Finding A Little Grace

My parents used to play a Christmas joke every year. We would open all of our gifts, letting the excitement build for the grande gift finale, and then it would come time and I would watch in horrified confusion as my sister opened the one thing I had been wanting more than anything. Then as I got older and my siblings moved out, my big gift always seemed to be inadvertently left somewhere else, and I would be left wondering why I only got shirts before they brought out my CD player, that keyboard I never used, or the ever-so-awesome Playstation hours later. I don’t think that my parents were striving to teach us some big lesson, but it does strike me as a lesson that we all learn at some point in life– you need to work with the gifts you’re given, and have a little grace in accepting that what you get is not always negotiable. Grace. Gratitude. Acceptance.

In spite of my parents’ yearly joke, I never really learned this lesson. I have always prided myself on being stubborn, doing whatever it takes to reach my goals. In some cases, this is a wonderful trait. In others, it is an excruciating exercise in futility. When you’re broke and infertile, it’s a really infuriating trait to have.

About a year ago, our life was completely unmanageable. That’s sort of the hallmark of an addict’s life, but we were taking it to a ridiculous level. I was finally getting some sober time under my belt, but I was back working an unmanageable job 60 hours a week or more to try to save money for IVF (the only way I would ever get pregnant, I was told), my husband was putting in 14+ hour days with his commute, we had 6 dogs, a litter of pups, 4 cats, and 2 rescued birds; and we were living in a horrendous rental house with no heat and battling the landlord from hell. It had been three years since we’d started to try to conceive, and the crying every month and seeing the money never add up was really taxing me. I was getting fed up, ragged, run down.

Slowly, I started to look at my life in a new way, striving for acceptance to free me from the constant anguish of fighting a battle I would never win. It was a struggle to let go of the one thing I wanted more than anything else in life. I am accustomed to fighting like a bulldog for the things I want, and I normally win. It was during this battle with myself that we decided to give up on the rat race of Toronto, stop trying to force a dream we could never have, and build a new plan around new dreams. I started working on my business, Mercy!, which was a grand plan to sell vegan soaps and bath products to fund animal rescues, and to employ people in recovery and women leaving the sex trade. Kind of a huge goal for soap, eh? Yeah, it’s a home-based business now with the hope of just breaking even. We’ll see about saving the world after we pay our bills.

But I started it, and we started this new plan– to move out east, where we could afford a small piece of land to build our house. I realized I already was a mumma– the dog mother of all dog mothers. We decided that less time stressed, less time trying to convince ourselves that someday we would be able to afford a house in Ontario and as many rounds of IVF as it would take, all the while trying to maintain a growing farm of animals in the suburbs, sounded pretty good. We realized that if animals and nature were our love, we ought to go after that.

Slowly, I released my death grip of non-acceptance and control. The new plan felt good. I hadn’t forgotten about always wanting children, but I was finally busy and excited with something else, so I was able to free myself from the obsession of trying to conceive, which deserves a blog all of its own. I forgot to obsess over ever twinge in my body and wonder what it meant, and I just let myself feel good. There was a buzz around the house as we worked toward a new goal. Things felt new and manageable for the first time in our marriage.

We pulled ourselves together and finally demanded heat from our landlord, who responded by serving us a (wrongful) eviction notice. We fought him in court but decided to take some free rent and leave a bit early instead. We had 5 months to save, find a property, and buy it. We were excited. We could DO this.

And then my husband was laid off. An ice storm stole our power for a week in the coldest days of winter. But do you know what? We laughed through most of it. We snuggled up on the floor of the nearest subway station and charged our phone during the blackout. We lived on ramen noodles and clearance food. We were okay; we had a new plan, and things were finally going to be okay. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel; we finally had a purpose, and a goal we could achieve. We had hope.

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We had 5 months, and we had nothing in our savings. You would think that we lost all hope at that point, but we learned to work with what we had. We lived on next to nothing, we started doing focus groups and clinical trials to earn extra money, and I began working around the clock to save the money we needed to move. What can I say; we’ve always been dreamers.

March rolled around and we were exhausted, but focused and making progress. We had 30 days before we needed to leave our house, and we hadn’t found a property yet, nor saved everything we needed, but we knew we would make it, and we were happy. We were a solid team with a great playbook.

