’s like to be totally unrepresented by the daily expressions of the vast majority of society because I am not able to make a baby.

If I try to talk about the differences between my body and those of people who can reproduce, my experience is often patronized and minimized, even by thoroughly well-meaning people. I am told that someday, I might just be normal. If I just have hope. It’s like telling someone with cerebral palsy that they should just buck up and one day they’ll shake it off. Or that really there’s nothing different about me, I’m just like everyone else, which is essentially telling me that the thing that makes me different is so aberrant and intolerable that you can’t even allow yourself to see it. Or that I am lucky that I don’t have to put up with all the terrible things that parenthood entails, which sounds exactly like a millionaire telling a homeless person how tough it is to have to think about all your money all the time.

At least once a week someone – a client, a grocery clerk, the mani/pedi lady – asks me why I don’t have children with this sort of mix of disgust, concern and sorrow, as if it is some kind of abhorrent and neglectful oversight on my part. Like I have chosen this, and choosing this is a rejection of everything good and wholesome and right.

If I get angry about all of this alienation and isolation and ostracizing, I am often greeted by otherwise compassionate people who lament about how uncomfortable it is for them to be fertile in the face of all my infertility, as though I am committing some kind of unforgivable social faux pas by relentlessly NOT being able to have a baby. There is sort of only so much anger people are willing to take before it becomes too sad for them. The freedom to disengage from the anger of infertility because it’s uncomfortable is a privilege that infertile people don’t have.

Facebook. Fucking, fucking Facebook. A 24hour stream of how totally different and defective you are. The worst, of course, are the pregnancy posts. Yes, you can block people, and I have and will continue to do so. Blessed, blessed blocking. But you have to be careful or else you will end up blocking nearly everyone you know, because nearly everyone you know is able to have children. And you are not. And because fertility is the norm of the dominant culture, I am expected to refrain from being angry or upset or slowly driven mad by the utter ubiquity of it all throughout the very fabric of my social interactions, or at least from describing that upset in an overt way. And yes, people should get to celebrate their pregnancies on their Facebook pages, which are their free-speech podiums and they can represent themselves however they want. But if you had even a few friends on Facebook who were severely disabled by missing limbs, you might think twice before you posted daily pics of your arms and how awesome and full of love and mystery and delight they are. You might think twice if someone important to you had recently lost a spouse and you really wanted to post all your wedding pictures. For some reason, this never occurs to people when it comes to infertility. Because fertility is an unexamined privilege.

What should we do with unexamined privilege? We should examine it, to start with. We should take a look at what we’re putting out in the world and think about microaggressions – those small, unconscious acts of verbal violence that we deal out without meaning to that make other people feel invisible, invalid, inhuman. We should not examine it and then say, “I have examined my privilege! Now stop being all disenfranchised at me! It’s making me uncomfortable!” We should continue to approach people with humility and empathy and the firm understanding that we do NOT know what their experience is, just because we once had a brief moment of the same experience or we know someone who did.

Do some word-swaps with me:

“I totally know how you feel as an infertile person, because before we had our 3rd we tried for two whole months and it was really, really stressful.” = “I totally know how you feel as a person of color, because once I went to Oakland and I was the only white person and it was really, really stressful.”

“You should be happy you don’t have children – it’s a lot of work!” = “You should be happy you’re in a wheelchair – stairs totally suck anyway!”

“I shouldn’t have to feel bad about my fertility, because it isn’t my fault you’re infertile and I should be able to express myself however I want.” = “I shouldn’t have to feel bad about my whiteness, because I didn’t invent slavery and I should be able to express myself however I want.”

“Some of my best friends are infertile!” = “Some of my best friends are gay!”

I know that most people in my life would never, ever, ever in a million years say anything like these swaps. Most people in my life are kind, compassionate, empathetic and progressive people who have spent a lot of time considering their privilege when it comes to race, class, orientation, gender and ability. For some reason though, fertility privilege seems to slip through the cracks. And all over my head.

I also know that comparing infertility to race, class, orientation, gender and ableness is going to ruffle a lot of feathers. It’s because of that fact that it’s taken me almost three years to claw my way out of the silence and alienation and finally put a name on all of this. Because I don’t like to get people mad at me.

But I have a breathing button, and I’m prepared to use it.

Namaste.

Fertility Privilege, Part 1

Hello, blogpeople. I am shortly going to lay down some heavy shit right here. It will entail a certain amount of academic nerdliness, through which I humbly entreat you to bear with me. I have a point, I promise. It will be in a subsequent post because it takes a long time to get there.

First, an update. If memory serves, I had fallen back into a world of hurt and awful the last time I wrote. That giant swirling miasma of hurt and awful got very big and unbearable, and I was briefly an asshole. I found myself being helplessly eaten alive by everything I thought I’d dealt with, all the grief and the flashbacks and the rage and the hopelessness and the helplessness, and it became venomous, and for the first time in this whole hell-ride of infertile misery of the past few years it shot up and out of my mouth and at someone else. I said shitty things that I should have kept to myself. You remember that cute little dinosaur that the bad guy finds when he’s trying to leave Jurassic Park, and he’s all “Hi little guy, have a piece of candy!” and then its neck fins fan out and its teeth get gnarly and hideous poison goo shoots out of its spit glands and fries the guy’s face off? Yeah. It was kind of like that.

And the whole time it was happening, I was sort of outside of my own body looking in, going, “Who the fuck is this horrifically bitter, miserable woman saying these cruel things?” Because you see, I am kind of the nicest person on the planet. Or I try to be. Sometimes I may have to say things that are difficult for someone to hear, but I have been known to spend weeks – weeks! – working on how to say it in such a way that the hearer will not be hurt or made angry or if they are, then I have a plan in place to try to ameliorate any rift that might result between us. My worst fear, literally my worst, is people being mad at me and not loving me anymore. Yes, I’m in therapy. Shut up.

But here is this woman with this poison flying out of her like ejecta from a venom volcano, and she appears to be me, because she is wearing my favorite boots. Some proof is incontrovertible.

The whole experience checked me like a kick to the solar plexus. I had to kind of go to ground for a little while and breathe, just breathe, and start to bleed off the poison. Because I realized that that’s what it was – poison. Rage, despair, grief. They are corrosive, especially if they are applied daily and weekly and monthly, as the years go by and your body betrays you, and all around you joy happens and you are not the one. Rage, despair, grief. They become the only connection between you and the baby you lost, or who would not spark at all. The baby that slipped out me into the toilet and all its brief-sparked kin – all that was left of them was the rage, despair and grief of their loss. It had become a friend, something I held close and nursed and protected. And it was killing me.

So I made a conscious decision to let it go.

When I work with children who have experienced trauma, I teach them about the breathing button. This is an absolutely for-true fact: there is a nerve in your spinal cord that, when you take deep belly breaths and inflate your abdominal cavity, gets activated and lowers your blood pressure. This is why we have been telling each other for millennia to “take a deep breath and calm down”. When I tell kids about this they freak out, and they tell their parents and their siblings and their friends about how you have a magic button inside your body that makes you calm down when you’re upset. It is kind of magic.

I spent a lot of time focused on my breathing button.

Because these things are tenacious. It’s a kind of PTSD. Rage, despair and grief – they stick to the insides of your psyche and cling like tar sand oil. It really does feel utterly uncontrollable, the same way PTSD is uncontrollable – waves of unbearable emotions crash your executive functioning systems and pull them offline, leaving you in a thoroughly animal state of fight or flight, hide or lash out. Rage, despair and grief. I became aware of just how many moments of my day they got triggered to spring: Baby section at grocery store. (Which is always right next to the tampon section – how fucking assaultive is THAT?) Major plot twists in roughly every show I watch. Seemingly weekly ultrasound-picture pregnancy announcements on Facebook. Most of my clients. Most of my family. People in the park. People on the street. People, just generally. Boing, boing, boing – rage, despair and grief sprung so frequently I stopped noticing it. It was just the water I swam in.

So I breathed. I breathed and I breathed and I breathed, and I listened to meditations, and I wept when weeping happened and laughed when laughing happened, and eventually I got to the point where I had enough compassion for myself that I could start filtering out the rage, despair and grief. Not that they went away – they don’t go away. This month is the month that baby, the toilet baby, would have been turning one year old. Don’t for a minute imagine that I’m not deeply, solemnly aware of it. I’m just choosing to breathe instead of die.

So this is where I am. Several people in my immediate social and occupational vicinities have announced their pregnancies recently, and I have felt some fleeting sorrow but then I’ve breathed and I’ve been ok. I feel clear-eyed and calm and oddly detached in an analytical sort of way.

Which is what led me to an epiphany about fertility privilege.

To be continued.

Spoiler Alert: I’m not pregnant.

(I tend to title my posts after I’ve written them, so that I can pull a couple of weirdly angled ideas from the text and throw them on top for added silliness. But I’m doing it a little differently this time. I titled this post in advance because I know that like me, many of my reproductively challenged readers will scan the first few lines of text and their insides will start to squeeze up like an angry fist, ready to brace for the unbearable kick to the uterus that comes with learning that someone is pregnant. I don’t want to do that to anyone. So read on, fearless reader, now that you have been divested of your fear.)

Wow. I think I may have found a new definition of “roller coaster”. This has been an interesting week, my blogpeople.

It’s been such an unbelievable roller coaster that I almost don’t want to write about the ups in the same post as the downs, but I’m still so all mixed up that I don’t know if there’s any other way to do it. I guess I’ll rely on good old chronology as a way to start picking apart this mess.

The week started with a whole lot of awesome.

On Monday and Tuesday, I exchanged wonderfully chewy, creative emails with the director of the agency with whom I will be working in Ireland next year. She observed that many parents in her agency have lived with grinding, hopeless, inter-generational poverty and suffering from their earliest beginnings, and as a result have had very little beauty or pleasure in their lives. This resonated with me because I see this with the families I serve too. It’s something we are very aware of in community mental health, but I think it gets diluted and beaten flat into platitudinous rhetoric about “self-care”, which is great as a theory but doesn’t really translate to an unemployed single mom with no high school diploma, and 5 kids from 4 exes and trouble getting health care and rental assistance and child support from exes numbers 1 and 3 and orders of protection against exes numbers 2 and 4, and and and and… We can’t very well tell her to go home and have herself a nice soothing Aveda aromatherapy bath with a glass of flirty yet accessible Sauvignon Blanc. So I often find myself shaking things down to the marrow with a parent, looking for a glimmer of something lovely, something more alive than what they’ve been taught to expect by the combined oppressive forces of racism, classism and misogyny. And here’s this director of a far away organization basically presenting this conundrum and then saying, “Ok, GO!” What an unbelievable blessing! So I started marinating some cool ideas about how to bring real, non-hoity-toity pleasure and beauty to people who will likely think me a gobshite foreign arsehole the minute I walk in the room. Basic. Joyful. Forget therapy, therapists, theory. This is humanity, bitchez. Git up in it.

So THAT was awesome.

And then Tuesday night, Hubby and I went to an orientation for prospective foster parents*.

