Monday, November 28, 2016

Chateau d'If, Toujours

"Qu'est que ce ça?"

"C'est Château d'If. J'habite là. J'habite là toujours."

It's hard to believe that almost 8 months have passed since Husbandido and I made the decision to stop infertility treatment and trying to conceive. While acknowledging that God can, at any time and in any place, work a miracle, it has meant accepting that in all probability, we will never have any biological children to hold, nurture, and raise. Château d'If is my home for all time. (Or at least this earthly life.)

Why now?

One of the biggest questions that any couple struggling with infertility faces is when to stop. How do I know that it really is time to stop? In truth, we had been struggling with this question for more than a year before it became clear that it really was time to stop. We had been ready to stop before our FCP convinced us that we should try PPVI in spring 2015, but our FCP was very persuasive. We very nearly didn't go through with the surgery at PPVI, but once the surgery was done, we planned to give them 6 months of trying. We only made it 4. When my dose of Femara was doubled in December I missed Christmas. The increased dose left me so exhausted for several days that I was either sleeping or resting on the couch. Husbandido texted me pictures from the family celebration, and I slept through Mass. My appetite and digestion were off; the only food that sounded good was wonton soup. In February both Husbandido and I were on Cipro for 21 days. He had no side effects, while I was so dizzy the first several days that even sitting up left me scared of falling. This was on top of the regular heightened emotions, nausea, breast tenderness, fatigue, and monthly rounds of diarrhea and constipation. With all the side effects I battled I wasn't exercising regularly and had gained weight; PPVI suggested trying Contrave to help with weight loss. Contrave is designed to be introduced at 1 tablet in the morning for the first week, then adding a second dose in the evening the second week, working up to two tablets morning and night for the final dose starting week 4. During my first week trying to take Contrave, the nausea was so bad that I would frequently stand over the sink with dry heaves. I used all of the Zofran left over from my surgery in October. When I contacted PPVI to ask for more Zofran, I was told to try taking the Contrave at night (never mind that in just a few days I was going to have to double the dose) and with food. That was the final straw for us. In those months of treatment I had received no support or encouragement for dealing with all the side effects, only being instructed to discuss any side effects with my pharmacist. I was tired of feeling terrible all the time, of not being able to do anything, and Husbandido was ready to have his wife back. Neither of us had any faith that the treatment would work. We spent roughly five years trying to conceive. 

Better

Over these months I have been learning how much the last 4.5 years was colored by the heightened emotions induced by fertility drugs. Even though I had to go to the annual family reunion without Husbandido due to a work deadline, it was nowhere near as bad as I had been dreading. I might not be ready to try a baby shower, but pregnant women and stroller filled events don't affect me anywhere near as much as they once did. It's been such a change not spending days sobbing every cycle.

Over these last months I have started taking better care of myself, first finally doing another bout of PT for my knee, then starting a walking program, buying a treadmill, and joining a gym. It feels good to move again, and it's helping me sleep better, too. I'm doing a research study looking at blood pressure and sleep, which has also helped me conquer insomnia. As a result of their recommendations, I now have more hours in my days. It hasn't been a straight line, but I'm starting to lose weight. Now that I'm not queasy as often I can eat better, focusing on eating more fruits and veggies. In trying to tune out the side effects, I ended up training myself to ignore my own body. I'm re-learning to listen to it, to pay attention to the basic signals of hunger, tiredness, and desire.

It's a very slow road, but Husbandido and I are working to reconnect our physical relationship to desire, pleasure, and connection. Through our years of IF almost all of our intimacy was timed in the hopes of achieving pregnancy. Regardless of if we were interested, we did it; we had to (Doctor's orders!). He was able to get past that aspect more easily than I was; there were more times than I care to remember when I either encouraged (or worse, screamed at him) to just hurry up and finish already. In my mind sex became tangled up with feelings of failure, of being less than a woman, which made it awfully hard to feel desire. In my mind sex = baby making, at which I was a complete and utter failure. I wouldn't say we used one another, but rather the only unitive aspect was being united in pursuing a goal, not the physical act bringing us closer. Since we've stopped TTC, our love life has been a lot less frequent, but it has been much more organic and fun. I still need to work on my spontaneity; I'm far too prone to thinking "Wait! How long has it been? Do I need to pencil in time for sex?" But it's a work in progress, slowly improving. 

In addition to physically taking care of myself again, I've started working on rediscovering me, going back to things that bring me joy. I've spent so many years focused on following doctor's orders, doing everything I possibly could to achieve pregnancy that there wasn't much room left for me, for what I wanted. Quite frankly, there wasn't much room for enjoyment at all; much of our years of TTC were miserable. I'm still not Suzy Sunshine, but I have been much happier getting off the roller coaster of IF treatment and TTC. 

