The If Rebellion – Changing Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boycott.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

miscarriage pic

Redemptions: Finding Strength in Absurdity. Also, Strippers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

What Comes Up.

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

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

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

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

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

This afternoon we found out that I am not pregnant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go…

 

 

 

Vagina: The Owner’s Manual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom. Plan, Set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See y’all in the Catbox.