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We Are Not In Charge

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Over the twenty-one months we tried and failed to get pregnant, I had a lot of opportunity to think about God’s timing.

After five months of trying and failing to get pregnant, I got to perform in a show that meant the world to me. The rehearsal and performance schedule was grueling on top of my day job and it would have been hard to keep up if I was also dealing with that first trimester exhaustion, but the experience was so creatively fulfilling that it kept me powered up for months. “OK,” I thought. “This must be why we don’t have a baby yet.” God was giving me this chance to realize a dream of mine, even if it meant postponing a dream I had for our family.

I was offered a job at a new school after nine months of trying and failing to get pregnant. It was a leap I couldn’t have made if we were pregnant already, and it was one I felt like I really needed to take. “OK,” I thought. “This must be why we don’t have a baby yet.” God was pushing me towards a learning opportunity that could help us build a better future for our family, even if it meant waiting longer for that family to grow.

We had been trying and failing to get pregnant for 17 months when some oral surgery I had been avoiding for a year suddenly became imperative. I’d procrastinated scheduling the procedure, sure every month that I would be pregnant and the surgery would have to be canceled anyway. “OK,” I thought. “This must be why we don’t have a baby yet.” God knew I needed to address this dental issue and had made space to make sure I took care of myself.

And now, almost a full two years after we started trying for a second child, I am finally, and with great joy, and with great relief, pregnant.

It happened during a month when I thought it was absolutely not possible. I never had a positive ovulation test, I thought we missed our window, I hadn’t been as careful about tracking as I thought I needed to be.

But lo and behold, a few weeks later I found myself dozing off at odd moments and shooting eye daggers at anyone who dared eat fish in my general vicinity. And here we are, almost 11 weeks in to a new adventure that I was starting to despair we would never get to go on.

I find myself wondering, though – why now?

Maybe God was waiting for me to surrender. The good news came less than 48 hours before our first appointment with an IVF specialist. I was truly done expecting that our family was going to grow without medical intervention.

Maybe God knew this was just the right time. If so, his ways continue to be pretty freaking mysterious, since we found out we were pregnant less than a week after buying a new house in a new town on total impulse. But maybe God knew growing a new life in the midst of this chaos was exactly what we needed to do.

Deep down, I suspect both of these explanations might be true, but they really serve to drive home a bigger lesson, the biggest lesson I have learned from parenting Ella, the only piece of advice I can ever offer expectant parents:

We Are Not In Charge.

I had a lot of expectations, heading into motherhood the first time around. I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted to cloth diaper and make my own baby food. I pictured myself with my angelic offspring, zen-filled, doing Mommy & Me yoga in total bliss.

But Ella had other ideas.

She would not, or possibly could not, nurse. My supply never caught up from having to supplement right at the beginning, and soon enough we were loading up on Enfamil at $35 per tub.

The cloth diapers couldn’t handle the hard water at our apartment and consistently leaked where Ella’s tiny thighs didn’t fill the leg holes.

She refused to eat any purees I made myself, immediately recognizing the packaging as imposter.

And yoga class could truly not have been any less blissful, with Ella attempting to scale the fountain shrine during the 30 seconds it took me to roll out our mat. She spent the rest of the class shouting at people and repeatedly retrieving our coats. “Home,” she said, as in “We go there now.”

I’m not the mother I thought I was going to be. Ella is not the person I expected. And this journey to grow our family has not been what I hoped for.

But different isn’t better, or worse. It’s just different, and so much of my work as a mom has been to accept, understand, and cherish the ways our reality is different than what I anticipated. That knowledge is one of the greater gifts motherhood has given me.

I don’t know that God would have put us through the difficulty of the last two years of trying and failing to get pregnant just to remind me that I am not in charge.

But I do know that the reminder is appreciated, as we prepare for a new reality that will change our family forever and wait in anticipation to meet a brand new human, who will have ideas of his or her own about that reality.

We are not in charge, and that’s kind of beautiful.

