This One Feels Right

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to get a donor embryo profile and finally feel like it’s  right. It feels like a deep, cleansing breath. A feeling of, “Oh, this is what we were waiting for.”

I’ve been waiting for that feeling for so long.

Both donors are charming. She has mostly Egyptian and some Turkish (!) heritage (the exclamation point is because my husband is Turkish, and I never thought we’d snag a part-Turkish donor!) and is studying Middle Eastern and South Asia Studies and plans to pursue medical school. And she raises guide dog puppies — how cool is that?

He’s a dentist from India who’s studying to be certified to practice dentistry in the US. An intrepid immigrant like my husband. According to the description, he has similar height and coloring to my husband as well. Both seem like well-rounded, down-to-earth people.

It’s just an overall vibe. These are people I could be friends with. I respect people who say that’s not important, and they’re probably right. Every child is its own brand new creation. But my kids may try to track these people down some day (as I believe is their right if they wish to), and it’s comforting to think they’d likely be simpatico.

Of course, getting a profile I love puts that much more pressure on the outcome. But I’m feeling pretty good these days, and hopefully I can just smooth-sail through something for once.

God help me, hope springs eternal… 😀

Do I Really Want Kids?

My answer to that is a reverberating YES from somewhere deeper than thought or emotion, a place that predates logic by millennia. I’m more sure of this than I am sure that I am a writer. It would be devastating to give up writing, but it’s unthinkable to give up on being a mom.

Of course, layered on top of that instictive answer I am a logical being. I can talk myself into or out of plenty of things. I tell myself it has nothing to do with social norms or expectations. But then I think back to the first moments I knew I wanted to be a parent, and I was so young, thinking of things like my beautiful gold and garnet ring and whom I would pass it on to. (Turns out no one — an unsupervised toddler stole it from my room a few years ago and it was never seen again. But that’s not really the point here…)

I was thinking of what my daughter (or maybe daughter-in-law) would be like, who she would be, who I would be, when I handed that ring over. It just seemed written in the future. I told myself if I wasn’t married by age 32, it’d be time to start thinking about donor sperm or adoption.

What luck that I married a wonderful man when I was 33, old enough to have lived so much life, to feel like the world is a more or less known and friendly place, to feel I have so much to teach and give (and to feel I’ll have no resentment whatsoever for the time and energy I know raising kids will take), yet young enough to be energetic, vital parents and have the kids out of the nest not long after we turn 50 (well, hopefully, more or less…) with plenty more life left to live.

Didn’t hurt that the man was tall, dark, handsome, and so kind. Things were coming together almost too well.

And then, of course, everything fell into the pit of fertility issues, and four years later, I’ve had plenty of time to actually think about that YES.

Here’s the thing about parenting: You can’t really find honest reviews about it. There’s such a galaxy-sized stigma around saying you regret having your children, I doubt one regretter out of a thousand is willing to come forward. Parents are pretty much required to say, “It’s hard, but it’s so worth it.” People put the cute photos on Facebook, and maybe some funny mishaps, but no one posts, “Fuck this, I’m over it.”

I’m lucky in that I have a few things going for me. The biggest, I think, is that I was so free in my twenties. I did everything I dreamed of doing. I traveled the world, worked as a journalist, wrote a book, lived in California and New York and DC. I didn’t become some kind of pop culture success out of the whole thing, wasn’t a bestseller and didn’t get a movie like that Bob the Street Cat guy, but I also wised up enough to learn that true success is internally defined, and I feel a lot of peace and gratitude for my path.

Basically, there wasn’t some big dream or plan or goal that children would keep me from. By the time my husband and I were married, a simple, happy life with him and two children became my dream, my plan, my goal. (Not the only one, but the biggest one for now.)

My more judgmental and ambitious younger self may have sniffed at that goal. I’m glad that person is safely at rest in the past. 🙂 When you travel the world enough, you see that there’s little better than a peaceful and secure family life. It’s what so many humans desire with all their heart, and it is not something to take for granted for a moment.

Of course, there are plenty of other worthy goals. Some people genuinely prefer professional advancement, time with their grown-up friends and loved ones, or travel to ever more exotic locations. Others devote themselves full-time to curing cancer or saving the gorillas. It takes all kinds, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Point is, I feel really ready to have kids. It’s not something I rushed into or felt forced into, so it’s probably less likely I’ll regret it. I’ve also talked to a few honest friends about parenthood, and it’s clear they wouldn’t have it any other way. I have no illusions that it’s all fairies and rainbows, but it does seem to be a deeply wondrous thing, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.

I fall in love with kids easily, and my husband is amazing with kids. And since I like walking in parks and looking at trees and flowers and playing with animals and asking and answering seemingly naive questions — I’m basically a five-year-old myself — it seems like a good fit.

