How Much Loss?

It’s been over a month since I’ve written, a long break for such a new blogger. I’ve been missing the writing – and frankly the reading – of all of my fellow bloggers, but haven’t been able to face the reality of what’s been going on at home. Somehow writing it down makes it all more real.

In my last post, I shared some of the struggles the hubs and I have been facing. In this post, I’ll share that they’re looking increasingly insurmountable. It’s been an intense few months of inward focus, long conversations, sharing of hopes, dreams, and plans. Unfortunately after all these years of the baby chase, its like we’ve emerged on completely different paths. As much time as I’ve spent thinking about what I want my life without children to look like, so has he, and I’m here to tell you those lives don’t look at all the same.

I always felt proud that we were not one of those couples who let infertility destroy them. If it were just that, maybe we could make it. But as it turns out, there have been other things lurking that have now found the space to come out in full force. Perhaps they were always there, but were concealed by the singular focus of our married life. Perhaps they’ve found more definition in this raw transition phase. I really don’t know.

We love each other deeply – it would be easier if we didn’t – but find ourselves at this juncture wanting very different things. The problem is, the life he wants would take a lot of sacrifice from me, and I already feel that I’ve given so much up. It sounds selfish, but I don’t want to give up anything else. I’m not sure I’ll recognize myself if I do.

Just when I finally feel that I’ve come close to accepting the reality of life without children, I’m faced with yet another loss. No more taking comfort in the strength of my marriage, or conspiring in the joys that only a life without children allows. No more dreaming of the unexpected pregnancy, or coming around to consider adoption. Now it’s all over. My my six-plus year marriage, and any tiny glimmer of hope of being a mother. How did I get here?

I don’t know how to write about this, but I miss the writing.

Struggles

It’s been a long two weeks away from the blog, spent mostly getting over jet lag from my Asia trip, a brief stomach bug, and a wicked fight with the hubs.

We’ve been having a hard time lately, the hubs and I. It is a hard thing to talk about publicly (and privately!) so I won’t go into the gory details, but I will say that the infertility dance can be hard on a marriage long after the music has stopped.

When I first started realizing that we weren’t going to get pregnant naturally, I started reading any and every infertility account I could get my hands on – blogs, books, articles, you name it. Most shared a similar story of two people joined together in the dogged pursuit of a shared dream, supporting each other every step of the way, even while navigating the fog of hormones, disappointment, and financial stress.

In these stories, each failed treatment presented an opportunity to look each other in the eye and share the grief, while contemplating the next step. There were many accounts of women distraught at the idea of not becoming a mother, and husbands vowing to do whatever it would take to help her fill that dream.

Oh how I longed for that to be our story. Instead, we struggled with differing views on how far we each were willing to go to create a family.  The hubs’ attitude has always been that he would be happy just being married to me, making a life for the two of us, kids or not. While in theory I appreciated that sentiment as I didn’t feel pressure from him, I didn’t always share it and over time, even grew to resent it.

Let’s face it, even if as a couple you are completely aligned on the mechanics of infertility treatment – how many hormones you’re willing to ingest, how in debt you’re willing to go, how much humiliation you’re willing to endure (think sperm in a cup and banana-like ultrasound wands), whose genetic material you’re willing to use – couples struggling with infertility are faced with decisions that most couples can’t even dream of. So what happens if you’re not totally aligned? In my experience, lots of heartache, long discussions, and – if you’re smart – therapy.

As our journey dragged on through the years and we both pushed the limits of how far we’d be willing to go, I kept looking for stories of couples who weren’t naturally in lockstep about the whole infertility thing. I couldn’t find them, and eventually decided that maybe those stories didn’t exist because this was too hard a struggle and those couples just didn’t make it.

It wasn’t until the hubs and I went to therapy to resolve some of our issues that I felt comforted to hear that no, not every couple is on the same page about what lengths they might go to in order to build a family. It was reassuring at the time, and it helped us to better understand and appreciate where we each were coming from. It also helped us both get to a place where we were aligned on the fact that we had gone far enough.

Now that we’ve gotten off the crazy infertility train, I’m so grateful that the hubs doesn’t feel let down by our biological failures. I have no doubt that there are many women who don’t deliver the goods and are dropped like a hot potato. The challenge is, as we struggle to accept and embrace and define our life without children, the alignment issue is rearing its ugly head in a different way.

