Monday, October 23, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: Flip

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

It started innocently enough. Sitting in a coffee shop with hopes of finalizing my lecture tomorrow, I was quickly becoming distracted by a young girl who was bouncing on the bench next to me. Looking up, the mother quickly caught my eye while she bounced a newborn on her knee, rolling her eyes and mouthing "sorry."

"Don't worry about it," I responded with a smile, thinking that would be the end of the conversation.

"It's just so hard sometimes!" she exclaimed.

"I know," I absentmindedly responded while turning my attention back to my computer screen. "My twins are at home with a sitter."

"Twins!" she shouted, for the whole shop to hear. "Why, that must be SOOO nice! Every aspect of parenting done at once. So much easier than doing this one at a time!"

I think you could have heard a pin drop in the moments that followed as all eyes quickly became glued on me. Everyone in the shop seemingly waiting for a response, with the energy and looks suggesting anticipation for a fight.

One of the things that is guaranteed to put me in a fighting mood is the comparisons from others about how difficult their lives are. I struggle with others jumping in, cutting people off with their attempts to share and empathize by exclaiming there's no possible way as this situation is extraordinary. With infertility and parenting, the situation is much more tangled as there's this assumption that those who are not parenting have zero frame of reference. From sleep deprivation to financial issue to simply juggling the day-to-day of a new reality surrounding a little one, the thought process is that of exclusion.

Recently, though, my outlook on the Pain Olympics has shifted. Part of it comes from having a family building story that can easily cause the audience to fall silent fairly quickly, but the other has been me learning to stretch and search for the root cause of this complaining main due to my own fumbles and belly-flops I've inflicted on others. Being socially awkward, I'm frequently an offender especially in the arena of answering the question "so what do you do?" And as those awkward pauses have come, usually with me kicking myself immediately afterwards, I've thought about the snarky remarks or the stone-cold silence and how I've struggled being on the receiving end.

There's another element, though. Being an educator, the core of my job is identifying misconceptions and helping guide people to new conclusions. As I walked home from the coffee shop, I thought more and more about a compulsive need most of us have to top one another's venting episodes. That sometimes it can be about an oddly failed attempt at commiseration. While other times it's actually a sign of something terribly wrong; that either this person is feeling isolated or overwhelmed or abused or feeling trapped. Often they are hurting, sometimes in ways that will even surprise them. Geared up for a fight as that is really their only form of being able to connect with humanity.

And if you look at the situation that way, flipping the view from someone who is unnecessarily venting due to privilege to someone who is broken on some level, all the sudden addressing the problem at hand becomes a lot different.

I honestly don't know why I responded the way I did. Maybe it had to do with it being a warm, sunny day or me fighting fatigue from staring at a computer screen for way too long. But following the comment, I looked right at this women with small children and I saw someone who was overwhelmed and tired. Quietly packing up my things, I pulled out a set of crayons and some scratch paper that I always keep on me in case the Beats are getting out of hand. Immediately the bouncing young girl's eyes lit up and she swiftly settled into coloring.

"How old are your kids?" I asked, hoping to initiate a conversation as I observed another older woman slide in next to the young girl to encourage her with her drawings. And almost as if the flood gates were opened, the whole shop spent the next 10 mins with this woman listening as she told life story, including her frustrations with being a single mother and finding balance in life. Discovering very quickly that this was someone who was actually pretty lonely in life and struggling to find connection.

And though the interaction wasn't a long one and the transition wasn't completely smooth, the outcome was one where the atmosphere in the coffee shop changed with someone offering to buy this woman another cup of coffee, most others smiling at the little girl as she proudly showed off her drawings and even others beginning to open up about their struggles with loss and failed life goals.

All of it stemming from seeing the situation as it actually was, which wasn't about someone wanting to fight, but about trying awkwardly to connect.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Faking it

It's sunny today. Sunny, warm and unseasonably beautiful as I'm rolling around the chemistry between SOLiD vs SBS sequencing in my head. Learning about SMRT and Nanopore as I prepare for the conversation tomorrow. Hoping upon hope that I sound like I have a firm grasp of what I'm talking about (even though I don't).

Part of my anxiety comes with the audience, knowing there's someone there who is watching me and hoping I'll belly flop. Part of it comes with the fact that I know if all goes well, tomorrow's conversation could actually be that: a conversation. An opportunity for these students to bring their opinions and insight to the table that they haven't really done so far during the formal lectures. And as that is my main goal, I'm trying to figure out how to allow for the comfort of conversation to come while also having enough material there so that they have a firm foundation to speak from instead of defaulting to a state of bored silence.

So right now, with slides finalized and me reviewing Drop-Seq, I'm also formulating a strategy to fake it well. Remembering that it's not my job to have all the answers. In fact, it would be better for all if I don't so that they can have the opportunity to shine.

