Hurricane Laura

No Overarching Themes: Pure Miscellany

Donkey wizards, plastic chips, endangered caterpillars, and me

I’ve always had really strange, vivid dreams, but pregnancy has kicked that into high gear.  Jon enjoys this particularly, since we have a long-standing tradition of my staggering out to the living room and describing the dreams to him, while he laughs delightedly.  Before 2012 and my two pregnancies (altogether, when I finally do give birth in April, I will have spent TWELVE months, not nine, either pregnant or recovering from pregnancy hormones), this would happen probably once or twice a month.  Now it happens every few days. 

The dreams really are stressful – I’m having those typical dreams about protecting small animals or babies from a cruel, uncaring world that many pregnant women have – and I wake up feeling like I’ve spent my entire night running around doing errands on a busy Saturday afternoon.  I feel like I need a nap after those dreams.  But last night’s dream had a different component to it – it included a very vivid experience of intense physical pain.

I dreamed I had traveled to a village that was ruled by donkeys.  Donkeys who were also wizards, naturally.  And this village had a curiously Swiss Alpine look to it, albeit in sort of a touristy, exaggerated way.  Somehow I angered the donkeys – I’m still not clear on how I did this, although it involved rescuing a 3 year old from being locked in a car, although why the donkeys would want a child to smother to death in a car, I don’t know – and so the donkeys decided to curse me.  The curse was particularly effective – what happened is that I kept finding, over and over, pieces of sharp plastic packaging in my mouth, close to sensitive flesh like my gums or the inside of my cheek.  I would pull each piece out before it cut me, but then a few seconds later, I’d find another.  Over and over again.  For what felt like hours. 

The plastic was very similar to that heavily molded plastic that you get when you buy a gadget, like a really good pair of headphones or a new phone, where you have to get a very sharp pair of scissors to cut the gadget out, and sometimes you might almost scratch yourself on the plastic and it really hurts.  Imagine that, but in little triangle-shaped pieces that you suddenly find between your teeth, just before you bite down.  And then imagine that happening repeatedly for a very long period of time.  It was just enough to make you crazy but not enough to be full-on torture. 

The dream was so vivid that I had to get up and rinse out my mouth to convince myself that this wasn’t really happening to me.  I knew I wasn’t quite coherent enough to tell Jon about it, but I recognized he’d laugh about it in the morning, so I told myself I had to try and remember it.  The poor man has had a wife who’s been puking and miserable for the last 8-9 months, so he deserves a little amusement now and then, you know? 

I’ve also had a lot of dreams featuring a nearly-extinct species of caterpillar.  In every dream, it is impressed upon me that I am being entrusted with one of the very last members of this species and I must keep it alive at all costs.  The caterpillar is about the size of a poodle, and strangely emotional, capable of little warbling sounds that are similar to infant cooing.  I usually spend most of the dream fretting over it, trying to figure out what to feed it, pushing it around in a stroller, hoping I don’t inadvertently kill it. I always wake up from this dream thinking about how this is my brain’s way of processing both the loss that I’ve already had, and my fear that I will lose the next baby. 

I honestly don’t know how the human species manages to survive – seriously, pregnancy just seems like such a fragile, bizarre, difficult process that I am amazed that any new human beings actually result from it.  I feel like I’ve morphed into a changed version of myself – I’m losing my words (my memory is totally shot), I’m clumsy, I move slowly and I constantly doubt my own ability to get through the simplest things.  On Tuesday, I got dressed and ready for school, put on my coat, went out to my car and then pulled up my sleeve to look at my watch, only to discover my arm covered in blood.  I’d scratched myself but never noticed it, and I would have showed up to school like that if I hadn’t stopped to check the time.  I mean, forget the bowling ball in my abdomen that I’m carrying around – the real danger to my safety and health right now is my hormone-addled brain. 

About ten weeks left to go.  I typed that and it looked totally unbelievable to me.  Sometimes I wonder if I’ll just be the only human woman in history to just be pregnant forever, that I’ll just get stuck like this.  The baby will be like a goldfish that decides to use my uterus as its fishbowl, swimming around in there, bumping into the glass, happy not to be disturbed.  I’ll dream about donkey wizards and plastic chips in my teeth for the rest of my life.  The idea that this has an end point is just…hard to really grasp right now.  It sounds wonderful, for some change to happen and a little human boy to actually be here with us, but I’m not used to things going so well, so I can’t really rely on it.  I can’t trust the idea, and I think that’s what’s behind these dreams – I’m wandering up and down the hallways of my worries, looking at all the distortions they’ve caused, because I’ve still got a few months left to go and that’s all my brain can come up with to do.  So donkey wizards it is, I guess…for now.


The view from six months later

I haven’t been able to update this blog in six months.  Not because I’ve been physically unable to, but because I’ve been too afraid to actually put into words what has been going on with me.

The crazy thing is, what’s going on has been good – as of today, I am 6 and 1/2 months pregnant.  We actually found out I was pregnant only a few weeks after my last post, and after all the drama of the kidney stones (and another kidney infection which resulted in 2 more trips to the ER in September), it seemed beyond possible that the pregnancy would last.  In fact, when I found out I was pregnant, I pretty much assumed I was headed for another miscarriage.  It just did not seem likely that an embryo would survive what my body had been going through while it was forming and implanting in my uterus.

I continued to feel that way for…pretty much the entire first trimester.  It is difficult to overstate just how petrified I was that entire time – which lasted until pretty much the week before Thanksgiving.  Every twinge, every ache in my body left me wondering if this was it, this was the start of another pregnancy loss.  I sincerely did not believe my body would be able to sustain the pregnancy, but there was nothing I could do but wait for time to pass, so I went into survival mode.  When I can’t change something but I still feel very worried about it, I distract myself and only talk about it rarely, when I feel up to it.  I definitely couldn’t write about it in any public way- writing feels deeper and more exposed than I was willing to be.  I pretty much kept myself going by either working really hard, watching a LOT of movies and television, occasionally stopping to talk to our therapist, a few friends or my husband, and every now and then just breaking down in a really big, panicked crying session.

