Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yeah, it's just not fair

Life is such a mental exercise sometimes.

Yesterday morning as I was getting ready to leave to take my dad to dialysis, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks, momentarily overwhelmed by what a seemingly constant struggle life has become.

I'm still trying to navigate my way through the muddy waters of childlessness (complete with new and dazzling special effects and stomach churning surprises at every turn), and at the same time I'm watching my dad slowly slip away, and desperately trying to cope with the grief that creeps into my weary head when I think of how little time I know he has left.

One of the older dialysis patients had his wife, daughter, granddaughter and two great-grandsons with him in the waiting room yesterday. The oldest boy, just big enough to be out of a stroller, was simply booming with little boy energy - something pretty foreign in a waiting room cluttered with wheelchairs, motor scooters, oxygen tanks, and tired patients.

I couldn't help but smile at them.

And then I couldn't help but feel empty as I watched the sweet scene unfold in front of me. My dad is easily as old as that great-great grandfather. I looked at their big, growing family, and I just felt so sad and defeated. And then, of course, guilty for not being able to give my family the extra light and life that two little boys - or even one little boy - can bring.

Light and life are markedly absent from our family right now.

I stared at the boys and their mom and her grandparents wondering what it must feel like to have so much pulsing, vibrant, loveliness surrounding you in such sad, desperate times. And I thought about how sweet it must be to live in a world where the proper order of things (with its tidy, A always follows B, reality) provides a measure of comfort and peace during difficult times. Old people get sick and die while babies are born, live, and nourish the family with fresh hope.

I couldn't take my eyes off the family. Watching them was an exquisite sort of agony, but I just couldn't look away. Mercifully, they left soon after their husband/father/grandfather/great-grandfather was called into dialysis.

And order returned to my world. Just me and my dad. No little boys trailing along behind to remind us that life does go on and that we will not be forgotten.

I've been trying, of late, to focus on my blessings - of which there are many - to keep myself from sinking into a self-pitying funk from which there is no return.

It works. Mostly.

But I'm still angry that this is my life right now. I'm angry that we're surviving more than we're living. I'm angry that joy has to be so hard won. I'm angry that my dad is suffering so much, and that we're all suffering the helpless agony of not being able to make him better.

It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair!!

But I know it's up to me to figure out a way to pry the good from all this and make my life about more than just the cumulative effects of its losses and sorrows and struggles.

I just hope I can muster the energy to do it. Again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Of course it hurts. Yes, even still.

The other day I read a blog post by someone who is much more willing to admit her brokenness than I am. She is not ashamed of it the way I am. She is not afraid of it, nor of what people think of it.

I'm not sure she even thinks of it as brokenness, as a matter of fact. Come to think of it she's probably right, dammit.

The gist of her post was that infertile women who claim to be okay with being around babies are lying to us - even to those of us in the same boat - and to themselves. I'm paraphrasing, but that's basically what she was saying - that those of us who are childless not by choice are never completely comfortable being surrounded by the things we wanted most in the world and can never have.

It makes sense, really. Say you want a drink of water really badly, and then say you can never have one ever again. Ignore the fact that this would, of course, eventually kill you, and just imagine how agonizing it would be to be surrounded by clean, crisp, cold water that you can never, ever have. Ever.

It would be difficult - painful even -  to go to a cottage, or a beach, or do something as simple as wash your dishes or have a long, hot bath. Touching the water but never being able to drink it and quench your thirst would be absolute torture. Probably forever.

So it really does make sense that those of us who wanted children but haven't been able to either conceive them, carry them, or bring them home alive would find exposure to children painful on some level every time. Probably forever.

It makes perfect sense.

And if I'm honest (which I don't always like to be when it comes to this sort of thing because I want people to think I'm strong and lovely), it really does always hurt to be around children. It's not a life-threatening gunshot to the head kind of pain anymore. But it is still there. And it's uncomfortable.

I would disagree with the blogger's insistence that the infertile never want to be around children (and are lying if they say so) because there are times when I genuinely do want to be around the children I love, even though I know it will hurt at the same time. Because I love children, and I especially love the ones in my life.

So the pain is just a side effect of exposure. And I can live with that. I have no choice, of course, but I really can live with it - especially since I've learned coping mechanisms that help me deal with the lingering after effects.

Those coping mechanisms often involve chocolate, wine, and shopping - but still, they work.

But I do wish I'd had the wherewithal to say no back when the pain really was like a shot to the head. When newborns were thrust into my arms by well-meaning friends who obviously thought that it would be a salve on my broken heart, and when new mothers (inexplicably, under the circumstances) launched into birth stories and tales of breastfeeding that seemed positively endless. I wish I'd had the courage then to say, "I'm sorry, but as happy as I am for you, hearing this much detail is a little painful for me right now - and no, I can't hold your baby either."

