Tag Archives: grief

Baby we were born to run….

18 Sep

Oh this week, where do I even begin with you? Your ups and downs are really knocking me for a loop and it’s only Thursday.

I suppose I should start at the beginning, but to do that, we have to go further back than Sunday. We have to take your preferred time traveling device (Mr Peabody’s Wayback Machine or The Doctor’s TARDIS?) to almost four years ago. Set your chronometer for October 2, 2010.

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Look at this couple. They’ve just gotten married. They didn’t write their own vows and they didn’t go over the ceremony in detail with the minister ahead of time. They are a little bewildered right now, but they are pretty sure they just promised to love each other, for better or for worse, for the rest of their lives. They are confused by the time traveller now in their midst but they assure you that they are ridiculously happy and ready to face any challenge life will throw at them, and that they will face it together.

Rewind half an hour or so and listen to the minister’s speech. He tells them that perfect love not only casts out fear, it embraces it. Love conquers challenges together.

And so you, time traveler, you ask them the question I asked Ken this week: if I told you, now, the troubles you will face, the challenges you will go through, would you change your mind?

And we would respond the way Ken did this week: absolutely not. He would squeeze my hand, cast out fear, and we would forge ahead.

We have survived so much in less than four years. Joe’s death, our struggles to have a baby, Gloria’s dementia, my struggles with depression, and countless injuries and trips to the ER.

But we’ve had so many moments of happiness. We’ve gone to weddings of dear friends and had vacations with family. We have a dog and a house and a precocious 8 year old. We have had impromptu dance parties on our front porch, swaying in each other’s arms to ‘our’ song. Life has been both bitter and sweet. And man, has this week perfectly epitomized that.

Sunday was amazing. Two of my cousins are in town – a very rare occasion considering they both live in different continents. And Sunday they randomly called and asked us to go apple picking with them. Ken had already committed to helping with Gloria, but Daniel and I eagerly agreed.

We had a blast – picked a ton of apples, spent quality time with some of the people I love most in the world.

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buuuuut I also got stung by a bee, turning my hand into this:

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Can’t have the sweet without the sting.

Then, Tuesday morning was another bittersweet day. Ken and I went to the funeral of his coworker and friend. George was a legend – I can’t even begin to do him justice in attempting to describe him. Let’s just say, one year his Christmas card was him in a bathtub, full bubble bath, and ever-present cigar in his mouth. I adored George and his sudden death was hard for both of us.

Even harder was going to the gravesite. George is now at rest in the same cemetery as Joe, not too far from each other. I asked Ken to take me to Joe’s grave and we cleaned up a little around it, held hands, and cried.

And then the weirdest, funniest thing happened. We had been completely alone in that section of the cemetery and were surprised to see a car park directly behind ours. And we were even more surprised when a bagpiper, in full regalia, started walking towards us, warming up on his chanter.

Now when a bagpiper actually plays a song, it can be quite beautiful, even haunting. This guy was not doing that. He stood RIGHT BY US and let out the most awful set of shrieks and honks until his chanter was in tune. Ken and I looked at each other in disbelief, then collapsed with laughter. We are both convinced Joe saw us crying and said “None of that here!” We still cried, but it was the laughing so hard you’re crying tears. Thank you, Joe, if that was you. It certainly worked.

And then there was yesterday. My mother in law has degenerated very rapidly recently. She has become more combative, more difficult, and is not maintaining her hygiene. It is breaking all of our hearts, but the time has come for her to go somewhere where they can take better care of her. Ken and his siblings have looked at places and I think they’ve made a good choice. But it’s still so hard and we are struggling emotionally, with the process and the new reality.

Anyway, I went over there yesterday to watch her while some of the kids checked out some places. She had refused to shower the past few days, so I said I would try.

I ran a bath for her, put in lots of bubbles, and managed to coax her in the tub. She resisted at first, but eventually relaxed. As I washed her hair and scrubbed her back, I did what I always do when I’m in the shower: I sang.

