Tut, tut, looks like showers…

I wish I was the kind of infertile woman who is super happy for you when you get pregnant, who thinks all your maternity clothes are just adorable, who can’t wait to see the newborn and who looks forward to your shower.  But I’m not.  I’m the other kind of infertile woman.

I made a decision last month to not attend any more baby showers.  It was mostly out of self-preservation, but there was an element of concern for others as I accepted MJ’s reasoning that since I am allegedly incapable of hiding my emotions, going to someone’s shower and being a crying, whiny brat is not very nice to them, or anyone else.  I didn’t actually agree with MJ, mind you.  I still think I am something of a mystery-savant who can hide every single thought and emotion and have completely perfected both blank-face and the art of invisibility, but I suppose he had a point. 

So last month I declined the shower of my co-worker, and have every intention of declining the shower of the other co-worker, once invitations actually go out.  I’m not completely tactless though.  I bought a gift (early), sent it along to the shower, and spoke with her personally, explaining and apologizing for my lack of attendance.  Overall, I felt I handled it well and was glad to have it behind me.  And then my work email happened. 

I like that I work in an office where, for the most part, we all get along.  Where we share things with each other and invite each other to parties and get-togethers outside of the office.  But when I got that mass email that we, the office, had decided to hold a second office-only baby shower, well, I did not like that.  Not that you would have been able to tell mind you, cause I kept my cryptic “what is she thinking?” cool. 

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  It might be more accurate to say that I kind of lost my shit, but at least I did it mostly in my head, and though my first impulse was to take the smart phone I had been checking my email on while waiting for a hearing and chuck it as hard as I could across the conference room, I did not.  And only a small percent of that restraint was because of the Deputy Sheriff sitting next to me.  The rest of it mostly came from that heavy feeling of utter defeat that leaves you without even the energy to put the phone away.

All day I felt this anger inside me, the kind that you know is irrational and that if you explore too much will only make you sad, and yet you just can’t seem to shake it.  I was angry at the person who sent the email.  I was angry at the recipient of the shower.  I was angry at everyone who wanted to go along with it.  Mostly I was angry to not be able to escape the shower after all. 

I don’t like being an angry person, in fact, it actually upsets me greatly.  Of all the frustrating side-effects of having clinical depression, it’s the irritability that I have the hardest time with.  I can hear this voice in my head telling me to calm down, that I’m being ridiculous, that this is nothing to get upset about, and I agree with her, she’s right, but I can’t seem to make myself stop.  The anger I feel about this shower is the same.  It won’t go away, and the more I feel it, the angrier I get at myself. 

When I try to talk to MJ about it he makes a face and I instantly shut down.  Maybe his face means nothing, maybe he is not even aware he made it, but mostly what his face says to me is “this is stupid,” and “why does it matter?”  and I am crushed because it matters to me, because it’s not stupid to me, and because I don’t mean to be so upset, but I am, and I just really want someone to tell me it’s okay, to say that it is hard but I’ll get through it.  I bring it up another time only to see if he wants me to make something to bring to the now potluck affair on his behalf (I’ve already decided to not be there), but even then I am hesitant and don’t express how I am feeling.  Which is a conflicting combination of hurt and angry, sad and disappointed in myself. 

I decide to stick to my original decision to not attend any more baby showers, but it is hard to avoid it at work and I feel ashamed when I decline to sign up for the potluck list.  I shouldn’t.  I already bought a gift, and addressed the shower.  I know that much of the impetus for this office shower is because some of my co-worker’s didn’t remember to buy a gift or RSVP, which angers my etiquette-obsessed self, and yet still I feel guilty.  For a minute I decide to make cupcakes, but then the minute passes and the war in my head between the side that believes I shouldn’t feel guilty and the side that feels I should starts up again.  What the latter side keeps bringing up, and which is hard to ignore, is that I’d want them to come to my shower.  You can’t be rude to someone else and then expect them to be happy for you. 

In my mind I feel like there is some difference here, but I can’t suss it out.  There is something so difficult to me about a baby shower in a way no other celebration – birthday party, engagement party, wedding shower, etc. has affected me.  There is something about the shower that is so hard for me to handle, so upsetting to my infertile self that the mere thought of one being held around the corner from my own office fills me with dread and anger and immense sadness.  I don’t just not want to attend the office shower, I do not even want to come to work that day for fear of encountering balloons and diapers and stork cookies.

I feel as if the shower is some invasion to my space. Though I can find no reasoning for it, my head keeps thinking, “but this is my office, it’s my office too.” I can’t explain this either, this sense that my office should be a safe-space, when it is in reality an office, a place I go to work where other people are; other people with their own lives, their own problems, and their own happy events. But still the whole day after getting that email I find myself anxious to the point of tears to get home, to get somewhere I feel safe and not confronted by someone else’s successful fertility.

I have to be honest, I want to give myself a lot of leeway to feel upset about my infertility, to mourn what may be a permanent loss, to get angry when my period comes and to cry when test results come back negative. But I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be so angry and jealous and resentful. And I don’t want to miss out on the happy moments in others lives just because I don’t have the same happy moments. I just don’t know how to do that, and I guess, though I still do not admit MJ is right, I just don’t know how to control or hide those emotions.

I still decide not to go to the shower. I make plans instead go to lunch with my friend, LB, who does not think I am a bad person for avoiding this second shower, and instead thinks we should go to the nearby diner and order lots of bacon. I find the plan appealing, and though a part of me feels small and selfish for sneaking out during the party, there is still another part of me that is large and overprotective and she puts a warm arm around me while I cry and promises that I will get through it. I want to believe her.

