Swimming Through Shame 

   
 
This has been the hardest piece I have ever written. I have written and deleted. Put it away, come back, written and deleted. It’s been weeks of this. I’ve written about suicide, death, grief, infertility and yet this has been the hardest piece to write.  

Perhaps because it’s so deeply personal. Perhaps because it opens up all my insecurities for the reading audience to see. Perhaps because in writing it all down, I know the excuses will have to stop and changes will have to be, and should be, made.  

You see, this piece is about admitting that I feel like I failed myself. This piece is about admitting I failed my children this past summer. I didn’t give them the summer they deserved or should have had. And, I didn’t because of my own issues. My own insecurities. I wasted precious time with them worrying about things that in the scheme of life, simply shouldn’t be so damn important.  

I’ve always struggled with my weight and body image. I was a chubby child – the tops of my thighs touched at birth and they still do. Even when I was running 50 plus miles a week they touched. I have a bubble butt/junk in the trunk/a big backside. I’ve always been bigger than all of my friends. And it’s always been a source of insecurity for me. Sharing clothes with my besties wasn’t something I could do.  

In high school I thinned out a bit, running track and playing tennis, but I was still a bigger girl and still longed to be thin like so many of my friends able to wear short shorts and skirts. And it didn’t matter how much I ran or how much tennis I played, I was always a solid size 12 when my friends were 0-4’s.   

In my twenties I focused on being healthy and fit. I worried less about numbers on the scale and the size of my jeans and more about how I felt. I was running, fly fishing, hiking, swimming and active. And I was with a man who told me I was beautiful every single day. I embraced my body for the first time in my entire life.  

The thinnest I have ever been, and will ever be again, was after my first husband’s suicide. I had lost a bit of weight before his death, as I had been extremely ill with a flu that turned into a pericarditis. It was a scary time for all of us, although we couldn’t imagine that in a few short weeks our lives would be forever altered by Greg’s death.  

I readily admit I am an emotional eater. However, after Greg’s death I couldn’t even keep crackers down. Nothing stayed in, and that is if I attempted to eat at all. My mother force fed me and it usually just landed me in the bathroom – a mess at both ends. My body was wrecked. But man, was I skinny. I wore a size 6 for the first time ever in my adult life. And in a sick way, it felt good.  

I still remember running into the stereotypical Newport Beach “OC” Housewife a month or so after Greg died. I was at a Starbucks getting a tea, having just walked miles trying to clear my head and I heard from the other side of the store: 

“Oh my GAWD, Katie! Look at you! You are SO thin! I mean, I’ve never SEEN you THIS SKINNY! My GAWD! I mean, it’s certainly sad about your husband, but WOW! Death looks good on you! I really can’t believe it!” 

Um, thanks? 
So, you see, me and my body image have always been a little skewed.   

As I processed my grief and tried to realize some sense of normalcy in my life and then, in the years that followed, started dating again, my love of cooking and food and entertaining came back. The pounds crept back. But I was running and doing boot camp and happy with the way I looked. And, again, when I started dating the man who became my husband and the father of our children, I was again lucky to be with a man who told me I was beautiful every single day.  

So how did it all come apart again? Infertility treatments meant I started my twin pregnancy about 6 pounds over where I wanted to be, but I had a very healthy pregnancy and actually was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans a month after delivery. I started running again as soon as I was cleared (although let’s be honest, after pushing two full term kids through my lady cavity 20 minutes apart I came up against a problem I never had before – peeing a little when I ran or jumped or even coughed or sneezed. These are the things no one talks about. Post delivery only invest in black running pants. You can thank me later).  

Then, when the boys were about two, the bottom fell out. Two very sudden and tragic deaths – my husband’s best friend and my husband’s father occurred within seven weeks of each other. Two more family friends died after lengthy battles with cancer. My immediate family was rocked by significant health issues. My best friend who doesn’t live near close enough was losing her father. Managing all of this while grieving and trying to be a supportive wife and mom and lawyer and friend and writer, well, it all took its toll. Fifty pounds of toll.  

Fifty pounds. Tipping the scale at over 200 pounds. Out of shape, clothes bursting at the seams and cellulite in places I didn’t even know you could get cellulite. I’m embarrassed it came to this. And, ashamed. Ashamed because of what it has done to me and mostly to my kids.  

It hit me one day at a kid friendly beach near where we live, called the Lagoon. I had my bathing suit on, but I also had a sundress over it. I didn’t plan on taking that sundress off. It would allow me to wade in the water with our boys, but I wouldn’t have to expose my body and my insecurities to everyone else there.  

“Mama, didn’t you bring your suit with you?” 

“I have it on, love. I just don’t want to swim. I’ll pull you on your boogie board or we can make a castle. We will still have fun.” 

“But it’s so hot Mama. Just take your dress off and play in the water.” 

But I didn’t. Not that day. Not the 10 times after when I took them. I sent regrets to beach barbecues and beach days that friends were hosting, simply because the thought of being in a swim suit made me so anxious. Birthday invites to swim parties made me queasy. I have beautiful girlfriends with beautiful bodies. And I guarantee none of them would ever shame me. I do that just fine on my own. But I just couldn’t do it – I couldn’t expose myself like that. 
Because of my own shame, my own rut, my own anxiety over MY body issues, my kids missed out. And I know that is not the mom I want to be. Not now, not ever.  

So, when we went to Lake Michigan for a family wedding and beach vacation, I swore to myself and for our kids, I would not cover up. I would swim and play and walk and do it all in my suit. And I did. I felt exposed. And, yes, I did feel embarrassed. I have a beautiful sister who still rocks a bikini after having 3 kids. Her three daughters, my nieces, are the epitome of California beach beauties.  However, I took off my cover up and I jumped in the water and laughed and splashed and swam and played. I had the time of my life with my family.  
I did it. Because I had two little boys who asked me on the plane if I was going to spend our trip swimming with them or just sitting on the sand in my dress. And it ripped my heart out. I will not ruin memories for my children because of my own insecurities.  

