Anniversary Gift

We are celebrating our twelfth wedding anniversary this month -- TWELVE! It's also our 5th anniversary post-resolution. When we hit our 15th anniversary, we will celebrate having more years out of infertility/adoption than in...which is exciting to look forward to. 

Last year, I gave Bryce the Love Bats, a painting I commissioned from a very talented friend. I kept it secret until I picked it up in the parking lot of a Starbucks, like some sort of suburban-bougie heist setup. I made it to October 13th, 10 days before our "legal" wedding anniversary. 

This year, I did something else secret, and I kept it totally quiet until today...but there are still secrets until I have something physical to share with Bryce. 

I did a boudoir photo shoot. 

Before you think this is creepy, or smutty, or whatever, I chose to do this because the Natalie, woman who runs the studio and does the shoot is amazing -- she has a philosophy that this is primarily for YOU, that it is a way to see yourself the way your significant other sees you, and that every woman deserves to do something to celebrate their body and sexuality AS YOU ARE TODAY. Not 15 years ago, not after losing 25 pounds. NOW. I could not love this message more. 

I have thought about doing this for years. And this year, I decided... it's time. 

I sneakily bought tasteful lingerie from Adore Me that fit my body just right and highlighted just what I wanted highlighted. I love that they are size-inclusive not just in their advertisement but in reality (sometimes you get things that are more full-figured that look great on the model and they look absolutely dreadful on an actual curvy body, because not all curvy bodies are made the same). 

I said I was going for a massage (SHOULD HAVE SAID HAIR APPOINTMENT/MAKEOVER to continue sneakiness), and then went this morning to the COVID location in an adult education warehouse sort of place. My best friend said, "Sounds totally up-and-up that you went to an abandoned warehouse to get photos taken of you in your underwear." That sounds very murder-y and shady, but it was anything but. All-woman team -- a logistics lady who got me set up and spreading out my fancy wares on a long table that people probably do watercolors or flower arranging on during other times, a hair/makeup lady, and then the photographer lady. They were all masked and we were all vaccinated, and it was a very airy, ventilated space so I felt super safe. When it was time for the shoot it was just me and Natalie, two women having a blast. 

I wore a dusky plum babydoll set, a black bra and lace panties set, prop 7" platform stilettos that tried to kill me even though I just stood and sat in them for less than 10 minutes, a lace-and-jersey nightie thing, white cheeky panties with a very nerdy Dungeons & Dragons (Critical Role) sweatshirt I stole from Bryce's closet that was literally my favorite thing ever (the back says How do you want to do this? which is literally perfect), and then an artfully draped sheet. At no time did I feel anything but sexy, beautiful, celebrated, and maybe a little goofy. There's only so many times you can toss your hair and laugh amusedly at your left shoulder without laughing hysterically and probably unattractively, but that was part of the fun. 

I cannot wait for the image review next week. It is so exciting, because what I saw on the camera screen was just crazy -- I looked like me but like some kind of magical sexified celebrity-ish me. I have so much more to write about this experience, but I'm already way over Micro for a Monday. 

I felt empowered and beautiful. I fell in love with my body again. And then I went home looking like this: 


Cover...blown. Could not keep it secret any more. Natalie suggested I say I popped in to the mall for a free makeover, but I don't think Bryce would ever believe that I'd go to the mall voluntarily. Honestly, now the intrigue will make it even more fun when I actually have the photos to show Bryce. I can't wait to see how they turn out. 


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A Fantastic Realization

So, a while back I wrote about "accepting the mess" and being okay with my body as is. I was feeling powerful. Then I got my blood work results prior to my physical and... Ooof. Cholesterol high (always has been but this was a new record) and glucose on the cusp of elevated. 

I dreaded going to the actual doctor appointment -- I was going to get lambasted, shamed, told to go vegan. 

The day of my appointment though, I made a decision. I wasn't going to bring my weight up at all. Not once. I was going to focus on health and not comment on it AT ALL. 

I also decided to assume my weight was going to be way over my last appointment. It was 5 pounds less. Before, that would have frustrated me, but this time I was relieved. 

And then I made it through the entire appointment without mentioning my weight once. And when I didn't bring it up, my doctor didn't either. I started to wonder if all this time I'd felt judged by my doctor, I was actually initiating the conversation. Judging myself.