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Rhapsody in the Night

I may never have children, but I already consider myself a mom.  Maybe some people can’t relate to this, maybe this is the kind of thing that places me in the crazy camp, but I don’t care.  When it comes to Munchkin, my Golden Retriever who I have had since she was ten weeks old, I am, without hesitation her mom.  And I don’t know who or what I would be without her.

I think about this every minute since last Friday.  I think it about when I sit in my office and check messages.  I think about it when I’m in the shower, or sitting on the bed putting on socks.  I think about it when I get home from work and she greats me with her happy face and a big stuffed animal in her mouth.  I think about it as I fall asleep, and I think about it the moment I wake up. 

I think it wasn’t Friday that was so bad, it was Saturday.  But Friday is when the thoughts began.  I didn’t understand at first why our Vet was telling us about his own Golden, whom he lost to cancer.  Munchkin wasn’t eating, she’d lost lots of weight, that’s it.  What did his story have to do with it?  I was like the slow kid in the class wishing he would speed up and tell us what kind of allergy she might have developed.  Because a strange allergy to chicken or bonemeal I could get, but a strange tumor covering her spleen, I could not. 

Everyone will tell you I am a crazy dog owner.  I cook her food for her, I have two large bins in two separate rooms overflowing with toys for her.  I plan vacations around her, like to stay in to be with her, will travel eight hours out of my way so she can spend a few days with her grandparents when I do go somewhere.  I wrap her Christmas presents, take her to Halloween dog parties, sign her name to all cards we send to everyone.  I threw parties for her birthday (complete with invitations), took dancing classes with her, and judged MJ entirely on how he interacted with her.  I post pictures of her on facebook, and talk about her constantly, and take her everywhere I can.   I love her.  I love her.  I love her. 

At first we scheduled a surgery to remove the tumor.  We scheduled it for first thing Monday morning and I held it together even though I was scared about the surgery, whether she would be in pain, and how we would be able to care for her after.  But I stopped there.  Surgery.  Remove tumor.  Munchkin all better.  That was the extent of my thoughts. 

When we lived in Atlanta and were both still healthy we would go on long hikes together.  I would take her leash off and we would run down the trails as fast as we could, which for her was pretty fast, and for me was a minute or two and then a lot of panting.  She always ran back and danced around me the way only a Golden Retriever can, waiting for me to get going again.  She loved mud and smelly things, but most of all water.  She would hear things and stop suddenly on the trail, putting her head toward the woods, nose slightly up, and I would bend down and whisper, “What is it, Munchkin?  What’s out there?”  and she would get so excited, a sense of pride and purpose filling her warm brown eyes. 

One year MJ and I went to Orientation meets with Munchkin in tow, and he got to see that same look.  We’d traipse all over trying to find the right flag and Munchkin would leap over fallen logs, and run full out when MJ called her name.  Few things are more wonderful than watching Munchkin in the woods. 

In the Emergency Veterinary Office she looked unsettled.  It was late Saturday, and she must have wondered why we were there and not at home getting ready for bed.  The blood results are Vet took were not good.  “You need to get an ultrasound done,” he had said in that slight European accent of his, which I have not been able to identify.   “You need to look at the liver because it is likely surgery is not the best option.”  The ultrasound specialist happened to work at this clinic forty minutes away, and work late, so there we were.

Munchkin doesn’t like our own vet, never has, so I imagined this strange place with its smells that only she could detect was not comforting.  I sat on the floor next to her and rubbed her belly as she laid on the cold floor, trading off with MJ when I needed a break.  She would just lay there as one of us pet her, and if we stopped, she would lift her head and stare at us, those Golden eyes drilling into ours until a hand was safely back on her reddish fur. 

In those Atlanta days we would take a big green blanket to Piedmont park on Saturday mornings and lay out together.  I would bring a book or some magazines and Munchkin would play with a Kong stuffed with peanut butter.  On an old CD walkman I would listen to lots of Joni Mitchell and Iron and Wine.  I’d take breaks and play baseball with her.  Standing a couple feet away from her, I would pretend to kick at a mound and make windup gestures while asking, “Are you ready?  Are you ready?”  Then I’d toss it to her, hard and straight and she would catch it perfectly each time. 

Munchkin taught herself how to throw the ball back.  I don’t know how, she just did it one day and never stopped.  She would cock her head down and then lift it up suddenly and the ball would sail from her mouth up and into my hands.  It was amazing.  Once a newspaper photographer in the park came over and took picture after picture of her doing it.  We’d play baseball like this everyday.  Me pitching, her catching and throwing it back to the pitcher’s mound.

One summer MJ and I took her to the dog park each Sunday.  We brought the same green blanket and books and would stop at Caribou for coffee or apple cider.  We’d sit under a big tree with a big bowl of water, and Munchkin would wander around, never going too far from us.  One of us would take a break and walk around the perimeter of the fence with her, or toss her the ball.  She never wanted to run and tumble with the other dogs.  She seemed happiest walking or sitting with us.

She was not happy when the ultrasound specialist took her in the back, though we were allowed to come with her.  She only seemedto warm up much later when we were all back in the little room marked “3,” and MJ and I were asking the doctor questions.  Only then did she nestle near the doctor, letting the doctor stroke her head and scratch her ears.  And I tried to ask good questions.  I tried to think about everything and make good decisions, and come up with a game plan because I am planner.  But by then all I could think was, Munchkin has cancer.  How did this happen?

