The Sisyphean Task of Bargaining

I was standing in the bathroom the Saturday evening before Christmas, getting ready for work, when Arthur appeared in the doorway.

“So, L called this afternoon,” he said slowly.  I inhaled sharply.  I knew the next words that would come out of his mouth.

“She’s pregnant.”

I stared at him miserably.  “How far?”

“Six weeks.”

“Oh,” I said.

~*~

It’s true that I would never wish the messiness I’ve been through on that quest on another person, and I stand by that sentiment.  I’m glad she’s not going through those things and I do hope all this works out well for her.

This happened to be the third pregnancy announcement of that week and I’d actually been pretty proud of myself for handling the others well.  I’d congratulated and been genuinely happy for them, even if there was a little achiness.  But the announcement of someone in the family (sister-in-law), someone I also happen to not get along with at all and have a whole ugly history concerning, felt like entirely too much.

~*~

The immediate effect was the utter destruction of the fragile détente Arthur and I had formed to get through the holidays and give ourselves a little bit more space about fertility and being done – or not.  It was one of the worst fights we’ve had in nearly 15 years of marriage, a conflict that encompassed weeks of silences, retreats, open clashes, sullen glares, smoldering irritation, and plenty of times when everything seemed fine on the surface as we worked together on the house, shuttled the kids around, or sat around together.  About the time we both figured we had to have exhausted the conflict, we found it hiding in the undone dishes, the mess in the bathroom, the recycling left on the kitchen counter.  Both of us wanted it to stop and neither of us could find a way to leave the trench we’d each dug.

My OB/GYN finally helped bring it to a more manageable level when I splattered infertility and failed IVF and jealousy all over the table by gently telling me that yes, with me at 37 and my history, we did not have time to wait forever.  “But you’re not doing more fertility treatments and three months is most likely not going to change your ability – or not – to get pregnant,” she said.  “Give it three months, breathe, then revisit how you and Arthur feel about this.”

~*~

None of this, of course, was truly about trying again.  With the permission to take that off the table and breathe, I could see that this was (again) about coming to terms with our fertility issues and the other things we’d put largely on hold in the thick of it.

I’ve wondered, for a while now, why I seemed to be stuck in the anger stage of grief.  L wounded me a couple of years ago and I just…haven’t been able to let it go.  Even though at some level, I’ve felt ready to do so for a long time now.  I was angry at Arthur for deciding he was done when it came to family building.  I was angry when the beta came back negative.

Ah, but grief is a tricky, slippery thing.  Because it turns out, I’m more in the bargaining stage of things.  It just doesn’t look like the examples I’ve seen given about bargaining, where people say things like “take me instead of my (fill in the blank)” or offer money or power.

For me, it looks much more like the famous myth of Sisyphus, rolling the rock up the hill every day, having it come tantalizingly near the top, only to have it roll back down.

If I can untangle the relationship with L, I can overcome the grief at being rejected by her as a sibling and also (not coincidentally) somehow cosmically make right the grief and loss of my brother’s death.  I will refuse to let this point of connection go – even if it takes the form of a horrible resentment that is incredibly unhealthy – because I can prove that I am worthy of this connection.  G-d knows I’m working hard enough at it. 

Roll, roll, roll…and it all comes crashing back down.

If I can persuade Arthur to try again, that is somehow going to make up for the miscarriages, the infertility, the disappointments, the bitterness. 

Up the hill goes the rock.  Down, down, down it comes again.

That’s bargaining.  The certainty that if I can succeed at these Sisyphean tasks, if I can get that d*mn rock to just stay put at the top, it will all be okay.

It is bitterly untrue.  Because a relationship with L, even if I theoretically could magically restore it to being BFFs and true sisters and all that (unlikely even under the best circumstances, we’re just very different people and there’s simply too much between us at this point), would never take the place of my brother.  Because trying on our own for a third child and/or the very real gratitude for my wonderful living children does not erase the miscarriages, add years back to my life/fertility, or put around $50,000 (preferably with interest) in my bank account.  Theoretically trying to have another child does not insulate us from the potential for loss in the future either.