We switched OBs to someone who was more loss-friendly – since the last practice was a total nightmare from start to finish – but I still think the new OB thought I was a total lunatic.  I asked for every blood test imaginable, to rule out any genetic factors that could cause recurrent miscarriage (which my last OB refused to do, despite my having a family history of one condition that could be a marker of recurrent miscarriage) and I insisted on a consultation with a really good maternal-fetal medicine specialist (who took my concerns very seriously, at last).  After my 3rd trip to the ER during the first trimester, my OB started to realize I wasn’t just making things up and he was a little more accommodating about testing me early for things and keeping an eye on my kidney function.  And somehow…I made it.  We actually got to the point of genetic testing for the fetus – in fact, we actually got to the point where we could call it a fetus – and the next thing I knew, they were telling me that this fetus looked like a boy, and this boy had a very low chance of any genetic abnormalities.

I wish I could say that magically my anxieties cleared up and I had an easy time of it from that point forward, but that’s just not possible.  I think I have a bit of healing to do from the last 1-2 years of loss and grief, and I still have a long way to go to get this baby safely into the world, so instead of feeling magically better, instead I’ve just…..gradually achieved a plateau of calm.  I realized at a certain point that I had to will myself to calm down and take it easier, if not for me than for the baby, and so I deliberately avoided anything that would make me too upset.  I watched the news a lot less frequently (which was hard to do with all the election coverage), I decided to avoid people or situations that would upset me, and I got very conservative in terms of my behavior.  I went to bed at 9 p.m. and almost never went anywhere in my free time.  It felt like I was hunkering down in my safe space, to just keep myself on an even keel.

2012 in particular was a year in which I learned just what my support system consisted of, and that was very hard for me in many ways.  I was surprised to find that people I thought would be there for me were just not capable or willing to do that when I really needed them, and I’m still hurting from that realization, but by the end of the year, I started to rebuild and move on.  New people, people I would never have expected, have turned out to be true friends and I’ve learned a lot from them about what really matters.  My relationship with J has grown and expanded in a way I could never have anticipated, and I feel like our marriage has become something truly remarkable.  We mostly keep that away from the outside world, as a very private thing between us, and he is also an extremely quiet, introverted person, so I think most people don’t realize just how hard this last year has been for him as well.  We have put such solid effort into working on our relationship, because it was vital for both of us that we survive all of this intact and still happy together.  One of the real achievements of this last year has been that the work we’ve been doing has really paid off.  We both felt so lucky to even find each other in the first place, and I think that sense of really valuing what we have has carried us through.  So, between the people who’ve really stepped us to help and support us and the deeper love and appreciation we’ve found together, I feel like I’ve been able to let go of a lot of the past and build something better.  There are still moments when I feel enraged and hurt, but they’re so much fewer now, and I remind myself every time they happen that the best way to recover is to focus on where I’m going, not where I’ve been.

And with all luck, the baby…a little boy…will be here in April.  I’m still not sure I really believe it yet, that this is actually happening.  Infertility knocked me over like a tidal wave, and deep down, I think I was convinced we’d either have to do IVF or adopt, both options entailing a very long, hard road for us.  That we could conceive a child ourselves – naturally, with no hormones or intervention of any kind – and that I could carry that baby all the way to term was something I just didn’t believe was possible.  I still have a lot of trouble accepting that it will work out – I feel like I’m always preparing myself for the worst and rarely allowing myself to think of the best outcomes, as they still seem unlikely to me.  Right now, I’m just trying to be very open, open to the chaos and the uncertainty that is going to take over my life.  I don’t know what being a new parent is going to be like – I know it will re-make my life completely, but I don’t know what that means or how that will work – so the best I can do is just be open to the huge unknown that is coming.  That unknown could be very rough – the delivery itself could be very rough or the baby could have some issues that are quite serious and require a lot of follow-up care – or it could be much easier and drama-free.  Regardless, I am very happy to be in this place – I’d rather be facing the unknown of a life as a parent than the bleakness of never knowing if I would have this chance.

Lately we talk the most about the surprise we’re really looking forward to – finding out who our son is.  We want to be as open to whoever he truly is as we can, and not impose on him our ideas of who we think he should be.  I read recently in a book about parenting that it is important to love your children for who they are, rather than what they do or achieve.  People tend to get very swept up in their children’s activities or their achievements, and forget that the real value, the real treasure in the parent-child relationship is getting to know these extraordinary people.  Maybe I feel very excited about this because of the loss of our previous pregnancy – I will never get to know who that child would have become, so the fact that I might get to know this second child is an incredible thing to me.  When I think about that last baby, I thank him/her for teaching me that – that child taught me not only that I could actually get pregnant, but that what was precious  to me was the chance to get to know my children, however they came to me.  And what has this second baby taught me?  Well, one wonderful thing he’s done is kick like a little demon since he hit 16 weeks – which has been an enormous comfort.  I know he’s still alive in there every time he kicks, and I feel gratitude and relief every time it happens.  I smile and mentally thank him for reminding me that he’s still in there.  I’m sure he will do a thousand other things that surprise and teach me as well.  And I do like that infertility and pregnancy loss have taught me this approach to parenthood – rather than seeing it as my right and my due, I see what a huge privilege and an honor it is, and how important it is not to take it for granted.

So, that’s where I am, six months later.  That’s the start of 2013 so far.

One more notch on the bad year’s bedpost

Last Thursday evening as we were getting ready for bed, I felt sick.  My lower back ached, on the right side just around my hip, and I felt shaky and strange.  We got into bed and I tried to ignore it and go to sleep.  The pain doubled, then it tripled, then it quadrupled, and very soon I felt so much pain that waves of nausea washed over me.  I got up and went into the bathroom, thinking that if I just threw up once or twice, the pain might subside and I could go to sleep.  Something similar has happened the last two months, where I get abdominal pain that is so bad it makes me throw up, so I assumed it was a variation of that.  But this pain grew much worse very quickly, and after trying to throw up a few times, I realized this was something else.  I ran back into the bedroom and woke up my husband.  It certainly isn’t the first time I’ve woken him in the middle of the night lately, but this time, he could tell it was worse than the usual pain.

