Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The perfect storm: dealing with surprise pregnancy announcements

In 2011, following a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, I joined a Mind/Body course that turned into a support group. The women in this class where at various stages in their journeys ranging from newly diagnosed (that was me) to having undergone and survived a failed round of IVF. After the course finished, the group decided to continue meeting as many were gearing up for their first rounds of IVF and having support from women who understood seemed essential. There were reasons I decided to leave this group. There was the Angie saga, where meetings started to revolve around her continual life drama mingled with her insensitivity when discussing her pregnancy. There was frustration with organizing meetings and keeping things on track. But ultimately what sealed the deal for my exit was a surprise pregnancy announcement. At the time, the group was aware of one member who was completing an IVF cycle and waiting for results. On the heels of her good news that the cycle had been a success, another member dropped the bomb that she and her husband had undergone a FET and had just learned it was successful. Her rational for not telling the group was that she wanted this knowledge cycle to be between herself and her husband.

I struggled a lot with this surprise announcement. Logically I understood where she was coming from and knew that this decision was one that was best for her family. But I also felt betrayed. This was someone I had supported without question during her first round of IVF, cheering for her when she got good news, mourning with her when it became clear that she would miscarry and knitting her socks to help support her as she talked about another round. I should have been happy. Instead I was hurt from the secrecy and from being blind-sided

Recently the IF community received an unexpected announcement. Jay, a veteran IFer who blogs at the 2 week wait turned Infertility Advocate, announced that she unexpectedly pregnant. The response has been rocky.

Full disclosure: Jay is a very good friend. She’s been a source of support, starting online and then moving to real life, throughout my journey through infertility and loss.  She’s given me hope when no one else could; given me a reason try when it seemed impossible. Hence the news of this pregnancy was a joyous one for both Grey and me. Granted, I’m in a very different spot compared to many in this community as I am done expanding my family. All I could feel was joy.

So when I originally saw her post, I was horrified to hear all that was happening and angry that she was being attacked. When we talked, though, Jay made a point to present the viewpoints from the other side, sending me three separate posts written by this announcement and how it was affecting this community. Reading those posts, many themes began to emerge. Themes of how this community deals with surprises and unexpected news, ideas about advocates who are fighting for change and finally questions about the community itself, both who belongs and how we should be reacting to hurt feelings.

What's underlying, though, that no one has addressed, is how we deal with surprising news that can bring about negative feelings.

Truth be told, I don't believe there is any way that Jay could have announced this pregnancy without hurting someone. It was the perfect set up for the beginning. Given that she was told she had a 1% chance of ever becoming pregnant again, I believe that many in this community considered her "safe" from anything like this. Yes, some will argue that the timing of her announcement or how it was done was is poor taste, but what I think the root of the issue is that it was a surprise. Unlike with treatment, where those following are given ample time to prepare for such news, this was totally unexpected. In other words, regardless of how sensitive she made her announcement or when, this news was going to hurt people. It hurts because there wasn't time to steel one's self from the pain of this news; it hurts because there are those who may never get to make such an announcement. 

In addition to this initial shockwave, there's also the commentary on community response. Some firmly believe that Jay should be supported without question. After all, this news does not impact her work as an advocate and if nothing else it is a major win for the community. Others, though, feel that hurt feelings need to be addressed. Already, I've seen calls both for Jay to apologize, not to apologize and even condemnation for "good intentions not being good enough." All the while, emotions are mixed and people seem to be spinning out of control. 

What needs to happen is people need to take a step back. Yes, those who have been hurt should voice it and be allowed to explore why this announcement caused them pain. But wishing harm onto anyone, especially someone who is fighting for this community, is not acceptable. Nor is encouraging hateful speech that perpetuates the idea of the "bitter infertile." In addition, we also need to allow for apologies and accept responsibility for our own roles. To expect everyone who finds themselves unexpected pregnant to have to apologize again and again is beyond ridiculous and, frankly, is a recipe for losing one's self to this disease. 

Tonight, on the eve of a new year, this community once again finds itself at a point of transition. For some, this past year has been a hard one while for others it's been one that has brought healing. My hope is that going into 2015 we can once again find common ground, agreeing that even though there is hurt, there should also be support. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Nobody can be okay all the time....
~Charlotte Martin. Interview with Musical Discoveries, 2006 

There is music that touches us, changes us in ways we never imagined. That change can either be immediate, either by having us reflect and remember. Affording us a soundtrack for a special moment or event that we will forever remember and will help share our future. And then there's music that inspires; gives us something to strive for. We imagine the day that we will hear this song and all the pieces will be in place.