I will get healthy again for them. So we all can enjoy summer days with abandon. The way they were meant to be enjoyed. And in the meantime, I will work to embrace myself, all of it, and make time for myself, and show up, even in a bathing suit if that is asked of me.  

I’ll even pose for pictures. Something I would never have done before.  
  

A Year of Writing Precariously

It’s been a year since I started this blog.  A year since I sat in a hospital waiting room while a loved one underwent a surgery that was supposed to only be 4 hours, but lasted almost nine, and so I decided to see what this thing called WordPress was all about.

A year ago, instead of raiding the hospital cafeteria and emotionally eating my way through that nine hours, I figured out this thing called a blog.   Well, I figured out how to reserve a domain name and post a piece.   Baby steps.

It’s been a year, and I haven’t written as much as I wanted to, but I have written.  And that was really the point.

I have always written as my best means of communication.  Letters, cards, journals, diaries, essays.   Writing has always provided my soft place to land.  It was something I always did when I needed to sort through my thoughts and feelings, make a decision or just express myself. I felt like a writer.  I wanted to be a writer.

When I married my first husband, I left my job at a law firm and moved to Colorado where we were beginning our life together.   My husband knew that the law wasn’t something I saw myself “doing” for the long term, and my hope was to pick up freelance work and then something more regularly – he was creating websites at the time, and I was doing a lot of the copy for him and submitting elsewhere here and there. Contemplating a book.   Brainstorming ideas.

And then, just like that,  my husband was dead and I just stopped writing.  That thing, writing, that always provided me solace, I stored away with all my husband’s belongings and our keepsakes.   While it had always been the one way I allowed myself to work through any difficulties I faced, I forbid myself from partaking in that relief.  The reality is that I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel better.   I didn’t deserve to work through my shit.  My pain.   My grief.   I deserved to be miserable.   So, I just stopped writing.  Self-punishment in the worst way.  No journaling.  No letters.   Nothing.  Necessary emails were about the extent of what I wrote.   If my husband was gone and took his own life because he felt so alone and unable to manage the life we were trying to create, I deserved to be alone and miserable and dying inside too.   I didn’t deserve to be comforted.  I didn’t deserve to find peace.  So, I just stopped writing.

And, all that self-punishment took its toll.  I lost a huge part of myself when my husband died.  I lost almost all of myself when I kept myself from using the one tool that would get me to the other side.

I joined Facebook in 2008.  It was my first foray into the social media world.  I had no idea what I was doing.   But before long, I realized I couldn’t wait to write my next status update or note.   All of a sudden I was using Facebook as a means to write again.   6 years after my husband died.  The only other piece I had written was a piece about my husband’s death, which ran in a newsletter for the support group I attended.  Friends started telling me TO WRITE.   Stop limiting myself to bits and pieces allowed on Facebook and start this thing called a blog.  And, I really wanted to.   But then I was re-married and then we were trying to get pregnant and then and then and then and then.   Always the excuses.

When Robin Williams died, I felt a need to write about it like I had not felt a need to write in a really long time.   So, while waiting for my loved one to make it to out of surgery, I used my nervous energy to do what I had wanted to do (but was scared to do) for so long.   Mamalawmadingdong was born with a first post called Enough. And, with that post, I think I breathed, really breathed for the first time in a hell of a long time.  A huge part of me was making her way back. And, damn, did it feel GOOD.

I haven’t been as consistent as I wanted to be.  I haven’t always tackled the topics I swore I would.   It’s been a real education in a lot of ways.  It takes a thick skin – a thicker skin than I have a lot of the time – to do this blogging thing!  My blog site still isn’t visually appealing (I know!  I know!), but hey, now I know how to link articles and insert pictures.   Huge progress.

I wasn’t sure if anyone would really be interested in what I had to write, and I am always so touched when people take the time to comment or send me messages.   My hope for the year ahead is to be more consistent.  To take more risks.   To be more vulnerable. To open myself up and to embrace this long lost part of me fully.

Thanks for being here with me for the last year.   I can’t wait to see what this next year brings.

Please come join me on Facebook!  www.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong

The Gifts He Left Us 

(This post does discuss suicide, depression and grief.   It could be triggering to some who are struggling or who have recently lost a loved one.)

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Robin Williams left this Earth. So many of us who adored him as Mork and then grew to love him in his myriad roles on the big screen – as a teacher, a therapist, a medical student, a lovable genie, just to name a few, felt like we had lost a beloved friend. Many of us had never even met him, didn’t really even know him, but we cried when we heard the news and grieved like we lost a family member.

Up until his death, I had never shared with anyone, verbally or in writing, about my amazing encounter with him at LAX. During one of my lowest moments after my late husband’s suicide, he was there to pick me up and offer me kindness, grace, and love. And when I heard the news of his death, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I felt like I had lost a member of my family. The feelings from all those years ago came rushing back to me, and all I could do was internally berate myself for never reaching out to him again to let him know just how much his kindness sustained me. What a lesson he taught me that day.

I have regularly volunteered as a co-facilitator for the Survivors After Suicide Support Group here in Los Angeles, offered through Didi Hirsch. It’s a group I went through after my late husband’s death, and it saved me in so many ways. Grief is so difficult, and the grief brought by suicide is perhaps the most difficult to process. Suicide is a loss like no other. It’s messy. It’s unexpected (even if the person lost was troubled – you never think “this” will happen to you). And, mostly, it’s misunderstood.  Chaos becomes the norm.  Nothing is as it was.  One wonders if any sort of normal will ever return.