(*This may sound like deja vu all over again – I mentioned that we were doing this weeks ago in my last post. We did go, and due to the challenges of driving in rush hour deep into another county to offset the fact that as a community mental health child therapist I know basically every freaking caseworker and foster parent in our county and the neighboring ones, we were 3 minutes late and the instructor locked us out. So we had to try again this week.)

It was overwhelming, a near-terminal case of information overload. My bum fell asleep and would not be roused, even when I tried making Hubby’s lap into a footstool. There is SO much we have to think and talk about. Many hours of training must be had. Many – MANY – pages of impertinently invasive questionnaires need to be filled out, about your relationships with your parents and siblings and partner and the guy who runs the gas station down the street. About your sex life. No lie. Luckily we have a robust and unfailingly awesome one of those. Apparently they interview you and your partner separately without letting you communicate, like some kind of state-funded Newlyweds Game. And then they interview essentially everyone you’ve ever encountered since puberty. I think they want to try to disrupt and unsettle your relationships as much as possible to see if they’ll hold up under the weight of the grieving, traumatized, behaviorally mysterious child they will place in your home, encourage you to love, and then send back to potentially unfit parents. Cause that might be hard.

And yet, we were so excited. SO excited. I tested the Hubby a little to see what he thought about it afterward, and he was like, “Yeah, it’s cool. I’m, you know, a little excited.” Later I told him I was glad that he was a little excited because I was worried that he would just get overwhelmed beyond tolerance by all the information and only want to go forward if I made him, and he said, “Actually, I’m REALLY excited, I just said I was a little excited because I wasn’t sure how excited you were.” And then we both went “Squeeeeeee!” and started talking about which guest room is going to be a kid’s room.

Monday and Tuesday were banner days.

But then something toppled all the progress I’ve made in the last 4 months since deciding to stop fertility treatments. I’m not going to get into what it was, because A) it’s not mine to get into and B) it actually has nothing to do with what happened for me as a result. Suffice it to say that I got knocked off the pitch for a bit.

I was violently transported back to the place where I relive the Big Miscarriage over and over, feel the scooping out of all my life and love and hope as I hear those words, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat”, remember the precise color of the thing that slipped out of me into the coffin of the toilet like a neglected goldfish. I was engulfed by rage, despair, incoherent betrayal. The kinetic energy of it, vindictive and fierce after having been held off for months by optimism and a flimsy patchwork hope that we had nurtured like a starving animal, threatened to burn everything in its path. My husband had left that morning for a month tour and had never felt so far away. No one in my immediate fleshly life has struggled with infertility, or if they have it’s been resolved eventually. I was totally, completely alone. For about 24 hours I couldn’t stop crying, glass-eyed and hollow, moving around the stage props of my life without any connection to them.

This is what went on in me during that time.

I walked around the city, watching people with their babies and children, feeling like a bona-fide alien. There was no one I could talk to, nothing I could do, no measure I could take to somehow make my body do the thing that billions of people, people around me can apparently do without a shred of effort. I felt – I feel – isolated and different, ejected from the common stream of humanity. I got very quiet and listened to the resigned wisdom of my body, which is that the hope that there will be an unintended “oops” that turns into a baby is not going to be realized. The quiet voice of my body said, “This is not going to happen.” And I felt, for the first time in my bones, that it was true.

Watch them pick up their babies, press them to their chests. Watch them grow irritated with toddlers, or heedless, or off-handedly turn a little body this way or that, as if it is a given, as if it should always be so. Watch them and wonder at how inter-galactically far their planet feels from your own, stand in awe of just how different you are from the rest of humanity. Think of the quickening and the flutter, the turning and the arrival, primal and bloody and so beautiful that they weep when they tell of it, those women who are real women. Think of the miracles you cannot imagine because you are not the same and will not be the same. Think of the babies you will have to see bred and carried and born and raised, lives seeded at the root and growing unstoppably in the certainty of lineage, for whatever that’s worth. Think of all that you will never know.

And all our amazing movement forward felt pathetic, this process we have begun to bring children into our home felt like a thing you do when you cannot do what you ought to be able to do. It felt like a prosthetic limb. I felt like I am not a real woman.

Real women will conceive, will spark and grow, will keep the life in momentum until it rips out of them with its fists flailing. Real women will watch bellies stretch and round, and their partners will smile and rub their bellies and be in awe of them, and they will dream together about the shape of the nose, the lift of the chin. Real women will know the feeling of a life wheeling about in them, will chide it for its boisterousness when they are trying to nap, will name it before its fingers and toes have been counted. Real women will get pregnant and have babies. If I am not among them, then I don’t know what I am.

On Thursday night I finally let all of this grief roar up through me and out of my mouth on the phone with my sister, who did not in any way try to make me feel better. If I believed in a god I would thank him/her/it for that, for the fact that my sister did not demand logic or right thinking or hope from me in that moment. Because if you ask me on a good day, I know that the above assertions – that to be a real woman you must be able to make babies come out of you, that I am not part of humanity, that what we are doing in becoming foster parents is not real or good enough, even that there is no chance that we will ever bear our own genetic child – are all patently false. I can give you concrete evidence that disproves each and every one of them. Doesn’t matter. As my sister so wisely put it, it doesn’t have to be real in this universe to be real right now.

When I was a kid, my mother habitually pointed out how strange I was and announced to anyone listening that I was a foundling, an alien from Xenon sent down to gather information for the Home Planet. I was young enough that I believed it, and our upbringing gnarly enough that I watched the night sky for a sign that my People were coming to take me away from fear and loneliness and the otherness that I felt all the time. It has become a running joke between my sister and I.

On the phone on Thursday night, my sister allowed me to scrape up the nastiest, tarriest, nuclear-waste-iest pain I had in there and spit it out like vomit. She metaphorically held my hair. It was exactly what I needed. In response to me howling about feeling like an alien, she let out a hoarse chuckle and said, “Honey, we’ve known that for years. So what? They just don’t have children the same way where you come from. Maybe becoming a foster parent is how they do it there. And I’ve got to tell you, of all the women I know who have had babies the Earth way, there’s not one of them that could do what you’re going to do. And you can, and you will. And you’ll be good at it.”

Today I feel better.

I feel sad, and I feel like I have been through something catastrophic that I did not know was lying in wait for me, dormant until the perfect storm tore it up from below. I still feel like an alien, but maybe like a kind of sad, good humored ex-patriot alien – Ford Prefect? – who is working to find meaning in the incomprehensible otherness that seems to surround her, because she is pretty committed to figuring out how to live on this planet. I am still not sure how to move forward without splitting open again. It is imperative that I move forward without splitting open again, for me and for my loved ones. I am working it out.

In the meantime, this song/video by Amanda Palmer is making me really, really fucking happy. Watch it. Seriously.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9WZtxRWieM

No, seriously. You have to watch it.

The World Outside the Catbox: Possibilities are Nice.

So I’m sitting here in bed with the Husband on a Saturday morning browsing through some of the posts I haven’t read, as I haven’t been on this site since June. And I say to the Husband, “Wow. Looks like a few of the bloggers I was following have gotten pregnant since I stopped reading.” And he says, “Um. That’s great?” His timid and possibly shell-shocked question mark hangs in the air, awaiting sentence. I poke around my insides to see how I feel, take stock of the knee-jerk reaction and what comes after. “Yeah. It is great,” I say. An almost imperceptible sigh of relief floats up from his side of the bed. I don’t blame him.

I mean, let’s be honest here. There is, always, no matter what, a small nuclear explosion of grief, envy and sharp little shards of anger whenever I hear about people getting pregnant. And I also know that the closer someone is to me, the higher the radioactivity of that bomb. I have a lot more grace to spare for the ladies of the blogosphere, whom I have never met and will not observe gliding up and down the halls of my workplace, steering their great bellies like steamships on a calm sea. People I know are definitely more difficult not to hate, if only just a teensy bit, for just a few weak moments.

But ever since giving up, giving in, giving over, I find that I am much less radioactive in general. I have seen the world open before us in glimmering possibility, all the wondrous things we might do now that we have freed ourselves from the dreadful tyranny of the If. It has taken some pointed practice, some occasionally grim-faced and lock-jawed “mindfulness” (code word for “I will sit here and breathe until I no longer feel like screaming in rage at the woman in my office who is pregnant with her 5th child, possibly to replace the 4 that have already been removed by the state for neglect and abuse, and if I can’t keep from screaming then I will at least find an excuse to get out of the room and go bite a pillow in a neighboring office”, roughly translated) to get to this place. Every time I start to slip, start to lose a little of my grace, all I need is the thought of all the marvelous things we might do because we do not have children.

Long trips overseas. Luxury expenditures. Or, conversely, saving money. We haven’t, but we could if we wanted to. Deciding at 8pm to go see a movie at a beer and pizza movie theatre. Having crazy-beast sex whenever we feel like it. Staying in bed all morning, wandering downstairs only when the dog starts to whine for a walk. Shit, the other day when we were talking about me working abroad next year my husband was all like, “Maybe if you find a job you like in Dublin we should just move there.” Cause we CAN. Yes. We. Can. We find ourselves these days looking at each other with a kind of googly-eyed wonder, drunk on possibilities.

We’ve never been here before. Up until about three years ago, while I finished school and slogged through unpaid internships in the third most expensive city in America, we were barely surviving. There were no such things as possibilities. We lived in perpetual deprivation, a constant state of No in which the world felt barren and unforgiving. When we moved to Portland and I finally found people who would pay me to do my job, our lives improved almost instantly. So we started almost instantly to try to have a baby. We had never felt like it would be ok to try. In San Francisco we lived in a 375 square foot studio on the border of two gang territories. In Portland we lived in a small but palatial-to-us duplex in a lovely green bower of a neighborhood where no one got shot, ever. We were finally safe enough to procreate.

And then our lives and our prosperity were dedicated to this heartbreaking journey, fertility treatments, surgeries, miscarriages, loss. We began to creep back into that constant state of No, although for different reasons. This time it was our bodies that felt barren and unforgiving, not the world. Somehow that was worse.

So now here we are in this entirely new space. We have enough, and we’ve redirected the focus of what to do with it. We are once again imagining, building dreams that aren’t ragged at the edges with despair and fear and the cringing opposite of hope. The world feels different.

And children aren’t completely excluded from those dreams. Next week we’re going to an informational meeting for prospective foster parents. We have to go one county north because I know too many caseworkers and foster parents in our county and the county to the south, but we’re going to see where it leads us. I’ve got a lot of thoughts and fears and excitements and bewildering confusion about all that, so I think I need to sit on it a little more before I try to write it out. More on this subject later.

Things are good. There are good days and bad days. I will let you know how I feel the next time someone close to me gets knocked up, which will probably be something like “Fuck You and the Horse You Rode In On”, but maybe not. I’m going to keep living in the possibilities.

The If Rebellion – Changing Course

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This is a picture of me at age 15. I am in Ireland, tromping through the grounds of Blarney Castle. Peeking out from beneath my tragically unflattering barn jacket is the jumper from a school uniform that I nicked in Bantry, Co. Cork, possibly from the deliciously dangerous boy I fell in love with during my brief stay there, but possibly not. The present-day jury is still out on the provenance of the school jumper. It is 1991. I am brassy and brave, silly and full of flaws, and the world is awaiting me.

