All posts by Rachel

About Rachel

Rachel V. Stankowski considered herself, among other things, a writer. Primarily due to the positive stigmas that accompanied the label, but also because it seemed to excuse some of her more major eccentricities, vanity included.

Women Rock Wednesday: Road trips!

Thursday morning, I sat next to my coworker Tammy at a long table in a bland conference room at the Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells. It was the start of day 2 of a grueling grantee meeting hosted by the State. State with a capital S. Tammy started to speak.

“You know… I feel like I should say. Actually…” and she stopped abruptly, turning toward me. “No, this is important, this requires eye contact.”

I turned toward her. She started to speak again. “I feel I need to say…” and it was my turn to stop her.

“Hang on,” I said. “This is going to need more than just eye contact.” And I folded my  hands over the top of hers.

Tammy spoke again, “I’ve really enjoy traveling with you. It needed to be said.”

I responded in kind, “Same!” Plus some, “I really think you need some lotion.”

And we giggled like school girls until the presenter got things going. In Tammy’s words, the meeting had been a “fresh hell” and after several good and several bad trips, this had been our friendship forging battle — Tammy and I are travel buddies, through and through.

On Monday, I brought Tammy four travel sized bottles of lotion. She brought me three quarts of homegrown raspberries for pi(es). I absolutely adore Tammy…

Yet, a year ago I could not have imagined this closeness. Not that I had any real evidence to the contrary. Only imaginary. It’s sad that I let that stop me from road tripping for as long as I did. Let me explain…

 

Long before I started my new job in the Center for Community Outreach I was already working with my newly beloved crew. Believe it or not, a big part of community engagement involves actually going out into the communities. In cars. Even when the community is kind of far away.

So naturally, for the first year or so of all this traveling, I drove myself. Audiobook all the way. Completely on my own dime. Because… what on God’s green earth was I going to be able to talk about with strangers on a car trip for hours on end??? Nothing. That’s what. So I couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t, anyway.

The emails always came out about carpooling and ridesharing, time tables, and rental reservations, but I never jumped in the pool. I just couldn’t take the plunge. The thought alone made me uncomfortable and panicky. So I begged off, out, or around in whatever way I could. Always some reason or another.

But then came last summer and our first ever “Roadshow” — just me and Sheila making visits to all of our HOPE Consortium partners scattered across five counties and three tribes in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. There was no out. And I was nervous.

I tried to think up topics. What would this brilliant, experienced addictions nurse and director of numerous programs want to talk about with her awkward, sweaty driver? I couldn’t even think straight. I sweat some more. Eyes on the road. Hands at 10 and 2.

And because anxiety is pretty much always the same – pointless – our summer 2016 HOPE Consortium Roadshow was a BLAST. Sheila is incredible and I quickly grew to look forward to our long conversations in the car. It was disappointing when we had to go north up Highway 13 and I had to spend the first 30 minutes alone, stopping to pick Sheila up only once I got to Abbotsford.

After a few trips with Sheila, I thought maybe I’d give it a shot with the rest of the crew on the way north for HOPE Consortium Steering Committee meetings. Nerves struck, of course, before the big day — and each time someone different and relatively unfamiliar was going to be in the car — but each time, my anxiety was all for naught. Every trip has been a great time, a chance to get to know some amazing women just a little bit better.

Sheila was first; she is my mother earth and spirit animal. Then came Kayleigh, Leila, Tammy, Becky, and JoAnna. We’re basically a club of enthusiastic chicken eaters and one vegetarian (seriously – if you ever get the chance to have Reuland’s chicken in Minocqua, you’ll want in the club too). Never a dull moment, never a boring trip. I’ve actually even almost shaken the nerves at this point. Tammy and I went to and from Minneapolis a few weeks ago and had our beautiful (and ridiculous) heart-to-heart in the Dells just last week. Leila and I have been cruising all around the state. Every time is a little bit more awesome.

Shortly before Christmas, Becky and I headed up to Minocqua together – she is brilliant AND drives rather efficiently, it’s lovely to ride with her!

 

I suck in big social situations — small talk is so hard for me. Weather, Wisconsin, Wisconsin weather… it’s awkward and uncomfortable. But something about the car makes you instantly deeper. Maybe it’s the movement, lack of direct eye contact, road noise. Whatever it is, it lets you go deeper faster, be more genuine, and those are my favorite kinds of conversation. We talk about our families and our relationships. Our work and the communities we serve. We share stories, make jokes, laugh, and eat good food. The car, the long trips, the early starts, and coordinated gas stops and key drops when we get home – it helps us bond. We get more personal and it makes work really, really good.

