I know it's been ages since I've posted, so this is entirely my fault. But I have nine million thoughts rattling around in my head, and I am continually surprised if I open my blog that I haven't posted about any of them yet. Hmmm...
My major crazy project is finally slowing down at work. In the meantime, I am focused on several other things. I think I finally found my vintage stove. I am a combination of excited and apprehensive that is making me vaguely nauseous. I got the seller to take $100 off the price, but it's still not cheap. It's only in the 200lb. range, which means at least it can be moved. I was afraid it was 500lb. and I was contemplating renting a hydraulic lift. (If you are asking that question, you have not read this blog before.) Instead, I am renting an appliance hand truck (looks similar to a regular dolly but has some features for especially heavy items) and a loading ramp, and borrowing a friend's trailer. The guy selling it says it worked when it was unhooked, but insists I need to remove, clean, and regrease all the valves before hooking it up and using it again. He has offered to let me consult him, as a guy who's restored a stove before, about questions I have. This is awesome, but he's a little too obsessed with valves for my taste.
After a major undertaking going back and forth with the plumbers and the homeowner's insurance company, we sorted out the bathroom restoration and the guys started last week. They replaced all the joists and support beams under the bathroom, which were rotten. They replaced the old plumbing runs, which were also rotten. They re-laid the subfloor and added Durock so that tiles can be laid, and they started laying the tile. That leaves the rest of the tile, grouting, replacing the original beadboard and molding, reinstalling the fixtures, replacing the threshold, and painting (I will be doing the painting). I think they'll finish up next week. I am beyond excited. I'm also hoping I can get them to hook up my stove while they're here, so I can avoid at least the charge for them to make a separate trip.
We're thinking about getting a dog. We've actually found some good candidates. I am frankly stunned at the cost of what one of my friends calls a "used dog." My family raised purebred Siamese for a while, and I understand that a registered animal can be expensive. I'm sure dogs are more than cats; they're just bigger animals. But a mixed-breed with no home in danger of being euthanized should not cost $200-400. Maybe if that specific animal had major veterinary care it would make sense, but the websites are quite bald about the fact that younger dogs cost $295 because they are subsidizing medical care for older and sickly dogs. Maybe I'm heartless, but an animal that's really sick and has no home should probably be euthanized. There are enough healthy animals that can't find homes. And there are people who can't afford medical care. Plus, jacking up the cost of healthy dogs makes no sense, as it just drops the demand for homeless animals. If they want to subsidize the care of others, that should be on a voluntary donation basis.
And for all that money, you don't even own the dog. Some of these rescue organizations require you to take every dog to obedience school whether it needs it or not, and a disqualifying question on the "adoption application" is "I think I can train a dog myself." Fifty years ago there WERE NO obedience schools for family pets, and humans have had dogs for MILLENIA. What is with these people? Others require every dog to go to the vet every year, whether sick or not. I don't get that degree of medical attention. Several places have contract clauses that if you later can't care for the dog, you can't even give it away to family or friends - you have to give it back to that shelter, or pay a hefty fine. And they're not going to refund your up-front cost when they get the dog back - they're going to charge someone else to buy it a second (or third, or fourth?) time! I know it's not a racket, strictly speaking, in the sense that these places are not squirreling away huge profits. And maybe I'm oversensitive because they throw around the words "adoption" and "parents" and I've expended my lifetime supply of patience just reading three or four adoption websites and getting acquainted with their miserable treatment of couples that are trying to provide a home for a child with NO FAMILY.
By the way, the county humane society charges $120 to adopt a dog. Also - the people who "surrender" animals to these rescue organizations do so FOR FREE. In most cases, the animals are up-to-date on veterinary care. So find someone who wants to give away a dog he can't care for, is my takeaway.
