A Tip (or six) From Me to You.

I have been really moved by the comments on this blog since it went Fresh. You are none of you alone in this bullshit.

It seems appropriate, since I’ve found some peace and not-awfulness on the far shore, that I should try to pay forward the hard-won wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. Here are some things that I learned in the 5 or so years we tried to make a baby:

  • People, even very kind and loving people, say absolutely horrible shit to folks who have suffered loss and infertility. They can’t really help it, I think. It’s just really overwhelming to watch someone hurt so galactically and not have a cure. We are a terribly pain-phobic society – we build towering billion dollar industries out of frenetic attempts to avoid discomfort in any form. I suppose in the face of that it’s not so surprising that we have completely lost the ability to shut the fuck up and let someone feel how they feel if their feeling is an uncomfortably incurable one. (When I first started the blog almost 3 years ago, I wrote a handy little list of things people shouldn’t say to their loved ones struggling with infertility. Please feel free to pass it along. And here are some suggestions for what people should say, although what they really need to do is shut the fuck up and let you have feelings at them. And be ok with that.)
  • After a miscarriage, you go through a Postpartum Situation. Just because you didn’t bring home a baby doesn’t change the fact that your body has just gone from being pregnant to being not pregnant, and everything is going to go bananas for a while. For a long while, actually. Like, a couple of months. In addition to grieving this big huge ghastly grief, your hormones are whacked for far longer than we’re led to expect. If you are still crying two months later, or staring at walls and not showering, or lashing out at people in totally un-like-you ways, it is not just because you are not “processing” this well enough. It is not because you aren’t “dealing with it” and “moving on” like a good girl. Your body is doing some legitimate shit here. You were probably made to feel like a non-entity at the hospital or doctor’s office, your pregnancy treated as something that didn’t happen rather than something that did. Your body was dismissed and gently shuffled out the door with none of the loving advice and information given to women whose babies are born live. But your body doesn’t know that your pregnancy doesn’t matter to the medical machine. Your body, dumb miraculous treasure that it is, is doing what women’s bodies do after their babies exit. It is experiencing postpartum symptoms. Bet they didn’t tell you that, the fuckers.
  • Your partner doesn’t understand what you’re going through. And that’s ok. This applies to partners of all genders. I have worked with lesbian couples who struggle with this; it’s not just the menz. Anyone whose body is not the living battlefield on which this war of absurdity and attrition is being waged, who has not held life and death in one tiny marsupial pocket in their belly, whose nipples and cervical fluid and lower back sensations are not the constant subject of microscopic scrutiny (there’s an app for that, seriously), who is not by necessity relegated to the Catbox for two weeks out of every month during which they are both pregnant and not pregnant without any ability to know for sure (just try to take your mind off it, I fucking dare you) – they are not going to get it. They will try, and that is awesome. If you are lucky they will try very, very hard, and I invite you to show gratitude for their efforts. But try to be patient with them, and for the love of all that is good PLEASE find people who do understand. You need to be understood and you have a right to it. You don’t owe it to your partner to keep it between you two and you are certainly not doing them any favors by expecting all the understanding and acceptance and normalization you need to come from them. Find a support group. Start one. We sure as shit need more.
  • You get to do this however you need to do this. Every minute of every day, you get to be exactly where you are with this and feel exactly how you feel about it. In this country we are just beginning to talk about infertility and pregnancy loss. Shameful whispers are only just now starting to turn into unapologetic declarations. Just in the past two years there are suddenly infertility/pregnancy loss articles abounding, although I have yet to see any that don’t feature the “happy ending” narrative (keep trying and your miracle will find you!) that just makes us feel like faithless quitters if we decide we’ve had enough. But whatever, they’re talking about it. Finally. We don’t have a blueprint for what open, shame-free, un-closeted childlessness looks like. You get to decide. Be exquisitely, meticulously kind to yourself.
  • The world world will make you feel like an alien. You will undoubtedly be fighting against finely crafted programming that goes back to the beginning of recorded history, whether you know it or not. Messages about being a “real woman”. About having “meaning” and “fulfillment” in your life. About what a woman becomes if this does not happen in the proscribed fashion. We live in a society that endows women’s bodies with only two categories of value: sexual commodity or reproductive outcome. If we don’t fall into the culturally sanctioned definition of either of these, we are made invisible. We are made to whisper. This shit is coming at you, a brilliantly stealthy shame-package straight to the cranium, every time turn on your screen. It is in our language and in our collective unconscious – when was the last time you saw a TV show about a woman who doesn’t go batshit crazy if she can’t have a child? Everything around you will make you feel like an unknown species. Don’t buy it. You are a woman.
  • Try to laugh when you can. Did your partner timidly remind you that you absentmindedly left a cup of pee on the bathroom sink this morning? That shit is funny. Did you freak out after the IUI when you pulled what looked like a bovine insemination plug out of your wha-hey? That shit is funny. How about the first time you had to tell your partner that you needed to have sex because your cervical fluid was egg-whitey? That is fucking hilarious. I mean it. It’s all so ridiculous. Humor is your greatest super power. Remember in Harry Potter, when Harry renders the boggart Snape harmless by putting him in a frowsy dress and giant vulture-adorned horrible hat? That’s the secret. There’s nothing a tyrant fears more than humor.