We especially love the food. the rhino crunch from Lola’s Luncbox in Phillips is probably the best thing of all… besides Reuland’s chicken, as noted above 🙂

When I think back to a year ago and my fear of those long trips, I really feel like I should have known better. I work with amazing women. And everywhere we go together — every county, every tribe, there are more amazing women doing good work. (And men too, but honestly – it’s probably 80% women in this line of work.) I’m always scared, but I’m always wrong. And I’d like to really learn that lesson this time.

 

Last Thursday, after Tammy’s and my big moment… and four more hours of the lamest meeting on earth, we joined the boss lady for lunch before heading home in our monster truck (because you never know what you’re going to get when you rent and this time, we had quite the beasty, which is extra funny when tiny Tammy is behind the wheel). We were having a great time and I confessed, over Noodles (with a capital N), how nervous I’d been about carpooling for those first couple years. Ronda gaped at me… and Tammy: “Even ME?!” Yes, I was scared… even of Tammy, the newest love of my life. And I’ve still never ridden with Ronda, the best boss on earth.

But I’ll keep riding with Tammy. Someday I’ll ride with Ronda. And I won’t ever turn away from the opportunity to carpool again — not in this line of work. There’s too much to learn and to share and so many miles of road on which to do it.

Mental Health Monday: Who cares which came first when you’re sitting on a dozen eggs?

The age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

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A cause and effect deal.

Technically speaking, it was the egg. But I’m trying to make a point — so we’re going to focus on the long time philosophical conundrum for the sake of today’s discussion.

 

I struggle with a lot of different mental health concerns. Perfectionism came first and came early. I was young when my parents started a daily routine — hands on shoulders, looking me in the eye, “Rachel… relax” as I stepped out the door to school.

Binge eating came next. I don’t remember my first binge, but I do remember the first time I got caught. I was maybe 9 years old and had a jar of chocolate frosting and spoon tucked away in the filing cabinet I kept in my bedroom.

Legit depression took root in high school and it’s been off and on and off an on ever since. More consistently on than off the older I get. And always a bodily focus – dissatisfaction, disgust, hate.

Anxiety became a problem only very recently — panic attacks post-miscarriage. An entirely new phenomenon, though relatively easy to tamp down in the worst moments with medication and sometimes a well-timed phone call to the just-right person.

A veritable laundry list of interwoven mental health concerns.

 

Since I started seeing a therapist in college some 15+ years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unravel the knotted mess. The perfectionism obviously led to the binge eating — but did the depression contribute as well? Or was the depression a result? And while anxiety really became a problem only in the last two years, was there always some of it there? I mean, I’m definitely an introvert and social anxiety has been a constant since I was very young — how did that factor into all of it?

The age old question.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

 

Round and round and round… for years on end. Exhausting. And more importantly, stupid.

Who cares whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first when you’re sitting on a dozen that can hatch at any given time — running and pecking and clucking and so on?! No one. That should be the answer. And when did I realize that? Last week… maybe this weekend. Either way, it wasn’t soon enough.

 

I struggle with an embarrassingly long list of things. (Honestly, I’ve never felt so embarrassed before talking about these things one egg at a time — the whole carton on display at once? Yikes. Please don’t hate me.) But it doesn’t really matter why. Why doesn’t help. The only thing that matters is what I do, how I deal, the actions I take for the purpose of self care and mental health in the now.

Looking for a cause and solving the root problem is a great plan if you’re dealing with a plumbing issue. Or even trying to do some evolutionary mapping (a la chicken and egg). But it seems that lately, with respect to my mental health, getting stuck in that which-came-first, why-why-why mentality really prevents me from moving forward at all. I get stuck in a place that’s not solution-based, but problem-focused, and I can’t get out. In other areas of my life, I despise that attitude — in work, in personal relationships, when dealing with my physical health. Solutions are where its at. It’s time I took the same tack with my mental health. Enough with the why, the psychoanalysis, the which came first. Freud and the chickens can suck it. I’ve got eggs to deal with by the dozens and I don’t have time for the rest.

 

Fertility Friday: Misery loves company. And makes me a big, green jerk.

Misery loves company.

Fact.

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And I guess that’s what makes a time-tested adage a time-tested adage. That it’s true.

When it comes to infertility, misery loves company.

Fact.