On the dog subject, I resisted for a long time because I didn't want to become one of "those" people - you know, the infertiles who consider their pets their children because they can't have children. That's creepy. I aspire to be a normal dog owner, who treats the dog the same way I would if I had kids (except for the staying home part, sadly). But I've realized that my husband would be a lot more comfortable about safety if we had a dog around (just as a deterrent - we don't want a mean dog), and it would be nice to have a good-natured companion, and a motivation to get out and go for a walk or run every day. And having something depending on you is good for the soul, frankly. I think we could both use that right now.
Returning to the adoption topic briefly referenced above (I told you, rattling around) - the other day I read, in full, Dr. Marni's dissertation on childless women post-infertility treatment, which was kindly shared by Pamela at Silent Sorority. For the two and a half of you who are in or can ever imagine being in that demographic, I just cannot recommend it highly enough. I read a number of things that were new to me, and also a number that couldn't possibly have surprised me, but really made me think when I saw them set down in black and white. So I'm going to share a few of my little reflections - really, there are too many to recount them all. And for those who actually graduated IF with a baby, it's still worth reading, I just don't actually believe you're going to bother :).
First of all - here's the part about adoption - on page 22, she talks about a paradigm shift in adoption in America. I had wondered how we go from the Dickensian and Ann of Green Gables and Little Orphan Annie perception of adoption - wherein adoptive parents are the generous folks who give an orphaned child a home - to the current mode, in which those unable to procreate naturally are the desperate schmucks who can be put through any amount of expense, inconvenience, and disrespect to come home with a stranger's child - who may not even have substantial guarantees of good health and medical treatment.
(To all the adoptive parents out there, if this discussion of adopted children in economic terms upsets you, I suggest you stop reading now. Yes, each of them, individually, is a human being, created in the image and likeness of God, with innate dignity, deserving of love for his or her own sake and no other reason. That doesn't change one bit the fact that the adoption market in the aggregate is a market, and acts like a market. And as a market, it is in substantial need of improvement.)
That description of the transition is mine, not hers. But I had no idea when the transition occurred or why (I speculated that it was a post-1973 phenomenon, when unwanted babies became scarce and women and societies no longer "needed" adoptive families to absorb babies the biological parents could not raise). She does. She said that in the post-World War II years, and the accompanying baby boom, parenthood was everything, and the inability to have children was so stigmatized that infertility was the only recognized justification for adopting a child. That is, before, having a loving home and the willingness to adopt were the qualifications. During the baby boom, childlessness became seen as a malady so terrible that all excess babies must be reserved for those who didn't have any. My first thought on reading this was, "I never considered that - it's OUR fault! The desperation of the childless is what actually turned the market - we brought this evil on ourselves!"
Then I thought about it more. That's not quite what she was saying. She wasn't saying that the lobby of the childless tried to shout down the adoption claims of those who could have biological children. In fact, I doubt childless folks organized in any way; they barely do now. Rather, those in charge of doling out babies perceived childless couples as having a radically stronger claim on the babies. It was a cultural phenomenon, not, if you will, a legal or administrative one. (I know I'm still speculating a bit here.)
So in some ways - the evil we now face (that prospective adoptive parents are seen as desperate, and therefore are a vulnerable target for systemic abuse - and you'll never convince me that one word of that is hyperbole) and the evil that caused this are cut from the same cloth. The idea that parenthood is unavoidably essential and that a childless life is worthless, and that childless couples are therefore hopelessly defective, is and was the problem. So that's eye-opening.
Contrary to what may appear, I'm not blaming "society" here. Before we discovered our infertile status, every one of us contributed to about that same way of thinking. And - the dirty little secret - we still do. If anything, the convictions of the infertile seeking treatment are stronger than other people's with respect to the essential-ness of parenthood.
