Thursday, 18 July 2013

Learning to let go, part II

Last night, after posting this, I was sorting through some things in the office, and found the following poem: an old favourite which I long ago scrawled on a scrap of paper to fortify me in moments of pointless despair and then tucked into a forgotten book. It felt like the universe, as crappy as it sometimes tends to be, was affirming - supporting even - my ongoing pursuit of letting go of the bad to make room for the amazing.


I think over again my small adventures
My fears, those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things I had to get and reach
And yet there is only one great thing
The only thing
To live to see the great day that dawns
And the little light that fills the world

                       ~  Inuit poem, author unknown

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Travel essentials and learning to let go

Ordnance survey maps marking the trail we've laid out: check

Guidebook for exploring small villages and historic points of interest encountered along the way: check

Nuts and dried fruits as energy-supplying provisions for the trail: check

Sunglasses for keeping out the glare of this unusually, sublimely sunny summer day: check

Daypack: check

Mobile phone: check

Ovulation test for surreptitious use in whatever public bathroom might be encountered en route (purpose obvious): check


Yesterday, on what has surely been one of the warmest, loveliest days of that mythical beast that is the English summer, H and I decided on an impromptu away day. I was getting myself in a knot about job prospects and baby making and The Future and how they all fit together. None of which will find any resolution through my worrying; so okay, why not get outside my own head for a while? And what a wise suggestion H's was. We went here:

Starting the hike

Through the perfect sunny day we walked twelve kilometres, keeping the sea on our right and the gentle rolling farm fields to our left. And the sun shone and warmed our stiffened bones and the soft sea breeze blew up from the coast, cooling us down and emptying our heads of all their anxious contents. After the first few kilometres our feet began to tingle with that pleasant ache. It was a day full of small gifts. We foraged marsh samphire that will become tonight's dinner. At a bird sanctuary near our final destination we were lucky enough to see not only puffins (I've always wanted to see wild puffins), but dolphins and even a glimpse of a whale.

It was one of those rare, random days of utter bliss. I felt insignificant and calm and very, very fortunate. I felt deep gratitude. As always in such surroundings, I felt very close to S, as though his presence was everywhere, interwoven with the warmth of the sun and the vibrant colours of the wildflowers and the lapping of the waves.

And with all this filling my heart and my lungs and my head, I didn't think of appointments or interviews once. It's hard to when you have views like this:

Starting to feel the burn

We encountered one beautiful, secluded cove...

...after another...

...after another.

Here be pirates!: Smuggler's Cove

Whenever I see one of these, I think of S

Lunch time: a bench with a view

Unlike it's cousin the public footpath, the one on the right will let you eat chocolate cake for breakfast and stay up past your bedtime

The trail

Friendly faces along the way.

A well-earned rest

The end!


So much of life is about learning to let go, and we often assume that this process can only be a painful one; that letting go is tantamount to quitting.

But there are so many ways in which this process is brave and fertile and creative and healing. Letting go of expectation to make room for possibility. Letting go of fear to make room for hope. It's an expansive gesture about flinging your arms wide open to receive whatever the universe has in store. 

The entire journey of grieving the loss of S has been one of letting go for me: letting go of the grief/rage to make room for the grief/love. Letting go of the dreams I had for him as a child who would grown as our family did, to make room for an acceptance of the fact that while he'll never grown physically, he's become a part of our family in ways we never imagined; his brief life a source of inspiration, a reconnection to the spiritual and the magical in life.

It's never an easy process and I don't have any answers as to how it can or should happen. But I do know that when all those why?why?how?when? questions are running circles in my brain, building into ever tighter coils of tension until I lose sight of any of the reasons for why I am seeking something in the first place, there is no better antidote than to leave myself for a bit, to place myself in something much bigger, that makes me and my problems feel small, the worrying seem futile. That makes me breath deeper and just know: things are unfolding as they will. And yes, you are going to be ok


On Monday afternoon, after discussing it with H and allowing your gentle support and encouragement to rest with me, I emailed the organization who offered me the interview. I explained that I had a prior, unavoidable appointment which had been scheduled well in advance and which would prevent me from attending the time they had initially set, and wondered whether we could discuss alternate times/dates for the meeting. Then we went on our walk, getting up very early yesterday morning to catch the sun and then, (partly because we wanted to preserve the natural endorphin high of the day and partly [ahem!] because that ovulation test came back positive) we went straight to bed on our return. As of writing this morning, they still haven't come back to me, either to say they're not amenable or that they're looking into it. Although it would have been nice (and one would have thought professional) to receive an acknowledgement either way, I'm hoping that silence means it's the latter.

