A Little Overwhelmed

Christmas was a study in contrasts.  The day itself was quite lovely, restful, and calm.  Spending the day at home with my parents, we opened presents.  We relaxed.  I cooked a beef tenderloin and made a chocolate cheesecake that actually turned out beautifully.

The next day, I had plans to go to Arthur’s family in the morning (they live about an hour away from us) so the girls could play with their cousins, then Arthur would join us in the evening after work for gift exchange and time with family.  I arrived at the house, got the girls ushered in, and started talking with the adults.

Arthur’s middle sister MC recently got engaged with a wedding scheduled for the summer.  I knew MC was – naturally – excited about the wedding.  To make conversation, I asked her how things were going and about plans, etc.

I did not expect to be asked to be a bridesmaid.  MC and I have had some conflicts on and off over the last year or two, and I figured that she’d have friends and Arthur’s two other sisters to round out the bridal party.  MC asked if I would sing and if E would be a flower girl.  I told her yes, of course, and then asked if she had picked bridesmaids’ dresses and such.

Socially awkward introverts’ worst nightmare ensued: a smooth sailing, seemingly shallow conversation suddenly pitched into unexpectedly deep waters.  “Well,” MC told me, “SC [Arthur’s oldest sister] is my maid of honor, LC [Arthur’s youngest sister] is going to be a bridesmaid, my friend V, and, well, F.”

F, for the record, is married to Arthur’s brother D, so an in-law like me.  I sucked in a deep breath and tried not to react.  While I hadn’t been expecting to be asked to be a bridesmaid, I also hadn’t expected to be the only female in my generation to be left out of the wedding party.  I smiled, tried to be polite, and left the room a few minutes later with the baby to calm down.

MC followed me.  “Look,” she said, “I hope you’re not too upset about the bridesmaid thing.  I didn’t ask F just because she’s a sister-in-law.”

Ouch.

I’ve been with Arthur for around 20 years at this point, engaged or married for 15 of those years.  I’ve attended MC’s band concerts, events, graduations, and sent things to her at college.  It’s true that we’ve had a few moments in the last couple years – which I fully acknowledge to be partly on me – but to be told, essentially, “well, F is a friend and you…are just my sister in law” felt absolutely devastating.

It’s not even so much not being a bridesmaid.  It’s being close enough to hear all the inside jokes and far enough away to be left out of them.  It’s being the only female of my generation in the family photos that will be dressed differently and obviously not part of the group.  It’s that in Arthur’s family culture, this is a huge, huge slap in the face.

I spent the day trying not to cry.  When Arthur arrived, however, I lost it.  Seven hours of sitting on strong feelings was too much.  Instead of doing what I had planned, which was keeping things quiet and working it out later, I just felt the sobs pouring out of me and I could not bear to cry in front of everyone.  I ran out of the house and drove home, leaving Arthur and the girls to do the gift exchange and come home later.

Sh*t ensued.

It came out that at least three people had known about MC’s plans and had advised her that she would hurt me by making those choices.  Everyone is still insisting that MC didn’t mean to hurt me, that she’s stubborn and not as emotionally aware, but I’m having a hard time believing it.  I mean, MC is absolutely entitled to have whoever she wants in her wedding party, but she needs to own her decisions and not hide behind “oh, I asked you to sing and I never thought you’d be hurt”.

At this point, I’m just trying to take a step back and calm down a little.  There’s a lot of pressure on me to forgive, reconcile, and sing.  Truthfully, while that might be possible eventually, it’s hard to do when it’s all so fresh.

We closed on the house yesterday.  And it is glorious.  I am so, so excited about starting to paint and moving in.  A little overwhelmed, too, honestly.  To add to all of this, a driver rear-ended us yesterday as well, so creating another task.

So that’s how 2017 ended and 2018 is starting.  Lots of good, but plenty of delicate, difficult circumstances thrown in.

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New Year, New House

We bought a house.

