The Paper Tiger Breeding Program: Thoughts on Leadership

A couple weeks ago I saw a great documentary called Paper Tigers, which illustrates the effect of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on behavior and other health outcomes by following students and staff at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington over the course of a school year. It was incredible movie. It really does a beautiful job of making  what has always been, for me, an academic/philosophical discussion of ACEs real. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A full-length documentary? So very many more! If you’re at all interested in the effects of childhood trauma or the social determinants of health, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Despite my familiarity with the topic (I routinely work with our clinic’s child abuse physician on programmatic and research endeavors, particularly those related to ACEs and trauma-informed care), I didn’t get the title until two-thirds of the way through the movie. As one of the featured teachers speaks over scenes of the school, he explains that the traumas these children have experienced have left their brains incapable of differentiating between real and imaginary threats; between real and paper tigers.

Light bulb!

I loved the concept so much! So I did some hard hitting, in-depth research. Ahem. According to Wikipedia:

Paper tiger is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎). The term refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge.” {Source}

I just loved that distinction so much — real vs. paper tigers. It was so striking in the context of this movie… and then a few days later, still rolling it around in my mind, I had reasoned it into a completely different context.

Real tigers are dangerous. Ask Siegfried and Roy. Ask Pi (from The Life of…).

Yet… real tigers are also the shiz. Even in the examples above. Even after an attack that may or may not have been “secondary and accidental,” Siegfried and Roy continued their magic show full of tigers (and lions too! oh my!) and now maintain a menagerie in Las Vegas. And what would Pi have done without the striped and terrifying Richard Parker?

Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}
Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}

Paper tigers, on the other hand, are only an illusion. They look like tigers, but they’re not dangerous. Nor are they the shiz. They’re just paper — no threat, but no talent either. Except that, like Daniel Tiger, they can go to the potty.

{Source}
{Source}

And that’s what I want to talk about, really.

Not every job, every position, every organization needs to be full of tigers. But when you’ve got a tiger, a beautiful, brilliant, maybe even somewhat dangerous tiger, it seems only logical that as a leader, you’d want to make them the star of the show, a la Siegfried and Roy. Or at least learn to appreciate their company, like Pi. Instead, we see tigers in an organizational context (e.g., work, church, school, clubs) reduced in whatever way possible — trim the claws, pull the teeth, tranquilize. And beautiful beasts slink away from places where they could have done so much good with their tails between their legs, a roar stifled in their throat.

To fill the vacancy? An influx of paper tigers. Threat reduced to no more than a paper cut. Leadership can relax.

But is someone in a leadership role really a leader if they can’t appreciate a real tiger?

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem. Too often we conflate management and leadership. We end up fooled into believing that they are one and the same.

I would suggest, however, that management and leadership are two separate and distinct constructs– not mutually exclusive, but to be certain, each can and does exist without the other.

Brene Brown puts it poignantly in the introduction to Chapter 6 Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work in her book Daring Greatly. She says:

“Before we start this chapter, I want to clarify what I mean by ‘leader.’ I’ve come to believe that a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. The term leader has nothing to do with position, status, or number of direct reports.”

I’m completely in love with this definition for two reasons. First, it explicitly removes position and power from the notion of leadership. Second, it centers on an idea of leadership characterized by accountability and a desire to recognize, appreciate, and make use of the talents, skills, and other valuable traits of those around you.

To bring this idea back to my own long-winded metaphor, a leader is someone who keeps the company of tigers. Real tigers. And likes it.

 

But what about the danger?

 

In Daring Greatly, Brown’s entire premise revolves around a really amazing quotation from a 1910 speech given by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the area, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and short-coming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worth cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

As an academician, clinician, and shame researcher, Brene Brown describes how this whole idea of daring greatly is based on the willingness to be vulnerable. To allow ourselves to be seen, to open ourselves up to hurt, and to be willing to fail.

Most importantly, none of these things require position, status, or power. And since that’s the case… can do it, you can do it, anyone can do it anywhere. As such, I think more of us need to lead from where we are, when we’re there, and in whatever way we can. Refuse to be de-clawed, continue to roar, and appreciate the stripes of the other tigers around us. Look those tigers in the eye and thank them for being big and beautiful and brilliant and special. Maybe even encourage a paper tiger to leap off the page (like Pinocchio — I’m a real boy!).

I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated about my position and I suspect a lot of others do too. We feel unappreciated and powerless in our organizations, but we’re not because we can look out for other tigers and make ourselves accountable for recognizing their potential. We can lead from where we are… step out of the paper tiger breeding program and roar our loudest roar.

The Precipitate’s Not the Problem: An Infertility Primer for the Non-Infertile

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” – Your Mom

Or maybe not your mom. Maybe it was your dad or a great auntie. Maybe a principal or a well-meaning member of the safety patrol. Whoever it was — someone said it to you at some point. And you got the point. Unless you’re trying to fix the problem, you are the problem. We’ve all internalized it. And since no one ever ever wants to be the problem, our natural inclination is to offer solutions, to fix it.