But for right now, I'm going to keep the spirit of those turquoise waters and crashing waves with me. I have to keep learning to let go of the things that I can't change, in order to make room for all the good that I don't even realize can happen yet. And I can think of no better place to do that (metaphorically or otherwise), than such paradisaical surroundings that remind me in the simplest and deepest possible ways just why it is I keep trying at all. Whether or not I can accurately predict what it is right now, something good is on it's way. I'm continuing to let go so that I can make room for a recognition of how much more there is out there, and the belief that I belong in that more and better as much as anyone.   

Monday, 15 July 2013

If I can't have it all, I'd settle for the chance to pick just one

I just got an offer of an interview for a really excellent, potentially exciting job opportunity. It's with an organization whose work I have long known and admired. I've been hopelessly unemployed a lady of leisure for three months now, which hasn't done wonders for my already battered self esteem: can't make babies, can't make a living either. No one can accuse me of being an over-achiever.

The interview (in a city at the opposite end of the country) has been scheduled in such a way that would necessitate an overnight stay, and  falls the day before our long awaited clinic appointment to discuss plans to move forward with IVF. We've waited three months for this day at the clinic, which is marked with a bright red, excited circle on my calendar, and which looks increasingly like our best shot at a biological child. It certainly can't be rescheduled without us losing our coveted spot on the waiting list. There's no way I can humanly travel for the interview and make it back in time for the clinic appointment.

Seriously, Universe? Why can't something, anything, just be easy for once?

I am going to email the organization and plead my case to see if they can reschedule for the following week, but if they're not amenable, I'm going to have to make a choice. Again. And again, it's not even a choice as to which of these you-can-have-it-all!-or-if-not-you're-pretty-redundant options I want. It's a choice between which feeble attempt to make. (Okay, that's hugely hyperbolic; I actually give good interview, so I'm told, and I suspect I'd have a solid chance at the job. But still, you get the idea...)

We've been waiting months (years, even), for the slightest break in the cloud cover; for something to give already and show us a little cosmic goodwill on the job front, or the baby front, to show us that our dopey, feel-good faith in the universe might just be well founded after all. And now, after treading water for months upon months and flailing about in often fruitless attempts to stay hopeful, when we can juuust barely glimpse a possible ray of sun through that cover....Haha, psyche!

Forget the age-old, at times contentious question of whether it's possible for women to have it all (your advice is laughably moot here, Sheryl Sandberg. Yours too, Anne-Marie Slaughter): I can't even make it to the try-outs.

Yeah, they lied about a lot more than work/life balance and the New Superwoman.

Believe me, I already know I can't have it all. To tell the truth, I don't want it, not really. But still, it would be nice to have at least the illusion of some options.

Does not apply. Source.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

I have seen the future and it is royally terrifying

Well, I suppose we all knew it was coming.

The royal offspring of Kate and William, that is.

I've done a fairly good job of blacking it all out, all the speculation, the 24hr bump watch, the feverish hysteria. First, there was the initial craze - in the weeks following my arrival in this country no less - and I shrieked sighed inwardly. Then when tragedy struck and the media kinda backed off, I exhaled. Only the tasteless tabloids seemed to remain interested and so all I had to do was avert my eyes when lining up to buy my milk at the news agent's and go merrily on my way.

I'm pleased to say it worked, mostly. It was nice while it lasted.

Yesterday I walked in to my local bookstore for an innocent browse, and was met with a full-on, Union Jack bunting festooned display of books commemorating the as-yet unborn royal's arrival. And it hit me; I've had my respite, it's not like this baby will be gestating forever, and when the water damn dam breaks [insert unfortunate mucous plug/labour/flood crisis management analogy here]...well, gods help us all. Yesterday's shopping excursion was just a taster of what is to come people.

There was this....  

...and this...

...and this.