I own lots of dog mugs, subscribe to Bark.  I have an entire section in the library on dog books.  I gave up rolling the hair off my clothes years ago, and each month I re-organize Munchkin’s toys so the seasonal ones are out for her to play with.  I took her to a psychic once and have taken everything she said to heart only on the off chance that it wasn’t a hoax.  I am her mom.  She is my baby.  How is this happening?

I spend the work day wanting to get home to her, and worrying about whether she is in pain, or happy, or what I can do to make things better.  MJ says we don’t know yet, to wait.  We see the oncologist Thursday.  We’ll know what treatments are available, if any, then.  But my mind does not handle waiting well.  Years of infertility have made that clear.  I am trying to wait, and I am trying to stay positive, but I am mostly lost in my head, stuck with all of these thoughts.  Sometimes the thoughts come out in an angry burst and I think, What the fuck, world?  Other times I just cry.  

Munchkin is all gold fur and brown eyes and waggy tail.  She is the sweetest animal you could meet.  She is the kind of sweet that always brings you something when you get home, that let the kitten pounce on her without ever getting upset, that lets other dogs take her ball and then waits for them to be finished, that loves to curl up on your lap despite being over sixty pounds.  She is funny and full of life, and she loves you and everything purely and without hesitation.  I don’t want her to go away.  I want her to be here and happy.  I want her to be safe and to know that I love her.  I love her.  I love her. 

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If You Can’t Follow Simple Directions…

There are a great number of things I do not understand. One being which direction is west and which is east when on a loop. Which also happens to be the question running through my head as I attempt Saturday night to get back to the freeway, after a long and wonderful day visiting an old friend.

I have always believed in the infallible reasoning that to get home from any location, one need only reverse the directions. Sometimes when heading to a new place, MJ will ask if I printed out directions to get home. I will look at him with heavy skepticism, and say nothing, my brow furrowed and eyebrows raised unnaturally high, which is a family trait I inherited from my father. Why would I possibly print out directions home? You just turn around and go back. And yet this plan is currently failing me, for while I came from the East and intend to go back, this road only goes east so far, and I have hit that end.

What I like lately are the days where I can forget about the infertility, but what I like even more are the days where I can talk about it without crying. To me, that feels like progress. I am buoyed up, despite driving in circles, by having talked to my friend M about infertility throughout the whole day, and without once breaking into tears or even choking up. Our conversations were saturated more with laughter, recognition of shared experiences, and general sarcasm and wit. I feel lighter, and more at ease, as I have always felt around her.

It is probably this euphoria that is keeping me from screaming at the road, which just went from a freeway into a regular street with stoplights and shopping malls without any warning. I turn my car around and try the ramp I see that says “East,” only to figure out after several minutes that this was no ramp, but rather a very long winding access road which is turning into the parking lot of a sports equipment store.

I had two times before bailed on this trip west to see M: once felled by a snowstorm, the other by a return trip to the ER. Friday night it almost happened again. MJ and I had gotten home from dinner at our favorite local diner, and were settling into choosing something to watch off Netflix when I made the mistake of using the restroom.

There in our regretfully small bathroom, my period waved back at me, brand new bright red blood staining the toilet paper. You can’t be serious, I thought, my heart sinking low enough to flow out as well. It was eleven days early. I had not even had the chance to fully contemplate the two week wait, to build up hope that this was going to be it, or to instead convince myself this was not going to be the month things worked. I walked back to the couch in shock and shame, and even the two episodes of 30 Rock (which we have recently been devouring) we end up watching did not cheer me up.

The worst part,” I said to MJ through snuffles and tears, “is that the more messed up my cycle gets the more it feels this will never happen.”

This has been going on for some time. The fertility tracker App I use told me months ago that my luteal phase was “unusually irregular.” Their words. In a little box that popped up when I updated my calendar. I had thought irregular said it all, but apparently there is regular irregular and then there is me. Either way, it’s true. The longer we try, the stranger my cycle becomes. I used to be able to know exactly when my period would start and my two week wait was legitimately two weeks. Now I go into three, three and a half weeks, or, like this month, something barely approaching one.

If you talk to your doctor, or just google things like I do because it is way cheaper and less time intensive, you’ll learn that a short luteal phase is a sign of Luteal Phase Defect or LPD, which happens typically when you don’t have enough progesterone in your system. Checkmark on that one; I was even on progesterone pills for awhile. But here’s the thing, you’ll also learn that a long luteal phase is a kind of LPD, or even a sign of perimenopause. Either way, you are going to have fertility problems. My problem manifests itself in a monthly game of hide and seek with my period. When will it show up this time? Is it soon? Is it late? I live in a Where’s Waldo book of menstruation.

By the time I have finally found my way to get back on the loop in continued efforts to make it home, I am faced with a rather perplexing reality. Though I cannot really wrap my head around it, though it appears to me like blurry books in a dream, the kind you know have words but which you cannot, despite your best effort actually read, I come nonetheless to this conclusion. That in order to head east to get home, I must first go west.

Accepting fate, I turn the car around one last time, and catching sight of the actual entrance ramp between two large mounds of dirty snow, I drive onward. The bright green sign for the freeway I was looking for shows up within minutes. Smartass. From there it is nearly a straight shot home, which I take to in abandon, speeding with anxious anticipation of being out of the car, being home, being with MJ.

