Wednesday, December 28, 2011

vocation, blessings, and crosses

I've done a lot of ranting about the problem of Other People's Children in general, and the children of other infertiles in particular - ranted, raged, condemned (sometimes, I note, with entire justice), and generally run off at the mouth. It's what I do best, and I think one should play to one's strengths.

I haven't done a lot of low-rage, intellectual musing, but I think the proper time for that has come.

Obviously others' children are continued salt in an open wound for a barren woman. And more painful still, when other infertile women become pregnant or adopt, we are not only confronted with yet another other's child (and attacking us from within our "safe" inner sanctum, no less), but, even more painful, we lose a friend and an ally. When that crossing over happens en masse, or has been going on for a long time, each new person who crosses over leaves us more totally alone. We childless women are now an endangered species in the infertility blogosphere. The emotional toll of all these things shouldn't even need explaining (but invariably does).

Leaving aside the anger and the sadness, what about the theological implications?

I am certain beyond doubt that God does not guarantee all women - or married women, or married Christian women, or married Catholic women, or any other demographic - a baby. I am certain beyond doubt that, of those who are not able to have a biological child naturally or with medical intervention, not all are called by God to adoption. Any individual woman or couple might suppose they were not called to adopt, and be mistaken, in that God had actually called them to adopt (and it is clear that everyone with children believes this is the case with me). But it is definitely not the case that God calls 100% of the naturally childless to adoption. (It is also not the case that everyone who would like to be married will eventually find a spouse. God is not in the "even Steven" game; this world is fallen and not everything is going to wind up neatly. Or, as my mother always put it, "Life is not fair." If you haven't already - get used to it.)

Along these same lines, there are childless women who lack the financial resources to pursue all the medical treatment (whether morally questionable or otherwise) that might enable them to bear a child, who lack the information to access all the appropriate treatment, whose other health concerns prevent them from securing all available treatment, or who (rightly) determine that pursuing every available form of treatment would be inappropriate for their lives. There are childless couples who lack the means to adopt (because of finances, age, or other reasons). There is not a band-aid big enough to assign a baby to everyone who wants one so that those not afflicted with this problem can call it "solved" and ignore it.

In the abstract, I know - with certainty - that all these things are true. This leads me to some conclusions. If all these things are true, then it may be the case that I will never have a child. It might also not be the case - people do randomly get pregnant after years of trying - but that ending is not guaranteed. So I must accept that a biological or adoptive child could be cast into my path, but will not necessarily be. I might have to live the rest of my life childless, because anyone might have to live the rest of his life childless. In principle, it can happen. God does not guarantee otherwise. Ergo, God has allowed that this cross should be allotted to some of us.

But if this can happen in theory, and therefore could happen to me, then it could happen to other people, too. And the law of averages dictates that it actually will happen to some small but distinct percentage of infertile women. Since I know far more infertile women than the average person (yes, hello), it should logically be the case that some small but distinct percentage of those I know will be childless for life.

See where I'm going yet? I would guess not, but I may be wrong.

Here's the problem. That doesn't appear to be happening. That is, from my current vantage point, it strongly appears that every infertile couple I know will eventually - probably even relatively soon - have a biological child or adopt. (Yes, TCIE, including you. And stop making that face.) I have no desire to see any individual person (even me) live childless forever. I'm not asking that someone else suffer longer or worse so that I have an ally, or in order to prove one of my pet theories.


What if I am the only infertile who is still childless at 40? What if every other infertile woman on the planet who is that old or older has had a child by that time? In principle, my certainties won't change. I did the math carefully and it all checks. But if, in spite of these principles, God has in fact decided to give every single infertile woman a child but me, what does that mean? It doesn't mean the principles are wrong, but it certainly adds a layer of analysis. It means that I'm childless not because God has allowed me to carry this cross, as He allows some infertile women to do; but rather because He has decided that I, and only I, should be childless, that I should be alone, that I should have no friends who will understand, and that I will have to have other people's children forced on me without ceasing - because everyone else will have children.

That's not good.

Monday, December 26, 2011

mixed blessings

Happy Feast of St. Stephen, everyone. If Good King Wenceslas is not already your favorite Christmas(-ish) carol, get on that, OK?

A few years ago - OK, in college, senior year I believe, which is...eight years ago now - a very wise and emotionally fraught friend of mine ended an angst-ridden debate with the statement, "Sometimes the best we can hope for is mixed motives." His words summed up our whole debate, and so much about the human condition. We had pondered that sometimes we know we have a selfish reason for doing an apparently generous thing - unrequited romantic interest, say - which is really a motive we should be mortifying. But a rational, detached analysis would say that that thing is the right thing to do anyway. But even if we're sure that detached analysis would say, "Go for it," isn't that still a rationalization for the motive that's really impelling us forward? My friend's point cut through all that navel-gazing. We're fallen; we're weak; we can't always sort ourselves out to purity of intention and the mortification of all our selfish desires before it's come time to act. Sometimes the best we can do is choose the best action available, even if tainted by our selfish motives, and be as honest with ourselves as we can about what we're up to.

I think that bit of wisdom has something to teach me in this context, as well - so thank you, again, to my friend, for so many words of wisdom and irreplaceable friendship - mediated through the bonds of all us fallen people.

Yesterday, as you all know, was Christmas Day. On that day, my SIL gave birth to her sixth child - a "surprise" baby to the best of my knowledge. She is 39. He has Down's Syndrome. Hers has to be the best possible family into which that little boy might be born; faithful, generous-hearted parents, and five older brothers and sisters who are already doting and a little over-protective - he will be the apple of all their eye. (And he's a beautiful baby. I've only seen a picture of him sleeping, but had I not been told he had Down's, I would not have known - he looks perfectly healthy.) I have skipped every baptism I was invited to attend this year, and (very dramatically, as you may recall) turned down one invitation to be a godmother at the eleventh hour. I remember there was a time in my life when I was jealous of all my friends who had been asked to be godparents - I wanted to be a godmother. I haven't wanted that in a long time, and for some time now, obviously, I've avoided baptisms altogether. But my SIL asked us to be this little boy's godparents. I thought we'd dodged that bullet, since she's had five other children and my husband and his sister are so close. Of course, I can't refuse to be the child's godmother, because he has Down's Syndrome. I could roll out all the evidence in the world that I've been avoiding baptisms for a year or more - it won't matter. She was crazy stoned on morphine when she called yesterday. So I said yes.

And our IRL IF friends' adopted child was born, I believe, on the 23rd. Their 48-hour waiting period was over the 25th, and now they have to spend another week and a half in the state before the paperwork is finalized - which has the collateral benefit of being a good chance for them to bond with the baby without the pressures of work, family visits, holiday obligations, and so forth. It may be the last vacation they take for a while! When they come back, they'll be no longer the other half of our infertile foursome, but a complete and united family.

And of course there are births and pregnancy announcements in the blogosphere as well - blessings and sources of joy, to be sure, but burdens to carry, in their way, as well.

In some way, I know, I can accept the sufferings that come with being on the other side of these events and announcements, and make efforts simply to be a friend to those who have been so blessed. But I also can't change the fact that these things are bittersweet, for me, at best. With the blessings of those around me, I have lost, if not more than they have gained, at least far more than I have gained from these changes in their lives.

As I noted in a comment on someone else's blog (TCIE's, I believe) recently, I can talk to my husband about our lives, pray about my future, and for a little while hold onto a fragile peace in the knowledge that God has something special planned for us - something so particular it fits with His allowing us to carry the cross of childlessness, likely for the rest of our lives. And then I hear another pregnancy announcement; another baby is born; my life is forced, again, to contort around the receipt by others of blessings I was hoping to enjoy, but will not have. It's that tension, perhaps, that makes for the keenest unhappiness. JellyBelly's infertile island would be a great mercy, but doesn't appear to be forthcoming. At least, not for me. (Perhaps, like those who make a pact to marry if they're still both single at whatever age, those couples who are still ttc could make an agreement to retire together to some remote, child-free locale if we are all still barren at some future date? It would be a little something to look forward to.)

So, here's to the rapidly impending close of 2011, with its blessings, and crosses, and blessings that are crosses. Here's hoping 2012 is joyous - maybe for everyone, this time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

arguing in confession

I know, it's not a good idea. I haven't done it in years (and that priest was absolutely stating heresy - bad diocese - long story). But last night at the parish penance service, I interrupted the (very holy and pious) confessor three times.

I know that being humble and keeping my mouth shut (even if the priest misses the point) is a viable option, even a superior one, and generally that's what I do - if the priest misunderstood what I said, or suggests something that logically wouldn't help, or whatever. But I take a different approach with respect to matters infertility-related, and I've actually thought this one through.

There's zero pastoral care training devoted to dealing with infertile parishioners. The evidence of this is available to any Catholic who has had the misfortune to discuss this subject with a priest. If they have any wisdom or insight into how to talk to you about it, they've developed it on their own. I assume, by contrast, that much time is devoted to teaching priests how to deal with those mourning the death of a loved one. (If I'm wrong about that, so much the worse.)

