Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Laid Plans: Family Edition

I was writing the following blog entry, which I didn't post yesterday because halfway through the writing I realized I want to build on it and move it into book-land. (Yes, I understand the irony that just a few posts back I was ruing the "book-dealiness" of blogville). So I'm exploring the idea of a book but I want to post this here now because so many people I talk to and hear from are going through intense stuff right now, especially in terms of building their families and reflecting on how they thought their family would look and how it actually does...

OKAY, back to the school for a teacher / staff appreciation event, then pick up my daughter, then playdate, then writing group. Busy busy. Here's the entry:

I just got two emails, back to back, from two of my favorite women in the world,
and my heart is hurting. One is splitting up from her husband and the other,
while in a happy marriage, is feeling really low about career and life. Both are
looking at what it means that they are coming up on 40 / in mid-40s, and do not
have children. My heart hurts. I am sending them love. I am thinking about
having children, how easy we think it will be, what an ordeal it's been for so
many of my friends, what an ordeal it's been for us. I am loving my daughter.
I am feeling sad. I am feeling grateful. I am writing this to these women I
love and to all women who struggle with the decision to have children, or the
ability to have them, or the regret of not having them. I'm writing this to my
friends who had more than they imagined they would and love them incredibly but
are tired and cranky and their feet hurt. Basically, we all struggle on this

I feel like half the people I know are dealing with some sort of fertility
thing. Environment? Waiting too long? Stress? It took my husband and me a
year and a half to get pregnant the first time around even though I was
thirty-one and healthy and all tests came back normal. We had just made an
appointment with a fertility doctor, which we triumphantly canceled after the
pee on the stick turned blue. Pee on the stick makes me think of Hotdog on a
Stick which is a truly strange name for a food stand. I digress. My daughter is
a miracle.

We have one child. People love to ask me about it, as if there isn't a sad,
private story behind it, behind everything. "Just decided to have one, huh?"
the dweeby engineer guy who sat next to me on the airplane coming back from
Maryland asked, just yesterday. "She must be really spoiled, huh?" I've found
the best way to go is just ride along with it, like when a wave takes you or in
martial arts, follow along with the hit rather than pushing against it. So I
say, "Yep, just one. Spoiled rotten. Queen of the world." I just surf it and
move away from the subject before the part that is straining against my tight,
aching gut comes out and yells, "Do you want to hear? About the miscarriage?
The silent weeps on the toilet when I feel my period coming?" The other thing
that continues to floor me is how often people like to point out that you have
an only child and imagine that she must be spoiled, expect everything her way.
Can you imagine if I went up to the ubiquitous two-child families and said in a
friendly, we're-all-in-this-together voice, "Oh, you decided to have two, huh?
You must really divide your attention and not give either of them the love and
care they deserve, huh? They must be really insecure, right?"

Over the years, I've lost count of the silent weeps I've had on the toilet as I
see that first evidence of my period, still trying to convince myself that it's
just the normal spotting of early pregnancy and that the cramps are eggs
implanting rather than fleeing my uterus. I've lived through that even worse
moment after the excitement of the positive pregnancy test, trying so hard not
to tell anyone, but of course it sneaks out here and there, when suddenly you
feel the cramping, and the bleeding, and the miscarrying. And after it all, when
you bump into the mom at the park who has two, notice her eyeing your stomach,
realize you talked to her about your nervousness at being about to have two
under the age of two. Not a problem, anymore, you say.

I've used the ovulation kit, thrown out the ovulation kit, pretended we're not
trying anymore as if I can trick my reproductive organs into relaxation, visited
the absurd Beverly Hills reproductive endocrinologist's office where they
actually have a concierge, left that office and decided not to do the drugs. My
husband and I looked out at the stunning view of the hills while the concierge
offered us tea and we agreed that we'd prefer an affordable doctor to one with a
concierge. Concierge. I can't stop typing it, it's just so ridiculous. We've
decided against fertility drugs in the light of some scary stories, then
second-guessed our choices as years have gone by without a single pregnancy
scare/hope/reality. I've taken all the crazy suggestions - shot egg whites up
my hoo-ha, stood on my head after sex, forced all sorts of weird vitamins on my
husband - and the not-so-crazy suggestions - thyroid pills, acupuncture, oil
shot through my tubes - that feels good - several times. I've fought with the
insurance company repeatedly when they denied our claims, citing "infertility"
as not covered. "Fertility TESTING," I've yelled into the phone many times,
fighting back tears, tears, always more frigging tears, with this stuff, "I have
a child. I'm not infertile." Except, after 2 years, then 3, then 6, pass,
apparently I am.

