Bittersweet

I have mostly boys in my caseload at school, and boys don't tend to ask personal questions. 

But in March, I got a new girl, and she's is delightful -- quirky, gets my weird sense of humor, and makes me alien octopuses out of post-it flags to hang on my desk.

This is Bob. 

And on my birthday, when I said I was half of 90 and she said that didn't make sense because I was way too hyper to be 45, she followed up with the question the boys hadn't asked all year:

"Do you have kids?"

And I was so, so proud of myself because I said "no, that didn't work out" and she then shared that her mom is an egg donor and has helped a lot of families have babies and she's always had success, I said that we'd tried that route too and it just didn't work out, and our egg donor was described as a "proven donor" but we were her first failure (and then thought how weird it would be if her mom was our donor, but that didn't make sense given it was 8 years ago). I didn't get teary. She felt horrible and said  that she was so sorry to have brought up something so painful, and I said no, no need to apologize because it's been four years since that ended and I'm okay, I have a good life. A beautiful life. It's just different than I thought it would be.

I didn't cry when one of the boys said I could have adopted and I said, "yeah, we tried that, too, it didn't work out either" and a different boy said "I thought it was like picking out a puppy at the shelter" so CLEARLY I had educating to do especially since one student in the room who was silent was adopted and I didn't want THAT misconception to stand. Do I explained how it really worked, and how you are evaluated and have recommendations and classes and home visits and fingerprints, and then make a photo book of your life, but then expectant parents are presented with up to 9 of those books at once. And we were never chosen. 

Well, we what chosen once but the expectant mom changed her mind before we knew about it, and one boy said, "they shouldn't get to change their minds or pick" and another said, "umm, it IS their baby" and I said absolutely, that you don't know people's situations and this is a huge decision. It's hard for everyone. We did it over and over until the heartbreak was too much and we just couldn't do it anymore. 

She looked stricken. She said, "I think you would have made an AMAZING mom." I said, "thank you, I like to think so. But I get to take all my mom energy and give it to you guys. And then go home and drink wine." And she laughed and said, "that makes you more like a mom! My mom is like, Go to bed, Go to bed, Go to bed, WINE FOR ME." Haha. 

Then she said, "I could be like your daughter, or your niece, or something..."  And apologized again for bringing it up, and I just said thank you and told her she was a kind soul. And before everyone left for their next class, I made sure to say that this was MY adoption story, and there were many ways to adopt and other people could have totally different experiences. 

And I was fine, so fine. So very proud of myself.

But the next day, after class, the same girl came up to me and said, 

"I was talking to my mom about you last night, and about your story, and I just really thought about it hard, and I don't want to make you sad... But can I make you a Mother's Day card?"

Oh. Oh oh oh oh OH. 

I teared up and said yes, of course, how lovely and how compassionate. I would be HONORED to get a Mother's Day card from you. 

She left and I fell spectacularly apart. I was already tired and overwhelmed and reeling from a highly unpleasant encounter with a different student that left me utterly drained, and I had already had to explain that my feelings were escaping my face and I couldn't stop they leaking but I was okay, since I couldn't stop crying in time for Resource class.

What a sweet, sweet girl. How thoughtful, how empathetic. I was pretty much done for the rest of the day. I stopped in the library on my way to my next class and ended up crying, and then made the librarian cry in telling the story. It was sad but also deeply moving. I couldn't tell this girl that if she made me a Mother's Day cards, it would be the first and only one I'd ever received. It was beautiful and so bittersweet. 

She stopped in this morning, and apparently her dog chewed up the card she left on the coffee table this morning. She was so upset. I told her it was the thought that counted, and she said she'd make me a surprise card sometime. I said there was no expiration date on her offer and she smiled. Honestly it was the offer that meant more to me than there actual piece of paper, anyway.

I have renewed faith in humanity. 

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How I Spent My Mother's Day

Mother's Day doesn't have the same stabbiness it used to. Then again, I've developed some strategies for dealing with the day so it doesn't end up being a sad sap day for me. 

My strategies have changed over time -- I used to sit in the backyard and have a cocktail in the afternoon because I could, and celebrate Mother's Day with my family on an alternate day. Maybe I'd garden, but I'd do it in the backyard where I couldn't see all the happy families shedding their happiness all over the place. I'd stay away from radio, TV, and social media. I'd spend a fair amount of time feeling sorry for myself...which was totally appropriate. 

