Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No rest for the wicked

It's 4 am. I've already hit the snooze button on my phone 5 times and it's become clear to Grey that I'm in denial about getting up. "You're going to be pissed off later if you don't," he informs me as he firmly plants his foot on my ass and pushes me out of bed. Groaning, I plant my feet on the ground and attempt to gain my balance while half-opening my eyes. Somehow I manage to find my way out of the bedroom and to the second bedroom.

I hate the middle-of-the-night pump session. But after months of doing this, I know too well the consequences of skipping them.

After untangling tubes and fastening the the parts to my chest, I turn the knob to activate the rhythmic sucking that will extract milk from my breasts. Closing my eyes, I lean back and allow my mind to drift into a semi-awake state. Some times I have enough energy to scroll through emails or read headlines coming in from the major media sources. But most of these early mornings are spent drifting, allowing my subconscious to take over.

A recent song has been occupying this drifting for the past couple of weeks. Though there is zero connection to the meaning behind lyrics and my life at the moment, the tune has haunted this drifting. Particularly the refrain:

          There'll be no rest for the wicked.
          There's no song for the choir. 
          There's no hope for the weary. 
          If you let them win without a fight...

The tunes stays with me as I drift in and out of sleep, with the sucking sound of the pump keeping rhythm. It follows as I finish the dreams still fresh in my head, or reflect on the upcoming day.

I'm tired. Exhausted actually. There are moments I crave a break from it all. To simply shut off my brain and excuse myself from the worry of all ahead. The worry of work. The worry of contentious neighbors. The worry of finances and building a secure future for my family. The worry of surviving in an era of so much uncertainty.

There is no rest for the wicked. And there is no clear road ahead. But the end is in sight for the madness that is the middle-of-the-night pump session. Just need to hold on a little bit longer.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Crawling. Walking. Rolling over. First social smile. Grasping objects. Sitting up unsupported. Eating solids. Babbling. Responding to name. The list of developmental milestones goes on and on, each one becoming a source of anxiety and fixation for any parent. When our children reach them, we celebrate and praise them. When they don't, we worry and wonder if something is wrong. The stress of milestones and meeting them can lead to some very heated discussions and comparisons are a hard thing to overcome.

Grey and I have been thinking about milestones a lot with the Beats. Being born premature means that their milestones have been shifted, but there's also the worry that their prematurity has delayed them in some way. To be honest, there's been some stress around this topic, particularly because both children have decided to flip some of their milestones, with them sitting unsupported long before either of them could be bothered with rolling over. But what we've been trying to do (and I've been failing at a lot) is not to push for reaching each ability and recognizing that each baby is different and will reach these goals in their own time and way.

This past weekend Grey and I met up with another couple from our daycare to do some hiking. The weather was gorgeous and all babies clearly enjoyed the scenery (lots of babbling, head-turning and shrieks of delight). As we walked, the conversation turned from infant milestones to milestones in general. The other couple is a few years younger than Grey and me and have only recently been married following the surprise that is now their son. As I talked with this young father, we both reflected on milestones in life and how traumatic it can be to not meet them. What I hadn't thought about was the trauma that can come from meeting them too soon or skipping over other milestones in the process. This young father talked in length about how the arrival of their son not only rapidly changed his relationship with his new wife, but also how it has impacted his other relationships. Particularly hard where those relationships where the other party was struggling to acquire what came to him so unexpectedly.

"It hard, you know." he told me. Pausing to think for a moment before continuing. "On one hand, I want to support my friends during these times where they are hurting so much. But I worry I'll say or do the wrong thing. That by trying to help, I'll hurt them all the more. Then there's the fact that I'm struggling with all this change. And I feel like I can't talk about it because somehow I'll seem ungrateful. I'm not. But it doesn't mean it's any less hard."

During our hike, Grey and I shared our story. We talked about our losses, both of our angel babies and family/friends along the way. We shared with this couple how traumatic it was to not be able to reach the Parenting milestone. How continual failure without explanation truly traumatized us.

But then this young father pointed out something I've also been thinking about, but hadn't been able to put into words. He talked about how ready Grey and I seemed to take on parenting the Beats. "It's like you're fearless of those sleepless nights and the nursing strikes," he said.

The truth is, we are. After all, we had fought so hard just to be able to get a chance at this opportunity. And we are both very aware of those around us who struggling harder and for longer who never get this chance, making each of these moments so much more precious. In a strange way, infertility has prepared us for the unknowns that come with parenthood. Sure, we knew it would be hard and there was no way to predict how, but the one thing we learned is how to survive moments of uncertainty and hardship. To find joy when it would be tempted to focus solely on the negative.

Equally true is how traumatizing it can be to hit milestones unexpectedly or easily. In my own family, it was the youngest grandchild who easily became pregnant as a teenager. Though I remember how much she enjoyed the attention surrounding her new status as mother (her parents were raising their grandchild), a few years later I remember well how depressed and sullen she seemed as all her other friends had gone off to pursue university/travel/explore the world. Reflecting now, her reaching this milestone was far from something one could celebrate given her situation.

Since this hike, I've been thinking more and more about how society responds to meeting milestones. On one end of the spectrum is the shaming that happens older women struggling with infertility, with accusations that they waited too long and should have got the ball rolling sooner. But on the other end is the shaming that happens to single mothers. Or the stigma associated with choosing not to parent. Nevermind the myriad of factors influencing each of these outcomes and roads, what people consistently measure is the milestone and the order it is reached.

