The road to the ODWU: processing the past month and a half

It has been a month and a half since I’ve written a post!

There are many reasons. I’ve been nutso busy. But I’ve also been on-and-off depressed in a way that made it difficult to express myself. And so I have waited to set fingers to these keys until my head has cleared.

I need to process what has happened during the past month and a half before I move on to what happened this past weekend: my one day workup (ODWU)! I have a great deal of energy today, more zip than I’ve had in ages, and I know it is because I am now in motion, with an end in sight.

But I can’t move on to telling you about the ODWU before I process the recent road to it.

I believe this effort to synthesize my past experience—to combine the fragments into a coherent whole—helps me understand myself and create the future I want, in a meaningful way.

I’ll begin where my last post left off:

I lost the fifth pregnancy

The fifth pregnancy, as expected, I lost. A little over 5 weeks. I don’t want to write much about that now, but perhaps it is enough to say that it wasn’t easy, moving homes, applying for jobs, preparing for the ODWU, etc., while recovering from this fifth loss, which did a number on my body and my mood. It knocked my hope-level down several notches. But hope is now beginning to rise again.

We moved

We moved away from our beloved Brooklyn to Long Island, a task that didn’t quite kill us but brought us to the brink of insanity. It also ended up being a very emotional experience for me, wading through the mementos, photographs, and letters from my past as I packed our boxes, and feeling pangs of regret for decisions I’ve made that moved me further away from, not closer to, having a baby, having a family.  As always when I get lost in the swirls of nostalgia, I find myself thinking repeatedly: “I could have been pregnant then. Why did I wait until I was 37? Why did I risk it?” But the truth is, I am glad I did not get pregnant earlier with the wrong man. I am so grateful that I have DH, and those other paths could not have included him because I had not met him yet. Still, my past eight years in Brooklyn have been filled with as many misadventures as adventures, mistakes and enormous growth, and it was a bittersweet goodbye. I am glad that we live close enough to visit often, because the truth is, for all the unexpected smack-downs I have gotten in Brooklyn/NYC, I am not quite ready to let go of it all the way, to stop learning from what it has to offer.

We bought a silver Subaru

We borrowed the funds, did the research, haggled with dealers (uncharacteristic for me and DH, this haggling) and got a silver Subaru for our life in the suburbs. The car is perfect for us. The haggling and purchasing, we felt, was like a rite of passage of sorts into a new phase of adulthood.

My ex-husband became engaged

My ex and his girlfriend just got engaged. She is still in her twenties (he is 39). I can’t help but wonder if they will have kids soon and how I will feel about that. My ex and I had planned to have a family before we divorced. Their children will have red hair—that’s something I used to picture having in my life. Yes, for at least a decade, I imagined having children with red hair. It’s not the color that matters, of course. It’s just that red is the color of that particular dream I used to have. How strange it will be to see him manifest that dream with another woman.

Mr. Chang collapsed

A few days before we moved from Brooklyn, DH and I were going to go to a BBQ with my ex-husband and his new fiancee, a way of celebrating the move and saying goodbye. (I am still good friends with my ex-husband; we’ve known each other since we were 19 and were together for 14 years, married for 3, before we divorced.) My ex-husband has “custody” of our remaining two kitties (the other two have died) and as if on cue, when DH and I showed up at my ex’s apartment, one of those kitties—Mr. Chang—had an attack on the kitchen floor. Some sort of heart attack or stroke, we’re not sure. All four of us were crowded around the little guy on the kitchen floor for hours, my ex’s fiancee and I crying and stroking Mr. Chang, which was a profound experience to share with her. His first “mom” and his second, crying together, holding his little paws as he struggled, thinking he was going to die. He was in too much pain to move or to take to the vet. We stayed with him, the BBQ forgotten, and to our surprise, he ended up recovering. He is an old kitty, 14, and the vets says he is probably near the end of his life.

My ex and I loved him like he was our kid, and some of our friends used to joke he was our “firstborn.” He lived with us in the country on sixty acres; he lived with us in a small Midwestern city where he climbed out on our rooftop often and once got his picture taken by a newspaper reporter. He came with us to NYC, where his family, to his great distress, split apart, and he lost the girl who used to take such loving care of him.

It is too bizarre, the coincidence of Mr. Chang having a seizure the very moment I arrived at my ex’s apartment (I hadn’t seen him in over a year). My poor kitty. Could he somehow sense that I was coming? Did he need me to see him like that, to comfort him?

I have so much caretaker-guilt about giving Mr. Chang to my ex to take care of. That cat and I were so attached to each other. I feel that I abandoned him, that I was a “bad mom,” even though my ex had the more spacious home for him to run around in. Sometimes I connect that guilt—as irrational and wrong as it is—to my infertility. I think my mind is constantly searching for ways to make my infertility make sense. If I am to blame for it (bad cat caretaker) then I can change it (good caretaker of all living things for now and forever!)—it gives me some sense of control.

My dear friend T. died

A special friend of mine passed away.

When I was in high school, I became pregnant, and the mother of the boy who impregnated me was very supportive of me–both when I was sure I would eventually give the child to adoptive parents and when I decided to have an abortion (an experience that has haunted me throughout this infertility journey, but that’s another story). This woman, I’ll call her T., became my dear friend. Really, she was like a second mom to me, someone I could go to when I couldn’t go to my own mother. She was progressive. She was a poet. Even after her son and I broke up, T. and I wrote long, detailed letters to each other and offered each other support and love. Several months ago, T. wrote to tell me that she had a terminal illness, and she began to send back to me all of the letters I had written to her in the ’90s, letters that I poured my most intimate thoughts and feelings into as I was growing into a young woman. I told her about my dreams of becoming a writer; I discussed literature and art with her; I detailed all of my travels to her. My letters are bursting with zest for life, a hunger for adventure, and an idealistic, hopeful voice that is just beginning to articulate opinions about politics and the injustices of the world.