I wish I'd cared more for my own feelings than the feelings of others back then. I wish I'd known that it would have been more than okay for me to retreat to the safety of my home (or my car, or a bathroom - or anywhere where there weren't mothers and babies) when all the babyness around me threatened to suffocate me. I wish I'd known it was okay to protect myself and my barely beating heart.

I'm sure the unsolicited immersion therapy can be at least partially credited for shoving me along to the place I'm at now. I can look forward to spending time with a child - and in some cases I'm the one who initiates it - knowing full well that it's also going to hurt, but enjoying it despite the ever-present ache.

But the point is, I do still hurt. And I need to stop being ashamed of admitting it. And I need to stop thinking I'm broken because of it. And I need to stop thinking I'm less of a woman for feeling it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Surviving the holidays

When I was a kid, Christmas started as soon as Halloween was put away (which is the reason why I start playing Christmas music on November 1st now that I'm a grown-up and can make those sorts of executive decisions).

But back in the 70s when I didn't have quite as much power (but did have an alarming number of polyester pants), if the beginning of November was deemed too early to drag out the decorations, I just made my own to tide myself over. Construction paper chains and snowflakes worked well, although I callously tossed them aside for the breathtaking beauty of the plastic holly garland as soon as it made its glorious appearance above the fireplace hearth. It had multicoloured twinkle lights and everything - something no paper chain could ever hope to achieve.

My parents, whether they were conscious of doing it or not, created traditions that I still try to find a way to carry on today. The plastic garland melted in an overly-ambitious fire years ago - and our gas fireplace is too hot to allow a swag of garland anyway - but there are some things I cannot change. I will not change.

Christmas has an edge of sadness - I can't lie. I miss Thomas with an ache that sometimes threatens to double me over during the holiday season. And I miss my Grandparents, who were such a huge part of my life and of Christmases past.

But I love the season in all its tinseled glory, and I refuse to give in to the sorrow as much as humanly possible. It sits below my skin like a layer of winter fat, but I can hide it with big sweaters.

And I can ease it by indulging in the traditions that make me feel safe and cozy and loved.

I have a bourbon fruit cake in the oven right now, as a matter of fact, because my mom made it every year. She spent most of December trying to keep my dad from "taste-testing" it, but somehow enough managed to last through to the big day.

I tasted one batter-smothered, brandified raisin before I washed the mixing bowl, and it instantly transported me back to Christmas past. Kind of like my own personal Dickens-inspired time capsule.

The ornaments my Grandma gave me each year still find a way onto my tree - even the Santa Claus with the giant clown lips that we made together (I did the lips) - and I still get a brand new pair of Christmas jammies to wear on Christmas Eve.

There is comfort in ritual. And there is joy in creating new traditions, even if you don't have anyone to pass them down to.

Last year my niece said she'd visit me in the home if I promised to have my Christmas cookie party every year. It began as a distraction in 2005 when I needed to have something to do in the weeks leading up to what would have been Thomas' first Christmas - and when doing something "new" was critical to me, for reasons I can no longer really explain.

But now it's something that I know at least one little soul looks forward to. And the thought that it might become part of her cherished Christmas-past memories when she's all grown up means the world to me.

And so I bake. To distract, to comfort, to remember, to celebrate.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eight years

On November 16, 2002 I married My Beloved.
In October 2003 we lost our first child to miscarriage.
In March 2004 we lost our second child to miscarriage.
In March 2005 our beautiful boy was born and died 20 hours later.
In June 2006 we started fertility treatments.
In August 2007 we lost our twins to miscarriage.
In 2009 we decided to close this chapter of our lives and stop trying.

On November 16, 2010 we went to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the afternoon. We had a delicious lunch, and then window shopped our way up and down the town's main street until the rain got too heavy for proper strolling. We bought Christmas lights and an ornament for Thomas' wreath. We did a bit of Christmas shopping and bought some Irish tea (which we figured we'd need later once we were home and dry - and we did). We held hands. We laughed. We tried on hats. We marveled at the vast selection of jams Niagara-on-the-lake seems to produce - and bought some of that too. We talked. We drove home in the pouring rain to our quiet little house.

And then I took this:

And when I looked at it, I realized that no matter what has happened - no matter what unfathomable heartbreaks we've faced since we said "I do" eight years ago - I still always look happiest when I'm with my Sandy.

Some things never change.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christmas List

My Christmas list
By Kristin, age 40 & 1/2

1. I would like my Dad to be here for Christmas. Please.
2. I would like like them (whoever "they" are) to hurry the hell up and find a cure for cancer. For all cancers, and no matter at what stage. I would like that very much. Please.
3. I would like someone to invent a reasonably priced and 100% effective under eye cream that would make me look rested and relaxed, even when I'm exhausted and knotted up into a Kristin-shaped ball off anxiety.
4. I would like them (whoever "they" are) to make a fat-free chocolate substitute that tastes exactly like the real thing. But only after they're finished finding the cure for cancer.
5. I would like to be thin. Without if by magic.
6. I would like Justin Bieber to fix his hair. And then go away.
7. I would like our region to change its policy on backyard poultry so we could have a tiny flock of chickens in our yard, allowing us to bake and cook with farm fresh eggs. Every day, if we wanted.
8. I would like to find a comfortable pair of chubby-foot-flattering heels that don't make it appear as though I'm wearing cartoon pig hooves.
9. Oh hell, I would just like to have thin feet. And ankles that never swell.
10. I would like the fashion industry to pay more attention to round, short-waisted women so I could wear pants that aren't always two inches south of my cleavage.