And that this particular misery loves company, like any other misery, is fraught with other complex feelings. Guilt, jealousy, self-pity, desperation and despair.

Infertility is like a club. A really crappy club with exceptionally stringent entry criteria — you’re in or you’re out. People leave, but they rarely come back. And you don’t want them to. Yet, being left behind in a club you never wanted to join is tough stuff.

Pregnancy and birth… that’s why people leave the club. And the rational, real, me-est me is happy for people when that happens. Truly. I know that it’s a good thing, and more importantly, that it has absolutely nothing to do with me — no affect on my ability to have or have not. No bearing on my worthiness.

And yet. My heart. It breaks, shatters, and explodes every time it’s someone else that leaves the club. Someone that’s not me. Again and again, left behind in my misery with no company. Broken. Pointless. Wanting.

 

We gave up on children this past fall. We had to put that dream to rest – for our mental, physical, and financial health. There was a lot of relief in that. A ton, actually. And I’m really, insanely, incredibly fortunate to have a partner for whom I, and I alone, am enough. The thing is, I thought that with that release and relief would also come a reprieve from the pain of others’ happy news.

I thought wrong.

People have long described jealousy as a “little green monster,” but… I have to imagine that if you cut me in half and actually took a good hard look at what’s inside, you’d find green through and through. Rotten, slimy, green goo from top to bottom and front to back. And I hate that about myself. I hate those feelings, that beastly green.

Oh cute… yeah… it’s nothing like that. {Source}

The guilt quickly follows. Because no one should be allowed to feel that jealous for that long. No one should be so pained by the joy of others. Yet I can’t seem to help it. The hurt keeps coming. And sometimes the now old and familiar grief comes along for the ride.

But most awful is the feeling of exceptional inadequacy. That I am a bad person. That there’s some inherently wrong with me, with my ability to be a parent. For the terrible things I feel and for God’s, the universe’s, biology’s unwillingness to bestow upon me the blessing that so many others enjoy.

 

I know that at some of these lowest of lows, it’s my responsibility to focus on gratitude for the many amazing things I do have in my life. To breath and let go of the one thing I do not. But, just maybe, there’s also a little bit of room for a pity party every now and again. Because feelings are what they are and I can’t beat myself up over having them. But I will have to make do with a solo pity party because no matter how much misery loves company, it’s certainly not my place, nor my desire, to wish misery on anyone else.

 

Though not an adage, another fact is this: infertility is still a really big part of my life… at the same time that fertility is a big part of life for others. And I need to make a space for that contradiction and the feelings that come with it.

I can let go of the dream and still feel the hurt. I can put to rest the future I had imagined and also make room for the pain to ebb and flow. I can be genuinely happy for others, but still allow a place for sadness in my own heart. I can.

Women Rock Wednesday: The why.

I’ve heard far too many times in my life another woman say to me some version of, “I’m not really friends with other women. They’re too: ______” with a variety of choice words to fill in the blank… catty, bitchy, high drama, mean, jealous, and so on. The plot of Mean Girls in real life.

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There are a lot of women that are distrustful and unsure of other women, for a variety of reasons. Most likely experiential and painful. The fear of closeness, the lack of trust, the unwillingness to try again is almost always founded in some sort of reality.  I’ve experienced, and admittedly even perpetrated, episodes of pain myself and I’ve read Queen Bees and Wannabes – the real life psychological analysis of the numerous difficulties girls and women face. But it makes me so sad, because female friendships can be unbelievably rewarding, life affirming, positive, strengthening, and beautiful.

Female friendships not only can be all of those things, but should be all of those things. And they are completely worth pursuing.

In every phase of my life, from early childhood to present, I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have such relationships and it’s so important to me to show women who feel that honest-to-goodness female friendships aren’t possible that they really are. In addition, its important that men see the value of what women can give to each other; something different than what comes from romantic relationships– unconditional support, sisterhood, it’s unique. That’s what this little segment, Women Rock Wednesdays, is all about. Of friends who become like sisters. Of intergenerational relationships that inspire and calm. Of growing up to find aunts as peers. Of women finding something in other women that is healthy, fulfilling, and rewarding. Because it’s always possible.

