Thursday, July 29, 2010


It can come from strange places. But part of being a good Christian is being open to it, even from an unexpected source, right?


So obviously one of the really difficult parts of IF is figuring out what to do with yourself over the long-term. For example, I am meditating much on my latest home-purchasing notion, and realizing that one true disaster that could result from buying the place would be me getting pregnant. Paying for it and renovating it will require two incomes, for at least a few years. I'm not looking for a real estate opportunity that would incline me to avoid conception (like I would ever waste ten seconds' energy on avoiding at this point), though I can see how people would suspect me of that. But if three years from now, when the renovations would be done, I have no house and no kid, I will not be pleased.

Anyway, something struck me (way too) late last night as I was falling asleep: this ground has been trodden before me, by one who had a lot more unallocated life to fill. And I'm sure his story, beautifully told as it is, contains much that could instruct me. If you've never been exposed to the singular writing of Douglas Adams,* sit yourselves down - 'cause you're in for a treat.
His name was Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. He was a man with a purpose. Not a very good purpose, as he would have been the first to admit, but it was at least a purpose and it did at least keep him on the move.

Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged was - indeed, is - one of the Universe's very small number of immortal beings.

Those who are born immortal instinctively know how to cope with it, but Wowbagger was not one of them. Indeed he had come to hate them, the load of serene bastards. He had had his immortality thrust upon him by an unfortunate accident with an irrational particle accelerator, a liquid lunch and a pair of rubber bands. The precise details of the accident are not important because no one has ever managed to duplicate the exact circumstances under which it happened, and many people have ended up looking very silly, or dead, or both, trying.

Wowbagger closed his eyes in a grim and weary expression, put some light jazz on the ship's stereo, and reflected that he could have made it if it hadn't been for Sunday afternoons, he really could have done. To begin with it was fun, he had a ball, living dangerously, taking risks, cleaning up on high-yield long-term investments, and just generally outliving the hell out of everybody.

In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2.55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.

So things began to pall for him. The merry smiles he used to wear at other people's funerals began to fade. He began to despise the Universe in general, and everyone in it in particular.

This was the point at which he conceived his purpose, the thing which would drive him on, and which, as far as he could see, would drive him on forever. It was this.

He would insult the Universe.

That is, he would insult everybody in it. Individually, personally, one by one, and (this was the thing he really decided to grit his teeth over) in alphabetical order.

When people protested to him, as they sometimes had done, that the plan was not merely misguided but actually impossible because of the number of people being born and dying all the time, he would merely fix them with a steely look and say, "A man can dream can't he?"

And so he started out. He equipped a spaceship that was built to last with the computer capable of handling all the data processing involved in keeping track of the entire population of the known Universe and working out the horrifically complicated routes involved.

His ship fled through the inner orbits of the Sol star system, preparing to slingshot round the sun and fling itself out into interstellar space.

"Computer," he said.

"Here," yipped the computer.

"Where next?"

"Computing that."

Wowbagger gazed for a moment at the fantastic jewellery of the night, the billions of tiny diamond worlds that dusted the infinite darkness with light. Every one, every single one, was on his itinerary. Most of them he would be going to millions of times over.

He imagined for a moment his itinerary connecting up all the dots in the sky like a child's numbered dots puzzle. He hoped that from some vantage point in the Universe it might be seen to spell a very, very rude word.

*I do not read Harry Potter and I most certainly do not read Twilight. I read science fiction and fantasy when, as they say, they weren't cool, and therefore, I read the good stuff - Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks, Polk and Williamson, Jules Verne (father of the genre), some C.S. Lewis, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, some Asimov, and, of course, Douglas Adams - requiescat in pace.

Monday, July 26, 2010

my brain is trying to kill me

Much as usual. I have commented in this space before about my lesson learned that Hope is Bad. I am not the only infertile who has learned this. But I've been asked about it recently (by JBTC), and at the risk of exposing lovely and hopeful people to something they don't really need to know, perhaps I should explain.

If you really believe, every month, in that ghost of a chance that you could get pregnant (and we all know that the chance theoretically exists, as long as we're menstruating - oh, and actually having sex with our husbands. Heh), then you cry - every month.

I remember those tears. You thought this month you were taking it lightly, and you disciplined yourself to say "when I get my period" and you dutifully bought more tampons and you told your husband that you didn't have your hopes up. And when you saw those first few spots of blood you lied to yourself, and you told yourself that that inane women's health book your mother gave you that was written in the eighties when you were six said specifically that you could appear to have a period when you were pregnant, it would just be likely to be lighter or heavier than usual, and maybe a different time, and isn't this a day earlier than last month, and pretty light so far?

So you told your husband right away that you had started - because you didn't get your hopes up this cycle, just as you promised you wouldn't, and here you are accepting things as they come - but you go to sleep with a smile on your lips as you imagine the morning in a few days when, hey, the rest of your period won't have come yet, and so you'll blow one of those expensive HPTs even though you're young and poor and still living in a crummy apartment, and you'll have the surprise of his life for him! Of course there will be a few sentences of explanation when he asks, "Didn't you just start your period?" but you'll get that cleared up easily enough, and then you can go straight to the local baby emporium to register, because nothing can ever go wrong and you'll still be able to have twelve kids as you've always wanted to and you'll just be three months later starting your family than you expected. What's three months?

And then the next morning you wake up, and there's no denying it any more, but still, you're taking things light-heartedly; it will happen next month. And then that evening you're washing the dishes and you break a glass, not even an expensive one, and suddenly you are surprised to see that you are on the kitchen floor in a puddle of dishwater in the fetal position SOBBING into your apron because you BELIEVED that this would be the month, and you would love a baby SO MUCH, and you would be such a good mother, and sacrifice everything in the world to take care of your child, and everyone you know is pregnant, and you can't bear another month of this, you feel like you might die. And your husband is across the room staring at you like you have two heads, because he's a little disappointed that this month didn't work out, but it never crossed his mind that that's what these tears are about, because that makes no sense whatsoever.

And then you wake up and it's been a year since your white dress and your honeymoon, and your doctor has already said you're infertile, and you knew you had endometriosis, and your FSH has already come back crazy high, like you should be fifteen years older than you are now, with that number, and even then it would be a source of concern. By now you do your crying in the shower when your husband can't see, because you haven't even been married that long and you don't need him to think that you're a basket case or a child, unable to take even a little bit of delay of your dreams with equanimity. And you don't need to be a sobbing mess every month.

In fact, you don't need to be a sobbing mess ever again. Who's that wretched little creature who just got married - to that saintly fellow who still seems totally in the dark about her character - and she's already parading around asking if she's showing? She's got to be the most selfish person you know, clearly would be a terrible mother, but relishing that she's pregnant because everyone else is. Well, everyone but you. You know what, if someone like that can just get pregnant effortlessly, maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be. Maybe it's not the most important thing in your life. Maybe you need to move on.

And you stop crying. You throw out your charts, avert your eyes from the HPT section of the store, buy tampons in bulk, and come up with breezy answers when people ask when you'll be having kids. Someday, they'll stop asking. Please, God, just let them stop asking. And you stop making plans for how you can find a part-time job in some family-friendly place that will let you keep your health insurance, and start thinking about what the most demanding job is in your whole career track - something you'd be able to do better than everyone else you know. Something you couldn't possibly do if you had children. And you plunge your life into that and before you know it, two years have passed.