And then we all grew up a bit. If you’re anything like me, you became even nerdier. Maybe you even got into the chem scene (which makes chemistry sound cool, don’t you think?). If that’s the case, you may have latched onto this alternative adage — my personal favorite:

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.” – All the Nerds

{Source}
{Source}

It made you laugh and laugh (not as much as the ether bunny or the ferrous wheel, of course), but you knew deep down that it was only a chem joke. Not a real life lesson.

Or is it?

I posit that it’s a better saying, really. More accurate for particularly complex problems, like infertility. Because to extend the chemistry metaphor a bit further — in the case of infertility, there are only two solutes in solution. My partner and myself. Anyone else can really only be part of the precipitate. A precipitate can’t fix anything, it just hangs out in the tube, separate. But that doesn’t make it part of the problem.

{Image Source -- Thanks Dartmouth Chem Lab}
{Image Source — Thanks Dartmouth Chem Lab}

In the wake of our most recent crappy news, we’ve been offered a lot of love, a ton of support, and so very many ideas for next steps — ranging from “just relax” to offers of surrogacy and referrals to adoption case workers. These fixes come from a place of love, good intentions, and probably also a subconscious devotion to the first quote above. Unfortunately, it’s no one’s problem to solve. Instead, it’s Seth and my path to walk and because I know it’s hard to understand, hard not to want to fix, I thought it might be nice to share some aspects of infertility from my own perspective.

But you ain’t got no eggs!

Infertility happens for a million and one different reasons. Or even for no discernable reason at all. There’s male factor and female factor infertility. One or both partners can be affected. There can be no eggs, poor eggs, an inability to release eggs. Similarly, no sperm, poor sperm, immobile sperm. It can be mechanical — related to the shape or size or functional ability of the uterus, the shape or size of the vas deferens. It can be scar tissue, the result of surgeries, childhood radiation treatments. Genetic, chromosomal, hormonal issues. All of the above, none of the above, anything in between, or something else altogether.

We started out with “unexplained” infertility (i.e. everything seemed to be just fine). While it’s good to have nothing obviously wrong, lack of diagnosis makes treatment much more difficult — everything is just a guess at that point. However, after lots of tries (see below), we ultimately ended up with a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve. That means that despite being just 32 (and only 27 when we started trying to conceive), my eggs are just about out. The tank is approaching E and the few eggs I do have left are poor in quality — hence the miscarriage late last year. That’s our reason. And ultimately, it has the greatest impact on our potential solutions. So while I appreciate the offers of uteri for rent and the like, that’s not actually going to help me one bit. My body is technically quite capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy, we’re just missing half of the equation.

Grieving the loss of imaginary piggies.

Miscarrying last September was really hard. It was the most difficult experience of my life to date and the grief still comes so fiercely sometimes that all I can do is hold on and ride the wave for a while. I still had hope though, I thought that pregnancy would be followed by another. That we would have our own children. As it turns out, though, the lack of eggs means that the thing I’m really grieving is an imaginary future — one that was never going to exist, but always felt real to me in my mind. I’ve spent years wondering about the curly blonde babes Seth and I would someday bring into this world. I’ve always imagined us like Piggy and Kermit — all the girls would be pigs, all the boys would be frogs. Would they have my green eyes or Seth’s blue? My ready, beaming smile or Seth’s slower, more mischievous, lopsided grin?

Imaginary future... {Source}
Imaginary future… {Source}

And then just like that — I’ve been removed from the equation. No piggies at all. I can’t pass on the Vonck mouth. My genes won’t ever go anywhere, no matter what we decide to do next. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Something I have to wrap my mind around. Another loss to grieve, but how? There’s no memorial in the cemetery for this loss and it’s hard to know how to let it go.

All magic comes with a price, dearie.

After more than a year of trying to conceive on our own, we sought medical care for infertility and decided early on that we wanted to exhaust our possibilities to have biological children. And exhaust them we did. We’ve spent many, many, many thousands of dollars on diagnostic testing and assisted reproductive technology ranging from simple clomid and timed intercourse to intrauterine insemination (IUI) and finally two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) over the course of 4+ years.  Side-effects, needles, injections, ultrasounds, surgeries, procedures, tears and snot and stress and rage and bloating and month after month after month of disappointment. We did it all for a chance — all at great cost.

None of it worked for us. Now we know why. And because we’re quite certain that we do indeed want to be parents, we’re left looking at the next set of alternatives.

Egg donation, adoption, fostering. And even those options have sub-options — fresh or frozen, international or domestic, public or private. And those sub-options have sub-sub-options — how do you pick a donor? Physical characteristics? Genetics? Occupation? Personality? Psych profile? And if you adopt — are you prepared to wait for an eternity? Are you willing to let a birth parent pick you? What if they change their minds? What if you fall in love with a foster child and then they get sent back to their biological parents (Wisconsin focuses on reunification whenever possible)? Can you bare that? Can you bare any of it?

