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.