Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Strawberry Bed in the Works

I used to feel like I knew where my life was headed, or at least I was comfortable and familiar enough with the territory. There was a certain limited range of possibilities, a predictable, though depressing, slow, plodding pace, and a sense that I couldn't get lost.

Not anymore!

Though my dreams and visions remain the same, and progress feels, if anything, faster, I'm off the map entirely now. It's scarier.

But it's also quite a bit more exciting.

The person I used to turn to as partner has completely vanished from my life. The place I used to call home I now view nostalgically as I gradually uproot. The scenery has completely changed and my head is spinning.

My father once said that this blog will be boring if all I ever write about is my mushy smushy feelings for J~ and what a great time we're having. At the risk of alienating all of you forever: Dammit, I love that man, and wow are we having a great time!

Next week I fly to L.A. to help celebrate my brother D~'s graduation from grad school. It'll be the first time I've seen him or my brother J~ since A~ left me.

A week after I return, I submit to dental surgery. A week after that, I start teaching my summer course(s). Somewhere in there I'll find out if it'll be one class or two. I'm really hoping for just one. Life is busy enough.

In the meantime: there are bills to pay, lessons to plan, essays to write, a garden to maintain (I've got everything planted and growing at J~'s now: broccoli raab, spinach, arugula, squash, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, string beans, basil, rosemary, tarragon, cilantro, oregano, zucchini, pattypan squash, spaghetti squash, and several flower varieties, plus a strawberry bed in the works).

Not to mention, there are tampons to change, condoms to buy, and many days to mark off the calendar before and between the big headlining dates: July 19th, divorce court; June 16th and August I-don't-know-yet, dental surgery (after which, no more condoms); August I-don't-remember, J~'s day in divorce court; and then September 1st, our first official living-together day.

Speaking of which, in discussing preparations for my move, improvements we'd like to make in and around the house, we keep finding ourselves saying, "if only we had a truck..." This weekend we decided to take the plunge. So add truck shopping to the list. We want a 1998 Ford Ranger, with less than a 100,000 miles on it.

I may be off the map, but at least I have directions.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Testing, 1..2..

If I ovulated on the tenth day of this cycle, as my chart at FertilityFriend.com originally indicated, today would be the twelfth day post-O. Unless I'm pregnant, by the twelfth day my first-morning temperature should be down around 97.5, menstruation en route. But this morning I didn't feel that tell-tale heaviness in my abdomen, and my temperature was a perky 98.2.

Several days ago, when the FertilityFriend software reinterpreted my data, pinning ovulation five days later, I felt my heart sink. I'd much rather imagine my reproductive system with a conspiratorial mind of its own, all sly and wily, outwitting my tried and true rhythm method of birth control. I even manipulated the data ever so subtly in order to preserve the original reading, to keep that hope alive. Even this morning, I didn't want to rethink the chart. My first excited thought was that I might actually be pregnant after all.

If not, if ovulation actually took place on the fifteenth day, my temperature might continue to climb, just like it would if I were pregnant, and I'd be in for a very long and tense five days of waiting, hopes spiraling up alongside fears, an all-consuming rollercoaster ride followed by a quick and bloody dash into the gutter of disappointment. Not my idea of fun.

So I did it. I POAS (peed on a stick), the second of my precious stash of three home pregnancy tests, the sensitive kind. If I were actually pregnant, it would show up by now. I braced myself for good news I'd need to keep to myself for a day or two, until my car is out of the shop and I can see J~ in person again. I am determined not to tell him I'm pregnant over the phone.

As it turns out, no determination will be necessary.

Gazing at a single rather than double pink line, reality crashed back into view: I'm not pregnant.

Now that I've come down out of fantasy land, I see I ovulated on the fifteenth day last month. It makes sense that I ovulated on the fifteenth day this month, too.

My period should arrive this weekend. There will be no exciting new life to wrap my attention around, to keep my focus off of the still painful fact that my husband abruptly left, that almost everything I lay my eyes on in my apartment, every piece of furniture, every photo album, every plant and CD and book on the shelf, every memory from the last twelve years, tells a story of him and I. It's like he's dead, yet he's not.

