Right about now, in the very early morning of this particular January 14th, I’m in the process of turning 34. It’s kind of hard to believe that there will be cake and singing in my honor much later today because this year, my birthday feels so insignificant. And it kind of is, in the grand scheme of things. But then again… it is the first time I’ve celebrated my birthday as a mom myself. And perhaps that makes it a pretty big deal after all.
I didn’t become a mom in the same way my mom did 34 years ago today, when she received the greatest gift of all (meeeee!), but I recently became a mom nonetheless. And I enter this, my 34th year, surprisingly grateful for the rocky road that led me here. (Note to self: add rocky road to grocery list.)
I don’t really believe in silver linings anymore, but I do believe that there is meaning in suffering and, in the end, I feel proud of the way my heart has grown over the last six years of infertility and loss. I’d be lying if I said I’d choose to do it all over again, if it were a choice at all, but I do find myself grateful now for how it prepared Seth and me to say the biggest yes of our lives.
Perhaps someday I’ll be in the position to share the whole fascinating story with you, but for now, the legally acceptable, but obnoxiously vague version is as follows:
Shortly before Labor Day, Seth and I received an out-of-the-blue phone call about becoming foster parents. Not a vague do-you-wanna-think-about-this kind of call, but rather a here’s-the-sitch-are-you-in-or-out type deal. I cried (naturally) and Seth logic-ed (of course) and we talked and thought and asked questions and ultimately had to listen to the nearly deafening “YES”-es our hearts were screaming. So with a definitive answer and a few other minor things (completing a metric ton of paperwork, opening our pasts and present up to a rather thorough investigation, begging non-relatives to write nice things about us, bumming Sunday morning fingerprints from the Marshfield Police Department, rearranging every cupboard and closet in the house, completing several hours of online training, etc.), we obtained our foster care license and became first time parents to a walking, talking ray of sunshine.
I’ve wondered so many times over the past six years if everything we went through to try to get pregnant had been worth it – worth the time, expense, pain, stress. And I always had to convince myself of yes, thinking that the only way to know was to have tried. But I don’t have to convince myself of anything anymore. It was definitely worth it, if only because without having gone through all of that, I may never have found myself in a position to say yes to this. And this – being a mom to the most amazing little soul – is worth anything and everything.
One of our favorite books at the moment is My New Mom & Me by Renata Galindo. I particularly love the end – “Mom is learning how to be my mom and I am learning how to be mom’s kid.” It’s an exciting time for our family as we figure it out together. So this year, whether we’re turning 34, 37, or 6, it’s going to be a good one! I sincerely hope you enjoy it too!
Many moons again, I very seriously did not want children. I had a vision of my life that included a big city, well-tailored clothes and sky-high heels, perhaps appearances on Saturday Night Live — most likely as a host.
Delusions of grandeur I suppose.
But I came down out of the clouds and dove head first into science.
I had a new vision of my life. Long hours in the lab, strokes of pure brilliance that led to world-changing discoveries. Maybe making SNL only as a weekend update, a joke about how someone so pretty ended up being a surprise genius.
Guest star for one sketch, but only as my busy and important schedule allows.
Clearly not cured — delusions still present.
I don’t think I ever said most of those things out loud, but we all dream, don’t we?
There are some things I did say out loud though.
While in my first delusion — no children. I didn’t want them. I wouldn’t have time for them and I had never felt maternal in the slightest. My sister would be the one to have 2.5 babies, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence. My high rise, luxury apartment building would be no place for a crib.
By the time I’d made it to the second delusion, I could see myself actually getting married and maybe having a family. But as a selfless world-saver, who was I to bring my own child into the world when there were so many others that needed love? No, I’d adopt. Maybe from a third world country. That’s what I’d do. It’d fit with the image. And no one could tell me it wasn’t a good thing to do.
And there was a point, on a day where I’m sure that I was trying to impress someone, that I know I said it out loud. That someday, I’d adopt because there are just so many children in this world that need love and I’d undoubtedly be in the position to give it to them.
In the years immediately following, I thought relatively little about that incredibly vain comment. I was too busy slogging my way through grad school. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about that slog was that it thoroughly cured me of my aforementioned delusions for two reasons. First, I tried living in DC, the big city of my first high-heeled fantasies and found it to be a poor fit for my real-life personality. I’m a midwestern girl through and through and after a year or two on the east coast, I knew I’d be back near the Great Lakes before too long. And second, after six years of 24/7/365 hard work and intense scrutiny, normalcy was all I actually wanted — a job that felt meaningful without requiring hand-cuffs to anything round the clock.
