Sunday, September 19, 2010

Welcome To Fight Club.

Fight Club might have had a point.

Not the obvious one - that underground bare-knuckle fighting is awesome - because that's retarded machismo.

But the idea that you can't know yourself unless you've been in a fight? There might be something there.

Getting beaten is a direct, specific experience. It isn't another thing, it is what it is.  It is the most basic form of an intensely personal crisis. There's something about the implacability of it - whether or not you want to be, you are getting hurt. Losing the boys was happening, whether we wanted it to or not. It had its own momentum, and we were caught in its center. Begging for it stop would do nothing. So, as a man, I had to stand up in the middle of it. Like a beating, I had to withstand it. This is the lesson we learn from childhood - that we have to learn to take it, to push through crisis and chaos and grief and continue to function. To man up.

At one point in the film, Tyler Durden gives the narrator a chemical burn and prevents him from doing anything but experience it. No going to a serene place, no blocking it out, no mediation. Feel the agony. Be present as you are hurt by something you cannot stop. Think through it. It is an unstoppable force, and in everything - communicating with doctors, calling family and friends, taking care of S., paying attention, weighing costs and benefits, pros and cons, probabilities, having to think even as I could do nothing but scream inside - I had to become an immovable object.

And now, in many things, I continue to be immovable. As bad as it was, never say it couldn't get worse. But the stakes were higher than anything that came before. Life and death, and decisions, and raw suffering I couldn't avoid. It's hard to get really upset or anxious or freaked out about little things anymore. I've seen an abyss. The cold, unblinking eye of circumstance. I don't get as anxious as easily as I used to. I was called upon to do what men are expected to do, and I did it. I grew up that day. Ironically, it was the loss of my sons that made me the sort of man truly suitable to be a father.

I became a man. Like Richard Pryor said, you aren't a man until you've had your damn heart broken. I had my heart broken. This is what it means to be a man who suffers this loss. Toughen up. Withstand it.  This is the moment that defines you and puts everything into perspective. You are in this, you have to be here and still be clearheaded enough to make one of the worst decisions of your life. And for us, that's where our story ends. We go back to work, we continue with life. We soldier on.

The first rule is you don't talk about it.

The second rule is you don't talk about it.

If this is your first night, you have to fight.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


My dreams are full of dread.

This is the earliest I've been up on a Sunday in some time, and it's because despite the comfortable bed, the snoozing dog, the proximity of S, and the decongestant/cough suppressant that I take to reduce my snoring (mostly the cough suppressant part because that shit knocks me out), my eyes snapped open. I don't remember my dreams very well - I think last night there was something about the ghosts of some cult members, possession, and the importance of bell-shaped objects, all taking place in what I think was supposed to be a brand-new Apple Store - and although many of the dream's features would normally push it over into nightmare territory for me, I was just left with the same lingering sense of unease that I'm also getting from my more innocuous dreams lately. Not really sure what's that about.

It might be my medication. I'm on what seems to be a pretty optimal combination of happy pills, and my waking life is on a pretty even keel right now. I've also had some pretty nice experiences lately, just affirming, validating things, and that helps too. S. is doing a lot better, and that helps quite a bit. She's still grappling with a lot of issues, but she's actually dealing with them. It's hard sometimes, and it's painful, but she seems less stuck than she used to.  She laughs and smiles more. I see more of the woman I love every day, and it's good. Besides the fertility drugs, we also took all of the maternity clothes and books on motherhood we'd stashed in my home office after we lost the boys and donated them to a community resource center, a place that exists to provide the needy with necessities for free. A hand up. Even though it's tough to remember it in our pain, there are young women out there who are pregnant and are going to have a healthy child even though they aren't ready, and I have to know, even if I can't actually empathize with them, that that is fucking terrifying. Getting rid of that stuff made me feel lighter, less burdened somehow.

