Saturday, December 29, 2007

Talented Brilliant Women

This is a follow-up post, in which I complete my selections of five great women bloggers to whom I pass the torch of the Rockin' Girl Blogger award.

The problem is, the more I look, the more I find that the web is full of you talented brilliant women! I feel like I'm stumbling into one small party and picking five to declare the most amazing of all, while ignoring the fact that there are millions of others at millions of other parties equally stunningly worthy.

One redeeming fact: my five picks now get to tag five picks of their own. So it's not all up to me.

Without further ado, and, again, in no particular order:

3. It's not just one person writing this blog, so maybe it's not fair to make this pick. But since the theme is female empowerment, I think I can get away with it. Though I'm sure they'd prefer not to be referred to as "girls" rather than "women", it's undeniable that they are rockin'. And they do the rest of us rockin' females an important service, providing regular, all-important reminders that sexism is alive and well in our world, lest we lose sight of how we are affected and subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) limited by it every day. Feministing, edited by Jessica Valenti, Vanessa Valenti, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, and Ann Friedman, takes to this challenge with great spirit and humor.

4. I hesitate to even dip my foot into the world of cooking blogs, because there are so many treasures in this department, but I can't skip over Heidi Swanson, author of two great and inspiring cookbooks: Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen and Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways To Incorporate Whole and Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking. Heidi's blog, 101 Cookbooks, is jam-packed with great recipes, cooking tips, and mouth-watering images. Heidi does much of her own photography and graphic design, not to mention writing, cooking, tasting, musing. She's a powerhouse, and she lights a fuse under my butt to do all the projects piled in my filing cabinet and all over my desk. Heidi, you can cook for me (or better yet, with me) any time.

5. Kt (Kate Andrews) of The Department takes stunning photographs and peppers her blog with them, along with her concise and colorful writing. Her haikus, brief journal entries, platitudes with a twist, and sparky little self-helpish quips and quotations are often worthy of meditation.

I'm forcing myself to stop, though in my mind there is great clamoring: But what about all the infertile and mom-blogs? What about the artist blogs? That one I love by the mom-lawyer, the other by the mom-doctor? That one by the book editor? I'll have to compile them all properly, get them into my sidebar links, give them their much-deserved props.

In the meantime, I'll mention one other site, a resource for all of you female bloggers out there (or wannabe bloggers). Check out BlogHer. It's for you.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's a Start

MC at MissedConceptions recently bestowed upon me a "Rockin' Girl Blogger" award, and I am delighted to receive it.

Actually, it was a few weeks ago.

More accurately, I should admit, more than a few weeks.

Okay, so it was August.

But here it is, and I post it proudly:

I'm only just getting around to acknowledging the honor, in part, because of the expectation that I now select five Rockin Girl Bloggers to honor in kind. Not an easy task, if you take it seriously – which I do – when there are so so many supremely worthy Rockin' Girls out there. But I'm going to attempt a selection, finally, belatedly. A little at a time.

Here I go with my first two picks. In no particular order:

1. I'll begin with Aliza Sherman Risdahl, who is the author of six books, including The Everything Blogging Book: Publish Your Ideas, Get Feedback, And Create Your Own Worldwide Network. I first came across her through her Babyfruit: The Miscarriage Blog and Motherhood Diaries, which played a part in inspiring me to begin my own blog, and got me hooked on her story. (At that time, motherhood was still in the future for Aliza.) I've since been wowed by all her many creative efforts, including several other blogs, writing projects, and independent filmmaking. She inspires me to put myself out there in like kind.

2. Penelope Trunk authors the blog Brazen Careerist: Advice at the intersection of life and work and penned the similarly titled book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. I just discovered her and I'm excited by her thoughtfulness, great writing, and wide-open unselfconsciousness. I give her credit for getting me moving on this long-avoided chore. Speaking of which, check out her lovely post on procrastination.

More soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Medicine Man

Last night I dreamt of a man in a white lab coat. He wasn't a scientist, nor was he a doctor, per se. He was a medicine man.

Housed inside the mind of this medicine man was a room full of long, clean tables, fluorescent lights, microscopes, glass vials and slides and petri dishes. His thoughts were based on intuited fact, the result of careful scientific inquiry in the laboratory of his mind. He was a celebrated, highly regarded clairvoyant. A private audience with him was a great and rare privilege. And here he was, sitting down to talk to me about my fertility.

I was disconcerted by his appearance. It wasn't just the lab coat giving him an air of Harvard/MIT intensity, but also his black and silver-flecked hair trimmed tight to his head, his no-nonsense wire-framed glasses, and a matter-of-fact expression. He looked like he needed a shave, like facial hair was an issue for him, like he had shaved that morning and maybe again at midday, like if he didn't stay on top of it, he'd have a full beard before dinner. I felt lucky to be talking to him, but nervous around all that sharply focused intellect and hair-sprouting vitality, holding my breath for whatever he was about to say. He was already talking.

The medicine man told me that I would never again conceive a pregnancy. J~'s sperm were no longer viable. And then, with nonchalant ease, he brought me inside his mind-lab to explain about DNA and genetic recombination and what was getting in the way for my husband. All of it made perfect sense, though I don't recall the details now.

What I recall is a strange cocktail of emotion: sadness, but more than that, profound gratitude for the information, for the freedom to finally move on.

It hit me today that I am no longer swamped by the afternoon blues. Recently, for more than a month, I slogged through a daily bout of grieving. It felt like a new space were being carved into my interior. It hurt. I didn't understand it, but I accepted it.

And then I started applying to graduate schools.

In relating a dream from his youth that he credits with giving him the cure for a deeply infected burn wound, Ketut Liyer, the Balinese medicine man in Eat, Pray, Love, said that "sometimes dreams are just joking". But clearly, he also believes, sometimes they're not.

My own dream ended the way dreams often do – the way thoughts end, usually – in a fuzzy slide into something else. I simply drifted from the medicine man's magical laboratory into a vision of my childless future, as if wandering, mid-film, from one screening room to another inside one of those big movie multiplexes. Again, I don't recall the details of that second dream, only bits about the setting – there was a sidewalk and a brick wall – and the emotion: my own Harvard/MIT-ish intensity, a deep engagement in my work and the people I was trying to reach with it.

When I woke, it was like emerging from my own chest.

I may not have a shiny laboratory in there. But there is something.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Ex- Factor

There it was, in my inbox Tuesday afternoon: An email. From my ex-husband.

Imagine that.

Now imagine the "gung-GUNG!" sound from Law and Order, or any other deep, dramatic, percussive musical effect meant to evoke the heart skipping a beat or leaping into sudden overdrive. Because when I saw his name on my screen, I think my heart did both.

It's been more than a year of no contact between myself and this man with whom I once felt certain I would spend the rest of my days, the person whose sudden amputation from my life caused the deepest emotional trauma I've ever experienced. I've said it before and I'll say it again: a miscarriage is bad, but I'm telling you, it doesn't even come CLOSE to what that divorce felt like.

Understandably, A~ suspected I wouldn't want to hear from him. But to the contrary: as uncomfortable as it was to feel my heart buck and stall, it was easier than stomaching the loss of a deeply trusted best friend. And it's nothing compared to imagining him out in the world, thriving, happy, relieved to be done with me, telling his friends and family, "Phew! Am I glad THAT's over!" I am deeply reassured to learn that I have not morphed, in his mind, into the first daughter of Satan.

Or maybe not until now.

Because — also understandably — he'd prefer that I didn't write about him on the blog. And here I am, spilling the beans all over the place.

Then again, I haven't revealed his identity (or my own, for that matter). I haven't pasted the contents of his email into this post (and I won't). I haven't revealed any juicy personal gossip, like is he still with the girl he left me for? Are they happy? Truth is, I don't know the answer to these questions. But as curious as I am, I know it has no bearing on ME, my character, worthiness or happiness. Whatever feelings I might have about the details of his post-divorce existence can be processed in a less public arena. Yes, in other words, I am capable of respecting his privacy.

At first I thought it might be difficult not to gloat if I were to learn that he is unhappy, but actually, I find myself hoping that he IS happy. In fact, I've cried every night since that email came, feeling sad at the possibility that he is sad, remembering how closely I used to carry him in my heart, feeling strangely disembodied by my reticence to reach out. (Is this the emotional equivalent to the amputee's phantom limb syndrome, phantom love syndrome?)

(To be fair, I've been pretty darn busy this week, and the memories that A~'s resurfacing bring up aren't all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns. Not that we didn't have some very memorable good times. But moving toward each other these days means picking through some pretty treacherous, tedious karmic rubble.)

