Catch a Wave and You’re Sittin’ on Top of the World

I went on a bit of a hiatus to take a beach vacation. We had talked about going for a month or two, but we weren’t really sure when we were going. A couple of hours after I posted my last entry, we loaded up the car and took off with no reservations and no concrete plans. It turned out to be one of the best things we could have done.

Following our enormous fight on Thursday evening, we both realized that we need to just go and let go. We did just that and did not quarrel from the moment we shut the trunk and headed east. We drove all night and landed on the Atlantic coast at Ocean City at 6 am Friday morning. The ocean was too hard to resist, and we scrambled to the beach, soaking our clothes and shoes as we waded deep into the salty water.

We spent hours on the beach and forgot about our troubles. Trying to conceive was on my mind, but only briefly and only because I was gearing up to ovulate. Otherwise, I did my best to live in the moment, to enjoy every second of the cool, blue water and my husband’s company. It was the honeymoon we never had. We were so busy when we got married with buying the house, moving, and school starting that we did not have a chance to do more than have a nice dinner at Oglebay Park, but our weekend on the beach was better than any honeymoon we could have planned.

We took a moonlit walk on a deserted part of the beach. The moon was full and the ocean was calm. We held hands and talked softly to each other, unwilling to even consider the rarity of such a moment. We were living for the now not for tomorrow, next week, or last year.

But the most specific lesson to be learned from our trip was learned in the water.

I had been to the beach before, but back then (about nine years ago) I was so worried about how I looked in a bathing suit that I wouldn’t go in the water. I wore a cover up and concealed as much of myself as I could. Thankfully, I have lost most of that self-consciousness and I was stripped down to my swimsuit in minutes.

Although I swim daily in my sister-in-law’s pool (and sometimes at the Y), the ocean is still overwhelming. Nothing else on Earth makes me feel as humble as the ocean. It is so much bigger and more powerful than me. It is a clear representation of my Higher Power.

This force is made even more apparent when you try to swim in the ocean. Just getting off the shore and into the water takes incredible effort as each wave batters swimmers with its white frothy force. I went down over and over again that first day. I tried diving head first into each wave and ended up being tossed to the ocean floor and dragged across the gravely sand.

For hours I kept trying to find a rhythm. The kids next to me made it seem so easy. My husband tried to help. But for some reason all I earned for my effort was matted hair and scraped knees. I was enjoying myself, but in an exhaustive way. In fact, the harder I tried, the harder I fell.

After recovering overnight, I headed back out into the water, determined to find a way to ride the waves and not let them pummel me for hours.

At first I approached entry the same way I had the day before: I eased in and braced myself, thinking that I could somehow withstand its cruel, but awesome strength. Once again, I was thrown to the shore, gasping for air and trying with little success to stand back up before the next wave hit. I struggled to my feet and stomped back to my beach blanket in disgust. I was disappointed in myself.

After brooding for a bit, I collected myself and gave it another shot. This time I would let go. I pushed my way to the flat, soft sand and surrendered. Instead of fighting the next wave as it came in, I relaxed and it lifted me up and back to the shore. I did not get thrashed. Instead, I glided on the crest of the wave and landed gently on the ocean floor. I spent the rest of the day and the all of the next giggling and dancing in the surf. Yes, I got pounded a few more times, but I recovered quickly and eventually began to look forward to the biggest of waves.

At one point I told my husband that for the first time I understood the immense power in letting go. I have been trying to let go of the obsession of having children, but the trying was preventing it from happening. I learned as I struggled to outlast the ocean that when something is beyond my control the best way to survive it (and even enjoy it!) is to surrender to it.

Several entries ago, I quoted from Toni Morrison’s fabulous novel, Song of Solomon: “If you surrender to the air, then you can ride it.” The same is true of the ocean. I surrendered, and I rode wave after wave. Although I never knew quite where I would end up after each wave subsided, I did know that I would eventually find my way back to shore. I have never felt so peaceful. I found true contentment. Not once while I was being buoyed by the rolling waves did I think about what I was lacking in life. I thought only about the next wave and Jim’s strong arms he would occasionally slip around my waist to pull me to him so that we could ride a wave together. We discovered that we were stronger together than as one.

Applying what I learned to my ttc struggle is challenging but more than worth the effort. To not actively try to get pregnant by minding my cycles and even taking fertility drugs or undergoing some other kind of treatment is risky. I am not getting any younger.

However, only half living my life because I am consumed with having a child is just as risky. What might I miss (and have missed) by doing so? I might never have children. I understand that. But I am not going to dwell on it. Instead, I am going to surrender to life. I will work on what I can accomplish and let the rest of it go. Instead of charging at it without regard for its power and getting thrown to the punishing sand, I will relax and keep my eye on the next wave that comes rolling in, not to try to fight it off, but to see where it takes me.