It's not so much the arrival of the little national obsession bundle of joy that bothers me; I continue to have a lot more trouble with healthy pregnant bellies, which remain a mystical property to me, than I do with babies themselves. I like babies; they're cute and cuddly and entertaining, plus they smell good. So the baby can go ahead and arrive and I'm sure I'll ooh and aah over the deluge of photos and be very happy for all involved.

It's more my terror at and disdain for the faint whiff of...what? Accomplishment? Smugness? Superiority even? As though any baby is not so much a new life in it's own right as an achievement on the part of its parents. (I mean of course the public reception here, and not necessarily the attitude of the parents involved, who have my deepest sympathies in this case, considering what they face.)

It's like that Cult of Glowing Parenthood and Righteous Baby-Making that pervades every live, uncomplicated birth, (bunnies&unicorns! everything is always pretty and perfect! we are in control! modern medicine and lots of money! babybooties&joy!) that tends to make we in the ALI community feel somehow defective, as though our very purpose in life should be to run out and procreate but we're just too stupid or selfish to have figured that one out. Seeing as we can't do it with great ease, it must be an indicator of moral value (or lack thereof), indicating that we lead vacuous, shallow lives with no understanding of 'what really matters'. As though life itself ceases to have all meaning if you don't, or can't bow to that 'natural' imperative. (I guess if you're second in line to the throne of one of the most powerful monarchies on earth, that's actually kinda true. God forbid you should end up gay or childless: not good options in the House of Windsor.) Sometimes, in the objectified-bump-obsessed world we now seem to inhabit, I feel like we've been reduced to a 19th century vision of womanhood as synonymous with, no, secondary to our reproductive capacities. *Shakes head in dismay*

And where the royal baby is concerned? Well, take that whole schtick and amplify it by a hundred. Times a million. I know. Yikes, right?

And all the other merchandise. Oh, the merchandise! (Lest we forget that any of this actually has to do with the jubilation over a tiny, healthy new life or proud new parents. No indeed. It's all about the merch people.)

Here I have to stop and say thank you Hadley Freeman, I think I love you. For reminding me that it is not only us barren bitches who might feel suffocated and nauseated by this ad nauseum obsession and it's overt appeals of consume!monarchy!nationalism!royalwomb!blahblahblah...To say nothing of the 'baby-based bullshit' which our society has so fetishized to the detriment of the collective self esteem of childless (by choice or otherwise) women everywhere. I've always loved your writing and, well, now...I just love you. (But look at me writing like I know anything. Perhaps you're one of us. Perhaps you're a barren bitch too, and that's why you feel this bitter distaste for all things royal baby. Can there really be any other explanation? After all, having witnessed up close the Hilary Mantel fiasco, in which her comments on the Duchess as nothing more than a pretty mannequin in the eyes of the media led to us being reminded that she spoke from a place of jealousy as a fat, barren Booker Prize winning old lady, we must now realize that any commentary on one woman by another is always fed by said jealousy, and is basically, well, a cat fight. Because, obviously.)

Anyway, I digress. What I really want to say is that I wish the happy couple a calm and speedy delivery away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi.

And also:

Time to hunker down, brace for impact, turn off the internet and stockpile bottled vodka water, canned peaches, Ben & Jerry's, and every season of (beautifully misanthropic, baby-free) Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development.

Because the mother of all triggers is coming people, and it will be wearing a Royal Nappy.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Cocktails, carnival and finding the point again

Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration; it's not really like I ceased to see the point altogether, more that it was momentarily dislodged by a particularly emotional week, culminating in an otherwise innocuous email exchange which tipped me over the edge and set me to raging reflecting on the general obliviousness of people who seem to walk around in their entitled little always-shiny-happy-forward-moving! bubbles of good fortune. I have to keep reminding myself, in my own moments of self-absorption, that while some lives may look pristine, and those living them may seem to be a tad too comfortable in a take-things-for-granted way that is anything but comfortable for some of us, well...we really never know what anyone is facing behind closed doors, or why they feel the need to reject any minute possibility that Bad Things can and do happen. It may not be my coping strategy of choice, (I may not even think it's particularly helpful), but you do what you gotta do to keep going, and far be it from me to offer up judgement on any of it. All the more reason I am particularly grateful for this space, where I can let the ugly out and not feel like a social pariah as a consequence. Once again, thank you.


