Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Orcharder

Sometimes when I'm counseling a woman about her decision to terminate a pregnancy, I talk about a job I used to have caring for the trees in a small Tennessee orchard. As a counselor, I'm supposed to listen and to provide information, so it may seem strange that I talk about myself and my own history at all, but the point of this little story seems useful to many of these women, so I thought I'd share it with you.

One of the primary duties of the orcharder, besides the obvious gathering of fruit and planting of trees, is pruning. A healthy tree needs enough space between branches to provide light and air circulation. If the tree is too dense, it won't be healthy. The tree will be weaker, prone to disease, and the fruit will be of poor quality. Left to its own devices, nature will create too many branches, because nature doesn't edit. Nature promotes life wherever possible.

When I first began cutting away branches, it was difficult for me. I felt like I was denying life. I felt that on some level, what I was doing was wrong. It was sad to let go of the possibility of all the fruit that each branch might have borne. But in the bigger picture, I realized, as I denied life to individual branches, I was offering caring to something bigger. I was working for the health and strength of the entire tree.

As a woman with the possibility of bearing a child, you become the trunk of your family tree, while taking on the responsibility the of orcharder. It's an awesome burden, and it can be a painful one, too. But the reward of doing the job well, whatever that means for you, is a healthy family, which includes, and springs from, a healthy self.

At the risk of going over the edge into corny sentimentality, I wish all of us plenty of light and air circulation, and the opportunity to bear as much fruit as we want.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Dream

When I was a very young child, I had a recurring dream in which I'd see a dime on the floor of my bedroom. I would jump out of bed in order to retrieve it, but just as I reached for the shiny thing, it would disappear. Every time I had the dream (and I had it often) I would wake feeling even more cheated and disappointed, not to mention exhausted. Sometimes I had the dream several times in a single night!

On one such occasion, I decided that when the dream came again, I wouldn't reach for the coin. Maybe I was making it disappear because I wanted it too much. If the money was real, I reasoned, it would still be there in the morning.

Sure enough, the dream came and I wanted to grab the dime, but I resisted and slept through till morning. I was disappointed to find no money on the floor, but glad that I never had the dream again.

I could call this a success story, in that I stopped agonizing and losing sleep over false hope, that I used logic to outsmart emotion, but I was sad just the same. Thinking back I wonder: if I had so much power to manipulate my actions inside a dream, then why didn't I choose, instead, to manipulate the dream itself? Why didn't I make the dime stick? Or make it so that when I reached for it, instead of dissolving into thin air, it turned into a dollar bill?

These questions come to me as I stare into the sour, murky, foul-tasting twenty-herb teas I'm drinking so eagerly morning and night in an effort to improve my reproductive health. I ask myself now, as I attempt to balance hope against sober statistics and the possibility of further disappointment, why not dream instead of dreams come true? Or of reaching for something elusive and finding my grasp close around a reality even better than I originally hoped for?

Happy Holidays...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Three Things

1. A~ and I have been sleeping on the same fifteen-year-old lumpy crappy futon for, well, fifteen years. Lately, I've been dreading that thing so much I can barely bring myself to go to bed when my eyes are half-shut with exhaustion. So, in the midst of sleep-deprived Christmas shopping the other day, when I passed a mattress store, I stopped in. And came out having spent so much that Capital One called the next morning to make sure my credit card hadn't been stolen by some sleep-deprived criminal.

Aah, I love the new mattress. A~ doesn't know about it yet, he's been away for work for the past nine days. I've been lucky if I could talk to him for a full two minutes a day, which is no great hardship compared to the three hours per night sleep he's been subsisting on. But he'll return today. And I'm sure he'll crash immediately. Can't think of better timing for this Christmas gift to us!

2. The Chinese doctor I went to yesterday took my pulse on various points of both wrists, told me, among other things, that my liver was "tight", and my lungs were weak from sadness. He gave me a big bag of bark and twigs and berries and powder and lumps of coal (charred ginger) and dried flowers — twenty herbs in all — which I am to brew up into tea and drink twice a day for the next ten days. He advised letting two more menstruations pass before attempting pregnancy again. Though it is disappointing to wait, my hunch is that my body isn't ready yet for another pregnancy anyway. So I'll follow his advice this month. I'll drink the tea. Maybe I'll see an acupuncturist. I'll see how I feel next month.