And the Results Are In

The HSG is over. It was far less painful than it has been in the past, so I am relieved about that. However, the fight that followed took some of the joy out of the positive results.

The procedure went very quickly, and my doctor announced that the right tube is open and that I can conceive naturally. He recommended that I make an appointment to see him and that he thinks that we have many more options than just IVF and what we have been doing. I was buoyed by the news and left the hospital far happier and less anxious than when I walked in.

I waited for about an hour before I called my husband. I wanted to enjoy the good news for awhile without the cloud of darkness that I figured he would hang over it. He did not answer my call, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I did a little shopping for the beach trip we are going on this weekend, and enjoyed what remained of my afternoon. When he finally called me back, I could hear in his voice that he was angry and upset. I braced myself all the way home for what would most likely be a fight.

Sure enough, our conversation about the results of the procedure disintegrated into an argument about the fertility process that ended with him saying, “You don’t think I am good enough for you.” I asked for him to be more supportive. Although I would never have put it the way he interpreted it, I guess he is right. Being a quarter of the way involved is not good enough.

In my readings as of late, one thing I have learned is that a lot of anger comes from not having needs met. One way to overcome that type of anger is to ask that your needs be met. I asked him for the following:

1. to come to the follow-up meeting with me in July. At this meeting, my doctor will go over options with me. If he is there, then he can learn about those options and we can make a decision together.

2. to be supportive of me when I am undergoing stress, including when I am approaching a major hormonal shift from pills or just the normal changes in my cycle.

3. to not get angry when I let him know that I am in my fertile period and need to have sex.

I don’t think that these needs are unrealistic. He does. He accused me of making him dance like a marionette. He says that I am controlling. I said, “If you want to have a child, then you have to be part of this. I cannot and will not do it alone.” He blew up again.

I know that this is stressful for him, but we are not going be less stressed out if we fight and continue not working together. I explained that if things go like they did over the seven months that I was taking fertility drugs that I was not going to do it again. He said nothing.

We are now sitting in silence. He is watching a movie. I am blogging. We are supposed to be headed to the beach in the morning. I am worried about the trip. I just want to enjoy the ocean, but I feel like it will be harder than ever to relax and let go. However, I am sure that once I see that forever horizon stretching out before me that I will be unable to hold my breath any longer.

Wisdom! Be Attentive!

My ex-husband is Ukrainian Catholic, and I loved to go to mass with him. There was something about the combination of incense, Cyrillic, and chanting that spoke to me. Unlike the Catholic masses I had attended, the Ukrainian Catholic masses seemed sensual and embodied.

One of my favorite parts of the mass was when the priest would walk around with an enormous Bible and shout “Wisdom! Be Attentive!” It was as if he was saying, “Good stuff, coming through. You better listen or you’ll miss it.” And I listened!

Sometimes I don’t listen when wisdom is present and that is something I am trying to change. Two incidents this past week made me stand up and take notice.

One afternoon, I was in the grocery store looking for cheese for the tacos that I was making for dinner that night. As I strolled down the dairy aisle, I saw two elderly people in motorized carts talking, and I admired one of the men’s hats. It was a suede cowboy hat decorated with a ring of Christmas goodies: bows, holly, berries, bears. Even though it was the official first day of summer, there was something about all that holiday swag that made me smile.

As I walked by, he smiled and said hello. I smiled back and told him that I admired his hat. He said he admired my headscarf, which has become my constant summer adornment. We started chatting, and he relayed to me his life wisdom. He was about to “turn 79 on August 30,” so he had quite a lot to say. Although I could have walked away at any time, I thought maybe I could learn something from him, and sure enough, I did.

He told me that he could tell by the way I held myself that I am a confident and caring person. He reminded me that looks, fake or real, fade and all that we have left, especially at his age, are our thoughts and memories. He also said that if a person really believes in something, then it can come true. He is obviously not a man of means, but he seemed content with how his life turned out. As I walked away he pelted me with platitudes: “Treat others how you wish to be treated.” “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

And, of course, all of his talk about dreams and goals started me back on the “wishing for a baby track,” which as you know, I have been trying quite hard to jump from. I left there thinking, “Maybe. . . if only I . . . you know I could . . .” but by the time I pulled into my driveway, I had found my resolve and was once again extolling the benefits of not having children.

Then, I had another encounter.

I went swimming at a lake yesterday with a friend from my college days. It was wonderful! Fresh, clean water with a sand bottom. I could have stayed there for days. Following our swim, I met my friend’s godfather and owner of the lake and campgrounds. Within minutes it was clear that I needed to be attentive.

Like me, he had discovered that positive thinking and being open to the universe are powerful ways of living. It is not about acquisition but about finding peace and enjoying life in a way that had seemed illusive previously. As he explained his philosophy of life to me, I couldn’t help but jump in with all that I had recently read and pondered. We had a lot in common, but I could tell that he had been at this way of thinking for far longer than I had been, so I listened carefully.