In many of these letters, I write to her about all of the unresolved, painful feelings I have about the abortion, and about how much I want to become a mother. I tell her what kind of mother I want to become. I tell her how I will raise my children. I describe the active family life I envision, and how I can’t wait to live it. T. sent these letters back to me, with little notes to go with each, the handwriting of these notes becoming shakier as her disease progressed. In one note she wrote about how painful it is for her to read about my thoughts on motherhood, back then, knowing the devastating struggle through infertility I am experiencing now.

In another note she wrote: “If I could cede my soul for you to have a baby, I would.”

T. –my dear, beloved friend and second mother—passed away just a few weeks ago. She has asked me to sing at her memorial service that is coming up, and I will.

How strange it will be, going to that service and seeing my high school boyfriend, I’ll call him A., a boy I almost had a baby with–what is it now?—22 years ago. Again, it seems that these elements of my life are coming together at this time for a reason.

I stumbled across a surprise on Facebook

A few days after T.’s death, I was on Facebook when I stumbled across the page of one of my best friends from high school. I wasn’t looking for it, and the discovery surprised me. This friend—I’ll call her E.—and I became pregnant at the same time, but she decided to have her baby. E. once came to visit me at college, and she told me that she thought I was not having a “real life,” that college was “pretend life,” whereas what she was doing, taking care of a baby, was real. I understood what she meant and her comment didn’t anger me, even if I didn’t agree with her. We remained close for a couple of years, and I recall dancing with E.’s one-year-old to the music on E’s stereo when I was home on college break, feeling pangs of regret about the decision I had made to have an abortion.

On E.’s Facebook page, I saw a picture of that one-year-old, now twenty-one years later—a stunningly gorgeous young woman with a wide, down-to-earth smile.

It knocked me down.

To think that I could have a child that age right now! I don’t want to go back in time and have that other life. But while struggling with infertility and yearning to have a child and a family, I can’t help but wonder about what it would have been like. E. went on to marry a man (not the father) who already had a daughter, and they had a child together. It is impossible to know from FB what anyone’s life is really like, of course, but I see that she has her own family, while she is surrounded by her parents and siblings. It looks nice. It looks familiar, like a life I could have had.

I felt developmentally stuck 

The lead-up to my period was a long drawn-out build-up of  period hormones, mixed with the dwindling down of pregnancy hormones (ugh, ugh) and the escalation of stress hormones and exhaustion from the move. I had a hard time keeping my head above water, but did an excellent job of it, I think, when I look back. I had some difficult thoughts during that time that I think are worth sharing here.

Facing mid-life is hard for anybody, but it is particularly difficult for a woman who yearns to have a child and cannot. My skin is changing. My  hair is changing. I am getting tired much more easily. I am thinking about my parents’ age and worrying about their health and what the last

phases of their lives is going to be like. I am almost 40 years old, and these challenges and changes are normal for this time in my life…

I see that other people my age—family members, friends—are going through these same changes, ones that remind us of our mortality, but as these friends do so, they are also investing energy in the lives of their children, with joy and hope. I don’t have that. My infertility friends don’t have that. We have to face these changes in ourselves without being able to invest in those young lives at the same time.

It is a cycle that makes sense—just when you are reaching the middle of your life, the process of raising children offsets the sense of fear, maybe even despair, that comes with contemplating the end of life. It takes a great deal of strength to face these feelings while struggling with infertility. Infertility magnifies the feelings, and intensifies them.

Another thought that occurred to me during this time—one I’ve had before, but was on my mind with a peculiar intensity—is that becoming a parent helps a person heal her relationship with her own parents. If your mother did not talk to you about sex openly when you were a kid, for example, you talk to your children about sex openly, and it has a way of partially healing whatever you feel what was lacking for you when you were young. I have that urge often. I want to raise children, and raise them differently (in some respects, but not all) than my parents raised me. But when you cannot become a parent, those old grievances have a way of sticking around for a long, long time, with no evolving experience to process them through.


We are living in a new home

It took us some time, but we are acclimating to this way of life, out here on Long Island. We don’t want to stay here forever, but it is good for now. Good to be surrounded by giant deciduous trees. Our apartment is the nicest, most adult apartment either of us has ever lived in, with more room than we know what to do with. I particularly like the big picture window in the living room that lets in floods of sunlight, making my plants happy. I place my yellow yoga mat in the morning sunbeam coming through that window and practice my vinyasas. I drink coffee at the table in the back yard, the first gold leaves of autumn twirling down around me. I wash clothes in the basement with our very own washer and dryer (!) and hang them on clothesline to dry. We go to the grocery store with paper lists in hand and fill the trunk with bags stuffed with Trader Joe’s goodies. We go to Billy’s gym during the week, a garage filled with 400-pound Michelin tires and sledge hammers, jump ropes and heavy bags, and he trains us how to box. On the weekends, we go to gorgeous beaches and throw Frisbees and Nerf footballs, or just lay in the sand. Once, at a section of a beach with nude sunbathers, I stripped off my clothes and charged at the ocean waves, hollering. It felt exhilarating and changed my head for a little while.

But now that we have gone to our ODWU in Denver, my head has changed quite a bit more.

I feel good today, and I have lot more to tell you.

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