It was such a powerful realization. (And as for the scary blood work, I dodged pre-diabetes and my overall risk of a cardiac event is less than one percent for the next 10 years per my risk factors, so yay for health and weight not necessarily being the same!) Phew.

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I Have the WORST Luck

A couple of weeks ago I saw an article in my Google news feed that was titled "Rochester Fertility Doctor Used Own Sperm." 

Hmmmm. I live in the Rochester area. I had fertility doctors. I was like, "please don't let this be anyone I know..."

Well, it wasn't any of my fertility doctors. Whew. 

IT WAS MY CURRENT GYNECOLOGIST. 

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. 

This is the doctor who did my "melonballer" surgery, the endomyometrial resection  I had in 2017 to address my abnormal bleeding. Unfortunately it failed (likely because I had adenomyosis and my lining was growing into the muscle of my uterus, so eliminating it and the root layer of muscle didn't keep it from growing back), and I got a hysterectomy with another doctor although I was pressured to try the procedure again as it would be less radical but I had no guarantee it wouldn't fail insanely painfully again. So out with the uterus. 

I still kept him as a doctor after that because the practice had no focus on obstetrics at the time I've been going. I never saw pregnant people. There were no statues or paintings of big bellied mamas or nursing women like in other practices I've been in. That was appealing, for obvious reasons. 

AND NOW I HAVE TO FIND A NEW DOCTOR. Why? Please see this article and this article for specifics, it's now even in the Washington Post and the New York Post and the Guardian, for heaven's sake. 

I can't continue going to a gynecologist who, as a fertility doctor who helped women with donor sperm inseminations USED HIS OWN SPERM and fathered a whole bunch of children whose parents thought they were getting different genetic material and then the one suing him was treated in his office as a gynecologic patient AND HE KNEW HE WAS HER BIO FATHER. Big steaming pile of EW. 

So now I go in search of a new doctor, and hopefully beat out what I imagine will be a swarm of people jumping ship, because, um, NO. It sucks because there are great nurses and nurse practitioners there. 

Also what sucks is doing an initial doctor's appointment with a new gynecologist, and going over allllll of my sordid history. Again. Having new nurses ask new awkward questions. Writing NO NO NO NO NO when it says "are you pregnant?" and having to write a big ZERO under live births but 2 for pregnancies. Having to list the insane number of times something sharp has been in my nethers. At least now I have less equipment to deal with. I'm down to 2 ovaries, a cervix, and a vagina. And breasts, of course. Lots of things that could one day try to kill me. 

It makes me really angry. For the families who were bamboozled, for the children who were lied to x2 (not everyone was honest about using donor sperm, but now you can get a DNA testing kit for Christmas, so that makes it impossible to keep such secrets for long...), for the woman who realized her biological father, a family friend, had been treating her most vulnerable parts. There's a lot more to this than my frustration over having to find another doctor. 

But it does just seem like you can't make this stuff up. I have the WORST luck. 

Nope, I Don't Have Kids

School is officially sucking the life from me -- I am falling hard at work-life balance. Partly this stems from being out for three days at the start of the year, which put me behind from the outset. 

But Sunday night two weeks ago, we had dinner and wine out on the deck, and our friendly neighborhood screech owl serenaded us. It was beautiful and serene, perfect for setting the tone for a new, hopefully less crazy week. 

Monday I had a professional learning, and we were talking about how lovely the previous evening was. I mentioned my relaxing dinner on the deck, and what do you think the first response was from a 30-something colleague from another building? 

Do you have kids? 

Nope, it didn't work out. 

She immediately turned to the next person who did have kids to continue on.

What did I get from this? 

a) I must not have kids if I can have a relaxing al fresco evening with owls

and

b) if I don't have kids, I'm not interesting to talk to. 

BUT I HAVE OWLS!

Sigh. I know that those in the throes of young child parenting can feel insanely jealous of my quiet, woodsy, boozy evening. But I wish that they could also see that they have hugs and bedtime stories and all those pieces. 

I have my husband, and my owls. I have a deck with a bistro table and Bryce's delicious culinary feats. I'm more than content with our quiet evenings. And I'd like to think I'm interesting to talk to! Oh well. Her loss.