He asked many questions, and I gladly gave him the answers. He assured me that if I truly believed something would come true, then it would. He cited many examples from his own life where just that had happened. He asked me what I wanted. I told him that I had wanted to have children. He said, “You still do.” He then said that to achieve that goal I needed to articulate the want (check), pray about it (check), and let it go (um, er . . .). I asked him why letting go was so hard. He said, “Because it is.”

As we talked I felt like I was standing before the Delphic oracle or maybe chatting with Aristotle. In any case, he offered me much more wisdom, and I am pondering it. His main message was not new, “See it. Believe it. Be it.”

And now I am in the middle of a quandary: Go back to hoping and believing that I will one day have a child or continue on my path of letting go of that dream. Is it possible that they are the same thing? That maybe I have been looking at this situation all wrong. That instead of letting go of the dream itself, I need to let go of the belief that I can force it to happen by sheer will?

In any case, I feel irritated again. Partly because I am in fear of sliding back into my obsessive state, which was ruining my quality of life, and partly because I feel angry and resentful towards my husband because I truly believe that he promised me something (IVF) and did not deliver. I could do it on my own economically, but it would cause a serious riff between us. I am fighting against feeling helpless because that is not true at all. But powerless might be an okay state because that is the true source of letting go.

I have my hsg appointment tomorrow. I will find out the initial results during the test. At this point, I dread the answer, but I am going to walk in and face the music. I have not told my husband about it. Sometimes things are easier to handle alone.

Living in the Moment

And so I made that appointment for the HSG test. It is on Thursday, and I am going to go. I put it off, and I really thought that I would skip it, but then my own curiosity got the better of me. I want to know if that tube is blocked. If it is, then there will never be a time when I think that I am pregnant and obsess over the symptoms because if it is blocked, then there is no way I can get pregnant without the help of IVF. I have decided not to tell my husband about this procedure. I am just going to go and get it done.

On the upside, I am getting better at living in the moment. In the past week I have had a chance to spend quite a bit of time with one of my nieces and one of my nephews, and the entire time we were together, I tried to live in that moment and enjoy every second.

I am starting to appreciate more the many blessings that I have in my life, and not be weighed down by what I don’t have. All in all, I have a pretty great life, and I know I must embrace it as it is. Never before in my life have I had so much love, friendship, and economic well being. It would be much more than just a shame to let this time of my life pass me by without appreciating it fully.

In this great article in Psychology Today, the author talks about the art of now, living in the moment. One of the strongest messages is “you are not your thoughts.” That is incredibly hard for me to accept, but I am getting there, one step at a time.

The other guidelines:

1. To improve your performance, stop thinking about it.

2. To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the present.

3. If you want a future with your significant other, inhabit the present.

4. To make the most of time, lose track of it.

5. If something is bothering you, move toward it, rather than away from it.

6. Know that you don’t know.

Mindfulness certainly seems like a blessing so far. I wonder if there was ever a time beyond the very early years of my life that I have ever been able to or was willing to try to live in the now? I guess after Samantha was murdered I attempted to do so because ruminating about the past was horrifying. Other than that, I have been obsessed with the future and the past. And you see where that got me. . .

This weekend my husband and I went canoeing. My nephew got to ride in our boat, and he turned out to be quite a good paddler. Less than a mile down the creek, it became obvious that the three of us were the only ones having a good time. My brother and his girlfriend were fighting, and my brother’s girlfriend’s father was upset because they were fighting. And no one else wanted to be in a canoe.

I kept thinking, what a shame! I recall wasting more than one wonderful occasion consumed by ruminations. Every time I looked at my brother, I felt a twinge of sadness because he seemed so angry and depressed about the rift between him and his girlfriend, but I knew that I could not share my own inner peace with him because that is a state of mind that can only be achieved alone. He allowed his own thoughts to ruin a Father’s Day with his son.

I hope to avoid such miseries in the future. I don’t want to ruin another good time by obsessing about something I cannot change. Life is too short to live in the future or in the past. After all, neither of those places exist beside in my own head. I would rather live in a place that is real with texture, dimension, and cool creek water to swim in.

This Me, That Me

I almost made the call. Several times today, I had the phone in my hand ready to make the appointment for the HSG. Yet, I didn’t. The thought of it fills me with such dread that I can’t even think about getting in the car and driving to the hospital, let alone having the procedure done and then, getting the results.

In one way, I guess it would be better to get the test done. If the right tube is blocked, then I will know that all bets are off and that I can stop being anxious about it all. Maybe tomorrow.

I have been thinking about all of the women who would jump at the chance to have IVF, even if they had to wait a year. I used to be one of those women. There was a time when the very thought of IVF seemed so far fetched that I never bothered to do research on it. That me would be shocked that this me would ever walk away from it. And yet here I am.