But it’s no small thing at all. Being a parent is like marrying a person you’ve never met. A person you can never divorce. Any child who comes to you in any way can have severe mental or physical challenges or can be a sociopath, a drug addict, or just mean. And for all I dream of — and expect — healthy parent-child relationships, and want so badly to experience that, plenty of people have thought the same and been dead wrong.

But that’s the case with any true adventure: You don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. It may conform to your wildest dreams and expectations, it may be even better, or it may be strange or boring or worse. What it always is is a chance to find the best in it, the lessons in it, the beauty in it. Beauty and lessons are everywhere, and adventures take us out of our comfort zone and into places where we have to face ourselves and our world in new ways.

And right now being a parent is the greatest adventure I can imagine. I don’t mean this in a rose-colored way. I’ve had real adventures. They’re not all wine and starlight. A train trip across Siberia has its disgusting and dangerous and dull parts as well as its wonders. A solo trip across Europe or the Middle East can be equal parts exhilarating and lonely. You can have a merry feast one night and severe dysentery the next. Sometimes you’re eating on a park bench in the rain because you can’t afford any of the eateries around you, and you feel totally pathetic, then a gentleman says “Bon appetit!” out of his passing car window, and suddenly you feel a rosy glow of connection to common humanity.

So many ups and downs. But that’s just it. If you go on a trip knowing what’s going to happen, it’s not really an adventure.

(And it’s funny how this particular flavor of adventure — Motherhood — is at once the most banal thing in the world — almost any barefoot sixteen-year-old can do it — and one of the most complex and awesome undertakings in the universe.)

It gives me a lot of joy to think of having a little person around who’s completely our responsibility, but who has her own personhood and personality and questions and a brand new vision of life. I have no doubt that, like anything worth doing, motherhood will have its tedious and humbling moments, to say the least, and there will be totally unforeseen pitfalls.

While you can support and direct your children to some degree, they are completely autonomous beings who are in your care for a while but absolutely do not “belong” to you. The humility required to deal well with that, and the crazy surprise of finding out who this new person is year by year, loving and guiding them to the best of your ability…

In addition to helping this little person grow, I’ll grow in a million unexpected ways, too.

I’m really excited about it, inshallah. Hell, just adopting a sick stray kitten has brought more joy (and occasional worry) into our lives than we could have predicted. I can only imagine it’s the tiniest fraction of what it’s like raising a child.

Giving birth is another experience that, while it doesn’t sound fun, does sound totally intense and incredible, unlike anything else.

Basically it’s another impulse I’m pursuing, like I pursued travel and writing in my twenties, that feels right.

All of this is to say nothing of the ethical or ecological ramifications of bringing more children into the world. Might my time and energy be better spent mentoring or teaching or counseling lots of kids instead of pouring all that energy into one or two? It’s possible. But I’ve always done better in small groups, and a little family of my own sounds beyond awesome.

And it’s not like we’ll die after we become parents. You’re still pretty much alive and human after you have kids, right? There’s still a tremendous amount you can do, possibly with more wisdom and empathy than if you hadn’t reproduced.

After all, having a kid forces you to deal with countless things you could otherwise just ignore, like school districts and bad teachers and mom-shamers and bullies and car seats and college tuition and a million other logistics and expenses and hassles. It has the potential to goad you into being a much better citizen yourself.

And so many people were thrust into parenthood accidentally or without much thought or without that cosmic YES prodding them along. Most humans conceive and raise children fairly mindlessly, which can pass on emotional roadblocks and start the cycles all over again.

By doing it mindfully, awake and aware and present for every moment as it comes… Is it crazy to hope that kind of parenting can be transformative? Is it arrogant to hope we’ll raise children who will be good enough citizens, they’ll offset the social and environmental impact they may have?

It may be. I guess we’ll see. Adventure calls…

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The day after our wedding — no idea what awaited us in the next four years! We’re stronger than ever, but pretty tired of this pit…

Got an Embryo Profile (yay!) but…

You all know how excited we are to move forward, but we are really torn about the profile we got today. It has a lot to recommend it. The coloring is right (more or less — two half-Mexican donors), health history is great, both like soccer, the egg donor is crazy about her own kids (and graduated from high school a year early), and the sperm donor loves to backpack and travel. Both are proven donors — she has three kids and his product has resulted in at least one live birth.

She’s tiny — 5’2″ — and he’s only an inch taller than me at 5’7″. My husband is 6’1″. But that’s fine with both of us. Height isn’t that important. (Lionel Messi is 5’7″, and so is Gael Garcia Bernal.)

But it doesn’t really “speak” to us. They’re both about 24 and neither really did college (yet), and a lot of their answers are brief, generic, like they didn’t put much thought into it. (I imagine myself as a donor filling the form out so carefully, knowing what a huge deal it will be for someone, how comforting it might be for them to know a little about me.)