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#WorldChildlessWeek 2021 Day One: Our Stories

I wish I had known that my story would have a happy ending, no matter what. 

My husband Bryce and I had a long, hard road of infertility treatments, IVF, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, donor egg IVF, donor sperm IVF, and then domestic infant adoption. We did 13 cycles of IVF (some frozen, some canceled before we could transfer at the end). We had 35 embryos, 27 of which were transferred and 8 of which were placed for embryo adoption. None of them made it. We were in the domestic infant adoption process from February 2015 to May 2017, and actively profile-able for just under two years. Six opportunities. No matches. So much heartbreak in that space of time, so many possible happy endings, thwarted.

It was a lot. If I lived my whole life reliving every sad moment, every loss, every time things just didn't go our way, I would never be able to leave the house. When we were in thick of it, I honestly don't know how I was able to teach full time through it all. Those last two years of adoption were also two years that I got my National Board Certification in Exceptional Learners, which is crazy. But I did it, somehow. 

BUT. While we've been childless our whole marriage, we didn't truly become childless not by choice until that May 2017, when we chose to end our home study early after a health crisis brought on by insane stress made it so that we couldn't keep going. All of that "I'm fine, everything's fine, I can keep doing this" came to a head and I shut down completely. It had been an unhealthy situation for some time. 

When we decided to end our parenting journey, it was sad and hard, but it was also strangely empowering. We spent so long having things done to us: fighting against a current that seemed to unfairly, aggressively push against us and take us farther from our hopes. Instead of letting our home study run out, Bryce felt strongly that we should take control and actually say we are not doing this anymore, that we should actively end our adoption journey. And he was right. It took immeasurable strength to say goodbye to our dream. 

It was a dream I'd clung to until it was pretty well shredded. When it came to IVF, I was willing to do just about ANYTHING to get it to work. I took wheat grass shots every day. I did acupuncture, abdominal massage, and took weird supplements. I steamed my vagina with a witchy concoction on the stove that resulted in more than a few inner thigh burns. I did scores of guided meditations, some meant to follow each day of the IVF cycle. I did infertility yoga. I had a vision board. I begged my doctors to do experimental protocols. I shot 1 1/2 inch needles of Progesterone into my thighs when the number of shots in my butt resulted in nerve damage. I had one doctor basically take a vegetable peeler strip of my uterus to test it for receptivity. I was 33 when we started all this, and 38 when we stopped the medical piece and moved to adoption. Along the way, one doctor told me that maybe this wouldn't happen for me, and I switched to another clinic because I didn't want to hear it. He was right. I owe him an apology, because he was the only one who was willing to tell us that there wasn't an answer to why I couldn't get pregnant. I didn't get that answer until I had a hysterectomy at 42 and found I had adenomyosis and the chances of me carrying a baby were fairly infinitesimal. 

I started getting that way with adoption, and Bryce put his foot down. NO we weren't going to sign on with an additional agency. Both of us agreed not to do private, because we had serious ethical concerns and did want to feel predatory. The further into adoption we got, the more uncomfortable we felt, but I did not want to let go. 

WHY? 

Because it seems like no one looks at childlessness as a success story. If you go through any of that and come out without a child, you don't often get to see your story in the news as a happy life. There are no People magazine profiles of people who didn't end up pregnant and didn't end up adopting. Almost every story out there about couples who do IVF or adoption ends with a baby, usually a miracle baby, or a rainbow baby, or a last-minute situation that was just "meant to be." This is a true story for some people, but it needs to not be the ONLY story. 

Obviously, I really wanted children. I fought to have children at the cost of my body and my mental health. But maybe it would have been easier to accept a life without children before I'd gone so far if that was presented as an equal option. If the childless people out there weren't so frequently looked at as "selfish," or "odd." I looked for and found childless not by choice role models in the blogging community (hello No Kidding in NZ and The Road Less Traveled!). I could try on the idea of resolving without parenting. I could see how it fit. I could acclimate myself to the idea that you can have a lovely life without children after infertility. But initially? I didn't even want to explore that route. I felt like it was NOT a choice, it was giving up, it was disappointing EVERYONE, it was the last-ditch thing you did when everything else was exhausted. Including your health, physical and mental, apparently.