When there's an entire day for celebrating moms and you have spent insane amounts of energy and dollars trying to be one because it wasn't going to work any other way just to find out that it wasn't going to work ANY way, and that loss is fresh or ongoing or you are still feeling that maybe, just maybe, this will be a day for you someday... it's a lot to deal with. So having a nice cocktail while sitting with a book in the backyard and ignoring everything around you? Perfectly fine solution. 

This year, I am in a very different place. For one, it's a pandemic, so there's no going out anywhere anyway. I made my calls and wished people Happy Mother's Day, and received some very lovely texts from friends who know this day can be challenging.  

But the rest of the day? Time to do things for me. 

I put my Mother of Cats shirt on and made a delicious breakfast, which we ate outside on the deck. 


Then, I sat on the Adirondack chair and went through my plant binder, as I had received the vast majority of my plants I'd ordered in February on Saturday, to make sure I'm not missing anything (just the Meadow Rue). 

Happy Mother's Day to me! 

It actually didn't rain earlier in the day, so I took advantage and went outside to garden. 

I started with the corner garden, which has been a bit neglected and needed some cutting back/cleanup TLC from overwinter. While I was working out there, a family walked by with a little girl and a mom wearing a t-shirt that I'm pretty sure said "Little Sister" with an arrow pointing down. I was pleasant but also like "I am very busy please ignore me" and then had an imaginary conversation where they commented on my Mother of Cats t-shirt and I said "Well, Mother of 35 Embryos isn't on a t-shirt. Yet." I finished up on the corner and went to safer areas as maybe I wasn't actually fit for public consumption. 

So, on to digging up massive amounts of garlic mustard weed and planting some of my bazillion things that came this week. 

Coming alive!

New narrowleaf mountain mint, Sahin's Early Flowerer Helenium, two kinds of fall-blooming anemones, and Cappuccino astilbes.


Not so exciting yet, especially because some new things are bareroot, but in a few weeks... it's going to be amazing. Also you can't totally see where I pulled SO MANY of those weeds.

I kept going until the rain grew heavy, wrangling some more vines and weeds and planning new spaces for new plants. 

It was great. 

Now I am sitting here in my Mother of Plants t-shirt with a heating pad against my low back/hips because it was good hard work and my body likes to remind me of that, more so now that I'm half of 90. 

I stayed away from Facebook (no scrolling on this day!), except to post this message: "Happy Mother's Day, but especially to the childless mothers and the motherless children who often feel unseen today." 

Finally, before settling in to finish my schoolwork and retire, Bryce made us an amazing pot roast/beef stew in the cast iron dutch oven with coals in the grill outside, and it was fantastic: 



Not a bad Mother's Day. It took me years to be able to do this, to enjoy the day and not be sad, but IT HAPPENED. I have protected myself, I have done things that nourish my soul, and now it can just be Monday. 

Take care of yourself today.

Half of 90

Wednesday is my birthday. My 45th birthday. 

I used to have a complicated relationship with my birthday, as there was an inverse relationship between my age and the probability of success in building our family (even in adoption). Every year older without a child was a harbinger of doom. It didn't help that the Sunday after my birthday is always Mother's Day. 

But now? My birthday is just... My birthday. A celebration of my years on the planet.

I remember when my best friend's mom turned 45, I teased her by saying, "oooh, you're half of 90!" She didn't like that so much, and it's come back around to me this year.

But, for me, being Half of Ninety isn't an insult, or a scary prospect. I have had a lot of living in my 45 years, and the last 15 in particular have been lovely, minus the heartbreaking infertility part. If I have a whole nother set of 45 years ahead of me, if I'm lucky, that is SO MUCH living. And I can skip over the sucky parts like my 20s. I can hope that it just gets better. 

The superstitious person in me is knocking on SO MUCH WOOD right now, but also... Why NOT look forward to the next 45 years? 

I'm excited for my birthday, even though it's my second pandemic birthday. Bring on Half of 90. 

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Not Obviously Sad

I was looking at photos recently (again with the photos), and I came across some photos from April 29th, 2017. To anyone else, the pictures are not obviously sad: 

 





To me though, these pictures were a bit of a gut punch. 