My husband says his instinct is to pass. He just doesn’t “click” with it. Our previous profile gave us a much better sense of the donors, and he liked their answers / vibe / personality much better.

I’m not totally stuck on this profile, but there’s no guarantee the next one will be any improvement, or even when we might get the next one. This may be our high water mark for a while.

And of course, it’s always such a lottery anyway… DNA is a very unpredictable thing.

And this is not a deciding factor at all, but just a fact: If I take this profile, I’ll miss the Roger Waters concert on our fourth wedding anniversary. Though I suppose it’ll be even more memorable to get knocked up on that date…

It’s such a HUGE decision, it can be overwhelming and hard to find the right perspective. Whether to be choosy for the sake of our kids or “take the money and run.”

I’m really torn. Should I struggle to convince him, or just go with his instinct (and go see Roger Waters)?

How the hell are we supposed to choose who our future children are going to be on a random Tuesday night? (We only have 24 hours to decide… no pressure or anything…) Not to mention, they might not end up being children at all. I might just be choosing another heartbreaking miscarriage.

Last time it was easier somehow. We just jumped into it. And it didn’t work out. This time we’re both kind of skittish and freaked out. It’s something you can’t really process. We just have to either make the leap (as nearly everyone who’s gone through the program is advising us on Facebook) or go with our gut and hang back. I have no idea how to decide.

EDIT: In the end I came around to it, even though there is a part of me that wants to hang back. There’s no logical reason for it, it’s just an instinct. But my husband didn’t feel right, and I certainly don’t want to drag him into something he doesn’t feel right about. So, for better or worse, we’re back on the waiting list.

For the record, these are our requests (not REQUIREMENTS, just guidelines / druthers): Donors with normal / average health histories, normal BMI (this can affect egg quality), average or tall height (at least one), and Mediterranean / olive / Hispanic features (at least one). Some aptitude for math or science would be a bonus but no big deal. And of course more nebulous things like feeling some tiny kindred spark with at least one donor is taken into account but not any kind of deal breaker.

Pointedly, it seems, my coordonator emailed back warning it would likely take one to three months — or more — before we get another.

I’ve heard horror stories of people waiting six months or more.

Hoping for the best but feeling a bit downhearted. But also a little bit cautiously hopeful. Like maybe we’ll have to wait a few more months, but then it will feel right and it might finally go right.

MATEO IS BACK!

That’s two short blog posts bookending a very painful week. Just so thankful the little goofball is safe and sound.

Ahmed always looks for him out the window, and tonight he emerged from the shadows (maybe on his way to my live trap), and Ahmed meowed to him and he meowed back and then Ahmed told me to get down there!!! I did (without even bothering to put on shoes), and Mateo started to run away into the grass (as skittish pets do when not in their element). I yelled to Ahmed to bring food, and little by little we coaxed him out and grabbed him.

He’s a little manic, pacing all over the house meowing, and looks a little older and a little wiser, but seems none the worse for wear, purring and eating and drinking up a storm.

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Our goofy little feline garbage disposal is back!

Whew!

Lost our sweet cat Mateo

I was doing pretty well, all in all. Great weather, soccer and ballet, writing and editing, cooking and chilling with my husband, etc. The usual. Life is good.

A Palestinian friend in Beirut even offered a free feng shui consultation, and I took her advice and prettied up the house. Couldn’t hurt, right? We got a Buddha fountain and put it in an auspicious location, got under-counter lighting for the kitchen so we won’t have to use the overhead fluorescent, and even put a vinyl sticker flower mural on the laundry room wall. Best of all I cleaned our long-neglected balcony and put a lovely veranda garden out there: a gorgeous tomato plant, mint, lemon basil, cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary, and chives. And for the cat, catnip, lemongrass, and oat grass.

I started letting the cat out onto our (second floor) balcony to watch the birds. I know it must not be super easy for a wild animal to be cooped up inside all day, but I don’t want to let him out where he can get eaten or beaten or run over, where he might pick up fleas or parasites and will be a danger to songbirds. So letting him out on the veranda seemed like a nice compromise, a nice treat for him.

I usually supervise him on the veranda but occasionally let him stay out on his own for a few minutes at a time. Every now and then he looked down, as if judging the jump, but he never jumped. I didn’t think he would. Not only because it’s a pretty big jump but also because he’s a huge coward and generally hates going outside.

It was raining on Thursday, and I sat out on the veranda with him for a while, petting him and watching the rain, feeling so lucky and happy. He’s so soft and pretty and silly, the perfect little silver lining to all our struggles. We got him in desperation after our last own-egg failure. Just something to focus on other than our broke-ass depression. He’s been a light in our lives ever since with his big white tiger paws and bushy raccoon tail.

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I went back inside to make dinner and left him out there watching the rain. I guess I got caught up in cooking, and pretty soon my husband came home and asked where the cat was. I noticed it wasn’t raining anymore. “On the veranda,” I said, but I had a sinking feeling.