I found all that and more happiness than I had imagined, even in my wildest delusions, in moving to Marshfield, in marrying Seth. And then we tried to do the next bit… the baby carriage. And I fully recognized the arrogance of my earlier comments, in thinking that I ever even had a choice.
It’s taken on a whole new meaning now, as we accept defeat and think about what comes next. Adoption is not necessarily off the table, but it’s certainly not a Right Now thing and it’s also not as simple as going to the baby store and picking out a baby. There’s an awful lot more to it than that and perhaps more than anything, it’s not about saving anyone but myself, my husband’s and my dream of having children. What better to exemplify the difference between 20ish and 33?
The reason I bring it up again, especially because it’s mortifying to admit the things I thought about once upon a time, and even worse to cop to the horrifyingly arrogant things that I said, is because the universe seems to be hammering it home to me at the moment. It’s this lecture from others that I most dread, and yet the phrase I most often hear — there are so many children out there that need love, you know!
YES! I do know. In fact, I know it so well that I said it myself more than a decade ago, like I knew what it meant.
Now, it actually makes me angry. Oh really… if there are so many kids that needout there that need love, then why don’t youadopt? What makes you so special that you get to have biological children, the regular way? Are you going to give me the $40,000+ and make sure a family picks me, considers me worthy, helps me to get through that agony and sits with me as I worry that a birth-mother might change her mind? Are you going to walk with me as I explain the concept that looks to any adopted child like not being wanted? And if they are a different color than me, are you going to make sure your children are sensitive to that or do I have to make sure that mine is extra-resilient?
Why do you get to assume, now that I cannot have children of my own, that the unloved children of the world have somehow become my responsibility?
That’s really the crux of it. That because the choice is gone, there is now a responsibility instead. That in trying as hard as we did in the first place, we somehow signed a contract that leaves us bound to the notion of children by any means — because so many children need love.
And consequent to that sense of responsibility shirked… comes the guilt.
I mean, there are a lot of children that need love and I do want children. I do have a lot of love to give. Is it, then, my responsibility? Is it the right way forward? Should we even have the right to think about it? Or is it simply a given that we ought to accept and move forward with.
Fortunately, my rational, 33-year-old mind, can bring me back to reality… and the creeping arrogance recognizable even in these considerations of responsibility. The fact of the matter is, no matter how much love I have to give, I will never be any child’s savior. To assume that motherhood via fostering and/or adoption is something I should do, or the right thing, the logical next step, or really anything other than a privilege and the ultimate fulfillment of love and family, is not ok.
Yes, there are a lot of children in this world, with families and without, that need love. But more than that, children deserve real love. They deserve to be wanted, to be dreamt about, to be wishes fulfilled. Not responsibilities to be met, logical next steps, pet projects, or consolation prizes. So until we are in the right place, heart, mind, and soul, I won’t stop being angry over that little lecture. And I won’t commit to the next step, no matter how logical it may seem to anyone else.
One of the most interesting things about infertility to me has been the way it has forced us to make decisions intentionally. There’s nothing wrong with having sex, getting pregnant, and raising children. But at a certain point in that process, nothing’s going to stop the train — and the train is a big one, a looooong one, an expensive and noisy and time-consuming, loud, and messy one. There’s little time to think, prepare, or even react. You just do. Or at least, I imagine that’s what it’s like.
When the train isn’t coming, you suddenly have a thousand different choices about how to get from point A to point B. Starting with, is point B even the destination you want? Have you considered C? What about D? Maybe even just staying put? Perhaps a train’s not even the best way to get there. Maybe a flight would be better — but can you afford first class or should you go economy, and potentially go more than once? Would it be worthwhile to rent a car first, see how far you can get that way before deciding on something more pricey? Perhaps you could rent or buy transportation from someone else? This metaphor is getting out of control… but I think you can see my point.
When things don’t “just happen,” it all becomes rather complex and you are forced to stand there on the platform and consider all the alternatives, with nothing but time to do so. Maybe even running head-first toward 9 3/4 once or twice, just to check and see if that’s an option.
Of course, standing there, you understand that there are many children who need love… but are you the right person to give it to them? Genuinely and as deserved? Another decision, one that takes time and discernment. Not lectures, not logic.
“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
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.
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?
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:
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
[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.
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.
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.
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.
Once upon a time, some medieval a-hole invented the oubliette: a dungeon modeled after the mythical bottomless pit. The only entrance, a trap door in the ceiling, was so far overhead that the person banished to the depths went mad with hopelessness, knowing they were left in the dark to be forgotten. (Or something like that.)
Clearly, the aforementioned medieval a-hole was familiar with the concept of depression. And weaponized it. Genius. Mad genius.