I'm still pretty angry, but it's at a narrower range of people. I'm at the point now where I wish Discovery Health would just subdivide itself into Discovery Gruesome Medical Stuff and Discovery Holy Shit Babies Everywhere so I could just avoid all of the pregnancy shows altogether and focus on the gross E.R. and autopsy shows. I've always had an easier time dealing with the wreckage of injury than the miracle of birth on a visceral (ha-ha) level - even before we were trying, we used to watch the show "Maternity Ward" (back when a healthy, typical person having one baby was considered interesting enough for TV), and the births always looked like bad monster effects to me - rubbery-looking babies covered in slime squicked me out way more than a guy whose legs were pointed at impossible angles.

So if I was grossed out before, I'm ruined for it now. Even above and beyond shows like "Paralyzed Dwarf With Autistic Quadruplets" or "I'm Not Middle-Class And White, And Yet I'm Pregnant" or "Is The Next Baby Going To Actually Kill Michelle Duggar And What Does This Say About Our Value System", the whole miracle of birth thing is ruined for me. My only experience of it is a dark, horrible parody, a nightmare-dimension version of blood and screaming and sharp, expressionistic shadows and fading in and out of consciousness. I think I know why I'm so fascinated with horror movies now - half the most useful tropes of the last forty years were there in that delivery room. That's where my trauma lives.

But I was talking about anger. I think finally being able to articulate my biggest gripe with modern parenting in the U.S. has helped some of the free-floating rage. Just being able to express that it seems like there's something about parenting that makes some people develop a blind spot for civil behavior around their kids - as if being a parent gives you license to be ignorant, irrational, rude and shitty about issues around parenting, and makes some people consumed with the most trivial shit all of a sudden - seems to have made that easier to deal with. Some of the stuff I say to the TV would still turn most people's hair white, but fuck'em.

I still don't know what the dread means, though. Maybe it's because S. is doing much better - the last time she was doing well (which was when we still thought we had a chance at having our own kids biologically), I started feeling my own grief more because I wasn't looking over her. That might be it, it's like an ache. Dull, diffuse, but still an ache. The throb of an old wound or injury when the weather turns. I'll live, I'll be happy, but this may be my legacy - the quiet ache when I see fathers holding their children, living alongside them. Whether this is okay with me or not is immaterial - it just is, whether I want it to be or not. I think we'll be okay. We'll probably never be whole, but we'll be okay.

The sun is out, and the sky is a cloudless blue. It's a quiet Sunday morning, and the cats are asleep on the couch, S. and the dog are sleeping upstairs. I'm glad for this moment, and I'm glad that I have what I have. If my dreams have to be laced with quiet dread, that's okay. Because at least right now, the world when I am awake is not.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Meaning of Just

adjective - guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness.
adverb -  only or merely.
The word "just" keeps coming up.

It was one of those words that grated against us as we were trying to conceive. 

"Just'll happen!" 

"Just stop'll get pregnant in no time!"

"Just put your trust in the Lord and it will be fine."

"Just." As if it is simple, as if it is effortless. The easiest thing in the world for others.
It has been a struggle for us since day one. And it has not been a mystery for us. We know why we can't have kids.  Coming by this knowledge wasn't simple or effortless either. Lots and lots of tests. Operations. Meds. "Speculation" shares a root with "speculum."

Nothing about this process at any point could be described as "just" doing anything.

And there is the other meaning of the word.

If nothing about this process has been simple, then even less has been fair.

I used to pay lip service to the idea that the world is cold and arbitrary, that any meaning in it is the meaning we impose upon it. I thought I believed it. But being unable to conceive and losing the children we were able to have, and watching that tragedy burn a swath through my life...

I used to believe it, but now I know it.  There is nothing just about what happened to us.

Maybe I'm surrendering. Not to the despair, but to the idea that struggle is not enough. Ironic, since the idea that hard work isn't enough is something I've had to explain to my students over and over again. Finally learning my own lesson, I guess. So I've internalized it, this idea that just wanting it and working hard for it is no guarantee. I've surrendered to the idea that the world does not care about my problems. People do, but the world at large does not. The world moves on whether I grieve or not. And it is not going to wait for me. 

