Friday, January 4, 2008

Birds of a Feather

My sister and my best friend both had miscarriages before me. It's kind of a "third time unlucky" situation for me. My sister also had two years of infertility before her miscarriage. Since both of them now have two children each (a boy followed by a girl in both cases), I did try to draw some hope from this. But as I went past 2 years of trying and 2 losses, I felt less and less reassured by their successes. That said, I am so very pleased that it did work out for them, as it means I have my wonderful niece and nephew and my godson and his sister. I love all four of them, and if I never manage to have kids of my own then I can at least be the best indulgent aunty/godmother I can be!

My sister (I'll call her B - not her initial, but it means something to me) is three years younger than me. It was a bit of a shock to me when she came along, but I blamed my parents more than her - which, with hindsight, was very perceptive of my three-year-old self. We are close and have many opinions in common, but we are also very different - to her advantage, I suspect. I was reasonably academic growing up, always had a few friends, started dating in my early teens and generally life was relatively easy for me (tho' it never felt like it as a hormonal teen, of course). She was much less academic, stuck to a couple of friends and was a late starter on the dating front. But boy has she made up for it since! She is the most determined person I know and puts everything into getting things done. As a result, she has overtaken me on every count. She got married, had kids, a proper house and a proper job before I managed to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I'd love to tell our primary school teachers that although I managed not too badly in tertiary education, it's my wee sister who is currently studying for her PhD while simultaneously holding down a job, raising two kids and renovating a decrepit house. Yeah, yeah, yeah - I'm jealous at times (would I be human if I wasn't?) - but mainly I'm incredibly proud of her and wish I had the tenacity and will-power she has.

I'm ashamed to say that when she had her miscarriage, I only found out after the long-drawn-out event and didn't have a clue what to say to her. I occasionally remind myself of this when someone avoids me, or says something stupid after one of my losses. Once upon a time, I was them. She and her husband had been trying for two years, had a go at clomid, got pregnant straight away and then found out at the 7 week scan that all was not well. Not wanting to believe the worst, she and her husband decided not to opt for a D&C but waited a further few weeks before finally accepting defeat. I wish I had known all this at the time and I wish that, if I had, I could have found a way to say the right things. Happily, she got pregnant again on the very next cycle and, although she had some very worrying early bleeding, this pregnancy resulted in my nephew (now a very spirited seven-year-old). My niece came along without the same drama two years later. Needless to say, all this means that she has a pretty good idea of how tough things are for CM and me.

I met my best friend at university. I had arrived a couple of days early at the halls of residence and had spent my evenings in the company of the Chr*st*an Un*on. They were a lovely bunch of people, and I continued to be friends with them for the rest of my time in halls. I have dabbled with religion in my time - I'm fairly sure there's something bigger than me out there - but I have an unruly side and when I imagined my time at uni I imagined more beer than prayer. So I was quite pleased to bump into KS - I'll call her this, because we quickly recognised and acknowledged that we were kindred spirits. KS lived in the room above mine and when we wanted to chat, she would bang her hairbrush on the floor or I'd bang mine on the ceiling.In Freshers' Week, we both dumped our boyfriends from home (not proud of that one - but mine really did deserve it) and took up with two guys who also became and remain best friends with each other. The romances with the blokes only lasted into our 2nd year, but the friendships are still in tact and all four of us will gather this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our meeting. Not bad, I reckon!

Since we left uni, we have almost always lived at opposite ends of the UK, but our lives have mapped each other ever since then. We have changed jobs, flats and boyfriends within months of each other for most of our twenties, met our husbands in the same month and she married hers five months after I married mine. So it wasn't a big surprise that we both had a bad time starting our families. She "anticipated" her wedding, as a polite relative once described getting pregnant before married, by a few months and was actually pregnant and going through her first miscarriage as she performed her bridesmaid duties for me. I didn't know it till I got back from honeymoon - she hadn't wanted to spoil the wedding, bless her. She had another loss but then, about a year after I got married and six months after my first loss, she conceived my godson. Like my sister, she had some bleeding in the early stages and had been told not to be too optimistic. She told me pretty quickly - I think shortly after she told her husband - and I felt such a mixture of happiness and jealousy. In between her 2nd loss and the successful pregnancy, I had had my first loss and I imagine she had similar feelings when I told her about that pregnancy.

Obviously, our lives have taken different forks now - she is working part-time, living in a little house in a little village as a mum of two. I am still full-time, city flat-dwelling and childless. This started to form a small wedge in the closeness of our friendship - I couldn't empathise with the new motherhood experience in the way she empathised with my losses. She was careful not to overdo the "nappy-head" mother talk, and particularly careful not to complain about the downsides of motherhood. On the one hand, I was extremely grateful but on the other I was aware that I was not hearing some important stuff!

