Friday, August 29, 2014

Infertiles in Babeland

The past few weeks have been strange ones for Grey and me. Between another viral upper-respiratory disease that hit the whole family and landed both Beats in the ER for ear infections (thankfully not pneumonia, though), a cold virus that caused me to lose my voice and finally a round of rotovirus that solely hit the parents at our daycare (Beats were completely unaffected due to their vaccinations . . . thank the universe), we've been home a lot more lately trying to recover and not pass any of this on to our coworkers. Because of this, there's been more run-ins with Fleur and having to watch her mental health deteriorate due to the impending "lockout" that is coming in the next couple of weeks. All of it so depressing to watch.

One evening, while speaking with a neighbor about all of this, the conversation turned quickly to what results in these types of situations: stories of elderly abandoned in nursing homes with no one ever visiting them to those who live in severely impoverished situations. Sighing, this neighbor looked at me sadly and made a concluding statement that immediately caused to me to audibly protest: "she wouldn't be in this situation if she had children." It didn't take long to correct her, pointing out so many examples for why this assumption was completely false. Yet, even after that, just knowing that myth exists still plagued me.

The idea of having children as a way of securing caregivers for aging parents isn't a new one. In many cultures, multigenerational families exist under one roof in order to ensure that this practice occurs and even in cultures where families don't reside together, the topics of aging parents is a common one. Hence the myth flourishes that to guarantee that you will be cared for as you age, who need to have children. At all costs.

In June 2013, a month before the Beats made their dramatic entrance into the world, Grey and I made a point of touring labor & delivery at the university. I remember wandering through the L&D rooms, being greatly amazed at their size, marveling at the options available for the patients and even impressed with the postpartum support. During the tour, one of the topics that came up was security. Our tour guide explained that each parent would be given a bracelet linking them to their baby and that security was of the utmost priority. She then went on to explain that the reason for all of this was because there are sadly some people who will go to great lengths to get a baby. That they feel such a need that they will even resort to stealing someone else's child. Never mind the fact that most kidnappings of this nature are done by a family member or someone close to the family (i.e. a baby daddy left out of the loop or a disgruntled family member). No, what was implied instead was that crazy infertile would sneak in and, if you weren't careful, make off with your child.

The thing is, most people don't openly talk about dealing with aging abusive parents and the long term negative affects this decision can have for generations. When we hear about elderly abandoned in nursing homes, the judgement is always that the children are selfish and uncaring. Never mind the fact that there very likely is a reason these people are alone.

The flip is this assumption that those who are childless have no interest in children or building/fostering family. That somehow because they are not parenting, they don't have the same interest in building community and seeing the next generation flourish. During my time in the ALI community, I've had the opportunity to meet women who are not parenting after infertility who actively counter this taboo daily. As they write about their families, their communities and the children in their lives, it be plainly clear how the love the share and foster is better the world around them.

After the Beats arrived, I found even more examples of this in my daily life. There were the NICU nurses who were living with infertility who I watched love and care for my fragile Beats, helping them grow and thrive. In the moments I found myself breaking in the NICU, they wrapped me in love and helped shoulder some of the burden so I could be with my babies. There was the neonatologist who we met who was undergoing her final round of IVF. I remember the day she learned all her embryos had died and that her only chance for pregnancy would involve donor egg. She came into the NICU that day and specifically to work with a family whose newborn daughter was struggling to eat and was very dehydrated. I watched that doctor who was grieving the loss of her biological children pour love and support into a family who clearly would never understand.

Even now, I see those examples. I see them at our daycare, with the teachers and directors who do not have children who pour themselves into each child that pass through their doorway. I see them in the older couple who offers to babysit for their neighbors who are new parents. I see it in my community when an older gentleman helps a child reach for a book at the library or when a younger couple offers their seats on the bus to a single mom and her kids. And I see it with my mentors and advisors, women who are not mothers, who still support me during this period as my career has taken a backseat. They remind me that they still believe in me.

The honest, hard truth so many in this world struggle with is that having a child will not ensure your happiness or well-being. Placing that burden on the next generation is not only unfair, it's just plain selfish. Yes, having a child will change your outlook on life and for many will open their hearts in ways it wasn't open before. But having a child does not lift one to a higher calling. There are terrible people who procreate without issue. Similarly, there are amazingly loving people who will never parent. Yet, in the end, those who are awful and abusive will be alone while those who chose to love and build will always have family by their side.

Watching Fleur lurk the grounds like a zombie has been hard to witness. A younger and more naive version of me would have been sucked in long ago, allowing her to drain what energy I have due to pity. Watching neighbors avoid her, it's clear how she's chosen to live. As sad is it is, there's a lesson to be learned through her. A lesson similar to the one learned during infertility: happiness and wholeness needs to come from within.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The dangers of milestones

Life is a changing in these parts, with lots and lots of drama to keep Grey and me occupied. The whole family has been sick for the past 2 weeks, resulting in two separate visits to the ER for ear infections and a diagnosis of bronchitis for me (and a prescription of codeine to help me sleep). In addition, with Fleur's pending eviction, the police have been coming to our property more and more. It's a stressful and sad situation. Not to mention something that is completely preventable. But mental illness is a complex issue and one that is draining even with people who are actively seeking help. I need to write more on this, as Fleur's deterioration has truly been terrible to witness, but that post needs some more time to craft.