In her EXCELLENT memoir (oh how I love this book!) Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and IndonesiaElizabeth Gilbert suggests that, "When the Karma of a relationship is done, only love remains."

Wouldn't that be nice?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

Since I began this blog two years ago, I think this is the longest I've gone without posting.

Why is that, I wonder? The answer is multifaceted.

1. To be or not to be pregnant (and to stay or not to stay pregnant) are no longer the questions taking center stage in my life. (These days, it's more like: to go or not to go to graduate school). This is not to suggest that these questions have left the stage entirely. Don't get me wrong. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I don't think I'll ever be entirely free of them. They have become a part of me. And so has this blog.

2. Speaking of graduate school, my first big application deadline is looming, just two weeks away. And there is So Much To Do. Hence, Reason Number Two: frantic, out of control distraction.

3. Plus, clients are coming out of the woodwork, suddenly wanting to Christmas-up their websites. In other words, Reason Number Two all over again.

4. I don't keep this blog the deep dark secret that it should be. My family knows about it. My friends know about it. Hell, even my ex-husband knows about it! (Not that I've heard a peep from him since the divorce, but I'll save that rant for another post.) Probably the grad schools I apply to will come across it, and how seriously will they take me if they read that I'm disappointed to be getting my period today?

My life has always been an open book. I can't keep a secret (about myself, that is) and wouldn't want to begin. But sometimes I think I should. And occasionally, that thought does slow me down a bit.

5. Speaking of can't keep a secret, I wasn't going to tell you yet, dear readers, because it's really not ready, but I've been two-timing you. I've started another blog. Just barely! I'd invite you in but the furniture is still in boxes all over the floor, and I haven't even unfurled the wallpaper.

Never fear: I won't stop writing here. The Babies or Not story is not over yet. But there are other aspects to who I am besides infertile, other things I think about besides babies and reproductive decision-making---like art, writing, and living a creative life---and I want to give myself some space to explore those too.

I'll post the link, I promise, I promise. Very soon. Just let me unpack a little first, tack up a few links. Some of you Blogger-savvy types have probably found it already. Some of you might sneak over there on your own. If you have, or if you do now, excuse the mess. And tune in here to be invited to the grand opening, coming soon(ish).

Thursday, November 15, 2007


To those of you who comment on this blog, I wanted to put in yet another note of thanks for your words of wisdom and encouragement. It is great to hear from you all.

Someone asked what I meant by "Guess what time it is" in the previous post, assuming I was talking about time of the month. I meant time of day. It was midafternoon when I last wrote, and the afternoon blues were upon me as I complained that the prospect of work and school left me flat.

I am grateful to report that this is shifting: Lately, I am happily, albeit frantically, engaged in my work, my writing, my art-making, and in applying to graduate school. Morning, evening, and (knock wood) in the afternoon. All day long, actually. I forgot to eat lunch yesterday, in fact, I was so engrossed.

Speaking of time of the month, however, yesterday, I hit what, for me these days is the most poignant and fleeting time of the month. I'm talking EWCM here, people. For those of you not versed and deeply immersed in the TTC (trying to conceive) lexicon, I mean egg white cervical mucus, that clear, gooey stuff that lubes the passage of sperm through the mighty maw of the cervix just in time for conception. It's the telltale clue, the biological egg-timer, as it were, dinging up another ripe egg.

When I was a teenager, I had copious amounts of the stuff for a day or two every month. (No wonder, I read recently that we're most fertile between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four.) Nowadays, I'm lucky to see any at all. In fact, last time I noticed EWCM, J~ took the morning off and we conceived my latest ill-fated pregnancy.

But yesterday, mid-morning, I discovered my body had produced a great gob of the stuff. I checked my chart: it was the eleventh day of my cycle. Right on target. But J~ was already long gone and I was so deep into my work I didn't think about it long. By the time he came home and I had torn myself from the computer screen, the day was over. I was starving and stiff and in dire need of a workout. (Didn't I mention I forgot to eat lunch? I forgot to take any breaks at all yesterday.)

We talked about it. We noted the passing moment, the shift in my focus away from parenthood and toward a broader definition of my life's work and purpose. I asked him if he felt sad. He admitted that he did, but just a little. "Not a deep pit-of-the-stomach sadness," he said.

I nodded, agreeing, understanding. It is sad to think I may never be a mother. But also, when I can embrace it (usually after my requisite afternoon grieving period, which can be very intense) the thought is also tremendously freeing: I may never be a mother.

My fantasy these days is that I'll get pregnant by some miracle of health and timing. It'll happen at just the right moment, if there ever is such a thing, when J~ is more available to help, when I am more established and satisfied in my work. Perhaps that moment is a month away. Perhaps it doesn't exist. But in the meantime, life goes on.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Afternoon Blues

I've been feeling sad lately. I haven't wanted to say anything about it. I thought it would pass. Maybe it will pass.

For a month or so now, I've been overtaken most days, mid afternoon, by a sinking, swamping sadness. My heart literally aches. I feel pressure behind my eyes, a rising tide of tears without an obvious source. When this becomes unbearable, I slip my sneakers on, take myself out for a walk, a run.

It works, this infusion of oxygen to my blood. The tide recedes.

But come the next afternoon, I'm back where I started.

Sometimes, it isn't sadness, but panic that hits me. I feel as if I've been riding a lawnmower all day, drinking coffee by the gallon. Even my skin seems to be vibrating. I've had headaches most nights this week. I never have headaches! And for the record, I haven't mowed the lawn in six weeks and I don't drink coffee at all.

I toured the MFA program at the local college the other day, walked away (in the pouring rain) feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Academia, I am reminding, is not to be entered into lightly. "I'm not sure it's the answer," I told my new, and very wise friend, C~.

"What's the question?" she replied.

I told you she was wise.

It took me two days to realize, the question is this: If not motherhood, then what?

There are a million perfectly good answers, some of which excite me, at the right time of day. But at this moment, they all sound like "get a job" or "go to school." And frankly (can you guess what time it is?) my heart isn't in it.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Yes: Nothing.

I have done nothing, beyond discuss with J~ what something might entail, in regard to further medical intervention in our fertility journey.

We did decide to ask some questions of the doc, do a little research of our own, and possibly, probably, get all the blood tests - genetic for us both, immunologic, clotting, the works, for me. But taking action? Doing the actual research, making the actual calls, getting our arms stuck with actual needles? No. None of that has happened.

I can't say why, exactly.

I think of the downstairs bathroom overdue for a thorough cleaning and the kitchen floor we've been meaning to replace and the reservations to be made for our very first anniversary dinner. Yes, I know, this issue is a little heavier than mundane household chores, a little more daunting than "dinner for two," but still, the hold-up is, at least in part, related to how busy we are.

Okay, I know busy-ness is an excuse, but to be fair, J~'s weekends, ever since his son moved to Vermont, have revolved very heavily around the boy. B~'s been home every weekend, and J~ has done an awful lot of driving. As for me, I must admit, there's relief in focusing on grad school and my freelance graphic design business and the book proposals I've been chipping away at forever. I'm making real progress on all these fronts, which feels great.

Then again, I do worry about getting pregnant without being any better equipped to stay pregnant. As for the primal, primary, necessary act, the prerequisite to finding ourselves in just that situation, we haven't slowed down one bit. In fact, I would go so far as to say we've been more inclined toward that one, what with so many weekday evenings with no child in the house. Which also helps explain why we're finding so little spare energy to move on the difficult issues, like cleaning that bathroom.

In conclusion? Believe me, I see the contradictions riddling this entry. I see room for improvement, to say the least. But I keep coming back to the bottom line, which is this: I'm happy.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be a mother. I'd love to avoid another miscarriage. So why don't I do something about it? What's my excuse for all this passivity? What do I have to say for myself, young lady?


Thursday, October 18, 2007

First Things First

Thank you!

If there was a rule number four, perhaps it would be this: Orient yourself to thankfulness. Stretch your awareness to notice (in other words, to receive) more and more blessings every day. Express your appreciation.

And so, I begin today's post with thanks to you, dear readers, for sharing all your insights and perspectives and information and good wishes. Thank you! I am taking everything you say to heart. J~ is too. We sat down and read your most recent comments together. We do that often, actually. But this time, we're taking notes. We're having discussions. We're making plans. I'll give you more detail eventually, but for now, suffice it to say this: Babies or Not—in three forms—is alive and kicking:

1. as a question in our lives. Will we or won't we? We'd like to. There may be more we could do to coax that possibility into reality. But we also know it may not happen.

2. as a mantra. Babies or not, life goes on for us. At least for another few decades. We hope.

