Search

breathe, write, repeat

A thirty something's attempt at being human

Why I write

I grew up in a household without religion. Our home was full of love and I felt safe. Yet, there was no mention of God in the home where I felt so loved and cared for.

For years I described myself as an atheist, even though I wasn’t quite comfortable with the term. I didn’t prescribe to any organized religion or believe in God in a traditional sense, so I didn’t know what other label to give myself. Spiritual perhaps, but even then, I thought of people who were “spiritual” as new age folk who went to ashrams and spoke of the universe. I wanted to believe in something in a higher power, believe that there was more to the world than what meets the eye but none of the explanations from organized religion resonated with me.

In my early 20s, as I went through university, travelled the world and worked at different jobs, God was not on the forefront of my mind. I believed that people were good and that things usually worked out in the end. I felt safe. I travelled alone. Often. In fact, I preferred travelling along. I would write in my journal about the people I’d met and the places I’d seen. I met new friends at hostels and found out about different parts of the world. I sat alone at restaurants, perfectly happy. Everywhere I travelled, I felt safe. It’s not that bad things never happened, although they rarely did. I had my wallet stolen in Madrid, I was attacked in Havana. But my sense of safety in the world didn’t waver and I believed that even if something bad happened to me, there were good people who would then help me. I believed in people, not in God.

Then when I was 25, a series of events happened that made me question my place in the world. Firstly, my mom got cancer. She had two operations and recovered. A couple months after her recovery, my parents divorced. My dad took the ferry to Vancouver where I was living, took me out for coffee and told me that he had never been happy in his marriage. He said that he didn’t think there had ever been real intimacy and love in my parents’ marriage. He moved out of my childhood home a couple weeks later – a few days after I met the man I am now married to.  Over the next few months, I fell deeply in love with my husband and three of my four grandparents passed away. Everything shifted that year. My mom went from someone who provided me with comfort to someone who needed constant comforting. My father rekindled a romance with his college girlfriend and a new energetic, happier side of him emerged that I hadn’t seen before. My view of myself as an extremely lucky person that bad things didn’t happen to changed. I saw myself as one of them, one the rest of the world, the people who bad things happened to. A person who can be a statistic. A person who might not always live a charmed life. A person who bad things could happen to. A person who could misread a broken marriage for a happy, healthy, loving home.

Life has carried on since the year my world shifted. I realized that the problems I had were those of a blessed person, a very lucky person. Most people have far greater tragedies in their lives than their parents’ divorce. Everybody’s grandparents pass away. I found great love with my husband, new friends in a new city as I moved to Toronto for graduate school and work.  Trips home were emotionally draining as I tried to navigate the new landscape of my family, or the various different people who were members of my family, but no longer one cohesive whole. I continue to watch my mother struggle and my dad enjoy the new life he had created.

I got married. We pulled off a wedding with two sets of divorced parents and it went remarkably well. My husband and I started talking about having children. We made our bucket list of things we wanted to do before having kids and set a date when I would go off birth control.

One day, while I was walking to work I realized that I wasn’t breathing properly. My breath was shallow and my shoulders were tight. I felt scared. I was just going about my everyday life and I felt scared. When my husband was away, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’d feel my heart racing and worry that I had a heart problem. I put on some music and tried to ignore it and go back to sleep. The times when I couldn’t breathe came more frequently and at strange times. Times when I thought I should be relaxed, I felt scared. I had stopped feeling safe in the world. I still felt loved, yes – I knew my husband loved me deeply, but I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t trust that I could be a good mother. I didn’t think we could afford a house like I grew up in or have the type of job security my parents had during my childhood. I was really worried that I would not be up for the task of being a parent.

So I did what atheists do in situations like this – I went to therapy. I used by benefits and sought help from a secular health professional. And I felt a lot better. But being an atheist doesn’t suit me anymore. I want to believe in more than the goodness of people. I want to believe that the sun coming up in the morning and the magic that my husband and I share and dew on the grass aren’t acts of science. I want to find God. I want to become closer to God. And the only way I know how to do this is by writing.

