Back to School "About Me" Slideshows

It's that time again... the first day of school for teachers is two weeks from tomorrow, and the first day for students is two weeks from Thursday. So of course, I am making introductory slides galore. 

I kind of hate the first couple of days of school. It's kind of awkward, and repetitive, and expectations blah blah and routines blah blah and important stuff, just not the most engaging. I have tried different things over the years to make it more engaging, but it always feels like, good gracious when can we just get into the learning? 

So this year, I am going to just get into it. The first day I am going to designate as a Welcome Back, Getting to Know Each Other, What Do You Need to be Successful, kind of low-key day, and then the second day is going to be the routines and expectations and grade policies and blah blah but cut way back so it's not so godawful boring. 

I need to make the slideshow about me for both my English classes (two sections of 12:1+1), my social studies class (12:1+1), and the ICT (Integrated Co-Taught) social studies class. I think I won't do one for Core Support, which is like a study skills/progress monitoring/reteaching/social skills period, because they will have seen things all freaking day in those other classes, but I think I will do some sort of low-key quiz game about it. 

The slideshows I do for my own classes are pretty easy -- I talk about my interests, my family, and maybe a fun fact or two. 

It's the co-taught section that makes me feel a little anxious, because the general education teacher is VERY family-forward and has probably 5 slides about family (kids! weddings! grandkids! dogs!) and one slide about interests, and I always feel like my life is kind of...boring in contrast. 

Well, that's how I feel, at least. It's not true -- I have a fairly un-boring life, but somehow in the face of giant family reunions and grandbabies on laps and large group family outings, it's like ALL THE THINGS and then QUIET MICROCOSM LIFE. 

Probably some difficulty this year stems from the fact that my summer was, frankly, on the boring side. My main job was to heal. I do have those cool knee x-rays, and a giant stack of books I read and puzzles I did. And some photographic evidence that I can go on a fairly decent walk now, on a mostly flat trail. 

Anyway, this time of year makes me feel a little of that comparison nonsense as everyone shares their pictures of kids and busy hectic lives. It's too bad that I can't really put out there pictures of me in pajamas all day or drinking wine out on the deck, ha. I am eternally grateful that we no longer have the staff slideshow that is a parade of weddings and babies and fancy trips, that tends to feel awful for people who had a more, um, traumatic summer (like my friend who spent her summer getting divorced and dismantling/re-mantling her life), or who for whatever reason didn't do anything too terribly exciting. That slideshow used to make me horribly sad, and then when I'd made peace that I'd never have kids in the slideshow I made a point to take utterly ridiculous photos for the slideshow (one of my favorites below): 

I guess there's still time to figure out something kooky for at least one of my slideshows... and actually, I got distracted and started going through my photos from this summer just now. There's a lot of fun little things, quiet things, but photos that point to a full and beautiful life. Without kids or grandkids. 

A Silver Lining to Those Medical Forms

I have my official evaluation for ADHD in September, and I had to fill out a packet of forms for the psychiatric nurse practitioner. Always with the forms that seem to chirp, "Hello, can you please share your medical trauma on this dinky form with entirely insufficient space for your sad-sapness? Thankyoooouuuu." 

I have a difficult time when they ask about two things: 

1) Do you have children?
2) Please list any and all surgeries/procedures. 

My tendencies run towards snark with the children one: Do you have any children? NO, ZERO. If I'm particularly irritable, I'll say ZIP, ZERO, ZILCH.

At least this form didn't ask me how many pregnancies, how many live births. That one always makes me sad. 

But the surgeries? There's the orthopedic kind, starting with a surgery to break and reset my legs in 1977 because I was born with a dislocated hip that wasn't diagnosed until I was about 9 months old (medical misfortune hit me young!). Then the knee surgery in 1993 for a dislocated knee, obtained when I jumped for joy over the sight of flats and flats of pansies at a nursery, but due to a crappy orthopedic surgeon (who had me walk on it for months which resulted in the need for significant reconstruction and led me to the total knee replacement in 2023 (whoa! 30 years later to the year! didn't realize that before!) because of significant damage and arthritis. 

Then there's gynecologic: Laparoscopy in 1999 to look for endometriosis that wasn't found, laparoscopy in 2011 to remove ectopic pregnancy, endomyometrial resection in 2016 to get rid of my erratic horrorshow of a  period since I couldn't do hormonal things with estrogen anymore, and then hysterectomy in 2018 to remove the whole damn thing, problem solved.  