I have always been determined to give meaning to this awful experience, and I wanted to give back to those who had given so much to me. Certainly the love of family and friends and the support of my parents were essential to my survival. But, the group, the facilitators and the members, the ones who really, truly understood what I was talking about when I spoke, saved me. Truly saved me. I had never been a depressed person before – I didn’t take drugs or drink daily and never, ever did I think things would be easier if I was dead. But, in the days and months after the suicide, I was and did all of these things. I didn’t eat. I barely slept. I popped pills for anxiety. I drank to numb myself. I thought about ways I could just end my pain. I considered ways to die.   The community of survivors were the ones that knew my secrets. And they were essential to my healing.

I continue with the groups not only because I think it’s essential to be there for those experiencing the most horrific level of pain they will ever experience, but because I receive so many gifts from them. And, in the back of my mind, there is always the memory of how Robin Williams was there for me, a perfect stranger, when I needed it the most, and I try to live that spirit of giving as much as I can. Asking if someone is ok if it seems they need help. Not being afraid to ask the difficult questions if I feel they need to be asked.

In group, I often speak of the gifts that come from suicide. Those so raw in their grief usually look at me like I have two heads – what good could possibly come from this horrific event? There are many. We need only look to the last year since Robin Williams left this Earth to see how this tragic event and loss has turned the tide and created waves of good.

Calls to the Suicide Crisis line were at an all time high in the weeks and months after his death. Suddenly depression wasn’t a dirty little word – we saw how this beautiful man could be silenced by it, and  suddenly we knew we had to talk about it. We knew that smiles often mask sadness. Jokes often mask misery and pain.  So we collectively started to pay attention. To ourselves and each other. We decided that asking for help was a sign of strength, not weakness. We proclaimed that we would not let a word or a diagnosis minimize who we are. What we are capable of.
I have had more honest conversations with friends and strangers alike about mental health issues, suicide and suicide prevention, in the last year than I have had in the last 13 years combined.  That is victory to me.

It’s incredibly tragic that we lost such a generous talent. Such a good human being. But it’s incredibly beautiful that the legacy of that loss is awareness. And compassion. And empathy.
He left us with amazing gifts.
I’m grateful for all of them.

**********************

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please never hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline which is available toll free 24/7
 1-800 -273-TALK (8255)

Support and Resources:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness 
www.nami.org 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
www.afsp.org 
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services 
www.didihirsch.org 

Please follow me on Facebook!
https://www.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong

Because of Flowers on Wednesdays 

  

 A long, long time ago Wednesday meant fresh flowers. Sometimes a single rose or lily, but more often than not bunches of my favorite peonies or gerbera daisies. It’s just something my first husband, Greg, always did. Even when we were dating, flowers often arrived on Wednesdays just because. When we were married, he came home from work every Wednesday with flowers in hand. Sometimes from the fancy florist. Sometimes a bunch from the grocery store. He once told me Wednesday was the day you needed a pick me up to get you through the week. So, Wednesday meant flowers.  

Then, suddenly when Greg died, the flowers disappeared with him. I didn’t realize just how much his weekly gift meant to me until I didn’t receive them anymore. Suddenly, Wednesday was just Wednesday. And it was a weekly reminder that Greg was gone.

Greg used to also always have flowers delivered to my mother on MY birthday – thanking her for giving birth to me. I know. It’s beyond the norm. That’s just the kind of guy he was. When my first birthday rolled around after Greg’s death, and my mom didn’t receive that special delivery, she admitted not receiving his bouquet hit her hard. It was like a huge slap in the face that this is awful thing actually happened. That someone we loved so much was gone. Because none of us ever wanted to really believe it. Because when you are experiencing such grief and raw, isolating pain, despite the reality all around you, you can convince yourself it isn’t real. 

About a year after Greg died, when I was living on my own again in West Hollywood and had a little extra money to play with, I started buying flowers for myself every Wednesday. I would walk into the Trader Joe’s across from my apartment and just buy flowers. Groceries, liquor, emotional eating necessities like dark chocolate and frozen molten lava cakes were purchased on other days. Wednesdays were for flowers, and flowers only.    

After several months of Wednesday purchases, a Trader Joe’s team member finally asked “You are here every Wednesday without fail. What’s the deal?” 

So I explained. And by the end of my explanation, we were both in tears. She didn’t charge me that day for my flowers. She told me they were her treat. I will never forget that.  

And, in that moment, I realized what Wednesday really was. The day that kept me stuck between both my past and my future. Holding on tightly to my memories and what was familiar while also trying desperately to make room for something new. Wednesday – the weekly reminder that life was never going to be the same.  

So, I decided that instead of flowers on Wednesdays, I would do something just for me – something that would help me forge my way into my “new” future. I hiked. I ran around Lake Hollywood. I saw movies. I shopped. I slept in. I tried hip new restaurants and dined alone. I lied to clients and told them I was in court all day when really I was at the beach. I figured out who I was becoming and who I wanted to be now that I was truly on my own for the first time in my life. Just me. Taking care of me. I laughed. I cried. A lot. More than I ever thought I could. I opened my heart and let love in again. I found joy. I made peace with what had happened. I forgave myself. I allowed myself to have a future.   

I also decided that I liked my flowers. And if nobody else is gonna get them for you, it’s ok to get them for yourself. I still buy myself a weekly bouquet. It’s usually on Friday now, and now I often pick out my husband’s favorite sunflowers or let my sons choose what they like. Peonies and gerbera daisies are still favorites.  

But I always know I am here, in this place, in this moment, because of someone who believed strongly in the power of flowers on Wednesdays. And now, instead of sad, I’m just so grateful.   

