Endurance

I did it.

I made an appointment with Dr. Petrel to talk about Part Deux. This time around, it all feels very different.

a) I got an appointment almost immediately, rather than having to wait 10 weeks like before. I will be seeing her in just two weeks. Eeeek! I supposed this is one of the benefits of being an old-timer in the IF community- less waiting. In truth, I know this is only the beginning of a long series of tests, arguments with my insurance, and so much more. But I appreciate that there was one less hoop to jump through. Or perhaps just a shorter hoop.

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If my reproductive system were a ship

b) Maybe it’s because this is not my first infertility rodeo, but I feel less apprehensive. I don’t know if that’s really the word I’m looking for. Before I would hold my breath waiting for every test, sure that one of them would reveal the truth of why we couldn’t get pregnant. This is one of the downsides of an “unexplained” diagnosis. You don’t know anything, so it seems like the problem could be everything. In my craziest moments, I was convinced tests would come back explaining that I didn’t actually have a uterus. Thaaaat’s what the problem is! Now, it seems like the next few months of tests are more like fact finding rather than waiting for a death sentence. Like an adventurous exploration of my lady bits to see if they can be colonized, rather than say… Shackleton’s ill-fated Trans-Antarctic Expedition. (Spoiler Alert: it didn’t end well.)

c) If I’m 100% honest with myself, I’m also much more at peace with whatever outcome. We have one frostie in storage, and Mr. O and I have agreed we’ll give it shot. Yes, I would like to have another child or I wouldn’t be doing this. At the same time, Chick is lovely. Our family is lovely. If it turns out we stay a trio rather than becoming a quartet, it’s okay. That’s not to say that I won’t feel sad if the transfer doesn’t work, I miscarry, or any of the other things that could stop a pregnancy before it really starts. But… well, the stakes don’t feel quite as high.

Maybe my mom’s death and becoming a parent in my own right have changed me– I now know worrying about every potential wrong turn doesn’t actually prevent any of it from happening. Preparedness doesn’t really count for much in the end. Endurance, the ship sailed by Shackleton, was built for maximum durability by expert shipbuilders. No one could have foreseen the storms and conditions that caused the crew to abandon her. The ship was eventually crushed, while her crew drifted for months on sheets of ice. And yet this expedition is often described as one of the best examples perseverance when all hope is lost.

Shackleton and every one of his crew members survived.

Panic in the Mother’s Room

It all started innocuously enough.

It was an ad.

As I was feeding Chick breakfast and listening to the news, I heard an ad announcing that a very large company will be moving to my city. It will take a few years– 2018– but they’re relocating their entire headquarters. My first thought was “Man, housing prices are going to skyrocket.” My second thought was “Man, I either need to buy now or get out before it happens.”

As you all know, I’ve been seriously thinking of leaving the East coast. I’ve been looking at a few cities. In typical fashion, I created a spreadsheet comparing said cities with an Ostrich Quality of Life Index (patent pending.) I like to make informed decisions, and this process helped me quickly eliminate some options and zero in on others. Using my proprietary formula (factoring potential income, average commute time, average cost of a 3 bedroom, and average cost of daycare) I quickly tossed out San Francisco. LA would be possible, but Seattle was looking like the very best alternative. I shared my findings with Mr. O and started to dip my toes in the Seattle waters.

Mr. O had been rather silent. Not entirely out of character, but in retrospect I should have known better. You see when Mr. O doesn’t want to do something, he ignores it. Pretends like it just isn’t happening. And because this Ostrich abhors a vacuum, I fill the silence with whatever I *think* he thinks. And I thought silence was complicity.

With the dawning realization that Very Large Company is coming, my urgency to leave kicked into high gear. I went to work and started looking at how to make this move West work. The trouble was, I couldn’t. Even with all my spreadsheets and research, the three places we were looking at weren’t working out. The logistics were wrong, the cost of living one I can’t support, or commutes I can’t bear. I have been working on this relocation puzzle for weeks, and no matter how much I tried I couldn’t make it fit.

I started to spiral. I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt tight. Cue panic attack! So I ran to my one refuge at work– the Mother’s Room.

While trying to get my shit together, I tearfully called Mr. O because I really needed to talk. More specifically, I needed someone to talk me down.