There was a certain amount of comfort in the fact that I knew then that IVF was off the table forever. It was never a possibility. It forced me to consider an endpoint for ttc. After clomid or some other ovulation-inducing drug, then that was it. The end of the line. My ex-h and I agreed to walk away after that.

In fact, I was ready to stop trying altogether until my house burned down in 2004.

My seven cats died in that fire, and although I was close to all of them, I was closest to Wladek. He and his sister, Mila, and their brother, Mishka, were found behind Ellis Hall at Ohio University on the Monday after Mother’s Day in 2003. They were three hours old when I bundled them up in my sweatshirt and took them home. My ex-h and I became their surrogate parents. We fed them with a syringe every two hours, bathed them, and helped them pee. We warmed their bed with a heating pad and introduced them to our older cats. We were told by our vet that their chance of survival was less than 20%. Having lost our son Nicholas in 2001, the idea of losing these three newborns was unfathomable. Sadly, we lost Mishka when he was three weeks old. But Wladek and Mila went on to become enormous black cats. I fell hopelessly in love with Wladek.

Wlad followed me around like I was his mother. He slept under my shirt or on my shoulder. He would get into bed every single morning when my alarm went off and lay his head on my head and curl his tail around my neck. To say that I was attached to him is too mild of a word. I recall very fondly reciting Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem to him as he sat high up on the banister:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

Then, the house burned down and he died inside. What was left of my heart washed away in a gully of tears. I still miss him. I miss his voice. His face. His constant, loving presence. Although I went on to adopt two wonderful cats, the place that Wlad filled in my heart remains empty.

When Wlad was alive, I was willing to accept not having children. I could have coped with that then. He needed me. I needed him. He let me be his Mama, and I enjoyed every second of it. People who have never had a special relationship with an animal may not understand how my relationship with Wlad could be so fulfilling, but it was, and I could have lived the rest of his days mostly content without children.

Following my divorce in 2007, I began dating my college sweetheart (my husband), and he told me that he wanted children. And so began the obsession anew.

I am trying to get back to that point of contentment. Although my marriage was in deep trouble by the time the house burned down, my feelings towards childlessness were those of peace and a tad bit of longing. Perhaps it was because my marriage was in trouble, but I really believe that it was because my relationship with Wlad was so fulfilling.

As I move closer towards letting go, I search for fulfillment elsewhere in my life. If it is true that a negative behavior (ttc obsession) must be replaced with positive behavior, then I need to find a positive focus for my attention. At this point, focusing on my overall health and on my relationships with the young people in my life seem to make the most sense. Both of these areas would be worthy of attention by this me AND that me.

The Devil’s in the Details

Lately, I have been talking a good game here in the old blog. Working on acceptance and letting go. And I really have been trying my best. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, so I expected some slips along the way. And, of course, I’ve had a couple.

My husband and I had an argument last night about my decision to stop actively trying to get pregnant. He said that I did not talk about it with him. I said that I tried several times, but that he would walk away or change the subject or say, “Enough.” And that it seemed to me that it didn’t matter to him one way or the other. I know that he said he wanted kids, but his lack of interest and participation in the fertility treatments seemed to suggest otherwise.

Evidently, I was wrong.

I asked him why he waited until now to say something. He answered with silence.

I certainly never meant to exclude him from this decision. I explained to him that I would not try to prevent conception but that I would no longer seek medical assistance in trying to get pregnant. I guess since the drugs and charting and testing and everything else was directly effecting me that it really is my decision. No one should make a person or even WANT to make a person go through that who doesn’t wish to. I apologized to him for not considering his feelings in this, but I urged him not to try and change my mind because I really have had enough.

And then I woke up this morning to my period.

I guess as long as my period still hadn’t started since the surgery it was easy for me to ignore the entire ttc debacle. Nothing can be done — no tests run, no pills taken, nothing — until the beginning of the menstrual cycle, and it arrived today and shook my world up, but only a bit.

I tried to talk to him this morning about the ttc decision, but he jumped up from the table and said he had to go clean the garage. Rather than sulking about it, I took it as a good moment. If we don’t talk about it, then there is no way I will feel the slightest urge to pick up the phone and ask for fertility meds. And yet now I wonder if I should go through with getting that repeat hsg (the dye test needed to prove that my right tube is indeed open as expected).

Part of me dreads the thought of having that test done again. It will be the fourth time!

Another part of me thinks that I MUST do it to prove to myself that the tube is indeed open.

And yet another part of me is scared to death to find out that it is blocked, which would leave no possibility of spontaneous pregnancy.

(There are more parts of me than I thought!)

So now I am confused. This acceptance thing is difficult! As much as I would welcome a child into my life, the idea of continuing this obsessive quest is repugnant to me. I used to fear the day when I would have to stop trying, and now I welcome it with open arms.