Within a few minutes, I was close to fainting.  We got the things we needed – shoes, keys, wallets – and I stood shaking by the door, afraid I was going to lose consciousness.  I don’t remember much about the next hour – just pain and fear – but I know that I threw up violently in the car, all over myself, and I threw up again while the nurse was scrambling to get an IV in my arm in the ER.  The nurse seemed pretty confident about what was wrong – my shaking, my inability to sit still and my throwing up were clear signs that I had kidney stones.  I’ve never in my life experienced pain like that – pain that causes you to lose all control of yourself, pain that makes you wonder if you are actually dying.  The CT scan confirmed that I had two kidney stones, one in each kidney, and they gave me shots for the pain as well as prescriptions and a referral to a urologist.  Very routine for them – just a little bit devastating to me.

Since last week, I’ve spent a lot of time on a narcotic painkiller, waiting for the stones to pass.  Today I confirmed with the urologist that they haven’t passed, and if they don’t pass in another week, I have to have my fourth surgery of the year.  This surgery is a fairly simple outpatient procedure, but it does involve having a stent in my urinary tract for about 10 days, and the doctor told me “50% of people who have this say it drives them crazy.”  After the luck I’ve had this year, I just have to assume I’m part of that 50%.  So at the moment, I’m trying to pass the stones on my own, and in a week or when the pain becomes unbearable (whichever comes first), I will give up and schedule the surgery.

Another little kink in this whole situation is that I really do think this is related to my miscarriage – I’ve had IBS symptoms (which I’ve never had before) and IBS can lead to kidney stones.  My theory is that my body reacted very badly to pregnancy hormones, creating a situation where I developed IBS, which then lead to a backup in my kidneys.  I can’t really get a doctor to confirm this theory, but I think that’s largely because they don’t want to venture beyond their individual specialties and consider the bigger picture.  The urologist did tell me that I am now at higher risk for kidney stones during pregnancy, and they can’t do a lot for me at that point, since pain meds are bad for the baby and surgery is out of the question.

So this makes me wonder a few things, like:  is pregnancy just too hard for my body to cope with?  If I do get pregnant, am I just going to spend 9 months in a special kind of misery?  Would it be better to accept this now, cope with it and move on to adoption, or should I try to fight harder, go on a restricted diet, be very careful, and try against all hope to get pregnant and carry the baby to term?  These are the kinds of questions I face – and what’s not captured in my very matter-of-fact description of this is just how agonizing and heartbreaking this feels for me.  It is yet another moment when something that most of the population seems to be able to do easily – conceive, carry and give birth to a child – seems hopelessly beyond my reach, for reasons that no doctor has been able to fully explain to me.  I do what they tell me I’m supposed to do, I get the surgeries they recommend, I follow their recommendations, and WHAM!  Another unforeseen obstacle crops up to make things so much more complicated.  What’s hard is that there is no over-arching medical condition that explains why I can’t do this – I’ve had a few doctors tell me “there’s no obvious reason that you can’t get pregnant and carry a child” and yet…it seems impossible right now.  The pain, the deprivation, the sacrifice, the financial resources, the daily torture of testing myself, trying to stay calm, eating right, exercising and trying to be positive are just all combining in such a way that every day feels like a never-ending uphill battle.  But I wonder if I just keep going, will it be worth it?  How much longer should I fight?  No one knows, and no one can tell me, so the question is more about “how much can I take?”  I put a lot of pressure on myself to just keep on taking it, because I feel like I haven’t quite reached my limit yet….but sometimes I wonder if I am being too hard on myself and I need to recognize when the moment has come to throw in the towel and walk away.

I know better than to try and make decisions tonight.  I know I need to just focus on getting better, and when the air clears and I can see the world around me a bit better, then I can think about what to do next.  And I am desperately trying to be positive, which is not in my nature to do, but this situation has pushed me well beyond my own nature.  Here’s what I think right now:  maybe this is a blessing in disguise.  Maybe by learning all these physical issues I have with pregnancy I can prepare my body better and therefore get through it with more resources at hand, or at least prepared with the knowledge of what I might suffer (which can be everything sometimes).  Maybe dealing with these things now will save my life.  I have to cling to those thoughts, because they keep me from drowning.  And I find lately that I’m not comparing myself to others as much – I’m not bitterly noting how many people get pregnant without trying, how little they appreciate it and how easy it all seems for them.  Doing that has been torture and it isn’t helping me – and I’m in so much pain tonight I just need to make it easier on myself.  This is my story, this is the way it is going, and what happens to other people is not part of that.

Someday, I hope to be able to use what I’ve learned to help my own child with difficult things that might happen to her.  I hope I’ve learned compassion from this experience, and I’ve learned how to survive both physical and emotional anguish and keep going.  I think that might be the greatest gift I can give my child – it is what I wish I could get from members of my own family and what I lack the most in my life right now, so perhaps giving it to my child someday will finally heal me from the damage this experience is doing to me.   That’s what I want, that’s what I hope for most.  Let it be for something, you know?  Let it give a child a greater chance in the world and a sense that her mother really, desperately loved her many months or years before she was even born.



Bee stings, old & new friends, and getting back into life again

I find myself getting teary a lot this week, but not in a bad way.  This is perhaps the first week that’s happened in many months, where I’ve been close to tears, but instead of feeling overwhelmed, heartbroken and sad, I’m now feeling those things mixed with hope, gratitude for the kindness of friends, and a sense that it is slowly getting better.  That hope is very hard-won, and I’m mindful of how important a victory that has been for me.

I still feel deep grief for the loss of our child.  (These days, though, I’m calling him “our first child” so that is at least something.)  I don’t know that I ever will stop feeling that way and I don’t know that I can ever explain it adequately, but I’ve seen that same grief on the faces of a few other women who’ve shared their stories with me (women who now have several living children), so I know I’m not alone.  I also still feel a deep sense of emotional exhaustion – I have no idea how long we’re going to be in this place, slogging along and trying to figure out what infertility treatments to try next, what tests we need to do, what appointments we need to make, what financial sacrifices will be necessary and how much haggling with insurance it is worth it to do.  We keep talking about how we’ll be so grateful when it is all over – when we reach whatever outcome we’re going to reach, and we either adopt or have a biological child somehow.  But what will it take to get us there?  Neither of us knows, and we sometimes feel so tired and resigned at the idea of what might be next.