I have had cause to ponder this girl in the past couple of weeks. Lately it seems like everything is a gentle reminder that I am no longer a young woman – not old, but about to be 38, which is also not young. This does not bother me in the traditional sense – I look very young still, and the cruel fact of infertility has carried a consolation prize in that all my fleshy bits are roughly where I left them at 30. I have a rewarding and challenging career and a marriage that is by leaps and bounds healthier than I ever thought possible for such a deeply and creatively fucked up individual as myself. Really the only thing that makes me feel the pain of aging is the relentless tick, tick, tick of that infernally cliche biological clock.

In slavish obedience to that clock, we have spent the last two years trying desperately to make a baby. It hasn’t been just because of some kind of cultural command to procreate – we’ve really, really wanted a baby. I’ve really, really wanted a baby. And everything else I might have wanted in my life when I got old enough and stable enough to handle it has been put on the backburner, because any minute, any day, any month, this baby shit could happen.

And slowly, slowly, all my identity markers have been subsumed by my desire for this one identity – motherhood – that I have had no power to obtain. I have watched myself fade in the mirror until the only thing left is the one thing that I am not, until the only way I can understand myself is to cradle the emptiness of what I can’t be. I have occupied this surreal limbo, at some deep seated level believing that I will finally be a grown up only when that hot ketchup mess of newborn is laid on my chest. Then I’ll be a real person. Then my life will start.

And the days drift by in a mechanical choreography of charting, timing, hoping, waiting, despairing. Another month and then another month goes by and I am still not the thing I want to be, not the woman I want to be.

They tell you that if you stop trying, that’s when it will happen. But the problem is that if you stop trying so that it will happen, you haven’t really stopped trying. You haven’t let go of anything. It’s like when you break up with someone who is not paying enough attention to you and make a big point of walking away, just so that you can see if they’ll follow. It’s not the same as walking away. It’s just a different form of pleading.

My husband and I recently started talking about a grand vacation next year if I’m not knocked up by then. Even before I was a 15 year old gallivanting around Ireland, it was always my first true love of all places. It was all I ever talked or dreamed about. So we decided that if by this time next year I’m not pregnant or just delivered, we’d walk across Ireland. The husband has never been, and I’ve never been back. It was an awesome plan.

But it still hinged on the ifs, and for the past few weeks that has felt sincerely flimsy to me. I am so, so, so, SO fucking over the ifs. There is nothing more full of wretched, dastardly, pestilential IFs than infertility. I feel like I have been iffed into a stupor, into paralysis, into the ground. I feel like I have sacrificed everything that ever mattered to me on the altar of the Ifs. I am done. With the ifs. For reals.

So yesterday morning I woke up after thinking and dreaming about Ireland for weeks, after talking to old friends about who I used to be and what I used to want, and I decided to change up the plan. I do not want a lovely tour predicated on ifs. I want to go and do something important, interesting, fucking hard, on purpose, and all by myself.

I’ve always dreamed of going abroad and doing some kind of social justice or advocacy work. I was one of those wannabe Peace Corps kids, who really loved the idea but was too wimpy to cough up two whole years of my tender youth. I’ve sort of half-arsedly looked into working abroad a number of times, but there was never the money to do something like that. And then when we finally found some kind of financial security and there was money for something like that, we’d started the babymaking and I couldn’t commit to such a massive undertaking. Because of the ifs.

But no more. This weekend, after talking to my ridiculously awesome husband (who can definitely understand the need to go have working adventures abroad, since he does it kind of year round) about it via Skype, I started drafting letters to mental health groups, advocacy groups and women’s groups in Ireland to see if I can carve out some kind of one- to three-month work stay in my beloved far-off country.

In order to do it, we’ll need to stop trying. I mean, we won’t need to try NOT to. If it happens it happens. We’re not going to rush out and buy condoms in bulk or anything. But the charting, the temp taking, the hormones, the procedures, the monitors – the whole operation is on shutdown. I’m going to take a vacation from this desperation and go do some work instead – the kind of work I wouldn’t be able to do if this other dream had been fulfilled.

It’s not a consolation prize. It’s an opportunity. I want it so badly that I’m actually hoping I won’t get pregnant. That might change, and this might be nothing but mad rebellion, but I’m going with it. I haven’t felt this grounded in two years.

So I guess then this blog becomes about letting go of the dream, letting go of the hope, letting go of the catbox. Who knows what that will be like. I’ll keep you posted.

And if any of my Irish readers have any ideas about where a highly experienced American psychotherapist might find a couple of month’s work, feel free to give me a holler.

Boycott.

Oh, my sisters. I’m thinking about you all today. You’re pretty much all I’m thinking about today. Us. We who cannot help but cringe and flee from Facebook to escape all the fertility. We who have poured every ounce of our time and money and sanity into trying to become mothers but who have been repeatedly devastated by failure and loss. We who look with confounded alienation at the women in our lives who have given birth and raised children, as if they have climbed Everest or sprouted wings.

I was pregnant last Mother’s Day and celebrated it for the first time as a mother. Two weeks later my baby was dead. This year I warned friends and family in advance that I was going to be boycotting this appallingly saccharin holiday, and some took it better than others. It is difficult for people to understand that you really mean it. It is difficult for people to accept that you cannot make them feel better about how much pain you’re in. It is difficult for people to really entirely remove themselves from their own needs and feelings long enough to allow you to fully express how unrelievedly, unrelentingly, irredeemably fucking shitty this is and take care of yourself in the way that feels right.

In years past I have enjoyed meditating on my gratitude for all the truly remarkable women in my life by whom I have been privileged enough to be mothered. There have been times in my life when my need for a mother has been so great, so scaldingly, coweringly overwhelming that just a simple kind word of acceptance from an older woman I respect has sent me into tailspins of grief and unworthiness, and I have spent a lot of time in therapy figuring out how to feel worthy enough to receive love from such women. Mother’s Day has traditionally been a time to reflect on this piece of my healing and to reach out to women who have been part of the process. This year is different. Everything is different after a miscarriage or four.

What I really wanted this year was to go down to San Francisco so that I could attend a Glide Memorial service. For those of you who haven’t heard me talking about this before, Glide is a unique and marvelous congregation that not only was ok with me being an atheist, but downright celebrated it as yet one more expression of the unconditional love and radical acceptance that is their doctrine. Services are rollicking, joyous, split-you-open-and-let-you-bleed-out-the-poison blowouts, and the place is packed with spiritual Mamas who have surrounded and filled me with unimaginable love in my darkest moments. There is no one there who expects me to be graceful or upstanding in my grief. People break apart inside the music and allow themselves to be repaired and rebuilt by the love of the strangers beside them. There is hugging. There is a LOT of crying. The power radiated by hundreds of bodies all celebrating and then letting go of their suffering is the most cleansing thing I have ever known. It would have been really, really good to be there. But it didn’t work out.

So instead I’m chilling with my dog, maybe getting my nails done. The Husband is on tour in Europe, so I’m pretty much free to shuffle around and do what feels right. Later on I’ll mosey on over to my sister’s, who has been just heroically and unflinchingly ok with my boycott of this holiday and has not once caused me to feel like I’m letting anyone down by doing what I need to do to take care of myself. We’ll have our usual Sunday dinner, and the twins will snuggle me and make me laugh, and my sister will pour me another glass of wine and comfort me in the quiet way she has, just by placing the warmth of her body in gentle proximity to mine and knowing me utterly in both my triumphs and my vulnerabilities. My mother will hopefully allow me to not have to Mother’s Day her. My dog, who is by far the most popular person in the family, will give everyone joy by looking ridiculous beyond words, which he is able to do just by sitting still. And we’ll all make it to tomorrow.

I’m sending you love, my hurting sisters. We’ll all make it to tomorrow.

PS – I thought I would include the picture I took of my response to yet another marketing package from baby food corporations who somehow got hold of the due date of the baby I lost last May. It was unbelievably empowering to do this and I recommend it to everyone who has to endure this shit. Happy Mother’s Day.

miscarriage pic

Redemptions: Finding Strength in Absurdity. Also, Strippers.

So, yesterday was a whole lotta suck. I want to thank everyone who reached out and offered support and love, on this blog and in the physical world. I also want to make sure everyone knows that I don’t usually sit around and contemplate my own grand awfulness. I mean, not all the time. Mostly not. Only in those dark, dark catbox moments when the helplessness becomes so overwhelming that I’m slam-dunked right back into the darkness and helplessness of my childhood and all those cruel, chittering demons come crowding round to fill the silence. A lot of people wanted very much to remind me of what’s awesome about me, and that certainly never goes amiss. I’m very touched by and grateful for those words. But that’s not really what it was about. Self-hatred is just what comes up in that moment.

And as it turned out, I ended up having kind of an awesome evening.

After sitting on the couch staring at the wall for what seemed like days, trying to figure out how best to take care of myself or what would make me feel better, I came to the realization that since actually NOTHING was likely to make me feel better, the best thing I could do would be to lay down arms and submit to the awful and just see where I ended up. My husband wanted to go hear some music and had been kind of waiting to see whether or not I would be in the mood to go out, so I toddled downstairs to his practice room and let him know that I was willing.

We had a lovely and utterly ridiculous dinner. The spot that we had picked at random off of Yelp happened to be hosting a benefit concert for Autism that night, and we got a table as far away from the noise as we could manage. The first band was insipid but largely innocuous, and we ate delicious things with cheese and talked about childlessness.

Ok, I realize how depressing that sounds, but it really wasn’t. We talked about what we might want our lives to be about if we couldn’t have our own children, what kind of presence we would want to leave with the world if it wasn’t our own genetic offspring. A big part of the conversation was about our niece and nephew, the boy/girl twins that my beautiful sister has been generous enough to allow us to help raise. They are about to turn 12, which is about a nanosecond away from becoming entirely alien creatures who erase us from their lives for a period of six to eight years while they focus on the incredibly challenging work of figuring out what the fuck they are. And also who, but mostly what. My husband is betting that we will remain cool for a longer period of time than their parents, based on the fact that we will not have to ground them when they become assholes. This may be true. Right now they genuinely love hanging out with their grown-ups, parents and aunties and uncles and grandparents all, and look forward to Sunday nights when we all have dinner together and get silly and make inappropriate jokes at the dinner table. There will likely come a time in the next six to eight years when we are not their first choice of recreational activity, when complicated and confounding other things become more pressing on their social calendars. But maybe my husband’s right, and maybe we can eke out a few extra years of coolness by virtue of our dual citizenship of “Adult” yet “Not Parent”.

So what will we do in those intervening years, if our own children aren’t ravaging us and turning us into zombies?

