What Is A Woman For?

Break was glorious and Vermont was relaxing and rejuvenating. I couldn't do the outdoor activities, just a little bit of walking around the village, but I could read. And I did -- a book a day. It was lovely. 

And, weirdly, every single book I read from Monday on had an infertility and/or loss piece to it. Some tiny, some central. 

Two in the middle, Love and Saffron by Kim Fay and The Book of Goose by Yuyumi Li, had characters who were childless not by choice but mainly by male factor infertility. It wasn't even remotely the biggest thing in either book (both lovely but very different). 

Thick, a book of essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, took me by surprise with an essay about the loss of her daughter at 20 weeks due to racism in the medical system. Elsewhere in the collection she mentions being single and childless and happy to live alone, which confuses people. She wrote about her loss and reasons for it and the horrific record of Black maternal and baby death our country, and it was one of 8 essays. (Highly recommend.)

But then, I chose to read a book that was entirely about infertility, and unintended pregnancy, and motherhood: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. I have had this book on my radar for years, but then forgot about it until I saw it at my small independent bookstore, used. I don't think I could have read it and enjoyed it earlier (it came out in 2018). It is visceral, and raw. 

The tagline on the back cover reads, "Five women, one question: WHAT IS A WOMAN FOR?

You have "the biographer," a woman who is happily single, 41, and trying to get pregnant through IUI. Who is also writing a biography of a Faroese ice explorer who was lost to history because she had to publish through a man because massive sexism, but pushed through expectations to go out and study ice packs as a scientist. 

You have "the daughter," a teenage girl who has to make choices when she faces pregnancy. 

You have "the mender,"  an herbalist living like a hermit in the woods, providing natural gynecological care of all kinds. 

And you have "the wife," a stay-at-home mom to two children she loves but who is facing a problematic marriage and identity crisis. 

All of them live in Oregon, in a timeline where Roe v Wade has been struck down (before it actually was in real life), where abortion is illegal in all 50 states, where IVF is illegal because of a Personhood bill that considers embryo destruction murder, where adoption is about to be only for married couples due to the Every Child Needs Two Act, and where a Pink Wall exists between the U.S. and Canada where Canada will uphold U.S. law and send "terminators" back to be prosecuted in the name of "alliance." 

I was worried at first that it was going to be trope-y, that it would have pitfalls. It totally didn't. And the only inaccuracy that I found to be mad about was calling an 8-celled embryo a blastocyst (um, no). Everything else was highly accurate. And the storylines of being a mother but having lost other identities, of not wanting to be a mother yet and having limited choices, of desperately wanting to be a mother but finding it difficult, and someone who wants to help women with various choices... they were lovely. They all played against each other and intertwined and showed how everyone makes assumptions and judges and can be blinded by wants. That there are no easy answers to anything. That what one person desires is another's worst nightmare, and it's all much more complicated and dire when the government decides instead of those who have the bodies in question. (I loved that one character called the old white men in D.C. who voted for all the laws "the walruses.")

I really, really loved it. It was beautifully written, although not something I would have been able to handle in the raw days. And it's speculative fiction, less futuristic than The Handmaid's Tale but chilling in how quickly things become true. 

And the cover is a not-so-stealth origami-style vulva, which I find hilarious. 

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

What IS Self-Care?

It is finally February Break (a weeklong phenomenon only in parts of the country), and I am so grateful. 

The Friday before, we all received an email from the technology/instructional coaches, about a professional development opportunity OVER BREAK. And, to make it worse, it was a "wellness challenge." I was swiftly filled with the fury of a million murder hornets. THIS IS BREAK! I fumed. HOW DARE YOU INFILTRATE IT WITH ONE MORE FREAKING THING TO DO IN THE NAME OF "SELF CARE!"

Well, I am glad I clicked on the link (perhaps out of rage research), because it was not at all what I thought it was. I thought it was going to be one of those horrid calendars that are about weight loss or how many planks you can do by the end of break. I thought it was going to be the sort of self-care "work" that workplaces put out to make you think they care, but actually are meant to guilt you into working yourself further into the ground (and adding to your to-do list). 