But we’re also picking up our feet and putting one in front of the other.  I’ve started tracking my ovulation again (in the faint hope that it is happening, and that decent eggs are being made), and eventually I might even have the patience to start the whole morning routine again — BBT, cervical mucus testing, making notes in the chart, etc.  I’m not quite ready for the extreme fertility diet I was on before, but I’m thinking about whether or not I want to do that again, and I expect next month I might be ready for it.  I flipped through an adoption guide, to start emotionally preparing myself for that again.  I can see how in a month or two, I’ll be doing the things I was doing before, with less of a sense of sadness than I feel right now.  I have tracked down a “Pregnancy after a loss” group to help me cope if I do manage to get pregnant, and I have support groups and therapy on my calendar from now until…whenever.

But the good thing is that I’ve got new and old friends coming to town.  Friends who are new to the area need my help getting situated, and I’m finding that throwing off my old woes and going out to help someone is marvelous therapy.  Just focusing on someone else and not my own damn sadness is such a relief!  And I feel like I’m useful again, a feeling I didn’t know I needed.  I get out several times a week and I do something that’s not about me and not about infertility – I take someone to a shopping center, I help them figure out how to get a driver’s license here, I buckle children into car seats and I drive whole carloads of people out to a county fair for a little fun.  And mercifully, for once, I forget about crying my eyes out and I forget about my broken heart for a few hours.  I look at someone else’s toddler and I feel some hope – hey maybe being around kids will help me have them, I think.  Maybe learning how to manage babies and toddlers will make it easier to let go of the one I lost — and this is true, sometimes.  It works for days at a time.  There is no cure-all here, but I will take a little relief from time to time, because I really need it.

And this morning my beekeeping partner and I opened up the hive to find that my benign neglect of the bees has resulted in a population explosion and a strong, healthy colony.  That hive is positively busting with bees and honeycomb!  The bees’ fecundity and survival are a never-ending source of inspiration to me – I like having a healthy, thriving queen like that in my backyard.  Maybe some of her skills will rub off on me.  Unfortunately, they’re also really protective of their hard work, so a few of them decided to find any exposed skin and I got a couple of stings this morning.  I had to pull off a few angry bees that also managed to find the dog in his hiding spot and my poor little basset has a tiny sore spot on his paw from bee venom.  He handled it like a champ, though, and just thrust out his paw so I could pull them out for him, without one whimper.

I also have a lot coming up soon – school will start in a few weeks, and I’m already working to get the house ready for the busyness of fall.  I have work I want to do, and I have projects going on that keep me from brooding.  And the peace and quiet has maintained itself for at least a week or so, with only a few short term moments where someone tried to start some drama or something bad happened.  I’m hopeful that I’ll get a bit of a break now – I realize saying that is like putting a big target on myself, but surely I’ve paid my dues now, no?



About that time I found a student on campus with a gun

So, this shooting in Colorado has me thinking about the time last year that I found a student in the hall with a gun.  It was one of many crazy things that happened in the last year, and I got so distracted by the other things happening that I didn’t really write or think much about it after the fact, but I think it might be good to capture it now, so here goes…

Last fall, I taught an 8 a.m. composition class, which meant that I was frequently one of the first faculty members on campus at 7:30.  I would photocopy my materials for class, take a few minutes to get my thoughts in order, and head to my classroom, usually around the time most students were arriving on campus.

One morning, as I was headed to class at the usual time, I spotted a student walking ahead of me with a gun holstered on his hip.  Now, most people who see someone with a gun on campus would probably do the smart thing and run to find security.  Not me!  I’m a bit of a hothead, and I stick my nose in where it doesn’t belong, mostly because I can’t stand bullies.  Bullies – or anyone who takes advantage of people’s trust and/or throws their weight around like an asshole – make me see red.  I’m one of those people who would probably throw myself in harm’s way to stop one person from hurting another, just because I can’t stand that.  Anyway, stupid me decided to confront the student, so I called out to him.

By the way, he was wearing khaki pants and a golf shirt – no indication that he was anything other than your average suburban college student.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  (in very nice, but very firm teacher voice)  Hi there.  Can I ask you why you’re carrying a gun on campus?

Student:  I’m an off-duty cop, so I’m allowed to wear this.

Me:  (genuine surprise)  Really?  Because I teach here and I’ve never heard that.

Student:  Yeah, check with security.  I’m allowed to carry my sidearm openly when I’m off-duty here.

Me:  But I have no indication that you’re a police officer – there’s no badge, nothing to mark you as a cop.  You could just be saying that so you could carry a gun around.

Student:  Ma’am, if I weren’t a cop and I’m here to do something stupid, I’d have my gun concealed.

Me:  Maybe not – maybe you’re an angry cop off-duty and you’re headed to shoot your ex-girlfriend or something and then make a quick getaway.  Regardless, if you are a cop, the question isn’t whether you are allowed to carry your weapon, but whether you should do that.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.  Have you ever asked your teacher how he/she feels about having a gun in the classroom?

Student:  (getting visibly pissed)  Ma’am, my teacher is fine with it.

Me:  Really?  Are you sure?  I would be very upset if you were my student and you walked in armed like that.  What if you’re failing my class and I have to have a conversation with you about your failing grades?  How can I feel comfortable having that conversation when you’re carrying a gun?  You see where I’m going with this?

Student:  (starting to walk away from me)  I’m legally allowed to carry it, and you should be glad:  if someone comes in here to shoot people, I’m here to stop him.

At that point, I let him walk away.  I was red in the face and pretty pissed off myself – this kid (he looked really young – like a rookie maybe) was being a cocky jerk wearing his gun like that.  I mean, why not put it in his bag or something if he’s so hot to have his gun with him?  By wearing it, he’s making it clear that it isn’t about the safety issue, it’s about being a Big Macho Man With A Gun.  It is about the visual intimidation of sitting there packing heat like a badass cowboy.