He wasn’t on the veranda. He wasn’t anywhere. Dinner was abandoned as we walked around for three hours searching for him. We live in the middle of a big scrubby grassland park bounded by a creek, a river, and two busy streets. Our huge apartment complex is the only human habitation around. There are just millions of places for a cat to hide, and often when they’re scared, they hunker down in silence, sometimes for days.

We bugged every neighbor and jogger and biker we came across, put flyers up everywhere, mass-emailed our entire apartment complex, offered a $100 reward, posted to local lost and found FB groups, and checked the shelter. I’ve left food and water out every night, left his litter box out where he can smell it, and left his cat carrier with his favorite blanket and our dirty clothes. So far no sign of him whatsoever.

It’s been four days now. Half a dozen neighbors have called to tell us they found our cat, but it’s always this other GIANT grey cat (I think he’s half mountain lion or something) with a yellow collar, and I have a feeling that cat is chasing Mateo off if he’s trying to come back. My husband even got a live trap from the shelter, and we’re trying to see if we can get him that way. But I have a feeling we’ll just catch that other damn grey cat (or a skunk), if anything.

And since we live on the second floor, and he jumped off the balcony, he’s going to have no idea where our front door is or what it looks like.

He’s still just a kid, basically, not quite a year old. I thought we’d have him for a decade at least. He’d be our kids’ first pet. I feel so guilty. He was my responsibility, and I let him down. And to top it off, it has thunderstormed almost every single night since he went missing.

It’s very dispiriting, and we’re worried sick. If we knew he was OK — that maybe we were meant to raise him up from a sick, scrawny kitten, get him treated and get his shots, feed him and play with him ’til he was big and strong, and then let him back into the wild, or that another loving family had taken him in — I could live with it. But imagining him cold and wet and hungry and terrified somewhere, or washed into the river and drowned after he sought refuge in a storm drain, is heartbreaking.

It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, I suppose, but our house is just so empty without him.

No news on the donor embryo front, either. Just waiting for a match. And waiting.

Life was just starting to seem bright and beautiful again, and now the dark cloud is back. Literally as well with all this rain. I wish I could be the one shivering out in the rain instead of him. I hope his innate survival instincts kick in somehow. This little goofball who thinks he’s hiding when he’s crouched behind a sock… (Not a ball of socks, just a single sock.) I hope he’s finding food, water, and shelter somehow. On Thursday it’ll be a full week since he went missing.

Top 15 Things Not to Say to the Fertility-Challenged

Fair warning: I wrote this in kind of a snarky, bitchy way that I sometimes find therapeutic. So if cursing and sarcasm aren’t your thing, you might want to skip this one.

Dammit, I’m pregnant again!

If your problem is that you’re pregnant again — for free, with your own egg and your husband’s sperm — for the love of God, go talk to someone else about it. Please don’t complain to me. My ability to be a good friend has its limits. This is one of them.

Also, if I’m ever starving and homeless, please don’t complain to me about how expensive money managers are these days and how you just can’t keep track of all your dividends. Even if you’re genuinely bummed about it.

Kthxbi.

(This only happened once, but… once was more than enough.)

Hey, at least you can get drunk and sleep in, heh heh.

I’ll remember that next time I refrain from not just alcohol but also caffeine and sugar and sometimes wheat and definitely dairy for months and years at a time or get up at the crack of dawn to have a needle stuck in my arm and a camera shoved up my lady bits at a clinic instead of, you know, feeding the baby I don’t have. Heh heh.

Listen dumbass: If I gave a shit about getting drunk and sleeping in, why in the hell would I be trying so hard to have a child?

Someone put it like this: If a person’s mother has just died, would you say: “Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about Mother’s Day cards anymore, heh heh!”

I very sincerely hope not.

You have plenty of time. It’ll happen!

I don’t know that, and you certainly don’t know that. So why are you saying it?

Sometimes it never happens. That’s a real — and for some people, terrifying — possibility. It might make you feel better to pretend away worst case scenarios. I don’t have that luxury.

Whose fault is it?

Er… it’s nobody’s fault. What kind of question is that?

If you want to know our personal medical information, well — crazy as it sounds — that’s kinda personal. Did I ask you about your latest pap smear?

If we want to volunteer our private medical information, we will. But as a general rule, don’t ask. Unless you’re going through something similar and genuinely looking for information and advice. Then ask away.

In general terms: about a third of the time, the woman is the limiting factor. About a third of the time, it’s the man. The rest of the time it’s both or no one knows.

For the record: I have endometriosis and I’ve had surgery on both ovaries. Things still look good — my endometriosis is well under control, and my ovaries healed beautifully and seem to work just fine, and Ahmed is healthy as a horse. We’re still not sure why it hasn’t worked for us yet. And yeah, that sucks.