Now, Gloria has frontotemporal dementia, verbal subtype. Her vocabulary, her ability to have a conversation, to express her basic needs, has been stolen from her. Which is why I cried when she sang right along with me, every dang word, to “You Are My Sunshine.”

I don’t know what all the rules are at the new place. Maybe I’ll be able to give her a bath again. But if not, that’s okay. That one was magic.

So hop back in your preferred time machine. Don’t tell that couple everything they will face. If they hear it all at once, it will break their hearts. But tell them again what the minister said – love casts out fear. It will be hard. Sometimes it will downright suck. But you will also have small moments of magic, to see you through. Most of all, you will have each other.

Now to explain the title of this post: I’ve always liked running to ‘Born to Run’ because I am weird like that. There is one line in particular that has always resonated with me and it sums things up so well. At one point, Bruce plaintively sings, “Together Wendy we can live with the sadness/I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.”

Dear, darling husband, if you’re reading this, I know this week has been awful. I can’t promise to make it better, I can’t promise much at all, but I promise that I – and the magic – will always be here. And, with all the madness and sadness, we will cast out fear.

And we will not be signing Daniel up for bagpipe lessons.

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Depression and Suicide- My Two Cents

13 Aug

Man, this has been a rough week and it’s only Wednesday. I’ve been meaning to post an update for a while. I had a post planned about the two vacations I took in July and how different they were from each other and how awesome they both were. I was going to post a whole bunch of pictures from both, too. But composing a photo/travel post takes time, something that’s always a precious commodity around here.

And now there’s this week with lots of shitty things happening around the world. I debated for a while whether to post about one in particular. I feel like there isn’t much more to add to the conversation at this point that hasn’t already been said. And I hesitate to post because I don’t want to cash in on something public and make it about me. It had nothing to do with me.

And yet, it did. The news about Robin Williams knocked me flat, made me cry, upset me, got me angry, and deeply affected me.

My first reaction was ‘How could Mr. Keating do that?’ Because that’s the first role I always think of him in – and my favorite. O captain, my captain. Carpe diem, boys. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary. (And, this desk set wants to fly. ❤ you too, RSL.) It wasn’t rational, at all, but my first thought was ‘How could Mr. Keating do that when he was so devastated when Neil died?’

It’s hard to separate a public personality from the personas they portray, especially when they put so much of themselves into every performance. And I know that Robin Williams wasn’t Mr. Keating, any more than he was an alien, a genie, a robot, Peter Pan, Armand Goldman (Col-man? Or Gold-man?), Sean McGuire, Adrian Cronauer, or Patch Adams.

Even when I reconciled myself to it, I still grieved. The same way I grieve when anyone commits suicide. And this is where the getting angry part comes in. Because someone inevitably says “Oh, if only they knew how much they were loved,” or some variation. “If only they loved themselves as much as everyone else did.” Both statements seem to imply that a person who commits suicide after suffering from depression was incapable of either giving or receiving love.

This statement makes me angry on two levels. It makes me angry for the person who committed suicide. Even though you suffer from depression, you can still give and receive love. You don’t lose the knowledge that other people love you when you’re depressed. It’s that, at your deepest, darkest times, when you’re stuck in the bottom of a dark hole, or at the bottom of the ocean, one of two things happens.

1) You rationalize that love away. You tell yourself, “That person only loves me because they have to. They’re my parent/sibling/second cousin once removed. If they really knew me, the real me, the deep dark parts of me, they wouldn’t love me.” Or you tell yourself, “Yes, I know that person loves me. But I suffer from depression, and I don’t deserve that love.” You are afraid, terribly afraid, of dragging that person down with you, and you think they would be better off without you.

Or 2) You don’t lose the knowledge, but you can’t hear it. You’ve been suffering from chronic depression, on and on, all your life. Or most of your life. Or some of your life. But you’ve had at least one clinical depression. With each episode of serious depression, your chance of experiencing another episode of depression increases by 16%. (I don’t know how to add a footnote, but I can provide a citation for this if necessary.) As Winston Churchill famously described it, it’s a black dog that follows you. For life. And every time you manage to crawl out of a deep dark depression hole, it’s with the knowledge that there’s a big chance you’ll end up there again at some point in your life. 

