Archive for the ‘Babies (or the lack thereof)’ Category

Sorry to keep rollin’ along on this same theme of child-conception, but I thought I’d like to end the week on some positive notes before moving on to other topics within marriage next week. Here are some things that I’ve learned in the last seven months about trying (unsuccessfully) to have a baby.

1. What people don’t tell you is that the Pill totally whacks out your hormones and it takes some time for your body to recover after you come off of it.

Don’t talk to the three women I know who got pregnant the moment they stopped taking the Pill, exactly the way they wanted – they’re freaks.[i] For most women, apparently, it takes about three months to return to normal after coming off the Pill. It takes this long, or sometimes even longer, to begin showing normal signs of fertility. (OK, I have to admit that I have lost the website from which I got this information, but I swear I just read it like three days ago from a totally legitimate site).

I wish I had known that seven months ago.  I made the mistake of trying to track my fertility (using the basal-body temperature method) as soon as I stopped taking the Pill. [ii] I began with the explicit attempt to find out what my fertility pattern was like, so I could use it to my advantage later when I actually wanted to conceive.

What I learned frustrated the dickens out of me. My temperature was not rising through the first half of my cycle, plateauing, and then falling during the last half like it was supposed to. It was jumping up and down erratically. It did this for a couple of months. Then, one month, around the time my temperature was supposed to peak (during the middle of my cycle), my thermometer indicated that I had in fact become sub-human. That’s right – my temperature was actually lower at this time than the average human’s is supposed to be at any time. I flung that thing across the room in frustration, cried into my pillow for a few minutes, and then stopped taking my temperature for the rest of the month. It wasn’t telling me anything.  That cycle ended up being twice as long as it was supposed to be, too.  I have retried that method a few times in the months that have followed but I’ve seen nothing normal or predictable yet so I’ve officially buried my thermometer somewhere in the back of my bathroom closet. It has been nothing but an aggravation to me.

I now believe that if I had just waited a few months for my body to return to normal, perhaps it would have started showing normal human results and I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated. Maybe I’m even normal by now, and could actually learn something if I started back up again; but at this point I’m so sick of schizophrenic temperature readings that I don’t want to look at another thermometer ever again. Or at least for another year.

So if it’s worth anything, here’s my advice: I recommend going of the Pill before you’re ready to start having a family.[iii] Ease into a less psychotic birth control method. Wait a few months. Then, when you’re ready to start paying attention to your body, it will already be doing what a woman’s body is supposed to be doing (unlike mine). I also recommend not tracking your fertility right after coming off the pill, because the results you get will probably not make any sense and will just drive you crazy.

So wait a few months.

2. When trying to conceive you may, for the first time in your life, have the opportunity to stress out about being too stressed out.

There is no shortage of well-meaning friends and family members who *know*that stress can inhibit conception, and who want to help you out by advising you to be less anxious. Of course, the only real consequence of this advice is that you begin to worry that you are worrying too much. You start to feel anxious about having too much anxiety. See what I’m getting at here? Not very useful.

So my alternative advice is this: remember that worrying is normal. It’s natural. And to a certain extent, it’s even healthy. Own your anxiety.  Tell yourself things like, “My anxiety gives me a richer inner life than all these serene and wispy-headed Buddhas.” Remind yourself of all the stuff you’re good at due to your high-strung nature, like memorizing Latin noun declensions and writing academic papers. And then watch a movie, or do something else you enjoy, citing relaxation as the objective: “I need to watch New Moon in order to relax so that I can get pregnant!”

I don’t know if this technique has helped me get any closer to getting pregnant but it has decreased the amount of crying I do.

3. Talking about it helps.

For some reason that I don’t fully understand, there is this idea circulating that you shouldn’t talk about your fertility problems. Apparently the subject is considered taboo. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook), I wasn’t born with one of those filters in my brain which notifies me of what things are and aren’t talkaboutable.  I told lots of my friends about my inability to conceive, before writing about it on here for the whole world to see.

Call me uncouth, but I’m glad I did, because it has helped. Whenever I finish whining and pouring out all the reasons I’m sad, I find that I’m not actually that sad anymore. I get really melodramatic about it for a while, but then I look back and am able to laugh at myself. “Sheesh, Kath; it isn’t that bad,” I say to myself. “What a drama queen. I’m really lucky, actually. I get all this time to practice my writing, and I get plenty of sleep every night, and have lots of fun times with Ben and my friends . . . What was I complaining about, again?” Then I carry on with my life. It never fails. The sad feeling and sense of emptiness eventually creep back, but then I talk about it again. It always helps me to get through. So I’m glad I don’t have one of those filters on my brain.