S has been struggling a lot with the sheer unfairness of all of this. So much effort, so much money, time, life lost to it, all for something other people can even do by accident. There's even a TV show, "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant." Struggling with the cold, hard slap of the world. A world that moves on, that does not wait, that watches our grief with a lightless, unblinking eye.

A world that just is, and is not just.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


S and I took a big step today. We got out of bed (before noon - that would have been a big step two years ago), did some housecleaning, and then did some more housecleaning.

Specifically, we gathered up all of the leftover drugs and medical paraphernalia from our fertility treatments so we could get rid of it. Deep breath, the thing hanging over our head as we ate lunch. Want to do it but don't want to do it. Hurts facing it but hurts to have it looming over our heads. Little reminders in every corner of the house. Time to get rid of it.

So we went through every room, pulled together all of the various and sundry bags of medication bought and donated to the cause. Found all the sharps containers (including the one we kept in the liquor cabinet along with the Ativan - our one-stop vice cabinet, it was - and gathered everything together on the living room floor. Where we sat, sorting. This has expired, this hasn't, these are still usable, these aren't. Box up the stuff that's still good, gather the containers, separate regular garbage from garbage with expired drugs in it (probably not a good idea to pour hormones and blood thinners into the water supply) and go, go throw it away, get rid of it.

For S it felt like another failure. Years of trying, hope, and heartbreak, reduced to a few boxes and plastic bags.

For me, it felt like something between the removal of a tumor and an exorcism. Something offending yanked and tugged out. The hole is open and raw, but fresh air is getting in.

The day is gray like slate, hot and humid. An oppressive day, not a day for joy.  It's quiet. We've indulged in some comfort food - potato chips for her, beer for me, ice cream for us both.  As we pick it out, my mind returns to the days after we lost the boys, the thought "why am I buying junk food? Fuck you, dead babies." That was the mantra, the war cry after the boys died. "Fuck you, dead babies."

I'm thinking more in terms of war with regard to our experience lately. In a recent post I referred to people who haven't struggled with child loss and/or infertility as "civilians." And today, as we were disposing of the expired drugs, I thought of all of the vials crushed, and it reminded me of some dialogue from The Wire, a/k/a "one of the best pieces of television ever created and probably the best cop show of all time"...

Detective Leandor Sydnor is preparing to go undercover to do drug buys. He and the other officers solicit the opinion of one of their informants, a longtime addict nicknamed "Bubbles." Bubbles comments on the relatively clean soles of Sydnor's shoes...
"You walking down them alleys of the projects...
you stepping on the dead soldiers."  

"Dead soldiers?" 
"Yeah, empty vials. You can't walk down a Baltimore street without them cracking underneath your feet. You want to know if a fiend is for real...check the bottom of his shoes."
So I'm thinking about all the dead soldiers. All the vials, all the needles. The ruin left in the wake of all our attempts. Every war has casualties, every military operation (huh, "operation") does collateral damage. The veterans who return (and it occurs to me that S used to read a forum for people doing IVF called "the veterans board") have memories they won't share with anyone else - the blood, the screaming, the loss. One minute they're alive, the next they're dead.  You make life and death decisions, and the deaths happen in front of you and there's nothing you can do but keep them from suffering. We make horrible jokes, cruel jokes, and find it hard to be sympathetic or sensitive to the problems of others.

We have come home from a war, but we brought the war with us.

An old joke:
Q: Why did the Vietnam veteran cross the road?
A: You wouldn't know, man! You weren't there!
I don't know that it's a hard and fast line, but in my head I've divided up our friends into "the ones who get it" and "the ones who don't get it." They're all still my friends, but some...know. They've had their own losses or their own struggles conceiving, or they were there for us when it happened. They get it. Others don't, and I don't tell them stuff, it's not for them to know. Just like fathers and grandfathers don't like to talk about what they did in the war. I still love them, I still enjoy their company, and our loss doesn't define me, but there are some places in my head and heart that are mine and mine alone.