I never really let myself consider what a life without children would look like, because for so long I refused to accept that outcome. Now I’m spending lots of time thinking and writing about it, and we’re spending lots of time talking about it. We’re trying very hard to find that alignment again, but it has been a struggle.

I can’t help but wonder how much better we would be at this had we not already been through the mother of all marital struggles?

 

 

 

Visiting with Jizo

I’ve been travelling for the past ten days on a “once-in-my-lifetime” work trip to Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai. When this trip presented itself, I viewed it as a “silver lining” opportunity. Meaning, it was a last minute trip which most of my colleagues with kids couldn’t or didn’t want to take on. While I certainly don’t like being away from the hubs or our home for that amount of time, it is a little bit easier for us to pull it off logistically than it would be if we had little ones. And while I’ve never really had Asia on my personal bucket list, I was happy to be able to experience it on someone else’s dime (and get some good work done too, of course!).

I was especially excited to find some time in Tokyo to visit the Zojo-Ji Temple and its Jizo statues. in Japan, Jizo is the protector of travelers, women, and children, and Jizo statues are commonly found at temples as a symbolic place for parents to grieve lost children and pregnancies. I first read about them a few years ago in Peggy Orenstein’s book Waiting for Daisy. In the book, which I highly recommend, Orenstein writes of the struggles that she and her husband endured to conceive and ultimately adopt their daughter. She spends time in Japan, where her husband is from, and described the tradition of the Jizo statues. I remember thinking how civilized it seemed for a society to acknowledge and allow for this grief, instead of hiding it behind a curtain of inappropriate sharing. Clearly the Jizo tradition stuck with me.

So on the second morning in Tokyo I took advantage of my time-zone warped internal clock to take a sunrise jog down to Zojo-Ji. It was a warm and misty morning, and I was amazed at the lack of people on the street at that hour. As the largest metropolitan area in the world I figured Tokyo would be jam packed and chaotic, but I found it instead to be mostly orderly and clean. The mile plus jog to the Temple felt great (the joy of running at sea level after living in the mountains) and I easily found the Jizos on the side of the Temple just as Peggy had described.

IMG_4320_orig_296The stone statues are a little over a foot high each, and there were many more than I had envisioned. Most were clothed in traditional red hats and neckties and each had a bud vase next to it filled with a bright colored pinwheel or real flowers. In addition to those Jizos clothed in the traditional garb, there were a few clearly adorned by foreign visitors, for example one that was wearing a Gap Baseball hat and button down shirt, and another a Canterbury football jersey. The older Jizos in the back of the garden had moss growing all over them, signifying a return to the earth. Given the solemn nature of the Temple and its garden, the bright colors of the Jizos felt almost playful.

IMG_4326_orig_296As I visited with the Jizos I felt a profound sense of peace and gratitude for this place to acknowledge and feel my grief, which nowadays mostly resides in the background of my daily life. I also felt grateful that the Japanese culture gives parents who have loved their children so fiercely a place to openly express that love and their loss, something that is hard for us in the States to do. October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, and while I’m glad to see it is getting some solid media coverage and that many more people are sharing their personal stories, it is far from the cultural norm.

I sat in that garden for a long time before slowly making my way back to the hotel, feeling raw but refreshed for the day ahead.

Do Something Amazing!

It was an uncharacteristically soggy weekend here so we decided to go go see a movie on the big screen – The Martian. I’d heard all about it, as I work with many NASA science geeks who loved the movie because apparently they get the science right in many ways that so many blockbuster films do not.

For those of you who don’t know the story, it follows a crew of NASA astronauts who have to unexpectedly abort their mission on Mars where they leave behind one of their crew members who they believe to be dead. Well – no spoiler alert here –  it turns out he is alive! And has to keep himself alive, fed, housed, and entertained for four years until the next mission can rescue him (Mars is really, really far away). I won’t go into any more detail, but I will say that I enjoyed the movie and I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, but it definitely included some “no way in hell” scenes that defied all laws of nature to ensure the audience remained captivated.

Two of The Martian’s crew members were former military, and two others were scientists, so I found myself relating to them the most since I am myself a former military officer (U.S. Coast Guard) and a former scientist (geology). I remember how passionate I felt about both of those pursuits in my 20s and 30s, and I can only imagine the dedication and drive it would have taken to become an astronaut. While watching the movie, I found myself envying their (fictional) ambitions to become the first to land on the red planet and definitely the first to attempt a crazy rescue mission to save one of their own. How Amazing! With a capital “A”!