You know what?  We have security on campus – we have police who are there expressly for the purpose of keeping us safe.  We really don’t need someone to self-designate themselves as Protective Cowboy In the Classroom With a Gun.  And also:  what if someone gets mad and grabs his gun out of the holster?  We’re not safer then. Or what if he does decide to settle a score with an ex, just like this sheriff’s deputy did with his side arm last year, and he uses that gun for violence on campus? We’re not safer then, either.  This “more guns make us safer” logic has a LOT of holes, as far as I’m concerned.

And frankly, from my perspective as an instructor, I’m deeply uncomfortable with guns in my classroom.  People discuss controversial ideas in my classroom, and I want them to feel like they can be honest and they can feel safe saying what they really think.  I want to create a place with a free and fearless exchange of ideas – and you know what?  I work pretty hard to cultivate and care for that environment.  Someone walking in with a gun acting like a jerk throws a huge wrench into that process.  Other students are intimidated and silenced by that, and I as an instructor cannot do my job if I have to fear that my student will decide he’s mad enough at me to pull his gun out during a conversation.  Like I said to the student:  just because it is legal doesn’t make it right.

Meanwhile, after I calmed down a bit, I realized I should really check out whether or not that student has the right to be on campus with a gun – after all, all I had to go on was his claim that this was so.  (Actually I have to credit one of my students who is a veteran who served in Iraq with this decision – he said to me, “how do you know he’s a cop?  I’d go check that out – even if he is a hothead cop, somebody should let him know they’re keeping an eye on him.”)  I went to the security office, and explained my concerns.  Instead of heading out immediately to find the student wandering the halls with a gun, they promised me they’d “talk to him” and get back to me….at some point.  You’d think being told there was a student in the halls with a gun who claimed he was law enforcement would make them start jogging out in search of this guy, wouldn’t you?  Nope.  They seemed to think that I was over-reacting, actually.  So, I finally just gave up, completely frustrated, and headed to class to teach.  (Worst class I’ve ever taught – I kept worrying I’d hear gunshots the whole time.)

After my morning class, a security guard came to find me to follow up.  What followed was a strangely heated exchange – it seemed like Security felt that I was the one they should be concerned about, that I was a bit of an uppity do-gooder that was messing up this whole Guns-At-School Party they had going on.  The security guard kept using the phrase, “What you have to understand, ma’am…” before he lectured me about how this was the law and this guy’s gun-toting was “making me safer.”  I kept trying to point out that this argument was totally bonkers and that a gun in a classroom is just very wrong and even he, the security guard, should care about students and teachers feeling silenced by firearms, but you know what?  He was having none of it.  Finally, I thanked him for checking up on it and walked away.

At the time, I didn’t speak out more or write much about this because a lot of other things were going on, and it slipped my mind.  But every time there’s a shooting incident, I think about that day.  I think about the people who claim that the answer to gun violence is to allow more people to carry concealed weapons, and I worry about a culture that cares less about addressing the mental health needs that clearly underpin these mass killings and more about making sure everyone can have a gun.  I mean, frankly, I do actually think we should have some access to weapons to defend ourselves – I recognize what the purpose of the Second Amendment actually was.  But surely there’s some more sane and organized way to keep weapons on hand in the event that we need them – like a secured citizen’s militia building we can all access in the event of some kind of coup?  Why do we need AKs in our homes?  Why have some crazy automatic weapon like that if you’re not planning to use it?  And what the hell are you planning to use it for?  I’m all for going out and shooting – shooting guns at a range is actually pretty fun – but why do you need to keep that stuff at home?  Go and rent their guns to shoot, and then go home to a safe, gun-free zone.

What I suspect is that it isn’t about the guns at all – it is about the right to do whatever the hell you want, regardless of the impact on the world around you.  “I want to drive an enormous gas-guzzling car and eat 4000-calorie meals and smoke 4 packs a day and shoot my machine gun in my backyard and never pay my taxes and the government needs to stay the hell out of my business!” – a gross caricature, but that’s what I think is at the heart of it all.   But it doesn’t work that way.  You have to balance your rights as an individual with the needs of the larger community and sometimes you need to put the health of your community first.  That’s what things like the Ten Commandments were intended to do – to say, hey, guess what!  You can’t go rampaging across the land, killing people.  Killing is bad.  No more killing.  And if the crazy gun culture contributes to an atmosphere which makes it much easier to walk into a movie theater and shoot up the place, it might be time for some individuals to sacrifice a little of their freedom to own semi-automatic weapons to make kids at movies safer, you know?


Things about infertility I have learned

1.  Men experience it differently than women.  This is pretty much a well-duh kind of statement, but what this means in terms of your everyday life is more complicated than people realize.  The experience of trying, and failing, to have children is felt by women on a physical and emotional level, and thus becomes a very total, all-encompassing experience that they feel like they can never escape.  Men, on the other hand, struggle to express their feelings or to even feel that they have the right to them.  They also have to watch their partners going through excruciating experiences – that is a different, but no less intense, source of stress. Couples fight because they’re not going through the same thing at the same time, so they have to figure out a whole new language to be there for each other.  People might not be on the same page – a man might not be ready to get tested himself while a woman is already gung-ho to start IVF – and that can cause enormous tension.  I think also there’s a feeling, deep down in a dark place we don’t even want to admit we have, where we’re thinking, “I should not have married this person because I can’t give him/her children” or vice versa, “I shouldn’t have married him/her because she/he can’t have children.”  That’s a dark, awful place to go, but you do it sometimes, and the best marriages/partnerships are ones where you can say admit your insecurities out loud and receive comfort.

2.  Very few people understand what this is like unless it happens to them. I know this because I was one of those people who didn’t understand, but thought she did.  People say the WORST things out of ignorance, because intellectually they get the idea but they have no idea that the experience is so much deeper and so much harder than it looks.