I’m about a million years behind the times, but I was recently reading a Dear Sugar column by writer Cheryl Strayed, written in response to a woman who had experienced a devastating stillbirth.  “Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody can take it back with silence or push it away with words. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away,” Strayed wrote.  Her words hit me straight in the heart.

Nothing and nobody can bring Eric back.  Nothing and nobody can change the myriad number of small and large losses that encompass infertility/miscarriage.

It’s really easy at this point to start talking about how lucky I am (true) or how much privilege I have (a lot, also true).  It’s really tempting to slip back into the comfortable place that is denial, put up a nice wall in front of the rocks that are still sitting at the bottom of the hill.  While acknowledging and examining privilege is absolutely a worthy pursuit and feeling true gratitude is a marvelous thing, denial is neither of those.  It’s pretending that because other things have gone right, the grief isn’t there for the stuff that hasn’t.  Also tempting is kicking the rock in fury because, well, the thing should stay put at the top.

Whether it’s fair or not, those rocks aren’t staying at the top.

Recognizing that, and not forever taking fruitless runs at pushing them up – and ignoring people who tell me that surely one more run will do it or to please hide these unsightly boulders – is the challenge now.

Something More

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A friend posted about the latest study making the rounds regarding miscarriage/loss and the impacts on those who experience it.  Basically, the study showed that in both the short and long term, women who experienced loss had fairly high rates of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression.  I’ll admit that I myself, while very much appreciating the fact that the study (finally) validates my own experiences, rather side-eyed the amount of surprise the researchers expressed at how high the numbers came out.  Clearly, they haven’t spent much time around people going through infertility/ectopic/miscarriage/loss, because this seemed pretty obvious to me.

My friend, however, noted that the article talks about how the researchers “hope the findings will encourage women to speak more openly about miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy and help others understand the impact of early pregnancy loss on women.”  I checked it out a little further, and the article states: “Having a greater appreciation of the results hopefully with enable friends, colleagues, employers, and family members to better support women and their partners going through a pregnancy loss.”  As my friend noted, there’s very little about better helping women connect with mental health care or how the medical care of these conditions might change.

Peer support is a marvelous thing.  Openness is a marvelous thing.  I mean, I’m here, blogging about miscarriage and infertility as are a lot of others.  I have no trouble talking about my own miscarriages in real life.  Peer support and community and blogs got me through some of the darkest moments of this thing.  Peer support and speaking out and awareness matters.

But it’s not the only thing that’s necessary here.

When I was pregnant with M, I almost lost my mind through the first trimester.  Unfortunately, that’s not hyperbole.  I was anxious beyond all possible belief and struggling through panic attacks regularly.  I had intrusive flashbacks to my first pregnancy – a missed miscarriage – that left me in a terrible place.  Add in a subchorionic hematoma that also left me bleeding/spotting semi-regularly, which caused a great deal of concern thanks to my third pregnancy, and I was a total wreck.

I’m incredibly fortunate because my OB, who knew my history, had me to come in weekly through the first trimester to check for a heart beat until I could pick it up on my home doppler, then feel movement.  I do not think I could have coped and functioned otherwise, because that’s how extreme the anxiety had gotten.  I also had access to mental health/therapy, which helped at other times.  Peer support is wonderful, but I needed access to professionals and a different plan of care than the current standard.  I had it, but I’m also pretty certain I’m an exception, not the rule.

To this day, I still get an absolute pit of fear in my stomach when people announce pregnancies, separate from any sadness/jealousy left over from the infertility because I know how much can go wrong.  I breathe a sigh of relief when people pass 13, 24, 28, 32, 34 weeks’ gestation.  Ultrasound pictures, among other triggers, can still send me into flashbacks and intrusive thoughts/memories or occasionally outright panic attacks.  Part of me hates to acknowledge that despite the fact that I’ve had some good outcomes, I still struggle (yep, therapy – among other things – are a part of my life currently).

What I’m saying is, how does the medical system need to change to adjust for this study (and I say this as someone who has a career in healthcare, so this is not an abstract question for me)?  How do we connect people better with mental health professionals?  Do we need to see more follow-up appointments?  Better screening tools?

How can we encourage women to speak out about their experiences without making it a mandate, another “to do” for people already in pain?