In 2008, I stumbled upon this song almost by accident. I had recently discovered Charlotte Martin's music and was exploring her work. All while I was in the thick of graduate school and struggling with my own demons. I remember hearing this song and immediately began daydreaming of the day I could listen while embracing the words.

Every tree has got her root
And every girl forbidden fruit
And got her demons

And the path I chose to go
A different girl so long ago
I had my reasons

And she's in my head so loud
And screaming,
“Shouldn't you be proud of what you came from?"

“Oh you've been crippled and you've walked and 
You've been shut up and you talked
So let's talk some more”

(One, two, three
The flashback to get me
On a one, two, four
The threat of the memory)

One of the curses of infertility and loss is that it makes you doubt yourself. While others move on to a milestone seemingly effortlessly, one finds themselves struggling with worthiness and feelings of damnation. Too often I've heard women in this community question whether they deserved to expand their family. That their desires for pregnancy and holding their children were going unfulfilled because they didn't deserve such happiness.

Like so many, I questioned myself and my motives. There were times I felt guilty and selfish with my quest. But the more I dug to explore my grief, the more I realized that this feeling of guilt and selfishness, of unworthiness, expanded to all aspects of my life. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I came to the realization that having a baby wouldn't cure me from these feelings. That it would require actually confronting my demons and forgiving myself.

And it's ripping at my heart
Because I'm dodging all the darts
And on a slow train

And then I'll wear it 'til it tatters
And it shatters on the floor
In instant replay

Oh, we're all rotten
And we're pure
And we're just looking for the cure
That feels like spring snow

And all we have is who we are
And where we been got us this far
So let me go

A few days ago, following a night of reflection with Grey about pain, I found myself humming this song. Reciting the lyrics in my head, I found myself for the first time feeling that they felt true. Despite surviving graduate school, multiple rounds of fertility treatments and the loss of our potential children. Despite achieving a pregnancy that resulted in our beautiful Beats. And despite recent rounds of rejection in career and uncertainty about the future. Going through all that hasn't made me whole. 

What has helped me get there has been a journey of self reflection and self forgiveness. A journey of self acceptance, wrinkles, flaws and all. With a final realization that though it's not perfect, and though the pain is still very real, it's finally okay.

Where is the hand
For me to reach?
Where is the moral
I'll never teach myself?
In all the black
In all the grief
Through all the pain
And unbelief
These are the words
That they all scream
I am redeemed

2014 has been a year of healing and resolution for me. This journey is far from over and there is still much to learn and overcome. But this year, for the first time in a very long time, I've found a reason to stop and reflect. To recognize not only how much has changed, but my role in bringing that about. And that is something to be proud of.

~Redeemed, by Charlotte Martin

Monday, December 29, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: 36yrs2d

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Saturday I marked my 36th year on this planet. Normally, as I hate any celebration (and being the center of attention), I pass this day by hiding out or finding some way to distract others around me. Usually without much success. 

This year, I decided to enlist help from others and turn the day into a playdate. We spent 3 hours drinking wine/beer and watching the Beats and their classmates run around our living room. By 6 pm, it was clear all the kids were throughly exhausted but a good time was had by all.

Not a bad way to start off another year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Transition

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is?Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Last night as Grey and I were preparing for bed, I found myself looking in the mirror. As I reached down to touch my stomach, memories of injections and emotions from 2 years ago came flooding back. As I gasped, I found the tears aren't far behind.

Laying in bed, Grey and I talk about pain. Right now, with all that is happening and the lack of certainty, we are in the thick of life pain. Pain that brings anger and exhaustion. Pain that many can easily understand. How different this pain is from the pain of infertility. The pain from continual grief and loss of a life dreamed. A gray pain that many fear and so few understand.

In the darkness, we both reflect and confess how awful the grayness was. That even though there are moments now that are hard, there are still many moments of joy that allow you to forget. How with the grayness there was no forgetting, even when you were striving for life. That the only way to overcome the grayness was to go through it and find a path out.

It's been 2 years since the needles, the anxiety and the fear. 2 years since we did our final round of treatment. And it's only now that the pain of healing is starting to subside. That I can truly look back and recognize how insanely awful being in the trenches was. Resolution is truly a journey. And the transition has only begun.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Giving back

* Disclaimer time. This post is about breast pump recycling. This post is NOT about choices regarding how one feeds one's child(ren). Everyone who is parenting or caring for a child or children will be faced with determining how best to feed them. This may be breastfeeding, formula feeding or pumping to express breastmilk. This may involve using baby-led weaning or using purees. This may involve using only organic foods, locally grown or not. Etc., etc., etc. The point is not how you choose to feed, but the fact that you are feeding your child, making sure they have access to nutrients required for health and growth. 

