Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Representation Matters

Ah, holiday cards. I am way behind on ours. I think they may be New Year's cards at this rate. I don't know how life got so busy, but I am in complete shock that this coming weekend is the weekend before Christmas (I mean, the following weekend is Christmas Eve, but still!). How did that happen?

I think others are in the same boat, as we've gotten maybe 6 cards so far, so I don't feel horribly behind. I'm happy to say that all of the cards I've gotten so far with kids in them also feature the adult members of the family -- something that loribeth at The Road Less Traveled writes extensively about here. Everyone deserves to be on the card!

As for us, I think we are going to do the thing that is all the things we love to do (and can do) now that we're a family of two, definitely. If people see it as sad that says more about them than it does about us...and we are going for a bit of the snark here. I envision that chaise lounge shot with the cocktail dress and champagne glass, stylized "whoops, we slept in until 11???" shot with a giant old fashioned alarm clock if I can find one, stacks of books, Bryce doing crazy math without numbers in his office, tasting a really nice bottle of wine, etc. with some sort of "life is good" message...Bryce said we should make a tombstone that says "Mystery Baby" but I felt that was a little TOO morbid, so, um, NO. Fairly sure he was kidding but you just never know with that lunatic. I think we can put a little note on the back thanking everyone for their support but that the quest for mystery baby is over. There are people who I keep in touch with via holiday cards who are not on Facebook and who don't know, not because they don't care enough but because they were in a sphere that didn't get the blast (which was also fairly vague on Facebook, only if you read up here in April-May-June did you get the whole story).

Anyway. Not everyone cares about/for the photo cards, but I love them -- they can be so creative, they can give a snapshot of a year (I keep them all, and it's fun to look back), and they streamline the whole sending-cards thing (I still address my envelopes by hand, but I love the options to put a message on the back that comes already done...maybe a bit less personal but SO MUCH EASIER).

The problem is, when I actually looked through my options for card designs, I was WOEFULLY disappointed to find that the catalog for TinyPrints contained ZERO childfree couples or single people, and Shutterfly had ONE out of the myriad adorable kids and sleeping babies that was a young couple and their dog. WTF, card companies? I mean, I get that "Look at my adorable baby/bevy of adorable kids" is sort of your target demographic, but BRANCH OUT for those of us who don't have an engagement/wedding to announce or a baby or child (or four) to parade at the holidays. It felt like an unspoken message -- "You are only worthy of this kind of card if you have all those things -- these aren't meant for you childless/single folks."

I mean, I know someone who searched for "photo cards for singles" and then decided to send "normal" paper cards because the options weren't great. Shouldn't we be at the point where there's just PHOTO CARDS and you don't have to label yourself? That you can send out a photo card of you on vacation or doing something fun and it doesn't have to be "me and my cats, har de har har har;" it doesn't have to make your life into a punchline?

But alas, if you look at the actual card design catalogs, I can see how you would think you need to look up something specifically for single, or childless, or that the photo card is just not for you and your life.

Well SCREW THAT. I know lots of people (especially outside the U.S.) don't get the photo card thing, it's sort of like a visual Christmas letter (and can be just as narcissistic and awful), and is maybe getting to be passe since social media like Facebook allows people to put a curated version of their life out to the masses. I can probably guess what the card photo(s) will be for some of my friends. It's real fun though when what I get is novel and I've never seen those photos in quite that way before, or ever.

Why should the people with kids have all the fun? There are SO MANY people who send out great cards, and who have lovely photos to share. Maybe not the intricate scenarios that ours have turned into (but that sure do give me a kick), but can't the advertising include ALL of us? Out of all the cards shown there was also only one same-sex couple, and they had a baby, too. Include those without kids, for whatever reason! Include those who are single! Include older people without the grandchild parade!

I plan to send an email or a letter to the folks at Shutterfly/TinyPrints. I think they ought to know that their ad campaigns are sorely missing what could be a key demographic. Harrumph.

Monday, December 11, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Whomp Whomp Update

Today was a weird day. I went for my yearly uterus check, which is crazy because that means it's been a whole year since I've had my melonballer procedure (more accurately known as endomyometrial resection), and almost a year since I've had any form of period. A trend I hope continues indefinitely.