Worse

Toujours - forever - that is the word that I cannot escape. Despite doing everything that I could, following almost every doctor's recommendation despite the effects on me, this house, this castle of infertility is my home. It is my forever home. For whatever reason, God has not seen fit to grant our prayers for children. At times I have struggled with a crushing guilt, that it is my fault that Husbandido cannot have biological children. Had he married someone else he almost certainly would have the children that he desires. Though he argues with me every time I say it, the logic seems inescapable: medically, biologically speaking, I am the one with problems preventing us from conceiving and carrying a child to term, therefore it is my fault. His response is that I didn't do it deliberately. But the quotes, the phrases that keep circling my brain are "through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do" and "What's wrong with the world?" "I am." The feelings of guilt, of letting Husbandido down, have at times been inescapable. 

Worst has been feeling like God hates me, like I have nothing. Yes, I have a house (where something always seems to be breaking and that has often felt too large for two), a husband who adores me (which then leaves me feeling even more guilty that I have failed him), and three wonderful cats. I have no career, no family. Meeting new people is agony, as the first two questions people tend to ask are about one's work and one's family. I hate saying I'm a housewife, and I don't always feel like getting into the details of our infertility. Logically I know that the good things of this world like success, money, and children are not signs of God's favor, that thinking that way leads to the Prosperity Gospel. I know that He calls each of us to pick up our own cross and follow Him. And yet I'm pretty certain that people with jobs or careers that they love, with children they adore, are still able to get to Heaven. Am I so uniquely horrible that all I can have is endless pain? We're taught that God loves all of his children equally, but then why do some seem to have so many gifts, so much joy? It certainly doesn't seem equal. And so I am left asking "Why does God hate me?" 

These dark thoughts aren't all the time; in fact the better is probably greater than the worse since stopping, but the guilt and feeling abandoned and despised by God are frequent struggles.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

More GF Product Reviews

Looking through my unfinished posts, I found this draft reviewing Gluten Free products; it's been a while since I've been GF, but hopefully my reviews can help those of you for whom it has been helpful.

Dr Mc Dougall's Vegan Pad Thai Soup
I'm never happy to be picking tofu out of my food, and this soup didn't make it worth my while. It was included in the February Taste Guru box; I don't think I would have picked it up on my own accord. It is definitely a quick and easy lunch item, but it is vastly inferior to the Thai Kitchen noodle bowls.

Dr Mc Dougall's Vegan Tortilla Soup with Baked Chips
This is another item from February's Taste Guru box, and like the other Dr Mc Dougall's soup, I hated it. It didn't have tofu, thankfully, but it didn't have much flavor. As with their other soup, definitely quick and easy, but I only had a couple of bites. I would not spend money on it. 

Snapz Crunchy Apple Crisps
Yet another item from this month's Taste Guru box, and yet another disappointment. I've had apple chips before, and I'm a big fan of them. These had a slightly freeze dried consistency, which I found unsatisfying. The flavor was great, though.

Larabar Uber Roasted Nut Roll 
I wouldn't say it was bad, but I wouldn't buy it. It didn't have that much flavor, and the texture was gummy. I would much rather have a crunchy Nature Valley nut bar.

Larabar Uber Cashew Cookie
Honestly, without reading the labels, I wouldn't have known that this was any different from the Roasted Nut Roll. Not something I'm eager to spend money on.

Snyder's GF Pretzel Sticks - Honey Mustard and Onion
I went through a bag in 2 days. (Should I be admitting that?) They are good.

Dream Blends Dark Chocolate Almond, Cashew, & Hazelnut Drink
It was very rich and chocolatey. You could definitely heat it up and drink it as hot chocolate. There wasn't any chalky or gritty texture. I'm having a hard time giving up milk and dairy; I'm not sure this would help me with that, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

Vigilant Eats Maca Double Chocolate Superfood Cereal
This was also from January's Taste Guru box. If you'll recall, I don't like the texture of oatmeal, so this isn't something I'd buy. It did have good flavor, though, which surprised Husbandido and I. 

Popcorn Indiana Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn
I really enjoyed this (Husbandido didn't get very much), but I still think Angie's popcorn, which you can get at the grocery store or Target is a little better.

Uncle Dougie's Wicked Good No Fry Wing Marinade
I won't claim to like wings as much as the next gal because I know I don't. This sauce was a bit too vinegary for me, but Husbandido (who is a Buffalo wing fan) was quite impressed with it.