But maybe a little background is in order. In recent months, I've stopped the weekly blow-by-blow updates on my cycles (I know, you really miss those) because it has seemed to become so laughably, peremptorily obvious that Nothing Was Ever Happening other than my monthly bloodletting, that, well, it was kinda boring even me. It just seemed safer as well: as soon as I articulate the very desire that we all know full well is the core reason for my rantings here, it seems all the more fragile, tenuous.

Which is why I was particularly angry with myself for the feelings and thoughts I allowed myself to have during this last failed cycle.

I took a pregnancy test last Monday. Yes, my fourth anniversary. A full two days before my period was due to arrive (and did). No sooner had the pee dried and I regretted the moments of insane optimism that had brought me to that point, because now I would associate the day with yet another failure rather than the amazing triumph of love that it should actually represent. 

I lost my composure and peed on the stick last Monday because I thought it would make an amazing, prefect anniversary gift. Because there were just too many good omens for this cycle, and because it just felt different.

I ovulated on the day we left Saint Petersburg, which would have meant that we conceived a child, a little water baby, on the gentle waves of the Baltic Sea, where we had enjoyed so many happy days, as we slowly and gently sailed our way from Russia to Helsinki to catch our departure flight. It would have been the cherry on top of an incredible three weeks. It would have defied all that ttc advice we often chain ourselves to.

We would have found out on our anniversary, and spent the day in the warm, romantic glow of the knowledge that our love has survived some terrible hardship in its fledgling years, but that our luck just might be turning.

My dream-child-water-baby would have been due just weeks before my birthday, an early, unimaginably perfect birthday present. (In fact, my last chance to have a baby before turning 39 has now come and gone.)

It was all too good to be true. Of course it was. Unimaginable, but imagine I did, as though I was your average, garden variety fertile with nothing but excitement and gleeful anticipation of what is to come.

And with all those lovely little omens I managed to convince myself that yes, I felt different. Then the pee stick; it's empty white expanse laughed at me mockingly. It screeched at my foolishness, as if to say Ha! Got you! Sucker!! Did you really think you were in for such a perfect, wonderful surprise? Your life doesn't work like that anymore, and you know it! For my part, I have wavered between being angry with myself for my brazen hopefulness and proud that somewhere in the recesses of my bruised psyche I still can conjure that much hope. That my spirit can still write itself fairy tales.

But by the time Thursday rolled around and I had put myself through the emotional wringer, and this whole cycle had felt like a deeper level of failure and I knew I had nobody but myself to blame for it, it all kind of feel apart.

I wrote that ranting post, and I resolved to drown my sorrows with stiff drinks and fiery chilis.

And then, something happened. Somewhere between me angrily pounding the limes and mint for my Dark and Stormy  - no, I wasn't kidding about the stiff drinks and yes, that particular concoction seemed perfect for my mood, though it was actually prompted by the discovery of an old bottle of gingerbeer in the back of the cupboard - and my dinner preparations, the drinks ceased to be bitter-infertile-raging-at-the-fucking-unfair-fertile-world-around-her-through-inappropriate-consumption-of-booze drinks and instead became bona fide celebration cocktails. It was sunny outside, and all the windows were open. H came home and we danced salsa in the kitchen while preparing fresh mango salsa for our pulled pork nachos (and let me tell ya, those nachos are reason for celebration in themselves).

And he reminded me that regardless of timing or circumstances, when we do finally see that second line, it will be perfect, the stuff that fairy tales are made of.


And the weekend came and it was uncharacteristically bright and sunny and hot. There was an arts festival at our local park, with live music and spoken word acts and painting and sculpture and everyone lazed on the lawn all afternoon.

But my favourite tent was from an arts group that run workshops in local schools on making carnival costumes. They had all these amazing masks and dress up stuff and it was very hands on.

And who says that stuff's just for kids?

Me as a garden gnome

H as a friendly troll

And so we lay there on the grass and basked in the sun and watched the kids gleefully whirling their homemade suncatchers and listening to the music and just generally thought,'s not so bad after all.

