An infertile woman’s pet peeves…

I’ve received enough comments throughout October to warrant this reminder to good-hearted, well-meaning folks–if you haven’t been on this side of infertility, please tread lightly when comforting or sharing your news with someone whose sorrow is profound, at times, hidden or downplayed, and rarely acknowledged. No one is to blame. We just need to be reminded.

When comforting an infertile woman, please don’t say too much, period. “I’m so sorry,” works wonders. Otherwise, shut up. Just be there, hold, and listen. Most of us do, but sometimes we screw up and find ourselves contorted in bitter-tasting small talk.

When sharing good or bad news, this may seem like common sense to most of you, but, humor me, and please refrain from telling an infertile woman–

how relieved you are at not being pregnant,

about the birth of your baby while still groggy from labor,

that you’re going to terminate a pregnancy, or

shit, I can’t believe it! I’m pregnant again.

Any others?

An infertile woman’s confession

I was playing softball with around two dozen neighborhood kids and my siblings after the water truck had passed, we’d all gotten drenched, and Hereford Drive had become a tamped down oasis ready for play. As I waited my turn at bat, I doubled over from a stomach cramp, called time out, and went to the bathroom.

I never returned to the game. I thought I had gas or had eaten too much bacon at breakfast, but when I lowered my underwear and saw blood, I panicked, and called for La Jefita. My mother teared up, looked at me funny, then took me into the inner sanctum, her delicate wallpapered bathroom, and told me I was now a woman. Me, a woman! A dorky, pedal-pusher wearing ten-year old with a bad haircut had become a woman, all because I got my period?

Yep!  After getting all the equipment and explanation, my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts, their friends, and anyone else who ever found out I was menstruating informed me, I could now have  baby. And you didn’t want a baby until after you were married. It never dawned on me to ask any of them the particulars, so I spent the next four years, on guard, like I was playing dodgeball with all of the school bullies, who loved to throw the ball at me with such force that I’d fly like a bowling pin.

When my classmates in ninth grade gave me the sex low down, I was grossed out at the thought of a penis going inside me; I’d seen my brothers and they peed with it. Then I was horrified that the baby was going to come out of me. I took a fervent oath that day–I wasn’t going to get pregnant or have a baby. Nope. Not me. Never.

Chapter I – December 27, 1991

“I’d spent most of my twenties and early thirties avoiding motherhood and taking all precautions. Truth be told, I wanted to be the center of attention. Maybe being one of eleven had something to do with it. Maybe it was becoming a woman during the feminist movement and thinking that anyone could have a baby, but not a college degree. Maybe it was looking around at my mother, my aunts, my older sister, all saddled at home by endless demands. The only things on my horizon were career, travel, and not sharing the spotlight with anyone. Those aspirations were meaningless now. I wanted a baby and couldn’t have one. I was deeply hurt and humbled.

Anyone who moves away from a large family learns that you can never step back into that family and expect to be in sync with the pack, but I knew I belonged. I shared flesh and blood, memories, and secrets that bound us forever. There’s no better feeling than reconnecting with a brood of people who know you, warts and all.

Now, I wanted in the most esteemed pack of all—the pack of motherhood—but the portal had slammed shut in my face.”

Do infertile women ever get over it?

I didn’t. Not for a very long time. And I had my hands full with two toddler boys, who were healthy  and adorable, yet out of nowhere, the unpredictable, icy drop of doubt stung.  A piercing round of ‘I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve’ brought me to my knees.

It wasn’t enough that I felt sentenced to the regret of deciding against infertility treatments, even though, I was in my forties with one rusty fallopian tube and retirement-aged eggs. Nope, wasn’t enough. Not for me. I also harbored a deeper regret of not fighting for my little girl. We didn’t wage war against the birth mother, we were noble and no, contrary to popular belief, it never made me feel better that we took that route. I felt I’d let my infant daughter down. I promised her, I’d take care of her, I’d be there, no matter what. I hadn’t counted on the ‘what’ being her biological mother.

I’ve been thinking about my little Chicken Hawk quite a bit this month. We welcomed her into the world on the 3rd of this month, eighteen years ago, and I still remember our brief but potent and cherished time together. She aroused the maternal fire in me. How could I ever forget or get over her?

I wonder if we ever do get over infertility?

Have you?