At my check, I asked if the doctor could also check out my ovaries, you know, because I have a (somewhat) irrational fear that all the hormones I subjected myself to to no avail are going to try to kill me via ovarian or breast cancer. Ovarian cancer is particularly scary to me because it can be asymptomatic for a while and then BAM, bad news.

Good news -- I don't have ovarian cancer.

Also good news -- I can take care of all my gynecological exam needs at my specialist's office, which means that next year I can get my uterus (and ovaries) checked AND get a pap smear/chat about impending menopause. And there won't be any pregnant people milling about (sorry pregnant people but that's a plus for me), AND no one will EVER ask me if I could be pregnant. Everyone there knows that's impossible.

Then I went and had a lovely facial -- I decided to start doing fancy things for my skin in October, and this is my second facial at the same place where I get massages. The first time was lovely, and even though the aesthetician (never know if I spell that right) was pregnant, it wasn't awkward. Well, she's way more pregnant now and it came up EVERY FIVE MINUTES of the hour, no joke. I look forward to when she is no longer pregnant. I think the low part of the chatting was when she told me that she specifically timed this pregnancy to fall around the holidays so that she wouldn't have to do too much and would get out of hanging lights and whatnot, which was funny but also HOW NICE TO BE ABLE TO PLAN THAT KIND OF THING...she's in her early 20s though so maybe it's easier then for most people. Yeesh. My skin is very soft though, and she is actually very nice despite being all about the belly right now.

Anyway. I am feeling less brutally sad about the demise of our final embryos (and I wasn't in tune with the universe, the thaw date was 11/29, because I had to ask, but I can pretend that the news traveled to me early or something, right?), and steeling myself to write the card to the couple to respond to the incredibly heartfelt words of sorrow that they sent to us through Snowflakes. Words that made me cry, as we'll never share an odd sort of family together, but I loved how they said that we'd always be part of their story. How do you write a card that is both condolence and encouraging, I'm sorry for your loss and our loss and all the loss, period? I guess I'll find out. It's definitely still weird to think that this whole chapter of our life is totally over.

Huh. This is somewhat of a WHOMP WHOMP downer update, but some of them are just like that. I hope that the holiday season is kind to you!

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Heartbroken

My phone rang just minutes ago, and it was an 800 number. I don't usually pick up unless I know who will be on the other end, but for some reason I thought maybe I should pick this call up.

Maybe it was because I just placed a whole boatload of Christmas shopping orders and I worried something was wrong.

Well, something WAS wrong, it just had nothing to do with the holiday purchases.

It was my contact at Snowflakes, who was calling with an unexpected update.

At first when she said that I thought that maybe the woman in the couple was unexpectedly, spontaneously pregnant, and I braced myself for this news, because that would be wonderful for them but I didn't know how I would feel about it.

I never in a million years expected that they decided to do a transfer and didn't call with an update until all was said and done (which I totally understand, my goodness the pressure of updating people on your cycle doings). And that when they went to thaw the 2PN embryos that were Bryce's sperm and donor eggs... NOT ONE OF THEM SURVIVED THAW.

None.

And just like that, the last dream of hope has died.

The hope that we held that our embryos could survive and become children to be raised by another family.

The hope that another uterus was the answer to our fertility woes.

The hope of any answer at all.

The hope for this couple, who was beyond sweet and we felt a strange long-distance kinship with and exchanged words of hope and condolences with over the past two years.

I feel like all my hard-won scar tissue has been ripped open and I'm raw and bleeding all over again.

I am devastated. I am devastated first for this couple, who took a chance on embryos that came from a couple who were unsuccessful at EVERYTHING related to family-building, who believed in our embryos and wanted to give them the chance we couldn't. I am devastated that NONE of our embryos worked for them. I can't imagine how it must feel (well, maybe I can, actually) to thaw 6 one-day embryos in hopes of maybe 2-3 survivors and be left with NONE, right before Christmas. To have fought for a transfer day over a period of years, and have it end with a fizzle.

I know what it's like to have an anticlimactic end to an era of cycles. I don't know what their plans are, but if they continue on they'll need to match up with another family looking to place their embryos and go through all this all over again, or start a brand new process, or make peace with a life without children. But to have things end with this loss of all hope instilled in those 6 tiny cells... how awful.