It’s a lot to think about. So much to process. And all of it — every last option — comes at great cost. Physically, emotionally, financially. On top of everything we’ve already been through, every time we hear “at least” (e.g., at least you know you did everything you could, at least you can afford it) or “just” (e.g., why don’t you just adopt?) it’s like salt in the wound — minimization of everything we’ve done so far and the difficult road ahead to family. Yes, we are fortunate that we can consider options, but that doesn’t make the necessity of considering them any easier.

It’s not you, it’s me. 

The ugliest truth about infertility is that it colors everything. Over these last four years, infertility has become increasingly woven into my being and I have a hard time separating who I am from this thing I can’t do. I’m not proud to admit it, but in the face of cutesy pregnancy announcements, #blessed ultrasound pictures, and bow-decked baby bumps, happiness for those that I love and a sense of jealousy and bitterness are always there in equal measure. Of course, I wouldn’t wish infertility on my worst enemy, but that doesn’t mean I handle fertility with any kind of grace and I’m issuing a blanket apology for my poor reactions. It’s not you, honestly, it’s me. And presumably, someday it will get better, easier, to just be happy.

But here’s the most important thing: the announcements, photos, bumps, hashtags, motherhood memes — none of them have anything at all to do with me. So you shouldn’t stop doing them. It’s all worth celebrating and my scroogey attitude shouldn’t take away from that.

Conversely, radical self-care and self-preservation means that some Facebook friends are hidden and I won’t be RSVPing yes to a baby shower or making any more baby blankets for the foreseeable future. It’s too painful. I don’t ask for forgiveness or even understanding, just patience.

All roads lead to Rome.

Ultimately, there are a lot of different paths to parenthood. At present, I struggle because I don’t like any of the choices. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to have to make a choice. I will come around though. I always do, but as I said above, there’s no “just” about any of the paths. Once pregnancy via sex and waiting is off the table, nothing feels simple anymore.

In my present state of mind, egg donation proves that Seth really should have married someone else and fostering/adoption is unlikely to work out considering that even God wouldn’t choose me to raise a child — why would anyone else? Thankfully, Seth is much more capable of rational thought at the moment and I’m slowly starting to wrap my mind around some of the options. One foot in front of the other, all the way to Rome.

Not everybody wants to go to Rome.

But then again — Rome isn’t for everyone in the end. And there’s nothing wrong with making that decision for yourself. Families come in all shapes and sizes, Seth and I are a family all on our own and puppy makes three. Ultimately, though, the societal assumption is that if you’re infertile, you want to have children in any way possible and there’s the tendency to push couples struggling with infertility to pick a road and get to parenthood, one way or another.

Right now, Seth and I are pretty certain that we want to find a path to parenthood, but I think it’s really important that people accept any choices we do decide to make from the perspective of the precipitate. These things are incredibly personal and based only a little on biology, medicine, and rational thought. More than anything, we have to trust our emotions, our hearts, and each other to make the right choices for us moving forward. We both have to be on board with something 100%, no judgement if not.

The same goes for any other couple, any other family, and if you find yourself interested in learning more, I highly recommend perusing CNN’s recent infertility awareness week series. I shared this article on Facebook this morning and got a great response to it:

When you ‘come out’ about infertility

And there are several related articles written by or about couples who’ve made a variety of different choices that make great points about why people don’t talk about infertility (and why they should), how a “happy ending” to infertility can mean different things to different people, and how varied infertility experiences can be.

 

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with the writing of Brene Brown and Anne Lamott and Jenny Lawson. Brave women who share their stories in an honest and beautiful way — they’ve opened me up to a whole new level of comfort in the idea of vulnerability and struggle and story telling and I think that for me, infertility is another avenue for that. The ranks of the infertile… not a tribe I’d have chosen to join, had it been a choice at all, but it’s a fierce one and I’m in good company. Someday, I’ll have a very intentional family and Seth by my side and I’ll be in good company then too. Thanks so much for being here through it all <3

 

Negative.

Our pregnancy test was negative and it’s all over now. I’m not ready to talk about it, definitely not ready to be any kind of positive about it. I need some time and space to grieve the future I had envisioned because it is most certainly gone, and that’s a hard thing to let go. It’ll take some time. I’ll be back when I’m done.
Thanks so much for hanging in there with me. 

A thought exercise (for me) and job offer (for Mindy Kaling).

Guys, I am struggling. All the hormones, all the waiting. The exhaustion — mental and physical. The guilt and negative thoughts. I’m really struggling.

But after an hour of tears in my therapist’s office and the ugly sobbing of so many incredibly unkind words toward myself, Dr. C suggested a thought exercise.

While I can’t quite wrap my mind around self-kindness, to treat myself as though I were a good friend, I can invent a friend and do pretty much the same. (I’m excellent at make believe, which is the nice way of saying lying.) I can invent a friend with a new diagnosis of, say, MS. (She was infertile at first, but Dr. C though maybe that would be a bit too much. So MS it is.) A debilitating and life-altering disease. A diagnosis that affects an individual and his or her partner. Sort of like infertility…

What would I say to that friend?