But we didn’t have the master playbook, and finally something came along that was out of our league. It was my birthday, in March, with less than a month before we were to leave, and I had found the property we were going to buy and had been in email negotiations with the owner. I had been feeling like a freight train hit me for months, exhausted from work and run ragged from our life, but all of a sudden I was a level of exhausted that I hadn’t been before. I was complaining to the Hub about how I could sleep all day and night and then sleep some more when he made the brilliant, but timid, realization that maybe, just maybe, I should take a pregnancy test. I dismissed him, quickly and sharply, but he didn’t listen and stealthily slipped out to the store to pick one up.

I was hesitant and slightly perturbed, just looking at the stupid thing. I am sick of these damn pee sticks ruining my life! It took a few minutes for a result to come up, and my reaction took even me by surprise. I stormed out of the bathroom, wordless, but angry. I couldn’t quite bring anything into focus. I threw myself down on the bed and ignored my husband’s confused questioning. After a moment, I looked up, yelled “This is a nasty, nasty trick!!” and started to bawl, throwing the test at him. It wouldn’t sink in. I could NOT let myself believe it. The end to all my pain was there, two little lines on a urine-coated stick, and I could not let it in, could not see it as anything but a taunting cliche that wasn’t true for me.

I paced. I fretted. I convinced myself it had to be ectopic, if it was even a real positive. I went slightly, more than slightly, insane. We went to the hospital; me, hell-bent on proving it was wrong, my husband ever so certain that it was both correct, but also a girl. We waited. I shook a little. He held me.

It was there. It was in the right place, and eventually, after a few weeks, it even had a heartbeat. It took me until at least the second trimester to begin to believe it was really happening, and even then there were times I was certain something would change, and the whole world would come falling down again. But it didn’t. It was there… She was there, though we didn’t know a thing about her at that point. Hell, we didn’t know a thing about what to do next.

But we persevered. We bought the land, and a few days later a truck, and then a trailer. We gathered up everything we owned and put not even a tenth of it in our trailer, loaded the truck full of dogs, and kept on with our crazy dream. Because we didn’t know what else to do. The few people who knew about her called us crazy, irresponsible even, but we had nothing in Toronto. No work, no home, no light, just tunnel. It wasn’t easy, but that’s my next blog post. Maybe the next two.

Either way, we were on our way to learning a hell of a lot more about grace. We’re still not where we set out to be, but we’re still working on it– hopeful and grateful as ever. How could I not be, with my little Grace Ann sleeping right next to me now, almost two months old, and entirely perfect. I won’t ever stop being grateful for this gift. It was hidden away from me for far too long. My life-sustaining Grace is now my life, sustaining Grace.

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Dying to be Reborn

One of my biggest excuses for my drinking has now become my life-sustaining grace. Had you told me that it would be three years ago, I would have been angry with you. Furious, really. Had you showed me this blog post, I would have hated the woman who wrote it, and I would have hated you for showing me yet another “it’ll all be okay” example of someone who must never have faced infertility to the magnitude I did. Because nothing was okay, and it wasn’t ever going to be. Ever. So fuck off with your blog posts and positivity.

No one can understand the pain, the life-changing, soul-searing, lost in the abyss pain that is infertility, until they have been brought to their knees with the news that their body has betrayed them. If you think I’m exaggerating, you’ve never known anyone infertile– no really, you don’t know them as well as you think if you don’t want to weep at the thought of what they’re going through.

To say we wanted kids doesn’t do any justice to how we felt about procreating. I come from a brady- bunch- sized family, with nieces and nephews that climbed all over me most of my life. I was a teacher and a kids’ tennis coach. My husband coached kids’ hockey and doted on his nieces. We started trying before we were married (sorry Catholic friends and relatives… wait no, I’m not), and I got impatient really quickly. I put us on vitamins and supplements, I bought countless ovulation and pregnancy tests, I obsessed over foods like cassava and doubled up on folic acid. And every month I was disappointed.

In the meantime, I was trying to ignore a nagging feeling. A nagging feeling in my pelvic region, aka pain. I’d always had painful periods, but now I was having painful life, and it was getting worse by the day. It got so bad one day that the Hub had to hunt down leftover morphine from his parents, and even through the intense projectile vomiting and drugged delirium, I was still in searing pain. We went to the hospital. They did ultrasounds. Nothing was wrong; I was just ovulating, with multiple mature follicles. I doubled over and did a pained happy dance– I had succeeded in hyperovulating! Who cared if it hurt!!

