Monday, May 16, 2011

Lying Fallow

At her blog, The Writings of an Infertile Ballerina, Jen Nelson shares about the painful truth of dealing with her infertility while working as a nurse who cares for post-natal women and their babies. In reading her story, it brought me back so vividly to my own pain as a woman trying desperately to conceive.

By all accounts I was “lucky” since I already had a child when I began to experience infertility. Sitting in the waiting room at the reproductive endocrinologist’s office I was embarrassed by the fact that I went there with a toddler. I felt greedy and overprivileged to be there wanting for more than I already had, when those other women were struggling to have just one baby.

It was the only place in the world where I didn’t feel inadequate. In that waiting room, with  my son in my arms, I was the most complete I could be. Compared to those other women, I wasn’t as broken, I wasn’t as deficient, I wasn’t as pathetic. Then I would leave and set out about my days. Days where I lost friends because I couldn’t bring myself to be around a group of pregnant women or the day when I lost my best friend because I couldn’t understand the pain of her pregnancy and she couldn’t understand my not understanding. Days where I felt alone, lonely and hollow.

After all, as I told Jen this morning, it’s the one thing our bodies were made to do: have babies. It doesn’t take intelligence or sophistication or even skill, it’s something that happens to women all over the world every day by accident, and I couldn’t make it happen with a team of doctors. What kind of loser was I anyway?

And then of course, there are all the hyper-fertile women who love to tell you how they got pregnant when their husband walked in the room. “He looked at me and I was pregnant! hahahahahah” or “I don’t know how it happened!” (really? I could buy you a book about it if you need one!) or other award-winning things an infertile woman does not want to hear. But you hear them every day. And each one cuts like a scythe, deep and jagged, leaving scars on your heart and tears in your eyes.

One day, I was talking to the nurse at the RE’s office and she said to me, “If I could tell you the exact date you were going to have another baby would that make you feel better?”

“Yes,” I said, “But you can’t!”

“But I can tell you that you WILL have another baby one day. We’re going to keep at it until we get it right.”

“But what if that doesn’t happen. You can’t guarantee that!”

“I just know it. I know it.”

Turns out she was right. I got my daughter, the miracle, after almost 2 years of treatment for secondary infertility. I suffered through hundreds of shots, ultrasounds, blood tests and diagnostic tests and I lived like a science experiment for years, but I got my baby. That nurse was right.

Every time I meet a woman who is going through it I feel so conflicted about reaching out. I am so painfully aware of my blessings and also of the fact that my blessings are someone else’s painful reminders of a struggle they live with every day. Then again, who but someone who has been there can truly say, “I know how you feel” and really know? My truth is that even though I got my miracle I still feel like that barren woman who hungered and ached for a baby more than anything in the world. When I meet a similarly suffering soul, my wounds re-open just enough for the pain to become real again and I am overcome with a need to help someone else heal. As if by helping her, my pain develops meaning and morphs from anguish into some fairy tale fable in which everyone lives happily ever after.

Tonight, as I kissed my babies goodnight I sat for a moment with that strange mix of gratitude, humility and sadness. Just as I once sat and wondered why God would withhold my dream, I now sit and wonder why the gift was given to me and why other women continue to suffer this deprivation. Like an amputee feels pain in a long gone limb, the ache of the longing persists even now.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Call of Duty

Usually I write about being a mom. I know I’ve written about my husband, but I don’t usually write specifically about being a wife. In the interests of nothing being sacred, I’m about to overshare. Tune out now if TMI is TM for you.

This morning after dropping the kids at religious school, my husband triumphantly entered the bedroom and declared, “We’re going to have sex now!” For various reasons, one of which being his recent vasectomy (nothing is sacred), and his abject fear of an accidental third child being conceived prior to said procedure (too many people told him the, “I was just about to get a vasectomy when…” story), it’s been a while. I won’t say how long, but let’s just say, long enough. TMI yet?