To my fictional friend, recently diagnosed with MS.

Your life is different now and will always be different. But your life is most definitely not over.

In fact, nothing has actually changed. Instead, you have an answer. It’s a terrible, horrible, no good and unwanted answer. But it’s an answer. And the answer doesn’t actually change a single thing about you.

The MS was always there. It’s a cruel trick of genetics, fate, chance. A cruel trick of whatever it is you believe controls the uncertainty in life.

(Personally, I believe in biology and probability, even when I don’t like it. (And sub-parenthetical, I apologize for being the kind of friend who cites their own blog in a letter to a friend.) But I have to let you chalk it up to whatever it is that you believe in.)

It’s not a punishment or a judgement on your moral fiber, the being that is you. It’s a circumstance. And you are not a victim of circumstance.

You are brave. You are resilient. You are head strong and heart sure. You love and are loved. None of those things will change. They are, like you, unshakable at their core. Because they make up your core.

Yes, there will be bad days. Days when MS feels like the only thing. When it feels suffocating and dark and all encompassing. Those days will pass. And there will be good days, days when you forget MS exists at all. Those days will pass too. Each is only a day. A day inhabited by the same brave and beautiful you, capable of anything and everything. Even surviving, living, thriving.

No one who loved you before loved you because you didn’t have MS. And there’s no reason to expect that anyone will love you less because of it. You are loved for something much deeper than your external circumstances, including what your body can or can’t do — by your spouse, your family, your friends, your dog. Like you, those loves will not change.

But the MS may, and likely will, change your mind and work some magic on your heart. It may increase your capacity for empathy and understanding. Maybe it has done these things already. Yes, it may also sometimes make you feel jealous and ragey and bitter about the able-bodied, unaffected folks around you. But a small price to pay for the beauty and appreciation and opening of heart you get to experience, don’t you think?

It’s not so much that MS itself is a blessing. More so that it’s not a curse or a punishment. It’s not out to get you. It’s not your fault. And because you are who you are, you can take what MS gave you, the cliched lemons, and make some cliched lemonade. Maybe some lemon bars too. Because you’re talented in that way and always go beyond the cliche to find something a little deeper and a little more dusted in powdered sugar.

Yes, MS is forever and it is yours to live with for all that time. But you will. Live. And love. And be happy and sad. Joyful and sorrowful. Grateful and jealous. Brave and scared. Just like everyone else, but also a little bit different than most.

I can’t necessarily understand, but I’m here for you, as your friend, as someone who loves you. And I’ll always be here for you, as someone who tries to understand and never stops loving you. No matter what.

Always.

R

Meant to be a mom or not, I can be a pretty stellar friend. Certainly a better friend than internal monologue-ist (which is not a real thing, I just invented it to make the point that I’m a total jerk to myself). And now, when my own verdict arrives in the near future, I can read the letter above. I can sub out the MS and sub in a state of infertility no longer changeable. And most importantly, I won’t have to go to my crappy internal monologue-ist for her thoughts on the matter. In fact, I may even have to let her go and re-post for the position.

We’ve decided to go in another direction…

Help Wanted — Qualifications: eloquent, Harry Potter fan with good sense of humor. No jerks need apply.

And with that, I suspect I may be trying to hire Mindy Kaling as my internal monologue-ist. She’s even had appropriate experience. This could be excellent.

{Source}
Couldn’t have found a better picture — results on Thursday. Two days is like forever from now. {Source}

Second Verse, Same as the First…

[I sit down at the kitchen table to do some work.]

Seth: Do you care if we watch a Homeland?

Me: I don’t care… but you better check with the pup.

Seth: She loves Homeland. She’s snuggled up with me, giving me a belly rub.

Me: She’s giving you a belly rub?

Seth: There’s a lot you don’t know about us.

My house is a weird place.
My house is a weird place.

IVF isn’t really going well this time. Worse than last time, actually. And last time wasn’t stellar. (For more information, please see the start, the middle, the middle again, and the end of IVF.)

I was really bummed on Saturday. I cried a little on the way home. I was sad and tired and mad at mother nature for the surprise April snow and I couldn’t keep all that in. So I cried a little. I even let myself wallow for a while after I got home.

And then my wallowing turned into a nap. It was a magic nap. I was legit tired.
And then my wallowing turned into a nap. It was a magic nap. I was legit tired.

But somehow, miraculously, I’m ok today. Despite the cold and massive Eustachian tube clog that’s causing me some pretty intense ear pain. Even with a big grant deadline looming. And even though IVF is still not going well and there are very real thoughts of the pointlessness of the injections and the potential waste of money swirling around and around in my mind, I am ok. Because I’ve done everything I could possibly do — to treat the cold, to finish the grant, to have a baby.

Since we miscarried in September, I’ve supplemented with vitamin D (mine was pretty low) and melatonin. I’ve upped my soy intake and been eating really very healthy (healthy plus chocolate, because… chocolate). I lost 30 lbs and ran a marathon (even though chocolate). I’ve read the literature and prepared my body and worked on my mind and myself and religiously taken my pills, injected my drugs, gone to all my appointments, and still… it’s not really working.