 

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Sharing is Caring – and a little bit more

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With a three year old in the house, I spend a lot of time thinking about sharing. I guess when I went back to work after maternity leave, I assumed one of the benefits of having Ella in daycare full time from the very beginning was that she would be used to sharing with other kids by the time we gave her a sibling.

Imagine my surprise when all that socializing actually produced territoriality instead of generosity! Turns out spending most of her days with kids who are also learning boundaries has made my Junebug a bit fierce about what’s hers.

She loses her mind when one of the cats sits in her favorite spot on the couch. She hoards her toys and treats around younger cousins. And God help anyone who dares to use her special rainbow bath towel.

“Think about how your friend feels,” we tell her. “Sharing makes our friends happy.”

I’m slowly realizing that this is possibly the wrong way to approach it – that our sharing makes other people happy is really only half the story.

I’m a pretty private person, by nature, so it took a lot for me to start sharing my stories online. Then, last fall, I wrote something about my experience of 9/11 and, in a moment of uncharacteristic bravery, shared it.

The response blew me away – not so much the number of views, although that was pretty terrifying to watch, but really the number of people who thanked me for sharing what they’d never been able to, and the number of people who then were inspired to share their own story.

That one little post, written in a frenzy after more wine than usual and shared without much thought for the possible consequences, gave me enough confidence that this sharing idea was maybe a good one. So, when my husband and I reached an unspoken milestone in our effort to have a second child, I felt like maybe, just maybe, sharing that journey was a worthwhile endeavor.

Even though I am private, especially about body stuff. Even though it made me feel pretty squirmy inside to put this out in the world. Even though I wasn’t sure how I would feel about talking, in real life, to real people, about what we were going through.

You guys. The sharing. It is the best thing.

Not only because it lifted a burden I didn’t even really know I was carrying, and not only because people have been so kind in their feedback about my writing.

But because me sharing has made other people share, too. I have been completely humbled by the women who have read my sharing and reached out with their own – in the comments here and elsewhere, over e-mail, in private messages, over coffee.

Things get so heavy when we carry them on our own. Maybe more sharing is really the right idea.

So, I’m pleased as punch that a story I published over at Coffee + Crumbs last week is being shared today at For Every Mom. Welcome to anyone who clicked over from there. I’m so happy to share a little bit of my life with you.

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Welcome!

IMG_4669.JPGI have a story I’m proud of up over at Coffee + Crumbs today. Welcome to anyone who clicked over from there!

Truth is, I have mixed feelings about sharing this essay – Six Days Late, which I wrote about six months ago. I almost didn’t submit it anywhere, because I wasn’t ready to talk about this baby-making business yet. But I figured by the time it was published, I’d be pregnant and it wouldn’t bother me anymore.

I’m not, obviously, and although I’ve lost some of my squeamishness about sharing this struggle, I still have a hard time balancing where I am with where I thought I’d be.

More on this expectation vs. reality balance later, but in the meantime, thanks for reading. I really appreciate it.

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A Hard Time

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Once, about a hundred years ago, Jon and I called off our wedding. There was a lot more to it than that, so it’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say, it was a hard time. 

But no one knew. A few months after we’d canceled the venue, photographer, DJ, and more that we’d been so excited about, someone at work asked how the plans were coming. I took a huge swallow of Diet Coke to keep myself from tearing up and casually mentioned that the wedding had been canceled. 

That coworker, an older woman who dealt with me more like a grandchild than a colleague, shook her head and said she couldn’t believe I hadn’t said anything and had been showing up to work with a smile on my face. 

At the time, this was a point of pride for me. I thought it meant I was a tough cookie, that I could just keep moving seamlessly even when I felt like my heart had been torn apart at the seams, the threads that used to hold me together waving around in the wind.

My mother had a heart attack over winter recess one year in college. No one knew. I was the girl whose depression support group called her “the cheerleader” until they found out at the last meeting that I had only recently quit cutting myself to stay alive. 

I’m not able to do this anymore – this smile while you bleed thing. And although I still sometimes feel like I am sacrificing pride, I am starting to see the value of owning up to having a hard time. 