Maybe it’s a sign.

Er… a sign of what? That unlike all those Sixteen and Pregnant girls, I’ve somehow found disfavor with God? That I would be a horrible mother? That the universe is a cruel, soulless place?

Or maybe that you’re a supercilious, unoriginal asshole? Yes, I may be seeing a sign of that!

Just relax!

In surveys across the nation, this is definitely the number one most hated piece of bullshit fertility advice of all time. (OK, I don’t know about any surveys, but it tops the list of most people I know.)

Right. Four years and thousands of dollars later, this is what we must have missed. It’s not the endometriosis, the adhesions, the cysts, the surgeries, possible autoimmune issues, bad luck, or some other factor we haven’t yet identified. I’m just uptight, that’s all!

Thanks, because I definitely wasn’t blaming myself for this enough until now.

Not to mention, learning to genuinely relax when you’re in the middle of surgeries and stress and hemorrhaging money and wondering and hurting and fear and travel and shots and hormones and drugs and disappointments and constantly evolving life plans is some serious Jedi-level ninja shit.

It’s like telling someone who’s sad to smile. Everyone wants to smile, right? And everyone wants to be relaxed. Everyone wants to be calm. But telling people, “Hey, just change your emotional state!” is condescending, insensitive, and fucking annoying.

And some people have real medical issues that can literally never be solved no matter how much they relax. Is that really a wound you want to rub salt into?

“Just go on vacation!” people say. “It’ll happen!”

We’ve been on a number of vacations in the past four years. One of them lasted a whole month.

Still no baby.

It could be worse. At least you don’t have cancer / aren’t getting a divorce / haven’t suffered through a nuclear holocaust.

Next time you have a car accident, or a spinal injury, or your house is broken into, or your phone is stolen, I’ll be sure to remind you of all the worse things that could have happened. I’m sure it’ll be just as helpful.

Look. It’s not news to anyone that whatever bad thing happens to them, it could have been worse. Like all humans, we strive to count our blessings and keep things in perspective. But what this sounds like is, “Whatever thing is traumatizing you right now is really no big deal!”

Just a general piece of life advice: Glibly brightsiding someone else’s pain, especially when it’s raw, is almost always a dick move.

Pain and suffering are not competitions.

Have you tried bee pollen / reverse cowgirl / shiatsu massage / lemon meringue pie? We did that the month we got pregnant!

I hate to tell you this, but it probably wasn’t the pollen or the pie.

You probably just got lucky.

And believe me, if you got pregnant quickly and you’ve heard of some fertility wonder cure, I’ve probably not only heard of it, I’ve done extensive research into double-blind placebo-controlled studies or, barring that, strong anecdotal evidence.

So feel free to offer suggestions. But 99% of the time, don’t be surprised if I look at you like LeBron James would if you casually offered him unsolicited advice about how to improve his jumpshot.

Have you heard about IVF?

I have a Master’s degree in IVF, bitch. And a lot of other motherfucking assisted reproductive acronyms you’ve never even heard of.

Pray you never do.

Have you thought about just adopting?

Actually, I’ve never heard of adoption until just right now! What is it, exactly? What does it involve? How long does it take? How invasive is it? How much does it cost?

Wait… you don’t know? You’ve never done it before and you have no idea what it involves? The closest you’ve come to it is picking up a rescue dog?

Then hey, have you considered fucking right off?

Sorry to be harsh. We know you mean well. But in the spirit of honesty — this is what we’re thinking when you say that so casually.

Adoption is a beautiful option for many people, and it may one day be for us. But it may not be, for many complicated and deeply personal reasons. It’s certainly not something you ‘just’ do, like moseying down to the nearest orphanage and picking one out on your way to the grocery store.

It costs tens of thousands of dollars, requires months or years of uncertainty and invasiveness, and can end in utter heartbreak if the birth mother changes her mind at the last minute — heartbreak almost on par with a stillbirth.

Closed adoption, open adoption, foster adoption, and international adoption all come with their own issues and pitfalls. Some people can’t even qualify for one or more types for a variety of reasons, or can’t afford them.

Again, I want to stress: It’s a wonderful option for many people.

But think about it: If you thought up this genius idea in zero point two seconds, do you really think it hasn’t occurred to us in the past four years?

As soon as my friend decided to adopt, she got pregnant!

Let’s go over this one more time: Deciding to adopt is not something you do lightly. You’re making a commitment for life, laying your personal life open to invasive agencies, and putting tens of thousands of dollars on the line. And for all that, shockingly enough, it’s still not actually a magical pregnancy tonic, no matter what happened on Grey’s Anatomy.

But since you believe coincidence is the same as causality, I’ll be happy to sell you a rock that keeps tigers away. I’ve had the rock for years and haven’t seen a tiger once!

Trust me, you don’t want kids. Mine drive me crazy! Ha ha!

