Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm just going to say it...

I've always been considered a bit of an over sharer. I have no problem telling people how I feel, what I fear, what I'm anxious about. This is why I've always loved but found therapy to be somewhat unnecessary. I often wonder why I'm paying someone a hundred dollars an hour just so I can tell him what I already told my husband, mother, sister, best friend, and hygienist earlier that day. I never pretend to have it all figured out, especially when it comes to motherhood.

When I suffered from post-partum depression after the birth of my very unhappy baby three years ago, I didn't hide my anxiety or sadness. When strangers in the grocery store asked me if she was a good baby, I looked them in the eyes and said, "No." When people asked me how it was going, I would say, "I'm having a really hard time." People were a bit shocked by this. Some were even a bit put off, but mostly, people told me how "brave" I was for being so honest. This reaction puzzled me. There was no part of me that was trying to be brave. Bravery implies trying to overcome something fearful, but I wasn't afraid to share my feelings. It wasn't hard to cry in front of people and tell them I felt like I was losing it. Honestly, I couldn't have faked it if I'd wanted to, but, really, I didn't want to and couldn't understand why anyone would. Why would I try and tough this out on my own when there were so many people willing to help me if I just asked them to?

The most interesting revelation I had during those first six months of my daughter's life was how many other people had experienced similar feelings, and how many of them had kept it a secret. Both acquaintances and close friends would tell me, "Oh God! I felt the same way," "I was miserable,"  "I thought I'd made a huge mistake," "I was so depressed." It wasn't their reactions that shocked me but how for years these same women had pretended to be enraptured by motherly bliss, to have it all together, to be perfectly comfortable as mothers, to the point that they had me completely convinced. 

And as I spoke to them, I started to get angry. I started to realize that if I hadn't shared my feelings first, they never would have shared theirs, and I would have kept walking around thinking I was the only one who felt this way, that I was a terrible mother for being depressed, and that everyone else around me was perfectly happy. I started to realize that there were a lot of women suffering in silence and that, to some extent, society wanted to keep it that way.

I noticed this before my daughter was even born. As a chronic over sharer, I was not able to keep my pregnancy a secret during the requisite three month period. Many people were appalled that I was sharing the news so early, and several people cautioned me by saying, "Well, what if it doesn't work out?" I understood, of course, that Tweeting at the moment of conception wasn't a good idea, but these were friends of mine, people I saw regularly. My response was always, "Yes, if I have a miscarriage I'm going to be really upset. Am I supposed to hide that from you, too?" I realized that there were unique burdens that, for some reason, women were supposed to suffer behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, three years after the birth of my daughter, I'm learning this lesson all over again. I discovered recently that there is another word besides "depression" that women aren't supposed to speak of: "infertility." For exactly a year now, my husband and I have been trying to have another child. Recently, we underwent fertility testing and began a cycle of treatment. This has been an emotionally challenging year. Last summer, two of my girlfriends and I decided to get pregnant. They both did; I didn't. To spend the year watching their bellies grow bigger, and to watch the onslaught of Facebook and celebrity baby booms was difficult to say the least. Before we started trying, I had to wean myself off of the Zoloft I'd been on since my daughter's birth, so I was especially anxious and inching towards depressed throughout the year. I've had more ultrasounds and blood tests in the past six months than in the rest of my life combined, and the monthly roller coaster of hope and disappointment has distracted me from my work and my life. I'm telling you people right now that I'm having a really hard time, and just as with my post-partum depression, I refuse to pretend like everything is fine. 

So, when people ask me when we're going to have another baby, I tell them we've been trying for a year. And once again, every time I bring it up, I find out how many women have also dealt with infertility. I talk to women who tried for years to get pregnant but never said a word to their family members or closest friends. At night, when I indulge myself in the guilty pleasure of reading posts on infertility message boards, I listen to these women pouring their hearts out to strangers, discussing how long they've been TTC, and how many DPO they are, and that they just did the BD with their husbands. (That last one took me a minute- "baby dance" if you're still trying to figure it out). These women have no problem describing their cervical mucus to complete strangers, but keep telling their best friends and mothers that they aren't ready to start a family yet. And all I keep wondering is, why?