Maybe the anger is my desire to survive, to keep this from winning, as it were. To try and rise above the trauma and live well. Today felt like a step in that direction.  Coming home from the wars.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bliss, Ignorance, and Myth

So let's talk about privilege.

It's one of the trickier things I have to teach - trying to get across the idea that privilege (in a social sense) doesn't mean getting extra favors or benefits. It means that the social system actually works for you the way it ostensibly works for everybody. Social privilege is a very subtle thing for the recipient, an invisible pair of hands opening doors, smoothing the path, cushioning you when you fall. It's a very different view from the outside, where those invisible hands are at best absent, at worst giving you the finger or punching you in the face every day.

S and I both deal with the idea of privilege in our respective fields - white privilege, class privilege, male privilege, the multiple ways groups of people go through life without being aware of what awaits on the other side of the wall.

So I'm beginning to think in terms of fertile privilege.

Babies are everywhere. Not only are babies everywhere, but everywhere you go they are celebrated. Which is understandable, because making more little versions of us is pretty much Job One of any species. Babies are assumed - if you're an adult, you're going to have kids. It's just a matter of time. Don't want them? You'll change your mind. Having trouble having them? Just relax - it'll happen when you least expect it. Babies are defended - I have seen otherwise rational people make ridiculous decisions around their children and justify it as "mothers' intuition" or knowing better than any expert what their child needs. Sometimes I feel like there's something around the act of conception and parenthood that makes it easy to be thoughtless and rude, because children trump pretty much everything else. I'm not saying they shouldn't, but as someone who has been denied this privilege, I feel like I'm becoming more and more aware of the blind spot many people have around our situation.

I recognize that S and I are in a unique place - infertility, child loss, secondary infertility. We're the triple threat. Our chances aren't good, but the only people who really seem to get that are the people who have been down that road. The incomprehension and discomfort that surround any awareness of our struggle or our loss are palpable. It's like infertility and child loss are catching. We might infect other mothers with our dead baby germs. We're walking reminders of the one thing they're trying to forget - that children die, and something can always go wrong.

It's an uncomfortable truth. We don't have the luxury of denying it, but others do. If you've been raised to believe that you can have a child whenever you're ready and it will happen pretty much right away, and it will be beautiful and perfect and it will be hard but it will all be worth it in the end, then dealing with the idea that it might be a struggle to conceive, it might take years, there will be risks, there might be death, and the whole process might leave you permanently changed, even cost you your marriage and friends and job, and you can still have nothing to show for it in the end? Yeah, that's not happening.

We all know the cliches: "God has a plan." "Everything happens for a reason." "It will happen for you someday." They're meant to be comforting to us (even though they aren't), but they're also comforting for them.

Alongside the idea of privilege, I also teach the idea of the legitimizing myth - the stories a culture tells itself to explain inequality or injustice. Myths like the Protestant Work Ethic (hard work is rewarded), or the Just World Belief (everything happens for a reason). In the absence of these explanations, the world is cold, uncaring, and arbitrary. These stories are torches against the dark. Without these mantras, we are adrift. All bets are off. Bad things happen to good people, and happen to them for no goddamned reason whatsoever.  I don't blame people for not wanting to believe this, but their blithe dismissal hurts. To my many other jobs and roles, I can add cautionary tale. Not sure how I feel about that just yet.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Killing Joke

"At first, [Killing Joke] was used to describe a level of despair…"*

Man, losing your children and much of your hope for ever having children really does some fucked-up things to your sense of humor.

It's a time-honored thing, developing a sense of black humor to cope with especially difficult jobs or horrible experiences. Cops, firefighters, E.R. doctors, soldiers, all tell jokes or make comments that would make "civilians" blanch. Even before we lost the boys, S and I had started to develop a sort of rueful gallows humor to cope with our infertility. If you don't laugh, you cry. Or scream. And if you start crying or screaming, you might never stop. So you find ways to laugh about it, no matter how horrifying it might look from the outside. And that last part, I think, has become more important as the grieving process has gone on.

