The Ghosts of Yesteryear

This seems to be the year of epiphanies for me – lately they seem to keep tumbling around my head like bales of hay, suddenly so obvious and unavoidable that it begs the question: what took me so long to realize this?

I had a late night. I didn’t sleep well. I stumbled out of bed much later than I’d planned and just about managed not to break any appendages in search of coffee – before which you might as well not even talk to me because I will most likely eat you alive. Once my brain cells appeared alert enough to be entrusted with operating heavy machinery (aka driving), I made a brief dash out into the real world to run some errands. I kept zapping through my playlist because nothing quite seemed to fit right – I wasn’t feeling melancholic (yay!), wasn’t in the mood for country, didn’t “feel” the overwhelming ooomph of techno. I finally stopped on a completely unlikely selection for a bright, sunny Saturday morning: Happy Phantom by Tori Amos. It’s on the only album of hers that I own called Little Earthquakes, which I’ve owned and “abused” since I was a college student and an incurable insomniac in my dorm introduced me to her music. (At least I think it was her – I really can’t remember who it was. Who can remember all the people they met in college dorms? They don’t even have name tags!)

The important thing is that, usually, when I play Tori Amos, it’s a bad sign. It’s my personal soundtrack for break-ups, heartache, disappointments of a magnitude so excessive that their tremors couldn’t be measured on the seismic scale. I’ve had moments where I’ve played the same song probably a dozen times in a row because the semi-melodious and somewhat discordant strings of notes combined with lyrics that are open to interpretation (and beg the question of just how much alcohol and/or narcotics were involved in their creation) have always been perfect for my most morose moods. I don’t like to cry in public or even in front of people I know if I an avoid it and I figure that it’s better than drowning my sorrows in a more destructive way. Sometimes music just helps hone in on the epicenter of the pain, which you can then excavate after lamenting on your misfortune, cursing whoever or whatever it to blame (since, obviously, you’re completely without fault – duh). 

Happy Phantom, though, is a “kicky” little tune – it really seems to skip and hop around so that you can almost imagine someone’s fingers dancing across the keys of the piano…which, as I was listening to it in the car today, coincided with passing a pond, on the outskirts of which a duck or other fowl was surrounded by a whole smattering of tiny, downy little chicks. Awwwww!

They were so incredibly cute that I almost stopped to admire them – but thankfully had the presence of mind to remember that (a) it probably wasn’t the best idea to suddenly brake and swerve to admire this display of the Animal Kingdom version of universal fecundity from which I continue to be excluded; (b) I really didn’t want to give Mama Duck/Goose or whatever feathered friend a heart attack while trying to snap her head around in a 360 degree rotation like the Exorcist, trying to make sure all dozen or so chicks were accounted for before the Crazy Woman careened too close for comfort and turned them all into pate.

And there it was – BAM! Another epiphany. (Sidebar: I finally understand Emeril Lagasse’s need for vocal expressiveness. I bet after the 3rd or 4th time when he thought of some genius way to spice up a boring old baked chicken thigh, he realized that this kind of repetitive epiphany was deserving of a loud exclamation.)

In watching the cute little chicks against the song I was listening to – all too familiar, I’m afraid – I suddenly realized that I felt like a ghost. It was the most curious feeling – not like an out of body experience, of course, but it was like I finally found the right way to express what I’ve been feeling for such a long time. For far too long now, I’ve been feeling like a bystander – in my own life, but also in life in general. I feel like I’m standing still while the world around me moves on – without me. I bemoan the life I once had, the dreams I still refuse to give up on (I’m stubborn that way) but that I sometimes wonder, in the dark when it’s just me and my own thoughts: am I just deluding myself? Am I in denial, refusing to accept the inevitable conclusion that it’s just not going to happen for us – or maybe not meant to? I feel, for lack of a better way to express it, like a ghost of the woman I used to be. I feel invisible – and not the good kind where you can sneak around and pinch people or flick someone who annoyed you. (I may have smirked briefly while contemplating the potential. But I’m thinking? Ghosts probably can’t drink coffee or eat ice cream, and that’s a non-starter for me.)

And then, of course, by the time the sun started to turn orange much later in the day, the Happy Phantom started feeling a little less perky. It may have had something to do with trolling through other blog posts – one of which almost caused an instant heart attack when I read on a fellow DOR blogger’s post that menopause is expected within 2-3 years of a primary ovarian insufficiency diagnosis. I tried very hard not to panic because (a) I don’t actually know if diminished ovarian reserve and primary ovarian insufficiency are the same (although writing it now, they sure sound the same to me – nerts!), (b) there’s really nothing I can do about that RIGHT. NOW. You know, other than freak out and scream WHY THE HELL DID NOBODY TELL ME THAT???