I sincerely hope that this study is a call for new goals/initiatives/treatment plans, well beyond what currently exists, not only awareness.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more or participate, head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting. 

‘Bittersweet’ Isn’t Quite The Right Word, But It’s The Closest Thing I’ve Got

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We had a marvelous trip for a family wedding recently to New Mexico.  The whole thing went remarkably smoothly, the airline staff was lovely, and seeing all my aunts/uncles/cousins was a great deal of fun.

One of my cousins has a strange sort of resemblance to my brother.  I say “strange” because my cousin and my brother have/had completely different coloring (one’s a blue-eyed strawberry blonde, the other dark hair/eyes) and completely different heights.  However, there’s something, because I’m not the first to notice it.  My grandmother used to mix them up at times and multiple family members have remarked on the resemblance over the years.

At the reception, my cousin was dancing with my younger daughter, who was just loving it.  Watching him swing her around as she giggled loudly and yelled “more” was incredibly precious and absolutely wonderful.  He’s really good with kids as well as a lovely person and it was fantastic – I’m truly glad to have him (as well as my other cousins) in the family.  As the oldest by a decent margin, it’s great fun to watch as they grow, find careers, get married, and embark on their adult lives.

I also had this incredible stab of sadness.  Just for a split second, my brain played a trick and saw my brother there.  The memories that I usually keep firmly stowed came flying out so fast that I had to look away for a second, take that deep breath.

I know I’m not the only one with these moments – the ones that are so very wonderful that you’d never give them up, that you’re so grateful to have, but that also pierce you right to the core because they’re such powerful reminders of what you’ve lost.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want more, please head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

“And”

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Content note: pregnancy, children, loss – none recent

This weekend, we tore up some of the scrotty grass that’s never grown well next to our patio in the back and put in hostas.  I pulled out the dead hydrangeas from the back bed and planted shade loving coral bells.  We went to visit college friends and as we sat, I had one of those moments that might be called transcendent or even holy, where for just a second, everything was right with the world and good.

The new life, both literal and figurative, was all around us.

I came home, checked my calendar, and realized that it’s not all that much longer until my saline infusion sonogram for this final transfer.  And before I knew it, this morning I was ugly crying, the one that isn’t a couple of crystal tears decorously sliding down the cheeks, but the red-faced, sobbing, snotty Kleenex filled kind.

That’s life, though, isn’t it?  At least after a certain point?  Where the most extraordinary exists among the prosaic of every day and the deepest, darkest muck that can be dragged up?

I am so incredibly, amazingly thankful for my girls.  And I am so terribly sad that I never got to meet the three that died and were miscarried early, long before they truly lived.

I honor the truly ordinary, uneventful pregnancy I got the immense privilege of experiencing.  And I grieve the long weeks of waiting, of fertility treatments and IVF, of hope mingled with sadness, of ultimately having three others over far too early.

I get the loveliness of watching my older daughter survive and now thrive.  And I mourn that she lost the last weeks in pregnancy that she should have had, that she went through so many painful procedures, that we were separated by plexiglass walls and nights apart at the beginning of her life.

I can’t even express how much gratitude I have to see the girls treasuring each other and also fighting – as siblings do.  And I can feel my heart breaking again and again and again that my sibling is gone, that a person I held as he came into the world left it long before me in such a terrible, senseless way.

I hold my dear ones close, their precious selves tangible and messy and wonderful and alive.  And I cry remembering the unnatural coldness of my brother’s still face, the benediction of viewing him in death, the slight smear of blood that transferred to my hand when I put it on his cheek.

I am fiercely glad for my marriage and the love my husband and I get to share every day.  And I mourn the things we have both broken over the years, some of which are still being repaired.

I am grateful for the chance to complete this final cycle, to close out this particular road, to know that no matter the outcome, I am truly fortunate and ready to live this good life I have.  And I am anxious, struggling with the months of waiting in the lead-up, dreading some painful procedures, and worried about the potential for more hurt.

For the last several months, I’ve been veering back and forth between the extremes, saying how I’m fine (true) and FINE – F*cked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Egotistical * – (also true).   It doesn’t sum up neatly, the pros and cons on the paper don’t cancel each other out.  They’re all true, all a part of what poet Mary Oliver termed “your one wild and precious life”.