Each time I have one of my meltdowns, I know it'll be fleeting, that something else will grab me by the wrist and pull me forward, reminding me what's good regardless. Last week it was cocktails, a kitchen dance party and carnival masks that helped me see the point again.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

I'll never be able to imagine what that feels like

(WARNING: This post is pretty much unadulterated bitterness and bile, prompted by a rather self-absorbed meltdown today [in turn prompted by an innocent-enough email exchange], and hammered out here in the blogoverse on the basis of the better-out-than-in principle. If you've passed by today in search of more beautiful holiday snaps, or a nice, wholesome recipe or something, well...I apologize. If, on the other hand, like me you're having a particularly bitter infertile kind of day, stuck alone with your darkest, ugliest thoughts... well, far be it from me to offer any kind of validation, but feel free to stay and read on. I'm mixing the stiff drinks right now.)

Something I think will never stop stinging, whenever I encounter it: the way everyone else is so damned exuberantly confident as they face down pregnancy and parenthood...

'We are eight weeks pregnant!' 'We are expecting our first child in February!'

(Eight weeks?? I'd be terrified to ever again announce a pregnancy until...well, essentially the child is here and screaming. We don't ever indulge in any sense of expectancy anymore, except perhaps as it pertains to heartache and disappointment).

I wish they wouldn't be quite so cavalier, especially when they are aware of our own history. And yet here's the thing: other peoples' assured sense that everything is simple and easy and a pregnancy unequivocally results in a healthy-baby-nine-months-later is almost always rewarded with the very scenario their casual confidence imagines. I have to keep reminding myself that we fall on the distant margins of the statistics, the dark side of the moon.

('Less than 5 percent of women have two consecutive miscarriages, and only 1 percent have three or more consecutive miscarriages'. Thank you, Mayo Clinic, for using my miserable stats to reassure other parents about their odds, thereby pointing out to me what a freak I actually am. [I am the 1%. So special.] Actually, I guess the world does a pretty good job of reminding me just how not normal we are, with painful frequency. On my better days I probably just do an okay job of blocking that out. Lalalala I can't hear you!)

And then most of all, it stings that anyone else's justified joyful excitement over something so pure and beautiful is a source of pain and rage and just-please-shut-the-fuck-up-about-your-eight-week-pregnancy-and-plans-for-the-nursery mindset for me.

(Though at this point, I'm not sure what's worse: all that confident, babyiscoming! bravado, or the avoidant, furtive, whispered, poor-woman-I-don't-know-how-I'd-cope pity.)

I hate it that all this has turned me into such a shit head.

I hate it that one of the first things I think when I hear these kinds of happy announcements is:
Don't you know how long and hard some people have to struggle to get there?

I hate it that one of the second things I scream internally think is:
Don't you know that unborn babies die?!

In these misanthropic moments of self-pity, I kind of hate everyone, but I think I hate myself most of all.


Among the less commonly discussed side effects.  Source

Monday, 1 July 2013

I still do

Four years ago today, high up in the Austrian Alps, H and I were bound to each other, two lives intertwined. Though it wasn't a wedding in the conventional sense, it was, and is, the most meaningful day in our still growing relationship, and the date we mark as an anniversary. (And yes, we have a penchant in this family for celebrating the less conventional milestones in life; somehow, that makes it feel all the more special).

There was only us two, no witnesses, no papers to sign, nothing to officially validate that momentous day as two lives, almost imperceptibly really, became intertwined, became A Life; a future that we promised each other we'd build together. There were no formal vows, at least not verbal ones. I can say this: every fibre of my being sang with the possibilities before us, my flesh and blood and bone and grey matter and intestines, all my bodily secretions, rushed and tingled with the rightness of this transformation we were undergoing. I just knew. There was champagne, and breathtaking views as far as the eye could see; not that we really had eyes for more than each other. We had a passerby, careless of either the stunning scenery or the Big Day she didn't realise she was witnessing, take a hasty, ill-framed image.

On that afternoon - emotionally and spiritually and in every other way that holds meaning for us, if not bureaucratically - we became husband and wife. 

