More Skin to Shed

Today I’m feeling more than frustrated.  I don’t think I can find the words to express how frustrating it is to have strong parental instincts when you don’t have children of your own.  As a stepmom, one of my biggest struggles is learning when to rein it in.  

Hubs and I have different parenting styles.  I’m more structured and focused down the road.  He’s flexible and in the moment.  If we had a child of our own, these differing perspectives might be extremely fruitful together: a Yin and Yang of parenthood.   However, given that Skid is not mine; I’m discovering that my ideas on parenting are often best left to myself.

Just this morning, we clashed over a common problem in our household: leaving things to the very last minute.  It doesn’t matter if it’s permission forms that need to be signed, school supplies needed for a project, or event entry fees, it more than likely comes to Hubs attention at zero hour.  Last night the problem reared its head more than once.  At 7:00 PM cups were needed for a class party the next day.  Then at 11:00 PM, permission slips AND donations were needed for a fund raiser at school. 

My mind wandered back to the last time this happened.  Skid wanted to try out for the basketball team.  Hubs was informed he’d have to fill out insurance paperwork and write out a check for physicals at 10:30 the night before they were due. I quickly scanned to papers and found out we would have to purchase an insurance policy and dig out immunization records to complete everything. We didn’t have the name of who to write a check to and neither of us had cash to cover the fee.  Needless to say, we were left scrambling to get it done.  Hubs was understandably upset.

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The Fork in Road Has Egg on It

Two weeks before my forty-(garble) birthday, Hubs and I had dinner with another couple, visiting relatives from out of town. The discussion led to family, which unavoidably veered into the subject of my BIL and his wife’s pregnancy and that crashed head-on into, “When are the two of you going to have kids of your own?”  I quietly explained our situation and mentioned our pregnancy losses.  I tried to make light of it to avoid bringing the party down.  “Old eggs,” I lamely joked.

A look of confusion crossed the face of one of our dinner companions. “You’re not old,” she replied, “You are my age, right?”  (She is in her mid-30s, so bless her.)  When I told her my age, she said, “Well, you certainly don’t look like it.”   While the thank-you was the first thing that sprang from my lips, my mind mused, “If I were your age, I’d have younger eggs.”

Last week, I found myself bristling at the onslaught of “29 again?” jokes that each birthday inevitably brings.  Every time I heard one, there was a groan deep down inside of me saying, “I wish. Twenty-nine year-old eggs would work.” 

What’s with all the egg on the brain?   Two months ago, I got the news that egg donation is the recommend course of action for me if I want to have baby. It is an option I cannot afford.  (Chalk that one down next to adoption.) 

 Every month I find myself standing at the same fork in the road.  My choices:

  • Persistence  –  Pray that there is a good egg left in there
  • Acceptance – Move on and try to find fulfillment elsewhere

Each month I’ve chosen persistence, but at the same time contemplated preparing myself for the alternative.  Like someone who is trying to quit a bad habit, I keep telling myself, “Just one more. This is the last month.  If nothing happens, we’ll stop.”  Then, I run into the same fork and am forced to make the same choice. 

However this month, my fevered, egg-obsessed mind has been searching for signs.  I am sad to say I’ve found them in the form of statistics. At my age, I have a 1-3% chance of concieving naturally. Around same odds as winning the lottery, and I imagine about the same odds of finding anything that I’m looking for in my purse on the first try. (Among those who beat the odds, one in 33 will have a fetus with a chormosomal disorder  and one in 49 will have a child with Downs syndrome.)  It’s sobering.  It’s sad.  I’m standing here – feeling bereft and broken, contemplating fairness and faith.

I always told myself that the final true road was yet to be determined; that it would either take an act of nature or an act of will, but deep, deep down I held a glimmer of hope that my persistence would be rewarded. That hopefulness has got me feeling a little foolish now.  [Insert the “egg on your face” pun here.]

Would I like a miracle to happen?  Who wouldn’t?  It is likely to?  They don’t call them miracles for nothing.  I think it’s time to head down the other path.  The road ahead is long and difficult, and the destination is not quite as concrete as the other road.  For now I’ll rest here and spend a little time with my dream.  It’s  an old friend, so I won’t rush our goodbyes.