ME: I’ve tried and tried, and I can’t figure out how to make this work. I’ve looked at all the pieces, all the variables…

 

O: You’re putting too much pressure on this one decision. You need to slow down. Why don’t we just move and see what happens?

 

ME: I can’t do that. I want a home, Mr. O. I want to settle down with our family. I don’t want to move across the country, only to pick up and move again because we can’t afford it.

 

O: Maybe we need to compromise on somethings. You’re not going to find everything you want in one place. Maybe it will mean a longer commute…

 

ME: I know, but there are somethings I won’t compromise on. I want our own home, and I want to be with our family. Chick is growing up so fast, and I don’t want to miss that because I’m driving two hours in a car everyday. That matters to me.

 

O: …

 

ME: I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t make San Francisco work. I know that’s where you want to be, but I can’t figure it out-

 

O: Well, I don’t want to move to Seattle.

 

ME: … What?

 

O: I never wanted to move there.

 

ME: I can’t make California work, Mr. O. I don’t know if we can move at all.

This, it should be noted, triggered more crying and chest heaving. Because I realized that when Mr. O said he wanted to move West, he really meant he wanted to move to San Francisco. There is a part of me that feels this is totally irrational on his part. It’s like a kid who says they want to live in Disneyland. That’s charming, but completely unrealistic.

69025388This is where our partnership typically hits the skids. Mr. O is the dreamer, the kid who wants to live in Disneyland. I’m tethered to reality. It isn’t like we don’t know this about ourselves– we even have a joke about it. This dynamic first came to light when we went on vacation together for the first time. Mr. O doesn’t plan anything and just likes to let serendipity take over. I have to plan everything because… well if I don’t, who will? Thus Vacation Ostrich is the planner, while Vacation Mr. O is the free spirit.

(That makes me sound like a total kill joy, but if it weren’t for me we quite literally wouldn’t have places to stay. Mr. O doesn’t even want to pick a hotel because “Let’s just see what happens…” I’m not okay with just rolling into town without a bed booked because I did that in my 20’s with very poor results. This is not my default mode- you can tell because I looooathe the planning process. In fact, I’ll admit I even resent it. But I’d rather that than sleep on a park bench, literally or metaphorically. Yes, I am justifying my behavior. It’s my blog. Deal.)

Anyway… Where was I? Ah yes… panic attack in the Mother’s Room. I was crying while mumbling “I can’t make this work, I can’t fix it, I can’t fix it…” when Mr. O told me to stop and breathe. And made the radical suggestion that we swap roles. He will be Vacation Ostrich and I will be Vacation Mr. O, at least for a few weeks. We come at problems differently, but we’re not going to go anywhere unless we meet some kind of middle ground. For the next few weeks anyway, I have agreed.

Since then, I’ve been trying to define what being Vacation Mr. O really means. It isn’t so much that he isn’t realistic, but that he sees possibility. I’m trying to broaden my perspective a little bit, even opening myself up to staying where we are.

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What do me and Donna Reid have in common, besides a love for home appliances? No really…

I’m also trying to sit back and figure out what is important to me and why. It’s been a good clarifying exercise so far. In the midst of my sweaty panicky freak out, I blurted out the two most important things to me: Home Ownership and Family. Smack me with a wet noodle, I never thought I’d say those things. It’s just so damn Leave It to Beaver, but there you have it.

Family… okay, yes. It isn’t uncommon for a mother of a small child to want to spend more time with said small child. As much as it was a surprise, I wasn’t really shocked by that response. The specificity of home ownership? Yeah, that seemed weird. While I was driving home from dinner with friends last night, it dawned on me where that is coming from.

Since my mom died, my father’s mortality has become more real. No, he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. (Hopefully. Seriously, Universe, if you even think of screwing with me like that right now, you and I will officially have a smack down.) But I’m also keenly aware that he will die some day. When that happens, my family home will be gone. My siblings and I will have to sort through ~40 years worth of our collective identify, and decide what to keep. At that point, I will be without a mooring… Unless I moor my goddamn self.

There are other things here that need unpacking, like the realization that my income is what keeps my family afloat. I am the head of the household, which wasn’t really a role I was prepared for. With that comes responsibilities I haven’t even started to grapple with. You’d think Vacation Ostrich would relish that, but I don’t.