For various other reasons, among them, the fact that I have been up since about 4 am and haven’t showered, and have spent the past 2 weeks like a shut-in with my daughter who was recovering from her own surgery, I was not exactly raring to go. He looked like a sad puppy. I felt gross, but then, how can a gal turn down a guy who looks at her with such longing when she looks like such a mess? Every woman dreams of being so desired, right? Why is it that sometimes it feels like an obligation? We even remember hearing it called the “wifely duty.” Yuck. Who wants to do THAT??

I know I shouldn’t complain. I should be thrilled that the me I see and the me he sees are so different. I should be delighted that he doesn’t care what I smell like, or look like, or whether I’ve brushed my teeth or my hair, but it’s not always that easy. So, I try to push past it, to be the me he sees and not the me I feel like. To let his eyes be my mirror. Even though it’s difficult sometimes, it’s important to remember that I’m not just a mom, I’m a woman too. 

In the midst of our tryst, he gently kissed my forehead and whispered, “I love you.” In a moment’s time I went from feeling like a dishtowel that needed washing to feeling like a princess. Not a bad way to start the day.

Kicking and Screaming (and a little jumping and flailing)

I have been known to call myself a “soccer mom” before, and have been referred to as one by others, but I never really understood or accepted the full impact of the phrase until recently.

I erroneously thought that my moniker was derived from having a kid who plays soccer and simultaneously owning a minivan in which I transport multiple children to and from practices and games. What I have come to realize is that this is only a small part of what makes me a Soccer Mom. And while it was a label I wore with disdain a short time ago, it is now something with which I am increasingly more comfortable and, dare I say it, proud.

Yesterday, while watching my son’s team battle to a hard fought tie on the field, I realized:  I love to watch these kids play. Sure, there are moments when it’s frustrating to watch, but there are even more when it is completely exhilarating. Best of all are the looks on their faces when a goal is scored. It doesn’t matter who scores, they all rejoice as if they themselves had scored. This is the power of a team sport.

The beauty of watching your kid play is not necessarily in watching them experience the glory of the victory, as one might expect. For me, the real beauty in the “beautiful game” is watching how kids, my kid in particular, handle the tough times. The times when the ref misses the call, the times when the other team scores a freak goal and takes the game, the times when they just run their hearts out and still get pounded into the dirt with a lopsided defeat. In those moments I see the biggest victory of all. It’s the fact that my son can walk off the field with a smile, knowing he left everything he had on the field and that he stood by his team.

So yes, I’m a soccer mom. Not because I drive a minivan, not because I wash uniforms or clean cuts and scrapes sustained on the filed, but because my heart is in the game. Because when I watch those boys on the field, I feel like I am there with them, and I experience their joy and their pain with them. Sure, I jump and yell and cheer, I have to. I never understood someone who could sit and watch a game (any game) without having full-body involvement. But at the end of the day, for me, it really is about how they play the game. Winning is just a nice bonus!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sign of the Times

Yesterday I made the single  most disturbing impulse purchase I’ve ever made. While walking with purpose to the toy aisle to get some puzzles for my daughter, something caught my eye. I was compelled to reach over and grab it off the shelf. It was a jar of pickled beets. Sliced, pickled beets.  Something happened in that moment as I placed the jar in my cart. I came face to face with the fact that I am now middle aged. Ouch. Still smarts.

In my 20’s I would impulsively grab a bottle of nail polish, or a new lipstick, or some new shade of eye shadow  or hair care product that I felt would change my life. In my 30’s it was baby and toddler toys that I scooped up impulsively. There was a time when my home was clogged with toys. Yesterday, however, it was pickled beets. They are tasty, they have fiber, anthocyanin and they make your poop turn pink, which is irresistible, so why is it nagging at me? Because it’s a sign that I’ve truly entered a new phase of my life. I thought I was ready, but maybe not.

When I turned 40, about 6 months ago, I didn’t feel like the woman in the Depends commercial, or the woman in the Miralax or Metamucil commercials, I felt like the spry, bouncy young thing in the Nair commercial (even though my legs might not be ready-for-short-shorts). The pickled beets, to me, represent a shift in my priorities and in general, getting older. I suppose that’s ultimately better than living like a 20 year old and pretending that I’m not really a grown-up, but it just feels like giving in to something. And I despise giving in.

