The Devil I Know (Plus I Admit to Considerable Delusionality)

Jeannie | March 22, 2011

There are many kinds of infertility-ish suffering that I would not choose over my own. I don’t know if everyone would agree with me, or if part of it really is the “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” phenomenon, where we’d all choose the burden we’re most familiar with.

For example, I am glad that if I had to be infertile, I ended up having an unexpected hysterectomy. I went through about 3 years of trying to get pregnant before the hysterectomy and it was hell. I discovered a level of self-delusion that I really hope to never experience again. I was capable of believing I might be pregnant when there was no evidence to support me. I was, in fact, capable of believing I might be pregnant when there was a lot of evidence AGAINST me.

A negative pregnancy test was small potatoes in my delusional world. Who hasn’t heard of false negatives, for Pete’s sake?! All KINDS of women in the history of Trying to Conceive have turned out to be pregnant after negative pregnancy tests. That negative test (or 6 different negative tests) were just going to make the eventual story of my pregnancy (told while gathered amongst all my babies around a warm fire … probably with S’Mores) all the more interesting.

Also, lack of having had sex during the time of my primary fertility was nothing I couldn’t explain away. If the only times you could get pregnant were REALLY as few days a month as fertility experts want us to believe, would there really be as much accidental pregnancy as there is in the world? Haven’t you heard of women who got pregnant when having sex a few days before their expected period? Or even DURING their period? I have. I’m pretty sure. I think I have. So it could definitely happen to me.

Even having an actual period didn’t always convince me I wasn’t pregnant. Periods can come with a lot of the same feelings that I’ve heard described as “feeling pregnant.” Tender b. reasts. Gurgling abdomen. A little back pain. Plus! Plus! Some women have light periods even when they’re pregnant, with EVERY pregnancy. It’s normal for them. I could be one of those women. You don’t know I’m not. (Well … now you do.)

I played these kinds of mind games on myself for 36 solid months. If I had maintained the possibility of becoming pregnant for another 12 years (or more! I’ve hard of women getting pregnant into their LATE forties! Plus! Wasn’t there some woman who got pregnant naturally in her late FIFTIES? You don’t know that’s not me!) … I could literally have driven myself insane.

I’m honestly thankful that the removal of my uterus was actually enough to stop the delusions. Even *I* couldn’t maintain a pregnancy delusion knowing that there wasn’t a uterus in there to grow a baby in. At best I might get a tubal pregnancy (since I do have one remaining ovary/fallopian tube), but that’s certainly nothing worth building a fantasy around.

So, in the end, if I had to be infertile, I’m glad there was a hysterectomy involved.

I’m also glad that I never had a miscarriage. As awful as it was never getting a positive pregnancy test, in my imagination it would be even worse to have gone through the joy and hope of getting the positive, and then losing it.

The same goes for losing a baby at birth.

I’m pretty sure the same goes for losing a baby sometime after birth, particularly in the first few years.

That’s a tough one, though, because I don’t think the parents who have gone through that would change places with me. I think most of them would say that “’tis better to have loved and lost.” Better to have had their beloved child, for however little time, than to never have had him/her at all.

But of course the difference there is that they’re referring to a real child, whereas I can only think of theoretical children. It’s harder to weigh the precious gold of moments spent with theoretical children.

Still, like my last post, today’s reminds me that there are a lot of ways for life to be hard. I certainly don’t carry the biggest burden ever handed out.

Gratitude Despite Myself

Jeannie | March 21, 2011

Without really trying, I’ve been feeling some appreciation for being childless lately. I’ve always known that reasons exist for which one COULD feel happy about not having children, given that some people actually do it (or don’t do it, as it were) on purpose. (Not have children, that is.) I could always say to myself, “Look how I can take care of myself while I’m here sick in bed, not having to worry about my little children today.” But I never actually FELT that; I just tried to recognize that it was there to be felt. If only it wasn’t buried underneath the death of my nearly lifelong dream of motherhood.

Over the past few weeks, however, I’ve had genuine moments of reveling in my freedom, creativity, and the wide open potential of my future years without children. They’ve just been moments, fleeting, but I’m choosing to acknowledge them here anyway.

Along with acknowledging that, to a certain extent, I DID choose my childless state. I can argue that with my fragile and unpredictable health (and thus financial) situation, it would be very selfish to try to adopt from the foster care system (the only way we could possibly afford to adopt). And that we’d probably be rejected if we applied, for those very same reasons. But the fact is we DIDN’T try, so I can’t really know for sure. And MAYBE my health will remain relatively stable, as it has for the past 20 months. Maybe I WOULD have been physically able to care for a child, not bedridden and drugged to the gills, as I was 3 years ago. But since I can’t see the future, it just felt/feels like too much of a chance to take with a child’s life, especially an already fragile child, such as a foster/adopted one would be.

So, I don’t know. It still doesn’t feel like I got much of a choice, but I’m trying to find the positives in what’s been thrust upon me.