I’ve brought up the idea of fostering in the past, and we got a bit farther into the nitty gritties of it last night. It is a slightly terrifying yet insistently compelling thought. As a child therapist in community mental health I work with lots and lots of kids in foster care, and they can often be an incalculable handful. The foster care system is broken beyond my ability to describe to you here, and children are ground up in its machinery in ways that can damage them forever. Kids in foster often present with a whole host of extremely difficult behaviors that can turn a home upside down, and the cycle is perpetuated by foster caregivers who are not provided with any kind of education about attachment disruption or the effects of trauma or the tools of consistent, pragmatic parenting. Good foster homes are quite astonishingly rare. Often foster caregivers are literally doing it for the paycheck, and overworked caseworkers load up to six and seven kids into one home if it can accommodate them. And then there’s the fact that under the best possible circumstances, the parents of foster kids will work really really hard and accept a whole lot of really awful responsibility and jump through about a million sometimes absurd hoops to get them back, and then the foster caregiver has to say goodbye to a child that they may have become very fond of. The trauma is sort of built in.

Given all of that, why would we even think about doing this? My husband put it succinctly – when I asked what he wanted his life to be about if we couldn’t make babies, he said “I want to be able to do something for kids.” For him this might be teaching or volunteering or building programs that benefit children. Kids are absolutely enchanted by him and he’s a bona fide internationally famous musician, so the possibilities there are kind of endless. For me it’s a little different. I do that already. I work all day with children and do everything within my power to help improve their lives in anyway I can. For me what’s missing is the intimacy of a child in my home, the small rituals, the bedtimes, the wake-ups. The myriad spiderweb threads of attachment that wind throughout a day, a home, a life. For me it’s about doing more than what I can do in my office – I can’t teach a kid how to make macaroni and cheese, I can’t help them get back to sleep from a nightmare, I can’t  make up songs together about stupid things in the car on long trips. That’s what I want. And coincidentally, that’s also exactly the kind of indefinable stuff that’s missing in the lives of kids in foster.

At about this point in the conversation, the bands switched over. As this was an Autism benefit, there were a lot of families there with their kids, many of whom were on the spectrum. For reasons that remain utterly baffling to me, the big finale band chosen was an incredibly loud, incredibly jarring 90’s cover band with the largest drum kit we had ever seen outside of a Sheena E show. It bears pointing out that one of the many things with which kids on the spectrum struggle is a crippling hypersensitivity to loud noises. Good intentions, man. Good intentions.

We had a lovely stroll through the springtime night city to the club. As it turned out the guy who was supposed to put us on the guestlist had failed to do so and was MIA, and we didn’t feel like paying the cover. I was having such a fantastic time that I didn’t care. We were very near a famous strip club, sort of a Portland institution (for those of you who watch Portlandia, it’s Mary’s and it’s in the opening credits) that I used to haunt with a band of lingerie-obsessed gay boys I ran with back in the day. It was a “why the heck not” kind of night, so we went in. We were pretty underwhelmed. I mention it only because both the door girl and the floor waitress were hugely pregnant, which was at that point in the evening totally fucking hilarious to both of us.

Which sort of brings me to the loveliest moment of the whole night. Back at the absurdly orchestrated Autism event when I had posed the question of what might bring meaning to our lives should they be childless, my husband said something that took all my fears, all my existential anxieties and wrapped them up in loving arms, pulled them out of their madly spinning orbit and set them down firmly on solid ground. “We’re going to be fine Kitty,” he said. “You and I will always find a way to be happy together. Between the two of us, we’re never going to get stuck for long in the darkness. We’re always going to find the light.” And in that moment it finally dawned on me that he is right.

It’s a damn fine man I married. There’s a twinge of sorrow there, too, because I want so badly to see him go on and on in the faces of children we make together. But if it never happens, I know that we will find what we need in each other, and in doing so we will find the strength to create something that will go on and on. Just in ways that we can’t yet see.

 

 

What Comes Up.

I was a painfully different kid. There were many things, both inside and out, that set me starkly apart from the kids around me. Or maybe it was more like the outside differences were such that I believed concretely that my insides must be terribly weird and corroded and nothing at all like the insides of my classmates. We were poor in a very wealthy community. We were members of a minority religious group that required us to abstain from normal kid things in very overt ways – birthday cupcakes, the Pledge of Allegiance, those blobby alien-looking turkeys you make out of handprints for Thanksgiving, Christmas as a whole, etc. I was an unattractive child with orange hair the color of traffic cones that jutted out at odd angles, big giant gaps in my teeth and sticky-outy ears about which my mother delighted in commenting that when I was born she didn’t know if I would walk or fly. But probably the most toxic difference was that instead of the safety and stability I saw in the homes of my peers, my home was rocked by violence, addiction and mental illness that twisted us all into terrifying unnatural shapes, shapes we hid from the rest of the world.

I remember watching the beautiful blonde girls, those precious porcelain creatures with their clean nails and their pearl-drop teeth, like a hungry urchin with my face pressed up against the glass of the finest bakery. They were like a different species, fairies to my scurrying, scaly goblin-self. Their hair fell in soft waves around their faces and their fingers were never chewed and bloody and their clothes were all brand name and their dolls stayed pristine and glamorous. Their rooms were pink and frilly and not shared by necessity with an older sister who appeared to hate them.

There were these twins, just absolutely the most lovely little long-eyelashed, full-lipped little girls you ever saw, who wore exclusively pink or lavender so that people could tell them apart. Early on in grade school, before the lines really got drawn and the children started to get cruel, when I was still being invited to sleepovers at the homes of the beautiful girls, I went to one at the twins’ house. I think they each had their own playroom, although I could be remembering that wrong in the overwhelming haze of loveliness and luxury and sickly pink-or-lavender-tinted envy that seized me like a vice grip. I clearly recall the multitude of table-top Ataris, and that I played Frogger timidly in a corner until somebody ripped it out of my hands. They had a Christmas tree that reached up to the sky-lit open-beam rafters of their two story living room. Their parents were young and lovely and playful, lenient and sober. Safe. I was so disoriented that I faked a stomach ache and had my mother come pick me up after the girls went to bed. She took me home to our fear and poverty and insanity and cramped apartment airlessness, which were all blessedly familiar and normal.

For many years of my childhood I put myself to sleep every night with a careful inventory of all the things that were wrong about me. From my toes all the way up to the top of my head I would count them out – 1) Weird bunyony feet. 2) Knock-kneed. 3) Bow-legged. 4) Fat stomach. 5) Little white-head acne all over my arms that I compulsively picked at. 6) Ugly. 7) Gapped teeth. 8) Big nose. 9) Giant ears. 10) Scary orange hair. They were my rosary beads, my litany, my way of understanding and explaining a world that consistently rejected me. It must be these things that make other kids torture me, that make my stepfather punch holes through doors and leave bruises on us, that make my mother disappear into fluid melancholy or rage. That made sense. It was compassable, I could get my chewed-fingered little hands around it. They were also proof of the terribly shameful thing that cringed and quivered inside of me, this difference, this wrongness. This me.

I’ve been thinking about this stuff for the past few days, as I’ve waited to learn whether or not the heroic amount of time, money and ovary-mutilating effort we expended this month will result in a pregnancy. I’ve thought about it as I watch women all around me, bearing and rearing babies that they have somehow managed to conceive and carry to term. I’ve wondered how many of those beautiful porcelain girls have children now, how many got pregnant without difficulty, exactly when they wanted, or maybe even accidentally – although never at a bad time. I’ve pictured them looking into the faces of children who look like them, beautiful and finely carved like ivory figurines, pictured them seeing there the reflection and culmination of all their loveliness and rightness and safety. I’ve pondered the diabolical fucking mystery of why all these women can do this thing, this elusive, ubiquitous, fact-of-life thing that I can’t seem to do to save my life. And I cannot figure it out.

This afternoon we found out that I am not pregnant.

The urge to collapse into all my old understandings is tremendous. I am infertile because I am not good enough. I am infertile because I am overweight. I am infertile because we waited too long because I was flaky and took 12 years to get through school and couldn’t find paid work after and am terrible with money and irresponsible about everything and just generally an awful, useless person. I am infertile because this wrongness, this shamefully terrible, cringing, quivering thing that inhabits my deepest places is so toxic that no life can take hold there. I am infertile because I am me.

Don’t bother telling me that this is irrational, because I know perfectly well that it is. I am a fucking therapist, for pete’s sake. I work almost exclusively with children who believe that their insides are rotten and unlovable because of trauma, and I am encyclopedically aware of the theory. But this is what comes up when month after month, year after year I fail to conceive. What comes up is ugly and brittle and impervious to grownup reason. What comes up is old and barbed like prison wire. In the face of the perfectly deadly logic of self-hatred, all I can do is write it out and try to move forward.

Just to clarify, although I believed that my sister hated me when we were kids, we are incredibly close as adults. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t hate me now. She is very supportive and hasn’t tried to flush my head in the toilet in a really long time. Years, even.

Ferret Hormones, Walking Egg Cartons and Vaginal Fishing Floats. Or, When Infertility Gets Weird.

I’m always tempted to apologize after a long absence from the blogging, but then I remember that this was supposed to be some kind of therapeutic tool, and if I were my own therapist I’d have to ask me a whole bunch of probing questions and try to explore the deeper context of my apology, e.g. some kind of lingering repressed guilt from my mother or something, and frankly it’s the weekend and I’m burnt out and I don’t really fucking care where my lingering repressed guilt comes from on a Friday night. So there.

I guess I haven’t had much processing to do lately. I mean, the journey goes on and uterine hilarity continues to ensue, as well as tears and sadness and frustration sometimes. People around me get knocked up and I don’t, and I have a really hard time with that no matter what kind of evolved zen mantra-mumbling place I’m in. It sucks. But I think I’m feeling a bit more longitudinal about it right now.

Last month we went in to see the Doc, who described a truly appalling process in which I would be flooded with hormones (whose hormones? People hormones? Animal hormones? Scary GMO robot hormones? I don’t know. Seriously. Whose hormones?) over the course of 7 to 10 days that cause my ovaries to go into massive superproduction and pop like 7 eggs, and then the “trigger shot” (I believe that there is a genuine market need for less horrifying names for all this shit) makes them release. And then I have like quintuplets or something. He laid it all out and it was daunting and awful and jaw-droppingly expensive, so we filed it in the “nuclear option” bin and went for the far less costly and upsetting IUI.

And it was in general far less upsetting. It hurt like a &%$#@ because of my old friend endometriosis, but my husband was there and made me laugh with his little pep talk to his sperm on their way in – “Alright you guys, remember what we talked about! Get in there!” The only really upsetting part was later in the evening, after I had gone directly from the doctor’s office to a staff party and finally got around to going in the bathroom and taking out what Dr. S had described as “just a little plug to keep the sperm where they should be”. As I’d had my legs up with a sheet draped over them when he was finishing the job, I did not see it go in and was picturing some kind of dainty little tampon-shaped thing. So I was utterly aghast when I pulled out what looked like a small nautical buoy the size of my palm wrapped in a plastic bag tied at the top with dental floss. Like a gods damn fishing float. Holy crap. Have you guys seen these things? I was so grossed out I finally had to tell the women I was hanging out with after a couple of glasses of wine. One of my staff is from the Midwest and when I described the abominable thing she cheerfully informed me that those are what they use when they inseminate cows. So, you know, that happened.