And of course I am heartbroken for us. There were no second chances. There won't be a strange, grafted family tree. We won't get to see any of our genetics play out in other children raised halfway across the country. That dream is dead. The hope that some part of us could live on and we could have some kind of relationship in the future is dead. And for the love of all that's holy, we couldn't catch a break with ANYTHING?

I am also heartbroken because I feel somehow responsible for this couple's misfortune, for their grief. I know it's not logical. I know that they chose us knowing that our material was "unproven." But we still feel like we set them up for failure somehow. That anything related to us and our journey was somehow tainted by whatever dark and noxious cloud sat on everything reproductive for us.

The odd thing is that yesterday I was unbearably sad. I can't explain it. I literally just felt like curling up in a ball and pretending to hibernate. I told Bryce I felt like a pillbug (or a roly-poly, or an armadilla bug, depends on where you're from). I just sat in my chair downstairs and cried silent tears. I sincerely wonder if the thaw failed yesterday. If somehow I knew that something was not quite right in the universe, that there was something to cry for, something big to mourn. I chalked it up to the holiday blues, but now I wonder if it was some sort of in-tune-with-the-cosmos mourning.

There's just so many layers to this loss.

Monday, December 4, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: Walking Away

I found this at the teacher's union craft sale a couple weeks ago, and finally put it in a frame that was originally going to house one of our photos from our California trip (but woefully I have yet to have prints made).

I think it's quite something, don't you?



Especially since it just appeared, at a very mainstream, very family-friendly event, and spoke right to the heart of me.

It's in my beautiful office now, a reminder that sometimes walking away is the hardest choice, but it's also the best choice so you can keep on walking forward.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! Also I am so proud of myself for playing by the rules this time -- FOUR sentences! WOO!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Any News?

I am home sick today with a supposed sinus infection that has me dizzy, exhausted, feeling like I have a head full of poison, and no voice. I tried to go into school yesterday and ended up leaving at the end of 5th period (after my English co-teacher basically banned me from his room and said "GO HOME." and my TA had been after me to go home, too). It was a bizarre day, since I'd taken NyQuil the night before and actually got a good night's sleep, but woke up at 7:20 (I'm supposed to be at school by 7:30) and rushed to get out the door and in to my classroom by the start of class at 7:55. I just made it, but sans glasses -- I realized after shutting the door and walking to my car that I didn't have them on my face, but I had my keys in the car to defrost the windshield, and I decided to run with it since I had prescription sunglasses in the car. Sigh. Not a good day.

I went to the doctor at 3:30 after a long nap, and it was the same nurse practitioner who saw me through my horrible flu bout two years ago in April. She is definitely the earth-mother type and has a great sense of humor. She always talked with me about adoption, especially since one day I had the Adoptee Survival Guide with me as reading material and she asked a bunch of questions since her husband was adopted and he did not have a good experience with it. He had passed years earlier, but she thought that her children might want the information about search and reunion for their own knowledge, since it was a closed adoption and they had little information, and clearly health history would be important since he died young (in addition to just the right to know).

I forgot I hadn't seen her since before April.

"So, any news? What's new?" She asked with a twinkle in her eye.

"Um, this year is going well so far, work is going great..." I said in my hoarse voice.

"No, I meant, ANY NEWS?" and she winked.

"Oh. OH. Oh, no. Um, we ended that journey last spring. That didn't go well. I'm so sorry not to have better news for you." She looked a little crushed, so I continued on,

"You see, last year was horrifically bad. We had a 10 month period with absolutely no calls, and then two calls that were very last minute and hopeful but resulted in not being chosen, and it just got to be too much. Maybe if we hadn't done 13 IVF cycles before starting adoption it might have turned out differently..."

"Oh, oh yes. That sounds so hard, a lot to deal with. Only you are an expert on you, and what you can and cannot handle." She said, like a true wise woman.

"Yup, and when you land yourself in the ER with scleritis and the prednisone mimics heart attack symptoms and you have a bit of a mental breakdown at work...well then it's time to re-examine your priorities."

"Oh my. How difficult that must have been."