Mr. O and I have agree to regroup in a few weeks to see what this Freaky Friday swap yields. Until then, I will do my best to dwell in possibility.

Mother’s Day, Served Cold and Rainy

I feel like I should tell you all about my first mother’s day as a mother. It was, however, fairly uneventful.

Last year, it was an absolutely train wreck with much crying in public. I remember it was a beautiful spring day with flowers in bloom and trees being… trees. I feel betrayed by the weather, because in my heart it didn’t feel like spring. I was missing my mom, conflicted about pregnancy, and unsure how I was going to do any of this without her.

This year, the weather again thumbed its nose at my internal emotions. Because this year, I was feeling okay. And this year, it was cold, rainy, and generally miserable.

There is a mother’s day tradition in my neighborhood– Lilac Sunday. The arboretum near by opens its gates to moms, dads, kids, and food trucks, and gives tours of the lilac collection which is usually in full bloom by this point. There is usually sunshine. There are usually people picnicking.

This year, it was a rainy mess, but we trudged on anyway. I mean, after spending a week in the rain with a 10 month old in Amsterdam, how much different could it be spending an afternoon in the rain with a 10 month old in my hometown?

Truthfully, not that different. Again Chick decided that strollers were for chumps and insisted on being carried. (You’d think I would learn…) This meant that one of us had to carry Chick, and the other one had to walk behind carrying an umbrella to make sure the Supreme Leader stayed dry. I felt like a Victorian manservant. (Note: That might be the title of my parenting memoir, were I to write one.)

After that, we came home. Chick and Mr. O napped. I went to the grocery store and made Chick’s dinners for the week. I won’t lie, there is a part of me that is extremely annoyed that those roles were not reversed. Then again, I got a few hours of quiet which was also a nice gift.

So there it was. Nothing too special, but then again I don’t think I wanted much more. What I struggle with is why. Is it because I don’t generally get amped about holidays? Is it because mother’s day represents one huge-festering sore, one part infertility and one part mom grief?

I do not cringe when I see pregnant women anymore. This is a fairly recent development- I would say that in the last few months I have had practically no twinges when friends or colleagues announce pregnancies. It feels like progress, something like acceptance of the emotional turmoil of last few years.

I now cringe when I see women with their mothers. I also cringe when I see women who would have been my mom’s age. Or who have her hair, which was once thick and black but gracefully turned salt-and-pepper gray.

This whole dead mom thing… that still aches. On mother’s day, and everyday.

Mama Did it Better

The other day, my brother sent over a bunch of pictures from a trip my family took when I was three. These photos are all on slides (Remember those, boys and girls?) and as such have not been seen since that one time in 1984 when my dad rolled out the slide projector.

I don’t remember this trip at all. These photos did, however, serve two purposes.

1) Confirm that I was an adorable three year old. With the majority of the documented proof being on slides, this has often come up for debate.

2) Confirm that my mom looked amazing. When this picture was taken, my mom was 39 and the mother to three small children.

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I’m 37 with just one kid, and I look like an extra from The Walking Dead.

I wish I could call her and ask her what her secret was. Among so many other things.

 

Audacity

A few weeks ago, Mr. O and I watched Wild. (A big Saturday night for us now includes a movie that we may or may not watch all the way through. So far I’ve seen How to Train Your Dragon 2, Unbroken and now Wild, all in 20 minute increments. There is a lot of pausing when you’re also wrangling a 5 month old.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the general plot, Wild is about a woman (Cheryl) who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail after her life hits the skids. By “hits the skids” I mean her mom dies, she becomes a heroin addict, and engages in otherwise destructive behaviors. The movie is really well done. Mad props to Reese Witherspoon. She did a beautiful job.

While Cheryl is hiking the trail, the movie flashes back to her past, to what brought her to the point where she is willing to hike 1,100 miles. A lot of it focuses on her relationship with her mom, which helps explain why her death was such an inflection point. Cheryl loses herself. Hiking the trail is what brings her back.

I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.