As a consequence, most priests will give you a lightly-baptized version of the same absolute nonsense that any layman will give you if he hears you're infertile. "Have you tried standing on your head?" becomes "Have you visited the local Catholic OB/GYN?" "If it's meant to be, it will be" becomes "God will send you a child when He sees the time is right." "I know a lot of people who thought they'd never have children, and just last year they had their third beautiful baby" becomes...the exact same thing. It's no more helpful from a priest. Actually, it's much less helpful, because while you can write off the idiot at a party as an idiot at a party, you're not supposed to write off your confessor at all. Now we're supporting them, even in this role? No. No, thank you.

So now I take this argument to the correct place theologically whenever I hear error from a priest, because I cannot let the next infertile woman receive the same comments. What if she's in a more vulnerable place than I am? What if she's a new or long-fallen-away Catholic who knows very little theology, and assumes the priest is correct? I have enough issues with God myself, and I'm pretty sure my theology is sound. What if I were trying to work from error because I believed an inept priest? I would guess that the number of Catholics who've left the church (to a greater or lesser degree) as a result of their experience of infertility is huge, and I think the absolute black hole of pastoral wisdom and care is substantially to blame.

So, when the priest told me that God would send me a child when He saw I was ready, I said, "Excuse me, Father, but that's not right. God does not promise anyone a child. Some people will never have a child." Five sentences later, I was interrupting again. "I'm sorry, Father. Yes, I agree that all the barren women in the Bible were blessed with children.* But God is not promising that to me. What He wants is my salvation; my fertility may not be His priority. I cannot assume that I will have a child." When I interrupted him the third time, I told him that it was wrong to tell childless women that they should pray and expect a baby, because it gave them false hope and a false understanding of God. All He is certainly offering (I hope) is an opportunity for each of us to have a holy and meaningful life. And when he asked me, "How old are you?" I didn't even wait for the follow-up comment ("You have lots of time!" I've even gotten this from doctors, who should really know better). While I typically spare priests personal information of this kind, I said, "Twenty-nine, but my eggs are a lot older." And he stopped.

He was, really, a good priest. He told me that my theology was absolutely solid, and he hoped that I really believed what I was saying about what God wanted for my life. (I told him that I know it in my head, but I don't believe it in my heart.) He said that I should pray that God would give me to carry around a great faith, and that all those around me would "become pregnant" with the love of God as a result of my witness. (This metaphor is a little graphic, but English was not his first language, and it might not have sounded odd to his ears.) And he said that priests don't know what to say to childless women because they are afraid of suffering.

This is certainly why laymen say these stupid things - they just want your pain to go away, partly because they're sorry you're suffering, but, I suspect, mostly because they can't bear the compassion your suffering would demand from them. They reject your pain, and they reject you. It's why it hurts us so much to hear. We know their motives are benign in theory, but we also hear the underlying message - "I won't bear this burden with you, even for a five-minute conversation."

For my penance, the priest told me to open the New Testament at random and read the verse I saw. I've heard this condemned as a method of making critical decisions (since it's sort of superstitious). But as a method of prayer, it would be fine, and I was told to, so there you are. Before opening my Bible when I got home, I decided I would examine the verse number before reading it (to keep myself honest), then read the verse, then the surrounding pericope, then the verse again. (I tend toward scrupulosity, so I like to set ground rules so I know when I can stop. Not that there's anything wrong with reading more of the Bible.)

The verse I landed on was Acts 7:57: "But they cried out in a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse."

The whole pericope is Acts 7:54-60: "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them!' Having said this, he fell asleep."

*On this subject, you should really read the article "Childless at Christmas," linked on my sidebar, above right. It's written by a Protestant minister; hence, a focus on the Bible that's more total than Catholics are accustomed to (we'd likely draw on a broader source of examples, not that I can think of any married, childless saints, either). But very well-done, I thought.

Friday, December 16, 2011

the bathroom

All right, ladies, it's time. You've been very patient.

Some of you may remember way back in the dark ages when I said that I was going to work on our house's only full bath. Yet before that, before even the dawn of time, I'm sure I published (probably repeatedly) this inspiration photo of what I consider more or less the platonic bathroom:

Gast Architects: Projects traditional bathroom

So that was my inspiration. And here's what I had to work with:

That's the only listing photo of the bathroom. And there's a reason for that - the space is below whatever square footage would be required to photograph it successfully, as you will shortly see in my pictures. The former owners had chosen a green-and-bamboo theme (there's also a bamboo shower caddy and a kind of half-hearted green drape thing). The walls were a totally inoffensive shade of beige. I don't like beige.

Oh, here's one more "before" picture I took:

And you all remember the "during":

Hmm...maybe that's just how I remember it. Does this look more familiar?

OK, anyway, before we even ripped off the toilet like insane people, I painted the walls. I settled on Behr's "Fresh Day," a blue so pale it's almost white (and, indeed, it looks white in the can, on the top of the can, on the swatch, and everywhere but on the walls, in person). Don't believe me? Here's a picture of the wall with a bright white piece of printer paper against it:

Right. That doesn't help you at all. Here is a picture of some nice person's room - too bad I've lost the link to the blog post that persuaded me to try the color in the first place. Anyway, doesn't this person's house look nice?

It looks nice in my bathroom too. It has an airy lightness about it - like the bathroom is somehow the color of sunlight. Delightful. OK, so I repainted the walls. I also discarded all the textiles as quickly as I could. That rug had to go. I found this one for about $6 at Ross's:

At this point I have to apologize for all the pictures. I took them all on a camera phone because it was the only way I was realistically going to get them up here, ever. And I took them at whatever angle I could (I told you, the bathroom is hard to photograph), which would have been fine, except that I don't have Microsoft Office on my laptop, so I can't edit the blasted things. Actually, maybe I could open them as .bmps and edit them in Paint...OK, I might try that next time. For now, just tip your head to the side, could you? :)

Anyway, I found this Nautica shower curtain on clearance for $12 at Home Goods:

Also at Home Goods, I found these chrome-finish C-shaped shower curtain rings. I found something appealing about their simplicity:

Unfortunately, I only bought one package when I first saw them, so while I got the first dozen for $6, I later had to buy another dozen for $10 from Amazon when I realized that a claw-foot bathtub takes two sets. Oops! I got real wood Venetian blinds for $25 from Ikea:

The previous owners had already installed a nice hotel-style towel rack (behind the hallway door), so I just put our towels on it, and our laundry basket under it:

What the bathroom desperately needed was storage. Obviously there was a place for the towels and the laundry, but the bathroom only had a pedestal sink (I actually switched the hand holding the phone so I could wave at you in this picture. See how I care! Let's not talk about the fact that I hadn't showered or combed my hair in two days):

(Everything in that picture except the toothbrush holder was there when we moved in - sconces, sink, little shelf, mirror. They did a great job with that, so I left it alone.) There was some wall space, though, so I got this cabinet at Bed, Bath, and Beyond - with my 20% off coupon, it was $48:

Here's where it lives in the room. (Yes, someday I will drop something in the toilet trying to get it out of there. If there's any justice in this world, it will be a rotten HPT.)

It's only MDF, not real wood, but for the bathroom I thought it was fine, and it holds the things we need to use. (I put a crate with things like extra toothbrushes and longer-term supplies in a bedroom closet that's all shelves, but isn't deep enough for coat hangers.) And the finishing touch, which I finally ordered just recently:

It was $15 on Amazon. It's also available at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $30. The BBB version is woven polyester or vinyl or whatever, is opaque white, and has a more photographic-looking version of the tree. Also, the tree is off-center on that version. I do like the off-center version, but I specifically wanted a curtain that was a solid sheet, not woven, because I am concerned that a woven material could wick moisture onto the wall behind it. The Amazon version (in addition to being cheaper) is a solid sheet of PEVA, and is translucent, which I like. The tree has a more choppy, sketch-like quality, but that's OK. I love the look of it - it makes me smile whenever I walk into the bathroom. I did give up on the octopus I really wanted. Apparently my DH doesn't really like the tree; he's just relieved that there's no octopus in our bathroom.

So I'm not sure how much credit I get for "redoing" the bathroom. I repainted it and I added some linens. I did install a cabinet, though, and blinds, so that counts for something, right? So now I'm sort of wary of adding up the total, given that the changes were pretty cosmetic...let's see. $25 for paint. $25 for the blinds. $6 for the bath mat. $6 for the toothbrush holder. $12 for the cotton shower curtain, $6 for the vinyl liner, and $15 for the tree shower curtain; and $16 for the rings. $48 for the cabinet, and about $10 in little plastic trays to put in it to keep things sorted. The hamper, and the towels, of course, I had. That's $169 total. I don't think that's really so bad.

Of course, that doesn't count about $40 for toilet repair materials, or the fact that I'm going to be replacing that floor in the next year or two, but those aren't precisely decor items.

So there you are. The master bedroom may be next - or, maybe, I will need to consult you all about window treatments before that can happen.

Aaaaand...I am participating in my very first before-and-after party, and I am so stoked. It's Metamorphosis Monday, at Between Naps on the Porch!

Go on over and check out the other before-and-after posts that are linked up. (Because it's almost Christmas, there are lots of wonderful inspirations for Christmas decor, and probably some good recipes too - gotta check it out myself next. At other times of year, there are more hardcore renovations. All the previous Met Mondays are viewable on Susan's blog, so check them out if you're looking for some inspiration!)