We were out to dinner with my parents one night, and S made a crack like "when we have kids - like that's ever going to happen", which for us is just standard language, followed by mock-hearty laughter. My parents were horrified - quietly, we're WASPs - and it was one of the moments where we remembered that large chunks of the world don't see things the way we do. That we were talking to civilians. If you've been there, then you know. If you haven't, you'll never understand.

"…but over time, it came to mean the laughter that overcomes all fear…"

That, I think, is something that keeps me going. I hate that I'm a member of this club, but I'm learning how to own it. Our infertility isn't going to go away. Even if we do hit that slim chance of having our own biological children, that doesn't negate years of trying or the loss of the boys. This is part of who I am now. And every day, everywhere I look, I am reminded of what that means - what I do not get to experience, a whole world of which I do not get to be a part. I can't shut it out. I'm always not a father. So what can I do? I can laugh in the face of death, laugh in the face of despair, throw up a middle finger to all of the grief and pain and misunderstanding and incomprehension and cluelessness and judgment and platitudes and ignorant and insensitive assumptions. I can laugh at things that civilians would find abhorrent, knowing that I have faced horrible things and survived.

Sometimes I take a perverse delight in the discomfort of others. At my angriest, I want to throw what I've been through in other peoples' faces, make them acknowledge the death of my sons, make them acknowledge that this is a world in which these things occur, no matter how much we might like to pretend otherwise. I don't want them to be able to ignore it, I want it to get under their skin, I want it to haunt them. Because it'll still just be a fraction of what it is to live with it. But I'm not, you know, an asshole. So I smile and keep quiet and answer questions politely and honestly.

"…when you're laughing, you're not afraid, are you?"

But if they ever knew the things I've said, the jokes at which I've laughed…

S and I driving out to get some lunch and run some errands, pass a minivan with all of the little family stickers on the back window - mom, dad, kids, all the little crayon stick figures lined up in a row. I can't remember who started it, but paraphrased from memory…

"I hate those."

"Yeah, they're like marks on a scoreboard."

"We should get some."

"Mom, dad, dog, two cats…"

"…two little boys with haloes…"

"Nah, they should have Xs for eyes and their tongues sticking out."

"Little tombstones."

"Even better, let's just get a bunch of stickers with little baby figures crossed out, one for each failed cycle, and plaster them on the side of the car like the kill marks on a fighter plane."

"Boom! There goes another one."

Or all of the baby-related merchandising…

"Let's make up a line of bumperstickers and t-shirts." 
"Baby No Longer On Board" 
"A t-shirt with the arrow pointing down…" 
"…and it says 'BARREN'." 
"Yeah, or 'BABY', but it's crossed out." 
"My child would be an honor student, but he didn't make it to term." 
"I would be proud of my Eagle Scout,  but he died in the womb." 
"Ask me about my nonexistent grandchildren." 
"I'm spending my children's inheritance, because they aren't alive to enjoy it."
"I spent my children's inheritance trying to get them conceived."

I won't even get into the awful shit I say to the television.

I can't imagine the shocked, hurt looks, the deep offense, the "that's sick!" Or maybe I can and I just don't care.

But it keeps me sane. It is the laughter that overcomes all fear.

*(italicized quote from musician Jaz Coleman, on his band's name)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Radio Silence

So our internet connection at home has decided to just stop working for irregular intervals of time, and the only thing worse than that for me is having to call the almost apocalyptically incompetent customer service people at our cable company. I'm writing stuff offline until I have a chance to post it from my work connection. Now that I'm actually in a place to say stuff, I can't say it. Wish I could say that wasn't emblematic of our whole experience, but there you go.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dust: In the wind, and elsewhere.

When S and I first started trying to conceive, she read various and sundry message forums for information, support, etc. I noticed a couple of things about most of them right away: They were damn near treacly in their optimism, and weren't very big on realism. I don't just mean that they weren't a good source of accurate information, I mean the prevailing discourse was this weird fairytale cutsey-poo sentimentality verging on infantilism. They were the intellectual equivalent of an all-pink bedroom filled to the brim with stuffed animals and unicorn posters - great when you're 12, but not so much for the whole raising a child thing.