As corny as it sounds, I get this movie. I GET IT. These past few years have been just plain shitty for me, what with infertility, my mom dying and the resulting fallout from that. In the process, I’ve changed a lot. Not for the better, mind you. When I look back on who I was before, I really was fearless. Falling down didn’t scare me because I had so much faith in my ability to pick myself back up and move forward. I now know I can fall down — and just lay there devastated.

I liken what’s happened to repetitive stress injury, like my IT band strain from a few years ago. This is a really common running injury, so much so that it is often referred to as “Runner’s Knee.” On a day to day basis, I was fine. But over time, tiny stressors on my body resulted in a full-on strain that made it painful for me to walk. I remember vividly when I knew there was a problem. I went out for a 5 mile run, and 2 miles in I was crying on some stranger’s stoop because I quite literally couldn’t move. Months of PT later, I was okay. But even to this day, my IT band will give me drama if I’m pushing myself too hard, too soon.

That experience taught me the difference between “Ouch” and “Holy shit.” Emotionally, I’ve hit “Holy shit.”

I’ve changed. In real, tangible, not-great ways. I’m not trying to fix myself, to “go back” to who I was before. But I would like to find ways to live my life with less fear. Of not being afraid to fail.

I kept telling myself what I need is a BHAG. In office speak, that stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Like hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Only not that because I’m not insane. I need to fix a target and aim for it. It doesn’t even matter to me if I make it. I just want to TRY. I want to want to try.

I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about what this BHAG would be. Learning to bake bread? That seems too tiny. Running a marathon? Honestly, I don’t have the time for that right now. Every single idea I have seems too small or leaves me bored.

Moving to the other side of the country?

Now that feels about right…

When I was writing my mom’s obituary, I started off with the usual “Mom was born in Point A, died in Point Z.” This is how all obituaries start. I remember thinking my mom would never have guessed that she would end up where she did. Not that I thought she’d be disappointed. Just that when she was a kid in her small town, I don’t think she fathomed every where her life would go. You see, even if an obit tries to summarize a life by Point A and Point Z, I knew about all the points in between. Her life was full, even at times adventurous.

I need more points in between.

That feels big and audacious.

The Things We Carry

So I’m working on another post. It’s a little bit lofty and gnarly, and I have to wrestle with it a little until I figure out what point I’m trying to make.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading little bits and pieces from the interwebs about grief and loss.

(I know, I just had a BABY. I should be over the moon with my darling little boy, and sharing posts about how he is the apple of my eye, cherry pie, cake and ice cream. He is all those things. But I get to talk about those things whenever I want because people want me to be happy about having a baby. They don’t want to hear about how I’m still struggling with losing my mother 10 months ago. They don’t want to hear about how sometimes I cry at the sight of my kid because I know my mother will never meet him. This is, for better or worse, what anonymous blogs are for. Sharing the unsharable.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading stuff about grief and loss. Not in a formal way. It’s been what I’ve gravitated towards. Other new moms want to read about how to get a few hours sleep. I want to read about how to be sad. That seems unfair, but whatever… that’s just what the Universe smacked me with, and I’ve made peace with that.

A friend of mine from high school had a stillbirth several years ago. She was devastated. She continues to be devastated, even though she went on to have another beautiful, healthy, living child. She is open about the fact that she still mourns, and this to me is the bravest thing. It’s so “uncool” to be publicly sad, and I love that she tells everyone to screw themselves by openly talking about her grief.

The other day she shared this blog post, which included this nugget of wisdom:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

HOLY shit, yes. I’m tired of people telling me that losing my mother will get “easier.” It hasn’t. Why should it? It doesn’t get easier to lose someone you love, to lose a life you loved, or a dream you had. There are some things that don’t go away. You have to learn to sit next to them and respect that a part of your heart will always hurt. Always.

The next bit of grief-related inspiration comes from a quote round up of Cheryl Strayed. (Ironically, my big gnarly post is also vaguely Cheryl Strayed related.)

If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease.

We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.

Now that just about gets at the root of my problem with how we experience grief. For every time a person says “Time heals all,” I hear “Your grief makes me uncomfortable. Let’s talk about this in a few months when you aren’t weepy anymore.” Or “You’re weak if you still feel sad. It’s your fault you aren’t over it yet.”

Suck it.