Today, I greet you from the depths of the oubliette, depression having settled in like an old friend I never really wanted to meet in the first place. But here he is and the associated fog will likely cover the faint glint of light from the mouth of the pit for a while. It’s my job (with the help of medication) to work really, really hard to remember that it’s not actually hopeless and I do actually matter. But first, how did I get here?
Are you familiar with Jenny Lawson? Alias: The Bloggess? Author of Let’s Pretend this Never Happenedand, more recently, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things? I kind of adore her — her irreverence and frankness about mental illness is a thing of beauty and I think she’s done a lot, lot, lot of good for a lot, lot, lot of people who might otherwise feel very alone. Her point: we’re all broken, some of us more than others, and for those of us in whom that means mental illness, it is a legitimate disease worthy of medical treatment. And that is all. That and a silver ribbon to be worn with pride — I am surviving. No shame.
Anyway, I’m reading Furiously Happy right now and the star of the show is Rory the furiously happy raccoon (see book cover):
Rory is a taxidermied raccoon. Taxidermied to a state of permanent, furious, happiness.
I kind of dig Rory and all his maniacal excitement. And I fully understood what it meant to be a taxidermied raccoon — once upon a time he was alive, he died, his skin was removed, he was stuffed, posed, preserved, the end.
But then last weekend, this horror show took place in my backyard (not a fan of gruesomeness? scroll by real quick):
Not actually my backyard, of course, but the backyard that butts up to the edge of mine. So close enough. That’s a raccoon. Hanging from an apple tree. Having its skin removed.
An inside out raccoon.
I was disturbed on Saturday, but when it happened again on Monday morning (happened againon Monday morning because #Wisconsin), less so. I mean, that’s how you make a taxidermied raccoon, right? Even a furiously happy one was once upon a time dangling from something having its skin removed.
The premise behind the idea of being Furiously Happy, a la Jenny Lawson, is that when you suffer from severe bouts of depression, it steals the joy right out of your life. So in those moments when you can be happy — you should be furiously so. Embracing life and adventure and goodness and joy to the fullest in those moments when it is in your power to be in that place, when the fog isn’t hanging over you, when all the exclamation points haven’t mysteriously vanished from your life. Or, as is apropos here, when you’re not busy being turned inside out, be like Rory.
I liked that analogy for depression — an inside out raccoon with the potential to be happy again, given a little help from a skilled taxidermist with a good sense of humor.
But then again, once the inside out raccoon suit was off the bare raccoon body, my neighbor took the pelt (is it a pelt? is that what we call the removed skin/fur???) inside the house and left the (now naked) raccoon body hanging from that tree. It swayed there for a long time and I couldn’t look away. What do you do with a dead, naked raccoon, I thought? I mean, people don’t eat raccoon, do they? That naked raccoon isn’t going to get furiously happy — just his little suit. So… what’s his point?
My neighbor came back outside with a bucket, untied the raccoon, dropped him inside, and carried him away to who knows where. To nowhere, probably.
And I realized that I felt past the point of the little raccoon suit with the potential to be happy again. I felt a lot more like the dead, naked, slightly swaying, completely pointless raccoon left hanging on the branch. It was just grief at first. I was so sad, and with good reason, but I had moved past that point. Somewhere in my grief and brokenness, I had convinced myself that that’s all there was. That I was pointless.
I had let myself slip back into the oubliette.
The thoughts that came and went (and still sometimes come and go) are scary. I wished to not be loved — because then it would be easier to disappear, no heartache left behind. I wished for tragedy of the variety that was unquestionably not my fault yet would somehow lead me to oblivion. For an end because why was I bothering anyway. I did not matter and that the people who for some reason thought that I did would be better off without me… when they realized that there were prettier wives that were good at keeping their families healthy, children with the ability to produce grandchildren, sisters that don’t harbor ugly jealousy, writers with more talent and less baggage, friends with the ability to smile, nieces without drama, etc. I want to be all those things to all those people. I have been none of them. I had no point.
I don’t want to lie to you. I’m still there to some extent. It’s a bad neighborhood of the mind, as my aunt would say, and I wander there frequently these days. But I do have some good days too. Thanks to the people that love me, goodness knows why, and the mental health care I have sought — needed to seek. But maybe most of all this time because someone else heard what I said and shared their own story with me and I thought for a second, hey, we just connected. And maybe connection is enough of a point. Enough of a reason. Something that matters.