Ooh and now I've also joined the Thrifty Decor Chick's January before-and-after party! Go check it out!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Today I had the most extraordinary conversation.

The building I work in hires a company to come around and take out the trash, vacuum, and dust. Apparently, one of the shifts is after regular business hours (around 6 or so), but one comes through around 8:30 or 9AM. A few months ago they switched up who was assigned to my floor. Now it's a fellow about 30 years old. From stray comments he made, I learned he was a Christian (I assume he is Protestant), and we talk a little bit about that every now and then. He is a devoted family man, and has a little girl and a little boy whom he loves. I know he is supporting the family, so I figured that he and his wife had chosen not to have more children for financial reasons - of course I didn't inquire; it's not really my business.

Anyway, today he was looking at the framed copy of St. Thomas More's "lawyers' prayer" that hangs on my wall. (It's a lovely prayer.) I told him it had been a gift when I graduated from law school, and he was surprised to learn I was a lawyer. (My door and that of everyone in the hallway pretty much says so, but I'm sure he never had any reason to pay attention!) I'm going to guess that he doesn't know a lot of lawyers, because he immediately brought up a legal question that has evidently been weighing on his mind. He told me that with her last delivery, his wife had a C-section, and the doctors put "all her internal organs back in the wrong places." I have no medical training, of course, but that sounds faintly odd to me - I think most of the internal organs in that area are free-floating. But he probably meant something specific that I failed to guess.

He said the hospital had told his wife she "couldn't get a lawyer" because she had signed a waiver of liability. Well, that's not true. People sue for medical malpractice all the time, and all those doctors had waivers signed before. Besides, you don't take legal advice from your opponent! I suggested that he google "medical malpractice lawyer" and go to someone who would offer a free consultation (since this is not an area I work in), and pointed out that the statute of limitations may have run (it has been a number of years).

Then I asked - what I thought might be more helpful - whether she has consulted with a doctor who might be able to repair the damage that was done. It might even be covered by insurance? He said it was too late. After the botched delivery, she had multiple ectopic pregnancies. In addressing those, they removed both her fallopian tubes. She can never have a child naturally, and it's killing her. She feels like less of a woman, she wanted a huge family (which he wanted too), she's basically lost her faith, she's incredibly angry, and she takes a lot of it out on him. He has told her that God must have a reason, and he wishes he could fix her up, but they can always adopt. She's not ready to consider adoption; she's not ready to let go of the dream of a big biological family. Wow...sound familiar?

I told him that I could see how she would feel that way and I know other people in the same situation. (I didn't say, "Including me" - but we may have that conversation another day.) I also said that in time she would probably come around on her faith and might change her mind about adoption, but that sometimes healing could take years. And I told him I would pray for him. And if any of you feel so moved, and you would like to, too, I would appreciate it...I feel like I was probably in the right place to hear that story for a reason. (And not because I'm a Christian. Not because I'm infertile. Because I'm an attorney?)

I was tempted to suggest a lot of things - have her call me; refer her to a chapter of Resolve; send her to some support fora on the internet - but I wasn't sure what was right to do, so I kept my mouth shut on that score for the time being. Maybe I can find a website or two to suggest, something that I find valuable myself, and recommend it in that way. Heaven knows that, if nothing else, I've found blogging helps with all the rage that is more than I can fairly direct at my husband, but not too much for you ladies, bless your hearts.

And while I try not to assume too many of the facts with prospective lawsuits - doctors are demonized by lawyers far more than they should be - I'm pretty angry about what happened in this woman's C-section. If she had two healthy babies and then several ectopic pregnancies, somebody did something really wrong. She almost died, and then they took her fertility for life. And she's 30. And they're not an affluent family, and not savvy about their legal rights, and I wouldn't be surprised if that played into it. That's just wrong.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

not getting through

I have a friend (actually a girl who went to school with my husband) who's of the plain-spoken type. Really, she makes me look diplomatic by comparison. She's also had some fertility-related issues (she had some kind of rather intensive ovarian surgery before she was married - I forget the details), but she's not infertile, probably more like hyper-fertile. I think her younger child is maybe a year or just over, but I imagine she's already expecting number three (early on, though).

While she makes occasionally bizarre statements of "knowing where I'm coming from" on the subject of infertility (since she had medical issues as well, and was worried that she would be infertile), and shares far more details of pregnancy and childbirth than I'm generally interested in hearing, I really do like her. I much prefer someone who overshares because she's blunt, and is equally ready to hear you tell her why you're uninterested in the topic, to someone who overshares because she thinks the world revolves around her and her offspring, and not-so-secretly thinks that your failure to be interested in the miracle of life with which she's been blessed is a sign that you're going straight to hell.

So this girl emailed everyone in her inbox to say that she was very sorry, but she lost her address list in a hard drive transfer, and could we all please send our mailing addresses. We've just moved (you may have heard), so I was happy to oblige. As my DH pointed out that evening, of course she wants it for her Christmas card list. I knew that, but I wasn't thinking about it. She, like most mothers of young children I know, sends Christmas cards with pictures of her children, which generally fail to depict her or her husband (the only family members the cards' recipients are likely to recognize), or Jesus Christ, who, I hear, is the kiddo who's supposed to get the top billing on this particular holiday. (Since I suspect it is easily findable in my posts for previous Decembers, I will here omit the REALLY extended version of my rant about how offensive I find Christmas cards that have been sanitized of all religious references. Ditto well-wishes that have been similarly sanitized. I do not want to receive your "season's greetings" unless you are also going to extend heartfelt good cheer in spring, summer, and fall. I love the snow but I AM NOT CELEBRATING WINTER, IDIOTS. I have no problem wishing Jews a Happy Hannukah; what, other than hatred of Christians and Christianity, could cause anyone who is thinking the matter through to offer salutations that deliberately and elaborately refuse to acknowledge the beloved holiday of the person to whom he is supposedly extending good cheer? I look Irish; they know I'm not celebrating Hannukah, Ramadan, or Kwanzaa. That leaves Christmas or nothing, so say "Merry Christmas" or shut up. And now I am put in the position of responding to "Season's Greetings" with "Merry Christmas" not merely out of the joy and love proper to the holiday, but as a political statement, which is distasteful in the extreme. Go stick your face in a snowblower so you can really experience the "season," anti-Christian bigots. The end.)

Anyway, after thinking the matter through, I realized that I was perhaps being unfair to my friend. It is our house's standing policy to throw out all Christmas cards that are pictures of other people's children (I keep cards that are actual Christmas cards but merely contain pictures of children, which is in appropriate taste, in my opinion; but I still throw out the pictures, because I don't need that crap in my house or my life) immediately upon opening, or before opening, if the contents are obvious. The ones that have lovely religious images we hang on the mantel. So all of these people for whom December apparently contains the holiday known as Offspring Awareness Day are totally wasting their money. While I wouldn't bother raising this subject with most of our acquaintance because they actually don't want to understand where I'm coming from (and will therefore argue with any attempt I make to explain how I feel), this is the blunt friend, right?

So I sent her an email and said, "Hey, I sent our address yesterday, but for reasons I assume are obvious, I actually throw out Christmas cards that are pictures of other people's children. It's not personal, of course. I just wanted to let you know because I wouldn't want you to waste the cost of a card - I know they're expensive. We still appreciate the thought!"

So I saw the blunt friend at book club a few days later, and she said that she got my email, and she actually does the same thing and she's always felt bad about it. Now I was confused. She hates the baby pictures and she still sends them? Then she said something about them taking up space from year to year, and I asked her whether she meant that she throws them out after Christmas. She said yes. (Does anybody - who's not been featured on Hoarders - keep them from year to year?) She didn't take the grammatical cue and ask whether I meant that I throw them out before Christmas. I thought for a minute and decided that my email, while not explicit, was plenty clear; anyone reading carefully would have understood what I meant, or at least recognized it as something I might have meant. She was totally oblivious (and she isn't stupid).

Since she had already said she wasn't hurt by the throwing-out and would send us a card anyway, I figured I would let the matter rest. Why antagonize her by telling her I hate pictures of her kids more than she can imagine that anyone would?

The divide is bigger than I thought, isn't it? I didn't think that was possible.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

notes from the field

I totally left you all hanging there, and I know it was very unfair. No one could achieve any rest or relaxation all weekend, so concerned were they over the status of the misfits' toilet.

Well, wait no longer: the toilet is re-installed, and, as I told my husband Saturday morning, fully operational. (He would have known this firsthand, but for the fact that he was banished from the bathroom after claiming that I had incorrectly affixed the bolts under the flange reinforcement ring, meaning that the toilet would never be bolted securely to the floor, and consequently that his 75-year-old father would fall off said toilet and die while visiting us.)

On the other hand - there is always another hand, with me - the leak resumed almost instantly upon the toilet's reinstallation. Apparently, all the time, the leak was coming from the connection between the toilet and the tank. This explains the lack of sewage smell. And the fact that the leaking water was clean. And the fact that I didn't previously see the leak (it apparently comes and goes, probably depending on whether the tank has been bumped). And the fact that I saw a puddle on the first floor for the first time recently - and yet enough water has made its way below the toilet to warp the bathroom's wood floor and rot the subflooring.