When we talk on the phone as I cross mile markers he knows, he notes that my voice sounds happy. “I’m glad you had a good time,” he says and I can almost hear the relief in his voice that I am not coming home with tear-streaked cheeks, having worked myself into a frenzy of depression and despair. Our good days seem to be less and less lately, and I can hear his contentment to learn that today was one of them. Today I had managed to live with early onset menstruation, had felt no sadness visiting with M’s child, and no despair from talking about infertility. Today was a good day, even if my travels defied all directional logic.

I am a car traveling into heartache with the hope that I will eventually get to success and fulfillment. It is a long trip with mile markers and rest stops, and some of them are nice and worth visiting, and some of them are upsetting and discouraging. I drive and drive. Sometimes I make progress, sometimes I am only backtracking. But mostly I am stuck on a loop. Mostly I am turning around and around with infertility, trying to figure out which direction to go. I know where I want to be, if I could only get the right directions. The only thing is, no one’s printed them out.

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Day After Day

I want only to get through my one hearing this morning in the fastest, easiest way, but when the District Attorney shows up and wants to flip through photos of her newborn while we wait for the Judge to appear, I am forced to accept that it is going to be one of those days where things do not work out. 

He was my huge tax break,” she says, as she flips through photo after photo of a chubby dark-haired baby intent on figuring out what the plastic ball on the front of his play chair is all about.  I am forced to do the non-committal “Oh, really,” as I nod in tandem to the flip-flip of the photo album, and attempt to hide all emotion from my face, least I appear rude.  I am not particularly friends with this person as is, and yet, perhaps because I am a woman or perhaps because she simply does not care, it is presumed that I will enjoy this discussion, the evidence of her fertility and the “life of a parent” talk that follows it.  I check the large clock on the conference room wall and will the Judge to arrive on time.

I did not have any huge tax breaks this year.  I did instead have a mental breakdown over the weekend while doing my taxes.  It had been a difficult year, no one would deny that.  I went through two surgeries, and numerous procedures that meant days and days of being out ill from work and then full blown FMLA leave.   Even now I continue to miss work days.  Even now I continue to not feel well.  This is no surprise, least of all to me, and yet when I opened that W-2 and saw the tangible impact of illness, something in me broke.  The actual cost of being sick: about $12,000 less in pay. 

MJ listened patiently to my crying, printed tax forms in hand, my W-2 tragically not water resistant.  I cried while declaring that I was worthless, literally.  I did not make enough money to get by without his help.  I did not contribute anything to the household this past year.  And it is not very far for my mind to turn focus and fall into sadness over all the other things I do not contribute to, the other things I do not make.  I can’t make money, and I can’t make babies, and some days I can’t even make it period.

Sometimes it seems like at the heart of everything that upsets me is the infertility.  It can be unrelated, like finances, or a difficult work day, and in the end the crying and sadness will come back to: why can’t I get pregnant?  Why is this happening to us?  I don’t know if it is really that infertility has washed a pallor of sadness of me that then taints everything else, or if, more likely, that when a door to sadness opens for whatever reason, the longer I stay in the room, the further I venture in and look around, the more inevitable it will be that I remember the sadness of infertility and that sadness then trumps whatever brought me there in the first place.

Back in my office, hearing done, I find a thank you card on my desk from the last baby shower I did not attend, but did, perhaps out of guilt, overspend on, sending multiple gifts in my absence.  I happen to really like cards, as they fit into my love of old etiquette.  I hope for something touching as I open it, maybe recognition of how hard things are for me and a thank you for how generous I was.  My delusions are nothing if not grand and self-important.  The card has a single thank you and one line about how the future child (already named and with feelings as if it has come into the world on the sly and is informing her mother of her views on each present) loves the gifts.  I remember that the world does not revolve around me and my issues, only I do; only me, the one who can’t seem to move on or even beyond.  I am instantly embarrassed. 

I have one of those work days in which you seem to be constantly busy but getting nothing done, and the stress starts to pile up until I am both irritated and on the verge of tears each time some new obstacle develops.  I feel short on the phone with clients, and petty about not wanting to cover a co-worker’s case, despite having relied on their largess in covering me for my many illnesses.  I continually open my weekly calendar and look at each day with frustration, the same hearings back to back, the same meetings, the same obligations.  I am hoping somehow that it will change, that the next time I open it; the days will be clearer and easier, and less stressful.  It does not happen. 

I am trying to find a way to look at life differently.  I am trying to find ways to snap out of it, to not think about infertility all of the time, to not be sad so much or upset so often.  But today feels like I’m stuck in quicksand, unable to do much of anything but shuffle my feet and count down the hours.  I think about the old cartoon version of The Phantom Tollbooth my brother and I would watch over and over as kids, and the scene where Milo gets stuck in the doldrums – a literal doldrums with muddy earth and dark, dank scenery and blobs that sing you slowly into a laconic daze.  I am in a doldrums of sadness.  Mine is mostly blue and has lots of pillows, and there is no singing, because for some reason silence has become a great comfort to me of late. 

I sit in my office in the afternoon and work on a motion hearing, some letters, and preparing a sentencing.  I also look out the window a lot as snow falls.  The street outside my window is now mostly filled with the dirty half-melting piles of slush that used to be fluffy snow before the many cars came along.  The cars parked on the side have dirty streaks of brown liquid dried on their windshields and nearly black chunks of snow hanging from behind their tires.  Winter is always beautiful for a moment, always magical and full of promise until we start to go out and move around in it. 