It's actually a fun scavenger hunt in the app GooseChase, where we get an hour and a half PD credit (90 hours of credit = a small bump to our base salaries, which add up over time) to accept and log challenges like "sleep in," "write the definition of hygge," "read a book and post a picture," "do a puzzle," and then weirder ones like "get a receipt or a photo of you with exactly $.11 of gas" and "find a license plate where the numbers add up to exactly 11." NONE of it is related to instruction. NONE of it is a juice cleanse or plank challenge. 

So of course, I signed up, and it's entertaining to see the challenges (I didn't think 11 cents of gas was even possible, but apparently it's .03 gallons here currently), and to get PD credit for literally relaxing and doing silly things. Some are things I've meant to do but have not had time, like "declutter an area of your house" or "spend 30 minutes doing a hobby you haven't done in a long time because you've been too busy." I'm going to get my violin out later today. Not sure why it took an app to remind me that I miss it. 

It's entertaining, and fills me with zero rage. However, I have to say that the best self care initiative was our building leadership giving us release time to work on IEPs the week before break, so that "we can truly enjoy break and not use it for work." OMG, it was wonderful. I still had 3-4 hours I had to do on Sunday, but I plowed through it and now I am doing NOTHING ELSE school-related for the rest of break. (Other than mailing said paperwork today, and dropping off my laptop at school so I hold myself accountable.) THAT is a true self-care initiative -- something that is provided by work that says you are valued, we want you to come back refreshed, and we KNOW that most special education teachers use at least half of February break for IEP writing. I'll take that any day! 

We are going to Vermont tomorrow through Saturday (and have a house sitter, so no killers) and it is going to be glorious. I will have nothing over my head. I will just bring books and maybe some mini puzzles and a notebook. Sadly, I won't be able to hike (knee nonsense), but I will sit by a fireplace and read and truly relax and melt away. Which is the best kind of self-care. 

Finding Fault

I've had a lot of opportunities lately to talk about my experiences with infertility, and I keep thinking about fault finding, and guilt, and not finding "success."

So many things are out there to make you feel like you have control when you don't, or to tell a nice story (on the surface) to make you feel like you have a chance. You do the acupuncture, the yoga, the wheatgrass shots, the visualizations, the odd ritualistic things. You do it because someone tells you it worked for them, or there's some vague statistic saying it increases the odds even half a percentage point. This is how I burned my inner thighs kneeling/straddling a hot pot full of witchy herbs to "steam my vagina" and "soften my cervix," and how I  snapped at Bryce for blowing out and not snuffing the red candles I'd lit all over the house like we were a freaking cathedral. 

So many things were recommended because it worked for someone else. But nothing worked for me... so the conclusion became, "I didn't do enough." I didn't have the strength to give up cheese, I wasn't committed enough to do acupuncture AND herbs. Maybe I let a negative thought sneak into my guided meditation. 

NONE OF THAT MATTERED. I drove myself (and those around me) crazy with odd rituals and insistence that I could control outcomes LITERALLY NO ONE CAN CONTROL. I cried when a meditation in fertility yoga encouraged us to "invite our baby to come to us" when I had recently miscarried. If you invite your baby and you happen to get pregnant, that's going to seem amazing and useful! If your baby accepted your invitation and then ghosted you, leaving you brokenhearted, how does that make a body feel? (Not good. Rejected. Not worthy. Guilt riddled. Deficient.)

I wish I could tell myself that no one has that power... People just get lucky. You can throw all kinds of money at it (if you are privileged to have it to throw) and you can STILL not have a baby. It doesn't make you less than. It doesn't mean you didn't do whatever arbitrary bar is considered "enough." I wish I could say to my younger self, "YOU ARE ENOUGH. IT'S NOT YOU. YOU DON'T HAVE TO DESTROY YOURSELF IN PURSUIT OF "ENOUGH."

I can tell myself now, and I can share with you. No one has the secret. Everyone's ENOUGH is different. Having a baby doesn't make anyone more worthy or successful or inviting. Red candles from Target will not get you pregnant. Give yourself grace, you deserve that. 

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