I have been frustrated, over the last two years of trying to make a baby, at people’s insensitivity. But if I keep smiling and saying I’m all right and changing the subject, whose fault is that insensitivity? 

Maybe it’s time to let myself be a real mess, so we can all be on the same page. 

When you ask if we are planning to have another child. When you ask if Ella is my first or second, as though a second is a given.

When you jokingly warn me not to have another child. 

When you remind me to have patience and faith in God’s timing. 

When you gently suggest I not plan my immediate future around something that may be an impossibility.

When you try to help me visualize the baby that must be on its way any moment now.

When you tell me it will all work out how it is supposed to, when it is supposed to.

When you say these things, or – ideally – when you are thinking about saying these things but haven’t said them yet, what I need you to remember is that I am not seamless. That the stitches that used to hold me together have come loose and are flapping around in the wind and I am left wide open. 

Sometimes it is fine and I hear you and keep moving. Sometimes I am tired and don’t have the energy to fend off my own reaction. Sometimes you are the third person who has said this kind of thing today and I am out of patience. And sometimes you are the first person but I can already feel the other two in line behind you.

Do you know how many different people have said one of these things – in love, I know – to me in the very few weeks since I started telling people we want another baby? So. Many. People. I presume they all mean well, because they are people who love or at least like me. 

And I’m not exempt here. I’ve said some of these things to women I love and like. I’ve commented on other people’s family planning with little to no context about where they’re at or what their hopes were or how they got here.

Now I know: I am an asshole. I didn’t mean to be an asshole, and I know most people are not trying to be assholes. 

I would like to propose a deal:

If I can remember that you are not trying to be an asshole on purpose, maybe you could try to remember that I am having a very hard time. 

Even if I am smiling, even if it seems like I am managing well. 

I am having a very hard time.

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Patience

 

hands-woman-girl-silver“Patience is a virtue.” It’s something my dad used to tell us constantly when we were kids, to the point that as a teenager I decided I hated both patience AND virtues. As a sort-of grown up, I actually think of myself as a pretty patient person. Patience might be a virtue, but it’s also in short supply for me right now.

I really thought this month was the month.

I had an HSG scan, which, in the words of Janet, the compassionate and well-meaning tech who held my hand through the procedure, uses something like “a cocktail straw,” that takes about 45 minutes to insert via speculum, to inject a dye that “works like drain-o” to flush out your plumbing while a radiologist watches via X-ray to see if anything is clogged.

Apparently this procedure is fairly quick and painless for many women. It was neither of those things for me and had followed a pretty stressful morning (uncooperative toddler, a work emergency I wasn’t able to deal with because of this appointment, unusual traffic, and an incorrect location given to me by hospital staff, all of which made me run late) so by the time I had cleaned myself up and was heading out the door of the exam room to go home, I was in a pretty fragile state. Janet explained the law of attraction to me and suggested I try telling everyone I will have a baby in 2017. I wasn’t sure where to even start with an honest response to that so instead thanked her for holding my hand and left before losing it.

The one thing I kept repeating to myself while trying to hold it together was that this procedure often results in increased fertility in the first month or so after you have it. Between the HSG and some tweaks a urologist had recommended for Jon’s biology, I felt really good about our odds for getting pregnant in March. I even lost a few pounds, which, although I’m not very overweight, I thought might help.

But now it’s time, again, to come to terms with the fact that we are not pregnant.

I don’t know how people do this for years and years. We are approaching the two year mark and I could crawl out of my skin with heartbreak and impatience. And I am ever mindful that I am blessed to already have a healthy, perfect child, and that I haven’t even gotten to the really invasive, disruptive, uncomfortable stuff yet. I am in awe of couples who persevere.

While we figure out next steps, I am taking deep breaths. I am holding Ella close. I am thanking God for what I have and asking his forgiveness for my impatience. And I am trying to give myself the grace to slow down, to rest, and to grieve that there is just no baby this time.

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The Best We Can

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I wrote this awhile ago, before I was ready to fess up about our fertility problems but just after the first executive order travel ban was signed. I’m in a better place about all of this now, but I’m visiting NYC today with Ella, and our hotel looks down on the WTC memorial, and I’m feeling this same tension between being so grateful for what I have and so despairing about the damage we humans inflict on each other. Seemed like the right moment to share.