3. An addendum to yesterday's post. Here's a great link on the subject of How to be Good Friends with an Infertile. This is written by Tertia, a one-time infertility blogger who now has kids. I agree with every item on her list, though I would add to #2, about educating yourself about what your infertile friend is going though, that I don't mind so much the not-knowing as much as I mind the assumption that there isn't much to know. (See Tertia's #3 for more on this!)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pulling Rabbits out of Hats

At a party last night, a friend told me stories of people she knew who'd had multiple miscarriages and other fertility troubles yet went on to have healthy babies. It's nothing new, this effort people go to in order to offer me hope. When I get to feeling doomed, these stories are good to hear, jacking me right up high into confidence. But more and more lately, I'm feeling better avoiding extremes either way. As I've looked deeper into these glowing accounts, I find that the multiple miscarriage stories are usually about much younger women, and most of the older women stories involve IVF, which, at this point, is something I'm not ready to consider (and hope never to need to consider). Although they aren't tossed around at parties, I know there are just as many stories about women who, after two miscarriages, go on to have four or five more, or don't conceive again, and in the end, never do win that fresh-new baby prize. So these days, I am not so prone to awe and wonder. Indeed, I brace myself.

"I have to stop you," I told my friend, when she seemed about to pull a fifth or sixth magic rabbit out of her hat. I'd never done this before, stopped someone to explain that I understood her intention was to offer me hope, and that I appreciated it, but didn't want to hear anymore. "It's just that I know that when I get high on hope, I crash later. I need to acknowledge that both outcomes are possible, and be alright with that," I said. I know my odds; they're better than fifty-fifty, but not by much.

My friend hugged me and said, "It'll work out for you. You'll have a baby. I just know it." This, I've also heard too many times to take as anything more than wishful thinking on my behalf. I appreciate it. But I don't take it seriously. Too many people "just knew" everything would be fine in each of the two pregnancies which were not fine at all.

"It might," I said, being real but also reassuring her, "I haven't lossed hope."

And to illustrate the hope: today I go to the Chinese herbalist. My first step (involving a specialist, that is) on the path of alternative therapies. Perhaps I'll pull a rabbit out of my own hat soon. Tune in next time for the scoop.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Club

Once you join the miscarriage club, you discover a common underworld with it's own redundant set of cliched yet powerful emotional experience. Until/unless it happens to you, you'd be hard pressed to know just how well-worn the pregnancy loss path is, or to understand the strange disembodied grieving that comes along with it. Depending on where you get your statistic, anywhere between twenty and fifty percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. (The fifty percent figure includes pregnancies that abort themselves so early that many women never knew that they were pregnant in the first place.)

And it's not just the miscarriers' club you've joined, but everyone who quietly (or loudly) wants a child (or another child) but doesn't have one, whether the problem is physical (infertility or other health issues), social (no willing partner, for instance), or simply financial (and I see these grieving women in the clinic all the time - those who would welcome a baby but just can't reconcile the stress their existing families would have to bear in order to support it).

With the holidays approaching, I find myself thinking that though we "members" have plenty of goodness in our lives, and though this goodness will claim a great deal of our focus in the coming weeks, there's a hollow sadness we might be bracing ourselves against sinking into. It happens in quiet moments, when we find ourselves feeling too alone. Let's just keep in mind that we're not alone in even that loneliest empty-womb feeling, and add each other to our list of things to be thankful for.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It Isn't Pretty

I've fallen off the health food wagon. Way off. Suffice it to say: I shouldn't have given in to the guilty idea that a good daughter/sister/friend/daughter-in-law must bake Christmas cookies. And I shouldn't have bought all that chocolate. And sugar. And the ten-pound bag of flour. What was I thinking?