Not the beautiful old 1926 one.

I got in touch with the city engineer and confirmed the lead service line to the home was most likely intact.  While it’s worth noting that lead service lines are typically covered in scale that helps protect the water, there’s still a risk, especially if something changes with the water.  Arthur and I still, at that point were holding on to the idea of the house, but I went ahead and called the health department to find out what information they had on lead in the area and how to proceed.  The case worker on the other end paused.  Then she said: “Well, we haven’t been to that house.  But we’ve been on that street and there’s definitely lead.”

I listened as she carefully chose her next words.  “Sometimes historic houses aren’t the best for children that are as young as yours.”

The message came through loud and clear.  Don’t do this.

I talked to Arthur.  We emailed the realtor and decided to drop the house from our list.  It’s an amazing house, but there were so many major issues with it (furnace, AC needed replaced, we knew the electricity was probably outdated, and there were several other issues we knew about – all this prior to an inspection) and the lead was the final straw.  It was too much for us to take on at this point.

We started scouring the real estate listings again.  Two houses popped up on our radar in fairly short order.  Both were newer, one a 1986, the other a 1995.  They were in our desired location and we arranged to see both of them in one day.

We liked both houses and spent the rest of the day debating which one to offer on.  One had a daylight basement and the other had a basement but no windows, so we finally decided to offer on the daylight basement house.  Our realtor put in the offer and we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, our realtor called the listing realtor just before the offer was due to expire.  The other realtor was incredibly rude and said that we had offered far too low (reality check: we had offered around 3% under asking price) and they weren’t even going to counter.

“Forget it,” I told our realtor.  “We liked the other house just as much.  We spent the entire evening debating which one to make the offer on.”  No point in trying to work with a seller and listing agent who had no intention of taking us seriously and who, I suspected, could be trouble if the inspection turned up anything of note.

We immediately put in an offer on the other house.  The next morning, our realtor called us.  “Congratulations!” she told us.

The inspection turned up a few minor issues, but overall, it’s a good, solid house according to the inspector.  We’ve got the mortgage arranged.  It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, but we’re cleared to close, and looking forward to doing so just after the new year.  With a few minutes to breathe, now I’m hoping to catch up on my blog reading!

Now we’re onto the fun of picking paint colors and preparing to replace carpets with laminate floors…

Housing Search: The Word ‘Plumbing’ Derives from the Latin Word for ‘Lead’ Edition

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We started looking for a house about a month ago.  It’s a tight market in our area, so we’ve seen about five or six houses in person along with closely watching the online listings and poring over the photos.  And of course, there’s this one house…

I’m sure anyone who has bought real estate is going “okay, where’s the ‘but’ on this statement?”

So, here it is: but it’s a 1926 house that’s priced a little over our current range and needs an entire new HVAC system among other things.

I love old houses.  Love the crown molding, love antiques, love the feel, love hardwood, love how unique old homes look, love bay windows, love the fact that an old house good enough to buy today is built well.  When we started looking, I immediately started checking listings in the historic neighborhood.  We saw the 1926 house and fell hard for it.  It’s gorgeous with big, airy bedrooms, the pretty trim, and as soon as I set foot in it, I was moving in furniture in my head.

Like I said, it’s priced a little above what we want to pay.  However, it’s been on the market for several months, and the sellers are ready to negotiate.  So that hurdle was largely overcome.  Arthur and I started talking about offering.

Then I did some research as we knew the HVAC system needed replaced and during that, discovered a few things about buying an old house.  We knew there would be repairs and remodeling work, which we were willing to do.  We knew we needed a cash reserve for the inevitable things that go wrong, which we could handle.  There’s often asbestos floor tile somewhere (not an issue as long as intact and not disturbed) which we figured we could manage or replace eventually.  We knew we needed to check the electric system (old houses weren’t built to handle modern electronic life), but figured we could manage that as well.

Then I was reading and discovered something we aren’t entirely sure we can handle: lead.