Assumptions are the mother of misunderstandings # 2

During our first visit back into the fold,  I assumed my family would know exactly what to do and say after My Man and I had lost Sofia to her birth mother. I envisioned a group hug where Marty and I would be swallowed up in sympathy and the loss of our daughter would be at the heart of our visit. I expected my brothers and sisters to read my mind, see the gaping hole in our hearts, and express themselves with precisely the right selection of words that would bathe us in solace. I’d placed my family on a pedestal and then watched with a critical and judgmental eye to see who’d pass muster.

Chapter IV – January 1994 to May 1995

“…While I anticipated the Fourth of July pit stop in southern Arizona with my family, I girded myself for the inevitable: the next generation. Last year I’d daydreamed of Sofia huddled within the pack of newly hatched toddler nephews and nieces, forming a tight bond with her cousins. Marty and I would be in the fray of comparing baby gadgets, contributing our comical missteps, and turning to my mother for advice. I’d salivated years for that moment, but as soon as I set foot in my mother’s house with my backpack and not a bundle of joy, my flight response kicked in. After a boisterous welcome, I ferreted for Sofia’s photographs in my mother’s living the hallway, and her bedroom. They’d been put away to spare our feelings.

My siblings gathered, I doted on my nephews and nieces, praying my lighthearted façade remained intact, but once we exhausted our camping stories, my brothers rehashed their jokes, and my sisters conceded on refashioning my look the visit proved awkward and forced like a TV sitcom with a laugh track. No one brought up Sofia.

My mother, a night owl, kept me abreast of the family gossip late into the night, the two of us alone, sharing her bed while polishing off her stash of butter cookies and See’s Candies. The few times we brushed up against intimate conversation, I was certain she’d at least allude to Sofia, but when fatigue won over, I kissed her goodnight.

“Mijita, do me a favor,” my mother asked on my way out the bedroom door. “Reach into my top drawer.” She pointed to her dresser.

I pulled out Sofia’s silver-framed photograph, my precious little girl smiling back at me, and clutched it to my chest. Without a word between us, we embraced and wept. When I finally went to bed, I placed Sofia’s photograph among the other family portraits and thanked her.”

Infertile women can only dream…

Sometimes my dreams jolted me awake at night, sweaty palms pushed the blankets away, jaw clenched, mouth parched, and heart beat pummeling my chest while I waited for my eyes to adjust in the dark. Another stress dream where either someone else adopted the boys or I’d given birth to Rosemary’s Baby. I struggled to wake up from those dreams where my newborn weighed more than a Sumo wrestler and had a set of metallic jack o’ lantern teeth. In another I cradled a baby without a face and was told that an older mom couldn’t be picky. Some I scribbled in my journal, others I tried to forget, but once in a great while my dreams revealed the magic portal, and I rushed in.

Chapter X – February 1998

“…In my dreams, I was fit, showing, and mother-magazine radiant in a hip earth-toned maternity outfit with a youthful hairstyle and a stylish backpack. No diaper bag for me. My dreams showcased the pregnancy I never had the chance to have. Me, swimming at four months and eating tubs of ice cream. Me, assembling a sustainable wood crib, at seven months, a crooked smile splayed across my chubby face. My favorite: me barefoot, and waddling around at nine months. I even dreamt I had a toddler and was thirteen months pregnant in another. A colossal relief to wake up from that one.

I complained and whined about being sick, but was slyly grateful. Sick equaled sleep. Sleep equaled dreams. I could carry on a divine affair with a fetus: a second and third trimester pregnancy. It was luscious. My dream world whisked me away to a brief but gold-leafed past. I’d gotten pregnant before. Three times actually, but never made it past the first trimester. I miscarried twice and the third time a weathered and spent fertilized egg ran out of steam on its way through my right fallopian tube. Like a firecracker dud, it didn’t blossom into a baby, but had enough power to blow through my tube. Messy. Very messy.

The intense desire to turn my body into a factory never wavered, I just didn’t vocalize it any more.”

Pass the Baton… Yeah Right!

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Not so for a hands on Latina, but at the time, I imagined lobbing my shimmery baton like a sassy drum majorette as I marched, hips and tassels swaying, daring my Man to do it better when we first became parents.