So my choices at the moment are:

1. Freak out, start bawling, contemplate life as a barren woman before I even hit 40 – at which point I’ll have such a huge midlife crisis that it’ll make RuPaul look like a Soccer Mom.

2. Panic and start dialing. Oh, wait. Who do you call? This clearly isn’t a case for Ghostbusters (hah, I just realized I could’ve made a totally pithy connection with the whole Happy Phantom thing – but can’t think, must panic!) and I don’t exactly have an RE on speed dial. Did I already mention that before. WE DON’T HAVE AN RE! I AM FREAKING OUT NOW! THIS IS ME FREAKING OUT!!!

3. Take a deep breath and look for the Valium. Oh wait, that’s right – I’m not actually a pharmacy. Or a doctor with a prescription pad. Double Nerts!

4. Take another deep breath, tell myself that drugs aren’t the answer – alcohol is! (Which should be an indication of the level of desperation I’m experiencing, since my alcohol intake is roughly 1 drink per YEAR. (What? I’m going to waste money on booze when I could buy new shoes? Me thinks not!)

5. Attempt to calm down and not hyperventilate while reminding myself that NEITHER drugs NOR alcohol are the solution to any of life’s problems – especially since neither are going to do anything for those shriveled raisinettes masquerading as my ovaries. (I should come clean here and admit that I have absolutely no clue what my ovaries actually look like.)

6. Start crying because there’s no ice cream.

7. Sober up and think about an action plan.

8. Go back to crying because there’s no ice cream. Or chocolate. Contemplate eating the baking chocolate before remembering that it tastes like coal bricks might. (I have no way of proving this, btw.)

9. Play Tori Amos for the rest of the evening and curl up in a fetal position, trying not to think about the irony of twisting my body into a pretzel in a replication of something that I’m trying to accomplish inside my body, not with it. I’m not installation art – although if it’s going to sell enough tickets to pay for IVF, I might just consider it at this point…

10. Take a breath. Sigh. Cry. Curse. Cry some more. Write about it. Think about it. Cry even more.

And make a damn decision, once and for all.

So we’ve come full circle to playing Tori Amos and hating doctors who fail to fully inform us of all the ramifications of our conditions – and once again establishing that, in MY house, chocolate isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity!

In The Trenches

For the past week, I’ve been fighting a head cold that has been leaving me feeling really awful – depleted of both physical energy and mental acuity. Nothing I tried would make it better: not chicken soup, not orange juice, not Benadryl or the rest of the medicine cabinet. It’s a miracle that any one of my desperate concoctions didn’t kill me – because, honestly, if I’d thought arsenic or rat poison would’ve made me feel better, I probably would’ve tried it.

The upside of feeling really crappy physically is that it took my mind off a lot of the mental anguish for a while – at least to some extent. AF with her perfect timing chimed in to make it all a big mess of aches and pains – a nice preview of old age, if I ever make it that far. And while I’m still trying desperately not to freak out about how my period has suddenly taken a dramatic change since my single Clomid cycle in early summer – going from its usual 7-8 days to 4, which I would normally find a great cause for celebration, were it not that I’m one of those hapless women dealt the dastardly card of DOR (diminished ovarian reserve) – all of these things coinciding together made me feel sick as a dog.

But! Great excuse to lounge on the couch and watch crappy tv – which is really all that Netflix has to offer (I won’t even elaborate on that, since anyone who also has a Netflix subscription will undoubtedly have noticed all the bizarre crap on there that NO ONE in their right mind would give a fig about, never mind want to watch).

Mostly, though, I pretty much just schlepped myself between the couch and the bed, possible moaning like an octogenarian as I shuffled between resting places with a variously stuffed up and dripping nose, my head feeling like an over-sized, overripe watermelon begging to take first prize at a county fair. I slept A LOT. I hurt even more. I wanted chocolate, but there wasn’t any at home – and I was in no condition to leave the house, and DH has been working way too much for me to ask him to make a detour on his way home. He would have, if I had asked him – but, c’mon. I’m not that self-indulgent. I figured if I was THAT desperate, I could always eat the baking chocolate. (FYI: I didn’t. I’ve tried that before – and it basically tastes like what I imagine licking an ashtray would taste like.)

Tonight, I finally got a chance to catch up on some reading – and came across a post on someone else’s blog about friendship. Or, rather, the ending of it.