I have now purchased a replacement gasket, and I intend to shut the water off again and do this repair (which will be a lot easier and less gross than the prior one) - but I want a break from toilet-related home improvement projects for, say, a week. (In the meantime, I have deployed buckets. Although the drip has now stopped. Arrghhh.)

This freed up my time for some other things. First I caulked the crown molding I installed in the living room. I turn out to be quite poor at installing molding, and it took a lot longer than I expected. But the caulk really does help - still not perfect, but much better. Of course, the caulking floundered as well, because it did not occur to me that I'd need more than one tube, so I had to go back to the store. Still to do: finish caulking.

And then, by far my favorite project this week (possibly my favorite so far): the wallpaper in the bedroom. You may recall that I decided that I needed to have one "accent wall" of wallpaper in each bedroom, and then proceeded to agonize for months and months over which papers to use. And then I finally settled on several and then, before I got to the point of buying them, scrapped almost all of those decisions and started over.

Well, here's where I am with that. After the sample of my first choice turned out to be a terrible disappointment, I chose this paper for the master bedroom:

Then I color-matched some super-light gray paint to that. It was the second room I painted. Then I pulled the trigger and bought the paper for that room. I also bought the same print, in this colorway, for the dining room above the chair rail (have already painted the wall below that white):

I figured that I would do the master bedroom first, because that's just one wall (and not such a tricky one - just one doorway), and I need to learn something about hanging wallpaper before I attempt the dining room, which has three doorways, a double-wide window, a curved wall, and a mantelpiece. And nine-foot ceilings. But I had no idea my efforts would be stupendously blessed by an offer of assistance from a delightful friend. Those of you who attended the last of the meetings of the DC infertile coffee before its demise may remember a certain lovely young lady, not a blogger herself but the friend of another blogger who kindly put us in touch, who attended. Since she does not have a pseudonym, I shall dub her The Lark. (You're welcome :D.)

Anyway, apparently she wanted to see the insanity in action, and I hate to disappoint - I needed to tackle a suitably insane project. Happily, it turns out that she knows a lot more about hanging wallpaper than I do (plus she read the instructions). So this weekend, we covered the room in tarps and gooey, paste-filled water and got to work. My DH made me go to bed on Sunday night when I had just one section left to hang, because he has some notion about sleep being useful, so I finished last night. And I have this to say. First of all, a huge and hearty thank you to The Lark (should I keep capitalizing the "the"?) for delightful company and timely aid in need. (Also, for mature and wise thoughts on living a full and valuable life with infertility. You really need to start a blog, OK? Then you can choose your own name...)

Second, I am beyond delighted by how it turned out. Yes, I made a mess of the installation by hacking at the edges of the seams and leaving gaps (you don't notice if you don't look too closely - pictures to come when the room is finished), but in theory, the paper looks just perfect for the room, and I am over the moon about it. Even my husband said he really thought it was perfect for the wall. I found this particularly gratifying because originally, he thought that putting paper on just one wall would look inadvertent and peculiar; I then tried to find designer photos in which this was done, and he got tired of looking at them and told me to do whatever I wanted. And then today I saw this ideabook on houzz. Do I get to take credit for thinking of it first-ish?

*Do not ask.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


As of last night:

Have conquered the agonizing selection of a power drill, bought paint for the second bedroom (the only bedroom I haven't painted - yay!), figured out how to use the caulk gun, caulked the (red) flange reinforcement ring to the "flange" (really, end of antique cast-iron pipe that is masquerading as a [non-standard-sized] flange), bolted flange reinforcement ring to floor, discerned that "flange" is wider than standard size and wax ring will not fit (possible cause of original leak?), and did more internet research on how to fix this problem. (Answer: mold 2-3 standard wax rings into a SUPER-wax ring of wider diameter. Molding wax is within my skill level, so moving on with enthusiasm.)

No progress with respect to that second picture. (And I note that I only took the rotten thing because after the several days of pre-cycle spotting that have been my standard for a year or more, I failed to have - ever - the day of hemorrhagic bleeding to which I have grown accustomed. Leading me to believe that I might be pregnant I ought to take an HPT. It was my last one, and I am not taking any more. I think.)

I'm not going into my greater concern with the bathroom, which is that it is pretty clear to me that the subfloor is rotted under the toilet, if not all the way through, then much of the way through. (The water leak only appeared really recently, and the stain on the plaster ceiling on the floor below is quite small. I don't understand how it could have been exposed to water long enough to rot the wood.)

If I were being really thorough, I would rip out the floor and subfloor right now, but I am not ready to learn tiling and replacing subfloor just at the moment. The wooden finished-floor is obviously not up to scratch for a bathroom (it was already visibly damaged around the tub as well), so I have been expecting to replace it with tile, and I am now mentally preparing to spend a few thousand for the tiling (which I would like to do myself), repair to the subfloor, and (big-ticket item) replacement of that cast-iron waste pipe with PVC. It needs to happen in the next year or two.

Instead, I am choosing to focus on happy thoughts. Such as - my new power drill. I've borrowed others' cordless drills in the past (kind others to lend them to me!), so I had some idea what I was looking for. In view of my weak little T-Rex arms, lightweight is obviously an advantage, but I am planning to become a muscle-bound behemoth in the course of my home improvements, and bigger drills clearly have advantages. I've used a friend's lightweight drill with 550rpm max, and that's fine for driving, but I think for drilling more speed would help. I wanted at least 1200rpm. I definitely wanted something that takes an hour or less to charge. I didn't get too far into understanding torque, but I did learn that 18V of power makes a big difference in terms of getting tough jobs done. I understand a 1/2" all-metal chuck is better than a 3/8" chuck with a plastic outer grip, but I wasn't committed to that. Also, I wanted it to be able to go in reverse. The end.

The drill I bought plugs into the wall. This means that I can't take it just anywhere, but then, I've never used a drill outside. And I do have a heavy-duty extension cord. (Its own cord is a decent length, too.) Also, it takes zero minutes to charge :). Further, I understand that for applications like mixing mortar and grout (not that I need to retile a bathroom or anything), a cordless drill simply doesn't have enough power. This one has outrageous power - 120V, to be exact. And 2500rpm max! It's not that heavy (4.1lbs.), but it's large, and all chunky and rough-looking, and its yellow-and-black color scheme even looks menacing. I was frankly afraid of it, but my husband wasn't all excited to do the drilling himself like I thought he would be, so I figured I would be brave. It's my drill, after all. I need to learn to use it.

It accomplished the project without difficulty - it gave off a definitely snide air that it was capable of any task I offered it without experiencing the least strain, provided only I was sufficiently competent. (Not always the case - I aligned one hole wrong and was unable to fix it. I think the drill is losing respect for me.) I've used Ryobi cordless drills before, and while they sometimes take a while to get the job done, they're nice, polite tools. You want to hang some blinds? Yes! Show me the window frame! I'll get through it eventually! The DeWalt has a decidedly different demeanor. I will destroy the window frame. Then I will destroy the blinds. AND THEN I WILL DESTROY YOU.

It's awesome.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

insights into my life

From last night. Today, I am authorized to buy a power drill. (The unused nail gun having been returned, this will be my first power tool.) This evening, we will conquer.

And this, mind you, is after 15 minutes of waiting. I guess I've been moving in this direction for a long time.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

the adventure begins

People who buy old houses because of their "charm" while failing to understand the many other qualities inherent in oldness often refer to them as "money pits." I guess the implication is, "I thought this place would be a bargain - it was $50,000 cheaper than the newer places we looked at - but then it cost $100,000 in upkeep." In my personal opinion, this is not an indication that the old house cost more than it was worth, but that the homeowners failed to budget for what the house should have been expected to cost (and what it was easily worth).

I am pleased to say that this philosophy is intact, though I have now crossed the Rubicon into the "unexpected repair issues" aspect of old-house ownership.

This afternoon when I went to the coat closet to put away a wrap, I was unpleasantly surprised to note that there was water on the floor. After casting about briefly for an innocent explanation (did I leave a bucket out? Did I empty an ice cube tray onto the hallway floor? Has it snowed in the coat closet recently?), I followed the water along the floor to its apparent source. I expected it to be the black-water plumbing stack, which our inspector told us would need to be replaced in the next several years, but that was dry as a bone. I did, however, find a suspicious dark spot on the ceiling a foot away from the apparently-innocent plumbing pipe. A quick trip upstairs indicated that the dark spot is approximately under the toilet - and I realized that the wood under the toilet bowl (yes, the ninnies put a hardwood floor in the bathroom) has darkened a few inches out from the toilet.

I believe this means that the ring that seals the toilet waste-disposal port to the pipe below is not watertight. (The wood around the pipe that feeds water into the toilet showed no water damage, and those are the only two water-bearing connections to a toilet of which I am aware.) Obviously, this is not the best kind of water leak to have, but the damage appears to be limited thus far; I would guess from the condition of the wood that the leak has been a (growing) trickle, lasting a few days to maybe a week. So I shut off the water going into the toilet, mopped up the water and pitched the rags in the washer, and went downstairs to sit on the couch and meditate.