There’s more, but this is getting long. If you’ve gotten this far and you have an issue that hasn’t been addressed, I invite you to put it in the comments below. I’ll say it again – you are not alone.

The Closing of the Bones

Last week I met with Samantha Zipporah, a woman who identifies herself as a “full spectrum doula”. This is a relatively new term and something I’d never heard of. It’s a doula who attends and provides services for ALL postpartum needs, no matter the outcome of the pregnancy. The theory is that whether you gave live birth, still birth, had an abortion, had a miscarriage, whatever way your body transitioned from pregnant to not pregnant, you are postpartum. You have had a partum, and it is now post. Ergo, postpartum. To a woman who has felt like my pregnancies are seen by the the larger culture as nothing, a non-event, a failure to eventuate; like I should just hop up and put it behind me because there isn’t anything anyone can do about it and it’s over now so why dwell on grief; like I am less than a woman because my  body hasn’t accomplished what other women’s bodies have accomplished – to this woman right here it was kind of a fucking revelation.

Kind of a fucking revolution.

I’ve been struggling to find what I needed after this last loss. Miscarriage is such an enigma; it falls in this weird no-man’s-land (literally?) between life and death that the Western medical system just has no idea what to do with. Western medicine gets infertility, or at least maintains a system around it. There are procedures and best practices, and sometimes even insurance billing – although that is a little like unicorns as far as I’m concerned cause I ain’t never seen it. And it gets pregnancy and childbirth, at least to the extent that there are systems and subsystems – hell, whole hospitals – dedicated to dealing with that event. But miscarriage is an ill-fitting abomination, an un-event, a deviation that makes all those big, churning, well-funded and well-staffed system machines start spluttering and spitting cogs. So miscarriage is made invisible. Undone. It is something that didn’t happen, not something that did. Which leaves us with our hands and arms empty, standing in rooms that were once filled with congratulations and warm welcome but now echo with a cold, clinical silence.

I googled all the stuff you’re supposed to google, and I found some stuff. Mostly web pages with book recommendations, which is by far the loneliest, most distancing form of referral out there. There were a few therapist and support group links, but nothing that really spoke to me. Plus the fact that almost without exception all those “resources” are found through sites for women who are pregnant or have just had babies – the miscarriage info is just sort of a half-assed loser cul-de-sac on the site map, something grim and macabre, and the virtual path you have to take to get there is riddled and rotten with ads for maternity clothes, baby-bump forums, scroll-worked cursive-script pronouncements about the wonder of birth and the miracle of life. Seriously, it is enough to make you board up your windows and start with the cat-collecting. It definitely doesn’t encourage your feeble cry for help.

Somehow I ended up on a site called Cascadia Birth Services. I think it was one of the resources on the Brief Encounters website, and I was pissed at first because it felt like yet one more instance of “If you’d like to get help recovering from your miscarriage, please walk through this agonizing tunnel of shit that makes you want to shoot yourself in the face”. But there was a blurb about miscarriage doula services, and I was intrigued. I contacted the woman and she said she was out of town, but gave me a couple of other names to try.