       

The Other F Word 

Anyone who knows me well, knows my vocabulary can be, well, colorful at times.  It drives my sweet and proper mother crazy, hearing a well placed F Bomb come out of my mouth.   I know that when I get really excited and throw out a couple, my father has a mixed sense of pride (he is from Jersey after all) and chagrin (we should never take the Lord’s name in vain).  My husband acts like this is some character trait that just appeared one morning out of the blue, when it has actually been present since day one of our relationship.

“Katie, I just don’t find it necessary for such a beautiful woman to use such crass language.  You are so much prettier than that.” (And the father like lecture from my husband INSTANTLY makes me want to see how many of George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words I can fit into a relevant, on topic sentence, right then and there).

And now that I am a mom, with two, not so little anymore, growing every day, almost 4 year olds, who repeat every single bloody word that comes out of my mouth, I actually do find myself having to be more careful.   Like really careful.  Because I don’t need them using some of Mommy’s language at their Lutheran Preschool.

So far, one or both of my boys has thrown down a shit (used correctly both times, too. “Don’t be a shit” and “Shit! That hurt”), dammit, Goddammit (in front of an 80 year old at Whole Foods, no less), asshole, and Jesus (and not said in a Praise the Lord kind of way).  What they have not thrown down (yet) is the ole F Bomb, fuck.

I know it’s just a matter of time.  No matter how careful I am, things happen.  Like any mom, I’m juggling a thousand things at once and the Jersey DNA is strong. Sometimes a fuck is all you can give.   I just try to be more aware of who is at my my feet when I utter it.

And with all the judgment and concern about fuck that goes around, I realized that the F word I really need to be concerned with, for myself and my boys, is FEAR.

I have not written since well before the holidays. I mean, I have written about wanting to write on Facebook statuses and emails, and I have done some journaling. But I haven’t written anything for this blog.    Why? Fear.   A tricky little four letter word.   The other F word.   An F word that in my view, is far more dangerous than his other four letter little friend.

Fear has paralyzed me.  It took me by surprise, really.   That something and someone that really have no place in my life could cause me to shut down again.  Keep me from writing my story.   Keep me from writing my truth.

My biggest fear when starting this blog was that no one would read it.   As self confident as we all want to believe we are, we all have a desire to be liked and accepted.   As much as I knew my family and friends were rooting for me with this blog, I had no idea how others would react.   This blog is me.   It’s my life.   It doesn’t get more personal.   And I’m very protective of it.

So, being that my biggest fear was that no one would read it, I couldn’t believe when someone did and had nothing nice, or even truthful, to say at all.  About any of it.  That’s the tricky thing about putting it all out there.  You open yourself up to everybody.   And while I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with me, or to even like me, I didn’t expect to be attacked either.   And it completely shut me down and took me back to a place I haven’t been in years.   And, it sucked.   Because I knew what was true.   I knew what was reality.   But I was scared. And I hate being scared.

I spent so much of my relationship with my first husband living in fear.  Fear that he would drink.  Fear that he would drink and cause an accident.  Fear that he would hurt himself or someone else.  Fear he wouldn’t take his meds.  In the end, yes, for a time I even feared for my own safety.  Because mental illness is a tricky, horrible thing and it can rob you of the person you know and love for a second or a minute or days or months or years.

I have spent the last almost 13 years, since his death, trying to face fear straight up. Big things and little things.   Fear of being on my own.  Fear of loving again.   Fear of having a life and having something terrible happen to have it all ripped away.  Fear of totally screwing up my kids. Fear of flying. Fear of skinny jeans.  Fear of driving a minivan.  Fear of having maple syrup touch my scrambled eggs.

Today, in writing this, I’m taking a stand.  I’m not letting anyone get in the way of writing my story.  It’s mine to tell.  They can take it or leave it.   But they can’t attack and not expect a response.

Fear.   The dark shadow around the corner.  The “anonymous” commenter with nothing nice to say.

Today, I tell fear to fuck off.

Come find me on Facebook!

https://www.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong

The Ache for More

I help people become parents.  It’s part of my job.  Even if I am not directly representing them, but am instead working with their chosen donor or gestational carrier (surrogate), I am still helping people become parents.  Every day.

I always knew I wanted children – to be a mom.   My husband and I are beyond blessed (I know, I know, that word #blessed gets thrown around too casually and I know it’s annoying – but the truth is we are blessed) with our two amazing boys who keep me laughing, frustrated, exhausted, and in awe every second of every day.  And we WORKED to make those babies.  It didn’t come easy. It wasn’t a nice Pinot and a romp in the hay, and I openly admit I sort of secretly despise everyone who has become pregnant after a nice Pinot and a romp in the hay.

Two kids is a lot.  Two kids who were born 20 minutes apart is A LOT.  Two boys born 20 minutes apart make my head spin sometimes.  They are healthy and happy, and, to me, perfect.  But I want another.   My uterus aches for another.   When I see pregnant women and newborns, I know in my heart and soul there is another child out there for us.  For all four of us.  Getting everyone else on board  might be the biggest issue (especially my one son who declares “I will NOT share you with ANYONE ELSE MAMA!”).

There are also these thing called age and economy and finances and selfishness.  Are we being selfish by wanting more? Shouldn’t, after everything my husband and I have gone through, shouldn’t these two beauties be enough? Can we even afford, both physically and financially, to add to our family? I’m going to be 41 next May. My husband is nine years older.  We both married “later in life” – I was 33 and he was 41 (scary, isn’t it, being considered “later”).  We both had our own life experiences. I was widowed at age 28, and he enjoyed his bachelorhood as long as he could.  We wanted to enjoy each other before having kids, even though we both knew we had to get started sooner rather than later.   This is also the curse of being an assisted reproductive law attorney – I can feel my eggs aging and my husband’s sperm  declining. And that meant we had to get while the getting was good.