J~ and I are still such a tender new love, complete with all the unavoidable highs and lows and vulnerabilities and insecurities that come along with that. It is clear that we need the time. But it hurts like hell that we do. Next month, and the next month, and the next month after that, we will be strict with birth control. I'll teach art. I'll go to the beach. I'll have dental surgery in June and again in August. I'll spend time alone and with friends. And I'll officially move into his place September first.

And then what?

And then, game on.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Playing House

Though J~'s small house is nicely apportioned, it's as if he and his ex were just camping out in it. There's clutter everywhere, and only a touch of method to the madness. "We were going for a theme of controlled chaos" J~ says.

Not anymore, you're not.

I'm not complaining. I'd so much rather this than moving into a place that feels complete without me. And J~ is thrilled to embrace the changes I suggest. In fact, just last week I did some shuffling of furniture while he was at work. It felt just like one of those sneak-attack home improvement shows where the lucky victim arrives unsuspecting and then walks around with their mouth in a big O, gasping and jumping up and down and crying and knocking the microphone away to hug the winsome hostess. Well, a little bit like that. There was the delighted O-mouth, and there was hugging, and there were tears. There may have been a little kicking up of heel, but I can't swear on it.

B~ loves it too, since part of the deal is that his room is included in the improvements, which means new paint and a new bookshelf and an allotment of space for his personal gaming system. We're talking twelve year old boy heaven with this last item.

Over the weekend the nesting spirit started to really kick into gear. On Saturday we went to the flooring store to look into replacing the well-worn kitchen linoleum. On Sunday, after rain curtailed our plans for hiking, we went to a furniture store, where we found ourselves purchasing a bargain basement but not unattractive and very comfortable couch and matching love seat, to be delivered next Wednesday. And then we wrote a list of all the other bits and pieces the house needs: rugs, paint (we've got paint chips laid out all over), a few kitchen gadgets, and furniture galore.

Babies or not, eight or eighteen or forty months from now, or never, it's going to be good.

Friday, May 19, 2006

1W into the 2WW

I had a dream last night that I ate raw chicken by mistake. I was hosting a party, hurrying to putting out food. Raw meat had inadvertently been mixed in with the cooked. I didn't notice. But I did notice that some of it was too chewy. When my stomach started to turn, I put the pieces together. "People are going to get sick," I whispered to my brothers and co-hosts, But it was too late, the food had been eaten.

I woke up feeling queasy.

And took my temperature, as I do each morning in an attempt to track my menstrual cycle. This point in the cycle, the stretch between ovulation and menstruation, is known in TTC (trying to conceive) circles as the 2WW (two week wait). Fertility forums all over the web are full of women moaning and commiserating there way through this time. It can be very tempting to read into temperatures, to ascribe meaning to a low number (implantation dip?) or a higher than normal reading (pregnant for sure!) but I've learned over the years that this is sheer self-torture. Better to wait it out, better to stay away from the magnetic urge to POAS (pee on a stick) until menstruation is truly and officially late. But still, I eagerly update my chart each morning, analyzing the stats like an avid sports fan or gambler at the race track, comparing this month's numbers with previous months, trying to divine a hidden meaning. And of course, I have a stash of HPTs (home pregnancy tests) at the ready.

J~ is getting into it too. His first words to me in the morning sometimes come after hearing my digital thermometer beep in the dark. "What's your temp?" he said today. "I don't know," I replied, "it's dark in here."

This morning I told him about my dream, and my queasiness. It's way too soon to get excited. It can't be morning sickness just seven days after ovulation. (Can it?) But not too soon to interpret the dream, Chicken=fear. Raw=not ready. Serving it to others? Not a good idea.

Yes, I'll admit it, The more I think about it, the clearer I am that I'd prefer to wait just a little longer. Not because I want to hold out for the possibility of changing my mind, or to become more sure. I'm quite sure as it is. It's because of my teeth and all the other reasons I listed two entries ago (in Babies or Teeth), a list that should have included B~, J~'s son, who is experiencing enough drastic change lately as it is. We'll be stricter with the condoms next month, for the next several months.