This was a walk we took on a late April day, after torrential rainfall flooded Ellison Park, right where we used to live. We walked through the ravine behind our house and then tried in vain not to get wet feet as the ground where we came out, near a party pavilion, was pretty well saturated. There was a strange beauty in the trees reaching up out of the pools of water, new leaves that pretty chartreuse that doesn't last. The flowering trees were bursting, and the park's roadways were lined with them. 

What you cannot see in these cloudy day, flowering tree flood photos is what we were doing on that walk. 

Over the course of looping around the park and taking in the spring beauty, we made our decision not to renew our home study. This is the moment where our parenting quest effectively ended. 

We had already placed ourselves on hold from any profile calls since my emergency room visit and subsequent anxiety attack and breakdown at school. That was hard, but Bryce did it and held firm even when our case worker said, "Are you sure? I'd hate for you to miss an opportunity" even though Bryce had just said IF THEY CALLED AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME WE WERE NOT IN A POSITION TO MAKE DECISIONS AND DEFINITELY NOT IN A GOOD PLACE TO MANEUVER AROUND POSSIBLY GETTING PICKED OR LIKELY NOT GETTING PICKED. If you tell someone that even if there was literally a sure-thing profile opportunity, the state of physical and mental health was so precarious and it probably wouldn't be ethical to place at that moment, you'd think people would listen. But, Bryce didn't fall prey to the "what if you miss your one moment" thought and insisted that they take us out of the running, and that was the second to last time he spoke with our case worker. 

Our home study was up for renewal for June, and we had to make the decision to say that we had hit our ENOUGH. This walk, this beautiful spring walk, was tear-filled and terribly difficult. These photos were my brain breaks. I would see something beautiful and need to pause the conversation to capture it, so that I could breathe and step away, even for 30 seconds, from the end-of-a-journey decision we were making. 

I forgot how pretty the pictures are. 

This walk was followed by the last call, the one Bryce made saying that we were going to proactively take ourselves out of the game prior to our home study expiring. We didn't want to find ourselves in a position where we'd be pressured to renew, because we absolutely had had enough. We could not take any more heartbreak and needed to move forward to enjoying the life that already existed, instead of living in a horrible limbo for a ghost life that didn't materialize and took pieces of us in the haunting. 

I love this last picture, a fern unfurling out of the dead leaves on the trail through the ravine back to our house. Our decision was made, and while we both cried and it was sad, there was relief in the decision. It wasn't the final final decision, but it was the most definitive one so far. We had been coiled tight in anticipation of something that just seemed never to work out, but now we could unfurl and expand into a new existence, different from what we'd imagined but filled with so much possibility. 

 

These photos have beauty and pain all at once. Looking at them I felt sad. In writing about them, I feel the power of what happened after -- the transformation that continues to be a work in progress. The pain of the dream lost, but the beauty of a new start and knowing, looking back, that we had no idea just how wonderful our life could be after the utter rending of the life we'd wanted for so long. How awesome that this happened in the spring, a time of renewal and new beginnings. What a beautifully strange mix of honoring the grief and the sadness while also celebrating just how far we've come in four years. 

Spring Updates

The pollen is trying to kill me. I love spring, and have been spending time outside and working in the garden, and I get so distracted by the chartreuse and lime and copper of the budding trees and the pinks and whites and yellows of the dogwoods and the magnolias and cherries that I fear I'll have a car accident on my way in to work. It's just so beautiful. But it's also coating my faulty lungs and making me lethargic. 

My magnolia in a sea of greens

Daffodils in bloom

Backlit daffodils in one of my hill gardens that's coming alive with all my future flowers


My hard work vine slaying, trying to free the shrubberies from strangulation. Also that white bottle is groundhog repellent, hungry jerk decapitated a bunch of my bleeding hearts.


Emmy is working out! She is freaking adorable, and she and Lucky are buddies. Not snuggling together (yet), but playing and chasing and sitting within a foot of each other. We are definitely adopting her for good and we are so excited that she and Lucky are having fun together and it's working out as we'd hoped! 

Pretty girl with the chameleon tail

Pensive, favorite spot (different day)

They both had to be in the window while I brushed my teeth! 