You're two years older. Your ovaries are probably older even than that. And you feel a hundred. And a part of you has died. You never cry when you get your period, you never talk about how exciting it would be if it were "this month," you eventually stopped throwing baby showers (people stopped asking you to, eventually), and finally you basically stopped attending them, but you know what the strange thing is? The hope isn't quite dead yet. It's the most horrible thing in your life. It won't let you have any peace, not even for a moment. You make career plans and financial plans and savings plans and you bravely compute futures that include no children, and buy plane tickets for nine months from now, and live in a house in the city, and spend your vacation time at work on actual vacations, rather than saving it all up for that extended maternity leave you always wanted.

And you never tell your husband, but every month, a tiny, horrible, un-killable shred of you believes against the weight of all past experience that it could be this month. And when people ask you, or say, "When you have children," you bravely say, "Well, if," or "We'll see." But you don't tell them the name you're saving for your first girl, in case they take it.

Hope is the worst thing in the world.

No, no, infertility is the worst thing in the world. Hope is second.

Until the blessed day I have my hysterectomy, I won't be able to kill it entirely. I know that. But the perverse thing is that a few months ago, through no fault of my own - I swear, I hadn't been reading baby blogs, or picking out names, or spending time in toy stores, or babysitting, or anything - I started believing; just on an intellectual level and from some source I couldn't shake; one of those abiding convictions, like the idea that fall comes after summer, that I would be pregnant. Soon, in fact. Some inane corner of my mind intimated that by late 2010, I would have a bun of my own in the oven. So when I have to write the date down and realize it's late July, it's slightly disorienting, because surely the fall isn't approaching that quickly; because obviously, I'm not going to get knocked up that soon.

Clearly, not.

My brain is STILL trying to kill me.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

a sign?

I have been thinking that if I'm supposed to switch jobs, or do something in particular, or even buy a particular house, then I will have this feeling of certainty. I know I've had that before about important decisions.

I saw a job posting the other day. All my experience is relevant. The job sounds like a direction I might really like (or maybe I wouldn't?). It does sound like they want someone a lot more senior than me, so maybe I would be rejected and my dilemma solved. My current job, and the people there, have some drawbacks, but I love my immediate colleagues and my boss, the work is varied, the hours are good, everyone is would nice to work outside DC proper. It would be nice to be able to buy an older house further from the beltway! (You notice the theme here?) I could change jobs for something "better" and lose these very important intangible perks.

So I don't know...

But the other day I was thinking about houses. I've seen benefits and drawbacks to the many with which I've been infatuated. I realized the other day, though, that few of the locations have been perfect. There's the one teeny town that I absolutely adore, but it would make for a really hard commute. There's the "castle" house with too much freeway noise, but close to the metro and that super-awesome church. But maybe too much crime in the area? Not absolutely sure. That one was probably the best location across the board, but not perfect.

Do you remember the first "my house"? I visited it with the realtor last year. It's the perfect distance from the metro and the lovely church (albeit unfortunately in opposite directions), in an awesome neighborhood, near friends, pretty street. Of course, it needs a major overhaul, has been sorely neglected (to the point of current safety issues), has a concrete-block foundation instead of a basement, and has only one bathroom. It was also being sold in conjunction with the two adjacent lots - for over $1 million. The homeowners apparently thought that half an acre of land in this area is worth that much even without a viable property on it (the market data does not bear them out, BTW). I asked the realtor about buying just the middle third, but his clients wouldn't budge.

Besides, the house isn't perfectly centered on the lot, so when a house is built to its right, they'll be only a few feet apart (everyone builds to the edge of their lots in this area). Oh, and I think it wouldn't even have land next to it enough for a driveway! I want a driveway.

I should note here that it does have a lot of awesome things - a finishable attic, three good-sized bedrooms (and a fourth that's tiny), a good-sized kitchen (gut job, but good configuration), fireplaces (don't work) in the LR and dining room, tall ceilings, an extra room downstairs for a library, a two-story porch in back (that's, um, not safe to walk on right now). And the location I mentioned - the only one I've seen that actually is the perfect location.

The other day I was reminded of the house and went back to see whether it was still for sale. (At the price they were asking, it was categorically impossible that it would sell; they seemed too stubborn to budge; and it wasn't just a matter of opening a dialog with the realtor, because I did that. He still emails me every so often.) It had been pulled from the market, but at last listing, it was still on for over $1 million.

Today, I opened my daily, futile, look for good new possibilities. And saw...the house. But just the lot with the house on it! And, advertised at 1/3 what they were asking for the triple lot. I know there's a really close comp on the same street that sold for 10% less, and that was last year. But's almost like feasible...

I mean, it needs so much work that I might just not have the budget for it after the purchasing. It needs another bathroom (or two); the fireplaces restored; the 1970s kitchen gutted; the porch's structure reinforced; the siding repaired. And tons of basic cosmetic work.

But it could be a sign...?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

a day

I don't even want to say that it's a bad day because that seems almost banal in IF-world, doesn't it?

For all I'll always hate IF, it has taught me some things. For example: the very slightly beige color on the toilet paper this morning (sorry, TMI, I know) I would have previously dismissed as funny-colored pee, or my imagination. But this morning I took one half-asleep, one-second, sideways glance at it, and thought, "Oh, it's CD1." And so it is.

I'm not complaining that AF is here, because this month she was expected, in the sense of guaranteed (no husband around = no pregnancy. At least, in my household). Oddly, I don't take CD1s as hard as some infertiles (it works out, 'cause I take other things a lot harder than most, I think); but the fact that it's CD1, even if I didn't know, means I am hormonally odd, and so life is harder, in general.

There's also the fact that my email to Dr. L/C proposing I be prescribed femara - sent, I believe, on June 12 - has still received no reply. Not long after 8AM, I made my third follow-up call to the nurses' line, letting them know that today was CD1, that the mails probably weren't fast enough to get me a prescription in time for CD3 if they sent it today, and that my husband would be home this coming cycle - unlike last cycle, and unlike the cycle after this one.

How much of my life do I have to waste waiting for a lousy bottle of pills because a doctor cannot read a one-page email for six weeks? My message also said that if Dr. L/C is too busy, perhaps there is another doctor there who would be able to write me the prescription. I managed to do an overall tone that was sad rather than angry, an achievement for me. But I believe angry would have been fully justified.

Also today, I received an email reminder that donations for my coworker's baby shower* gift (the only other gal attorney here, and my ally; I've mentioned her before. She is the fabulous person who has not shown me ultrasound photos, because I haven't asked) are due today. I had been debating whether to throw money in the pot or buy something (not venturing into BRU, though!), and I decided buying was more personal and a better idea. The girl has an obsession with bags (not handbags, all bags), and I've read that boutique diaper bags are quite the thing among the bourgeois mommy set. So I very bravely ventured onto etsy unassisted, and found something (an over-the-stroller short-trip-sized bag) that I think she won't have, in a fetching print:

I did well, right? So why do I feel like crying my eyes out? It's internet shopping, for goodness' sake. This is what I do.

