Rooting Out

microblog_mondays

One thing I’m still getting used to with home ownership is the ongoing stream of projects and maintenance.  Having rented for the vast majority of my adult life (12-13 years), I’m familiar with reorganizing and cleaning, but landscaping and painting – among others – are new ventures.

After a couple of years of living here, we decided it was time to tackle the outside of the house in a meaningful way.  The first year we lived here, we mostly just watched to see what plants came up in the yard and beds.  Last year, we evicted The Shrub That Ate Our Front Window, put in some new beds around the patio, and placed fresh landscaping fabric/pebbles around our firepit.  This year, we realized that the gorgeous silver maple tree in the backyard was planted just barely far enough away from the house and we also didn’t particularly like the Norway spruce in the front.

We called in an arborist to evaluate the silver maple.  Silver maples have shallow, invasive roots – the kind that can crack foundations and get into sewer lines.  The minimum distance to plant these trees from a house is around 20 feet, and ours is 21 feet from the base of the house.  The tree was actually one of the things we loved about the house when we bought it.  It’s one of those perfect trees for bird feeders, for climbing, and for shade.  I hoped it didn’t need cut down, but if it was a choice between the tree and our foundation, it was a no-brainer.

The arborist came out, looked at all of our trees and, happily, told us he could save the maple with no major issues.  In the fall, he’ll come and prune the roots to prevent them from reaching the house and take a limb off that’s starting to stretch up to the point where it will eventually grow over the roof.  He told us that the spruce in the front yard wasn’t going to invade the foundation since spruces apparently don’t have those kinds of roots, but that it’s planted too close to the house and showing signs of stress.  The arborist advised taking it out, and since we didn’t like it anyway, we’re looking forward to having it down sometime this summer.

One of the things the arborist noted in the evaluation was that when the spruce comes out, the stump grinder would damage the yucca plants at the base.  Well, the yuccas had gotten entirely overgrown and weren’t really in my vision for what I eventually want in that bed.  We decided to take them out.

Turns out, yuccas grow thick, fibrous roots that are an absolute nightmare to hack through.  What we thought would take one person about an hour took two of us about two and a half hours of hard work.  One of us grabbed the top of the plant and pulled, the other dug the shovel in over and over to break the roots.  The end result was worth it, however, and it all looks much neater.

House Before Yuccas

Before, with the yuccas in place.

House After Yuccas (2)

After – we didn’t even realize there were landscaping rocks under all of that!

Next up is getting rid of the bush behind the pine.  Having pulled a similar one out last summer, I know what we’re in for there.  Eventually, we’ll get to the fun part: figuring out and planting the landscaping we actually want.

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

Step, Step

We take everything one day at a time these days.  I’ve heard that as advice a lot over the years (and mostly ignored it), but now it’s all but impossible to do anything else.  It’s strange to see our normally bustling calendar stripped bare of notations, just the date in each square. We’ve been listening to the Frozen 2 soundtrack in our house and one of the songs, titled “The Next Right Thing” has a resonance it’s impossible to miss right now:

Take a step, step again

It is all that I can do

The next right thing.

In a moment I’ve been dreading since the news broke about the Life Care home in Seattle back in February and I more fully began to understand what we were dealing with, my grandfather passed away last week, Covid-19 the most likely cause of death.  The staff at his nursing home took great care of him and for him and I am grateful for them and their good work.  We grieve our private loss, but I know we are also grieving in a community that extends from Italy to Spain to China, across the United States, around the entire world as the virus grimly marches forward.  Friends have lost family members or had relatives seriously ill.  Others are laid off or furloughed and worried.  Still others are parted from living loved ones that they desperately miss.  So many unique losses for so many people, so much collective sadness.  I haven’t decorated the plain wreath I hung on our door at the start of Lent or put up flowers to replace the bare branches in my vases.  No matter what the church calendar may say, the light has not burst forth yet in this season.

And with the dawn, what comes then?

When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again…

Yesterday morning, when Arthur got ready to leave for work, the car refused to start.  This was not a total surprise as we knew the battery’s getting old and we’re trying not to do too much with it since we know we’re going to most likely be buying a new vehicle in the fall.  With no time to try to jump it right then, we hustled everyone into the other car and I drove Arthur to work.

It was the most novel, lovely thing, just going out and driving an essential 30-minute round-trip.