I think I'm going to have to rip up at least part of the floor to see whether the water damage inside the floor is more extensive than the visible damage to the floorboards and ceiling plaster. I think I will also have to re-seal the wax ring on the toilet before replacing the floor. (This is extremely irksome, because that toilet is only a few years old. They paid a professional to redo that whole bathroom. I've lived in houses with toilets installed fifty or more years ago and never had this problem, and the sealing products are supposed to be getting better and better with technological advancement. There's really no excuse for this.) I don't know how to do that, but I'm hoping I can learn - I feel it would be a waste to hire a professional to do this, since so much of it is low-skilled labor (like ripping up floorboards).

I was planned to replace that floor with some hex nice tile anyway, but I had been thinking of that as a project for 2013. I guess I will have my ideal bathroom sooner than I thought?

So to aid in my meditations, of course, I sat down to google "leaking toilet ring." Google auto-complete (which I have never liked) auto-filled after "leaking," to "leaking amniotic fluid."

Really, google? Really?

Monday, November 21, 2011


This is, essentially, a follow-up to my (over-long) post on Sophia House. I'm no longer so agitated, and, I would venture to say, more philosophical about the issues it raised in my mind. Though (as so many times in working through the experience of infertility in my mind) it has not presented me with any ideas I had never thought of, the book has, somehow, helped me to look at things in a new light, and understand them better than I did before.

Or maybe this message has been waiting for me all the time, and I wasn't able to hear it, and it finally got so loud I couldn't ignore it?

The world doesn't understand infertility. You know this. To appreciate how much it's a misunderstanding - not just being rotten or unsympathetic, but fundamentally failing to grasp what the experience of infertility is all about - I need only look at my own perspective when I was engaged. I already knew I had endometriosis, and that this causes problems conceiving. I knew I wanted a big family. And I said, "If I can't have children biologically, I will just adopt." I am the same me I was then (if in many ways changed by life), and my values haven't really altered. I wasn't mistaken about the facts, medically or otherwise. But I had no understanding of the experience spiritually, and so my conclusion, thoughtfully arrived-at, intelligently reasoned, was completely wrong. I thought it wouldn't matter whether I could conceive a child or not. I had no idea what I was talking about.

And most of the people out there who haven't been through this don't know what they're talking about either. They can easily imagine what it must be like to be infertile - that's just the problem. The picture in their heads is almost 100% inaccurate, but they think it's quite accurate. So they ponder some data (she's this many years old...they've been married for this many years...her siblings have this many kids...she's got this many years until menopause...they have this many other things in their lives to keep them busy), and they figure out what our lives must be like, and then, with a close eye on that picture, they draw all their conclusions, and formulate the comments they make to us.

And we all know those comments, don't we? Do we need any other evidence that they're proceeding from totally bogus (but apparently sincere) premises?

Other bloggers (Infertile Naomi, I'm looking at you) have done a thorough and brilliant job of examining the breadth of these charming comments, but I have just one type in mind, and this is one you'll probably get from the person who's closest to you, who shares the most values in common with you, in whom you've confided most about what you're going through. The person who can most completely blindside you by fundamentally not getting it. And that's the comment about how you should react, emotionally, to being an infertile woman in a fertile world.

It's based on all the right premises - ethical and religious ideas about what virtue and maturity and selflessness and appropriate social behavior are. Therefore, it sounds completely right - so much so that you can't even argue with it.

"You should be happy that Jane is pregnant."
"You should be grateful that you get to spend time with your sister's baby. After all, a baby is a blessing - you know that better than anyone."
"Sarah's been trying even longer than you have, and she is finally pregnant! You must be ecstatic! If it happened for her, it will happen for you!"
"Since you care about Mary so much, you should feel nothing but joy that she's been blessed with a baby. You wouldn't be happy to see something bad happen to her, would you?"
"I know you would feel terrible if Lisa had to spend another five years trying to get pregnant - you've felt so bad for the first five. You must be so glad to hear that she and her husband are finally expecting."
"You're right - that's been six pregnancy announcements from your friends and family just this month! But I guess it doesn't really matter, does it? They're not reducing your chances of getting pregnant, of course."

And it gets worse. Because we don't just hear these things from well-meaning fertile friends. We hear them from other infertile women, helpfully telling us how we should feel - sometimes, but not always, under the guise of how they think they should feel. And - darkest of all - we hear these things from ourselves.

I don't tend to go the sad route with these sorts of things; I'm a fighter. So I've been saying for years that justice does not oblige me to feel the least bit of joy for the next pregnant gal in my circle of friends, because, yeah, she'd be happy for me if I got pregnant, but there's not a chance in hell she'd be happy for me if I got pregnant and she had to celebrate that pregnancy announcement from the vantage point in which I now stand. Not one of the people for whom I'm asked to make these sacrifices will ever be asked to make a comparable sacrifice to me. And I would never expect it of them. So, no, I don't feel bad if she's startled that I don't want to see ultrasound images or hear about her morning sickness. Because she's a self-centered witch, and I can say to a moral certainty that I would not ask the reverse of her.

The pregnant women on the bus don't deserve my patience or compassion - or my seat. (And, yes, I give up my seat, but with such venom as I can scarcely describe.) They almost certainly got there effortlessly, and some of them probably don't remotely appreciate the blessing they have. And when I get on the bus sick from my medicine, or in pain from endometriosis, or miserable and depressed because life has just asked too much of me today, or two weeks post-surgery with a six-inch unhealed scar across my lower abdomen, nobody gives me a seat. And I never ask.

I tell myself these things, and I appreciate the justice of my position, my flawless reasoning, my beautifully-formed arguments that I could spit at anyone who dared challenge me and my reactions. Nobody gives me that chance, of course.

Because...the argument is always with the voices in my head. They're the ugliest ones I hear. Louder, and more persuasive and more judgmental than the voices of anyone else. They tell me, "To be upset that another infertile is now pregnant is nothing but malice. Are you saying that you would rather she suffered longer so you didn't have to read her pregnancy announcement? Is it worth her suffering so much unhappiness to spare you suffering a little?" And, "You know she doesn't know any better. She goes on and on about her pregnancy because she's happy about it and she's frankly not very bright. That doesn't make her a monster, but it does make you a monster if you hate her for it." "Charity requires you to give your seat to that woman. She must be exhausted. Look at you, healthy and strong. You can stand for 30 minutes - you wouldn't even be tired. It would cost you nothing to stand up, and yet you're looking for a way to get out of it. You should be ashamed." "How can you call yourself a Christian? How dare you look on a stranger with envy or resentment? Her life and her blessings have nothing to do with you. She didn't steal your baby." "People carry heavier crosses every day. Some people your age are dying of cancer, or permanently handicapped, and face every day with grace. You can walk around and you'll probably live for years. You wallow in sorrow because you're self-centered, greedy, and immature. There's no justification for you to act like this." "You count your crosses like a miser, but you aren't grateful to God for one of your blessings. You know plenty of people who would give their eye teeth to be happily married, even without kids - who are afraid they'll die alone." "You said that you wanted to become like Christ, to offer up your sufferings to be united to Him. You know full well this life is a vale of tears, not a bed of roses. And the first serious burden you're asked to carry, you rebel, you complain, you act like it's the end of the world. What kind of a spiritual life is that? You're a fraud, a coward, and a failure."

The truth is that both of the voices are right, and, probably more importantly, both of them are wrong.

It's not a simple matter of charity for me to give my seat to a pregnant stranger (and God forbid it's someone I know). Standing because no seats are left costs me nothing. It's not difficult to stand. Standing to let her sit - concretely recognizing that I am not what she is, that I never will be - is like a little piece of dying. The pregnant women I see, the ones who talk endlessly about their pregnancies, are not evil, after all. But in their blissful ignorance, in their innocent self-obsession, they're pouring salt in a wound - a real wound and a deep one, though, being invisible, it may be easy to overlook. And, there are crosses that are more dramatic and final, some (but not all) of which are very likely heavier. But there is always the possibility that I will carry those as well. And, of course, the fact that you could have both arms chopped off does not make it painless to have the first one chopped off. That pain is real, and terrible. And while I have at least half of the marriage-and-children blessing that so many are seeking, being barren is a fundamental undermining of the goodness of our selves and our vocation. It's not so much having most of a good thing, as having one very good thing, and one very bad thing. The good thing is not less good, but the bad thing is not less bad, either.

And what did Sophia House teach me about this, exactly? It sounds strange, it's so simple: it told me that I did not have to decide between refusing to carry a cross and pretending that it wasn't there. The book was a long, long excursus on recognizing a cross - all of its terrible weight and its gouging edges and its nasty splinters - as it settles deeply into your shoulder.

The people who say that I should "just be happy" for someone who has been blessed with a child are completely, totally wrong. That they said "just" means that they fundamentally misunderstand what that would mean for me; not that they think it's a smaller thing than it is, a puppy rather than a dog, but that it's a different thing than it is - a puppy rather than a crocodile. If I "should be" happy for someone, then that means that for the sake of bringing her joy - or, maybe, just for the sake of not attracting her notice - I should be in agony. Some days the agony is deadly and some days merely miserable, and some days it's mildly delayed, so that I don't feel it until an hour after I'm called upon to play nice, but it is always there. When people say, "Just smile," or "Just say congratulations," they should say instead, "Just go and cry wretchedly in the dark for two hours," or "Just let go of every dream you've ever had for your life," or "Just go lay your greatest fears and vulnerabilities bare before a stranger who doesn't care about you." They should say, "Just suffer."

