Well now ….

Well now… I was feeling really sorry for myself when writing that last post! Christmas and the New Year was really hard this year. Not because (I think), it was Christmas – but because it was the first time that we both ‘stopped’. Since we came to the end of the ICSI journey, we haven’t both been able to stop at the same time for more than a few days. Separately we could and did, but not together – until Christmas. And being at home, with nothing in particular to do meant we had a lot of time to think. Which this time meant that the same raw grief we’d both experienced earlier in the year came back, rolling back in, wave after wave. There was nothing we could do, expect go with it. Every so often, we’d come back up for air and another wave would hit.

I realised how isolated our lives had become. We don’t live near our families and we’ve hidden ourselves away from many of our friends over the past while (particularly those with children). We moved to a ‘child friendly’ area a few years ago, and haven’t really settled in here and none of our friends live locally. We live in a lovely place, with a gorgeous  beach nearby, which we walked a lot over the break. We’ve been so busy coping with life, that we haven’t had a chance to enjoy it.

Our grieving isn’t over yet, I’m sure there will be other waves of that raw desperate pain. We’re still gulping for air after the last one. But we need to slow down and start living life a bit more.

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Broken glass

Our last ICSI cycle was full of hope, tinged with an unpalatable dose of realism. We knew, from our previous cycle, it was unlikely to be successful but we still hoped. We still dreamed. We got one stage further in the process, and made it to egg retrieval, and as I waited in the theatre, I could feel myself getting emotional.

To calm myself down, I started singing Chasing Cars in my head. As the drugs took hold I started to hallucinate, I imagined I was in our back garden, playing with our child – I had images of us playing swings and airplanes, climbing a huge apple tree (we had bought a very small apple tree a few days earlier), running around in circles and finishing up lying on the grass beside each other. When I came around, I was very disoriented and the song was still going around in my head.

The following morning, our hopes were smashed. Like a glass bauble, they smashed into tiny pieces that exploded everywhere. They’re still turning up in the most unexpected places, hurting us. I know someday those glass pieces will reform to become a new dream, they will fuse together to become something different and beautiful. But tonight, they are pieces of broken glass.

 

Candles and crystal.

Despite being an affirmed atheist, I used to love Christmas. Last year, I found Christmas difficult – our first ICSI cycle was cancelled and we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to start a cycle in January. I found myself muttering, for the first time, that Christmas was for children. I wasn’t having an easy time, and was beginning to realise that we might never have kids.

This year, we know we will never have kids. So, in our family, Christmas can’t be just for children. Things have been hectic for me in work recently – we had a big conference this week – so I haven’t really had much chance to think or plan for Christmas. But I realised that I had, without realising it, been wondering how to ‘reclaim Christmas’. So, I’ve decided we’re going to have a ‘sophisticated Christmas’. Of course, M. did snort with derision when I proclaimed this, pointing out our distinct lack of sophistication.

Two things that don’t go with children: candles and crystal. So, I’m busy getting candles of all variety of shape and sizes. I’ve also recently bought lovely crystal glasses, that will get their first outing on Christmas day. And we will have a lovely twinkling, flickering Christmas.

Our tree will be decorated with the decorations we’ve gathered over the years, without any ornament on top. Every year, as the youngest in the house, I’ve put whatever (its varied from year to year) on the top of the tree. We’re starting a new tradition in our home, the top of the tree will stay unadorned.

Blinking in the light.