Any house built before 1978 in the USA generally has lead paint somewhere in it – the older the house, the more certain there’s lead paint in it.  Lead paint, I discovered, was used more on ‘nicer’ homes of the era because it has such brilliant colors and durability.  Meaning this gorgeous 1926 house almost assuredly has lead paint.  Apparently, lead paint can be covered and well maintained with few issues.  The problem comes if it’s on friction surfaces like windows and door frames (which can create lead dust when the window is opened or the door is open/closed), if it’s in the soil outside the house from outdoor paint (and tracked in), and/or if you have kids under the age of 6 (who tend to be more susceptible and who put everything in their mouths).

I also learned that the Latin word for “lead” is “plumbum” (hence the chemical symbol for lead) and so lead pipes and plumbing are a concern.  Lead pipes were used in houses, but even more recent copper plumbing can have lead solders.  The high lead solders were banned in 1986 and the amount of allowed lead reduced again in 2014 in the USA.

I dove down the rabbit hole with a vengeance.  Did some digging locally and discovered there’s a good chance the service line (the pipe that connects the house to the water main) could be lead.  Possible there’s still some lead piping in the house, though hard to say without an offer and a thorough inspection.  The windows appear to be original, so there’s a good chance those have lead paint.

We’re debating if we want to deal with this – if we would make an offer and get a lead inspection done and plan on abatement or replacement – or if we should just walk the heck away.  At the moment, I’m making calls to the city to find out if the service line was ever replaced (should be a matter of public record), talking to local lead inspectors, and putting in a call to the pediatrician’s office to get their take on things.

I’m starting to understand why all those home buyers and home owners on the HGTV and home improvement shows all seem to have constantly worried to panicked looks on their faces.  I’m discovering that all houses have issues.  The trick is being aware and picking the issues we feel we can live alongside or change.

If anyone has advice or lives/has lived in an old house, I’m all ears.

Want more Microblog Mondays?  Head over to Stirrup Queens to read more!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

Once Bitten…

Content note: breastfeeding

After my experience trying (and failing) to breastfeed E, I was determined that if I was able to have another baby, I was going to breastfeed.  I tried to set myself up for success when I found out I was expecting M, reading books and purchasing a new, high quality double electric pump (I wore out the motor on the one I used with E).  When M was born, I worked on getting milk supply established, making sure she had a good latch and was feeding well.  I was fortunate my body responded this time, and we were happy.

For the last seven and a half months, everything went well.  M loved breastfeeding.  I had a huge supply.  I froze lots, and ultimately wound up donating to the local milk bank when I overflowed the freezer.  I followed all the new guidelines that stipulated exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months.  I loved breastfeeding and figured we were set.

(You can tell where this is going.)

Then, about two months ago, the first little crack in that rosy picture appeared when, out of nowhere, in the middle of a happy nursing session, my adorable baby smiled up at me…and promptly bit down.  Hard.

M didn’t have any teeth at the time, so while I was startled and it hurt, I just let out a little “ow!” and stared down at her.  She, seemingly oblivious, resumed nursing.  I figured it was a one-off and didn’t think much of it.

Until it happened again.  And again.  And again.  Thanks to no teeth, it didn’t bother me all that much, and eventually M quit, right around the time she got her first tooth.

Then, in late October, M started biting again.  The situation escalated over about a week, culminating with Halloween, where she bit me seven times, including once that drew blood.  I did some research, concluded that I needed to keep a closer eye on her when nursing and watched her latch like a hawk.  She bit me one more time on November 1, then we reached a détente.  M nursed.  I watched.  It was no longer quite the carefree, cuddly experience from before.

The peace held until Tuesday.  M bit me once in the morning.  I unlatched her, set her down, and told her “no” soberly.  The next nursing session went fine.  I went to latch her on for the afternoon session, and M bit.  This time, she drew blood.  I yelped, took her off, waited twenty minutes until I could see her giving hunger cues, then I gingerly started to put her onto the other breast.