My brother and his pregnant girlfriend visited me today. It was a little bit painful, especially when my brother asked me about my journey to get pregnant. “Are there any new developments? Maybe it is time to think about adoption.” I didn’t tell him that I had stopped trying. It would be too difficult and too painful to explain. I simply said, “No. Nothing new.” And then he pointed to his girlfriend’s shirt, which read, “I’m not fat. I am pregnant.” I laughed, but it hurt a little, just a little.

Later, while we were talking on my deck, the baby kicked and she said, “The baby must like you because every time you talk, it moves.” And that hurt, a lot. I remembered the last time I felt a child move inside of me, and I took a long, slow, deep breath. But before the pain gave way to terrible sadness, I looked over at my nephew, 15, and I thought about how much I love him and how happy I am to have him in my life and to be spending an evening with him, and the pain vanished. He started laughing about something his Dad said, and my heart filled with joy to see his face light up with happiness.

I haven’t healed from this grief, but I am finding ways to heal. I am reaching towards joy and turning my back on sorrow. After all, the life my brother’s girlfriend is carrying is one that I will be able to share. I will hold that child one day and watch him or her grow up. There is no need for me to be envious or to hurt because I am not pregnant and because I do not have living children of my own. After all, I have a wonderful nephew who is willing to spend a stunning summer evening with his aunt doing nothing but talking and drinking iced tea. I am truly blessed to have all that I have in this life. I just need only to receive those gifts.

Like Over the Rhine sings, “There’s nothing harder than learning how to receive.” Until now, I wasn’t quite sure what they meant, but I do know that I must not focus on the empty chair (or in my case, the empty bedroom) and rather at the crowded sofa that is overflowing with more happiness than I can ever deplete.

A Disease of the Imagination

Now that I have turned the corner towards acceptance of childlessness, I have been pondering why acceptance is such an incredible challenge. One reason, I think, it is so difficult to deal with not having children is lack of imagination.

I have spent so much of my life imagining what it will be like when I have children. What kind of parent I would be. What kind of school I would send my children to. How I would establish and maintain rules. All of those are good mental exercises when preparing for an enormous job such as parenting. The problem is I created this fantasy future with such great detail that I have been having the worst time dismantling it. I find it even challenging to supplant it with another dream.

Therefore, I have realized I am suffering a deficit of imagination. I just don’t have enough at this point in time to change the future I dreamed for myself, and perhaps that is the actual problem.

I am high on the goal-setting spectrum. I could never have achieved all that I have achieved in my life without being able to set goals and reach them. After all, you don’t just stumble onto a Ph.D. Nonetheless, all of that obsessive goal work has led to a real lack in living each day to its fullest. Lately, I have been getting better at that, but it is still a struggle. I firmly believe that if you don’t have dreams then you can never get out of a bad situation.

So, I am at an impasse when it comes to having children. How do I let go of the future I imagined for myself and my imaginary child?

One way I am doing that is by recognizing the need I have around me. There are young people in my life who can use the skills I bring to the table; nieces and nephews who have good parents but who could use a bit more adult presence in their lives. I am also considering signing up for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I really seem to have a knack with working with girls 13-16. They seem to relate to me and my sense of reality. If I can use that gift to help other people’s children, then why not?

At one point during the throes of the fertility drug madness, I told my husband that I would kill myself if I found out that I could never have children. I have reconsidered that statement completely since then. It is ridiculous to think that life would not be worth living without children when so much of my life is so very good.

One of the actions they encourage in Al-Alon is to make a gratitude list when you are feeling bad. I end this post with my gratitude list. Not that I am feeling bad, but because I am feeling especially grateful.

I am grateful for . . .

  • good friends who stand next to me through troubled times
  • a job that I love going to even on bad days
  • a beautiful home that is warm and welcoming to all who enter it
  • a flourishing garden that continues to put food on my table
  • two wonderful cats who keep me company night and day
  • a caring husband who tries as hard as I do to keep our marriage going
  • a car that gets me to work and back without fail
  • a freelance career that helps pay the bills and keeps me busy over the summers
  • a computer that makes my work easier

I must remember that even though my dreams have changed, I have not. In my core I am still me, and I still have, as Over the Rhine sings, “a lust for life and an iron will.” I really do believe that if I can see it, then I can be it. Sometimes I just misinterpret what I see.

Control Is an Illusion

So much of my recent thinking about my life and my childless condition has focused on letting go. An essential step in the letting go process is realizing that we have no control over any person, place, or thing. That is incredibly difficult for me. With all of the tragedies in my life, I have created a facade of control. If I do this, then that won’t happen. If only it worked that way.