The movie also left me a bit wistful, wondering what Amazing thing I might yet pursue in this life.  To be honest, I always thought that having kids would provide an automatic Amazing, and that the pressure wouldn’t be as strong to accomplish other things. In a way, focusing on our journey to become parents let me off the hook of deciding who I wanted to be otherwise, and I admit that I was OK with that. After all I had never been so obsessed with anything as I was about becoming pregnant and becoming a mom, so it was easy to call that my calling and passion.

I wonder now if I was right about that, and whether having kids would have sufficed as the Amazing, or whether I would have realized too late that there would still be a need for other self-actualized pursuits. Many of my friends with kids tell me that the desire to pursue a passion doesn’t just go away when you become a parent, but it does become harder given all the other things that need to be done. With kids now essentially off the table, I have this feeling that I’ve been given a second shot to find my Amazing but I’m just not sure what that might be. While this thinking is related to my thoughts about how to scratch the kiddo itch, I think it is bigger and deeper.

While it is probably too late for me to become an astronaut, is it too late for me to get my PhD? Join the Peace Corps? Become a teacher? Leave behind our cushy life and devote ourselves to the needy? Write a novel? Travel the world? The possibilities seem endless, but the drive of my youth isn’t quite there. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that we just spent 5 years in pursuit of one Amazing with nothing much to show for it. And I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with me turning 40!

Does anyone else feel the pressure to do something Amazing with their unexpectedly childfree life?

The Cycle of Life

Despite being persistently infertile, I have always had very regular cycles. I can count on ovulation and my period to come like clockwork. In fact the only time my cycle has really been disrupted was during IVF, when the hormones I was pumping into my body were throwing everything out of whack.

In my 20s, cycle day 27 was the day I would welcome my period as it was a sign that all “down there” was working as it should. I remember distinctly thinking how lucky I was to have a regular, manageable muenstral cycle, when so many of my friends did not. Now, cycle day 27 is the day when I brace myself for disappointment. Her arrival doesn’t sting as much as it used to, but I still steel myself up for it. While she might surprise me a day early, she rarely comes a minute late.

Well, this month she arrived a day late and I’m ashamed to say that it messed with me. Now I know, deep in my core, that my chances of getting pregnant naturally are infinitesimal. After all, we’ve been trying for 5+ years, on our own and with help, and I’ve never seen the elusive plus sign. But I had been feeling especially tired and cranky and bloated, and you can bet that little voice of hope creeped in.

I can’t explain to you how much it pisses me off that after all this time I still go there. I can make all the declarations I want about accepting a life without children – and believe me, I’m ready to move on –  but my body apparently has other ideas. It makes me wonder if there will ever be a day when I am surprised by my period, or can really make love to the hubs without wondering in the back of my mind what cycle day it is. And when I won’t let my mind wander when I’m one day late.

Two days forward, one day back. Such is the cycle of life.

[I adapted this from a blog post I wrote on another site over a year ago when I had another late arrival, but it still rings true this month. So much for progress!]

How to Scratch the Kiddo Itch?

For many years, before getting married and hopping on the ever-consuming fertility crazy train, I worked with kids through a number of volunteer organizations. I love outdoor activities, so much of that volunteer time was spent helping urban youth get outside and experience all that nature has to offer, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and even skiing.  I also volunteered for awhile as an after school tutor through an organization in Washington, DC that would bring disadvantaged youth to Capitol Hill once a week and pair them with young, eager staffer-volunteers like me.

I enjoyed volunteering because it allowed me to spend time with kids and feel like I was helping others, while often spending time outdoors. The hours spent volunteering would be at times fun, at times frustrating, often joyful, and sometimes tedious, but I always thought it served as good prep for parenting, which I’m sure involves all of the above.

After I got married and we started trying to conceive, I basically stopped all volunteering because my work demands were picking up and I knew I needed to devote my time and energy to my job, getting pregnant, and staying married. While I missed volunteering, I naively figured that once we had kids I wouldn’t have time for it anyway.

Fast-forward five years later, and I find myself thinking a lot about how to incorporate kids into our lives in a way that is different from what we imagined. I have resisted this for a long time, as it felt like giving up or giving in to the idea that we would never be parents. But as I’ve grown to accept our situation, I’ve realized that I may be ready to figure this out.

For those who may be wondering, I am an aunt several times over. Between the hubs and me, we have 8 nieces and nephews who range in age from 2 years to 22 years old. I even have an adorable great-nephew! We love them dearly, but they are all back on the east coast and we don’t get to see them that often as we would like.