At the same time, I’m feeling terribly bad for my only sister, Sue, who is in nearly the opposite position (life-wise) from me. She’s the mother for 4 year old twin boys who were the result of the 3 rounds of IVF Sue and her husband had to pursue before achieving a viable pregnancy. And because these children were so ardently pursued, so unswervingly desired, poor Sue is feeling really guilty these days about the fact that motherhood is wearing her to a nub. In fact, it may have worn her beyond a nub at this point. She’s become a smooth white eggshell, cracking under the strains of motherhood.

She and her husband live in New Jersey, with long commutes every day, but thankful to still have jobs in an area of the country where many people currently do not. Sue commutes over 2 hours each way into Manhattan at least 4 days a week. She’s also on-call on the weekday she sometimes works at home, and on the weekends. Her husband only commutes 40 minutes each way, but because of that, he’s in charge of childcare pick-ups and drop-offs, so he can never stay late. He’s continually in trouble at work for not being able to keep up with his workload, but he has no way to put in the extra time he needs in order to catch up.

Their sons — two adorable and very different (from each other) 4.25 year old boys — are in daycare three days a week and at their paternal grandparents’ house the other 2 days. Their parents barely get to see them during the week, and when they do see them, the boys are (according to reports) somewhat little terrors. One much more so than the other, but each in their own way. One is a stubborn dawdler who wants to examine and analyze everything ad infinitum. The other is a needy attention seeker who wants “help” with everything, which mostly just means he wants all eyes to always be on him. Mostly, from this long-distance aunt’s opinion, they’re just 4 year old boys — fascinating and adorable, but exhausting.

The answer to Sue’s troubles may be as simple as my mother thinks it is: that Sue and her husband need to implement sterner discipline, less TV, and earlier bedtimes. But it’s hard for me, especially from so far away, to fault my sister for wanting to get to see her sons each day, and to have the time spent with them not be all about discipline. We can argue that a few weeks of sterner discipline would make for a lot less stress in raising them from that point forward, but … it’s always easier to make those kinds of choices as a back seat driver not living the actual life in question. Oh, if only our own lives were as easy to run as other people’s are!

Sue’s not good at asking for help. She’s not taking our parents up on their offer to take the boys away for a week so that Sue and her husband can get a few nights of simple evenings and restful sleep. My theory is that Sue can’t accept that offer for the very reason that she wants to so very much. And she feels SOOOO guilty because a tiny voice in her head sometimes wishes that these tremendously desired and persistently created children would just GO AWAY for a while. She’s afraid that she’d burst into the WRONG kind of tears upon their return.

So I’m remembering that life comes with very many ways to be difficult. I am not alone in having a life that’s not exactly what I pictured when I was younger, and I like to appreciate the life I have.

I Watched Hoarders

Jeannie | January 24, 2011

Remember how I said I couldn’t watch an episode of Hoarders because it struck too close to home? I decided that was wimpy and I watched an episode over the weekend.

I have to admit, there were two stories in the episode, and in both stories, their house was worse than ours. Quite a bit worse.

I’m not sure if that should make me feel comforted or afraid, though, because (a) it proves that Steve could continue to make things worse and worse in the house. We’re nowhere near hoarder-hitting-bottom (or would that be “hitting ceiling”?) level and (b) from what the psychologist on the show said, it’s likely that Steve WILL continue to make things worse and worse. Apparently that’s what happens.

Oh! Oh! And (c) they confirmed that there’s almost nothing I can do about it. The psychologist said that no one can talk hoarders into recognizing their problem. That hoarders very often think the rest of the world’s perspective is skewed and their own perspective is that things are perfectly fine. Until THEY feel a need to change, they don’t change. And it pulls families apart.

I knew it.

The only sliver of hope I got from the show was the discussion a psychologist had with one hoarder guy, reminding him that he’d been valuing his “antique” collecting skills over his relationship with family and suggesting that he might try for valuing family first, instead. I could try that approach with Steve.

Also, the psychologist apparently dug out a nugget from the hoarder’s childhood that identified what it was about the behavior that he got psychological benefit from (he felt like a “good horse trader” for getting antiques at good prices). They didn’t show enough of how she did that for me to feel like I could replicate it, though.

Plus, I suspect that kind of conversation is considerably different with one’s spouse. In fact, I’m pretty sure that same hoarder guy got divorced 10+ years ago, because his wife told him it was unfair that he was valuing his antiques over her. And rather than change, he got divorced.

That doesn’t bode well.

BTVS – My Hero

Jeannie | January 22, 2011

You know who rocks?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

They’ve got a marathon on the Oxygen channel today, which is what made me think of it. It’s been Season 3 so far, but with a little skipping, so I’m REALLY hoping they jump ahead to slip in Once More With Feeling before the end. Fingers crossed!

I can’t believe that I didn’t watch Buffy for the first 6 seasons it was on. I saw it playing all the time, but I always thought, “Not for me,” and never gave it the chance. Literally, the name was too cool for me. I thought it sounded stupid. But no, I was the stupid one.

Then Firefly started. I loved it immediately (despite the fact that they started with the Train Job episode. Not one of the strongest and NOT intended by the creators to be the first episode). And once I discovered the brilliance that is Joss Whedon, which his love of linguistics and brilliant characterizations, I knew I had to watch everything he’d ever made.