It’s a pretty raw subject for me. In the past few years, DH and I have lost almost everyone in our lives to either death, estrangement or some version of IF-related “amnesia” – which is what happens when people learn of your predicament and suddenly lose your phone number, address, and/or other identifying characteristics. To say that we’re operating without a support system would be a huge understatement because we basically don’t have one anymore.

In the past few months, as I’ve read more stories from others – I’ve been shocked to see that the amount of people whose experiences mirror ours largely outweigh the stories of people who have warm, caring and supportive friends & family. In most cases, people try to be open about their struggle – and find themselves suddenly bumped off the invite list, excluded from parties or other social events.

Some stories I’ve read have been much, much worse than what we’ve been through. I won’t repeat them here to respect the privacy of others, but let’s just say that there have been times where I’ve cried for someone else that I haven’t even met – and times where reading what someone else had been put through at the hands of a family member made ME want to slap the crap out of the person in question.

But those are the extremes. Far more common, it seems, are the friendships that fray at the edges as the friend struggling with IF continues to do so over an extended period of time. It seems that – as I’ve experienced first-hand with grief – people expect there to be a time-limit on how much they’re expected to give or invest on a particular “problem”. As though your struggle is a sort of community service – and after X amount of hours spent listening and/or discussing the topic, it’s dealt with and moved “off the docket”. NEXT!

Of course it’s not like that for us – for those who continue to struggle through the first, second, third pregnancies of friends, family members, coworkers. Years go by, and we are like waylaid passengers on a platform, watching as the trains pull into the station, people getting on and off, trains pulling away again…but we remain the same, rooted in place, unable to move forward.

I imagine that dealing with infertility is somewhat similar to a street urchin from the days of yore peeking in through the windows of a fancy restaurant or butcher’s shop – tantalized by the smells of rich foods…so close within reach, and yet still denied access to it. I think it’s quite the same for us – surrounded by women who are pregnant, who have babies, multiple children, and it’s all right there in front of us, taunting us, mocking us – from the pages of magazines, tv commercials, the back of a catalog. Everywhere you look, companies are turning to The Mother and Child images to sell us on everything from band-aids to pencils, shoes to breakfast items.

So what do you do, when you struggle with infertility? You keep your chin up, you smile, you trudge on. You’re a warrior! You’re a woman of the 21st century – you’ve got this! You confide in your friends, help them plan their baby showers, ooh and aah over their baby pictures, attend kids birthday parties, sign up dutifully as the doting aunt, godmother, best friend in attendance etc.

But time doesn’t stand still for you – it goes by. Slowly, at first, it seems. I’ve got plenty of time, there’s no rush, you tell yourself. Little by little, your friends start dropping off – they now have new “mommy” friends, and they now go on play dates with their mommy friends and all their kids. They’d invite you, they say, but they don’t want you to feel weird, awkward, left out. You smile, say thank you for considering your feelings. Soon, they stop trying to make excuses – they just stop calling. And you stop calling too – because you know you feel it too: you’ve reached the end of the road. There are no sad good-byes here. There is no acknowledgment of the hurt, the pain, the sorrow of the one left behind without a baby of her own – because how could there be? It would require everyone else to stop thinking about themselves, to interrupt the happiness in their lives to allow the sadness in your life to affect them in any way, shape or form.

This is the part where you find yourself feeling as though you unwittingly contracted a highly contagious disease, or like you just stepped into a dog turd and walked all over someone’s antique Persian rug with it: you’ve become persona non grata.

Not all relationships are like that though. Some people you meet later in life – when they already have children. It wasn’t so weird, you told yourself, because it’s not like you were going to have to worry about which one of you would get pregnant first. But then there’s a surprise or unplanned pregnancy – and you’re devastated. Or one of you moves away, and has an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.

Friendships are hard to maintain, under the best of circumstances. When we’re young, we’re thrown together with others all the time – it’s easy to make friends, even if you’re not the most popular, the prettiest, the smartest: there’s still someone out there for you. Whether it’s in school, church, at camp, after-school activities, in college…you’re constantly around tons of people. How could you not make friends? But as we get older, move, get jobs, move again, get married, move yet again etc…you lose contact with people. Sure, some people think they have lots of friends. See how many of those friends they’ll still be in touch with after 6 months if they got rid of their FB and/or Twitter accounts.

The trials of infertility are many – but the first casualty is the belief that your “friendships” will last forever. For a lucky few, they will have friends and family who will be there for them for as long as it takes. They will go to appointments with them, be a shoulder to cry on, hug them when they’re in despair, take them out when they don’t want to face the world.

But for most of us, it becomes like a war that’s fought in the trenches – and you find out who your REAL friends are.