3.  All your money –  seriously, ALL your money – gets tied up in this.  Insurance doesn’t always cover IF treatment (ours covers SQUAT) and the costs of testing, drugs, procedures, etc. can add up FAST.  There are also a lot of what I call “secondary costs” – things you do to cope with the stress or to increase your fertility – marriage counseling (not covered by my insurance either!), acupuncture (cheap but I have to do it every week so it builds up), special foods/medications, and investing in hobbies or activities that temporarily take our minds off how we’re feeling.  We’ve tried to keep costs down as much as possible, but we still have no idea how much this is going to cost us long-term.  We’re reluctant to make any big purchases or make any promises that we’ll travel in case we suddenly need money for something.  People are always telling me things like, “Oh come visit me so you can take your mind off things” but they don’t realize this is $500-$1000 of travel money that I just can’t do right now.  Also, for every dollar I spend now on trying to have my own child, that’s taking away a dollar from an adoption fund that I might need later, if all these attempts fail.  So, there’s the constant agony of “what should I spend my money on – IF treatments or adoption savings?” and never knowing which is the best use of funds.

4.  When you are upset about not being able to get (or stay) pregnant, it feels like everyone around you is pregnant and that hurts like you wouldn’t believe.  Every female celebrity of child-bearing age seems to be either pregnant or sporting a baby on her hip.  Drunk reality television stars who can barely stay out of jail get pregnant accidentally.  Surly teenage girls at the grocery store with swollen bellies.  Smug pregnant women who have two toddlers already in tow cut in front of me in line.  Women I’ve known going through infertility at the same time as me all seem to be getting pregnant, or closer to getting pregnant, than I am.  My next-door neighbor’s unmarried 23 year old daughter is pregnant and, of course, living at home with them, so I won’t even be able to go out my front door without seeing a baby soon.  Just about every female cousin I have is either pregnant right now, or had a baby in the last few years.  There’s a baby picture at the top of the Facebook status feed just about every time I log on.  People even send me their baby pictures in online albums without even asking me if I want to see them.  I have even tried to avoid all this by reading a book on my Kindle – selecting something sci-fi that I feel sure won’t involve pregnancy – and then one of the characters gets pregnant.  I went to see “Prometheus” recently (I’m a huge Alien fan) and even in that movie, a woman gets impregnated by an alien.  Seriously, I can’t escape it, not ever.

5.  The clock is ticking – I’m not being a drama queen here, the clock is REALLY TICKING.  I’ll be 37 in a month.  Every year, every month, every day, my fertility declines.  People who tell me to take a nice long break right now, or wait a while, they don’t really seem to understand that I don’t have the luxury of time. And there’s an emotional cost with that too – I feel so much sadness and regret that I waited this long, even though I never had a really good partner with whom to have children until now.  But I always beat myself up about how long I waited and how much I might pay for it now, that it might even be too late.

6.  There are fortunately a few things that do help.  Taking classes and learning new skills has been a huge source of relief.  Having friends who just let me talk about it, and don’t try to manage me or silence me.  Just letting myself cry sometimes.  Having a therapist who acknowledges all we’re doing and all we’ve been through (sooooo worth the money).  Distracting myself with movies, TV shows, books, walks, time with my husband and my dog.  And finally, knowing that I’m one of millions – a silent group of women and men out there who know just what I’m talking about – has been therapeutic.  I know they’re out there, and even if I don’t get to talk to them every day, it helps just to know it isn’t just me.

7.  And finally here’s one hard, true thing I don’t often say:  easily fertile people don’t appreciate what they have, or they’re so distracted by self-congratulations that they have a child that they don’t realize biology does not make you special.  We over-prioritize biology in child-rearing.  Just because you had a kid does not make you qualified to raise that child well.  I see so many people who flash the baby pictures, but won’t consider moving out of that one-bedroom urban apartment so their kid can have some room and a decent education.  Or they won’t deal with their addictions, their self-absorption, or their maturity level before they have a baby.  But I’m the one who has to endure comments like “Maybe you’re not cut out to be a parent.”  People like me, who go through so much hell, one of the few luxuries we get is a lot of time to sit around and prepare ourselves emotionally for having children.  And I’ve already had to do one of the worst things a parent might have to do – say goodbye when my child dies.  People who go through adoption or fostering have to be screened on so many different levels – in short, they have to prove they’re capable of good parenting.  I’m also preparing myself for having a child that isn’t mine biologically – which means, basically, I need to get over myself.  My genes aren’t that special (and neither are yours) – what matters is the health and well-being of whatever child is entrusted to me, either my biological child or my adopted one.  I wish more biological parents had to go through this process, because I see a lot of people who really, really need to get over themselves.

I’m sure there are a LOT more things I could say about this, but there are seven that spring to mind today.

A year of disasters

This has been my year of disasters:  in the fall an earthquake, a hurricane, torrential rains that caused a flood, in the spring two uterine surgeries, being told I probably couldn’t have children, being told I might be able to have children, getting pregnant in March, losing my child at 9 weeks in May, and now this past weekend we had a “land hurricane” (a severe storm front called a derecho) that knocked out power to 2 million people and sent us scrambling for shelter and power.  The storm itself was terrifying – intense lightning and 80 mph winds – but that plus the combined effect of a year of disasters  have left me very jumpy about any perceived threat to myself or my family.  As soon as the power went out, I went into planning-and-survival mode.

By the next day, as the heat was rising to almost 100+ degrees, I knew we couldn’t stay at home.  When I went out to put gas in the car and discovered it was an hour-long wait to get gas at the one station still functioning, I started to realize things were bad and we needed to get out.  But we couldn’t go to any public cooling centers, because we have a dog and it was absolutely unacceptable to both of us to leave him behind.

In a way, our dog has been like a surrogate child the last year.  He knows, somehow, that things are harder for us lately, and he seems to provide just an extra amount of affection.  If he goes on a walk with either one of us, he always comes back in the room and heads straight to the one he left behind, giving a quick kiss of reassurance on whatever exposed skin he can find.  After my miscarriage, he spent a lot of time in bed with me, and even if he went for a walk or went in the other room to be with my husband, he would routinely come back to check on me, almost like a nurse would check on a patient.  To be perfectly blunt, he’s been more help to me than some of my closest family members, and I am not about to leave him in 100 degree temperatures with little food and water.

So instead, we packed up the car and left town.  We had no idea where we were going or if we were going to find a place to stay.  I figured if we headed down the highway and stopped at every hotel we found, eventually we’d find one that accepted pets.  It took us 3 hours, but finally we found a hotel that allowed pets in every room and had one last room available.  I didn’t even ask them how much it was – I was just so grateful to find a place with air conditioning where we could stay for the night.  Many times over the next few days, I broke down in tears of gratitude, so happy and relieved that a hotel was available where we could make sure our dog was looked after.  This is a direct result of my terrible year – I’m now emotionally undone by the idea of my dog getting basic care in an emergency.