Chapter III – Autumn 1993

Early November graced us with T-shirt weather and the go-ahead from our doctor to give Sofia her first bath. Our friends recommended all sorts of bathtubs with brand names made up of a string of vowels and umlauts. My mother declared that tucking Sofia in the crook of my arm was the best way to dip Sofia into her bath.

“Just bathe her in the kitchen sink, like I did with all of you,” she said. “An inflatable bathtub, indeed.” My mother snorted. We decided on a small but awkward inflatable soft tub. We agreed to take turns bathing Sofia. One of us would bathe her while the other videotaped. Marty handed me the video camera and plunked Sofia into the water facedown on the tub.

“She’s going to suffocate!” I grabbed him by the shoulder.

“I’m fine.” Marty pulled his arm back.

“You’re going to drown her.” I reached out to grab Sofia.

Marty blocked me. I could almost hear my mother laughing at us.

A festive occasion dissolved into a full-blown argument because Marty wanted to bathe his little girl. I stormed out of the bathroom like a petulant teenager not getting her way.

Later, he appealed to my sense of fairness. “You have to let me do more. I’m not a bumbling oaf, you know.”

The truth stung. I knew he was right, but somehow, somewhere I had picked up on the notion that a mother’s Ten Commandments included my all-encompassing veto power. My commandments left him with those duties I avoided: rinsing diapers, mixing formula, and swabbing the tip of her umbilical cord stub. Marty challenged me and became a very involved father in spite of my insistence that as the mother, I was first in line.

A week later I had Sofia all to myself for her next bath and was ready to show off my skills and maybe even teach Marty a thing or two, when I almost dropped her head first into the bathtub. Marty said nothing, didn’t even gasp, but when I turned to look at him he was grinning from ear to ear. He’d caught it all on tape.

 

Now, I’ve passed the baton, countless times, to our teenage sons, only to hear a reverberating thud to the floor, followed by feral scavenging sounds for food. I no longer have visions of white GoGo boots or tassels.

¡ALAMADRE!

For those of you who may not know Alamadre means both a toast to mothers and what the fuck!

Or how did I get here? A question I’m sure every mother asks herself at least once.

You’ve caught up with me as I’m navigating limbo–not the crazy back breaking dance or the misty place where unbaptized babies go–I’m raising teenage sons while in the grips of menopause, am peddling my memoir, Stretch Marks and visualizing, while I weed the garden, my NPR interview with María Hinojosa where we’ll talk about my husband and I adopting two toddler brothers while living in Ciudad Juárez, one of the most dangerous cities in North America.

It’s ironic that as I prepare to launch my book, I’m also nudging, with a crowbar, my oldest out into the world. It’s taking superhuman effort to do both and remain sane! I would sell my soul to fast forward four years from now when I can read on my hammock butt naked, if I want, and make love on the kitchen counter before going out to dinner.

My plan–Countdown 2 College–is to make home life for my sons uncomfortable enough to get them salivating at the thought of living on a college campus. Nothing else has worked to date. As my older son said two years ago, ‘free food and TV, why leave?’ Trust me and forego the notion of reason, the studies are in, they are brain damaged until 23-25 when the grey matter finally solidifies and all of the wiring is in place and sparking.

Here are a few ideas to get you going:

1. Stop frying anything in the morning, instead go out with your partner or friends to breakfast without them. It’s cheaper.

2. Cook dinner as little as possible. I have started Cereal Sunday, What’s for dinner, Guys? Monday, Leftover Wednesday, Forage Friday, and Take-out Saturday.

3. Hide the remotes to all electronic devices.

4. Stop allowance.

5. Find them jobs during the summer.

Stay tuned for more ideas on how to nudge your smart, witty, polite, and unmotivated children off the dole. I’d also appreciate hearing from you and welcome all ideas from other mothers in limbo.

Alamadre,

Liz Raptis Picco

To My Man!

As hard as I’ve toiled and thrashed these last long years to accept myself as a memoirist and present Stretch Marks to the world, I thank first and foremost my man, the mad scientist, motorcycle driving Marty.

I will be forever indebted that he crawled into the insanity of grief with me when I endured botched life threatening surgeries and lost our baby girl to a promise we’d made each other. But we were Team Santa Cruz and there was nothing we couldn’t do together.

He is the only one outside of my family who always asks me to tell him a story. So, here’s one for you, Marty. ¡Con mucho amor!

¡Alamadre!