"Yeah. It was pretty awful. I'm on anxiety medication now, which has helped, but it was all just really unfortunate."

Then, I forgot how we got to it, but she said something along the lines of "Life is not just, there's just life." Which I love. What a great way to put things.

At another point in the conversation, between listening to my lungs and sparing me the indignity of the scale, she said, "Ah, it's like 'Where is the happy uncomplicated life I signed up for?'" while shaking her fist at the ceiling.

"Oh no," I said. "For as much as we've lost so much, I am actually very happy with my life. I have a lot to be thankful for, I am very fortunate in many other ways." And that's truly how I feel, and what I remind myself of when I feel down at the endless stream of family Christmas shoots and tree-cutting and even the weird tradition of putting your baby on some bearded guy's lap at the mall so they can cry adorably.

But then I realized...she is not the last person to not know what happened with our journey. I will have to repeat this conversation with my gynecologist when I go for my annual, and with neighbors who don't know yet that we pulled the plug who might ask out of curiosity. And not everyone is going to react in such a caring, loving way as the nurse practitioner.

Just the other day I ran into the Superintendent, who had been supportive during our quest and "hands are tied" apologetic about the sad state of adoption leave with the district, despite offering "more than any other district at 5 days paid leave." I realized he didn't know we weren't adopting anymore, so I pulled him aside in the hall and told him. His response was a little bit shocked, a little bit sad, and then this, "Well, you never know what the future might bring, there's always hope if you have faith." Um, that's nice and all, but I actually DO know what the future will bring here and it's not bringing any tiny miracle babies. I let him know that we were actually at peace with our decision and we look forward to a happy life as a couple, but it reminded me of how many people still see that as a very sad outcome, and can't justify in their minds that you can be childless and happy at the same time.

I am still figuring out how to do my holiday cards this year in a way that will make it abundantly clear that we are now a family of two plus cats, and I'm struggling. I still intend to have the picture of me with a cocktail in a pretty dress on my chaise lounge, but what other pictures? Pictures of our California trip? I toyed with the idea of having someone come take pictures of us enjoying our life as is, eating a delicious meal that we cooked together, reading in pajamas in our new chair, me typing in my new office, out for a hike...but Bryce thought maybe that might be construed as "sad." Which then made me sad, because I find great joy in those things. But last year we had a little text on the back of our card explaining the second year of the adoption process, and I feel like maybe a little tribute to the end of our journey wouldn't be bad since some people actually thought last year's tongue-in-cheek card was a pregnancy announcement (!).

Maybe if I send out something abundantly clear but joyful, I won't have to explain to the few people left who don't know our situation. And then next year's card can just be a card, without any sort of message about our family status. A non-press-release card, ha.

I guess people won't ever stop asking the question, but I'm hoping that at some point everyone I know will know how this particular chapter of our story ended, and I won't have to tell it again and again to people who saw some sliver of what our life was like while we were desperately trying to introduce a child into our family.

Monday, November 27, 2017

#Microblog Mondays: You Don't Have Kids

I had another lovely interaction with a coworker, one I also didn't challenge, for some reason.

I'm in a Young Adult Book Club, where teachers and staff get to read new YA literature and discuss it so we can recommend it to kids and keep current. So, naturally, November's book was Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (you know him from The Fault in Our Stars, or Paper Towns, and he is amazing).

One of the teachers in my hallway stopped me a week ago and said, "Have you read Turtles All the Way Down yet? Can you get it into it? Does it get better?" [I loved it, in case you were wondering]

And I said, "Well, um..."

"You FINISHED it, didn't you!"

"Yes," I replied, and before I could say more she said,

"Well of course, because you don't have kids, you can read more!" and then disappeared back into her room, leaving me more than a little flabbergasted.

Because she knows me, if not super well, then well enough to know that I DON'T HAVE KIDS FOR A REASON, and that reason is painful and a terrible loss and really not a hallway-flyby sort of matter.

What I was going to say was that I finished it because I coerced the librarian into giving me my copy of the book several weeks early, because I was dying to read it. And yes, I finished it quickly, and yes, having no children at home probably definitely does make it easier for me to read voraciously (I read a book a day over Thanksgiving break, which was possible in part because I was (am) sick and so couldn't really do anything else, not that I wanted to).

