"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Friday, 28 April 2017

National Infertility Awareness Week: Listen Up!

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, when bloggers, Facebookers, Instagrammers, etc., are encouraged to share their stories and raise awareness about the issues surrounding infertility. This year's theme is "Listen Up". I really like this theme as I've been extremely slowly making my way through a book called Living the Life Unexpected by Jody Day, which helps women come to terms with the fact that they will not have children (due to various reasons). One of the things Day says is that we need to be more vocal about our stories, because the stories of the involuntarily childless are often not heard. We hear all the miracle baby stories, but no one wants to hear the ones that don't end in pink lines or successful adoptions. Our stories make people uncomfortable, but it's precisely because of that fact that they NEED to be heard. We need to normalize the fact that some infertility stories don't have a happy ending.... Or maybe it's better to say: Some infertility stories end with a new and different definition of a happy ending, because I would say that learning to live on and find joy when your biggest dream has died is still a miracle story.

Why aren't we sharing our stories? Sometimes it's because we're embarrassed or ashamed, or because we think find it awkward to talk about something so personal, but other times, it's because we tried sharing and it didn't go well. We stopped sharing because when we said we were hurting and struggling, the response was "Parenting is hard, you know." We stopped because when we were exhausted from getting up at dawn for ultrasounds and anxiety-ridden sleep, we were told, "You don't know tired until you have kids." We stopped because when we had the flu, people said, "You're lucky you don't have kids, because moms don't get sick days." We stopped because when we opened up cautiously, needing love and support, we instead got every piece of advice under the sun and were peppered with questions about our choices like we needed to prove we'd tried hard enough to deserve pity. We stopped because when we sought empathy, we got one-upmanship. We stopped sharing because it felt like no one was listening. (In case you're wondering, all of these happened to me personally, and this is far from the most hurtful comments that I have experienced.)

So how do we change this? I believe many people want to be helpful, but their discomfort with pain and loss and sorrow leads them to say and do hurtful things. I think we start by LISTENING. Most of us like to think we're good listeners. It's not like we tune out all the time, or interrupt constantly, or just walk away, right? Right? I would say that a lot of people - myself included - are not actually that good at truly listening to our friends who are going through the deep water.

We're not really listening if we're jumping in to give advice all the time, or to tell stories of someone who we know - or maybe we know OF - who overcame infertility. Our friend needs someone to hear her story and love her amidst the pain. She doesn't need to know your Great Aunt Edna's tried and true pointers on how to get pregnant. She doesn't even need your Google search results, because she probably has done eons more research than you have.

We're not really listening if we're trying to find the silver lining for someone else. She will come to a point where she can find her own joys and silver linings, but they may not be the ones that YOU would choose. When we try to find someone else's silver lining, it often feels like we're making light of her struggles.

We're not really listening if we're talking a lot, plain and simple. The book of James says we should be "quick to hear, slow to speak", and the book of Proverbs says "Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin." Wise words from God's Word. It might seem like you're not doing much, but a physical presence, an impromptu card, or a "I'm so sorry" can often say what reams of well-meaning advice or miracle stories cannot. We know it's hard. We know you don't have the right words. You don't need to give me all the best words; just give me yourself.

I encourage you all: If you're infertile, feel free to be bold and share your story. We need to hear it. I need to hear it. If you're a family member or supporter take a page from Frasier Crane, call up your friend and say, "Hello Friend, I'm listening." And then just stop talking.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Unique Books

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is looking at the most unique books that we have read.

Unique Structure
1. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda: It's written backwards, which plays with your head a little.

2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: I've read a number of books that jump around in terms of time and narration, but this was probably one of the most disjointed. I didn't actually like it very much, but it was certainly unique!

Unique perspective:
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: The narrator is Death.

4. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: The narrator is already dead and watching the story unfold.

5. My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege: This is an autobiography that I read recently about a woman who found out her grandfather was a prominent Nazi. It was especially interesting as she is half-Nigerian.

Unique Themes:
6. Avalanche: A Love Story by Julia Leigh: I wrote about this book recently. It's Leigh's memoir of going through IVF. We don't have many infertility memoirs, and certainly few without a shiny happy ending.

7. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio: This is a YA novel about a teenage girl who discovers she is intersex. I'd never read anything else on the subject, so it's definitely unique!

Just Plain Different:
8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: This book did a number on my head, but I enjoyed it. Gaiman certainly is a master of books that are a little weird.

9. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey: This takes the traditional zombie novel and puts it on its head.

10. Maus by Art Spiegelman: Spiegelman tells his father's Holocaust story in a graphic novel format, using mice to depict the Jews and cats to depict the Nazis. It's very creative and different, and really started the trend of using graphic novels to tell serious stories.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

April 2017 Life Update

Hi friends! It's been a while since I just updated everyone on how our life is going, so I figured that was overdue.

Work: I don't even know if I mentioned this (oops), but I graduated last June with a Master of Information, and then started looking for work. In November, I was offered a part-time, one-year contract position working on a research grant at a hospital, and in February, I started a second part-time position, also in medical research. It's been an interesting journey and I am learning a lot! Working two part-time jobs is difficult because I will learn something and then not be back for days, so that has been a challenge, but I hope that by putting in the hours, I'll eventually get to a full-time position.