People – friends and family – keep asking when I am going to clean out the garage and sell or donate the cribs and the strollers and toys and baby clothes.  It’s time, they say. It’s just taking up space, they say. It would be dangerous to have kids now (you know, being so old and all), they say. Why risk having a child with a health issue when you have beautiful and healthy kids at home? You can barely handle the two you have, with work and life and everything else.  It’s time to clean out the garage, they say. Repeatedly.

But it isn’t time.  Because I am not ready.  I would like to think there is one more baby out there (one that my husband is scared will turn into two) who I can love and take for walks and wear strapped to me while I work.  A baby I can sing to and rock and cuddle with.  A baby who will be adored by two big brothers.  A baby who I believe will complete this already beautiful family we have made.

And that brings me back to age.  When I started in my field, I remember thinking “why on earth would a 45, 48, 50, 55, 60 year old think having a baby is a good idea? How unfair to those kids!” And, in some instances, I readily admit I am uncomfortable with those of “advanced age” having babies.   It’s just funny how I am now so close to the age I once had as my “do not cross” limit.   I don’t feel too old to be a mother to a newborn.

The reality is that I know I am a more stable, rational, empathetic, and in tune mother than I would have been in my 20’s.   In my 20’s I was too busy reading Melody Beattie and the 12 and 12 and recovery literature and trying to control my boyfriend/then fiancé/then first husband’s addictions.  My middle name was co-dependent.  A child would have likely been traumatized by my efforts to get my shit together.

Sure, I would have been younger and thinner, but I don’t know that it would have made me a better mom.  And don’t misread what I am saying.  My friends who had kids in their 20’s? They are FANTASTIC parents.  I look up to them.   Their kids are in college or graduating college and doing amazing things in this world.  And they are now enjoying empty nests while my husband and I are discussing public vs private school and saving for college and HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT TWO SMALL HUMANS COST SO MUCH?!

My reality is that because we had to do IVF to conceive, we have frozen embryos remaining.  And, I could likely make peace with being “just” a mother of two if those little ones weren’t on ice right now.   But they are there.  In limbo.  Waiting to be claimed.  And every year we pay to keep them stored and every year we say we have to make a decision one way or the other.  I always said 40 was my cut off. I didn’t want to be pregnant past 40. Now that I am 40, I have added a few years.  If the doctors say I am healthy enough to carry a pregnancy, it’s something I want to try.  There isn’t guarantee these embryos will thaw or even implant or even result in a pregnancy. The good news is that my eggs were retrieved when I was 34 – just shy of my 35th birthday.

So, this is the struggle.  The question that lingers every day.  The ache that I feel.   It doesn’t make sense to most of the people in my life.  It doesn’t seem “smart” or “responsible” or “prudent.”  I wonder how supportive they will be if we do decide to try again.  And I ask myself constantly, do we serve ourselves fully by always being prudent and/or responsible?  Or, am I just trying to convince myself that despite age and finances and every day life issues, this is a good idea?  It’s all just a big muddle in my head.

What I know for certain is that when I am working, and my iTunes gets to the song “Apron Strings,” I burst into tears.  Every.  Time.

And I’ll be perfect in my way

When you cry I will be there

I’ll sing to you and comb your hair

All your troubles I will share

 

For apron strings, can be used for other things

Than what they’re meant for and

You’d be happy wrapped in my apron strings

You’d be happy wrapped in my apron strings

~ Everything But The Girl – Apron Strings

The ache is what gets me.  And, looking at my beautiful boys (all three of them), I can’t help but wonder how a new life would do wonders for all of us.  Even at 3 a.m. when it’s feeding time.

You can also find Mamalawmadingdong on Facebook.  There, I share some of the daily grind happenings.

https://www.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong

The Gingerbread Men Ice Cream Sandwiches – aka, Grief in the Frozen Novelty Aisle

For much of my relationship with Greg, we lived in different states.  I was in CA finishing up  college and grad school, and he was in CO furthering his software/tech industry career.  We did our best to see each other monthly and always during the holidays.  He would come out for Thanksgiving, or on the years that he was with his family, I would head out shortly thereafter.   If we weren’t together for Christmas, we were always together from December 26 through the New Year.   The way we often rang in the start of the holiday season was with my favorite Gingerbread Ice Cream Sandwiches.  They came out every Thanksgiving to all the chain grocery stores and stayed through the end of January.   Oftentimes, I stocked up, so my stash would last at least through Valentine’s Day.   I don’t remember who made them, and they were probably mostly made of things we can’t pronounce, but they were soft gingerbread cookies sandwiched together with vanilla ice cream.  And, they were damn delicious.  I ate them during finals; I ate them writing papers; I ate them whenever I wanted to feel like I was eating Christmas.

If Greg was in CA, they were in my freezer.  If I was in CO, they were in Greg’s freezer.   No matter what was happening in life, those gingerbread men made everything better.   They were, in many ways, a holiday glue.   When things were amazing and we couldn’t love each other any better, we had those treats.  When things were not so great,  and we did things that hurt each other, or we made choices that caused pain to the other, those treats gave us common ground again.   When things were bad, they were a sugary sweet peace pipe that meant all was forgiven.