Of course, there is at least one group that's not playing along - the post-post-treatment childless infertile demographic. (Clearly the child-free movement also is, but that's a sociological phenomenon I don't feel qualified to tackle just at the moment.) Those are the people Dr. Marni interviewed for her study, and on whose psychological adjustment she focused. I've got my prescription for depo in my purse (which reminds me - I really need to get that thing filled), so I am an imminent member of that group. I've finished my last treatment option, and now I am taking medication to halt the further growth of the disease so I'm not always in pain, my internal organs aren't ruined, and I don't get cancer. Right now, there's no question of sacrificing my health for a child - I did sacrifice my health, and I can't have a child anyway. There's no point ruining my health for nothing. (For those of you whose panties are in a bunch about how evil it is to take depo for a NON-contraceptive purpose, I will address this in a later post, and between now and then I suggest a grounding in basic logic and metaphysics, which does wonders for your effectiveness in apologetics, by the way.)
After reading through the study and reflecting for several days, I realized a lot of things that should have been obvious to me. I've mourned countless times that I am not pregnant, that I do not have a child. And I can't even remember how long it's been since I thought, "Next Christmas, maybe..." These are huge blessings, and I am grateful for them. Some of the IFers who got lucky and did have children might not have been ready to get even that far, if they hadn't had/adopted a baby. But it never occurred to me to think that I had never really mourned the idea that I will never have a child. Because I've thought about it. I've started accepting it into my consciousness. I really do make future plans with the expectation of childlessness. I'm not saving for maternity leave and I haven't been in years. There's a huge measure of freedom with that. But judging by what she wrote, and what I see in myself, the real mourning starts after treatment ends, after that last shred of hope is relinquished.
I noted in a previous post that my two IRL childless friends ending up with surprise, no-warning babies within a few months of one another was a blow bigger than I could have imagined. I was stunned by how long and how badly it upset me - considering I knew it would upset me a lot, and at least for a little while. But the anger really hung on. The impact on our lives has not improved - those friends are increasingly inaccessible, and our habits of considering them our close and constant companions are increasingly a polite sham. This will get worse with time, not better: we are low on their priority lists, and will get lower, whereas we have plenty of time and attention for them. It's just one added wound that inescapably forms part of the life of the childless infertile - those who need the most emotional support get the least.
However - and this is a big however - though the objective injury won't get better, my emotional suffering has. Before both their babies, I was getting a lot better. It was easier to see babies on the street; I didn't even have to repress the upset, I just wasn't upset. I could ask friends about their kids and want to hear the answer, with no heartache. That feeling has come back. (And now I have almost no childless friends left, so I don't think it can be taken away again - good news, in a sick way!)
But I was realizing that that peace can itself be a bit on the deceptive side. I walked by a young family the other day - Dad had Junior on his shoulders as they took a walk on a nice day - and I felt no upset, I just smiled. I had just read the dissertation, and I was thinking about all the trauma that this entails. I looked back at them. I have all sorts of strong self-discipline mechanisms (which sometimes I ignore) so I can deal with this properly, and though I wasn't upset this time, one immediately kicked in. A voice in my head said sternly, "That has nothing to do with you." That's the mantra I've been absorbing, gradually, since about year two or three of marriage. You can hang out with their kids. They don't have kids at your expense. Their lives have nothing to do with you.
It's got all sorts of theological soundness and stuff - makes it a great tool. Of course, with every success it has in deflecting envy, it has an equal success in pushing away humanity - every stranger on the street with whom I could (but don't) identify. Or my closest friends. Their lives have nothing to do with you. And as I looked at that young family, I asked myself, "Have you ever really thought about that experience, that innocent scene they take for granted, and taken in the full force of the fact that you will never have that?" I don't think I have. I know Christmas now is not OK. I work every year to try to surround myself with family at Christmas, and I'm usually unsuccessful. Every year, I slog through whatever we're doing instead, and I tell myself it's fine for this Christmas, and somehow next year I will pull it off.