The route to Arthur’s work is fairly scenic, which helps.  There was a heron wading in the marsh and the sun shining across the waters.  After weeks of not leaving the house for days at a time other than work and picking up groceries every once in a while, though, it was such a strange, pleasant feeling to drive further than my extremely short commute.

It’s funny how these little events that I barely would have noticed in The Time Before are taking on such significance now.  Sitting on the porch swing as the weather gets nicer has become a welcome break from indoors.  Having a conversation with a neighbor across the yard and safely socially-distant is wonderful.  We watch the birds at our feeders, mostly goldfinches now.  There are also some events that never would have happened in The Time Before: we got to watch our local Air Force wing take the fighter planes for a flyover to salute the hospitals and all the healthcare workers.

We are – like so many others – okay and also not okay.

We stay home.  Go to essential jobs.  So far, all healthy.  Wait.

But break it down to this next breath

This next step

This next choice is one that I can make…

The next right thing.

 

That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It

In my 20s, I attended a fair number of baby showers and pregnancy/childbirth-centric events.  It’s like a bad take-off of the Jane Austen line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”…that if you are a married woman in your 20s, you are interested in conceiving/pregnancy/birth.  As someone who was at best ambivalent about having babies (oh, the irony) at the time and more focused on going back to school, I found this emphasis frustrating.

When I arrived at 30, suddenly in a tearing hurry to have babies and getting into increasingly expensive, painful interventions that seemed to fail at every turn, the amount of social pressure turned into something far darker.  While there are areas of the US where women in their 30s having first babies is the norm, where I live, I was one of the oldest people in my peer group married with no kids.  Most of my friends have older kids, including a kid who is a teenager currently.

In the throes of infertility, I quit going to baby showers.  I stayed out of heavily female spaces because it felt like pregnancy/childbirth stories came up a surprising amount as a bonding activity.  I figured one day I’d get wherever “there” was to feel emotionally secure enough to start attending again.

I had the kids.  And then something strange happened: I still don’t belong.  Not really.

There’s more room for sharing of “less than optimal” experiences now than perhaps there once was, but there’s still a pretty heavy social price for relating certain parts of stories.  I’ve personally primarily experienced this in regards to miscarriages/pre-viable PPROM/NICU – so that’s what I’m writing about here – but I also know this happens in some very difficult ways in the infertility community as well for people for whom treatment doesn’t work or adoption doesn’t happen (because this isn’t my story to tell, here is an excellent blog post on that subject, as well as here).

The first time I naively waded into a discussion after my older daughter was born, I simply spoke part of the truth: that I’d been in the hospital for quite some time after my water broke at 21 weeks, the doctors thought the baby wouldn’t make it, I somehow stayed pregnant until 28w4d, and E was born, spent awhile in the NICU, and was now doing pretty well.  Never mentioned the infertility/IVF/miscarriages or the messiness of the subchorionic hematoma/hemorrhages.  I actually watched someone’s mouth drop open.  People weren’t sure what to say.  There was some shuffling and looking down and the subject got changed.  It wasn’t the last time this happened.  Eventually, I started being a lot quieter during these conversations.

“It’s like I’m Stephen King giving a speech at the romance writer’s convention,” I once quipped to Arthur.  I’ve also heard more than once complaints about how people love to tell expectant women the worst stories about infertility/pregnancy/childbirth and scare them.

Obviously, there’s an element of knowing your audience here and being polite or sensitive.  I don’t tell anxious pregnant women my story because of this, because they’ve got enough concerns going on.  There are times that people can’t handle certain stories and I get that.

But other times, there’s an element of silencing.  Stories that are too uncomfortable and too taboo to tell out loud.

As I was reading Sarah DiGregorio’s book on prematurity Early, a passage helped crystallize the vague sense of not-belonging I’ve felt at times: “I also didn’t want to be the bearer of dark information, and I couldn’t imagine how I would participate in ‘normal’ conversations about my baby.”  DiGregorio also notes that “The emphasis on ‘natural’ birth that is meant to be empowering can be painful for those of us who needed every unnatural intervention to get our babies (and/or ourselves) out alive.”

I hear that.