I probably should also take this opportunity to clean out my purse.

Thankful Thursday

I’ve got a lot of thoughts brewing for prospective posts that need a bit of refinement, so I’ll take an opportunity to walk down the sunny side of the street and count a couple of blessings.  (Maybe this will become a regular thing, who knows?)

Blessing Number 1:  After many years of a self-imposed laryngitis of the soul, I’m finally getting my voice back.

Writing here and guest blogging on LWOB has been an incredibly freeing exercise. I’ve realized that when I process everything internally it ultimately skews my perception in such a way that I misread the signs of life and end up taking a wrong turn into Crazy Town. Getting things out of my head and onto paper puts some distance between me and the inner-ramblings of my mind, so I can course correct.

As one of those people who needs to time to get their thoughts together,  I have great admiration for people who can say what’s on their mind, at the proper time, and are able to do so with tact and grace. I want that presence of mind, so exploring my wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings here is helping me better articulate them in my daily life. (So, yay me!)

I am also truly touched by the responses I’ve received here and at LWOB.  Thank you for your supportive and encouraging words.  Many of you have helped me when I needed it most, so it is even more humbling to hear that something I have written has spoken to your experience or helped you in some way.  It leaves me thanking God for the courage and inspiration to share.  It’s a comfort not to feel so alone, which leads me to the next blessing.

Blessing Number 2: I’ve found wonderful communities of support both online and offline .

My upbringing was Christian, so I am trained to believe there are reasons for where we are in our lives (although I have been struggling with the validity of that belief lately). 

The one time I can undoubtedly say I was in the right place at the right time was after I lost my first husband.  When he died, I was 36 years-old. I worked at an organization where four other widowed women were among my co-workers.  Of the four, three of them had lost their husbands in their 30’s.

This was an incredible gift for me.  It was a very powerful reminder that I was not the only person to have this experience. Without their presence, I could have very easily curled up into a ball of self-pity and isolated myself from the world, thinking that nobody could possibly understand what I was going through.  Instead, the mere fact of these women –who were living, breathing proof that I wasn’t unique –left me without any excuses to needlessly hold on to the “why me’s?”  They also served as examples that this storm could be weathered.  It helped me realize that I would, eventually, move on.

Since then life has brought a more struggles, all of which have been very isolating in their own way:  stepmotherhood, pregnancy loss, and childlessness not by choice are all clubs that no one dreams of joining.  They also are not issues anyone outside the ranks of their membership wants to discuss.  Who wants to hear a women talk about the ambiguity she feels towards her husband’s children, the agony of never even getting to hold a baby she desperately wanted, or the suffering that comes with a dream unfulfilled?  It’s all very depressing stuff.

Honestly, I find that people who have never been through any of these situations are much more receptive to hearing about my first husband’s death. For whatever reason, it is easier for them to relate to that struggle over the others.  Since I am remarried, I think that maybe they feel that it is a success story.  Of course, they fail to see that the “happily-ever-after” has been bumpy and any discussion of our challenges are usually met with avoidence (miscarriage is a depressing subject), platitudes (being a stepmother is simple, just be nice and the kids will like you), or problem solving (have you considered adoption, IVF, etc?).  Is it any wonder that I’m having a hard time finding peace?

I think it goes without saying that it is difficult for women in these situations to find a place in their immediate circles where they can voice their pain and feel understood.  We live in foreign lands that are hard to comprehend unless you have been there.

I feel extremely lucky that there are communities out there that allow women discuss their struggles openly without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. There are bloggers, writers, and groups in all the arenas in which I struggle (and arena is the perfect word, because there are days when I feel like a gladiator when facing down my grief).  These resources have been a tremendous help.  I’ve shared links to many on this site. 

While we all have different paths, we share the same fundamental pain that brings us together.  And, while I may not be in the same place as the others, I choose to learn from everyone. I may not hear the lessons the first time (or the second or third time), but at some point they speak to me.  Each one gets me closer to a place of healing and reminds me I am not alone.  And for that, I am extremely grateful.

If you wish to share any resources not listed here that help you, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of the post.  

Wishing you love & peace!

