Twelve Percent of You Really Need to Read This Post

Actually everyone should read this post.  But of course, I am a bit biased.

No.  More than a bit.

Twelve percent of couples struggle with the inability to conceive naturally.  That number may seem small.  But even smaller is the number of women who break the silence on their sadness and frustration.  So when someone has the courage to broach the painful topic of infertility, it can be an awkward conversation.  For example, the course of three days I learned a new friend is expecting her first baby, another friend delivered her second baby, and yet another is facing…infertility.  The words of congratulations and expressions of joy come so easily with the news of baby tidings.  But even after a four-year struggle with infertility and the wisdom and emotional growth earned, I found myself struggling for words during the conversation that began with, “You had your twins by in-vitro…right?”

I felt ashamed for stammering through generic phrases that echoed off the walls, totally missing the mark.   Not only should I know what to say (because I certainly know what not to say), but how to balance the offerings of hope and support with the sad reality that fertility treatment is no guarantee of conception.  So there were a few minutes of uncomfortable topical exchange, mine from being tongue-tied, hers from the trepidation of revealing her “secret.”   Then after reflecting  on my own experience, so much a part of my psyche it simply hums in the back of my memory, I was able to articulate to her what I learned from living through four years of infertility.  What follows is my end of our soul-bearing conversation, the words of advice can come only from being in the trenches.  And if you and your partner are struggling with infertility, pass this post along to your loved ones who have not “been there.”  This post is for them, too.

Be the rubber to others’ glue.  People will say some incredibly stupid things to you, and even to your family.  Some comments will seem hurtful beyond belief and some will be plain idiotic.  As tough as it may seem it’s important to understand these verbal blunders, Hallmark-esque or otherwise, say more about the speaker than they do about you.  It took me years to realize this and forgive those poorly-chosen words.  But it is true.  People who have no experience with infertility don’t know what to say and want the conversation to end as quickly as possible.  So they might say, “You’ll get pregnant eventually!!!” and sound like they are blowing you off.  But know this is their attempt to relieve their own discomfort but simultaneously sound supportive.  It is not you.

Have a plan.  Write it down.  Infertility and the related treatment protocols are emotionally and financially draining, with no guaranteed return on all you have invested.  When you are ready, and you will know when that is, establish your plan.  This may mean an endpoint other than conceiving a baby.  It may mean a calendar date, or a number of “cycles” of in-vitro or medication after which you cease your efforts.  Or the time you decide to pursue adoption.  I was gung-ho at the beginning of the in-vitro process, ready to do a cycle a month if that’s what it took to get pregnant.  But after two failed IVF cycles and a heart-to-heart with our specialist, my husband and I took a recommended break from the protocols and set a several-month plan:  we would do one more IVF cycle.  If we did not become pregnant, we would take our savings for in-vitro and instead take a vacation, clear our heads and pursue adoption.  Let me tell you, having a predetermined plan really took some of the stress, both emotional and financial, off our backs.  It was liberating.

Don’t forget the hopeful father-to-be.  No matter the reason for a couple’s infertility, it is the woman who is most often the focus of treatment, receiving most of the medications and injections, getting the ultrasounds and going through the invasive procedures.  But her partner is as much invested as she, even though spared much of the doctor’s attention.  He needs support as well.  Movies manufacture comic relief out of the male contribution to insemination and in-vitro procedures but men are not cool or comfortable with the process.  It can help the male partner tremendously to talk with another male about this and a fertility specialist’s office can help men connect.  Yes, men do talk about “it.”  The conversation my own husband had with a friend about “the room” is one for the books.  It was therapeutic for the both of them.

The million-dollar phrase.  I could fill a book with all the crazy stuff people said to my husband and me while we were fielding infertility.  In lieu of sharing the ludicrous, I will tell you the one and only thing anyone ever said that was comforting.  And it’s not “I’m sorry.”  As a friend of mine from school said:

I know there is nothing I can say to take your hurt away but know I am thinking of you.