I know that I am being somewhat unfair to the women who choose to suffer in silence. Everyone who is dealing with something difficult deserves to do so as she sees fit. I don't expect most people to shout their private business from the rooftops as I am doing here, but to bear this burden alone when there are people in our lives who can ease our feelings of disappointment, pain, and fear just doesn't make sense to me. In my mind, keeping such a huge secret implies that one feels guilty, or embarrassed, or ashamed- three emotions no one who has dealt with infertility should ever feel.

That's why I choose to talk about it. When my two girlfriends got pregnant last summer, I felt incredible joy for them and incredible sadness for myself, and I told them that there were days when it was really hard to be around them. When a huge box of fertility medications, needles, and syringes arrived on my doorstep and I nearly had a panic attack wondering what I'd gotten myself into, I called my girlfriend who recently went through IVF, and she offered to come over and show me how to use everything. Every month when I found out I wasn't pregnant, I had at least five girlfriends I could text and get encouraging messages from. When I needed someone to watch my daughter while my husband and I did our first insemination, I had three people offer to help.

And last night, when I discovered that our first IUI procedure didn't work, I cried to my husband, texted one girlfriend who always knows the right thing to say, and made lunch plans with another friend who can always make me laugh no matter how terrible I feel.

I am so lucky to have such amazing women in my life who are happy to lift me up when I need a hand, and I think I owe it to them to be honest, to create connections of shared experience rather than barriers of secrets.

Recently, I got an email from a friend of a friend. This is a woman I know only casually, and she explained how she's been trying to get pregnant for a year and didn't know if she should try fertility treatments or just keep trying naturally. My girlfriend had given her my email address because she knew I'd be happy to talk to her friend. The woman wrote, "I totally understand if you don't want to talk about it." I sat at home reading this email, and I was so glad she'd decided to email me. I was so glad that it was me she had reached out to because I knew I was the right person for the job. I told her, "What do you want to know? You can ask me anything." I realized then that being honest about our difficult experiences not only helps us to feel less alone, but it shrinks the space between ourselves and others. So, to some extent, I feel not only a desire to speak up, but an obligation to.

You may think I'm completely out of line for insisting that you share your pain with others, and maybe I am, but I'm also so glad to be an over sharer because it means I don't ever have to suffer alone, and if it makes you uncomfortable, well, tough, because it makes me feel a whole lot better.

I'm off to share a big plate of sushi with a really great friend. I feel better already. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

A disappointment

At the ripe old age of 32, I know that life is filled with disappointment. Whether you have a charmed life or not, things are not always going to work out the way you'd hoped. I have come to accept this truth in my own life, but yesterday it suddenly occurred to me that now I have to accept it for another person's life, a tiny person, one so bright-eyed that I'd rather endure the most horrible disappointment imaginable than watch her deal with one ounce of it. And that, my friends, is called motherhood. Luckily, we're not talking about any life-altering disappointment here, just a little cancelled ballet class, but it was enough to bring one of us to tears (that would be me).

Ella has been talking about going to "ballerina" class for quite some time. She loves nothing more than to twirl and leap in full ballerina costume, and she has been begging us to take a dance class for at least four or five months. I waited until she turned three, then began pursuing a class that would be a good introduction- low-key, nothing too intense. I avoided places that advertised the number of awards they'd won, or the ones with glossy pictures of ten-year-olds trussed up like 1930's prostitutes. I found an inexpensive place near our house that advertised a fun, non-competitive, no recital, no polyester costume sort of dance class perfect for a wee one just starting out. About two weeks ago, I signed her up. Since that day, we've been talking about it. At least three times a day, she would ask me, "Is my ballerina class today, Mommy?" Finally, the day arrived, and I picked her up early from daycare, leotard and ballet shoes in hand, and we talked about what it meant to be in a dance class the whole way there.

Then we walked in the door, and there was no one else there, and the girl behind the counter looked surprised to see us. I tried to ignore all of these warning signs.

"We're here for the ballet class?" I said, both of our smiles plastered to our faces.

The woman did not return the smile.

"Oh gosh. I completely forgot to call you. That class was cancelled due to low enrollment."

My heart sank. Ella's head fell to my shoulder.

"I'm so sorry," the woman said. "This never happens. I just completely forgot to call."