And speaking of crying my eyes out. I mentioned that I've been reading snippets of Scripture every day, per Father's directive. I've been generally flipping open at random to try to read things I haven't read recently (or at all). I don't go too superstitious on reading what my eyes land on - I'll go back to the start of the chapter or pericope so that the reading makes sense. But last night, wouldn't my eyes land - and stick - on this exact verse (Job 38:29):

"From whose womb has come the ice?"
The context is God's reply to Job (Job has been complaining about the nasty curses heaped upon him with God's permission), in which God explains that Job didn't create the entire universe and isn't in a position to tell God what to do. In an amusing earlier passage in the same chapter, helpfully footnoted by the editors of the New American Bible to indicate that it is an example of "divine irony" (these people must not think their readers are very bright), God says:
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light?
And darkness, where is its place,
That you may take it to its territory
And that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
And the number of your days is great!"
So, yes, context is key; we're not talking about any actual ice-bearing wombs, as birthing is rather a metaphor for God's creative activity. There's ice in creation; it's some serious stuff; God is pointing out that Job didn't make it. Nothing to do with fertility or bearing children at all. A nice evocative metaphor, even.

But I had just got done reading - whose quote was it? Mrs. A's? - that bit about the verses of Scripture being meant for us as well as for the original hearers; and in any case, leaping out at me as it did, I would have assumed that verse meant something particular. Just the fact that it's a question makes it the more striking. It's only rhetorical, as originally intended; but as a present reflection, it disturbingly fails to provide an answer. Can you read it and not think it's directed at you? I can't. The response leaps to the mind of its own power: "Yours, God? No, I know. You're right. It's mine." I can tell from the sound of the words that that's bad. But what does it even mean?

I don't have answers or suggestions or anything helpful. A million things ran through my head, and I lost a good deal of sleep crying and yelling at God. (I don't know how much of that I can attribute to the hormones, and I just realized I probably need makeup under my eyes. Sigh.)

I can say that I've branched out from my conviction that it's the loss of myself, not a child, that I'm mourning. I am more sure than ever that that's true. But I originally thought it was selfish: it would be more generous-hearted to mourn the loss of someone else. But I can see a different position now: mourning the loss of someone who never was could even be acquisitive. But I am. Mourning the loss of the good person I was supposed to be, and maybe at one time was, is sound morally - because the purity of the soul of an actual person who actually is, is an objective good, maybe even an absolute good. It may be more worthy of mourning than the absence of a child I could have had and didn't. Not that they're not both worth mourning, of course...

*Have I mentioned I was volunteered to help throw this shower?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


While my DH is traveling this time, I made myself a giant to-do list. Some of the items are very small and take five minutes ("take out trash") and some take almost a week ("remediate mildew in closet" - actually there are two such closets, each a different list item). I get to cross each of them off when I am well and truly done, and I add more all the time. The list is nearly two pages long now, and over half done. (I wonder whether I will get completely done - time is growing short.)

Can I tell you how unexpectedly and unreasonably happy it makes me to look possessively over this list and all the things with lines through them? One of the things about the list that gives me a bizarre Gollum-like pleasure in examining it over and over is the anticipation of showing it to my husband when he gets home. No matter how many nice things he says about all the things I get done (given that we both work full-time, and, while he definitely does a lot of stuff around the house, I view the housework as my responsibility), the idle comments he lets slip have finally convinced me that he thinks our house is a pigsty and I do nothing but read the internet all day. He says that's not what he thinks, but I believe differently. But there's no arguing with this list. It's an IMPRESSIVE list. It contains things he did NOT think I would be taking on.

(Accuracy break: I read the internet a LOT. But my house is really hot, and I can't be doing chores all the time, and I feel like the internet is my zero-human-energy way to fill time when my brain is not able to work with the grieving infertility, missing my husband, loneliness for companionship, and pressing desire for people to leave me alone so I can have some peace and quiet and get things done. The internet is a cool-down opportunity so my brain doesn't overheat, OK? And I feel the need to use it for substantial periods each day.)

As usual, with me, there's eight paragraphs of introductory material and a sentence or two of point. The point is, one of the items on the list is that I have to make an appointment to have a physical. I haven't had one in several years, and I know I have moles that need to be looked at, and probably other things. I have a bit of mental energy for being told unpleasant things by medical professionals. All that mental energy and then some is consumed even by my lackluster approach to fertility treatment (there's a reason I put off making THAT first appointment for so long!). So I am about to have gone two years without seeing the dentist, even though I knew I needed six fillings two years ago. I don't want a dozen root canals (in fact, I would refuse them), but part of me would prefer that to having my life become an unending nightmare of medical treatment. At least when most people have to live like that, THEY ARE RETIRED. At least they have TIME for the pain and suffering. In addition to dealing with this misery, I have to take time off work and wander into my boss's office periodically to tell him that yet another professional needs to analyze my defective person. At some point, he's going to realize that I'm just a hazard to the workplace.


I got brave and tackled this matter. There's a great hospital really near me that I already use to get my blood drawn - so I know they take my insurance. To minimize the medical misery, I'm going to get all my treatment (other than dental and RE) in one place - one set of directions to memorize, less stress, less complexity what with the horrible city and the horrible parking and the horrible traffic and the horrible lateness getting absolutely anywhere. So I was brave, and I searched on the hospital website for a female doctor practicing family medicine at that address.

AND THERE AREN'T ANY. There's one male doctor, who looks kinda creepy from his picture, and another male doctor who's actually even closer to my house - but HE gives the indications of being a non-native English speaker, and I have a rule about how my doctors have to have English as a first language (otherwise we can't communicate, and after I had a colposcopy with no anesthetic, I realized just how important it was that the doctor be familiar with medicine as practiced in THIS country, and willing and able to chat with me freely while she is using sharp objects on my body. And that is it on foreign doctors for LIFE. Except Israeli doctors, I seem to do fine with them, but their English is awesome).

So what do I do? Go to a different hospital? Or will someone other than a family medicine doctor give me a general physical? Or has my insurer already picked out a PCP for me and I should use him (but preferably her)? Or should I just deal with having a male doctor? I don't plan to do that, really. Since there are female doctors, I would like to have one.

I appreciate all your great wisdom.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

someone listened

The First Reading at Mass today was Genesis 18:1-10a, the story of heavenly visitors to Abram and Sarai, who promise the couple (at that time 96 and 91 respectively) that when the visitors return at the same time the next year, Sarai will have a son.

This question is really for the Catholic girls, but there may be some others who share this experience - how often have we observed that even when the readings or the feast day or the circumstances of the Mass scream about the topic of infertility, and even though the homily and prayers of the faithful usually draw from the readings or feast day for their topics, infertility is never mentioned? The infertiles hear their own homily, strange musings in dark tones on the secret topic of infertility. The rest of the congregation has fully absorbed the point that Abram and Sarai mourned their childlessness for almost 100 years (and that it's a little odd to conceive a child at 91). But the homilist is mum. And all this is most dramatic, and most problematic, because of the Church's stance on family and openness to life. That's all well and good, but if it's wonderful to have children, and some people can't, it seems like the position of people who can't ought to occupy a large part of the messaging, because they are visible deviants from these important goals. How do they approach this? How does the rest of the Church approach them? The subject is never raised.

This silence has become such a commonplace for me that I didn't even think about the fact that the priest made no mention of Abram and Sarai's infertility in the homily. But I almost fell over when the very first intention in the prayers of the faithful was, "For those suffering with infertility, may they experience God's presence and..." I was going to memorize it verbatim - I'm good at memorizing little things verbatim - but the words jumbled together in my head in a minute. I was in shock.