I just got back from the ICU where my friend of 25 years’ father lay on a respirator after suffering a catastrophic stroke. He’s young. She had just talked to him a couple of hours before. Now, it is very likely that he will not recover. Obviously, if I could have stopped this from happening, I would have, but that is not my point here. Life is seemingly normal one minute, and literally minutes later, it’s not.

A friend of mine told me today that I have good coping skills and that is why I have managed to keep on going even though my life has been turned to shit more than once. I continue to wonder how I developed such coping skills, and if they are beneficial. In my present situation, they seem to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Following Samantha’s murder, I pretty much lost my mind for awhile. Once I collected myself (well, mostly), I got a job at the local convenience store. I worked midnight shift and saw the same people night after night buying beer and cigarettes. One person in particular, Ralph, would come to my window every single night at 1 am and buy a case of beer and a pack of Marlboros. He always  looked tired and a little sad.

One night around midnight as I cleaned the butter from the sides of the popcorn machine, I saw Ralph stroll up to the window, an hour early. This time he ordered two cases of beer. Evidently, Ralph was in for a night of extra heavy drinking. I decided that night that I did not want to become like Ralph. I decided to go back to high school (I dropped out in March of my senior year). I did just that.

What was is it that made me go back to high school? What made me think that I could have a better life?

My motivation was simple: I promised myself that I would never allow a man to control my life or my children’s lives. I would never be trapped in a bad relationship. And the only way out of that lot in life seemed to be an education. So back to high school I went.

However, in my quest to not allow someone to control me, I not only tried to control myself but everyone and everything in my life. I would not be hurt again! My future children would never be hurt!

It doesn’t work like that.

While I still agree that being economically independent is essential to my well being, I have come to realize that healthy interdependence with others is also essential. Rather than trying to control others to ensure my preferred outcome, I need to work with others to get the BEST outcome, which might not be the one I have imagined.

When I met my husband nearly 17 years ago, I was absolutely smitten. He walked through the door of the student union and I knew immediately that I wanted “that one.” However, he wasn’t ready and wow, I am sure I wasn’t either. All of these years later, we are together and in a much better place than we were then. Therefore, if I would have gotten my wish, we might never have made it.

Maybe the same is true with the baby situation. Things don’t happen on my time table. In fact, some things never happen.

I am not the type of person to let things ride. I have trouble allowing the world to turn on its own. It scares me to go with the flow. I am usually a happy-go-lucky person with the small things in life…but economic security, romance, and having child are big areas in which I feel like I have to control.

I can’t.

Acceptance is a requirement. I must accept that I have done all that I can do to bring a healthy baby home. I cannot change my reality.

Fulton Oursler has said that “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves–regret for the past and fear of the future.” I have acknowledged my regrets and I must stop fearing a childless future.

On Sunday I did two very different, yet related things. I went to a barbecue at my in-laws and I took a canoe down a flooded creek. The barbecue at my in-laws was a going away party for my sister-in-law. At the barbecue, my nephew had his two little girls…four and two. Usually, it is painful for me to be around them. But I refuse to let it hurt me anymore. In fact, at some point I found myself pushing the oldest one on a swing. Normally, she is shy and reserved, but as she went higher and higher, she began talking. We had a good time together. And for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t screaming inside because I don’t have a child of my own.

Following the barbecue, my husband and I decided to take our canoe for its maiden voyage. The creek near our house was flooded, and it was the perfect time to go for a ride. I was worried about getting tossed out of the boat; canoes are notorious for flipping. But I went for that ride and loved every minute of it, even when we were tossed over a dam and the boat took on water. We didn’t fall out. We just kept on floating along.

These two events taught me that I can face my fears. I can spend time with children without drowning in grief and I can sail a boat on a flooded creek without drowning in its murky brown waters. I won’t be crippled by fear of the unknown any longer. I do not know that my life without children would be miserable. After all, it hasn’t been. And I did not know if I would fall in the water. As my favorite band, Over the Rhine, sings:

Obsessions with self-preservation
Faded when I threw my fear away
It’s not a thing you can imagine

You either lose your fear
Or spend your life with one foot in the grave

I don’t want to spend any more of my days with one foot leaning more towards death than life. Life is short, and as my friend discovered today, it is also fleeting. It can change in an instant, for good and ill. I can’t stop that, but I can determine how I will live each day.

Changes Come

The title of this blog refers to a song by Over the Rhine, my favorite band. The founding members, Karin and Linford (husband and wife) grew up not far from me on the Ohio side of the river, so that makes their music resonate with me all the more. “Changes Come” is about what you might think. Karin sings in the chorus:

Changes come
Turn my world around
Changes come
Bring the whole thing down

So much of my life in the last year has been about change. I moved back to the Ohio Valley, I bought a house, I got married. The changes have been difficult in some ways but more than worth the effort. But sometimes changes that turn my world around can also bring the whole thing down.