I wasn’t one of those women who grew up knowing they wanted kids. In fact I rationalised all the reasons I didn’t want kids – the world is overpopulated, I enjoy my career too much, we enjoy travelling too much, our lives are too chaotic, we couldn’t afford to. The real reason was that I felt it really important that I didn’t just wander into having a family, because that was the ‘given thing to do’. I thought that nothing was more important than a child being born where they were very much-loved and wanted, not because it was the usual thing to do. I also thought it important that if we did choose to have children, that we would be able to love and care for them with a reasonable amount of emotional and financial stability. All of this melted away once we did decide to start ‘trying for a baby’ . Once that decision had been made, nothing else really mattered. At first it was great fun and exciting – and of course we expected it would happen quickly. We laughed about those various frights over the years when we were actively making sure we didn’t become parents. We talked about how great it would be, what great parents we would make and how much we were going to enjoy it. Gradually we stopped talking about it, we quietly worried. Afraid that if we verbalised our thoughts, they would become a reality.

We were both anxious not to turn ourselves inside out, that we did not want this (without ever defining this) to take over our lives. We set ourselves limits, there was only so far we’d go. And then suddenly we were anxiously waiting to see when we could start our first ICSI cycle. And then, 6 months later, we were hearing that there was no point attempting another ICSI cycle. Within two years we’d gone from excited anticipation to numbing despair. We went from talking about how we’d be great parents, and how we’d do things differently from everyone else (and I know how arrogant that sounds!) to realising that dreams we’d never fully articulated are never going to happen.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting my life back on track – other times it comes out of nowhere and grabs me by the throat. Despite everything, we turned ourselves inside out in our quest to become parents. We entered into a tunnel where nothing else mattered. Nothing else was within our field of vision. Now, we’re beginning to crawl back towards the light. Blinking a bit at times, and at times wanting to run back into the cocoon of darkness. Trying to get our old lives back, while knowing we’ll never have our old lives back.

 

 

Talking with friends

This week I chatted (separately) with two old friends.

The first I met for dinner on Monday evening. We’ve known each other since college – or more accurately since I was in college, she was still in school. She has known for the past few years that we’ve been trying for a baby and never mentioned it since I told her. I (it turns out wrongly) made the assumption that she wasn’t comfortable talking about it. In the meantime, she became pregnant and had a wonderful daughter who is now over a year and a half old and the light of her life.  As my friend became more excited about her pregnancy, we were learning the indignities involved with infertility, she became a mother around the time when we learnt that IVF/ICSI was our only chance of achieving a pregnancy, and her daughter’s first birthday was just after our last failed cycle – just before we were gently told that we had reached the end of the road. Throughout this time she, understandably, became consumed by her daughter and could talk of nothing else. And I became slower and slower to tell her what was happening us. I kept thinking that the timing was wrong, and that I couldn’t tell her what was going on with me given what was going on in her life. I reasoned that she wasn’t comfortable in talking about it if she didn’t ask me. At the same time she was wondering what was happening and thought if I didn’t mention it, I wasn’t comfortable in talking to her about it. We could have both saved each other some hurt if we’d spoken up.

Last night I was chatting on the phone with another friend. We’ve known each other since the first day we started national school, shared digs in first-year in college and then shared a flat together for the next two years of college. I’ve moved around a fair bit since, so we don’t see each other very often at times, but we’ve always stayed in contact – over the years we’ve chatted about nothing, calmed each other down when we were buying houses, getting married, had work crises and the other things life can throw at you. She also knew we were trying for a baby and was one of the first people I told when we were referred to the fertility clinic. I told her about the various injections, the ICSI, the disappointments and the heartache of learning that there was no point in keeping going. At the same time I’ve shared in her delight and panic when she was pregnant, listened to her describe her son’s birth and celebrated the milestone’s he’s reached since. She, and her family, called up to me a few weeks ago when they were on holidays nearby. When we went out for lunch I tried to create as many chances as I could for her to tell me she was pregnant – short of asking her was she pregnant or had she put on an awful lot of weight I couldn’t have given her more opportunity. I knew it was very unlikely that she had put on that much weight in a short enough time, so was fairly hurt when she didn’t say anything. I was even more hurt when she did tell me last night. While we were chatting on the phone, finishing up our conversation she said ‘oh yeah, bit of news, [her son] is going to have a brother or sister’. While I’m delighted at her news, it couldn’t but touch a nerve. And she told me like it was a thing of nothing. And that hurt.