Awwwww, as close as they've ever been on the bed

I am the best cat bed apparently (must be the fuzzy blanket)

Last, we redid the deck in late March and it is my favorite space. We set up a reading/stargazing spot, and we'll have a dining set by May (forgot we needed furniture, whoops), and we are so looking forward to when we can have people over safely. It's a gorgeous spot and I have grand plans for planters that are also benches and trailing flowers. Summer, I will be ready for you! 

Ahhhhhh


Lucky is a fan and he's old enough that I can catch him if he tries to flee into the wilderness (but he just wants to soak up the sun)

These pictures are helping me so much, because I had a hard day of feeling depleted and anxious and now I see such wonderful, hopeful things to look forward to and enjoy, which is lovely. 

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Reframing Rainbows

I have a complicated relationship with the concept of "rainbow babies," and I've written about it more than once, but I can't find the posts...which makes me think I wrote about it and then didn't post them because people love the term "rainbow babies" and I didn't want to disparage the concept. Hmmm. This past week, Loribeth at The Road Less Traveled wrote a post this week reviewing the book I Had a Miscarriage: A Memoir, A Movement by Jessica Zucker. 

 

In her review, she quotes Zucker's words about rainbow babies. Two things stood out to me: 

"Blindingly relying on the comforting notion that every traumatic storm is followed by beautiful, awe-inspiring happiness is common within the pregnancy- and infant-loss community. But we all know this isn't always the case. Some people don't go on to get pregnant again. Some get pregnant and have yet another loss. Some stop trying to conceive altogether. So while this hopeful message is encouraging for some, it might feel alienating to others, and in ways that are not always obvious..."


Yes. I find that the idea of the rainbow after the storm represented by a baby or a late-term pregnancy as super alienating, because that is an image put out ALL THE TIME in the media and it gives the mistaken notion that this is the norm, that if you just try hard enough you, too, can have your rainbow. It feels terrible when there is no rainbow baby, when the miscarriage or baby loss is the experience you get and there's no more. It feels incomprehensible, that you won't have the chance to have the same colorful maternity shoot or baby wrapped in rainbows or birthday posts on social media brimming with gratitude that the rainbow miracle was granted. I don't think it's as uncommon as it seems in the media that you can leave the storm and NOT have a rainbow baby, it just doesn't have quite the same optics. 

 

But then, the author goes on to say:

"Alternative outcomes -- outcomes that do not consist of full-term pregnancies and babies wrapped in rainbow-colored blankets -- deserve to be acknowledged too...Sometimes a rainbow follows, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes a rainbow is a child, and sometimes it's the renewal of vows, a career milestone, a new sense of self, the ability to self-love.

 

I LOVE this idea. I love that she extends the metaphor of the rainbow beyond the baby. That the storm is traumatic, and the loss is real, and sometimes, the rainbow that comes after isn't a baby at all but is the remaking of your own life, after surviving the turbulence. 

I also love that it doesn't fall into the trap of "if you don't get a baby in the end, you must do something GREAT with your life," because the list also includes such things as "a new sense of self" and "the ability to self-love." 


I don't know why I never thought to consider these things rainbows in their own terms. That rebuilding your life can be that beautiful light of hope and celebration.

For me, I think about the move to a new house that fits our life now, but also the smaller pieces that came before: converting my nursery into my office in the old house, and purchasing oatmeal-colored couches because we wouldn't have children to worry about. I also think of how I throw my mothering energy into my students (but not in a creepy way), and my gardens. How empowering it is to nurture life and create beauty in the garden. How fulfilling it is to work with 8th graders with learning differences and be a "warm nagger" and to embrace the students who feel on the fringe of things. I think of how I have made friends with my body again through Pilates and discovering all the ways that I am strong. I am still working on loving my body even when it fails me, or insists on being fluffier than I'd like, but I can concentrate on the strength and flexibility that I've gained through Pilates lessons. I think of how I have met wonderful people who have also gone through their own storms, and how these friendships have strengthened and expanded in the past year or so. I think of my marriage, and while I don't love vow renewals (um, they are still good, right? They don't expire? Also anytime a celebrity does a vow renewal they inevitably get divorced within the year...), I am proud of how we have survived the storms and really awful experiences with loss and grief and inexplicable barriers to parenthood, and survived that. We are thriving. We aren't perfect, and it was definitely difficult in places, but I am so grateful to have the relationship I have with Bryce and our life together. 