3. as a blog. As long as the preceding points are applicable to me, and as long as people are interested in reading what I have to say on the subject, this blog will also go on. At least until I write the book.

Another thing I am thankful for right now: Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. And my friend in Tennessee, who loved the book so much, he bought seven copies to give away. I was one of the lucky seven! I am thankful for this inspiring, touching, funny, wonderful memoir. It is rare that I finish a book and within a week, begin reading it a second time, but this is just one of those reads. Too delicious to put away just because I've reached the last page.

I love books! I am thankful for books!

And for the internet, and telephones, and all the networks of communication we have in this world. They are blessings that sometimes feel like curses, but right now, I appreciate them all.

Isn't it amazing, how black lines and curves inked on a white page (or a polka-dot page) can convey meaning, and emotion and story, the pure thread of our souls? Okay, I know, I'm getting sappy and overly romantic here, but think about it—there is no sap on this page, just colored pixels arranged in patterns.

If you, like me, are inclined to get excited over such mundane wonders, and don't mind a little math and science along the way, here's another book I recommend: I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. I'm working my way through it, bit by bit, and it is blowing my mind.

Aside from the big things (our loved ones, food and shelter) what are you thankful for?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rule Number Three

J~ and I flew to Tennessee for four days, Sunday through yesterday, so that I might introduce him to a place I once lived and loved, at the end of a dirt road at the end of another dirt road at the end of yet another dirt road, and to the dear friends I made there a decade ago.

We stayed in a lovely guest cabin belonging to some of these friends, under a quilt I sewed for its owners nine years ago, under a roof beam I helped raise a year before that.

Alone together, J~ and I hiked and talked and lounged. We made love in a field. We slept late, read books, took a good long run, and scratched behind the ears of many sweet dogs. With friends, we laughed and ate and shared stories. We also visited loved ones in the hospital, and cooked and shopped for groceries for their return.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.

Some of you, with your comments this week about my choices (or lack thereof) regarding reproductive testing, have your finger on my third of three rules to live by. I'll say more about those choices in a minute, but for now, without further ado, here's Rule Number Three: Ask for help.

What could be easier, right? But for some of us (namely me) this can, sometimes, seem near impossible. I put limits on how much help I imagine I am allotted. J~, like so many men, trained that they are supposed to appear all-knowing and all-competent, does this too. Which leads to the recursive: When uncomfortable asking for help, ask for help asking for help.

Which is why I've asked J~ to help me think about what comes next. I am shy about calling the doctor to ask the one question I forgot to ask in our appointment: what about the sudden, heavy bleeding I had with the demise of my most recent pregnancy? Is that to be expected in pregnancies that fail for the typical, genetic-combination reasons? Could this indicate a clotting disorder?

Maybe I will test for that, after all... but I'm not sure I'd take blood thinners (aspirin included) as, I am told, clotting disorders rarely lead to miscarriages, and when they do, it usually doesn't happen until at at least 14 weeks -- none of my pregnancies ever got beyond twelve.

I probably won't take progesterone, or even have my levels checked, as my research (and the doctors I've spoken to) suggest that low progesterone has never been proven to cause pregnancy failure. Progesterone might test low because a pregnancy is not viable in the first place.

As for karyotyping (genetic testing of myself and J~) I don't see the point. It would have been nice to have information about the past pregnancies. It would be nice to rule out, definitively, all other problems. But now, at worst, we'll learn that the odds of a good genetic combination aren't in our favor. In that case, short of IVF (which helps by selecting genetically viable fetuses from the outset, and involves a level of invasiveness and expense that is beyond what feels right for me), nothing can be done to improve our odds except to keep rolling the dice.

In the spirit of Rule Number Three, I welcome your thoughts, comments, stories, experiences, insights, prayers, jokes, etcetera! Let the comments section be a beacon to me and to all who light upon this blog post!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Two and Two

Two updates, coming right up. But first, Rule Number Two:

Visualize Success.

Some people believe there is real, magical power in extreme positive thinking, in living "as if", or at least repeating, mantra-style: I have the body of a supermodel, the bank account of Oprah Winfrey, and a healthy baby on the way. Life is fabulous. I don't mean to demean this practice (or supermodels, or Oprah, or babies, or fabulousness). I also don't mean to suggest that I believe there is no such magical power. Frankly, I don't know, and truthfully, it doesn't matter, because, magic or not, in many circumstances, I am convinced that visualizing success works.

One thing I do know: doing so forces a change of perspective. It is good to ask yourself, when feeling fat and poor and sad, whether your intention is to take your mind off of the pain (by consuming a pint of ice cream, a lottery ticket, and a good movie, for instance) or to make peace (with your flab, your childlessness, and your second-hand everything), or is your intention to make change? There is no correct answer. The important thing is simply to ask!

I like David Allen's line (I've quoted this before): "Whatever has your attention needs your intention engaged." In other words, in order to visualize success, you need to address the question: In this particular circumstance, for me, what DOES success look like?

It's a good question for me right now. So much is changing.

I'll give more details soon, but in a nutshell, two things:

1. Tomorrow, my stepson will move three hours north to complete the academic year, possibly all five remaining academic years before college, at a better school, living with his mother. My mixed feelings contain a double-shot of relief, and smaller jolts of worry, guilt, and sadness. For J~, of course, it is much more intense. He is alternately excited for his son, worried for him, and completely devastated. J~'s entire existence, for the past thirteen years, has been defined by and revolved around his role as parent. Through tears, sitting in his car in the office's parking lot at lunch hour today, he told me he feels the loss so deeply, it seems to exist at the cellular level.

2. We met with a reproductive endocrinologist this week. A good meeting, a thoughtful, down-to-earth, and knowledgeable doc with lots of good information. The upshot: lab orders for tests that we mostly don't expect to take, since they are invasive and seek out long shots, and frankly, we're just not desperate enough to go there. Since IVF has never felt like an option for me, it boils down to this: nothing to do but try again. Chances of another pregnancy being successful? Fifty-five to sixty percent. That's better odds than I imagined. But I don't much fantasize about having a child like I used to. Perhaps it's self-protective. Perhaps it's denial, but "visualize success" for me lately is more about a writing and art career than it is about babies.

However, if I've learned anything over the past few years, and the past few weeks, it's this: life is nothing if it isn't constant change.

Who knows what I'll be saying a month from now.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rule Number One

Self-help guru, Susan Jeffers, says that the correct internal answer to any nail-biting "what if" in our thoughts and lives is simply this: "I'll handle it." In other words, "I'll learn from it. I'll grow from it. I'll make it a triumph." She wrote a book on the subject, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which I can't say I love unequivocally, but she makes some very good points.

I've been thinking about this, along with three small revelations, three tenets of a life/work credo that came to me—fully formed and carefully worded—on a series of afternoon walks this past spring.

As a prelude to an art and writing project I intend to put together on the subject (though I have all kinds of what-if fears about doing so) I'd like to share these three ideas with you.

The first, in its exact wording, was this:

Rule number one: Plant all your seeds.

You reap what you sow, I shrugged, when this commandment smacked me in the forehead. I began mentally ticking down the list of incompletes in my life: Phone calls I wanted to make. Letters to send. Books to read. Compliments to give. Doors to knock on. Ideas to pursue.

Previously, I had been bogged down in deliberation, asking myself which was the highest priority, which was most worthy of my precious time. But Rule Number One was clear: Do everything. Begin wherever you can. Life is short.

That very afternoon, I began with a literal interpretation, by opening a box of seed packets and scattering their contents. All the potential beginnings of vegetables and flowers I've been hoarding, including the decade-old ones that I probably should have thrown out years ago, fell into the in-between patched of my half-planted garden. I scattered loose soil over top, watered them in, and headed inside to make phone calls, pay bills, fold laundry, write that long-avoided query letter, cook lentils with cinnamon and onions, design business cards, compose follow-up emails to potential clients, clean the basement, whatever came to mind. I'm still doing this. Every positive impulse is a seed, and I plant as many as I can.

As for my garden, many of those old seeds never sprouted. Birds snacked on some of them. No flowers emerged. The kale grew well, but the deer got all of it. I did get some arugula, a few extra string beans, a bumper crop of basil, and perhaps most importantly, I crossed that long-standing seed-planting item off my list. Now, when I look at that seed box, I feel excited about next year's choices rather than leaden about clutter and unfinished business.

I can't say that the list is getting shorter. I add items all the time. Some chores add themselves. Things break. Bills keep coming. But so does the basil! Clients appear. The phone rings. My inbox fills (including a writing assigment resulting from that query letter). I must make pesto from all that basil. I don't think I will ever cross off every item from the roster. I'm glad of that.