There is nothing else I can do.

There is still a chance of success, albeit a low one. In fact, we may not even get to go through with the procedure at all, pending further test results. And somehow I’m ok.

Because my family is in the other room, watching Homeland and giving each other belly rubs. Maybe it’ll grow a bit and maybe it won’t. We’ll be ok either way.

What my brother-in-law calls a "dog circle" is pretty much my favorite thing.
What my brother-in-law calls a “dog circle” is pretty much my favorite thing.

 

So I guess the second verse really isn’t exactly the same as the first except that the first verse was IVF and so is the second. I just have that line stuck in my head because Seth insisted on playing I’m Henry the 8th I Am this weekend. So weird. Love him.

Smiles for Miles: The Time I Ran a Marathon

Approximately 18 weeks and 500 or so miles ago, I lost my shit.

Lost it.

I was at an all time low. Drowning in grief and self-pity, slipping further and further away from my family, my friends, my self and into a deep dark place that I didn’t honestly want to leave. Not really. It was easier to cry myself to sleep and keep my eyes closed. To sleepwalk when I had to and disengage at every possible opportunity.

It’s better to lose your shit, though. Better than depression. Because losing it means action… and even crazy action is better than complete apathy.

The crazy thing I did? I signed up for a marathon. Not a half-marathon. The whole shebang — 26.2 miles. In Washington, DC. On March 12th. I didn’t even pay the couple extra bucks to make it refundable. I was all in.

I ran 5 times a week for 18 weeks. Mostly outside. Mostly in Wisconsin. Almost entirely in the winter. There were some amazing days and some awful days. Some big blisters and some seriously raw patches of skin. I listened to many books on tape and consumed an inordinate number of Gu gels. I cried, I felt my lips turn blue and then watched them become pink again, I learned that cotton can be both lovely and the fabric of Satan.

Training montage. (Not picture: blisters, chafing.)
Training montage. (Not picture: blisters, chafing.)

Running became my sole focus. The marathon was what I lived for. And in doing so, I looked forward. I moved forward, physically. And because of that, I couldn’t stay stuck in that hole, in that dark place. It became impossible.

 

I don’t even know where to begin talking about the actual marathon. I had five and a half hours to think real hard about it and I’m pretty sure that during that time I had about five and a half million blog-worthy thoughts… but they must have been expelled with all the vomiting or something (it was intense) and now I’m left with all the feelings and none of the words.

The running was of course a huge and important part of it — I trained for the marathon and I finished it — but it was, for me, about a lot more than just the miles and the motion. My heart was in that race and along the course. My heart was almost literally on my sleeve, perhaps rather on my arm. And it was my heart that got me through it. It was what happened to my heart that made it all worth it.

My arm, my dedications by mile, the morning of.
The people I ran with, mile by mile.

I wrote the names of friends and family, people who inspire me and fill my heart to bursting with love, all down my arm. A dedication for every mile. But not really a dedication, exactly. I didn’t run for those people… rather, I ran with those people. For a mile at a time, my thoughts were completely focused. Completely positive.

And then, over and over and over again, I’d see a bright blue shirt, a blonde buzz cut, and I’d suddenly know it was my husband on the course. And my dear friend Jess. And I couldn’t help but beam.

Mile 14

Then a blur of green on two wheels, a crazy beard, and my friend Rob was there on his bike — sherpa-ing, willing me on, mile after mile. (And oh my goodness, he saved me in those last 5 or so miles.)

Mile 25

And then at the end. I’m starting to cry now even thinking about it. I heard my name, I saw the smiles, the cheers. My friends, my beautiful, beautiful friends were there waiting for me, five and a half hours after the start — Seth and Jess and Ellen and Rob and Erika and Stephen. Bright pink shirts that screamed that I rock… And I smiled and smiled and smiled. Have I ever in my life felt that loved? That supported? I’m honestly not sure that I have.

Marathon Photo

Not because I haven’t been that loved and supported in my life. I know that I have. I come from loving stock, there’s no denying that. But I think maybe it took a marathon to really believe it. To believe that I could be worth it, to recognize that all those names scrawled down my arm (and so many others) had always been there for me in exactly this way, on other courses, at other times, through other struggles and to celebrate different victories.

 

Why did it take a marathon? Why wasn’t the miscarriage enough? Grad school? Depression? Anything else? I’ve been supported in a way that no one could possibly deserve through all of that. So why not that?

I don’t know. But it was the marathon that did it.

 

Conveniently, I had a therapy appointment the Thursday after I returned from DC. In the hall, before we even got to his office, Dr. C’s first question was: soooo… how was the marathon?

I sat down and told him that it was the most amazing experience. That I’d never in my life felt so loved and supported.

He told me that was a totally weird answer and asked about my legs.

 

I guess it never really was about my legs.

It was definitely physical in that it was about proving to myself that with respect to my body, despite infertility and miscarriage and faulty brain chemistry, I can still be in control. But more than that… It was about finding my lost shit. About letting my heart feel something really effing amazing. For that, I get a medal.