I think about survival anniversaries -- Infertile Phoenix wrote about her 6th here, and it's so important to mark that you made it through the storm. And then to celebrate what there is now, and what there is to look forward to.

 

Rainbows don't have to be babies. I don't have to feel quite so alienated, because I can reframe the rainbow for my successes after infertility, loss, and leaving adoption. That feels powerful. It makes me think of doing another photo shoot to celebrate these rainbows, maybe this summer if numbers go down. Even if it's a very small audience, I like to put out those pictures that celebrate a life often not seen as celebratory. Now I have ideas roiling around in my head! 

At first when I saw the book review post, I wasn't interested in the book, because I thought it might be too much to immerse myself in the world of pregnancy loss in a book right now... but after Loribeth's review and reading what the author had to say about rainbows...I am reconsidering. 

What are your rainbows?

Photo Memories

Maybe because I'm trying to limit my time on Facebook, I don't get those "Facebook Memories" reminders in my feed anymore. But I do get memories of 1 year ago, 2 years ago, 3 years ago, and so on from my Google Photos. 

March and April have been...interesting. 

When I was having a difficult time in March with my anxiety, a coworker asked, "do you have any weird anniversaries around this time?" and I thought...well, yes. 

My photo memories had insane montages of my eye from March 2017, all red and scary looking from the scleritis that I had to travel in a blizzard to get diagnosed after spending Bryce's birthday in the emergency room. There's a scary eye progression, and then I start getting into the Prednisone Days. 

April is worse, though -- April has pictures of my coloring that I did while trying to get out of a 5-day fight-or-flight response as a result of the high levels of prednisone I had to take to keep from permanently damaging my eye, more gross eye pictures, one-dilated-eye pictures, and memories of having a mental health crisis combined with needing to go to the emergency room because my blood pressure was through the roof and my symptoms were mimicking a heart attack. 

What brought all this on? Stress. The root cause of the autoimmune attack on my eye and then the difficult medication and resulting side effects was a culmination of the stress of the 8 years we spent trying to have a family (and failing every which way), a culmination of trying to appear normal on the outside while I was howling on the inside with every loss and reminder of what was just not materializing, of what had already been lost. The cost became way too much, and I needed to land myself in an ER and in a car being driven home from school because I wasn't fit for public consumption before I recognized that. I needed to see Bryce crying in a chair at the emergency room while my blood pressure was something like 189/125 and they were drawing blood to test for heart attack enzymes. 

That was the ENOUGH moment. And I don't have photographic evidence of all of it, but I have enough that it startles me and brings me back to that time, four years ago. 

WOW. Four. Years. Ago. 

While that was insanely hard, and I let go of our dream of parenthood kicking and screaming, I am now so glad that we ended what was clearly no longer healthy. I am so grateful for my life, as it is now. I am even grateful for my hysterectomy two years ago, because it felt like an exorcism, a final closing of the broken door, and it finally gave me some answers to why I couldn't get and stay pregnant. 

It's good to be reminded of what I've been through, and to honor all the work it's taken to get where I am today. It does make me sad, and I had a real weird dream last night where we were possibly adopting a baby and then chose to adopt a 12 year old instead because we already had a twin bed and dresser (which is a) bizarre and b) unrealistic and c) WHY IS MY MIND BRINGING ME BACK TO THAT PLACE AND THEN MAKING IT ABOUT CONVENIENCE???), which I'm sure is related to my subconscious knowing that these anniversaries exist. 

I am not looking forward to the photo memories of May, that include the dismantling of a nursery, the packed-up-pile of baby things by the door for donation, the realization that it's been four years since we made that final decision, irrevocably disassembled our dream. But then there's the redesigning of my office-once-nursery, and the oatmeal couches we bought because we don't have kids, and the California Honeymoon trip we took that August. Those are happy memories. 

It's amazing how a photo can bring you right to a moment of time, and how that memory can become visceral. But it's also wonderful how the sting is so much less now that I am farther away from those raw times. Thank goodness for the hard work of healing. 


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