This, to put it mildly, gets exhausting. You get so sick of seeing that black dog. You think, “Didn’t I just get rid of you?” Or you fall into the hole, and think, “Again?! How long am I going to be stuck down here this time?!” 

For many people, at some point, enough is enough. They are tired of holes, of black dogs. They know that people love them. They love the people in their lives. But it’s just too painful to keep fighting the same battle over and over again.

This is not to say that this is the right choice. I am just trying to explain why it’s insulting to blame it on not knowing how much people love you.

There’s a second reason that statement is insulting. It’s when you carry it out to its logical conclusion that it becomes a real slap in the face to other people – the survivors. The family members, the friends. I have had the anguish of going to the wake of a mentor and friend who committed suicide. If someone had said “If only he knew how much people loved him” to me, what message does that imply to me? Simple: that it’s my fault for not telling him that I loved him. He didn’t know how much he meant to me! If I had only told him, maybe he’d still be here, cracking jokes and announcing “This is Fight Club!” to a new generation of law students! It’s bullshit. And it’s hurtful bullshit. Please, if you’re ever at the wake or funeral of someone who committed suicide, please stop yourself from saying “If only he/she knew how much people loved him.” Whether you mean to or not, you’re putting the blame on the surviving family and friends, and that’s just not fair.

Depression and suicide are not caused by a lack of love. Depression is caused by a combination of chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, and just plain shitty life experiences. And it comes in lots of different flavors and varieties, too! Manic depression, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder… it’s different for everyone who experiences it, and everyone needs a slightly different approach.

Meds can help. Therapy can help. Love can help. But remember, before you judge someone who committed suicide too harshly, the 16% statistic. They’ve been battling this a long time, over and over. They might have masked it with humor, or tried to drown it in alcohol and/or drugs. But they were warriors who fought a hard battle, and they deserve respect for fighting it as long as they did, and as well as they did.

And that’s why, when Mr. Keating died, I fell apart. Because I’m fighting that battle too. And he was, and will always be, my captain.

Whew, that was a heavy load off my chest. Here’s a picture from each vacation, to cheer you up.

Vacation One

Vacation One

Vacation Two

Vacation Two

On the nature of miracles

10 Aug

How many miracles can one person reasonably expect in their lifetime? Maybe we only get a certain allotment and once it’s done, that’s it. Maybe that’s the problem – maybe I burned through my miracle allowance without even realizing it.

Every month is awful when you have secondary infertility. Because as soon as your period is one minute late, a match of hope is struck in your darkest heart. You know the match will burn itself out, but you stare at it, willing it to keep burning with the force of your stubbornness alone. As 29 days turn into 30, and 30 into 31, the match turns into a candle. By Day 34, the candle is a torch and you’re thinking of baby names. Reason is screaming at you, throwing buckets on the flames. ‘You’re going to burn this place down!” it shouts. You ignore it, bolstered by the symptoms you’re now convinced are happening, conveniently forgetting that they’re the same as PMS symptoms.

The flame sustains itself on the oxygen of your belief in miracles. Don’t you, after all this pain and suffering, deserve one by now? Look at all these parents. Look at all these babies. They got their miracles, where’s yours?

And when the flame dies out, as it always does, you can’t get out of bed for a day. It’s just not fair.

Eventually, you drag yourself out of bed. You might even go for a run in a vain attempt to get rid of at least some of the excess fat from your three failed miracles.

And that’s where I was this morning, running around the pond and grumbling. Not fair, not fair, crap I’m fat, owwww charley horse, not fair.

The song ‘Everyday is a Winding Road’ comes on. I’m not sure what I was thinking, putting that in the playlist. That song has a very specific memory attached to it, and it’s not a good one.