 

This past January, I planned a big birthday party for myself. I booked my cousin-in-law Megan (who I have known since she was 6 and now she’s 19 and in college and I just adore her) to come to my house and teach a painting party — paint and wine and all that jazz. I sat down at my computer on January 5th to send the email invitation. Party minimum was 10 and I knew not everyone would be able to make it, so I invited far more than that. As I made a mental list of the women I’d love to be there, I was shocked at how quickly it grew. On the day of, I ended up with 20 women in my home. 20 amazing women, packed in like sardines, having an absolute blast. My heart was full to bursting and I felt so much gratitude for all the amazing women in my life — near and far. In my kitchen that day and embedded deep down in my soul from across the globe (because I have an awesome friend in Australia and that means I get to say that).

Painting party for my 33rd birthday in January. That’s a lot of kick ass women!

 

And as I sat down to write this post, I even thought of some of the “mean girls” I knew once upon a time. The girls whose pictures on Facebook and still give me the heebie-jeebies as I think about the cruel words said to my face, behind my back… but thinking about it now, as much as it sucked for me then, seeing those girls — smiling, still together, in big situations and little — I’m glad they have each other. Every woman deserves that!

Yes, there are hundreds and thousands of amazing women that do amazing things in this world and are worthy of celebration. But that celebration is someone else’s job — Google Doodles and the like 🙂 I want to celebrate something else — the thing that happens when two women connect with one another. That’s what Women Rock Wednesday is all about.

Mental Health Monday: The monkey in my mind has thumbs.

From an evolutionary perspective, monkeys are very nearly people. Our genomes know it. And so do our brains.

For as long as I’ve been crazy (always), I’ve thought of what the Buddhists and Evolutionary Psychologists call the “monkey mind” as my second track.

My second track is that source of unceasing, never ending criticism; second guesses; should, would, and could haves. It doesn’t matter how concentrated I am on something else, something completely unrelated. The second track is always running.

Maybe I’m working on a manuscript about a community-based underage drinking prevention program. Yet my second track is likely stuck on some other common refrain – “you’re fat, so fat, gross and ugly and disgusting, get it under control, fat fat fat.” It’s unstoppable. Distracting. Painful. Damaging.

 

I first came across the monkey concept when I read Thank God for Evolution by the Revered Michael Dowd, a once-upon-a-time strict evangelical and biblical literalist who fought vehemently against evolutionary principles, but later came to embrace and even promote evolution as part of what he calls the Great Story. Although Dowd’s discussion of the  evolution of the human brain is somewhat simplistic and over-emphatic, he puts it into a really interesting perspective by diagramming it out using the different animals that have brains as evolved as the different sections of our own… including that monkey.

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Several years later, Dr. C explained it to me in the more zen sense — the Buddhist monkey mind being responsible for the incessant chatter many, most, probably all, of us experience. For over 5 years, Dr. C and I have worked and worked and worked on strategies to calm the monkey… quiet down the second track.

We’ve tried modifying or replacing the message. We’ve tried mindfulness practices, dissociating/separating from the chatter. We’ve tried finding and addressing the root issues (the perfectionism, weight concerns, anxiety, and so on). We’ve tried and tried and tried.

But seriously. The monkey in my mind seems to be a bit more advanced. I honestly think it might have thumbs. And it’s using those thumbs to hang on for dear life — refuses to be ejected, refuses to be quieted, refuses to leave me be.

It exhausts me and after so many years of incessant trying and failing to put the second track, the thumb-y monkey, to rest, I’ve reached a point where maybe I’ll have to accept that this is just how I am.

I said so to my psychiatric nurse practitioner a week or two ago – she tends to disagree. I suspect Dr. C will as well. And I guess that’s the best I can do for now; trust in my team of professionals. That’s got to be better than giving into the monkey, no matter how highly evolved he is.

The Big Reset: Home Again

G’day mates! We’ve been back from down under for nearly three full weeks and I think I’m finally fully un-jetlagged. As much as every bit of me really, really dug the amazing vacation, my body certainly did not love returning to real life… worth it!

So, of course you’re dying to know how it went… because who doesn’t love hearing about other people vacations in agonizing detail???

I kid, of course! I’ll be quick.

We flew to Sydney, Australia, where we stayed in a fancy hotel on Sydney Harbour and hung with Nemo and Dory.

Sigh — that’s just the view from the massive balcony! I’m sure there were Dory and Nemos down below, but we visited them in the aquarium.

The next day, we put on our AMAZING matching shirts (in red, we saved blue for Vanuatu) and boarded the Voyager of the Seas.

Chris got these shirts made because of my last blog post — the big reset, come to life!

Where we spent 12 amazing days wining and dining, reading and relaxing…

My taste for wine got totally classed up. My taste for cupcakes? Totally pupped up. PS: that delicious looking plate of local Fijian goodness was cooked underground on white hot rocks. AMAZING.