Advertisements
Featured post

Infertility is:

Ultrasound gel stuck to my sock

Cold feet in mesh booties

A needle in my fridge

$500 invoices.

Tim Hortons after a morning appointments.

 

Pee sticks.

Blood tests

Medication

Waivers

Timed sex

 

 

Numbers.

So many numbers.

Uterine lining numbers.

Sperm wash numbers.

Statistical chance numbers.

 

Numbers we don’t understand. Numbers we do.

Good numbers. Bad numbers.

Numbers as explanations to questions.

 

Phone calls that say “no caller ID”.

Calls to the urologist.

Calls to the endocrinologist.

Calls to the fertility clinic.

 

Giving your boss vague sick notes.

Crying after office baby showers.

Using incognito browsers at work.

 

Jealousy.

Rage.

Spite.

Feeling bad for feeling jealous.

Giving pregnant women the stink eye anyways.

 

Getting sperm inseminated in you in the morning and going to a concert that evening.

Looking around the concert and wondering if anyone else got turkey-bastered that morning.

People putting things up your vagina. A lot.

 

Not calling your best friend because you don’t want to talk about her kids

Feeling guilty because when you do talk she always asks how you’re doing.

 

Hiding the blood requisitions on the fridge when company comes over.

Saying “nothing” when you dad asks what you’ve been up to this week.

Following Instagram feeds with infertility memes.

Hating facebook.

 

Loneliness.

Shame.

Vulnerability.

Heartbreak.

 

Standing Still

I’ve been having a hard time lately. I’ve had a hard time reconciling my ideas of what my life should be like with what it actually it. I’m overwhelmed by all the things I am not. I had a very specific notion of what my life would be like, and specifically what it would be like now. I’m thirty-four. I work at a job I don’t like. I rent my apartment. I don’t have kids. I’m still not over my parents’ divorce. I don’t know if my husband and I are on the same page about the future.

In my twenties I had the luxury of looking at people who were more successful than me and thinking, well maybe in time I’ll be like that. I held onto the view that people just keep on improving with age. But that’s not true. Now time has passed and all those things I’m not can’t be blamed on time. I didn’t go to an ivy league school, I didn’t work for the UN, I didn’t get in with a high paying company, I didn’t write a book, I didn’t have kids. I know there’s still time but it’s harder now to change direction. Now there’s less time.

At our last fertility appointment, the doctor assured me that the good news is that I’m within the fertile age bracket. You’re 34 great, the fertile period is until 35. I felt reassured. Then I remembered, I want two kids. By the time we are successful, even if things go well, I will be a “mature mom” with my first. Admittedly, sometimes I look at the women who are older than me at the clinic and think smugly to myself how good it is that we started when we did. I think to myself, no wonder they’re at a fertility clinic at their age. And yet, I’m 34, I’m still not pregnant. It will still take time, then I need to actually go through nine months of pregnancy and have the child. If we have another that will still be a couple of years after…

We started trying at 32. I felt proud that we’d left enough time.  We didn’t wait too long. The doctor said age definitely wasn’t the issue. This was true but it might be in the future. I don’t keep improving with age. Not with fertility, not with my career, not with my mental health. Everything just seems to keep getting harder and harder. I don’t have the boundless energy and optimism I once had. Now I know that things don’t always work out. I know that I’m not the cream of the crop. I know that time just keeps passing and I keep standing still.

The Opposite of Sex: Our First Try at IUI

Today we had our first IUI. It was awful. I’d gotten the call yesterday that my LH levels had surged. I was so relieved, they’d given me a prescription for an injection in case this didn’t happen. I’d had a bad week and I just thought of course it’ll be my luck that I need to take this freaky injection. But my body was doing what it was supposed to! I was pumped.

Then this morning as I was getting ready, I got really nervous and emotional. This was our first attempt at Artificial Insemination. We’d both taken drugs before, but at least then, conception would have happened from a place of love. We were now going forward with the possible creation of new life in the most contrived manner – on a sterile clinic table. The doctor told us there was a 15% chance of conception – so an 85% chance that it wouldn’t work. Still, it was possible that today would be the day we gave birth to the embryo that would become our child. It felt like a big deal. I actually felt nervous the way I did the morning of our wedding – that I realized I was doing something sacred, something truly important that would change my life forever.