Within seconds, I was bleeding again.

Because I am nothing if not persistent, I waited until I saw hunger cues again, about fifteen minutes later, and tried again on the first breast.  Before I knew it, she clamped down, leaving behind a pair of bloody toothmarks.

I called the lactation consultant, who advised that I pump and let myself heal.

I went to nurse M again on Thursday morning, and found myself terrified.  I could not bring myself to put my breast in that mouth, which turned out to be a correct instinct as she bit her bottle over and over.  I went and saw the lactation consultant.  We figured out a few things, but the upshot is, as of today, M screams whenever she sees my breast.  She’s on a nursing strike.

It’s like a lock has sprung open on all those crappy feelings from infertility and prematurity and my inability to breastfeed with E.  A representative sampling: This is why you’re infertile.  You’re a bad mother.  You caused this to happen, you reacted wrong.  You aren’t trying hard enough, anyone can breastfeed.  You gave up too soon with E, you know that you could have gotten her latched eventually.  If you can’t breastfeed M until she’s one, you’ve failed and she’s going to have tons of health problems.

I know these are ridiculous, and also?  Totally untrue.  I also know something else from all the past struggles: I can set myself up for success and do the work, but sometimes, the end result is out of my hands.  The problem is, it’s hard to keep reminding myself of those facts.

I have given M eight months of breastfeeding.  I found ways to bond with E that had nothing to do with nursing.  We are all going to be okay, regardless of the outcome, regardless of if I manage to get her back on the breast, or pump and feed for the next four months, or wind up formula feeding.  In the end, fed is best.

But right now?  The whole thing bites.   

Pondering

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I’ve found myself reading mystery novelist Louise Penny a lot lately.  When the news and the world is horrible and dark, her novels are calming, a refuge of sorts, just like her fictional village Three Pines that can only be found by those who are lost.  Penny’s novels don’t deny the darkness, nor do they minimize or turn away from the ugliness found in human nature.  Penny does, however, present an alternative vision of genuine kindness and deep determination to do right in the face of unspeakable injustice and crimes.

Last week, Loribeth at The Road Less Travelled wrote a lovely piece on how we teach people to suffer (she gives a wonderful answer).  It’s been in my head for the last week because it is such a difficult, pertinent question.

As I was finishing up one of Penny’s novels and reading the acknowledgements section, I was struck by what Penny wrote of her own life during the time she worked on the book: “Michael [her husband] has dementia.  It has progressed, marching through our lives, stomping out his ability to speak, to walk, to remember events and names.  Dementia is a marauder, a thief.  But every hole it drilled has been filled by our friends.  By practical help and emotional support.”

It is the final part of her thanks that took my breath away: “I wrote A Great Reckoning with the peace of mind that comes with knowing I too am safe and loved.  And not alone.”

If I had to give an answer to the question of how to teach suffering, Penny’s words in the face of slowly losing her beloved husband are the best I could manage.  Create community.  Help find a way to let people know that they are safe.  Loved.  Not alone.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you’d like to read more, head on over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for hosting and originating.  

And Then There Was One

A little over a week ago, I got the call I had been awaiting and dreading in equal measure.  “We’re thawing your embryos this morning,” the biologist at the IVF lab informed me.

Both embryos thawed, needed an assist with hatching, and then were watched overnight to see if they would grow enough for a biopsy (they had originally been frozen at a 2 stage for expansion, not quite enough to biopsy properly).  I found out the next morning that the blasts had expanded, samples had been dispatched to the genetics laboratory for testing, and both embryos refrozen with a newer vitrification technique.  The biologist stated that she estimated about a 75% chance for each embryo to thaw and re-expand properly for transfer in the future.  This was, essentially, the same chance we’d had before (since an earlier, less advanced form of vitrification had been used when the embryos were originally frozen in 2014), so despite the thaw and re-freeze, we really hadn’t lost anything in terms of the chances that the embryos would thaw properly later.

