Monday, December 31, 2007
There were health concerns in our family: FIL may have had a small stroke this summer, dh (who is an extreme worrywart) survived his first colonoscopy, but had some abnormal bloodwork at his annual checkup that obsessed him (even though the dr said repeatedly that it was nothing to worry about), my sister had an alarming dizzy spell this fall, & I took a bang to the head in August & am still feeling it, on & off, four months plus later. I've always thought our marriage was strong (it had to be to survive stillbirth & infertility...!), but these & a few other matters put some stress on our relationship this year.
BIL & oldest nephew have been having some typical parent-child battles about his future (nephew has grand aspirations of becoming a horror movie director; BIL is pulling out what hair he has left trying to interest nephew in learning a trade), which have made family gatherings awkward from time to time -- especially for me & dh, who want so badly to help -- seeing BIL's perspective, but also wanting to encourage our nephew -- but not wanting to say too much, because what do we childless people know about raising kids, right??
I find myself seized with fatigue & inertia. I feel scattered. Our passport applications have been languishing on the coffee table for months & months, and it looks like another year is going to pass by without the February sunspot vacation I've long dreamed about. The house is in serious need of decluttering (another sore spot between dh & me). Some days I just feel overwhelmed with so much to do & so little time to do it all in. My to-do list never seems to get any shorter. (And people think we childless folk have soooo much free time on our hands...!!)
My favourite scrapbook store closed, leaving me adrift & "homeless" for several months.
On the plus side: nutty as it was at work this year, I still enjoy it overall, and am back working for a boss I like & work well with. Our health concerns have really been minor, in the grand scheme of things, and there is still much, much more in our marriage that is good than difficult. We are still facilitating our support group & finding fulfillment in doing that. We enjoy the friends we've made through the group -- although a few of them either have moved or are in the process of moving right now. :( A new scrapbooking store opened, frequented by many of the friends I made at the old store.
And I discovered blogging! ; )
I will admit I am approaching 2008 with some trepidation. Feb. 8, 1998, was my LMP (last menstrual period) date for my pregnancy with Katie. Each year, I can feel myself "counting down" and reliving the events of my pregnancy on through to Aug. 5th (the day I went for my checkup, only to learn there was no heartbeat) and Aug. 7th (the day I delivered my daughter & briefly held her wee, cold body in my arms). And on through Aug. 19th (funeral), Thanksgiving (return to work & then the death of my beloved grandfather), and into November (due dates). This year, being the 10 year "anniversary" (what a weird label for such a sad, traumatic event), I expect it will be even more so. I'm glad I have this blog as an outlet (and I suspect it's one reason I began blogging when I did). Expect a lot of "10 years ago" posts & reflections from me in the new year.
In a way, I feel sort of strange. Unlike most people in the infertility & loss communities online (boards, blogs, etc.), who are posting about the here & now, my loss & even my infertility treatments were so long ago -- & yet they continue to cast shadows over my life, and I continue to write about them & their after-effects. Does that make me pathetic? obsessive? You don't hear very much from or about women like me. What happens to them when they stop posting? Do they eventually regroup and try more fertility treatments, successfully? adopt? achieve that mythical "miracle" pregnancy? Or do they just get on with living and build a childless/free life for themselves (just less noisily than me, lol)? Certainly, childless/free living lacks the day-to-day drama of the infertility & ttc communities that provides endless fodder for posting-- cycle watches, 2wws, trips to the clinic, testing & results, etc. And most of the time, I am just living my life -- and it's a good life, overall. I have much to be thankful for.
But there really is not a day that goes by that is not coloured in some way by loss & infertility. Not a day goes by that I don't think about my daughter and about the very different life that might have been mine. Some days are just darker (or lighter) than others. And on the dark days, I turn to my friends in cyberspace who understand, better than just about anybody, what I'm thinking and feeling.
But, I digress (I do that a lot!). Back to New Year's Eve. I don't really make resolutions anymore -- mostly because they always stay more or less the same: declutter the house (& keep it that way!), read more books, write more in my journal, exercise more, lose weight, etc. etc. And dh & I don't have any plans for tonight (we rarely do). He's at work today, but we will head out for dinner when he gets home, then to our favourite megabookstore for a Starbucks & a browse, and then home to see if we can stay awake until the big ball drops in Times Square.
I hope the new year brings everyone what they're hoping for -- and if not that, then something else that's equally good!
That year, we also attended our pregnancy loss support group's memorial candlelighting evening, where I found this stained glass ornament & had her name written on it (I also bought ones for my mother & grandmother):
We were also invited to take home a pair of beautiful handknit baby booties from the Christmas tree at the event (made by bereaved grandmothers specially for the event). In the years since then, I've amassed quite a collection of booties, hand-crocheted snowflakes & other keepsakes from the annual candlelighting ceremony (we also take home the candles we've lit). I sometimes wonder what people might think if they visited our home to see a Christmas tree covered in baby booties (but I really don't care):
I have several of these red felt miniature stockings. One hangs on the tree; another decorates Katie's niche at the cemetery every year, along with a festive sprig:
Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of teddy bear angels (many of them Beanie Babies). A few of the smaller ones hang on the tree, along with the original Boyds Bear teddy angel. The others sit around the tree on the floor, like an honour guard. (There are usually very few presents actually under the tree, as we always go to my parents' for the holidays -- & I'm usually not organized enough to have anything wrapped in advance anyway, lol.)
These are just a few of the ornaments that make up Katie's tree. I also have a substantial collection of Classic Pooh ornaments, which are not shown here. They're meaningful because Katie's nursery theme was supposed to have been Classic Pooh.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
My sister said that so long as her boyfriend was feeling better enough to be left alone, she would come out the next day for Christmas dinner. That morning, the phone rang: her car wouldn't start!! (It's a beat up old thing & I'm amazed it still runs at all.) So my dad & dh wound up driving into the city to get her. Neighbours' daughter & her boyfriend came over again & we had one of my dad's famous brunches, then opened our stockings & then finally the rest of the presents (backwards from how it usually goes). And then had our turkey dinner. So, as I said to dh, thinking of the line from the Grinch, "Christmas came, just the same." Well, not exactly the same, but it came & it wound up being allright in the end, albeit definitely different!
Sis knows what a stickler I am for tradition, & on Christmas Eve she called me to say that she wanted to make it perfectly clear that just because we were doing this once did not mean that Christmas Eve had to be this way forever after. I cracked up & said that was just fine with me! lol She left on Boxing Day (took the one bus of the day back into the city) but will probably return tomorrow or Saturday (depending on the car status, etc.).
Thankfully, no sign of the stomach flu here yet (knocking wood & crossing fingers), but I do have a cold. The morning after we got here, I got a tickle/scratch in my throat, which yesterday turned into a stuffy head & drippy nose. I barely got any sleep last night. Went to the drugstore today to stock up on some cold pills, but they haven't helped much yet. Oh well, maybe this way it will have worked its way out of my system by the time we have to fly again. At any rate, it's definitely preferable to the stomach flu!
Monday, December 24, 2007
Unfortunately, this year, the tradition is about to be broken, and not by me, but by my sister, who lives in the city, only about an hour away, but nonetheless is just getting over a bout of stomach flu -- which her boyfriend now has, making it pretty much impossible for them to travel. :( (Not that we really want their germs here anyway.) I guess we will muddle through without her, but it will be different. It's not that she's such a Christmas-y person, but she's always been here (plus, she's supposed to be bringing a lot of the presents, lol). I just find it hard to believe that I've managed to make it here 20+ consecutive years from 1,500 miles away, and it takes the flu to break tradition. :(
On the bright side, my parents' former neighbours' daughter will be here for dinner tonight with her boyfriend. She's rarely missed a Christmas with us since she was a toddler (& she's now almost 24, eek -- the same age I was when I got married!! double eek!), so that will help fill the gap.
We had a few tense moments pre-trip, because although the weather was fine on our end, there were predictions of bad weather moving in here. Thankfully, the situation turned out to be not bad at all, & we made it here just fine.