So, I opened the beets today, after leaving them in the fridge last night. They were chilled to perfection and just as delicious as I imagined they would be. Even with the bitter aftertaste of middle age.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In-Laws and Outlaws

My husband and I have been together for 14 and a half years. During that time, I have had a rollercoaster ride of a relationship with his parents.  My in-law relationship is one that is built on sand and doomed to instability. After all, their only investment in me (and mine in them) is the connection we share through my husband and our children. The term “father-in-law” or “mother-in-law” or “daughter” or “son-in-law” is deceptive. It implies an intimacy or investment that may not always exist. I have always called my MIL, “Ma” or “Mom”. It’s easier that way. I have a friend who has been told to call her MIL “Mrs. X.” I find that cold and impersonal, but maybe more true to the dynamic of the relationship.

My IL’s have made a point over the years to make pronouncements about how I am not a DIL, but the daughter “they never had.” I will admit to having fallen into somewhat believing this from time to time. Due to some recent events I have become vividly aware that my position in their lives is that I am the woman their son married (and I was told years ago that none of their DIL’s are worthy of their sons in their estimation), and who gave birth to their grandchildren. That’s it.

Watching my own nuclear family growing up, I always felt like I wanted my IL relationship to mimic that of my father and my maternal grandmother. I would have dared anyone to sit in our home through a family dinner or holiday celebration and guess whose mother she was. My father always called her “Mommy” and any cards they exchanged always read “Son” or “Mother”. None of that in-law nonsense, they loved each other and that was it. It lulled me into a false sense of security.

It shouldn’t bother me that these people judge me, but it does. It irks me that they see snippets of my life with my husband and children and feel entitled draw conclusions from them. There have been many times when I felt like my home was an ant farm, open to their prying eyes and then subject to their opinions and judgments. Lots of judgments. And not just about me, but about my fellow DIL’s. They routinely absolve their sons of any involvement in anything negative and cast the blame on those whores of Babylon to whom they are married.

The problem in the in-law relationship comes from the fact that we are forced into an artificial relationship with a third party by virtue of loving someone. The IL’s aren’t always people we like, admire or with whom we would choose to be associated were it not for this tenuous bond. The trick in navigating the waters of this complex relationship is in not creating waves that disrupt the other parties (spouses and children) who sail in those waters more easily. Of course it helps if the IL’s themselves aren’t rocking the boat.

My one wish is that I am the kind of mother-in-law to my children’s spouses that I had always hoped to have myself. It’s hard to imagine now that there will come a time in their lives when I will need to be less involved, but I know it will. While I expect that their spouses will and should be the first person they turn to for support, encouragement and advice, I desperately hope I will be the second (or third behind their father). I know there will be times that I want to give my two cents’ worth in situations and I pray that I have the good sense not to infringe. But most of all, I hope that both my kids end up with spouses who love, adore and cherish them as much as their parents do one another.

Oh, and that I never get referred as the “Monster-in-law.”

Friday, May 6, 2011


Okay. It’s been a week to remember. That’s about the best thing I can say. I think the quality of this week is best illustrated by the fact that I just suffered a class one meltdown over a shoebox. Yes, a cardboard box that shoes come in. Well, this box held a pair of pleather boots, but you get the concept.

Here’s the deal: my daughter had surgery this week (tonsils and adenoids), nothing serious, but surgery still. I’ve been in my house since Tuesday midday with no immediate prospects for leaving. While I have had visitors, I have not had a true interaction with the outside world. In the midst of this, I have been helping remotely with the Mother’s Day plant sale at my son’s school (which I volunteered to co-chair BEFORE I scheduled my daughter’s surgery), I have been waiting on my daughter, reminding her every 10 minutes to take a drink, watching her fever as it ebbs and flows, doing puzzles, art projects and trying to keep the house up. I’m losing on most fronts.