The lector wasn't glowering or snickering, either; he just continued with the rest of the intentions, as if praying for the infertile (at a Mass whose readings invoked infertility) was normal, like praying for the sick, or the dead, or those in harm's way, or those with any other suffering. As if it were normal to acknowledge that we exist outside the pages of the Old Testament. And I felt a little self-conscious for a moment, as if everyone around might be looking at me when they said, "Lord, hear our prayer." A silly thought, of course, but I could almost feel stares, so unaccustomed was the attention (if not, obviously, directed at me personally).

I don't know whom to thank for this stunning example of the way things ought to be - and, today, were. Jeremiah, are you behind this? We're a diocese over from you, but your powers may well reach this far...

Whatever the reason, I'm grateful.

Friday, July 16, 2010

just another public service announcement

This time, reminding you to love your hips. Also, hers:

You're welcome.

the infertility contest

So first, yes, our friend did write back to my husband's email. To the effect of she was incredibly passionate about supporting us in the right way, and a lot of things that frankly upset me about how I would be a good mother and this was so hard. Thing is, I don't doubt that she's 100% sincere. She may well cry more over my childlessness than I do.

But that doesn't make this response the easiest one for me to take (fortunately it was sent to my DH so I actually don't have to reply), and honestly, if I send her a "how to deal with an infertile friend" guide, which at some point I may, it's mainly going to say, "Don't talk about your kids/pregnancy/labor/parenting issues unless I ask." That's all I really want.

Anyway. I'm actually posting today because I had a brilliant idea, and it involves YOU.

So there's a couple in our area we hang out with all the time who are also infertile. We go to a lot of the same parties, and often after one of these, when I'm thinking it will just be "Did you hear Joe has a new girlfriend?" and "Did you meet that Alice girl? She was a hoot!" instead we all find ourselves learning of appalling-to-have-with-an-infertile conversations that somebody had to endure. Sometimes multiple somebodies, but the most frequent victim is the other wife, because she's just so extremely nice that people (MEN) think they should tell her for 20 minutes running about the unbelievable blessings of parenthood that they could never have imagined beforehand and couldn't fathom living without (and if there is a capital punishment in the infertile penal code, which I would absolutely support, I think this offense is a good candidate for it).

Anyway, these post-party recaps that we often do are a frequent source of amusement, and (especially on my part) outrage. And it occurred to me that we should really institute a contest - after we take our leave, we should all evaluate and decide who was forced to endure the worst infertility-related situation at the event. I think this would add an element of sport to a phenomenon otherwise marked merely with dread. I'm still trying to sell the others on it, but I may be making headway. (I even mentioned the idea to Father, who heartily approved - he said it was particularly Catholic to find humor in suffering, and it seemed like a healthy response.)

So then I was thinking that it would be fun to have a sort of similar blog contest, since I always get such a kick out of hearing others' stories of this kind. Here is what I propose.

The Contest

(1) The contest would be open for a whole month - say, until August 16. That way people who are traveling or only check blogs occasionally could play if they like.

(2) The contest would be for the worst infertility-related experience of its type. There would be several categories:
  • most outrageous statement about infertility/children/parenting that has been made to you personally
  • craziest infertility remedy suggested to you personally
  • most outlandish infertility or TTC treatment/remedy/good luck charm you have actually done or used (must include results)
  • most outrageous public backlash or spectacle you've ever engaged in regarding IF/TTC
  • please suggest others I've missed!
(3) "To you personally" will also include to your spouse.

(4) You must be infertile/secondarily infertile/RPL to play, whether you have kids or not, and whether you are still TTC or not.

(5) I'd have to judge subjectively, so I can't compete. I'd award some sort of silly prize - suggestions welcome.

(6) You can "enter" the contest by submitting your entry in a comment on this post, or commenting with a link to a blog post where you've discussed the occurrence you're using as an entry.

(7) Everyone is welcome to lobby for or against others' submissions!

I hope this will be a bit of infertility fun for everyone.

Monday, July 12, 2010


You know my friend who sent the birth announcement about the unmedicated labor? To round out the story, I probably should have added that she is also the friend who sent me a big batch of homemade fudge and milk caramels after my surgery - which she made while she was laid up with morning sickness. She's exuberant about everything. Maybe if she were infertile, she'd be wild with joy at every pregnancy announcement by everyone she knew. But then, the outrageously joyful people - they're the ones who never are infertile, are they? So I do my little arithmetic and conclude that being barren and being bitter just go well together.

Anyway, she sent my DH a lovely message of condolence when she heard about the death of his friend. And then she included a "P.S.":
"P.S. Our son [two weeks old] has already begun demanding to meet the very important [our surname]. And [her crazy younger brother] is to be his godfather. Heaven help us! [The baby] may end up in DC!"
I think her idea here was that she's very far away from a lot of her law school friends (in Minnesota), and she was so close with everyone when we were in school together. So while she's settled into her marriage and family life now, she'd like to emphasize that that connection we all had still exists. At least, that's my best guess. As to what would suggest to her that we (and this is one of my few friends who asks about my treatment when I talk to her, so she is very much aware of our situation; we were diagnosed infertile before she started dating her husband) specifically need to hear about her baby in every message - yeah, I have no idea. You could even say that the baby was off-topic in a sympathy note, perhaps.

And this is what my husband wrote to her:

Thank you so much for your email. I'm afraid he had already been, in a sense, dead for some time. What his friends are mourning is the friend we knew, not what he was in his last years. He was quite a character, and impressed this fact on everyone who met him. I'll miss him a lot.

I know that last year must have been very hard for you, as well, after [her mother's long-term boyfriend] died. It's very hard to lose people we love, especially when it happens unexpectedly. It could be that this sorrow made us appreciate the glimmers of joy life provides, but I'm not so sure I believe that anymore. I'd like to, but I'm not sure that I do.

Congratulations to you and [her husband] on the birth of your son. I have been meaning to write. I know it must seem an odd phenomenon, but it's come to be very hard to share in the joy of others when a child is born. I think that may be because it's very difficult for them to share in the sorrow of not being able to have children. The worst part has been seeing how [the misfit] suffers. I've been advised that this gets better but I don't know that I believe that, either. At any rate, I know that you will be an amazing mom.

Thank you again for your kind note, [her name]. It would have been very thoughtful for a normal person, but for you it was just you being [her name]. You're a wonderful person and I hope that this finds you well.
If she's responded to him yet, I haven't heard.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

spiritual direction, installment two

Can you believe this is my 300th post? That seems a little excessive, doesn't it? And it's not like many of them were short! Really, I run off at the mouth in quantity. (A charming new commenter said the other day that she was going to go back and read "my whole blog" - I am sure she was cured of that notion in the first few minutes! It would probably take DAYS!)

Anyway, unfortunately, I think this post will be no different. I'm not even going to try to get everything down here, but there's so much I want to cover. In fact, I'll just go ahead and break it into chapters.

But first, I have to note that my spiritual director is a saint. Seriously. So holy, and amazingly insightful, and unbelievably kind - plus he deals with ME. And I rant. I try not to rant, and I still rant. And what would prepare a man and a priest - and a sane person! - to deal with a ranting infertile woman? He is going straight to heaven. I got to visit him for the second time on Friday (twice inside of two weeks! An embarrassment of riches that I really don't deserve), and I tried to give him the rest of the information (that I could think of) on my struggle with infertility, and he had a lot of really wise things to say.