There were, of course, innumerable babies & toddlers at the airport & on our plane, many of them dressed to the nines for the proud grandma & grandpa who would be greeting them at the airport. I vaccilated between enjoying them for the cuties that they were, and feeling sad that I've never been able to give my own parents that pleasure. One blond curly-headed little miss, about 18 months old, caught my eye in the airport lounge -- all dressed in a pink sweatsuit & dragging a stuffed cat along with her. She wound up sitting across the aisle & one row up from us on our plane, with her mom, dad & slightly older sister. She was very good for most of the 2 hour+ flight, watching kiddie shows on the screen in front of her, giggling, and even playing peekaboo with me for a few minutes. I wonder where they were headed.
At any rate -- Christmas Eve is upon us & there is lots to do (yes, even without kids around!). Just wanted to send out some Merry Christmas greetings & wish anyone who's reading a wonderful holiday.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I can't remember how I felt about other pregnant women through the 2.5 years I tried to get pregnant... but after Katie was stillborn, & we began our struggle with infertility treatments, suddenly, they were EVERYWHERE. Dh & I work in downtown Toronto, where all the big office towers are connected via underground concourse, called the PATH. The PATH runs 27 km or 16 miles, & we walk through it every day to & from work (not to mention coffee breaks & lunch hours). Thousands & thousands of people travel through the PATH every day. And some days, it seemed/seems like dozens & dozens of them were/are pregnant women. I started counting how many pregnant women I encountered in a day (giving the benefit of the doubt to those who might have just been on the plump side). I would count, "1...2...3..." under my breath as we walked past them. I would often lose track & abandon the project before the day's end, but I think my record was 30 in one day. One day I practically walked into THREE of them, walking & giggling together, abreast. That just about finished me off for the day.
Dh would gently tell me that they had a right to be pregnant, it wasn't a personal thing against me. ; ) And I tried very hard to remember that, statistics being what they are, a good number of those women had probably dealt with infertility & loss too. Maybe some bereaved mother or infertile woman had once enviously gazed at me & my pregnant belly in the same way. Somehow, though, those thoughts still didn't make it any easier.
I don't count pregnant women anymore, but there are still some days when I seem to notice them more. Summers in particular -- perhaps because that's when I was pregnant myself (or maybe because there aren't as many winter coats hiding big bellies). The maternity fashions these days seem to be much more form-fitting & revealing, much more so than even just 9 years ago when I was pregnant.
I sat beside a pregnant woman on the train on the way home tonight (or should I say she sat down beside me), which is probably what prompted this post. It was warm on the train & she had her coat off & I kept casting sidelong glances at her belly the whole way home. I honestly would not want to be pregnant now at my "advanced maternal age," but I feel sad thinking back to when I looked like that myself (& how happy I was), knowing I will never look like that again.
For many years after the loss of our daughter, I avoided Santa like the plague -- waaaayyyy too painful. I remember being at our local mall with dh in November 1998, right around my due date, & rounding the corner to see Santa's castle already set up & Santa himself already enthroned & receiving visitors. Of course, at that very instant, he was holding a newborn baby wearing a tiny red sleeper & Santa cap. Dh hissed at me, "DON'T LOOK!!" & dragged me past.
Gradually, after several years, I was able to return to Santa watching, although some years have been harder/easier than others. One of those first years back, I leaned over the rail to look down on Santa's castle, & Santa immediately looked straight up at me & waved, as if he'd been expecting me. Freaky.
So today, I watched & chuckled as I watched a little girl toddler wearing a red velvet dress, her hair in pigtails, howl as her mother placed her on Santa's lap, just long enough to snap the precious picture & then be whisked swiftly away. And I grinned as I watched a dad herd his two kids into Santa's presence. The boy was about six, raced forward & plunked himself without hesitation onto Santa's lap & started chatting away. His younger sister kicked at the ground self-consciously & didn't even want to look at Santa. She sat on her dad's lap beside her brother & Santa. I found myself mentally framing the photo in my head & thinking what a great, funny picture this would make for a scrapbook page.
And then, out of the blue, I felt a wave of pain wash over me, and my eyes began swelling with tears, and I had to turn and walk away.
Back at the office, several people came by to tell me that one of our former co-workers was at the reception desk, showing off his baby daughter, and how cute she was. We've had quite a few such "visitors" lately, & I've been doing pretty well with them. But even before I remembered that her name was Katie -- the same as my own daughter's -- I knew I just couldn't do it today. I stayed in my cubicle until I was sure they were gone.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
There was a moment, as the tape started, when I realized that it was one of our younger nephew (A.)'s birthday parties. And my heart leaped into my throat, because I thought it might have been the year that I was pregnant. His 6th birthday & party fell two days before I headed to my ob-byn's for my 6-month checkup -- only to receive the news that my baby had no heartbeat. That day, as I snapped photos, A. begged me to let him take a photo, so I handed over the camera & he snapped the only photo I have of myself visibly pregnant.
The birthday party on the video was not that particular party -- I think it may have been the year before that one. I am not sure whether BIL videoed the 6th birthday party or not. As the boys got older, the video camera came out less and less often. I am not sure how I would feel if such a tape does exist -- whether I'd be hungry to see it (visible proof that I was, indeed, pregnant once), or just too painful to see how happy & blissfully unaware I was of the sharp turn my life was about to take?
I was reminded of the time we were at dh's aunt's house once for a cousin's birthday, and someone brought out the old film projector & showed old Super 8 home movies. There, briefly, was a 13-year-old dh, and even more poignantly, brief flashes of his mother, who passed away before I ever got to meet her. Even photos of my mother-in-law are scarce, so I found myself trying to absorb as much of her flickering image as I could, this woman who loomed so large in my husband's early life.
Coincidentally, my mom recently called me and opened the conversation with, "Well, we were at your wedding last night!" She & my dad somehow got watching the video from my wedding back in 1985. "And there was Grandma... and Grandpa... and Dido... and Uncle L.... and Great-Aunt A... and B..." she said. All people who aren't here anymore. Which is precisely why I've been avoiding watching the video for awhile now. I'm afraid of the floodgates of emotion that it might open up, seeing all those dear dead people again.
At the same time, though, I'm very, very glad to know that I have that tape -- that if I do want to see those people again, all I have to do is pop it in my VCR. When the people we love suddenly aren't with us anymore -- be they grandparents, parents or babies -- we cling to whatever things we have that show that they were indeed real and once with us, and this is what they meant to us.
As SIL said as she flipped through the pages of the scrapbook I had made for V., "These are the best presents of all."
"Whenever I hear the stories of female babies being aborted, murdered or abandoned, or girls in third-world countries being denied food and education, married off and bearing children while still children themselves, and killed in the name of "family honour" for not showing sufficient deference to male authority -- all simply because they are girls -- I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to the Powers That Be that, as a woman, I was born & grew up Canadian in the latter part of the 20th century."I wrote those words before I heard the story, earlier this week, of the 16-year-old Muslim girl from Mississauga who was murdered -- strangled -- by her own father. Friends say she recently moved out of the family home after fighting with her strict parents over her desire to abandon wearing the hijab, wear fashionable clothes & fit in with the other kids at school.
Media commentators are arguing over whether this is about radical Islam, the barbaric practice of so-called "honour killings," the clash of old world vs new world values/"immigrant shock," patriarchy, domestic violence, teenage rebellion against parents, or some lethal combination thereof.
Certainly, most parents, regardless of religion or country of origin, battle at least occasionally with their teenagers, whether the subject is drugs, boys, school grades, hairstyle, body piercings, music, dress... My own mother cheerfully admits that my sister & I were both so obnoxious between the ages of about 14 and 18 that she would have happily disowned us. Dh is Italian, and his female cousins -- whose parents came to Canada during the 1950s & 60s -- have told me about how protective their parents were of them, growing up -- particularly as compared to their brothers & male cousins, who were allowed much more freedom to come & go as they pleased. They were sent to Catholic schools where they had to wear uniforms and makeup was forbidden, and they were not allowed to take part in extracurricular activities, or go to friends' houses after schools or for sleepovers. One cousin recalled how she sneaked out to go skating with her friends, and when her mother found out, she hacked the skates into pieces and threw them in the garbage.
But most parents, no matter how frustrated they are, don't murder their children.
We won't know all the details until the case is heard in court. All I could think was that I lost a daughter before I ever really had her. This man HAD a daughter -- a beautiful, spirited young girl, from the looks of her photos -- and (intentionally or accidentally) he threw her life away. As if she was a piece of garbage that was no longer of value or useful to him.
