Friday, January 16, 2015

Patience, Grace, and Three Buck Chuck.

I haven't blogged in awhile. Obviously. I wish I had. But you know, it's tough.

Life certainly has not left me lacking for things to write about. I have a lot to say. A LOT TO SAY. The world has certainly kept on spinning since August when I last laid my fingers on these keys with the intent to share a little reflection and humor with the world... I just haven't known how to express the explosion of emotions I've had over the last several months as I have witnessed and experienced the best and worst of humanity, family, and friends.

Being human is complicated, people. I spent the first 28 years of my life thinking I was a pretty decent human - faults and idiosyncrasies galore - but self-aware, kind, intelligent, and loving, nevertheless. And yet, in the last two years of my life, I have learned more about myself, and people, than likely the last 10 years combined.  

Most of my lessons-learned came with the struggle to become a parent... but they have branched so far beyond what that might immediately bring to mind. Five years ago I wasn't even sure having children was something I definitely saw as part of "the rest of my life" and yet for the last two years it has schooled me like a kindergartner attempting to play four-square with the 3rd graders (...that never happened to you?!).

Desperately wanting to grow our family has not been an easy path, nor is it for anyone who faces the challenges of not being able to have children within even just 8 or 12 months of trying. It's something that seems like it comes so easy to so many people... when you're battling infertility (yes, battling), it seems like every story you hear is about that awesome friend or friend-of-a-friend who went off birth control and got pregnant within a month (or two, God forbid). Obviously those stories are not every woman's story, and those woman who are extremely fertile bitches are certainly not to "blame" (however, I will admit that I have certainly needed to remind myself of this fact once or twice in the last couple of years...). For every woman toting that seemingly-too-easy baby bump around, their are those in the shadows with grief and loss in their hearts, whether they have ever managed to get pregnant or not. 

This journey has made me, well actually, us (the wifey and I), question a lot of things, and taught us so many life lessons I wonder how I might ever have of learned them all in one lifetime, otherwise. Many lessons are intangible and far too big to find a way to express them in words, but here are a handful...

#1: Have patience and grace for others, regardless of whether or not they are batshit crazy.
I've come a long way on this one. I can somewhat shamefully say that looking back 10 or 12 years ago, my patience and grace was in short supply, and mostly saved up for people who wore their challenges on the exterior. When it came to people who got on my nerves, acted immaturely/ignorantly, said stupid things, got in my way, etc. I had little patience or grace. My attitude wasn't often far from, "how dare you...?"

The last two years have been a harsh illustration of how insignificant so many things are in life, and what is, in fact, truly important. Patience and grace have become my go-tos and my wingmen. All it takes is a few deep breaths and a quick reminder that everyone has their own struggles and demons and the world becomes a much easier place to live in. It has given me much greater capacity for forgiveness even in the face of some pretty harsh choices and experiences (although forgetting is something I have yet to master - hopefully that comes soon?). 

#2: Empathize.
On my toughest days I have to remind myself that the pregnant woman walking by me in the grocery store (looking absolutely fabulous, of course) may have spent the last 3 years (or 7, 10, even 20...) trying to conceive that incredible, beautiful, bump. But I'll admit that it's damn tough to convince myself of that when it's so much easier to be bitter and scornful of what may or may not have been a successful path to what I/we so desperately want.

And, it turns out, there is invisible pain, grief, and sadness everywhere. Facing other humans with this in mind - whether colleagues, family, or friends, has helped me take just a little more time to understand people before making assumptions and judgements. Most everyone has something on their plate that is making it overflow. I've started asking questions, even when I don't know what to ask - opening a door for those who are just waiting for a sliver of an opening to let it out, and letting those who aren't ready to talk know someone cares enough to listen and try to understand, when they are. The relief I have felt being able to talk about this journey with friends and family is immense, and I am honestly not sure how others manage to navigate without that.

Again, it doesn't make it any easier to forgive and especially not forget, but especially when it comes to some pretty tough personal relationships, it's a pleasant reminder that we are all humans, we are all struggling, and what's most important is that we figure our way through our own battles and demons and come out on the other side as better people for having done so.

#3: Find humor everywhere you can - it is most certainly the best medicine.
Perhaps the oddest lesson-learned (but certainly my most favorite) has been the realization that finding humor in the bleakest of moments is quite possibly the most therapeutic thing we can do (my father has been trying to teach me this for years).

Take, for example, a routine visit to the doctor. After just about seven months of weekly doctor appointments and ultrasounds (not of the belly variety that we tend to glorify in movies...), I realized that I had been almost-Pavlovian trained such that when I enter a doctor's office, I take off my pants and hop on the table. And, as it turns out, access to your bottom half is not necessary at the allergist's office. Imagine that! 