And the pesto, by the way, was delicious.

Next item on the blog list: Rule Number Two.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Nine Lives

"Don't you think you should come back in your next life as a pampered Siamese cat or something? With nine lives?" This was said by my friend, B~, last night, after hearing my most recent bad news.

The bad news was this, my current worst fear come true: a call from Dr. A~ yesterday saying that by the time the lab got the word that yes, in fact, they were supposed to genetically test my "products of conception," it was too late. The cells would not reproduce.

"Well that sucks," I said into the receiver, then thanked him for the information, and hung up. I stared blankly at my computer screen. There goes my best chance at a clue as to why I keep losing my pregnancies. I dropped my head and wept onto my keyboard. I called J~ and cried some more. And then I got back to work.

It took me a minute to understand what B~ was getting at with her nine lives comment. We were sitting in our usual once-monthly girl's night bar/restaurant, the rest of the gang all around. I looked at her quizzically. She looked me in the eye. "You've been through enough."

I laughed, appreciating the sympathy, recalling the trials life has put before me in the last few years.

B~'s statement stuck in my mind, resurfacing on the drive home, in bed with my man this morning, and again, as I sit down to write. Yes. I've had some bad luck. Some hard times. And there are still challenges ahead. I may never have children. That's a big one.

I see the history that formed me, the good and bad that brought me to this reality. I can get to feeling very low about that. But for the most part, in the day to day of living, I don't feel unlucky. I don't feel singled out by fate.

I am amazed, actually, that after weeks of free fall, anticipating and then surviving J~'s surgery, anticipating and then recovering from another miscarriage, I seem to have landed on my feet. I can't explain it. I credit J~. I credit my need to write everything down. The people whose shoulders I have cried on.

Maybe I am a siamese cat already.

Maybe luck is more about how you recover from hard times than it is about whether or not hard times come along at all. Don't we all have hard times?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

An Inconclusive Update

It's been almost two weeks since my most recent miscarriage, dear readers, and I feel that I've been neglecting you. Please forgive me. I was traveling, so to speak, through a very dark place. But in the last week, I've experienced a dramatic shift, both in energy and in mood, which I'm somewhat at a loss to explain. I'll tell you all about it in the next post.

In the meantime, an inconclusive update:

No word from Dr. A~, the ob-gyn, about results of karyotyping (genetic testing of the "products of conception"). But I did get a call from his office four days after J~ dropped off our salamander baby at the lab (in a clearly marked container, I might add) asking if I had done so, and did I want them to test it. Mind you, on the day of our slow-heartbeat ultrasound, I said explicitly that I wanted this testing, and on the day of the no-heartbeat scan, Dr. A~ gave us instructions about where to take our little bundle of sorrow, and assured us that he'd spoken to the head of the lab. We were expected. No paperwork necessary.

Needless to say, I began to panic.

As it turns out, our clearly marked container was not lost (Thank God!), they just didn't know what we wanted done with it.


Having cleared that up, having received assurances that it is not too late, that the tissue wasn't sitting around too long, I am still afraid that nothing will come of it. I hate the thought of wondering, if this turns out to be the case, if it's someone's fault. I'll call the doctor's office first thing Tuesday. In the meantime, deep breaths. On to other things.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Main Event

It happened.

Cramps ramped up almost out of nowhere yesterday afternoon. I was bleeding by eight pm and cramps and bleeding worsened until after midnight. And then it really got started. We didn't make it to lights out until four in the morning.

I was in full miscarriage-labor for about three hours, complete with out of body visualizations and spontaneous breathing exercises and, in the last hour, vomiting. Not to mention blood and plenty of it. Oh yeah. And pain. Yup. There was a long period where I could barely opened my eyes, because I needed to stay internally focused in order to cope. J~, loyally constant at my side, struggled to keep his open too, though for much more benign reasons (in other words: he was tired).

In my mind's eye during the worst moments, I saw a cloud of blue-green, an undersea bleariness. Focusing on the color, I urged whatever life-ishness that might still exist within me to swim out. Swim! I thought. And in my less graceful moments this helpful encouragement became a much more desperate: Get out of me, now.

The whole experience was much more intense than the last two times.

Also unlike the last two, unlike my sister-in-law's, unlike any of the growing circle of stories I've heard about miscarriages as early as this one (which stopped developing at 7.5 weeks, though it was one day shy of twelve when it actually happened) the tissue that finally sprung out through my cervix (and that's really how it felt, like it popped out) resembled an actual creature: An off-white tadpole on its way to albino frog. An inch-long, larval salamander, with a long tale and a shorter umbilicus, a narrow torso with the tiniest miniature sprouts of arms and legs, and eyes like sharp black pencil dots at the sides of its large, pale, salamander head.

I collected it in a plastic container, which J~ interred in the refrigerator until the light of day, when he took it in his lunch cooler to the hospital lab for genetic analysis. It is hard to think that my child, my albeit freakish amphibian not-yet baby, will now be cut up like a science experiment. No, not like a science experiment, but truly, actually, as a for-real science project.

Hope we get some answers.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Limboland. In Other Words: Life

J~ is back at work, B~ is back at his mom's for one last week before gearing up for eighth grade. As for me: still no bleeding. Barely anything that can qualify as a cramp.

I've begun taking phone calls. Some phone calls. A few. I'm not quite ready for normal life, its pace and rhythms and distractions. In another world, another time, I would be dressed in black, head shaved. My mourning would be visible to all. People who can't cope with grief would know to keep their distance.

On the other hand, there is a Phoenix rising from these ashes. I'm not all gloom and doom. In fact, I'm looking into applying to graduate school, and that excites me somewhat. And J~ and I are hopeful about our long term future, with or without a child together. We've done the math: Shortly after B~ graduates high school, for instance, the house will be paid off, J~ will have enough years under his belt to earn a small pension and continued good health insurance for life. We could both work part-time and have leisure to do some traveling. Or we could start a business together (that's another category of fantasy we lose ourselves in occasionally). And if I get that degree and find something lucrative that I love, a tenured teaching position, perhaps, he could quit working altogether for a while, or go back to school himself, or volunteer. We won't be rich, but we won't be destitute either. (Then again, if we had a child, we'd have more time to enjoy it...)

But I can no longer keep this question, Babies or Not, at center stage. Though truly, who am I kidding? Haven't I said this before? Until I no longer menstruate, it will never quite leave the stage entirely. As it is, dressed in red, flailing about, it will not quit diverting my attention. I accept that. It's biological. It's emotional. It's part of me. As much as I wish I was done with it, as much as it reduces me to tears to think we could go through another miscarriage, I can't quite close the door on trying again, on ever being someone's biological mother.

Thanks, by the way, to all of you who've reached out to me. I feel your words, your hearts, buoying me up, and it means a lot. As long as this question is relevant in my life, as long as you are interested, dear readers, I will keep you posted.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Hole

No bleeding at all yet, almost no cramps.

J~ is getting better, planning to go back to work on Monday, though he will rush home if I need him. B~ will be around for the weekend, starting tomorrow.

We went to the beach in Rhode Island on Tuesday, J~ and I, walked for miles away from the crowd at Watch Hill toward the crowd at Misquamicut. In between, nothing but wind and sun and the surf's deep breathing, and me, finally, opening my mouth. "As much as I'd like to push myself to be done, I have to admit, I'm not done yet."

"Yeah," he nods. He feels the same.

It is hard for us, at this point, to say, No more, although it seems it would be a relief if we could. I know the chances are not good at this point, taking into consideration my three-in-a-row miscarriages, my age, my unwillingness to hop myself up on supplemental hormones, but how can I stop trying? And yet, how can I possibly bear another loss? So far there are four: four children I have grieved, having never seen a face, never held a one. The only presumably viable life of the lot, the first, ended because I chose to end it. I have to live with that.

And yet, if there was a magic pill to guarantee a healthy child, I'm not sure I could bring myself to take it. It seems like a no-brainer, but it is not. I don't trust that I would be adequately supported, that my love for a baby would outweigh the burden of the work, of putting myself, my own selfish pleasures and pursuits, on the back burner. But this does not reduce the grief. It only twists it. It makes me wonder if somehow, subconsciously, I am influencing the demise of these pregnancies, if I am at fault.

No amount of rational, scientific reason can dissuade me of this fear. It is torturous.