Last night I carefully labeled a shoe box on all four sides with my son’s name and his grade and teacher’s name. I set the box on the counter and reminded him no less than 10 times this morning that he needed to take the box so he could bring home the plants he buys today. I was distracted as he left and so when he ran out without his shoebox, I didn’t notice. And then about 8 minutes after he left I saw it there. On the counter. I blurted, “OH E!” (that’s what I call him) I ran out the door, knowing full well that he was gone. I picked up the phone and called my neighbor. I know she’s volunteering today and thought she could bring the box with her for my son. “I’m not going up there until 2 pm, I think that might be late for him,” “Yes, he’s going at 1:30. Hmmm, I guess I could drive up to the school and drop it off.” “Oh Lisa, that’s silly, they always have LOTS of extra boxes, they’ll give him one!” “Yeah, but I wrote his name on this one.” Really? Really?? Did I really and truly have SO much invested in this stupid shoebox? “Lisa, don’t drag the little one out, I'm going out later, I’ll pick it up and bring it by the school for you.” “You will? Thank you so so so much!!” I am trying to imagine my friend and neighbor looking at her phone wondering how badly her friend and neighbor had cracked.

After this very emotional exchange over a shoebox (A SHOEBOX!!!) I got my daily call from the surgeon’s office to check on my daughter’s progress. I was told that beginning sometime this weekend (I’ll know when because my daughter will become really cranky…WINNING!) I will need to wake up periodically during the night to make my daughter drink. I am starting to feel like one of the detainees at Gitmo. I’m waiting for the waterboarding to start. Sleep deprivation part deux.

I know it’s all going to be OK because my friend, who understands my overwhelming obsession with the shoebox, picked it up a short time ago and delivered it to school for me. Whew.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sorry, I Don’t Do…

My husband is a saint. Okay, maybe not a saint, but he is many things that I am not and he completes me in some very specific ways. How do I love him? Let me count the ways…
I have a temper. I am rash, emotional and impulsive. Pick your chin up off the floor, it’s shocking, I know. For the past 14 yrs my husband has been the water to my fire, his job (and he does it with aplomb) is to diffuse me and render me incapable of exploding. There are munitions personnel in Iraq who have likely had easier jobs with IED’s than he has had with me over the years. He is skilled at making it easy for me to back down. He nibbles my chin, he playfully calls me “Wackadoo” (only he can do this…don’t you try it), he finds a way to make me laugh and he shakes my sillies out. Sorry, I don’t do calm.
I’m a bit of a slob. I take my shoes off around the house. In our mudroom there is a pile of shoes he refers to as our “back up security system.” He calls it that because anyone trying to break in through that part of the house would break their neck on the pile of shoes there. I kick my shoes off in the kitchen, the family room, under tables – anywhere really. He comes home at night, follows the trail of shoes and collects them. He finds them a home and our life goes on as scheduled. Sorry, I don’t do neat.
I am nauseated by many things. Vomit occupies a top spot on the list. We have 4 cats and 2 children, so vomit is a way of life in our house. From hairballs to stomach viruses to simple acts of overindulgence, it is a near daily occurrence in our home to find vomit on the floor. The sight of it activates my gag reflex. If a cat throws up, I cover it with a paper towel and when he gets home, he dispatches the offensive pile. If a child vomits, it’s worse. I have called him home from work to clean up a floor full of regurgitation. In the past month or so, each child has graced us with a “technicolor yawn” strewn about the floors of our home. He faithfully goes about the task of cleaning and sanitizing and never complains. Sorry, I don’t do vomit.
I get wrapped up in the drama of it all. I regularly trick myself into believing that the sky really is falling. Far too often I am the Princess and the Pea. I believe the grain of sand in my shoe is a boulder. He reminds me of what’s really important and of how incredibly lucky we are to have each other and two beautiful, healthy children. He’s like a bungee cord that suddenly snaps me back from the free fall. Sorry, I don’t do perspective.
Not to make it seem as if he doesn’t have shortcomings himself. Life is an intricate balance of give and take. There is that which he doesn’t do, and I fill in those gaps for him. It’s the dance we do, and even on the days when it’s more like a mosh pit than a ballroom, we still manage just fine.