Our 'wedding', which happened us much for the benefit of US Immigration Services when I was offered a fellowship in that country as for sentiment, took place months later, in the echoing chambers of Toronto City Hall. We posed, faux ironically, with our wedding party witnesses, my brother and a buddy who had the day off work; had these two single, beer swilling, 20-something guys elbow each other out as I threw my bouquet, (result: my shy, steadfast brother, still single, still gorgeous but wisely choosy these years later, didn't catch the bouquet), and then the four of us went for a gargantuan, slap-up lunch at one of my favourite Vietnamese Pho restaurants on Bloor St. It was fun and it was inconsequential, which felt appropriate for us.

(I have a confession: I wasn't really sold on the idea of marriage per se, even after I met H, and even after I knew he was The One. My own doubts about the social [and economic, and political] conventions attached to this particular institution, combined with the values imbued in the matriarchy that was my stridently feminist upbringing by a strong, capable, idealistic single-mother-of-five, made me a wary convert. And yet now? Now I derive great delight from uttering the words 'my husband' as pertaining to H, and not just for it's retro vibe.)

But before all that, four years ago exactly, on a terrace atop a ski jump in Innsbruck, we looked into each others eyes and saw the future.

Long before we ever uttered those age old words, I do, well, we did. We do, every single day.


It's not always, or even often, easy. Did we know, those four years ago, just how full of twists and turns and potholes this journey together would be? We've certainly been together through some better and (a lot of) worse, some richer and poorer (though not really), a worrying amount of sickness, and health too. But really, two people could not possibly love and cherish each other more.

Still, there is no way we could have imagined just how hard our future would be. Our young marriage has had more than it's fair share of challenges, so that sometimes we feel as though the universe is testing us. We've experienced losses, paralysing grief, hospitalization and major illnesses, joblessness, innumerable moves and family dramas. H has talked about the unfairness of all we've had to face, how hard we've had to work at finding romance, seeing the silver linings, counting our blessings, just staying afloat some days. As though we naively expected that our love alone and the marvel of us having found each other should shield us from any of that. No; like too many couples who find themselves having drifted into the world of loss and infertility just as they thought their happily ever afters were about to begin, who end up devoting so much time to the pursuit of elusive offspring, there has been heartbreak and disappointment, hard life lessons and hope. Such is life, for some of us.


I wear a ring, given to me by H, my engagement-cum-wedding band.

It's a thick band of white gold, surrounding an enamelled inlay with a distinctive pattern inspired by an artist,  Hundertwasser, whose work has particular meaning for us. (H later told me that, despite the numerous times family and friends tried to persuade him that it was perhaps too unorthodox, he knew that ours was not a routine, diamond solitaire, gold band kind of union. I'm so pleased he remained dissuaded.)

Still, when we went to have it sized after he put it on my finger, and the woman in the shop gave me the instructions for its care, I did take a gulp of trepidation; it turns out that that distinctive, eye catching enamel pattern which has garnered so many compliments since, is also particularly high maintenance when it comes to daily routines (never mind month upon month of heartbreak and trauma).

It should be taken off whenever I use my hands for anything particularly active (which is always); it should not come in contact with any cosmetics or chemicals. It shouldn't be worn adjacent to other jewellery. And the list went on... The thing is, I didn't really take the advice to keep it pristine, safely tucked away; it is far too beautiful and well, it is a special reminder of just what H and I do have, a symbol of our strength.

That ring has been through all those dramas and traumas with us (and, I am ashamed to admit, one screaming, rage-fuelled journey across a room to hit a wall on the other side, when I was in a particular pique of anguish during the worst of my grieving. When I thought that since my hopes of motherhood had died with my baby, so everything else might as well go too. Luckily, H gently scoffed at my petulance on that occasion.) But here's the thing: even if it momentarily feels eradicated, you don't give up on the beautiful and the magical just because you're stuck in the middle of a seemingly endless shit storm; maybe you even cling to it all the harder.

In truth, all the carefully conveyed instructions of the saleswoman having been cavalierly disregarded, my ring is now full of scratches and nicks, after only four years of wear. But it's still whole. It's still beautiful. It's still full of vibrant colour and imbued with the deepest meaning.

Yes, I think it remains a perfect emblem of this unique, indestructible, and frequently magical union.


Happy Anniversary, H. Your mighty smile and your gentle, compassionate tears, whether of joy or sorrow, are still more than I could have ever dreamed of. In the face of this, all the rest falls away. And yes, I still do.

Still beautiful, scars and all