Pulling Back the Curtain…

Several readers have commented they would’ve liked more back story about my infertility, specifically my miscarriages. A few have asked if I also kept a journal when I was first pregnant, and why I didn’t include some of those entries in Stretch Marks.

journalsA mighty dangerous question for a writer. I hold you responsible, dear inquisitive readers, for hours of procrastination in the guise of research. Within easy reach, I found the raggedy journal on the bottom shelf leaning against one of its many predecessors, a composition book. It’s the third one from the left. A wallflower among sassy colored fabric and shiny binder rings. In 1990 the cover was vibrant Florentine paper, now its faded much like the memories it holds. Until curiosity seduced me away from my  deadlines.

I came across this April 25, 1990 entry, written in English and Spanish, and marveled at the idealistic woman I used to be, expecting pregnancy and motherhood to just happen as I marched on with my life. Even after my Ob/Gyn confirmed that at three months, our first baby, who we nicknamed “Beak” no longer had a heartbeat, I remained optimistic.

Journal

This infertile Latina loved working at the polls!

As a writer, I work alone.

I’m fortunate, I love solitude. I also like to socialize, but writing doesn’t afford both at the same time. I cocoon. It’s a must. I’m a solo act on this one.

So breaking out of my sacred routine, made working the polls that much more special! It was great to reconnect with neighbors and friends as well as experience first hand how our democratic voting system works.

I even choked up, a couple of times, when puppy like, first time voters came in clutching their voting cards and grinning from ear to ear.

My day is dedicated to my Nana Herminia!

This infertile woman is at the polls today–VOTE!

I love working the polls. All of it!

And I owe it all to my maternal grandmother, Nana Herminia, who sent me bus money from Tucson to Nogales, Arizona for the 1972 Nixon and McGovern Presidential election. My father, a political hound, had died seven years before and my mother, who had a green card, didn’t vote, so the task fell to my grandmother.

She picked me up in her immaculate 1955 Chevy at the Greyhound Bus station and instructed me that our family voted straight ticket.

I remember the sound of her husky cigarette voice announcing to the early birds at the polls that her granddaughter, a university student, was here to vote for the very first time.  I choked up as folks patted me on the back and shook my hand. I wished I’d thanked her, but at nineteen, it hadn’t cross my mind.

 

November is National Adoption Month!

It’s perfect timing for the New York Times’, Room for Debate discussion on the adoption tax credit renewal, because November is National Adoption Month.  

For the next twenty-eight days we can voice our opinion, share our stories, and hopefully folks in the pre/present/post adoption process may find a kernel of comfort. Like I said in my post a few of days ago, “Trust me, we’re not in it for the money.”

So, while the talk continues, there are several inspiring folks out there willing to help–one that caught my eye recently is Helpusadopt.org. They provide grants up to $15K to qualified folks wishing to adopt. Check them out.

A big thank you to these lovely human beings!

An infertile woman’s opinion on renewing the adoption tax credit

I’m following the discussion Room for Debate which posted in yesterday’s  The New York Times. Read it and participate!

Should the Adoption Tax Credit Be Renewed?

“Yes! The tax credit may need revision, birth mothers may need to be included, and private adoption agencies in the U.S. and abroad may need reform, but come on, unless you’ve been on this end of infertility, it’s easy to intellectualize it.

A domestic or international adoption is not for the faint of heart and is an expensive endeavor. I know. I’ve been through both.

We weren’t well off; on the contrary, we were struggling with a start-up company and had siphoned off all of our savings. I chose to live in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico with our toddler sons for five months while my husband commuted every 2-3 weeks to finalize the adoption.

After years of navigating through a quagmire of bureaucracy, my husband and I were overjoyed to learn we were getting the adoption tax credit back in 2002. It felt like Christmas. We were ebullient. it helped us pay down credit card bills and stabilize our finances.

Trust me, we’re not it for the money.”

What do you think?

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.”