Still, if a baby comes now, it would be incredible, a miracle and a blessing welcomed with open arms. I'll just have to work diligently and conscientiously to make sure all the chickens (fears) are cooked (addressed) in time. Luckily, we'll have nine months, well, eight months, in which to do so. I've never undertaken a bigger project, but I've certainly worked with tighter deadlines than that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Slippery Slopes

After my second miscarriage, I spoke to a fertility specialist about what might be happening with my body. He listed things that might be wrong with me and/or with my partner, testing we (mostly I) could undergo, and what could be done if any of those tests revealed issues. "There is only a fifty percent chance of uncovering the problem anyway," he told me, and about the same chance that another pregnancy would succeed without intervention.

I went home to think about it.

I knew already that I would not undergo testing for the sake of reassurance, since nothing short of a healthy baby would convince me that I could make a healthy baby. I knew I wouldn't take "it's impossible" for an answer either. Haven't we all heard stories of miracle pregnancies on the heels of such dark diagnoses?

But what if they found something wrong and had treatment options at the ready? Where would I draw the line? There will be no injected hormones, no egg retrievals or donor eggs, no invitro procedures for me. I won't even use progesterone creams. Not that there's anything wrong with any of that. I congratulate everyone who's found success with these things. But it's not for me. If my body isn't prepared to make a baby, I don't plan to force it. Perhaps I'm too passive or too fatalistic, or too paranoid about western medicine, or perhaps I just don't want a baby badly enough, but this just seems like a slippery slope of financial and emotional drain.

There will be no first child in my forties either; I feel my age, my energy waning. I don't want to wait any longer. I want a child, but if it doesn't happen, I can move through the sadness and let it go. I'll find another outlet for my creative energy.

Less than two weeks after this became clear to me, in the midst of another baby-making attempt, my husband abandoned our marriage. It was painful, of course, but before long I was breathing a sigh of thankful relief for the miscarriages, for the fact that I wasn't pregnant again yet, and for the understanding that I would be okay child-free. It is strange how life can twist what looks like bad luck into good.

Of course, I know that the opposite is also true: what seems like good luck can also go sour. My "wonderful Mr. New Wonderful," as one of my dear readers describes J~, could lose his charm in a few months time. We could have a falling out. I could be pregnant and consumed by fear and regret. The practical thing would be to wait, to test our relationship further, to be less impulsive about it all. But I care very little for practicality at this point. My entire approach to my last relationship was practical. I played it safe for twelve years, struggling to elicit the kind of love and straightforward communication I receive easily now from J~. I was appreciative anyway, accepting of the flaws, and still, it blew up in my face.

I have no illusions that this new fantasy fabulousness will not change. Issues will churn up to the surface. We'll deal with them in our sincere and imperfect way. There will be added richness, no doubt. There might be unexpected tragedy, who knows. But it all comes down to this: I'm ready. We're ready. We're getting our house in order, literally and figuratively, and we're not afraid.

Speaking of being unafraid, I ovulated earlier than usual this month. This kind of unpredictable biological syncopation is exactly why they say the rhythm method doesn't work. We knew it, we risked it, and I have no shame about it. Yes, it would've been more practical to wait. But a week from now, if I discover that I'm pregnant, I won't be complaining. There will be hella logistical details to wrangle into place, to be certain. There will also be a great deal of celebrating to do.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Babies or Teeth

Here is a list of why it would be nicer to not be pregnant until the end of summer.

• In spite of our extensive commuting back and forth, J~ and I still live almost an hour's drive apart and will remain this way until the end of August. This gives us time to prepare his house, his son, and ourselves, for my full-time presence, and spares me a ridiculous commute to work.

• Speaking of work, I'll be teaching two full-day courses this summer, in a hot and stuffy crowded environment, and don't want to do so while contending with early pregnancy nausea and sleepiness.

• I'll have to switch health insurance companies when I move, probably easier done while not pregnant.

• J~ and I haven't even been together four months yet.

• We're still married to other people.

But none of these qualify as reasons why we are using condoms again this month. We're using condoms, simply, because I don't want to lose my teeth.

