Saturday 31 December 2016

Fortune Cookie

We went out for dim sum yesterday with my family and in-laws. AJ was moseying about being cute, and one of the staff gave her a fortune cookie (nobody else got one).

It said:
be prepared to modify your plan
Be prepared to modify your plan

I thought that was a very sound piece of advice for parenting, teaching, or life in general. Actually, I think it might as well be my resolution for 2017. The one thing I feel quite certain of is that I will have to modify plans. Remembering that also helps me to not worry so much about things that don't work out the way I envisioned at a particular point in time.

Happy New Year. Thanks for reading.

Friday 23 December 2016


Last week I went with my mom to an ecumenical service called "Blue Christmas." My former colleague and friend attends a United Church, and she let me know about this service for people who were having a hard time getting into "the Christmas spirit" because of loss or hard times. My mom wanted to go, and I went with her, although I'm actually enjoying Christmas so far. But I'm very aware of the different levels of meaning it can have. My mom has talked about how sad it is to be reminded of the different things she did with my dad, such as picking out a tree, that she won't be doing this year. I try to remind her that it doesn't have to be the same, that we can miss the way things were while still appreciating what we have, etc. But obviously I don't have all the answers, and really we are making things up as we go along. It's much easier for me because I have Mr. Turtle and AJ. I have lost my dad but my daily life has not been radically changed the way my mom's has been. I have people to go home too; she goes home to an empty house most of the time. My mom, incidentally, did find a tree: a tiny live potted one. She tells AJ it's "her" tree because it is little.

The Blue Christmas service was quite well done. People were welcomed "wherever you are at" and the programme and atmosphere were designed to be accomodating to people of any religious background or more likely lack thereof. There was a very good band, and music was a constant throughout the evening, much of it non-traditional. A variety of people officiated. One of the female officiators reminded me, unfairly I'm sure, of Melisandre from Game of Thrones, because of her expressions and mannerisms and the way she kept talking about "light and darkness" in a very dramatic way. But overall I appreciated the essence of what was attempted.

There was a part near the middle which drew my thoughts away from Christmas and into the realm of infertility/subfertility. The speaker must have been in her 50s, and she told the story of losing her father to cancer this year. Obviously this hit quite close to home.  She described how she sat in the hospice with her dying father, knitting a baby blanket, because her daughter in law was pregnant with their second child.  She felt she was "knitting the generations together," as she watched one life fading while another was quickening.

It's a poetic image, but it sent me spinning into a different place, reminded of my darker thoughts around subfertiliy/infertility.  They sum up as: I will get older, watch people around me get sick and die, and experience my own body failing, but without the compensation of seeing new life growing. Since AJ was born, this fear has faded a bit: she keeps us enthralled with everything she is learning and doing. But AJ doesn't have siblings, or so far cousins, though she has/will have cousins once removed, none of which live in the same city. Basically, when our extended family gets together, there are a lot of adults from 30s to senior, child. Something about this makes me uneasy. I'm bothered by it even while I selfishly like the fact that my friends and family are not very fertile, by circumstance or choice, because my nose isn't always getting rubbed in our difficulties.

It's all very well to be comforted by the fact that babies are born while old people die, but what if babies aren't being born? What if you want to have those babies, to see the generations knit together, but they remain out of reach? I don't want to diminish the speaker's situation by making comparisons; she had an important story to tell and she told it very well. But it reminded me mostly of my infertility grief.  Cancer took away the extra years my dad could have had with AJ. But subfertility took away any other grandchildren he might have known. And infertility may well take away grandchildren that my mom and other family might have known.

Of course, then we come right back to the un-quantifiable awsomeness of AJ. I would not trade her for any number of hypothetical children or a hypothetical life. Nor would anyone else. But still. Infertility shatters so many assumptions, so many human comforts that we assume everybody has access too, simply through the ability to create a family.

For the final part of the service, people were invited to light a candle in honour of someone. I have mixed feelings about candles, but I chose to participate this time. I know my mom lit hers in memory of my dad. But I lit mine to acknowledge the years of waiting for a child, and for this second child who dominates my waking thoughts, but has yet to manifest. One of the last things my dad said to me was that I should not feel too sad about his illness because "this is the way it should be," meaning old people die and the young carry on. But there are so many things that should be, and aren't. The vision of what "Should be" might get us started on the journey, but it's not where it ends.