I am, without a doubt, in today’s parlance, a hot mess these days.

And…it’s an absolutely beautiful mess as well.

*credit to Louise Penny

This post is a part of Microblog Monday.  If you want to read more or add your own, please head over to Stirrup Queens’ blog.  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.  

The Space

If you have ever spent time in a hospital, you will detect a rhythm.  Under all the bustling of the doctors, the nurses, the respiratory therapists, the entire infrastructure of acronyms that keep the thing running, there is a quality of silence, stopped time as people wait.  Even in the direst moments when everything is moving at full speed, there are pauses – waiting for lab results, specialists, OR rooms to become available, 30 seconds here, a breath there.

I didn’t really understand that rhythm until I became a patient myself, an object of all the bustling as opposed to performing it.  Sitting in the space, waiting, is hard, especially when you know that the result, the consult, the surgery, could change everything.  I often filled the spaces with books and blog posts and articles.  It’s strange how book or words can become a sort of friend in those places, buoying my spirits or just holding the space with me and affirming the mixed emotions in those moments.

Waiting was what I was doing in spring of 2014 after an unexpected result from my FET.  Pregnant but with far too many worrisome signs for confidence, Arthur and I had to decide whether or not to go ahead with a long-planned trip to attend a writer’s festival at our alma mater.  Several authors I admired were on the schedule to speak, we’d shelled out the money for tickets, hotel, and time off.  My RE gave his blessing to go ahead since we’d only be a few hours away and I knew where to go if the symptoms became more concerning.  So we went, hoping for a distraction from the seemingly interminable wait.

It was definitely the right decision, as hard as it was to make at the time.  I listened to lectures by James McBride, Ann Lamott, and so many others.  I went to the English department reception where I smiled, listened, reconnected with people, and shared stories.  All while simultaneously gritting my teeth as I’d feel the blood seeping out and the panic rising, then be blessedly inspired and challenged by new words, new books to read.

That’s how I wound up in a session with an author named Rachel Held Evans, who wrote a blog (and books) on faith, Christianity, and wrestling with (and eventually leaving) evangelicalism – a process both Arthur and I were going through, though in different stages -as well as a heartfelt and surprisingly funny second book on the meaning of “biblical” womanhood.  Arthur and I had read the book and had some good discussions.  After the session, there was a meet and greet and I told her how much I had enjoyed the book and admired her openness writing about faith, life, and menstruation.  I came closer than I want to admit to bursting into tears and confessing that I was really excited to be here but also probably going through a miscarriage and that I was really grateful for some of her writing, that the presence of her and these other authors had made this waiting just a little better.  Thankfully, my sense of manners and decorum kicked in to save me from serious awkwardness and oversharing, but I also suspect she would have been very kind.  The moment ended, we moved on.

One of her books kept me company a year or so later in the NICU as I waited beside my daughter’s incubator.  Arthur and I read it aloud as we put our tiny baby on our chests, sleep deprived, and needing healing words.  Her words kept me company in the empty space when my brother died.  Her words again encouraged us when we walked away recently from the denomination that married us and baptized both our children and were there for us during infertility and the NICU after a decision made at the denominational level to further exclude our LGBTQIA+ brothers, sisters, and non-binary in faith that Arthur and I found cruel and wrong.

Rachel Held Evans died on Saturday, May 4 after a sudden illness that led to complications at the age of 37.  It is for the people who actually knew her in her real life to mourn her in that intimate, deep way that comes with relationship and they are the ones that are truly bereft in this moment.  My heart aches for them as they move forward without her daily presence and grieve her great loss.

As simply a reader of her books and not someone who knew her personally, I’m just grateful for her words and quite sad that the lovely and luminous person behind them is gone from this world.  Those words held my hands and abided with me in some awful spaces.  They are and were a source of presence and balm.

While the many articles and obituaries have quoted Rachel’s final blog post on Ash Wednesday that is unexpectedly apt and poignant in the wake of her passing, the words from her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again are ones I remember now and as a fellow reader they resonate deeply: “I know I can’t read my way out of this dilemma, but that won’t keep me from trying.”