In short - and I don't think this is an exaggeration - no one has a right to demand of us our joy or kindness toward a person whose blessing makes stark our cross unless they would be willing to demand that we die for the same purpose. And in that, I include that we don't have a right to demand it of ourselves. You cannot tell yourself that you ought to be happy for someone so that others are happier unless you feel it would also be appropriate for you to die for that purpose.

If that sounds insane, the flip side is more insane: that doesn't mean that it's not appropriate to demand it.

No one else in our lives has a right to ask that of us - ever, ever. But we can ask it of ourselves. And by allowing us to carry the cross of infertility, God has already given us an invitation to ask it. Just as we may be asked to make a thousand thousand sacrifices in this life for those we love, and at least as many for strangers; just as we can offer up every sacrifice, suffering, and privation for the good of another - we can offer this. We can choose to suffer that much, invisibly to others, so that another person will be happy. We can choose to sit silently in agony so that someone lonely or anxious will have a listening ear. We can choose to spend time with others' children although it breaks our hearts. We can do this, if we choose to do so.

And here, to me, is what's essential. Although it doesn't hurt any less, I am willing to take on that kind of suffering if I am allowed to acknowledge to myself that suffering is just what it is. And if I believe that God acknowledges it - which, now that I've actually thought about it for the first time, I realize that I do. God has known all along what this cross really is. I could name it accurately - a mortification - to my spiritual director or a confessor. If I had reason to discuss it with a friend, I could call it what it is - a heroic sacrifice. But it's most important that I can say it to myself: today, in this situation, you have an opportunity to shoulder a cross heavier than all the fasting you could do for a lifetime. You will suffer more for this person than he or she will ever suffer for you. You can give a gift this person is incapable of repaying. If you believe that it's worth it to make this person's life better, or to unite yourself with Christ's suffering, then you can do that. Not, "A decent person would just be happy for her" - because that kind of statement is fundamentally divorced from reality.

And I think that's another aspect of this that's important: we have a right to make that choice, every time. That doesn't mean we can avoid pain by turning it down - we all know that's not true. But we don't have to choose to shoulder the burden. We can decide that we're not interested, or it's unfairly much to ask, or just realize that we don't have the strength just at the moment. We can walk away, change the subject, stop listening, or tell the person how we really feel - or we can listen, smile, "behave," and be furious. And I don't think that any of those choices is wrong. We don't owe these people a sacrifice so great. And we are not in a position to make that big a sacrifice every day, let alone a hundred times a day. We each have limits to our strength, and life demands a lot of us already on a daily basis.

But we have an opportunity to choose the sacrifice - to give a person more than he deserves. To sacrifice more than we ought to. To take on something that costs us dearly. If we want to, we can suffer not because we are weak and defective, but because we are strong.

Friday, November 18, 2011

you again

All right, ladies. I've been at a conference for work for a week and had no internet except for the Blackberry, so I've been off blogs for a week. And we all know what that means:


So, also, I have to add here an excursus on Things I Should Not Be Doing. Specifically: watching television. More specifically: five to seven hours a day, because I had cable in my hotel room. I would watch things I was less and less interested in until I was totally physically exhausted - until I could not keep my eyes open any more. Obviously, this is punishment in itself (though I wasn't as bad as usual - I didn't find any Criminal Minds and I changed the channel on objectionable things earlier than often occurs to me of late, so mostly I watched House Hunters and Chopped), but additionally, I was punished, anyway. It was Florida, so there were lots of Disney and theme park commercials, and one of them went on in the rosiest of tones about experiencing wonder and beauty and life (i.e., commercially manufactured consumer experiences - but whatever) through the eyes of one's children. And, you know, the happy smiling parents and whatever.

Obviously I know this is true, not just some phenomenon fabricated by the Disney franchise; back when I was in law school, since I adore carving pumpkins (and getting dressed up in costume and making Christmas decorations and cookies and baking things in general and going out to cut your own Christmas tree and sledding and making my own hot cocoa and singing Christmas carols in the car and making snow angels and forts and nine million other things that are not as fun by yourself and which for some reason my husband does not seem to get into that much), I would borrow someone else's child (we had a friend who was a single dad who was only too happy to have someone else organize kid activities) and buy pumpkins and make an afternoon of it. So I had an excuse to act like a big kid without seeming sad and pathetic, or crazy, or both.

Now, however, since I am married and for a long time and borrowing someone else's child is probably more sad and pathetic than carving a pumpkin all by myself, I generally avoid other people's kids unless socially necessary, and I never carve pumpkins any more.

My point is, generally I'm OK with this - I make the odd bitter comment, but this is my life, and I'm used to it, and there are other sources of joy besides carving pumpkins (many of which are less messy. Also, pumpkins around here are outrageously overpriced). But for some reason that Disney commercial was eye-opening - I will get old, and I will die, and I will be alone, and no one will succeed me. Not that that's a good reason to have children, of course, but it's a natural effect of having them, and a natural part of life. How the world is supposed to work. Except, not for me.

On a more lighthearted (but still TV-related) note, I started watching The New Girl, which just began this season. I never start watching TV shows when they first come out (generally I don't even hear of them for years after they start running), but I checked out the pilot of this one because I find Zooey Deschanel so charming (and I love her sister in Bones). And it's stupid and glorifies a lot of life choices I think are wrong and general lifestyle choices embraced by my generation that I think are harmful, but. It's soooo charming. The "douche" jar (although I hate, hate, hate when people - usually guys - use "douchebag" to describe someone who is a cad, or a jerk, or a scumbag, or whatever. Say that. "Douchebag" is gross, and it's not necessary to be crude all the time) - that alone was so awesome I was immediately convinced to watch another episode.

And it is in fact super-adorable. There are so many delightfully amusing little bits -

"You have gotten so much worse."
"Why do you dress like an old man?"
"...anyone named Patel..."
"Do I need thicker pyjamas?"

So I'm really enjoying that - no doubt yet another vice I will have to extract from my life after I have grown way too attached to it. (But I think I am cutting down the shows in my TV rotation, and likewise blogs. Not infertility blogs, though. Just some of the ones to which I was devoting way too much time.)

Also, there will be before and after pictures of my house, I promise - but, as of yet, not one room is 100% finished. The bathroom still needs a second shower curtain (this part I can probably knock out pretty soon). The third bedroom needs my great-grandmother's antique treadle-foot sewing machine, which is in upstate New York, and several pictures, but I can't hang the pictures until I hang that wall with wallpaper, and I haven't found the right wallpaper yet. And the first bedroom still needs a wall of wallpaper and a headboard, and the wallpaper should really be here by now (it's not) and the headboard - I have not found the perfect headboard yet (for a reasonable price). And the dining room needs wallpaper (that should be arriving with the other wallpaper), and the living room needs molding and a border (this is not what you think it is, I promise). But I have made substantial progress with all of them. You just can't see yet. I'm sorry. I still love you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

enlightening and unpleasant

This month, my book club read Sophia House, the "prequel" to Father Elijah (i.e., Father Elijah was written first, but Sophia House is set earlier in time). I haven't read Father Elijah, but I thought Sophia House was compelling. My musings here require me to ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't read it, so consider yourself warned.

The basic thread of the story is that the main character, Pawel Tarnowksi, was molested by his great-uncle (apparently repeatedly) as a young boy. He grows up brooding and sensitive, and disappears to Paris as a young man to discover himself as an artist and is taken in and encouraged by a kind author who turns out to have designs on Pawel as a lover; after Pawel rejects his advances, he returns to Poland, but has long since ceased practicing his faith, and despairs of objective reason and the love of God. He has inherited his uncle (not great-uncle)'s bookstore, and is running it somewhat successfully when the Nazi invasion of Poland goes into full swing and Warsaw is plunged into destitution. Pawel is now about 35.

Meanwhile, a 19-year-old David Schaefer, starved nearly to death, flees the Warsaw ghetto where the Jews are imprisoned by the Nazis, and deported daily by the trainload to concentration camps to be killed. Pawel hides him just as he is about to be discovered by the pursuing soldiers, and keeps him in his home/shop for a considerable period, feeding him until he is healthier. David is an ultraconservative Hasidic Jew, well-versed in theology and philosophy and wise and serious beyond his years. The whole time, Pawel is tormented by sexual desire for David, including demonic voices offering to give David to him.

Pawel, who would appear to be actually a heterosexual (his romantic interests are in women, for example, though he has never actually taken the step of pursuing a relationship - he is extremely shy), is horrified by these inclinations and resists them, turning to a greater life of prayer. He comes to accept the temptations and his general internal torment, as well as substantial material privations (hunger, poverty, and cold), as as a suffering that unites him to Christ. He and David have a serial conversation on the nature of God, the truth, and the value of literature, among other things.

Finally, one day when the shop is closed, a Polish count marches into the shop when it is closed and sees David. The count is a homosexual, and believes that Pawel is as well (he is a friend of the Parisian author, Pawel's former benefactor, and believes Pawel was in fact his lover), so he offers to hide David from the Nazis in exchange for "sharing" David with Pawel. When Pawel refuses and throws the count out of the shop, he knows that the count will immediately report him to the Nazis. He sends David to the home of his cousin Masha in the countryside and remains behind, wearing David's skullcap and prayer shawl. He is arrested and loaded onto a train to Oswiecim (Auschwitz), where, it being the end of the war, the Nazis are burning the concentration camp inmates 'round the clock. Pawel goes to his death with a joyful heart, embracing the opportunity to give his life for his friend.