In the meantime, there's another concern.

I wrote before about milestone anxiety and how stress-inducing it can be to listen to all the milestones other children the same age are achieving. With He-Beat, even though he is completely on track, I've sensed this one-upmanship that can happen in passing conversation. It's never meant to be malicious as parents are simply expressing pride in what their children are doing. But I've seen first-hand the moment where one parent in going on about all the amazing things their baby/toddler is doing, failing to notice the down-casted eyes of the other parent (usually a mom). The look of worry that falls over that parent's face that their baby hasn't achieved "X."

And with that worry can come shame; a concern that they aren't doing the right thing.

In a lot of ways, milestone anxiety and TTC anxiety are the same. During my first year of TTC, just prior to diagnosis, I spent a lot of time on TTC forums where women stressed endlessly about achieving pregnancy. It amuses me now to think about on all the "helpful advice" from those who easily achieved pregnancy about how to knock yourself up. Everything from relaxing to various combinations of royal jelly and vitamin B to even suggestions of prescribed headstands. Never mind the fact that biology is a complex and reproduction is still a poorly understood phenomenon. Nope, these women knew the answers. What they failed to understand, though, was how shaming that advice could be. I remember stressing so much about the fact that I wasn't doing things right. That somehow I was screwing everything up. As I put myself through the ringer for regiments and supplement cocktails, it wasn't long before I was becoming frustrated with how hard I was working for nothing.

It wasn't until later that I learned that infertility wasn't due to something I was doing wrong. It was a biological problem that required help. Somehow we got lucky to figure out what the problem was and pursuing a treatment that allowed me to bring my Beats home. But it took years to get to a point where I could look at those women who supposedly had the answers and not feel immense anxiety or shame. To know that though they thought they were helping, they were actually the last thing people I needed to be listening to.

The recent round of anxiety is due to She-Beat not moving. After months of tummy time, working with her on positioning herself to crawl and working on standing, she seems to have zero interest. In all other aspects, my sweet girl is excelling. She drinks solely from a sippy cup (bottles only in the morning and at night), feeds herself, has excelled at fine motors skills, babbles up a storm and is very social. But she's not crawling. And she's scheduled to be transitioned to the toddler room on Monday, joining her brother and all the other babies she has grown with.

All of us are worried that she'll be mowed over.

On one hand, this transition could be a very good thing. Both her doctors and her teachers believe it may be a motivation issue. Yes, all babies develop differently with some babies not even crawling until 12 months. And yes, where some excel, others take longer. It could simply be that She-Beat has been focusing her time on other milestones and that gross motor is something that she'll develop when she's ready.

But my time in the trenches also taught me a valuable lesson: some things shouldn't be hard. That if your gut is telling you something is off, it's worth pushing for help.

Yesterday this article in Slate brought me to tears. As the author talked about how her daughter's delay was causing her to see her child in a negative light, I sobbed over the realization that those feelings of frustration were starting to surface with She-Beat. I don't want to feel that way about my daughter. She is such a light in my life and amazingly beautiful soul. I don't want to be at a point where all of that deteriorates because she's not reaching this milestone. The stress and anxiety are just not worth it.

Over the past few days, I took some steps. I unsubscribed from BabyCenter and their stress-inducing milestone emails. I also contacted her pediatrician and after a longish conversation with the nurse got a referral for her to be seen again by the physical therapist she saw in April. We have an appointment in a couple of weeks, which Grey is insisting he be included in. I also have been talking with her teachers and we are formulating a game plan for moving forward.

And, finally, I made a decision to embrace the positive that is there with my daughter. To make sure that in the evenings when we play together and read together before bed to focus on how hard she is working and focus on the amazing things she is doing. Part of this means that I will also be taking a break from blogs that post milestone updates. It's not that those authors are doing anything wrong, but just as bump-updates were a trigger during my darkest moments in the trenches, so too are these posts likely to be difficult.

Two weeks until the PT appointment. Two weeks to begin making all these changes. The new motto: no shame.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Redefining "kind"

Recently, I've been occupying the time during my final pump session by watching a TV series on A&E called "Longmire." In one episode, there's a story about a man who's trailer is being reposed by the bank for failure to make payments. The man pleads with the young deputy, asking for him to be a friend and show him a bit of kindness as this is his home. The deputy, in a moment of empathy, cut the man a check to cover his mortgage payment. A few scenes later it is revealed that this man took that money and used it for gambling. When the deputy confronts this man, the man pulls a gun, threatening him. It is only when the deputy's partner threatens to shoot the man that he lowers his weapon.