#BecauseofRHE

Responding to “Stuff People Say”

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Recently, I had the opportunity to go to a lecture by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally known speaker and author on loss, grief, and mourning.  I picked up the ticket at my suicide loss survivor’s group and played around in my head with the idea of going for a bit, but I’m glad that in the end, I opted to go.

Wolfelt related the story of being at his own mother’s funeral, sobbing, and hearing someone say “well, he’s a nationally known expert on grief, but he’s not holding up so well”.  It can be hard to mourn in a culture that expects an almost immediate resolution of the outward expressions of grief.  A few decorous tears in the days following a loss, but after that, calm, stoic acceptance is far more acceptable.

One of the best parts of the talk was when Wolfelt tackled the topic of “stuff other people say” and got into what he called the “buck up” messages.  These would be statements like “well, you had him for 38 years of marriage” or “at least she lived to be 89 years old”.  I’m sure anyone who has been through infertility/loss can add a few more to that list: “at least you know you can get pregnant”, “hey, you can sleep in/go to a movie/travel since you don’t have kids”, or “you have a good marriage/job/life, focus on that”.

Because I am a bit cranky on the inside at times, particularly when on Lu.pron or other hormone injections, the response in my head to those sorts of statements often ran along the lines of a rude, anatomically improbable suggestion.  My outward response was usually to smile weakly and change the subject.

However, I appreciated Wolfelt’s suggested rejoinder to these sorts of statements: “True, but not helpful.”

It’s very possible to feel gratitude in times of loss or grief for the good things in life.  But having plenty to be grateful for doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no room to grieve a loss and feel/express the emotions associated with loss.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays – please go see Stirrup Queens for more or to participate!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

Meditations on Moving

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One of the few authors I’ll spring for straight up (instead of waiting at the library or until I find it on sale) is Louise Penny.  I’ve written a few (okay, okay, probably more than a few) times about how much I love Penny’s mystery novels here.  She’s one of the authors writing today that I really want to meet, though I’ll admit that I’m a little terrified that if I did, in fact, meet her, I’d just fan-girl all over the place and embarrass myself.

In any case, Penny’s latest, Kingdom of the Blind came out last week and I’ve spent the last few days reading.  Yet again, I’m struck by Penny’s ability to get to the heart of life, living, and human emotions.  One of my favorite parts of the books are the author’s note at the end, where Penny writes so evocatively about her own life and struggles.  For a number of years, Penny’s husband Michael suffered from dementia and died in 2016.  Penny has also been open about being a recovering alcoholic and the incredible loneliness, anger, and sadness she felt for so long as well as many wonderful things she values in her life now.

“A funny thing happened on my way to not writing this book,” Penny notes, “I started writing.”

“How could I go on when half of me was missing?  I could barely get out of bed.” She continues.  “But then, a few months later, I found myself sitting at the long pine dining table where I always wrote.  Laptop open.”

I relate to that in such a big way.  While I’ve never lost a spouse, I have lost loved ones, as well as other, less tangible bits and pieces along the way.

It’s hard, losing, whatever that loss comprises.  Especially at this time of the year, when everything seems suffused with traditions and the place at the table seems all the more empty than usual.  When it’s impossible not to remember and the commercials and pictures and expectations are designed to evoke emotions that often I’d rather leave in the background or unexamined.

Sometimes living, moving, feels a bit like a betrayal.  With an ache that has the sharpness of a gunshot echoing from 2015 and holes that rend the threads to keep weaving it all together, it feels impossible to tie the knots and work to keep creating.  To set the empty place and also hold the feast.

That’s been a struggle for me lately, even though my grief isn’t new.  I’ve reached that sort of half-mourning stage, where the sadness doesn’t seep into every moment or corner, but comes out at both expected and unexpected times with a startling strength.

I’m grateful to Penny for not denying the darkness, but also for the joy she takes in how moving forward encompasses her loss: “Far from leaving Michael behind, he became even more infused in the books.  All the things we had together came together in Three Pines.  Love, companionship, friendship.  His integrity.  His courage.  Laughter.”

In so many ways, that’s what I’m seeking.  Not to leave behind, but to hold the love and live.

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