Friday, October 20, 2017


For over a decade, Grey and I have struggled with early morning wake-up calls from Jaxson. He's always been glorified food whore, requiring constant supervision when any meal or snack is out, but the wake-up yowling has been a different level of torture. We've tried ignoring him, locking him up, have positioned squirt bottles, constructed shake cans and even in moments of pure desperation have resorted to launching pillows in his general direction. We've also had him evaluated by vets (all of whom have assured me he is in good health after spending a small fortune on blood work), books and the web.

Nothing has resolved the situation.

Thursday I hit the end of my rope. I haven't been sleeping well to begin with, but a 4 am wake-up call where he decided to wake-up the Beats in order to get breakfast put both me and Grey over the edge. After taking the morning to calm, I decided to do a last-ditch internet search, using a different combinations of words ("yowling" being the key). Which is when this article appeared. And after reading it, with it making sense given the behavior pattern, I formulated a last effort plan of instituting second dinner for Jaxson and Daisy just before Grey and I went to bed.

This morning, I woke with a start realizing that despite it being 6 am, the house was quiet. 10 minutes later, with two Beats wide awake and ready to begin their morning routine, I found two drowsy cats who were stretching themselves awake and slowly making their way to the kitchen for breakfast.

I've been thinking about this sudden change in cat behavior all morning as I've been confirming appointments for follow-ups for She-Beat. Specifically there's been a request to bring in a speech and language specialist to observe her as it's now suspected that the root of her difficulties is due to her ears. That what we're seeing from her is actual a struggle to communicate, initiated due to her limited ability to hear. Something so simple and yet the effects are insanely profound and it's this idea of a cascade, like ripples in a pond following a single event, that's been giving me a lot to think about.

This isn't the first time I've encountered dramatic shift in directions and paths solely due to identifying a minor detail most wouldn't consider. With infertility, though the root cause was never formally identified, I found myself on a different road following the addition of a blood thinner. When I was younger, it was the decision to brave being alone in the world and failing at my chosen career path that allowed me to pack a van and relocate West. More recently it's been this active decision to sit back and wait for the pieces in motion to move around, hoping they will fall into place. All of these seemingly minor, trivial events or actions that to outsiders should not have any impact.

The ripple effect isn't a new concept. Within biology, we talk about buffering for such effects through redundancy and robustness, but the reality is that sometimes a seemingly stable system can collapse upon instead simply by eliminating a certain component. Any though this collapse can seem destructive, this change can also identify something that is crucial. A keystone required both to heal and rebuild.

Grey is a bit more pragmatic than me, usually the more data is required before he'll declare anything is resolved. Even this morning, when he too was surprised to find the house unusually quiet, he's skeptical that we've found the core issue of the hell from the past decade (though he is quick to let both cats know that he's always been for second dinner, putting the blame squarely on me). So the experiment will continue, just as we'll continue with assessments and working to lay down foundations for the future.

Still, the thought of ripples and finding the stones that create them is one I'm focusing on. That maybe bringing about meaning change requires looking for the minor events and digging down to what rings true.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The space between

The cursor has been blinking back at me all morning. Despite the mountain of work I have to do, the words fail to flow and efforts to chip away at the walls seem quickly to be undone.

It doesn't help that my body is tired, causing my brain to feel foggy and heavy. Filled to the brim with no way to drain. And yet, drain it must. Drain in order to be filled again, with ideas and plans modified so as to continue striving for an ever-moving end goal.

Next week I begin my last round of lectures. For the most part, the slides are done and I have an idea of what I want to talk about (one lecture slide needs to be finished and the paper read). But I'm struggling to get the motivation to do this last round of polishing. Of getting my act together enough to make sure I bring my "A" game to lecture. Part of it is normal: polishing too far in advance means I'm overcooked when its time to present. But the other part is that after these lectures, my obligations are technically over, leaving me free to put my energy into building these new opportunities and pushing for changed.

Easier said than done given that nothing is solidified and pushing on things seems not to have had much of an effect.

This space between is mentally trying. The remembering that what I'm leaving behind, though it has served me well, no longer fits. Even though there's still this primal drive to go back to what would be comfortable. To climb back into the nest instead of braving the fall.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How infertility kills

Like many, I have folders on my computer filled with photos. There's wedding photos that have been digitized, hiking/camping/rock climbing photos from youthful adventures, photos from trips and vacations and family photos, including separate folders specified for the Beats and Jaxson & Daisy.

But there's also a folder I rarely look at; one that contains photos of myself during my time in the trenches. This folder is much thinner than the others, reflecting a period were I avoided the camera at all costs. The photos that are there are an emotional trigger as the version of me looking back is zombie-like: The forced smiles, the glassy eyes, the visible pain. It's clear something is very wrong.