Normally, in times like these, I would have simply said, "Oh that's okay. No big deal." I am quick to forgive peoples' mistakes. That's the number one rule of life my mother taught me. "You can't get mad at people when they do something by accident." And this has always been a relatively easy rule for me to follow, but at that moment I realized that someone disappointing me feels a lot different than someone disappointing my little girl.

I didn't say anything. I wasn't mean, but I didn't tell her it was okay, and our sullen faces revealed our feelings. Of course, if the woman had called me the day before, the class still would have been cancelled. Ella still would have been sad, but to walk in there with her leotard and shoes all ready to go was more than I could handle. 

We walked out of the building and sat on the steps so I could explain things to her.

"The ballet class was cancelled, buddy."

"What's cancelled?"

"It means that there isn't going to be a class."


"Not enough kids wanted to go."

"Why didn't they want to do it?"

"I don't know. Because they're really silly, but we'll find another ballet class, okay?"

"Right now?"

"No, not right now, buddy. Now we have to go home."

The look on her little face just crushed me. I couldn't hold it in. It came at the end of a very bad day I'd had, and I just couldn't control myself. I started blubbering like an idiot on the drive home.

"Mommy, why are you crying?"

"I just feel really bad that you couldn't take your class today."

"It's okay, Mommy. We'll find another class."

She held my hand as we drove home, and I realized that she was going to be fine. It was just a dance class, afterall, not a broken heart, or a cut from the volleyball team, or a rejection letter from her top-choice college. It was the first of many disappointments in her life, and I realized that I was going to have to experience all of them with her, so I'd better suck it up and show her "It's okay," even when I feel like it isn't.

And I know I won't be able to fix every disappointment in her life, but for now, it's nothing a little Swan Lake and a popsicle can't fix. Thank God for YouTube and for little girls who are a lot tougher than their mothers.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Kid-free weekend

So last weekend was Alex and Larry's wedding up in the Cape. Since the wedding plans got underway, Mike and I have been debating whether or not to take Ella with us. We considered bringing our babysitters (A.K.A my parents) along with us and making a real vacation of it, but we ultimately decided that we wanted to just be on our own for once. Both Mike and I have been away from her for several days before, but we haven't had the opportunity to do that together, so we were really looking forward to it.

The funny thing was that it was strange to both be away from her and not have any grading left to do. When we arrived on Saturday, it was raining, and we had some down time before the party started. In my normal life, I never, ever feel moments of boredom, and I don't really know how to deal with having nothing to do, so I had my first little itch of "I kind of wish Ella was here," mostly because I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself.

However, once the parties got underway, I was glad to have the freedom to enjoy myself. Our other friends who had brought their children had to play the, "Which one of us is going to go to bed now?" game, and we were glad to not play it.

At one point, one of our friends who had left her ten-month-old for the first time came up to me and said, "Do you miss Ella?" implying that she was having a really hard time without her little girl. And, I realized how much things change in just a couple of years. Before Ella was a year, it would have been nearly impossible for me to leave her. I would have worried about her nighttime routine, her napping, her eating, everything. Now, she really is just a kid, and if she stays up late, then she stays up late. If she eats cotton candy and lollipops for two days, she'll survive. I so understand how my girlfriend felt, and I'm so glad to be past that feeling.

I did slip away around ten on Friday night to call my parents and see how bedtime went. My father answered the phone and said, "We're just pulling in the driveway!" I assumed she was asleep in the car, but my father said, "Nope! She's wide awake. Want to talk to her?" I couldn't believe it. I had never spoken to her at 10 PM in the three years she's been alive. They had just arrived home from my niece's dance recital and she couldn't have been more excited about all the things she'd seen. It was shocking, and heart-wrenching, and wonderful to know she was having a great time without us. A while later, my father sent me this picture of her evening at Izzy's recital.

I saw that look on her face, and I knew that she certainly wasn't any worse for wear. When we got home, I gave her a big hug and we had the following conversation:

Me: El, did you miss me?
Ella: No.
Me: Didn't you ever think, 'Gee, I wish Mom was here?'
 Ella: No, I never think that.

And even though her reaction was super harsh, I was glad to know that she is okay without us. She is her own little person now, and she doesn't always need Mommy and Daddy around to have a good time. Though, being missed just a little bit wouldn't be so terrible.

Congratulations to Alex and Larry, and thanks so much to my parents for putting that smile on my little girl's face.