Medal

And to everybody else, my eternal gratitude, appreciation, love, respect, and adoration. I hope you get a chance to feel what I felt, smile like I smiled — marathon or otherwise. Let me know how I can help!

Five long/short years.

Fives years is five years. Except…

It’s been five years since we moved to Marshfield.

arriving in Marshfield

Those five years have flown by in the blink of an eye.

It’s also been five years since I left DC.

leaving MD

But when my plane touched down here tonight, it all felt like a lifetime ago.

Same five years. How can it feel so different?

 

You guys should have seen me tonight. Fumbling to purchase a SmarTrip card, trying to figure out which side of the Metro platform to stand on, acting like a total tourist as we transferred from the yellow to the blue line. Oh! oh! and I almost forgot about the time I knocked my suitcase down the up escalator as we exited at Federal Center SW. Nothing but suave. Yes. Suave.

My public transit skills have evaporated, my mental maps have faded, and my sense of where I am in the city is basically gone, gone, gone. I’m no longer the young, metropolitan woman I’d spent six years becoming. Five shorts years — and I’ve completely unbecome.

And also rebecome. A pretty poignant reminder of what time can do.

 

It’s so interesting to be back here. So exciting. Somehow scary all over again.

And in a few short hours, it’s exhausted me. So. Netflix in the hotel room until this midwestern local yokel ventures back out into the big city for a few days.

netflix in hotel

Can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Sidenote: Melissa McCarthy’s Spy, which we’ve discussed before, is SO DAMN FUNNY. Sexy and reckless! Love!

Maybe she’s born with words… maybe it’s insanity.

According to Salon.com, the old “definition of insanity” adage is “the most overused cliche of all time,” which makes me laugh, because I’m about to do it again.

I started by googling “crazy is doing the same thing” to find out who actually said it and quickly learned that it wasn’t crazy that I meant, but rather insanity. So I started over again… “insanity is doing the same thing” and found that in that respect, the Internet went wild re: attribution. As the Internet is wont to do. Maybe it was Einstein who said it. Maybe not. But as Salon suggests, lots and lots and lots of people have repeated it, myself included.

So.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

They who? I don’t know. The all powerful, ever present “they,” I suppose.

But are they right? And should I discuss it with you? These are the questions on my mind at present.

 

I’ve told you my infertility story. Dramatically recounted it in excruciating (to you, I’m sure) detail. So as I sit here, at the cusp of doing it all again (where “it all” = IVF)… I’m left wondering what to do about the words.

 

A while ago, there was a Twitter campaign associated with the hashtag #WhyIWrite. My response:

whyiwrite

To let the words out. Some people really liked my response. Liked it enough to reach out to me personally, and that was really cool.

Honestly, it didn’t seem that profound when I put it out there. It was just my truth, but I can see why it resonated with other writers. They must, like me, at times get so over-stuffed with words that the release of writing is the only way forward. I’m not sure that this was ever truer than when I went through IVF the last time. The wild swings and crazy ups and downs filled me to the brim and blogging through it was incredibly cathartic for me. The release was exactly what I needed, the words on the page helped me to shape the thoughts in my head and explore the feelings wrapped around my heart, and the support I had through all of it from you, my dear readers, was phenomenal. It was so important to me, so valuable, and I feel so fortunate that writing, sharing, connecting in this way is a part of my life.

BUT. The definition of insanity…

We have decided to do IVF again. Just one more time. As I mentioned previously, for reasons beyond the blog-o-sphere, our chances of success are… what’s the right word?… low doesn’t quite do it justice… unlikely seems too bouncy… dismal seems a bit over dramatic… I’m not sure what the perfect turn of phrase is here, so I’ll borrow from our mutual frenemy Effie Trinket — the odds are not in our favor. Not now and definitely not in the future, so if we’re to have any chance at all of doing the baby making thing in this way, this is our shot. And we’re taking it. One more time, and only one more time. Given the poor odds and our previous experience, however, I have to wonder whether this is truly me bordering on the brink of proverbial insanity. And as such, what right do I have to run wild and free through Internet land talking and whining and ruminating again on something that may be just as insane (stupid/silly/dumb/wasteful/pathetic) as my inner mean girl (and the maybe-Einstein quote) would have me believe?

 

So… by way of long and twisty explanation (always)… I’ve been really back and forth about whether or not I should write about any of this again. Lots of self-deprecating cons (e.g., this is insanity, right? do people really want to read more about any of this? how much more could I possibly have to say? won’t it get repetitive?), but then the single, most important pro came to mind and it changed my mean, mean, mean mind: infertility is a big part of my life and IVF is where my head and heart, and by extension my words, are going to be for the next couple of months. That’s where I will be, where I am, and where I am is the only place from which I can truly connect with people, with you. So that’s where my words need to come from.

Ultimately, the point of my writing, and therefore Under the Tapestry, is to connect. And connections is, as I recently identified, one of my three core values. One of the things that really drives me, gives me purpose.  Connection, grace, and humor. So, here we go again — pull the lever, Kronk!