On the day of the final ultrasound, we spent some hours with family who only addressed our bad news in hushed asides. There were children around. It seemed inappropriate to speak openly, or for me to cry. My brother tried to crack jokes, to make me smile. "I don't want to be cheered up," I interrupted, "but you can hug me whenever you want." He puts one arm around me briefly, but that was the end of it. My father insisted on snapping pictures of J~ and I. "Please don't" I said, "I'm not in the mood." "Too late!" he quipped, grinning. "Feel better," he said to me later, in lieu of good bye. My mother reiterated her offer to help, whatever we need. But what do we need? We need love. We need flowers. We need cards. We need condolences. We need room to grieve, witnesses to our grief, sharers in the burden of it. These are not easy things to ask for. Or to receive.

When J~'s neck hurt too much, I was relieved to go home. In the car, we were both sad, surprised at how alone we felt amidst family, that only the women (two of three - the third said nothing at all acknowledging the loss) asked how I felt, though there were in-depth discussions of J~'s surgery and its aftermath.

The phone rings. After too many conversations that made me feel worse, I can no longer bring myself to answer. It is as if this loss is carving a hole into me, exposing a lifetime of hurts. People don't know what to say, so they ask questions. Even the ones who say all the right things are no help. I don't have it in me to make any more reports.

But there is something good about this solitary process. It is a cleansing; it is a purge. For example: In the shower this morning, I found myself thinking of A~, my first husband, who admitted before deciding to marry me, that he feared that such a union would bind him to me for eternity. To him, this was a nightmare. And yet, though even then, I suspected he only did so out of fear of leaving, I felt lucky that he chose to stay.

It hurts that I spent so many years clinging to him, believing I could do no better. I am indignant that my self-esteem was so little nurtured, that I was left vulnerable to this kind of thinking.

Ultimately, I feel good to be shedding all of this old pain, fortified to be angry. I get it now: I deserved better! I always have deserved better. And right now, I deserve better than this motherhood limbo.

And so, I am willing to be opened up emotionally, carved out, emptied, forged into something stronger. Maybe, at the end of all this, I could welcome that magic pill after all, or walk away from it unequivocally, head high.

Eventually, I will answer the phone.

For now, I am here. Where ever that is.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Verdict is In

As soon as J~ started feeling better, I started feeling worse -- emotionally, anyway. Nausea faded two days ago, cramps began, and I knew it. I knew it.

We went for an ultrasound yesterday, and sure enough: no heartbeat.

I won't be taking any drugs to help this along. And I won't be submitting to any surgical procedure.

It's just a matter of time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Nausea and Normality

On Friday, thanks to Motrin or Vicodin or anesthesia hangover, or the demise of the anti-nausea patch placed behind his ear before surgery, J~'s nausea kicked in. On Saturday, he threw up more times than I could count. On Sunday, after two days without painkillers of any kind, he still hovered around the bathroom in that hunched-over abdomen-curled-in pose of debilitating stomach distress, but never knelt before the proverbial porcelain god. Sunday, he felt well enough to expand his diet of Pepsi and Saltine crackers to include cereal, sandwiches, and mango sorbet. And yesterday, we even went so far as take-out Thai food.

I've been too damned exhausted to cook, let alone clean, though there is some improvement, for me as well, today.

Speaking of me: I've had no bleeding whatsoever for the past ten days. Breast tenderness continues. As for nausea, actually, yes, there's been some of that, too. Not as severe as two weeks ago, but undeniable. (If nothing changes by next Monday, and J~ is up for the trip, I will try for another ultrasound).

On the phone the other day, my brother asked how things were going, and I admitted, not well. In an attempt to be helpful, he looked for the philosophical silver lining, saying, "this kind of thing might make you appreciate normal more."

"I was appreciating normal," I whined, not quite sure if this was true.

"I don't believe you," my brother ventured, and I realized, I didn't want or need to continue this conversation.

But it haunted me for hours.

My mind wheeled through the last year, the last two years, the pain of my divorce, the miracle of J~, of this sudden new home in the country, the struggles I've faced with step-parenting, with pregnancy.

And then it hit me: I didn't need to put a positive spin on what was happening in my life presently, or take on any obligation or determination to "appreciate" anything.

If there's anything I've learned in the last two years, it's this: There is no such thing as normal. If there is, then normal has to include this pregnancy roller coaster, watching impotently as your beloved suffers, and the sometimes painful uprooted feeling of my newly rooted life. More globally speaking, it has to include a state of war, of environmental crisis, of extreme financial disparity. It has to include everything, both beautiful and horrific, and every emotional response, including hanging up on someone who loves you and was only trying to help.

Ugh. Things get messy sometimes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Thick

J~'s surgery was successful. He is home, not feeling well at all, but between naps, he is out of bed and walking around, zombie-style. I can't tell you how relieved I am that he is still alive, not paralyzed, in one piece.

It was a rough evening in the hospital -- neck pain, difficulty swallowing, anesthesia wipe-out. He did not look good.

As for me, the long day of stress and waiting, with not enough food and then, finally, toxic hospital salad (with chicken basted in so much preservative it may well have been sitting around since 1972, with a dressing composed, undoubtedly, of high fructose corn syrup and not much else) culminated in a raging headache, sore throat, nausea, and weepy exhaustion. I finally got out of the hospital to head home for a few hours sleep, only to find my car wouldn't start. Thankfully, someone in the emergency room was able to give me a jump.

J~'s night was no better, what with the nurse's rounds every two hours, the literal pain in his neck, and an inability to empty his bladder, forcing a midnight catheter. The next morning, worried about a second painful syphon, he visited the bathroom repeatedly, each time managing to void a little bit more. After one last x-ray, he was released just before noon.

By the time we arrived home, he was feeling pretty rough, and so was I. After doing everything I could to make him comfortable, I wept and admitted I needed to lie down too.

It was a long, hard night. J~ slept in an upright position, snoring and gurgling and coughing so much I had to leave the room. When I awoke, in my stepson's bed (he was on an overnight with his camp) it was out of a dream that the miscarriage had begun, and into the worst cramps yet.

Two days after J~'s surgery, still trying to selflessly care for him in spite of nausea, headache, and cramps (but not yet bleeding), still weeping when I hit my strange new limit of extreme exhaustion, it finally occurred to me that, no matter the imminent demise, I am and continue to be pregnant. My body is simply not up for this.

B~'s grandmother had been a help, but not enough. Over J~'s objections, I called in reinforcements.

A good friend came by this afternoon, started my laundry, washed dishes, made lunch, and made me promise to keep asking for help.

Luckily, J~ is feeling better now, thanks, I think, to a switch from Tylenol to Motrin. And so am I, though no drugs were involved in my case.

My sister-in-law, who is normally tireless and an unswervingly devoted mother, said she also hit a mysterious rough patch in the weeks preceding her miscarriage, where she had to lie down and close her eyes and tell her kids to go watch television. She, too, thought maybe she was coming down with something. And then, hours later, just as mysteriously, the dark cloud passed.

Hearing this, I wondered: I know I was sleep-deprived and highly stressed, but perhaps it got so bad because of pregnancy transitioning into not-pregnancy? Perhaps it takes our bodies some great effort to derail that train?

Anybody else ever feel this?

Monday, July 23, 2007


I thought I would have so much to say about this in-between place, about the slowly fading nausea, the slowly increasing crampiness. But the truth is, I've sat down more than once to attempt this post, and found myself, again and again, without words.

It's a similar experience every time I've picked up the phone in order to schedule one last ultrasound before J~ goes into surgery tomorrow morning. I have not been able to bring myself to dial the number.

At first I was hard on myself because I felt like such a wimp, shying away from the facts: Either it's dead already, I told myself, or it's not quite dead yet. Wouldn't it be good to know?

In the end, I decided to let it go. There are enough bitter pills in front of me. Why rush to swallow this one? Besides, judging by the level of cramps I feel right now, it won't be long before I'm bleeding again, before it's all over. I'm not there yet, and I'm hoping I don't get there before J~'s surgery, or before he is home on Wednesday. Ideally, not until Friday, when B~ goes to his mother's and his grandmother -- here to help out for the next few days -- goes on to visit her sister.

One brighter note: I feel incredibly blessed by all the support I am receiving, in comments on this blog, from my women friends in the area and from afar, from my co-counseling community (people with whom I take turns receiving and giving peer-counseling care and attention), and from family.

This is definitely a hard time, but I have been through far worse.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

When it Rains...

Warning: this post contains gory details.

It rained all day yesteday.

K~, my sister-in-law, woke up at four yesterday morning, feeling the first wave of cramps that would lead her, finally, to the miscarriage she's been awaiting for weeks. She, like me, preferred to let it happen naturally, rather than intercede with drugs or a surgical procedure, a D&C.