When the first holiday season rolled around after Greg died, I wanted nothing to do with it.   I was staying with my parents and my mom is like me.  She goes all out for Christmas (I wonder where I got it from).   I dreaded the decorations, the tree, the lights, the joy.   I had no Fa La La La La spirit in me.  I looked more like the Grinch or Scrooge, and I would have happily moved into a dark cave and hibernated until January 15 if it was an option.   So, come the first of December, when my mom started to get rolling on the house transformation, I boogied to the local Ralph’s to see if I could eat my feelings.  I knew that a Gingerbread Man Ice Cream Sandwich (or 6 or 12 or the entire stock) would help me regulate the knots in my stomach.   When I got to the frozen novelty aisle where they had been stocked for as long as I could remember, and I saw none, I knew there had to be a mistake.  Perhaps they were being spotlighted in an end of aisle display.   No dice.   I went back to the frozen section and saw a clerk stocking shelves.  I asked her where the gingerbread men were, and she had no idea what I was talking about.   Wondering how she had ever made it this far in life and the frozen section without knowing about them, I asked if she could ask the store manager.   She came back and informed me that the store manager said they weren’t getting any.   This simply could not be true, so I demanded that the store manager come to the aisle so I could show him where they had been displayed every  end of November – end of January since I could remember, and I asked WHY THEY WERE NOT THERE.   The manager then told me what was the absolute last thing I needed to hear.   He told me that they weren’t making the gingerbread ice cream treats anymore,  and they would not be getting any.  EVER.

And, with that, I felt the wind knocked out of me.  I was freezing – more freezing than you should be after standing in the frozen foods section for 10 minutes.  Then, out of the depth of my being, it started.   The waterworks.  The sobbing.  The uncontrolled babble of a crazy in grief person.  I dropped to my knees, while the clerk and manager just looked at each other,  and then the manager pulled out his walkie talkie.  Then, other customers were there. Then a security guard.  All of this at the grocery store in my hometown where I had been shopping with my mom since pretty much birth.   After what seemed like an hour of me blathering on about gingerbread men, the manager and security guard asked if I thought I might be able to walk outside.  I said no.  So, they asked if they could call anyone, and I gave them my parents’ home number.   A few minutes later, my dear father came in, looking concerned and sad, and sat down beside me, explaining to the lookie loos and the store personnel that I had suffered a pretty significant loss and the holidays  were going to be hard and if they could all just give me a minute, we would be on our way.

It doesn’t take much to know this wasn’t really about gingerbread men ice cream sandwiches (but hell if I don’t miss them like crazy every year).   It was about love and loss and the finality that comes with knowing the life you had isn’t the life you have any more.   It was grief.  It was having to look at the past – the good, the bad, and the ugly and knowing that I had to deal with all of it, if I wanted any chance at any sort of future.   It was coming to terms with the fact that I had to find a way to make a new path for myself out of the unfamiliar.   That Greg and the Gingerbread Men ice cream sandwiches weren’t coming back, and I had to find a way to come to terms with that.

Since that lovely day at Ralph’s (that I am surprised did not make it into the daily crime/goings on log of the local paper, The Daily Pilot), I have managed to still enjoy gingerbread men ice cream sandwiches, just in a different way.  I have baked my own gingerbread men and slathered some vanilla bean ice cream in between.  I have taken the store bought gingerbread cookies and done the same thing.  And, they taste pretty darn good.  Of course, it’s not the same as the original, but I have learned it doesn’t have to be.  It’s different, but in a good way.  The memory of the old treat remains, but it isn’t painful anymore.  It doesn’t render me a sobbing mess in the middle of a grocery store with security on my heels.     It’s been the same with my life.  I’ve had to make adjustments since Greg has been gone.  I had to find a new path.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t remember Greg.   It doesn’t mean that I don’t miss him.  The difference between then and now is that I can look back now and not be consumed with the gut wrenching sadness I had for so long.   I have let love in again – and it’s made me whole.

In looking for some new gingerbread men ice cream sandwiches,   I have taken some turns that have led me to the  wonderful life I have now, with love and laughter and  a husband that prefers brownies over gingerbread,  and little boys that love gingerbread cookies just as much as their mama.   And, when one of my sons cries when he realizes he bit off and ate the head of his beloved gingerbread pal, I can hug him and kiss him and  giggle at the power of DNA.

Please “like” my page on Facebook and join the conversations there!

https://www.facebook.com/mamalawmadingdong

The Child We Never Held

On October 15 of every year, besides the usual scramble to get my taxes in on the extension deadline, I take time to remember and think about our first child – a baby I loved more than I ever thought possible despite never holding him or her in my arms or carrying him or her full term. For those who might not know, October 15th is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. And, despite professionally being in a field that deals with infertility, miscarriage and infant loss daily, I readily admit that before my own personal experience with pregnancy loss, I wouldn’t have paid this day any attention.

I still remember the day like it was yesterday. Being told that our pregnancy was no longer viable. Being told that my body wasn’t letting go of what it wanted so badly. Being told I would have to return for a D&C later in the week if my body didn’t finally decide to release what it wanted so badly. Realizing that instead of celebrating Christmas and a new baby that following December, our arms would still be empty.

After my first husband died by suicide and left me a widow at 28, I felt incredibly blessed to find love again a few years later. While marrying an amazing man who accepted me scars, baggage and all felt like an incredible gift from the universe, I also admit I felt the universe owed me one more thing: a child. When my husband and I married, we both knew we wanted children, and we knew we didn’t have the luxury of time to get started on our family building. My husband is the oldest of 7 and told me he wanted at least 9 kids. I told him he shouldn’t have waited until age 40 to get serious enough to marry if that was his plan (and I said it with love, of course). And, I felt that after everything I had been through, pregnancy and kids should come easy. And since I was 33 when we married, and, given my career as a reproductive law attorney, I knew we needed to get started sooner rather than later.

So, after a beautiful, intimate wedding in Hana, Maui, a honeymoon in Moorea and Bora Bora, and a year of newlywed fun and travel we decided to start “trying.” Otherwise known as not avoiding pregnancy after an adult life of doing just that.