I have a healthy mouth, never a cavity in my life, and strong gums, though with enough recession on the "lower anteriors" that, I've recently been told, reinforcement is in order, and I should do it soon. They tell me this can be caused by genetic predisposition or orthodontic treatment or teeth grinding or overly vigorous hygeine, or some combination of all of the above, In any case, if left to progress, the root and even the jaw bone could wear away. Or so they tell me, and convincingly enough that I've signed up to go under the knife on June 16th and then again six weeks later. I'm having what's known as subepithelial grafts on six teeth, three teeth each time in two two-hour procedures that are best not undertaken during pregnancy. I'll spare you the gory details, but if you want them, read here.

So that's what it comes down to, I'm letting three more precious cycles slip by because I don't want to risk my teeth. I want to believe that there are still a few good eggs beyond those three. I want to believe that all will go according to plan, and in the end we'll live happily ever after. But I know better than that. I have to live happily ever now. And I've chosen to do so with my lower anteriors intact. So whatever happens, happens, and when it does, I'll be sure to let you know.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mother's Day Impending

This is not the first year for me where Mother's Day hurts. I wonder if any greeting card company makes a Mother's Day sympathy card? They should. It would sell. Even if women just bought the cards for themselves. I'm by far not the only aspiring mother with miscarriages or regretted abortions under her belt, waiting just a few more precious late-in-her-reproductive-years cycles, until she's moved in with her partner and made that new relationship all the more solid, and until dental surgery, two rounds of it, are under her belt, before throwing out the condoms for good.

And what about all the people who don't have mothers? J~ didn't have a mother. His died a year after he was born. Until his grieving father was ready to fully take on the role of parent, the job of raising him was shared with a network of nearby aunts and uncles. He didn't have a home or room of his own for the first nine or so years of his life; he slept on a cot in a hallway of an aunt's house. Mother's Day must have felt like shit.

Speaking of mothers, B~'s mother, J~'s ex, wants J~ and I to come to her wedding. "Let's get divorced first," J~ told her, "then we can talk about that." When he hung up the phone and told me what she had said, I burst out laughing. "It's not the first time she's brought it up," he admitted. I laughed again, and hard. It wasn't evil laughter; I wasn't making fun of her. It just hit me like that. You know when you cry really hard and then you start laughing, and then you start crying again? For a moment, whatever you've been sad about seems ludicrous. But then it seems sadder than ever. That's what it felt like, just a strange twist of emotion.

Lately, my ex seems to want to forget that I exist. He's dropped out of contact with me. It feels shameful to miss him, to experience the vacuum of his presence in my daily life as such and aching void, especially since there was such an aching void when we were together. But I can't deny it, I've been grieving a lot lately. Meanwhile, here is J~, my doppelganger, with an ex-spouse who goes to the opposite extreme, proposing that we all go for hikes together, wanting us to come to her wedding, fantasizing that we will all become best friends, buy a duplex together. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

And what about this role I'm taking on in B~'s life? Not quite mother, not quite stepmother either. But I'm thinking about him like a parent, wanting the best for him, worrying that if something were to happen to J~, our invisible and still fragile ties would be difficult to maintain.

I feel like I'm looking at Mother's Day not under just a single new light, but under many new lights, under disco lights maybe.

Not to mention the fact that I have a mother, and a pretty good one. Though I could find fault with her until the cows come home, what's the point? I am alive, first of all, thanks to her, and I like who I am. She deserves more credit than I could possibly concentrate long enough to give. She will be receiving a card from me this year, and I look forward to making it like I've never looked forward to making a Mother's Day card before.

It is a lucky thing to have a reason to celebrate Mother's Day at all. Happy Mother's Day, everybody!

Monday, May 08, 2006

No More Mrs. Nice Guy

I knew at some level, had known for years, that my husband found me lacking. In the days leading up to our marriage's "irremedial breakdown" (divorce court terminology), this knowledge became acute. It was clear that he didn't feel like his needs were being met. So I struggled to get him to express more, to ask more of me. I wanted him to be able to feel how much I loved him, to appreciate me and feel thankful for me in the way I felt for him, and I was willing to do whatever I could to achieve that.

All I could get out of him was that he wished I was a better housekeeper, that he felt loved when the house was clean, when I cooked for him. He admitted that he wished I was more soft-spoken, less, shall we say, feisty. He had little courage to speak up for himself in our relationship. So for me to say, "I'm feeling angry" felt like an attack, like abuse. I was not supposed to ever have a negative feeling toward him, or at least not to express it (not that I was actually abusive, though he insisted I was.) Oh yeah, and he wanted me to be happy. My sadness after the first, let alone the second, miscarriage, was not what he wanted in a wife. To really be there for me felt to him like entering a black hole. On the rare instance when he was home and not sleeping or eating while I was feeling down, he hugged me and patted my back and moved on to the television as quickly as possible.