And as it turned out, it didn’t work. I will point out here, as I refrained from pointing out to Dr. Pushypants, that when I had so rashly taken all that pesky control over my vajayjay and did a home insemination, I managed to knock myself up on the first try. Ahem. Who’s counting?

So we moved on to the nuclear option. A week of shooting up ferret hormones or whatever the fuck they are, then becoming a giant walking egg carton. My husband was totally mortified when I told him we’d be doing it at home, and would he please do the actual poking part because I didn’t think I could cause myself that kind of pain. Once I tried to give myself a bikini wax but wussed out and couldn’t go through with it, so I had to sit in a bathtub full of Coke to get all the glue off. True story. But he cowboy’d up and watched the instructional video twice and scrubbed down the entire coffee table and went to work, albeit with significant anxiety. I kept offering to do it myself but he declared that it was his part of the process and that it was the least he could do. He did a great job and only made me bleed a little bit. It was a rough week physically and I felt like absolute arse toward the end. If I lay down on my stomach it felt like I was lying on two little golf balls where my ovaries used to be.

Today I went back in for the IUI. On the way over my sister and I were on the phone cracking up about getting a buoy in my hooey. It hurt even more like a &*%$@# this time because my entire pelvic region is all sore and bloated and unnaturally egged out like an Easter basket on steroids. Also, my doc uses these horrible old-fashioned metal things to pry me open. They’ve got all knobs and dials and stuff. One time when I was waiting for him to come in the room I peeked into the drawer I’d seen him take one out of and it looked like Steampunk Gynecology in there. Fucking horrifying.

So anyway, that’s the catch-up. I think the Catbox might be pretty bad this time around, since we’ve just sunk upwards of $2500 into my mysteriously dysfunctional lady place and there’s a little, you know, pressure in that. I’m going to try to keep up better with the writing so that I don’t fall back into the bad place.

Here we go…

 

 

 

Vagina: The Owner’s Manual.

Woke up Friday morning to a BFN and felt such overwhelming hopelessness and void (I actually allowed myself to believe I was prego, like a total moron), the kind that no amount of therapy can quench. And I say that as a therapist.

Struggling for some sense of forward motion and agency, I decided to ring up the old Fertility Doc. I’m ready to get a bit more proactive again, after taking about 7 months off from any kind of assisted conception treatments. I just got sick and tired of being a giant roiling vat of insane hormones and weepiness. I haven’t seen Dr. S since June, right after the Big One when I went in begging for something that would knock me up instantaneously, so that instead of having to actually feel the bone-breaking loss of miscarriage I could just pretend it was one extra long pregnancy with a little break in the middle when I’d be able to drink. You get a little crazy after a miscarriage. Don’t judge.

I was unprepared for the surprise spanking I got. As I mentioned in the previous post, I opted to go rogue for the insemination in July, and it appears that he was not a fan of that decision. There was a lot of talk about “maybe it’s time to let go of some of the control” and “I know you like to do things by your own ideas and all, but…” Several times he called me “independent”, and it was clear to me that this was not praise. I had no idea what a thorn in his side I had become.

It’s an odd place to stand. On the one hand I felt like saying, “Um, listen up Dr. Pushypants. It’s actually MY VAGINA we’re talking about here, and I sort of enjoy getting to make decisions about it based, yes, on my own ideas. That I come up with in MY head. Which is just up the road from MY vagina.” The man was literally peeved at me for making my own reproductive decisions without him. I’m sure you’ve all noticed a decidedly feminist slant to my writing, so you can imagine the kind of “say what?” that was happening for me. At one point he suggested that I relinquish control and allow him to “push my ovaries a bit”. I mean, what the fuck do you do with that?

On the other hand, I am mortified and saddened to admit that he actually knows more about my vagina – or more broadly, the various hormonal choreography that affects the functioning of my vagina and uterus and other associated business – than I do. And that, frankly, feels like more of a pressing feminist issue than the grumpiness of a mildly judgy fertility doctor who is, after all, just trying to do his job.

And this brings me back to all the things I never knew about when we started this mad adventure two years ago. Two years ago I was 35. I had owned and operated this very same vagina and uterus for 35 years, and I thought I had a pretty good understanding of how they worked. As it turned out, I had been missing like two thirds of the manual. I had a basic sense of the rough schedule – ovulate, fill up, flush out, ovulate, rinse, repeat. But I’m pretty sure that despite living in the most technologically advanced nation in the most technologically advanced period of human history, any 14th century midwife could probably have schooled me on the all the stuff that was actually going on in there.

What do you remember about sex ed? I wrote my master’s thesis on sex education in the United States, so I’ve actually spent quite a spectacular number of hours thinking about what I remember. Mainly I remember fear. I remember dread and anxiety and a creeping unspoken sense that this thing I was walking around with could basically explode at any minute if I didn’t absolutely ensure that no boy ever got near it. We must have received some kind of information about the mechanics of reproduction, but it was almost entirely drowned out by a kind of apocalyptic warning siren that was constantly going off – ALERT! ALERT! VAGINAS HAVE BEEN SHOWN TO BE LINKED TO TEEN PREGNANCY. PLEASE PLACE YOUR VAGINA IN THE PROTECTIVE HYGIENE RECEPTACLE PROVIDED FOR YOU AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SEMINAR. THANK YOU FOR NOT PROCREATING.

And I grew up in a liberal, highly educated town. We protested outside the high school for a program that would allow nurses to hand out condoms and safe sex material, and we got it because the majority of parents were totally behind us. In my freshman year our female principal resigned to focus on choosing a sperm donor and becoming a single mother. And that information wasn’t just whispered in staff rooms and parlors, she gave a speech at an assembly about it. And we applauded. From a superficially feminist perspective, we were loaded for bear.

So then how exactly did I reached the age of 35 without having any idea that, for instance, your cervical mucus is essentially a hostile sperm-killing agent throughout the majority of your cycle, but changes completely and turns into a biological Slip N Slide right before you ovulate? Or that your temperature drops dramatically on the day you ovulate and then rockets up the chart afterward, dropping again only when you begin to menstruate? This shit is seriously amazing. Our bodies are seriously amazing. Why don’t we learn about this until we’re forced to by trying to facilitate a process that we thought was not only easy, but downright looming?

I think it’s the same reason that one used to substitute charming little euphemisms like “in a delicate condition” for the word “pregnant” when in polite company – pregnancy involves vaginas and stuff you do with them, and we just don’t talk about that. It’s the same reason that I lurk shamefully into and out of the pregnancy test aisle, holding the label to my side so that no one sees it. When I walk into that aisle, I am carrying shadows of the shame and terror with which I walked into the drugstore at 18, convinced I was pregnant with the child of a foreign exchange student. At 18 I knew exactly what kind of girl bought pregnancy tests. Despite all the Free-To-Be-You-And-Me liberal self-love with which my home community tried to provide me, I had still received the message that sex = shame.

With the result that I now feel obligated to be condescended to by Dr. Pushypants, who possesses arcane and secret knowledge about my ladybits and syringes full of hormones that will cause me to be a traveling crying jag. I am not at all comfortable with this, but he does have one thing right – infertility is ALL about not having any control over things, and clearly it’s time for me to give up even more. *Sigh*

When You Care Enough To Give The Very Best: Awkwardness, Intimacy and Weird-Ass Ways to Get Knocked Up

The Catbox looms. My nipples are getting all chatty again. STFU, you two.

This will likely be the last shot we’ve got for a while (my husband is in a popular band that tours extensively in Europe and South & Central America, which is often a challenge for the whole timed intercourse thing cause I sort of require his participation on this project), so in typical fashion I’m starting to think about what comes next. What kind of crazy-making, totally abstract, intimacy-robbing fertility treatment will we consider now? Will it include as much surreal hilarity as the last time we tried a non-bonking method?

After the 11 week miscarriage this past May (we generally refer to it as “The Big One”), I insisted that my husband freeze some dudes so that I can keep trying when he is on tour. My husband is extremely spend-a-phobic. We lived the first 8 years of our life together in abject, digging-change-from-couch-cushions-to-buy-toilet-paper, how-many-ramen-packs-can-you-get-for-three-bucks, can’t-afford-the-last-two-letters po’ type poverty, and I think we are both a little kooky as a result. Anticipating this I researched the absolute cheapest way we could get his frozen swimmers into my swimming pool. We decided to bypass the fertility doc entirely. He would leave an offering at the OHSU sperm bank and I would pick it up, take it home and do the bizniss my own damn self.

Boom. Plan, Set.

I started checking out the lesbian fertility sites because when you have to purchase it, sperm is an outrageously expensive and precious substance and you do not want to waste that shit, so those ladies tend to have the best advice for home insemination. The Husband took care of his end of the deal – and frankly that sounds like one of the weirdest experiences any man could have, so let’s hear it for the gentlemen, y’all – and went off on tour, and I waited for game time. About a week before the window in which I was likely to ovulate, I drove to the OHSU sperm bank during a lunch break to pick up my little buddies.

The guy at the front desk went in the back and hauled out this three foot tall, two foot square cardboard box, and set it caaaaaarefully at my feet. He informed me that he would not be able to give me any information on what to do with the sperm once it was…um…decanted. Presumably this was so that I could not sue him if I accidentally used it as eye drops or attempted to inseminate my cat with it. He was however willing to share with me the tremendous danger I would be courting once I opened the canister. The three foot tall, steel canister filled with cryogenic liquid nitrogen that housed my husband’s sperm. He demonstrated how to open it and drew my attention to the billows of vapor that poured out and crept along the floor, calmly letting me know that my hand would freeze off – actually off – if I touched the liquid inside. Using a cloth rag to protect his hand he pulled up a steel rod onto which were clamped two teeeeeeeeeeny little vials full of sperm. Which, in case you were wondering, turns faintly pink when it is frozen. Who knew. Then, with a cheerful warning about the potential explosion that might occur if I dropped the canister, he sent me on my way.

If you are ever in the large and well-appointed lobby of OHSU and you happen to see a mortified-looking woman struggling gracelessly to lug a three foot tall cardboard box with ominous warning labels down from the tenth floor out to the parking lot, now you know. She is carrying sperm.

I was so terrified of blowing up my car that I strapped it into the passenger seat. I drove home from the hospital with a giant vat of liquid nitrogen and sperm, safety-belted into my passenger seat. I took a picture of it, in case we conceived. It would be the kid’s first photo, after all. I brought it home and put it in the living room. I looked at it for a while. My cat came and sat on it. Then I went back to the office.

This was all going down a couple of months after the miscarriage. I was still in this impenetrable daze of grief and rage and disbelief, hunkered down in a kind of emotional foxhole while the rest of the world went on around me. My best friend, who at that point was still living down in California, decided to come up and hang out with me for a week. This was ostensibly to check out the market for a game he is designing (Portland is a gaming mecca, FYI), but mainly I think to make sure I hadn’t fallen so far into the bad place that I couldn’t pull myself out when I was ready to. His trip happened to coincide with the range of days in which I might ovulate. Awkward.