One thing that kept coming up was the idea of "baby dust" - shorthand for good wishes, crossed fingers, etc., but with this whole magic fairy powder vibe. To a Mister Crankytrousers like me, this seemed unrealistic and not useful. Ground your support in something sincere and based in experience, not closing your eyes tight and leaving it up to chance, higher power, whatever. Now, out of all times, don't cede control over your own life. I won't even go into all of the little animated images in signature files, signature files that were longer than the posts to which they were appended, clusters and blocks and images of children which practically screamed I HAVE NO IDENTITY OF MY OWN ANYMORE. I AM DEFINED ENTIRELY BY MY CHILDREN. And in this spun-sugar world, the husbands and fathers were referred to as DH. Dear Husband, Darling Husband. DH. Designated Heterosexual. Dick Haver. Donor Here.

Yeah, I took it a little personally. How could you tell?

Fathers don't get a huge voice in this conversation. I'm frustrated by this, but I can see how and why this is case, especially over time as S and I have grieved in our own ways. It's complicated, it's all over the place, and I am as complicit as anyone or anything else in this relative silence, as my posting history vividly indicates. But when somebody pays attention to the fathers, I take notice. Any attention, please God, thank you for noticing.

S pointed out an article in the NY Times - A father's view of infertility is how it's labeled, published in the parenting blog. So I read it, hoping that somebody gets it - the frustration, the loss, the silence, shouldering pain without complaint, keeping busy, staying strong, wondering if not being able to father children makes you less of a man, mourning the father-son moments that will never happen, seeing my own eyes in the face of another. Giving voice to the rage and sadness that's so hard to express otherwise.

Instead, I get some sentimental crap about a dad who takes his daughter to a baseball game, talks some shit about The Natural, seems vaguely sad that he and his wife can't have another child as easily as they had their first, and goes on and on and one about his daughter talking about "fairy dust."

I have no fucking idea what any of this has to do with infertility. It's like reading a Thomas Kinkade painting.

Is this seriously how the culture at large thinks of men and infertility? That we're kinda sad when we aren't thinking about lazy summer days and the Great American Pastime? Because seriously, fuck that. That's just as poisonous as the idea of the DH and "baby dust" - instead of taking fertility out of our hands and giving it over to the great unknown, (which robs use of control and self-determination) it elides the possibility that men might not have children of their own at all by making our putative voice someone who already had a daughter and then articulates any negative emotion as vague sadness couched in sentimentality. Just one wrong note in a fondly remembered summer evening, complete with the innocence of childhood, fireworks, baseball - all the things you need to be an all-American man. I don't hear anything in that about tears, about helplessness, about shots and pills and operations and tests and doctor's appointments. About forms of impotence for which Viagra is not a solution. About holding your wife while she cries in frustration, wondering when it gets to be your turn to fall apart. Never mind loss. Never mind the life and death decisions you get to make in hospital rooms, the voice that says you will never have this. No, apparently it's just down to intentionally vague answers for the child you already have when she asks about getting a sister, and fairy dust. That's the father's experience of infertility.

Fuck baby dust, and fuck fairy dust. All I have are ashes. Who speaks for me?

Monday, June 21, 2010

How is today different from all other days?

Father's Day, and it's quiet and still here. S left me pretty much alone today, which was exactly what I wanted, or needed. Just some time to sit here and hurt.

There have been a lot of tough conversations lately. S is doing much, much better than she was, which makes life a little bit easier. There's smiling and laughing again, and that's nice. Like healing always does, it happens slowly, when you aren't looking. Suddenly, all of the things that you never thought you'd ever be able to do (or do again) are easier to contemplate or even do. I can be around kids without feeling the loss acutely, maybe just a wry smile. And when it comes to the children of people I like, I can play with them, make them laugh, hug them, and it's okay. The wanting to pick them up and make them laugh comes so naturally you'd think it was wired in from birth. It's okay, the feeling says. You could be a dad after all. That's the feeling, that all of the worry and insecurity and unpreparedness for fatherhood I felt before we started trying wasn't necessary. I'm wired for it.

