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.  


A Long Time Coming

In the weeks and then months after E was born, we spent a lot of time at the hospital, first in NICU, then going back and forth to doctor’s appointments and tests.  Every time I made the trip to the hospital, the route took me through a nature preserve marsh area.  I’d often spot hawks, great blue herons, or swans.

One day, I saw a flock of white birds perched in the trees and logs.  At first, I wondered if they were seagulls or more swans.  They were quite a long way from the road, so hard to make out, but as I got a better look, I realized that a couple of them were wading in the water.  They were storks.  A whole friggin’ cloud of storks.  This realization elicited a rather dark-humored chuckle from me, given the association of storks with babies.

“Really?!”  I muttered incredulously to myself.  “This is where y’all have been hanging out all these years, huh?”

I continued to see the storks all summer, and the next spring, I kept an eye out for them.  Sure enough, the cloud of storks again descended on the marsh.  I would watch for them as I went back and forth to my OB appointments in those early, tenuous days of my pregnancy with M.  I saw them as I headed in with bleeding.  I saw them after good ultrasounds.  I got to the point where I was almost superstitious about it – if I saw the storks, everything was probably okay.

This summer, I waited to see the storks.  While I’ve seen a few of them on and off, it’s nothing like the last two years.  At most, I’ve seen three or four at a time, whereas in previous years, I’d see ten or fifteen easily.  I’m completely aware that this has something to do with changes in the migratory pattern of the birds, but it’s a sort of strange coincidence how it has almost perfectly dovetailed with the volume of my anxieties and feelings about infertility.

When I was first diagnosed with infertility, the one thing I wanted to know was whether or not the acute distress of not knowing and the horrible limbo of waiting would ever end.  I figured intellectually it would – and multiple bloggers/authors in this community with every manner of outcome testified to that – but there were days it felt emotionally like we might remain in the undecided, unresolved ether forever.  In some ways, that was one of the hardest parts of fertility treatment for me.  I could deal with the physical side effects, but the waits – waiting to start cycles, waiting for lab results, waiting for paychecks to pay for cycles, waiting for embryo reports, waiting for pregnancy tests, waiting for ultrasounds, waiting on those long weeks of hospital bedrest to see if E would survive – stressed me enormously.

For a long time, infertility has been a wound that has stubbornly refused to heal or even really scab over.  We still have two frozen embryos, and with my history of subchorionic hematomas and the concerns with whether or not something in the IVF process possibly exacerbated the first one with E, there are some loose ends yet.  Lately, though, I’ve noticed that while I’m not quite resolved, I’m starting to see that eventuality on the horizon.

In Which A Break Turned Out To Be Longer Than I Anticipated

Content note: Pregnancy mentioned

I didn’t set out to take a writing hiatus, but thanks to, well, life, that’s exactly what happened.  Of course, once the hiatus starts, it becomes harder and harder to go back. Where do I even start?

It has, indeed, been a full couple of months.  School has been busy, so perhaps it’s not so much a true writing hiatus as a blogging hiatus as I’ve written a fair amount towards that overarching project of BSN work.  My daughter had a couple of minor surgeries that thankfully went well, but one of which required several all-day trips in a relatively short time period to see a specialist out of town.  Arthur and I both blanched at the horrible election results.  We’ve lived under Pence for the last four years and to say that we’re worried and chagrined would be a gross understatement.  My husband’s work got busy and I changed my job position as well.  As of December 31, I crossed 28 weeks and 5 days pregnant, making me – out of four pregnancies – the furthest along I’ve ever been.  An anatomy scan at 18 weeks showed no abnormalities and that the baby is a little girl.

In many ways, we’re transitioning into a relatively good place family-wise.  Out of the normal has been our default setting for so long – starting with infertility and progressing to miscarriage, job losses, a high-risk pregnancy, PPROM, preterm birth and my brother’s death – that it’s almost a novelty to sit back and just breathe for the first time in about four years.