Just at the steep bit.

I read a wonderful post today http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.com/2011/09/feeling-left-behind.html#comments

I’m on the steep part right now. Where your calves hurt and all your muscles ache, and you wonder why in the hell you started this climb anyway. I know I will get there, to where I can enjoy the view, but at the moment, it’s steep.

It’s steep and can hurt the lungs. You know when you go for a run and feel the air getting into parts of your lungs that haven’t been ventilated since the last (a fair while ago) time that you decided to ‘get a bit of exercise and get fit’? Or if you’re hillwalking and you’re at the long haul, when you need to just put the head down and keep going – if you stop to look around you just won’t start moving again?

I know I will get there, but sometimes I just want to stop and sit on the side of the road.  If you ask for directions in Ireland, the reply can often start with “I wouldn’t start from here now…”. Well, I wouldn’t start from here now. But I will get there.

What gives you the right?

I like to think that I’m not a judgemental person. But I know, when it comes down to it, I make snap-judgements the same as the next. And I know I have no right to make those judgements, to use my values to measure someone else. So I try not to. I try not to let that self-righteous streak creep-in, try not to assume. And I really try not to hurt.

I don’t like social chit-chat, I don’t like talking about nothing to strangers. I will talk for hours with friends, but I’m a bit shy with people I don’t know. And I do know that the only way I will get to know them is to talk to them, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. Unless of course, that stranger is willing to talk politics, and then I know the conversation will flow. Or if it’s a work context, then I’m the ringleader in a group. But social conversations with strangers are not ‘my thing’.

The conversations I hate, are the ones that go like this: the initial chat about the weather/traffic/what brought you here, then we move on to jobs/careers. Which very often leads to the next question – do you have kids? Funnily enough, that progression doesn’t happen as often with my husband (who is henceforth called M, as I hate the phrase ‘my husband’). Asking about his career is rarely a precursor to whether he has children. But as a woman, it seems to be regarded as a natural conversational progression, jobs to kids. When I say no, no kids – the response can (thankfully, not always) be an instant judgement: ‘career woman’. Sometimes this is said straight-out, sometimes it’s more subtle. But, the judgement is that I chose my career over having children. I’ve never heard anyone even allude to having made a similar judgement about M, I’ve never heard ‘career-man’ being muttered as judgement.

The conversation can then take a number of different turns, I’m sometimes told that I am not fulfilled as a woman unless or until I have a child of my own, or the conversation could follow the turn that I haven’t ever really loved anyone (unless or until I have a child of my own), or, my own particular favourite, that I couldn’t possibly understand the importance of the health system/education/whatever you’re having yourself, until or unless I have a child of my own.

I usually paste an inane smile on my face throughout these conversations. I do have enough social skills to know that the reaction I want to give is not a socially acceptable one. It is not acceptable for me to scream, what gave you the right to judge me? Why do you assume that I chose one over the other? Why do you not make the same assumption of M.? When did womanhood become equated with motherhood, that I am not a real woman until I have procreated?! Of course I have loved. And believe it or not, I do understand how important the health service is. I understand it at an academic level, it is part of why I am politically active – I believe health services should be related to your health not the depth of your wallet. And I have used the health services far too often not to understand it at a personal level. And why do you assume it is a choice that we do not have children?

I know it is not socially acceptable to scream this out, with choice expletives dropped in at will. And believe me, I have an impressive range of expletives. So instead, I smile and try to change the subject. And I try not to show how their judgement has hurt. I bite my lip and don’t tell them that without my career, and M.’s, we couldn’t have afforded the unsuccessful cycles of IVF and all the heartbreak that goes with it.

And the times that the conversation doesn’t contain those judgements, doesn’t hurt so much, I’m grateful. And after I say ‘no, we don’t have kids’ we move on to something else.