As I watch the snow fall, no longer so much pretty as it is adding to the dirt and inconvenience of living through winter, I wonder if I ended up in the doldrums because of my day, because the second that photo album opened I lost my will to endure, or the second my infertility showed up in my mind, the sadness was too much to reign in.  I wonder if the day brought on the doldrums or if I just woke up there.  If I would feel this lost regardless of whether that hearing had gone on time, or that thank you card had been long and meaningful.  I wonder too if I am just always there, always in the doldrums and it is only that some days I manage to visit the world of emotional maturity for a daycation.  But mostly, I wonder if tomorrow will be better.  I wonder if tomorrow I will get out of bed in a good mood, and if my hearings will go well enough, and if I will leave the doldrums for something approaching peace of mind, be it for a day or a month. 

I wonder a lot how other people learn to live with this, and if it’s the infertility that has made me this way, or if this is just who I am.  I hope the later is not true.  I hope there is a path out of the doldrums, like there was for Milo, and that it leads to wondrous places, where fertility doesn’t matter and snow never becomes slush.  Where illnesses heal and thank you cards are works of literary genius.  Where music is beautiful and where I am not the person I am today.

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I Am the Reason There Is No “Hate” Button on Facebook, I Would Use It All. The. Time.

Facebook is a landmine. For all the interesting travel notes of adventuring friends, or the latest local event to attend, or whatever awesomeness George Takai has posted that day, there is the inevitable photo of your friend’s kids, the daily update of the newborn’s sleep progress, or, worse of all, the happy announcement of the latest successful conception.  And they are all so happy.  Everyone is.  And then all those tiny thumbs up start to come in, they rack up and expand until by days end all 172 people they know have liked their pea-sized fetus, and you can only update that they were all out of celery root at the grocery store because posting “My FSH is super high and the Doctor’s aren’t optimistic.” seems tacky.

I never used to be like this. I used to be a pretty chill person, which may surprise a number of people who know me, but then “being chill” is pretty relative to what you have to live through.  When I was thirty and hadn’t had a date for two years and lived alone in an attic apartment while working at a third rate law firm that didn’t give me a regular paycheck and was under an ethics investigation by the Office of Lawyer Regulation, after having had my insides scooped out with only one ovary remaining cause my endometriosis was so severe I couldn’t walk otherwise, I didn’t really mind all that much.  It never bothered me when my friends were better off.  Other people’s weddings were no big deal.  Someone else’s rising star and successful career barely phased me.  You got two ovaries?  Good for you, best of luck with that.  Jealousy was never my thing.

I have goals and a work ethic, I just have never been overly competitive or eager for the lime light.  I’ve only ever just wanted a simple life, a comfy home, and a trusty dog, so wanting what others had, being jealous, even resentful of someone’s else’s accomplishments, it wasn’t something I did.  Now I view your facebook post about your annoying pregnancy acne and weird cheeseburger craving with a kind of seething fury akin to scorned women and Shakespeare villains.

One day, when I meet my fertility buddy, H, at the coffee shop on the lake for a much needed infertility support lunch, I confess my facebook frustration.  We are sitting in the quiet room, at a large table by the window, and since no one else is there we are talking openly about our latest test results, and general woes.  Although, to be fair, we have done the same in non-hushed voices when the room is full.

Someday, “ I confess, “when MJ and I officially give up, I’m going to post an annoyingly personal and pissed-off rant about how I am officially and permanently infertile and all those ‘Baby so-and-so due this Spring’ jerks can just choke on it.”  Of course, even as I say it, it occurs to me that most of them won’t care.  Or would respond with some annoying cliche about how sad it is because kids are so wonderful.  Or worse, I’ll log on to find I’ve received an obnoxious number of thumbs up’s.

I bite into my salami and cheese sandwich, which goes against everything I am supposed to be doing to my body to prepare it for conception, while H laughs and shakes her head. “No you won’t,” she says.  Which is true, because in addition to my barren womb, I also lack backbone.

Instead I have secret Facebook fantasies where I post what I want and I do not “like” your “Hello second trimester” post, which I feel compelled to congratulate you on, cause who wants to be that girl? What I’d really like to say is “Fuck you.”  Is there a “fuck you” button on Facebook?  Is there a “Has it occurred to you that some of us die a little when they see a baby and spend all night crying in bed when you announce your pregnant?” button?  Cause I’d use that one, if at least for brevity.

Instead, when that status update shows up and I find out someone is pregnant, I go find MJ or I text H, usually both.  They are the only ones who will understand why I am crying.  They are the only ones who will understand why I am angry.  When I find MJ I will say it softly, sometimes a whisper, as if it hurts to come out.  I will already be crying.  He will look at me, his face sad but filled with understanding and we have an entire conversation in those expressions, the way couples who have been together for a long time can, and the way we already know everything cause we’ve had the conversation so often.  And sometimes later in the car, when I’ve calmed down, we’ll say something snotty about the person who posted, and how they’ll be a terrible parent.  It’s a small little safe place between us, where we can be honest about how we feel, and we can be sad and we can be angry and petty and jealous, and yet still be us, generally nice people who didn’t really mean it.  I turn to MJ and H, because they are the only ones who understand that my jealousy does not make me a bad person.

It is hard to explain this.  It is hard to convey to someone who has not had to struggle with this, who has simply gotten pregnant without any other thought.  There is such an expectation, a kind of inherent entitlement, that you will grow up and have kids.  You worry about external factors: meeting the right partner, having a job, a home, being in a non-war torn country.  You do not worry that your hormones will not be able to support a child, or that your semen will simply choose to lag behind at the cervix with no real direction or motivation.  You do not believe you will be infertile.  Why would you?  You are told by the world that you are fertile, that you are raging with fertility and that you must abstain, or protect, or plan to the T to avoid unwanted pregnancies.  You are not told that against all outward appearance, and social expectations, that you might be different, that you might just be the person who doesn’t work right.