After nothing happened in 3 months, I started telling my husband we should both get tested. All my years of dealing with infertile clients were whispering in my ear. After my husband told me to just “relax” and it would happen when it was supposed to happen, I bought ovulation kits. And our sex life went from amazingly spontaneous to “I don’t care that x, y, or z is happening, WE HAVE TO DO IT RIGHT NOW!” Romantic. Super romantic. After 4 more months and not even a hint of a missed period, I told him we both had to be tested. And he finally agreed. Or, rather, he finally conceded just to get me off his back.

When all was said and done, it was determined we were dealing with low sperm count and some motility issues. Not dire by any means, but very unlikely we could get pregnant with our current have a nice dinner, enjoy a glass of wine, check the ovulation calendar and have at it at home plan. I still (sort of) laugh when I remember how the doctor explained our predicament and the intra uterine insemination (IUI) to my husband:

“Think of Kate’s reproductive tract as the state of California. The goal is travel to San Francisco, but you are too tired for the drive. So, instead of starting in LA, we are gonna get you started in Fresno.”

Basically we were going to do an insemination to give a push that would hopefully end with that golden moment where sperm meets egg. Only it didn’t work. Not the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth.

Finally, we knew we had to take the leap to in vitro fertilization (IVF), and we were both ready. My husband definitely felt responsible and it was difficult on him that our infertility diagnosis was sperm specific. However, as difficult it was on him, he never shied away from talking about it; he never asked me to hide it; and when people assumed I was the one with “the issue” he always corrected them. For me, being that I am so intimately tied to the infertility world, I wished it was “my” issue – simply because we learned quickly there is not a lot of support for men dealing with such scenarios. I also felt like if it was “my” issue, we would have hopped on the IVF train a bit earlier. My husband struggled a bit with that decision. To him, it just took the “oompf” out of our family building and turned it instantaneously medical – way more so than IUI. And, he was right. But if we wanted a child that I could carry, IVF was it.

So we jumped in full force. I became a model IVF patient. I rested. I meditated. I acupunctured. I took every shot and supplement exactly as I was supposed to. My husband did the same. Our egg retrieval was amazing, and we ended up with 14 fantastic embryos. We transferred two and after an agonizing week of waiting, we finally had a positive pregnancy test. Our first ever.

We were over the moon to say the least. The one glorious thing about IVF is that you know the second anything is happening. Before our embryo transfer, we looked at our beautiful embryos in the microscope. And in that moment, those two embryos – those ever dividing and specialized cells, those living organisms – became our potential children. I watched them being transferred to my uterus, and I talked to them and prayed over them and willed them to implant. When we discovered that one did – well, I never felt so blessed. Like all the shit I had gone through finally made a little more sense.

So when, after weeks of positive pregnancy tests and increasing HCG levels and even the fatigue so symptomatic of the first trimester appeared, our doctor looked at us and said “something’s not right,” I felt like the universe really screwed us over. Ok, I felt like the universe fucked us over. It simply wasn’t fair. To find out that our child was not developing, no longer had a heartbeat and would never be a child giggling or gurgling or even screaming in our arms was devastating, to both of us. I started sobbing in the doctor’s office, and I didn’t stop for two weeks. Through medication to prompt a “spontaneous abortion” to the D&C that was performed to remove the fetal tissue because my body simply wouldn’t let go, I sobbed. And then I got pissed. And then I sobbed some more.

The only people who knew we were pregnant were our parents, my sister, my best friend and our doctor. Given my job as an assisted reproductive attorney, what we had gone through to achieve pregnancy, and watching my sister experience the pain of miscarriages after pregnancy announcements years before, my husband and I knew we wanted to wait until well into the “safe” zone to share the news. But because I was such a wreck, people started to find out. Every time someone said “this was just God’s way of saying something was wrong” I wanted to punch that person in the throat. When others told me I wasn’t “that pregnant” and it wasn’t really a big deal because I could try again, I visualized them getting hit by a bus. The fact of the matter was we lost our first child. Sure, I hadn’t hit my second trimester, and I wasn’t showing, but we were making plans. That baby was ours. And to find out it would never be born was totally and utterly unacceptable to me.

It was an incredibly lonely period of time, simply because we found that so many dismissed miscarriage as an insignificant loss.

We have two beautiful boys now. After our miscarriage, I swore I was done. I couldn’t imagine any more pain or loss. But we had embryos, and my husband said we couldn’t give up until we exhausted all of our options – and those frozen embryos were our most promising.

Despite having our two beautiful boys, my heart still aches when I think about their older sibling we never met.

There’s a Tom Petty song called “It’ll All Work Out” that makes me think of our lost little angel whenever I hear the last verse. I don’t know if our baby was a boy or a girl, but for some reason I tend to believe it, or rather, she, was a girl:

“Now the wind is high and the rain is heavy
And the water’s rising in the levee
Still I think of her when the sun goes down
It never goes away, but it all works out.”

It never goes away. But it all works out. In time. And tears.

Goldfish: A Study On Life And Death

I’m often amazed how I can kid myself into thinking I have neatly folded up the pieces of my emotional laundry into my nicely coordinated baggage and stored it away – thinking I have properly dealt with it and don’t need to re-visit it anymore. Until, that is, something happens. And it doesn’t have to be something big. In fact, all it took to unravel me this time was the 4th goldfish death in 2 months.

A $.29 goldfish (or in this case $1.16, plus tax, worth of goldfish) undid years of therapy, grief work, and “everything is really good, thanks for asking.”