And then I have to give the child back.  And that hurts a little. It's a small, dull ache in the pit of my stomach, like all of those small moments after someone dies, all of the specific "I'll never ______ again" moments that reveal the truth of your loss. But considering there was a time I couldn't imagine being around kids at all, it's progress.

And then there's days like Father's Day. I wonder if this is how veterans feel on Memorial Day, if this is the one day they can't escape all of the stuff they'd like to forget. This is the one day when I can't duck around it, this is the one day I can't drown out the words I'm not a father, I don't have any sons. It rings in my head. Of all the things I am or do or have, that's the one that got away. And on Father's Day, no matter how much I avoid TV or even going outside, there it is. The little hands I'm not holding.

And like I said, we've been having some tough conversations lately. We came into a bit of a windfall after S's grandmother passed away, and all of a sudden, some things we thought were closed to us are open again. The thought of trying to conceive again weighs on me. Our odds aren't good, and at our age, they're getting rapidly worse. We could afford maybe one round of IVF, maybe. Or one shot with donated embryos. Or put money away for adoption. Pay off some debt, maybe sock some away for the down payment on a house or a condo. I can't imagine getting on that merry-go-round again: Tests, pills, shots, procedures, catheters, speculums, endless doctor's offices. I think about it and I start to feel sick inside. I think about people who did the work for twice as long as we did, and I honestly don't know how they did it. I don't think I can do it again.

S and I were both late bloomers in different ways. I made some bad decisions during college and ended up dropping out for about 5 or 6 years. I didn't graduate until I was 29. We got to where we wanted to be sort of late in life. I learned to stop kicking myself about it a few years ago.  But this brings it back. We're backed into a few corners - I've just turned 40 (Yay?), and S will next month. S still has work to do on her doctorate and I'm planning to go on the job market this year, though I'm not optimistic about my chances at a decent job. And we're still climbing out of the hole, one day at a time, learning to live our lives again. In some ways, we've just exchanged one set of pills and appointments for another. We don't have a lot of time left to start a biological family, and there are other life things that have to happen first. If we were in our late 20s, this wouldn't be an issue. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

It's hard to face. For S especially. This desire to have and love a child is embodied for her in ways that it can't be for me. The world has told me no, it told me no when our only successful attempt at conception ended in death and blood and grief and pain. I felt like a door was closed in my face that day, and all I could see to do was put one foot in front of the other, make sure S was safe, and get back to the business of living. The world won't wait for you, I heard in my head. The world does not care about what has happened to you, and you have obligations. So come spring, I went back to school and wrote my dissertation. What else was I going to do? Shake my fist at the sky? The sky wasn't listening. The sky didn't care.

Maybe we'll try again. Maybe we won't. Maybe it's selfish, but I feel like we've got to put our own well-being first for awhile after sacrificing so much of it for so long. I'm writing a little more, keeping a blog on a totally unrelated subject. Still fighting depression, still wondering why and how I'm going to get things done sometimes. But most days I have music and light and a couple of sweet cats and an adorable dog and a loving wife and good friends.

Which makes Father's Day easier, when all of that goes out the window, and all I can do is sit here and feel empty.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


"If at first you don't succeed/try try again
Step up to the mic/and die again
This is the next lifetime and you want to battle
You must like reincarnation/or the smell of carnations"
- "Raspberry Fields", Cannibal Ox

So we've tried three cycles since we lost the boys. Each one hasn't worked. Not even close. And oddly enough, I don't feel worse for it. Maybe I'm just numb, inured to disappointment after tragedy. Or maybe losing the boys was some sort of large NO, and ever since, I've just assumed this was never meant to be, and keep trying because I don't want to say we didn't try. Is it masochism if it doesn't hurt anymore?

There's a part of me that's given up. That has to assume that we aren't going to have biological children and needs to start getting used to the idea. Inoculation. Introduce the pain a little bit at a time until it builds up a resistance. Let it hurt a little bit all the time until the pain is manageable. Get used to it. Get accustomed to it. And the last year has been rough for me, but never so rough at once that it felt like a real struggle.