… and seeing some of the most amazing sites in the South Pacific.

From left to right: almost sunset over the South Pacific; Noumea, New Caledonia; spice garden in a valley on Fiji; Sydney Opera House early in the morning

Also, Seth smiled. And smiled. And smiled.

Australia to Fiji cruise? Now that’s something worth smiling about!

Finally, on my way home — I saw my friend Sarah (originally from Hoboken, NJ… now a resident of Melbourne) after more than 15 years AND my friend Jessi (who lived two doors down from me in the dorms at Michigan Tech and was my very first college friend) after more than 10. Insane.

On the left, the lovely Sarah who flew from Melbourne to Sydney to spend the day with us. On the right, Jessi waited for us at gate A-something in LAX so we could hang for a minute after our arrival from Sydney and before her flight to Japan.

It was incredible. Every second of every day. The experience of a lifetime.

 

But really, that’s not what I want to talk about. Or rather, what I think you want me to talk about. Because the last time we talked, it was all about the reset… the big reset. The new job, big vacation, letting go of the infertility battle.

I’m in love with my new job, the vacation was amazing, I felt legitimate relief to let go of motherhood.

And then last night. It all caught up with me. The truth came out in an explosion. Tear-filled and snot-soaked.

I can’t stop saying yes at work and I’m completely overwhelmed. As amazing as the vacation was, I felt immediately un-relaxed the second I stepped off the plane in Wisconsin. And “letting go” is a process that doesn’t happen quite that quickly — my heart is still broken and I need a lot more time and space to let it heal than I thought I would.

Damnit. I really thought I’d be fixed. And somehow, I am legitimately surprised that I am not. Yes, I am ridiculous as I sound.

BUT.

New story.

One night on the cruise, while having drinks in a super fancy lounge on the tippy top of the ship, I got a *free* blog consultation with the one and only Chris Lema. I’ve never priced him out, but I’m pretty sure he charges regular people like $7,918 an hour. Approximately.

The gist of the consultation: (1) Blogging is good for you. Do it. (2) Consistently. (3) And use consistent themes.

Except Chris always tells a story, so the message was a lot longer, funnier, more interesting. You know. Lema-ish.

So here’s the deal. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be super consistent (I’m very busy and important), but I’m going to be a heck of a lot more focused. Coming soon — a legit About Me page including “best of” and all that jazz PLUS Mental Health Monday, Women Rock Wednesday, and Fertility Friday. What do you think? Are you excited? I kind of am.

Actually, I am. And not just because I have lots of post ideas, but mostly because blogging… sharing stories… is probably the single healthiest thing I do on a regular basis. When I don’t do it on a regular basis, I have nights like last night. Tears and snot. It’s good for the makers of Kleenex and producers of alprazolam… but no one else.

I love to hear other people’s stories and I love to share my own. It’s healthy, it’s healing… it’s cathartic, fun, and relaxing. It’s who I am. Maybe I didn’t change my life, really reset it like I expected, but Chris did point me home. To where I belong. Even better than starting over. Thanks, Chris.

2016: The Year of Enough

Happy New Year! Welcome, one and all, to 2017!!

Party animals — NYE 2017. Me and Curls watched a movie and ate BBQ chips… I’m old.

I laid in bed early yesterday morning, scrolling through Facebook’s daily reminder of what I’d done that day in history… and since I started Under the Tapestry, I’ve pretty consistently spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on a big theme, a lesson learned, a summary of the year about to end. I wanted to do that again, but my head was pounding and I hadn’t slept well and I needed to be up at and ’em for reasons I’ll explain momentarily, so bliggity blogging remained on hold. Even thinking remained on hold, to be honest.

Instead, I closed Facebook down, took a deep breath, and dialed my nextdoor neighbor. To my profound relief, he picked up the phone.

I’d left Lyle in his bed the night before, honestly unsure of whether he’d still be alive in the morning. He was so weak and confused, short of breath, complaining of a back ache. But all he wanted was sleep. He hadn’t eaten all day, just a bit of water, the glass of OJ his niece and I begged him to drink. He us to leave him so he could sleep. I called the hospice nurse as soon as I got home and though somewhat reassured, I still cried a bit, thinking of what that day somewhere in the near future is going to look like… when one of us finds him in the morning, having passed on. I know that’s the point of hospice, but I also thought the point of hospice was supposed to be comfort… a good death. This doesn’t seem good. It seems hard and scary and uncomfortable. What I’m learning though is that what hospice is truly about is autonomy… about saying enough is enough and living what’s left of your life on your own terms. We don’t always choose the best terms for ourselves, but that’s the thing about choices. No one else gets to make them for us.

