Where I’m Calling From

I have been trying to figure out what to write about.

I began this blog in January of 2013, nearly three years ago, because frankly I was broken. My anger was a molten subcutaneous animal, a writhing and howling thing beneath my skin. From time to time it would claw its gory way out of my mouth in mean and unkind words, and so I isolated myself for the health and safety of others. A fog of shame, rage and dumbfounded grief was gathering between me and the rest of the world and I was slowly dying. I had lost two babies at that point; I would lose many more before the end.

I saw a therapist who suggested writing as a way of reconnecting, of releasing. It was a pretty good idea.

It’s hard to hold in my hands all that’s happened since. There have been times when I’ve written to stay alive and times when I’ve hidden away, quaking with fear, from all my words because I could not sit in my own skin long enough to voice them. Once upon a time it was all I thought about, this terrible wound of childlessness.

I’m not there now.

Where I am now is ok. There are momentary relapses, times when the grief is fresh and the grinding fertility-privileged world that discards and erases the bodies and experiences of childless women can irritate the shit out of me, and I will give in and rant for a bit. Luckily I can crack myself up, so it’s at least entertaining.

But for the most part, most of the seconds and minutes and hours of my days, I’m at peace. As I write those words, a great geyser of emotion is erupting in me and all of a sudden I am weeping. I’m at peace. The dreadful blood-colored ache in my belly has ebbed, has healed, has not killed me. What a dear and inestimable gift, to be able to say that.

This blog has given me wings, has let me virtually fly all over the world and connect to women in this global sisterhood of loss. While I still raged, there were women who knew that there was a far shore of forgiveness, and although I didn’t believe them I was grateful for their patience and love. It is one of the great miracles of human connection, to be loved when you are an unmitigated asshole.

So maybe that’s what this is about now. You, who have lost or cannot conceive, who sit in crushing isolation, who read these words from the center of a hermetically sealed echo chamber of shame and rage. You whose belly is thick with want and empty of life, whose guts churn with bewildered self-loathing and the knowledge that you must, at the core, be corrupted and unlovable or surely a life would take hold there. You, oh my sweet beloved girl, my fierce and aching woman, you perfect precious suffering soul – I’m here now. Come here, baby. I’ve got you now.

Big love from the far shore,

-Schrodinger

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?

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.

Warning: This Is My Scheduled Angry Time.

There are so many things that they don’t tell you about trying to make a baby. So. Many. Things.

For instance: It is actually quite spectacularly difficult to get pregnant. No kidding. All those years we spend trying desperately NOT to get pregnant, thinking that it’s just a simple Tab A to Slot B kind of venture – as it turns out, the odds of a sperm fertilizing an egg that then implants properly in the uterine lining and grows to term are astronomically low. The female reproductive system is in fact a finely-tuned sperm killing machine that will only allow this whole messy conception business to occur for a period of about 48 hours out of every month. Who knew? I didn’t, when two years ago we decided to start trying, threw away the condoms with joyous abandon and began rapturously bonking 47 times a day, savoring the thrill of danger because we were allowing these two highly radioactive agents – his sperm and my egg – to encounter each other unfettered. Pro-creation. Let’s fucking create some shit, baby.

And then the months go by and every time you’re sure it’s happened, your body feels full and ripe and ready and full of life and all your folic acid and prenatal vitamins and yoga and hydrating and what-the-fuck-ever is going to pay off and then pthfffft. That test comes up negative and the bleeding starts and the whole thing goes down the toilet with the sound of a raspberry blown by a David Lynch backwards-walking scary dwarf. Over. And over. And over.

And nobody tells you about the miscarriages. You hear about the rare example and it sounds properly gothic and bloody, replete with the rending of garments and the gnashing of teeth and the gathering of relatives by the bedside, like it must be this one-in-a-million kind of tragic misfortune that never actually happens to anyone you know.

In fact, a staggering number of pregnancies – 15% of all pregnancies in the US – end in miscarriage. They never tell you, for instance, about chemical pregnancy, which is basically a fertilized egg that begins to implant in the uterine lining but then, for some ineffable reason, stops. So you get a few days of positive pregnancy tests and then that little line gets fainter and fainter until it disappears entirely. The first time I got pregnant, in May of 2011, was a chemical miscarriage. I hadn’t ever heard of it, had no context or containment for such a thing. I was just pregnant and then not pregnant, and the OB brushed me off with impatience when I called and called and called for my hCG readings because I could not understand what had just happened. I had never heard of a 4 day pregnancy. You don’t, really.

And nobody tells you about what a later stage miscarriage feels like. I’m not really ready to tell about that either, but it seems like I’ll need to eventually because every month, every blood, I relive it. In my head and in my body, the shock and grief, the searing, shredding pain that grips you in all your limbs and pushes out the dead decaying thing that you’d already dreamt a life for, gone and slipping out and away, gone and gone and gone.

I’m not there yet.

And in the midst of it all, there is the anger. No one tells you about the anger. You walk around with it like a serpent coiled around your throat, like a pacing tiger that keeps everyone else at bay. You’re angry at women and at children, at people who try to give you advice and sympathy but end up sounding utterly asinine and heartless, at doctors, at advertising, at your family, at your spouse. You’re angry in the grocery store and at the mall, in movie theaters and in airports. You’re angry at the women who conceive despite meth, despite alcohol, despite rape and violence and war and prostitution and destitution, as if these are fabulous talents they are rubbing in your face to make you feel even more inadequate. And most cripplingly at yourself, at this body that has failed so completely to protect and nourish a life in the way that you believe other women’s bodies can. There’s self disgust, self punishment, the final triumph of every cruel internal voice that’s ever told you you weren’t good enough in the fanged and sleepless dark of night.

There’s all this that they don’t tell you.

Maybe because if you knew how much pain was in store you’d never open your legs.

I’m in a place of remapping right now, trying to find a way to live with all this instead of dying every month. I have to figure it out or I have to stop trying, because it is too much death time after time. And I have to find a way of feeling less alone in it. I know that if I feel alone in it, countless other women must feel alone in it too. I don’t know what else to do but write.

This morning, on the advice of a fellow therapist and feminist and thinker, I saw a new therapist who specializes in infertility issues. She suggested adapting the concept of “scheduling worry”, the idea that a highly anxious person might get some relief in their daily life by scheduling time to obsess and be anxious at strategic points in the day, when they’re doing something comforting or mindful, so that the worry doesn’t just rampage around taking everything hostage. Her idea was to have “scheduled angry time”, when I could focus all this anger and impotent rage into something creative. If not pro-creative, then at least creative.

So here it is. Thanks for listening.