Part of potty training graduation reward and ramp up to preschool for my twin sons was the gift of an aquarium. We went to the pet shop, picked out a tank, gravel, plants, two fish, Rodney and Goldfish, and came home not realizing the amount of work these little suckers are. When I was 5 I remember just throwing a ping ping ball into a bowl at the local Fish Fry, coming home with a fish in a plastic bag and my mom putting him in a glass bowl with some tap water. We fed “Lucky” (and he was – he lived 7 years!) whenever we remembered and cleaned the bowl when it got too stinky or gross looking. Now, I had a lecture on temperature acclimation, PH balance of the water, ammonium levels, feeding, filters, food, water changes, slime coats, parasites, something called ICK, and lighting. Lighting. As if Rodney and Goldfish were going to be entertaining or doing heavy studying for their PhDs in the tank.

We acclimated; we slime coated; we fed “just a pinch and no more,” because even I remembered what happened to Otto in one of my favorite childhood books “A Fish Out of Water” (in that book, despite a warning, a little boy feeds and feeds his goldfish, Otto, until Otto grows so big he ends up in the community pool and the pet shop owner has to come and magically shrink him back to size).

And a few weeks into our aquarium adventure, Rodney started to get sick. And I panicked. And obsessed. I searched Google with a vengeance. I visited the pet store a dozen plus times, and I spent days trying to keep this $.29 fish alive. I spent close to $100 trying to keep him alive. Ammonia levels were too high in the tank so I did water changes. I checked the water quality hourly. I sat with the fish in that tank and talked to them and willed Rodney to stay alive. When he stopped eating, I boiled peas and fed them to Rodney on a bamboo skewer. I gave him salt baths. I did everything but take him to an emergency fish clinic and demand surgery. I was as exhausted as when my twins were newborns. I was staying up until 2 and 3 a.m. and then setting the alarm for every 40 minutes to check on Rodney and check the water and search the internet for something new that might save him.

And I couldn’t, of course. Because my son was obsessed with Rodney, and because I didn’t want to have to teach him this tough lesson yet, I pulled a replacement maneuver – going and purchasing an almost exact duplicate and explaining the markings were just a little different because Rodney was feeling so much better.

And Rodney v2 lasted another few weeks. His death was less painful in that we woke up one morning and he was gone. My son, with tears in his eyes, simply said, “Rodney dieded didn’t he? I guess he’s with Grandpa now.”

We had a lovely funeral, complete with eulogy, and 15 minutes later my son asked for a dollar so we could “go pick up a new Rodney.” The grief process is clearly different (and better, in my opinion) when you are three and a half.

And so it went for the following month and two more fish. Rodney v3 again only lasted a few weeks, and, sadly, Goldfish, who always seemed so strong and hearty and playful, started to show the signs of impending death. And, despite having gone through this three times prior, when he finally died, after a long, painful week where I again was trying everything possible to keep him alive, I lost it. Despite the jokes I had made about it on Facebook, despite the fact that Goldfish was “just” a $.29 fish, I felt like I had lost a family member. And, in a way, I had. These were the first pets our sons had that were all their own (we have a dog, but the reality is that she was the first baby in our family). I was crying in the shower. Crying in the car after preschool drop off. Grieving. Over fish.

A friend had mentioned that I should take my Facebook posts, which included an obituary for the original Rodney, and write a piece, because, as she stated, it was some funny stuff. I commented to her that most of it was absurd and funny, but the reality was that I knew I had spent all that time trying to keep those fish alive because there were people in my life I couldn’t keep alive and somehow I was trying to balance what I viewed as failings on my part. I didn’t even realize what I was saying until I said it. I spent hours trying to keep the Rodneys and Goldfish alive because I couldn’t keep my first husband alive. I couldn’t keep a dear friend alive.

I left my husband alone when clearly I should not have. I promised a dear friend I would bring my boys by to swim in his pool, and I never took them. I said things that I shouldn’t have. I made promises that I didn’t keep. Sure, they both knew I loved them, but I wasn’t there as much as I should have been when they needed me the most. I failed them. And they both ended their lives. Despite years of grief work, therapy, reading, retreats and thinking I had a handle on all if it, it took 4 dead goldfish to show me that my greatest fear is not only losing those I love, but not being able to keep those I love alive.

When Goldfish was struggling to stay alive and I knew I might have to perform a euthanasia flush, I told my other son (who Goldfish technically belonged to), that Goldfish was really sick and probably wouldn’t be there when we all woke up the next morning. I told him he might want to say whatever he wanted to say, and the following was exchanged:

Me (near tears): Goldfish is really sick and because we love him so much we need to let him know it’s ok if he leaves us. We want him to feel better. So let’s tell him how we love him ok?

My son (practically kissing the tank): I love you Goldfish. I don’t want you to be sick. I’m gonna miss you. When you get to Heaven, say hi to Grandpa. Say hi to Uncle Mondo. Say hi to Rodney. Tell them I miss them.

And, by then, I was sobbing. People say 2 and 3 year olds are too young to grasp death. But the reality is that when they experience mom and dad being gutted by death more than a few times early in their life, and when mom and dad are age appropriately honest about what is going on, kids “get” stuff on a level we adults just don’t sometimes (a lot of the time). The boys talk about Grandpa and Uncle Mondo (our dear friend who died by suicide) all the time, so it’s not surprising to me that this was part of B’s process.

And what happened next was simply amazing. After two days of fighting death like nothing I have ever seen, our little $.29 goldfish, Goldfish, who had been with us since the beginning of the tank adventure, gave one last tail flap and died. It’s like he actually did want to know that we (yes, me included) were going to be ok. And it helped me immensely, because it was like he was telling me he knew I did the best I could, and his death was out of my control.

I’m not trying to be overly dramatic or sappy, but this was honestly one of the more beautiful moments of my life.

Goldfish, you were a good fish. You and your brother(s), Rodney, actually taught me a lot. About fish certainly (more than I ever could have imagined), but mostly about myself.