For the record, this is like joking to a paraplegic, “Trust me, you don’t want legs. People make you take out the trash and shit. I’d rather just sit and play video games! Ha ha!”

Just… don’t.

Just get a dog!

Fuck you.

You’ll get pregnant the minute you stop trying!

Right. And I’m sure I’ll finish that novel as soon as I stop writing, and the house will be spotless the minute I stop cleaning!

Even if this were true — and statistically speaking, it’s not — how am I supposed to consciously tell myself to stop wanting the one thing I most dearly want, the thing I’ve been working toward for years? Honestly, how is that supposed to work?

Or am I condemned to childlessness until I genuinely give up?

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

Everything happens for a reason!

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To be fair, maybe everything does happen for a reason. But neither of us really knows that. And it’s sure as hell not something I’d blithely say to someone who’s been in a car accident or who’s been diagnosed with a degenerative disease.

So why say it to people struggling to have a family?

There you have it. All the things you shouldn’t say. (Please don’t.)

What should you say?

Offer an ear. Offer a hug. Offer a word of genuine sympathy. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions rather than making hasty (and ill-informed) statements. Understand that while it is a big deal (to us), it’s not contagious, and you don’t have to make it better in the next thirty seconds.

Don’t be dismissive. Don’t minimize. Don’t make it more about your discomfort than our predicament. Just be there with us a little.

Also remember that we’re more than our current struggles. Talk to us about other things. Invite us do things or just hang out. Tell us you’re sending good thoughts our way and hoping for our success.

That’s it, basically. Be present. Be kind. Ask. Listen.

Good advice for being a better person, and a better friend, in general. 🙂

Mrs. Brightside

Now that I’m trying not to choke on impatience as I wait for my next donor embryo profile (they say it can take one to three months; occasionally it takes longer; I don’t know if I can even hold out another week), and feeling fresh new surges of jealousy of every woman moving on with her life and seeing two healthy heartbeats or cuddling her kids while I remain marooned on Fertility-Challenged Island, it seems like a good time for that “let’s look on the bright side” post.

Believe me, I am not trying to suggest this stuff “isn’t so hard after all.” I’m neither stupid nor heartless. But this is the best I can make out of each Suck from the last post.

Every now and then, when I’m in the right mood, it actually helps me feel a little better. Your mileage may vary.

TEN: Disruption of Life

Yeah, hormones can have physical side effects, and getting up early and getting stuck with so many needles is no fun. But if that was all there was to it, I’d barely think twice.

NINE: Invasion of Privacy

It’s super annoying at first, but you get used to it. Sometimes it takes a village not just to raise a child, but to make one. I’m tired of it — tired of having strangers involved in our personal life — but again, if this was all there was to it, I could deal.

EIGHT: Waiting

As mentioned above, I’m stuck in a “waiting” spot right now, and it’s hard not to let it make you ansty as hell. But it’s excellent practice for staying present. Easier said than done, and if you’re not careful, it can truly drive you mad. But it doesn’t need to. Usually life is pretty good, even if it’s not exactly what you thought you signed up for.

I’ve also been careful to have “insurance” plans in place, which means I’m always making plans I’m excited about that I might have to cancel if I got pregnant (or was in the middle of treatment). So if I didn’t get pregnant, at least I’d have that, and if I did get pregnant — great!

I’ve managed to visit six new countries and take a 6,000-mile road trip and write a novel and take ballet lessons and play sooooo much soccer while we’ve been trying to conceive. And my husband changed his career completely and found a terrific job in his new self-taught field (web design and development).

My current “insurance” plans include spring soccer league (ongoing), signing up for ballet again (10 more lessons for $100), and a Roger Waters concert on June 1 (our fourth wedding anniversary)

I am frustrated that I’ve put off serious career advancement for myself until “the kids are in school.” I could have gotten a whole new bachelor’s degree since we started trying. But that’s on me, I guess. (Good God, though, I never thought just having a kid would take 4+ years…) And I have been enjoying my “for now” work of writing and editing, and it’s also given me lots of time for my own writing. And it’s forced me into some serious personal growth.

SEVEN: Fear

Fear is rarely a useful emotion. Even when I had a loaded gun pointed at me for several seconds (Israeli soldier in Ramallah at night) in a situation where people are regularly killed with impunity, it turned out fear wasn’t useful. Fear could have made me panic, do something stupid. What I felt was a preternatural calm. I knew things could go one way or another, and the only thing on my mind was figuring out how I could best contribute to keeping the situation from going the way I didn’t want it to go. Fear would only have been a distraction.

It’s been harder to find that clarity on this “journey” because the fear is chronic, and setbacks cause it to flare. But, again, this is an excellent “class” for working on mastering fear. Which to me means seeing the fear for what it is: well-intentioned, but not actually helpful. And letting it make its noise if it must but not letting it dominate my landscape.