Or, a few months back, when the wifey and I were laying in bed reflecting on the name "Snowflake"(which is what we had nicknamed our little one that ended up not making it, last fall). While the news (that didn't come until many months after my miscarriage) that my tubes were, for all intensive purposes, completely blocked and useless, was tragic, we realized the fact that I was able to get pregnant at all through IUI was basically a downright miracle. As such, we registered how inappropriately delicate the name "Snowflake" was, and that in fact, she was actually one incredibly tough bitch and was more deserving of a name like ICE Crystal (said like it's rolling off the tongue of a pro-wrestling announcer), and proceeded to say "Ice Crystal" and "Snowflake" in as many tough voices as we could come up with until we we were laughing too hard to keep going.

We know it's strange, perhaps downright bizarre, but it makes us giggle when we think of the little one, which is what a little one should make us do. We have found humor in strange places, and it has kept us real.We actually think it may be God who has the weirdest sense of humor out of all of us.

#4: Happiness for others IS possible, even in the toughest of times.
People can see women going through infertility as pretty bitter. Let's be honest, we can be, and for all intents and purposes, rightfully so. However, bitterness is an inward feeling, and it's fleeting. It's an emotion that makes putting on a smile feel like lifting 200 pounds (and for comparative sake, I haven't bee allowed to lift more than ten pounds since late-July 2014, so lifting 200 would be damn near impossible), but it is still just an emotion.

I recently saw an article on facebook that both made me incredibly angry and also made me cry, as it reinforced this lesson. The blog entry's title is, "I could have a baby but she could not." Most of the article is spent with this woman talking about how completely insensitive she was to the fact that while she was feeling immense amounts of joy, others might be silently struggling. As I was reading I actually got queasy. While I find plenty of things people do when it comes to pregnancy and children insensitive, this woman was downright unbelievable. She starts with how she got pregnant within, oh you know, days of starting to try, and then goes on to say,
"The next morning [after an ultrasound], as soon as I hit my office chair, I emailed out to all my friends, family and co-workers the ultrasound pictures of our beautiful baby boy." 
I think my blood was actually boiling when I read this. HOW COULD SOMEONE THINK THAT IS OK? Your mom? OK, great (she'll love it). Your BFF who just texted and asked you, "where are the pictures?"? OK, obviously. But all of your (distant and not so distant) friends and colleagues? Seriously?

Furthermore, she goes on to describe how (not shockingly) someone (actually a friend, not even one of her many colleagues that was also likely to have been struggling with trying to become a parent) was incredibly upset and asked to not be included on that kind of email/news sharing event again. When I almost lost my damn mind was when the author goes on to say how SHE got angry at this,
"...I got angry. Here I was, in the happiest time of my life, and I needed to be quiet.  I needed to hold my joy.  And I felt cheated.  Cheated out of the joy of my pregnancy." 
However, some words I left out of the beginning of that quote were "I am ashamed to say..." 
This is where the story, finally, takes a turn. The author realizes,
"But what I didn’t realize at the time was she felt the same way: she felt cheated out of the joy of being pregnant.  She felt robbed of the chance to have life growing in her womb and being called mom.  She was heartbroken.  And I had just added to her grief."
That last quote makes me cry every time I read it, because in just a few short sentences it sums up exactly how I, and so many others, feel, even when we don't want to. I never wanted to be a bitter person, cringing at the news of something as joyous as bringing new little humans into this world. But you begin to feel cheated, and robbed, and so many other things. You become grief stricken and it consumes you. But it gets better, as this author's friend who has endured multiple miscarriages, failed IVFs, and spent several years trying to get pregnant shows the capacity that we all have - and we all need to have faith in each other to have - to be happy for others in spite of our own suffering and loss:
"This friend that I had hurt with my ultrasound photos….  despite my foolish heart and frustrations against her, the day she met my infant son for the first time, she swept him up in her arms, held him close, began to speak and sing soft words of endearment to him.  And I can tell you it was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever seen." (access the full blog entry here)
(I still firmly subscribe to lesson-learned #5 below, but everyone shares in the joy of others in different ways - also something worth noting.)

Being happy for others can live in the same space as feeling sadness, grief, and loss, personally. Yes, hearing that another person/friend/colleague is pregnant can trigger that grief and pain, but it certainly doesn't mean I (or anyone else in the thick of a personal battle) can't be incredibly happy for them, no matter what kind of emotions it triggers in me. Both can live (and love) in the same space. Knowing this about myself is great, but being able to have faith in others to do the same - to give others that same chance, is huge.

#5: Babies are personal (i.e. repeat after me,"I'm not a squealer and that's OK").
When I am lucky enough to be a mother one day, I will love my little munchkins with every sliver of my heart, and then some. However, that doesn't make me a "baby person" and not everyone has to be a baby person. AND THAT'S OK.  Turns out, you can still be a loving, kind, warm-hearted person without squealing at the sight of a baby. You are still a lovely person and have the potential to be supermom without having an overwhelming desire to pick up and hold babies that happen to be in your presence. There are ladies at work who run up to babies and nothing brings them more happiness than holding the little munchkins, I love these ladies - the world needs these people. Just because I stand there looking on doesn't mean I think your baby is any less wonderful than the people around me... where has this social norm come from?  I didn't hold my own nephews until they were old enough to at least appear sturdy - and they are related by blood (and two of the most beautiful little miracles on the planet, if I might say so myself). 