The breeze increases as I increase my pace, as if I can run away from the memory. (Maybe that’s why I put it on there?) But that makes it worse. It’s May, 1997. My sister is driving the two of us home from high school. It must have been a Thursday, because we got out early. Sheryl Crow told us about the vending machine repairman and his daughter Easter as I dangled my hand out the passenger side window, catching the wind currents.

When we got home, we found out our oldest sister had given birth, but something went very, horribly wrong. The baby – a girl – was brain dead. My mother cautioned us not to get attached as we headed to the hospital.

I prayed like I’d never prayed before. I knew, I believed, that god could work miracles. Didn’t we deserve one? Couldn’t God work a miracle here and restore her brain function? I bargained – I would do anything and everything God asked – if he would grant us this.

Instead, my sister got worse. She turned yellow. They choppered her to another, better hospital. We almost lost her. It was touch and go for longer than I’d still care to admit. She pulled through, the baby did not.

Today, I sat on my porch, guzzling water and rubbing my aching calf, and thought about all this. About praying for one miracle and not realizing until years later that we got another one entirely.

It’s still not fair – I don’t think it should be a quid pro quo situation, I don’t think there should be a lifetime limit. But I do need to stop and remember – just because you didn’t get the specific miracle you asked for doesn’t mean you didn’t get any.

According to the doctors, I should have never been able to get pregnant at all. Ever. According to Daniel’s biological father, I should have never been able to find anyone else to love me, let alone marry me. And I was walking out of the pet shelter, no dog at all, when Benny caught the corner of my eye.

Maybe I’m being greedy for wanting just one more. But, until I figure out how to get it, I’ll remember to thank whatever powers that be for the ones I have.

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Grief Squirrels: Squirrels of Raaaaage. Also, Mother’s Day.

10 May

I have two entirely separate and distinct things I want to talk about, and I’m going to smush them into one disjointed post. You’re welcome.

Part One: Rage Squirrel.

Last August, I posted about all the grief I’ve been trying to process, and how it feels like I’m carrying around a squirrel that will suddenly leap up and bite me. It’s been about 8 months, and I’m still trying to process this woodland creature that I’m stuck carrying. I know that grief is just that – a process – that you make steps forward and take huge steps back. But is it normal for it to take this long? Isn’t there supposed to be forward progression at some point?

As a psych grad, I’m familiar with the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. Allegedly, we move through 5 distinct stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. But are we supposed to take them in that order? I’ve definitely had the depression, and the denial. I don’t know about bargaining – there’s no bargain that can bring my father in law back, or make my mother in law healthy. I seem to be taking these out of order, or not at all.

And this week, I feel like I’m firmly stuck in the anger stage. I’m angry at everything, and everyone. Even right now, I’m so angry, I’m sick to my stomach. I’m angry about my father in law dying, and how it happened, and how inappropriate some people were. I’m angry that my mother in law’s situation is what it is. I’m angry that I’m not going to have any more kids.  I’m angry that the world seems so darn unfair. Little things are making me angry. Big things are making me angry. I have had to stop myself from typing angry things on Facebook (and in one instance, couldn’t help myself and typed it anyway.).  I feel like snarling at everyone. I have to keep reminding myself to take deep breaths and let things go.

Is this normal? Is this how it’s supposed to work? It gets better, right??

Part Two: Mothers

And now to completely shift gears: this Sunday is Mother’s Day. There are three women I’d like to briefly talk about here.

First: my aunt. When I found out I was pregnant, I was nervous about calling her and telling her, not sure how’d she react. I called and said, “You better sit down… I have some news.” She freaked, understandably, and wanted to know what was wrong. I told her that I was pregnant, and that the father wasn’t going to be involved.

This was her immediate response, without missing a beat: “Sheilah, I want you to do me a favor. The next three people you call, I want you to start with I have great news!” She reminded me that babies are gifts, that my child would be loved, and that she would be there for me, every step of the way. She knows how hard it is to raise a son by yourself, but she did an awesome job with hers, and she’s been an immense help with mine. Thank you, Kate, for being an awesome role model, an amazing mother to my cousin, and the best Aunt and Cha-Cha.