And that makes me mad.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The way the tour works (as explained by Stirrup Queen Mel):
"This book club is entirely online and open to anyone (male or female) in the infertility/pregnancy loss/assisted conception/adoption/parenting-after-infertility world (as well as any other related category I inadvertently left off the list). It is called a book tour because everyone reads the same book and then poses a question to the group. Participants choose a few questions to answer and then post their response on their blog. Readers can jump from blog to blog, commenting along the way."
This month's selection is "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. And, at the risk of having my Canadian citizenship revoked, I must confess that it's the first Atwood novel I've ever read -- although I have several of her books on my shelf that I've been meaning to get around to reading... someday. Somehow, I managed to graduate with an honours degree in English from a Canadian university without having to take one Can-Lit course, which would undoubtedly have included an Atwood novel.
There's something about Margaret Atwood that seems kind of highbrow and daunting to the average reader -- although I must admit that, once I got into this book, I could hardly put it down! I can remember someone at university (in the early 1980s) telling me they had read "Surfacing" and that it was "really weird," so perhaps that's where my Atwood ambivalence comes from. I saw her once about 20 years ago, walking through an office tower across the street from the one where I work in downtown Toronto, looking every inch the "artiste" with her untamed, dark curly hair and wearing a dramatic, flowing black cape. The more I read about her & see her interviewed on television, the more I've come to appreciate her intellect -- and very dry sense of humour. You will never be able to think of Margaret Atwood in quite the same way once you've watched her demonstrate her prowess as a hockey goalie in a "Celebrity Tip" segment on the Rick Mercer show (Rick Mercer = Canadian/Newfie Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert)! (Click on the show link, scroll down & find the link to the video clip under "For the week of January 31, 2005.")
Briefly -- The Handmaid's Tale, for those of you who haven't read it, takes place sometime in the future United States, now known as the Republic of Gilead. Radiation and other environmental disasters have rendered much of the population infertile. Those who remain fertile have been commandeered into service as Handmaids, bearing children for the Commanders who rule the Republic and their infertile Wives. We see this society through the eyes of one of the Handmaids, Offred.
On to some of the questions!
What is the role of infertility in creating the world of the Handmaid's Tale? Is the question of infertility or totalitarianism more central to the story, and does Gilead represent the logical outcome of the fate of women in a religiously dominated society affected by mass infertility, or something else entirely?
In the novel, widespread infertility has created a situation where humankind's survival is at stake, so women's fertility is valued. The religious-minded government -- which already sees women's role as primarily that of mother & caregiver -- restructures society in a way to maximize their fertility and the chances for life to continue. The rights of individuals and particularly individual women are sacrificed to this "higher purpose." So in this sense, infertility is central to the story.
Overall, though, when I think of this book, the themes of totalitarianism and the repression of women spring to mind more than infertility. The environmental devastation created the infertility; infertility provided the raison d'etre for structuring the society in a certain way. But the wars that created the environmental devastation, the political murders that created the chaos & provided the excuse for the totalitarian regime's takeover -- those things had nothing to do with infertility. So I'm not sure Gilead is a "logical outcome."
The structure of the civilization in the book seemed really eerie to me (and quite difficult to figure out). Even though the copyright in my book was 1985 and set in the 21st century, it seems to reflect some of the fears we have today. I found myself wondering if our country could really be in for a drastic "take-over" as represented in the book. What are your feelings about the society described in the book and do you think it is possible to have something like that happen in our country?
I'm glad to see some of the participants who posted earlier have addressed this topic in similar questions -- and very eloquently & knowledgeably, too. I live in Canada, and things are slightly (though not entirely) different here than they are in the States.
In many ways, I was reminded of Nazi Germany when I was reading the book. How many people who lived through that era ever thought things would turn out the way did? Even though there were warning signs all along... Somebody, in one of the other, earlier posts, mentioned the "frog in boiling water" analogy. Along the same lines, I was reminded of the old poem:
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
At any rate -- yes, I was struck by certain parallels to current events in the United States. I believe that when Atwood wrote this in the early/mid-80s, she was thinking about the situation at the time in Iran (the hostage crisis, the rise of the Ayatollah & Islamic fundamentalism) -- not to mention the rise of the religious right (Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority, etc.) in the U.S. But the parallels to current world events and U.S. politics (including 9-11 & its aftermath, the war in Iraq, the increasing influence of religion in American politics, the centralization of power in the hands of the executive branch of government and the military, and growing concern over the environment) are just too eerie to be ignored.
There is a passage on page 217 of the edition I was reading, in Chapter 28, where Offred says, "It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time." That sentence absolutely gave me the chills.
Then there's the passage on page 387, near the end of the historical notes, where "the Canada of that time did not wish to antagonize its powerful neighbour, and there were roundups and extraditions of such refugees." While Canada provided a safe haven for draft dodgers during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the current government is much more pro-U.S. in its policies, and American army deserters who seek refuge in Canada must fight for the right to stay here.
I think that all of us who live in supposedly free and democratic societies ignore the lessons in this book at our peril.
Even though the rampant infertility is acknowledged to be largely due to environmental pollution, Gilead refuses to acknowledge the possibility of male infertility; if a Handmaid is unable to conceive with three Commanders, it is assumed that she is at fault and she is reassigned to the Colonies. How did this double standard resonate with you, if at all?
I certainly noticed the double standard, & it raised my feminist hackles. ; ) Throughout history, women have been blamed for failing to provide men with babies (& male babies in particular). Case in point, Britain's King Henry VIII & his six wives, many of whom were divorced, beheaded or died in childbirth, all in their quest to give Henry the male heir he craved. (CBC Television is running the British mini-series "The Tudors" right now, which is why that example sprang into mind!)
Although today, we know about the possibility & frequency of male factor issues (not to mention "unexplained infertility"), in many societies, women are still blamed for fertility problems or for bearing children of the "wrong" (i.e., female) gender. Even in our supposedly more enlightened North American society, the attitude still prevails that infertility is a "women's issue," and many people automatically assume that it's the woman's "fault." I know from my own conversations with infertile women, both personally and online, that many husbands are still extremely reluctant to be tested or to provide the sperm needed for IUI or IVF -- and, worse still, many clinics don't even ask to test the male partner until after the woman has endured umpteen uncomfortable tests.
For all that the Handmaids are supposed to be serving the society's greater good and should be honored for that, they are looked down upon by just about everyone. Wives resent that the Handmaids do what they cannot, Marthas resent the time spent caring for them, Econowives resent them for the ease of existence they feel the Handmaids must enjoy. And the reverse is true as well, Handmaids resent the other women for having little freedoms they do not enjoy, whether it's control over a household, the ability to hold a knife and make radish roses, or to simply not be a possession without a name. Does this mutual resentment exist in the world of infertility? Do "fertiles" resent "infertiles" and vice versa? If so, in what way?
I really can't think of a way in which fertiles might resent infertiles -- unless perhaps they think that we and our problems consume too much time and attention within the family or social group (if we've chosen to talk about it). I'd be interested in hearing others' perspectives on this one!
Within the infertility & loss communities, I sense, if not resentment, envy of each other, at times. My husband sometimes says that he envies couples we meet in our support whose babies lived for a brief time, because they got to experience a living child, if only for a short time. I've met women who had miscarriages who say they envy me because I got to hold my baby & have photos taken. And of course, those who eventually achieve pregnancy (and especially a healthy baby at the end of it) are envied by the rest of us who do not, even though we are really very happy for them.
Do infertile women resent fertiles? Absolutely! -- maybe not all infertile women resent all fertile women, but I know I have felt resentment on at least some occasions. It's hard not to resent someone who not only has what you so badly want for yourself, but has (seemingly, at least) achieved it so easily -- and doesn't seem to appreciate that fact, or the great gift that they have been given.
The Handmaid's Tale is set against the backdrop of a dystopian society wherein religion and feminism has combined to lay down a strict set of roles for women. In what ways are your reproductive choices shaped by religion and/or feminism? In what way do you think religion and/or feminism shapes the way society views infertility? Is it plausible to you that religion and feminism could ever produce the type of society described in The Handmaid's Tale? Why/why not?