It is hard to explain the kind of anger that can build when you find this out. When time ticks by until it has been years of trying, of tests and blood draws, and ovulation kits and temperature read outs, and still, though the people around you start families, you just don’t work right.  And there is no explanation for why.  For why you and why this.

I am not unhappy for my pregnant friends.  I am not angry about the photos of your kids, some of them are actually kind of cute.  I am unhappy to be infertile, and I am angry that this is happening to me.  And there isn’t a status update or thumbs up in the world that can change it.

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Say Yes To the Dress

Even though MJ and I have lived together for three years and do most everything together, I still insist that he leave me alone and not come in the bedroom when I am getting ready to go out for our date night, which is only a date night because I said I wanted to go on a date, which I only did so I would have a reason to get dressed up.

It’s Saturday and I start getting ready an hour before it’s time to go. I take a very long shower, put on Astrud Gilberto, and try on three different dresses before deciding on an outfit. It is an extremely girly display of primping and preening and even includes detailed eye shadow and mascara. These are not the things you would have expected from me a year or two ago. They would surprise you, even make you worry, check my temperature, wonder what’s going on with me. MJ puts up with it like a trooper and lets me worry about the right dress, the right shoes, everything, even though he is one of those perfect guys who tells me, as I shoo him out of the bedroom, “you don’t need to try to be pretty, you just are.”

For a reason I haven’t yet put my finger on, in the last year and a half I have become obsessed with dresses. I was never one for shopping, and never one too concerned with clothes as long as I had enough to get by, but one day I went looking for a dress for a party C was having and something just clicked in me. It is not a general love of shopping. I am not interested in pants, or shirts, skirts or shoes. Only dresses. I feel this odd compulsion in me to find a perfect dress.

Already the landscape of my closet has changed immensely. The back wall has a bar that is filled with dresses. They are arranged in my own version of order. The far left contains the dressiest of the dresses, one nearly formal gold gown, three tight black cocktail dresses, two sultry shiny red dresses with low necklines. I own far too many of these night-only, dressy outfits for a person with no social calendar and few events to attend. These dresses are followed by the wintery ones, the heavier materials, the sweater dresses. The medium weight ones come next, colors starting to brighten as it nears the summer end of the spectrum. Some are dresses for work, some are silly dresses, one with big swans all over it, another with flying birds. They blend into bright spring dresses with full skirts in flower patterns or bright pastels. And then comes the maxi dresses, the summer comfort of no sleeves and light, thin material. I now spend my mornings looking over them, picking and choosing what to wear.

I long to have reasons to get dressed up. I long to go out for date nights, or parties (though I do not particularly enjoy much of the actual party part), or concerts, anything in which it is at least acceptable to wear a fancy dress, even if not at all required. We often look mismatched together, MJ and I. He in casual attire and me in some dress and heels, makeup all done and tiny purse in hand. He’ll ask “is it okay I’m wearing this?” without realizing he’s the one who is dressed appropriately for the occasion, not me. I look like the girl who got the evening plan of dinner and a movie confused with a trip to the opera.

Each time I decide to dress up for some night out, I will do so behind closed doors, and when I am all set to go, I will come out of the side of the house where the bedrooms are and walk into the living room where MJ has been waiting for me for some time, and I will stop in front of him and ask how I look. I get this giddy excitement in my stomach as I do it, a combination of nerves and hope, and though it makes no sense whatsoever, I wait literally with baited breath for his reply. I do not doubt for a second how MJ feels about me. I do not think for a second that his feelings are limited by or tied to anything as simple or superficial as how I look. I know he is that perfect guy who says things like, “you don’t need to try to be pretty, you just are.” And yet, I stand there each time hoping this will be the dress, the time, in which he is bowled over by my beauty.

It’s a terribly unfair thing to do to him, particularly when he doesn’t know it is happening. And particularly when he always responses perfectly, telling me how pretty I am and how nice I look. And I do feel great, and I do feel pretty because of him and his reaction, but inevitably by night’s end I am thinking of when the next date night might be, and what I should wear, and how I look, and whether I should go shopping for a new dress to make sure I look okay, and whether, most of all, he’ll be bowled over by my beauty.

The compulsion for dress shopping is actually disturbing to me. I feel this odd need to not only find the perfect dress but to own dresses, many dresses, slews of them. In idle moments I will shop online the favorite stores of mine that carry the kind of dresses I like in the sizes I wear. I look when I don’t have money. I keep the coupons that come in the mail in my purse on the off chance that I’ll find myself in a store. I think about finding dresses, almost all of the time. I worry about how I look way more than I have ever before, including those awkward teenage years.

I can think of reasons, maybe. Weight has always been an issue for me, and I can say with certainty that I am at my heaviest now. The concern about how I look coupled with the process in which I have been slowly losing weight, might spur one to be more clothes and image focused, but I don’t think that’s it.

I’ve been feeling particularly old lately. Thirty-five has been the first milestone birthday in which it has struck me that my age has consequences, that I am not the young one in the office, or the family, or anywhere anymore. Feeling older might make a person worry about their appearance, and try to dress differently, but I don’t think it’s that either.