Another month went by, and the pain didn’t go away, and no second lines appeared on my tests. The pain got worse. I finally went to see a doctor, and he informed me that I had PID. I did some reasearch: pain, scar tissue, infertility. I didn’t worry much; he had scheduled me for laparoscopic surgery, and I read that the three months following the surgery I would be super-duper fertile. My pregnancy was practically guaranteed now! Yippee Skippy! I bought some awesome punk rock baby clothes online and waited as patiently as I could to be fixed.

On the day of my surgery, I was excited. I didn’t sleep much the night before, and we couldn’t get into and out of the car fast enough. I sent my parents selfies of me in my gown and the Hub and I making faces. I laughed with the nurses pre-op, and I sort of remember waking up post-op, feeling like I just wanted to stay there and sleep. Why couldn’t I just stay there and sleep? At some point my husband told me the news: the doc had called his cell and everything was okay! Things had been all encased in celophaney scar tissue, but they had cleared it all out; things looked good and clear now. I was fixed. We had a follow-up in two weeks, and I wasn’t supposed to try again before it.

Pssshhh…. I knew from my extensive internet research that I only had to wait a few days, and that my best bet was right after the surgery. So we tried. I was CERTAIN it had worked. Two days before my follow-up, the doc’s office called to reschedule. My appointment wound up being a month after my surgery, and I was sure I’d ovulated right after surgery, and I still had no period. So I walked into the office feeling like a pregnant goddess. I was so excited for him to tell me my fantastic news and make it official. I left my husband in the waiting room and sat down with the doc.

And then the world imploded. “So, have you given any thought to IVF yet?” It didn’t register. I stared blankly, confused. He stared back for a few minutes until I finally asked something like “Wha… huh?” I don’t remember what he said. I don’t remember at what point my blurred- with-tears vision zeroed in on my husband in the waiting room because. the. door. was. still. open. I don’t remember how the Hub wound up next to me while I tried to process the words. Tubes completely blocked. Scar tissue- riddled. Ovary not even connected anymore. I’d be surprised if you’re still ovulating. No, we didn’t bother trying to clean it up– no point. I don’t ever say never, but no, it won’t ever happen. Why is the fucking door still open?!

He performed open heart surgery on me right there, with the door wide open. Naked to the world, my heart exposed and barely beating, he gave us the news that someone else must have received in our stead on surgery day. I hope she’s pregnant and happy somewhere in the GTA, forever grateful that the shattering news she received was wrong, blissfully unaware of what she narrowly avoided.

I don’t clearly remember anything after that. For a long time. Dragging empty body to the car. Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. No. Soul-curdling wailing, deafening cries. My husband’s face crumpled and lost. Pushing his hands away. Vodka. Pain. Much vodka. Anger. Raging. Bad behaviour. Hangovers. Pushing his arms away. Pain. More vodka. Emptiness. More vodka. Worse behaviour. There are no more consequences. Hatred. Hangovers. More vodka. Blurry husband pushed away. Pain. Pills and vodka and standing on our 19th floor balcony, ready. More vodka.

Why. Whhhyyyyyyy. Something very primal and important has been torn from my body and soul, and I did not permit this. I do not accept this. NO. Why?!

Guilt. Shame. I’m being punished. I have been forgotten. God has forgotten me. I didn’t believe in god, but now I do, and he is punishing me. I am unworthy, and nothing matters. Nothing exists aside from me, my pain, and the emptiness I crave. Every single nerve in my body is exposed. I am exposed. THIS IS NOT FAIR, and I will unleash my wrath on the world around me, right after I have this drink. Do NOT talk to me; this is MY pain and you can’t have it!

INFERTILITY COLLAGE

I’m exhausted and sick and teary from writing this. The feelings cannot be erased or forgotten. Infertility is a death. It is a loss of a part of you, of loved ones you never met, of a dream and of the life you planned. My whole life was ripped in half and cut short, but I was still walking around, living, and expected to ignore all signs to the contrary. You cannot understand the pain until you have lived it. It is a death in your life, and it is something that you must grieve. You mourn, and you struggle, and you grieve in your own way, in your own time. And then there’s the physical pain…

I did not mourn gracefully. To be kind to myself, I will note that this was not the only unbearable chaos that had been unleashed on our lives at the time, but it was the only one I remember noticing. I’m an alcoholic; that means I don’t do feelings well. I nearly lost my husband, I lost my freedom and some of my family, and I nearly lost my life on more occasions than I probably realize. None of this mattered at the time. Nothing mattered to me but my pain and anger.