Writing: I took part in NaNoWriMo last November and I managed to hit my goal of 50,000 words! However, I didn't actually finish the novel and it's been on the backburner ever since because I started working that month. Maybe one day, I will pick it up again. I also have been contributing to my church women's ministry blog, which you can find here.

Travel: I have been struggling with this area. Between infertility treatments and school and Gil's schedule, we have not had a proper vacation in years. We went to Barcelona last June, but that was for a conference and it was a whirlwind trip. I'm going to push for a winter vacation next year, but we may be able to do a long weekend trip somewhere in Ontario in the next few months. Keep your fingers crossed, because we really do need that time away together! There is a chance that I may go on a summer mission trip with the church in August, but I will update more on that later when it's finalized.

Infertility: There is really no update possible. I am still grieving our journey and the child that will never be. There are days when I am okay, and other days when I see nothing but darkness around and ahead of me. I am learning to enjoy the good moments and ask God for the strength to survive the hard ones.

Neville: Is cute as always. I mean, look at this face! :) This little guy gives me so much joy. We have had so many downs since we adopted him, and his boundless energy and silly ways keep me laughing during the dark times.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Infertility Book Response: Avalanche

I've been reading a few infertility-related books lately, so I thought that I'd start giving a brief review/response to some of them in case readers are interested. I recently read Julia Leigh's Avalanche, a memoir of her experience going through IVF. You can find a thoughtful piece from the Guardian here. This piece is probably more of a personal response than a review, so read it accordingly.

For obvious reasons, I found it an emotional read. It's a strange book. Some parts are extremely personal - the story of her marriage collapsing, for example. Other sections feel very procedural; however, that's kind of the epitome of fertility treatment for me: You are going through what is potentially the most emotionally grueling experience of your life, and yet your body also feels like the clinical subject of a laboratory experiment. You weep on the subway and in the bathrooms at work, yet you calmly inject yourself twice a day as if measuring out Gonal-F dosages were just the way of things. In that way, I think Leigh really captured some of the absurd essence if infertility.

Leigh's lifestyle and character were so completely different from mine. I found it hard to relate to her impulsive and tumultuous marriage or some of her other choices. She had lovers and ex-lovers, even ones who were prepared to donate sperm for her. However, in some ways, I found her account refreshing. I've read too many infertility accounts that focused on the perfect, committed, loving couple facing the odds. You know, the ones who "deserve" to be parents, for whom everyone feels sad because "Any kid would feel lucky to have you as mom and dad." But who are those people? Not Gil and me. Okay, we rarely fight, and we are nothing like Julia and Paul, but infertility is grueling and tears apart even the most supportive of marriages. I liked seeing a real portrait of messy people in a heartbreaking situation.

I liked that Leigh conveyed the overwhelming amount of decisions that need to be made in infertility and the guilt that is associated with that: "If I don't do this test or that test or the embryo glue, will I always worry that THIS was the reason why I never had a child? I also liked that she questioned the odds she was given and asked for evidence.

Some of the critiques I've read of the book say that Leigh comes across as selfish and/or self-absorbed. Maybe so. It's easy to become obsessed and absorbed with the process when you're in it. Fertility treatment becomes your entire life. It's also easy to judge from the outside. I find that there is this pressure on those of us who are infertile to prove ourselves as deserving: of pity, of sympathy, of being parents. Regular people just get to have kids, but once you're infertile, you need to be a saint or else people shrug and imply that maybe your infertility is just the universe's way of saying you're not meant to be a parent. I've been interrogated about how many procedures we went through, and why we didn't do X, as though I don't get sympathy or grief until I've shown that I "tried hard enough", and only then will they be supportive. All that to say, maybe Leigh was selfish, but that didn't stop me from aching for her sad journey.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes. In fact, I wish all my friends would read it, so that they could be better informed about the process and the odds. I've been told to "just do IVF", but I think Leigh's book shows both how difficult IVF is and how low the odds for success actually are. For my infertile sisters, I would say that this is a difficult book. I don't know if I could have related if I were still in the rose-coloured glasses stage when I was sure that I'd get pregnant eventually. Maybe it would have felt too disappointing. Now that I'm grieving what might have been, it's cathartic to know I'm not alone.

Some of my favourite quotes:
"I didn't want to tell people because I thought that unless they were involved in that world themselves they wouldn't want to listen. Or they would only half listen and so diminish my experience. Or they would ask questions that required explanations too complex for conversation. Or they would offer advice based on hearsay and a general theory of positivity. Or I would make them uncomfortable because of my proximity to the abyss. Hush, keep your voice down, don't mention it by name."
YES YES YES YES YES. This is my experience to a T.

"I'm an expert at make-believe. Our child was not unreal to me. It was not a real child but also it was not unreal. Maybe a better way to say it is that the unknown unconceived had been an inner presence. A desired and nurtured inner presence. Not real but a singular presence in which I had radical faith. A presence that could not be substituted or replaced."