So I have several things to say about this. First of all, I never sat back and thought about whether it was a good thing for me to be reading; it was so orthodox it never occurred to me to consider whether it was nevertheless harmful. I would say that it probably was. I've worked on cases involving children who were raped and molested before, which were profoundly disturbing, but I believe it is worth the sacrifice of a little of one's innocence of heart to help keep a predator in prison and more children safe. But this is only a novel, and I'm not sure it prospers my soul to stare deeply into a picture of child molestation and demonic sexual temptation. If I had it to do again, and were more reflective, I would not finish the book, however noble its point. Take that for what you will.

But my real interior turmoil upon finishing it is for a different reason. By the time I'd reached the part of the story in which Pawel has taken David in and is being tormented by temptation to pursue him, I had realized that I identify with Pawel. By the grace of God, I've never been tempted to lust after a member of the same sex, or someone half my age (though I have many other flaws, which will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog). But I saw in Pawel someone whose defects - which he did not choose - stunted his ability to pursue his vocation; inclined him to believe himself vile and worthless, and therefore made it difficult to believe in God's love for him; and made him into a deformed version of the man he should have been, whom others would naturally reject and revile if they knew what he was, even if his exercise of virtue were perfect.

If that doesn't sound familiar, well, I think it should. If you're Catholic and infertile, you've been asked a thousand times when you're planning to start your family, and some people haven't bothered to do that and have just started in with telling you the moral requirements for the use of natural family planning (i.e., trying to avoid conception). After you've been married a few years, they conclude that you're an incorrigible sinner and they stop even asking; they already know you're using contraception. So they try to drop hints about how nice it is to have a family and how much you'd enjoy being a parent, on the off chance that you're not yet entirely steeped in selfishness and materialism and have a heart that can be moved by truth and beauty. But that's not even as bad as the ones who suspect what the problem is; they avoid ever bringing it up, and many of them even avoid you, as if they think infertility were catching - because the deformity of a woman who cannot be a mother is so awful that even being in your company and forced to think about the fact that such things really happen is more than they can take. Your life is too ugly for them to be forced to recognize it for what it is.

And what about you? You know what you are. You're not just a woman with a defective uterus - you're a defective woman. If you were the holy, innocent, virtuous woman God intended you to be, your self-giving love for your husband would bear fruit, like the love of the Father for the Son, in another person; and you would look into the eyes of a tiny child and feel that you would lay down your life in a moment to protect it; and your body, and your energy, and your time would all be formed to the care of this little person who depends on you, and your selfishness would be mortified, and you would live for others, and find yourself conformed to the example of our Blessed Mother, and learn to practice the sanctity that would lead you to eternity with God.

But no. That will never be you, because you don't have that capacity, that God gave even to the animals; and rather than becoming selfless and generous and loving, you've withdrawn, to protect your heart, and now you see all of the people around you as potentially the next to say or do something that will lay bare your pain, which is more than you can bear; so you push them away. You don't know why He would do such a thing to you, why when His creature comes to Him wanting only to give up her time and her youth and her material aspirations to raise children to love Him and glorify Him, He would reject such an offer, and cast her aside; and you realize that when people say that "God loves you," well, everyone knows that it's true, so it must be true, but it must mean something different in your case - God must be capable of a "love" toward you that doesn't really match up with what we all understand that love is, that everyone else experiences, and you'll have to make do with that. And pretend that it's what you were looking for, that it's all that you need.

So when I looked at Pawel, responding with perfect chastity and faith and growing in holiness as he battled an affliction that would make him hateful in the eyes of humanity, that made him appear to be a depraved sinner when he was a saint, I saw an example of someone whose visage was so marred, beyond human semblance, but who had a beautiful soul.

And then Pawel died.

Not long before he died, he had gone to confession, and confessed that he was tormented by impure thoughts; the very wise confessor noted that he did not give into them, that a thousand temptations did not make a single sin, and when Pawel said that he was oppressed by these temptations, the priest said that he was given this trial so that he would grow in holiness very quickly, to do an important work for God. The book's ending makes clear that this was his martyrdom in David's place.

I am not claiming that I have grown in holiness through the cross of infertility, nor even that I've rejected a single temptation to be bitter or angry (well, maybe one or two, but probably by accident). And I'm also not saying that I see no value in martyrdom. I see lots of value in martyrdom. However, when I think that the future for the infertile is to die young, because infertility makes one fit for a great sacrifice (already purified by suffering, no kids to take care of), and unfit for life, I see red. It makes me furious. If some people are called to martyrdom - good. It is often the cost of virtue in a fallen world. If some of those people are infertile - of course they would be, we're 1/6 of the population or whatever, that only makes sense. If one of those people is to be me - I'm sure I'll make the adjustment badly, but that's OK. But if we're called to die young because we're infertile, because this cross means we're useless for anything else, if learning that you're infertile means that you go to Omaha for your miracle or you adopt or you die right now, then no. I check out; I give up; I am not interested in playing the game any more; I will become a Buddhist and hope to be reincarnated as some form of (non-reproductively-defective) vegetation so I can have another entire lifetime to meditate on how angry I am, because it will take that long.

In the several days after I finished the book, I managed to lecture myself sternly into noting that though Pawel was conflicted about his romantic life and his future before, he was not afflicted with temptation until David came on the scene, at which point Pawel's death (and thus the necessity of preparing for it) started looking like a foregone conclusion; that Pawel didn't actually appear to be in love with David (just tempted to lust after him), which would suggest that the temptations were not a product of a spiritual disorder but in fact precisely an affliction for the sake of his purification - in other words, he didn't have to die because he was unfit for life, but rather had to suffer so that he would be fit for death. To me, this distinction makes all the difference in the world.

So I am returning to a more measured point of view on these questions, which I will try to discipline myself not to share with the book club ladies tomorrow. (As this post proves, it would be impossible for me to do succinctly, in any case.) Books tend to affect me rather excessively, and sometimes I wonder how I managed as a lit major in college.

I doubt that a post in which I make conjectural threats to abandon my faith is specially edifying to anyone, or indicates that I have received any edifying myself. I suppose I haven't. I do know, like Pawel, that even when I don't know where I'm going or what I hope to find, if I visit the sacraments, if I walk through the steps of the practice of the faith, things seem to get better (at least a little better) all by themselves. And after I spent several days trying to drive out dark images of people doing awful things to children, I decided that I needed to offer particular prayers for children who are in danger of being preyed on in this way.

And particularly keen in my mind was that fact that Pawel was unable to do what one is always counseled to do with a constant temptation: avoid the source of the temptation. If it's your friend's husband you're tempted by, you see him as little as possible - any good spiritual director will tell you that. Don't overestimate your ability to fight off temptation. But Pawel couldn't avoid David, without abandoning David to die; he embraced every day with Christian love and compassion the person who was the source of his suffering. I am sure this will be the only example of its kind, for this is not the kind of virtue I have in any significant measure, but when my very pregnant coworker came by today to ask a legal question, I made a point about asking her about her children, and listened with interest to her answer, and hoped that my interest gave her a little bit of joy.

That's honestly not the sort of thing I can keep up. And as the Holocaust has been over for some decades now, I don't really know what's to become of me, and difficult though I find it to proceed in darkness on that point, I am frankly rather apprehensive to find out. I don't have a hope for a brighter future, or a bright future, or a future. I don't know. Hope and trust are not my strong suits just at the moment. But (appropriate to my temperament) I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, and God will just have to supply all that is missing - in fact, everything; because this is all that I have.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post. It's nice to know that the blogosphere forgives me for my long abandonment :).

It occurs to me to ponder my philosophy of furniture acquisition - I suppose it would be most accurate to say that if you want your home to have style, you have to either wait patiently for the right thing to come along at the right price (if you're looking for something tricky, like antiques), or you have to know where to look and be willing to pay a fair price. I tend to be a little manic on the bargain-hunting (and a little capricious in terms of the style of the thing - well, I want a bed frame that's carved but not too ornate, sturdy but not too masculine, very tall but not poster...yes, I want to find exactly the picture in my head. For $100. Is that unreasonable?), so for me, patience is definitely going to be necessary, as I suppose it is for others of the truly finicky out there.

I also have received wise words about the making of friendships. I was going to go to a little shindig tonight at the home of some lovely girls on this side of the river whom I'd like to get to know better, but that didn't work out. I've decided that tomorrow, when I go to confession (way overdue!), I will also make a little inquiry into service opportunities at our new parish. I don't actually have any extra time, but even if I have to give up on sleep, I need an opportunity to give something back - far more than any charity pursuit needs my help, I'm sure. I feel alone, detached, and adrift, and when I think about it, I realize I have for a while. I don't feel lonely - I see lots of people, and I don't mind being alone, in fact I enjoy getting things done and having my time to myself - but I haven't felt needed in so long I've almost forgotten what it is I'm missing.