Then we waited.

Tuesday, I got the call from the RE.  We have one embryo that is genetically normal.  The other one had multiple chromosomal abnormalities, not ambiguous at all.  We chose to leave the sex off the report from the lab because personally, neither of us felt comfortable knowing.

I’m so glad we chose to do the test.  Interestingly, the genetically normal embryo is the one the lab had given a slight edge (though both technically scored the same in terms of grading) and would have thawed and attempted to transfer first even without the genetic testing.  However, if it didn’t thaw properly or simply hadn’t implanted, we would have probably attempted to transfer the other that turned out to be aneuploid.  We would have wound up with nothing to transfer or negative pregnancy test (at best) or a miscarriage/loss.  If the first one had implanted and resulted in a live birth, we would have been left in limbo, wondering what we should do with the final embryo.

There’s still a huge gulf between a genetically normal embryo and a baby.  There’s a chance the embryo won’t thaw correctly to even get to transfer since it’s been frozen, thawed, biopsied, and refrozen.  If we can transfer, even with a genetically normal embryo, not all implant.  Even if it implants, I know how easily the sh*t can hit the fan at any point in pregnancy.  There’s a lot of logistics and life and plenty that’s still up in the air or could change in a couple of years.

But, and this is the key point, the whole point of doing the test for us, we now know where we stand in terms of the health and potential of the embryos.  We can make whatever decisions we need to make with that knowledge in mind.

Sometimes, You Can’t Run After Them

Content note: parenting, miscarriage

My older daughter loves books.  Upstairs, downstairs, board books and picture books abound.  I periodically go through and put them back in some semblance of order, only to have them joyfully pulled off the shelf a few minutes later for reading.  There are classics and newer titles and everything in between.

There is one board book, however, that doesn’t belong to the girls, that never is pulled from the shelf, that I have never read to either daughter.

I bought it nearly four years ago, one burst of optimism in a lot of nagging fear and doubt.  I never could get into buying baby clothes – that felt wholly overwhelming to me for something so tentative – but I did purchase a tiny set of board books.  The other two I threw away after it happened, I was so sad and so angry, but one I slipped into the box that held a positive pregnancy test, ultrasound photos, the embryo photo, some cards, and a few sprigs from the bouquets I received.

I don’t feel pregnant, I told my doctor at the time.  I’d never been pregnant before, but I knew, knew somewhere deep inside that something wasn’t quite right.  I found out that I’d miscarried the first one on a December morning when the ultrasound screen showed the pooling blackness of a gestational sac with something inside but no flickering sign of life.  The second one though.  The second one had a perfect heartbeat.

I hoped that the feeling of this is not right had been the first one passing, but I still didn’t feel good.  Or rather, I felt too good.  Not a wisp of nausea (but my mother had never really suffered from morning sickness and these things are often hereditary).  No breast tenderness (not everyone gets that).  No reaction to strong scents (well, it doesn’t usually set in right away).  Not overly tired (no more than usual).

But everyone told me that if you saw a heartbeat, your chance of miscarriage was drastically reduced.  I bought the books.  The Runaway Bunny seemed particularly apt.  If you run away, I will run after you, the mother bunny promises her little bunny.  I had run after this child, first with all the poking and prodding, then medications, and finally the IVF.  Right then, it seemed perhaps I had finally caught this baby.

Even then, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling.

I wasn’t surprised the day the ultrasound revealed the absolute stillness in my womb.  Devastated, but not surprised.  The babies were gone, but I could not run after them.  I could not turn into a fisherman or a mountain climber or anything else like in the story to bring either of them home where they belonged with me.

I let go in the end.  I had to.  Unlike the fictional mother bunny, I didn’t get that choice.

I tucked the book into the box a few days later.  A small gift, a book I wanted so badly to be true.

I could not bring them home.  The only thing I could do was send my love.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.