I've walked away from this post three times now. Done some laundry, poured some
tea, made a few business calls. This is painful. But I remind myself it's that
good pain, that get-it-out pain. It's a big infertility splinter and it'll feel
a lot better after it's out. And I am soooooooo not alone. I know that.

Last Spring, my husband and I did five weekends of all-day seminars to qualify
to Foster-to-Adopt. I'd been working as a therapist with families dealing with
child protective services and thought the workshop would be a piece of cake. "I
know all about the trauma, the horrors, the abuse," I said when people asked if
we were prepared to deal with all that. I wasn't cavalier, but I was confident.
Over-confident, it turns out. By week three, when we were really thinking
about how it looks to bring a child with severe trauma into our home, into the
home of our kindergarten-aged child who still needs all of us, every minute of
every day, I began to have my doubts. We are currently on pause in this

A few months ago, I was driving with our five-year-old daughter - our only child
- and talking about some of the new babies in our lives. Many of my best
friends are about to hit 40 and the ones who can are getting knocked up just
under the wire. There are also the ones who can't, or whose husbands didn't
measure up to the vows they took, or who waited just a little too long to
decide. It is not easy. So my daughter and I were talking about the rash of
new babies and how they will be like little cousins, or almost siblings, to her
and she said, "I wish I had a sibling." Venice Blvd got all blurry in front of
me. One thing about being a mom, you get really emotional, and even better at
holding it together. I tear up in front of my daughter, I've cried in front of
my daughter several times, even wept when our puppy died. But I do not fall
apart in front of my daughter. If I'm really a mess, I hand off and fall apart
in the other room. I think she needs to know that I am human, but that I am
also sturdy. So I kept driving, wiped the tears quietly, and told my daughter
that we were still trying and we didn't know what my body would do, but we were
planning to build our family, by adoption or biologically. It was silent for a
while. Then my daughter said, "But one thing, Mom. Even if we have another
baby, you'll always love me the most, right?" I thought my heart would burst.
Having one child is a precious thing. It's not better or worse than having
more than one, but it is different. I was never an only child.

"I know this is impossible to imagine," I said. "It's beyond impossible for me
to imagine. But what all my friends with more than one kid say is that you love
them all differently, but you do love them all equally. I think that's the deal
with having more than one kid."

It got really quiet in the car. Finally I got to a red light and looked over my
shoulder. My daughter was sitting in her booster seat, silently crying. Tears
ran down her cheeks and her face was crumpled, but she didn't make a sound. It
wasn't the scream-y, tantrum-y, disappointed cry of a five year old. This was
the quiet crying I know so well. I reached back to touch her leg and she kicked
me off. The car behind us honked and I looked forward. It was a green light.
I started driving.

"Do you want me to hold onto you the best I can right now?" I asked.


"Let me know if there's anything I can do. Otherwise I'm just here, okay?"

Silence. My daughter sat in the backseat realizing what it would mean to share
love. It was heartbreaking. I know that if we are able to have more, it will
be wonderful and the love will multiply and it'll be great if we can get
pregnant and I'm sure that adopting would be incredible and on and on and all
the things that people say to me all the time. But for this child, the reality
of it would also be devastating.


Last month it hit me that I'm gonna be 40. Soon. Really really soon. And I
asked my husband, "Are we gonna do this? Make a final push? Give it the old
hollywood try? Fertility? IUI? IVF? Start the adoption process? Or is it time
to shut it down?"

We hadn't fully decided when another of my good 40-year-old friends popped out
her first and probably only baby and I was talking to my daughter about how many
years difference there was between the two of them and what it would look like
at different ages when they'd play.

"So when I'm 8, how old will she be?"


"And when I'm 13?"


We did the math game for a while and then I said casually, "There'd be about
that spread if I have a baby, too."

And without a pause, she said, "I decided I don't want that. You can stop
trying to do that."

I asked for more details, said that it still might happen, and she said, "No, I
think you should stop trying."

At that point it occurred to me that while I'd been very upfront about the basic
process of baby-making, I certainly hadn't shared that it was also a
recreational activity, so our daughter thought she was freeing me from an
activity that there's no way I'd be doing otherwise. We left it that it could
still happen, but that I had registered her input. Since that conversation, it
feels like a big ball of pressure is lifted. My "only" daughter is not
traumatized by being an only. My faulty uterus, or pokey tubes, or hostile
mucous or whatever the heck's going on in there, is fine. We are a family. A
small family. A different-looking family than I'd pictured, that's for sure.
But an amazing family. I wish that - whatever that looks like - for all the
women I love. I wish that for everyone.

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