Riding It Out

When I was growing up I LOVED amusement park rides. You know the ones that Krusty the Klown from The Simpsons would deem an “upsy, downsy, spinsy roundsy, teen-operated thrill ride”?  Yeah those.  I loved ’em.  I especially took great pride in being able to ride these crazy death contraptions consecutive times in a row. When the rest of girls were getting off the ride, I hung in with the boys.  I was tough. I was fearless. I could handle it.  Boo-yah!

Cut to me at age 21: sitting on a rock at the edge of the carnival parking lot gasping for clean air in order to stave off nausea… all after one ride on the Spider. What happened?  My tolerance for the turbulent motion of those rides seemed to dissipate with age.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  Boo. Yeah.

Now at forty-(garble) going on forty-(garble-even-louder), I’m still riding the ride called trying to conceive (or TTC in weblog speak).  It is quite possibly to most insane ride ever.  If you don’t believe me, here’s a list of fun facts to consider:

  • With the number of ovulation and pregnancy tests under my belt, I’ve become incredibly adept at peeing on sticks, so much so that I’m considering listing it as a skill on my resume.
  • I no longer think of time in terms of months, but instead in terms cycles
  • If you want to get a drink or sushi with me, you need contact me one month in advance, so I can schedule it at the appropriate time.
  • I would have never thought it, but after detailing out a month-to-month… I mean cycle-to-cycle view of my life, it appears my tolerance for crazy is pretty damn high.

My “Cycle-to-Cycle” Life

7 days into my cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take pre-natal vitamins and pray like mad!

  • Stop any alcohol consumption
  • Taper down caffeine consumption to ½ cup per day (only if necessary – who am I kidding?)
  • Put the more challenging cardio workouts into my routine
  • Begin using ovulation strips 
During the “window of ovulation”
  • Stop caffeine entirely
  • Um… “it” obviously
Week one of two-week wait
  • Maintain exercise schedule
  • Try to keep my mind on other things
  • Cut out soft cheeses, shellfish, deli meats, sushi and other fun stuff from my diet
Week two of two-week wait
  • Modify exercise schedule to lighter cardio, ideally  machines that allow me to monitor heart rate
  • Over-analyze every twinge, cramp, tenderness, headache, etc.
3 days before period is due
  • Start thinking that every twinge, cramp, tenderness, headache means what I want it to mean, and simultaneously freak out and get excited
  • Resist the urge to run out and buy pregnancy test OR resist the urge to use the second test that was in the first test kit that I broke down and bought last cycle
First day of my period
  • Open a bottle of wine
  • Cry 

Honestly, what kind of life is this?  Am I insane?  I know eventually this ride is going to come to an end some way, somehow.  But I’m starting the question the way I’m limiting myself.  In the last six months, I know of four different opportunties I’ve shied away from because I wasn’t sure if I’d be pregnant or at least into the two-week wait at the time of the event. Yet on the flip side, I still yearn for motherhood so badly that I am clinging blindly to faith.  How long will my tolerance hold out?

So my newest challenge is figuring out how I’ll ride the rest of this out.  I want my decisions to be whole-hearted and fearless, yet wise and balanced. I can’t put everything on hold for something that may never be, but I want to do what’s possible (within the realm of reason and our resources) to create the conditions in which, by some miracle, it could happen. I need to get this resolved, because that last thing I want is to find myself once again gasping for air wondering what the hell happened.

My life should be more, “Weee!” and less, “Stop this thing. I want to get off!”

“Meditate Perfectly”

Over the past few months I’ve been grappling with the possibility that I might never have a child of my own. It’s a harsh reality to face, and I don’t think that a day has gone by without tears.

I might cry in the shower or while I style my hair. I may cry in the car on the way to or coming back from work. If I’m REALLY lucky, my tears will sneak up on me in public, like at work, church or the gym. If I’m EXTREMELY lucky the tears will come to me throughout the day. Some days they are just a small welling; others a full-on bawl. It may not be like clockwork, but the tears are a constant, and often unwelcome, companion.

I cry because I’m grieving my babies. I cry because I’m angry that I haven’t been able to successfully conceive again. I cry because I struggle with the decision on whether I should keep trying. I cry because my dreams have been shattered. I cry because I haven’t found new dreams to take their place.