My apartment is so cold that I'm wearing long underwear and a thick fleece coat, and still, my nose is frozen, my feet are chilled right through my not-thin socks, and my fingers are so stiff I'm fumbling at the keyboard even when I type heated things like this: I don't like my landlord anymore. Granted, there doesn't seem to be much flame to that understatement, but it's there, believe me. It's there.

In a few minutes I'm going to the gym, and the grocery store, and work. I'm in a bad mood. I have nothing useful to say.

Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, December 12, 2005

When the Cat is Away...

the mouse will play. That's the saying, anyway.

This is the thing: Babies or not, I have dreams, damn it, such as being a creative artist and writer, and living in a clean home. I might as well work toward those dreams, because if the children thing never comes to pass, then I've got to do something with all those future childfree years (not to mention this present time between fertility rites) besides work, sleep, surf the web, and watch TV. So, along with trying to find wheat grass and burdock root and a good acupuncturist, I'm going to keep plugging away on my writing, my art, and the stack of dirty dishes beside the sink.

A~'s out of town, thank goodness, because he would not appreciate the towering heights of this particular stack, nor the paint tubes and laundry scattered on the living room floor, let alone the fact that I bought two Sunday papers this weekend, the local (Providence Journal) and the nyt (New York Times), which is likewise strewn around our apartment. "You can read it for free at the library," he's been known to say, which is true, and God knows I'm there often enough.

Usually I share A~'s tightwad sensibility. I rarely buy any reading materials at all. But it is also true that I never read newspapers at the library. Can't be bothered. I only go to the library to chat with my beloved librarians, and to pick out books and the occasional DVD, which, unlike newspapers and magazines, I can take home and peruse at my leisure. Maybe someday I'll carry a torch for an actual newspaper subscription, but for now, I'm happy with my occasional Sunday plurge.

I am inspired today by the thoughts of Hugh MacLeod, writer, cartoonist, blogger extraordinaire. At the risk of losing any potentially loyal readers to his clearly superior, long-established blog, I will link to his advice on How to be Creative. It's worth checking out.

Happy Monday to all!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Life Soup

Today has been an internal, mostly indoor, solitary day. Not bad, but strange. Take the weather for example: Snow for most of the day, flakes sometimes big as silver dollars, gently falling, and then soon after, whipping horizontally in 40 mile-per-hour wind, with — I thought I imagined it, but I didn't — thunder and lightening.

A~ has been on the road for work since early this morning. Even now, late tonight, he is making his way home, many miles to go. We spoke on the phone a few minutes ago and realized we won't see each other for another ten days. I'll be asleep when he arrives tonight, and he'll be asleep when I leave for work in the morning. By the time I return, he'll be long gone to the airport and back-to-back assignments until the day before we take off to visit family for the holidays. We might not be together before I ovulate again, so I likely won't be peeing on any pregnancy tests any time soon.

Stir-crazy by mid-afternoon, I walked to the Salvation Army store and bought a gift for my brother. (Can't tell you what, he may read this.)

I met my across-the-street neighbor, whom I've been watching from my office window for years, taking comfort in the sight of her coming and going with her unapologetically gray hair and growing pregnant belly, and then later, with a baby, and more recently, chasing a toddler in a pink snowsuit up and down the block. She told me she was 35 when her daughter was born, which surprised me. I thought she was older.

Okay, I admit it, I was disappointed to learn she wasn't older. She had made me feel young. She had seemed like such a good omen. But now it strikes me like horizontal snow: I'll only be 35 for three more months.

I made pumpkin soup today.

I bled.

Life goes on.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My New Hero. Period.

Two Short Updates:

1. I've just stumbled on Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation, and she is my new hero. I can't wait to read her books. She's smart and hilarious and she tells it like it is.

2. It's official. I have my period. Miscarriage #2 is officially old news. Now begins the monthly "Am I? Am I not?" daisy-petal briggade. Tune in next cycle as this zany adventure in fertility (pun not intended, but subliminally appropriate?) continues.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Regret and the Right to Choose

It may seem surprising that a woman who had an abortion and now works in an abortion clinic would admit this, but here goes: I've never been quite sure if abortion is morally okay or not. Certainly, if a pregnancy has progressed so far that it can sustain it's own life outside the womb, given a reasonable level of care, of course, then there is no question. But in the meantime, it always made sense to me that the choice should belong to the person who's body the growing pregnancy depends on.