So simple and honest and heartfelt.  If you are struggling with infertility, you need to hear someone with the courage to be honest and then throw their hat into your ring.  Give your family and friends some help in avoiding foot-in-mouth syndrome by saying to them, “I know it is hard to find something to say but if you can be supportive and hear me out that would mean the world to me.”  If you are family to a couple struggling with infertility, I pass my friend’s remarkable phrase on to you as well; feel free to modify to suit you.  But if you feel tongue-tied (like I did with my friend), use her words verbatim.  Or here’s my way of putting it:

I know there is nothing I can say to ease your pain but know I am on your side, hoping and wishing with you.

This pendant purportedly symbolizes "long life."  I wore it during our attempts at IVF as my source of hope and courage.

This pendant purportedly symbolizes “long life.” I wore it during our attempts at IVF as my source of hope and courage.

Several Thousand “Octibels” Above the Ground

If you ever ride in this...

If you ever ride in this…

with a few of these...

with a few of these…

it never hurts to be prepared.

it never hurts to be prepared.

Not unlike many infants, my younger son at six months old had a penchant for squealing.  His whole body shook with unbridled glee as he opened his little mouth wide and let loose, eyes shining with the head-ringing volume he attained.   As proud as he was, and even though he was making the happiest of infant sounds, few others were as pleased as he was at his ability.  Case in point:  the crabby fellow air traveler who had the nerve to tell me he didn’t like being seated next to a mother and her baby on an airplane.  So I, not knowing what else to do with my happy child, went the passive-aggressive route, turning my squealing son right at him.  I realize that wasn’t the most mature move but a baby’s self-gratifying peals are no match for a mother’s feeble attempts at shushing.  The ear-piercing decibels stand.

Fast-forward nine years and my son still has pipes.  His twin brother less so, only because he is not as verbose.  His younger sister…let’s just say she has the range and volume of a velociraptor.  How my husband and I got kids with such robust vocals, I’ll never know, but it doesn’t change the fact that in an enclosed space, such as a thrumming turbo-prop airplane, my kids can raise a roof.

Take for example our family’s recent trip to visit the kids’ great grandmother.  Not only were they getting to see her and their grandma and grandpa, the kids were missing school to do so.  Needless to say, their own landing gear was at the ready as we made our final approach to our destination.  Of course my husband and I tried to tone down their excitement, given the kids were old enough to understand the reminder use-your-inside-voices.  But as all parents know, it’s hard to turn the tide on enthusiasm.  At least we tried.

But attempting to make our kids  be considerate of others simply did not cut it.   My husband may need reading glasses but he otherwise has the eyes of a hawk as he saw the lady in front of him type out this text message on her phone:

This flight is kaos.  There are three kids who are too many octibels too loud.  

Word for non-word, that is what she typed.

Spelling and grammar aside, was she right?  Without a doubt, yes, she was.  The kids were loud.  She was trying to watch CSI on her laptop.  And without another doubt, she was bothered.  I wish I knew, without her silent complaint, how our family could have been less disruptive.  Unfortunately the confined cabin space coupled with a turbulent ride made it impossible to remove the kids from their seats, even if to just the lavatory, for even a brief moment of relative quiet.  So our only option was making reminders about volume. Which only go so far.  At least the kids were happy and not motion sick and not kicking the seats in front of them.  Compared to what it could have been, was a pretty successful flight with three kids.

But that is my husband’s and my perspective.  We could have addressed our unhappy neighbor directly and apologized to the travelers around us as we deplaned.  We could give visibly unhappy seat mates permission to ask our kids themselves to talk more quietly (that actually happened once with my daughter and it worked).  Hearing from mom and dad that their behavior “might be bothering others” is nothing like hearing from the affronted individuals themselves. ( We also could have said to this lady, “By the way, chaos is spelled with a ch and I think you mean decibel, not octibel…” which my passive-aggressive side would have found terribly gratifying.  But that would have been rather rude.)  We certainly understand not everyone is enamored with our kids’ volume of enthusiasm and we can at least acknowledge to those around us how disruptive it can be. Next time we fly the friendly skies, we will be prepared to try to keep them that way.

But in another vein, shouldn’t autocorrect have changed the messy text above to:

This flight is laos.  There are three kids who are too many october too loud?

