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.