Don't get me wrong, if you shove a small baby in my arms I will look into those ridiculously big eyes and be completely enamored (I may even give you the stink eye if you try and take your baby back from me), but it's not something I'm going to seek out. I'm uncomfortable holding small and fragile humans that belong to other people. Babies are personal, and I have respect for that from every angle. Most new parents are anxious when other people hold their babies (which is completely understandable), and I don't have any desire to be responsible for anything going wrong. I can love your bundle of joy while not holding him or her, they are not one and the same. I can not be a "baby person" and still be a wonderful human being, who will hopefully be a wonderful mother one day.

(and so the daily mantra is born... "I can not be a 'baby person' and still be a wonderful human being, who will hopefully be a wonderful mother one day"..."I can not be a 'baby person' and still be a wonderful human being, who will hopefully be a wonderful mother one day"...)

#6: We have life-long partners for a reason.
Yes, marrying your best friend is great. Being in a committed relationship with "your better half" is certainly "the thing to do" these days. We all know this. We all live in a society where it is one of the most assumed social norms (tied with the idea that all women want babies and love to touch them). But your significant other is so much more.
the wifey/partner-in-crime

When I married my wife we had been together for five years already. We had been through some pretty tough tests and came out stronger for having made it through together. I did not think it was humanly possible to love my wife more than I did on the day I married her. But I do.

Desperately wanting to be parents is a whole different caliber of a test on a relationship - I remember reading about the amount of marriages that end as a result of infertility struggles when we first started trying. It's a lot. But this journey has left me feeling closer and more head-over-heels in love with my wife than I could have even imagined on our wedding day.

Significant others are there to help you make sense out of life. They should be your biggest supporters, but also your most honest critics, challenging you to always be better. When patience and grace for others simply isn't enough, I have the wifey. In fact, I've realized there is a pretty critical vow that went unspoken for us, and if I was a "marrier of people" I would include it in every ceremony... "I will  be honest with you when you are not being the kind, loving, thoughtful, and generous person I know you to be, even when it means you will likely get angry with me (very, very angry with me). If you are being thoughtless, insensitive, stubborn, rude, or even bitter, I will be your mirror, no matter how much it temporarily frustrates you. When your patience and grace for other people is tested, I will step up and support you in staying true to your values."

We have life-long partners for a reason. They are to love us unconditionally, but be an honest voice in our darkest times, even though that may get their heads bitten off. I'm certifiably crazy and more than a little stubborn, and I expect my wife to let me know when I'm not being my best self. She does this, and I love her to pieces for it. 

#7: Be honest, be vulnerable (but don't expect everyone to love you for it).
Have the cojones to be honest and vulnerable with those you surround yourself with. It feels amazing.

[end of list]

I remember that when we started this journey it felt like every. single. person. in the world was knocked up, all of them (ALL OF THEM!). As a gay woman, I had a long road ahead of me no matter what... even if, perchance, I happened to be the most fertile bitch in the world, two women don't have a fighting chance of buying a bottle of three-buck-chuck and celebrating a big ol' positive on a pregnancy test a couple of weeks later (as we all hopefully learned in 5th grade sex-ed). I certainly was not getting "knocked up" without the help of science and some serious cash (little did I know just how much cash "serious" was). While I watched friends and colleagues decide to begin growing their family, our family planning looked pretty different, and that was tough to swallow.

three buck chuck
Three Buck Chuck at Trader Joe's
(...aka "Two Buck Chuck" + inflation)
After 5 failed IUIs, a miscarriage, and a "considerable" amount of cash invested, it was over a year later and we were still no closer to being parents than than we started (although, it turns out, the biggest lesson learned in all of this - that you just can't control everything - is about THE BEST lesson soon-to-be parents can learn). In fact, I woke up from what was supposed to be a diagnostic surgery last May with my tubes permanently tied, and to my shock, the realization that now the equivalent of 10,000 bottles of three-buck-chuck lay between the wifey and I having even a fighting chance to bring home a little human. What do you do? I remember people telling me "once you're pregnant, the $30,000 spent on the IVF will be forgotten." Yeah, right. Sure. But what if I don't get pregnant? What if we are poor AND childless? Then what?

Well, obviously we went for it. We harvested my eggs like a dairy farmer and they got babysat by the highest paid and most over-qualified babysitters we will ever be able to afford before getting put back inside of me in what was easily the most ridiculous procedure I have had yet (acupuncture, bedpans, and clowns were involved). We took a gamble and are nothing but grateful for this journey that is far from over. I feel more ready than ever to take on the many unknowns of what lies in our future, and more certain than ever that I wouldn't want anyone else beside me in this journey other than my incredible wifey (and, not to mention, our incredible friends and family right along with her). So thanks. Whether that's a thanks to God, or to Snowflake, or even to the magical island of fertility that I call CCRM, we're thankful for the lessons learned (and not to mention the pretty incredible gifts that we - or right now just I - have to show for it). 

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