It kind of reached a climax when I did my IVF cycle and she was pregnant for the second time. She was so sure that the cycle would work that she held off telling me, imagining the joyous moment when I told her I was pregnant and she would say "me too!" and we'd share our pregnancies in the way we'd shared so many other bits of our lives. When the cycle was a bust, I think she just couldn't bring herself to give me her news. Time passed, and it was only when I asked her if she'd thought any more about baby number two that she told me she was more than 16 weeks pregnant. It was such a contrast with the previous pregnancy - this time I was the last to know. I was very hurt at the time and I'm embarrassed to say that I started crying as we spoke on the phone. Again, she had had some bleeding with this pregnancy and had been in and out of the early pregnancy unit having checks. She had been in touch 2-3 times a week throughout my cycle and had been so supportive, but had mentioned none of this. I was as much upset that I hadn't been there for her as I was because I felt shut out. Really, I was the one that was responsible for the wedge in our friendship - her reticence was an attempt to protect me, not to shut me out. I had not long discovered blogs at this point and that night, in some intervention by the universe (or whatever thing that is bigger than me that is out there - see above re religion) in catching up with archived posts on a blog I had just discovered, I found some words which possibly saved our friendship.

I had followed a link to a blog called "Cancer, Baby" written by an incredible woman who had been experiencing infertility and then discovered that she had ovarian cancer. Her blog has gone now, and so has she - I have never cried so much over the death of someone I didn't know, but then, by the time she died I - and all the others who followed her blog - felt like I did know her. Although I contacted her husband after her death to express my condolences and my admiration for her, as an inveterate lurker (this will have to change now!) I only left one comment while she was still blogging - to let her know how much that one particular post had helped me. She replied with a lovely email, thanking me and saying how much it meant to her to help others - like I said, an incredible woman. The post was called "The Girlfriend's Unguide to Cancer and Infertility". It followed one on how, when meeting a friend with new baby, she felt huge joy for her, but found the phrase "it should have been me, it should have been me" running through her head. The "Girlfriend's Unguide" post was on how help is given to us and how we receive it - how we have to meet our friends part-way in our attempts to have them understand and help us. These two posts rang so true for me and helped me to sort through my feelings and find a way to put them into words. I then emailed my thoughts to my friend (including a link to Cancer Baby's post). KS mailed back and quickly our friendship was as good as, if not better than, before.

B and KS have been through some of what I have and have been unbelievably supportive to me - without them to talk to, I seriously doubt I'd have remained sane through all this. The fact that even they have said things that have hurt me, when I know they would never in a million years say anything they knew would cause me pain, demonstrates how miscarriage and infertility can affect the perceptions of those of us who've been chipped away at by disappointment. When Jessica, the author of "Cancer, Baby" died, her husband and parents allowed her readers to print one copy of her archives before her blog was taken down and I treasure mine. Her writing was wonderful - witty, clever, compassionate and honest - and she helped a lot of people through her blog. 

***edited to say: I had included a quote from Jessica's post here, but today I read an old post from another blog that said that her folks weren't keen on cross-posting, so I've taken it down.*** 

Thursday, January 3, 2008

So It Makes Me Very Happy To Introduce To You . . .

Points for anyone who gets the reference for the title! You have to imagine it sung by a frog - big clue ;-).

My second post and already I'm a lazy blogger (sorry Carrie!). I have to plead Christmas and the lurgy (two lurgies, in fact). Being a teacher - and especially an infant teacher - the end of the winter term gets a bit mad. There's the intensive artwork to make cards and presents for parents, practising carols for the end of term service, the party practices (yes, with 90 primary 1s in the hall at one go, practising games is necessary) . . . and, of course, the Nativity play. This year's Nativity went very well, thank you. One day, I'll tell you the story of the Nativity that led to me uttering the sentence "I dont have all day to go round tying shepherds' dressing gowns!" through gritted teeth - shades of Joyce Grenfell, and I'm sure any other teachers out there will have similar moments.

We went to stay with my husband's mum for Christmas. My brother- and sister-in-law were there with their 4-year-old and 8-month-old. The heating had broken down, my BIL and nephew (the 8-month-old) both had nasty bugs and I had come down with the school cold on the last day of term. I can only hope that my BIL went away with the school cold, because the day we got home I started suffering from his throat infection. Can't blame the baby - although I spent quite a lot of time helping look after him - more in another post on that joy. I'm feeling pretty sorry for myself, with the sore throat, tickly cough and bunged-up ears and sinuses and resulting dizziness and headache.