Sometimes I almost forget that a lot of people in real life we come in contact with these days don’t know the story since we moved in the midst of it and then spent a year in quarantine to let E’s premature immune system develop.  By the time we came out of hibernation, E looked a lot less premature (small, but not abnormally so), didn’t have her wires from the monitor any more, we weren’t in the midst of infertility treatment and then had a welcome, spontaneous pregnancy.  Recently, we were at church, going over future plans for the congregation and I objected to one point that talked a lot about “families with children”.  Which of course, seemed odd given that we are “family with children”.

“What you don’t see,” I explained, “is that we almost didn’t have children.  We did several rounds of fertility treatments and then IVF and had miscarriages.  My water broke at 21 weeks and by almost any calculation of odds, E wasn’t going to survive.  By that time, we were financially tapped out, emotionally exhausted, and if E hadn’t lived, we wouldn’t have had the ability to keep trying or pursue adoption.  We would have been a family of two.”  It heartens me that in that group of people I was talking to, everyone was kind, respectful and interested in being inclusive of family structures outside of the nuclear.

Another moment occurred when we went down to witness my niece and nephew’s dedication ceremony.  As all the parents and adorably dressed babies walked out onto the stage, the pastor briefly talked about the ceremony and then gestured to a white rose placed in the front.  He explained that this was in honor of those who had lost children, struggled with infertility, and for whom this was not a joyous or easy occasion.  While communities – religious or otherwise – still have a long way to go towards true, full inclusion and integration of those who struggle with infertility, do not have children, or do not have the families they longed for, such a gesture was a welcome sign that perhaps someday those changes may come with work and determination.

At these moments, I found myself almost in tears both times.  Certain aspects of infertility are slipping into the past for me and yet, others are still so much present in my life.  It informs so much of how I view family, parenting, and life in general.

The Messy Intersection of Hope, Pain, and Advertising

I’d seen the viral photo of the baby surrounded by IVF syringes show up in my Facebook feed a couple of times. I’d paused to consider it, but had never read the caption or anything about it. I thought it was a powerful visual, a pointed reminder of the realities of IVF. The photo itself, with no caption, I identified with in its portrayal of struggle.

Then I read an article about the photo, and to say it conjured up mixed emotions is an understatement. In particular, a couple of items stood out.

Before I go on, let’s get this part out of the way: I’m not angry with my current RE, who has always been ethical and careful about explaining the known risks to me. I’m not angry with my IVF clinic. I don’t think IVF should be banned. Nobody has made any medical mistakes that I’m aware of throughout any of my treatments or pregnancies. I’m truly glad for the mother who took the photo, identified as Angela, that her daughter is “absolutely healthy and perfect” and that she is happy. I’m aware that pregnancy is a roll of the dice in so many ways, and perhaps, that’s my biggest issue here.

I’m frustrated at being shown an “absolutely healthy and perfect” baby and told to “…just hang in there” as though anyone who perseveres long enough, pays enough, and suffers enough will have that healthy baby. I understand that Angela shared it as an encouragement. I disagree with the “…just hang in there” message strongly, but I also recognize she’s a private citizen who wanted to help, never expected this to go viral and excited to share her hard-fought-for daughter. However, in the course of reading the article, I found out that the photo was originally made public by a fertility clinic*.

This struck me as far more problematic.

There is, of course, the fact that IVF cycles fail to produce a live birth more than half the time even under optimal circumstances when using the patient’s own eggs. There is also this: IVF, according to a Danish study from 2010, is linked to a 53% greater chance of preterm birth and doubles the risk of an extremely preterm birth (prior to 32 weeks) in singleton pregnancies. 8% of IVF/ICSI babies in the study were born prematurely, and 1.5% were born very prematurely, compared with 5% and 0.6% respectively for women who did not use IVF/ICSI. This is not taking twins or higher multiples which automatically have a higher risk of prematurity into account.

I understand that, for better or worse, fertility treatment is a business. Of course this clinic is showcasing such a fine outcome. I have no doubt they have all sorts of social media experts, including whoever added the caption with the subtle knife twist about the photo showing “the true definition of love that went into making this gorgeous new baby girl.”