Unlike some women who have backed away from the term, I've always considered myself a feminist, and been glad to say so. I grew up in the 1970s, at a time when the battle for equality was still heated. While the tactics and language of some of the movement's more radical offshoots can be off-putting, I have never doubted the feminist movement's fundamental, central message: that every woman should have the right to control her own body, her own money, her own destiny. Whenever I hear the stories of female babies being aborted, murdered or abandoned, or girls in third-world countries being denied food and education, married off and bearing children while still children themselves, and killed in the name of "family honour" for not showing sufficient deference to male authority -- all simply because they are girls -- I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful to the Powers That Be that, as a woman, I was born & grew up Canadian in the latter part of the 20th century.
Were my own reproductive choices shaped by feminism? Absolutely. While children were always part of the plan, they were not the whole plan. Feminism gave me a strong sense of my own worth and possibilities as a woman, beyond my ability to have children. I wanted to be a mother -- but it was not the only thing I wanted for myself, or the one thing that my identity and self-worth hinged upon. I strongly believe that I am more than my uterus, more than my ability to reproduce -- and while it hurt like hell not to be able to have the family I wanted -- the family I, like so many women, took for granted would be mine someday -- I think that, whatever success I have had in carving out a childless/free life for myself, post-loss & post-infertility treatment, is because of the sense of other possibilities for my life that feminism gave to me.
Even pre-loss & infertility, it used to bother me when people would bug us about when we were going to have kids -- partly because I'm a private person, & felt that how, when, why and whether dh & I decided to have children was strictly a matter between the two of us -- but also because that's ALL some people ever seemed interested in -- like that was my only value/interest to them & to society. I work, I keep house, I volunteer, I stay in touch with my extended family, I belong to several online communities. I'm a wife, a bereaved mother, a daughter, sister, niece & cousin, friend, facilitator, writer, employee/co-worker... You can talk to me about my job, my volunteer work, the books I've read lately, current events, my hobbies, the latest movies, my last vacation. But at family gatherings & other social events, it seems like all anyone wants to talk about is kids -- and because I have no kids, I am often shut out of the conversation.
There is "feminism" in the book, after a fact -- but the "classic" feminists, such as Offred's mother (whom I imagined marching & waving signs with Gloria Steinem in the 1960s), with their vision of choice and freedom for women -- are too much of a threat to survive in the new regime. They are deported to the colonies, slave labour and certain death. The "feminism" of the Aunts & the Marthas, a hierarchical society of women ruling other women (with men ruling over all of them in the end), is not the feminism I grew up with and still believe in. Its most convenient aspects have been adopted, twisted and perverted to support the ruling regime.
Were my choices shaped by religion? Not in a dogmatic sense, although I did wonder at times, during all the testing when I was pregnant, and making decisions on just how far we wanted to go with our infertility treatment, just how much I really wanted to be messing with Mother Nature, and whether I was being "punished" in some way for some sin or indiscretion in my past. Ultimately, I decided that the God I believed in was a loving God who would not "test" me by making me or my baby suffer. Reading "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner after the stillbirth of our daughter was a great comfort to me.
How do religion & feminism shape the way our society views infertility? I know of very few religions that condone ARTs. The prevailing view seems to be that infertility is "God's will," and any attempt to alter that by using ARTs is tampering with God's intentions. At the same time, if someone does get pregnant, then "God answered our prayers." So is it a matter of God's will, or just praying long & hard enough??
I have read very little about the feminist view on infertility & reproductive technology, beyond concern for the effect fertility drugs have on women's bodies. This is one area in which I think feminism needs to step up to the plate. Linda L. Layne has written a very interesting (albeit somewhat academic) book, Motherhood Lost, on what happens when feminism meets reproductive loss, which touches on some of these issues. (Future book club selection, perhaps?) She writes:
"By and large, in the realm of feminist scholarship the topic of pregnancy loss remains an orphan... In retaining a studied silence on pregnancy loss, feminists have not only abandoned their sisters in hours of need, they have contributed to the shame and isolation that attends these events, and have, de facto, surrendered the discourse of pregnancy loss to anti-choice activists. Feminists must frankly acknowledge the frequency and import of such events in women's
lives and create a woman-centred discourse of pregnancy loss." (p.
Is it possible that religion and/or feminism could produce a society such as Gilead? I think the answer is yes. We already live in a society in which religion has played a role in -- to name a few examples -- outlawing the teaching of evolution (or mandating equal time for teaching creationism), banning certain books from school libraries, and placing restrictions on certain types of reproductive activity (abortions, egg donation & surrogacy) in many jurisdictions. While John F. Kennedy, running for president, spoke out against using a religious test to determine a person's suitability to be President, all of today's U.S. presidential candidates (from both parties) seem to be competing to seem the most sincere in professing their religious beliefs. What a difference!
Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Fowler (with author participation!)
Friday, December 7, 2007
In the same post, Mel mentioned Julie's blog at Redbook, and her recent post about coping with pregnancy announcements. It was fun (well, maybe more like horrifying in some cases) to read some of the comments that followed, with people chiming in with their own Worst Pregnancy Announcement Story.
My absolute Worst Pregnancy Announcement Story forms part of the story of my Worst. Christmas Party. Ever. Not this year's party (which will be next week). This was almost exactly nine years ago, just before Christmas 1998.
As background, earlier that year, I was pregnant for the first and only time in my life (pre-infertility treatments, but after 2.5 years of ttc ourselves), at the same time as another woman from a different area of my department. She was due in mid-October, I was due in mid-November. We did not know each other well, but bonded by comparing notes whenever we ran into each other in the hallway or the photocopy room, and went to lunch and shopped for maternity clothes together a few times. My daughter was stillborn in August when I was six months along, and I returned to work a week before she departed on maternity leave in October. She had a girl (of course).
I slogged my way through the madness of year end (at a time when I kept thinking I should have been on leave myself, enjoying my new baby), and found myself really looking forward to kicking back with my colleagues & enjoying myself at the office Christmas party, which was being held at a downtown bar. I had barely been there a half hour when who walks in but the new mom -- AND her baby! Of course, all the women immediately flocked around the little pink bundle in her arms.
To say I was stunned would be an understatement. (Infertility & loss considerations totally aside, I was amazed that anyone would want to haul a two-month-old baby all the way downtown to a noisy, smoky (non-smoking laws not yet enacted for bars) in the dead of winter. All I could think was that she really must have been dying to get out of the house.) I felt like I had just been sucker punched in the gut. Somehow I managed to squeak out a few words of congratulations to the new mom. She could barely look me in the face. It was a horribly awkward moment for both of us.
Another co-worker/friend, whom I'd become close to post-loss after she approached me with her sympathy & told me about her own ttc struggles (& who had seen the look on my face), came over to me and said, "Oh my gosh, we should have told you she was coming." I said, "Oh, you think??" -- excused myself & headed for the washroom, where I spent the next half hour locked in a cubicle, sobbing. I know several people saw me go, & the emotional state I was in. Nobody came to comfort me or find out if I was OK. What an absolute nightmare.
After awhile, I pulled myself together, splashed some cold water on my face, repaired my makeup and returned to the party -- staying on the opposite side of the room from the new mom and baby! -- and tried to think about what to do next. I did NOT want to stay -- the party had totally lost any appeal for me -- but my husband was at his own Christmas party, and (pre-cellphone days) we had agreed to meet at the train station and head home together around 9 o'clock. It was still only about 6:30. How to make a graceful exit? And what to do until 9 p.m.?
Just then, my boss announced she was leaving. I said, "I'll walk with you to the train station" & got my coat. As we left and trudged along the snowy sidewalk, I said to her, "Well, that was awkward." She said, "What?" and I said, "(New mom coworker) showing up with the baby." She said, "Oh Lori, there's going to be a lot more babies." And proceeded to tell me that not just one, not just two, but THREE other women in the department had just announced their pregnancies earlier that day!
I don't remember much more about that evening. I just couldn't believe that I was going to have to spend the next seven months or so working alongside THREE happily pregnant women. I still had two hours to kill before meeting dh. I bought a bottle of water & the latest issue of People magazine, & sat numbly reading the same two paragraphs over and over while train after train rumbled in and out of the station.