And connection does keep happening, when I really stop and think about it. It has for a while and it has very frequently recently. In ways that I didn’t really expect. Not just those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or a child, but those who have been to broken places for other reasons too. People who look so shiny and bright on the outside that there’s just no possible way for that to not be the whole story, except of course there’s more. And they said to me, “hey… me too, because this thing…” And dang. That’s powerful stuff.
On the surface, it seems a little bit like misery-loves-company, but it’s not. It’s a lot more like hey-let-me-lend-you-my-strength. Let’s-walk-together-for-a-sec. I’m-going-to-hug-you-gently-with-my-words. I’m-going-to-show-you-something-tragic-yet-beautiful-and-remind-you-that-it-is-possible-to-be-furiously-happy-again.
For those moments, for those people, and for the people that love me… that I love back… I’m going to hang on. I’m going to remember that even an inside out raccoon isn’t really pointless. That the bottom of the oubliette is temporary and that somewhere above me, no matter how far away it seems, there is light.
By yesterday afternoon, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of posts about the lovely and courageous Caitlyn Jenner. Mostly using words that mirrored my own thoughts — lovely, courageous, brave, beautiful, strong, etc.
But there were a couple that did not. A couple that were derogatory, bigoted, hateful.
(Those I will absolutely not repeat nor re-post. Not here. Not anywhere else.)
Besides the general attitude of the posts, I noticed another difference that really stuck out to me — the grammar. The grammar was 100% better 100% of the time in the positive posts.
Is my feed biased? Oh, totes ma-goats. It’s bound to be chock-full of over-educated, grammar-enthused, open-minded nerds. It’s normal to cluster amongst like-minded people, I think. It was just something interesting that I noticed. That somehow misuse of their/they’re/there and its/it’s and except/accept, etc, tended to cluster with the posts full of anger and disgust and a basic disrespect for the humanity of one very famous woman who has made a brave and difficult choice to show the public who she really is.
I get that’s it’s Facebook. And I get that even on my own blog, my own feed, my own space, I am rarely grammatically perfect. But the one thing I strive to never be, in any of these spaces, is close-minded. And why is that? Why do I have that going for me? Should I be thanking my parents? My education? My privilege in general?
I don’t know. Kind of a big question. And as much as I’d love to explore it, I’m not really sure where to go. Or how best to respond to instances in which I note disrespect, injustice, and the like.
I love open-mindedness. Acceptance. The freedom of individuals to express their gender anywhere on the continuum, without conforming to the societal dichotomy of male (rawr!) and female (meow…)
I love celebration of courage and bravery. I love when people share their stories, their struggles. I love watching a family love and accept each other no matter their differences.
I love that we live in a time and place that allows a transgender woman like Caitlyn Jenner to be open and honest. Where a show like Transparent can be not just aired, but also adored. (Have you seen it? A-ma-zing.) Where this powerful message of courage and hope can be transmitted times a million via news media and social media and word of mouth to thousands and millions of other transgender individuals that currently live in fear or confusion. And perhaps even more importantly, to their friends and families who really just want to love them, for the person they are, male, female, or anywhere in between.
Yes, this world is a hard place too. There is fear and hate and anger. There are bad things. Bad things that happen to good people and some genuinely bad apples looking for trouble. But, you guys, what I saw yesterday… so… much… love! And so much progress! Even just in my relatively short lifetime. (I said relatively!) It’s a good, good thing. It’s hard not to be moved by the type of courage Caitlyn Jenner has shown us all. Or Jeffrey Tambor. Or even sweet Leelah Alcorn, rest her soul. Each in their own way.
PS: One of the best things I read yesterday was an article in which GLAAD provided tips for the media on transgender terminology — it was so enlightening and definitely worth the read. (I was definitely misusing the -ed ending!!) If you happen to notices any mistakes in the language I used above, please rest assured that 1) it is not intentional and 2) if you point it out to me, I will gladly change it. Or should I say GLAADly???
My poor husband. Truly. Sometimes I do not know how he even deals, but he always does and thank goodness for that.
This Sunday, like many other Sundays in the past (but not every Sunday, because I like to keep things spontaneous), I had a little “episode.” I can’t really put my finger on what it was that triggered it or why I got all ridiculous, but I did. I was basically, in a word, disgruntled. And I’m no fun to be around when I’m like that.
Even though most of our lives are spent doing the ordinary, the mundane, things that aren’t fun, exactly, but necessary to get to the fun bits, even though all of that is true, every once in a while, I freak out about all of that.
I throw a little temper tantrum.
I get mad about something completely stupid.