Just a week ago, Lyle was looking alright on Christmas day — we brought him an old fashioned and had a nice visit.

As I sat in the maroon recliner at Lyle’s house that morning after the phone call (and a quick run to Dunkin Donuts for an uneaten breakfast sandwich and undrunk cup of coffee), Lyle dozing, in and out, in the blue recliner next to me, I began pecking this post out on my phone. Vague ideas and misspelled, fat-fingered words, just a start. Because I’d realized, despite the headache and the fear, that the idea of what exactly constitutes enough is what I learned in 2016.

Most recently, I’ve worried desperately about Lyle. We’ve lived nextdoor to him since moving in o our house in the summer of 2012, and in that time, we watched Lyle care for his rapidly declining wife, Marlene, Mar, through an awful battle with Alzheimer’s disease that ultimately ended with a broken hip, brief hospitalization, and rapid death last December. In the year since, Lyle has declined even quicker. I’ve seen what a broken heart and battered psyche can do to a man’s body and all the while, I’ve worried about whether what I’m doing to help is enough. As I watch Lyle suffer loss of appetite, mobility, strength, weight, will to live… I’ve constantly wondered about whether I could have done more. I feel like I tried so hard, but had I really tried hard enough, wouldn’t this be a better process? It was yesterday, on New Year’s Eve, as I emptied out Lyle’s catheter bag that I knew suddenly, in no uncertain terms, that I had indeed done enough. Because enough, in this case, is my best… in the face of what Lyle has chosen to be enough for his life. Lyle and I, both imperfect, are both doing our best. For ourselves. For one another.

When I realized that, all the other moments of “enough” throughout this past year flooded into my mind.

After our miscarriage late last year, I needed to demonstrate that I could make my body do something I really, really wanted it to do — for that, only a marathon was enough. And it was exactly what I needed, extreme catharsis.

I desperately wanted (and still want, really) a family, but every aspect of our infertility battle has taken a lot out of us, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, temporally We were fortunate to find a doctor that understood me, both medically and psychologically – she knew I needed to “leave it all out on the field” or I’d have questions, always wonder, and she advised me accordingly (Christine Broadwell at Generations in Madison, should anyone reading ever need such services). After the second round of IVF with donor eggs, third round of IVF this year, all with no success, we’d finally had enough. Somehow, despite the sadness, profound grief, feelings of failure… there’s also incredible relief in saying “enough!” and believing it.

Likewise, I desperately wanted to make things better for myself and those around me in my place of work and I felt like I fought the good fight for a long time. Actually, I know I did. I tried really hard. But I couldn’t keep doing it. It had become so hard to get out of bed in the morning. So I put down my sword and took a new job in a new department. Two weeks in and I am already profoundly certain that I’ve done the right thing… and I feel good knowing that I did everything I could do to try to stay before saying enough and making the choice to move on.

 

 

Enough, upon reflection, is a beautiful thing. It’s a step back from must-be-perfect to as-good-as-it-gets and I’ve-tried-my-best. To say “enough” and really mean it is a huge relief. Yes, even to give up on a baby, to say enough to infertility treatment, though sad, honestly feels like a relief. We’ve had enough.

Getting to “enough” reflects my autonomy to make a decision about what’s right for me, and to have that kind of autonomy and the wherewithal to use it is a blessing. So, hasta la vista, 2016 — I’m glad to have learned from you, but have really had enough. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Happy 2017, friends! May this year bring you the courage to say “enough” and really mean it!

Reset Button

In early November, Seth and I were in Annapolis for a beautiful wedding with lots of old friends.

I have so many friends! The thing I said about Annapolis is true!!

While there, Seth got a text in two parts. The first part was something along the lines of:

Please don’t say no right away, take some time and think about it…

Time to think about what? The second part was the invitation:

Want to come with us on a 12 days cruise to Australia, Fiji, the Maldives???

We balked, of course. Hence the first part — our friends know us too well. Twelve days off work PLUS the travel time to get to Australia? How could we possibly?

But they’d asked us to think. So we thought. Could we? Should we?

 

We returned to Wisconsin a couple days later and first thing Monday morning was my final pregnancy test — a negative, of course. We promised ourselves no more. We laid down our arms, walked away from the infertility battle, and thought a little more about that trip.