When I started my job at the clinic, my new boss gave me a tour of the facility, pointing to a picture framed on the waiting room wall, a sepia-toned photograph of her great aunt. Unable to face the scandal her pregnancy would have caused, and without the option of abortion, my boss explained, her aunt chose the only course of action she could face: suicide. "She's why this place exists."

I got a chill when I heard this. I wonder what I would have done in her shoes.

As a teenager, I felt a strong bond to the life growing within me, I would even go so far as to say I loved it. But the potential scandal terrified me, and besides, I wasn't ready. And I didn't want my child to be raised by a resentful, immature mother. Adoption was never an option for me: If I could survive the humiliation of a teen pregnancy for the love of an unborn child, if I could sweat and strain and struggle to give birth, I knew I would not be willing to hand my child over to anyone.

I've been told that I did the right thing, the compassionate thing, by sparing that child a difficult life. But I don't buy it. I can't imagine anyone, unless mentally ill, agreeing that they would be better off never born.

But then again, does the potential child's rights or feelings carry any weight at all when still dependant on the potential mother's lifeblood for survival? I use "potential child" rather than "clump of cells" or "embryo" or "fetus" because I don't want to pretend that a potential child is anything less than just that. I don't say "baby" because, though it may look like the baby it promises to become, it isn't. Not yet anyway. I say this, not because I'm pro-choice, not because I discount the possibility of a soul, but because I've had two miscarriages and I don't want to go into another attempt with false expectation. We must keep in mind that not every pregnancy, and I'm talking planned pregnancies here, results in a child. In fact, it isn't uncommon for a woman to come in to a clinic for an abortion and learn, upon ultrasound, that there isn't a viable pregnancy to begin with. Two out of the five women I counseled last clinic were disgnosed with "missed abortions" — in other words, pregnancies that weren't going to make it anyway.

Sometimes, I do wonder what would have happened if I had been brave enough to go through with my first pregnancy. I can't deny that it scares me to think that I may have lost my only chance to have a child. That fear, that potential for regret, for a long time clouded my ability to think about whether I wanted to have children at all. Better not to want chidren, I thought, than to face the possibility of such a deep, primal, life-purpose desire left unfulfilled. It seemed too painful to even think about it.

Whether abortion is morally justifiable or not has become a moot point for me for three reasons: because I'm not facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy of my own, because time moves in only one, uncomprimising direction and therefore the past is unrevisable, and because I don't believe in a God that punishes. In my work counseling, I stick by my orginal certainty that the choice belongs to the individual woman. I'm only there to listen, to care without judgment, and to provide information.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Slings and Arrows

Several days ago I wrote about why women have abortions. I knew that what I reported would be hard for some people to read. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it happened, but I am.

I had to throw a comment in the trash.

I really didn't want to do it. I believe in freedom of speech. But come to think of it, I also believe in freedom of movement. We all should be allowed to dance and jump and flail our arms to our hearts' content, as long as, in the process, we don't maliciously wack others in the face.

I'm not saying you can't make statements of conflicting beliefs. I'm not saying you shouldn't back them up with passionate arguement. But as far as this blog is concerned, if you can't refrain from name-calling and dropping curses on those you disagree with, unfortunately (because you may have some very valid points that others would benefit from hearing) you won't be allowed a voice here at all. So please, if you're reading this (you know who you are) take a deep breath, count to ten, and give it another go.

Really, I'd appreciate it if you did.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Gung-ho and Unconflicted (Not)

This morning, I was pleased to note how much energy I feel lately toward improving my health. It is good to feel so gung-ho and unconflicted on the babymaking project, finished with the tiresome waffling I was doing when I began this blog such a very short time ago. But soon, a thought rumbling around under the radar bubbled up into the forefront of my mind, causing me to doubt all over again. I don't really want to acknowledging it, but here it is: Part of the reason I want to have kids is that I don't want to feel so outcast at holidays and gatherings where attention revolves around the kids. I mean, I take pleasure in my neices and nephews and all that, but there's only so much conversation about kids and parenting I can take when I have so little to contribute. I imagine it's how a stewardess would feel among a group of pilots talking shop: there's some common ground, but mostly not.