Also, talking about my fertility has connected me to my female friends in a powerful way. It has made me feel closer to them. We all share this beautiful thing – this capacity to bear children (in theory, anyways) – and sharing our experiences makes us all feel a little more united.

Lastly, my friends have provided me with great comfort when I have talked about it. They tell me they can relate, and that they can see me being a great mom someday. They are all really sweet and sympathetic. I have met with nothing but generosity and love. And the responses I’ve gotten from my blog readers have been equally heartwarming. How would I get all this comfort if I didn’t share my problems with you guys? Where would I be if I followed social norms and kept these things to myself?

So those are some of the things I’ve learned. Yay! Life experiences have made me a slightly wiser person. I guess that’s something.

I would ask you what your own experiences have been in this department but I have a feeling it wouldn’t be relevant to most of you. But do you have any additional thoughts or words of advice on the subject?

[i] Sorry J, A and M. I don’t really mean it. I’m just saying that because I’m jealous.

[ii] For male, young, or otherwise uninformed readers: a woman’s fertility can be tracked by taking her temperature every morning – just the normal way, with a thermometer in her mouth – because a woman’s basal body temperature rises when she is fertile and drops when she is not. A woman is generally only fertile (i.e. able to conceive a baby) for a couple of days every cycle. There are other ways to track fertility but you might not care to know them.  I’ll let someone else explain. Probably next week, actually.

[iii] Actually, I’m starting to think maybe we all should stop using the Pill altogether and turn to healthier, more natural forms of birth control, but that’s another topic.

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I know, I know, I know. Seven months is not a long time to wait to get pregnant without success. I shouldn’t be using such strong terms as “barrenness.” In fact, it’s perfectly normal to have to wait several months, and in no way indicates infertility on either partner’s side. I know.

But I’m still depressed as hell most of the time. Because for Mennonites, seven months is a really long time to wait. But I’ll get to that later.

I want to begin by saying that all my life, I was puzzled by the idea of couples wanting children. I heard about couples “trying” or “deciding” to have kids. Sometimes I heard about couple’s “not being able” to have kids, and them feeling “frustrated” about it. I never understood.

Who wants children in their lives? Who wants to let a bunch of noisy, uncontrollable, and utterly ungrateful little people invade their lives forever?

I have never felt anything special about children. I’ve never connected with kids. Even when I was a child myself, kids didn’t especially like me – I’ve always been too serious and nerdy – and as I got older, they liked me even less. I’m not particularly charming or funny or matronly. Kids don’t find me especially interesting or likable, and frankly, I’ve never found them all that interesting or likable either. The feeling was mutual.

So I’ve never understood how a person could reach a point where she wanted children – enough to get upset about it if she didn’t get them. She could always comfort herself by saying, “Oh well – at least I don’t have to endure that harrowing nightmare that is childbirth.”

I didn’t understand, that is, until April of 2009. Suddenly, for reasons I can’t fully explain, everything changed. At that point nothing made sense any more.

If you are like me, and have always wondered what it must feel like to actually want children, well, here are some of my experiences and reasons. And if you have never wondered, then you already know exactly what I’m talking about.

An overwhelming desire to love somebody.

It’s preposterous. But these days I’ll see a sudden movement outside, through the window, out of the corner of my eye, and my heart will skip a beat as I hope it’s a puppy or kitten who needs my love. (It never is).

I am in agony over wanting to give my love to somebody. I feel I have so much to offer a child.

I have been babysitting a professor-friend’s little boy, Avery, for about as long as I’ve been trying to conceive, and it is very hard sometimes. I think he’s a source of my problem, to a certain extent. I love him too much.  Ever since I began to care for that child, my desire for a baby of my own has been almost physically painful. I cry buckets some nights because I don’t have a little one to kiss and hold and care for. It just hit me one day when I was putting him to sleep and has never gone away.  And the sensation is made worse by the fact that it is so new and came on so suddenly. When did I become this person? Who am I? How do I deal with this? My new-found desire for children is confusing and disorienting. I’m not a mother, I’m an academic! Or . . . at least, I was. Now I don’t know what I am.

It is torture for me to hold back my fondness and affection for the little one. He provokes such intense feelings of tenderness in me. I want to pour out all my love into him . . . But he’s not mine. I feel an overwhelming wellspring of love, and yet have no one to direct it to.

I want to share this overflow of love with someone.

It frustrates me to find out I have absolutely no control over the matter.

