Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Bowl Full of Jelly

Back over the summer, as I thought about the pregnancy unfolding over the months ahead, Christmas seemed sort of like reaching Boylston Street in the Boston Marathon (not that I have run a marathon, nor do I plan to try – particularly not in this condition): the last stretch, finish line in full view. Once Christmas came, the baby's arrival was right around the corner.

I can't believe we're here. Christmas is tomorrow? I still, at 35 weeks, don't believe I'm really pregnant. Seriously, many mornings I wake up and have to tell myself, you're pregnant, and feel my gigantic bump before it registers. I walk past mirrors and think, "Is it really real?" It's the feeling of having a deeply held wish – the thing you wanted above everything else – come true, and I'm still getting used to it.

One thing that would make me even happier, like kid-on-Christmas morning delighted, would be if people would stop telling me how huge I am. Seriously, enough, y'all. That's all I want for Christmas. If I can make it the next five weeks (four if this baby doesn't move down from transverse to vertex soon) without another person opining on my ginormousness, my Christmas wishes will have come true. How, exactly, do people (and by people, I mainly mean my own mother and other older women who feel the need to flash their veteran-mom creds by spewing all manner of old wives tales) tell me I'm huge? Let me count the ways:

-"Wow, you really ARE pregnant!" (Nope, just faking the whole bump and bed rest thing for sympathy!)
-"Oh, you'll NEVER make it to full term!" (Um, thanks a lot – you really know how to comfort a girl who's on bed rest praying every day that her baby gestates long enough.)
-"Are you sure you're not having twins?" (Yeah, I'm pretty sure – last time I looked it was no longer 1850 and a handy thing called an ultrasound had been invented.)
-"Sometimes one twin can hide behind the happened to my friend's friend's mother's cousin." (How would one even respond to this?)
-"You look big for x weeks." (Are you a member of ACOG? And do you have a tape measure or are you so good you can eyeball it?)
-"Oh but you're ALL baby." (To come to this conclusion, you would have to have checked out my ass to see if I've also grown there. Which is just all kinds of wrong.)
-"Are the doctors going to take the baby out early if he keeps growing like this?" (Yeah, because the NICU has been kind of slow.)
-"He's a hearty, healthy boy!" (Are you saying I'm growing a fat kid?)

I'm almost relieved that I'm confined to my house these days, because it had gotten to the point that I couldn't go anywhere without hearing one of these "helpful" unsolicited comments. I'd decided that if another stranger asked me in the elevator when I was due, I was going to look wide-eyed and say, deadpan, "I'm not pregnant." Curse bed rest for denying me that fun!

Seriously, unless you've earned a degree from a top-tier medical school, trained in obstetrics and have personally seen lots of pregnant bumps in a clinical setting (or you're a close girlfriend who I know isn't judging me), please keep your assessment in the same place you keep your political views and your real opinion of your mother-in-law/boss/nosy next-door neighbor.

Even if I don't get this Christmas wish (my mother is coming over tomorrow, after all), I wish you all a Merry Christmas, happy (belated) Hanukkah, enjoyable Festivus, etc. and a 2010 full of good things!

(I am huge, by the way. Truly, I feel about to pop. They're not wrong about that. It's just that I can only hear it from certain people. I'll try to get a good photo to post tomorrow.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ghosts of Christmas Past

I just opened an email newsletter with a list of tips on surviving the holidays while going through infertility, written by a well-known women's health expert who runs an amazingly helpful mind/body program for infertility (I should know – I took it twice in my two years of treatment). The email points out that the holidays can be brutally difficult for those in the throes of infertility (she's right), and outlines strategies for coping.

Reading the email took me instantly back to last Christmas, both a whole lifetime ago and only yesterday. How the season began with such wide-eyed anticipation and ended, finally, with closure on the pregnancy that wasn't to be. How raw everything felt after that ill-fated ultrasound, how perfect it seemed that the world was covered in frigid, unforgiving layers of snow and ice. How it seemed that I alone had been left out of the lighthearted festivity shared by everyone else. Last year, Christmas – in a cultural, not a religious sense, because the religious part filled me with peace, a sense that all things happen as they are intended – felt like a party to which I'd not been invited.

Several things helped me through – here are two. The first wasn't among the coping strategies listed on today's email, but I am a true believer in it nonetheless. It was, quite simply, retail therapy. After an ultrasound showing that perhaps the medication management approach hadn't worked to resolve my miscarriage (I had no idea what I was still in for), my husband and I decided to go return a couple of things at the mall and then catch a movie. While at the mall, we walked past a high-end British retailer, which was advertising a post-Christmas sale. Let's just take a quick look, I said, and my husband – eager to do anything to keep me calm and sane – complied.

As I flipped through a rack of coats, I felt it before I saw it: the silkiest cashmere trench coat with a detachable fur collar. Normally I would have looked at the price (even on sale) and dismissed it, but I already felt like I existed on a plane at odds with reality so I thought, why not, and pulled it off the hanger. If clothing, as many believe, like art can be transporting, this was evidence. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that when I put that coat on, I became a different person. I may still have been desperately grieving, but I looked damn fabulous doing it. It cinched in the right places and cradled me in pure luxury, and I decided that if there was ever a time for a splurge, it was then. I bought it on the spot.