The other side of an infertile woman…

I’ve introduced you to my steadfast matriarchs who continue, in spirit, to circle my wagon, but I’m not complete without you meeting my father. Peter M. Raptis II. He was Junior to his parents, Pete to my mother, and Papá to my siblings. He was bigger than life to me. There wasn’t a word to define or describe him. Think a swashbuckling Errol Flynn with a megawatt smile and infectious laugh.

And I wanted to grow up to be just like him. I don’t ever remember wanting to grow up to replicate my mother’s life, running a chaotic household and raising a rambunctious brood of demanding, and challenging kids, but I do remember approaching his office and wanting to be a part of that. I still do.

Chapter I – December 27, 1991

“In almost every family photograph from my tenth year on, I’m proudly holding a drooling baby boy. After a perfect son and three civilized daughters, my mother unleashed four sons in rapid succession into our neighborhood, where they terrorized prized rose bushes, cats, and mailmen. The bundles of steaming tamales and platters of homemade cookies my mother sent along with apologetic note cards and hefty checks helped keep the police and lawsuits away, but really it was the fact she was a widow, a young green-eyed beauty of a widow with too many children, that kept our neighbors from running us out of town.

My larger than life, successful, handsome, prankster of a father died in a car accident, two blocks from our home, when I was eleven and my mother was seven months pregnant. He was plucked out of our lives, just as we were beginning to get to know one another. Some things I’d preferred not knowing about him, but there were many more that made me feel grand and, most of all, feel safe. We’d lost our treasured, paternal Greek grandfather two years earlier, but when my father torpedoed to his death, it crippled us. As a family, we never recovered and have walked through life with a limp in our hearts.”

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.”

Writer’s Block

Have been bombarded lately with Tweets and Feeds about the torment of writer’s block. Writer’s block can silence even the most talented and disciplined.

I no longer consider fallow periods, non-productive, quite the contrary, while I’m away from my writing, and instead sorting, discarding, and rearranging of every item in our closets to a Zona perfection, I’m toiling over flat chapters or submersed in profoundly painful introspection.

My writer’s blocks have been due to things like loss and unrelenting grief, apprehension over our sons, and medical emergencies, but nothing brings me to my knees, pounding uncle, like a feathery light-scribbled comment in the margin from my editor during seemingly endless revisions of STRETCH MARKS.

I had to dig deeper, go back, and feel the gritty sweat of fear and desperation in Ciudad Juárez. I refused at first, but my editor has a way of bringing me down from the ledge.

Chapter XVI – September 1998

“…I turned off the light well after midnight and stared out the small thin-paned window. The fan was on low now. Sirens circled the block. Toilets flushed, furniture moved, conversations started and ended as I inventoried my day. The shattering of glass dispatched one hand underneath the pillow for the mace and with the other grabbed my glasses. Like a military exercise, I jumped to my feet flat then peeked around my doorway, expecting gunfire or evil incarnate. Please, I prayed, don’t let me pass out. Was it the living room or kitchen window? My eyes acclimated to the dark. Nothing moved inside the apartment. I darted to the boys’ doorway. Sound asleep. Thank God. I picked up a wooden toy truck with my free hand and almost dropped it when another crash of glass weakened my courage. The faint light against the kitchen curtains faded. The street light had been decimated. Again. My heart thundered against my collarbone. My mouth so parched it hurt to swallow. I peeked out from the kitchen curtain. A van was parked out in the street with multiple cars in front and behind it. I let the curtain go and stood against the wall shivering with fear. A door slammed. Motors started. One by one each vehicle drove away until an eerie quiet entombed the neighborhood. Was anyone else crouched behind thin curtains witnessing this along with me? Even though my tongue felt like sandpaper, I didn’t dare open the refrigerator. I felt around for the water jug at the end of the counter and remembered the cup by the sink. I drank and held the cup to my chest. The screeching of sirens and howling dogs now calmed me. I’d call Marty as soon as the boys woke up. I fell asleep sitting up in bed, mace in hand.”

 

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.