Schar Parbaked Baguettes
I love how consistent Schar products are; I don't worry that I'm wasting my money when I buy them. I was happy to see them show up in January's Taste Guru box, since that meant I had them to use for garlic bread at our dinner party. I probably shouldn't have wrapped the baguette in foil when I baked it if I wanted crispy garlic bread, but there wasn't any left at the end of the night, so no one minded the lack of crispness.

Enjoy Life S'Mores Soft Baked Bars
This is from March's Taste Guru box. Though it was definitely tasty, it isn't something I really see myself buying. It manages to be somewhere between a true treat (slightly guilty pleasure) and a snack. If I needed something quick and on the go, I could see buying them. But given that the vast majority of my time is spent at home, I don't really have a need for them.

RW Garcia Original Tortatos
Silly Husbandido thought these were tomato tortilla chips. (They're not.) They're a blend of potato and tortilla, in one chip. They position themselves as have 25% less fat than potato chips, as well as being good with the dips you would eat with either potato or tortilla chips. At first bite, they reminded me of Tato Skins (made by Keebler). I tried some with salsa, which wasn't quite as good as regular tortilla chips but still good. Not necessarily healthy, but good. I would buy these. 


Taste Guru
I got a 3 month subscription to Taste Guru through Groupon, which was a great way to try them. Like other subscription boxes, you receive a box of gf products once a month. However, if you're trying to focus on fresh foods, this would be utterly useless, as it contains snack foods, portable foods, great for lunch at work foods. I enjoyed getting a chance to try a large variety of different products without spending a fortune, but how helpful it would be depends on your lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Little Girl Who Nearly Wasn't

A few weeks ago, during a gathering celebrating Father's Day and JD's birthday, I had something confirmed that I would have rather not known. Epsy, our beloved niece, very nearly wasn't born. We have long suspected that her parents, F and P, were considering an abortion, since they had chorionic villus sampling done during their pregnancy. They were living in England at the time, and it seemed to us that the most likely reason for the testing was a suspicion of abnormalities that they wanted confirmed in time to decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy. In the midst of a wide ranging argument, they confirmed that they were prepared to abort their daughter if the odds weren't good that she wouldn't "suffer too much." 

The genetic abnormality that was suspected has a prognosis of not living more than a year or so. F and P were quite certain it wouldn't have been worth it. I can't help but think, as I said, what Husbandido and I would have given to have had a year with only begotten child - even an hour or a few minutes, just to hold that precious baby. You can fit a lifetime of love into a short time. But we don't even have an ultrasound picture, just the knowledge that for a very short time our child existed. One of my best friends once told me about another friend of hers, whose child was not expected to live long past birth. During her third trimester she battled wanting to be done being so large, having to pee all the time, not ever being comfortable, all the difficulties of being very pregnant, knowing that her child would have so little time after birth. It's hard not to compare the two viewpoints.

Even now I have so many mixed emotions surrounding this revelation. Sorrow for Epsy, that some day she will know her parents were prepared to kill her if she didn't meet their standards. As much as her parents love her and dote on her now, at some point she will probably find out about her parents' stance. How will that affect her? How will that affect their relationship? P says he doesn't know what love is or believe in it. Will Epsy some day wonder if parents' love is conditional, if they will only love her if she is "good enough?" Sorrow for F and P, that as atheists, the highest good they can see is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. (In this same conversation P said he considered the pleasure he gets from flying drones to be equal to Blessed Mother Theresa's helping the poor.) Fear - what will these family members have to say about or to children that are less than perfect, as our adopted children almost certainly will be? Anger - how is it that they were granted this wonderful, loving little girl while we will never look at a child and see bits of ourselves, as they so often see bits of themselves reflected in their daughter?

Honestly, I have mostly tried not to think about it. When I do, I can't help but mourn that this precious little girl nearly wasn't. The world would be missing much without her. All I can do is pray - pray for her, for her parents, for all those who can't see any good to suffering, for those tempted to or encouraged to have an abortion because of a prenatal diagnosis. Lord, have mercy.




Tuesday, May 10, 2016

You Bet Your Sweet Bippy I'm Bitter

It's been six months since we started the home study process. We don't have a case worker yet, haven't even scheduled a home visit. I'm still waiting on child abuse clearances from Illinois and Massachusetts, which I requested about 5 weeks ago. It took between two and three months to find out what I needed to do to get the child abuse clearance from Ireland. Trying to get the payment instrument needed, in euros, so that I could send off for the clearance took me checking two banks, the post office, and AAA, then asking my parents for help. They then went to two banks and had to open up a new account (minimum deposit $2,000) and spend $30 just to get the 6.35 euro bank draft. It cost $33 to mail the paperwork to Ireland, and I have real concerns about whether I'm going to have to cough up more money so that they'll send me the results. 