{Source}
{Source}

 

But seriously — maybe you would hate to read even one more single infertility related word? If so, tell me now! Uterus? Did I lose you? Granted, I have a feeling that I’m going to be gushing about a certain marathon in the very near future too… so there’ll be other thingzzz. I just think I’m probably going to say some things about my uterus too. Cool?

I wear leggings as pants. And other confessions.

Confession #1: It started with yoga. All the other girls were wearing leggings and it seemed like they were a bit more comfortable than me.

So I bought some.

Sister to sister selfie -- do I look ok???
Sister to sister selfie — do I look ok???

And then it got real cold, so I wore them under my running pants too. Until it got a bit warmer. And I lost the top layer. Leggings for running too.

And then, little by little, leggings on a random snowy Wednesday. I told myself it’s because it’s so much easier to slip on my boots this way, but… but it’s not… it’s…

See? Right into the boots! Easy peasy!
See? Right into the boots! Easy peasy!

I WEAR LEGGINGS AS PANTS!!!

I’m one of those people. Leggings as pants people. Do you hate me?

 

Confession #2: I flew down to Florida the day after my birthday from Central Wisconsin to Ft. Lauderdale via Detroit. That wasn’t the original plan, but a delay resulted in a rebooking and a re-routing and I had a couple hours to kill in Detroit. I hung out at the far end of the A terminal for a couple hours, reading and texting and Facebooking, like I do, until 30 minutes before my flight when I super responsibly got up to use the restroom one final time before boarding. As I walked in the door of the restroom I suddenly noticed the “men” sign on the door and quickly backed out — that was almost awkward! — and I ducked in the next. Crisis averted.

It was an odd restroom though. I needed a wastebasket in the stall (you know), but there wasn’t one. Ugh. Antiquated. No matter though, there was one near the sinks. So I washed my hands and ducked around the corner for a paper towel… at which point, a big long row of urinals came into view. My heart stopped, I whirled around, and in walked a man who looked just as confused as I felt.

Turns out… there are TWO doors to the men’s room. I backed out of the first only to walk right into the second.

 

Confession #3: I’m not a graceful person and falling while I run is kind of my thing. So stupid. And after something like my third fall in the last couple months, I have two seeeeriously bruised and skinned knees. I’m a 32 year old woman who is walking around Wisconsin in February with two skinned knees. For shame.

And it’s not even the ice, really. It’s tripping. Tripping over wonky sidewalks and the like. Even my pretty aqua green shoes are all nicked up at the toe. I want to be PERFECT at the marathon (since lord knows I won’t be fast), and these nicked up shoes and knocked up knees (at least my knees can get knocked up! ha!) are not going to do it for me.

 

And a million other confessable moments: I recently bullied (like, maybe she should tell someone about me…) a 50-year-old woman into reading the entire Harry Potter series and I don’t regret it. I fed my dog handfuls of butter after she swallowed a burr because it seemed like it might make it slide down her throat. I’ve spent way more hours than any adult should reading in the bathtub over the last couple weeks. With bubble bath. When I finally vacuumed my house last weekend, I recovered enough dog hair to make Curly a super personalized sweater and she doesn’t really even shed — that’s how long it had been. But worst of all: I let myself slip back into a dark place.

 

And that dark place, my darlings, is where I’ve been. I’m not sure exactly how it happened. It started the week before I traveled, I think… I got kind of busy and stopped doing the daily mindfulness practice I’d been cultivating. And then when I fell the last time, I stopped going to yoga because it really, really hurt my knees. The dark thoughts started creeping in, piling up, and I latched onto those again. I stopped writing, because I didn’t want to be a downer anymore. I spent an evening, and another, and another, even one particularly ugly weekday morning, sobbing about how much I hated myself. And I meant it.

Danger zone.

 

The truth is, I’m in a bad place. A place much worse than a men’s bathroom. (Granted, it really wasn’t a terrible place to be until I realized where exactly I was.) And I’m going to have to work really stupid hard to get back out again.

Confession #4: I feel really, really tired and I’m not entirely sure that it’s worth it.

I suspect that’s the depression talking, but it feels pretty true to me right now.

 

Interestingly, I know for a fact that there isn’t all that much “worth it” about running a marathon. And yet, I’m absolutely desperate to do that — willing to put in mountains worth of work to get there.

marathon training

So maybe I just need to print out some sort of anti-depression training plan and assume that it will be equivalently worth it. Fake it til I make it. Mile after mile.

 

So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got five miles to go this evening yet — Curls spent last night puking, and I cleaning it up, so when 5:30 am rolled around this morning, I was in desperate need of a bit more sleep. But the treadmill calls and I have faith that crossing the finish line in DC in a couple of weeks will be worth it to me. Faith as well that putting in the work to climb out of the oubliette,* let the light in, and work to not be in such a dark place, will be worth it too.