I had sent him a picture of the safety-belted sperm, so he knew the scoop. I was soooooo hoping that it would happen a day or two before, but those little pee sticks kept coming up goose-eggs. The morning after he got in, bingo. I went into the guest room and shook him awake. “I’m going for a run,” I told him, “and then I’m going to defrost some sperm, take a shower, and go fuck myself. Orange juice is on the counter.”

He is a former State Department Search and Rescue contractor and was an EMT in Richmond, CA, the murder capital of the Bay Area. It is really hard to unsettle him.

After the dire warnings of death and dismemberment from the charming OHSU guy, I was scared shitless of the damn canister. We knelt on the living room floor and I tried to remember all the instructions, but I was so nervous I couldn’t pop the little vial off the clamp. I was terrified of either frying off a finger in the nitrogen or dropping the vial, to the point of near-paralysis. He watched me struggle for a few seconds and then without the slightest discomfort grabbed the ratty dishtowel out of my hand, popped the vial off the rod, and handed me my husband’s sperm. One of the weirder moments of my life.

My husband skyped me right when the timer was going off and the dudes were thawed. “Sorry, honey, I gotta go. Your sperm is thawed. Bye!” Technology, man. Making Awkward happen in new and innovative ways, every day.

As it turned out my first time pitching was a success, although not one that resulted in a baby. That was the third miscarriage, a chemical that lasted about a day. Still, though. I felt pretty smug. And it provided a Hallmark moment that is downright unique in 24 years of knowing my BFF. Intimacy comes in odd shapes sometimes.

See y’all in the Catbox.

 

 

 

 

 

Faith, or Something Like It.

It’s the calm before the storm. Catbox onset in T minus 9 days. Right now I’m just thinking about stuff, chilling with my husband and my mammals, and bracing for impact.

Not a whole lot to report. Life moves on, my job continues to bust my arse, my friends and family continue to be awesome and I continue to not be knocked up. I took the Similac samples into the office and left them in the Outpatient suite with a note asking people to donate them to families that needed them. At this point the only one that’s left is the giant tin of special food for “Fussiness and Gas”. I guess it’s a little awkward to offer that to someone, like when you offer someone a piece of gum and they’re like, “I’m sorry, I had liverwurst and camembert for lunch.” People can get the wrong idea.

The Husband was quite chuffed about the positive feedback I got on his ruminations about hope, desert islands and the nature of desperation. Aside from the hefty ego boost that this engendered in an already smarty-pants man, it also started me thinking about the place of faith in this insane process. We are, as previously stated, atheists. I’ve done a lot of processing around this, and in fact my first blogging effort was an account of my experience as an atheist member of a singularly amazing non-denominational church back in San Francisco, Glide Memorial. It would take a lot of explaining to get to why it made perfect sense for me to be a visible and vocal member of the church and why it was so powerful to be there, but this blog is not that one, so I’ll let you check it out if you’re interested and save the character space. Suffice it to say that I have thought a lot about translating ostensibly religious ideas and experiences into a humanistic and non-theist framework and I find it kind of fascinating.

I really enjoyed Yet Another Bitter Infertile’s post today dealing with issues of faith/non-faith and infertility. She does a great job of politely explaining why faith-based platitudes are no more helpful to some of us than “Just relax and it will happen”. As atheists we occupy a unique shit-hole when it comes to tragedies like deaths, miscarriages and infertility. We don’t have a larger context in which to put this stuff to bring some kind of comfort to it. We can’t look to a bigger plan and find peace in the idea that everything happens for a reason. It’s no more awful for us than for people who believe in a higher power. It’s just more senseless.

But we find reason to hope in each other. I found reason for hope in my husband’s words, in the biological imperative of staying emotionally alive in the face of crushing heartbreak. You keep doing what you do. You keep hold of the barest shreds despite their thinness. You do it because the people around you encourage it of you. You do it because the dearest longing of your heart demands it of you. At the end of the day, it’s not so different from faith.

All that being said, I do find it tremendously moving and heartwarming when people take time in their devotions to think about me and my husband and the empty place in our lives. Good thoughts are always welcome.

Brief Bidness Break

Ok, a couple of blog-bidness items. First of all, somehow I got cited on this amazingly awesome clearinghouse of blogs written by women who are dealing with ladybitz issues, and then they were kind enough to put me on their blogroll. So here is the link to that amazingly awesome site. I am totally blog-challenged and have not yet figured out how to get back to the page where I can add links to other blogs on my homepage, but I am working on that. In the meantime, peruse and enjoy.

Second, I am TOTALLY OVERWHELMINGLY STOKED by the response I’ve been getting to this blog. I know, it’s probably not all that unusual, but the fact that people I don’t know in countries I’ve never been to are reading this makes me feel like Sally Field on uppers. Tonight I looked at the list of countries where people are reading this and I very nearly fell off the couch. What UP, Montenegro? Talk to me, South Africa! Seriously, y’all. This shit is downright surreal.

Maybe there’s more of an interest in New Guinean shark-fat enemas than any of us ever realized.

I’m Going for the Tote Bag – Making Sense of Absurdity

Crap. Fuck fuck fucking shit crap arse. I’m pretty sure I miscarried again.

I won’t bore you with the details because I don’t want this to be a diary of all my temps and fluids and ovulation predictor kits, but suffice it to say that I strongly suspected it 3 weeks ago and an extremely late ovulation kind of puts the seal on it for me. If you recall, I heroically battled my urge to take a frillion pregnancy tests and therefore had no confirmation, but the only times I’ve ever ovulated this late are when I’ve miscarried. That plus all the other signs and portents adds up to yet another early miscarriage. So that’s 4. Awesome. I’m so close to getting my frequent miscarriage card. I think you get a tote bag and fat discounts at the boxed wine factory when you hit 5.

I wanted to write the other day, last Friday when I came home to find a sample pack from Similac on my doorstep. Just sit with that for a minute. It included about twelve different pamphlets for “the new mother”, and four types of powdered baby food for the newborn infant who in no way exists at all in my home at this time. I did the math and realized that it must have been somehow related to the baby we lost in May, who, had it been born on the outside of the due date range, would have been a week or two old at that point. Somehow my pregnancy got sold to some marketing list somewhere (I’m looking at you, WhatToExpect.com) and the result was some very poorly vetted research that wound up as a box full of baby juice on my front porch. For my dead baby. Probably not the cognitive link they were hoping for: Similac = my dead baby. Pretty much forever. High fives and High Lifes all round for the online marketing department.

I wanted to write then, and I tried, but I ran up against two major blocks. One was that I was actually not utterly destroyed by it. I had an hour or so when I felt like I’d been kicked in the solar plexus and essentially wanted to give up and raise ferrets instead, but it passed and I was able to move on. I took a picture of the box and posted it on Facebook, and all my fierce beloved warrior women crowded the ether with their righteous anger on my behalf. It was awesome. A devout Christian woman whom I love most deeply (and who appears to love me equally despite my staunch and unrepentant atheism) commented that she was thinking some VERY bad words at Similac. That’s like some nuclear shit, yo. You don’t want to mess with a godly woman when she’s protecting her sisters. Another dear friend did not deign to feck about and deployed the word “douchenozzle”, which is not to be thrown around lightly. And that’s just a sampling of the inventive invective. I have some seriously savage and articulate GF’s. These women gave me the tremendous gift of validation, raised their voices in an outraged clamor and because they did, I didn’t need to. So I didn’t need to write.

(After checking through the 20+ comments on that post, I must correct the language above. It was not only women. There was one man, a creative and perennially smart-arsed artisan cheese maker with whom I once haunted the back parking lot of our high school, who commented and deserves to be noted here. He made me nearly pee my pants by reporting that he’d heard Similac pairs nicely with ice wine. Ice wine. Well played, sir. Well played.)

The other obstacle to writing was that I couldn’t find a larger meaning for the experience. So far in this blogging experiment I’ve gotten comfort from being able to pull all this heartbreak and insanity into a pithy little point, a message that makes sense of my despair. How do you make sense of something so absurd? All of this is absurd. My cups of pee; my obsessive nipples; the way that sex, which we have traditionally had in quantity and ever increasing quality for nearly 11 years now, becomes this occasionally onerous task and gives rise to questions like, “Should we fuck?” or “Have we done it enough or do we need to keep doing it?”, both of which are in the running for Least Arousing Come-on Lines EVER. It’s all absurd to a degree I never would have imagined.

And what, really, is the point? If I am a walking garbage disposal in which tiny little sparks of life are caught and then spat out with the rest of the trash, no matter what I do, what is the fucking point? Where in the hell do you find meaning in that?

Tonight, after getting the positive ovulation test at 21 days that confirmed, in my head at least, my fourth miscarriage, I wanted to give up. I want to give up. I want to storm out of the room I share with this fickle imaginary child, slam the door, scream that if it doesn’t want me then I don’t want it, and fuck it all anyhow cause I don’t care anymore. I don’t want to care anymore. I want to hurt its feelings and make it know how badly it’s hurt mine. I am sulking at my unconceived child. How evolved is that.

As I snarfed and snotted all over my husband’s sweater this evening he put some words to this absurdity for me. If you’re stranded on a desert island, he said, you can’t know if there’s a plane coming today, or tonight, or this week, or this year. You can’t know but you can’t just lay down and die. So you make your big-ass “HELP” sign, every night, without fail, and then you just have to lie down and get some sleep, because there’s no way you can make that plane come. If the plane comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. The only real failure is not making that sign, because it’s the only thing you have control over.

I kind of really wanted to suggest that if we ever have a boy we should name it Wilson, but he was in a moment and I didn’t want to distract him. And he was making a hell of a lot of sense.

Anyway, it’s nice to be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Walmart Lurking, Wee-Wee & The Infertility Olympics: In Which Our Heroine Refrains from Going Batshit.

Well folks, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The bad news is that the stork gave us the finger again this month. Back to the old drawing board. Which has sex on it. Good thing it’s a favorite hobby.

The good news is actually better than the bad news is bad, in my opinion. The good news is that I managed to refrain from going completely fucking batshit whackadoo insane this month while I waited to test. I mean, I felt like crap. I felt anxious and angry and hopeful and hopeless and then sad when the blood came, and my best friend had to come over and watch truly heroic quantities of Battlestar Galactica and eat Thai food with me, cause he’s good like that. But it felt like the worst of the worst of it was kept at bay this month.

I did not, for instance, go to Walmart and in a creepy, lurky, trying-to-be-stealthy-but-failing-epically kind of way buy several boxes of pregnancy tests, timing my contemplation of the selections for a moment when the aisle was otherwise empty (which is difficult to do because the pg tests are in the same aisle as the athlete’s foot meds) and holding the boxes so that the labels faced inward until I got them to the register. I would like to take some time to apply a little good-old-fashioned feminist deconstruction to the fact that at 37 grown-ass-woman years old I continue to feel like a busted teenager whenever I buy pregnancy tests, but that will have to be another post.

Suffice it to say that not only did I not go out and buy tests, I even refrained from obsessively taking the ones I have left over from last month’s shameful spree. Do you hear that, world??? I DID NOT TAKE A PREGNANCY TEST THIS MONTH!!!! Does anyone out there have any idea what a phenomenally HUGE fucking step that is? Yes, I’m sure you do. Based on the comments I’m getting on this blog you ALL know about the Catbox and the crazy, crazy, crazy that comes with it. Preach, sisters.