Since my brother, her husband, is away on a business trip, I and her mother arrived mid-morning to offer our support. While her mother took K~'s two kids out for errands and adventures, I spent the bulk of the day reheating hot water bottles and adjusting foot rests and making food and, most of all, sitting with K~ and telling her, yes, this is normal, this is the way it was for me, too.

By four o'clock, K~'s discomfort was at its worst. Finally, as the cramps began to subside, she passed what she thought looked like a miniature placenta, a dark red blob almost small enough to fit atop a business card. K~ wondered if the marble-sized whitish area embedded within it was a partially reabsorbed embryo. I told her I didn't know. My first miscarriage looked completely different - almost all white-gray tissue, smooth and tubular, not unlike a tampon in its size and shape. The second I don't remember as well. It happened so much faster. I was able to collect less of the tissue, but it may have been more like hers.

The third? The third seems more and more likely. Though I still have some nausea in the mornings, it subsides, and I have mild cramping all day. No bleeding at the moment, but occasionally, sporadically, some brown (old) blood. If nothing happens by Monday, the day before J~'s surgery, we will likely go for another ultrasound. I don't look forward to the dead baby ultrasound, but I would prefer to receive that verdict while J~ is available to hold my hand. And I'd rather have the information before wringing my hands in the hospital waiting room worrying about J~.

At this point, I am afraid of two things:

Miscarrying while he is in surgery (or recovery).

Having the pregnancy continue indefinitely, unhealthy.

Actually, make that three things:

What if something goes wrong in J~'s surgery?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not Good News

I thought I'd be titling my next post, "Nausea" because that's what I've been feeling, and fighting, for the last few days, oppressive waves of it. Even toast and fruit were no match for it this morning. I thought I would be writing to solicit remedies. But I went to the bathroom after breakfast and found a silver-dollar-sized circle of blood in my underpants, plus more, a couple tablespoons worth, as soon as I sat down.

Adrenaline, it turns out, is the ultimate nausea cure.

I called J~, who'd finished his fifty-minute commute and was just settling into his work day. Ten minutes later, he was on his way home.

I called Dr. A~, who scheduled me for an ultrasound early this afternoon.

J~ drove, held my hand in the waiting room. I felt nauseous again, thanks to a lovely cocktail of nerves, hormones, and carsickness.

There was a heartbeat - erratic, slower (about a hundred beats per minute, as opposed to last week's healthy 150). A bad sign. The gestational sac was flattened, not as round as it had been, which is also a bad sign.

"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do," Dr. A~ told us. It's a wait-and-see situation.

"Is there any chance..." J~ asked.

"Anything can happen," Dr. A~ replied. But he was not optimistic. He expects I'll miscarry in the next few days.

There's no getting around it. It looks like our baby is dying.

J~ cried in the parking lot. Cried again while he drove. (I had him pull over.)

I've cried my share as well. We've cried together. There will be more tears. Like I said at the top, this is not good news.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Powdered Ham

When I worked at the abortion clinic, people asked me if I ever felt angry or jealous, seeing all those fertile women giving up their pregnancies. I didn't. After all, if you're pregnant and you don't want to be, it sucks.

Before I'd call a client in for counseling, I reviewed her file, always glancing at the glossy little black and white ultrasound print-outs. Every now and then, I would see the ragged image of a miscarriage in the works. Once, the static starry-sky pattern of a molar pregnancy. In these cases, I'd read the nurse's notes and prepare to discuss them with the client. But usually, I found myself looking at the white shrimp-like blob of a growing fetus inside the dark abyss of an amniotic sac -- A healthy pregnancy. And that's when I'd feel it: a dull pang of longing.

I never got around to ultrasound with my second miscarriage, but I had two with the first. All you could see in the first was the little black hole, the sac in which a pregnancy would, presumably, grow. But it never happened. Several weeks later, the second confirmed what, by that time, I suspected, dreaded, knew: miscarriage was imminent.

Yesterday afternoon, I met J~ at the obstetrician's office. We sat holding hands in the waiting room, taking deep breaths, thumbing through a cooking magazine together. One of the recipes called for, of all things, "powdered ham." I wanted to throw up. Nerves? Pregnancy? I didn't know.

A nurse led us to the couch in the doctor's office. Assuming we wanted to check them out, she offered to tell us about the practice. "Actually," I told her, "the main reason we're here is to get the results from hCG tests." Surprised, she admitted the reports were not in my file. She left to call the lab about a fax. More deep breaths for J~ and I. She returned, reporting results were on the way. In the meantime, she launched into an introduction to the practice. beginning by listing numbers of doctors, midwives--

"I'm sorry," I interrupted, "I'm not able to concentrate on what you're saying." I briefly explained my history, my fears, my desire to hear the lab results first.

Finally, Dr. A~ appeared, and introduced himself. He sat, opened my file, clicked his pen to the ready position. "Let's see," he drawled, flipping pages, "I've got just a few questions for you."

"Can't you tell us the numbers first?" Meekly, I said this. Shaking.

"Well, okay," he shrugged, surprised, but, thankfully, understanding. He shuffled his papers, and then, before telling us, held up a warning hand and said, "I don't know."

Monday: 22153
Wednesday: 29156

My heart sank. I wasn't shaking anymore. I was numb. I looked at J~ and shook my head. Not good. Everything I'd read indicated that hCG levels should be doubling at least every three days. But at this rate, mine would take five.

The doctor was quick to say this doesn't mean much. Doubling rates slow, eventually. An ultrasound would give far more accurate information. "Your numbers are high enough that we should see a heartbeat."

"Can we do one today?" I was literally at the edge of my seat.

"Yes," Dr. A~ smiled. I sighed, relieved. He laughed. "Now can I ask you some questions?"

He clicked his pen again, collected some medical history, and then he, the nurse, J~, and I, trundled off down the hall.

There was a monitor mounted to the ceiling. In the dimly lit room, our eyes were glued to it well before the ultrasound wand was near my vagina. After some initial fumbling something came into view (Dr. A~ was like a nervous teenager with that thing, poking further and further from the mark -- I finally offered to put it in myself). Finally we saw it: the white shrimp-like blob of a fetus inside the dark abyss of an amniotic sac. A rapid flicker. "See that?" the doctor exclaimed. "Can't ask for better than that!" The nurse gasped (she later told us she'd had goosebumps, a chill up her spine). J~ drew in his breath, squeezed my hand. I corralled my tears, holding out for measurements. "How far along are you," Dr. A~ asked, clicking his mouse over the image, "six weeks, four days?"

I nodded.

"It measures exactly six weeks, four days."

Hello, waterworks.

I am sitting at the computer this morning in my bathrobe, with my Chinese herb tea and toasted rice bread, prepared by J~, and my very own collection of glossy black and white ultrasound print-outs, all contained in a cheesy little folder labeled, Baby's First Pictures.


J~ and I went out to dinner to celebrate, couldn't stop smiling, laughing, shaking our heads, incredulous.


I didn't sleep well last night, worrying over the hCG readings. But I found an article by Dr. Robert Warnock this morning that put me at ease, suggesting that once levels get beyond 6,000, it can take more than four days for them to double. "Once fetal activity has been detected by ultrasound," Warnock goes on to say, "the chance of miscarriage is usually less than 10%."

Holy powdered ham, people, I may be having a baby after all!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Blessing or Curse?

I've been nauseous today. It started with this morning's ritual cup of Chinese herbal tea, prescribed by my acupuncturist, prepared for me by J~. Usually I can drink this on an empty stomach with no problem at all. (Two weeks ago, when I still felt consistently pregnant, this was not always the case).

This morning, I felt queasy. I ignored it. Then I felt nauseous. I ignored that too. And then I felt sweaty and nauseous. Like maybe I was five minutes from on my knees over the toilet. I ate something and lay on the couch. And gradually, I felt better. And then, of course, I started to wonder.

I've had some queasiness all morning, but then also some crampiness, (though milder) and more brown-stained cervical mucus (though no darker, or more frequent than before).

Just when I thought I was resigned to it, finished (temporarily anyway) crying over another pregnancy loss, the tension is on again.

This afternoon's blood draw is done. Results tomorrow.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Friday: very light cramps, yellow-stained cervical mucus.
Saturday: more cramps, light-brown-stained cervical mucus.
Today: cramps are steady and undeniable. Still no real bleeding, however. But this is how it went with my last miscarriage, too: cramps and intermittent staining for quite some time. The day I finally saw red blood, it was all over.