Our power came back on Sunday, and we started the drive back home in the car.  While we were on the road, I cried again, telling my husband how much it meant to me that my little family was kept together and safe during a crisis, that we made it.  I shouldn’t even have said anything, because right in the middle of that conversation, our car started to stall.  We pulled over on the road and my husband turned the engine off, letting it cool down for a few minutes.  He re-started it carefully, as I tried to keep myself from panicking.  After a few minutes of agonized waiting, we got the car started and got back on the highway.  We’re still not sure if something is now wrong with the transmission, but we managed to drive the last hour home without incident.

But during that last hour, I lost it completely.  I was so freaked that something else would happen that I would barely talk to my husband and if he looked anywhere but at the road, I snapped at him.  I would barely let him change lanes to pass other cars on the highway, and I frequently made him slow down, even to the point of being below the speed limit.  I was rigid with fear that we’d break down or have an accident.

When we made it home, I finally let myself relax a little bit and guess what happened?  I broke down again.  I’ve been crying all morning – crying when the power flickered, crying when the cable came back on, crying at the idea of getting back in that car to run errands today.  I even cry when I look at the dog, thinking about how relieved I am that he’s ok, that we’re all ok and maybe life will get back to normal this week.

This is what the last year has done to me – I sometimes just come undone, when all the smoke has cleared and I have a moment to think.  I never used to be this easily spooked, but a combination of natural disasters and personal tragedies has shaken me so badly I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same again.  I know it could get much, much worse (and just thinking about how much worse it has gotten for other people actually makes me cry again — for them), and that idea has me shaking like a leaf.  I know I can handle it (I’ve handled it so far) but I don’t want to.  I just want it to stop.  I want a little space to get myself together again and feel normal for a while.  I want peace and quiet, but at this point, I can’t remember the last time I had any.


My people are the down and out people

Today a good friend called – she got a job.  This in and of itself was cause for celebration, but her story is harder than most, and so I was brought to tears by this good news.  She’s recently widowed and was struggling with a part-time job last year to cover the bills for herself and her daughter, when the news came that she was being let go right before Christmas.  What was really crushing about this is that she was actually beloved at work – I know because I used to work with her.  She was one of those people who made you happy to be there, who always had a fresh and genuine happiness about her that she gladly shared with you.  I was pretty upset that she was laid off, both because of her situation and also selfishly, because I don’t like work as much without her there.

Since then, she’s had a hard time – she and her daughter have struggled to keep it together and stay in their home, but there have been a lot of sacrifices and many nights of worrying.  A few times, I’ve taken her out for lunch, just to take her mind off this situation, and I’ve contributed whatever I could to her, including money a few times.  I can’t give her much, but I try to give her some, because I know she’d do the same if she were in my shoes.  It isn’t about pity for me – it is really about solidarity.  I could easily end up in the same situation and if I did, I’d like to think someone would look after me a bit as well.  And she’s just a great person – even with all this going on, she’s comforted me and given me encouragement when so many other people just couldn’t be bothered.

But now she’s got a job and I am so hopeful that the tide is turning for her.  I suppose my thinking goes like this – if the tide can turn for her, maybe it can turn for me, too.  Maybe a little good news attracts more good news.  It isn’t logical, but it is what I want to believe today.

At the same time, I had to write an email to a former friend, informing her that I just wouldn’t be putting up with her crap any longer.  This friend has mostly abandoned me since I started having infertility problems and she got pregnant, and while I’m sure she’s got a long list of reasons why she’s just been too busy to see me, we both know the reason:  I’m having hard times, and she doesn’t want to be around it.  You’d think that going through a miscarriage after a year of infertility would arouse the compassion of your friends, but you know what?  Sometimes, the opposite happens.  Sometimes people leave you at the moment you need them the most.  This is the hardest truth, the one that we don’t want to talk about very often, but it is happening to me, and I find being silent about it is just no longer an option.

I’ve also had this problem with family – both my and my husband’s family wanted to just pretend the miscarriage hasn’t happened, and they wanted us to stop talking about it a few days later, and go on like everything was the same.  And we just couldn’t do that.  After a year of trying to slowly get them to understand how serious this was to us, I just lost my patience for their avoidance and their lack of support.  My husband was devastated by it – he’s never been through anything like this before, and to find that his family had nothing to say to him was just crushing.  But we can’t really live as if everything is the same as it was before – we’re in a new place now, and people who can’t handle that really can’t be around us right now.  People who can’t find compassion, who can’t understand our sense of loss and what it is going to take to rebuild our lives again – we have to let go of these people, maybe not permanently, but at least for now.  We need a support system that actually provides support, not one that drains us and makes us feel even worse.  And the hard truth – the one that it is almost taboo to say out loud – is that your family is sometimes not composed of people who will help you in times of trouble.

Of course, there are people out there who have wonderful families, full of loving and supportive people.  There are people out there who have children easily, who find the right person to marry at a young age, or have an easy, fluid employment history and no nasty breakups in their past.  But these are not my people – I have not much to say to them and very little about them is comprehensible to me.  Dare I say it – I don’t even really like people like this.  I find them boring.  My people are the down and out people, the people for whom shit has blown up in their faces, the people whose wedding days were rained out or who found themselves screaming in the street at an old lover.  I’d like to declare my allegiance to those people right now, and tell them all that I’m rooting for them.  And when the tide turns for them, as it hopefully will, I’m going to enjoy the relief they feel as if it might rub off a little on me, too.  Because I could sure use a break myself, but I’ll vicariously take one if it comes that way.

Thank You, Dick Foam

Things are…better.  I’m cautious about using that word, but I suppose you can look at the objective signs of recovery:  I get out of bed every day, I can usually manage to do something productive for at least the first half of the day before I hit the wall, and while things suck now, I am still aware that they will get better at some undetermined date in the future.  So, that’s something.