Victim Souls

Maybe the first topic I brought up was - oddly, something I've never raised here. I haven't wanted to, and I'm not sure I want to now, but heavens, I talk about my CM all the time, I should cope. So here goes. My first year out of law school, I worked as a judicial clerk. One of the cases I was assigned arose when this man, who was sentenced to death, attempted to secure a stay of his execution at the last minute. He actually obtained one from the court (which is not that common), so when I called the clerk's office at 5PM, they said that everyone there was going home, and I should too. (Executions are typically scheduled for very late at night - 2AM in this case, I think. Therefore, judicial clerks typically stay at work all night - sleep on the floor in their offices - if an execution is scheduled and there are still motions or appeals for their judges to decide.) Once a scheduled execution date and time have been missed, it has to be rescheduled, which takes a while - so there would be plenty of time to work on getting decisions on the rest of his filings.

The next morning I got to work as usual and started reading some files for a memo. At about 10AM, an older clerk walked into my office, and said, "So I hear your guy is dead." I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that, in a very unusual move, the U.S. Supreme Court (yes, that Supreme Court) had convened late in the evening after I went home the previous day, and reversed the stay of execution. No appeal lies from their decision; the defendant had absolutely no legal recourse. During the night, while all the trial and appellate judges were sleeping, expecting to resume work on his file later in the week, he was executed. I was absolutely shocked. I had spent the previous afternoon reading the (extremely disturbing) article about his life to which I linked above. Sitting on my desk an inch from my hand was a thick file covering all the litigation he'd done since his conviction. His fate was one of my assignments. And he was dead.

That next Saturday I went to Vigil Mass. I was early in my second year of marriage, and I prayed every day for God to bless our marriage with children. (I continued to pray for that intention until my ill-fated novena to St. Anne a few months later.) But that day saying my prayers before Mass, I realized that it might not be a day on which my prayers for a baby should be at the forefront of my mind. My pressing intention should be for mercy for that man's soul. So I decided not to pray for a baby - I wanted God to focus on my prayer that he somehow be saved.

Some time later - I don't remember when, but I imagine it was after my novena to St. Anne went unanswered and my diagnosis subsequently got worse, which I took very hard - it crossed my mind that I might, inadvertently, have phrased my point in such a way that God could have interpreted it as, "I don't want or need ever to have a baby, if this man could make it to heaven." I didn't say that, I don't think. I didn't mean that. It would never, at that time, have occurred to me that one could bargain away an essential part of one's vocation for any intention whatever; I understood vocation as what God was calling you to, and not negotiable - you could answer or not, but not alter the call. But I started thinking that that might have happened. In law, that's referred to as "snapping up" a deal - if someone advertises a $500,000 house for $50,000 by accident, for example. And no court will honor a snapping-up. If you sue the poor seller to try to give you his house for $50,000 just like he said, you'll lose.

But I decided that God might well be less just and less merciful than the American common-law system. Maybe He took my babies away. And what could I do about it? Pray that the man's soul be consigned to punishment for eternity? If it was possible to barter away one's family, was I not morally bound to do so for any soul in jeopardy? Salvation is more important than any other blessing. Isn't it selfish to want not to have something as relatively inconsequential as my vocation taken away? Was I even within my rights to argue? In fact, if I hadn't already handed over any future children, wasn't I obliged to do so? I thought maybe I was. But I refused to. Now, if I offer anything up, I hem it all in - out loud, to God - with every restrictive clause I know (I know several). "This is not to indicate, request, consent to, or otherwise encourage that the suffering hereby offered up should in any way be augmented as a result of the offering up, even if that should be necessary to obtain the blessings requested for the person for whom this is offered up, or that I should endure any duration or amount of suffering I would not already have endured had I not offered this intention."

I know this means that I am a crazy person. And I had never told this story to another living soul, before my spiritual director, because I can't bring myself to explain that I've spent that much time being that crazy, and that miserable. But, as may not be hard to imagine, here began my real anger with God over my infertility. It wasn't just that God had taken away my future children in a nasty, underhanded trick - it was that He had maneuvered me into the position of feeling guilty and wretched for wishing I could take it back. And I didn't know how to explain the quandary to anyone else. So for over a year - maybe multiple years - I wouldn't pray for children. No double-dipping - I knew my prayer wouldn't be heard anyway. And outside of infertility, I could deal with God insofar as necessary, but there was no being friends any more; He had set Himself up as my enemy and the author of my misery.

Some time after I moved to DC and got back into treatment, I had a chat with myself and realized that, whether I had phrased that fateful prayer ideally or not, God was in the business of working with intentions, not bad drafting. I never contemplated abandoning my intention for children forever, and the God revealed in the theology I know wouldn't have trapped me into something like that. I had miscalculated; whatever crosses I carried with infertility had most likely not been changed by my prayer for the salvation of this man's soul. But probably, by then, the damage had been done. I don't trust God; I don't turn to Him as my comfort in this suffering, but turn away from Him, as one who wanted me to suffer out of some divine malice. Father asked - fascinatingly - whether I had forgiven God, and I had never thought of it in those terms; but I said that I hadn't, and haven't, and don't know how. I'd love to stop being angry with Him, but I've no notion how to accomplish that.

Anyway, when I explained this back-story to Father, he said, "Oh - a victim soul." I was delighted (of course) to hear there was a technical term for this little theological pickle. How I love matters that are already defined and explained! He said that though there aren't bright lines in the spiritual life to the degree that there are elsewhere in theology, it's known that God doesn't accept a person's offer to suffer extra for another unless it's the person's true and considered intention (rather than the heartfelt notion of a moment); and even then, won't accept it if it would be to the person's real harm or inconsistent with His will. This makes sense - the same way God doesn't answer prayers that would be harmful. He agreed with my later conclusion, that God wouldn't have tricked me into giving up my children for life. (I also told him - as you will imagine - about TCIE. His eyes got very big when I told him how hard her life had become since her intention to St. Gianna, and how many of her IF-veteran friends now have babies!)


I know this post is already long, but really I've only covered one point so far...

The first time I met with him, I had mentioned how I become so angry about the ill-considered things people say about children around me, and he brought it up again. He asked whether I forgive them. I said that I usually decide that they are just too stupid to know better, and try to let it go, which is not charitable, and he said (he's funny) that this isn't all that different from "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Apparently, assuming people are morons is charitable, in some circumstances. But there are people I won't give the "stupid" pass, and those people I deem malicious, and I do not forgive them. Ever, usually...he pointed out, as should be obvious, that I need to forgive them, and pray for them. (Karen, I know you said this already! God bless you!) And that this would lighten the cross of listening to their comments. He also confirmed that revenge was not the appropriate response (I had to ask).

We talked for a bit about the meaning and value of suffering. Why do people have to go through rotten things like this? I had a pet peeve a while back about bloggers being blessed with children saying that "everything is worth it" and "they shouldn't have complained" because in light of their current blessings, everything is transformed. I couldn't articulate my problem with this well at the time, but explaining it to Father, I figured out what I meant: the problem with this line of thinking is that not only doesn't it help anyone who doesn't end up with a baby, but that it actually implies that if you really aren't going to end up with a baby, you should put the pistol in your mouth now. If only getting the baby prize at the end makes it worth it, and there are people who will not end up with babies...see how that doesn't work? You do.