So I scrubbed the sink, I straightened the perpetually askew bath mat (a pet peeve of his), I cooked and I smiled and I coaxed him to talk about his feelings, and at one point I even resolved to give him a ten-minute massage every day (usually this took place while he watched TV). None of these efforts ever produced more than dutiful thank yous. After two weeks time (or four days time), I got discouraged and gave up, but then took a deep breath and tried again.

"How are you?" he'd ask, or, "how was your day?" (I had asked him to do this, it felt too lonely when he didn't.)

"Not very good. I'm really struggling," I'd say, but then I'd do my best to smile, to think of something positive to report, and then change the subject. I felt like a failure and I felt guilty for it, and I wondered, over and over, what was wrong with me.

Perhaps the greatest gift A~ ever gave me was his infidelity, his decision to pursue a relationship with a meek and lovesick woman he'd known three weeks, and to be done with me forever. It felt like a kick in the stomach, but in truth, he was giving me back my power, my determination, my resolve, my self.

The thought that ran through my head at the time, over and over: I deserve so much better than this. And I set out to get it. (Try it sometime, it's a powerful mantra.)

In the intervening four months, I've begun to notice how many of my relationships work in similarly disfunctional ways, where a friend or family member will express their unhappiness with me while I absorb that blame, let it reinforce the image I hold of myself as inconsiderate, selfish, insensitive, etc. I then struggle to make amends, to explain and improve myself, to listen better, to prove how much I care.

Some of these friendships are falling to the wayside, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. I don't love any of these people less (and as painful as it is to say, I don't love A~ any less either). The saddest thing of all is that if any one of them came to me and asked for a hug or some attention or reassurance, an afternoon walk and a dinner out, I would gladly give it. And if any one of them came to me with love to offer, an appreciation of me, I would receive deeply and would probably cry because it would mean so much to me. But I'm done with that old drama of protocol thank yous and apologies and what-have-you-done-for-me-latelys.

Dear readers, I hope you will all give your gifts freely to those who can receive, receive openly from those who have something to offer, and say no whenever and however often you want to. Don't carry anyone else's baggage on your shoulders. Don't struggle to earn anyone's love. Celebrate your glorious self and all the other glorious selves who are capable of celebrating alongside you. Life is too short and excruciatingly achingly beautiful.

Savor the day.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

In the Inbetween

As happy as I am with J~, I'm still overcome by grief, at times, over all the years with A~. The depth of my love and commitment to him is not easily thrown aside. All that history, that visceral physical connection - his body, his scent, the way we entwined in sleep, turning simultaneously midway through the night...

But then there is this new man, so in love with me, and I with him, this home, ripe for an artist's touch, this new and extremely fertile soil. It isn't easy, carving a place for myself in a new life, but it's great fun, and exciting, and I'm just as often overcome by appreciation. (I wept for an hour yesterday, because J~ is taking the day off to care for me when I have some relatively minor but still scary dental surgery, something I never asked of him, and never would have received without asking, and feeling guilty and frivolous for doing so, with A~.)

I arrived at J~'s house last night and am writing this morning on my laptop at the very man-and-his-boy kitchen table, amid comic books, toast crumbs and sticky jelly patches, a sprinkling of salt, an empty water bottle, a smattering of baseball cards, paper towels on a dwindling roll, a summer camp flyer, a Xeroxed announcement from school ("All School Festival of the Arts on Thursday, June 1"), and the latest but already oil-stained New Yorker magazine. The table cloth is a yellowed plaid, and plastic-coated.

I love every bit of it.

There is also a Mother's Day card, fashioned from construction paper and pencil and glue, with hearts drawn in a wet, wobbly, heartbreakingly red marker. When I first noticed it, I felt a pang of mixed emotion, reminded that B~'s mom wants him to live with her, which is a positive sentiment, given her recent unreliableness and seeming ambivalence about parenting. But still, it's nervous-making, and maybe not such a great idea. Not to mention that neither J~ nor I savor the idea of B~ gone (not for more than a few days here and there, anyway.)