The place I struggle is how to resolve all of this. In the case of the couple we hiked with, though change came quickly, I'm certain they will ultimately be fine. They had been together for years prior to the arrival of their son and built a foundation for their family that will stand the test of time. But most aren't in a similar situation. In a lot of cases, there's a reason society pushes for milestones to be met in a particular order. Similar to why meeting developmental milestones within an appropriate time-frame is important.

For now, Grey and I are working with the Beats on their milestones. Praising them both as they roll, shift their balance to reach objects, try new foods and develop their pincer-grasp. And as I work with the Beats, I reflect on my own milestones, which now include learning to let go, focusing on what is instead of what should be and even relearning how to be more patient and forgiving with all around me.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Mother's Day: recognizing the bereaved and how to survive.

It started the same way it does every year. First with the emails advertising the special sales, then the billboards and radio commercials. The stores followed suit, hanging signs and stressing that I needed to hurry. And than came the talk of brunches, of flowers and even of gifts. All reminders that Mother's Day is once again around the corner.

With each of these reminders my stomach has soured. As excited so many assume I would be with the upcoming holiday, I'm far from it.

This year will technically be the first year I am allowed to participate in Mother's Day for the other side. Grey has already been getting pressure to do something special, especially since there are two small babies involved (apparently this somehow lands me special status). And while we both smile and try to keep these conversations brief when the questions come up, I know Grey is watching me. Watching to see how long I can keep that smile in tact before breaking down.

This May will mark 3 years since I last saw my parents. It will be 3 years since the day it was made clear that the grief and pain caused by this diagnosis was dismissed by the one woman who was suppose to love me unconditionally. In my heart, that day was the final nail in the coffin that was our relationship, leaving me without the mother I had so longed for and needed so desperately.

In addition, I've been remembering the ones we lost. How loved and wanted those 6 embryos that were here for too brief a time. As strange as it sounds, having the Beats has deepened my grief, not resolved it. I now know on a new level what we lost. And though I wouldn't trade the Beats for the world, I can't help but wonder. How true is the reality that the only one that can heal you is yourself.

Tomorrow marks International Bereaved Mother's Day. Though there are those who would insist I have no right to mark the occasion, I will be spending a moment remembering our angel babies and praying in my own way that they watch over their siblings while knowing how loved they will always be.

A week from Sunday marks the day most of those in the ALI dread. In light of that, I am reposting my survival guide, which you can find below, and also directing you to many other resources to help you cope with the day.

Finally: To all of you, I wish you a day of peace. A day where your pain is not as sharp as it might normally be. And my hope for all is that you are able to find some way to celebrate. Either by reflecting on strength of decisions you've made to grow your family, by recognizing how decisions to stop pursuing different paths is not failure but actually decisions requiring great strength and by celebrating the children you are mothering, either those in your arms and/or your heart. May you celebrate the strength within.

Mother's Day Survival Guide:
Let it out. I'm going to start here, since most survival guides list this one dead last. It goes without saying, infertility/loss is hard. Very hard. So instead of suppressing the anger, sadness, frustration, worry and fear, do the one thing that so many well-meaning people will tell you not to do: just let it out. Give yourself a good chunk of time to get the pain caused by this disease out of your system. Shed those tears, voice your worries, curse the universe. Write, exercise, scream, paint, draw, create or destroy. You get the idea. Because once you get it out, you'll feel better. You'll no longer have to worry about being sad the rest of the day because you've given yourself some time.

Acknowledge what you have accomplished. Living with infertility and loss is not for the weak. Anyone who's been on this path for any length of time has changed and will continue to be changed. Most of the time this has only been for the better. You may have learned how to stand up for yourself, advocating your needs. Your marriage/relationship with your spouse, significant other, family and friends may have strengthened and deepened in ways you didn't know possible. You may have overcome your fear of needles. Whatever it may be, celebrate it. Take a moment or two to give yourself the acknowledgement you and your loved ones deserved for battling this disease. You've earned it.

Get out of the house. This one I can't stress enough. As tempting as it will be to spend the day in your pajamas watching bad TV, plan instead to spend the day doing some sort of activity. If seeing families is a trigger, plan a non-family friendly event. If being with family is a comfort, plan on spending some time. What ever it may be, just get out of the house!

Celebrate the "mother" in your life. For those of you who have been reading this blog long enough, you'll know that my biological mother and I are not on friendly terms. That said, I do believe that Mother's Day is a time to celebrate those who have been "mothers" to you in some way. I also believe that one does not earn the title of "mother" simply by being able to birth a human being. There have been many amazing women in my life who have helped me become the person I am today. And I'm sure I'm not alone on this. So spend the day thanking your "mothers", be it spending time with them, shooting off a short email, or simply doing something that they taught you.

Distractions, distractions, distractions. I once read that an emotion lasts for about 10 minutes. The reason why people experience any emotion for longer periods is because they are "refiring" that emotion, be it with mental images or play inner dialogue. So like getting out of the house, find some way to distract yourself. Again, it's okay to be sad, frustrated, etc. But give yourself a break from all the madness too.

Treat yourself.  When all is said and done, Mother's Day is like any other holiday: sometimes just getting through is an accomplishment. So, at the end of the day, do something special. Take a bath, schedule a little "me" time, hog the covers. You get the picture. Reward yourself for making it through this day.
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