I'm not necessarily advocating that everyone experiencing the grief of infertility during the holidays go out and buy a cashmere/fur coat (and please, if you're not a believer in fur just say it silently to yourself). But I am saying that for me, treating myself in that way was like telling myself that I deserved good things – and believing it. That seemingly superficial treat fulfilled me emotionally as well. I felt like I had something – even if it was just, for that moment, a thing – to look forward to again.

The other thing that helped me was given to me by a good friend, one of the first people I called about the miscarriage because she got it, and me, so well. She brought over a care package for me that included three CDs: one for moments of sadness, one for anger and one for hopefulness. I'm not sure which this particular song, "Ashes on Your Eyes," was on – to me it fits both "sad" and "hope" – but I played it so many times that, years from now, I may hear it and be once again in that time and place:

Ashes on Your Eyes - Deb Talan

Just about the time your heart breaks like a wheel

Not in a straight line, but all in pieces

Some you'll leave behind
on a road you won't revise

No, you won't revisit that dirty compromise.

Now you only dream in peaceful blue

The morning doesn't even scare you anymore

You are a phoenix with your feathers still a little wet

Baby, the ashes just look pretty on your eyes.

As with the coat, on the surface it is just a song but at the time it represented so much more to me – a perfect resonance with my emotions, a promise that I wasn't alone, a call for hope on the horizon. I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, I would soon dream in peaceful blue.

This year is different, fulfilling the hope that slowly emerged as I grieved one year ago. This year, my coat is in storage, and will remain there until next winter, when I've (hopefully) returned to my pre-pregnancy size. I'll take it out and, grateful for another Christmas, remember.

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Can't Complain

I've started a post three times now about a baby shower that was thrown for me by my mother last weekend, and I just can't get it out. Mainly, it's because every time I write about it I feel compelled to also talk about the shower thrown by a friend that was canceled because of my bleeding episode/bed rest orders. And then I complain about how disappointed I was about the whole thing. And then, remembering how, just one year ago, I would have killed to be in a position to have a baby shower to cancel, I feel ridiculous.

It's gotten me thinking about the emotional aspect of pregnancy after infertility. How truly challenging it is to navigate, in part because of the promises you make to yourself during treatment. About how you'll never be "one of those people" who waxes on about how happy they are. That you'll always remember how it feels to go through it, how others are still feeling right now while you're enjoying your pregnancy. And you certainly can't imagine ever complaining.

Except –and you wouldn't know this when you're making those promises to yourself, before you're actually pregnant – being pregnant after infertility is hard, too. I know that probably elicited some groans (I would have found it unbelievable myself) – at least you're pregnant, how hard can it be – but it's true. That feeling you get when you're going through a cycle, things are going well, and you're terrified that something will go wrong and bring you back to square one? It's a thousand times more intense when there's a growing baby inside of you. Every normal ultrasound, every healthy heartbeat you hear – they raise the stakes. Who would I be, you think, if something happened now? What would I do? Forget about it when something does come up, when you experience an actual complication.

And that's just the emotional aspect of it. Before you get pregnant, you picture yourself in maternal glory, a delicious bump on your belly (and only your belly, the rest of you naturally as svelte as ever), a radiant, halo-like glow surrounding you. You know what I say to that? Screw Hollywood. Thanks a lot Sarah Jessica, Heidi, Halle and the whole lot of you with makeup artists and personal trainers and access to million-dollar maternity wardrobes. Because the rest of us? Can't afford to stand up to your perfect-pregnancy images.

The truth is, pregnancy isn't always beautiful or comfortable. And it doesn't matter how much you wanted it, how hard you worked for it, how ever-grateful you are that you have it. Because when you have a fireball in your chest and toss and turn all night and have an odd painful numbness in your hip all day and can't leave your couch because you're put on bed rest and have hair growing in odd places, colostrum leaking out of your huge, painful boobs and see your first stretch marks, you know what? It's not all fun and games. You're human, not some Pollyanna Stepford Wife, and you don't have to pretend that these sucky parts don't exist. In fact, if you ask me, all the hard work you put in to get pregnant gives you even more right to be perfectly honest about what it's like – you get to commiserate about the less appealing aspects and seize and celebrate all of the moments of hope and joy you feel along the way.

The shower I had last weekend, while not exactly what I'd imagined (still on bed rest, I felt like the Pope or the Queen sitting in waiting on my couch while my aunts, cousins and longtime family friends paid me visit), was wonderful. My family – many of whom know what I've been through on the way here – was genuinely happy for me. They brought me the sweetest gifts, complete with a diaper cake. I reveled in the cozy kitschiness of it, this time-honored tradition that was finally, finally being celebrated for me. I got the milestone I thought I might never reach.

Believe me, I will never forget what that's like, wondering whether you will ever, ever see a baby shower invitation and feel joy rather than pain. I am right there with those who are still in the infertility leg of the journey. I truly hope to hear you both celebrate and complain about – profusely and unapologetically – your own pregnancy fears, discomforts, joys and surprises, very, very soon.