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.....



  1. A friend shared this poem with me earlier in the week:

    In this short Life that only lasts an hour
    How much - how little - is within our power

    It is written by Emily Dickenson and it encapsulates how I feel about life in general, loss, and fertility. This quest for a second child feels so futile sometimes and I hear you on looking at B and thinking, "She is perfect. How could I be so greedy to want another?" But the desire is still there.

    I'm sorry the Clomid cycles have been unsuccessful.

    1. Thanks. That poem does sum it up quite distinctly!
      We'll do our best for the last Clomid cycle but it is frustrating to have the same outcome over and over. Apparently I'm ovulating, but then what? Oh well. One thing at a time.

    2. Is it enough that you are ovulating? I had had about 20 textbook cycles with ovulation and +/-16 days long luteal phase before I got pregnant. It takes time. Jana

    3. True, thanks for pointing out the positive aspects. Glad to hear you were successful! Yes, the numbers game might just mean we need more chances. I guess trying so hard to control the conditions makes me feel I have some right to control the outcomes: funny how that works!

  2. Ovulating is IT, I feel like if you can just keep going with those cycles, you might get lucky. It's hard though. I loved reading your Christmas stories. Creating Christmas, having a holiday without Christmas and having it be just as magical.. I celebrate Christmas as an atheist, a mix of Saturnalia feasting and drinking and fun mixed with our modern hyperfocus on commercial. Anyway, I do appreciate your perspective in my life, and I'm glad you're still writing even if I'm not.

    1. I just realized how dismissive that first sentence sounded. I meant it's huge and exciting and I wish you could have the time to try in a relaxed and no-pressure way because I feel like you're already winning the giant battle of ovulation, not that ovulation is all there is to it. I hope that's clearer and not even more confusing?

    2. Oh, and Leonard Cohen. I miss his genius way with words already.

    3. Ado, thanks so much for your comments. I hope you and O are doing well. I'm glad you enjoyed the memories. Not having grown up with a really solid tradition it's interesting to think about what we will incorporate for AJ. Well we aren't thinking that deeply about it, we are going with the flow. When AJ is older I'd like to incorporate some sort of volunteer or service activity in as well. Thanks for your comments re: the Clomid cycles. I didn't find them dismissive; I needed to hear that optimistic perspective. It is good I'm ovulating; I've certainly spent many cycles worrying I'm not. We have some time off in the next few weeks and I'm going to try to live in the moment and get some well needed rest. Isn't Leonard Cohan awesome? You can take his songs on the road and they keep you going.

  3. Joy out of the small moments - that's how I managed to reclaim Christmas, after the grief and loss and bad memories. I'm so glad you and AJ are making the most of this.

    As for the rest - thinking of you. You're allowed to want another child, you know. It doesn't mean you don't appreciate what you currently have. There's no doubt that you do. Wishing you a lovely Christmas.

    1. Thanks! It really is about the small moments. I don't know of a better way to approach life. I know, I'm allowed to want another child and i do, but I guess I have this notion it would be easier to stop wanting than to live with it, at least some days. I think I still have some fight on me though. This story isn't over.

  4. What a completely beautiful post, for the highs and the lows, the history of your holiday celebrations, the newness of everything for AJ, and the loss of what is-not-yet and may-not-be in the face of what-is. Thinking of you as you experience all these firsts without your dad, and as Clomid gives you the finger. It really sucks that it's so promising up front and then fizzles second half. I wish you happy holidays and everything good in the new year -- I hope your highs outweigh your lows. And Leonard Cohen...what a genius.

    1. Thanks! It's going to be a good two weeks. With some tough moments I'm sure, but lots to appreciate, like time to relax (and recover from the cold and costochondritis I've had for weeks, I hope.) And I have the blog to spill the complicated stuff on, which really helps. I don't have to pretend not to feel it. I hope you have a lovely Christmas.

  5. A beautiful heartfelt post, thank you for writing it.

    Before I had children I just did. not. get how people could be sad about not having a second or subsequent baby. If you've got one what's the issue, should be grateful etc. And then, after my first daughter was born, a miscarriage followed by secondary infertility shattered my world for two+ years. I love what Mali said above - still wanting IS allowed! Now my family is complete and I still get wistful thinking 'what if?'

    Wishing you a peaceful and happy Christmas and much joy in 2017.

    1. Thank you! I agree; before having my daughter I would have minimized the emotions surrounding secondary infertility too. And I would still say it's not the SAME sadness or longing as one feels before having a child, and there are more comforts. But there are also more triggers in a way because you see every day what you are missing by not having another, you experience potentially each milestone as maybe the last, and if anything there are MORE expectations on the part of both us and people we know that it's possible to have more children. So, I'm not wallowing in self pity (mostly) but I'd be a flaming liar if I said I was ok with secondary infertility. Thank you for the compassion.