Lastly, the endless list of infertility-treatment-related surgeries. I used to list out every individual one, and then I stopped. It's not strictly necessary, and it takes up way too much space. So when I was filling this one out, I was trying to remember how many egg retrievals, how many hysteroscopies, recalling the paracentesis from when I developed OHSS and had a soda bottle's worth of fluid in my abdomen. Ugh. But then I was like, just put 2009-2015, infertility treatment, including I believe 3-4 hysteroscopies and 6-7 egg retrievals. Because frozen transfers, egg donor cycles, and cycles canceled late in the game at the end. 

I started looking up how many, and then I stopped. IT DOESN'T MATTER. It was multiple. Whatever. Still paints a picture. (A picture that usually results in a fair amount of sympathetic noises from whoever reviews it in front of me, when it's an in-person appointment, and less often unhelpful, unsolicited comments.)

But, let me tell you, I was THRILLED that I didn't remember. For the longest time I held on to all of this information -- my HCG numbers for my pregnancies, my number of retrievals, my number of pretty much everything. It held a lot of space in my consciousness. 

I could not remember. And when I started going to research the specific data, I stopped myself and was like, I DO NOT NEED TO KNOW THIS ANYMORE. I have it, in notebooks and the blog record. But I don't necessarily need it. It isn't front and center. My brain has filed it away because it's just not as relevant anymore. 

That brought me so much joy. It was one of those moments where I felt that relief, that freedom of THIS IS MOVING FURTHER AND FURTHER INTO THE REARVIEW MIRROR. 

I do want to assert that this doesn't mean I'm "over" infertility. That it's not a part of who I am, that it didn't change me irrevocably. It is, and it did. But it's not so all-consuming. It doesn't feel like it takes up so much of my identity space. How freeing, how revelatory.

The Sound of Quiet

We were talking with a friend at dinner the other day, and she was saying how quiet her house was since all three of her kids were away this week. Her oldest daughter is married and has three kids, they were staying with her for a while before moving out of state; her middle son was at a martial arts tournament in South Korea and lives at home while going to college for physical therapy; her youngest daughter lives at home while going to college for zoology but was away at a cabin with friends. She said that she told her husband that they're going to need to move to a smaller house when the kids all move out, because it's too weird for their current house to be so quiet. 

Bryce said something about our house being quiet too, but I was like, no. That's different. Our house has ALWAYS been quiet (minus our increasingly vocal elderly cat). 

We don't have the contrast of that beautiful chaos we once craved so much, and then the absence of that. 

I can imagine that's hard, the contrast of all that activity and then... Shhh. 

But also, it's hard to have only ever imagined that chaos, to want the noise but never have it. To have the ghost of that alternate life and all its cacophony, and to feel oppressed by the silence. 

I felt that way until we moved. This house was always meant for silence, or really loud music, or movies and dinners late in the evening because that's how we live. It's filled with the sound of two people typing, pages turning, food cooking, wine uncorking, puzzle pieces clicking, music playing, cats purring... The sounds of the life we have. 

I don't know if my friend will move and downsize; it gets more complicated when it's your kids' childhood home, I guess. But moving away from those noisy ghosts was a great way for us to mark that transition, the contrast that wasn't so outwardly apparent of Wanting the Chaos to Accepting That Our Life Is (And Sounds) Different. 

If you are still in the Wanting place, know that it is possible to eventually get to that place of Accepting. Not to say there isn't the occasional wistful moment, but overall it's good to remember that once I never thought that I could ever be happy with the quiet life we live and love now.

Listening to THAT Podcast

I finished the new Serial Productions podcast hosted by Susan Burton today, the five-part series The Retrievals (you can find it on New York Times or wherever you get your podcasts). 

I was on the fence about listening. It's a podcast about a collective trauma women experienced undergoing IVF at the Yale clinic when a nurse replaced the fentanyl for the egg retrieval procedure with saline, and what happens when women report pain and it's ignored. The premise was fascinating to me, but also... 5 hours of listening to IVF experiences. I'm in a pretty good place now, but would it be stupid to re-enter that world voluntarily? Especially knowing how immersive Serial tends to be? 

Well, I got hooked. But I sure made a lot of faces while listening and sometimes had to consciously take a break from it. It's a compelling story. I'm not sure if there's "spoilers" for such a thing, but just in case, you've been warned. 

First, it is horrific that these women experienced egg retrievals without pain control. I found that procedure painful afterwards every single time, but to experience the whole thing without any pain relief whatsoever? Horrific. Brutal. Unconscionable. 