In the year that followed (1999), seven MORE women in my office got pregnant, for a grand total of 10 pregnancies in 12 months. Of course, all 10 had healthy babies (which they then proceeded to parade in & out of the office). And of course, there have been many more in the years since then. In the 21 years that I've been with this department, mine is still one of the very few loss stories (at least, that I know about).
Needless to say, I have never felt quite the same about the Christmas party (or office parties in general) since then.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
1. Proud new dad on parental leave drops by the office with his baby daughter, age 5 months, resplendent in pink. And I got to share the elevator with them as they were leaving, those big innocent blue eyes fixed on me the whole trip down.
2. 20-something co-worker (who knows nothing of my reproductive history) tells me her 20-something friend, 8 months pregnant, is upset -- because she can't go to a BAR tonight!! Says my co-worker, "she says she feels like she can't do anything anymore" because of the pregnancy.
I (barely) keep my jaw from dropping to the floor and (barely) restrain myself from saying what I REALLY think (i.e., how many people do I know -- in real life & online -- myself included -- who would do anything to be in her shoes & be 8 months pregnant with a healthy baby??) and mutter, "Tell her she'd better get used to it!" (At least my co-worker seemed to feel this woman was being ridiculous too.) I feel sorry for the baby already...
3. Escape to the food court for tea -- and encounter a dozen toddlers from the office tower's daycare centre out with their caregivers for their afternoon stroll, admiring the Christmas tree in the atrium. So cute. So heartbreaking.
Monday, December 3, 2007
We haven't been invited. Apparently BIL & family were not invited either. The explanation stepMIL got from the baby's grandmother (dh's aunt) was that only the cousins with small children were invited, as well as the aunts & uncles. Which effectively means just about everybody on dh's dad's side of the family, except us & BIL (whose sons, our nephews, are 15 & almost 19). Possibly one other cousin falls into this category -- not sure whether they were invited or not.
Both dh & BIL say they could care less. We are not close to this particular cousin at all. He & his wife are both nice people, but they are much younger than dh, by 15-20 years, so he really hasn't had much to do with them growing up (is much closer, both in age & emotionally, to the cousins on his mom's side of the family), & dh feels he has very little in common with them. We basically see them at weddings, funerals and other birthday parties. We really don't need one more social event to attend at this time of year (not to mention one more present to buy -- and in dh's family, it's expected that the present would be fairly substantial), particularly for a baby we have seen exactly once before. (Make that "I" -- dh has never seen him; I saw him at a bridal shower this past spring.)
But still, it irks me that they couldn't extend the invitation to the few people in the family who fell outside the lines they drew for inclusion. It's just another painful reminder that we lack what every other married couple in the family has -- a child.
Which is worse -- having to endure birthday party after boring birthday party for the children of family members & friends (knowing they will never be asked to reciprocate in kind), or knowing that you haven't been invited -- and your childlessness/infertility is the reason why??
Friday, November 30, 2007
These are women who intimately know & share my life's deepest pain -- the loss of a baby. Some of them also have had infertility problems. I can say my daughter's name and talk about "when I was pregnant" freely with them and without fear of a negative reaction. I feel more comfortable with them than with many other people who have known me a lot longer. And overall, I had a really good time, being together, talking, laughing, celebrating the season and our friendship.
And yet -- there was, and is, a part of me that felt alone and outside the circle, and guarded in some respects about what I say and what I share with them. Because I'm the only one among them who does not have children. Some already had children before their loss, and decided not to try again. Some have adopted. Others have had subsequent babies that now preoccupy their days and their conversation.
As they talked about how busy they were, how tired they were, how they were juggling their kids' activities, their own activities, their jobs, their maternity leaves and their Christmas plans (plus, two of them are moving -- one of them across the ocean!) -- I had nothing to offer in the way of similar stories or advice -- about finicky eaters and toddler sleep problems and at what age it's appropriate to bring a toddler to his first movie. And I had to bite my tongue and resist the impulse to join in the conversation with my own laments about about how busy & tired I am these days (or at least, do so in a very careful way).
I AM busy and tired. It's year end at my office, and mid-November through Christmas is my peak season. I do a lot of work that crosses the desks of my company's top executives, and my days right now are very full and highly stressful. I don't work a lot of overtime, but my days are long, nevertheless. On a normal work day, I am up at 5 a.m., out of the house and commuting by 6:30, in the office from 7:45 until 4:30, and not home again until 5:30 at the earliest. We're usually in bed no later than 10 -- which doesn't give us a lot of free time in the evening after supper is made, eaten and cleaned up. This means our weekends are usually crammed with house cleaning, laundry, shopping, errands and seeing dh's family.
I had a bad cold a few weeks back & an apparently still-lingering throat infection -- still don't feel 100%. My dh has been stressed lately about a number of different things, and I've been stressed trying to deal with HIS stress. And, like everyone else, I'm trying to keep on top of Christmas preparations, get everything done that needs to get done -- for dh's family, in time for our nephew's birthday on Dec. 15th, and for mine before we leave to join them for the holidays on Dec. 22nd -- and trying to enjoy the spirit of the season, just a little. Our calendar is filling up with holiday-related events & activities, along with our usual classes, meetings and other obligations. Like many of you, I'm sure, I have a running to-do list that never seems to get any shorter.
But I couldn't share most of this with these women. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, projecting my own insecurities here, but I'm sure some of them would think -- even subconsciously -- that I don't know what busy is -- because, of course, I don't have any kids. I thought I detected a fleeting expression crossing their faces when I've made such comments in the past. Even though they, better than anyone else, know how much we wanted children and what we'd give to have our daughter with us today, there is still this automatic, ingrained assumption (which I've obviously absorbed as much as anybody else) that people with kids are busier than people without kids -- that if you don't have kids, you have oodles of free time on your hands to kill -- and that somehow, their tales of busy-ness are more "legitimate" than any story I could tell to try to match them.
It's not a competition (although sometimes it seems that way). Everyone is busy these days -- it seems to be the nature of life in the 21st century. We all have the same number of hours in a day -- we just use them differently. Somehow, they always fill up, whether you have children or not, whether you have one child or five, whether you work inside or outside the home, whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban setting.
I often wonder how I would have managed children on top of everything else I cram into my life right now. I think the answer is, you just do. You just organize and prioritize your time in a different way. I think of my mother and a co-worker of mine, who both retired within the past few years. Both like to joke about how they wonder how they ever had time to work. They're both keeping very busy, just with other things now.
I'll admit that not having children gives me more in the way of personal time, and greater flexibility in how I use it. But who's to say that one person's activities inherently "count" more than another's? Or that I'm not entitled to my leisure time just as much as someone with children is?
In one of the online grief groups I belong to, we have a saying -- there is no "grief-o-meter." Pain is pain, grief is grief, regardless of whether you lost your child via ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or medical termination.
And busy is busy, and tired is tired, no matter how you got there.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I had a bit of a scare/shock last night. I was on my computer & having problems with my e-mail (despite numerous reboots), and getting frustrated and stressed out. (Two years' worth of e-mails have decided to play hide & seek with me.) (Andie, if you're reading, this is why I haven't returned your message!) Eventually, I decided to turn the d@mn PC off & try again tomorrow. (Still not working -- I'm calling my sister's techie boyfriend tomorrow night for advice.) Went to the bathroom, wiped myself & gazed, stunned, at the toilet paper. It was covered in blood -- bright orangey-red, sticky blood, the colour & consistency that I often get when my period is first starting.
Except -- I am nowhwere near the start of my period. In fact, I am right about midcycle -- it was day 17. Thanks to years of infertility treatment, "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" & charting, I am familiar enough with my cycles & the twinges of my body to know that I traditionally ovulate somewhere between day 19 & 23, & AF usually arrives somewhere between day 33 & 37.
So I am thinking it could have been ovulation related. (Stress-induced??) I have had plenty of good old CM the last few days, it's right about that time, & I did have some cramping last night after my discovery. I often do have some cramping or at least vaguely uncomfortable feelings at this time of my cycle. I put on a pad, popped a few Motrin & went to bed. This morning, there was still some faint staining, and more CM, but generally back to normal. So it seems to have been just that one brief gush.
I called my ob-gyn's office, at one of the top hospitals in the city. He is an extremely busy man, so I wasn't surprised when his receptionist told me that if it was just one day one time midcycle, it was nothing to worry about & nothing they would see me for. If it happens again or if I'm bleeding unexpectedly for more than one day, I'm to call again. Okey-dokey...