When MJ and I get home Saturday night, I hesitate to change clothes. I sit on the bed, still in my dress, makeup on, the only difference at all is that I’ve released my long brown hair from the clips that held it back for the night. I smile almost shyly and tell MJ that in addition to my pretty dress, there are pretty things underneath it. I am not referring to my soul or personality. Expensive lingerie has been a close second to dresses in recent compulsions.

What I think it is, is this. Despite all my feminist ideology, despite all my intellect and common sense, despite all MJ’s efforts and reason, I cannot get over this one thought: that being infertile makes me feel like less of a woman. I feel like I’m not really a woman at all. I cannot create life or sustain life. I’m not soft and gentle. I am not warm and nurturing. I do not glow, am not attractive, am not maternal, am not loving or sensual. The necessities which create my body are lost on me: these breasts serve no purpose, my insides are useless. In the Darwinian race to reproduce, I am false advertising. I cannot help you pass on your genes. I am no good to your efforts to reproduce. I am not at all what is expected of a woman.

I am desperate to feel otherwise. So I buy dresses and I get dolled up, and I put on heels that I hate, and apply layers of makeup that I don’t need, and I care so much what you think. I care so much that I look like a woman. I care so much that I feel like a woman.  That I look beautiful, that I spur a sense of attraction in MJ, that I can be wanted, feel wanted as a woman, because lately I don’t feel like much of woman at all. And I don’t ever feel like it’s enough. Not enough dresses, not enough nights out, not enough response from MJ. Never enough, because when it’s over and I take the dress off and it’s morning again, I’m still just this infertile person who can’t have kids. Who can’t conceive or sustain a pregnancy. Who can’t do the one biological thing I was designed to do.

On Sunday I do not wear a dress to the grocery store, or while folding laundry, or making dinner. I take a day off to wear sweat pants and be comfortable. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I felt dumpy and unattractive. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I didn’t care as much since MJ had gone into work for the day and wasn’t around to see me. And in the back of my mind I am already thinking about what dress to pick out of my closet and wear to work tomorrow.

I don’t know how long this will go one for, this compulsion. It’s not the worst thing in the world – dresses are infinitely more comfortable than many other forms of clothing, and as a short heavyset girl I long ago decided pants were the enemy. But I wish I loved dresses because I loved them, not because I was constantly trying to cover up this fault of mine, this loss of some idea of womanhood. And I wish I could give MJ a break, because he doesn’t deserve this level of crazy. He is one of those perfect guys who says, “you don’t have to try and be pretty, you just are,” and I love him for it. But I wish I didn’t also feel like I’ve let him down, like I falsely led him on about what kind of woman I was.

That is what infertility is, I think, at it’s heart. It’s a lot of wishing. It’s a lot of hoping things will change, wanting things to get better. It’s a lot of doubt and it’s a lot of daydreaming. And it’s a lot of dressing the part, when really you’d rather be in bed in pajamas with the Kleenex nearby.

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The Book of Love

I grew up in a house of avid readers.  I don’t remember learning how to love reading.  I think about this a lot as I imagine (fantasize really) being a parent, particularly a parent who will want her child to feel the same rush of joy looking at a book, but I just can’t ever pinpoint a time I wasn’t lost in a book.  There are different kinds of reading, and there is, like it or not, a hierarchical divide among books – good books and bad books, classics and trash, heavy and light.  I dabble in most areas, I think.  Enjoying a classic work like The Time Machine one week and then plowing through a silly cozy mystery the next day.  But there was a youthful time in my life in which I did not diversify at all, in which all I wanted in the world was to read teen romances.

I would have to say it started in sixth grade – hormones budding, little girl crushes developing. And then of course there was the Bookmobile, that genius idea tailored to young kids with no driver’s license and an intense desire to pillage a library.  Ours would come once a week to the school, even now, some twenty years later I can remember it was on Thursdays.  I can remember bringing in my bag of books in the morning and putting them in the hollowed out underside of my desk with all the other school books and notebooks.  I remember feeling excited all day, the books almost buzzing beneath me and my mind daydreaming of what titles I would find that day in the large, stuffy bus that was painted a bright blue with one long yellow stripe.

When it was our turn we would get marched out of our classroom and down the hall, down the stairs, out  to the car port where we would normally wait for buses or our parents cars, and there it would be, filled with books, waiting for me.  And there I would go and search until I had enough small, paperback teen romances to fill my entire bag. 

My favorite series was called Sweet Dreams.  It always had some picture of a teenage girl on the cover, and some silly title like “Crazy for You,” or “Cowboy Kisses.”  I didn’t know anything about the series, but I knew there were a lot, because they would come in numbers like 177, or 145, and on a rare occasion if I found one in the teens or twenties, the picture would look funny and old like photos of my mother before I was born.  Looking at that number and knowing that there were one hundred and seventy-six more books to read filled me with immense relief and excitement, because even at eleven, I could devour these books in one night.  I can still remember begging to be taken to the library on the weekend because I couldn’t wait long enough for the next Thursday to come around.

The books were always kind of the same, which both pleased me and potentially created a false expectation for what romance must be like, for which I was probably way more miserable in my teens than I needed to be.  There was always some girl in high school, and she had something special about her.  Maybe she was the star gymnast or the most popular DJ at her school’s radio.  Maybe she was super into weather and trying to be a meteorologist even if the cool kids made fun of her (I absolutely read that one).  Or maybe it was something darker, like her father had just passed away or she was really really shy.  And then there was a boy.  Sometimes it was the boy she had liked for a long time who never noticed her, but most often it was the boy she didn’t like at all because he was anti-gymnastics or tried to get funding to the radio cut as part of his class president campaign.  And then something would happen to push them together, like he gets assigned as her partner for the weather lab, or she gets forced to be in the school play to fight her shyness and he is the demanding director.  And from there, romance, confusion, hurt feelings and then romance again took place, culminating ultimately in that one passionate, perfect kiss.