I also have lots of friends with young kids who I love, and I feel lucky to be able to spend time with them when I can. One of my good friends recently asked me to be the backup emergency contact for her kids at their school, and I know it sounds cheesy but I was really touched.

At various junctures in my career, I have also considered getting off the executive ladder and going back to school to become a teacher (middle school science, if I had my druthers), an idea which has returned to the forefront recently. Before making that jump, however, I think it would be helpful for me to spend some more time with kids that age.

I’m just not sure how best to do it. Unfortunately, my job continues to be demanding and involve a fair amount of travel, so volunteering isn’t as easy as it might sound. I can’t easily commit to after-school, or any regularly scheduled time, really. I looked into “Big Sisters,” which would provide more flexibility, but apparently they’re maxed out locally and really have a need for “Big Brothers.” In reality, my volunteering time would probably be best spent on something like helping to fundraise or write grants or something more administrative, but I just don’t see that scratching the kiddo itch.

I also keep thinking about trying to help the kids who might need my help the most. A good friend recently told me about being a court-appointed advocate for children, which is very appealing as I would be reaching the most needy of children. I would also surely use some of the skills I’ve developed over the years to influence people and get things done. But honestly, it sounds hard. Really, really hard. Am I ready for that? I’m not quite sure.

It feels like progress to acknowledge the itch and to be willing to explore my options after resisting for so long. I’m open to ideas, and would love to know if/how others have incorporated kids into their life after accepting that they wouldn’t have their own.

The Guilt Factor

As a child of two former Catholics, I know all about guilt. Blessed with this lovely emotion from an early age, my mother spent many years trying to beat it out of me. She got enough guilt from her own mother to last any family a lifetime, she insisted, and didn’t want that for me.

I’ve always appreciated her encouragement to resist the guilt, but nonetheless I succumb to it regularly. I try to be the best friend, daughter, worker, etc. that I can be, and guilt creeps in quickly if I don’t meet my self-imposed standard. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’m more quick to recognize it and steer myself away from that inevitable sinking ship, but it is a constant effort.

I always expected guilt would be a struggle for me as a mother. After one too many conversations with my parent friends telling me that guilt is just part of the deal – guilt about not being home, guilt about not being at work, guilt about not being available for their spouse – it all sounded pretty bleak to me.  I did not want to be consumed by guilt for doing all things poorly, so always knew that I would at least want the option to stay home with our children or scale back on other commitments to keep the guilt at bay.

It was much to my surprise, then, when I recently realized that guilt has served as a road block in my acceptance and embracing of a life without children.

It took me awhile to put my finger on it. We would be out at a restaurant, or hiking, or skiing, or one of the many things we like to do, and I’d see a cute family with parents inevitably struggling to get their kids to sit down and eat, keep walking, or get on the lift. I would feel the normal pang of jealousy, having wanted to experience these parenthood rituals myself, followed by this nagging afterthought that I couldn’t quite place. Finally one day I paid close attention to that afterthought and realized it went something like this “you should be slugging through parenthood like normal people, and not selfishly enjoying your easy life of [eating out, skiing, hiking, etc]. You don’t know hard.”

Once I finally listened to that little bugger in my head, I was floored. After all, we tried REALLY, REALLY hard to have a baby. Years of struggle, thousands of dollars, endless shots and procedures, and lots of hard. Something we worked so hard for should not be included In the realm of things to feel guilty about.

In trying to unpack the guilt, I realize it probably stems from two things. First is the societal stigma of people who don’t have kids or choose to adopt as being “selfish.” I personally think this is a load of crap, as having a biological child is one of the most selfish things a person can do. This is not a bad thing at all, but let’s just call it what it is. The adoption question does come with a whole heap of existential guilt that is of a different order than what I’m talking about today, and will save for a later post.

The second, and more likely culprit, is the desire to commiserate and relate to my parent friends who seem to struggle daily with the hard. I know there is a lot of good and joy in parenting, but as my best friend once told me, it is a lot easier to complain to a non-parent about the mind-numbing, identity challenging parts of parenthood than it is to explain that incredible feeling you get looking into your child’s eyes. I think she was right, because I certainly hear a lot more about the negative side of parenting than I do the good. I’ve had more than one mom-friend imply that I’m lucky I’m infertile and should just use it as my “excuse” to not have kids.

In short, their life is hard and mine is easy, so how could I possibly know what they’re going through? Bam, there it is!! The Guilt.