To be honest, it’s getting exhausting. Pushing it to the back of my mind in order to function takes effort, especially when I can’t go through the day without reminders of others who have succeeded where I have failed. Whether it’s celebrity after celebrity in the media, a friend, a relative, or the exercise instructor at the gym, there’s always something there that forces the topic to the front of my mind.

I’m at the point where I wish I could fast forward through the process and go directly to peace. Do not pass “Go.” Just get me to the end game. Like a gift, the show “30 Rock” tapped into just this fantasy for me when during the story arc of a recent episode, executive powerhouse Jack Donaghy, played perfectly by Alec Baldwin, is pressed for time and without a ground-breaking idea to present his boss with decides to take Liz Lemon’s suggestion to mediate. Being highly efficient and self-possessed, he wills himself into transcendence by ordering himself to “meditate perfectly.” Within minutes, he reaches enlightment and gets the idea that impresses the boss. Bing. Bang. Boom. Simple. Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy?

Unfortunately, the grief that comes with child loss and childlessness is not so easily overcome. It’s cyclical. Just when you think you’re past it, it greets you elsewhere down the line. A contributor to the WordPress blog, Life Without Baby, explains it beautifully in this post.

So I’ll continue to press on. I know that there are possibilities out there, and a life that I need to fulfill. I’ll do the work. I’ll struggle. Eventually, I’ll get there. But wouldn’t it be nice If we could all just “meditate perfectly” just once?

Watch Jack Acheive Perfect Meditation Through Sheer Will

Late in Life Babies are a Rich Woman’s Game

God, I hate going to the OB/GYN. 

After my last miscarriage in 2010, I avoided going just because I couldn’t bear to be in the same room with a bunch of pregnant women.  There they sit: all glowing, cooing, comparing notes and blissfully unaware of the storm of emotions welling up inside that quiet 40-something woman sitting along with them fighting back her tears and mourning her losses.  Then, of course, there was the inevitable face off with the clueless medical assistant who didn’t think to look at my medical records to see that I was there for a post miscarriage visit who asked “have you ever been pregnant?” 

Today, I got back in the game and went to a new office and a new doctor in hopes of a fresh start.  Once again, I was sitting in the lobby with pregnant women and their husbands with the choice of Baby or Parenting magazine to occupy my time. ( I think I am going to found and create Childless Mother magazine, just so people like me have something to read at the OB/GYN!  Think of stories I could write: Why You’re Not Good Enough to Bear Children – Take Our Fun Quiz!; She May Be Pregnant, But You Can Have a Margarita: 10 Ways to Console Yourself… the possibilities are endless.)  Other than fueling my sick, self-depreciating sense of humor, I made it through this part.

Then came the part where I had to tell my sad, pathetic story to the doctor. ( I just love crying in front of people I’ve just met. Don’t you?)  I must say I am glad that she was extremely sympathetic and, thankfully, frank with me.  After reviewing my medical records, she said what I expected to hear.  At my age, healthy pregnancies are not impossible, but not common.  Chromosomal abnormalities are extremely likely making miscarriage risk high.  I can conceive. I show no other signs of being unable to carry.  I present no other risk factors.  My eggs are just, well, old.

She told me the surer bet is egg donation, which – much like adoption – is a $30 to $40k investment.  Money I do not have either way you look at it.  

In communicating with Hubs, we both realized that this is one of life’s crueler games.  Men have the capacity produce healthy sperm in their more mature years, but the woman’s contribution to the party is finite.  The eggs have a shelf life. 

I hate to be negative here, but starting that magazine is looking very attractive to me now.   Perhaps the advertising revenues for it will buy me a baby.  Then I could be on the cover (just like Oprah) beaming proudly holding my baby with the headline, “Crossing Over: Our Final Issue.”

I really wish I could end this on a more positive note.  I’ve actually felt much more at peace lately, but today is emotionally messy.  I am brokenhearted and confused.  Where do I go from here?  How do you move on when the sure bet turns into a long shot?  I’ve dreamed, hoped, and planned on being a mom throughout my life.  I never counted on the alternative.   I always had hope, but now I’m not sure.

I think I need a margarita.