Yesterday, it was because I always having to choose what to make for dinner and then grocery shop for the ingredients and then make the dinner and then clean up from the dinner. (In reality, I do like to cook. Just not that I always have to cook.) And also laundry. And sweeping and mopping and vacuuming. And every other mundane thing I do on the regular makes it’s way onto the list and I get all snappy, “I’m fine. It’s fine. Whatever. [Silence]”
It’s so stupid really. And it’s cyclical, yet unpredictable. I do it all the time, freak out about the mundane. Get super grumpy about the must-dos and have-tos. I take it out on Seth (pretty much always because, where else, I guess? seriously love that man) and then I get over it and (thankfully, oh so very thankfully, so does he… I think) and we move on to another day.
This Sunday, as I said, was one of those days. Maybe it was just because it was Palm Sunday and the passion is so… dang… long… Who knows though. It happened, regardless of the cause. I was a brat. Seth was patient. Thank goodness for all of that.
By Sunday afternoon, I had planned out some meals for the week (really outdoing myself in the fruit-flavored water department for Seth’s sake– a meager apology, I admit) and by dinner time, I had white chicken chili simmering on the stove, bread baking in the bread machine, and a walnut pie (gluten free!) toasting up to perfection in the oven. My house smelled gooooood and I was basically over it. (Basically.)
So what did Joan have for me to reflect on on Monday?
“When the mundane things that occupy our time threaten to dull our view of the universe, it is time to slow down.” –Madeline McClenney-Sadler
Oh, for pete’s sake.
“The ‘mundane’ is certainly dull, I agree, and may even limit us — not only our perceptions but even the breadth of our questions. At the same time, there is something very freeing, very humanizing about the mundane. Doing dishes and buying vegetables get us back in touch with ourselves, give us time to smell the earth of our lives, give us time just to be. We will go on long after the big ideas fade and the profession ends. The question is, Will there be anything in me then? Will there be a me in me? It all depends on how I deal with the mundane.” –Joan Chittister
It’s true. By Sunday night, when I walked back in the house from taking my Curly girl outside for a stroll around the yard (potty break) and smelled the good smells and then ate the good food and finished chopping the veggies for what would become good food the rest of the week (and the fruit for what would become Seth’s fancy water) I did feel freed up, humanized. I don’t have to deal with any of those things the rest of the week, we’re crock pot or microwave ready. We’re eating healthfully and deliciously and as mundane as it is, that is so super worth it. Right?
Except maybe the problem is that lately, all of it, so much of every… single… day… is part of the mundane. And the mundane isn’t part of the life I imagined. So the banality of the day after day… what is there to revel in? Turns out, Joan had something to say about that too. Because I didn’t quite get this out on Monday and now it’s become a twosie.
“God makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.” –Psalm 23:2
My green pastures, still waters? A family… it all sounds great, doesn’t it? The kind of stillness, a sense of the mundane, that one could really be satisfied with.
“I have to believe this scripture fiercely right now because life does not feel like ‘green pastures’ or ‘still water.’ It feels like a living death. Everyone around me is still producing, still building, still going on. But I am cut off at the root with nothing to show for it. I am empty, useless, doing nothing, going nowhere. The speeches and the books flash and fade and I am embarrassed by my existence. So where is God in all of this? What is life without life? I feel like I am on the other side of a window pane looking in and no one sees me. No one is unkind; they are simply uncaring. It is ‘make your own way time’… and I don’t know how.” –Joan Chittister
And wow. While I sincerely doubt that my current struggle is of the same nature as Joan’s, I am seriously impressed with her ability to describe what it feels like.
Exactly what it feels like.
To live in the age of Facebook and Twitter and the blog-o-sphere and the decade of my 30s in general without the stupid pink or blue lines, the sonogram photos of little chicken embryos, the kiddie quotes and rosy cheeked pictures? It’s tough. Really tough. And after nearly four years of trying, trying, trying and tests and pills and sticks to pee on and hormones to inject, still nothing but negative, negative, negative month after month. It’s exhausting. How do you embrace this level of mundane? Where’s the green pasture and the still water in relation to me?
This sense has been particularly poignant of late as we embark on IVF. Testing, testing, testing. Counseling and drugs and prescriptions and $$$$$. The very real chance that it still won’t result in what we want. Very real chance. That even with all of the hormones and the money and the trying and the prayers it still won’t work. What if it still doesn’t work? Then what? Then how will I deal with my mundane? How will I embrace what life is to be?
Simultaneously bored of what’s current and terrified of what’s next. Or rather, what might not be next, maybe.
Oh, Joan! How do you know?!
I suppose if nothing else, the constant intake of random hormones over the next few months is bound to make life feel anything but mundane, at least for a while, eh?