Also on Friday: J~'s second opinion from neurosurgeon number two: There is irreparable damage to the spinal cord. Without surgery, the next stage will be losing control of his limbs, and then paralysis. By Friday evening, J~ was experiencing tingling down his right arm, in his chin and the right side of his face.
Saturday: Though symptoms improved with a night's sleep, over the course of the day, the tingling returned. He tried calling the doc but the answering service will not put calls through unless they are from post-operative patients.
Today: Same thing.

These next two weeks, waiting for surgery and hoping nothing bad happens in the meantime, are going to be rough.

Monday (tomorrow): J~ will, hopefully, talk to the doctor about moving his surgery sooner. Meanwhile, I will have blood drawn to test my levels of HCG. At this stage in a pregnancy, HCG levels should be doubling every forty-eight hours. If they are not, miscarriage is imminent and unavoidable.
Wednesday: second blood draw.
Thursday afternoon: J~ and I meet at the OB's office, to hear the results.

I am not optimistic.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Matter of Time

I give up. I can't sleep. It's 3:45 Wednesday morning and I am afraid it's all over. A week ago, I was queasy. Not consistently, but often. Every now and again, there would be a wave of true nausea. My breasts felt like they were going to pop. They're still sensitive, but it's not the same. And nausea? Even queasiness? Haven't felt it for days.

At twenty-five days past ovulation, it's way too soon for these symptoms to be fading. I hate to read into this in any way. But how can I not? I've been down this road before.

And that's not all.

For the past few weeks, J~ has had a strange weakness in his right arm. A trip to a chiropractor led to Xrays, an MRI, referral to a neurosurgeon.

The appointment was yesterday and it was not good. Even I, having never seen an MRI before in my life, knew this immediately when the black and white image of J~'s neck came up on Dr. S~'s computer screen.

The doctor pointed to the line between the vertebral bones. "This dark area is your spinal cord," he said, "and this white," he said, running his finger alongside the cord, "is your friend. It's the spinal fluid." The fluid cushions the cord inside the spinal column, inside the disks of bone. Here's the alarming part: the white area, halfway down J~'s neck, thins to nothing, then thickens again. The spinal cord itself is narrowed, pinched by ruptured vertebral disks. Dr. S~ pointed to the cord where the pinch was most severe. "See this white spot?" he said, "When we see this, if that was in your brain, we call it a stroke. It means there is already damage." Though recovery of the strength and mobility J~ had just three weeks ago is not guaranteed, Dr. S~ was adamant. "We need to fix this."

"Fix this" means surgery. It means shaving off the blown-out bone and adding artificial material, fusing three of J~'s vertebral disks with a metal plate. The spinal cord will be exposed, Dr. S~ told us, his face grave. "I'll be looking right at it. Everything that you imagine going wrong in this kind of situation, could go wrong. You could die. You could be paralyzed." Without the surgery, he went on to explain, J~ is at risk. Just one fall at home, just one rear-ending on the highway, and J~ could be paralyzed. "I've seen it happen."

On the wall of his office, there is a framed Connecticut Magazine. The cover story is something along the lines of, "Best Doctors in the state, as ranked by Doctors." Dr. S~ is listed, and this is reassuring, but not entirely. Similarly, it is reassuring, but not entirely, that he has done this procedure close to a thousand times without killing or paralyzing a one. "But it does happen," he made sure we understood. "In my case, maybe less than one in a thousand."

The surgery is scheduled for the soonest possible date: Friday, July 20th. If all goes well, J~ will miss work for about a month. In the meantime, he has appointments lined up: a second opinion, a third. A follow-up with the chiropractor, a meeting with the doc who will serve as his primary care provider while in the hospital. There is more, but we were reeling and I can't remember all of it. "Wear your seat belt," Dr. S~ admonished as we got up to leave. "Be careful."

Right now: J~ is sleeping in our bed. I can hear his breathing through the closed door of my office. Our neighbor's rooster is crowing, has been crowing for what seems an hour. Time is moving slowly. Outside my window, it is still dark. The rooster is impatient for morning, the Fourth of July, a holiday oasis in the midst of a very difficult week. Soon, the passage of time will again be brisk and leading unequivocally and without apology toward all things great and small. Although I am not sleeping, will likely not sleep again any time soon, at this moment, the night is a comfort.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


My sister-in-law, K~, called me in tears on Thursday. “I have some bad news,” she said. “I just had the second ultrasound…” The first ultrasound, performed at her request after several days of spotting, seemed promising. But a week later, “…It’s not growing.” Miscarriage is imminent.

We’ve been on the phone several times since, she and I, my brother and I, each of us crying in turn. It is a tough loss. It is always such a tough loss. But they are handling it well, and graciously transfer all their hope and good wishes to me.

How do I feel? The immediate sense, underneath my condolences and sadness for their loss, was exhilaration. I know this is twisted, but on some underground level, I felt that I had dodged a bullet. As if the fact that the ultimate four-star dedicated mother could go through this proved that my miscarriages don’t indicate maternal failing. As if because my sister-in-law is destined to miscarry, I am not. I know this is ludicrous. But pregnancy after loss feels something like a battle, and the battlefield brings up all kinds of twisted emotions. And like any battlefield adrenaline rush, it passed quickly, leaving fear and guilt and sadness in its wake.

I was going to tell you in this entry about the glorious triumph of the positive pregnancy test…

(J~ and I, squeezed together in the tiny downstairs bathroom, saying, “Is that a line? It looks like a line. I think that’s a line!” and falling into each other’s arms, laughing. B~ the next morning, in the larger, upstairs bathroom, where we intercepted him to tell him the news. “Cool,” he said, turning to the mirror. “Wow, my hair is really getting long.” He’s underwhelmed, I muttered to J~, and B~ said, “It’s not that. I just expected this at some point.” I reminded him of my history, not to get his hopes up. And then he came to kiss me, three times on alternating cheeks.)

…All of this feels like ancient history now.

There have been moments when I’ve felt surges of confidence, allowed myself to embrace them, to tell myself, This is going to work out. There will be a baby this time. But I’ve noticed that the counter-force always appears, the equally powerful wave of doubt and dread. It seems this opposite certainty always comes along to provide balance, to remind me that actually, I don’t know. I won’t know. And even if I do make it through the first trimester, still something could go wrong. And even if I have a healthy birth, there will be new challenges to face, not the least of which might be keeping the child alive. The upshot is this: I am pregnant right now. That is amazing. That is all I know.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I am at a loss for words. I haven't written because I am speechless. But I can't leave you hanging, my dears, so I will attempt to bring forth the verbiage.

I'm really and truly pregnant. Yes, I'm happy about it. I'm also nervous -- nervous that it won't last. And nervous that it will.

I refer to the future with caveats: "If this pregnancy continues..." "If there is a baby..." carefully keeping my optimism on a leash. The rest of my sentences are often equally uneasy, "...we're going to have to bring in some more money somehow", "...we're going to need to do something about that rickety bookshelf", and "...B~ can't drop his backpack/shoes/clothes/books/games all over the place when he gets home from school anymore. He's going to have to learn to be helpful. He's going to have to hold the baby for an hour while I go for a run and take a shower."

When people tell me they believe it will work for me this time, they just know it, I say to myself, I've heard that one before. I appreciate the good wishes, the hopefulness, but I don't pretend to believe anyone has any true vision into the future.

On the other hand, I don't want to function in this land of ifs and maybes. I want to trust it. I want to admit to myself that this time, unlike last time and the time before that, I actually believe it myself that everything is going to be fine. Yes, I do believe there is a baby on the way.

I haven't done a thing about medical care, except call my naturopath, and hesitate to cancel an appointment with a Reproductive Health clinic, an appointment intended to assess my health and J~'s health, and our options for increasing chances of conception. My naturopath says that if I do have one of the autoimmune diseases the evil gastroenterologist mentioned, it might go into remission, since pregnancy supresses the immune system. "It might never come back," he said. "I've seen it happen." Indeed, my symptoms have improved, but they aren't gone yet. I have a number for another, hopefully less evil gastroenterologist. I intend to call today. A friend gave me the business card of a midwife. I will likely call her today as well.

I owe you the details of the first pregnancy test, our reactions, etc. but I'm out of time. Next post. I promise.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


The test I did last night was faint, but that second line was definitely there, and definitely pink. If there was any question then, there isn't anymore. This morning's test:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I've been reorganizing and redecorating. Check it out: New and updated links! Book recommendations! New three-column format! I hope you like. And a bonus: If you count this one, there are three posts for today. The topmost (Doctorpalooza, Ambivapalooza) is the most recent news. Yet Again deals with slightly earlier happenings. Enjoy~

Doctorpalooza, Ambivapalooza

I saw a gastroenterologist. I didn't like her, I'll have to find someone else. There is no way I'm letting that woman stick anything up my butt.