That is so WRONG. But it is also what is out there in the media, in support groups, in the endless parade of "never never give up" and "just when they were about to give up, BAM! It happened!" I did 13 cycles of IVF because everyone had a story about someone who got pregnant on their last cycle. I literally had to be physically unable to transfer in order to end that part of our journey. Had I seen more success stories that included people who were surviving and thriving after infertility and/or adoption WITHOUT parenting, maybe I wouldn't have beat that very dead horse quite so soundly.

I have now been childless not by choice for four years, and it amazes me both how long and how short a time that is. It's been four years of knowing we'll never have children, but also four years of figuring out what to do with this life we have. It's been four years of healing, and acceptance, and celebrating all that we can do because we don't have children. Sometimes things make us sad and remind us of what we've lost. But most of the time, we enjoy all that this life has to offer, and make the most of what we've got. It did not happen overnight. It took time, and I think that some of the work towards resolving without children happened before we actually made that decision. It was a slow march, a slow acclimation. I wish I could have known then what my life would be like now, because it might have made it so much less painful. 

I'd like to leave you with this -- my life is not sad. When you want children and they don't come despite efforts, it's devastating. Resolving as childless not by choice was very difficult, because it meant the end of a dream and reframing our life into something we'd never really considered. But it was also freeing, and has opened up a very happy, fulfilling, meaningful life. I am amazed at how we have rebuilt our life into something I would have never imagined but is just perfect for us. A life without children doesn't have to be a sort of hellscape alternative reality. It's not. I love pouring energy into school and my students and then coming home to my husband and cats. I love being an example of resilience, of surviving and thriving after things didn't work out. I love talking openly about my experiences with students, so that they know that my life is possible and it's a really good one, despite loss. It is an accomplishment to come out the other side of infertility and loss and the adoption process in one piece, whole, and dedicated to living a life of purpose. Whether you have children or not, both options should be seen as viable choices to a fulfilling life. I wish I had fully known and accepted that before I literally became nothing but a husk of myself in the quest to be a parent at all costs. 

I am so much happier now than I was when I felt not enough, not worthy, not valued unless I could be a parent. I am proud to share my story as one of resilience, and rebuilding, and yes -- a happy ending...that's just beginning.

Ten Years Ago

I have good news and bad news. The good news: I don't have COVID. The bad news: I still have some kind of horrid respiratory infection that has left me voiceless, and so I am MISSING THE FIRST TWO DAYS OF SCHOOL WITH STUDENTS.

I am heartbroken over it, because this is yet another unprecedented year and these two days are not heavy academically, but are heavy in connection-building. And I am missing it. But, I am no longer freaking out that I somehow caught COVID. That was a sucky 24 hours. I basically woke up yesterday after having allergy symptoms for a couple days with a raging full-head headache and a super sore throat, and that combined with activated asthma had me freaking out. We cannot be on school property if we have any COVID symptoms without an alternate diagnosis from a doctor or a negative test. I missed the last day of preparation. And now I'm missing the first days with students.

What is interesting is I realized, after literally crying over my inability to start the year, that I'VE DONE THIS BEFORE. 

Ten years ago I missed the first few days of school because of my ectopic pregnancy and complicated recovery from my emergency surgery. TEN YEARS AGO. That is so crazy. 

Maybe this is like a comet, and every ten years something will come up that disrupts my first days of school and reminds me that the world will keep turning even if I can't come. It would be great if it wasn't, though. 

I wrote about the last time I missed first days at My Path to Mommyhood. Then, I was starting a new teaching position as a Resource Room teacher across two buildings. I was new, new, new, and so being out was just awful. 

This time I am well established in one of the two buildings from ten years ago, I am lead special education teacher, I am National Board Certified, I am secure in my skills. 

BUT I AM STILL FREAKING OUT. The technology isn't working. I was so busy being sick in the past couple of days that I was scrambling to assemble all my stuff. My sub is not tech friendly. Everything is terrible. 

But I am being reminded to breathe, BREATHE, BREATHE. It will be okay. Even if it is a total clusterfuck at the moment, I guess it will just make me look amazing next week? I am trying to convince myself. It will be okay, it will be okay, it will be okay.