Oh guys. Buckle up. I can only imagine that I’m due for temper tantrum city coming up. And without Joan to keep me company, who knows how I’ll deal. Better find something else just as constantly-insightful-and-relevant-to-my-own-life-every-single-day. Right!
There’s a big book I want to read, but as with that grocery store, I’m a little scared to read it. (I’m such a chicken!) I can’t really put my finger on what makes me nervous about it, exactly, but I think it’s important that before reading the book, I at least make an attempt at finding my own answer.
And today I’d like to talk about why I am Catholic. Or at least my very best, super non-eloquent, attempt at explaining why. Because Joan suggests that it might be time.
“Keep traveling, Sister! Keep traveling! The road is far from finished!” –Nelle Morton
Unrelated side note: sisters are the best, best, best!
“Indeed we are not finished. The struggle for women is only just begun actually. But I have come to the conclusion that social change does not happen in a straight line. It’s run and coast, run and coast all the way. This is another deceleration period, perhaps. Everything has quieted, slowed for a while, no big demonstrations, no great amount of organizing. But it is precisely now that we must not stop or we will stand to lose our hearts along the way.” –Joan Chittister
Whether you agree or disagree with me, in my own personal world where the opinions are 100% and entirely my own, my struggle with my faith has often been reflected in, as Joan calls it, “the struggle for women.” Where the word “women” can be replaced with any truly marginalized segment of the population.
I am what many would call a “cradle Catholic” — I was born into the faith. My parents met as catechism teachers, for pete’s sake! (And their first date was to see the Star Trek movie and they’re so cute/gross (they are my parents, it has to be a little gross to me) and so happy even after like a million years and three wack job kids and a bad, bad dog– I love their story!)
Anyway, I was born to Catholic parents. Baptized in the Catholic church. Attended CCD once a week during elementary school, went to mass on Sundays, made my basic sacraments, and wore the pretty dresses when required (Easter, Christmas, but none more beautiful than my first communion dress– handmade by my mom, eyelet lace, and I loooooved it).
I even went to youth group off and on as an awkward teen. And oh snap was I ever awkward. It’s hard not to cringe when I even think about youth group… (I had such a crush on this handsome young man (that’s the old lady way of saying “total hottie!”) named Andrew who had gone to my school before leaving for a private Catholic school. I screwed up the courage to ask him to Homecoming my senior year. He initially said yes and I freaking flipped until he reversed his decision on account of “Saturday night hockey practice” (riiiight… i.e. I can’t go to Homecoming with a nerd at my old school! I’ll never hear the end of it) and I was very understanding (to him) and mortified (in private) and all that. Oh, so soso cringe-worthy! Although, date or no, in retrospect, I looked HOT at that Homecoming dance, so whatevs. Also, good on me for having the courage to ask!!)
[[[Dang it! I was sure I had a picture somewhere around here from that dance– lots of other dances, Homecoming, Coming Home, Prom, etc… but not that particular one. I looked good though, I promise. And even if I didn’t, I was awesome! His loss!]]]
I even went to church on my own in college. I walked up the hill from Wadsworth Hall to St. Al’s in Houghton and sang my little heart out whenever I could get out of bed in time to make it (because think what you like, I love traditional Catholic hymns– I just do). A lot of my friends were Catholic too, so it was always a social experience, and when I started dating Seth my sophomore year we had that in common. It’s always just been a thing. Albeit, a rote thing, because this-is-the-way-it’s-always-been thing. Not much in the way of thought at any point. Although, I should point out that I was not confirmed in the church along with my peers… because I didn’t really see the need, and neither did my parents who were going through their own thoughtful faith period. While it has caused me some problems along the way (marriage prep– oy), I do not regret it. It would have just been another meaningless hoop to jump through on what was already a very rote path. I have since toyed with the idea of going through the RCIA process to become confirmed as an adult and I am grateful for that because over and over again it has made me examine the central teachings of my Catholic faith with a more discerning, thoughtful, and critical eye than I would have possessed at any point earlier in my life and that has made all of the difference.
The next natural place to go as I’m writing this is, I’m sure, toward a theological discussion of what I agree with, what I disagree with, and so on. But instead, let’s just say that my concerns center largely around the way certain groups of people are treated– women, LGBTQ individuals, divorced/remarried couples, the homeless, etc. (Sigh for Catholics in San Francisco at the moment, yes? Seems as though they’ve been in the media recently for every last one of these things.) It bothers me because I feel confident that Jesus loved everyone and that as followers of Jesus (i.e. Christians) we are also called to love everyone, always, no matter what, and with no questions asked. Even when it’s hard. Lepers and prostitutes, tax collectors and pharisees. Everyone is welcome. And we even sing that, in church, some Sundays– allll are welcome, allll are welcome, alllll are welcome in this place. I really, really believe that.