Also, and perhaps more embarrassing, I long to be on the receiving end of those benevolent, admiring smiles that women receive when they are pregnant or caring for a new infant. I've given a lot of those smiles over the years (never begrudgingly, of course) but damn it, I want a turn.

It reminds me of high school, when I had a crush on a boy who I knew my mother approved of. Nevermind that he was socially inept, overly sarcastic, with unruly hair (not in a good way) and a pasty complexion. (Think Napolean Dynamite with pimples and a genius IQ). Still, I fantasized about our wedding, how everyone in our community, especially my mother, would have approved the match. I knew it wasn't much of a reason to choose a guy, just like I know now that approval and attention aren't reasons to have kids.

It goes without saying that a moment in the spotlight is nothing compared to the day-in, day-out hardship and toil that go into even a perfect relationship, let alone into the thankless labor-of-love that is parenting. Perhaps my less than stellar thinking reveals that I was pretty starved for attention and approval as a teenager, especially in my family, and that as much as I would like to believe otherwise, I'm not as over it as I'd like. ("It" meaning the attention-starvedness, not the boy.)

Granted, there were a few things that genuinely attracted me to Napolean D. He made me laugh, for one, or at least his misfit friends did. He had big hands. I've always found that sexy in a man. And he had a crush on me too — always a plus. Similarly, there are some perfectly solid, honorable reasons I want to have a child. Nevertheless, I'd like to avoid making any major life decisions based on even partially crappy reasoning. I know I can't take back junior prom (yes, he took me, and yes, it was a disaster), but I can certainly learn from the experience.

I guess my point here is that aside from the physical changes I hope to make by ditching fudge cake and french fries, I'd like to clean up my psychological act as well. Step one: admitting I have a problem. It's a start.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Not the television show, but the book (no relation): Inconceivable: A Woman's Triumph over Despair and Statistics by Julia Indichova. I read it in a day, and it was so inspiring, I'm reading it again. For those of you facing infertility, becoming disillusioned by, or wary of the slippery slope of medical intervention, this is the book for you. It's a memoir of a woman in search of an answer for her secondary infertility. She turns to the experts first, and is told again and again there is no hope. Unwilling to give up, she seeks out alternative experts, some of whom are useful, some not so much. In the end, she chooses her own gut as the ultimate authority. After years of trying, at 42-years-old, she conceives and gives birth (VBAC, by the way) to her second child.

Why do I bring it up? Because it inspired me to listen to my own gut, which tells me to eat well, meditate, exercise, dance and do yoga, and breathe as much fresh air as possible. It also says: keep taking folic acid, a little zinc, and vitamin C when under stress. Eat flax seed, dandelion greens, and burdock root, among other veggies, legumes, and whole grains, but take it easy on wheat and dairy. Drink teas like nettle, dandelion, licorice, and raspberry leaf, among others. Also, a neighbor recommended a Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist and accuncturist a while ago, and though I liked the idea, I resisted her suggestion. (It's a bit of a trek to get to him, and there were others who sounded slightly less amazing, but at least they were more nearby). But suddenly the trip seems less daunting, in fact, I'm exited. Just tonight I left a note on my neighbor's door, requested more info. I plan on going as soon as possible.

My gut (or perhaps my lungs) also tells me to relocate. I think of the summer, when our dinner table (under a window that receives a regular breeze from the direction of the nearby highway) quickly accumulates a disconcerting layer of grime. Where else is that grime accumulating? I'm not sure I want to know! And also, our landlord is really pushing it lately with too many last minute excuses to enter our space. It's been time to move on for a while now. We need to figure out where we're going.