It’s not revolutionary or surprising that infertility involves a lot of emotions, often strong ones. I know I personally felt terrible that because of my PCOS, my husband might never be a father. It’s something I’ve known he wanted since I met him when he was sixteen. I told him repeatedly that he should have married someone else, someone who could give him children. I’ve heard similar statements from other infertile people who have fertile partners. We wanted a child badly and paid with enormous amounts of money, a couple of losses, a very high risk pregnancy, and the near death of our daughter. How much does captioning such a photo as “the true definition of love” put pressure on already hurting and desperate people?

Angela and her partner were lucky in the end. They had the finances to continue cycling, a problem that IVF could fix, and apparently a healthy pregnancy. Not everyone has these resources or conditions. “…just hang in there” can mean marital problems or prematurity or severe financial issues among other things for plenty of people. I don’t say any of what I listed above to complain or look for sympathy or pity. We were also lucky and took our daughter home. We had a good outcome. Was it worth it? In the end, yes, because it worked. But it very nearly didn’t work in a terrible way, and then what about that price?

The people who promoted this line of thinking are doctors. They are scientists. They are highly educated, intelligent people. Because of this, I struggle giving the clinic a pass, even in our advertising saturated, self-promoting business climate. They know the numbers and ought to understand what hanging in there actually demands.

It’s a manipulative message to send to a hugely vulnerable population.

*I have deliberately not linked to the fertility clinic Facebook account where the photo was originally posted or their web page.  The name of it is in the Today article I linked to in the initial paragraph if you wish to explore further. 

Considering Community and Place

I have a lot of drafts sitting around on my computer right now. Even though I’m posting here less than I sometimes have, I still find myself writing quite often. At this point, writing’s become such a habit for sorting out life and most of its odd bits and pieces that I’m not sure I could stop entirely even if I tried.

A big part of it is that I don’t know where it is exactly that I fit. Especially not right now, sitting in a sort of limbo that I simply didn’t expect – even in my wildest imaginings.

For the last several months, I’ve been living in a sort of denial, because sometimes denial is the only thing that makes a situation remotely inhabitable. I’m starting, however, to grapple with all the things I couldn’t think about before, all the things that were too overwhelming or frightening or threatening to consider.

Like the fact that to attempt to have a child – no matter how that journey ends -means letting go of pieces of yourself.

It means making yourself terribly vulnerable.

And I think that’s what scares me a bit about posting here, makes me want to weigh my words very, very carefully. Because choosing to seek out community, to listen, is also an act of vulnerability, especially when one has already been dealt the great unfairness of infertility.

It is not only the bloggers that open themselves, but also the readers.

I don’t have an answer to how to balance that responsibility some days: to truthfully tell one’s story without inadvertently hurting someone listening.  Except to say this: it’s a trust I don’t take lightly.  Especially now, this is ground I want to tread mindfully and carefully.


Recently I came across these words in the acknowledgements for Louise Penny’s latest novel The Long Way Home: “While essentially a solitary undertaking, I find that when I write there is a parade of people, of events, of memories keeping me company.”

It wasn’t until I read that line from Penny that I realized what holds me here.

Despite the essentially solitary undertaking of writing, there is a community because of it.  There are so many exceptional people whose stories and voices and individual blog posts have (and continue to) shape my life. It helped to see what others had found in life, especially the reassurance that no matter how I resolved my infertility – with or without children – there was a life beyond this particular time of pain, fear, and messiness.

This is the community in which I am mother to four children – the vanishing twin, the baby who had a heartbeat, the ectopic miscarriage, and my current pregnancy.

This is the community where, despite the fact that people are experiencing so much pain, people have gone out of their way in generosity to come alongside me.

This is the community where, sometimes, there have been posts or moments that make me blink away because they touched my insecurities, fears, and pain. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much.

This is the community where I’ve been forced to confront my own attitude and dark places.

This is the community that understands what I mean when I say I’m not yet resolved.