We got to the clinic and I changed into the lap coat while they retrieved the sperm sample. That’s when things started to go downhill. The nurse said that she had consulted with the doctor about whether to go ahead with the IUI since “the quality wasn’t as great as we’d like”. If was a fraction of what they recommend but she assured us “you only need one sperm”. We had already paid our $500 and I was already in the robe so we went ahead with it. It was much more painful than I expected. They had described the pain as being similar to a pap test but for me, this felt way worse. I was glad I’d asked Husband to stay on the other side of the door so he couldn’t hear my yelps. He said he still did hear some.

Husband rushed back to work and I called in sick for the rest of the day. When I came home, I just cried and cried. I don’t know how to describe what I was crying about. I just felt so vulnerable. They had poked and prodded at me all week during the monitoring. I had managed to go to all the morning appointments and keep up with work all while jetlagged. I had felt like I was actually rocking this – like I could keep all these balls in the air. But then, lying on the table in pain only to receive a “subpar” sample – it was just too much. I felt like I was getting kicked while I was down. It just felt as cold and lonely as I suspected it might.

My therapist has recommended that I think long term so that “I don’t get caught up in the details”. Long term, I have every reason to believe we will be able to conceive eventually either through IUI or IVF. We don’t have a black and white prognosis, we both have problems that are fixable. When I reassure myself that it will happen eventually, it does make me feel better. However, getting there could be a very long journey. This was just one try. One try with a small chance of working. I barely survived the emotions of doing this once, nevermind several times, then maybe IVF. I don’t know how to shield myself from the ups and downs. I just keep on feeling – whether anxious, scared, lonely or hurt – I want a break from the emotions. I just want things to be easy for a while.

The 1 in 6: We Finally Found Them

Last week we were leaving the fertility clinic when we heard someone call our names. It was our friend Jenna. Our first reaction was the usual pleasant surprise that happens when you bump into a friend unexpectedly. Hey Jenna! Then in a split second we remembered where we were and thus that our cover, and Jenna’s, was blown. The surprise shifted to shock as the three of us stared at each other in disbelief. You too? Have you been coming here for awhile? Yup. You? Yup.

We were all still stunned. Then the shock shifted to exuberant excitement. We couldn’t believe it. This whole time we had been socializing with Jenna and Eric this past winter, we were both hiding the gut-wrenching truth of what was actually going on in our lives. We’d been making small talk about vacation plans and their new condo when we could have actually been talking about what was on our minds – with some of the few people who actually get it.

We started talking a mile a minute and comparing notes and disbelief that we were all going through fertility problems. It’s a funny thing to be excited about and it was interspersed with “well I’m sorry you’re going through this too” then back to the excitement that we finally had people we could talk to about this who actually got it. I’m pretty sure our conversation was so boisterous that the entire waiting room full of anxious couples was staring at us.

For the rest of the afternoon I felt like I was still coming down from a high. It was so wonderful to finally feel like we weren’t alone – to feel like we weren’t freaks and that other normal people – friends we go cottaging with, who I went to grad school with, whose wedding we attended – good friends, were also going through this. We immediately messaged Jenna and made plans for a double date.

When we came home my husband and I started wondering about their story and figured that they had likely started going to fertility clinic around the same time as we had. We were experiencing such parallel struggles yet it was only the fortuitous timing of our appointments that led us to realize we were in a similar situation.

I’ve been so frustrated that I haven’t had anyone to talk to about this. They say that one in six couples experience infertility yet there is radio silence around the issue. I’ve been banging my head against the wall every time another friend gets pregnant wondering “where the hell are the other one in six?”. Turns out, they were right beside me this whole time.

More Office Babies; More Hidden Tears

Last week, my colleague who I’ve worked has been with our organization for the last seven years, quit abruptly. I found out through an office-wide email he sent two days before leaving. This guy sits beside me in our cubicle pod and hadn’t said a thing.