So, yeah. I didn’t test. I refrained at 10 days, when you know damn well you’re going to get a negative but you trawl the Fertility Friend charts and decide that there’s just the slimmest possible chance, and you’re planning on going out for drinks with a friend tonight and you just want to be sure.

I refrained at 11 days, when the CountDownToPregnancy stats begin suggesting that you’re more likely to get a faint positive than a false negative, so you don’t drink any water after 8pm and tenaciously hold it when you wake up at 3am having to piss, because you want the absolute most potent wee-wee you can possibly excrete so that those coy little hormones you just KNOW are floating around in there will show up on the test.

Which you’re running out of by the way, so you’d better lurk on over to the Walmart after work tomorrow.

I refrained at 12 days, which is when you tested positive the last time but not the two times before that, and now both Fertility Friend and CountDown are assuring you that only gross statistically anomalous freaks would get a false negative at this late date, but even when you see the negative you still tell yourself that those statistics don’t mean anything, even though you’ve basically been living by them like the bloody Bible for the last week and a half. So you squint at it until you actually begin to see a little pink or blue line that moves around depending on where on the strip you’re looking and actually shows up when you look at other blank surfaces, an honest-to-god hallucination bred of deranged hope and pure bloody-mindedness.

I EVEN refrained at 13 days, when the real crazy happens and the Catbox is up over your head so you can’t breathe and you can’t think and you stop being able to hear people outside of your head and your temperature has dropped but only a little and it dropped the time you were pregnant for 11 weeks so you never know and maybe it’ll be this time but probably not but maybe, just maybe, it may just be that you can see a glimmer of something that if you look at it from the side with your eyes kind of scrunched up with tears in them might look a little like hope, please maybe, please maybe, please maybe…

And then the blood came, and my husband and my BFF circled the wagons cause we’ve been through this before and they’re good men who know what to do.

But I made it through all the crazy hurdles. The psychotic, hormone-crazed, PTSD-riddled, nipple-obsessed Infertility Olympics. I’m sad, but I’m not all twisted up like some weepy lunatic pretzel made of progesterone and despair. Gold fucking medal, me.

I really think it’s this blog. I think it’s giving up on striving toward fertility and just dealing with infertility, and the fact that women out there are hearing me and are going through the same thing. That does something to the spirit, somehow. It gives it a reason not to tear itself to pieces. It gives me a reason to stay sane.

Thanks, y’all. Keep on keeping on.

Help. I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t…. Oh, F*@k It.

The dark days, the maddened grasping obsessive days, the Catbox days have arrived.

I have managed to stay out of the crazy place for much longer than in previous months. The writing is helping – in addition to hearing from other awesome women going through the same thing, it’s been a way of focusing all the helplessness and rage into something that connects me rather than isolates me. My husband has read each post and looked at me with new admiration and understanding, which has helped me feel so much less alone in this insanity. People have reportedly learned things here, so I’ve been able to feel useful in all this impotence, which, for good or ill, is the only way in which I can see any worth in myself. All the unspeakable silence and shame is lifting. It’s fucking awesome.

But here I am, right smack dab in the middle of the Catbox.

Just in case you need a refresher, the Catbox is the beastly, insufferable state one occupies in the final four days before taking a pregnancy test.

Just as Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead, simultaneously and with equal statistical likelihood, until such time as the box is opened and one possible reality collapses into the other, the final four days before testing are a barbaric thought exercise in which one is both pregnant and not pregnant, full and empty, positive and negative. After you’ve been doing it a couple of years you lose the ability to comprehend or translate the signals your body is sending, so that some parts of your anatomy are screaming joyously that you are all kinds of knocked up, while other equally legitimate and strident bits are solemnly pronouncing your uterus empty, empty, empty like the garbage cans after curbside pick-up.

My nipples, for instance, are planning the baby shower. End of September. It’s a Libra. We’re so happy.

My lower back, however, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no chance in an infinite number of hells, and that my period is lurking right around the corner. Walk it off, bitch.

Either one – either one – could be telling the truth. There are no statistically reliable methods by which you can eke even the merest shred of valuative differentiation between the two. It is maddening beyond even my power of speech.

Today was the first day that I really started to creep into the cray-cray. I find that I am unable to pay attention to what people are telling me, which is kind of an insurmountable challenge if you are a fucking therapist. In the past it was the hope that drove me insane – it’s poisonous, a cloying toxic miasma that can smother the oxygen right out of the air if you’re not careful. Now I generally banish the hope before it even starts, because it is just bloody well easier that way. Or it would be if it weren’t for my accursed fucking body shooting up these obnoxious little flares to just throw the whole planned hopelessness thing off the rail completely. It’s not over till it’s over. And you just so badly want it to be over, even though you know that the grief will come, all the terrible grief and numb disappointment that floods your body when you finally see the blood.

At least you have an answer.

These are the days when the fierce rejection of this month’s hope begins to go global, when the knowledge that you are barren and will never conceive seeps a little deeper into already porous bones. It’s something you just know. And at the same time, with the same fierce rejection, you know that it will someday happen. How can you know both these things so surely? How, in the face of this insane duality, can you know anything? Ever?

I am certainly not going to be consulting my nipples for any kind of clarity. They are over-zealous fucking reactionaries and I am totally over their bullshit.

I Own A Uterus, And I Have Some Opinions. Deal With It, Y’all.

This is going to be an unapologetically feminist post. I have no wish to offend anyone, but neither do I wish to hedge on what was intended as a full examination of what this whole infertility thing is like. And because this whole infertility thing sort of involves my body, which, by dint of having breasts and a vagina and a uterus and stuff, is female, and because this country that I proudly call home has recently made quite a name for itself with its rather patrician and obsessive concerns about this body, I must at some point come to a discussion of how living in said country affects my thoughts on the whole infertility thing. So, caveat emptor and shit.

Ok, here’s the long-ass details, and we’ll work up to the feminist diatribe in a sec.

I have pretty standard employer-provided health care, and in this country I am lucky as hell to have it. It does not cover “fertility treatments”, which is pretty normal. Having been diagnosed with endometriosis 7 years before we started trying, I knew that we might face an uphill battle. So when I began to have erythema nodosum outbreaks alongside early pregnancy symptoms, I started to get a little freaked out. It seemed like my body was actually rejecting its own pregnancy hormones. We went to a fertility doc who specialized in endometriosis and methodically cherry-picked the services that we thought would be the best bang for our buck, primarily focused on trying to figure out what was happening with my hormones. I couldn’t go to a reproductive endocrinologist because that would have been considered a fertility treatment and therefore hundreds of dollars just to get in the door, so I was sent to a general endocrinologist who had a very difficult time figuring out why I was there if I didn’t have diabetes. Then I got sent to a rheumatologist because, um, you know, inflamation and stuff, and he had a similarly difficult time figuring out why I was there if I didn’t have arthritis. Neither the rheumatologist nor the endocrinologist believed me about the erythema, so I had to wait till the next outbreak (aka, next almost-pregnancy) and then go to a dermatologist for a biopsy. Despite my pleas that I was training for a 5k, he melon-balled a nice big hunk out of my leg and confirmed what I had been telling them for months. And then all three of them individually looked at me with that special kind of frowny, knitted-brow half smile that only confused male doctors can pull off and said – I kid you not – “Huh!”

We are still getting bills for this stellar medical sleuthing. Gregory House, where were you when I needed you in my pants?

Then, after giving up completely on dudes in doctor coats and seeing a naturopath for a while (which, ironically, WAS covered, because I work for a progressive mental health agency with an alternative health sub-plan, and because the naturopath had suffered infertility and billed services as pain management for the endo), I finally had a positive test. That was the first chemical pregnancy. When my lines started to get faint I was told that the health care system did not consider it an actual pregnancy until 12 weeks, so they couldn’t authorize any kind of hormone treatment to save it. It was the same with the next pregnancy, which lived to 11 weeks. I got bills for all the ultrasounds and testing because it wasn’t yet considered a “pregnancy” covered under my prenatal care. Even the drug that pushed the dead fetus out of my body cost more than my normal co-pay.

Just a few months later, after yet another chemical pregnancy, the debates about “Personhood Amendments” started. These were laws that were aimed at defining human life at conception, the minute a sperm fertilizes an egg. Unimaginable sums of money were being funneled into political action that would criminalize as a murderer any woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy, with potential for actual jail time. Todd Akin joined the already charming conversation with his stunning grasp of the female anatomy, and we were blessed with the term “legitimate rape”. My empty uterus and I sat with slack-jawed, stunned horror while exclusively male politicians weighed in on the exact spiritual chronology of a pregnancy, after months of being told that my pregnancies weren’t fucking pregnant enough to deserve medical attention. The fact that these were generally the same exclusively male politicians who were threatening women’s health care everywhere from private corporate insurance to cancer screenings for low- and no-income women just made the whole thing a disgusting absurdity.

So, here it is in the quick n dirty. If you DO want to be pregnant, it’s 12 weeks before you can get help. If you do NOT want to be pregnant, it’s pretty much as soon as the sperm enters your immediate airspace and then you can’t have any help at all. Regardless of your personal stand on abortion, you have to admit that this is a hot fucking mess. If life is so bloody sacred, then we should be able to get help with infertility. If it’s not sacred enough to assist a first trimester pregnancy when a woman wants desperately to keep it, then “personhood” is a despicable farce. Really, gentlemen. Shit or get off the pot.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s the gentlemen (discrete cough) who are deciding this. Here I sit in this fertile/infertile body, both fetishized and threatened simultaneously by the self-same powers, clinging to my once-a-year vote to elect mostly men to sitting bodies of mostly men to decide this shit for me. For me in this body. This body that has carried life and willingly given it up because the father was an emotional and sexual abuser, that has carried life and had it evaporate away without explication, that has carried life and watched it slough off into the toilet water when no one would pay to save it. This body that put off childbearing until possibly too late because there is no such thing as affordable, adequate childcare in this country so that if you choose a career it means choosing against children, even if your career is to serve children. This body that has borne the weight of misogyny, rape culture and ignorance just to stand at these crossroads and plead for help from the very men who would condemn all the choices that came before.

It’s possible that I am just infertile. It’s possible that no amount of money or choice or freedom will make a life take hold in my belly and grow strong and true. It’s possible, and if so then I will deal with the blame cell by cell, atom by atom in my own dreadful reckoning. But it’s also possible that my womb is held hostage by an indefatigable patriarchy against which I have only the barest defenses. The real stone-cold bitch of a kicker? It’s that there’s no way for me to know, because I am as much at the mercy of my body as my body is at the mercy of the patriarchy.

How’s that for a pickle?

A Cup of Pee and Thou

I am fairly certain that there was, once, in the distant mists of memory, a time in my life when I did not know the exact day on which I ovulate. I am almost positive that somewhere in the past was a time when I was not acutely conscious of my basal body temperature at all points in my cycle. In fact, I can almost remember times when my period came unexpectedly, as if I did not know to the most minute cellular detail precisely when it was due to arrive. Like, I would wake up and go, “Shit! I forgot my period was due! I’m out of tampons!” I mean, imagine the heedlessness, the depraved indifference! Craven, bedlamite willy-nilly laxity!