……………………….

It’s 8:30pm on Sunday night, and this week has already exhausted me.

It could be because I spent Friday juggling a packed work agenda with a strep-stricken toddler. Days when my professional responsibilities are in direct conflict with what I know is best for my family wear me out like nothing else. Days like Friday make me feel like I am fighting an uphill battle for no good reason at all.

It could be because Saturday we missed a much needed and long overdue grown up night out. No way could we leave a fever-y kiddo for the night, and even when she’s sick I’m happy to have extra snuggle time. But we’d been looking forward to a night out together, to help remember we are still people, and we ended up missing a big family function.

It could be because I spent Sunday celebrating my nephew’s first birthday. This was a happy occasion, and I wanted to be happy, and I was so happy for everyone else. But I also spent the party fighting back panic, trying to convince myself that somehow we are going to have another baby. Even though it’s been so long that we’ve been trying, even though I feel like my body has taken such a beating since we got so easily pregnant with Ella June, even though I feel like I have aged 100 years since then. Please don’t let this be over for us, I kept pleading with God in my head, as we sang happy birthday and ate cake and watched a photo montage of Daniel’s miraculous first year. There is no reason to think we are done having children, and still after a year and a half of trying, there is no baby. I do not know what I will do if I can never be pregnant again.

It could also be that it seems our leaders are hell bent on burning this world down around us. Every time I close my eyes, I see a toddler, like Ella, blue skinned, face down in the sand with the waves washing over him. I think of his mother and father, everyone who loved him. I think of his miraculous life, the one he will never get to live. And I think of what terror he must have felt, slipping under the water alone. Ella is afraid of the noise of the toilet flushing, and I think of this child dying with the sound of the ocean roaring in his ears. It burns me to think of this.

We are inhuman for allowing this. Maybe we should all burn for allowing this to continue.

I stand in the kitchen for a moment, numb with despair and futility, staring at my dark reflection in the microwave door. But Jon calls me into Ella’s room to sing a goodnight song. I kiss my daughter’s precious cheek. And I go back into the kitchen to make her lunches for the week. There’s something comforting about seeing all of her food lined up and ready. And in the end, this is all I can do. Feed my family, love my family, pray for my family and for our human family that everything will be all right. That god, however we understand him or her or it, is with us. That we are doing the best we can, and that somehow it will be enough.

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I have to tell you something.

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I have to tell you something.

It’s OK – don’t panic, no one is dying. But I’ve been keeping a secret from you. It’s gone on for too long, and now it is too heavy, and I just need you to know.

For the last eighteen months, we have been trying to get pregnant. And it’s not working.

We don’t know why yet, and maybe no one will be able to tell us with any certainty. I am hopeful that someone will help us find a way forward, even if we don’t really know what brought us here.

I didn’t tell you at first because I thought it would be easy. It was so very easy the last time.

And then I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to feel like a pot, watched carefully for signs of boiling.

And then I didn’t tell you because I knew I would have no patience for your supportive optimism.

And then I didn’t tell you because I couldn’t tell you without succumbing to melodrama and desperation – and, possibly because there is so little dignity to be had in the physical processes of fertility testing and treatment, dignity wherever I could get it seemed paramount.

And now I am telling you because I can’t quite bear the weight of doing this quietly anymore. I am going to have to talk about it, and this is scary for me and possibly uncomfortable for you, and I’m sorry.

Maybe we will all luck out and this will be resolved in a few months and we can all breathe a sigh of mutual relief that we can talk about a baby instead of hormones and eggs and sperm and mucus.

I recognize that eighteen months is the blink of an eye to some people who have struggled with infertility. This is a pep talk I give myself regularly: it could get much harder. Have courage now.

So I am trying, and telling you is part of this effort to have courage. Please have patience with me. This is unfamiliar ground for all of us, and I am continually praying for the grace to navigate the path we are on.

Courage and patience and grace. Repeat as needed.