I watched my first BTVS marathon that year, which was a little confusing, since it was a Viewer’s Choice and jumped rapidly through the seasons. It made things even MORE challenging that when you’re a dedicated viewer, like watching Superstar and going, “Wait! That guy becomes a HERO on the show?!” Or starting Season 5 and being all, “What did I miss?! She’s got a SISTER?!”

Of course those are the reactions of faithful Buffy the Vampire Slayer viewers, too, but it makes your head spin a little more when you really don’t know if you missed something.

I think Buffy and Willow are some of the best young female heroes of all time. Terrific storytelling supported by truly brilliant acting skills. Particularly Alyson Hannigan. I have never seen an actress cry more realistically than she does.

Anyway, the show ended not long after I discovered it, but through the magic of reruns and DVDs, it lives forever.

And I, for one, am really, really glad.

Do I Live By De’ Nile?

Jeannie | January 21, 2011

I may not have a coherent approach to what I want to say in this post, so I’ll apologize in advance and start by emphasizing that I’m so glad that I don’t suffer from depression. I am so, so grateful for that gift.

This week, my friends (a word I accurately use to mean “women I cyber-stalk who have never heard of me in their lives”) Corey and Courtney have talked about their depression and how they struggle. Like my other friend, Kari, this has reminded me to be extra grateful that I don’t have those same struggles.

But I have to admit that sometimes I wonder if my lack of depression actually reflects a lack of deep feeling, or a lack of connectedness to my own emotions. Do I avoid depression by denying the realities of my life?

Cuz I have shit to be depressed about, people!

During the height of my chronic pain saga, I had a surgery (my third), which I was having in part to improve my chances of getting pregnant, that resulted in an unexpected hysterectomy. This brought a rather sudden end to my lifelong dreams of pregnancy. Not long afterwards, my (beloved) primary care doctor said to me, “I’m so impressed by how you stay so positive and keep on keeping on.”

I shrugged and said, “What choice to I have?” But afterward I wondered, do I have a choice? What do other people in similar situations do?

I suppose some people DO just curl up in their beds and stop getting up. Do they miss work? Cuz I had to go to work.

Do they stop eating? Cuz I won’t be doing that. You could argue that I over ate as a result of my hard times. I definitely did have sensible thoughts like, “I’ll be in crippling pain forever and I’ll never get to have kids. I deserve this brownie!”

Some people probably do cry all the time. Do they do it in front of people? Because I’ve cried, but usually alone (or with Steve). I wept and wailed and gnashed my teeth, alone with Steve the night after I was told about the hysterectomy. I’ve had to leave the room during co-workers’ discussions about babies and pregnancy in order to cry in the bathroom until I pulled myself together. I’ve cried watching TV movies about babies or about infertility. I cry at Hoarders commercials sometimes.

I saw a therapist to talk about my hysterectomy in 2003. My insurance covered 4 free sessions, but by the third session the therapist said, “I think you’re really doing fine. You don’t need to come back again unless you feel the need.”

So I didn’t go back. Because I didn’t feel the need. Mostly I only went in the first place because psychology interests me and I’d always wondered what therapy would be like.

I just keep on keeping on. I find it easier to do that than to not do it. I could work myself into a funk about the biggest issues in my life, but the effort is exhausting. Big problems often slip my mind. I’m surprised to discover that people feel sorry for me, for the years of crippling pain and medical nightmares that I’ve gone through, for the babies I’ve missed out on. I think I’d probably feel sorry for me, too, if I weren’t busy being me.

But as me, I spent too much of my life feeling blessed, feeling so lucky for getting the family I got and the skills and abilities I got, that I don’t seem able to switch over to feeling pitiable.

Plus I just come from people who aren’t terribly emotional. Not hard or mean, but “get over it; get on with it” people who deal with hardships rather than dwell on them. Someone once told me that that’s classically a Scotch/Irish way to be (which we are, Scotch/Irish). Have you ever heard that? Maybe someone says the same thing about EVERY ethnicity, who knows.

I wonder if people think that my lack of demonstrable sadness means that things don’t hurt me. If they think that I’m not really, really sad about not having kids. Because I am. Really, really sad. I wonder if Steve maybe doesn’t fully understand how important it is to me that he find a way to deal with his hoarding, because I don’t weep and wail about it every day or even every week. Although he calls the times when I do weep and wail about it “nagging” and says they make things worse, not better. Still, I wonder if he takes the months when I don’t mention it, when I just go about my business and live quietly, as tacit acceptance of the situation. As a sign of “see, it’s not REALLY that important to her that I change this.” I’ve specifically told him not to take it that way, but I wonder if it would be more effective if I could just stay in bed and cry for 2 months straight. Would that get his attention more? Would attention make any difference?

Does that make it sound like I’m making light of depression? Because I’m not. I can see how HORRIBLE it must be for a person who can’t get rid of it. And when push comes to shove, I really would choose not being able to reach it as opposed to not being able to remove it. I would never, ever want clinical depression, but sometimes I think a little passing, non-clinical depression might do me some good.