When this crops up, it helps to remind myself that this particular emotion is misplaced. I can rightly feel lots of things about our inability to have children – anger, sadness, injustice – but not guilt. Not only is it inappropriate for our situation, but it will hold me back from living the best life possible. Which, if I’m lucky, will include many lingering meals out, long hikes, and epic ski days.

 

 

Milestones

I’m not sure how it happened, but apparently it is the end of August and I haven’t posted anything here in almost three months. It’s been a fun and busy summer, but I can feel it slowly  slipping away. The morning and evenings are a bit chillier, and I’m surprised at the number of leaves already on the ground. The most obvious milestone in this seasonal shift, however, is the ubiquity of “back to school.”

Families come back from vacation, traffic picks up, shopping is a disaster, and my Facebook feed is full of shiny smiles, new outfits, and hand painted signs proclaiming the grade and school of each kid. These early days portend another year of excitement for kiddos and the barely hidden joy of parents who are grateful to get some of their own time back. It is a societal milestone that encourages families with children to stop, assess, reorganize, and hunker down.

One of my biggest struggles in envisioning a life without children is the lack of these societal milestones. You spend the first decades of your life waiting for summer to come or school to end, celebrating graduations, and looking forward to the next chapter. When school ends, the milestones are more individual, but often follow a similar pattern – the new job, the first date, the engagement, the wedding, the first house, the first baby – not necessarily in that order.

Parenthood itself offers a plethora of milestones: 40 week (plus or minus) of pregnancy, years of carefully mapped out developmental months, followed eventually by the first day of school. The rest is history on repeat. Your milestones become your children’s milestones, and ultimately your grandchildren’s.

When I’m feeling my bleakest about our life without children –  which luckily is not as often as it used to be – I envision a future devoid of milestones. Yes, there may be new jobs or new houses, but the truly emotional milestones will likely involve sickness and death, not necessarily the happier kind.

While my friends who are parents may see this as a beautiful and beckoning blank canvass, I see a long line of sameness. On good days, it is a reminder to focus on the journey and not the destination; on bad days I feel like I’m living my life on the fringes where other people’s milestone are celebrated, but not my own.

Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on the journey and in finding ways to fill that blank canvass. There is pressure to do something great, but at this point I’d be happy to develop some truly meaningful milestones.

For tonight, I’ll celebrate the publishing of blog post #2.

 

 

 

Exploring Another Forty…

I turned 40 in January of this year and I’m finally ready to admit that I will never be a mom. I’m also very ready to figure out what another forty years might have in store for me.

The hubs snagged this url for me on my 40th birthday, as I was wallowing in my continued barrenness, and his private first post to me about our future adventures was so scrumptious and filled with optimism that it made my heart hurt. I’ve been holding this hurt in so long, waiting for my “real life to begin” that I’ve decided to fake it until I make it by exploring a new one here, in the buff.

That is how this blogging thing feels, doesn’t it? Naked?

This is actually my third blog. The first one, very professionally put together by the software engineer hubs in 2010, focused on the tantalizing topic of science policy. After three years of weekly updates and a new, somewhat overwhelming job, I decided to lay down my pen.

I missed weekly writing, so I started an anonymous personal blog in 2014. This outlet allowed me to write about the baby pursuit that occupied nearly all of my non-working (ok, some working) and non-sleeping (ok, some sleeping) hours. After all those years of trying to conceive every possible way – the natural way, the artificial way, the alternative way – as well as some seriously emotional work to consider and ultimately decide against adoption, it’s time to come to terms with the fact that our journey has come to an end.

With this blog, I want to look forward, while honoring the past. My drive to have a baby has taken a toll on me, my career, my friendships, and most importantly my marriage. There are times I wish I could have a do-over with a different “happy” ending, but alas, we are not all that fortunate.

That’s one of the reason I want to be here, because I know there are others like me who have hit the end of the road without the adorable munchkin to show for it. I have benefited so profoundly from the growing crowd of voices representing this tribe, including Justine at Ever Upward, Pamela at Silent Sorority, Lisa at Life Without Baby, Jessica at The Pursuit of Motherhood, and Jody at Gateway Women, that I thought one more couldn’t hurt.

Mostly, I want to figure out my Plan B (thanks for the idea, Jody!) without it feeling like a Plan B. I want to face head-on my own resistance to this idea, and society’s reluctance to encourage it. I want to apply some of the vigor I’ve demonstrated in one pursuit, to another, equally important pursuit. And I want to be open, honest, and naked about it all.