I know that I’m (thank goodness, as I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else) an extreme outlier to plenty of statistics.  Of people who struggle with infertility,less than 5% go on to use IVF according to the ASRM.  Subchorionic hematomas are one of the most common reasons for first trimester bleeding, but very few are anywhere near as problematic as mine turned out.  Periviable PPROM affects only around 0.4% of pregnancies.  While preterm birth is an enormous problem in the US, only a little less than 2% of all births and around 16-20% of preterm births are before 32 weeks’ gestation.  In other words, my experiences are definitely not the norm. I don’t think policies or procedures or public health should be based around women like me.

But the suggestion that anyone can (fill in the blank: get pregnant without intervention, get pregnant with intervention, prevent a miscarriage, give birth without certain interventions, prevent a c-section, etc.) has the weird effect of sort of erasing people like me who don’t fit into those narratives that we are ultimately in control.  At times, I’ve found it also can have the effect of almost turning my story into a spooky fairy-tale, the thing that lurks in the shadow, the uncomfortable specter at the feast.

It’s a tricky thing: I want women to be empowered to seek answers and have authority over their own bodies, I want to see fertility treatments covered by insurance but not hailed as ‘the’ solution to infertility, I want as many miscarriages as possible prevented but women not blamed for miscarrying, I want to see unnecessary c-sections curtailed and more choices for women but also the understanding that c-sections can be life-saving preserved, I want better public health to help prevent as many pre-term births as possible and also better NICUs/treatments for those that happen anyway, I want campaigns of information that can help people avoid bad outcomes but don’t ‘other’ or shame those that don’t fit or have less than optimal outcomes anyway.  I did nothing wrong and yet so much went sideways for me.  There was no extra prenatal care or information that would have helped me, there were d*mn good reasons I had c-sections, and I get very tired indeed at times of explaining why (fill in the blank) would not have prevented this, the suspicion that I had to have done something to make this happen because surely these things are preventable?

I don’t know the answer here.  I don’t know how we make space and genuine understanding for all of these realities.  Telling stories is a starting place, I suppose.

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.

The Odyssey

microblog_mondays

Last year, Arthur and I left our long-time church denomination after the worldwide conference voted to make a decision we simply could not abide by.  After we took a couple months off entirely and spent Sundays making waffles, reading, and just being generally lazy in the best possible way, we knew we wanted to work on finding a new church more in line with our values.  Eventually, we landed and started putting down roots.  There’s plenty that churches and denominations have generally in common, and while this is a new tradition to us in many ways, it’s also very familiar.  There are still occasional moments, though.

Listening to the organ play the intro to one of the communion hymns yesterday, both Arthur and I recognized it immediately.  It’s a particular favorite of mine, to the extent that it’s the music I walked down the aisle to when we got married, but as I looked down at the words, I realized they were definitely not the old, familiar ones I know by heart.  The closing hymn was the reverse: I knew all the words, but they were not set to the music I know.  Both of us laughed afterwards – so close, and yet so far!

Such it is right now in this period of transition generally.

I think one of things that is alternately frustrating and comforting is that after everything (waves hand generally at the last seven or eight years) the building blocks of who I am are still the same.  I’m still introverted, stubborn, bookish, prone to wrath, able to laugh most days at the absurdity of life.  The bedrock is there.  The circumstances have changed fairly vastly, the worldview expanded, perspective changed, but I’m still, well, me.  Also, in some big ways, not.  The familiar sitting in such close company with all the new is a little disconcerting.

Perhaps one of the things I expected after the everything was a personality transformation into something entirely different.  Something that overcame my weaknesses.  Something that transfigured my strengths.  Something motivational.  Something fabulous.  And, perhaps, an ending, a there, a destination.

Instead, as one of the characters says to the protagonist in the novel (This Tender Land  by William Kent Krueger) I’ve been reading and re-reading, “You believe you’ve been looking for home, Odie.  This is where your belief has brought you.  That doesn’t mean it’s the end of your journey.”

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

Good Gracious, It’s 2020

After a decidedly mixed-bag Christmas (a post for another day), I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten the lift in spirits I sometimes get in January.  Some of that probably has to do with the daylight getting slightly longer, but this time, the somewhat arbitrary “life reboot” of New Year’s Day fits well with my needing to move into a new phase of life.