We’d spent the last 5+ years carefully saving vacation time for trips to and from the fertility clinic in Madison, hoping that our stockpiled days wouldn’t be used for more trips, but for the birth of our baby.

The fact of the matter is, there isn’t going to be a baby for us. So… Australia… Fiji… with our best friends… a once in a lifetime opportunity… why not?

We said yes. We booked flights — CWA > DTW > LAX > SYD. We’re really going!

A short while later, all of the sudden, the new job I’d been working on building/acquiring came to fruition. I start on Monday.

And just like that, we’re hitting the RESET button in a very big way.

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I look back on my life five years ago, newly married, fresh out of grad school, really digging my life as a scientific writer, and excited about the family we were going to start and it’s easy to see just how big of a reset this is. I expected us to be full on nuclear, in the family sense — focused on having and rearing a couple of toe-headed braniacs with stubborn dispositions (that’s anice way of saying jerks… but they would have been my little jerks). But that’s not reality, and a reset is necessary to bring me back to earth.

I’ve always enjoyed the end of one year and the beginning of another. I love that the advent season, with its time for reflection and focus on the coming light, blends seamlessly with the new calendar year and two weeks later with a new year for me personally when my birthday hits. This year is extra special, a bonafide reset, for three reasons.

First, early on the morning of November 7th, before our last negative pregnancy test, my sleepy Seth rolled over in bed to tell me that no matter the results, he loves me and I am enough. My heart… it somehow simultaneously broke and swelled. He thinks that I, just me, no baby, am enough. I can’t tell you how much that settled me into this new reality. Seth, Curls, and me — a happy little family.

Second, on Monday, I start my new job — my dream job, really. The dream I didn’t know I had until two years ago when I started working more and more with community facing programs and the amazing woman who will be my boss. I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve done so far and I’m so excited to dedicate myself full time to a position I feel so passionate about. I was feeling a bit insecure on Friday — what if they find out they hate me? But I start during Christmas celebration week and I’m the Leslie Knope of gift giving AND cooking baking… there’s no way they won’t be impressed. Bring on Sneaky Santa!

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Finally, on January 28th, we’ll be getting out of dodge, crossing the equator for the first time, and heading to the other side of the world for nearly three weeks. I never thought a trip like this could possibly be a reality, but we’re doing it together, with our friends, and it’s going to be incredible. I know it in my bones.

omg. omg. omg. @rachelstanksi is ME!

 

Meanwhile, a reset is really only a reset if the reset-y things actually change you for the permanent. And in this case, I very much suspect they will.

For the time in maybe ever, I actually believe that I am enough for Seth. Worthy. I know that makes me sound like I’m in some sort of terrible, abusive relationship, and maybe I am… but Seth’s not the perpetrator. My traitorous psyche, the “second track” I’ve often referenced, is. But what further proof could I possibly need than everything we’ve been through for the sake of having a baby, and to have Seth still, faithfully, happily by my side? He thinks I’m enough (block head, frizzy hair and all), and I think he might be right — we’re M-F-E-O*, baby or not.

Second, I’ve found true meaning in my work. I am so excited to dedicate my time and talents to the amazing things being done in the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach. I see such incredible work going on, such incredible dedication to community health from a variety of perspectives (e.g., high risk youth, alcohol and other drugs of abuse, social determinants of health), and I want to tell the story, give it a voice, make people aware, continue to build programs and make them replicable in other communities.

Finally, I’m going to live my life now — starting by spending the time to go on an amazing vacation. No more saving and banking for something that may or may not happen. And I need to translate that into using “yes” and “no” appropriately at other times as well. Yes to community engagement and social events, but no when it becomes to much and I need to recharge the introvert batteries. Yes to the things that are truly good for me, and no when things hurt. I’m practicing already — we’re going to a dinner party with friends tonight! Yes, yes, yes!

 

Anyway, given my recent track record, I suspect I won’t write again before the new year — so I hope you enjoy the holidays, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and I’ll look forward to sharing a new adventure in 2017!!

R

A happy Belvedersary, even still.

I’ve got to admit, I’m at something of a low point. Until now, things always seemed to work out according to some sort of natural order… and if they didn’t, it was removed enough from my day-to-day life that I was able to deal and keep going.

Losing the infertility battle, though… it feels like I’ve been cut in half, scooped and scraped clean, and refilled with something unfamiliar and painful before being put back together. I don’t know how to move forward. I can’t figure out what comes next.