The next day my colleague frantically arranged a cake gathering as we always do when someone leaves the organization. Peter started talking about his new job. I’ve been looking for a new job for the past few months. I’ve been to a few interviews but nothing has worked out. So hearing that a guy who has barely showed up for work got an awesome job while I’ve been hustling was frustrating at best. It just felt like a “good guys finish last” situation.

After he finished talking about the new job, there was a pause. Then he told everyone that his wife is three months pregnant. Of course that caused an uproar of excitement and congratulations, along with jeers of how they couldn’t imagine him as a father.

I was already mad that this guy had gotten a cushy government job was I was hustling to get anything else; so when he announced the pregnancy all I could think was Of course. That’s just your luck. I was so mad that he got everything I wanted. So I said congratulations, left while everyone was finishing their cake and cried in an empty stairwell.

It wasn’t that Peter having a kid affects my chances. And what do I know about their fertility journey? It very well could have taken them a long time. These are things that colleagues share with each other. But in my mind, everything that I am working so hard for is happening to him in a heartbeat. I was furious. Where is the justice? Why do slackers get good jobs and people get pregnant at the drop of a hat while the rest of us struggle?

Beyond the anger, I just felt lonely. Nobody else was upset during the whole cake event except for me and I had to hide my feelings. I can’t tell my colleagues I’m looking for another job and I certainly can’t tell them we are experiencing fertility problems. So I just sat in the cold hallway by myself and stewed.

Peter wasn’t trying to hurt me. He was just being him, going about his business. But fuck, it’s so frustrating.

My Alter Ego Superhero

I have no idea what I’ll do if we can’t have kids. There isn’t a plan B. I never imagined a story of my life where procreation wasn’t inevitable.

I feel like if I don’t have kids I need to do something equally valuable with my life – become a lawyer, save the world, become super successful. Except that if I were able to do that I would have already. There’s nothing stopping me now. You see all these people who go through a hard time and come out with something brilliant from it – art, a book, a business. It all seems to be tied up in a neat package of “look how good came out of something bad”. But my floundering might just be floundering. There might now be anything magical about it.

I’ve seen friends struggle with rationalizing a childless existence as well, although for different reasons. A friend of mine doesn’t want to have children by choice. She was full of explanations “we can have foster kids, we can mentor kids, we can do a lot of good by not having kids of our own”. Not having children opens up resources – time, money, energy. So what do you do with that? There seems to be an onus on diverting all of the resources that would have gone into children into something else. You need to rationalize it. Children are the norm, so how do you explain your existence when you stray from the norm?

Every time I talk to my friends with children there the implied or direct feeling of “You’re so lucky you can…” then followed by a fill in the blank. You’re so lucky you can…sleep in, go out, travel, watch TV, relax etc. So even now, I think about how I need to use my time wisely. I need to, counter intuitively, appreciate my childlessness. Make something great out of it, be someone great because of it. But instead I’m spending a lot of time worrying. A lot of time being sad, trying to be healthy, trying to keep track of appointments and telling my therapist about how hard infertility is. This isn’t positioning me to be the next best thing – it’s just me reacting to my reality. If we never have kids, I don’t think I’ll be a different person and that scares me. It scares me that I’ll just keep on living my same mediocre life only there won’t the any magic in it. There won’t be the indescribable love that mothers experience, there won’t be the funny moments children bring, there won’t the “natural” cycle of life. There will only be me. The same me.

Dear 25 year old me

Yesterday Facebook popped up with one of those ‘8 years ago today’ memories. Eight years ago was a turning point in my life. Eight years ago today my dad moved out of my family home. Eight years ago today I was about to go on a first date with my husband. Eight years ago was when I realized that I wasn’t immune to life’s bumps and that being privileged doesn’t exclude one from pain. 

When I looked at the photo that popped up o thought ‘man I looked good’. I looked so refreshed and fresh faced. I didn’t have bags under my eyes or wrinkles. I was skinny. In the photo I was wearing one of my favourite sweaters that I had to give away when I gained weight. 

Looking at the photo I felt nostalgia for a younger, more beautiful me. A more independent, dreamier, world-traveller version of me. Now I feel tired. I think I look tired too. I feel like each day is a struggle. 