This on top of the 20 weeks it took to get the FBI background checks the first time and our misadventures with references. One reference, who we asked back in November, kept saying how busy she was and stressed about money. Meanwhile she's taken her daughter to Disney world and spent thousands on home improvements. Finally we had to give up on her, admitting that for all her "Let me know if I can do anything to help!" rhetoric, filling out the reference form wasn't that important to her. Another reference suffered a series of mishaps, with it being forgotten, printed on plain paper instead of the form (deemed unacceptable by our agency), and a series of printer problems. Technically we have enough references, but I can't help but worry if they're good enough.

All of this just for what? The basic premise is "prove that you're a good person." Sometimes it feels like "prove you deserve these children." Heck, just because there's no record of anything doesn't mean that someone hasn't committed crimes; it just means they haven't been caught yet. Isn't the stereotype that the first thing someone says when that find out that someone they knew committed horrible crimes is "But he seemed so nice!"? I think that's what they said about Ted Bundy. I'm not a criminal; I've never even had a speeding ticket. I think I had a couple of parking tickets when I lived in the city of Pittsburgh, but I paid them promptly. I don't cheat on my taxes, donate to charity, recycle, compost, pray, Freecycle, listen, volunteer, and do my best to give thoughtful gifts. 

But can I prove I am a good person? Am I a good enough person? Are those people who say that "If you can't get pregnant, you were clearly not meant to be a parent" right? I spent a weekend sobbing, wracked with self doubt, wondering if this the right thing, if I have the boundless patience and caring to raise adopted children. I can't help but wonder when so often I see adoption referred to as the least bad option. If it's the least bad option, that means that it's still bad. The people that believe that adoption is evil certainly have the strength of their convictions, and it's hard for me not to give them some credence. I certainly agree that in a perfect world there would be no need for adoption; every child would be born to loving parents who could care for them and would stay together forever, living at least until their children were grown. And everyone who wants children would be able to have the exact number of children that they want. Then there would be no children unable to be raised by their biological parents, and no people who want to be parents but who couldn't have biological children. But that's not the world we live in.

So I'm stuck trying to prove that I'm a good person, losing sleep and stressing out over it. It's hard to forget that all they ask if you give birth is whether you have a car seat. So yes, you can bet your sweet bippy* I'm bitter. 

If I could just get pregnant...

But I can't.

* You bet your sweet bippy was one of my grandfather's sayings when I was growing up. He may have picked it up from Laugh In. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Privacy and Modesty

By now, you have probably heard about the uproar over North Carolina's "bathroom bill." To say that I am frustrated, outraged, and angry about the mischaracterization of this and other recent controversies is an understatement. Below, in no particular order, are my thoughts on the controversy.


  • Let me get this straight - the right to privacy entitles a woman to kill her unborn child but does not entitle me to change in a locker room that does not include men?
  • If men and women are the same, and no one can tell what gender anyone else is anyhow, then not only do we not need separate bathrooms and changing rooms, but we don't need separate sports teams, scholarships or schools. There's no need for Title IX, either, right?
  • If I'm going  to strip in a room full of men, I at least want to get paid for it!
  • Setting aside any question about the intentions of people who identify as trans, can we consider how others might misuse the ability to use any bathroom or locker room? If sexual predators/rapists/child abusers never lie about who and what they are, why do we have to go to such lengths to prove we're not criminals or abusers? Why do I need 3 background checks and 4 child abuse clearances? Why do we need references attesting to us being good people who would be good parents? Couldn't we just sign something saying "I am a good person and would be a great parent" and have them give us children?
Men and women are different. Equal, but different. Acknowledging that men and women are not the same doesn't make me a hater or a bigot. 

I belonged to a gym for many years. I always tried to choose a locker in a corner, out of the main pathways. I wasn't necessarily thrilled about stripping completely in a room with other women, but after getting completely sweat soaked, my desire to get clean was more important. After ditching the disgusting, sweaty clothes, I would wrap myself in one of the towels provided (which covered approximately the bare minimum) to go weigh myself and shower. If I used the sauna I was again wrapped in one of those towels. I wouldn't have been comfortable doing any of it in a room with men. Should we do away with locker rooms and changing rooms and expect everyone to change and shower at home? How would that affect swim lessons and meets? Staying in wet or sweaty clothes can encourage vaginal bacterial growth; women are encouraged to change out of wet and sweaty clothes quickly as part of good hygiene practices. 