, she did put my mind at ease: my symptoms don't raise red flags about cancer. Then again, she put my mind back on edge because apparently, they do indicate Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis, "or one of the other colitises." What are the other colitises?I asked. She chuckled. "There are so many," she said, "I don't have time to give a seminar." The bottom line (this subject is a minefield for unintentional puns, forgive me) is that she doesn't want to speculate. She wants to look. When I asked about how my chronically low iron might relate, she just about lost her patience, thinking it tangential, something I should talk to my gynecologist about. Or a hematologist. "Why are you here?" she challenged, exasperated. "For. My. Health." I said, and just about walked out of the office.

Yesterday J~ and I went to a follow-up appointment with the urologist, and got this news: a repeat semen analysis puts all of his scores within good-enough range, very similarly to the last time he tested. All, that is, except morphology (the shape of the sperm), which was only 5% normal (last time it was 7%). This is borderline not good enough. There is a surgery he could do that improves morphology in 70% of these cases. But the improvement usually doesn’t show up for six to twelve months.

I know we're talking about an outpatient procedure, but still, it's surgery, and as you may gather, I don't enter into that lightly. Maybe I'm the uberwimp, but I believe in never gambling anything you are unwilling to lose. And I want my husband healthy and intact much much more than I want a baby.

J~, by the way, is willing to do it, though he wants to be sure I'm not about to say: On second thought, I don't want a baby after all. I do entertain such thoughts, he knows this. "But," I told him, "I'm not at that point."

"But," I also told him, "I can't promise that, at any point down the line, I won't change my mind."

Which brings me back to where I left off last week, two posts back: exhausted by all the experts, all the rituals and routines of trying to conceive (except for the sex, thankfully, that is still great fun. More than fun.)

It has become clear to me that the most important issue to address is this: how much do we want this? This much, I know: It makes me sad that it hasn't happened. I would be thrilled to discover that I am pregnant. And, uberwimpiness not withstanding, I'm not particularly concerned about my other health issue. Unless death were imminent, which I doubt, I would not let it prevent me from having a child. That is, unless it is already playing a part in preventing me from having a child...

On the other hand, I still dread the financial and energetic strain, the loss of freedom a child brings. All of these are very real concerns. We aren't independently wealthy. And J~ works long, stressful hours. Plus, he is ten years my senior. By the time B~ goes to college, he'll be 52. Even if I'm pregnant right now, this second child will still be a year or two from beginning first grade. Do I dare do the math? How old will J~ be when that child goes to college? Oh lordy.

In the wise words of David Allen: "Whatever has your attention needs your intention engaged." So far, it seems to me, my intention has been to arrive at menopause without regret, knowing that I did my best, that I tried. And who knows, maybe I'll get pregnant in the meantime. At times I'm more resigned, at times more determined, but deep down, I haven't truly embraced the intention of having a baby, and creating a life and lifestyle that best supports that. This intentionless intention needs to change. When the universe deals the surgery card, limbo is no longer an option. If we truly want to have a child, then we have to do everything that we can -- within certain rational limitations, some of which are yet to be determined (see my gambling motto, above) -- to make it happen.

I have to decide: Given the very real limitations of our lives: energy, age, and financial resources, Do I want to have a baby or not?

Yet Again

My sister-in-law, K~, is pregnant with her third child. She tried so hard and so long for the second child, I didn't think there would be a third. This news came on the heels of my friend L~'s pregnancy announcement (see Where to Begin?) three entries back. L~, as I've told you, is forty-one. It's her first pregnancy, conceived on her first try.

This is how I found out about K~: I was standing in the parking lot of the food co-op. J~ went inside to begin our shopping, while I finished up a phone call with my brother. When he dropped the news, I had a half-eaten kiwi in one hand, my cell in the other, and I literally could not respond because, suddenly, I was choking on a scrap of kiwi skin. There was a long, awkward (dangerous - maybe I was about to die) silence which I finally broke with coughing, and then a wheezy congratulations, then more coughing, during which I pulled a muscle in my back.

Inside the store, I told J~ the news. "Wow," he said, and hugged me. My eyes were already watery from my near-death experience, but apparently not enough: I burst into tears. Right there between the dairy case and the juices. We were blocking the aisle.

This is self-indulgent, but here it is, here's what I'm thinking: What is wrong with me? Why isn't this happening for us? What the hell! J~ had similar sentiments, though he put it this way: What's wrong with us? Aren't we good people? It's our turn! This, followed by looking ahead into a near future of watching K~, who lives nearby, get more and more pregnant. Baby showers. A birth. Family coming around to see the exciting new life. And us on the sidelines, smiling, keeping our sadness out of the picture, still wishing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pin Cushion

This week fell apart first thing Monday morning.

One of the two naturopathic doctors I've been seeing had ordered a bunch of tests, some of which required fasting. I had to skip breakfast and go to the lab to have blood drawn. But with clients to attend to, I didn't get out of the house until close to ten. My stomach churned, partly due to hunger, partly dread. It's not the blood I mind, or the needle itself. It's the pain. I'm a wimp about the pain.

At the lab, there is a sign: "Take a number and find a seat. Wait until your number is called." I waited until everyone else waiting had gone, and then waited some more in the empty, aptly named, waiting room. I overheard the woman at the desk asked the other tech, "There's no one out there, right?"

Then came the second leg in my waiting marathon, and more eavesdropping: while the lab tried to decipher my doctor's orders. She called headquarters, held the line for customer service, held again, and gave up. She called my doctor. As it turned out, the test in question was one my doc had already given me. She nixed it, then added two others to the already long list, for good measure. I was beginning to feel like the guinea pig of an absent-minded professor. My doctor had talked up this test with great confidence, implying it could potentially reveal the secret to my infertility. She had my hopes up about it, but in the back of my mind, I wondered, Didn't we already do this one? Um, yes.

By the time I got into the little white room with the tech and her stickers and glass vials, my stomach was churning again. Two men arrived to do some construction thing, and they kept peeking in at me where I sat with my sleeve rolled up. I told the tech that I just couldn't take it if she had to dig around in my arm. "Please use your smallest needle," I begged, "and if you miss the vein... just -- just don't miss the vein."

She was very sweet and understanding. But she missed the vein. She dug around. She missed again. She dug around a third time. She missed. Again.

"That's it," I told her. "Stop."

"Maybe you're dehydrated," she ventured, "Have you been fasting? You can drink water, you know." It was eleven-thirty at this point. I didn't mention this, or the fact that I sat in the waiting room for an hour. And yes, come to think of it, I was thirsty the whole time. "Maybe you should come back another day," she said, on her way out to get the other, more experienced technician. But the other tech was busy with another long line of intake, and I was done.

I sat in the car, fuming, then crying, then thinking.

I don't know what's wrong with my digestion, or why I am not getting pregnant. Naturopath number one ordered blood tests and dietary restrictions and perscribed vitamins and herbs and tinctures. Naturopath number two added more supplements and powders and a suppository, and insisted that, as far as my digestive system was concerned, I would be fine. As for pregnancy, there's this guy who collects amazonian cures and swears he has something among all his jarred snakes and potions that never fails to get a person pregnant. I might want to check it out, he says, shrugging.

I also go to the acupuncturist, who sticks needles in me once a week, and hands me baggies of Chinese herb powders, labeled pre-O, ovulation, post-O, and period, which I'm supposed to take on an empty stomach morning and night.

I keep doing everything the so-called experts tell me to do, glossing over my continued ambivalence about getting pregnant in the first place, and my growing conviction that this problem with my digestion is getting worse and I very much want to know what the heck is going on in there.

So I made a decision: I will go back to the lab, I will do these tests. I'll hear what absent-minded doctor number one has to say about the results, but after that, I'm done with her. I will continue with the protocol doctor two has prescribed - after all, my symptoms did clear completely, if only for the few weeks before my honeymoon and the infamous traveler's diarrhea I picked up in Costa Rica. But in the meantime, I've made an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

On Tuesday morning I did not return to the lab because I went to my acupuncturist, and told her I didn't want to do acupuncture anymore. In the end, I compromised: she'll stop putting needles in my wrists (those are the only ones that really hurt), and I will only come to her once a cycle, around ovulation.

As for ambivalence about pregnancy, I've made a decision about that, as well, though it took a little longer to come to this one. And it will take a little longer to explain. Next entry, and soon. I promise.

By the way, thanks to everyone who commented and emailed (and called) about the digestion stuff. It means a lot to me to have your support. And for those of you suffering likewise (I'm surprised at how many of us there are!), if you want to share the gory details, I welcome it. Post comments, send emails. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.