But, it threw me off how flippantly she said, "It's because you don't have kids at home."

On the other hand, maybe I am just so well-adjusted (publicly) from this grief and loss that people can forget about the horrorshow that was last year and the pain of the last 8 years, particularly if they didn't know me that well during most of it, and so she said that because she CAN forget that I don't have kids because I tried just about every way you can and hit roadblocks every. single. time. Because it's not apparent, because I am not a sad sap, because I appear (and I am) happy.

The librarian actually said that today, "You look so upbeat lately, I keep meaning to ask how you're doing with all the transition and that part of your life being over, but I keep forgetting because you seem so happy."

There's no seem about it. I am happy. And I am grateful that a side effect of my loss is unabridged reading time -- that's a positive I'll take!

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Phrase I Just Don't Get

I was hanging out with a teacher friend one afternoon. We talked about our stories, our challenges, and the fact that your struggles aren't always easily apparent. She was a really good listener, and she was super sensitive about my situation, and very much in the vein of "I had no idea you were going through all that to the extent that you were until you broke last year, but it was never apparent to students or coworkers, you just didn't let it ooze out onto us."

Which was lovely, and made me feel good because I tried real hard to make that be the case until I couldn't anymore, but I NEVER took it out on my students.

But then for some reason we got onto fears, and I shared one of my biggest -- that I might die young, either from a gynecological cancer related to the many years of treatment and fiddling with my body, or in a random act of violence. The random act of violence one has been there forever: I am petrified of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and have been known to ask Bryce if we can leave a place because I get an icky feeling. (I'm sure this isn't related to my anxiety at all.) The specificity of the cancer is new, but the weaselly-in-the-brain thought that I might die of an incurable disease? Not so much.

She said she got it, and that for the longest time she thought she was going to die when she was some random age in her mid-thirties. Like, convinced. So much so that when she hit that year the whole 365 days was fairly anxiety-ridden and unpleasant. But it didn't happen, and that was a long time ago.

When does the phrase I simply don't get come in? When she said the dreaded,

"But by the time I was that age, I had children, and so I had no choice -- I COULD NOT DIE, IT SIMPLY WASN'T AN OPTION."

I mean, not that she was PLANNING it or anything, but that the mere idea of dying young when you have children is just not plausible, because you have so much to live for, tiny lives who depend on you.

It's not the first time I've heard this sentiment, that once you have kids, dying is just not an option.

Yet I'm pretty sure there are people who have died who had young children.

And the inverse is incredibly icky.

I GUESS DYING IS TOTALLY AN OPTION FOR ME. I mean, I don't have children to live for. So what's the point?

(This is purely rhetorical of course. Please do not send out the Mobile Crisis Unit for a mental health arrest.) 

I really hate that phrase because while I can understand feeling like children give you a reason to live, um, can't other things do that, too? It's fine for your kids to give you a reason to live, but should it be the ONLY reason?

It seems to totally back up that whole "My life just meant more when I had children" thing that people say.

I'd like to think my life means "more" now, even without children.

My husband depends on me.

And if I didn't have a husband, my family, my friends, my cats, my neighbors, my coworkers, my students...I'd like to think that they would all be sad and irrevocably changed if I were to pass away.

This is a far more morbid post than I'd intended, but it begs the question...

Is your death sadder if you have children? Is your life worth more because of it? 

I'd like to think no. I'd like to think that every single person would be missed for a variety of reasons, and children are just one. That a life can be just as meaningful and just as much of a loss, and that your life is just as much worth fighting for if you DON'T have children than if you do.

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, I've seen quite a few posts on what people say about having children that makes the inverse cringe-worthy from Mali, Different Shores, Infertile PhoenixLoribeth, BentNotBroken, and more.

So why is this such a thing? And why didn't I challenge my teacher friend on it? I thought about it, but I felt maybe we didn't know each other QUITE well enough for me to say, "Well, I guess I can just roll over and die, since I have no children to live for and never will" followed by maniacal laughter. It's possible that might not have gone well.

I wish people would think about the implied (if not always directly) inverse of these statements. Then again, what would I have to write about if so many people suddenly gained this kind of sensitivity? (Cue maniacal laughter.)