Yes, accommodations should be made for those with gender dysphoria, who identify as something other than the biological sex they were born with. But that should not take away the rights of others to not have to be naked or perform bodily functions in front of members of the opposite sex. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Why I Gave Up Facebook for Lent

At its best, Facebook is wonderful, helping people maintain family ties, encouraging and inspiring people. But at its worst, it inspires jealousy and envy, narcissism and anger. I know more about my cousins and their lives than I ever have. I love seeing the details of everyday life with my brother, SIL, and niece. But lately I was finding myself more often getting down and upset, comparing myself to others. It's not that I don't want them to have good things; I do. But can't I have some of those good things, too? I love seeing pictures of family members' and friends' children, at least until it makes me obsess even more over why I can't have any. Seeing the joy on their faces at an amazing trip to Disney or Universal or Hawaii makes me happy for them. But it makes me wish I could have a vacation, too. The last real vacation we had was our honeymoon, almost 8 years ago. The last trip we took that wasn't to visit family or for doctors' visits was 3 years ago. It's not that I wanted others to have less, but seeing their pictures and joys was leaving me wanting more. 

Even more than that, I was starting to see how Facebook was feeding my anger. I was worn out from seeing too many likes and shares of pieces claiming that there were too many of this group in that thing/place or saying how everyone that doesn't agree with this point of view is (insert epithet of your choice here). I don't expect to agree with everyone on everything, but I am endeavoring to respect them and their views. I want to see individuals as individuals, not get wrapped up in a bean counting game. I want to see each and every person as a child of God, deserving of love and respect. And Facebook was getting in my way. 

In a very real way, Facebook was leading and encouraging me to sin. As Lent comes to an end, I have to figure out if and how I can safely incorporate Facebook back into my life so as to keep the benefits but minimize the moral hazards. Step 1 is definitely limiting how much time I spend on it; it became way too easy for it to become my default when I was bored or cranky or procrastinating. Unfortunately, some of the people most guilty of liking and sharing posts that send my blood pressure skyrocketing are the same ones whose actual lives I care about and want to keep up with. So I can't just not follow them... Do I pay more heed to my own moods and limits? Certainly looking at FB while already down doesn't help. Perhaps not trying so hard to keep up with everything everyone posts is key, too. And realistically, maybe I just need to ignore more of what people like and share and not look at the details. 

If you've got any ideas for how to keep the good parts of Facebook while minimizing the negatives, please let me know!

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Put Not Your Faith in Princes"*

In addition to giving up Facebook for Lent (more on that soon), I've been doing both Matthew Kelly's Best Lent Ever and Bishop Barron's daily Lenten reflections. This is the second year I've done both of them as well as having done both Advent programs. I've found it easier to keep up with Bishop Barron's emails, since the Matthew Kelly program involves videos which refuse to work on my iPad, and I haven't always turned on my computer lately.  One day, after having fallen behind, I was trying to catch up on Best Lent ever videos, only to discover that all four videos from the two days I had missed were about parenting. Both of Matthew's videos and both of the bonus staff videos were about being parents. I didn't sign up for a program about how to be a better parent or the joys of parenting; I signed up for a program to help me be a better follower of Christ.

I have to admit that at first I was hurt and angry. But as I thought about it more, the more it bothered me. The assumption that parenting is something that everyone can relate to is becoming more and more obsolete. People are marrying later, having children later, if at all. More people are staying single, either by choice or as a result of circumstance. I can't say for certain, but it seems like more people are estranged from their families now than in previous times. It wouldn't have bothered me as much if one or two of the videos were about parenting, but that overwhelming focus on it left me not wanting to finish the program. I understand that we default to talking about God in parental language, by Christ's example, but how does that reach those who had an absent, neglectful, or abusive father? I understand drawing parallels between what God does as a parent and what human parents do; it helps make God more concrete, more understandable. Nothing is going to reach every single person, but maybe instead of always defaulting to referring to God as a good Father, how about we lay out what makes Him good? He loves us, truly unconditionally; He forgives us; He wants what is best for us; He is always faithful to us, always dependable. He always hears us, even when it doesn't feel like it. 

After I had calmed down, I wrote to the Dynamic Catholic Institute about that series of videos. I didn't know what I expected from their response, but it certainly wasn't what I got, which was a pro forma "it was just chance that it worked out that way and of course we love and respect our infertile brethren...(blah blah blah)" Yes, I was disappointed, until I realized that I was putting my trust in man. Dynamic Catholic does a lot of wonderful work, encouraging people to pray more and read the Bible and to give of themselves. And I love Bishop Barron's reflections; they challenge me to think about Scripture in a new way. But ultimately my trust should not be in them but in God. 

*Psalm 146:3, English Standard Version