As much as I'm glad to see B~ feeling a revival of affection for his mother, I'm also sad wondering if I'll ever be lucky enough to have a child of my own, to be at the receiving end of such a prize.

Feeling vaguely like a snoop, I opened the card. In the same shaky red ink, it reads, "Dear Mom, Congrats! You are the #1 mom ever! Even if you embarress [sic] me a lot. Amy and I burned a CD that I think you would like. I'll bring it next time I come. Keep on truckin, B~."

I felt another mixed-emotion pang at the mention of me: a surge of appreciation for this subtle acknowledgment that I am mattering to B~, and also a vicarious cringe for his mother. It must not be easy for her, having me occupy this place in her son's day to day life, this place at the kitchen table that used to be hers, this place in her Mother's Day card. I don't feel guilty about it, I'm not The Other Woman; I'm no usurper. She chose to leave and does not regret it.

Still, it can't be easy.

But not worth dwelling on either.

Though I won't officially move in until September first, I plan to be here several days each week until then, more especially for the next month or so, until my teaching schedule kicks in for the summer. Today's visit will be the longest stretch of consecutive time I've ever spent in this house: five nights. I plan to put the time to good use. Besides work I brought along with me, I'll be digging in the soon-to-be garden, cleaning the soon-to-be clutter-free basement, and organizing the spare room, my soon-to-be office.

There may always be sadness about the past, but also gems of memory I will pluck from the wreckage, and an ultimate appreciation for the whole mess. After all, whatever rockiness occurred along that old road, it's the path that got me to right here and now. And there's no place I'd rather be.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Infertile Abortion Counselor

People ask me if it was difficult for me chaperoning women through the termination of unwanted pregnancies while I was struggling to achieve a healthy wanted pregnancy of my own. After all, I started the job unwittingly pregnant after nine months of infertility, and then discovered I was miscarrying while at work two months later.

Was I jealous of my clients? Did I resent them? I wasn't and I didn't.

We were two sides of the same coin: women facing the bare and difficult truth of our fertility, or in my case, lack thereof. In fact, being among these women was a constant reminder of the awesome privilege I experienced by being at a point in my life where I could welcome a pregnancy.

Also, I felt another kind of kinship with the women I counseled. I had been in their shoes once, and had struggled long and hard to come to peace with my decision, to recognize that there was no wrong or right choice, but instead two difficult roads which both deserve deep and careful consideration. Grieving the road not taken, if it ever held any appeal at all, however fleeting, is inevitable.

It felt good to be able to offer my hard-won perspective. It seemed that I might be helping to spare some of these women from painful self-recrimination down the line, and that was extremely gratifying.

This isn't to say that the job wasn't difficult. It was redundant and boring repeating the same information about what the procedure entails and how to take care of yourself after, filling out the same paperwork over and over. It was depressing when someone slipped through my fingers who seemed to require a kind of help I didn't know how to or was unable to give. Mostly this was due to time constraints and the once-and-fast nature of the kind of counseling I was doing. Sometimes it was because I simply didn't have the backbone of knowledge to readily provide resources for housing, financial aid or long-term emotional counseling, etc. The necessary resources don't always exist, either. And often, when I was unable to meet a woman's need, it was because I was human, and flawed, and learning as I went along.

There came a point where I knew that to continue to feel good about being an abortion counselor, I would need to take it to the next level, to really dive into acquiring more knowledge, into being at a clinic full-time, perhaps even return to school for a clinical counseling degree.

Or else it was time to move on.

When I took the job, I never thought I'd consider making abortion counseling my life's work, so the fact that I even thought about it felt profound. But really, moving on seemed inevitable, and just a matter of time.

I can't talk about why, officially, I left the clinic when I did, but I can say that I had recently come to terms with the fact that I would do so before long, if only to move in with J~, who lived a prohibitive ninety minutes away. Perhaps I would (perhaps I still will) find work in a clinic closer to him. Or perhaps I'll find that I have different, not necessarily bigger but possibly more delicious, fish to fry. Like publishing a book. And making a baby.

As always, I'll keep you posted.