Losses are losses, whether you made yourself more or less miserable with worry leading up to them. And all things being equal, it’s generally better not to make yourself miserable. The outcome will almost certainly be the same either way.

SIX: Feeling like a Failure

Obviously we are not failures. We’re just having a hard time with one activity. Not everyone is effortlessly good at everything. I’m good at math. I’m apparently not so quick at conceiving and carrying a child. Or as a friend of mine put it, “Some of us just have to work for it.”

And those of us who do will never, ever, ever for a moment take for granted the intricate miracle of what this is. And those kids will never, ever, ever for a moment wonder whether they were deeply, dearly wanted.

And hell, if I’m jealous sometimes of people who conceive easily, I’m jealous. It just means I’m very clear on what I want.

FIVE: The Endless Unknown

It’s frustrating not knowing exactly what the problem is or how to fix it, and it sucks that I’ve spent so many hours and days and weeks of my life searching for that elusive answer, trying new supplements and interventions, never quite knowing if I’m wasting my time or if this next thing will be exactly what we need.

But in the end you do your best, trust as much as you can, try what you can afford that looks promising, and try not to tear your hair out in the meantime. If I had this to do over again… Honestly I don’t know if I’d change anything. I did spend too much time researching, in the end, and sometimes going in circles. But I’m someone who needs to know what is known. Nothing makes me crazier than flying in the dark, feeling like I have no agency.

The fact that a lot of this remains unknown in general (it’s the Wild West of medicine right now)… That sucks. But at least I more or less know what the unknowns are. That helps my control freak personality relax just a little. And helped me come to this place where I’m comfortable just going with the statistics and finding a donor embryo clinic that has the best numbers around.

Other people might be better off just listening to their doctors.

Not gonna lie. I wish I was one of them.

FOUR: The Stigma

Maybe it’s just me, but this is bothering me less and less lately. It’s true, a lot of people have lame or ignorant or judgy ideas. That is really their problem. Meanwhile I am rocking along on an incredible quest doing the absolute best I can. And the more open I am about it, the more people learn learn about it and maybe think a bit differently about it in the future. It feels nice to be “trailblazing” in this way, even if it’s not a subject I would have chosen. It chose me. So it goes.

And even though some people are annoying, most people are very accepting and encouraging, and a shocking number say, “We’re going through it, too!” and seem very relieved someone else brought it up first. It’s much more common than people realize. There’s no one who doesn’t know someone going through it, whether they realize it or not.

Trying to act normal when you feel anything but can be very draining. But learning to actually feel OK even when life isn’t happening the way you planned is a wonderful skill to nurture. It’s some Jedi Ninja-level shit, but if you can pull it off — even begin to start pulling it off — it’s a gift that can serve you all through life.

THREE: Pain and Guilt

This is hard. There’s no sugarcoating it. As for the pain, you learn coping mechanisms. (I could write a whole other post on those. Probably should.)

As for the guilt, you try your best to remember that you took vows, and you took them very seriously, and you ought to give your husband the benefit of the doubt that he did, too. You’re in this together. It’s not what you would have chosen, but life doesn’t always give you strawberry popsicles. It’s just part of being an adult human. Plenty of couples have dealt with plenty worse. And we’re still solid, still have a sense of humor, and that says a lot about us, as individuals and as a couple. If we weren’t tested so much, we’d never have known what we were capable of.

TWO: The Soul-crushing Expense

Another one that’s tough to sugarcoat. But we chose this as something important enough to pursue even though it was difficult, and we had the resources to try IVF three times and now donor embryos up to six times. Not everyone has that choice. Yes, we’ve lost our nest egg and we have nothing and we may go into debt, but plenty of people are still in debt from college, or from credit cards, or from a nasty divorce, or from being underwater on their home.

At the end of the day, it’s just money. Money is a fiction, really. Numbers and pieces of paper that everyone agrees have value, even though they actually don’t. It can undoubtedly have real-world consequences, but for most of us who can even consider spending everything we have on starting a family, we’ll probably be fine. In ten years this will be a blip on the radar. We will have to give up some thing that we expected to get, but we will not go hungry. And the best things in life remain free.

And to be honest, I really enjoyed living in an apartment when I was a kid. The space meant little to me (I was small), and there were lots of kids around to play with and a terrific playground. (There’s one here, too, and a river.) And a new car or an old car — I mean, honestly, how much does this affect the quality of your day-to-day life?

We’ve already trimmed most of the fat we could, and it’s fine. We have no cable (who needs 55 channels of cooking shows?), the slowest possible internet (which is usually indistinguishable from the fastest), we rarely eat out (unless we find a two-for-one coupon for Schlotzsky’s). We both have Google Voice, which gives us free calls and texts from our computers, and we each have pay-as-you-go cell phones for emergencies that cost about $7 a month. We don’t drink foofy coffee drinks or carbonated beverages. We drink tea at 25 cents a bag, water, and diluted fruit juice. We’re not planning any vacations for the next, oh, decade or so, unless it’s to visit family or go camping.