It's entirely human and natural to view past sufferings in light of later blessings and say that "it was worth it." Deciding that joy is enough to swallow all the pain is a noble thing. But the "worth it" analysis implies that the blessing is a result of the suffering, which in a case like this is not true. Obviously, we know plenty of people who are blessed with beautiful children who haven't endured five minutes of infertility. In some cases they may not appreciate their children as much as former infertiles - but clearly some fertile parents appreciate and love their children as much as humanly possible. Misery is not a causal prerequisite to joy, and it isn't from later joy that it derives its value.

Instead, as Father explained, the reason for the infertility suffering isn't related to a later child. We suffer because suffering is part of the earthly life. Some people may suffer more than others, but our brokenness and eventual death are a part of the fall. The infertile woman's suffering is redeemable not insofar as she later ends up with a baby, but insofar as she perseveres in faith, despite her crosses, and allows God to sanctify her losses and her pain in the fruitful and joyful life to which she is called.

Good Things to Do

Father reiterated what he said previously - that "my motherhood" (he said - I find those words extremely distasteful, and will not use them again) would find itself fulfilled, assuming I never have children, in some other purpose for my life. Not something that will make it a good thing that I don't have children, but something that will given me an opportunity to find joy even in sadness. The two types of maternal service that leap to mind, he said, are adoption and work with the poor. I explained my concerns with adoption (but noted that something may yet change my mind), and said that while I knew I should spend more time in service of the poor, I felt no particular draw to make that the focus of my life. I think I'm still looking for what I should do.

He also said that dealing with people's comments is likely much harder now than it will be even a year from now. Because (not the reason I was expecting) when I find what I (or we) should be doing instead, instead of answering the "Do you have children?" with "No," and audibly refusing to offer the excuse or apology I know the questioner wants to hear - what I do now - I would have an answer. "No, we're not able to have children, but we have been able to ____________." This is an interesting and important point of which I had not thought. Obviously, this works beautifully with adoption - I have heard many bloggers say so, and it makes a graceful and joyful way to say, "I'm infertile, you bastard, but it turns out my life is worth living after all, so f#$% you."

I need to come up with my appropriate way to say that - because right now, my answer is more along the lines of "I'm infertile, you bastard, and my life may really not be worth living, but f%&$ you, anyway." At least, that's how I hear my own "No." And this also answers the question I put to him of how I address the fact that I am always in a position of defending my infertility when in fact I loathe infertility. This was God's choice, with which I always have disagreed and always will, and I have nothing nice to say about it; and nevertheless I'm in the position of explaining it and making it OK for other people. It's not OK.

Part of the reason all this was interesting and relevant was because it says that the other option I'd come up with, continuing to work and doing all the things that make sense to prepare for kids (building savings, enjoying my marriage), indefinitely without any kids or anything to prepare for, is not going to be enough. While slightly annoying - because part of me wants to argue that I've earned the right to be shallow and selfish - I think this is pretty clearly right. The life I have is not going to be enough for the long run.

Perseverance in Faith

Father also said something else interesting, and I will try to render this without giving a misleading impression. He said that the essential thing in suffering is to persevere in faith - to remain loyal (my word) to God and follow His will even though life is very hard. I've maintained only the basics, for some time - weekly Mass and some, often weak, effort to keep the commandments. (I'm petty and I gossip, among other things, and I need to work on those especially.) I haven't considered or undergone treatments I believe are morally unacceptable in hopes of having a baby. (I've never believed they would help me in any case, but no, I wouldn't consider ART.)

What he said was that perseverance in faith may be the most that we can do, in some parts of life. Just surviving and not giving up is sometimes an entire victory. I am very mixed in my reactions to that. I don't know whether to err toward too proud to believe that I couldn't have done more, and maintained the joyful and devoted witness of some of the other infertile gals; or to err toward lazy enough to accept happily that what little I've done is all that I needed to do. I accept his point in the abstract; for another person, I would absolutely believe that just surviving, not turning and running, can be heroism itself. I'm certain that's true. But can I say that I did everything that could have been asked of me? That with all the time and all the energy I've had available in the last several years, I could have accomplished no more? I don't know. But I'm inclined to doubt it. (And when I said that I wasn't sure that I'd persevered, Father said - "You're here, aren't you?" God bless him.)

Spiritual Reading

The first time I met with him, Father told me I should read the Bible (or maybe some other spiritual reading) for 15 minutes a day - as I think I mentioned. A couple of days ago, I flipped idly to Psalm 51, which I read over and over. I wanted to share part of it with you here:
A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from Your presence, nor take from me Your Holy Spirit.
Restore my joy in Your salvation; sustain in me a willing spirit.
My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.
Sorry this is so long. I feel that I'm learning so much that I want to record it, and to share it - but, even if too long for anyone to read now, maybe this will someday be useful to someone who stumbles upon it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


My innards apparently noticed my Marion Cotillard comment below. They lack full control of my vocal cords, but have nevertheless rendered a fairly coherent message to the effect of "You're never going to have 36-inch hips again, as a result of which you would look appalling in that dress, and if you're not grateful for what you have, you can always be made to wish you had it back."

On what only seems like an unrelated note, never in my adult life have I been wrong in a conclusion about the state of my health. I am always vindicated by the medical professionals once I am tested. (Sometimes - as in the case of The Ineffectiveness of the Synthroid - it takes longer to be vindicated than other times.) Pregnancy "scares" do not count because, despite my shadowy imaginings, if I were actually called upon to put money down, I would never have bet on being pregnant yet. (Although I recognize that POAS is in a fairly literal way putting $10 down on the theory of being pregnant. Moving on.)

So, for example, when I first thought in 2004 that I might likely have appendicitis and was certainly sick enough for a trip to the ER, I had appendicitis AND CYSTS. And adhesions. When just after I got off the lupron (haaaaaate lupron), I told my surprised OB/GYN that I had another cyst, this time on the right side, I turned out to have another cyst (at 2.5cm already), on the right side.

And for the past couple of days, when I have felt a lot of dull-stabby pains (very localized, but as if you were stabbing energetically with, say, a butter knife rather than a needle) on both ovaries (moreso on the right), I know that the cysts are back, and have done a lot of growing in the last week or so. Or else something has provoked them severely in that time. Either way. I did feel some ovarian pinching during menstruation the last few cycles, which I knew could well be a harbinger of cysts. But since it was rare and mild, I didn't pay it much mind. This is more unpleasant and has been frequent, verging on constant. I don't like it (I could take pain relievers, but haven't felt inclined to as I don't see that solving my larger problem). It started on what was either CD8 or CD10 (depending on whether the two days of isolated bright red spotting, which I never had until the cycle before this one, should count as part of this cycle or last). So it's not implantation spotting or ovulation spotting. It's also not implantation spotting because my DH isn't around this cycle at all, and also not ovulation spotting because increasing after the pains started, I have some of the most fertile-looking CM I've had in over a year. I think my body plots to do this when I will not be able to put it to any use. But I digress.