I was under the impression that having a baby was a decision one made. And I had made my decision. I had planned it all out. I was going to get pregnant in the summer – my aim was August at the latest – so that I would have a spring baby. That way, I could carry my newborn around outside in a sling for the first months of his life.  I would be in my second trimester by now. I would know the baby’s sex, and we would have a name picked out for him or her. We would have a crib and a stroller. I would be saying things like, “Oh, little Benny was so active last night . . . I could hardly sleep.”

Now I say, “family planning? Ha! In my dreams.”  There is no planning in any of this. It isn’t a choice. It’s just something you hope for and wait for without any say in the matter. It sucks. I was totally wrong about all this.

Everyone else in the universe is having babies right now.

Those of you who aren’t a part of the Mennonite culture might not understand this, but women in my world have babies in their early twenties. At 24 and babyless, I’m already behind schedule, all because I wanted to get a degree. In my social circles, it is universally understood, “We want to be done having kids before we’re thirty.” And most of my friends, like me, plan to have three or four children, so they have to get started early if they want to reach this goal. They are already all on their way to achieving it, but I’m not.

My sister never tires of saying “Mennonites have an uncanny ability to get pregnant the second they have sex.” And it’s true. I’ve heard that Mennonites statistically have the highest fertility rate of any cultural community in the world. (Well, technically the Hutterites beat us, but they are Anabaptists too, so I consider us all a part of the same, ridiculously-fertile family).

Just listen to my own situation. Right now, there are four unwed girls in my church who are with child. These girls didn’t choose to have babies; they got them by accident. One of my close friends recently found out she unexpectedly got pregnant right on the heels of her first child’s birth, and another got pregnant on purpose, after her second month of trying. Two of my married friends recently had unplanned honeymoon babies even though they were using birth control.  The real kicker: almost every single one of these girls – seven out of the eight – is younger than me.

Every other day I get a new Facebook update from a distant acquaintance telling me that she too is carrying another child, and is asking for advice on how to deal with the nausea.

And in the non-Mennonite world: half of the bloggers I follow right now are currently expecting or are brand-new first-time parents. I actually had to stop subscribing to a few because it was too depressing.

Even Jim and Pam from The Office are expecting, for heaven’s sake, and theirs was also unplanned.

I myself entered this world by mistake, two months before my parents were married. Mom’s fertility was through the roof – she got pregnant eight times in ten years, giving birth to six children.

It seems like the only way to have babies these days is by accident. Alternatively, my friends just have to think the words, “I feel I would like to start a family,” and they immediately begin gestating.

Why is it so easy for everybody else – so easy that it happens by accident – and yet so hard for me and Ben?

The women around me, their bellies swell with new life and their breasts swell with life-sustaining nourishment. Next to them I feel gaunt, barren, pre-pubescent – like a patch of gritty, inhospitable desert amidst fecund, luxuriant rainforests.

Most absurd of all: I feel like God is withholding a child from me because he doesn’t think I would be a good enough mother.

This is ridiculous because I don’t even believe God works like that. It goes against everything my theology teaches me. And if he’s letting all kinds of irresponsible single girls around me have babies, surely he doesn’t pick and choose his mothers that way. I’m married and I’m taking all the friggin’ vitamins and reading all the parenting books, for goodness’ sake. But a part of me still entreats him to change his mind. I worry that he thinks I would forget to feed them, that I would be too negligent. I cry out, “God, I promise I will wake up for her every time she cries, and I will even send her to that lame Sunday school if you want me to, and I will read her stories every day so she will be smart, too.” But he doesn’t hear me. He thinks I would be forgetful and careless. That’s how it feels, anyway.

There’s also something impossibly depressing about thinking (hoping!) that maybe there is a baby inside of me and constantly finding out that there is not. It’s disheartening to pray, month after month, “God, if there is a child inside me right now, please make him healthy and safe,” and then to have a stupid little stick tell you month after month, “You wasted your time. There was never anyone in there to begin with.” To think, “Maybe my baby – little Benny or Kathy Junior – is living inside of me right now,” and then to realize, “Nope – the only heart beat that has ever been inside this body is your own.”

There’s no one there. There never was.