On August 15, 2014, I pumped breastmilk for the Beats for the very last time. A month earlier, due to HMFD, they had both weaned themselves and I was left pumping to fulfill their need for milk. Following their first birthday and on the heels of their transition to the toddler room, if was clear it was time to start transitioning them to cow's milk. And with that transition can the clear signal that it was time to hung up the pump.

Since August, my breast pump has lived in a box with me wondering what to do with it. Some suggested selling it, but seeing as the portable pumps are meant to for a single user it didn't seem like a good option. That and they only place I had seen pumps listed was Craig's list, which seemed a bit sketchie. The other option was simply tossing it into the garbage, but it seemed like such a waste.

Finally today, it dawned on me that I'm unlikely to be the only person facing this dilemma, I contacted the company that manufactured my pump to enlist their help.

Rather recently, breast pump recycling has become an option. Companies like Hygea pioneered the idea of recycling with their "No pumps in dumps" campaign. More recently, Medela has also started a pump recycling program, collaborating with the Ronald McDonald House Charities to support the donation of breast pumps to mothers staying with them while their babies are in NICU. Granted, they only want the pump unit, leaving the owner with trying to figure out how to recycle tubing and other parts. But the idea of supporting a charity that is helping new mothers with babies in NICU is very appealing.

Tonight I printed off a label to return my pump to Medela. Tomorrow I will be dropping off a box at my local post office so that this pump can return to Illinois. The tote that housed this pump will be donated to the local LLL, for someone who is in need of a travel case.

As I unpackaged the pump unit from the tote and prepared it for shipping, I had flashbacks to those 2 am pump sessions when I would drift in and out of sleep while extracting milk. Of having to tote the pump with me to work daily, sneaking away every 3 hours to drain. All of it was exhausting, but I also knew my efforts were feeding the Beats and those 30 min sessions did provide me with some cherished alone time.

Farewell my dearest breast pump. Your tubes and wires will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Snapshots and snippets

There are moments when time drags. Seconds creep slowly by at a rate that could drive one crazy. Then there are moments where you dare not to blink because of what is happening. For me, the last two weeks have fallen into this category. And though I could write many micro-posts about each, I figured an update in snippet form would be more appropriate.

6 am, Thursday December 4th:
Grey and I wake to do the usual morning routine. Once the Beats are settled in with their morning bottles, I open my email. The first message that hits me is from the director of our daycare. Subject line "we will be closed, due to an accident at the building."


Email sparks internet search, which results in both Grey and I looking at one another in disbelief. Disbelief because we learn that a stolen car has been crashed into our daycare, smashing the very rooms the Beats and their classmates occupy. Thankfully all this happened at 2:15 am and no one was hurt, including the auto-thieves who escape on foot.

Mass text messaging ensues. Grey and I decide to split the day. We hold the Beats close, reflecting on how bad this could have been.

12:40 pm,  Thursday December 4th:
Last lecture for my course completed. Students have been given a take-home exam. Where previously there was excitement is now concern that I have written something that is impossible to complete. I assure them that it is very doable, but want them to work in groups to complete the exam. This clearly isn't what they have in mind.

10 am, Tuesday December 9th:
Meeting with one of the top STEM educators in the Seattle area who Grey now refers to as DRB. I've been bouncing off the walls for the past 48 hrs and clearly am driving Grey nuts (though he is amused too). Somehow I manage to calm myself to prepare.

DRB is amazing. Funny, smart, thoughtful and clearly 2-3 steps ahead of me. As we prepare tea, it is clear she is already trying to get an assessment of my goals and interests. She makes note of resources and people who I should get into contact with. She tells me that though she doesn't have anything at the moment with her team, she is thinking about the future and what is coming down the pipe. We talk about her work, how she got into STEM education research, her path and the importance of knowing when to transition and grow.

I spend the rest of the day buzzing from the meeting. I'm filled with hope. Grey teases me about my new crush.

3:15 pm, Thursday December 11th:
Finishing grading final exams and working on my final grade sheet. Get an email from E, my potential postdoc adviser in Boston, about the results of a recent grant application. "I can't even" she says before the forwarded message.