Has anyone else had mid-cycle bleeding/spotting of this sort? Particularly those you who, like me, are in those perimenopausal years. I'm 46, almost 47 years old, and although my period are still pretty regular, I know things are bound to get wonky sooner or later….
I remember when I was pregnant and we were going to see the genetic counsellor (as I was over 35)… I had to fill out a questionnaire in advance about my family's medical & reproductive history, and I had to call my mom for help with a few points. "Early menopause?" I said. "Good God, no, I thought it would never end!" said my mother (lol). Both my aunts on my dad's side of the family have had a lot of gynecological problems, etc. -- one of them had a hysterectomy when she was still in her 30s (although she'd had three children by then). I do tend to take after them in body type, so I am hoping this is not an omen of things to come.
Inconvenient and stressful as it was when I was in treatment, to have to get up at a godawful hour of the morning & slog my way to the clinic, stand in line for a brief encounter with the u/s wand, hotfoot it up to the RE's office & then slink into work late, etc. etc.… at least I had the feeling that I knew what was going on in there, and that someone was watching over me. I liked that. Right now, it's all a mystery, and while I'll admit I do tend to have some hypochondriac tendencies, I don't get the feeling that anyone in the medical field much cares or takes my concerns seriously. My dh frets over every little test our dr sends him to. Me, I like to know. I just had my annual mammogram, & while nobody likes the feeling of pancaked boobs, I like the extra reassurance that all is well. (And it was.) Even if, knock wood, it's not, then hopefully we'll catch whatever is wrong in time to do something about it.
I discovered when I was about 10 weeks pregnant (& spotting, & went to emergency, & had my very first ultrasound) that I have a bicornuate uterus. Most uteruses are shaped like a triangle, or an upside-down pear. Mine looks more like a slingshot (I saw it when I had an HSG test during my fertility workup). The radiologist asked if I knew I had one and had to ask him what it was. They assured me it was nothing to worry about (famous last words), and all through the rest of my pregnancy and subsequent infertility treatment, I got hazy and sometimes conflicting opinions about it. From my later research, I learned it most definitely can be a problem, depending on where the egg implants in the uterus, and women with uterine problems (the medical term is Mullerian anomalies) have a much greater incidence of pregnancy loss than those who don’t. I also got conflicting opinions on whether corrective surgery would help or be worth my while (I never did have it done). From what I understand, during my pregnancy, the baby was growing in one horn of my uterus, the placenta was in another, and umbilical cord ran between the two. There was a small calcified clot in the placenta and evidence of internal bleeding (brown amniotic fluid, plus I did spot all through my first trimester), so that makes sense to me. My baby had severe intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR). She was growing, right until the end, but not fast enough, & at each ultrasound, she fell further & further behind the "norm." When she was stillborn, six months into my pregnancy, she only weighed 125 grams, or about 4 ounces.
There is a great Yahoo group devoted to this subject, Mullerian Anomalies. (A link is in my sidebar.) I learned there that a large number of women with Mullerian anomalies also have kidney problems and disorders. This absolutely stunned me when I first found this out, as I was on antibiotics for years and was in and out of the hospital umpteen times as a child to monitor a bladder/ureter problem. As an adult, my mother told me that my one kidney was slightly smaller than the other and that I should tell the doctors this if I was ever to get pregnant, as it might create some difficulties. (Naïve little me, I assumed difficulties for ME, as in having to go to the bathroom more often. Little did I know…!!)
I keep wondering -- did the doctors know about this co-relation back then? (Perhaps not. So little seems to be known about it, even now.) But even if they didn’t, I certainly had enough X-rays and ultrasounds and other such tests in the same general vicinity over the years. Did they not see that my uterus was abnormally shaped? Or would that not have been evident in a pre-teen?
I was never screened for endometriosis either, despite the fact that I have, occasionally, had extremely debilitating cramps. Also, while in treatment, the nurses often coplained about not being able to see my left ovary, that it was "in hiding." I keep thinking that perhaps it's adhered to one of my other organs in some strange way. One u/s tech whom I saw a few times while in treatment told me I had a small fibroid, which nobody else ever mentioned.I mentioned it to my RE & he didn't seem to think it was important.
I always (especially when I was younger) felt that I was a pretty healthy person. And while I know some people would give their eyeteeth to be as healthy as I am right now, there have been so many little things the doctors have discovered about me over the years that have chipped away at that piece of my identity & self-esteen -- my bladder problems as a child (which I eventually outgrew, or so I thought), the extra wisdom tooth that they weren't able to extract when they took the other four out (!), the minor mitral valve prolapse that sent me to a number of heart specialists when I was first married (apparently on a scale of 1 to 6, I'm a 0.5), optic nerve head drusen (little crystals in the back of my eyes which, thankfully, have never gone anywhere or threatened my vision), hypothyroidism, gallstones (not yet removed). I guess it's all part of growing old, but man, sometimes it can really suck…
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I spent 12 hours yesterday in one of the bastions of modern mommy-dom: a scrapbooking store. I have been scrapbooking for about five years now. As soon as I learned about it, I knew it was something I would like. I'm a writer by trade, & have kept journals on & off all through my life. I have a passion for genealogy and for preserving family stories for future generations (even if they are not my own direct descendants). I love taking photos -- my grandmother (whose favourite line was "Get the camera!") gave me a Kodak Instamatic for Christmas when I was 15 & I've been snapping away ever since. Up until the last few years, I've even been fairly meticulous about labelling the backs of all of my photos with who-what-where & when information. And I've long had a weakness for pretty paper & coloured pens. ; ) Scrapbooking brings all of those interests together in a really neat way. It's a creative outlet. (Some people paint. Some knit or crochet or cross-stitch. Some bake bread. I scrapbook.) It's a way of documenting my story and that of my family, which appeals to the genealogist in me. And it's fun!
Some people are surprised when they hear that I'm a scrapbooker. It's a hobby that's associated with &, admittedly, dominated by mommies. Layouts of adorable children doing cute things dominate the scrapbooking magazines. I have had people ask me what I scrapbook -- and WHY I scrapbook -- if I don't have children. (!)
Well, there's other people's kids, for starters. I am currently working on albums for both of our nephews (dh's brother's sons, 15 & almost 19). They've been my favourite photo subjects since they were born, long before we ever realized there would be no kids of our own for me to scrapbook. I have probably taken 95% of the photos of them that exist. BIL & SIL are great people, but they do not take photos as a matter of habit. It makes me sad sometimes, because while I've been there to document most of the boys' birthdays & events like baptisms, first communions & confirmations, there are no (or very few) photos of their first days of school, Christmas, Easter or Halloween. And that makes me sad.
Someday... someday... I will make a scrapbook for my stillborn daughter, about my pregnancy, her delivery, and the years since then. From the first time I heard about scrapbooking, I have thought about it, but I've put it off, "practicing" on other subjects. This, of all albums, of course, must be perfect!!
I always thought that when I was pregnant, I would keep a pregnancy diary & take lots of photos. I didn't, and I can't explain why. The whole "belly shots" thing was just taking off then, but even so, you would think I would have at least a few photos of myself pregnant. I don't. I have exactly two -- one taken a few days after we announced our pregnancy to the family & came home to find a balloon bouquet tied to our front deck railing (from dh's cousin, who lives nearby). I am pregnant in the photo (me holding the balloons), although I don't look it. And one taken two days before my fateful six-month checkup, when the doctor could not find a heartbeat. Our then-six-year-old nephew took it at his birthday party. I was taking photos (which is probably another reason -- I'm usually the one behind the camera, not in front of it!), & he said, "I want to take one of you!" So dh & I posed for him and thank God we did. We are facing the camera head on, so my pregnant belly is not totally visible, but I do look bigger than normal, and it's a nice photo of the two (three) of us. My mother was coming to visit and I was going to get her to take some photos of me in my maternity clothes that she could take home & show to my grandparents. Never put off until tomorrow....
I have exactly six photos of my stillborn daughter -- only three in which she is visible, and even then, just her wee face. They are Polaroids taken by the hospital -- horribly taken, not just in terms of quality, but set up -- and I think they make her look even worse than she really did.