Another point worth making is that I am not on any fertility drugs and haven't been since January - so there's nothing that should have accelerated the growth of cysts. I was debating starting low-dose clomid, but am far less inclined to now. And no, Dr. L/C still hasn't responded to the email suggesting I might try femara, which I sent her 26 days ago (I just counted). I left a message on the nurses' line this morning pointing out this fact, and also requesting a scrip to get my thyroid tested again (which she suggested). I am taking quite the active role in my own treatment. I have not, however, requested an ultrasound to confirm the presence of more cysts, because if my doctor can't find time to read my email within the month I sent it, really, what else should I be expecting? And what would I do when they found the cysts? If they're not confirmed, I don't have to think about that.

I have a few more comments on this point. Every endometriosis veteran knows that there is a categorical difference between having endometrial cysts (been there, done that, got the t-shirt, in different colors for each of the last seven years) and having endometrial cysts that hurt on a daily basis (had the surgery, got the ugly hospital socks and the bowel prep blog posts to prove it). And you all know that if you've moved into the latter territory, it's time for lupron, depo, or surgery. I just had surgery in October 2009. I am not making major surgery a semiannual event. And if my cycle returns to a normal 20-plus-days-with-discernible-indications-of-a-fertile-phase no sooner than the cysts have come back with a vengeance, then the top-notch performed-by-an-endo-expert surgery isn't worth the cute abdominal scar it left behind, and the "your best changes of getting pregnant are in the first year after surgery" advice is an even bigger load of crap.

In fact, based on my experience thus far, and if I'm doing the arithmetic right, my best chances of getting pregnant will be after both ovaries and my uterus are removed, since I will finally be free of the mysterious microscopic endogoblins (sorry, Dr. H, I guess that's endotoxins. What's the diff?) that are even now carrying on a pretty unruly picket line around the general fallopian perimeter, pounding their "We hate babies!" signs and chanting ungrammatical endogoblin chants, heedless of the recent failures of organized labor to recognize at any level the prevailing economic realities and their necessary effect on collective bargaining agreement renegotiations.

From my standpoint, "mucus is fertility" - and pixie dust is flight. Even my hideously cynical plan to get surgery, forget pregnancy, and try to improve my overall health was apparently too Pollyanna-ish for my real life. I've had enough, already.

*Above: suspected endogoblin, distinctive because properly accessorized.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

a bit of pretty

I am sure I have approximately 700,000 thoughts that I will be disgorging here in about that same number of words in some post soon. (People actually reading are positively heroic.) Today, since the words seem to have encountered a severe verbal traffic jam, I

(OK, that one also had words. It's wise, though, isn't it?)

Armani Fall 2010. Love. LOVE.

Also (same show) this skirt. In my head, I think I've owned it for years already. Sadly, this is probably not true...

And Christian Dior. I never realized before how much I wanted to be a flower.

Sometimes one thinks one might like to trade bodies with a fertile woman. Actually, if I had the opportunity, I might try to trade bodies with Marion Cotillard.

Some woman made that out of her SHED.

The least pretty of my pretties, no? But the most on my mind. It's an older Cape Cod sort of thing, not huge, and on sale in the DC metro area for...more than nothing, but not by much. It is apparently a complete teardown and/or scratch rehab (and you know where my preferences lie). It's also very close to (by which I mean literally next door to) my castle house that I probably can't convince my DH is a great idea to buy - i.e., perfect commute, perfect proximity to a beloved little church. But also close to that traffic noise that my DH does not like. And I'm still figuring out safety issues in the neighborhood (might have to stop by the local precinct - I've already checked out all the mapping tools). Haven't shared it with the DH yet - still mulling it over in my mind.

Anyway, enough words.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

please pray

A friend of my husband's from undergrad was one of those textbook - or perhaps storybook - terminal alcoholics. For several years now it had been a source of wonderment to his friends that he was still living - while death from liver failure might not be expected for a few more years, any number of other fatalities from his epically dangerous lifestyle seemed to have missed him an incredible number of times. Perhaps this is needless to say, but he was one of the most profoundly unhappy human beings I have ever met. But he always had a personality larger than life, and legends of his adventures have already been told for years.

This afternoon he was found dead in his bed. Apparently he was detoxing at home - I had heard that could be very dangerous, but I did not realize just how serious. Please pray that God will have mercy on this unhappy soul.

Monday, July 5, 2010

glimpses of magic

Delightfully, I have today off from work, and early this morning (far earlier than I finally "rose to greet the day," as my mother would say), the Shenandoah rafting trip loosely planned for the day came apart, so I really have a day to myself, for unstructured leisure, and to get a few chores done, and avoid the heat. One of the items on my list was to see whether the internet afforded a copy of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, so that I did not have to go to the library - because the next meeting of my book club is on Wednesday, and though the club's rules are very liberal, my scruples forbid me to attend if I have not read the book chosen for the month. And this meeting is particularly significant to me, because I may have the responsibility of hosting next - making dinner, offering a venue, and choosing a book. I love cooking, and hosting, and I have some ideas for books, so I'm excited about that.

Any of you who is familiar with Chesterton and possessed of a good "ear" will notice that I am now writing in some imitation of his style. You may even be able to dig up a post I wrote complaining about a Bronte novel in which I had adopted the ponderous sentence structure and over-descriptive turns of phrase of those delightful spinsters. I'm rather susceptible to that, even when I'm trying not to be; I absorb the rhythm of the words I've just read, and I just finished the book, which I read nearly straight through. The effect will fade in a few hours, perhaps a day.

I'm writing this post now, though my eccentric writing may perhaps annoy, because I want to get it down before another effect fades away. Before this, I'd only read most of Chesterton's Orthodoxy, which I found was written in the style of a person who had read far too many medieval fairy tales, and far too recently. He trailed off into the fanciful as if it were hard for him to focus on mere metaphysics, or philosophy (his subject in Orthodoxy). I didn't expect this effect to be so heightened in a fictional tale (which The Man Who Was Thursday is) - but it was. For all my literature training (and I really was good at deconstructing stories), and for all the blinding obviousness that Thursday is an allegory, I can't pick it apart. Perhaps in the next day or two it will impress itself upon my brain, what it is intended to mean.

But I was standing in my kitchen fetching another fudgecicle when something else occurred to me. More than Chesterton's phrasing, something else had worked itself into my brain while reading the book; something in his descriptions of things, and approach to things. The days of the week travel by coach onto the estate, reminded poignantly of their boyhood; a memory from before they remembered their mothers, and beautiful and comforting and loved. And I thought of how I turn up, in unconscious moments, the phrase "I want to go home" - it's wandered through my head as a refrain for five years or more now, that I remember, and I realize whenever I hear it that I don't know where that is, and couldn't render an adequate definition of home. I know I need to go there, but I'm not sure that I have or could have one.

Chesterton's description of remembered boyhood is home. What they saw, what they remembered, on that carriage ride, was something of purity, of beauty, of bliss; of the innocence and joy that childhood associates with a place that is purely and simply happy. Chesterton's imaginativeness is not so singular that he invents traits for the human person. I remember that feeling. I remember childhood - not only the sadness that marred so much of it, but other things, too.

And I remember something that I had, that I have not had in some time: a genuine and deep love for the world. I remember not wanting to go to bed, not because friends were still up late partying, but in spite of the fact that nobody else was awake - because I might miss something of the inexhaustible supply of life. I remember straining my eyes to read in a near-dark room at night because I couldn't bear to wait till morning for the end of a story. I remember waking each day in the summer with an automatic joy that a new day was beginning and I was experiencing it - even a day that already promised to be filled with fretting over a lack of anything entertaining to do, or arguments with my mother or my siblings, or a truly unpleasant task. I never dreaded a day. I loved them; even though I was very unhappy much of the time, I loved days.