  • In the last month or so, I’ve stepped up my gym routine. I started with classes back in July, but also had a foot out the door mentally because of the FET in October.  However, I’ve realized how much fertility treatments, bed rest + various activity restrictions, and c-sections/surgeries have destroyed my core and abdominal muscles.  I’ve spent the last several years with an old back injury flaring up regularly because of my lack of core.  In August, I noticed after doing class for about a month, I was having a bit less pain.  Since the FET fail, I’ve worked on adjustments to my workouts to continue that progress.  While I still don’t have the rock-solid abs and core I’d love to possess, I’m definitely noticing that my back is better yet.  Hopefully that progress will continue!
  • Arthur and I made plans to turn our spare room into a craft/quiet/art/music room for the kids. Crib will become a desk and changing table a set of shelves to store art supplies.  It’s nice to figure out a way to re-purpose these items in a way that fits our lives now instead of having them sitting in the room, a silent ache every time I walked past.  E graduated from physical therapy (hopefully for the final time).  Plan is to step up preschool to three days per week once the school has an opening to prepare E for kindergarten in the fall.  Both girls are taking low-stress/strictly for fun gymnastics lessons for the next couple months.
  • I finally spackled the place on the kitchen ceiling that had an ugly water spot. I resealed the upstairs tub over a year ago, suspecting this was the problem, and since I did, no more dampness to that area.  Definitely time to repaint and make it look nice!  I also broke down and sprang for good re-chargeable batteries to use in the flame-less candles in the living room.  Put them on a timer so that they come on around 4 pm daily and it’s rather amazing how much that simple change makes me smile every time they light.
  • For Arthur’s Christmas present, I got him a short-term subscription to a box that sends ingredients + recipes from some of the top bartenders working currently for custom cocktails. It makes a good “stay in” sort of date night, allows us to try some different things without committing to large/expensive bottles of ingredients that might only get used once, and is just good fun.  We made “Pommes Bandes” last night (pineapple juice, lime juice, allspice cider syrup, Angostura bitters, and rum on the rocks with a garnish of candied ginger).  Definitely not something I would have made for myself normally (or picked off a menu at a bar/restaurant) but absolutely delicious.
  • Journeys and quests (hmmm) have been the theme of the last couple of books I picked up. Finished William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land, a re-telling of “The Odyssey” set in Depression-era Minnesota and absolutely loved it.  I also read the four books of “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater (credit to Jess) and enjoyed those as well.  As a little bit of a departure, I was able to pick up Bitten By Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the 19th Century Home by Lucinda Hawksley from the library (another Jess pick) – totally fascinating.  As someone whose favorite color happens to be rich emerald to forest greens, I am pretty sure that if I’d lived in the centuries where arsenic dyes were in widespread use (apparently not just in wallpaper, but in clothing/textile dyes as well), well…I don’t know that I’d have much expectation for longevity.

 

  • Pommes BandesPommes Bandes and a good book – perfect way to spend an evening!

Happy New Year, all!

Wide Open Spaces

microblog_mondays

When Arthur called an end to our efforts on trying to conceive, I found myself in the midst of a bit of an identity crisis.  I’m not sure why this surprised me – I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to get pregnant and then stay pregnant in ways that were invasive, emotional, time-consuming, and expensive.  One of the things that happened along the way between infertility and NICU was that other parts of life fell by the wayside.  It’s hard to make plans or get involved in other activities when you’re at the whims of the RE’s office or in quarantine.

Time to begin the small steps of moving forward.

~*~

To that end, I decided to rip off the band-aid last week and start the process of cleaning out all the pregnancy/baby items cluttering the basement.  I don’t want to start the new year with that particular task looming large.

I started with the hardest part: the maternity clothes.  I fought so hard to get to the point where I could wear them in my fourth pregnancy – after three pregnancies without much outward sign.  I tossed them into totes and tubs and took them up to the consignment store where I watched as the employees evaluated and sorted.  “Donate whatever you don’t take,” I told them.  I walked out with the empty containers and some cash.  I made it to the car before bursting into tears.

~*~

I recently was invited to participate in an advanced adult choir.  For years, I’ve listened to recordings of British composer and choir master John Rutter directing the Cambridge Singers in both his own compositions and other choral classics.  It has long been a dream of mine to get to sing some of the music on those albums, which are full of tricky a cappella pieces as well as what I’ve termed the “floating sopranos” – the top part and descants just lightly flow over the top of the other voices, impossibly soft, controlled, and high.  This is my chance to do just that.

It’s a reminder that there are other dreams to follow and so much beyond the narrow confines of trying to conceive.

Choral music

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