No good deeds goes unpunished.

Mel's post this morning struck a nerve with me. She talks about kindness and how important small acts of kindness are. Inherently and in an ideal world, I completely agree. Hatred and bitterness sow the seeds of discontent and many times it's the small things that recharge our sense of hope.

The problem is, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of pain and trouble because of what people deem as kindness.

In 2006, Grey and I purchased our first home. A condo on the north end of the city in a neighborhood that was "transitioning." Like many, we believed that homeownership was the logical next step (marriage, home, kids, etc) and intended on using the experience both as a means of saving money (rents were rapidly rising) as well as to prepare for our future house. Shortly after, the mortgage bubble popped. And like many Americans, we found ourselves in a situation where we couldn't sell. 8 yrs later, we've managed to hang on, making payments and meeting expenses. This in and of itself has been stressful.

The added stress is that we unknowingly bought into a building with criminals and people who are mentally ill. Until recently, we shared walls with a man who raped his 16 yr old daughter. On the other side we have a paranoid narcissist who uses email for harassing anyone he disagrees with and freely expresses his bigoted views about the world. The building has a meeting room that only board members have access too because someone once ran a prostitution ring out of it. There's been drug trafficking, with the previous owner of our unit actively trying to off himself by consuming massive amounts of cocaine. The nicest unit in the whole building was once condemned by the health department after the discovered it filled with heroine needles. And this is just the beginning of the stories.

Both Grey and I have been told we should write a book. Multiple times.

The current issue that is on the forefront of my mind regards a tenant who has a dog. When you first meet Fleur, one would assume that she is a harmless little old lady who is going deaf and who loves her poodle. But if you hang around long enough, talking with the neighbors, the interesting stories start to emerge. You find out that even though she's a self-proclaimed hippie, believing in love and peace, that she has a history of bullying other tenants. That she has taken to trespassing on neighboring properties and yelling at the owners when they ask her not to do so. That she allows her dog to run lose in the building, scaring other tenant and terrorizing other dogs. That she has built an agility course in her 500 sq ft unit to run this dog from 4 am to 12 am daily in order to exercise him because she can't be bothered to walk him. That we doesn't have a bathroom sink and her toilet has been leaking, which she refuses to fix. That she has zero sound-proofing under the hardwood floors that she installed and insists on wearing wooden clogs when she walks over them (despite repeat complaints and request to stop). That she refuses to put down area rugs because her dog will pee on them. That this animal whines constantly because she doesn't take him out enough to let him urinate. That she steals mail from other tenants. That she threatens to sue anyone who confronts her about her behavior.

That this is her third dog (the first disappeared and the other she rehomed after it was clear she was neglecting it).

That she has been foreclosed on. And has no housing options because she turned down the spot for senior housing.

That it is very likely she will be homeless by the end of summer, living under a bridge.

For 8 yrs, I've been told to look the other way with Fleur's behavior. When asked about getting a support system or working with her to train her dogs (which she has claimed to be "service dogs"), I've been told to stop harassing her. When asked about the floors, I've been told she has no money, so why try. All the while her bringing in contractors to remodel her bathroom (why there is no sink is beyond me). All in the name of kindness.

Needless to say, I'm beyond pissed about the situation. Early this summer I took it upon myself to try to find a solution that would get her a spot again in senior housing, hoping to give her an out from this situation. Ever single agency made it clear that either she needed to do this or she needed to be declared mentally unfit. When asked about relatives or support system, it dawned on me that it's been 3 yrs since anyone has visited. Likely due to her burning them out. Animal control won't help without extensive documentation and the police consider this a civil matter.

All of it has made me realize that we need to redefine "kindness." There's this assumption that enforcing rules, asking people to follow social norms and requiring compliance is not kindness. That by inhibiting someone from exercising something they view as a freedom, we are being mean.

The truth is, human beings require boundaries to function. Traffic laws exist to help create order. Rules need to be followed in order to help establish a sense of fairness and peace. Without these things, chaos ensues. It's not enough to tell people not to text and drive because every single person believes they are far better at multi-tasking then they actually are. And waiting for the "too late" always leads to the regrettable incident that could have easily been prevented.

Today is the deadline for Fleur to remove the dog from her unit. I don't know what is going to happen going forward because I've never been in this position of having to enforce rules like this. Fleur's response has been to threaten the HOA lawyer with a lawsuit (which he was amused by) and to stick a cross and garlic cloves outside her door in order to ward off evil spirits. In the meantime, the dog is getting more aggressive. Without someone to properly train him, he's taken to nipping at her and others as well as humping her. All bad signs. In the process of listening to others about kindness, a monster of a situation has been created. With people scheming about how to remove the dog, going so far to wish him an early death.

It sickens me. It angers me. It makes me hate my home.

If anyone wants to adopt a standard poodle that is about 9 months old, please let me know.
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