But mostly I want #1 and #2. So Santa, go work your magic.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Notes on a madwoman update

I slept in, ate cookies and did not walk.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Notes on a madwoman

I bought new sheets today - but not just regular old sheets. Fleece sheets. Fleeeeeeeece. I saw them somewhere last week and have been dreaming about them ever since. When I spotted a gorgeous set at Costco today for just $31, I grabbed them.

They're going to take up a stupid amount of room in the linen closet when we're not using them, but it'll be worth the annoyance during the warm months to be cuddled by a queen size mattress-shaped teddy bear all winter long.

I took my dad to dialysis today. We needed someone to be there to make sure the shot he was getting wasn't a duplicate flu shot. He has a lot of trouble hearing and even more trouble remembering, so he came home on Monday afternoon with sketchy information about the nature of the shot.

Always one to escalate the seriousness of a situation beyond reasonable levels (particularly if I have an entire night to think about it), I decided I needed to make sure he was okay myself.

And the sheets, they came later. A carefully planned reward.

I can't figure out if this is a healthy coping mechanism or just a crutch. But whatever. I have new sheets!!!


I've been clenching my jaw like a madwoman on crack lately. Not that I know what a madwoman on crack would actually do with her jaw, but I suspect at least some of the time there'd be some vice grip action going on.

The last time I was at the dentist I was soundly chastized for my grinding activities. So much so that she actually took a picture of one of my more seriously worn teeth and blew it up on screen so I could get a really good look at it.

It was bigger than my head. Alarming for that reason alone, frankly.

She then proceeded to show me one of her own perfectly formed, pristine teeth - the same one as the mangled, head-size one still leering at me from the computer monitor.

It was horrifying and humiliating all at once.

God, I love doctors.

I'm kind of hoping I get a lecture on grinding at my next appointment (which I need to make soon so they'll stop leaving messages for me in that cheery, "it'll-be-quick-and-painless-and-really-fun-and-happy" dentist tone they use when they're trying to lure you in for a cleaning). I might need to explain to her - at length and in great detail - exactly why I'm a helpless slave to the grinding, especially now.

I bet that would be even more fun than taunting someone who grinds with your magical, perfect tooth.

I neeeeeeeed to start getting some exercise. I need exercise way more than I needed those sheets. And probably more than I need to go to the dentist, truth be told.

The stress is killing me softly. And fattening me up nicely.

I reward myself a lot - with fleece sheets sometimes, but more often it's with chocolate. And I really must find a better way to cope with the stress of worrying about and caring for my parents - and then worrying about what bits of my own life are sliding while I'm preoccupied with them.

I worry all the time. Then when I do something hard, I reward myself with crap I shouldn't eat or stuff I don't need to buy. Then I feel guilty. Then I worry about that for a bit, then I go back to worrying about whatever it was that I was worried about before I decided I had to reward myself.

And so on, and so on.

I'm clearly in a downward spiral of chocolate eating and sheet buying and endless worrying.

Maybe I'll go for a walk tomorrow morning after a good night's sleep on my new fleece-y sheets. Which are, of course, chocolate-coloured. I'm nothing if not consistent.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The crazy cat lady

Last Halloween we went all out. I was a mummy and My Beloved was a delightfully homemade Superman (I have photographic evidence, but I'm fairly certain I'd be served with divorce papers if said photos landed up on this blog...).

This year, however, we weren't able to muster up the energy to do much of anything. Worry makes you tired, was our conclusion yesterday. We put out a pumpkin and the sound-activated spider - and of course we had treats - but we were planning to be plainclothes Halloweenies for the night.

But by late in the day I found I couldn't completely resist Halloween's lure. So I came up with this...

The ponytail "cat ears" really show off my gray roots, which is an especially nice touch, I think.

I put on a Snoopy Halloween hoodie to complete the ensemble, then I poured a glass of wine and sat in the living room to wait for the trick-or-treaters.

Halfway through my glass of wine I realized how ridiculous it all was - a 40-year old childless woman in a Snoopy sweatshirt and cat makeup sitting in the front window with a beer glass full of wine.

Yeah, I'm way classy.

But you know, I think this is what would have made me a good mom. Minus the wine part. And maybe that makes it all the more pathetic that I still do this sort of thing, but I shall choose to think that it makes me charming instead.

As the years pass it will, I suppose, just make me look really crazy - but we'll cross that bridge to the asylum when we come to it.