 

 

*I use Audible to listen to books while I run. I’ve never read any Neil Gaiman before, but I couldn’t really ignore the legions of people I super respect who love him anymore and when I saw that American Gods was nearly 20 hours long (woo hoo! all that bang for the buck!), I jumped on it. Within the first 5 miles (I measure books now in miles rather than chapters), the main character mentions an oubliette. YES.

A plastic bag tumbled across the road, and I became ready for 2016. And 32.

A week ago, Seth and I were sitting at a stoplight somewhere between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale on our way to brunch when a white plastic bag tumbled across the road in front of us. When it caught Seth’s eye, he barked at it. A brief fit of barking punctuated by suspicious growls.

To anyone else, this would have been insanity. Random, bizarre, and inexplicable. But to me…

I laughed so hard that tears were streaming down my face and my heart filled to bursting with love for this man and for our little family — me, Seth, and our sweet Curls, whom he was mimicking.

IMG_6043

Seth had been working in Florida for a week and I went down for the weekend to join him as a birthday treat and to attend his company’s end of year party. Besides the Miami-style kiss-kiss greeting, which makes me all kinds of awkward, it was just awesome. We ate good food and enjoyed the warm air. We treated ourselves to Godiva truffles after lunch and a nice view from an upscale hotel room. We went to a movie and found an Original Pancake House. We dressed up and drank good wine. We were together.

And together, we welcomed 2016 and my 32nd year.

IMG_6086

(Or actually, my 33rd year, right? I mean, I turned 32, which means I’ve completed 32 years… so yeah… hello to 2016 and my 33rd year. But to be clear, I’m not 33. Yet.)

I’m not sure what it’s like for everybody, but for me, with my birthday being so close to the New Year, the two weeks between the rolling over of the calendar on January 1st and the additional candle on my birthday cake on January 14th always feels like a time for reflection and reset. A brief window of time where I prepare to take on what’s next. The notion that was on my mind this time came from Dean Koontz’s latest, Ashley Bell:

“Home is where you struggle, in a world of endless struggle, to become the best you can be, and it becomes home in your heart only if one day you can look back and say that, in spite of all your faults and failures, it was in this special place where you began to see, however dimly, the shape of your soul.”

Until I read (well, heard, actually — it was an audiobook) that line, I had been so over 2015 it wasn’t even funny. I had chalked it up as a bad year and I was ready to move on, forget about it, and never repeat it. I mean, 2015 was hard — it started with our last failed attempt at IUI, was characterized primarily by the physical, emotional, and financial hardship that is IVF, and ended with profound pain at the loss of our baby. So 2015? Goodbye and good riddance.

But then again, as my family briefly grew and then shrank, as my body and heart endured things I didn’t think it possible to endure, I somehow in the end found myself more at home in my life and in my body than I ever had been before.

Same as every year, actually.

Every year does that — it gives me another opportunity to struggle, to do the best I possibly can, and to examine my faults and failures in the context of my growth and my place in this world, ultimately making me a little more at home in my own skin, in my own life, and perhaps more so this year than every before, in my own little family.

 

I’m currently taking a semester long e-course by Brene Brown through her COURAGEworks website. It’s called the Living Brave Semester and is based on two of her books — Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. At present, we’re really digging into the idea of vulnerability as presented in Daring Greatly and one of the first exercises we did was to identify the values that light our way, that provide us with the foundation for our behavior and guide us toward the person we want to be. After considerable reflection, I believe that for me, those things are connection, grace, and humor.

Although it didn’t necessarily strike me at that moment, when I later considered the fullness of my heart as Seth barked at that tumbling plastic bag, I thought about how it really represented my own personal value trifecta. Yes, Curly is a dog, but she is also our baby and we love her, weirdnesses and all. And we’re connected enough to one another and to her to laugh hysterically at the fact that an unexpected anything seen out of the corner of her eye is enough to make her crazy — even something as simple as a tumbling plastic bag. When Seth barked, I insta-understood. We were connected to each other, to our pup, we expressed our humor, and we gave grace to our darling girl as we laughed. It was just one moment, but one of millions… it is these moments that fill my heart. They are what make this time and place and space and body that I occupy my home.

Re-framing the new year in this way, I can imagine myself inhabiting a spread in 2016/32 magazine, standing on the doorstep of my metaphorical house, a smile on my face, the door open behind me, ready to welcome others to experience the connection, grace, and humor on which my foundation is laid. I am at home, in spite of and because of this last year and all those that came before it, and home is a good place to be — a place to to grow and to rest, to love and to laugh.

Perhaps most importantly, home is a place to weather the storms that will rage around us… and the very next year becomes the place that weathered the storm.

Home sweet home.
Home sweet home.

 

***Earlier in the week, before I headed to Miami, I talked to my niece Emma via FaceTime. Midway through the conversation, she demanded to talk to my boy. “Auntie Rachel, where’s your boy???” My boy? She got frustrated with me, like she couldn’t believe how dense I am, and explained: “Uncle SEF-Y!” So that’s what Uncle Sethy is to me — my boy. Ugh. That girl gives me a million moments too!