Oh, how I miss it.

What a side show, what a roller-coaster. My body is a mysterious sequence of events that I have had to learn how to read like hieroglyphs, like braille. Its secrets are mapped out in graphs, calendars, digital read-outs from machines into which I put sticks marinated in urine, all to somehow divine the exact moment when this elusive statistical oddity of conception is most likely to occur. At least 10 days out of every month I wake up every morning and handle my own pee, so that like an alchemist I may extract from it the arcane knowledge it holds. My own pee. I don’t even notice it anymore. Sometimes I forget about it completely and leave a cup of it on the bathroom counter, where my husband discovers it as I bustle about getting ready for work. I’ll hear, “Uhhhh…….Kitty?” and I’ll know that I spaced and left an actual cup of actual pee with which my husband is at that moment face to face.

Oh, the humanity.

And at the same time, even as I’m having to microscopically focus on the details of my body, I have also somehow been shut out of it.

Some pretty shitty things have happened to this body, many of them perpetrated by me. I grew up with physical abuse; I have had sexual trauma; I have struggled with addiction, anorexia and cutting. I had an abortion when I was 24 and to this day I cry when I get a pap smear. For the last decade or so I’ve worked really, really hard to peacefully and lovingly inhabit this body, and for the most part I do fairly well. I have even actually enjoyed it from time to time, have enjoyed feeding it and allowing it to be expressive and to get loved up and generally have a rollicking good time. I have been in good shape sometimes and fair-to-middling shape at others, and I have tried to be ok with both. For the most part, we get along ok.

When I was pregnant in May, it was the first time I have ever truly loved it. It was miraculous to me. The way everything was filling up with blood, coursing, pink-cheeked. The way I could feel the space pushing out, expanding me from the inside. The way it was just doing all these almost supernatural things, my body just doing these joyful wonders without hesitation, without shame. It was awesome. My body was awesome. I took such good care of it, started walking every day, got prenatal yoga and pilates dvd’s and did them every morning. I took great delight in thinking about food for my body, for the body growing inside my body. Food became, instead of a complicated and ambivalence-laden vehicle for either excess or deprivation, a sacrament I shared with that little life. Everything, even the nausea and the exhaustion, was something precious and vital that kept me firmly grounded inside my own skin. For the first time in my life.

And then the miscarriage happened. I went for an ultrasound at 11 weeks and saw, instead of the faint flicker of a heartbeat that we had seen the time before, a disintegrating dead husk in my belly. They sent me home with an abortificant and I tried to go somewhere else in my head until it was all over, but there is no way to step outside of that kind of physical pain, even for a veteran dissociater like myself. So I just tried not to scream while it all came out.

I keep thinking I should go back to doing yoga. I am by no means a super crunchy wellness junky and in fact can usually only get to within about 3 inches of touching my toes, but it did just feel so, so good. My back and shoulders are all ferkakte and yoga helped tremendously with that. But every time I think about doing it, doing pretty much ANYTHING that places me at the grounded center of my own body, I recoil and have to think about something else. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it reminds me of that pregnancy, or if it’s some kind of cruel withholding punishment I’m inflicting on this body, this body that failed and feels, still, laced with death at the core. I just know that the thought of being present in my skin and bones long enough to breathe into some kind of awareness sends me into a protective crouch and utter barren stillness.

And all the while this scientific inquiry continues; I chart my basal body temperature, cervical fluid (could they not have come up with a name that is at least a little bit sexier than “Egg White Mucus“??? I mean, we’re supposed to be trying to have sex when we see that stuff, right? One time early on I told my husband that we had to do it because I had…blech…egg white mucus, and he looked at me with amazement and said, “My god. ‘Let’s do it because I have egg white mucus.’ Where did you learn these positively geisha-like powers of seduction?” I kept it to myself after that), ovulation predictor readings, possible pregnancy symptoms, menstruation. I am intimately aware of the most intimate communications of my body, and yet it still feels like it’s in another room without me most of the time. What a fucked up paradox.

PSA Part Deux: What You CAN Say to an Infertile Woman Without Making Her Die Inside.

A number of people I love asked me yesterday and today what IS ok to say to a woman who is struggling with infertility. I feel a little remiss, not having included such vital information in my last post, which was entirely dedicated to explaining why you should NOT say pretty much anything you would intuitively think to say. Bad teaching on my part. Unfortunately I don’t have as many ideas about what you SHOULD say as about what you SHOULDN’T, but I will do my best.

In thinking about this I revisited an email that a very wise and wily bad-ass broad wrote me after the 11 week miscarriage last May. In the midst of a whole lot of “It just wasn’t meant to be” and “Don’t give up, keep the faith” kinds of commentary, this email was like cool clear water  in a parched and cracking mouth. This is my favorite part:

“Let hope go fuck itself today. It’s a sucky, raw place you’re in. Now is not the time to soldier bravely on and shit. Now is the time to grieve. Messy, awful grief that no one around you really understands, not even your partner.”

I think that what made it so powerful was the fact that nowhere in her words was an expectation that I was supposed to be ok with this. There’s this powerful social demand to show bravery and fortitude, to patch together some kind of beatific, battle-scarred grace that people can point to and say, “Wow. Look how well she is holding up.” I think it feels better to see grace than to see, really see the bloody tattered mess that remains of your hope, your faith, your courage, your humanity. So you end up somehow taking care of other people by saving them the discomfort of your pain, and you give a forced and pinchy smile and you get bloody well bucked up. Which is several letters of the alphabet away from what you’re actually feeling.

So, what can you say to a woman who is struggling with infertility and loss? Maybe, “Please feel free to be a sniveling, rageful, pessimistic emotional biohazard right now. I’m totally ok with it.” Or, “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Seriously. Fuck.” Or maybe nothing. Maybe just listen to us in those terrible Schrodinger’s catbox days when we’re channeling every ounce of ok-ness and energy into not careening pell-mell into the crazy place, when we feel like everything we say sounds certifiable and we have lost the ability to trust our own bodies, when hope has become a toxic, barbed thing that threatens to suck the air from our lungs if we allow it anywhere near us. Maybe just listen and pass the tissues. You’d be amazed at how much you can help someone by just allowing them to be as utterly deranged as they’re feeling in that moment.

On a side note and for the record, I have never actually heard of New Guinean shark-fat enemas. I made that up. I cannot email you the info.

PSA: Things You Didn’t Know You Were Saying, and Undoubtedly Wish You Hadn’t.

Here is a brief list of translations. These translations reflect what fertility-challenged women actually hear when people say certain common things to us. I will preface this by owning that I am quite sure I’ve said one or more of these things to women I knew who were going through this before we started trying. To those women I apologize, wholeheartedly, on bended knee. I had no idea what I was really saying to you.

1) “Just relax and it will happen.”

This is probably the most common. I think the intent is to encourage us to take it easy on ourselves, to try to get some rest from the unbelievable stress of trying and failing to conceive. What we actually hear is: “If only you weren’t such a giant hysterical neurotic freakshow, you’d have had five kids by now.” You want to try to help a woman NOT blame herself, not shame her into feeling like she’s going even crazier than she previously suspected. Women conceive under tremendous amounts of stress, and they also conceive in lovely relaxed environments with soft lighting and frequent foot rubs. The fact that no amount of soft lighting and foot rubs will increase our chances of getting pregnant only makes us feel more helpless, and since we can’t control our environment any more than we already do, militantly and with temperature charts, what you’re essentially saying is that we are making ourselves infertile. What you don’t know is that this is a fear with which we already wrestle in the dark of night and work really hard to disprove in the light of day. Which is fucking stressful. So don’t tell us to relax.

2) “My cousin/sister/coworker/etc went through EXACTLY what you’re going through, and then she tried acupuncture/naturopathy/colon cleansing/Mayan uterine massage/Chinese dried frog tea/etc and she got pregnant like THE NEXT DAY. Seriously. You should totally try acupuncture/naturopathy/colon cleansing/Mayan uterine massage/Chinese dried frog tea. I’ll email you the info.”

Again, this is most certainly an attempt to be helpful and proactive. No one likes feeling helpless, and there is no kind of helpless that is more spectacularly helpless than long-term infertility. We go through unbelievable acrobatics to find out what’s going on in there, and sometimes there is an answer, but more often there isn’t. More often you end up with a prize collection of the apologetic shoulder-shrugs of various health professionals, and after you’re poked and prodded and bled and ablated and ultrasounded and generally violated in a hundred different ways at the end of the day there’s still no answer. You’re just not getting pregnant. Or staying pregnant. *Pitying smile* Sorry!

It’s exhausting. All the hope, all the effort, all the faithful, methodical adherence to whatever new regime you’re trying this time, and still you’re barren. And once again you’re left with the sickly, sinking feeling that if you’d only done that other thing that someone told you their aunt/grandmother/hairstylist did, New Guinean fucking shark-fat enemas or what the fuck ever, it would have happened. So it’s your fault. Again.

So you can imagine how our insides must cringe and collapse when we hear about the miracles of the flaxseed-enriched transvaginal herb douches that your Starbuck’s barista positively swears by. Chances are we’ve tried it.

3) “Just don’t focus on it so much.”

Very similar to the “relax” travesty, but with added verve. There’s something they call the “two week wait”. It’s a thing. There’s, like, websites and stuff. What it means is the time between when you meticulously choreograph the introduction of sperm to egg – be it through intercourse, or at-home insemination, or intrauterine insemination, or in vitro fertilization, or however those two crazy kids meet and hopefully strike up a little romance – and the time when you can reasonably take a pregnancy test. And it is a shit show.

The first week is usually ok. Not much happens for a little while, even if an egg has been fertilized. But those last four days of the second week, oh-ho-ho. You don’t know from crazy till you’ve lived through the last four days of the second week. At that point all bets are off.

You become near-psychotically attuned to every atom of your body. Your nipples become the subject of round-the-clock reflection: ok, they hurt, but do they hurt like pregnant hurt or like PMS hurt? Wait, that felt more like a pinch than an ache. That’s EXACTLY what it felt like the last time I was pregnant. I’m totally pregnant! But no, I’m probably not pregnant, cause wasn’t there this other time when they hurt like that but we missed the window so there was no chance I could be pregnant? Does it hurt like that time or this other time when… It goes a mile-a-minute and it is constant and unrelenting and there is NO way not to think about it because it is happening INSIDE YOUR BODY, which is where you LIVE.

If you are having a conversation with a woman in the final four days of the two week wait, I guarantee you that as she talks to you she is fiercely evaluating the state of her nipples. Or her cervical mucus. Or something else you don’t want to know about. She cannot help it, because this crazy shit is happening in her body. Asking her not to focus on it is like asking a person in a burning house to just ignore it and think about unicorns instead.

If you have perpetrated any of these fertility faux-pas, nil desperandum. It’s because you want to help, and we know that. As I mentioned above, I have totally said the same things. Because I wanted to help. Just don’t keep saying them. And pass it on.