All of these changes, whether they bring us babies or not, are worth it. I'm thirty-five. I'm past the point when life seems like it's something I'm getting ready for. Life is now. It's time to build up my body, to get my menstruation back up to its former vibrant, 5-day bleed. I'm not too old, dammit. Even if there is a strike three on the way, I'm not giving up my turn at bat. Not yet anyway.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

From the Trenches: Why Women have Abortions

This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are as many reasons as there are individuals, but I thought I'd give you a peek at the reality (as opposed to the stereotypes). So here goes, from what I've seen in my short carreer as an abortion counselor, this is why women do it: (by the way, please please send comments to augment the list.)

One more note: It can be challenging, even if you consider yourself to be pro-choice, not to pass judgment. We are all unique individuals, so it isn't surprising that when we imagine ourselves in someone else's shoes, we picture taking different steps. But ask yourself as you read these, if you are subconsciously grading people's reasons, or even their shoes. Thoughtful responses are encouraged, no points of view are barred here. But disrespectful and mean-spirited commenters will be promptly ejected. thanks~

Reasons women give for having abortions:

Because she doesn't think it's fair to her existing children. The strain, financially and otherwise, would be too much.

Because she wants to finish school or work on her carreer.

Because she doesn't want to burden her parents or the welfare system with the responsibility of a child she can't possibly care for on their own.

Because she worries about the drugs they take creating an unhealthy child.

Because the FOP (father of pregnancy) disappeared as soon as he found out or before he even found outand she doesn't want to raise a child alone.

Because the FOP died and she doesn't want to raise a child without him.

Because if she went through with the pregnancy, she wouldn't be able to give up her child for adoption (but can't care for it, for any of many reasons).

Because she believes she would make a bad parent.

Because her husband/boyfriend isn't the FOP.

Because her previous pregnancies were very hard on her physically,

Because of physical problems, pregnancy is a threat to her own life.

Because if she went through with the pregnancy, the child is likely to or would defintely have a serious disability.

Because she's struggling to survice in an abusive relationship, and her partner would blame her for the burden of another child.

Because her previous children are finally grown, and she feels too old to go through it again.

Because, for a combination of reasons (see above and below) she believes it's the right thing to do.

Because she was raped and the pregnancy seems like further violation.

Because she doesn't have the money to support a child.

Because she cares full-time for an ill and aging parent/relative, and believes she wouldn't be able to give a child the attention it would need.

Because she already has X number of children and doesn't want more.

Because she doesn't want to have kids at all, ever.

Because she's not ready to be a parent.

Because her own parents talked her/scared her out of it.

Here's another list, also nowhere near comprehensive, of reasons women give for unwanted pregnancies:

Because she didn't have the skills/confidence/guidance to think well about birth control.

Because she didn't feel comfortable insisting that her partner use a condom.

Because the birth control pill she was using made her feel sick/bleed incessantly/made her irritable, so she stopped taking it.

She was about to start a new perscription next cycle.

No one told her that hormonal birth control (like the pill, or patch) is unreliable if you take antibiotics.

No one told her the pill is unreliable if you have a stomach flu or diarrea, or if you don't take it at close to the same time each day.

No one told her about Plan B (also known as "the morning after pill" or "emergency contraception" which can prevent a pregnancy after unprotected sex).

The condom broke, or fell off, or was too old to be effective, or was tampered with.

Because she lost her insurance coverage, and can't afford birth control on her own.

Because she wasn't sexually active, didn't anticipate becoming sexually active, and then me this guy...

Because he didn't withdraw when he said he would.

Because she was "drunk and stupid" (her own words).

Because she was raped.

Because she didn't think she could get pregnant at all, and therefore didn't use birth control.

Because it was the first cycle after a previous abortion, and she didn't understand that she could get pregnant again right away.

Because in spite of proper use, the condom/diaphram/nuva ring/birth control pill/patch/spermicide/sponge/IUD/tubal ligation failed to prevent pregnancy.

Because she didn't know she was fertile yet (after recently giving birth).

Because the pregnancy was intentional, but then circumstances changed (see above: deadbeat partner, death of partner, health concerns, etc)