Find out that the review panel has decided this a worthy proposal that should be funded. But it will not be funded as there is currently no money. Options are to either accept rejection and resubmit (which take another 6 months for review) or to hang on and hope additional funds come through.

Email Grey asking how this is even possible? He points me to articles that talk about how decline in funding is causing a decline in US educational system. "People care more about apps than biomedical research."

E makes decision to wait to see if funding will come through. We chat about career choices and the future. Both of us are clearly discouraged.

8 pm, Monday December 15th:
Grey and I are exploring other childcare options. Though we adore the staff at our daycare, a combination of lack-of-space due to my schedule switching and the realities of how unsafe the location is is prompting us to look into hiring a nanny. Our meeting goes well with this potential nanny, who seems very qualified.

We're both nervous, though. It took us awhile to become comfortable with our current situation and we are concern about how changing childcare will impact the Beats. Is this really the best decision? Will this work out? Many questions to answer and research to pursue. I'm learning that there are situations where I really hate change.

8:30 am, Tuesday December 16th:
It's been a hard weekend. Grading finished and final grades have been submitted. I feel very beaten up after receiving a number of panicked emails from students about final grades. Many are upset and are now trying to figure out where they lost points. Some are pleading for a grade changes. These same students have evaded intervention all quarter.

I feel sick with having to respond and tell them that grades are final. Seeing the emails reminds me of grief and all that I experienced. I feel responsible for causing this panic and pain. Even though I can easily outline how points were earned and distributed. Though I was clear from the beginning about expectations. I'm left sympathizing and apologizing, wondering if I should have chased more of them down and warning them of the pending consequences.

All while I'm preparing for next quarter....

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The guilt of grades

There's a scene from the Simpson's I've been playing through my head the last couple of days. It's an episode where the teacher's are on strike, causing the elementary school to postpone classes. Bart is obviously thrilled, but Lisa is struggling despite her emergency preparedness kit. In this scene, Lisa is bouncing off the walls, demanding that someone grade her. Marge, looking around while clearly concerned, picks up a piece of paper, draws an "A" and hands it to her daughter. Only then is she appeased. Only then is there calm.

With the end of the quarter comes finalizing grades and submission. For as long as I can remember, these periods of transition have always been hotbeds of anxiety. As an undergrad, I remember the trauma that came with unexpectedly lower grades. The anxiety; the guilt; the confusion. Explanations always revealed the expected, but for some reason I consistently managed to get it into my head that I was performing better than expected in my courses. In graduate school, I suddenly found myself on the other side of the equation. I remember working with students who insisted up to the very end that they were fine and had a firm grasp of the material. All the while with me knowing that the excel sheet I had been generating wasn't reflecting this.

Grades are a hard thing. We use them as a metric for quality, assessing performance and potential. In the ALI community, someone declaring that they have grade "A" embryos brings on cheers and hope, while grade "B" gives anyone supporting pause, trying instead to figure out how to prepare for the potential failure that seems to be looming. We grade our food, our clothing, our schools and even our physicians. Grading is a norm within our society.

But what we don't consider is the negativity that comes with attaching a grade to a person. When we give someone an "A," we assume that they are smart. What isn't taken into consideration is that their performance may be due to their ability to grasp the material or other external factors. For example, I've had students who thrive in lecture-exam based courses. Their ability to absorb the material presented to them and spit it back out is impressive. But take these same students and put them into the lab, and it usually isn't long before meltdowns happen. On the flip, I've had students who do well with presentations and group work. They thrive in these social settings. Isolate them, though, for individual projects, and the work tends not to be as good.

One of the things I love about teaching is tapping into these learning styles. Within my field, there's been a lot of work to overhaul how we present information. The focus in more on learning goals and incorporating activities so that students learn how to apply the knowledge vs. stuffing their heads full of every little bit of information. With this overhaul has come more "ah-ha" moments; the moment where students put the information together in a manner that they understand it. Granted, there's a lot of upfront work, both for myself and the students (which tends to frustrate them), but the end result is often gratifying.

Despite this and the fact that I want every one of my students to succeed, I know that at the end of the day I have to assign grades. And even though I'm meticulous with my spreadsheets, clearly laying out where points are earned and distributed, I still have that way of anxiety and guilt when I'm in this process and days after I hit the submit button. Because I know that I will have students who are shocked by the outcome of the quarter. Disappointed that they didn't do better. And even though I will not have heard from them all quarter, I know in the next 48 hours I will suddenly have questions and requests for an explanation.