So the question then becomes: why stay? Why do I still consider myself a Catholic?
Reasonable question, and one I have honestly and whole-heartedly asked myself. For a few months a year or so ago I found myself bouncing around from church to church to church. I tried them all locally, and even not so locally (driving long distances on Sunday morning was not something I particularly enjoyed, but I tried it, to be thorough). I liked the service at the Episcopalian church in town (the minister even referenced Joan Chittister in her homily! sermon, maybe?), but ultimately, even that just didn’t fit quite right. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t home.
In the end, I still attend Catholic mass on Sunday with my husband. I get quite a bit out of it, but sometimes it definitely makes me a bit rage-y. Mostly only when the homily gets political– even subtle politicization is enough to boil my blood. But I can listen respectfully and dissent in the car on the way home. I can do it. And I can work to change those things from elsewhere. To make my church more just. To make my spiritual home a place that I am proud of. Hence, my involvement in Call To Action.
In the end, I relate it back to politics after all. I may not always like my political leaders and the policies put forth in the US, but I’m not going to move to Canada over it. I’m sure there’d be something there I would disagree with too. And ultimately, Canada, lovely as it may be, is not my home… not the place I feel like I belong. (Granted, I have not tried living in Canada, so that’s not a super fair statement, but I’m sure you get my drift.)
When I think about this concept of your church or faith or lack thereof as a home or place of comfort, I think that my husband’s family really demonstrates how true that is. My father-in-law is Catholic and my mother-in-law is Lutheran. Neither converted or changed anything when they got married. My MIL continues to attend her Lutheran church and my two sisters-in-law have always gone with her. My FIL continues to attend his Catholic church and my husband has always gone with him. All three kids are amazing people– morally upstanding, grounded in their faith, kind, beautiful and compassionate and spiritual people. Two were raised Lutheran, one was raised Catholic, all three came from a household that values family and love and respect and hard work. The two raised Lutheran have chosen to remain Lutheran, likewise for the Catholic, and while I haven’t actually asked them why exactly, I imagine that the concept of familiarity and home would come to mind eventually if I did. Probably the same would be true for their parents– they still got married and spent the rest of their lives (to date… can’t predict the future, of course, but their also pretty cute/gross) loving, respecting, and raising a family with one another. And I think that’s what we’ll all do as we grow up– what our parents did. Seth and I will (fingers crossed!!!) have children someday and raise our kids in the Catholic church, but we’ll also raise our kids according to our own moral values and our kids will be shown that all people are welcome, no matter what, no questions asked, because that’s what we think Jesus would do. And more to the point, what we think is right. Should someday they decide to move on to a faith or religion or spiritual practice (or, again, lack thereof) in which they feel more comfortable, more at home, that’s totally cool. For me, it just so happens that that place of spiritual comfort is Catholicism.
Progressive Catholicism, anyway. Catholicism with a twist.
And that is my best answer to that question posed by Gary Wills. A long time in the making, but most brilliant works take a minute, eh? 😉
I think I am ready to read that book now. To see what Gary has to say. (True story: I almost wrote Mr. Wills right there, but then stopped myself– I never write Ms. Chittister, or even Sister Chittister… I always call her Joan, like she’s my own personal friend and never with the respect of the title she’s probably owed. Yet, interestingly, I have actually seen Gary Wills speak in person, closer to a friend therefore than Joan is, and still I initially went for the mister. Glad I can catch myself in these super anti-equality moments. Wonder how many more I don’t catch?).
As you can see, I certainly can’t defend my Faith with any kind of theological argument, but my faith, with the little f, which is the one that I practice rather than the one I necessarily subscribe to or attend, isn’t based on theology really at all. It’s based on a feeling and an ideal of goodness and rightness that really isn’t something that can be argued one way another because it’s 100% personal.So I consider myself Catholic, whether or not I’m a good one according to the hierarchical Church. (And I doubt very much that I am.) But I don’t do it for them, I do it for me and for God. And no one can come between God and my conscience. (That’s a direct quote from a Catholic priest, btw. Must be true!)
I’d be really very curious to hear about the experiences of others– not the doctrinal/theological reason for belonging to one group or another or not at all, but rather, the personal history- and feelings-based reasons. I can’t be the only one, can I? Tell me about you!
PS: Talking about that youth group-based Homecoming rejection, and even more so, joking about it– HUGE deal for me! Turns out, it legitimately no longer hurts. And I’m grateful for the story. I wonder when that happened? (But was he ever dreamy to my 16 year old self…) FREEDOM!!