That’s what mine did, anyway.

LOL.

 

It’s OK to be Cliche

Be grateful for everything you have. I was reminded of that recently after learning some tragic news about an admired acquaintance.   I took pause to enumerate all that is good in my life. I have my health. I have a marriage to a wonderful man that has lasted more than twenty years. I have three exuberant, healthy children that can drive me nuts (yes, that is a blessing!).   Then post-reflection I checked my email and began, almost reflexively, stewing about some thing and some one and some situation that was described in the time-suck that is my inbox. How quickly my feelings of gratitude were replaced by the ridiculous rumination on a very small “problem” that really doesn’t matter now and won’t matter next week or even tomorrow.   What IS important is every moment, person and gift we take for granted and could lose when life takes an unexpected turn.

Make a list of the good. Keep it ever present. Don’t lose sight and appreciation of all that is precious in life. Be grateful. Encourage others to do the same.

Be cliché and don’t sweat the small stuff.

I’m Having a Baby, Why Doesn’t Anyone Believe Me? (a Semi-Deconstructed Parody)

This is a true story (except for the fancy driving and the UZI-wielding).  The people are real.  The conversations actually took place.  Importantly, my husband can vouch for it in entirety.  And he is relieved beyond belief I have written this because he thinks I need the whole experience out of my system.  In composing this post I attempted, with “bracketed” statements, to dissect the story into elements of a screenplay…just for the fun of it.  But this is otherwise a work of nonfiction as there’s no way I have the talent to make this stuff up… Continue reading

The September 2014 Book is Not About a Lot of Things

My husband is a TED talk devotee.  I try to remember TED even exists.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Technology, Entertainment and Design is an amazing resource.  I just rely on my husband to funnel the most intriguing talks my way.  One evening, he was insistent we watch one in particular that featured writer Jennifer Senior.  She opened her lecture with how the parenting section in a chain bookstore is overwhelmingly stocked with volumes on how to raise the “right” kid and the crisis these overladen shelves symbolize.

By the way, Jennifer Senior has published a book.

But it isn’t about parenting (a term, she states, only came into regular use in 1970) and how mothers and fathers can affect and mold their offspring; its premise is exactly the opposite.  All Joy and No Fun:  The Paradox of Modern Parenthood is about how children affect their parents.  Along the way, Ms. Senior talks with parents-in-the-trenches who are at all stages in the parenting game.  She utilizes a multitude of disciplines to explain the anxiety contemporary humans have over what people have been doing for centuries…raising children.  How the author brings sociology, economics and psychology into one 265-page volume on parenthood is certainly intriguing.

And definitely check out Jennifer Senior’s TED talk on TED.com…she is a wonderful, wryly humorous orator:  “For parents, happiness is a very high bar.”

 

The Itchy Trigger Finger

I came across this quote the other day from one of my favorite comediennes:

If you are creating anything at all,

it’s really dangerous to care about what people think.

~Kristen Wiig

And not even a week prior I tuned in to an episode of the tv show Glee on in-flight entertainment.  Not being privy to the goings-on at McKinley High, the premise was out of context but a statement by Idina Menzel’s character to daughter Rachel was not:

No one achieves success by playing it safe.

I may not have her words exactly right but that was the gist of her message.  And it hit home.  Really hard.  There are two drafts sitting (lurking?) on pulseonparenting.com that I kinda like.  No, who am I kidding?  I’m not one to toot my own horn but I’m proud of these potential blog posts.  What has kept me from pressing “publish” is that very real possibility others will not agree.  While that is always true, these particular drafts are, at least in my book, a creative risk.

But now it’s time to take the plunge.  Ms. Wiig and Elsa (no, it’s Shelby, right?) have laid out so clearly for me that I should go for it.  Publish these works I am proud of and just see what happens.

Time to pull the trigger.

The Next Challenge

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I get the urge to sort and surrender about every other month.  When it seems our house is overrun by “stuff,” I grab a box and get to work.  Then the kids discover the collected past-treasures and realize they can’t live without the coloring book or stuffed animal or two-sizes-too-small t-shirt I have deemed for donation.  They haven’t given those items a mere thought in months but a newfound awareness of their presence makes these things dearer than life itself.