Oh, what those pages would do to my little pre-teen body.  I can still remember the antsy, jittery feeling and the wave of warmth that would fill my stomach up into my chest.  It would take several more years for my naïve mind to recognize this as arousal, but I knew enough to know I liked it and I couldn’t get enough.  Some people judge sex addicts or porn fanatics, but I feel no grounds to condemn them.  I get it.  I was addicted to teen romance books.  And I can recall now in retrospect, it wasn’t because they were well-written.

Today it seems like young adult and teen novels have been infiltrating mainstream adult reading so that lately I can’t really tell the difference between the two.  Whether it’s a nationwide obsession with Twilight, which is not even remotely limited to a teen audience or it’s the slew of teen dramas on networks like the CW, which my adult friends watch (and which I have been known on occasion to stream in shame on Netflix).  There is less and less an idea or stigma that young adult novels are for the young adult alone.  Some of these books, I get.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a young adult novel I read from an amazon recommendation before knowing it was young adult, and I loved it.  It is smart and well-written, and I recommend it freely and without shame. But I think it’s more of an exception, and you know what, even that book had a little love story to it.  It just seems overall, it’s the girl meets boy stories that grab us most.  I’m not sure why this is, but I think there’s something about that young idea of romance, of a simple, absolute love that is appealing to all of us, even those old enough to know better. 

Wednesday MJ and I stop at the library on the way home to pick up books and I grab a young adult novel, that while recommended as well-written, I secretly am excited to read for the romance.  It is a romance.  There is not much else to it, although the author actually does an excellent job exploring the complicated dynamics of a divorced family.  I start to read it right away and find myself staying up later than usual, even considering staying up later when MJ closes his book and turns the light off on his side of the bed. I go to bed, but it makes little difference, by lunch the next day I’m done, having finished in the small breaks I have between morning hearings. And I loved every minute of it.  And my stomach fluttered at that penultimate, passionate kiss.

But once it dies down, I spend the rest of the day questioning myself, wondering why I seem to be reverting to my eleven and twelve year old self. Why this teenage, ideal view of a first romance is somehow more exciting to me than something adult, something aged, something that was tested and survived.  In my mind I know that is the basis of real love.  It’s not the young one, it’s the old one, it’s the forty years later and you’re still happy when the other comes home, and you still make each other laugh and you still want to tell them everything first.  In my mind I know that love is hard, not easy.  That it isn’t about getting over that one misunderstanding, it’s about getting over the one hundredth and one.  It’s about getting through all the bad stuff, but getting through it together.  I know love is work.  I know it’s the work that makes the love stronger and, well, better.  I also know that things can get better than just a kiss.

And yet still, I find myself wanting to follow up with another teen romance, or even spend a day in the library seeing if those old Sweet Dreams books are around as much for actual reading as for nostalgia. 

The thing is, my life is really complicated right now.  It’s hard and most of the time it is not any fun.  Dealing with infertility is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and to be honest, I am not a person without struggle in their life or other things to get through, so I do not say that lightly.  But this, this feeling of constant loss and sadness is overwhelming to me, and I am not sure how MJ and I have even managed to keep things between us as good as they are, even if they aren’t really all that great right now.  I am surprised everyday he is still around and I am constantly shocked I have not imploded. 

How could I not get some kind of kick out of going back in time?  Out of revisiting those beginning feelings of love and affection, those early moments of romance – the crush and the furtive looks and the first kiss – all those moments that are filled with possibility, all those moments that have yet to be tainted or tarnished or tested in any way.  All those moments in which the future feels open and full of possibility and of getting everything you dreamed of.  How could I not rather imagine myself a teenage girl, still able to have children, still healthy, just going through a normal life, being a normal girl, worrying only about what to wear on my date or whether he’s going to kiss me.

And how could I not just want to simplify it all? The well-written sections of that latest book, the ones that described the complications of a divorced family – I skimmed through them.  I only wanted the romance.  A simple story: girl meets boy, girl likes boy, boy likes girl, boy kissed girl.  The end.  No health problems to intervene, no overworked stressful job, no money problems, no infertility.  It appears even now, at thirty-five, teen romances are still my ultimate escape.      

At thirteen, fed up with my constant devouring of Sweet Dreams paperbacks my mother bought me a copy of Paul Zindel’s The Pigman and Carson McCuller’s The Member of the Wedding and, in so many words, told me to stop reading crap.  I ended up loving both books and an entire new world opened to me of books about things, books that were so well written the words felt like candy in my mouth, and the images were technicolor-ed films in my mind.  I never looked back.  I never read another Sweet Dreams book.  I ignored the entire world of so-called “young adult” novels, and instead took up pursuits like Jane Austen, and Hemingway (not kidding, I went through a weird Hemingway phase in high school).

I am ashamed enough about the recent teen romance to have hidden the cover from MJ as I read it, and to have slipped it straight from my work bag back into the “return to library” bag I keep hung on a doorknob.  So I don’t think I’ll be reading another, even though I can’t deny an urge to do so.  And I can’t deny thinking (fantasizing really) about the story, and all those Sweet Dreams stories that are now flooding back into my memory and being envious, jealous even. Jealous of a life that is simple, and full of promise and romantic, even if it is, after all, fictional.  

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