When I was a child, even into my teen years, I remember always feeling safe outside in the night. Realizing this at one time, I reflected on it; and I concluded that I felt safe because in the silent dark, though I couldn't see them, I knew that the world was full of other people, elsewhere, and I would never be alone. It's interesting, because I have rather similar observations as an adult - as a result of which I never feel entirely safe alone outside at night. I imagine most adult women feel the same way. Partly it's because I know more now, but even as a teen, I was afraid in the dark inside; I could imagine some evil person lying in wait for me; but outside, I felt peace. I don't know why, and I miss it.

The other day I was thinking of my long unfilled summer days as a school-child. Because of a years-long rift with my mother, my siblings and I rarely did any chores (and if we did, only after a battle). So the many days were not days on which we accomplished anything of the sort I think I ought to be accomplishing now. I did occasionally fill them with things; lots of reading, craft and art projects usually of my own conception, supply, and execution. I made a great number of interesting things, such as contemporary parents are always trying to educate their children into making; my projects were merely a nuisance to my mother. I thought about this because these days - summer days, just now - I feel as though I've wasted the day nearly no matter what I do. If I spend the time with friends, I've not done enough chores; if I stay at home and laze about, I've not even accomplished that much; if I get a lot of chores done, it's still never enough. When I was a child, I would occasionally be disappointed that some anticipated activity had not occurred. But the thought of a day wasted, or time regretted, never once crossed my mind.

I think, though I could be bored or unhappy or depressed, and my difficult family gave me reason to be; though I had probably, by adolescence, a serious hatred for myself; though it might often have been accurate to say that I resented my life - it was always true that I loved life. Each day, there might be a new adventure. When I looked out through a window - as I looked onto my back yard through the kitchen window, fetching my fudgecicle just now - I saw that I had loved life. Not because I believed some day that I would have a good Catholic marriage and a good job and an expensive house and its rooms full of children, or anything silly like that, that occurs to me now. I would have seen - and, thanks to the phrases of Chesterton, still ringing in my ears, this afternoon I did see - a beautiful meadow, poured full of joy by the sunlight, gorgeously framed by the blue sky, not radiating an oppressive summer heat, but radiating life. That's where life is.

Somewhere along the way, I've lost the joy in life. And this was not the studied and affected piety I adopted in young adulthood, according to which I was grateful to God for each day because I ought to be grateful, but the blind and sincere and perhaps virtue-less, because instinctive, love that I had as a child; God never consciously entered into that. I was just grateful for another day to be alive, though I would never have realized it and said so.

I was just reading the writing of some saint - the name may come to me presently, or not - about how after leaving off real charity, a person may continue for a long time to practice the outward form of charity (being willing to do some generous and selfless things but not others - that was named as the principal symptom), and that this thinner charity is a positive moral hazard one ought to look out for in oneself. It can blind one to the disappearance of true charity until the moral disorder has become quite severe. One is supposed to be able to guard against this sneaking error by asking oneself, "Is there anything I would not do for God?" If the answer is no, you're in the clear; it's true charity, after all.

I reject this idea as the absolutest nonsense. When I was in college, assiduous about my spiritual reading, I would have accepted the idea immediately, and it would have tormented me; I would have concluded, as I conclude now, that there is nothing I would in theory deny to God if I were sure He were asking; but that there are plenty of sacrifices I would certainly resent, and resent more if I had to make a good guess that He wanted them, rather than an angel appearing directly to let me know. I would have realized, moreover, that this resentment would lead me to great indecision as to whether some sacrifice were really asked of me by God, or not; that my hesitancy to give would actually cloud my discernment of whether I was even supposed to. At the time, that would have tortured me, perhaps for months.

But I see now that that indecision is always the way for me, and, I am vain enough to suppose, for almost everybody; we seek spiritual direction and pray and beg intercession so that we may not fail at an important task, but the possibility of failure exists in the first place because we are not entirely generous at first impulse. Still, the hesitant giver may make the most heroic gifts. Though he won't be the pious contemplative who's really and wholly dead to self, the one whose charity is still being purified may be the epic martyr, whisked into heaven at the vey moment of death.

The saint is wrong.

The saint is the more wrong because the natural charity that comes of good habit and a well-disposed heart is the best kind, better by far than that we beat into ourselves with unrelenting discipline. Discipline does have a place; if the discipline is wise and well-ordered, it may lead, even very quickly, to spontaneous and joyful generosity; after excising one or two temptations, we may find ourselves giving of ourselves freely and with joy. Out of habit, which the saint used as words of condemnation; the Catechism is clear that virtue is precisely a habit, a habit of goodness.

There are a few things I can do generously and joyfully. A great many others are difficult for me, and sometimes I am good enough to do them anyway. I know that the best ones are the ones that cost me in the literal sense, but whose costs I don't count, because they make me happy. The Gospel could say, "God loves a giver who is nearly killed by the act of giving a gift and gives it anyway"; but it says, "God loves a cheerful giver," and I believe that makes the point clear. I know people - my husband, for example - who think nothing of parting with anything that someone else might want; I may think he manages finances badly, but in his generosity is the goodness of an angel, which I do not have.

Real joy, real virtue, is the sort that the child-saints would have had, had they never been told of God; that would only be magnified, once they had divine objects for their joy, in addition to earthly ones. Real goodness is not that which a person would develop only upon reading his catechism, who had been miserable before. That person is living an elaborate lie - and I have been that person, so I know.

I've said to myself for a while that I will return to daily Mass and a more structured life of prayer when I can find a way other than sheer force of will to make it stick. I need to fit it into the rhythm of my life, so that I know it will be constant, and I'll not just fall readily again into the pattern I'm now in. So I'm ever on the lookout for a Mass I didn't know about that's steps from my office, or a house to buy next door to a beautiful church. It's going to come back, and I'm waiting for the right way.

It occurs to me that part of the right way may be that I will find joy again first, and all the trappings of the practice of the faith second - my previous efforts to ingrain the faith and thereby obtain the joy were fairly abject failures. The more I prayed, the gloomier I was. I succeeded in many things; I was less cynical; I was less jaded; I was more innocent, and I was kinder; but I was not happy. I think I should know the right pattern, because I would be really happy.

I don't know how to look for that, and I think the magical haze bestowed so generously by Chesterton is already dissipating; but I've seen a glimpse of something and I wonder whether I can't find the rest of it, if I keep my eyes open.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


So my gf - the one I mentioned before whose wedding I attended last summer, who got knocked up on schedule about six weeks later - emailed me and a couple of other girlfriends to let us know the bouncing baby boy was born yesterday.

Specifically, she said, "He was eight pounds ten ounces and came out after a beautiful natural, non medicated labor of six hours."


Wait, did I say that out loud? Oh, whew! I totally thought I said that out loud. That was a close one.

No inner monologue sound bite

I'm sparing you the picture - aren't I sweet? I haven't written back yet with the subject line of this post as the entire email. But I am so - so - tempted to ask for more detail. "No medication? Really? What about tearing? Can you share any information on that?"