Awareness is powerful.  The recent “Ice Bucket Challenge” for ALS is a recent prime example of how knowledge can make things happen.  As of this writing, ALS has raised $40 million-plus since social media was flooded with clips of people dousing themselves in icy water in the name of  Lou Gehrig’s disease.  As a result, a staggering number of people now know about this devastating hereditary condition.

So what’s next?  We have awareness (and a windfall amount of funding), and if awareness is knowledge and knowledge is power, where now should this newfound power take us?  Our children are heading back school; they are ready to learn and discover.  Primed to be challenged.

So let’s shift our focus from buckets of ice water and Facebook posts to fostering our children’s curiosity of science.  Watch Bill Nye (Iin his episode on skin Bill sweats it out with an NBA star).  Do home experiments (Who doesn’t love vinegar and baking soda explosions?  Or the Mentos-and-diet-cola geyser?).  Ask and observe.  Observe and ask.  Encourage our kids to do the same.

ALS (and other devastating medical conditions) needs awareness and funding.  Better treatments and a potential cure won’t find themselves.  The next challenge is cultivating the brainpower and developing inquisitive, analytical minds to make these discoveries a reality.

Let’s use our grassroots momentum to spark the “Brain Bucket Challenge.”

But It Smells Good!

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We stash it in the glovebox, in our backpacks and handbags.  There’s a ginormous jug of it sitting in our kids’ classrooms at school.  Stores sell it in mouthwatering scents (cucumber melon!).  And it gives us piece of mind that with each squirt we are protecting our children from illness.

Not necessarily.

The newspaper often goes from our driveway directly to the recycle bin because the content is just plain depressing.  However, I happened to pick through it recently and immediately catching my eye was the headline:

Hand sanitizers dirty record; let soap do the job

We all know good old fashioned soap and water are best for keeping our hands clean and germs away.  But a sink is not always accessible, nor is hand washing always possible.  In my previous career I dealt daily with germs, or at least the idea of germs, and multiple times a day I used hand sanitizer to reassure clients (and myself) I would not be transferring an infection to them from the previous person I examined.  So this recent news article by Philip S. Wenz, an environmentalist, got my attention.  According to Mr. Wenz, here is the down-low on the stuff we have been led to believe lowers our and our children’s risk of falling ill:

~chemicals found in some hand sanitizers (and other products labelled as “antibacterial” like soap**) can contribute to the growth of cancerous cells.

~with repeated or over-use, some of these same chemicals can reduce the user’s immunity and cause infection with “superbugs,” bacteria that have evolved to such an extent that they do not succumb to antibiotics.

~use hand sanitizers (avoid those labelled as “antibacterial”) with at least a 60 percent ethyl alcohol content.  These products are considered safe for you, reasonably safe for the environment, and also are the most effective against bacterial exposure.  That said, these hand sanitizers do not kill the viruses usually associated with the common cold. Continue reading

Beautifully Sad

A friend on Facebook posted this sad yet beautiful quote recently and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  We have all suffered loss, or if we haven’t we will at some time.  The loss can be a death in the family, a breakup, or having to give up a pet.  In any circumstance of a loss, this quote embodies guidance, reassurance and hope:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Game On

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“Boo-Ya!”

“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!!!”

“In your FACE!!!!”

Sound familiar?  Just another friendly family game night.  It’s amazing how much trash gets talked with a high-stakes game of UNO.  Or when the Old Maid deck gets dealt.  And in our home, when the dice are rolled and the marbles moved during Murder, our homemade version of Sorry, verbal carnage (G-rated!) abounds.  Yup, friendly games can turn friendly families into fierce-tongued families.

It wasn’t my competitive streak that caused the card game Beat the Parents to catch my eye at the store, but the clever word play on the movie title, “Meet the Parents.”  When I read on the glossy, uncreased box that the object was to pit kids against their parents in a game of trivia (the parents field questions about kid-world and vice versa) and figured we all may learn a little something, I had to buy it. Continue reading