We went to my husband’s uncle’s funeral today. It was incredibly moving, and I cried throughout the ceremony. Even though I didn’t know this part of his family, their loss was crushing and their eulogies were heartfelt. As each child read a letter to their now deceased father, I was struck by thoughts of my own fathers (a biological father and a step-dad who raised me from three months on), my husband’s father (he passed away a few years before I met my husband), and the fact that my husband will probably never be a father. I know this is something that he wants, and it hurts me that I can’t give him a child.

At dinner tonight he said that he was thinking similar thoughts during the service and that he realized that his name will die with him. It is tough to be in this spot. Wanting so much to have a child with him but knowing that I have reached my limit when it comes to fertility treatments. He thinks that I will change my mind in the future and that might happen, but at this point, I just need to be free of it. I spent some time this afternoon reading stories from women who were or are in the same situation: the baby quest is ruining our lives.

Following the funeral, I visited my mom and step-dad. I just needed to be sure they were okay. As difficult as it still is with them, they are my family. While there I learned that my oldest nephew (he just turned 15 last month) is practically living with his girlfriend (she is 17). Although my parents and I think that this arrangement is problematic in a number of ways, I have chosen (unlike my dad) to stay out of the situation. My dad cannot control himself and must berate my brother. After a particularly heated argument, my brother told my dad that if his son got his girlfriend pregnant that I could just adopt the child.

I don’t know who was more stunned, my dad or me. Needless to say, I had trouble finding words to express just how complicated of an idea that is. Why on Earth would any parent think that way? I would consider it a poor choice for my nephew, who is struggling just to get through high school, to have a child. I consider it an ever poorer choice for my brother to think that I would make a suitable form of birth control.

He is assuming that 1. my husband and I would be willing to adopt the child, 2. that the mother and my nephew would be willing to give the child up, and 3. that she can get pregnant. Of course, the lunacy doesn’t stop there, but I think anyone reading this can understand why I felt alarm at the mere suggestion of such a plan.

I am not opposed to adoption, but at this point in my life, I am pretty sure I am unwilling to go through the adoption process through the system. It can take many years and many false tries to bring a child home, and after the trying to conceive process, I cannot imagine going through such an emotional journey (and costly).  Factor in a teen pregnancy and everything associated with it, and it is clear that trouble would be afoot.

But what both of these situations–the sudden death of my husband’s uncle and my nephew’s potential pregnancy issue–show is that changes do come. People die. Others are born. One minute you can be riding on the back of a motorcycle reveling in your good fortune and the next minute you discover that a beloved family member is dead.

I have never believed that things happen for a reason. I see no sense in global hunger, the oil spill in the Gulf, my children’s deaths. I believe that changes come, whether we want them to or not. It is our job to figure out how to respond to those changes. We must choose how to live our lives in the best possible way knowing that we have no control over what will happen next, which is one of the most difficult tasks that I face.

Growing up in a household with an out of control father, I quickly learned how to attain the appearance of control. As an adult, I have realized that trying to control my life is more harmful than good. But learning how to live that realization is going to be hardest part. I am reminded of a Tibetan Proverb:

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

I must lose sight of the shore. I must not allow this fertility battle to control me any longer. I cannot cling to it and use it as a crutch to ignore the other wonderful things in my life.

Yes, I would love to be a mother, but I understand more and more everyday that I need to let go. I must live my life instead of letting my life live me.

Letting Go

One of the main tenets of the Al-Anon program is “let go and let God.” I understand this to mean that you have to let go of whatever it is that is bothering you and let God take the burden from your heart. I have never been good at that. I overanalyze and beat to death just about anything that puzzles or hurts me. I twist it, shake it, bend it. Of course, few good things come of that. While those strategies might work for me as a writer and as a reader of texts, they don’t work for me in my personal life. Such obsessive thinking leads only to sadness and even more frustration.

I know, however, that letting go of some thing is just as important as striving for others. I just sometimes get the two mixed up.

Our culture rewards our tenacity, our never-give-up mentality. But rarely is the strength it takes to let go ever recognized. Therefore, we just don’t learn it. We become masters of never letting things rest. Like The Beatles said so long ago, “Let it be.”

My struggles with letting go are multiple, but the one I work so hard on is motherhood, but I have made great progress recently. I am in the process of letting it go.

For twenty years I have tried to be a mother. That role has been stripped of me four times through murder, premature birth, ectopic pregnancy, and blighted ovum. And now a fifth time by my own hand. I spent my money for IVF to buy a house. I guess I assumed at the time that it was important to have a home and that I would make the money back in no time. But that hasn’t happened. In an effort to spend more time with my husband and just enjoy my life, I have cut back on work (my second job), and my bank accounts are not where they were a year ago.

Of course, there is no guarantee that IVF would even work, but I threw away my chances of even trying anytime in the near future when I bought this house. And I love my house.