Though far more painful than the last, it’s not the first time I felt adrift…

On Friday, we celebrated our sixth Belvedersary. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, we mark the fateful day in 2010 on which a weird series of events led to our next big step. I was in grad school at the time and had spent nearly six years being trained for a career in academia… a career that I knew I didn’t want. But a girl needs a job and I was desperately searching for an better-than-nothing position as a post-doc after graduation. Until that day we celebrate year after year.

On the day after Thanksgiving in 2010, and please forgive me for repeating myself (it’s been a while), Seth and I were in Wisconsin for the holiday when my in-laws suggested we head to Marshfield for a fish fry at the Belvedere Supper Club, a quick stop at Festival Foods for a couple bottles of Captain’s Walk White to bring back to Maryland, and a tour of the Marshfield Rotary Winter Wonderland at Wildwood Park and Zoo. On the way through Marshfield, I noticed the big clinic anchoring the town… and the rest is history.

My future as a Scientific Research Writer was literally triggered by a million tiny light bulbs.

It doesn’t get much more obvious than that.

 

So yesterday, my amazing-at-humoring-me in-laws came to Marshfield to join Seth and me in celebrating our sixth Belvedersary.

First, a fish fry at the Belvedere.

belvedere-2016
Love him for humoring me; I only ever get one shot at a photo. If I get one at all. Oh, Sethy!

Then, the lights at Wildwood.

wildwood-2016
Just the drive through version for now… we’ll walk the park when there’s snow on the ground, it’s even prettier then.

It was so much fun. It’s always fun. And it’s such a good reminder of how things can work out, even if it’s in a way I couldn’t in a million years have anticipated.

 

And last night, celebrating our Belvedersary with people I love very, very much, my ucky new insides didn’t feel quite as painful as they did the day before. I don’t know if the future will be as clear as the million lights at Wildwood this time, and I know that I’m going to hurt for a while, but there will be a future. Somehow, some way. Just not the one I imagined.

Dear Body: A Letter of Apology and Appreciation

Dear Body,

It’s been a long five years, but the journey is over and it’s time for me to reflect on what that journey has been like for you. Miserable, right? And oh my gosh, am I ever sorry.

Five years ago, we started trying to get pregnant. It was fun at first (wink), until a couple of months had gone by and we had to get a little more serious. So I watched you like a hawk. Just tracking at first. Then predicting ovulation, a basal body temperature first thing in the morning, peeing on ovulation predictor sticks. The doctor refused to see us in that first year, that’s how it works — nothing for 12 months. And month after month, the fear grew, the frustration built, I hated you.

So, I started to subject you to ever more invasive interventions. It was just pills at first — the clomid with it’s bloating, headaches, and artificially elongated cycles that led to unrealized hopes month after month. Then came the intravaginal ultrasounds… and those wouldn’t stop for the next four years. Probes and clamps and ultrasounds and ultrasounds and ultrasounds. Six months later, the clomid had failed too.

So we traveled to Madison. Three rounds of IUI, four of IVF. Pills, injections (so many needles — bruising, bleeding, nerve damage), sticky patches and adhesive burns, another hysteroscopy, with a camera this time, so… many… ultrasounds… and every time, failure. Except the one time, when for 10 weeks when we thought otherwise, only to result in a stopped heart, a nearly unbearable surgery, and the worst months of my life.

It was awful, really. But it was impossible for me to let go of the hope, nor the anger at you. Until now.

Because, Body… you endured. The sticks, pokes, clamps, ultrasounds, surgery, heartbreak. You endured all of that, plus the physical symptoms of grief, anxiety, depression, and extreme stress. You may not have made me the baby I had so desperately hoped for, but you did every other thing I asked. Even ran that marathon. And for that, I am grateful.

So, Body, I’m done now. And you’ve certainly earned the kindness coming your way. At least 5 years-worth, probably more. I promise to give that to you. Of course, there will continue to be physical consequences for a while yet… you’ve been through a lot and I can’t make it all go away in an instant, particularly the physical manifestations of the anxiety and depression as I work to figure out a new way forward.

We’re in this together, and you’ve hung in there through some seriously tough stuff these past five years. I’m sorry for what I put you through, I appreciate how hard you let me try, how long you let me hold on to what was an impossible hope. Thank you for that. I’ll do better for you from now on.

So much love, for real,

Rachel

 

PS: Next time someone tells you to “relax,” permission granted to take swing.