When I was in fourth grade, my Grandma Mormor (which as an adult I recognize is like saying “Grandma Grandma” since Mormor is the Swedish word for grandmother… but I don’t care) passed away over Christmas break. We weren’t planning to go to Marquette for Christmas, but when an aneurysm in my grandma’s head burst, sending her straight to the hospital with a severe hemorrhagic stroke, we packed up our clothes and our Christmas into our blue van and drove straight up to the UP. Although she came through a surgical repair successfully, another stroke left my grandmother brain dead and life support was removed the day after Christmas. She was only 60 years old when she passed away on December 26th. I chose not to go to the funeral because I was scared (of the funeral? of death? of my grandmother’s body? I don’t know…), but I regret that now. I did write her a letter that was placed in the coffin. Regardless of whether I was there or not, she knew I loved her, and that’s all that really matters.
My Grandma Mormor’s birthday was February 24th and I always think of her then. She was happy and gorgeous and made amazing oatmeal on her kitchen stove. Her house always smelled good and she wore a floral apron in the kitchen. I know other people have other memories of her, but mine stop at the age of 8 and it’s all beautiful to me. I also always think of her on December 26th… the day she died. She would have died on Christmas, maybe Christmas Eve, without artificial prolonging of her life. But nobody wanted that, so she was allowed to pass on the 26th and the 26th always had something of a pall over it. It was not a good day.
On December 26, 2011, my sister’s first child, her daughter Emma, was born. To me, it seemed like the universe had righted itself again. December 26th was no longer a day for mourning, but for celebrating this amazing little life that came into our family. Today, Emma is three and more amazing than ever and I am so grateful for the gift of timing the universe gave our family.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but December 26th feels bigger than that.
This year, December 26th also marked 14 days after IUI— the day I could take a pregnancy test. Something else to make the 26th of December even more significant. My sister found out she was pregnant with Emma on my dad’s birthday. We were both excited about the possibility of me finding out the same on Emma’s birthday.
I’m not pregnant though. No need to test. (I did, just in case, but it was negative. No ambiguity here.) Remember, I said I’d tell you either way. I was hoping for the other. But a promise is a promise.
I guess the fact of the matter is that we all struggle, in our own unique way. Maybe we don’t want children and others see our familial choices as incomplete. Maybe getting pregnant is easy, but the timing is poor. Maybe the timing works out, but our child isn’t as “perfect” as we would have expected. Maybe everything seems just right, but postpartum depression settles in. Maybe things get tough with your toddler, your adolescent, your adult child. Maybe you can’t get pregnant at all.
The good news is that you don’t have to get pregnant to have a family. And families are beautiful and imperfect, no matter how they come to be. There’s no right way, no wrong way, when you fill a home with people (or animals!) who love each other, it really doesn’t matter.
I know all of that, intellectually. But to really know it… that’s tough stuff. So for now, I’m going to let myself just be a little sad. Really sad. Disappointed. Confused and upset and frustrated and guilt-ridden. Just for a little while.
I’m also going to drink enough wine and take enough cold medicine to make up for all that I passed up over the last couple of days on account of the potential for pregnancy– a little Christmas cheer to go with my Christmas cold.
And here we are, it’s Christmas Eve! Perhaps one of the best things about getting married (besides the whole commitment to spending the rest of my life with the person I love and all that…) is that I get to celebrate Christmas even more.
We did the Vonck thing last weekend with my parents and siblings and nieces and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and puppies on that side of the family.
Tonight, we start the party Stankowski-style, which as I have mentioned before is big, big, big.
No matter the “side” or the location or the event, as the Muppets say (in the best version of A Christmas Carol ever produced EVER): wherever you find LOVE it feels like Christmas!
And it’s so true! Love, love, love… every where! In every way!
I wish you shelter form the storm
A cozy fire to keep you warm
But most of all, when snowflakes fall
I wish you love
That is truly my Christmas wish for you. For everyone. For myself even. Lots of love.
And especially for my sister’s dear friend Jackie, who I unfortunately did not get to meet when I was in Midland for a few days– I really hope she knows how much she is loved! To be loved by my sweet and fisky sister, that’s a big deal 🙂
I love all the rest of you too and I thank you from the very bottom of my heart for hanging out with me for another year here at Under the Tapestry.
My goal for 2014 was to convince you that I am truly unhinged, but full of love. (The best kind of unhinged, really.) If I haven’t done that yet, let me just send you a quick Christmas card…
Transition to crazy dog lady — complete!
Oh how I love that pup!!
Wishing you and all of your furry (or scaled or feathered or whatever) friends a very merry holiday season full of love, love, love!