I also have little moments of grim humor.  Yesterday I misread the cast list for an old movie and thought the actor Dick Faran was named Dick Foam.  This led to a moment where I decided to Google “Dick Foam” (I don’t recommend you do that) and then spent a long puzzled moment not understanding why his name didn’t come up on IMDB.  Finally, it occurred to me that my tired eyes actually blurred the letters and there was no wonderful human named Dick Foam.  And I laughed.  Out loud.  That felt ridiculously good.  I also had a similar moment this weekend where I went out on an errand, and listened to the Rolling Stones’ song “Start Me Up” in the car, and the combination of that song plus the feel of hot sun on my skin was deeply cathartic.  I felt like a normal human being again, and it made me recognize how rare that feeling has become lately.  Jon and I were talking later, and decided that the words “Dick Foam” would become our catchphrase for a moment when you can forget the whole sordid mess for a second and just feel better.  Every time it happens, we’re gonna thank Dick Foam, the patron saint of momentary pauses in our suffering (and something less saintly, but Google him for that one).

Now I’m in a bit of limbo – I am conscious of the fact that I’m not ready to get pregnant again (and hey, it might not even be possible), but also mindful of the fact that sooner would be better than later (hello 37th birthday!).  Eventually I am going to have to move forward with this process, whatever that means at this point.  To start with, I have a lot of work to do.  After what happened with the D&C, it is clear that I need to change my infertility doctor (who, in the middle of my miscarriage, refused to see me on the grounds that “she’d discharged me” to OB so I was their problem), my OB clinic (which doesn’t even have an ultrasound machine), and the hospital where I was planning to deliver.  That’s a lot of new medical expertise to track down and try out.  I also have to decide if I want to try any assisted reproduction treatments – I was just being evaluated for that when I got pregnant, and I have no idea if I really need it or if I can do it on my own again.  I’m still being monitored for my condition so I need to follow up on that as well.  It all just sounds so exhausting when I write it down, and frankly, right now, my motivation is at its lowest ebb yet.  What I actually want to do is avoid all medical personnel for a while, and just let things drift for a month or two. Drifting is the most painless way to be right now – it keeps me from the pain of trying and failing and it gives me a little space to breathe and remember what I used to be like.

This is what infertility does – it takes over your life.  I’m hoping that anyone reading this who doesn’t understand about infertility but does know me will get that.  You remember what I used to be like, right?  I was not a person who obsessed about this kind of thing.  And yet:  look what has happened, in just under a year.  I’m not unique at all – in fact, my reaction is downright common.  But this is what this process can do to you.  You have to fight it pretty hard to get yourself back.






The only way to cope with that last post was to get drunk afterwards

After I wrote the last post, I went over to my neighbor’s house, on the pretext of giving them some cut-comb honey (sidenote – I keep bees in my backyard, and today I had to cut some comb as a part of swarm prevention).  But I knew when I went over there that they’d give me wine, and my neighbor S. would get into a big talk with me and distract me with a dozen topics she knew would keep me away from the topic of the miscarriage.  The neighbors have been fantastic – they’re a big, happy Irish Catholic family with a deep reservoir of compassion.  There are five daughters in that family, and three of them have had fertility issues, so the matriarch totally gets it and she’s like a surrogate mother to me the last two weeks.  And I think they sensed it, that I just needed to get a little drunk.  They kept my glass filled and kept me talking about anything other than babies.  The youngest daughter is only 23 (close to the average age of many of my students) and having some career issues, so I found myself doing a little educational counseling, which is one part of my job that I really love.  I always feel better when I can take my experiences and help someone else feel better, help them feel less alone and more understood.  I don’t know if they all knew I needed that and were just playing along, or if I really helped my neighbor’s daughter, but frankly, I don’t care.  I’m just grateful that someone kept my glass full and kept me away from the topic I’m sick to death of thinking about, for one blessed night.

And then I came home to Jon, who was a little freaked out but understanding, and a fussy basset hound who finally forgave me when I let him fall asleep in my lap.  This is my little family right now, and we’re all a little battered but we’re doing the best we can.  I’m pretty thankful for that, and for the people who’ve reached out to me since the last post, because I deeply appreciate that compassion.  It is almost too much for me to handle, but I’m handling it as best I can.  It is pretty good that no one has to see me right now, because I look like a crazy person – I spent my afternoon sweating in a beekeeper suit, my evening drinking white wine, and late into the night, I’m just tearful and pathetic.  Be glad you’re not seeing this live.

In the two weeks since the miscarriage, I’ve been slowly getting better – at first, I could barely get out of bed.  I just holed up in bed and watched episodes of “The Killing” for hours at a time.  (How perverse is it that the only thing I could tolerate was a crime drama about a dead teenager?  Something is wrong with me.)  Last week, I started to consider the idea that I needed to get up from time to time and accomplish something.  This week, I’ve actually started to do that and I try to get a few functional things done every day – laundry, bills, groceries, etc.  Once I’ve done something productive, I give myself permission to cry and feel like crap the rest of the day.  Next week, I’m hoping that I can get a little more done and limit the crying to just 2 hours or less, but we’ll see.  I don’t get cocky with my plans right now – the wind is so completely knocked out of me that I know better.  I feel like I’m doing pretty well just to get the bills paid and the dishes done, you know?

The other humbling factor are the number of women I know who’ve been through this before, or who have been through more and worse.  Whoever you are, if you are reading this, I want you to know:  I read your stories, and I cry for you.  I get it, I really do, the horrible things that you went through in the hospital and after, the silent suffering, the way you stifle your rage and your despair and slap on a functional get-through-it face that nobody even bothers to notice is completely false.  Those of you who’ve done this more than once, or who went even further in your pregnancies before they ended, or who went through months and years of treatment cycles and gritting your teeth and trying not to let it take over your life (even as it takes over your life), I just want you to know that I read what you write me privately, or I read what you posted anonymously online.  I’m the person who stays up all night these days, reading those messages in bottles.  Sometimes the only comfort I can take in all of this is that I’m not the only one – that is a weird, grim sort of comfort, which hinges rather unfortunately on the fact that you suffer just as much as I do.  But there it is, we’re all having this shitty moment together.  Oh well!  At least we also live in an age where you can buy wine for $6 at the grocery store.  Trade-offs!




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