Monthly Archives: October 2015

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?