Well, that covers my excuses for the lengthy pause between posts. Now I'd best get on with the introductions promised in post number 1.

I suppose my husband deserves to go first, since he's my unwilling fellow traveller. I'm really not sure how to refer to him here. DH, like on the infertility/miscarriage boards I frequent? Mr H (as in Hope for the Best)? Curmudgeon Man, since that's what I call him when he goes into one of his "the worlds done me wrong" riffs? Actually, CM sounds good and pretty much sums up his attitude to the situation in which we find ourselves - hey, who can blame him?!

We met almost 7 years ago, in our early/mid thirties (me early, him mid). The story of how we met deserves a post on its own, so I won't tell it now. A big anniversary is coming - not CM's and mine, but a sad one that led to our meeting - and I'll tell the story then. Anyway - we got married a year and a half after we met and started trying to conceive 6 months after that and that's what led me here. He's about 2 years behind me on the whole baby thing. Right now, he's dealing with the losses and the anger and sadness that brings. I've been through that, on to the "what if it NEVER works" and the "life isn't worth living without a baby" and have reached the outskirts of acceptance . . . I think . . . tho' I have a feeling there are probably some backwards trips to make as we contemplate a donor cycle and the possible real end to our hopes [actually, I've just let CM read this, and he informs me he has recently arrived at "what if it NEVER works" - good to hear he's making progress]. I expect a lot - if not most - women who find their attempts to become mothers thwarted by infertility and/or loss find their partners deal with it all very differently from themselves. I have friends I've made along the way whose partners are very similar to mine - would love to have kids but right now would be just as happy to call the whole thing done and get on with being childless if it meant a quieter life with less doctors involved :-). They're basically supportive but dont quite "get" what we're experiencing. As CM pointed out, since we've never even made it to a scan that showed anything other than empty, all he saw for each pregnancy was a couple of lines on a stick and it was hard to get emotional about it. My mum made me feel better when she told me that she reckons that when she was expecting me, my dad didn't really believe she had a baby in there till I came out! What I'm trying to say is that, we love each other, we'd both really like to have a baby but I'm the one doing the driving here.

Since I've already mentioned them, Mum and Dad had better come next. They shall be known, for the purposes of this blog, as "Mum" and "Dad" . . . but without the quotes. I'm very lucky with my parents, and I know it and appreciate it more than I can let you (or them) know. They are 66 and 71 respectively, still married after 42 years and Mum is in good health and Dad has recently gone into remission from cancer. I have a good relationship with both of them. Mum and I have words now and again, like most mothers and daughters, but mostly we're just fine and she's still the person I go to when things go wrong; Dad and I bonded when I was very wee - he was studying as a mature student when I was born and when my sister was born he was my main carer for a while, so we're close. I have my mum's sense of social responsibility and love of art and my dad's sense of humour and love of gadgets. I'm not telling which bad bits I got, for their sake and mine. Since CM lost his dad in his early twenties and many of my friends' parents have split and/or died and others have troubled relationships with their folks, I know how lucky I am and, especially after our losses and Dad's illness, I appreciate every minute of the time I have with them. This all sounds a bit mushy and twee, but since I know how much it hurts me when people with children complain about them and only talk about the bad things that come with parenthood, I've become more aware of how important it is to those around us, who might not be as lucky as we are in a particular area of life, that we express the good bits. That will not stop me moaning about them on occasions, so please refer back to this post at these times (and if the bitching gets really bad, then please remind ME of this post).

I'm not really sure what Dad thinks about the whole baby situation, except that I know he wants me to be happy and that he'd be a really fab grandfather (as long as we didn't have a child that loved football - then he'd probably disown them). Mum has been lovely throughout - except if she thinks I'm indulging in self-pity, when she'll give me a boot up the backside. Sometimes, I think it's OK to wallow a bit, so sometimes she gets a boot back. This is where the tension? . . . irony? . . . in the situation occurs. Mum and I have a lot in common, mentally and physically, but here, where the most basic function of being female comes up, our experiences are totally different. She produced 2 children with the minimum of fuss and in a timely fashion and I can't manage one. And on some level, this means she can't get it. But she does try and I know that she wants us to succeed more than anything. I honestly think that if she were the right age, she would have a baby for me somehow.

The lurgy has come over me again - I need p*rac*tamol and a lie down. In the next instalment: my sister and my best friend. They deserve a post to themselves because, sadly for them, they DO get it.