You rock.

You rock.

Second: My “other mother”, Carol. One of my mom’s former co-workers, and best friends. My mom and Carol started working together when I was about 6, and she’s been a loving presence in my life ever since. Carol doesn’t have any children of her own, but she’s loved me and my sister as if we were hers. When I visited their office as a child, people thought I was her daughter because we look so much alike and pretty much have the same personality. I spent weekends at her house, had “ladies lunches” with her at Oak Brook, and I learned a lot about dignity, grace, and generosity from her. She is the best, and I’m sending lots of love and prayers her way as she deals with a hard loss this week.

You rock.

You rock.

And, finally, my mom. Raised four kids, loves nine grandchildren, and teaches me every day what it means to be a good person. For everything you’ve given me, thank you.

You rock.

You rock.

Well, I feel a little less angry now. Go tell the moms, aunts, grandmas, and mother figures in your life that they rock. You’ll feel better, too.

Lost again

17 Aug

Well, today was our follow up appointment with the doctor to figure out what our next step would be. I didn’t have any unrealistic expectations that he would have all the answers for us, but it was a nice fantasy for a moment, that he would open up the increasingly large medical file and say, “and here’s how we’re going to get you a baby.”

Instead, he opened up my almost comically thick and overflowing folder and said, “Well….” The tears came to my eyes right away, but I held them back. Seriously, nothing good ever comes after “well…” It’s never, “well… I love you” or “well… here’s some tacos.” It’s always “well… here’s some bad news.” He said we have four options right now:

1) A fourth round of IVF. Not recommended. Based on the results of the previous 3, he thinks there may be an egg quality issue, aside from the implantation issues, the unicorn uterus, the endometriosis, the ovarian cysts. The odds are not in our favor for success with another round of IVF.

2) Keep trying the normal way. THANKS, SCIENCE.

3) Donor eggs – anonymous or known donor. We can spend 12,000 dollars for a 50-60% chance of getting me pregnant. And no, I did not throw an extra zero in there. Twelve. Thousand. Dollars. For the chance of getting pregnant. I’ll … have to think about that one.

4) Adoption. He didn’t really have any advice on this option, since it’s not what he deals with.

So that’s it. Those are our options. I’d say Number One is flat out off the table. I don’t want to put myself through another cycle of injections and surgical retrieval and bed rest and getting my hopes up OMG MAYBE THIS TIME IT WORKED and then the phone call of “Well….” Number Three doesn’t look too good either. If I’m going to plunk down 12 grand, I want something for my money other than just the chance of getting pregnant.

I don’t know if adoption is right for us. I have this irrational fear that it will be like grammar school. I was not athletic, not coordinated, and pretty damn awkward. Which meant, every spring when our gym class turned into a Softball Tournament, I was always picked dead. last. I mean, if a stray animal had wandered into the gym, it would have a better chance of being selected for a softball team than me. With adoption, you put together a ‘couple profile’ and wait for a birth mother to say, “Yes! Those are the people I trust my unborn child with!” And I have this fear that the birth mothers will look through the profiles and pick everyone else before us.

Which leaves foreign adoption. Spend even more money, travel outside the country for an unknown period of time, and get a child – not a baby – who has the potential for serious medical problems.

So… I’m lost. I’m as lost as my GPS, which likes to tell me that I’m driving in the Chicago River. When I go to my sister’s house in New Lenox, I swear it says “Here Be Monsters” in the general direction of Joliet. (Possibly true?) I have no idea where to go from here. Part of me says forget it, let’s spend what money we have on making a great life for the kid we do have. Part of me isn’t ready to give up on having another kid. All of me is confused. And sad. And tired.

And now I really want some tacos.

Our IF History

14 Aug

I really need to stop looking at Facebook. Ever. First it was the pregnancy and birth announcements of people I don’t really know that well, now it’s election season which means a lot of inanities from all sides. Today I saw someone attacking IVF, saying “there are plenty of other ways to treat fertility.”