A common theme that echos through society is that infertility, unlike other diseases (cancer being the go-to one for many making this argument) doesn't kill. When looking for support, many who are infertility-naive will immediately point out this "fact" that the infertile should be counting their blessings as they aren't dying and hence should really shut-up. But there are two things that aren't considered by the people making this STFU argument. First is most aren't actively dying and usually have no direct experience with death outside of the pending fear they have on the topic. But the second, which is far more potent, is that there are many forms of death with grief and trauma being a very formidable one.

BnB and Mali had separate posts talking about moving on from infertility as a form of survival, with BnB having a similar observation about self photographs following her infertility diagnosis. The death that comes from a life planned and hoped with expanding one's family for isn't something that can simply be covered up but is instead physically manifested. And hence the conclusion that infertility doesn't kill is actually dead wrong.

The memory of my time in the trenches, where I felt completely detached from the world and was instead living in a gray-toned, muted Elseworlds is still painful. There were moments were I wondered how long I could go on living that way. Hence why Mali's call for choosing to survive, stepping outside the comfort zone to find a way is so important and it's was a choice I remember making even when our path to resolution wasn't clear.

But part of this focus on survivorship that Mali and BnB make a wonderful case for is also changing the conversation about what infertility is. That it actually is death, killing dreams, hopes and promises for a chapter of our lives. That infertility and RPL actually do kill. And that telling an infertile to "get over it" is just as terrible as saying this to a cancer patient.

Because death comes in many forms. All of them terrible and live changing for the survivors.

Monday, October 16, 2017

#MicroblogMondays: For worse, for better

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

The phone number popped into my head unexpectedly; one that I hadn't thought about in 15 years. A quick internet search confirmed what I suspected: it belonged to a guy (nicknamed "Mr. Wonderful") I had been casually seeing prior to Grey. That lead me down a rabbit hole I hadn't allowed myself to think about for years, ultimately ending with me finding his Facebook page where there was a photo of Mr. Wonderful with two small children. 

Years ago, a woman on a TTC forum I belong to posted a long rant about finding out her ex was getting married. Despite the fact she had a loving husband, a beautiful son and was unexpectedly pregnant with her second (no fertility issues what so ever), she lamented the news that this ex was building a life without her. I remember seeing red upon reading her post, positively angry that someone who had easily achieved the life I was breaking myself over was seemingly pining over an alternative.

As my time in the trenches went on, I would begin tormenting myself with thinking about Grey leaving me, building a life we both desperately wanted with someone else. I had many an ugly cry with those images of him with two small children, thinking of the woman who would help him complete this happy family.

But despite how hard I pushed him away, Grey stayed. Granted we had some help from David and Dee, but the reality is he also made a choice to not give up on the family we already had

Basic Protestant Wedding vows contain a well-known verse of "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health," and yet when asked about the moments of love most people will focus on the for better parts: the happy memories or the richness of life. But what we fail to grasp is that it's the worse parts of life, the hard moments, that truly test love and solidity of relationships. With infertility you get that in spades: the scary RE appointments, the shots in the ass, the tears following someone else's pregnancy announcement, the dark ultrasound rooms where the tech can't find a heartbeat, the negative tests, the pain and even the moments where you wonder if you'll ever find your way out of the darkness. It's in those for worse moments that love is tested and were many find themselves abandoned by those they thought loved them. But there's also the ones that continue to stand beside us, being our rocks, grieving with us, helping us crawl our way out of the darkness and back into the light.

Looking at that photo of Mr. Wonderful with his children, I literally felt the same passing feelings I would feel for a stranger. My he have a happy life. But when I opened up a photo gallery of Grey, containing all the photos we have together through our time together, particularly from our time in the trenches, my heart soared. Because despite the darkness, the hard, the uncertainty and the pain, this is someone who chose to fight with me, to stand by me at all costs. 

For worse, for better. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Love and light

It started in the most innocent of manners. The Beats asked to see the box I keep on top of my dresser, filled with memories from their time in NICU and from before. Their bracelets, the smallest blood-pressure cuffs one can imagine, onies marked size "P" which barely fit She-Beat's doll and the pictures of them from the ultrasound scans.

It was as we were looking through the pictures we came the ones of them as embryos. Of the Beats from Jan 2, 2013, but also of the first one: The one of them all together.

Today is October 15th: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day. Part of October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Tonight at 7 pm is the Wave of Light. There was a time in the ALI community where this night would be filled with posts, remember those precious children we lost too soon. Today it seems quiet. Or maybe it's just quiet in my corner.

Still, today I've been remembering. Allowing myself to feel that sadness that once consumed my every waking minute. And tonight Grey and I will once again light candles in remembrance of our precious 7 we didn't get to hold. In remembrance of those babies our friends lost too soon.

Sending love out to this community tonight. May you all feel wrapped in love and light

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