Yes, clomid could work or even trying on our own now that I have had the surgery, but I really feel like I am done trying. The anxiety of taking my temperature daily, checking my cervical mucus, keeping track of when we have sex, and all of the other minute and mundane rituals involved in this quest seem untenable. I mean, it’s been twenty years!

Beyond that, I am 36 now. Do I want to wake up at 3 am for diaper changes and feedings? Can I handle those tasks, and do them well, and still do my job?

The idea of giving up now after all this makes me feel sad, but years ago I promised myself that I would stop trying at 35. After 35 the rates of Downs Syndrome, miscarriage, and pre-term birth escalate.

More than anything else, though, I am tired of living my life waiting. I feel like I have spent the better part of the last twenty years caught in between places, but never really anywhere. I was either pregnant, trying to get pregnant, waiting to try and get pregnant, or grieving over child loss. There hasn’t been a time since 1990 that motherhood and its potential haven’t overshadowed my daily living. I haven’t really been living in the present, but only in the past and in the future, and I think it is time that all of that stops.

Furthermore, I have realized that one of the reasons why I have been so set on having a baby, when I had all but given up the quest with my ex-husband, is that I want to have my husband’s child because I think it might make him love me more. I know that it may sound crazy, but a year or two ago, he said that I was not special, no better than any other woman he had dated. I suppose I get what he was saying in a practical sense, but in an emotional one, I was dumbstruck. Since then, I have seen how he is when he sees a Mom and her child. I just want him to look at me like that. Like I am special because I am the mother of his child.

Of course, this is not the ONLY reason that I wished for children. There are so many other reasons, including those that I don’t understand and cannot articulate.

All of that said, I am preparing myself for letting go. In a sense, I am choosing to be child free before that option is chosen for me. It will take so much strength to let go, and I even hear that voice in my head saying, “Just try one more cycle.” And I want to silence that voice. I need to let go of this obsession and enjoy my life.

I am finally married to the love of my life. So many twists and turns brought us here, 17 years after we met. My marriage should be my top priority (after me, of course), but I have let it go aground more times than I can count because of my desire to have a child. I cannot abide by that any longer.

So, how will I do it? Make a list of all of the things I will do now that I am not trying to get pregnant and not planning to share my life with a child. Focus my energies on other, equally important things. But diversions are merely the beginning. The hardest part, even harder than letting go, is grieving. Grieving for the life that will never be. Grieving for the life I have dreamed about for two decades. Imaging a new future for myself absent of a child.

I begin with my list of things I can do if there will be no children:

1. Travel abroad. I can earn a Fullbright Scholarship and teach in a foreign country. I get paid from my school and from the government.

2. Work on my music. I am a singer and a song writer. Years ago I dreamed of making a CD of duets with all of my friends. It wouldn’t be for money, but for the beauty of friendship and musicmaking.

3. Buy a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia. We have talked about this extensively in recent months. We could buy a little cabin that we could use as a refuge, a place where we could go to enjoy fishing and hiking and boating and get away from it all for awhile.

4. Volunteer at a cat shelter. I am allergic to cats. Hard to believe, I know, given that I love cats more than any other being (including people). I have two, and that is enough in terms of allergy problems. I have avoided volunteering at a shelter because of the inflammation that comes with allergy attacks is not good during conception or pregnancy.

5. Get a second PhD. I have been looking into a PhD program in Clinical Psychology. It would be a free degree, and I could use it to get into consulting. I want to look at the relationship between writing and mental health.

6. Get in shape. Yes, I can do that whether I am trying to get pregnant or not, but I have to be careful when ttc. I can’t lift too much, I can’t allow my body to get overheated, and I must avoid exercise that causes too much strain. All of these things can cause miscarriage or no implantation.

7. Stop taking Glucophage. This medication is dreadful. It causes upset stomach and vitamin B deficiency. I take it for PCOS, but mostly to get pregnant and prevent miscarriage, but if I am not trying to have a baby, I am going off of it and finding a more natural way of treating PCOS.

8. Take anti-depressants. I can’t take them if I am trying to get pregnant. The risk of birth defects and other problems are just far too high. But in the absence of a potential pregnancy, I can maybe get a hold of my sometimes out of control emotions.

9. Spend more time writing. All of the time I spent researching spotting and implantation and early pregnancy signs and all of the other questions that I have while trying to get pregnant could be used to work on the projects that always seem to get left behind. No more!

10. Work on being the best person possible. In absence of the ttc stress, I can work on being a better person overall, especially being a better wife.

This is just a partial list. The beginning of things to come; a life to unfold.

What will it feel like for that weight to be lifted? For the longing in my heart to be replaced with new life experiences instead of anticipation and anxiety?

My first step is to walk a labyrinth. There are several nearby. The walking around and around and around the path will be soothing and will help me better understand my decision, and I hope, it will help me let go.

A labyrinth luminous with candle light.