Of course, it’s not all bad. I remind myself that I can get a ton of writing done without kids around. I remind myself that I don’t have to worry about morning sickness, hemorrhoids or stretch marks. I can sleep in whenever I want. I can see a late movie with Ben at the drop of a hat if we feel like it.  I also remind myself that for some unfathomable reason our society prizes the appearance of malnourishment and infertility in women, so that other women actually covet my gangly body. After the fifth consecutive month of getting a negative test back I went out and bought a bunch of tight-fitting clothes to make me feel more valuable as a person. I may not be a scholar and I may not be a mother, but frig, at least I can be “hot.” Maternity clothes be damned. I’m wearing skinny jeans, because they don’t look good on curvy women.

These are just some of my irrational feelings. Don’t try to reason with me, I already know all the logical responses to these feelings. Logic is scheduled to resume on Friday.

How about you, though? Have you ever felt the desire to have or care for children? What was your experience? Or do you find the desire to reproduce as bizarre as I always did?

I’d love to hear from you. But if one more person tells me I need to “relax and it will happen” I will personally sock them in the nose.

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As you guys now know, because I confessed it in my confession post, Ben and I have been trying to have kids for seven months without any luck.

Most women I have talked to in my adult life tell me they cry around the time of menstruation. PMS, I am universally told, has the power to throw hormones out of whack and turn an otherwise reasonable woman into a weepy mess. Throw in cramps, bloating, the stress of keeping the whole bodily event discreet, and a whole host of other uncomfortable symptoms, and you often have a disaster on your hands each and every month.

When, on top of all these things, each bout of menstruation means you have still not succeeded in having a child,  you have what I call “a veritable tsunami of emotion” to battle every month.*

How do I deal with this?

By being ridiculous.

After another exhausting weeping episode last night, I decided perhaps it was time to introduce you to my “other” family. I already posted this on Facebook, but not all of you are my Facebook friends, so I figured I’d recycle some of my material today.

These are my gnomes. I’ve been collecting them since I was eighteen. They ordinarily live indoors with me and Ben, but this summer I took them outside for a photo shoot. I hope you give them a warm welcome.

Meet Phil and Milton. They are permanently glued to our deck. There once was a third one, Stan, but he went to go live with Jesus a few years ago. In fact, his death is what prompted me to glue the other two down.

(Requiem in pacem, Stan).

Milton has been decapitated once but I successfully reattached his head with crazy glue and he has been fine ever since.

This is Bradley. He and Edmund (the squirrel) have been together since before I knew him.

Meet Bruce. He was my first gnome! A gift from my mom for my 18th birthday.

This is Chad. He was a gift from Ben for my 19th birthday.

This is Charles. he brings some much-needed summertime spunk to my gloomy winters. He was a Christmas gift from Ben two years ago.

This is poor Douglas. He lost both his finger and his right leg in the taking of this picture (I kinda dropped him on the sidewalk). He leg was fortunately reattached with rubber cement but I’m afraid his finger is gone for good. Now he will be forever pointing into destiny with a little stump. *sad face*

This is Kenneth. I left him inside for the shoot after Doug’s tragic accident.

This is Dennis. Can you believe he doubles as a watering can? Those holes in the mushroom cap are the spout, his spade is the handle and he can be filled with water from his back. Awesome!

Dennis was a gift from Ben. My darling husband left him on my pillow to find on my 23rd birthday. Awwww.

This is Gary. Many people think he looks scary but he is in fact quite jolly and good-natured. Ben gave him to me for the first Christmas after we started dating.

This is Geoffrey. He likes to hold candy in his mushroom cap to serve to guests. My friends all feel obligated to rub his nose before they take something from him. I don’t know why — Geoff has never demanded it.

Richard. He too likes to provide guests with candy. Or pens.

This is Raymond; I got him from my mum-in-law as a birthday gift. Doesn’t his body language just say “Hakuna Matata”?  And we could all use just a little more Hakuna Matata every now and then. Or at least I could.

Reggie. A gift from my cousin Barb. He actually lives in the flower pot, like the Twiddlebugs (Remember the Twiddlebugs? Sesame Street? Ernie and Bert’s window box?? Kind of like that.)

This fine-looking gnome is Tollers, and the newest member of my gnome family. Aside from him being the best-looking guy out of the bunch, he is special because he was given to me by my awesome friend Sue . . . for no reason at all! Is there any better reason to receive a gift than none at all? I submit that there is not!

I named him Tollers because that was the nickname of C. S. Lewis’s friend, Tolkien. I gave him a symbolic “friend” name because he was a gift from such a good friend.

So there you have them: my alternate family in all their gnomey, gardenny glory. Probably, I will write some more serious posts later this week. For now, I hope you enjoyed the family meet-and-greet.

*Why do I tell you about all of these personal things? I have no idea. I feel compelled to, somehow. Sorry.

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