I've grieved the boys. S got worse and I had to take care of her while trying to finally transition into a career. I put the boys and my own pain aside because S couldn't get out of bed. There were days I honestly thought I'd come home and find her body on the bed. That today was the day. Not because she was going to kill herself but because the medication and the depression would eventually reach critical mass. Maybe the line between deliberately killing yourself to end the pain and accidentally killing yourself in the process of managing the pain is so thin as to be academic. But that was a hard year. Always alert, always vigilant.

Then things started to get better - counseling, better medication strategies, talks with doctors that helped absolve S of some of the guilt she felt. Started putting our life back together, engaging it what we called "Operation Grow The Fuck Up" - get back to living, being social, managing the daily business of living and climb up out of the grief, the long dark hole. And part of that meant trying again.

The first couple of cycles didn't work, and apparently part of it was because S's endometriosis had come back. One laparotomy later, we try the next cycle. Lots of drugs, lots of pills, and two IUI's this time. And it didn't work. Why? Well, why not?

I teach a class on child development. The first semester it was just a horrible irony. Those who can't, teach. The second semester it felt more integrative, critical examinations of parenthood, childhood, fertility, the social constructions that shape us from conception onward. This third semester I've taught it, it's fine. I know what to do with it now, and I know what role my own experience can play. Part of what I teach is the probability of conception. Only 10-15% of conceptions successfully implant. And all we're doing with the pills and the shots and the vitamins and the hormones and the centrifuging and the catheters is getting us to that 10-15% place. We're marshalling huge amounts of technology to do what two people do anyway. So at a certain point, it's a numbers game. Try, try again.

We've got one last cycle in us, I think. It's taken a long time for S and I to get to the point where we both feel this way. I was there some time ago, she wasn't. But the cost of beating our head against the wall, of coming up on the wrong side of the numbers again and again is getting too high. It might work, it might not. I think if it works, it'll be a surprise. If not, we'll need to start saving up for a shot at IVF. Our only shot, most likely. But nobody can say we didn't try, try, and try again. And again, and again.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In transit

There's an old prison maxim - "Drink a lot of water, and walk slow." Drink a lot of water because it keeps your system flushed out, and walk slow because you're going nowhere fast.

Being stuck at an airport always reminds me of this.

Long story short - RE appointment scheduled earlier than we thought it would be, try to fly standby out of Seattle only to be told that all other flights are overbooked already. Wouldn't be too much of a hassle, except my scheduled flight is a redeye that leaves at 11:30pm. So here I am at the airport for the next 9 hours or so. As much as I'm impatient and in a hurry when I travel by air (as my inhumanly patient wife would tell you), being stuck here for a ridiculously long time tends to put me in a contemplative state. I walk slow and look around.

Airports are weird. They have aspirations to permanence - shops, restaurants - but they're essentially places of impermanence. They aren't destinations, they're ways of getting you to your destination. We are only here to be elsewhere. We're in transit, suspended between here and there.

Cycling is like that. We know entirely too much about what it takes to have a child, we have our attention called to every detail in ways that you wouldn't if you were just doing what comes naturally and hoping for the stork to unload his storky payload over the house. We are doing what comes unnaturally. There is no "baby dust" here. Well, there are ashes. I'd like to ask some of those "baby dust" people if those count. We know what the costs are, in dollars and tears and moments lost. With every cycle we hold our breath, caught between "it's over" and "it's just beginning." In transit, suspended between here and there.

This one isn't looking good. S stimmed hard, but only one out of four follicles showed any significant growth by the ultrasound. I'm going to be going right from the airport to the appointment, which might make for the least hallowed/sacred/whatever attempt at conception in my life. S is starting to wonder if we shouldn't just quit IUIs and start saving up for IVF. I'm starting to wonder the same thing. And so we hang between "do we" or "don't we", with everything in the middle up for grabs.

And the first person to ask me why we don't "just adopt" is getting punched in the throat.