Yet when I think back to eight years ago – I was a mess. Probably more if a mess than I am now. I was really upset about my parents divorce. I was crying all the time. I was trying to be everything to everyone. I no longer understood my place in the world. I still don’t know if I understand my place in the world. 

That photo was still a year before I ever went to therapy. It was still five years before I got married. Seven years before I started trying to have my own family. It was a time when things were bad but I was blissfully unaware of the fallout that would follow. I had still never experienced anxiety. I still thought my mom would ‘bounce back’ from the divorce. I still thought my parents might be the type of divorced couple that communicates. At 25, I was beautiful and innocent. 

25 years is a long time to experience one reality. 25 years of family suppers. 25 years of tension without conflict. 25 years of feeling like I was one of those very special people from a perfect nuclear family. Two parents. One daughter. One son. 25 years of the other shoe never falling. 

For the past 8 years I have been trying to regain my sense of safety in the world. Trying to accept that bad things happen but that there is no point spending your life anticipating hurt and disappointment. I have found love – a deeper love than my parents ever had. I have also learned to start voicing my needs and not to view conflict as the beginning of an end. I have learned to meditate. I have learned to take deep breaths. I have learned that my parents aren’t always right. I have learned that I need to set boundaries with them and that love doesn’t always mean blindly putting others first. 

I have hurt. I have loved. I have learned. Eight years later, I’m still trying to make sense of what family means. I look at my fresh faces 25 year old self and wish her well. For my even at 33, the journey continues. 

The Feels of Infertility

Before we started trying to have kids, I looked at infertility as something dark and incomprehensible. I understood it to be a tragedy – one of life’s big blows. However, I had no idea what the day-to-day emotions would be like. Nor did I realize that infertility is not black and white. There are many variables, options and unknowns. Infertility is just defined as having regular sex without protection for over twelve months without getting pregnant. Therefore, it is often a journey, but not necessarily a life sentence. Many people experiencing infertility can eventually, somehow, have kids.

Even if there is hope, the process of waiting, of not knowing, of testing, of trying different medicines/treatments is an emotional rollercoaster. Lately, much of my energy is simply spent trying to be okay. Some of the feelings I’m experiencing were expected, while others, and their intensity, have surprised me. Just when I feel like I’ve got a handle on myself a different emotion pops up and blindsides me. I feel like I’m whack-a-mole with the messy emotions related to “infertility”.  Sometimes I’m fine and other times I cycle through these emotions.

Loneliness

To be going through something so profound but not being able to talk to anyone about it is incredibly lonely. Even though I have a fairly robust social support system, there are very few people I can talk to openly.  My single friends are empathetic, but they have no entry point to understand what the process of trying to conceive is like. My friends with kids are generally much easier to talk to because they are “on the other side”. They know more or less what you are talking about and most of them know someone who has experienced infertility. I guess once you have had kids, conversations about this topic have become more commonplace and less taboo. The downside of friends with kids, of course, is that they have kids or are pregnant. On good days, this is not a problem, but on other days, listening to a pregnant friend vent about their symptoms is infuriating. Then there is a diatribe of complaints that parents talk about. The friends who tell you how lucky you are to have so much free time and how “one day you’ll understand” how hard parenting is. Everyday my Facebook feel is full of article on the trials and tribulations of parenting, but we are still not allowed to talk about how hard it is to experience infertility.

This brings me to spite.

Spite

I certainly feel angry and jealous of my friends with kids, but it’s not just anger – I find that it’s the lowest form of jealousy and resentfulness that comes out of me – spite. I find myself hating the people I love because I feel that they are “luckier” than me.

I was on the phone with a friend telling her about how we had just been told that it was unlikely we’d be able to conceive naturally when her toddler woke up from a nap. Her attention was divided between feeding the kid an apple and regaling me with stories of how many couples are able to conceive through IVF. I understand that you can’t control kids and that she was doing her best…but I just wanted to yell at her. Yes, what she was saying was logical but it was the last thing I needed. She was pregnant and has a toddler. How dare she talk down to me about how “it’s a good thing there’s science”. I didn’t need a pep talk, I was upset and I wanted someone to talk to. Not only was I spiteful of her pregnancy and child, I felt completely isolated that she hadn’t understood my grief.