But they are the only photos I have and for that reason, they are infinitely precious to me. In the brief space between the time I learned that my baby had died and the time I went to the hospital to deliver her, a hospital social worker called me at home to offer comfort, answer my questions, explain what was going to happen at the hospital, and ask about our wishes with respect to having a chaplain visit us, funeral arrangements, etc. She suggested bringing a camera.
I didn't. I couldn't even bring myself to put it in my bag, just so that we'd have it there. Me, the so-called "family photographer," missed the one and only opportunity to take a photo of my one & only child. It's the one major, major regret I have about the whole experience. The very idea of taking photos of a dead baby seemed so incredibly morbid at the time.
Since then, I have seen many, many photos of many, many other dead babies. Very few of them bother me in the least anymore. They are heartbreaking, yes, but I don't find them morbid anymore. And I've envied other parents for the wonderful photos they have as precious keepsakes of their children. Thankfully, hospitals seem to be catching on to the need for better photos to give to bereaved parents. (It's something that our pregnancy loss support group stresses & provides training in when giving workshops to medical professionals, funeral home directors, etc.). One couple we know was so distressed by the poor quality Polaroid photos they received from the hospital that they donated a digital camera. Subsequently, another bereaved couple arrived at our group who had used the camera. & have some of the best keepsake photos I've seen. There is even a group of professional photographers, called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, who donate their time and talents to photographing stillborn and dying babies with their families. Some of the parents in our group have created beautiful scrapbooks in memory of their babies. I'm sure some people would find this morbid, as I once did, but experience definitely has a way of changing opinions.
But children (dead or alive) are not the only reason to scrapbook. With more than 30 years worth of photos in my albums, I have plenty of fodder to keep me scrapbooking for years & years. I'd like to think my life is interesting enough to scrapbook on its own, thank you very much. OK, so my albums won't be passed on to any children of mine. Maybe they will provide enlightenment to other relatives of the future about me & other members of my family. Maybe not. At any rate, it's my time, my money, my life and if it give me enjoyment, isn't that reason enough to do it?
Sometimes, surrounded by mothers talking about their children non-stop as they scrapbook them, I definitely feel like the odd woman out at these store gatherings, or "crops," as they are known in the industry. I usually go solo, which makes me an even odder duck still -- most women come with at least one friend. I do have a few friends who scrapbook. In fact, a group of bereaved moms whom I've met through our support group and stayed friends with over the years have been meeting one night a month to scrapbook together & catch up on each other's doings. I haven't been able to convince any of them to join me at a store crop yet, though. For one thing, most of them have had subsequent children and are busy dealing with toddler playgroups and swimming lessons, if not 2 a.m. feedings still. Maybe someday...
Thursday, November 22, 2007
However, it is a festive occasion of sorts in Canada this weekend. It's Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League (also fondly known as "the Grand National Drunk"). Kind of like the Super Bowl, but usually a much more exciting game, or so we like to think. ; ) It's also a much older game -- this is the 95th Grey Cup -- and deeply rooted in Canadian sports tradition.
This year, it's being played in Toronto, the city where dh & I commute to work every day. Torontonians tend to be rather blase about the whole thing, but elsewhere in the country, & most definitely on the Prairies, where I grew up, it is a huge, huge deal. Grey Cup almost always gets the biggest ratings of the year of any event broadcast on Canadian TV (Super Bowl included). It is the one football game I will watch every year, and most especially this year, since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Having grown up in both Manitoba & Saskatchewan, it's a tough call, but since I was born in Manitoba & spent more time there overall (& my family still lives there) I will be cheering for the Bombers.
The Grey Cup is played between the champions of the east & west divisions -- the Bombers were always in the west and Manitoba is generally considered a western province, but as several CFL teams folded, they became part of the eastern division. East versus West is a classic Canadian rivalry in more things than football, which is part of the whole appeal of Grey Cup. That, and all the parties. ; ) It's been said that the Super Bowl is about corporations, but Grey Cup is about the fans, the people who actually buy the tickets (with their own money). It's gotten glitzier & more corporat-ized over the years, but it's still very much a grassroots kind of event.
I've never been to the Grey Cup, but I've been to a couple of victory parades when the Toronto Argonauts have won in recent years. My sister & her boyfriend came to Toronto in 1989, and witnessed what is considered the greatest Grey Cup game ever played (Saskatchewan over Hamilton, with a last-minute field goal). I went with them to the parade on the Saturday before the game & enjoyed myself hugely. My aunt came to Toronto in the mid-1960s for the Grey Cup when she was in her late teens or early 20s -- boarded the Grey Cup train in Winnipeg (already full of fans from points further west), rode for well over 24 hours (my mother comes by train occasionally and it takes her 30-35 hours), got off, went to the game, got back on the train, arrived back in Winnipeg & went to work again! I can dimly remember my father pointing at the TV screen & telling us to watch and see if we could see her. Several of my cousins have been to various Grey Cups over the years too.
I got offered VIP tickets to a Grey Cup party/concert tonight, featuring classic Canadian rock acts Loverboy, Trooper, April Wine & David Wilcox. Those names probably don't mean much to those of you south of the 49th, but they were huge when I was growing up. This is the sort of thing that makes me think, "I could do this while people with kids couldn't, or would at least have a harder time accepting -- no kids at daycare to pickup, no babysitters to arrange...."
Nevertheless, I turned down the offer. I had a lousy day at work, the weather is horrible (freezing rain & snow), I only had a few hours' notice, and I would still have to get up at 5 a.m. and go in to work in the morning. I knew dh would be even less enthusiastic. Besides which, I saw just about all those guys in their prime 25+ years ago. Am I getting old or what???
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Dh & I spent Sunday morning raking the leaves in our backyard (& we both have the aches & pains to show for it!). The unusually mild weather (global warming?) has kept the leaves on the trees late this year, and even though some still have some leaves, we figured it was now or never -- only a few pickup days left, and who knows how many days of nice weather.
Our house is about 23 years old, a pie-shaped lot in the corner of a "square" that's very narrow at the front and wider at the back -- a spacious, fenced back yard with a large shed in the corner and a nice-sized deck. It's one of the largest lots on the street, and probably the whole subdivision, and while it's still nowhere near the size of the backyards I grew up with (in small Prairie towns), lots this large are generally hard to come by in suburban southern Ontario, and pretty much impossible to find in any new subdivision they're building today. It was one of the things that attracted us to buy this house -- a big yard for our kids to play in, with a swingset, sandbox, maybe even a swimming pool someday.
Well, the kids never materialized, and the yard has gone largely unused in the 17 years we've lived here. I'ts not just the ghosts of the children that never arrived that keeps us from going there. For one thing, our yard faces west & the afternoon sun means it's hard to sit on the deck in the afternoon or evening, even with a patio umbrella. (Something a young, inexperienced homebuyer, looking at a house in the middle of February, wouldn't think about!) For another, neither dh or I are big outdoors people -- both of us grew up with our noses in books and (I in particular) had to be booted outside to play by my mother when I was growing up. We're not really into gardening, either. I usually manage to plant a few petunias & impatiens to add a little colour, and I do get a lot of satisfaction from seeing them grow -- I even had a little vegetable garden for a few summers, in the corner by the shed -- but I really don't have the time (or the patience) to keep up with the weeding and watering, etc. From time to time, dh will grumble about all the mowing & raking that's required and make pointed comments about condos. The yard is big enough for a pool, but it's a big expense & not something dh & I think we'd use enough. The thought of neighbourhood kids getting in somehow -- & something happening to them -- also gives me pause.
Still -- it is nice to have the extra space around us -- a buffer zone against the neighbours (although we get along fine with most of them) and the already-too-close nature of suburban living. I suppose that, if & when we ever decide to sell, it could be a selling point, especially for families with young children. The trees have gotten bigger over the years & there is some shade now, where there wasn't any awhile ago (even if it's added to the fall raking!). And whenever I am out there --as we were on Sunday, raking leaves and looking around -- I'm glad we have it. Even if it's not being used in quite the way we planned.
Monday, November 19, 2007
My (childfree by choice) younger sister & her partner come out from the city and spend a few days while we are there. My maternal grandmother was Scandinavian, so Christmas Eve was always the focal point of our celebrations. Usually we arrive at least day or two ahead, and I get to decorate the tree. They know I love it so they save the job for me. It's a real, old-fashioned tree with big coloured lightbulbs and the same ornaments that have appeared on our Christmas tree for the last 40+ years. I dig out the box with my childhood letters to Santa and laugh & cry while reading them.