What is hard to understand is that while the nurse responsible lost her job and was convicted, WHAT ABOUT THE CLINIC ITSELF? The DOCTORS who performed the procedures  while patients bucked and screamed and made it clear that they weren't under in any way, one, after another, after another? 

There was discussion about what's considered within the realm of "normal" for medical acknowledgement of pain. Particularly women's pain, which is often considered exaggerated by medical professionals.

For instance. When I was in my early 20s, my gynecologist did a laparoscopy to look for endometriosis because I had horrific pelvic pain and highly irregular and heavy periods. He didn't find any, and basically threw his hands up. He actually said to me, "well, some women just have pain." WHAT THE EFF IS THAT? This from a doctor who also explored the idea of PCOS, and when I embarrassedly said "no" when asked if I had excess body hair, GOT MAD AT ME when he observed that I shaved my belly button area. But he also didn't give me the PCOS diagnosis I finally got at 33 from the fertility clinic. 

I also had an experimental Integrin-3 receptivity test including an endometrial biopsy towards the end of my treatment journey. I came into the room and lay on the table, and the nurse said "You know what he's about to do to you, right?" NOT OMINOUS AT ALL. What it was was the equivalent of a vegetable peeler inserted through my cervix, that took an easily 5" ribbon of my uterine lining (which Bryce saw dropped and coiled into a clear container). I was not sedated at all. Not even a Valium. It was insanely painful, during and after. But I wanted it, I wanted answers that could lead to a successful pregnancy, and it was worth it to me (although I did say FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, GIVE SOME KIND OF MEDS FIRST next time you do this). 

That was another point made by the podcast. That the stakes are so high, the desperation for the desired outcome so intense, that it's hard to not endure the pain. That when given the choice of continuing while unsedated, or losing eggs to ovulation and possibly losing the chance of an entire cycle of possibility, it's an impossible choice. One none of the women should have had to make. 

But, in talking about the desired outcome, the focus was largely on the women who were successful; who had pregnancies that ended in live birth. But there were questions about cycles that failed, or that resulted in miscarriage, or preterm birth. Was it in part because of the trauma? Because of the stress of the pain, and not being believed, and then PTSD? But, ultimately, most women interviewed had become mothers. 

One woman said something to the effect of, "at least I had a baby. I can't imagine how sad the outcome would have been if I went through that and didn't have a baby. That would have been a tragedy" and other sentiments that fall into the "being childless is the worst possible thing that could happen" camp. Hmmmmph.

Another woman, Laura, who did not get sustainably pregnant, but had moved to a new clinic and was still hopeful, had palpable grief. She said, "I just have so much love to give." And, "I just KNOW I'm going to be a mother. I know it." It felt like being haunted by my previous self. I remember that visceral longing, that gaping hole where a baby was supposed to be, the insistence that it WOULD work out because I couldn't imagine an outcome where there was no baby. 

I want to say to Laura: "Yes. It is sad when you want a baby so badly and that baby doesn't come. It is an incredible heartbreak. But you will find places to put that love. You are more than your ability to have a baby. It is awful to be where you are, where there is still hope to cling to, but when and if you have to let go of that hope, you will be okay. You will survive and eventually thrive. There are actually quite a lot of us that were failed by IVF, who left without a baby, and it is not at all the worst case scenario you believe it to be." 

Of course the whole point of IVF is to have a baby. That's empirically the successful outcome. But it's not a failed life to be on the other side of those success rates. You can still be a success for surviving the experience and making a new life. 

Lastly, there was the issue of the nurse's sentencing. She willfully replaced the fentanyl in the vials with saline, and in some cases she was in the room for the procedure. That is another level. But then, you find out that she was also once an IVF patient, and the level goes deeper. She knew exactly what the women were experiencing, physically and emotionally, and she did it anyway, albeit while in the throes of addiction. And then... Because she was a single mother with an abusive ex-husband, her sentencing ended up very light, barely any prison time, and it was arranged to be during non-custodial timeframes so she missed virtually nothing with her children. She got preferential treatment BECAUSE she was a mother. She may have cost women their chance to be a mother, but her status is motherhood afforded her sympathy and lighter sentencing. That was maddening. 

Ultimately, I found the podcast to be fascinating and infuriating and both unbelievable and highly believable all at once. But also, pretty heavily pronatalist. I feel like if I were to listen 13 years ago, I would believe that IVF almost always ended with a baby. That that's the only outcome worth talking about.