After all this, I still couldn’t tell you exactly where I fit. But this is the place where those memories, those events, those people keep me company when I write.

And for that, I am grateful.

Thank you.

Lost in Translation

My father shook his head.  “It’s like trying to translate Shakespeare into another language,” he remarked.  “You get an idea of how great the book is, but it’s not the same.”

We were talking about Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables.  Arthur and I had gone to see the movie musical version just before Christmas and while visiting with my parents were debating whether or not the musical summed up the scope and tragedy of the novel itself.  French is my father’s first language and he grew up largely in France, so he’s very familiar with Hugo’s work as well as the politics and history behind it.  The comment, though, got me thinking.

It’s true that I don’t think Shakespeare’s genius probably translates out of English perfectly.  The Bard has too many puns, witticisms, and jokes that depend on an intimate knowledge of the English language for the punch line.  There’s a sense in which, reading Shakespeare in a different language, you’d get a reasonable idea of why he’s so foundational to English literature but would likely miss the nuances that vault Shakespeare to the very upper echelons of the English canon.

It made me wonder how much I’ve missed over the years in the many books I love that I read in translations from their original languages.  Shusaku Endo’s great, often overlooked novel The Samurai.  Dostoevesky and The Brothers Karamazov or Crime and Punishment.  Dante’s Divine Comedy.  The aforementioned Les Miserables.  Pushkin’s poetry.  Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s surreal and transcendant One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Then I felt a little sad.  Even though these are some favorites of mine, I realized just how much I probably don’t grasp.  How much was probably lost even in the best translation of these works into English.  What was in the original French?  Or Russian?  Or Spanish?  Or Japanese?  Or Italian?  And I can’t grasp it, because it’s not my language.

At the same time, I had a sudden appreciation for the craftsmanship and writing in some of the works in the English language I love.  I don’t know how Margaret Atwood’s dry, cool writing translates into different languages or if others get the same enjoyment I do out of my favorite Atwood novels such as The Robber Bride.  Does the sweep and scope of J.R.R’s epic Lord of the Rings translate?  Faulkner’s voices and dialect?  Jane Austen’s mix of comedy and drama; of morals and manners?  What about Ellison’s Invisible Man?  This doesn’t even begin to describe the difficulty of translating poetry with meter, stanzas, and verses well.  What does Emily Dickinson, or Sylvia Plath, or Langston Hughes sound like in another language?

There’s been a lot of talk in the ALI blogosphere lately about the Pain Olympics and belonging and simply the state of the community.  I’ll confess there are days I get caught in the shuffle.  Some days, I’m convinced I don’t belong since I just haven’t been through enough and my infertility got diagnosed exceptionally early in the process.  Other times, I look at people who were successful with a few months of Clomid or Femara (or hell, even ovulated on those drugs), feel some irritation or thinly veiled jealousy flare up, and have to remind myself that just because someone else’s struggle was different does not mean it was less upsetting or painful to them, particularly at the time.

I think sometimes we lose something in translation.  The language of parenting after infertility is not one I am fluent in currently.  The language of parenting or pregnancy at all feels utterly foreign right now.  The language of multiple miscarriages or stillbirth does not come to my tongue.  The language of resolution I am struggling daily to learn, but just as I think I’ve grasped the verbs, the structure, it slips away.  The language of choosing to live without a child cannot be learned right now, as I’m still in treatment and all that implies.  The language of a many years-long struggle with infertility I cannot pretend to speak.  I know that not all in the ALI community speak my language.

It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate these blogs or these people and their journeys or struggles.  Just as I frequently pick up One Hundred Years of Solitude and marvel at the story, or relate to a character in Anna Karenina, the fact that it’s not originally in my language doesn’t stop me from reading and finding meaning there.

It can be a struggle to be aware of all that comes to the translation process.  That I bring my own ineptitude or expertise at translation, my experiences or inexperience to the table, my emotions, as I try to apply all this to someone else’s story in a way I can relate to.  It means sometimes I have to be aware that this is not the whole story, that something’s been lost in the translation process.