And I realized something sad, but interesting, this evening, moving still-packed boxes around the dining room so I could fit them all under a tarp before I paint below the chair rail (done by the end of tomorrow? Here's hoping!). There's little if anything in the house that I wouldn't give up if I needed to for some good reason; but the idea that any of it should be lost, or broken, for no reason, makes me nearly despair. It's because my things are my people - not that I would sacrifice a human life to keep them, or anything like that, but they are stand-ins for the dead relatives to whom they belonged, or the living ones of whom they remind me; they're the silhouettes who live in my rooms where there are no people; they're my little army of helpers, standing at the ready to invite and welcome and make comfortable any guest who should happen by.

It's tragic, in a way, I suppose; but bittersweet, because truly, they make me happy - not with the possessiveness of materialism, exactly (though I recognize that my fondness for them ultimately is materialism, and something about which I need to be vigilant), but with the warmth of knowing that I am surrounded always by silent friends.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Hello blog. I have not died.

It's been over a month since I last posted, hasn't it? And we were only gone for nine days. And we got the internet at home again just before we left. Really, I have no decent excuse.

I owe you all a report on our travels through France, and I have pictures of all the churches where we stopped and prayed (and most often got to light a votive candle or two); and had I posted them when we first returned, I could probably remember which one was which, and in what town, and to what saint each was dedicated. We will see whether I can now. (In France, when in doubt, guess all churches are dedicated to Notre Dame - you'll be right 90% of the time.) Also, as I may have mentioned in a comment or two, the "IF girls" are now in the intention book at Mont St. Michel's chapel :).

But because I cannot get my act together and stitch together a post full of pictures (is it just me, or has blogger repeatedly switched the way it loads pictures in the last 2-3 years - finally settling on a method that is worse than any of the prior ones?), I am writing about something simpler.

I have marched into my home projects with a vengeance - you wouldn't know, because the place is still a disaster, and probably will be for a while. But I really have been doing a lot (for me). Every night when I get home from work, I let myself drift mindlessly into the internet for a bit, and then when I have gathered back a bit of my energy (I am by nature nocturnal, though this is rather sapped by having to get up in the morning and go to work), I try to get something done every day. Some days it's just priming the plaster repairs so that the next day I will be able to paint them, but I try to do more. I try to make it so that every weekend I can paint a room, and the wall repair and taping will be done so I can get up in the morning and just start painting. And then I try to add other little things in around that.

Of course there are so very many other things. Here is my list:

1. Paint full bath - DONE
2. Paint master bedroom - DONE
3. Paint third bedroom - DONE
4. Paint over red below chair rail in dining room
5. Rip fake-tile wallboard off kitchen walls
6. Finally get wallpaper sample for second bedroom and find matching paint color
7. Repair and paint kitchen walls
8. Paint second bedroom
9. Paint living room
10. Paper one wall of master bedroom
11. Paper one wall of second bedroom
12. Find replacement wallpaper for third bedroom
13. Paper above chair rail in dining room
14. Install molding below chair rail in dining room
15. Install crown molding in living room
16. Hang textured paper between living room crown molding and picture rail
17. Install crown molding in dining room and all bedrooms?
18. Buy queen bed frame and mattresses (should go higher?)
19. Find vintage gas stove (should go higher?)
20. Have roof resealed
21. Have eaves repainted
22. Replace makeshift Bilco door
23. See about having skeleton keys remade
24. Trim front vegetation
25. Paint living room bookshelves
26. Buy chairs for living room
27. Go to upstate to get mother's and in-laws' furniture
28. Replace kitchen cabinets
29. Move fridge into kitchen
30. Haul dryer under-drawers into basement (sell???)
31. Paint half bath
32. Paint laundry room
33. Replace tile in half bath
34. Paint hallways (pick color first)
35. Tile kitchen floor
36. Paint basement...
37. Scrape paint on porch windows, insulate porch...
38. Deal with landscaping next summer...
39. Finish attic...
40. Semi-finish carriage house...

You see the problem(s). Somewhere around 15-20 I exhaust what I can do in a year. (I was putting them in actual order for a while, too, but at some point I stopped; the roof will be re-sealed very soon. I'm just waiting on quote #2.) And I can only really do that if I keep up a fairly heavy pace. That pace has a few effects. I spend little hanging-out time with just my husband. While I recognize that that is bad, I refuse to feel too guilty about it, because he is sitting on his computer while I paint and patch plaster; in my view, he is the problem. He needs to take on projects with me, and then we will have a mutual activity to enjoy. As it is, I have striven not to nag him about his inactivity, and just try to do more myself. (That's not my typical MO - typically, I nag. I am hoping the guilt will get to him eventually. I actually do need his help.)

The other two effects are that I'm not as flexible with hopping in the car and driving 30-45 minutes to see our friends back on the other side of DC, as I said I would be. And I thought I would be. But doing this much work takes a lot of time, and if my DH and I aren't doing something together, I don't come to where they live just to hang out. I stay home - even on a Friday or Saturday night (well, tonight it was because no one called or emailed me to let me know what was going on, even though I asked. My DH is out of town, and this frequently occurs when he is not around. I could be annoyed if I wanted to, but I have chosen to enjoy the solitude and productive hours instead) - and I work on my house, and go to bed early.

More concerning to me - because part of me was glad that we had an opportunity to get a fresh start as the last few friends were about to hop on the baby train and leave us behind for the umpteenth time - is that I'm making zero efforts where I am now to make new friends. I would really like to have local friends. Maybe some nice girls with whom I have a lot in common! I do worry about new friends - they're either mommies (in which case having things in common is an illusion, and they will sweetly invite me over for 2PM on a Thursday several times, and when I say no each time they will just stop trying), or they're married and childless, in which case they're about to be mommies (heaven help me), or they're single, in which case they will almost immediately get married, and then become mommies. If they're infertile, they'll probably get pregnant or adopt not long after meeting me. That's nice for them, but it doesn't leave a lot of options for me, other than being the permanent cheerleader for life events I can't share. It's not that I think I should never have to be happy for someone else who has something I don't have (and I am in fact happy for other people once in a while rather than just bitter), but that can't be the basis of 100% of my friendships. Somewhere there has to be something where there's something more mutual going on, right? Isn't that how everyone else creates friendships?

Maybe I need to be seeking friendships in the nursing home community. The average member of that cohort probably has more years before senility or death than most of my current friends have before they have a(nother) child (even if they are not now pregnant, married, or even dating anyone).

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about something else entirely, which I'll sort of squeeze in here at the end. It's this. I'm a saver and a penny-pincher by nature. We're in no difficult financial straits, of course. But I've never had to worry about overspending as a pattern, because it's totally contrary to my disposition. But I had prepared myself for the cost of home improvement supplies long before we moved. I get the idea that paint is $20-35 a gallon, wallpaper is $10-30 a roll (well, the stuff I'm looking at), I can expect to spend $5-20 a yard on 54" fabric for curtains, components cost a certain amount even at ikea...and so I'm not worrying about spending the money, and I must drop over a hundred a week (wow - it's way more than that, actually) on stuff for my projects. I could tell myself that that will slow down - soon I'll be done buying paint, I've only got a couple more pieces of furniture that I need - but after that come the really expensive projects!

What if I have found my blind spot and suddenly accidentally become a spendthrift? What if I have just turned around years of financial self-discipline and we start saving at a trickle (even though we make so much more than we need)?

I am starting to become seriously stressed about this. I know there are lots of things other people do much more expensively than I do. I just spent $75 on a solid wood rolltop desk for which it would have been pretty reasonable to spend $200. If they turn out well, tomorrow I'll buy a (used) mattress and box spring for $90; that's 1/10 of retail for a queen set, isn't it? I'm mostly reusing the furniture we have, and in fact I don't think I've ever bought a piece of furniture new. My "new" cabinets, when I get them, will be from craigs.list. My mortgage is less than most of my friends' rent. Some people actually do spend $100 per panel for drapes, and I am going to shop and shop until I can do it for 1/4 of that or less (but I will need 20 panels total!!). I'm keeping all our solid-wood furniture and refinishing it instead of buying a matching set.

But I'm not willing to make do with whatever - I got rid of two ($20) desks before we moved, not because they didn't function, but because they weren't nice pieces. Now I've spent $75, for a very nice desk, but I could have had a desk for $0. The walls were already painted when we got here (well, some of it was falling apart), and I've redone even some that weren't ugly because I wanted something else. That could've been $0, too. I want to add molding where there should be molding because I have a sense of how the house should look...but I could leave it the way it is. I have passed up dozens, if not hundreds, of ads for beds on craigs.list (some at good prices and close by), because they were not what I was looking for.

I have done the opposite before; I have grabbed the first thing that comes along, or the lowest-cost thing, and my home always looked it. I have it in my head that that is what leads to the home that you see in the first five minutes of an HGTV episode - the house is in good condition, all the furniture is new, but they hate their room so much they won't even go in it. And I think that beauty is a product of waiting until just the right thing comes along - not being wedded to the vision in your head, because something unexpected might always improve it, but being committed to it, unwilling to sell it out because it's difficult or inconvenient or costs a little more than you had hoped. And my experience - seeing the places I've lived, and other people have lived - confirms that this is true. Patience, discernment (not to say pickiness) - those are the keys to style.

But what if I'm wrong, and all this leads to is waste and ruin and destruction and death?

Hope all of you have been doing well, too.