Lighting the candle helped a little bit, I think.

Monday 12 December 2016

Beginnings, endings, and messy stuff in the middle

December seems to be a good time to write a retrospective post, doesn't it? These were my goals, this is what I achieved, this is what I'm working on, blah blah. Except as I get older it never feels that tidy. I am always experiencing beginnings, endings, and messy stuff in the middle, at the same time. And with some exceptions, it's often not possible to say with certainty what is an end and what is a beginning.

I am actually excited about Christmas this year. I'm not looking forward to any particular event; I just find myself more happily engrossed in the details than I remember being in quite a long time. For some background, my family didn't celebrate Christmas till I was 15.  For the first decade of my life, however, we did do a winter holiday at our cabin, which included a lot of the typical activities associated with  (a northern climate) Christmas: skiing, sledding, making snow forts, visiting my grandmother and playing with her cats, hot chocolate and cookies and family dinners. Utterly gorgeous, hypnotic memories. I remember skiing around my grandparents' acreage, alone, and hearing the sound of snow falling in utter silence. So really, we did have Christmas; just without the lights and decorations and presents, and honestly I can't say I ever felt deprived, but quite the opposite. Ok, maybe a little deprived that I didn't discover Christmas music till much later.

When I was 15 my mom decided we should try celebrating Christmas. We hadn't gone to the cabin in a long time: those trips ended when we had a fairly serious car accident (it was an eight hour drive in winter conditions). So for some years we had done literally nothing. But this year, 1995, it would be different. And I was all in. I remember I had $20.00 spending money that December, and I managed to buy each person in my family a present with it.  The parrot sculpture I gave my dad now stands beside his urn at my mom's house, and AJ always asks to hold it when she visits.

Some years later, I was out with university friends at a pub and we all got a little tipsy. Somebody said it would be fun to get together and sing Christmas carols. Most of the group probably forgot this comment when they sobered up, but I remembered, and so I organized a night to go caroling around my neighbourhood. Maybe two of us knew how to actually sing (not me). Most were agnostic or athiest. It didn't matter. Strength in numbers. We kept this up for several years, and everyone who participated said it was a highlight of the holiday season for them. Mr. Turtle came once or twice too, when we were first dating.

My first Christmas away from home was in 2005. I was in my mid-twenties. I lived in England from late October to early December. I had some  enjoyable experiences, but the job I found was a spectacular disaster. I quit in late November, but stayed for a few more weeks doing touristy things and planning my next move, which was Christmas in Greece. Although I enjoyed touring museums and cycling everywhere I could get in a day, it was bittersweet to be away from home and living in a lot of uncertainty. I spent some hours buying small gifts to send home to family in a large envelope, at exorbitant postage cost. The worst day was when I had to sell my bike, shortly before I left. My bike was the one thing that had always made me happy and when I left it at the auction house I felt that life was now truly crap. I  remember that I got on the bus and tried to give my fare to the driver, and he told me to put it away. I must have looked very pathetic.

But luck changed, starting with a wonderful welcome in Greece by my aunt (my dad's sister) and her friends. Although I was still at loose ends, I had family again and a rather more friendly introduction to a foreign (but somehow familiar) culture. We went out for dinner on Christmas day, sparkling in new clothes. My aunt bought an enormous and decadent chocolate cake for my (champagne) birthday, which took weeks to work through.  If that sounds like a crazy amount of pampering, it was, but it was also very appreciated after the stuff I had gone through a few weeks earlier. I ended up staying several more months in Greece, working at a couple of jobs, and rebuilding a lot of confidence.

After I came back from living abroad, in my mid twenties, I started playing with a community band. And so of  course, every December  there was a Christmas concert and music to practice. This added more flavour and fun and community. Mr. Turtle and I had a lot of fun with our first Christmas after we were married. We bought a real tree, a great big one, and lots of decorations. I still have a piece of the trunk that we trimmed off. The following year, we started trying to start our family.