In the olden days, there was an etiquette to how you mourned. You dressed in black for months or a year. Then you would slowly progress into somber colors until you got full access to the color wheel again.

As much as that sounds ridiculous, I kind of get it now. Most people don’t go around mourning my mom. I would venture to say most people who know me don’t even think about my mom that much, nor would I expect them to. She wasn’t their mother. But she was mine. I feel her loss acutely every day.

I wouldn’t mind wearing black so that people might think “Riiiiight… Her mom died. Maybe I should be less of an asshole to her today.” 

I wouldn’t mind wearing my sadness every once in awhile.

Dispatch from the Road

If there is one thing I have learned through bed rest, early delivery, and 6 weeks in the NICU, it is humility. (Maybe that’s the wrong word, but cut me some slack as I write this on my phone at 4:00am while I’m pumping in the dark.)

I’ve learned there are limits on what I can do myself and sometimes it is okay to ask for help. So when the great mold capper of 2015 began, Mr. O and I asked our families to take us in. Through the weekend, we’re staying with his aunt. And through next week ( yes, this whole shit show is going to take a WEEK to clean up) we will be staying with my dad who is spending the summer about 3.5 hours away.Mr. O’s aunt is one of the kindest people I know. She is like a second mother to him- Mr. O grew up down the street from her family and she looked after him while his dad worked nights. So she didn’t bat and eyelash when we asked to stay.

The funny thing is that she still lives just down the street from Mr. O’s dad. (Who, it is worth noting started talking to us again after Chick was born. Which, it should also be noted, I find almost as rude as the whole not talking to us thing. Like now that we have bequeathed him with a grandson, all is forgiven. Bite. Me.) We aren’t staying with Mr. O’s parents because there is literally no room for us- Mr. O’s dad has a bit of a hoarding problem. But that is a story for another day.

Last night, we went over to Mr. O’s dad’s house for dinner. This was Chick’s first outing since leaving the hospital. Of course, the first thing Murre wanted to do is hold check. Kittiwake was running around taking pictures with flash. Murre was grinning from ear to ear.

And I wanted to punch him in the face.

My kid is not a tourist attraction. Nor is he a Kardashian being chased by paparazzi. He is a premature baby who needs food and sleep right now, not to be lit up like the goddamn Fourth of July.

I literally wanted to rip my child from Murre’s hands because he was playing with Chick. In my defense, Chick was on the verge of a meltdown because he was overdue for a feeding. You can’t hear your baby crying with hunger and not want to rush in an fix it. That’s what the baby hormones pumping through your veins are for. Instead, I mostly bit my tongue and watched the baseball game on TV. It KILLED ME, and not just because I find baseball exceedingly boring.

There is this weird vibe with Mr. O’s folks. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. There is this sense that seeing Chick, holding him, is their right. Murre in particular never once asked how he could help when we were in the NICU. The question wasn’t “How can we help?” but “When can we visit?” What we needed wasn’t visitors in the hospital, which was the only time we had alone with Chick. What we needed was someone to pick up groceries, bring over dinner, or help putting together his nursery. Murre and Kittiwake only checked in to see when they could see Chick.

Interestingly, Mr. O’s mom has struck a better balance. Yes, she still wants to know when she can hold him, but she also helped straighten up the apartment and brought over pizza. Perhaps I underestimated her, but I never saw this coming and I’m grateful for the support she’s given us as a family.

All this rambling has made me realize that I’m still really mad at Murre for his whacked out temper tantrum over the baby shower. Mr. O has even made peace with it all. I have not.

In my most honest moments, I resent him immensely. Murre chose to isolate and alienate Mr. O and me when we needed him. Now that we have something he wants, he flips a switch and gets to be back in our lives.

My mom does not. Though not perfect herself, she wouldn’t have pulled a stunt like this. She couldn’t be here because she is gone. The “decision” to be a part of Chick’s life wasn’t hers to make.

Then I just get angrier. I realize this says more about me than it does about him.

I’m rational enough to know that there is no correlation between my mom being dead and Murre’s ridiculous behavior. Maybe if things had been different and my mom was still here, I would be able to brush it off as Murre just being crazy.

As is, I want to tell him to jump off a fucking bridge.