I met with Samantha last Sunday and we talked about what I needed. I wasn’t totally sure. I’d recently posted a list on Facebook of things I want after a miscarriage, but I was pretty sure they weren’t going to be provided by a healthcare professional. For reference, they were as follows:

“Things I want after a miscarriage: 
*lots of wine
*intense snuggles, head-pets, etc
*possibly a massage? 
*to hang out with people who have experienced this bullshit
*preferably while drinking wine
*some kind of ritual, as yet undiscovered, not necessarily spiritual but wouldn’t reject it, that seeks to draw out sickness and restore strength, restore the sense that I am still a woman and still valid and not a useless throw-away piece of shit (which is, incidentally, exactly what you feel like so please don’t remind me that it’s not true because that’s not helpful although I appreciate the sentiment), mark and commemorate the loss of an actual almost human being and then release it
*a weird (and probably impossible) balance of treatment from loved ones that doesn’t make me feel like a scary pariah Miss Havisham pity case but also doesn’t make me feel like I have to pretend to be ok just to make others more comfortable around me
*to have a break from hearing about other peoples’ healthy full term pregnancies
*to sleep and sleep and wake up and have it all back the way it was
*something that will make my hormones stop freaking the fuck out so that I can stop crying and looking like a tomato with rubella
*more snuggles
*more wine
*maybe a mani-pedi
*definitely more wine
*ice cream
*things with ketchup
*cheese
*wine.”

Unbeknownst to me, before I had even posted this exhaustive list there was a crack team of women in my life pulling some straight-up black-ops shit behind the scenes, coordinating across state lines to put together this humongous basket of wine, towels, smelly stuff, a foofy blanket, and $200 worth of Spafinder gift cards that was stealthily left on my doorstep late one night. They blew quite a few items off the list, and filled me with wonder and humility and love and fucking insane gratitude such that I bawled all over my baffled husband’s t-shirt for a full 5 minutes before I could even bring the thing inside. Still kinda reeling from that shit, ladies.

But there were a few things on the list that I just thought weren’t going to come to me, because miscarriage is incomprehensible and so there is no such thing as comprehensive care. After 5 miscarriages – 3 officially logged by medical professionals and 2 gone before I could even get in the door – I’ve just been trained to believe that longing and isolation are the expected norm. It’s What We Do. We buck up. We soldier on.

We deserve so much more. We are due so much more. I know that now.

Samantha and I talked for almost two hours, huddled up on my couch on a hot afternoon. Mostly we talked about how utterly the medical system fails women whose pregnancies do not result in full-term births and healthy babies. She asked me how I thought that system should serve women, and I’m a social justice activist and a community mental health organizer so I had tons of political shit to say. But she knew and I knew that my rage and passion for change was, while legitimately describing a massively fucked-up deficit, really an explosive cover for my own hunger and sorrow. When I finally simmered it down to the truth, I wanted this: To feel like my babies and my pregnancies mattered, to feel as valid a woman as any other, and to have my body treated with the fierce love and infinite honor that I have been unable to show it.

She thought I needed the Closing of the Bones. It’s a traditional Mexican ceremony performed at 40 days postpartum, regardless of the post of the partum. It’s about honoring and letting go and taking care of the bodies that do all the work of life and death in one tight circle. It’s about healing.

Most cultures make a space for this sort of passage. Because it’s kind of a big fucking deal. Dominant Western culture doesn’t, and I don’t know why. Maybe because we only understand value in capitalist terms – women’s bodies are only valuable as commodities and they are only commodities if they are sexually available or carrying offspring. Women’s bodies that fall in between don’t count.

I received this ceremony today. I thought I could get to the words for it tonight and I wanted to, because my heart and my body are so full of relief and healing and solace that I wanted to make sure I got it on the page. But it’s getting late and this body has been treated with such fierce love, such infinite honor, such tenderness and understanding and shared grief and celebration and strength that for the first time in non-pregnancy I want to honor it for the power it contains, instead of punishing it for the deaths it has witnessed. I want you to hear this. But tonight I am wrapping myself in love like a rebosa and putting myself to bed.

Goodnight, all you miraculous women. Miraculous, every one.

CLOSING OF THE BONES, PART 2 

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

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.

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.