While I don't do anything particularly religious to celebrate Christmas, I've always liked the Christian imagery and story of Jesus: a baby as a bringer of hope, redemption, grace. This has never exactly changed, but the absence of our baby brought sadness, and eventually, a certain sourness. I never wanted to dislike Christmas, so I think I kind of stifled my emotions about it. We still enjoyed all the rituals: decorating, visiting family, gift giving, music performance.  But always with the sense that this wasn't how we wanted to celebrate.

Since I thought that these feelings were related to infertility and childlessness, I expected them to change a lot when AJ arrived. And they did, I guess, but not as much as I thought they would. It's not until this year, now that AJ is big enough to get into the Christmas ornaments, and talk about Santa Claus, and point out the beautiful lights and music, that I'm opening up to a sense of awesomeness. I didn't grow up with Santa Claus and always thought he was sort of weird, but now I love reading The Night Before Christmas to her every night. "So much good stuff," she raves, spreading shiny balls all over the floor. And life is good. There are low notes. It's the first Christmas without my dad, though he didn't really participate in it last year. It is the anniversary of a lot of very sad and awful times. I don't want to wish any of that away, but I'm getting a lot more joy out of the small moments, whether it's sharing a dance with AJ, baking goodies to give away, or making my best effort at wrapping a present. I'm not holding back; I'm not wishing that I was in a different life.

Well, not all the time. Of course there's some wishing. Want a TTC update? Oooooookay. We have been doing Clomid cycles. Clomid, what a fucking tease. The past three cycles have followed the same pattern. The first two weeks are textbook. I have strong fertile signs, and a positive OPK around day 12 or 13. Ovulation seems to have been pushed back a few days, as it would usually happen around day 10 or 11, or even earlier (if at all). I have a blood test for progesterone levels on day 21, or about 7 days past ovulation. The first cycle it was 11.3. They consider anything above 10 to be evidence of ovulation, so just over it. The next two cycles I had much higher levels: 18.9 and 22.1. But regardless, the same thing happened each time. I have a peak temperature around day 21 or 22, then it plummets, and The Period arrives day 24 or 25. It feels like my body is saying, well that didn't work, screw this cycle and start over.  Now it's true that on Clomid my cycles are much more predictable: no really short or long ones and random bleeding in the middle. And they were short, before, too. It just bothers me that the first half seems so good and the second half so crap.

I tried to get a hold of Dr. Cotter to discuss it with her, but of course, she is away this week, so no hope of a phone call, and my appointment is not until January 19th. It would have been even later probably but there was a cancellation. I should have booked my follow up appointments back in September, but I didn't, so here we are. Too late to do anything differently for the fourth (and final) Clomid cycle. Not that I'm overly optimistic that Dr. Cotter would change anything or that it would make much difference if she did. There are so many possible reasons that this hasn't worked, and a 10 day luteal phase is merely one of them. Is there actually any rational way of coping with odds as low as ours?

I think part of me has already started to grieve this unrealized second child, even while I haven't given up hope.  I flashback to memories of pregnancy or infancy. The line from Leonard Cohen comes to mind: I feel so close to everything that we lost / We'll never have to lose it again. That's nostalgia for you. And yes, it is rather ridiculous that I am feeling nostalgic about pregnancy, considering what a nervous wreck I was through a lot of it. Pregnant Me would have traded places with Current Me in a heartbeat. A breathing, independent and healthy child? Yes yes yes oh please please anything for that. Please take anything I have but just give me that.  Current me has the luxury of looking back with rose coloured glasses, but the reality is I have what I wanted so terribly.

And looking at AJ, I can't help wondering if maybe we aren't meant to have another child, because she is so perfect. If she had even one major flaw, well, one could make a case with the universe, you know? but I look at her and think: how we could possibly get it so right again? On the other hand, one feels like such a terribly fragile number. There are a lot of hopes and dreams riding on this little girl. It feels like they should be spread around a bit more.

Of course, I know all of this is just me trying to rationalize and justify things that are mostly out of my control. What is in our control is what we do next, and I have no clear sense of what that should be.

But for now, I'm enjoying the moment, really I am.  Some more Leonard Cohen lyrics come to mind:

The birds they sang
At the break of day
"Start again," I heard them say
Don't dwell
On what has passed away
Or what is yet to come....

You can add up the parts
You won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee.....