I felt compelled to respond, but didn’t want to clog up a friend’s page with a long and involved story. So I’ll do it here.

I had Danny in November of 2005. He was breech (completely sideways – his head was stuck in my ribs), and about 3 weeks early, but no one said anything about any problems. Well, maybe they did say something, and I just didn’t realize it, because man those c-section drugs are powerful.

In March of 2009, I was having severe abdominal pains and ended up in the ER a few times for pain control. Ultrasounds revealed several ovarian cysts. One in particular was pretty large, and so my ob/gyne scheduled a laprascopy to remove it. The laprascopy showed, not only several cysts, but severe endometriosis that had spread throughout my abdominal region. The doctor sat down with Ken and me – we were still only dating at that point – and said that if we wanted kids, we better get cracking.

In August of 2009, we got engaged. We figured we would move the wedding back or forward, depending on how successful we were at, ah, cracking. We charted daily temperatures, took vitamins, and did everything we were supposed to.

By March of 2011, we still had never gotten pregnant. We were then referred to an RE – reproductive endocrinologist. A fertility doctor. We sat down and met with him a few times, went over the medical history. We found out pretty quickly that Ken had issues as well, though not nearly as bad as mine were.

In July of 2011, I went in for an HSG – hysterosalpingogram. (I probably misspelled that.) It’s a minor surgical procedure where dye is injected into you, to see if the ovaries and fallopian tubes are connected and working properly.

During the procedure, the doctor looked up and said, “Did your mother do any drugs while she was pregnant with you?”

When I was done laughing, I said, “No, why?”

I have a unicornate uterus. (Initially, I thought the doctor said “unicorn uterus” and I was all, “Oh, it’s unique and magical!”) What that means, is, instead of shaped like a triangle, it’s shaped more like an oval. My right side fallopian tube and ovary do not meet up with my uterus, so I’m only fertile every other month. If I do get pregnant, I risk having breech presentation and early delivery (Gee, that sounds familiar…)

Given all the other problems – the cysts, the endometrial tissue, the unicorn uterus (I prefer to think of it that way) – the doctor said our only option for a pregnancy was IVF.

We’ve now gone through three rounds of it. Three rounds of twice daily injections (sometimes even three a day), blood tests, ultrasounds, surgical retrievals. Three rounds of going crazy from hormones. Three rounds of getting our hopes up, only to be devastated by bad news every time.

Some people have said some really insensitive and strange things throughout this process.

“Why don’t you just adopt?” Well, first of all, I’d like to be pregnant again. The first time around, I didn’t have the luxury of a husband or supportive partner. And I’d like to experience that. Plus, I think my husband would like a biological child of his own too. But, aside from all that, it’s expensive. Ken adopted Daniel shortly after we were married. The attorney and court fees alone – and this was an uncontested adoption – ran us a few thousand dollars. From my preliminary research, a domestic infant adoption starts at 20,000. We just don’t have that kind of cash lying around. If we did, we’d say, “Cash! Stop being lazy and go buy us a baby!” But even then, we wouldn’t be guaranteed that a birth mother would pick our family to raise her child.

“Why can’t you be happy with just Daniel?” Believe me, I am happy with Daniel! He’s fantastic!! In fact, I love him so much, that I’d like to give him the best gift of all – a sibling. Plus, it’s really hard to have your child cry and tell you all he wants is a baby brother or sister, and to know you can’t do anything about it.

“Just relax and you’ll get pregnant!” Really? Okay, I’ll relax myself into growing a normal uterus, relax away the endometriosis, the ovarian cysts, etc… Now what? Still not pregnant.

“IVF is a sin.” Well, so is judging people. At least my “sin” will hopefully result in a new life.

So that’s why I get upset when people try to politicize IVF. Until you’ve gone through it, and all the heartbreak that comes with it, you really don’t understand. And I’m not exaggerating when I say heartbreak. My heart has been broken several times now, with each negative result, with each setback, and with the uncertainty of what comes next. I don’t know what our next step is going to be, but whatever it is, I don’t think you should judge me on Facebook over it.

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