I guess I always have to expect the unexpected. Sigh.

Define "Resilience"

We've had the first two days of teachers-only school; it's very strange to have FOUR days before students come on Thursday. But also kind of nice, because we're all there at the same time. Normally, people come in on their own timetables to work in classrooms, so it's a crapshoot who you're going to see, and then we have one day before kids for RAH RAH GET PUMPED FOR A NEW SCHOOL YEAR YEAH! 

Part of these additional days is training and a district initiative to recognize and offer strategies for the collective trauma everyone's experienced, teachers and kids and parents alike. There's been some presentations focused on our students and families, but there's a program my district is embracing called "Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators." It's based on a book by Elena Aguilar, and it is supposed to help us not burn out. 

A friend of mine was a little put off that now we are supposed to get trained in how to deal with all of our new roles and vicarious trauma and the difficulty of 21st century pandemic teaching in a world of inequity, rather than programs to FIX THE ROOT PROBLEM. Touche. But then, part of the presentation introducing Onward explained that part of the strategies it offers is to look at what you can control, which is your reaction and habits to all the difficult pieces. 

Interesting. Tell me more. 

The definition of resilience that was presented first was this: 

A way of being that allows us to bounce back quickly from adversity.

Hmmm. I immediately drew a box around quickly and wrote a tiny "ew" next to it in my notebook. The problem I have with "quickly" is that it's so subjective. It reminded me of how, if you've experienced a loss (of a person, of a dream, of a life  you thought you'd have), society wants you to just get over it. MOVE ON. 

But when I talked to Bryce about it, he agreed with quickly, at least from the perspective of not getting stuck. That moving forward from adversity can't take forever, or else you're not really bouncing back. But what counts as quickly can be different in the situation -- maybe for one it's a month, maybe for another it's years. 

The other piece I struggled with was the phrase bounce back. I feel like that also has a get over it undertone, because it assumes that you can a) bounce, which is a sort of jolly little verb, and b) get back to where you were before. In my experience, grief, trauma, and adversity change you -- you simply cannot be the same person you were before. You can't just bounce back up and be like, "Gosh that was terrible, but I'm all good now! Just the same as I was before!" I prefer the idea of bending, of returning to a kind of normal but knowing that there's some scar tissue there. I don't think this is negative, because scars remind you of the trauma but also how you've overcome it, and maybe even what you've learned. I have a big scar on my left knee from surgery to repair a dislocation with grinding damage (ew) that I sustained in high school while jumping for joy over the sight of beautiful spring pansies. When I see it, I know that I can survive the pain and weakness that came with recovery, but I also unfortunately am less exuberant in my jumps for joy. 

Later in the day there was another presentation about Trauma-Informed Care Post-Pandemic. I very much appreciated that the presenter admitted that unfortunately we are not POST pandemic, that we are very much still in it. But what I liked about this presentation was that there was a different piece of resilience defined: 

Resilience is a process that unfolds over time. 

Oooooh, thumbs up on that one. I wrote it in my notebook, upside down and wonky since it was dark in the auditorium. First, the acknowledgement that it is a process. That it's not something cut and dry that you either have or don't. A process can be developed. And, the unfolding over time: it isn't a linear thing that is the same for every person and every situation.

Then I went to the Onward website, curious what that had to say about resilience: 

 With resilience, we not only rebound from challenges, but are stronger, kinder, and even more alive because of them. Resilience is about THRIVING, not just surviving. It's about learning from suffering so that we experience more joy, calm, and tranquility and more meaningful connections with others. Resilience allows us to experience the full spectrum of emotions and to move more quickly through uncomfortable emotions.

Winner winner chicken dinner! I love these thoughts on resilience, mainly because they echo so much of what we say about surviving and thriving after resolving without parenting, or going through infertility. It's not like you have to be "oh man, I'm so grateful for this shitty experience," but it's nice to be able to say, "I've learned from this and it has changed me, but I feel stronger for it, and have new connections that maybe I wouldn't have had otherwise." It is powerful to know that you have survived something difficult, that you have bent but not broken under the trauma. Maybe you bent nearly in half, but it's great to know that you can survive and thrive in spite of it.

So interesting that there are so many different takes on resilience. How do you define resilience for yourself? 

 

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