Pull what off? My brother doesn't celebrate Christmas and hates his family. My sister is around sometimes, which is awesome. My husband hates going to his parents' home, which would otherwise by an awesome way to spend the holiday. It would be nice - so nice - to have just a few years when my siblings and I were the kids, the adult kids, not missing anything or defective, but just a big group to play board games and enjoy each other's ability to eat our food without supervision and appreciate each other's conversation. But my father effectively started a second family when I was 20, so he will never be at a stage of appreciating his adult children. He made it so that he only ever had to appreciate small children; by the time my half-siblings are adults with their own lives, he will be dead. Of course, that was a good move on his part, because he's estranged from my brother, was estranged from me, drives my sister nuts, and literally drove my stepmother into mental illness, so now she's left him. Children under 10 don't have the option to refuse to spend Christmas with their family, so he's guaranteed always to have people around him. Oh, that leaves my mother, who's so mentally ill she's in assisted living, all the way across the country. And nutty as a fruitcake. In years past, I've tried to round up people in the area who can't get home for Christmas, but that has become increasingly difficult.
I realized at some point that my driving desire was not for a baby. It was for a family. They don't have to be biologically related (that's not a subliminal message that I want to adopt - give it a rest), they don't have to be children at all. They just have to be an assortment of people who love each other and are joyful because they have each other. (I realize that this doesn't accurately describe all families; it's just supposed to.) But this isn't accessible either. My husband keeps telling me that I can't "recreate college," where I actually had that. But I have a couple of responses to that. (1) Why not? (2) I didn't start out trying to recreate college; I started out trying to get pregnant, and it didn't work. (3) There are genuinely other lonely people who need people around them and for whom this version of family would be something valuable. What is wrong with reaching out to them?
I also have to make a comment on TCIE's post about the blessings of the cross of infertility - about seizing the opportunity for grace, and so forth. I concede that everything she's said is right, and clearly is true in her own life. But it isn't the whole story. I think the temptation for us as Christians is to believe that everything can be redeemed. It can, but not in this life. That means that "everything happens for a reason" is not true in any earthly sense. That means that "better off" doesn't always happen - I think it doesn't even often happen. Christ carried the ultimate cross and He died. The only happy ending was when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. That's a huge deal, obviously, but it did not happen in this earthly life. He did not hop down off the cross to say, "Just kidding!" He didn't grin through the crucifixion because the pain wasn't nearly as big a deal as the graces being poured down. He suffered.
My point? Sometimes we don't emerge stronger, holier, more joyful, from the crosses we're asked to carry. Sometimes we die like this. Some of us will, as some of the saints have done, have effervescent joy and strength through the greatest suffering. For some of us, we will be pushed to the absolute limit of what we can endure. For some, saying, "I can't understand or believe that God would let this happen to me. This is an unmitigated evil. I am angry with Him and He is far away. But I choose to love Him anyway" is a greater act of love, and faith, and virtue, than all the tears and songs of joy and gladness of those who got what they wanted. Some people - like our beloved TCIE - will not get what they wanted, and yet will turn up a face overwritten with pain and joy to celebrate the love of God. But not everybody will receive that measure of graces in proportion to their crosses (and I'm not saying that her acceptance of those crosses has been one iota less than heroic. She is amazing). With some of us, God is even more stingy. It happens.
So what I'm saying is - if you can seize your infertility as an opportunity for grace and praise God for it, good for you and by all means do so. Some of you are, or have been, or at some point will be, little better than dead, your life bleak and your faith in tatters. You need to know that you are not alone. And for you, I think the call to heroism sounds like this: "Just keep breathing." Heaven lies that way, too.
This is a lot of questions (on a pile of unrelated subjects) and few answers, if any. I'm moving into the no-man's land of the IF experience - permanent childlessness. It's a huge deal, terrifyingly sad, but also, in a tiny way, a bit exhilarating. My life feels like it's been on hold for a long time. I want to move forward, even if into a place I didn't want to be. I want to be free. Maybe it will even happen.
And remind me to tell you about my antique cabinets.