We have dinner (which has evolved over the years -- lutefisk when my mother was a kid -- yuck! -- ham when I was little and now it's usually pickerel), early evening church service & then we open our presents to & from each other. Christmas Day we have stockings from Santa (we all have them! -- my mom fills them for my sister & I, & we do them for our dhs & switch off on doing mom & dad from year to year), have a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and play lots of cards.
My parents are still relatively young (66 & 68), and the good Lord willing we will have many more Christmases all together -- but I can see it becoming more difficult as they age & pass on. It was hard enough adjusting to Christmas without my grandparents there. Right now, it's all about being together & carrying on tradition -- and so long as things stay relatively the same, it's easy to coast along from year to year. But as the people who have taken part in the traditions start passing on and there get to be fewer & fewer of us who remember what it was like, with no younger generation to carry on, I can see it getting more difficult. :(
Our celebrations have not entirely lacked children over the years. The year before my dh & I were married, my parents moved, and their neighbours had a new baby girl. From the time she was in a high chair, she has come to our house for Christmas, and that helped take the heat off me & dh as newlyweds ; ) & compensate for the lack of grandchildren. She even had/has her own stocking at my parents' house! However, even she has grown up -- is now 23 (!), going to university & living with her boyfriend. She still usually makes it over for dinner sometime during the holidays, if not right on Christmas, & we all still fuss over her. ; )
Deanna & Ellen, I know what you both mean in the comments you left on my last post -- on the one hand, why shouldn't we be able to celebrate, even if there's just the two of us? On the other hand, there are times when not having kids gives you permission not to have to "go to all that trouble" when you really don't feel like it, lol.
Not that Christmas is all about presents -- but it does bother me when people say, "Oh, lets not exchange gifts among the adults this year. After all, Christmas is for the kids!" Well, fine for them -- they can cross me & dh off their list then -- but we still have to buy for their kids! And it's not just Christmas -- it's birthday parties, baby showers, first communions & confirmations and high school graduations and then weddings -- and not always for people whose kids I feel very close to, either. It's hard sometimes when you feel like you just keep shelling out & shelling out for other people's kids & get absolutely nothing in return (not even a thank you, sometimes). But perhaps that's fodder for another post...!
Friday, November 16, 2007
"Christmas is for kids."
Sorry, maybe it's the childless curmudgeon in me talking, but I refuse to believe that Christmas is just for kids, or about kids. Strictly speaking, of course, Christmas IS about "A" kid -- "THE" kid -- the Christ Child, and what his birth meant to the world. But somehow, I don't believe He came into this world just so that kids could bug their parents for mountains of toys and stuff themselves silly with candycanes and turkey. ; ) Or so that magazine publishers could sell magazines!
I love Christmas -- it is my favourite time of year. And of course, my love of Christmas dates back to my childhood, is rooted there. But those feelings didn't fade or disappear when I got older . They just changed and took on a different form. The older I got, the less the toys and Santa Claus meant to me. What I loved (still love today) was being together with my family, and re-enacting our decades-old traditions and rituals. Some things have changed over the years, of course, for various reasons -- new rituals have gradually evolved over the years -- but much stays the same.
The spirit of Christmas was embodied by my maternal grandfather. I spent every Christmas of my life with him for 37 years straight. When I was very little, we lived hundreds of miles away from my grandparents. Sometimes, my grandmother would stay home or go to be with my my mother's brother and his family -- but wherever we were, my grandfather would drive or travel by train or bus to be with us for Christmas. I remember vividly how one year, when I was no more than 4, my dad went to get him at the train station in the next town down the road. I pulled a little chair up to the window and fell asleep there, waiting for them to come.
When I called to tell my parents I was pregnant, in March 1998, the first thing my mother asked me (after she stopped screaming!) was "when?" & when I told her "mid-November," she sighed rapturously, "A baby for Christmas!"
Well, by the time Christmas 1998 rolled around, not only was there no baby, there was no Grandpa. He died October 15th of that year at age 86. It was the saddest, most melancholy Christmas I have ever experienced. A year later, my grandmother was gone too.
A year or so after that, we were all sitting down to Christmas dinner, and my father went to get the camera to take a group shot of us seated around the table, as he often had in years past. He stood there looking through the viewfinder and as we all looked back at him, a strange thing happened. He set the camera down without taking the picture, turned and went down the stairs to the basement family room. Everyone looked blankly at each other. My mother got up and followed him down the stairs, and I bowed my head & struggled to hold back the tears. I knew exactly why he had to put down that camera & hide the emotions that had hit him unexpectedly. Instead of growing, our family was actually shrinking -- so many people we loved just weren't there anymore (or, like my daughter, never made it there to begin with) -- and I knew instinctively that he had realized that as he looked through the lens of that camera.
After a few minutes, he came upstairs & took the picture. I love looking at pictures, but this one gives me pain to see. None of us are smiling in it.
My mother is guilty of the "Christmas is for kids" & "kids are what make Christmas special" mindset (and it sometimes sets my teeth on edge). I will often hear her, at Christmastime, telling her friends that "we don't have any little kids at our house for Christmas." (Thanks, Mom.)(My sister is childless by choice, and she and I, at ages 45 & almost 47, are still "the kids" at our house.) She (my mom) loves it when my aunt invites us to her family Christmas shindig the Saturday before Christmas, where we get to watch her grandkids, saucer-eyed in the presence of Santa (yes, Santa) as he arrives at the door bearing gifts. (They lose most of their shyness very quickly as soon as they get handed their presents.)
Yes, it's fun to watch; yes, it's an element that our family Christmases lack these days. Is it better than our own family Christmases have evolved to become? I don't know. It's just different. Most certainly, our Christmases would be very, very different these days if our daughter were here -- but when all is said & done, it's still Christmas, it's still magical, and I still love and appreciate it.
I'm rambling here, but the point I want to make is that while children may add a certain element of fun to Christmas celebrations, it's not just "for kids." If it's about kids at all, it's about the child that lives within each of us. The magic & wonder & generosity of the season is something for ALL of us to enjoy and to share with each other.
We started attending the group as clients about six weeks after we lost Katie... and we've never left. ; ) We started training as facilitators after the one-year "anniversary" mark had passed, and we're still there. It's become such a big part of our lives. It's a great feeling to be able to give something back to an organization that helped us so much... but it's also nice to feel that there's still a place I can go where I can say my daughter's name & talk about what happened to us and not have people look uncomfortably away -- although our role is now more to listen than to talk about our own experiences. Sometimes, late into a long week of work, it's a pain to haul ourselves out on a Thursday night (dh especially can grumble)... but we almost always come away invigorated & feeling that we did some good by being there.
A support group may not be for everyone -- some clients love it, some come once & we never see them again, and some never show up at all -- but I would highly recommend at least giving it a try. Even in 1998, I was able to find support online, and I was quickly hooked on my daily fix ; ) but there was nothing like meeting up with other bereaved parents in "real life." Even though the circumstances of our losses might be very different, we quickly come to realize that we are all hurting in the same ways. We like to joke about it and say it's the club that nobody wants to join. There is such a bond that is formed through listening to each other's stories, comparing notes, venting about the people who have hurt or annoyed us ; ) and offering each other our support. We have made some really good friends through the group, and the bond remains even with those people we only see now once or twice a year at the memorial events the group sponsors (a Christmastime candlelighting service, a summer picnic & butterfly release, a fall Walk to Remember).
Many, many of our clients have gone on to have successful subsequent pregnancies or adopt. Although many of them also have wrestled with infertility (surprise!), dh & I are among the few we know of who have opted to remain a family of two. Sometimes we talk about whether it's time to throw in the towel. We're getting older, and some of our clients are getting to be VERY young! And I wonder whether they'd rather hear from a facilitator whose loss was more recent, who went on to have subsequent children -- as an example of hope. We mentioned this once to someone, & she pointed out that, "Yes, but they see you there, and it's nine years later and you're still standing, even after everything you've been through. That's a great example for them too." I'd like to think so! We've decided we'll go until the 10-year mark, next fall, and then see how we feel.