Grief

I don’t know how you can grieve something you never had, but this is the best way I know how to describe the incredible sadness that is always lurking behind the surface. It’s a sadness that I can’t understand. I don’t know where it’s coming from – I had no idea I felt so strongly about having children of my own and having them naturally before we found out we couldn’t. I had no idea what an attachment I had to the concept of children coming from a place of love. I suppose that it’s just how I saw the world – the sky is blue and when two people love each other, they make a baby. But when that doesn’t happen – when conception or the preparations for conception involve lying on a medical table while nurses poke at you and there’s a line-up of other women waiting their turn behind you – that isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Yes, the final result of having a child may be the same, but there is something distressing about (hopefully) making a child when you feel vulnerable and alone in a sterile medical environment. It is the complete opposite of sex. You are not with your partner and it is not loving.  It disrupts my image of how my life should be.

I’ve felt grief most strongly at significant moments in our fertility process – when I get my period, when I first went for testing, when we were told that our chances of conceiving naturally were low. Other times I’m fine. I’m fine and going about my business and then…bam. I can barely hold back my tears. This happens at inopportune times. On the subway. At work. While making small talk at parties. Of course, you usually can’t explain yourself. When you are crying in the washroom at work or when you have to cancel on work or social commitments because you can’t handle the world – there’s no way to explain it. People don’t give you leeway the way they would if you had experienced another type of loss – of even if you were pregnant. People tread pregnant women compassion because “everyone knows it’s hard”. New moms are screened for post-partum depression because it’s a known risk. Yet infertility is taboo. You can’t call in sick to work and tell them it’s because you cannot handle another office kitchen conversation with intrusive colleagues telling you “you’ll be next”. You don’t get any special treatment for going through something this difficult, because you are not allowed to talk about it.

Self-loathing

Sometimes I just feel broken. I don’t know if this is specifically tied to infertility, or if it’s just low self-esteem being exacerbated by circumstance. They way of the world, as I saw it somehow naively until now, what the old “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby with the baby carriage”. It’s just a fact of life that when women don’t use birth control, they get pregnant. This is such a universal truth that it’s everywhere – in academia, in movies, in TV shows, with your neighbours and friends. Yet, somehow, you don’t fit into the way of the world. You are an exception.

When I think about how historically women haven’t had access to family planning, I think “wow had I lived in a different time I’d have 5 kids by now”. Now I realize that’s not true. Had I lived in another time, I wouldn’t have access to the drugs that will hopefully enable us to conceive one day. If I had lived in another time, I would be a social pariah – the one without children. It would have been so much more obvious than it is now when most people assume our childlessness is a choice.

I don’t blame my asthmatic friends for having bad lungs, I don’t blame my friends with glasses for having bad eyesight; but somehow being unable to have kids – at least without scientific intervention, seems like a personal deficiency rather than a medical problem.

The first time I saw our fertility doctor, I asked if there was anything we should be doing while we waited for the testing and results. She told me “Make sure to do things you enjoy. This can be stressful.” It was just a sentence, but it was the only validation I’ve gotten about the psychological challenges that would come with this journey. She didn’t tell me how sad and angry I would feel. She didn’t tell me how this would test my relationships. She didn’t tell me how much energy and resolve getting through each day would take. However, she did acknowledge it wouldn’t be easy.

At the end of the day, I don’t want my friends and family to tell me that everything will be okay, I just want to be able to lean on them without judgement. I want to feel less alone as I experience this emotional quagmire. It’s bad enough to be going through it, but to feel like your unpredictable, sometimes irrational emotions aren’t valid just makes it so much worse.

 

Mourning Hope

Why does this hurt so much? Why do I feel like broken glass is caught in my chest? Why do I feel so alone? 

It feels like I am covered in rocks and it’s so hard to get up. It’s so hard to move, to breathe. I feel weighed down by this sadness and lethargy.

 I can’t talk to most people about this and those who I do talk to don’t understand. They just want to look at the bright side. Their optimism is exhausting. I don’t want to look on the bright side. I just want to mourn. 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