I'm struggling because I'm internalizing all of this. That I should have prevented this shock some of my students are experiencing. That I should have held more meetings, required weekly meetings to check in, been more clear about expectations and even had clearer rubrics (this one I will be working on during the break). What I'm trying to remember, though, is that sometimes failure is the best teacher. That we need to fail in order to reassess and relearn. Without failure, people become comfortable and are unwilling to expand. Failure can push us to make changes or try new things we otherwise wouldn't. Failure is usually what gives rise to success.

Obviously, none of that is sinking in at the moment. Instead I'm stuck with the guilt. How I hate grading.

Monday, December 8, 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Quiver

There this moment each morning, just after I wake up but before I truly have my wits about me, where it feels like you can tune into the world. That half-dream, half-awake state where the weight of life hasn't clicked and one can simply take in their surroundings. I haven't had this moment in over a year as I've been waking to the cries of a hungry baby (or two), but with the Beats sleeping in longer it's been happening again.

In those moments of silence, there usually a peace that comes. Intoxicating, particularly on cold, clear mornings where there's temptation is simply crawl back under the covers in order to sneak in a few more moments of sleep. But there are other mornings where the air is filled with an electricity; an quivering signaling that change is on the horizon.

Today, I felt this quivering. This promise of change. All reflected in the light of the cold, clear moon. Hopefully a good omen for my interview tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


big world little feet
small hands will move to meet
your toys and sugar sweets
when you start to crawl

you'll use your hands and knees
go wherever you please
you cannot wait to be
big enough to crawl

 and everything will be right
 when you can walk upright
 down the stairs and the hall
but first you’ve gotta

flowers are purpley
big birds up in a tree
you’ll go outside and see
and try your best to crawl

the grass is tall and green
the grass is soft and clean
it's such a silly scene
as you learn to crawl

and everything will be nice
when your steps are precise
you won't lean on the wall
but first you’ve gotta

~Crawl by Caspar Babypants

Apparently She-Beat missed the memo on this. That crawling comes before cruising, pulling up and finally walking (or sprinting, which is her brother's favorite form of transportation at the moment). No, little girl has her own ideas.

This past week we've known something was coming. She-Beat has been in PT for about a month now, working on pulling up, cruising, standing and even walking. The thought is that because of tummy issues she's been resistant to get on all fours simply because if doesn't feel good (and may even hurt), hence why she hasn't been crawling. So the idea was to work backwards; starting first with cruising, walking and then working down to crawling.

The first few PT sessions were really good. We could see that she was working hard and was making some progress. But that all came to a halt when she got sick. Instead of working, the sessions were spent consoling her.

I've been feeling a lot of guilt with She-Beat not moving. Wondering if I had just forced more tummy time or worked with her more if all of this would have been circumvented. It hasn't helped that others have suggested that she's not moving because I've been working and sending her to daycare instead. With the fear and guilt has come isolation and anger.

Last week, though, she turned a corner. Suddenly she INSISTED on standing and moving her feet, whining while watching her brother climb the stairs or race through the room. Whereas before she was completely happy to be carried, now she pushes and turns herself so that she can get in a few steps to the car in the morning. And finally, she's starting to cruise. Granted, she doesn't get terribly far and it takes her awhile, but little girl is moving her feet. None of this has been perfect and there are moments where she meltdowns in frustration. Still, she's been trying.

This morning she had a surprise for me. Two weeks ago, we purchased a good walking toy for her (the type of brakes . . . can't emphasize how important those are). We've been having her stand with it, playing with all the buttons and levers. Today I noticed she was pushing it like she was trying to propel it forward. Unlike before, where unlocking it made her mad, I found her trying to disable the break. Taking a moment to steal myself, I positioned myself in front so that I could control the toy and then reached down to click the button to make the walker mobile.

In the past, She-Beat would have screamed if the toy moved. She would have leaned way forward and cried in protest. Today, she lifted one foot and moved it forward. And then did the same thing with her other foot. She repeated this process again and again and again until we were on the other side of the room.

We still have a long way to go. There's still working on her balance, getting her to move without support. She also needs to learn about supporting herself on her knees, which will allow her to master stairs and pulling up more easily. But today that doesn't matter. Today, my little girl is mobile. And I am so proud.

Monday, December 1, 2014

#MicroblogMondays - Peace

It's nap time here at Chateau Beat. One toddler is cutting new teeth, so unhappiness and need for cuddles is high. But nap time brings a quiet, that combined with the cold, reminds me of the Christmas carol Silent Night. As I watch these two angels sleep softly, breathing peacefully, the last two lines roll through my head.

Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.

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