But here’s the thing: I did grieve. And that is what I had to do. I had to fall apart, get angry, rage, wallow in my pain, and come out the other side, after some pretty extensive rehab time. I had to cry every month, avoid and hate pregnant women, alternately abhor and adore children and families everywhere I went. I had to go through that. I had to put my loved ones through that.

And then I had to accept that I felt all these things, in order to accept the unfair truth that I am infertile, and would probably never have children. Only then could I look at what else I had– my strengths, my loves, my interests. All of these things became my new plan, all of this became my lesson on acceptance and my realization that I can endure intense pain and unacceptable things and keep going. I found a strength I never knew I had, and it was a brutal search to find it.

I realize that many people handle infertility better on the outside than I did. If you think this sounds dramatic, however, I’m going to tell you how happy I am for you that you’ve never known infertility. Truly, it’s wonderful news. Go forth and procreate, congratulate your friends when they do. But to any woman who’s cried alone in the shower, or in her husband’s arms as she fell asleep, or in bathrooms while hiding from families with kids, every month –EVERY MONTH– for years on end, these feelings are all too much a part of every day life, regardless of how she looks on the outside. On the inside she is being ripped apart, over and over again.

These feelings are overwhelming. They are larger than life and all-consuming. They were my bootcamp for life in recovery. All of this wreckage and the feelings I learned to accept became my solid foundation on which to rebuild. I learned to look outside myself and to carry my pain with grace, to question how I could live life on life’s terms, to allow my purpose to find me instead of trying to force things that weren’t meant for me. Out of all of this, I was reborn as a much more compassionate, patient, and accepting person. Like my alcoholism, I have a type of gratitude for my experience with infertility. That’s not to say I am glad to have it, or that I don’t still wish I could just outsmart it, but I do have a gratitude for the person it has helped me become.

Those feelings are ones that will ever be a part of me, but they no longer define me.

Entitled

A title should be focused. This blog’s title is anything but. I’m not one to focus, at least not for very long. I learn quickly, I speak a little faster, and I move from one focal point to the next without missing a beat.

I’m not proud; this is just a fact, and a rather frustrating one at times. I’ve been a journalist in bucolic Vermont, a hustling self-made something on the posh streets of Toronto, a teacher in a couple of countries, and a homeless wife in New Brunswick. I’ve got some stories. Some would widen your eyes and dilate your pupils, some would have you wiping tears or holding your sides, and some others would simply never be told, not here at least.

What I’m trying to tell you here is that, I cannot tell you precisely what to expect from me here. My own expectations for this blog aren’t precisely clear as of yet. I can tell you that you won’t find the focus of a mommy blog,  the organization of a cooking blog, nor probably the ingenuity of a homesteading blog. But you can expect to hear about all of these topics from my perspective, and then some. What I probably can promise you, with a vague sense of security, is that you will find someone here who is willing to share what little she has learned, who is hoping to learn from others, and who has a very strong sense of gratitude and a desire for grace and growth in every day.

I’m a woman with a strong sense of a self, a wife and a mother, a crazy animal lover, decent cook and mostly vegan soap-maker, a hopeless optimist, aspiring homesteader, and a grateful recovering alcoholic. I like to discover the world and people with my arms wide open, and I aspire to share my wonder with others. Our story, our journey, and the bits I’ve learned along the way are what I plan to share in this blog, and however that winds up manifesting will be just fine by me because, hey, I can always edit in the end, right? Life’s a process, and this is just the start here.

My journey has taught me that grace is sometimes the only thing that will sustain me, the only thing left to cling to in the darkness. Most recently I have found a new Grace that sustains me: my new journey sustaining the life of my miraculous daughter, Grace. These pages are my process; they are my blank slate to decorate with my life; they are the “me time” to which I’m entitled. They’re another part of my sustaining grace. Here goes another something new in life.