In short, we’ll figure it out, and it will be far more than worth it. Otherwise we’d have made different choices. And we were damn lucky to have those choices available to us.

Comparing ourselves to others, or to what we “should” have, can be really hard. So maybe we shouldn’t do that. Maybe we should just enjoy the unique blessings of being who we are.

ONE: Time Passing

But believe me, I know how hard it can be not to live in counterfactuals. Something else “should have” happened. We “should have” been parents by now. This whole nightmare “should never have” happened.

When you live like that, you’re living in resistance. And that is painful, because it’s bullshit.

Simple facts: This is real. This is life. This is my path. I’m not on pause. I’m not in some alternate dimension. This is it. I’m right here, and I’m on a quest. An amazing one with unimaginable rewards.

Other people don’t need this quest. They just stumble onto the prize. Good for them. But can they ever truly appreciate it? Can the full fragile unlikely miracle of it ever fully enter their consciousness? I hope so. But their experience will be very different from ours.

Some people are born into wealth, others have to work for it from the ground up. Two very different paths. Who’s to say which is better?

I hear from so many people that after years and years of trying to have kids, they end up feeling like they are glad they spent all those years because they ended up with exactly the children they were meant to have. (In one touching story, a little girl said, “God just needed more time to make me,” or something like that. I can’t remember it exactly, but it was really cute.) This always makes me smile.

I’m not one of those “everything happens for a reason” people. I used to be, but tell that to the people in Syria. It’s honestly a cruel thing to say to people going through hard times. Sometimes shitty things just happen.

But we humans do have an incredible capacity for conjuring meaning out of thin air. For finding the meaning in shitty situations. For learning to be a better and more empathetic person after going through hardships.

And you truly never know what’s around the bend. I mean, if you want to live in counterfactuals, you can always go the other way. For example:

  • If I’d had a kid when I wanted to, at age 34, maybe the kid would have died or had serious problems, or I’d have died in childbirth.
  • Maybe the kid I have at 38 or 40 will save my life when I’m 50, otherwise I would have died at that young age. Hence, having a kid later in life will actually mean more time to spend with my kids.
  • Maybe our kids will keep us young, and our friends with older kids will be super jealous of us.
  • Maybe our kids will get knocked up really young so we’ll have plenty of time with our grandkids after all. (Ha.)
  • Maybe in four years I’ll be looking back and thinking, “It all happened just as it was supposed to.”

In other words, it may be worse than I imagined (as it was during these past four years, though the past four years certainly weren’t all bad) or it may be a thousand times better.

Either way, what’s the point of being sour-pussed now?

So this is me, trying not to be sour-pussed, trying not to be spoiled and ungrateful for the many, many blessings in my life, trying not to spend all my time tapping my foot like an impatient cartoon waiting for the next step. Trying to be truly present, not living merely in phantoms like hopes, fears, anger and resistance.

Recognizing I’m human and trying not to give myself too hard a time when I inevitably stamp my foot and gnash my teeth. (Hey, it’ll give me that much more empathy for my toddler(s), right?)

Trying to breathe when all I want to do is fight against a reality I didn’t choose. (There are effective ways to struggle toward your goals, but for each there are a thousand ineffective ways.)

Using all the skills I’ve learned to get back to a good place each time I start sliding toward the bad place. (Writing is one thing that helps. Meditating, exercising, reading good books, and spending time in nature are other classics. And sometimes spending time with kids, even though it can be bittersweet.)

BONUS: Eating healthy, supplements, etc.

At first all this bullshit healthy eating made me feel like some kind of lame-ass nun doing penance for a sin I never committed.

But after being on a healthy diet for long enough, a lot of the old crappy “comfort” foods don’t even taste as good as they used to. A little wine now and then is nice, but it doesn’t feel as good as it used to. I can take it or leave it. Coffee and chocolate don’t taste as good as they used to, either. This may sound horrifying to some people, but for me it’s nice. A smoothie of frozen blackberries and mango chunks with almond milk and half a banana is more satisfying to me now than a bowl of ice cream. That can only be a good thing, right?

After all, most of the “comfort” food we’ve been conditioned to eat is scientifically designed to make our tastebuds moan in simulated pleasure while offering very little in the way of nutrition — and we see the results of that in our society. Getting into healthy habits in my thirties will hopefully carry forward for a lifetime and into my children’s lives as well.

Hell, these healthy habits alone may end up prolonging my life longer than the years we’ve spent trying to conceive! Which would make it REALLY stupid for me to be complaining now.

All that said… Please, please, please send us a good embryo profile soon. We’re burning daylight, people.